[Footnote 104: Sir John Ross, in his “Life of Saumarez,” who was lieutenant in the flagship, says that the flagship only passed ahead of the Buffalo, and that the rear ships closed upon the latter. The version in the text rests upon the detailed and circumstantial statements of another lieutenant of the squadron, in Ekins’s “Naval Battles.” As Ekins also was present as a midshipman, this gives, as it were, the confirmation of two witnesses.]
THE FINAL NAVAL CAMPAIGN IN THE WEST INDIES. HOOD AND DE GRASSE. RODNEY AND DE GRASSE. THE GREAT BATTLE OF APRIL 12, 1782
The year 1781 closed with an incident more decisive in character than most of the events that occurred in European waters during its course; one also which transfers the interest, by natural transition, again to the West Indies. The French government had felt throughout the summer the necessity of sending de Grasse reinforcements both of ships and of supplies, but the transports and material of war needed could not be collected before December. As the British probably would attempt to intercept a convoy upon which the next campaign so much depended, Rear-Admiral de Guichen was ordered to accompany it clear of the Bay of Biscay, with twelve ships of the line, and then to go to Cadiz. Five ships of the line destined to de Grasse, and two going to the East Indies, raised to nineteen the total force with which de Guichen left Brest on the 10th of December. On the afternoon of the 12th, the French being then one hundred and fifty miles to the southward and westward of Ushant, with a south-east wind, the weather, which had been thick and squally, suddenly cleared and showed sails to windward. These were twelve ships of the line, one 50, and some frigates, under Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt, who had left England on the 2d of the month, to cruise in wait for this expedition. The French numbers were amply sufficient to frustrate any attack, but de Guichen, ordinarily a careful officer, had allowed his ships of war to be to leeward and ahead of the convoy. The latter scattered in every direction, as the British swooped down upon them, but all could not escape; and the French ships of war remained helpless spectators, while the victims were hauling down their flags right and left. Night coming on, some prizes could not be secured, but Kempenfelt carried off fifteen, laden with military and naval stores of great money value and greater military importance. A few days later a violent storm dispersed and shattered the remainder of the French body. Two ships of the line only, the Triomphant, 84, and Brave, 74, and five transports, could pursue their way to the West Indies. The rest went back to Brest. This event may be considered as opening the naval campaign of 1782 in the West Indies.