Raid on Rochefort

The Raid on Rochefort (or Descent on Rochefort) was a British amphibious attempt to capture the French Atlantic port of Rochefort in September 1757 during the Seven Years' War. The raid pioneered a new tactic of "descents" on the French coast, championed by William Pitt who had taken office a few months earlier.

After a number of delays the expedition reached the French coast, capturing the offshore island of Île d'Aix. With the army commander Sir John Mordaunt refusing to attempt a landing, the force sailed for home. The raid ended in failure, but it was followed by several similar operations in the subsequent years.

Raid on Rochefort
Part of Seven Years' War
Chart of the Road of Basque 1757

British chart of the Basque Roads, 1757.
DateSeptember 1757
Result French victory. British withdraw without capturing Rochefort.
 Great Britain  France
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Great Britain John Mordaunt
Kingdom of Great Britain Edward Hawke
8,400 3,000


Britain had begun the Seven Years' War badly, losing several battles to the French in North America, as well as seeing their major Mediterranean naval base of Menorca captured by a French force while Britain's ally Hanover was faced with a French invasion. In the wake of these losses, a new government including William Pitt came to office in July 1757.[1]

Pitt wanted a bold stroke that would force the French to detach large numbers of troops, planned to be used in their invasion of Germany, to protect the French coast against further raids. He also hoped to satisfy the public who clamoured for such a campaign.[2] An urgent demand for such an expedition came from Britain's only major ally Frederick the Great who saw it as vital to relieve pressure from an anticipated French offensive against Prussia.[3] Frederick had suggested attacks on the French coast in the hope that it would provide immediate relief to both his own armies and the Army of Observation under the Duke of Cumberland.[4]

The target which was selected was the port of Rochefort which had been highlighted by a British engineer Captain Robert Clerk as being particularly ill-fortified and vulnerable to a surprise British attack.[5] Pitt sought approval of the expedition from George II and the Duke of Newcastle both of whom gave their assent to the concept of a large raid on the town, although both had doubts about the practicality of the scheme. As the situation in Hanover deteriorated both later pleaded for the expedition to be diverted to the German port of Stade where they could support retreating Hanoverian forces, but Pitt refused to switch the destination of the force.[6]

Assembly and voyage

Command of the land forces was awarded to Sir John Mordaunt, with Edward Cornwallis and Henry Conway as his deputies. Edward Hawke was selected to command the naval contingent whose role was to escort Mordaunt's force, land it on the French shore, and then evacuate it when the mission was over. James Wolfe was appointed as the expedition's Quartermaster General and the Army's chief of staff.[7]

The expedition was assembled on the Isle of Wight during July and August 1757. There were soon a number of delays, which pushed back the departure date. Most of the officers spent their time in Newport. 8,000 troops were eventually camped there, although all but the most senior officers were not told of the expedition's destination to prevent French spies from discovering this.[8]

On 7 September, a month after they had been scheduled to depart, the force sailed from Britain heading for the Bay of Biscay. It arrived off Rochefort on 20 September, but due to heavy fog was unable to land for several days.[9] Hawke and the naval officers were already extremely concerned about the worsening weather, fearing equinoctial gales that would make the sea more and more dangerous as the autumn wore on.[10]


The village of Aix behind its later Napoleonic ramparts.

Guided by Joseph Thierry, a Huguenot river pilot, two British warships approached the fort that dominated Île d'Aix. The guns of the fort were bombarded into silence by the guns of HMS Magnanime of 74 guns, commanded by Captain Richard Howe, soon joined by HMS Barfleur of 80 guns, and within two hours the island, considered a crucial starting point in any further assault on Rochefort, had fallen to the British.[11]

Wolfe observed the mainland from Ile d'Aix [12] and he noted a battery of guns at Fort Fouras on the mainland, which guarded the mouth of the River Charente.[13] The French were totally unprepared to resist an assault, and had been taken completely by surprise by the appearance of the British fleet. Wolfe advocated an immediate assault on Fort Fouras, and also a diversionary raid in the direction of nearby La Rochelle to confuse the French about the true intentions. Mordaunt agreed to an attack on Fort Fouras, but then had to cancel it when it was discovered that the water around it was too shallow for Hawke's ships to get close enough to bombard the fort.

On 25 September Mordaunt held a council of war, where the optimistic estimates of the weakness of French defences at Rochefort were rejected, this decision being largely based on the uncertainty regarding the state of the ditch around Rochefort, which if wet would have prevented assault by escalade. It was decided that an attempt to capture Rochefort was "neither advisable nor practicable".[14] Wolfe continued to press for a fresh assault, even though the element of surprise had now been lost, but Mordaunt was hesitant.[15] It was still hoped that the French could in some way be harassed by the British forces and General Conway pushed Mordaunt to consider a fresh assault on Fouras, which was finally agreed at a second council of war in the morning of 28 September.[16] A landing site near Chatelaillon was selected despite the fears of Mordaunt that large French forces might be lurking behind the sand dunes.[17] The troops embarked in the landing boats late that night, however, a strong wind arose and in conjunction with the tide this raised concerns about the length of time before reinforcements could be sent to support the first wave of troops. The landing was cancelled.


James Wolfe from NPG
Colonel James Wolfe participated as Quartermaster General, but was frustrated by the lack of action. His performance impressed Pitt, who had him promoted and sent with a force to capture Louisbourg.

Hawke had grown impatient with the General's indecision and he issued an ultimatum to Mordaunt. If the army wasn't prepared to stage a landing, then he was going to withdraw to Britain. Faced with this ultimatum, Mordaunt decided that a further immediate assault was impossible, and agreed that the force should withdraw.[18] Before withdrawing the fortifications of Ile d'Aix were demolished.[19]

On 1 October the force departed Rochefort, evacuating the Île d'Aix and arrived back in England on 6 October.[20] Mordaunt justified his decision by saying that the navy was needed to cover an incoming French fleet from the West Indies rather than sitting indefinitely off Rochefort.[21] Mordaunt's conduct was swiftly criticised by many officers who had taken part in the operation and had believed a landing had still been possible even at that late stage with the advantage of surprise lost. Wolfe and Howe were widely acclaimed for their efforts, but the disaster at Rochefort was compared to the failure of Admiral Byng to prevent the loss of Menorca the previous year, for which he had been shot.[22]


The main street in the village.

The failure of the expedition led to an inquiry which recommended the court-martial of Mordaunt, which commenced on 14 December.[23] Despite intense public pressure for a guilty verdict, Mordaunt was acquitted by the court as it was ruled that the mission had been badly-conceived. The exoneration infuriated George II, who believed that Mordaunt should have been dismissed, while Pitt was left annoyed by the verdict that implied that he was largely responsible for the failure of the operation and which criticised the concept of Descents. The expedition had cost roughly a million pounds and it was likened by Henry Fox to "breaking windows with guineas".[24]

Nonetheless Pitt remained committed to the idea of raids on the French coast. The following year Britain launched the second of its descents with an aborted assault on Saint-Malo and the brief occupation of Cherbourg. One result of the raid, although unintended by the British, was to make the route into Rochefort unsafe for French trade convoys from the West Indies forcing them instead to make for Brest,[25] where they were easier to capture for patrolling British warships.

The bay was later the site of the Battle of the Basque Roads in 1809.

See also


  1. ^ Rodger p.263-68
  2. ^ Rodger p.268
  3. ^ Brumwell p.128
  4. ^ Robson 2016, pp. 52–53
  5. ^ Brumwell p.128-29
  6. ^ Corbett pp.197-200
  7. ^ Robson 2016, pp. 53-54
  8. ^ Brumwell p.129-30
  9. ^ Brumwell p.131
  10. ^ Rodger p.268
  11. ^ Syrett p.16
  12. ^ The Report of the General Officers appointed by His Majesty's Warrant of 1 November 1757, to inquire into the Causes of the Failure of the late expedition to the Coast of France, published by A. Millar, London, 1758, page 28
  13. ^ Brumwell p.131-33
  14. ^ The Report of the General Officers etc, page 106
  15. ^ Brumwell p.134
  16. ^ The Report of the General Officers etc, page 107
  17. ^ Brumwell p.133
  18. ^ Brumwell p.133-34
  19. ^ The Report of the General Officers etc, page 109
  20. ^ The Report of the General Officers etc, page 112
  21. ^ Brumwell p.134
  22. ^ Robson 2016, p. 56
  23. ^ Black p.171
  24. ^ Simms p.446
  25. ^ Rodger p.268-69


  • Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. Faber and Faber, 2000.
  • Black, Jeremy. British Lives: William Pitt. Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • Brumwell, Stephen. Paths of Glory: James Wolfe. Hambledon, 2006.
  • Corbett, Julian Stafford. England in the Seven Years' War: A study in Combined Operations. Volume I. London, 1907.
  • Middleton, Richard. The Bells of Victory: The Pitt-Newcastle Ministry and the Conduct of the Seven Years' War, 1757-1762. Cambridge University Press, 1985.
  • Robson, Martin (2016). A History of the Royal Navy: The Seven Years War. London: IB Taurus. ISBN 9781780765457.
  • Rodger N.A.M. Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815. Penguin Books, 2006.
  • Simms, Brendan. Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire. Penguin Books (2008)
  • Syrett, David. Admiral Lord Howe: A Biography. Spellmount, 2006.

Coordinates: 45°56′32″N 0°57′32″W / 45.9421°N 0.9588°W



was a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar, the 1757th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 757th year of the 2nd millennium, the 57th year of the 18th century, and the 8th year of the 1750s decade. As of the start of 1757, the Gregorian calendar was

11 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.

30th (Cambridgeshire) Regiment of Foot

The 30th (Cambridgeshire) Regiment of Foot was an infantry regiment of the British Army, raised in 1702. Under the Childers Reforms it amalgamated with the 59th (2nd Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot to form the East Lancashire Regiment in 1881.

50th (Queen's Own) Regiment of Foot

The 50th (Queen's Own) Regiment of Foot was an infantry regiment of the British Army, raised in 1755. Under the Childers Reforms it amalgamated with the 97th (The Earl of Ulster's) Regiment of Foot to form the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment in 1881.

51st (2nd Yorkshire West Riding) Regiment of Foot

The 51st (2nd Yorkshire West Riding) Regiment of Foot was a British Army line infantry regiment, raised in 1755. Under the Childers Reforms it amalgamated with the 105th Regiment of Foot (Madras Light Infantry) to form the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in 1881.

Arsenal de Rochefort

The Arsenal de Rochefort was a French naval base and dockyard in the town of Rochefort. It was founded in 1665 and it was closed in 1926.

In December 1665 Rochefort was chosen by Jean-Baptiste Colbert as a place of "refuge, defense and supply" for the French Navy. Its military harbour was fortified by Louis XIV's Commissary of Fortifications Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban. Between 1666 and 1669 the King had the Corderie Royale (then the longest building in Europe) constructed to make cordage for French ships of war.

The making of cordage ceased in 1867 and in 1926 the Arsenal de Rochefort was closed.

Capture of Belle Île

The Capture of Belle Île was a British amphibious expedition to capture the French island of Belle Île off the Brittany coast in 1761, during the Seven Years' War. After an initial British attack was repulsed, a second attempt under General Studholme Hodgson forced a beachhead. A second landing was made, and after a six-week siege the island's main citadel at Le Palais was stormed, consolidating British control of the island. A French relief effort from the nearby mainland was unable to succeed because of British control of the sea. The British occupied the island for two years before returning it in 1763 following the Treaty of Paris.

Charles Grey, 1st Earl Grey

Charles Grey, 1st Earl Grey, KB, PC (circa 23 October 1729 – 14 November 1807) served as a British general in the 18th century. A distinguished soldier in a generation of exceptionally capable military and naval personnel, he served in the Seven Years' War of 1756-1763, taking part in the defeat of France. He later served in the American War of Independence (1775–1783) and in the early campaigns against France during the French Revolutionary War. Following the Battle of Paoli in Pennsylvania in 1777 he became known as "No-flint Grey" for, reputedly, ordering his men to extract the flints from their muskets during a night approach and to fight with the bayonet only.

George Howard (British Army officer)

Field Marshal Sir George Howard KB, PC (17 June 1718 – 16 July 1796) was a British military officer and politician. After commanding the 3rd Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Fontenoy in May 1745 during the War of the Austrian Succession and after commanding that regiment again at the Battle of Falkirk Muir and the Battle of Culloden during the Jacobite Rebellion, he returned to the continent and fought at the Battle of Lauffeld. He went on to command a brigade at the Battle of Warburg during the Seven Years' War. He subsequently became the Governor of Minorca.

Harry Mordaunt

Lieutenant-General Harry Mordaunt (29 March 1663 – 4 January 1720) was an English soldier and politician who sat in the House of Commons between 1692 and 1720.

Mordaunt was born at Parsons Green, Fulham, a younger son of John Mordaunt, 1st Viscount Mordaunt and his wife Elizabeth Carey. She was the daughter and sole heiress of Thomas Carey, who was the second son of Robert Carey, 1st Earl of Monmouth. He was educated at Middle Temple from 1674 and Westminster School from 1676. He matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford on 17 December 1680, aged 17 and was awarded BA in 1684. He married, firstly, Margaret Spencer, natural daughter of Sir Thomas Spencer, 3rd Baronet. He later married Penelope, the daughter of William Tipping of West Court at Ewelme in Oxfordshire by his wife, Elizabeth Collet. She was the niece of Sir Thomas Tipping, 1st Baronet.Mordaunt was an ensign by 1689 and captain of the 1st Dragoon Guards by 1693. In April 1694, he was appointed colonel of a regiment of foot, known by his name, which was converted to a marine regiment on 13 July 1698 and disbanded on 20 May 1699. He was commander-in-chief at Guernsey in 1697 and 1702, Conservator of the Forest of Dean from 1698 to 1712 and treasurer of Ordnance at various times from 1699 to his death. Another regiment of marines was raised under his colonelcy on 10 March 1702, which was converted to infantry in May 1703 and disbanded in July 1713. He became brigadier-general in 1704, major-general in 1706 and lieutenant-general in 1709.Mordaunt was returned as Member of Parliament for Brackley in 1692 and held the seat until 1698. He was elected again for the Parliament of 1701 to 1702. He was re-elected at a by-election in 1705 and at the 1708 general election. he stood and was returned instead as MP for Richmond, Yorkshire. He was returned there again in the elections of 1710, 1713 and 1715.Mordaunt died on 4 January 1720. By his first wife he had children, including:

General Sir John Mordaunt, best known for leading the failed Raid on Rochefort in 1757

Thomas Mordaunt (died 1721)

Elizabeth Lucy Mordaunt (died 1765), married Sir Wilfrid Lawson, 3rd Baronet on 14 March 1724.By his second wife he had a single daughter:

Penelope, married Sir Monoux Cope, 7th Baronet of Bramshill House in Hampshire

James Murray (British Army officer, born 1721)

General James Murray FRS (21 January 1721, Ballencrieff, East Lothian, Scotland – 18 June 1794, Battle, East Sussex) was a British soldier, whose lengthy career included service as colonial administrator and governor of the Province of Quebec and later as Governor of Minorca from 1778 to 1782. His term in Quebec was notably successful, and marked with excellent relationships with the conquered French-Canadians, who were reassured of their traditional rights and customs.

James Wolfe

James Wolfe (2 January 1727 – 13 September 1759) was a British Army officer, known for his training reforms and remembered chiefly for his victory in 1759 over the French at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in Quebec as a major general. The son of a distinguished general, Edward Wolfe, he received his first commission at a young age and saw extensive service in Europe where he fought during the War of the Austrian Succession. His service in Flanders and in Scotland, where he took part in the suppression of the Jacobite Rebellion, brought him to the attention of his superiors. The advancement of his career was halted by the Peace Treaty of 1748 and he spent much of the next eight years on garrison duty in the Scottish Highlands. Already a brigade major at the age of 18, he was a lieutenant-colonel by 23.

The outbreak of the Seven Years' War in 1756 offered Wolfe fresh opportunities for advancement. His part in the aborted raid on Rochefort in 1757 led William Pitt to appoint him second-in-command of an expedition to capture the Fortress of Louisbourg. Following the success of the Siege of Louisbourg he was made commander of a force which sailed up the Saint Lawrence River to capture Quebec City. After a long siege Wolfe defeated a French force under the Marquis de Montcalm, allowing British forces to capture the city. Wolfe was killed at the height of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham due to injuries from three musketiers.

Wolfe's part in the taking of Quebec in 1759 earned him lasting fame, and he became an icon of Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War and subsequent territorial expansion. He was depicted in the painting The Death of General Wolfe, which became famous around the world. Wolfe was posthumously dubbed "The Hero of Quebec", "The Conqueror of Quebec", and also "The Conqueror of Canada", since the capture of Quebec led directly to the capture of Montreal, ending French control of the country.

John Hunter (Royal Navy officer)

Vice Admiral John Hunter (29 August 1737 – 13 March 1821) was an officer of the Royal Navy, who succeeded Arthur Phillip as the second governor of New South Wales, Australia and served as such from 1795 to 1800.Both a sailor and a scholar, he explored the Parramatta River as early as 1788, and was the first to surmise that Tasmania might be an island. As governor, he tried to combat serious abuses by the military in the face of powerful local interests led by John MacArthur. Hunter's name is commemorated in historic locations such as Hunter Valley and Hunter Street, Sydney.

John Mordaunt (British Army officer)

General Sir John Mordaunt (1697 – 23 October 1780) was a British soldier and Whig politician, the son of Lieutenant-General Harry Mordaunt and Margaret Spencer. He was best known for his command of the Raid on Rochefort which ended in failure and his subsequent court-martial. Cleared on a technicality, he was nonetheless barred from holding further military command.

Robert Clerk

Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Clerk (c.1720 – 1797) was a British engineer officer who served in the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War. His report on the state of the defences of Rochefort (Rochefort, Charente-Maritime) in 1757 was the main reason for that French naval port being chosen as the target for a major British expedition, the Raid on Rochefort, for which Clerk was appointed chief engineer.

Studholme Hodgson

Field Marshal Studholme Hodgson (1708 – 20 October 1798) was a British Army officer who served during the 18th century. After serving as an Aide-de-Camp to the Duke of Cumberland at the Battle of Fontenoy during the War of the Austrian Succession and at the Battle of Culloden during the Jacobite Rebellion, he became correspondent to William Barrington, the Secretary at War, during the French and Indian War. He went on to command the British expedition which captured Belle Île in June 1761 during the Seven Years' War so enabling the British Government to use the island as a bargaining piece during the negotiations leading up to the Treaty of Paris in 1763.

Thomas Brodrick (Royal Navy officer)

Thomas Brodrick (died 1 January 1769), was an officer of the Royal Navy during the War of the Austrian Succession, the War of Jenkins' Ear and the Seven Years' War.

William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne

William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, (2 May 1737 – 7 May 1805), known as The Earl of Shelburne between 1761 and 1784, by which title he is generally known to history, was an Irish-born British Whig statesman who was the first Home Secretary in 1782 and then Prime Minister in 1782–83 during the final months of the American War of Independence. He succeeded in securing peace with America and this feat remains his most notable legacy. He was also well known as a collector of antiquities and works of art.Lord Shelburne was born in Dublin in 1737 and spent his formative years in Ireland. After attending Oxford University he served in the British army during the Seven Years' War. He took part in the Raid on Rochefort and the Battle of Minden. As a reward for his conduct at the Battle of Kloster Kampen, Shelburne was appointed an aide-de-camp to George III. He became involved in politics, becoming a member of parliament in 1760. After his father's death in 1761 he inherited his title and was elevated to the House of Lords. He took an active role in politics. He served as President of the Board of Trade in the Grenville Ministry but resigned this position after only a few months and began to associate with the opposition leader William Pitt.

When Pitt was made Prime Minister in 1766, Shelburne was appointed as Southern Secretary, a position which he held for two years. He departed office during the Corsican Crisis and joined the Opposition. Along with Pitt he was an advocate of a conciliatory policy towards Britain's American Colonies and a long-term critic of the North Government's measures in America. Following the fall of the North government, Shelburne joined its replacement under Lord Rockingham. Shelburne was made Prime Minister in 1782 following Rockingham's death, with the American War still being fought. Shelburne's government was brought down largely due to the terms of the Peace of Paris which brought the conflict to an end. Its terms were considered excessively generous, because they gave the new nation control of vast trans-Appalachian lands. Shelburne, however, had a vision of long-term benefit to Britain through trade with a large and increasingly prosperous United States, without the risk of warfare over the western territories.

After he was forced from office in 1783 at age 45, he permanently lost his power and influence. Shelburne lamented that his career had been a failure, despite the many high offices he held over 17 years, and his undoubted abilities as a debater. He blamed his poor education—although it was as good as that of most peers—and said the real problem was that "it has been my fate through life to fall in with clever but unpopular connections." Historians, however, point to a nasty personality that alienated friend and enemy alike. His contemporaries distrusted him as too prone to trickery and duplicity. Biographer John Cannon says "His uneasiness prompted him to alternate flattery and hectoring, which most of his colleagues found unpleasant, and to suspiciousness... In debate he was frequently vituperative and sarcastic." Success came too early, and produced jealousy, especially when he was tagged as an upstart Irishman. He never understood the power of the House of Commons, or how to deal with its leaders. He advocated numerous reforms, especially free trade, religious toleration, and parliamentary reform. He was ahead of his time, but was unable to build an adequate network of support from his colleagues who distrusted his motives. In turn he distrusted others, and tried to do all the work himself so that it would be done right.


Île-d'Aix (pronounced [il.dɛks]) is a commune in the Charente-Maritime department off the west coast of France. It occupies the territory of small island of Île d'Aix in the Atlantic. It is a popular place for tourist day-trips during the summer months.

Seven Years' War:
European theatre


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