Battle of Quiberon Bay

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The Battle of Quiberon Bay (20 November 1759) was a naval engagement, fought during the Seven Years War, between a British fleet under Sir Edward Hawke and a slightly smaller French fleet commanded by Marshall de Conflans. It is one of the most important sea battles in history.

With preparations under way for an invasion of England and a French army buildup along the southern coast of Brittany, Hawke had blockaded the French fleet in the port of Brest. When gales forced Hawke off station the French broke out and made east along the coast in atrocious weather with Hawke in pursuit. Conflans sought refuge in the harbour at Quiberon, its entrance protected by numerous reefs and the rocky coastline. Hawke went in after him. The British lost two ships to the weather, but late in the afternoon, with severe squalls and fading light, defeated the French who lost more ships in flight than they did to the British guns.

The battle is the second of the three naval engagements that ensured Britain’s immediate safety from invasion in modern times (along with the struggle against the Spanish Armada in 1588; and the victory at Trafalgar in 1805). An additional layer can be given to the battle’s long term importance in that it was watched from the surrounding shoreline by thousands of French troops and was a deadly blow to the prestige of the French Navy; so much so that, some 40 years later, Napoleon was extremely wary of trusting his navy against the Royal Navy.