Siege of Collioure, Saint-Elme and Port-Ventres, 6-29 May 1794

The sieges of Collioure, Saint-Elme and Port-Ventres of 6-29 May 1794 saw the French eliminate the last major Spanish foothold across the eastern Pyrenees at the end of the first year of the War of the Convention. The ports of Collioure and Port-Ventres and the fortress of Saint-Elme had fallen to the Spanish in late December 1793 (combat of Collioure, 21 December 1793), and they were the only places in France to remain in Spanish hands after the French victory at Le Boulou on 30 April-1 May (Bellegarde, on the Franco-Spanish border also remaining in Spanish hands, but it was soon blockaded by the French).

The ports of Collioure and Port-Ventres are only just over one mile apart, on a section of north facing coast. The fortress of Saint-Elme sits on a hill between the two ports. The entire area was defended by 8,000 Spanish troops under the command of General Navarro, and the Spanish also had a fleet in the area (as did the French). General Dugommier, the commander of the French Army of the Eastern Pyrenees, took command of the attack, leaving General Pérignon to conduct the blockade of Bellegarde.

By 6 May the French had posted detachments to block every exit from the three fortresses, but the siege-proper didn't start until 6 May, when a fleet of 17 ships under Captain Castanié arrived with the siege artillery. On the same day Castanié's ships began the bombardment of Collioure, while the siege guns opened fire on Saint-Elme on 10 May. The French siege lines soon surrounded all three places, and this convinced Navarro that he would have to make a sortie. On the night of 16-17 the Spanish attacked all along the French lines. At first they were successful, and Dugommier was only saved from capture by a battalion of grenadiers from the 28th regiment, but once the French reserves arrived the Spanish were forced back into their forts.

The length of the siege began to frustrate Dugommier. On 23 May, when a practical breach had been battered in the walls of Saint-Elme, he decided to make an assault on the fort. The plan was for French sharpshooters to pick off the defenders before the assault took place, but the French infantry advanced too fast and suffered heavy casualties in the ditch around the fort.

Although the assault ended in failure it did convince General Navarro to begin surrender negotiations, but the French terms were too harsh, and so the fighting resumed. The walls of Saint-Elmo began to crumble under the bombardment, forcing the garrison to evacuate the place. The guns were then turned on Port-Vendres, with the same result. Navarro's men were now penned in at Collioure, and he began to consider making his escape by sea. A legion of French émigrés, the ambulances and some of the supplies were sent out first, and Admiral Gravina arrived to carry out the main evacuation, but on 26 May his fleet was driven away by a storm. Navarro was forced to resume surrender negotiations. This time the French terms were more generous. The surviving 7,000 men in the garrison surrendered on 29 May, and were exchanged for a similar number of French prisoners.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (3 March 2009), Siege of Collioure, Saint-Elme and Port-Ventres, 6-29 May 1794 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_collioure.html

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