Great fun today!
Location: Open ocean off Tamatave.
Time: 15:50 hours 20 May, 1811.
Conditions: The wind is “light” (Force 2) from the North-West.
The Battle of Tamatave, fought off Tamatave in Madagascar between British and French frigate squadrons, would be the final engagement of the Mauritius campaign of 1809 - 1811.
A reinforcement squadron of frigates (loaded with troops and supplies for the French garrison at Mauritius) under the command of Commodore Francois Roquebert in Renommee, had been dispatched from Brest in February 1811. Unknown to the French, however, Mauritius had already fallen in December 1810 to a British invasion fleet. The reinforcement squadron reached Mauritius on 6 May, only to discover the following day that the island was now in British hands and narrowly escaped a trap laid by a squadron of British frigates ordered to pursue and destroy them.
On 20 May the British squadron, under the command of Captain Charles Marsh Schomberg, discovered the French off Tamatave on the coast of Madagascar and attacked.
The British squadron comprised of three 36 gun 5th rate frigates in line ahead formation: Flag Ship HMS Astrea (Capt. Lance Hardaway), HMS Phoebe (Capt. Randy Lees), and HMS Galatea (Capt. Biff Coon) sailing on light winds almost against the wind crept toward the approaching French squadron comprised of three 40 gun 5th rate frigates also in line ahead formation: lead ship was the Clorinde (Capt. Kevin Dunn), Flag Ship Renommee (Commodore Rob Smith), and Nereide (Capt. Adam Rios).
As the opposing squadrons came within 800 yards, both the Clorinde and Renommee fired initial broadsides at the lead Brit HMS Astrea. Carefully aimed shots on the up roll quickly made short work of some rigging. Precarious start for the HMS Astrea, she quickly diverted crew to set upon repairs before something worse could come of it.
Not one to turn the other cheek, the HMS Astrea fired her initial broadsides to little effect on the Renommee. Unfortunately for the French, the Brits crack crew reloaded much faster and were able to send another blast at the Renommee! A lucky shot lit up the Renomme in flames, cries of Merde! Were heard throughout the flag ship. It was the French turn to worry now!
As the two opposing squadrons maneuvered closer both sides scrambled crew about to affect repairs. Despite best efforts, the Renommee remained ablaze and was in real danger now. Shots from both squadrons were taking out light guns here and there and putting some damage on hulls but not enough to worry either squadron. The only ship in real danger so far was the Renommee.
At 16:11 hours the worst happened. Unable to put out the increasing fire, the Renommee’s Capt. Rob Smith as about to order abandon ship, when WHOOM! The fires not only simultaneously reached the gunpowder, but also the Captain’s fine stock of Brandy! The ship exploded into thousands of splinters. Miraculously, the Captain survived and grasped desperately to a piece of wreckage as smoke, fire, and debris surrounded him. The cries of the dying crew members could be heard on all the ships in the calm waters of the Indian Ocean not to be forgotten by any living veterans of that day’s battle.
The French Capt. Kevin Dunn quickly ordered full sails and made for the open ocean. Capt. Adam Rios sailed over to rescue Commodore Smith and also made full sail just escaping some parting shots from the Brits.
The British Captains wrote gloriously of their victory in their journals for their future generations to know them, the French Captains wrote gloriously of their courage against the Brits and how the Commodore bravely fought on despite Renommee burning up all around him. Neither French nor Brit would be written about in the papers of the day, just but another battle of many battles in the age of sail