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Glorious First of June

Glorious First of June, 1794. An Anglo-French naval battle fought some 400 miles out in the Atlantic from the Breton peninsula, which shelters the French naval base of Brest. Though the opposing fleets were of similar strength, the French under Villaret de Joyeuse were rather more concentrated than Lord Howe's better-found and manned ships: Howe's strategy was to watch Brest from Torbay, giving cover to Britain's Atlantic traffic, and to her West Indies possessions. The battle's immediate cause was Villaret de Joyeuse's evasion of Howe in order to cover a 117-strong convoy bound for Brest from America with 67,000 barrels of wheat flour for the critically under-provided French capital. Hence the French fleet putting to sea had been a political imperative. By a brilliant chase in foggy conditions, Howe intercepted the French, taking six ships prize and sinking another. As against 1,500 French killed there were only 300 British, with no ships lost. But the convoy from America reached Brest unscathed on 15 June. Though in some circles seen as a partial and overdue success for Howe, popularly his action was deemed a triumph over French republicanism.

David Denis Aldridge

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