Second battle of Cape Finisterre (1747)
The Second Battle of Cape Finisterre was a naval battle
Naval battle
A naval battle is a battle fought using boats, ships or other waterborne vessels. Most naval battles have occurred at sea, but a few have taken place on lakes or rivers. The earliest recorded naval battle took place in 1210 BC near Cyprus...

 which took place on 25 October 1747 (14 October 1747 in the Julian calendar
Julian calendar
The Julian calendar began in 45 BC as a reform of the Roman calendar by Julius Caesar. It was chosen after consultation with the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria and was probably designed to approximate the tropical year .The Julian calendar has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months...

 then in use in Britain) during the War of the Austrian Succession
War of the Austrian Succession
The War of the Austrian Succession  – including King George's War in North America, the Anglo-Spanish War of Jenkins' Ear, and two of the three Silesian wars – involved most of the powers of Europe over the question of Maria Theresa's succession to the realms of the House of Habsburg.The...

. A British
Kingdom of Great Britain
The former Kingdom of Great Britain, sometimes described as the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain', That the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, shall upon the 1st May next ensuing the date hereof, and forever after, be United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN. was a sovereign...

 fleet of fourteen ships of the line commanded by Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Hawke intercepted a French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 convoy protected by eight French ships of the line commanded by Admiral Desherbiers de l'Etenduère.

The battle took place in the eastern Atlantic, roughly halfway between Ireland and Cape Finisterre
Cape Finisterre
right|thumb|300px|Position of Cape Finisterre on the [[Iberian Peninsula]]Cape Finisterre is a rock-bound peninsula on the west coast of Galicia, Spain....

 in northwest Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

. It was a decisive British victory that has been described as "the most brilliant naval action of the war". It put an end to French naval operations for the remainder of the war, thus eliminating any threat of an invasion of Britain and threatening the very existence of France's empire overseas.


North America was a secondary theatre of the War of the Austrian Succession, principally fought between France and Britain, and was a source of raw materials for both sides. Britain's Royal Navy had disrupted France's transatlantic trade in the past, notably at the First Battle of Cape Finisterre
First battle of Cape Finisterre (1747)
The First Battle of Cape Finisterre saw 14 British ships of the line under Admiral George Anson attack a French 30-ship convoy commanded by Admiral de la Jonquière during the War of the Austrian Succession. The British captured 4 ships of the line, 2 frigates and 7 merchantmen, in a five-hour...

 on 14 May 1747. France made a second attempt to reopen the supply routes in October of that year, assembling 252 merchantmen in the Basque Roads
Basque Roads
Basque Roads is a sheltered bay on the Biscay shore of the Charente-Maritime département of France, bounded by the Île d'Oléron to the west and the Île de Ré to the north...

 off La Rochelle
La Rochelle
La Rochelle is a city in western France and a seaport on the Bay of Biscay, a part of the Atlantic Ocean. It is the capital of the Charente-Maritime department.The city is connected to the Île de Ré by a bridge completed on 19 May 1988...

. They would be protected by eight men-of-war from Brest.

The British got wind of this huge convoy, and dispatched a squadron of 14 smaller ships from Plymouth on 20 August (9 August Julian). Hawke was given the command at the last minute after Sir Peter Warren had fallen ill with scurvy. The French set off on 17th (6th) October, and were sighted by Hawke's fleet eight days later at 7am.

Initially Hawke thought he was up against a much larger fleet of warships, and formed a line of battle; when the French responded in kind Hawke realised that he was faced by inferior numbers that could be progressively enveloped by a "swarm" of ships. This allowed the British to make up for their inferior individual firepower by concentrating their fire on one ship at a time as Anson had done back in May, rather than rigidly sticking to a line of battle. At first the French mistook the British ships for members of the convoy; on realising their mistake the French hoped to use their warships to just divert the British for long enough that the merchants had a chance to escape into vastness of the Atlantic.


Hawke approached from leeward while the French sailed close-hauled in a line ahead, hoping he would engage in a long-range artillery duel. Instead, Hawke made the signal for a general chase, freeing his captains from the constraints of a formal battle. The British overhauled the French line and enveloped it from rear to van, capturing six ships. The Comte de Vaudreuil in Intrépide, first in the French line, turned back to help his admiral, allowing both ships to escape. The French also lost 4000 men, which would prove as devastating as the loss of the ships themselves.

The merchants escaped under the protection of the Content 64 and Castor 26, and continued across the Atlantic. However most of them were intercepted and captured in the West Indies.


This disaster convinced the French government of its helplessness at sea, and it made no further efforts to fight convoys through the British blockade. This soon brought most of France's colonies close to starvation—particularly in the West Indies—thus bringing France to the negotiating table despite her victories in the Low Countries and elsewhere. King Louis decided to give back the Netherlands in return for normality in the colonies. The psychological impact of the battles of Cape Finisterre continued into the Seven Years War (1756–1763), as King Louis would prove reluctant to send men and supplies to New France and her other colonies.

Britain (Edward Hawke)

64/66 (flag, John Moore
Sir John Moore, 1st Baronet
Sir John Moore, 1st Baronet KB was a British officer of the Royal Navy during the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War. He eventually rose to the rank of Admiral.-Childhood:...

) 74 (Thomas Fox)
  • Edinburgh
    HMS Warspite (1666)
    HMS Warspite was a 70-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched in 1666 at Blackwall Yard. This second Warspite was one of the five ships designed to carry more provisions and lower deck guns higher above the water than French and Dutch equivalents...

     70 (Thomas Cotes) 64 (Charles Saunders) 64 (Henry Harrison) 60 (Charles Watson) 60 (Thomas Hanway) 60 (Arthur Scott) 60 (Robert Harland) 60 (Philip de Saumarez) 60 (John Bentley) 60 (George Brydges Rodney
    George Brydges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney
    George Brydges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney, KB was a British naval officer. He is best known for his commands in the American War of Independence, particularly his victory over the French at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782...

    ) 50 (Phillip Durrell) 50 (Charles Stevens) 16

France (des Herbiers de l'Etenduère)

  • Tonnant 80 (flag, Duchaffault) — escaped
  • Intrépide 74 (Comte de Vaudreuil) — escaped
  • Terrible 74
    HMS Terrible (1747)
    HMS Terrible was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. She had previously served in the French Navy under the same name.-French career and capture:...

     (Comte du Guay) — captured
  • Monarque
    HMS Monarch (1747)
    HMS Monarch was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. She had previously served in the French Navy under the name Monarque....

    74 (de la Bédoyère) — captured
  • Neptune 70/74 — captured
  • Trident 64 (Marquis d'Amblimont) — captured
  • Fougueux 64 (du Vignau) — captured
  • Content 64 — escaped with merchants
  • Severn 50/56 (du Rouret de Saint-Estève) — captured
  • Castor 26 — escaped with merchants
  • Convoy of 252 ships
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