Third battle of Trichinopoly, or battle of Sugar Loaf Rock, 2 October 1753

The third battle of Trichinopoly or battle of Sugar Loaf Rock, 2 October 1753 was a major British success during the siege of Trichinopoly of 1753-54 that still failed to raise the siege.

The last two years of the Second Carnatic War were dominated by the fighting around Trichinopoly. The British and their ally and one claimant for the post of Nabob of the Carnatic Mohammad Ali held the town, which at one point was the only significant place still held by him. A first siege of Trichinopoly (1751-52) had failed, but the French had regrouped, and the city was blockaded from the start of 1753 until the end of the war.

During 1753 three major battles were fought outside the city. The first battle of Trichinopoly (or battle of the Golden Rock) of 7 July had seen the French fail to capture the Golden Rock, a key feature to the south of the town. In the aftermath of this defeat the French commander, M. Astruc, resigned and was replaced by M. Brennier. The second battle of Trichinopoly (18 August) saw Brennier fail to prevent a British army under Major Stringer Lawrence fight its way into the city.

In the aftermath of this battle the French retreated to the south bank of the Sauvery River, but on 6 August Astruc returned at the head of 400 Europeans, 2,000 Sepoys and 3,000 Maratha cavalry. He resumed command of the French forces, and moved them back into the gap between the Golden Rock and the Sugar Loaf Rock, from where they could prevent supplies from reaching the city. Lawrence moved his camp to Fakir's Tope, just to the north-west of the Golden Rock, and the two sides spent the next month facing each other across a two-mile gap. The Golden Rock was defended by 100 Europeans, 600 Sepoys and two companies of Indian infantry, with two guns.

The stalemate was ended after Lawrence received reinforcements of his own - 300 Sepoys and 237 Europeans, accompanied by Captain Caillaud arrived on 30 September. The British were still badly outnumbered. Astruc now had 600 Europeans, 3,000 Sepoys and between 20,000 and 30,000 troops from his Mysorean and Maratha allies (a mix of infantry and cavalry). Lawrence also had 600 European troops, but only 2,000 Sepoys and 3,000 cavalry from Tanjore.

Lawrence wasn't daunted by the numerical odds - recent experience had suggested that the European troops and Sepoys were the key to any battle, and there the two sides were roughly equal. He was also running short of supplies, and so decided to force a battle. On 1 October he offered battle, but Astruc refused to be drawn out of his camp.

Lawrence decided to attack on 2 October. The French camp was rather badly strung out. The French were camped on the western slopes of the Sugar Loaf Hill. The Maratha camp was to the east of the hill, while the Mysorean camp was spread out between the French and the Golden Hill. The French and Maratha camps were protected by field works, but they hadn't been completed around the Mysorean camp. Lawrence's plan was to attack the Golden Rock under cover of darkness, then advance through the Mysorean camp in an attempt to catch the French by surprise.

Lawrence split his 500 British troops into three divisions, each supported by two field guns. The grenadiers made up the first division. The Sepoys came next, deployed in two lines, with the Tanjore horse to the rear.

The plan worked well. The British managed to get within pistol shot range of the Golden Rock before they were challenged, and stormed the rock with ease. The French fled back into their camp without even firing their two pre-loaded field guns.

Lawrence then ordered his cavalry to swing around to face the field works guarding the French camp. The Briitsh troops were ordered into line, with the Sepoys positioned in echelon on each flank and the guns on the flank of each division. The infantry and artillery were then ordered to advance through the Mysore camp. The Sepoys were ordered to play loud music as they advanced.

This part of the plan was a partial success. The surprise attack and unexpected noise caused a panic in the Mysorean camp, and they scattered into the dark. However the British formation was somewhat broken up as it advanced through the dark camp, and the three British divisions were soon separated by significant gaps, with the grenadiers some way in front. In the French camp Astruc was roused by the noise and soon realised where the attack was coming from.

As dawn broke the main part of the battle was about to begin. The French infantry were deployed in line, facing west, with a division of 2,000 Sepoys on their left. The division intended for their right had mistakenly taken up a position on the Sugar Loaf Rock instead. The British were advancing with their three divisions somewhat out of position.

As the two rear-most British divisions struggled to catch up with the grenadiers, the British Sepoys on the right opened fire on their French opposites. The French Sepoys broke and fled after receiving a single volley, leaving the French infantry isolated. The French Sepoys on the Sugar Loaf Rock were also driven off by their British opposites, although not until the battle in the centre had been joined.

The British infantry managed to form into a single line just in time. In the exchange of close-range volleys that followed Captain Kilpatrick, leading the grenadiers, was badly wounded, and was replaced by Caillaud. He led an attack on the exposed left French, firing another volley before leading a bayonet charge. The French left was forced back onto its centre, disrupting that part of the line. Astruc was unable to restore order, and the French infantry began a costly retreat back towards Srirangam.

The French lost half of their European troops. Around 100 were killed or wounded, while 200 unwounded troops, amongst them Astruc, were taken prisoner. The British also captured their entire camp, and eleven guns. Despite the close-quarters fighting the British only lost 40 European troops killed and wounded.

The French still had one fortified position south of Trichinopoly, Waikonda, to the north-west of Fakir's Tope. Lawrence moved to attack it later on 2 October and it was unexpectedly stormed on 3 October.

Although Lawrence had won a major victory, it didn't end the siege of Trichinopoly. The French still held the island of Srirangam, and Dupleix was able to partially restore the situation. The city actually came closest to falling on 9 December, when a surprise attack actually captured part of the walls, but was eventually repulsed. The siege dragged on into 1754, and only ended after Dupleix was restored to France and a preliminary peace agreed between his replacement and Governor Saunders at Madras.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 January 2012), Third battle of Trichinopoly, or battle of Sugar Loaf Rock, 2 October 1753 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_trichinopoly_3rd.html

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