Îles Saint-Marcouf

Îles Saint-Marcouf are a group of two small uninhabited islands off the coast of Normandy, France. They lie in the Baie de la Seine region of the English Channel and are 6.5 km (4.0 mi) east of the coast of the Cotentin peninsula at Ravenoville and 13 km (8 mi) from the island of Tatihou and the harbour at Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue. In addition to the fortifications described below, on the larger island there is a lighthouse that dates to 1948.

The larger island, île du Large, is 500 metres (1,600 ft) east of the smaller île de Terre. They have a total area of 1,400 hectares (3,500 acres) and a maximum altitude of 10 metres (33 ft).

The islands take their name from Saint Marcouf, a saint born in Bayeux, whom it was said could cure anyone of scrofula. He died on the Îles Saint-Marcouf on 1 May 588 CE. There was a monastic presence on the islands until the 15th century.

Îles Saint-Marcouf
Îles Saint-Marcouf from the beach at Ravenoville
Îles Saint-Marcouf from the beach at Ravenoville
Îles Saint-Marcouf is located in Lower Normandy
Îles Saint-Marcouf
Îles Saint-Marcouf
Location in Lower Normandy
Îles Saint-Marcouf is located in France
Îles Saint-Marcouf
Îles Saint-Marcouf
Îles Saint-Marcouf (France)
Coordinates: 49°29′45″N 1°09′00″W / 49.49583°N 1.15000°W

British occupation

During the French Revolutionary Wars the Royal Navy held the islands for nearly seven years as a strategic forward base. In July 1795 British sailors and marines from the Western Frigate Squadron under the command of Captain Sir Sidney Smith in Diamond occupied the islands. Smith dedicated several gunvessels, including Badger, Hawke, Shark, and Sandfly, the latter purpose-built for the role, to provide materials and manpower for fortifying the islands and establishing a naval garrison. Royal Engineers helped construct redoubts and shore batteries that detachments of marines and Royal Artillery, who augmented the sailors, helped man. In December 1795 the crew of Shark mutinied, in part because of the harsh conditions on the islands, and handed her over to the French.

The islands served as a forward base for the blockade of Le Havre, a launching point for intercepting coastal shipping, and as a transit point for French émigrés. The British repelled a major attack on 7 May 1798 by French troops at the battle of the Îles Saint-Marcouf, with minimal British but heavy French casualties.

The Nautilus (1800).

The islands almost made naval history in late 1800. On 12 September Robert Fulton sailed his submarine the Nautilus, to Growan, near Isigny-sur-Mer, a small harbour near the islands. His objective was to use his submarine to attack the British gunvessels protecting the islands. He made two attempts, but each time his targets sailed before he could reach them. Then bad weather as winter approached prevented any further attempts.[1] Although Fulton continued work on his concept, he never again threatened the islands.

French control

The British returned the islands to France under the terms of Article 3 of the 1802 Treaty of Amiens; the last British forces left the islands in May 1802. Napoleon ordered the islands fortified and the work began in 1803. The primary defences consisted of a fort on Île du Large, 170 meters in diameter. The main structure is a circular fort with a diameter of 53 meters, with 48 firing ports for cannon on two levels of 24 casemates each. This work was completed by 1812. There are seven underground chambers and a cistern. The fort could accommodate 500 troops.

In 1840 a lighthouse was constructed within the fort. German forces destroyed it during World War II.

Later construction, between 1860 and 1867, added a quay, a powder magazine, and a semaphore station, the whole encircled with moats carved into the rock. The total complex covers 2.5 hectares. The quay has since disappeared, reclaimed by the ocean. In 1871, 200 Communards from the Paris Commune were incarcerated here in deplorable conditions.

On Île de Terre, the fortifications date to between 1849 and 1858. They consist of a shore battery and a guard house capable of housing some 60 troops. Neither island was ever attacked again, or at least not until the 20th Century.

World War II

In World War II the islands became the first French territory that seaborne Allied forces took on D-Day. At 04:30 on 6 June 1944 four US soldiers, armed only with knives, swam ashore from two-man canoes. When they had verified that the islands were unoccupied, 132 troops from 4th and 24th Squadrons of the U.S. 4th Cavalry Group landed on the islands to secure the approaches to Utah Beach.[2] Although they faced no resistance, the US troops suffered 19 casualties, killed and wounded, from mines that the Germans had left.[3]

Nature reserve

The French government directly administers the islands, which have the status of a protected nature reserve with restricted access. Île de Terre has been a designated nature preserve since 1967. Île du Large has been off-limits since 1991 for reasons of safety. The primary bird species are seagulls and cormorants. In winter tens of thousands of seagulls shelter on the islands. Although access to the islands is forbidden, anchoring between them is permissible.

Currently, the fortifications are falling into ruins. Since 2003, the association "les Amis de l'île du Large Saint-Marcouf" (Friends of Saint-Marcouf), together with students from the Collège de Carentan, have initiated a campaign to convince the authorities once again to permit recreational access to the Île du Large. In 2009 the Friends of Saint-Marcouf received permission to commence preservation work on the fortifications and they have conducted five projects, the last in Summer 2013.(See: [1] Website, in French, of "les Amis de l'île du Large Saint-Marcouf".)

Citations and references

  1. ^ Flexner (1993), p.273.
  2. ^ "Harvey Olson, American Soldier". warchronicle.com. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  3. ^ "THE SEABORNE ASSAULT: Task Force U Moves In". UTAH Beach to Cherbourg. Department of the U.S. Army, Historical Division. 1 October 1947. Retrieved 2008-04-03.
  • Flexner, James Thomas (1993) Steamboats come true: American inventors in action. (Fordham Univ Press).
  • Laws, Lt. Col. M.E.S. "The Defence of St. Marcouf", Journal of the Royal Artillery, Vol. 75, No. 4, pp. 298–307.(Pdf version)
  • James, William (1837). The Naval History of Great Britain, from the Declaration of War by France in 1793, to the Accession of George IV. 2. R. Bentley. pp. 114–8. ([2])

Further reading

  • Gérard Morizot — Histoire des îles Saint-Marcouf en Cotentin, jusqu'au XIXe siècle ISBN 2-9516531-0-7

External links

Action of 30 May 1798

The Action of 30 May 1798 was a minor naval engagement between a small British squadron and a small French squadron off the coast of Normandy, France during the French Revolutionary Wars. A British blockading force, which had been conducting patrols in the region in the aftermath of the battle of St Marcou earlier in the month, encountered two French vessels attempting to sail unnoticed between Le Havre and Cherbourg. Closing with the French, the British commander Sir Francis Laforey sought to bring the French ships to battle as they attempted to turn back to Le Havre before the British squadron could attack. The French were unable to escape, and Laforey's ship, the fifth rate HMS Hydra, engaged the French corvette Confiante, while two smaller British ships chased the Vésuve.

After a brief exchange of fire, their crews ran both French ships onshore close to the mouth of the River Dives, where several of the landing barges that had survived the attack on the British-held Îles Saint-Marcouf were sheltering. Confiante was badly damaged and boarding parties from Hydra and the other ships were able to board and burn her the following morning. Vésuve had suffered less than the Confiante and troops onshore were able to protect her from further attack until her crew could bring her into the nearby harbour of Sallenelles. There she was repaired and eventually she returned to Le Havre.

Baie de la Seine

The Baie de la Seine or Baie de Seine (Bay of the Seine River) is a bay in northern France.

Battle of the Îles Saint-Marcouf

The Battle of the Îles Saint-Marcouf was an engagement fought off the Îles Saint-Marcouf near the Cotentin peninsula on the Normandy coast of France in May 1798 during the French Revolutionary Wars. In 1795 a British garrison was placed on the islands, which operated as a resupply base for Royal Navy ships cruising off the coast of Northern France. Seeking to eliminate the British presence on the islands and simultaneously test the equipment and tactics then being developed in France for a projected invasion of Britain, the French launched a massed amphibious assault on the southern island using over 50 landing ships and thousands of troops on 7 May 1798. Although significant Royal Navy forces were in the area, a combination of wind and tide prevented them from intervening and the island's 500-strong garrison was left to resist the attack alone.

Despite the overwhelming French majority in numbers, the attack was a disaster: nearly 1,000 French soldiers were killed as the boats were caught in open water under the island's gun batteries: several were sunk with all hands. Heavy fire from batteries and Royal Marines prevented a single French soldier from landing and the retreating fleet was subject to heavy fire from the smaller island to the north, inflicting further losses. British casualties were negligible. Although this operation indicated the probable result of a full-scale invasion of Britain, the threat remained and British forces began a close blockade of the surviving landing craft that were anchored in the Cotentin ports. A month after the battle this strategy resulted in a secondary success when a French frigate and corvette passing along the coast were intercepted and defeated by the blockade squadron.

Cotentin Peninsula

The Cotentin Peninsula (French pronunciation: ​[kɔtɑ̃tɛ̃]), also known as the Cherbourg Peninsula, is a peninsula in Normandy that forms part of the northwest coast of France. It extends north-westward into the English Channel, towards Great Britain. To its west lie the Channel Islands and to the southwest lies the Brittany Peninsula.

The peninsula lies wholly within the department of Manche, in the region of Normandy.

HMS Badger (1794)

HMS Badger was a Dutch hoy, one of some 19 that the Admiralty purchased for the Royal Navy in 1794 after France's declaration of war in 1793. The intent was to create quickly a class of gun-vessels for operations in coastal and shallow waters. Of all the hoys, she had probably the most distinguished career in that she helped fend off two French attacks on the Îles Saint-Marcouf, and participated in the capture of several French vessels. She was sold in 1802.

HMS Hawke (1794)

HMS Hawke was a former Dutch hoy, one of 19, that the British Admiralty purchased in 1794 for service with the Royal Navy. She seems to have participated in only one engagement against the French and was sold in 1796.

HMS Nancy (1794)

HMS Nancy was the mercantile vessel Nancy that the Royal Navy purchased in 1794 for use as a fire ship. She was never expended as a fireship but instead served as a small gunboat. The Navy sold her at Deptford in 1801.

Nancy underwent fitting out at Woolwich between May and 9 August 1794. The Navy commissioned her in June 1794 under Mr. Jeremy Brown. A formal listing of the vessels under the command of Captain Sidney Smith lists her, together with five similar fire ships. In September 1795 Nancy was at the Îles Saint-Marcouf, which the Royal Navy had occupied in July 1795, possibly at the same time as the British forces there repelled a French attack.On 10 March 1796 a court martial convened on Pegasus, then at Portsmouth, to try Mr. Mark Moore, commander of Nancy, for embezzlement. The court found him guilty and ordered him dismissed the service, never to serve again in His Majesty's naval service.Nancy was recommissioned in March 1800 under Lieutenant William Fitzwilliam Owen, for the Downs. An account of the "State of the Navy" described her as a fire vessel, with no guns, and under the command of "Owen".In late 1801 the hired armed cutter King George, under the command of a Mr. Yawkins, served under Nelson at his failed attack on Boulogne. On 25 August Nelson came aboard King George to conduct a reconnaissance of the French fleet. In October Nelson gave Owen command over King George as well, with secret instructions to launch a burning Nancy at the French fleet. The fire attack did not occur and Nancy was sold in December.

HMS Sandfly (1794)

HMS Sandfly was a Musquito-class floating battery of the Royal Navy. The two-vessel class was intended to defend the Îles Saint-Marcouf (Marcou) situated off the Normandy coast. During her brief career Sandfly shared in the capture of one privateer and participated in a battle that would earn her crew the Naval General Service Medal. The Peace of Amiens returned the islets to France in May 1802; Sandfly was paid off in June 1802 and broken up in 1803.

HMS Serpent (1794)

HMS Serpent was a former Dutch hoy that the British Admiralty purchased in 1794 for service with the Royal Navy. She was paid off in 1796 and was sold around 1802.

HMS Shark (1794)

HMS Shark was a former Dutch hoy that the British Admiralty purchased in 1794 for service with the Royal Navy. In 1795 her crew mutinied and handed her over to the French.

List of islands of France

This is a list of islands of France, including both metropolitan France and French overseas islands.

List of shipwrecks of France

This is a list of shipwrecks located in or off the coast of France.

Musquito-class floating battery

The Musquito class was a Royal Navy class of two 4-gun floating batteries built to a design by Admiral Sir Sidney Smith specifically to serve with his squadron in French coastal waters. Both were named and ordered under Admiralty Order 26 May 1794.

Naval campaigns, operations and battles of the French Revolutionary Wars

The naval campaigns, operations and battles of the French Revolutionary Wars were events during the period of warfare between 1792 and 1802 that were undertaken by the French Revolutionary government and several European powers in support of their land-based strategies.

Sardinia – 1793

Toulon – 18 September – 18 December 1793

Guernsey – 23 April 1794

May 1794 – 2 May 1794 – 1 June 1794

Glorious First of June – 1 June 1794

Gulf of Roses – 14 February 1795

Croisière du Grand Hiver – 24 December 1794 – 3 February 1795

Genoa – 14 March 1795

1st Groix – 17 June 1795

2nd Groix – 23 June 1795

Hyères – 13 July 1795

1st St Vincent – 7 October 1795

Capitulation of Saldanha Bay – 17 August 1796

Newfoundland expedition – 28 August 1796

Expédition d'Irlande – December 1796

Camperdown – 11 October 1797

2nd St Vincent – 14 February 1797

Îles Saint-Marcouf – 7 May 1798

Nile – 1–3 August 1798

Tory Island – 12 October 1798

Dunkirk – 7 July 1800

Malta – 2 September 1798 – 4 September 1800

Copenhagen – 2 April 1801

Algeciras – 6–12 July 1801

Boulogne – 4 and 15–16 August 1801


Saint-Marcouf is the name of several places in Normandy, France:

Saint Marcouf, Calvados, in the Calvados department

Saint-Marcouf, Manche, in the Manche department

Îles Saint-Marcouf, a group of islands off the coast of the Cotentin PeninsulaSee alsoSaint Marcouf

Saint Marcouf

Saint Marcouf (variously spelled Marcoult, Marculf, Marcoul, Marcou), Abbot of Nantus (Nanteuil-en-Cotentin) in the Cotentin, is a saint born in the Saxon colony of Bayeux in Normandy around 500 AD and who is best known for the healing of scrofula.

The accounts of his life are merged with that of St. Helier, whom he sent to convert the inhabitants of Jersey to Christianity. He also visited Jersey himself, where miracles are ascribed to him.

He died on May 1, 558, in the Îles Saint-Marcouf off the east coast of the Cotentin Peninsula. His relics were transferred to the abbey of Corbény in Champagne, where they played a part in the coronation ceremonies of kings of France, crowned at Reims, and the tradition of royal touch.

The traditional power ascribed to French and English kings to cure scrofula (the king's Evil) by the laying on of hands derives from the efficacy of the relics of Marcouf, according to the chronicle of Joan of Arc, Chronique de la Pucelle.

Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, Manche

Sainte-Marie-du-Mont is a commune in the Manche department and in the region of Normandy in north-western France. The commune has 740 inhabitants.

USS Corry (DD-463)

USS Corry (DD-463), a Gleaves-class destroyer, (also known as the Bristol class), was the second ship of the United States Navy to be named for Lieutenant Commander William M. Corry, Jr., an officer in the Navy during World War I and a recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Corry was launched 28 July 1941 by Charleston Navy Yard, sponsored by Miss Jean Constance Corry. The ship was commissioned on 18 December 1941, Lieutenant Commander E. C. Burchett in command; and reported to the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

USS Tide (AM-125)

USS Tide (AM-125) was an Auk-class minesweeper acquired by the United States Navy for the dangerous task of removing mines from minefields laid in the water to prevent ships from passing.

Tide was an oceangoing minesweeper built during World War II. Named for the cyclic rising and falling of Earth's ocean surface, she was the only U.S. Naval vessel to bear the name.

Tide was laid down on 16 March 1942 at Savannah, Georgia, by the Savannah Machinery and Foundry Company; launched on 7 September 1942; sponsored by Mrs. Ruth Hangs; and commissioned on 9 May 1943, Lieutenant Commander Alvin Robinson, USNR, in command.

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