Author Topic: Early life of the Battalion and the Rochefort Expedition 1757  (Read 5381 times)

Offline themonsstar

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Early life of the Battalion and the Rochefort Expedition 1757
« on: December 31, 2011, 02:34:19 PM »
I have a copy of the book 'Rochefort Expedition Enquiry 1757' which I've been having a read on and off for the last couple of years, I have known for a long time that the 1st & 2nd battalions of The 8th of Foot Regiment had been connected to this expedition in some way.If you decide to read on,this is what I have put together using the Manchester Regimental histories books and the Internet on the early life of the second Battalion, and the Rochefort expedition of September 1757.

Under an Army Order dated 20 September 1756 (WO26/23) a 2nd  Battalion was raised for the 8th of Foot Regiment  ( Lieutenant-General Wolfe's Regiment).

Maj James Slack’s book (The History of the late 63rd(West Suffolk) Regiment),starts with the following paragraph


1758. The King has been pleased to constitute the second Battalion of General Wolfe’s 8th Foot (The King’s) a Regiment, and numbered 63rd Foot.
Whitehall 9th of May 1758.

So this drew a blank with the first book I was looking to find out the early history of the Regiment, I had to look at my other three books:-

History of the Manchester Regiment (late the 63rd and 96th Foot). Col.H.C.Wylly.

Difficulties Be Damned The King's Regiment   8th. 63rd. 96th.  A history of the city Regiment of Manchester and Liverpool.  Patrick. Mileham

Manchester Regiment.   Whyte. ED

I have decided to start looking at the history of the 8th of Foot Regiment in the 1750s as my start Point, in 1751 Regiments on the various regular establishments were ‘numbered’ and accorded precedence, roughly in accordance with their date of formation.  The Regiment had been recognised as ‘One of the old six corps’, which together with the ‘Seven Royal Regiments’ were now granted special devices on their Grenadier Caps, Drums and Colours.  Thus by Royal warrant the Regiment became the 8th or The King’s Regiment.

Another regimental event happened in 1756 also for very practical and functional reasons.  On the outbreak of the Seven-Year War, The 8th of Foot as well as another 15 Regiments were ordered to increase in establishment to 20 companies and divided between the 1st and 2nd battalions of each of their Regiment. Each Battalion was to be composed of 10 companies each of 70 private, making, inclusive of officers, a total of 814 per Battalion; but on 24 September the following year.The establishment was changed and each Battalion was to contain nine companies only, each of 100 privates.

Unlike the two previous European wars in which Britain had joined Continental powers hostile to French aspirations and fought in campaigns mainly conducted on the continent of Europe.  The Seven Years Wars involved fighting in many of the combatants’ colonial possessions,  It was to include fighting in the Colonies in North America, West Indian islands & India.
The 1st & 2nd Battalions of the 8th of Foot were not required for campaign service in 1756 the first year of the Seven Years War, although 1757 they embarked for an expedition against Rochefort on the French West Coast, there is only a hint of this action in any of the written regimental histories(Difficulties Be Damned).  'They embarked for an expedition against Aix, an offshore island on the West Coast of France, which was swiftly captured but abandoned shortly after'.  This is the only sentence in any of the regimental histories of the first expedition of the two battalions.

The Rochefort Expedition 1757
The Raid on Rochefort (or Descent on Rochefort) was a British amphibious attempt to capture the French Atlantic port of Rochefort in September 1757 during the Seven Years War. The raid pioneered a new tactic of "descents" on the French coast, championed by William Pitt who had taken office a few months earlier.
After a number of delays the expedition reached the French coast, capturing the offshore island of Île d'Aix (Island of Aix)With the army commander Sir John Mordaunt refusing to attempt a landing, the force sailed for home. The raid ended in failure, but it was followed by several similar operations in the subsequent years.
Britain had begun the Seven Years War badly, losing several battles to the French in North America, as well as seeing their major Mediterranean naval base of Minorca captured by a French force while Britain's ally Hanover was faced with a French invasion. In the wake of these losses, a new government including William Pitt came to office in July 1757.
Pitt wanted a bold stroke that would force the French to detach large numbers of troops, planned to be used in their invasion of Germany, to protect the French coast against further raids. He also hoped to satisfy the public who clamoured for such a campaign. An urgent demand for such an expedition came from Britain's only major ally Frederick the Great who saw it as vital to relieve pressure from an anticipated French offensive against Prussia. Frederick had suggested attacks on the French coast in the hope that it would provide immediate relief to both his own armies and the Army of Observation under the Duke of Cumberland.
The target which was selected was the port of Rochefort which had been highlighted by a British engineer Captain Robert Clarke (or Clerk) as being particularly ill-fortified and vulnerable to a surprise British attack. Pitt sought approval of the expedition from George II and the Duke of Newcastle who both gave their assent to the concept of a large raid on the town, although both had doubts about the practicality of the scheme. As the situation in Hanover deteriorated both later pleaded for the expedition to be diverted to the German port of Stade where they could support retreating Hanoverian forces, but Pitt refused to switch the destination of the force.
Command of the land forces was awarded to Sir John Mordaunt, with Edward Cornwallis and Henry Conway as his deputies. Edward Hawke was selected to command the naval contingent whose role was to escort Mordaunt's force, land it on the French shore, and then evacuate it when the mission was over. James Wolfe was appointed as the expedition's Quartermaster General.
The expedition was assembled on the Isle of Wight during July and August 1757. There were soon a number of delays, which pushed back the departure date. Most of the officers spent their time in Newport. 8,000 troops were eventually camped there, although all but the most senior officers were not told of the expedition's destination to prevent French spies from discovering this.
On 7 September, a month after they had been scheduled to depart, the force sailed from Britain heading for the Bay of Biscay. It arrived off Rochefort on the 20 September, but due to heavy fog was unable to land for several days. Hawke and the naval officers were already extremely concerned about the worsening weather, fearing equinoctial gales that would make the sea more and more dangerous as the autumn wore on.
Guided by Joseph Thierry, a Huguenot river pilot, two British warships approached the fort that dominated Île d'Aix. The guns of the fort were bombarded into silence by the guns of HMS Magnanime commanded by Richard Howe and within two hours the island, considered a crucial starting point in any further assault on Rochefort, had fallen to the British.
Wolfe observed the mainland from Ile d'Aix and he noted a battery of guns at Fort Fouras on the mainland, which guarded the mouth of the River Charente. The French were totally unprepared to resist an assault, and had been taken completely by surprise by the appearance of the British fleet. Wolfe advocated an immediate assault on Fort Fouras, and also a diversionary raid in the direction of nearby La Rochelle to confuse the French about the true intentions. Mordaunt agreed to an attack on Fort Fouras, but then had to cancel it when it was discovered that the water around it was too shallow for Hawke's ships to get close enough to bombard the fort.
On 25 September Mordaunt held a council of war, where the optimistic estimates of the weakness of French defences at Rochefort were rejected, this decision being largely based on the uncertainty regarding the state of the ditch around Rochefort, which if we would have prevented assault by escalade. It was decided that an attempt to capture Rochefort was "neither advisable nor practicable". Wolfe continued to press for a fresh assault, even though the element of surprise had now been lost, but Mordaunt was hesitant. It was still hoped that the French could in some way be harassed by the British forces and General Conway pushed Mordaunt to consider a fresh assault on Fouras, which was finally agreed at a second council of war in the morning of 28 September. A landing site near Chatelaillon was selected despite the fears of Mordaunt that large French forces might be lurking behind the sand dunes. The troops embarked in the landing boats late that night, however, a strong wind arose and in conjunction with the tide this raised concerns about the length of time before reinforcements could be sent to support the first wave of troops. The landing was cancelled.
Hawke had grown impatient with the General's indecision and he issued an ultimatum to Mordaunt. If the army wasn't prepared to stage a landing, then he was going to withdraw to Britain. Faced with this ultimatum, Mordaunt decided that a further immediate assault was impossible, and agreed that the force should withdraw. Before withdrawing the fortifications of Ile d'Aix were demolished.
On 1 October the force departed Rochefort, evacuating the Île d'Aix and arrived back in England on 6 October. Mordaunt justified his decision by saying that the navy was needed to cover an incoming French fleet from the West Indies rather than sitting indefinitely off Rochefort. Mordaunt's conduct was swiftly criticised by many officers who had taken part in the operation and had believed a landing had still been possible even at that late stage with the advantage of surprise lost. Wolfe and Howe were widely acclaimed for their efforts, but the disaster at Rochefort was compared to the failure of Admiral Byng to prevent the loss of Minorca the previous year, for which he had been shot.
The failure of the expedition led to an inquiry which recommended the Court-Martial of Mordaunt, which commenced on the 14 December. Despite intense public pressure for a guilty verdict, Mordaunt was acquitted by the court as it was ruled that the mission had been badly-conceived. The exoneration infuriated George II, who believed that Mordaunt should have been dismissed, while Pitt was left annoyed by the verdict that implied that he was largely responsible for the failure of the operation and which criticised the concept of Descents. The expedition had cost roughly a million pounds and it was likened by Henry Fox to "breaking windows with guineas".
Nonetheless Pitt remained committed to the idea of raids on the French coast. The following year Britain launched the second of its descents with an aborted assault on St Malo and the brief occupation of Cherbourg. One result of the raid, although unintended by the British, was to make the route into Rochefort unsafe for French trade convoys from the West Indies forcing them instead to make for Brest, where they were easier to capture for patrolling British warships.

General Sir John Mordaunt C-in-C for the Rochefort Expedition 1757
General Sir John Mordaunt, KB (1697 – 23 October 1780) was an English soldier and Whig politician, the son of Lieutenant-General Harry Mordaunt and Margaret Spencer.
On the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War in 1756, he was placed in charge of training troops at Blandford. The next year, he was picked by George II as the commander of a hit-and-run "descent" to be made upon the French port of Rochefort, seconded by Henry Seymour Conway and Edward Cornwallis. This attack was planned on the basis of a report by Lt. Robert Clerk that the defenses at Rochefort, as of 1754, were inadequate to hold off an assault. However, very little was known about the number of French troops in the area or the state of preparation, and both Mordaunt and Conway were uneasy about the expedition. The naval commanders, Sir Edward Hawke and Sir Charles Knowles were also unenthusiastic. However, the plan was championed at the highest levels, by William Pitt and Sir John Ligonier, and the commanders were reconciled with their mission.
The force of 31 warships and 49 transports carrying 10 battalions of soldiers set sail on 6 September 1757, and captured the Île d’Aix on 21 September. However, they now discovered that shallow water would prevent the ships from approaching closer than a mile and a half from shore, requiring a long and hazardous landing by boats. A council of war aboard HMS Neptune on 25 September considered further reports by Clerk that the defenses might have been improved, and reports by neutral ships of French preparation to resist the landing. The officers concluded that assaulting Rochefort was "neither advisable nor practical". A second council, called on 28 September aboard HMS Ramillies, decided on a night attack upon the forts at the mouth of the River Charente, the first embarkation to be led by Mordaunt in person. However, the navy called it off due to strong winds at the last minute, and Hawke declared the next day his intention to depart immediately. Mordaunt and his subordinates were compelled to concur, and the expedition returned on October 6.
Pitt was furious at the failure of the expedition, and the expenditure of more than £1,000,000 without result. George II appointed the Duke of Marlborough, Lord George Sackville and John Waldegrave to form a board of inquiry into the expedition. The board found that "It does not appear to us that there were then, or at any time afterwards either a Body of Troops or Batteries on the Shore sufficient to have prevented the attempting a Descent," and that it did not believe the defenses of Rochefort could have been sufficiently improved so as to repel an assault. In the wake of the inquiry, Mordaunt was tried by court-martial in December. However, due to the discretion inherent in his initial instructions, he was unanimously acquitted of disobedience. Nonetheless, George II removed Mordaunt, Conway and Cornwallis from the staff in July 1758, and replaced Mordaunt as governor of Sheerness.
Mordaunt retained his commission, but never again held a senior field command. He was promoted general in 1770, and was governor of Berwick from 1778 until 1780, when he died in his home near Southampton.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2011, 02:45:46 PM by themonsstar »

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Early life of the Battalion and the Rochefort Expedition 1757
« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2011, 02:49:02 PM »
Some other maps & pic

Offline Robert Bonner

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Re: Early life of the Battalion and the Rochefort Expedition 1757
« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2011, 03:39:24 PM »
Great stuff Roy.
It certainly helps fill in that gap in the published histories.

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Early life of the Battalion and the Rochefort Expedition 1757
« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2012, 07:16:08 PM »
Number XLI. copy of a letter from Mr. Secretary Pitt to Sir Edward Hawke, dated October 7, 1757

Yesterday morning I received the flavour of your letter of the 30th last, which was immediately laid before the King; and having this day had and account from Sir John Mordaunt, but the troops are arriving at Portsmouth, I am commanded to signify to you his Majesty's pleasure,that you do give immediate orders for disembarkation at Southampton,the five following battalions, viz. the Earl of Home's, Lord George Bentinck's, first Battalion of Lt Gen Wolfe's, first Battalion of Col Kingsley's, and first Battalion of Col Howards; and that the five other battalions viz. the Earl of Loudoun's, Col Amberst's, Col Hodgson's, Col Brudenel's,and the first Battalion of Major General Cornwallis's,be disembarked at Portsmouth.  With regards to the two battalions of Lieutenant-General Stuarts's and Earl of Effingham's, which have served on board the fleet, it is the King's pleasure, but they be disembarked at Portsmouth or Chatham, according as the Man of War may be ordered to either of these places.
I am yours W.Pitt

Offline themonsstar

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Re: Early life of the Battalion and the Rochefort Expedition 1757
« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2012, 07:29:02 PM »
Number XXXVII.Copy of a letter from Sir John Mordaunt to Mr Secretary Pitt, dated Ramilies, Rade de Bafque ( Road of Basque), September 30, 1757.
Last Thursday I had the honour of yours of the 15th instant, and I am pleased with thinking that, before the receipt of it, we had judged right in resolving to attack Island of Aix, though it could not possibly be done without breaking, in some measure in to his Majesty's orders, in regard to the time of our returning to England.
We took the Island of Aix on the 23rd; and as Sir Edward Hawke,will send a particular account of the affair, I shall trouble you with a few words on that head.
When Vice-Admiral Knowles was sent with his Division to attack the Fort, I sent Major-General Conway with the Buffs, Bentinck's and the Kings regiments, to be ready to land, whenever the Admiral thought it might be of any use.
The thought did not hold out above half an hour after Captain.Howe had given his first broadside which he did not do till he was within 50 yards of it.
I am quite unhappy at the great national objective, the taking of Rochefort, was not at this period practicable; and what adds to my unhappiness, is that the King so strongly ordered it.  But when his Majesty reads the particular events and circumstances, which are strictly stated in the Council of War.  I Slatter myself but he will not be dissatisfied with our proceedings.

Whilst the fortifications of the fort on the Island of Aix were blowing up, we thought it right to make some attempt, and agreed on landing and attacking the forts, leading to and upon the river Charente.  Orders were accordingly given on the 28th, for our landings the same night with the whole army. At one in the morning, Rear Admiral Broderick, with most of the Captains, and all the Sea Officers of every kind, with all the boats that could be got, were ready.  Most of the troops for the first embarkation were on board; unfortunately, such a high wind sprung up from the shore, that all the Sea Officers gave their opinion but the land should not be attempted:but the boats must be towed so very slowly; the transport boats reported to me could not some of them make any way at all;but it would be daylight before the first embarkation could probably be landed and all agreed it would be six hours for the body of troops could be supported by the landings of a second embarkation.

Added to this, that the ships could not come near enough to help to cover the landings, and the Garrison of Rochefort was within two Leagues.  Under these circumstances, and the strong representation of the Sea Officers,the General Officer agreed to send the troops back again to the transports.

The wind being fair, and the works near blown up, I had next morning a note from Sir Edward Hawke, letting me know that if the General Officers had no further Military Operations to propose, considerable enough to authorise his detaining the Squadron longer here, he intended to proceed with it to England, without loss of time.  I communicated this note to the Land Officer that composed our Council of War; and, upon weighing every circumstance,  we agreed to return to England.

I greatly grieve but I must report to his Majesty, that so fine a body of troops has done nothing, but I am not conscious that any Commanding Officer (however, more able than myself) could have done more under our circumstances.

I am yours
J Mordaunt
« Last Edit: January 02, 2012, 10:02:59 AM by themonsstar »