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Howe
Howe
98

were paid off. Howe himself struck his flag in December. On the death of Lord Rodney, May 1792, he was appointed vice-admiral of England, and on 1 Feb. 1793 was again ordered to take command of the Channel fleet, with, as before, the temporary rank of admiral of the fleet. It was not, however, till the end of May that the fleet was actually formed, and that Howe hoisted the union-flag on board the Queen Charlotte. During the rest of the year the fleet was pretty constantly at sea, though frequently obliged by stress of weather to take shelter in Torbay. Once or twice Howe sighted small squadrons of the French, but at a distance which permitted their easy escape. Scurrilous writers represented him as spending his time in dodging in and out of Torbay. One epigram, after reciting how Caesar had taken three words to relate his brave deeds, concluded—

Howe sua nunc brevius verbo complectitur uno,
  Et ' vidi ' nobis omnia gesta refert.

With his ships strained by continual bad weather, Howe returned to port in the middle of December, confirmed in the opinion which he had long held probably from the time of the arduous service off Brest in 1759 that the keeping the fleet at sea for the purpose of watching an enemy lying snugly in port was a mistake (Barrow, p.216; cf. Parl. Hist. 3 March 1779, xx. 202). Hawke before him, as St. Vincent and Nelson afterwards, held a different opinion, and naval strategists are still divided on the question.

It was not till the middle of April 1794 that the ships were refitted and again assembled at St. Helens: on 2 May they, numbering thirty-two sail of the line, put to sea. Howe, for the first time since the beginning of the century, reverted to the seventeenth-century practice of organising the fleet in three squadrons and their divisions under the distinguishing colours, appointing the several admirals to wear the corresponding flag, irrespective of the mast or colour to which they were entitled by their commission (Naval Chronicle, i.28). This may have been suggested by the unusual number of seven admirals in one fleet, and also by the coincidence of the commanders in the second and third posts being respectively admirals of the white and of the blue. Off the Lizard six of the ships were detached to the southward in charge of convoy, and Howe, with the remaining twenty-six, cruised on the parallel of Ushant, looking out for a fleet of provision ships coming to Brest from America. To protect these the French fleet put to sea on the 16th, under the command of Rear-admiral Villaret-Joyeuse and the delegate of the Convention, Jean Bon Saint-André, who appears to have been except in the details of manoeuvring the fleet the true commander-in-chief (cf. Chevalier, ii. 127, 131). On the 19th their sailing was reported to Howe, but it was not till the morning of the 28th that the two fleets came in sight of each other. The English were dead to leeward; but by the evening their van was up with the enemy's rear, and a partial action ensued, in which the three-decked ship Révolutionnaire, which closed the French line, was cut off and very severely handled. Completely dismasted, with four hundred men killed or wounded, she struck her colours. Night, however, was closing in; Howe signalled the ships to take their place in the line; and the Révolutionnaire made good her escape, and eventually got into Rochefort. The Audacious, with which she had been most closely engaged,was also dismasted, and being unable to rejoin the fleet bore up for Plymouth.

On the morning of 29 May the English were still to leeward, and Howe, unable to bring on a general action, resolved to force his way through the enemy's line. A partial engagement again followed, and three of the French ships, having sustained some damage, fell to leeward, were surrounded by the English, and were in imminent danger of being captured. To protect them, Villaret-Joyeuse bore up with his whole fleet, and in so doing yielded the weather-gage to the English.

During the next two days fogs, the necessity of repairing damages, and the distance to which the French had withdrawn, prevented Howe from pushing his advantage; but by the morning of 1 June he had ranged his fleet in line of battle on the enemy's weather beam, and about four miles distant. He made the signal for each ship to steer for the ship opposite to her, to pass under her stern, and, hauling to the wind, to engage her on the lee side. The signal was only partially understood or acted on. Many, however, obeyed the signal and the admiral's example. A few minutes before ten the Queen Charlotte passed under the stern of the French flagship the Montagne [see Bowen, James, 1751-1835], and at a distance of only a few feet poured in her broadside with terrible effect. As she hauled to the wind to engage to leeward, the 80-gun ship Jacobin blocked the way. She thrust herself in between the two, and for some minutes the struggle was very severe. Within a quarter of an hour the Queen Charlotte lost her fore top-mast, and the Montagne escaped with her stern and quarter stove in, many of her guns dismounted, and three hundred of her men killed or wounded, but with her masts and