Battle of Cape Ortegal - Prelude - Baker Sights The French

Baker Sights The French

There were a number of British ships and squadrons already in the bay, and on the look out for French ships. Zacharie Allemand, commander of the Rochefort squadron, had sailed from the port in July 1805, and was currently cruising in the Atlantic, raiding British shipping. One of the British ships sent out on patrol was the 36-gun HMS Phoenix, under the command of Captain Thomas Baker. Baker had orders to patrol west of the Scilly Isles, but in late October he received news from several neutral merchants that Allemand's squadron had been sighted in the Bay of Biscay. Baker immediately left his station and sailed southwards, reaching the latitude of Cape Finisterre on 2 November, just as Dumanoir was entering the bay. Baker sighted four ships steering north-north-west at 11 o'clock, and immediately gave chase. The ships, which Baker presumed to be part of the Rochefort squadron, but were actually Dumanoir's ships, bore up at noon and began to chase Phoenix, which fled south. In doing so Baker hoped to lure the French onto a British squadron under Captain Sir Richard Strachan that he knew to be in the area.

Baker kept ahead of the pursuing French, and at 3 o'clock that afternoon he sighted four sails heading south. Dumanoir's forces also saw them, and stood to the east, while Baker, no longer pursued, kept the French sails under observation. Having ascertained the strength and disposition of the French ships, Baker resumed sailing to the south-east, firing guns and signalling to the four ships he had seen and supposed to be British. Dumanoir's forces had already had a run-in with the British, having been chased by two frigates, the 38-gun HMS Boadicea under Captain John Maitland, and the 36-gun HMS Dryad under Captain Adam Drummond. Boadicea and Dryad sighted Phoenix and the four sails to the south at 8.45 that evening, and made signals to them. Baker was suspicious of the new sails, standing between him and the French ships, and so did not stand towards them, instead continuing on to the sails in the south. By now it was clear on Boadicea and Dryad that a substantial force was gathering, as Phoenix closed with four ships of the line, and three other sails were also sighted in the vicinity. They eventually drew to within two miles of the weather-most ship, the 80-gun HMS Caesar, but received no reply to their signals, and drew away at 10.30pm, where after they lost sight of both the French and British ships, and took no further part in the battle.

Read more about this topic:  Battle Of Cape Ortegal, Prelude

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