1805 - Captain King off Dunkerque


 
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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1805 Invasion Flotilla 309

The time approaching for concentrating near Boulogne the invading flotilla and the army it was to transport, Admiral Ver-Huell, about the middle of May, became impatient to quit Dunkerque with the division of gun-vessels that lay at anchor in the road and harbour. The majority of these he had himself, in the latter part of April, conducted from Ostende, * and the remainder had since arrived, by three or four at a time, as opportunity offered. The right wing of the army, then encamped between Ostende and Dunkerque, prepared to march ; and Marshal Davoust who commanded it, preferring a water-passage, embarked with Admiral Ver-Huell. Unfavourable winds prevented the latter from weighing ; nor did a change take place until towards the middle of July : in the interim the marshal had disembarked, and, with his corps, had marched for Ambleteuse. On the 17th of the month, at 6 p.m., a light north-east wind enabled the Dutch admiral to put to sea (if keeping close along shore can be called so) with the four prames, Ville-d'Aix, Ville-d'Anvers, Ville-de-Genève, and Ville-de-Mayence, and 32 first-class gun-vessels ; the latter under the command of two captains of the Batavian navy, the former of the French capitaine de frégate Bernard-Isidore Lambour. The admiral with great judgement, formed his division into two lines, in such a manner that all the vessels could fire together with ease : two of the prames were placed in the centre of the outer line, where the admiral himself commanded, and the other two at the extremities, which were the stations assigned to the two Dutch captains. Several other gun-vessels were at Dunkerque, but they, being of a smaller class, had retired into the harbour to escape the fury of the north-west gales. Directions had been left by Admiral Ver-Huell for these gun-vessels to follow, in two divisions, as soon as an engagement should be seen to take place between his division and the enemy.

Owing to the numerous banks and shoals off Ostende and Dunkerque, the British squadron in the vicinity, consisting the 20-gun ship Ariadne, Captain the Honourable Edward King, three or four ship-sloops and bombs, and about as many gun-brigs, was at anchor off Gravelines. Ships loom large in thick weather. It must have been owing to this, that the French mistook the Ariadne, a ship not above a third larger than either of the French prames, for " un vaisseau rasé, " and her companions (increased in number as well as size) for " deux fregates, trois corvettes à trois mâts, et neuf bricks. " At 6 h. 30 m. p.m. the Ariadne and squadron discovered the flotilla, then just under way ; but the lightness of the wind and the slow sailing of the prames so retarded its progress, that its course was not clearly ascertained until 7 h. 15 m. p.m. ; when,

* See p. 306 victoires et Conquêtes, tome xvi., p 76

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