Saturday, 17 October 2020

All at Sea - French Third Rates of Renown (Argonaute)

The French 74-gun Argonaute is an interesting choice of model to include in the 'Third Rates of Renown' range by Warlord Games, in that the history of this particular ship was relatively short and her most significant action was fought as part of the Combined Fleet at Trafalgar where her performance there was not without criticism.

I would have loved to have sat in on that particular product development presentation by the Warlord Games, Black Seas Brand Manager presenting the case for her inclusion, but hey-ho, lets see what I might have said to justify the proposal.

Achille, sister ship to the Argonaute and like her, one of the sub-class of Temeraire class ships, being one of the forty-six Duquesne group. 
Model of Achille held by Musee Nationale de la Marine, showing her as in 1805, also another Trafalgar veteran.

Argonaute of 74-guns was ordered to be built at the French port of L'Orient on the 10th July 1794, but was not completed and launched for another four years, 22nd December 1798 despite the needs of the French navy to defend French interests abroad as it struggled to rebuild from the chaos of the revolution.

Perhaps one of her principle claims to fame is that she along with her forty-six sister ships of the Duquesne group formed the core group that became part of the standard French 74-gun ship of the line class named after the first ship in it, Temeraire, launched in 1782 and designed by the great French ship designer Jacques-Noel Sane. 

Jacques-Noel Sane French Naval Engineer

Indeed it was Sane who led the move to settle on a standardised set of designs of French ships that came to characterise the Marine Nationale throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

With the Peace of Amiens signed in 1802 and French troops already involved in suppressing the Haitian revolt in their colony of Saint Domingue, Rear Admiral Jacques Bedout was personally selected by Napoleon to lead a squadron of five ships of the line to join the fleet of Vice Admiral Vilaret de Joyeuse in support of French operations, with Admiral Bedout raising his flag aboard the Argonaute.

Rear Admiral Bedout raised his flag on the Argonaute
to lead his squadron to the Caribbean in 1802 

The campaign in Saint Domingue ended in French defeat in 1803 and Admiral Bedout retired through ill-health with the French navy now back at war with the British Royal Navy.

Following her service in the Caribbean, Argonaute's final campaign under French colours would be in 1805 when she is listed as part of Spanish Vice Admiral Gravina's Squadron of Observation, part of the Franco-Spanish Combined Fleet that would meet Nelson at Trafalgar.

Argonaute was not with Vice Admiral Villeneuve on his cruise to the Caribbean in the summer of 1805 and thus did not take part in the Battle of Cape Finistere, 22nd July 1805, when Villeneuve clashed with Vice Admiral Calder's British Squadron before heading to El Ferrol and then on to Cadiz, but I have so far found no reference as to where and when she came under Villeneuve's command but can only conclude that she was one of the French squadron which also included (Duguay Trouin, Redoutable, Heros, Fougeux, all 74-gun) docked at El Ferrol, to be collected along with the Spanish squadron (Principe Asturias 112-guns, Neptuno 80-guns, Monarca, Montanes, San Augustin, San Ildefonso, San Francisco de Asis and San Juan Nepomuceno all 74-guns) before Villeneuve took his fleet south to Cadiz.

At Trafalgar the Argonaute would be under the command of Captain Jacques Epron-Desjardins and would be astern of the Swiftsure 74-guns and slightly ahead of the Spanish Argonauta 80-guns and San Ildefonso 74-guns as British Vice Admiral Collingwood's Lee Column approached the Combined Fleet's line of battle.

Between 12.30 and 12.45, HMS Bellerophon followed in turn by HMS Colossus broke the Combined Fleet's line with Bellerophon passing between the Spanish ships Bahama and Montanes raking both as she passed, before exchanging fire with the French Swiftsure and Aigle with whom she would become locked.

My interpretation of HMS Colossus from my post about her in April

HMS Colossus following close behind swung in behind Swiftsure who in turn turned to starboard to offer her broadside, causing the following Argonaute to turn to starboard to engage Colossus with her portside guns, thus doubling the British ship.

However shortly after 13.00, in the smoke that surrounded the action, the Colossus and Argonaute ended up steering convergent courses and both Captains Morris and Epron could do nothing to avoid the crashing collision that followed that saw four of the Colossus' starboard gun ports ripped off.

That said, Epron in his report claims to have deliberately caused the collision stating;

'having hauled aboard the tacks on the courses we closed up the opening and obliged her to run us aboard to larboard.' 

The exchange of fire could not have been any closer as the two ship began to exchange blows like two boxers working each other over on the ropes, with broadsides exchanged muzzle to muzzle.

After a ten minute battering, according to Captain Morris on the Colossus, although Epron claimed it was half an hour, the Argonaute drifted astern, leaving Colossus free to to take on their next opponent the Spanish 74-gun Bahama under Commodore Galiano.

As the French ship drifted away to leeward she may have also taken brief fire from HMS Revenge before she effectively quit the battle, with Captain Epron stating her damage as;

'shrouds cut to pieces . . . as well as our back-stays, all the rigging cut up, and the spars in a most shattered state, especially the main and mizzen masts, the fore topmast, the jib-boom, courses, hull, boats and spare spars. In this condition we fell off to leeward.'

Captain Epron concluded his report by listing his casualties as 187 which included 55 dead and 132 wounded from an initial crew of 755 men.

Argonaute escaped the battle and managed to sit out the storm that followed by anchoring outside Cadiz on the 22nd October, where she signalled the frigate Hermione to take her in tow, a signal that was seemingly ignored by Captain Jean Michel Mahe, the very experienced captain of Hermione, which apparently was to ignite a barrage of claims and counter claims between the two officers.

The close of the Battle of Trafalgar as at 17.00 - Nicholas Pocock

It would seem that Captain Mahe accused Epron of effectively being battle shy by quitting his station and the battle with his rigging undamaged.

The Argonaute was eventually taken into Cadiz, but it seems a combination of her damage and the British blockade that followed prevented her return to service and she was exchanged for the Spanish 68-gun Vencedor based in Ferrol, which left Argonaute at Cadiz where she would be broken up in 1806.

At Trafalgar the Argonaute would be armed with 28 x 36-pounder long guns on her lower deck, 30 x 24-pdrs on her upper deck, 12 x 8-pdrs on her quarterdeck, 4 x 8-pdrs on her forecastle and 3 x 36-pdr carronades on her poop.

She is shown with an over strength crew of 755 men which included 490 naval personnel, 215 infantry (members of the 16th and 79th Ligne) and 50 marine artillerymen.

Although not, in my mind, a third rate of much renown, the Argonaute model captures nicely the rounded stern galleries of a typical French man of war of this era and makes a nice addition to any French collection.

Sources referred to;
The Trafalgar Companion - Mark Adkin
The Battle of Trafalgar Geoffrey Bennett

Next up, Mr Steve and I managed to get another battlefield walk in before the new restrictions on movement and headed out into Gloucestershire to visit the Wars of the Roses battlefield of Tewkesbury, and the English Civil War clash at Ripple Field, plus I have another book review and a report on Steve M and my third game of Mr Madison's War which turned into a real swing of initiative war and the next ship in the Third Rates of Renown to feature will be the French 80-gun Formidable.


  1. A couple of fine looking ships there Jonathan. Your fleets must be getting quite sizeable now?
    Regards, James

    1. Thank you James, yes the collection is up around the sixty mark with another twenty-four to go to complete the first part of the plan.


  2. Fascinating picture of the model in the Musee Nationale de la Marine in your original post... washing day????

    1. Hi Steve,
      Yes indeed, I know that the canvass on the ships, sails and bedding etc, required airing regularly, particularly to avoid problems from damp.

  3. Very pretty French 3rd rate JJ.

    Makes you wonder how the French/Spanish fleet was organised though. "Yes, Argonaute parallel to Argounta if you please. Won't be confusing when giving orders. What could possibly go wrong ?"


    1. Hi Vince, thank you, I can't wait to get this lot out on the table, big style!

      The opposing fleets also contain a few namesakes, with all three having a Neptune or Neptuno for the Spanish and the British and French having a Swiftsure.

      But as Shakespeare would have said, 'a third rate is still a third rate by any other name!'