Battle of Negapatam, 6 July 1746

The battle of Negapatam (6 July 1746) was an inconclusive battle fought between British and French naval squadrons operating off the south coast of India. After the battle the British fleet sailed to Ceylon and later to Bengal, leaving Madras exposed to French attack (First Carnatic War). The battle was fought on 25 June (old style) or 6 July (new style), although some later sources confuse the two dates and place it on 25 July

Admiral La Bourdonnais was originally sent out with five ships of the line and sweeping powers over the French East India Company. The company's representatives managed to get both the powers and the fleet withdrawn, and La Bourdonnais made his way to Mauritius without a fleet. He was an energetic commander, and soon managed to form a squadron of eight ships, only one of which, the 70 gun ship of the line Achille was a Royal warship. The remaining ships were improvised warships, mounting between 36 and 26 guns, for a total of 282 guns. A ninth ship, the Renommee, with either 28 or 20 guns might also have been present.

The British squadron arrived in the Bay of Bengal in 1745, under the command of Commodore Curtis Barnet, an able officer, but he died on 29 April 1746 and was succeeded by Commodore Edward Peyton, who was not so well regarded. Peyton had six ships, but five were more heavily armed than every French ship apart from the Achille, giving him a total of 270 guns.

The two fleets clashed on 25 June/ 6 July 1746 between Fort St. David and Negapatam. La Bourdonnais wanted to try and board the British ships, but the wind was against him. Peyton showed little willingness to engage the French and for most of the day the two fleets were out of gun range. Only at four in the afternoon did the fighting begin, and most of the battle was conducted at long range. The fighting ended at dusk, with no serious damage having been inflicted on either fleet. The British had lost fourteen dead and forty-six wounded, the French twenty-seven dead and fifty-three wounded. One French ship, the Insulaire, was so badly damaged that she had to leave the fleet, while only one British ship, the Medway's Prize, suffered significantly.

In the aftermath of the battle Peyton abandoned the Indian coast, and sailed off to Ceylon to carry out repairs. In early August these were complete, and Peyton sailed back towards Madras, but on 6 August he ran into the French again. This time no fighting took place, and after three days of manoeuvring Peyton disappeared again. He was later replaced by Commodore Thomas Griffin, arrested and sent back to Britain, but no further action was taken against him.

The lack of a British fleet left Madras exposed to French attack. A short siege followed (siege of Madras, 14-21 September 1746), before the town fell to the French. It remained in their hands until the end of the First Carnatic War, when it was returned in exchange for Louisburg in Canada. 

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (7 December 2011), Battle of Negapatam, 6 July 1746 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_negapatam.html

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