1805 - Napoléon's plan of operations for his fleet


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1805 British and French Fleets 300

was then that the great blow was to be struck. All Napoléon's letters, written at this period, betray his anxiety about M. Ganteaume's departure. In one dated " Au château de Stupinis le 21 Avril, " he says to his minister of marine, " Le non départ de Ganteaume me contrarie beaucoup ; " and, in another dated at the same place two days afterwards, wherein he informs M. Decrès that he has despatched a courier to Ganteaume, to inform him that Nelson had gone to Egypt in search of Villeneuve, Buonaparte emphatically adds: " Dieu veuille que coon courrier ne le trouve point à Brest. "

After a vain endeavour, by forging news of disastrous events to the English in India, to weaken, by detachments abroad, the fleet off Ushant, Napoléon directs that, if Ganteaume cannot put to sea before the 20th of May, he is to remain quiet. * The fact is, that M. Villeneuve's stock of provisions was expending fast, and a longer delay might throw serious obstacles in the way of the expedition. The British blockading fleet still retaining its menacing posture, the next plan was, that Vice-admiral Ganteaume should remove with his fleet to a position outside the goulet, between Camaret bay and the east end of Bertheaume bay. To prevent the British from paying the spot a visit, when thus temptingly occupied, directions were given to strengthen the defences along the coast in the neighbourhood. This was so expeditiously as well as effectually done, that, by the first week in May, upwards of 150 pieces of cannon were mounted on the different batteries around Bertheaume and Camaret bays. The object of ordering M. Ganteaume to this outer anchorage was to facilitate his putting to sea, but, above all, to enable him to effect his junction with Vice-admiral Villeneuve ; who, on the probability that the former would not be able to quit Brest in time to meet the latter in the West Indies, had been directed to hasten to Ferrol. Having there augmented his force to 34 sail of the line, Vice-admiral Villeneuve was to take his choice of four routes for reaching Boulogne. The first two supposed a junction with the Brest fleet, thus: to appear before Rochefort, and, joining the five ships there and the one at Lorient, proceed to Brest, and then with 60 sail of the line enter the Channel ; or, as the Rochefort squadron occupied an equal number of British ships, letting that remain, proceed straight to M. Ganteaume's anchorage, and thence to the Channel with 54 sail of the line : in either of which cases, it appears, Napoléon designed that Vice-admiral Ganteaume, although junior to M. Villeneuve, should assume the command. All this was to be effected, if possible, without an action ; but, should one be unavoidable, it was to be fought, for obvious reasons, as near as possible to Brest. The third and fourth routes were, either to double Ireland, and, calling for the Texel squadron of seven,

* Précis des Evènemens, tome xi., pp. 228-239.

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