THE BATTLE OF PONDICHERRY - OCTOBER 23rd 1757, AND THE ECLIPSE OF BRITISH INDIA.

The efforts of France to utilize local allies to capture Madras from the British in 1756 had come to naught in part due to a lack of modern, European artillery and engineers. These had arrived at the French colony of Pondicherry in July 1756 aboard the fleet of the Duc de Bergereau, but had not been ready to move north to Madras by the end of that year's campaigning season. When the bulk of the sepoys besieging Madras disbanded towards the end of 1756, it looked like the French effort to drive out their British rivals was at an end for the foreseeable future. However, French diplomacy on the subcontinent continued to be highly proficient, and in the summer of 1757 native armies returned to follow the fleurs des lys in a renewed offensive.
The bulk of these troops were sent against the British possessions in Bengal. The rest attacked Madras from the direction of Mysore supported by the French army that had been landed at Pondicherry by Bergereau's ships the previous year.
Before either of these land efforts could be resolved however, it was Bergereau's fleet that started the French Fall campaign in India.
Since slipping past the Anglo-Dutch fleets patrolling the Bay of Bengal and delivering the army into Pondicherry, Bergereau's fleet had remained there, blockaded by their more numerous adversaries. In August 1757, the Dutch naval contingent departed for the East Indies to protect the merchant fleets returning to Holland from its colonies in the far east.
This left Admiral Telford in charge of blockading the French in Pondicherry. "Blockading" was an unfortunate choice of orders for Telford. The departure of the Dutch had left him outnumbered by the French fleet inside the port and "Observing" might have been a more suitable choice of instruction.
A prudent course of action, given the odds, if Bergereau were to sortie would have been to shadow him rather than engage, but that was not in the tradition of the Royal Navy. Telford's career and reputation would not have been helped if, instead of attempting to sink, capture, or else chase the enemy back into port, he had instead merely followed them as they sailed about the Bay of Bengal, bombarding allied ports, disrupting allied commerce and generally lording it over the waves that were rightfully British.
In the early hours of October 16th, a French privateer eluded Telford's ships under cover of darkness, and docked in Pondicherry. It reported sighting a fleet flying the Dutch flag entering the Java Sea by way of the Straits of Malacca on September13th. The next day frantic activity began to make the French ships ready for sea. On the morning of the 23rd the winds changed and in stately line ahead Bergereau's vessels began to make their way out into the open ocean.
They were immediately sighted by the British, and heedless of the odds, Telford signaled to close and engage.

ORDERS OF BATTLE: PONDICHERRY - OCTOBER 23RD 1757

BRITISH EAST INDIA FLEET - ADMIRAL TELFORD

Warspite (74)
Bellerophon (74)
Culloden (Flag) (74)
Goliath (74)
Leviathan (74)

FRENCH EAST INDIA FLEET - ADMIRAL BERGEREAU

Van (Admiral Bergereau)
Duguay-Trouin (74)
Scipion (74)
Conquerant (Flag) (74)
Redoubtable (74)
Swiftsure (74)

Rear (Vice Admiral Bini)
Intrepide (74)
Neptune (74)
Argonaute (74) (Flag)
Heros (74)
Jason (64)

Bergereau had divided his command into two squadrons. He personally commanded the Van squadron from the fleet flagship Conquerant. The Rear was led by Vice Admiral Bini in Argonaute.
The French Fleet emerging from Pondicherry

Telford, flying his flag in Culloden started coming up from the south around 09:00, and swung his line to the northeast as the range closed, attempting to put the gentle westerly wind to his back and keep pace with the French.
The French fleet splits as Bini's squadron turns to starboard.

Bergereau responded by sending Bini southeast, across the rear of the British line hoping to come up to starboard of them while he maintained pace with Telford and engaged from port.
At 11:00 Warspite, and Bellerophon at the head of the British line fired the first shots of the battle, opening up at the oncoming Intrepide from long range, and quickly scoring hits.
Warspite and Bellerophon open the battle with broadsides at Intrepide.

Bergereau persisted however, and was able to turn across the front of the British line, while Bini, turning prematurely to starboard, came up and attacked the rear of enemy line from point-blank range.
The French rear engages from close to starboard, while the van "crosses the British T".

For the next hour the French had very much the best of the exchange of broadsides. Conquerant hit Warspite, while Bellorophon was severely punished by Neptune. The latter went on to hit the British flagship, leaving Bellerophon to be further mauled by Heros, as Jason poured broadsides into Warspite.
The French crews however, had spent over a year holed up in port rather than out at sea, and their gunnery soon began to deteriorate whilst the British shooting remained steady. Bellerophon, and Culloden both scored telling hits, before Telford cut across the rear of the French Van enabling Warspite to inflict a devastating stern rake on Swiftsure.
By noon things seemed to still broadly favor the French, but then a shift in the wind to the southwest forced the French to tack, and left Bini's squadron temporarily out of the battle. French morale sagged, and the gunnery of Bergereau's vessels fell apart. Telford seized on the opportunity to concentrate on the French van and managed to isolate Swiftsure bringing up the rear of Bergereau's line. The French ship was savaged by close-range fire from Goliath, Culloden, and Leviathan and was forced to strike.
Under devastating fire from three opponents, and ablaze, Swiftsure strikes her colors.

On the other hand, Bellorophon, already severely damaged, had become separated from the rest of the British fleet, and was limping away to the North.
Down to four ships under his command, and with Bergereau reforming his fleet, still of nine vessels, back into line, Telford decided to withdraw to the east, honor satisfied. 
The French were in far too great a state of disorganization to pursue, and by 13:30 the fleets had disengaged. Telford's withdrawal allowed the French to regain possession of the shattered Swiftsure and tow her back into Pondicherry where she could be made seaworthy again over the Winter. The rest of the fleet began effecting temporary repairs before sweeping up the coast towards Madras.
Telford had planned to retire there but upon reaching the port on the 26th, he discovered it had succumbed to an efficiently conducted assault that had made full use of  French and artillery and engineers, and sailed for the Dutch ports in Ceylon.
Complete French success in India was only prevented by the more solid defenses of Bengal which held against the besieging Sepoys.

THE END OF THE 1757 CAMPAIGN.

As the onset of Winter brought the year's campaigning to an end, action was overwhelmingly outside Europe. Cumberland's forces on the Canadian frontier beat a hasty retreat before the snow, and fell back to Lower Canada and New England. A Dutch expedition was launched across the Atlantic from the new conquests in West Africa and seized Guatemala from the Spanish. The Dutch sent their Danish allied fleet to the Indian Ocean but it arrived in November too late to save Madras, and was unable to bring Bergereau to battle before being forced to stop in Ceylon to resupply.
In November envoys from the Empress Elizabeth arrived in Vienna to point out to Maria Theresa and her ministers that Russian interests were in no way served by Austria being crushed. Elizabeth very much needed Austria as a viable counterweight to Prussia if she was going to hold on to her conquests in Poland.
As such, it was proposed that, in return for ceding Lombardy to Russia, the Russians would conclude a separate peace with Austria, allow Zinnsburger's army there safe passage home, and further sweeten the deal with supplies to help the Austrian forces through the Winter. 
After some discussion in the Austrian court, the Treaty of Vienna was signed on December 30th 1757, removing Russia from the Austro-Prussian struggle, and perhaps giving the embattled Habsburg empress hope for the coming year.

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