To defend against the pesky French revolutionaries and privateers, the Honorable East India Company formed a squadron under Commodore Charles Mitchell. Five big Indiamen and a small brig sailed down the Sunda Strait in early January 1794. Hoving into sight was a motley collection of French naval ships and privateers under Flag Captain Jean-Marie Renaud. He had convinced his captains that the best way to get to capturing prizes was to deal first with Mitchell. Renaud commanded a captured East Indiaman, two naval frigates, a small naval brig, and two large privateers.
The two lines approached on gently converging courses when signal flags snapped out from Prudente and the French executed a wear to starboard together, turning to run down the British. The slower Indiamen maintained their line ahead.
In the light airs tension flooded the decks as the two forced slowly closed. Then, as the range between the nearest ships closed to only 200 yards, the British executed a turn to port (the rear division, Pigot and Houghton, failing to read the signal, plowed ahead). Battle was thus joined at the head of the column with the two biggest and best manned and armed French ships, the naval frigates Cybele (40) and Prudente (36), engaging the little brig Nautilus (14) and the giant Indiaman Britannia (26).
Both sides fired high, with the French escaping with little more than scratches from the brig’s 6-pounders and some of Britannia’s sails seeing holes. However, the combination of maneuvers meant the Cybele and Prudente were sailing away from the action.
The largest French ship, the captured Indiaman Trouin (26) had fallen behind creating a gap which the British ships lunged toward, trying to catch the two large privateers Vengeur (30) and Resolue (26) against four two-decked merchants. But the lumbering Brits were too slow as well! Vengeur cleared the Britannia and delivered a devastating fire at close range. Britannia showed that her poor gunnery against Prudente was no fluke and barely scraped Resolue. However, the two ships, Britannia and Resolue tangled, the latter’s bowsprit stuck fast to the ratlines of the former.
The next ship in line for the British, Pitt (26), now closed and luffed to hammer the corvette. Two broadsides crashed out and ripped glass and woodwork, causing fearful damage. Meanwhile Britannia, with barely 100 crew, desperately tried to unfoul and prepare to repel boarders. Resolue prepared her guns for the moment she was free.
And free she soon became! Pitt, unable to halt her momentum, continued past and Britannia cut away the fouled rigging, only for Resolue, better manned and handled, to ease forward and deliver a stern rake. Down came the mizzen top!
By this time Trouin and the little Vulcain (14) had finally come up and engaged Nonsuch (26). Cybele and Prudente had made a long laborious wear about and were sailing to rejoin the fray but faced the virtually undamaged ships of the British rear who were finally closing and the British center, threatening to sandwich the French.
At this point one of those vicious tropical storms with torrents of rain engulfed the battlefield and the two sides broke off the action.
Resolue and Britannia were badly hurt but no other ship took any substantial loss.
Diatribes are simply often humorous recountings of the games played by the Long Island Irregulars. We play with toy soldiers and are unabashedly happy to have never lost this part of our childhoods..