"An exploit which has not I believe ever before graced our naval Annals."

"An exploit which has not I believe ever before graced our naval Annals." (George Spencer, First Lord of the Admiralty, 1794 - 1801)

5 January 1797: Returning from the hare-brained scheme known as Expédition d'Irlande, the attempt to land troops in Ireland in the middle of winter that naturally ended in a disaster, the French battleship-of-the-line "Droits de l'Homme" ran into heavy seas off the coast of Brittany, roughly 50 miles south of Brest. Already battered from her winter voyage, laden to the gunwales with a regiment of soldiers and close to a rocky lee shore, her commander, Jean-Baptiste Raymond de Lacrosse, decided to make a run for it when a British frigate was sighted, today, 216 years ago.

The frigate was Sir Edward Pellew's famous HMS "Indefatigable" operating off Ushant to keep an eye on French stragglers. Against all obvious odds (the French battleship's broadside could throw a weight of 400 kilograms metal against the frigate's 200), Pellew decided to attack.

When the French battleship lost her topmasts in the gale and HM frigate "Amazon" joined the fight, the odds were evened out a bit. Especially because "Droits de l'Homme" could not operate her lower gun deck in heavy seas, factually halving the two-decker's firepower.

Nonetheless, the battle lasted for 15 hours until both the "Droits de l'Homme" and "Amazon" were aground, the French man-of-war turning onto her side and sinking fast, with the total loss of 200 lives through British gunfire and 900 drowned. Pellew's "Indefatigable" suffered no casualties at all, the wrecked "Amazon's" crew was taken prisoner.

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