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Battle of Lissa (1811)

Posted December 8th, 2012 at 02:02 PM by Mangekyou

During the second world war, A British officer, named Fitzroy Maclean [1], was tasked with aiding the Yugoslav resistance movement of Marshal Tito. During his movements through Bosnia and Dalmatia, he found himself on the island of Vis (Lissa)[2] .

Whilst on the island; waiting for orders, he stumbled upon an overgrown British wargrave [3]. This wargrave, was in commemoration to the battle of Lissa, which took place during the adriatic campaign of the Napoleonic wars.

Adriatic campaign 1807-1814

After the Russian defeat Friedland and the subsequent signing of the treaty of Tilsit in 1807, the Russian fleet withdrew from the adriatic and more importantly, the Septinsular Republic [4]. This allowed the French fleet to create a strong presence and control over the region [5].

The region became a strong "backroom playground" for French merchant shipping and transportation of troops to the Balkans arena. It also allowed Napoleon use of the Venice shipyards.

In order to stop the build up of troops, materiele and use of shipyards, the British engaged in a seven year war, where small squadrons of ships were sent to raid French merchant shipping and disrupt her private operations in the area.

In august 1808, Captain William Hoste [6] of the 32 gun, fifth rate Frigate, HMS Amphion [7] was sent to adriatic. In a series of (mostly independent) operations between June of 1808 and Christmas 1809, Hoste had been credited with the destruction of 218 enemy vessels [8].

During the Amphion's domination of the adriatic, Hoste watched the build-up of French forces [9] and in January if 1810, was joined in theatre by two other Frigates (HMS Active, HMS Cerberus), allowing him to assault the French with "renewed vigour" and by April, he had recorded; "We have been very fortunate since we left Malta in March, and have taken and destroyed forty six sail of vessels, some of which are very good ones, and will bring us in a little pewter..."

Not long after, Hoste established himself in Lissa, continuing to prey upon French shipping and watch the movements of the French frigate squadrons. In September, the French frigate squadron, led by commodore Bernard Dubourdieu, made a surprise dash on Lissa, recaptured some of the British prizes, burned some British ships, and escaped, before Hoste could get back in time. [10]

Battle of Lissa

On March 11, Dubourdieu hoisted his sail and left the anchorage of Ancona. His squadron consisted of the French frigates; Favorite (Flagship, 44 guns), Flore (44) and Danae (44), as well as the Venetian ships; Corona (44), Bellona (32), Carolina (3), Principessa Augusta (18), Mercure (16), Principessa di Bologna (10), Ladola (2) and Eugenie (6). As well as these ships, there was also 4-500 Italian troops, led by Colonel Glifflenga, intended for a capture and occupation of Lissa.

Hoste got word of this force, his Squadron, tacking up and down, off Port st George. By 3am, 13th March, the French-Venetian flotilla was spotted, and Hoste was able to see the French squadron arrayed against him.

Upon sighting the squadron, Hoste formed his squadron into one line of battle, with Amphion leading the line, followed by Active (38), Volage (22) and Cerberus (32). When the line was formed, he began tacking towards the French.

The French commodore, Durbourdieu, with a decisive advantage in ships, men and weight of shot, decided to take an aggressive stance; Durdourdieu had decided he wanted to break the British line, destroying the squadron in detail, and in a move that mimicked Nelson's famous one at Trafalgar, he split his squadron into two divisions, consisting of a starboard squadron, consisting of Favorite, Flore, Bellona, and Principessa Augusta, and a leeward division composed of Danae, Corona, Carolina, with the rest of the squadron in support.

Click the image to open in full size.
Fig 1: Starting formations, battle of Lissa.

Durbourdieu bore down upon the British squadron, but found that his plan to "break the line" was almost impossible to do, due to the very close intervals of the British ships, their superior gunnery and maneouverability.

As the French squadrons approached, Hoste flew the signal "remember Nelson", which inspired his men into action. In the very first exchange of fire, the Amphion swept the decks of the French flagship, Favorite, mortally wounding Durbourdieu. [11]

The Three ships in the French leeward division, converged on the Amphion, but instead, laid up beside and engaged with the Volage and Cerberus, both of whom occupied the rear two positions of the line, in an ultimately unequal match-up of broadsides.

Favorite attempted to wear infront of the Amphion, with the rest of her squadron, and pin the Amphion between both squadrons of the French-Venetian force.

As the Favorite began the move, Hoste gave the signal for his squadron to perform a maneouver that would be hailed as "the most decisive of the wars", by wearing together. In essence, this would mean that the British squadron would reverse the direction of their ships, and allow them the opportunity to concentrate their firepower on the French-Venetian leeward suadron, whilst at the same time, temporarily removing the Starboard squadron from the picture.

Click the image to open in full size.
Fig 2: Showing the direction of Hoste's turning maneouver, and positions of the ships.

The Bellona and Flore were able to occuppy both sides of the Amphion, and pit the British flagship in a duel with 44 and 32 gunned ships. At the time, the French Leeward Squadron, wore Ship and cut ahead of the Frigate, Active. The ships Corona and Carolina, focused their fire on the now disabled Cerberus (she had damaged herself in the turning movement, and dropped out of line), whilst the 44 gun Danae engaged with the 22 Gun sloop, Volage; whom was now in the leading position of the British line.

Danae retreated out of range of the 32 pound carronades of Volage, and fired upon her with a long 18 pounder carronade. [12] In response, the Volage overloaded her guns with powder, in order to increase the range of her guns, resulting in her larboard carronades becoming dismounted, due to the extra recoil, forcing her to fight with a 6 pound bowchaser gun.

Corona engaged with Cerberus, whilst the Caroline engaged from a distance, seemingly reluctant to engage in close order combat. Whilst this was happeneing, the Active, was able to assess the situation, and deeming that the Cerberus and Volage needed her help more than Amphion, she moved towards then, which led to the Franco-Venetian leeward squadron break off combat and flee.

Meanwhile, Hoste had succeeded in drawing ahead of Flore and crossed her bows at half-pistol shot, about 12-13 yards, reduced sail and laid along her starboard bow which she pummeled for about ten minutes before Flore struck her colors. So badly shot up was Amphion’s rigging and boats that Hoste was unable to send a boarding party to Flore. Instead, he devoted his full attention to Bellona. He positioned himself off the weather bow of Bellona and forced her to strike.

Not long after, Hoste gave the order for a general chase, but his own ship and Cerberus and Volage were unable to pursue, due to damage suffered in battle. Active forced the Corona to strike, Favorite blew up after being set on fire by her crew, and the Flore reneged on her surrender, hoisted the flag and fled. [13]


The battle cost both sides heavy casualties. The British squadron losing 45 dead and 145 wounded (including Hoste), Franco-Venetian casualties being alot higher, with 3 ships lost and 700 casualties in dead, wounded and captured.

Before the Favorite was blown up, her crew was deposited and what was left of the Italian soldiers, were deposited upon Lissa, whereby they hoped to capture the capital, Port st George. Two British midshipmen were able to pull together a scratch force, and convince the Venetian commander that Hoste would be back with a big force and that they would be trapped between two forces. The Venetian commander duly surrendered his force [14].

The battle turned out to be the decisive battle of the adriatic, the French never being able to seriously challenge British dominance, for the duration of the war. The French fleet was bottled up in Ragusa for repairs, and a brig named the Simplon, which carried critical supplies for the repair of the fleet, was driven ashore at Porenza, by British ships, whom set up an artillery battery on a small island at the mouth of the harbour, and battered the ship into wreckage. Without these supplies, the French fleet was unable to repair and quietly withdrew from the adriatic.

This failure to control the adriatic, meant that many of Napoleon's Italian conquests, were effectively negated, and is mentioned as a reason that Napoleon was unable to support Russia's attempt on the Ottoman empire, further fueling hostility between the two countries.

In Britain, Hoste's action was widely praised; the squadron's first lieutenants were all promoted to commander and the captains all presented with a commemorative medal. Nearly four decades later the battle was also recognized in the issue of the clasp Lissa to the Naval General Service Medal, awarded to all British participants still living in 1847.

Note: If there are any spelling or Grammar mistakes, this is my mistake. I attempted two other versions of this thread, both of which screwed up on me, so my temper was short on this one. Ammends will be made at a later date. Thanks for Reading!


Battle of Lissa (1811)
Timeline of the adriatic campaign
Battle of Lissa - Wordpress [Age of Sail]
Dictionary of National Biography - William Hoste
Memoirs and letters of Capt, Sir William Hoste [vol I]
Memoirs and letters of Capt, Sir William Hoste [vol II]
The Elmbridge Hundred - William Hoste

[1] Fitzroy Maclean was supposedly one of the influences that Ian Fleming used in the creation of his literary superspy, James Bond.
[2] The Island lies off the coast of Croatia, forming part of the central Dalmation islands group. During WWII it became a central base for the Yugoslav resistance group, and also for British forces serving in the adriatic.
[3] Mentioned in the memoirs of Fitzroy Maclean; Eastern approaches.
[4] The septinsular republic was a island republic that had come under Frenh Republican control in 1797, as part of the treaty of Campo Formio, abolishing the Venetian states. It became a Russian protectorate after 1800, until it was ceded to Napoleon, whom sent a task force to occupy the islads, under Cesar Berthier.
[5] There was a secret clause in the treaty of Tilsit, whereby Napoleon promised Russia aid in conquering the Ottoman empire. Control of the Balkans was a supposed starting point for this expedition, and hence, control of the adriatic played an important part for French shipping and troop movements
[6] Captain William Hoste was a protege of Nelson, whom held Hoste in such high esteem, that he was "like a son" to Nelson and mentioned numerous times in letters by Nelson. Hoste followed Nelson around and served under him for many years, although missed the battle of Trafalgar, due to another mission. The death of Nelson, whom was a close friend to Hoste, lit a fire inside him. For a more detailed bio of Hoste, go here.
[7] The Amphion was a fifth rate frigate, upon performed valuable service to the Royal navy, in destroying Spanish treasure fleets, and transported Nelson to his command in the mediterranean, whereby Nelson officially made Hoste her captain in 1805. In his memoirs, Hoste often refers back to Nelson giving him this command, and wonders whether he can live up to the expectation of commanding such a valued ship.
[8] Hoste commented that these captures: "They looked well upon paper, but put little into our pockets" as a large proportion of them were of no use to be refitted, and subsequently destroyed, although some of them were of high value.
[9] Upon seeing this squadron, Hoste recorded: "The truth is, they are afraid of the weather, and are very badly manned; we are well manned and do not give a fig about the weather"
[10] Dubourdieu apparently waited until Hoste left port, before he made the raid, and after burning some ships and recapturing others, fled upon notice that Hoste was about to return. Durbourdieu apparently reported to the Republican and main French newspaper, Le Moniteur(which often used a lot of propaganda during the wars) that Hoste had equal numbers to him and was "afraid" to fight. This angered Hoste so much, that he pursued Dubourdieu and bottled him up inside the port of Ancona, until he was able to escape, prior to the battle of Lissa.
[11] It was reportedly triple-shotted with approx 750 musket balls.
[12] During the turning Maneouver, Cerberus had her Rudder shot away and fell out of line.
[13] After the battle, Hoste sent a letter to the French, asking that the ship be returned to him rightfully, as he had captured her, and she had gone against principle and fled. The French reply addressed the fact that she was demasted and didn't strike her colours, upon which Hoste disagreed and wanted clarification. The letter he sent is here the French reply, here
[14] An earlier invasion took place via the same commander. 700 troops were landed upon the island, but two mishipman; James Lew and Robert Kingston, withdrew the population and supplies to the mountains, leaving the invasion forces in posession of an empty town, where they burned a few vessels, before re-embarking, after hearing of the return of Hoste.
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Total Comments 3


  1. Old Comment
    I really enjoyed that, having read about Royal Navy officer Captain Sir Murray Maxwell some time ago. Though I have very little experience of the Napoleonic Wars and so this was a good learning blog. Sourced and foot-noted too, thank you.
    Posted September 8th, 2013 at 01:19 PM by John Paul John Paul is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Mangekyou's Avatar
    Thanks for the comment. It was an under-appreciated arena, small, but important due to the fact French were using the adriatic as a place to store ship building material.

    Hopefully I'll have time to write more of these soon
    Posted September 9th, 2013 at 02:59 AM by Mangekyou Mangekyou is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Enjoyed reading your blog, A. I always forget to look at people's blogs unless one is suggested - and 2 have been within the last week. Thought I'd see what was on here about the RN, and here you are.

    I know very little about the Napoleonic war in general - and a lot of naval info seems to revolve around Nelson. It's nice to read about other ships and battles.

    Posted April 7th, 2014 at 05:01 AM by R5 plus R5 plus is offline

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