Battle Of Porto Praya

The Battle of Porto Praya was a naval battle which took place during the American Revolutionary War on 16 April 1781 between a British squadron under Commodore George Johnstone and a French squadron under the Bailli de Suffren.

Both squadrons were en route to the Cape of Good Hope, the British to take it from the Dutch, the French aiming to help defend it and French possessions in the Indian Ocean. The British convoy and its escorting squadron had anchored at Porto Praya in the Cape Verde Islands to take on water, when the French squadron arrived and attacked them at anchor. Due to the unexpected nature of the encounter, neither fleet was prepared to do battle, and an inconclusive battle was fought in which the French fleet sustained more damage than the British (although no ships were lost). Johnstone tried to pursue the French, but was forced to call it off in order to repair the damage his ships had taken.

The French gained a strategic victory, because Suffren beat Johnstone to the Cape and reinforced the Dutch garrison before continuing on his journey to the Ile de France (now Mauritius).

When the Artésien reached the mouth of the harbour, she spotted the British fleet at anchor, and signalled Suffren that the enemy was in sight. Suffren, assuming (correctly) that the fleet had men ashore and would be in some disarray, immediately gave orders to attack, leading the way with his flagship, the Héros. Johnstone, who was in the process of ordering ship maneuvers to separate ships that had drifted too close to one another when the French squadron was spotted, had to scramble to prepare the fleet for battle.

Suffren's orders were for his line to anchor before the British fleet and open fire. This he did with Héros, taking on Hero and Monmouth, the two largest British ships. The Annibal soon came to his aid, and eventually drew most of the fire. The Artésien, whose captain was killed early in the engagement, captured a troop ship in the confusion, and then was blown out of the action by a breeze. The Vengeur passed along the anchored British fleet, exchanging broadsides, but never anchored herself, and passed out of the action, while the Sphinx also failed to anchor, and only contributed minimally to the action.

Suffren, with the advantage of surprise, maintained the action with the two anchored ships for ninety minutes until damage (Annibal lost two of three masts) before signalling a retreat while maintaining fire. The Annibal lost her third mast on her way out of the harbour, and was slow to follow the Héros.