Action of 13 January 1797

The Action of 13 January 1797 was a small naval battle fought between a French ship of the line and two British frigates off the coast of Brittany during the French Revolutionary Wars. During the action the frigates successfully outmanoeuvred the much larger French vessel and drove it on shore in heavy seas, resulting in the deaths of between 400 to over 900 of the 1,300 persons aboard, depending on the sources. One of the British frigates was also lost in the engagement, running onto a sandbank after failing to escape a lee shore.

The French 74-gun ship Droits de l'Homme had been part of the Expédition d'Irlande, a disastrous attempt by a French expeditionary force to invade Ireland. During the operation, the French fleet was beset by poor coordination and violent weather, eventually being compelled to return to France without landing a single soldier. Two British frigates, the 44-gun HMS Indefatigable and the 36-gun HMS Amazon, had been ordered to patrol the seas off Ushant in an attempt to intercept the returning French force and sighted Droits de l'Homme on the afternoon of 13 January.

The engagement lasted for more than 15 hours, in an increasing gale and the constant presence of the rocky Breton coast. The seas were so violent that the French ship was unable to open her lower gun ports during the action and as a result could only fire with her upper deck guns, significantly reducing the advantage that a ship of the line would normally have over the smaller frigates. The damage the more manoeuvrable British vessels inflicted on the French ship was so severe that as the winds increased, the French crew lost control and Droits de l'Homme was swept onto a sandbar and destroyed.

Read more about Action Of 13 January 1797:  Background, Chase, Battle, Shipwrecks, Aftermath

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