Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Battle of Vizagapatam

Ripples of the Napoleonic War were felt in Vizagapatam in September 1804, when a French squadron led by Contre-Admiral, Charles-Alexandre Durand Linois, attacked the British Royal Navy’s ship HMS Centurion and two East Indiamen (armed merchant ships) led by Captain James Lind and anchored in the harbour. On the British side, one man died, two of the three ships engaged in battle were damaged, and one was captured, while on the French side, five men died, six were wounded, and all three ships that fought in the battle suffered severe damage.

The attack was one in a series of French raids against East India Company vessels. In 1803, before war was declared, Napoleon had ordered a squadron to sail under Linois into the Indian Ocean to set up garrisons in the French and Dutch colonies in the region and to attack British merchant ships that were lightly protected. Linois attacked British ships in the South China Sea (South of Mainland China and Taiwan and west of the Phillipines), in the Mozambique Channel (between Madagascar and Africa), off Ceylon (Sri Lanka), along the Indian coast of the Bay of Bengal, and Pulo Aura (east of Malaysia) before he engaged in the battle at Vizagapatam.

Both sides claimed victory, though Napoleon privately admonished Linois for abandoning the battle too early. When Linois wrote that he cut short the battle to minimize damage to his ships, Napoleon replied, “France cares more for honour, not for a few pieces of wood.”



Engraving by Thomas Sutherland after a painting by Sir James Lind

Defence of the Centurion in Vizagapatam Road, Sept 15th 1804, dated 1818, source National Maritime Museum

  Picture sourced from: Wikimedia Commons