Battle of Basque Roads by Thomas WhitcombeThe Battle of Basque Roads took place on the night of 11 April 1809 off the coast of France.

The Royal Navy, under the command of Admiral Lord Gambier, drove ashore the French fleet under the command of Vice-Admiral Zacharie Allemand.


The Battle of the Basque Roads was fought off the Island of Aix, on the Biscay shore of France. Captain Thomas Cochrane led a British force of 27 ships, including explosion vessels and fireships, in an attack against the French fleet anchored in the Basque Roads in two lines and protected by a boom. The explosion vessels destroyed the boom however only 4 of the fireships tried to engage and Cochrane believed the French fleet should have been completely destroyed.

Whilst the fireships missed their target they still inflicted considerable indirect damage as when the French sighted them taking flame several miles away, they believed they were seeing more explosion-vessels at much closer range. Attempting to escape most of the ships either cut their anchor cables and drifted or hoisted sail, but all but 2 drove ashore.

Throughout the morning of 12 April, Cochrane signalled Lord Gambier to attack the paralyzed French squadron. (Gambier was 14 miles offshore with the blockading fleet; Cochrane had one frigate under his command.) Finally, in desperation, at 13:00 Cochrane allowed his ship to drift toward shore, coming under fire of the land-based fortifications, trying to compel Gambier to send ships to aid Cochrane's frigate. The strategy worked; at 13:30, seven British ships came in, and Cochrane spent the rest of the day capturing and destroying French ships.

Much to Cochrane's displeasure, on 13 April, the other ships returned to Lord Gambier's position offshore, and Cochrane ignored repeated orders from Gambier to also disengage. Cochrane instead destroyed more French vessels before finally obeying Gambier's signals, and the battle ended.

Cochrane accused the British commanding officer, Admiral James Gambier, of being reluctant to press the attack. Gambier demanded a court-martial, and was duly exonerated which ended Cochrane's Naval career during the war.

  Ships Guns Captain Ships fate
  British Fleet - Cochrane's Squadron  
UK Impérieuse 38 Lord Thomas Cochrane  
UK Aigle 36 George Wolfe  
UK Pallas 32 George Francis Seymour  
UK Unicorn 32 Lucius Hardyman   
UK Redpole 10 John Joyce  
UK Lyra 10 William Bevians  
UK Ætna Bomb Lt. William Godfrey NW of Isle d'Aix
UK Indefatigable 44 John Treymayne Rodd  Covering Ætna
UK Foxhound 18 Pitt Barnaby Greene Covering Ætna
UK Emerald 36 Frederick Lewis Maitland Diversion force
UK Beagle 18 Francis Newcombe Diversion force
UK Dotterel 18 Anthony Abdy Diversion force
UK Conflict 12 Lt. Joseph B. Batt Diversion force
UK Growler 12 Lt. Richard Crossman Diversion force
UK Whiting Rocket Lt. Henry Wildey Near the Boyart shoal
UK Nimrod Rocket Mstrs. Mate Edward Tapley Near the Boyart shoal
UK King George Rocket Mstrs. Mate Thomas Makeet Near the Boyart shoal
UK Mediator Flute James Wooldridge Used as Fireship
UK Fireships and 3 Explosion vessels
  British Fleet - Gambiers offshore fleet  
UK Caledonia 120 Flag - Admiral Lord James Gambier
Cptn. of the Fleet - Sir Harry Neale
Cptn. - William Bedford
UK Caesar 80

Flag - Rear-Admiral Hon. Robert Stopford
Cptn. Charles Richardson

UK Gibraltar 80 Henry Lidgbird Ball  
UK Hero 74 James Newman  
UK Donegal 74 Pulteney Malcolm  
UK Resolution 74 George Burlton  
UK Theseus 74 John Poer Beresford  
UK Valiant 74 John Bligh  
UK Illustrious 74 William Robert Broughton  
UK Bellona 74 Stair Douglas  
UK Revenge 74 Alexander Robert Ken  
British Fleet - Also Present
UK Thunder Bomb James Caulfield  
UK Insolent 14 Lt. John Row Morris  
UK Encounter 12 Lt. James Hugh Talbot  
UK Contest 12 Lt. John Gregory  
UK Fervent 12 Lt. John Edward Hare  
UK Transports
UK 3 Congreve Rocket barges
French Fleet - First Defensive Line  
France Pallas 46 ? Grounded off fort of Barques
France Hortense 46 ? Grounded Fontenelles
France Indienne 46 Cptn. Guillaume-Marcelin Proteau Grounded off Pointe Aiguille -
Set on fire by crew & exploded
French Fleet - Second Defensive Line
France Calcutta 54 Cptn. Jean-Baptiste Lafon (Shot by Firing Squad) Grounded Palles -
UK Set on fire & exploded
France Cassard 74 ?  
France Régulus 74 Cptn. Lucas Grounded Charenton
France Océan 118 Flag - Vice-Admiral Zacharie Allemand
Cptn. - ?
Grounded Aix Road
France Ville de Varsovie 80 ? Grounded Charenton -
UK Burnt
France Foudroyant 80 ?  
French Fleet - Third Defensive Line
France Elbe 46 ? Grounded Fontenelles
France Tourville 74 Cptn. Charles-Nicolas Lacaille (Imprisoned) Grounded off Isle Madame
France Aquilon 74 Cptn. Maingan (Killed in Action) Grounded Charenton -
UK Burnt
France Jemmapes 80 ? Grounded Charenton
France Patriote 74 ? Grounded off Isle Madame
France Tonnerre 74 Clément de la Roncière Grounded Pontra -
Set on fire by crew & exploded
French Fleet - Also Present

Other smaller ships

France Shore Batteries  


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