1804 - Catamaran expedition


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1804 Invasion Flotilla 233

spectators on shore ; but no more mischief appears to have been done than has just been stated.

In another 20 minutes the Peggy, passing through a vacant space left purposely for her, exploded in the rear of the line, with an effect as slight as the first, merely wounding an officer and two men. A third fire-vessel, the Devonshire, exploded at about 1 a.m. on the 3d, wounding two men only. The fourth, which was the Amity, pointed to the admiral's prame ; but the Ville-de-Mayence, slacking her cables, let the enemy drift harmlessly by. This vessel, at her explosion, appears to have effected even less than her three companions.

Four or five of the catamarans also exploded, the last at about 3 h. 30 m. a.m. ; but only one, and that by an unexpected occurrence, appears to have caused any destruction to the French. A British boat, having just done towing a catamaran, was, the French say, abandoned by her crew, but left with a sail up. If so, it must have been as a ruse, and the English must have transported themselves to another boat, as the enemy's gun vessel was approaching. Lord Keith's letter containing not a word of details, the French accounts are all to which we have to trust. A heavily-armed launch, or péniche, (No. 267) approached this vacant boat, into which 27 French soldiers and sailors instantly leaped. Scarcely had the latter made off with their prize, before the péniche ran foul of the catamaran, and was instantly blown into the air, with the loss of all her remaining crew, consisting of her commander and 13 soldiers and sailors. Those left in the captured boat gained the port of Vimereux. This made the French loss amount, altogether, to 14 killed and seven wounded. The British had not a man hurt.

Many were the anathemas hurled against England for the barbarity of this attack by catamaran, but surely without reason. Had she not a right to crush, in the ports of its formation if she could, the flotilla which, it was publicly declared, had for its sole object the conveyance of troops for a descent upon her shores ? What is there, compared with explosion-vessels and fire-ships, peculiarly gentle in the employment of red-hot balls, and grape and langridge shot ; or, indeed, in any of the missiles or weapons with which war is usually waged ? That the catamaran affair was a silly project was asserted with more reason, than that it was a cruel or an illegal one. It was a complete failure, and, like every failure of the kind, conferred additional strength upon that which it was intended to destroy. Under an idea, for instance, that the British would improve their plan and make a second attempt at burning the flotilla, " une chaîne de barrage " was constructed, which completely sheltered the line of gun-boats at Boulogne from explosion-vessels of every description.

On the 8th of October, a division of French lugger-rigged gun-vessels being perceived from the road of Jersey, creeping

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