The Glorious First of June 1794, Mark Lardas

The Glorious First of June 1794, Mark Lardas

The battle of the Glorious First of June 1794 was the first major naval battle of the French Revolutionary Wars, and one of the more unusual naval battles of the Age of Sail. In 1794 the French Republic was in trouble, with revolts taking place around the country and a failed harvest meaning that a major famine was on its way. In order to fend off this danger, the French ordered vast amounts of food from the young United States, and combined those ships with others carrying supplies from their own colonies to form a massive convoy – if anything larger than most convoys of the Second World War, at least as far as the number of ships involved. Both sides knew how important this convoy was, so the British sent their Channel Fleet to try and intercept it, and the French sent their fleet out to try and protect it.

This battle has several unusual features. It was the only major battle of the age of sail to be fought in the open ocean – all of the rest were fought close to the coasts (which helps explain why most are named after coastal features), simply because that was where it was easiest to actually find the opposing fleet. Second, both sides believed that they had won the battle. The British had won the clash between the two battle fleets, capturing several French warships. The French had successfully drawn the British away from the crucial food convoy, which reached France safely. Third, large scale fighting took place on three separate days (with a gap before the final day),

We start with a look at the two navies, which despite using very similar looking ships were actually rather different. As the author points out, revolutionary France had the conscript fleet with politically appointed officers, while Britain had a largely volunteer fleet, with officers who needed to demonstrate good professional abilities at several key moments in their careers if they were to ever gain command of a ship of the line or expect to be given command as an Admiral.

We then move on to the account of the campaign itself, including all of the related convoy actions, and the movements of all of the fleets and detached forces that were involved. This was a rather more complex campaign than many of the age of sail, with there even being changes to the fleets between the first two days of the battle and the First of June, as ships were attached from the French convoy escort and damaged ships sent away for repairs.

It must be said they probably could have skipped the Battlefield Today chapter – none of the ships involved still exist, the exact location of the battle can’t be known with any real certainty given the nature of navigation in the age of sail, and there is more on the later Battle of the Atlantic than on the Glorious First of June!

One nice feature is that the author has taken the time to calculate how much food could have been carried on the convoy, how many people that might have fed and for how long, and what impact that might have had on the history of the French Revolution. 

Opposing Commanders
Opposing Navies
Opposing Plans
The Campaign
The Battlefield Today

Author: Mark Lardas
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 96
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2019

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