In 1795, the forces of Britain and Revolutionary France had been at war for over two years and the Royal Navy was engaged in a blockade of the main French ports. For their part, the French sent some of their faster ships out in an attempt to bypass the blockade and engage in guerre de course or commerce raiding against British ships along the east coast of England.
At 1000hrs on the morning of April 10th 1795, a British flotilla under the command of Rear-Admiral John Colpoys spotted three French vessels attempting to break out through the Bay of Biscay. The French vessels were led by the 32-gun Gloire and when they realised the British had spotted them, the French commander ordered his force to scatter in the face of the superior British force after the 74-gun HMS Colossus had started firing on them.
Gloire swung north-west while its two compatriots – Gentile and Fraternité – turned west with HMS Hannibal and HMS Robust in hot pursuit of them. Gloire had managed to evade much of the British force except for the frigate HMS Astraea under Captain Lord Henry Paulet, also of 32-guns, which managed to stay in sight of the French warship throughout the afternoon. Finally, at 1800hrs Astrea succeeded in bringing Gloire within range of its quarterdeck cannon and fired several shots which saw Gloire respond with its sternchaser guns.
For over four and a half hours the two warships exchanged cannon fire shot for shot until 2230hrs, when the Astraea finally managed to come alongside the Gloire allowing both to unleash the full fury of their armament on one another. Gloire’s gunners aimed specifically for Astraea’s masts and rigging in an effort to disable the British warship and indeed succeeded in inflicting enough damage on Astraea’s topmast that it eventually collapsed. The British gunners however, concentrated their firepower on the French ship’s hull to silence the opposing gunners or sink the French ship altogether. Among the wounded aboard the Gloire was its captain and at 2328hrs, after sighting two more British warships sailing toward him he ordered the French colours to be lowered signalling the ship’s surrender.
Both vessels were heavily damaged in the engagement with Astraea needing to return to port for repairs to the mast but incredibly had not lost a single man in the engagement even as the topmast collapsed. This was thanks in no small part to the Gloire’s captain ordering his men to try to disable the British ship. By contrast, the Gloire lost 40 men killed or wounded. Sufficient repairs were made to both ships to enable them to sail to Portsmouth for more permanent repairwork with Gloire being sailed by a British prize crew under the command of Astraea’s Lieutenant John Talbot.
More success for the British would come the next morning on April 11th. HMS Hannibal and HMS Robust had continued their pursuit of the Gentile and Fraternité through the night until they managed to surround the Gentile and force its captain to surrender without having to engage in battle. The captain of the Fraternité decided to turn back towards Brest and had his men throw their armaments overboard to lighten the vessel and increase its speed. After several days evading pursuing British ships the Fraternité succeeded in reaching its home port.
Both Gloire and Gentile were pressed in to Royal Navy service with HMS Gloire being kept on charge until 1802.
While the UK and French governments continue to mince words regarding the Brexit negotiations, for their respective military forces working together it seems its business as usual. The French Navy amphibious assault ship FS Mistral left Toulon earlier this week to begin the service’s anuual five month Jeanne d’Arc deployment. Joining the ship’s air wing of transport helicopters were two Royal Navy Merlin HC.3A helicopters of the Fleet Air Arm’s No.845 Naval Air Squadron. The British contingent includes up to sixty personnel to operate and maintain the aircraft in support of French forces during the deployment.
Speaking on the deployment, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said:
France is one of our closest allies and our world class maritime forces are combining to show we can operate together effectively. Whether deployed together at sea, striking Daesh from the air, or contributing to NATO deployments in the Baltics, Britain and France will continue to work hard for our shared security.
Other aircraft deployed aboard the Mistral include a French Navy Dauphin to provide SAR and light utility duties and two French Army Gazelle light observation helicopters. Ground forces onboard will include the French Army’s Embedded Tactical Group. The deployment will take the force to Japan, Guam, Vietnam, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Australia. Barring the vessel is not called to respond to a major incident, the FS Mitsral is expected cover some 24,000 miles.
As well as exercising France’s foreign policies the deployment will provide intensive training for those onboard with the French Navy outlining;
The Jeanne d’Arc mission also integrates elements from other armies and services. Among them were Saint-Cyrians, doctors from the army health service, commissioners of the Armed Forces Commissariat, pupils of the Directorate-General for Armaments and pupils administrators of maritime affairs. A plurality which gives this mission a significant and formative joint dimension for all these young future cadres.
It is within this operational framework that 137 French and foreign pupil officers of the promotion EAOM 2017 make their first operational deployment of long duration.
An RAF Reaper Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) (www.raf.mod.uk)
As British politicians continue to wrestle over the issue of the RAF joining in air strikes against ISIS in Syria the French government has again expressed its hope that the UK will soon be working alongside their French counterparts in taking the fight to the heart of ISIS.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian wrote in the Guardian newspaper that UK military capabilities would “put additional and extreme pressure on the ISIS terror network”.
He then went on to explain that ISIS had struck at the very heart of France in it’s November 13th attack on Paris. He also recognised that Britain has firm military capabilities that could be utilised to combat ISIS and that Britain was already using these capabilities in neighbouring Iraq.
The RAF has significant capabilities for precision airstrikes, aerial reconnaissance and air-to-air refuelling support. On a daily basis, its Tornado aircraft and unmanned drones are causing very severe damage to ISIS in Iraq. The use of these capabilities over Syria would put additional and extreme pressure on the ISIS terror network.
However, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party this week reaffirmed their opposition to strikes. The Scottish National Party also continues to oppose strikes and with their combined no-votes the ruling Conservative Party may not be able to garner enough votes to carry out strikes as Prime Minister David Cameron would like. For the Prime Minister the French Defence Minister’s words are especially embarrassing since the RAF once again had to turn to France to help locate a Russian submarine operating off Scottish waters earlier this month because of the lack of British maritime patrol aircraft following his previous coalition government’s decision to scrap Nimrod.
The French warship Aquitane D650 visiting Leith Harbour in Edinburgh.
During its stay a ceremony was held onboard where nine Scottish veterans were awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest distinction of honour, for their role during the Second World War. The soldiers, one of whom was 101 years old, were presented with the medals by Emmanuel Cocher, Consul General of France in Scotland and Rear Admiral Patrick Chevallereau, the French Embassy’s defence attaché.
The Légion d’honneur was established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte. It is France’s highest distinction and is awarded in recognition of both military and civilian merit. On average, just 10 British nationals per year receive the Légion d’honneur.
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It has now been confirmed that British troops will be involved in an operations to address the migrant crisis. The decision was made following a Cobra (Cabinet Office Briefing Room) meeting on Friday morning but the Army will not take part in a security role but rather will be used as a way of easing traffic congestion leading to the tunnel in Folkestone.
Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed the Ministry of Defence will use its land around Folkestone as a temporary parking space allowing some relief for the heavily congested motorway. British soldiers will work alongside police as part of the so-called Operation: Stack which has seen vast numbers of lorries parked up alongside the motorways leading to the tunnel as a result of the situation in Calais. It is understood that the police will have authority over the operation and that the Army is effectively operating in an auxiliary role.
On addressing questions regarding British efforts to improve security in Calais the Prime Minister said sniffer dogs and extra fencing would be sent to France to help the struggling French authorities in Calais who appear completely overwhelmed. If the relationship between France and Britain over the migrants was not strained enough already, this week saw the release of figures showing that UK companies are losing up to £750,000 a day due to delays prompting the leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harmon, to demand that David Cameron speak to his French counterparts about compensation claims.
David Cameron simply responded to all questions along the lines of;
This is going to be a difficult issue right across the summer…I will have a team of senior ministers who I will be working to deal with it, and we rule nothing out in taking action to deal with this very serious problem…We are absolutely on it. We know it needs more work.
The news has been dominated in the last few weeks by images of migrants in Calais attempting to break down barriers and climb aboard trucks and trains coming through the Eurotunnel to what they believe is a better life in the United Kingdom. The danger to these desperate people was highlighted this week when one man was killed attempting to climb aboard a lorry bound for Britain.
Meanwhile on both sides of the channel fingers are pointing at one another over who is to blame. British politicians have accused their French counterparts of having an open door policy for migrants travelling through France to the UK which has caused the current situation. French politicians however accuse Britain of effectively leaving France to deal with what is essentially a British problem and that London should be more involved in protecting the channel.
Earlier this week the leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, echoed calls on the British side of the channel for British security forces to have more involvement in protecting the tunnel from the migrants including using the armed forces to shore up numbers of personnel;
If in a crisis to make sure we’ve actually got the manpower to check lorries coming in to stop people illegally coming to Britain if in those circumstances we can use the army or other forces then why not?
While Nigel Farage is known for his anti-EU rhetoric his opinion has strong support from all aspects of British politics.
So should the army be deployed to protect the entrance to the tunnel in France?
The migrant situation in Calais is a direct threat to the British economy with millions of pounds being lost in trade due to delays and disruption of freight trains and lorries.
The migrants have shown that they are willing to resort to violence in some cases and this has prompted truck drivers to arm themselves with whatever they can to protect themselves. Caught up in the middle of this potential powder keg are hundreds of British tourists and businessmen travelling through the tunnel. When British civilians were at risk in the “Arab Spring” the armed forces deployed to protect them then so why not now?
The local government in Calais has admitted that they lack the resources to handle the situation.
There is a risk that extremists and terrorists can mingle within the migrants and make their way inside Britain’s security network to attack civilian, political and military targets.
Despite the shocking images of migrants breaking down barriers to get at trains and lorries bound for the UK there has not been any large scale breakout of migrants in to the UK via the tunnel. With many thousands of migrants attempting to get through everyday 140 have actually made it through this week that have been intercepted on the UK side.
Although the tunnel provides access to the United Kingdom the entrance is still on French soil and therefore is a French security issue.
Has the public perception of the situation been tainted by the media’s portrayal? Is the situation really that much of a threat to the British economy and safety of British citizens that we are considering using the army?
With dwindling numbers of the armed forces can the army afford to have a deployment in France to control a situation and maintain its other world wide commitments?
Stopping the migrants from entering the UK illegally does not address the situation and will undoubtedly increase tensions between London and Paris as the number of migrants swell in Calais.
Just what would be the “rules of engagement” for British troops in France? Would French authorities allow them to be armed? What would be the French legal position on British forces exercising authority on French soil?
There is no easy answer to the problem but one thing is for sure; the current situation is going to get worse unless both the French and the British governments agree to work on a common plan of action to address the situation not just in Calais but in Europe at large with thousands more migrants making their way across the Mediterranean every month.