In 1759, on this day the home fleet of British admiral Sir Edward Hawke was destroyed off the French coast at Quiberon Bay (portrayed in "The Day After" by the artist Richard Wright). It was a strategic masterstroke for the French Government whose forces were facing impending expulsion from North America, West Africa and India. Because Foreign minister Duc de Choiseul's options had narrowed to the one significant reprisal on offer - an attack on Britain itself.
The Day AfterIronically, the tactical failures at St Nazaire were also the result of over-boldness. Because under full sail, Hawke had chased the French fleet through the rocks and shoals that stretch south from the end of the Quiberon peninsula into the confined waters of the Bay of Quiberon itself with night approaching in an onshore gale, despite having no charts, pilots or any foreknowledge of the waters.
"Where there was passage for the enemy, there was passage for me. We are so close, their pilots will be mine. If they go to pieces on the shore, they shall become our beacons" ~ Admiral HawkeAdmiral Conflans received fresh orders to transport a diversionary force of twenty thousand troops to Glasgow, luring English regiments north. Meanwhile, a further twenty thousand troops set sail for Maldon in Essex, whilst a third force descended upon Ireland. Had Duc de Choiseul received better military intelligence, he would have surely realised that a single assault upon Maldon would have sufficed.
"[Quiberon Bay] is the graveyard of our navy, the ruin of all our hopes" ~ King George II of EnglandPanic soon set in when news of the naval disaster arrived at the War Department in London. Due to the imperial overstretch placed on the one hundred twenty-five regiments of the British Army, only fourteen thousand regulars were immediately available for the defence of the realm. And the breathtaking news that Charles Stuart was aboard the French Flagship Soleil Royal prevented the War Office from raising militias for fear that a Jacobite Fifth Column would form.