The naval Battle of Lagos between Britain and France took place over two days, on 18 and 19 August 1759, during the Seven Years' War off the coasts of Spain and Portugal, and is named after Lagos, Portugal. For the British, it was part of the Annus Mirabilis of 1759.
The ministers of King Louis XV of France drew up plans to invade Britain in 1759, during the Seven Years' War. An army had been collected at Vannes, in the south-east of Brittany, and transports had been brought together in the landlocked waters of the Morbihan which are connected with Quiberon Bay. The scheme of the French ministers was to combine twenty-one ships of the line lying at Brest under the command of de Conflans, with twelve which were to be brought round from Toulon by Comte de La Clue. The army was then to be carried to some point on the coast of England or Scotland by the united squadrons.
The task of blockading de la Clue at Toulon was given to Admiral Edward Boscawen, who had with him fourteen sail of the line. Boscawen reached his station on 16 May 1759. At the beginning of July want of stores and water, together with the injury inflicted on some of his vessels by a French battery, compelled him to go to Gibraltar to provision and refit. He reached the port on 4 August. On 5 August de la Clue left Toulon, his squadron including three frigates as well as twelve ships of the line, and on 17 August passed the straits of Gibraltar, where he was sighted by the look-out ships of Boscawen.
The British fleet hurried out to sea, and pursued in two divisions, separated by a distance of some miles owing to the haste with which they left port. Knowing the British had spotted his fleet, during the night of 17/18 August de la Clue decided not to sail to the original rendezvous point, the nearby Spanish port of Cadiz where he feared his fleet would be blockaded, but instead to head for the open ocean. His flagship changed course, hoping the rest of the fleet would follow, but in fact only seven ships of the line did so. The remaining eight ships continued to steer for Cadiz, either because they did not see the leader's course change in the dark, or because their captains wanted to find safety in the nearest friendly port.
In the morning de la Clue found he had only seven ships of the line with him, but was confident the rest would soon rejoin him and so stopped to wait for them. Soon after his lookouts saw eight ships on the horizon, which matched the numbers of the missing portion of his fleet. Only when the ships approached closer and the rest of the British fleet appeared on the horizon, did the French realize they were being pursued by a superior British force, and turned to flee.
To maintain cohesion, the seven French ships had to sail at the speed of the slowest ship in their grouping, the Souverein, and they were gradually overhauled by the faster British ships in the afternoon of 18 August. One, the 74-gun Centaure, was captured after a very gallant resistance, in which the British flagship Namur was severely damaged. Boscawen transferred to Newark.
During the night of 18/19 August, two of the French ships (Souverain and Guerrier) altered course to the west, and escaped. The remaining four fled to the north, and into Portuguese waters near Lagos, where Océan, de la Clue's flagship, and Redoutable were driven ashore and destroyed, while Téméraire and Modeste were captured.
De la Clue was seriously wounded, and carried ashore in Portugal. The five ships in Cadiz were blockaded by Boscawen's second-in-command, Admiral Broderick.
Although the defeat of the French squadron ruined an integral part of their scheme to invade Britain, the French decided to persevere with their attack. The scheme was finally put to rest in November after the French naval defeat at the Battle of Quiberon Bay.
After refitting, several of Boscawen's victorious Mediterranean ships were sent to join Admiral Hawke's fleet off Ushant, and five were with Hawke when he destroyed the Brest fleet at Quiberon Bay.
A young slave named Olaudah Equiano, who would eventually become a prominent abolitionist in England, participated in the engagement on the English side. He included an account of the battle in his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.
Order of battle
Line of Battle: Namur 90 (flag) Prince 90 Newark 80 Warspite 74 Culloden 74 Conqueror 70 Swiftsure 70 Edgar 64 St Albans 64 Intrepid 60 America 60 Princess Louisa 60 Jersey 60 Guernsey 50 Portland 50 Frigates: Ambuscade 40 Rainbow 40 Shannon 36 Active 36 Thetis 32 Lyme 24 Gibraltar 24 Glasgow 24 Sheerness 24 Tartar's Prize 24 Sloops: Favourite 16 Gramont 16 Fireships: Aetna 8 Salamander 8
Océan 80 (flag) - Aground and burnt August 19 Téméraire 74 - Captured August 19 Modeste 64 - Captured August 19 Redoutable 74 - Aground and burnt August 19 Souverain 74 - escaped Guerrier 74 - escaped Centaure 74 - Captured August 18
- Ships which did not take part in the battle, having separated at night and subsequently sailed to Cadiz