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The Battle of the Raz de Sein was a single-ship naval engagement of the blockade of Brest during the French Revolutionary Wars between a French and Royal Navy ships of the line on 21 April 1798. The British blockade fleet under Admiral Lord Bridport had sailed from St Helens on 12 April and on the morning of 21 April was crossing the Iroise Passage when sails were spotted to the east. Three ships were detached in pursuit, led by the 74-gun ship of the line HMS Mars under Captain Alexander Hood. As the British ships approached their quarry a third sail was sighted to the southeast close to the coastline and moving north towards Brest.
This ship was the 74-gun Hercule under Captain Louis Lhéritier, newly commissioned at Lorient and sailing to Brest to join the main French fleet and the British squadron immediately changed direction to intercept the new target. Facing overwhelming odds L'Héritier attempted to escape through the narrow Raz de Sein passage, but found the tide against him and so anchored at the mouth of the passage to await the British attack. At 21:15 Mars reached Hercule, coming under heavy fire as Hood manoeuvred into position, bringing his ship crashing alongside the French vessel. For more than an hour the ships fired directly into one another, so close that their guns could not be run out but had to be fired from inside the ships. Damage and casualties were severe on both sides, the latter including Hood who was mortally wounded at the height of the engagement.
Ultimately Hercule was forced to surrender after attempts to board Mars failed. Both ships were battered and burnt, with the French suffering at least 290 casualties and the British 90. Hercule was conveyed to Britain in the aftermath and later repaired and served in the Royal Navy until 1810. Both L'Héritier and the deceased Hood were highly praised for their conduct during the battle, which is noted as being a very rare example during this period of an action between two ships of approximately equal strength without any external influence.
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HMS Mars and the French Hercule | John Christian Schetky | 19th Century
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