Battle of Minorca

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Battle of Minorca
Part of the Seven Years' War
Prise Port Mahon Minorque 20 mai 1756.jpg
Attack and capture of Fort St. Philip on the island of Menorca, June 29, 1756, after the naval battle.
Date 20 May 1756
Location Mediterranean Sea, near Minorca, present-day Spain
Result French strategic victory[1][2]
Belligerents
 France  Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of France Marquis de la Galissonnière John Byng
Strength
12 ships of the line
5 frigates
12 ships of the line
7 frigates
Casualties and losses
38 killed
184 wounded
Half the fleet damaged
45 killed
162 wounded

Battle of Minorca was a naval battle between French and British fleets. It was the opening sea battle of the Seven Years' War in the European theatre. Shortly after Great Britain declared war on the House of Bourbon, their squadrons met off the Mediterranean island of Minorca. Although the fight was indecisive, and the French broke off battle first, the decision by the British to withdraw to Gibraltar handed France a strategic victory and led directly to the fall of Minorca.

The British failure to save Minorca led to the controversial court-martial and execution of the British commander, Admiral John Byng, for "failure to do his utmost" to relieve the siege of the British garrison on Minorca.

The battle could be considered a draw, but Byng's actions in failing to press on to relieve the garrison or pursue the French fleet resulted in severe criticism. The Admiralty, perhaps concerned to cover for its own poor preparation for the disastrous venture, charged Byng for breaching the Articles of War by failing to do all he could to fulfill his orders and support the garrison. Byng was court-martialled, found guilty and sentenced to be shot. The sentence was carried out on 14 March 1757 on the battleship Monarch in Portsmouth harbor.

Byng's execution is referred to in Voltaire's novel Candide with the line "Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres." ("In this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to give courage to the others.")

Despite William Pitt's eagerness to regain the island, a British expedition was not sent to recapture it for the remainder of the war. It was eventually returned to Britain following the Treaty of Paris, in exchange for the French West Indies and Belle-Île.

  1. Dull p.52-54
  2. Lambert p.143
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