Combined Operations on Lake Ontario during the Seven Years' War: Part 2

Continued from previous page ...

-more important than these trivial encounters, a week later, on 2 July, a second supply convoy arrived at Oswego bearing guns, rigging and stores for the three new vessels

-the shipwrights went back to work, and the London brig and Mohawk sloop were fitted out and launched, which somewhat improving the british position on the lake, although the balance of force remained tilted in favour of the french

-unfortunately for the british, it had been necessary to leave behind 24 six- pounders, intended for the new ships, at the great carrying place[rome. NY]

-the arrival of a third convoy was expected during the rest of July and the first week of august

-note that the British were unwilling to send stores to Oswego without a strong escort

-the bateaux and their crews were, however, detained at Schenectady, waiting for the 44th regiment, which was to accompany them to oswego.

-so, for over a month, the guns that could have given the british command of the lake ontario lay useless at the portage

-the garrison of oswego does not appear to have contemplated sending a force upriver to collect them

-By 29 july, London and Mohawk were ready for sea, but naval officers, seaman, and, most of all, cannon, were still in short supply

-the manpower problem was resolved by stripping Oswego of her crew and using them to man london, but artillery could not be conjured out of thin air

-thus, at the time of the siege, the effective British force on Lake Ontario consisted of London, with six six pounders and eight fours, Ontario with six four pounders, and Mohawk with four fours and two threes

-as well, there were the remaining small schooner, which was used for reconnaissance, Oswego, and the partly rigged halifax

-the latter two were "both useless, as they had neither men nor guns for them"

-opposing these vessels were La Marquise de Vaudreuil, the french flagship, 8 8 pounders and eight 6's, Hurault, 8 6's and 4 4's

-Louise, victor, and the captured small schooner were either laid up during the campaign or used as transports.

-from these figures, it is evident that the french enjoyed a considerable margin of superiority at the time of the siege, and would likely have had the upper hand in any naval clash

-the british were well aware of this,

-Benjamin Franklin, while reporting on the opinion of a number of British officers, noted on 27 July that "the naval forces of the enemy on lake ontario, is represented as superior to ours.

-of course, had the british been able to man and arm Halifax, and Oswego, it would have been the french who were outgunned early in july, a french officer acknowledged in his journal that "the english have three armed vessels on Lake Ontario. Three stronger vessels are about to be launched, if nothing happens before then, they will have superiority on the lake"

-if you add these up, you find that the British warships fired a total weight of shot of 52 kilograms, while their adversaries could fire 86 kilograms, giving the french an advantage of about 65%

-had the missing six pounders been delivered, and their 91 kilogram weight of shot added to the British squadron, it would have been broadley who had a 25% advantage over his opponents

-this would have eliminated the disparity between he two forces, given the british a comfortable but not overwhelming preponderance and enabled them to ally out and challenge the French for control of the lake with reasonable expectations of success

-indeed, had the 24 6 pounders arrived, there might have been no expedition and no siege

-with a superior naval force on the lake, the British could have blockaded the french at fort frontenac, and waited for the french army to be starved into surrender of attempt an overland march back to canada

-instead of Oswego, it could have been frontenac or niagara that surrendered in 1756

-so Vaudreuil distributed his troops on Lake Ontario in such a way that, if the chance came, they could be concentrated for a lunge across the lake to oswego

-by the end of july, the french had decided to attack Oswego

-they took advantage of their naval superiority on Lake ontario to concentrate a seige force of 3,000 men and 20 cannon at fort frontenac

-the troops were drawn from the regulars used to garrison the French Lake Ontario posts, and a body of militia from montreal

-for security, artillery and supplies sent from montreal to front under pretext of reinforcing and resupplying the western garrisons

-advanced base established at Sackett's harbour, used as base for raids against lines of communication leading from albany to Oswego, and as a staging point for the siege force

-Louise was stripped of her guns and left behind at fort frontenac

-Victor, also disarmed, was sent to fort niagara as a transport captured small schooner was used to carry provisions for the expeditions

-Laforce and his two warships, La Marquise de Vaudreuil and Hurault, were ordered to sortie "to cruise off Oswego in order to cover the convoys and prevent the english from going to niagara, where we could leave only a weak garrison"

-in the event, however, they were held up by contrary winds, and did not appear off Oswego until the day after the surrender

-by 5 august, after a week of frantic preparations, Montcalm army was ready to depart

-they sailed in two divisions, with the second division carrying the siege train, travelling a day behind the fort

-first to the Advanced base at sackett's harbour, where they paused for a few days to reorganize, then on to oswego

-the french approach was made with great circumspection, so as to avoid detection and interception by the british squadron

-the bateaux hugged the coast and travelled only after dark at first light, the flotilla halted and headed for the shore

-the men drew the boats up on the beach, camouflaged them with branches, and dispersed into the bush, where they lay concealed throughout the day

-While the main body covered the entire distance by sea, an advanced party disembarked some distance away from the fort, and marched overland to oswego

-included the engineers, who inspected landing sites, cove mid way between Sackett's harbour and Oswego, considered overland road,

-waited for main body

-On 10 Aug, at 7:00 p.m.

-there, they secured the landing site, a small cove two kilometres from the fort, with a sandy beach suitable for bateaux, which was the only place suitable for the disembarkation of the artillery within reasonable distance of the objective, posted guards up to fort ontario, and lit bonfires at 2 extremities of the beach to serve as beacons for the first division

- a little before midnight, the first division arrived, saw the fires, and slipped into the cove towards the beach, looked as if everything was going great-- the main body of the french army had come, undetected and unopposed, to within two kilometres of their objective

-then, trouble began-- an amphibious landing at night is not something that you can take lightly, and a fairly trivial problem can cause a lot of trouble

-scouts, on land, had not taken soundings in the cove, bateaux grounded about five metres off shore, french officers felt couldn't unload, lacked space for all of the boats on shore

-french, discouraged & alarmed, a french officer, the junior engineer of the expedition, described "a certain general consternation" and "universal discouragement" among the French

-he overheard the second in command of the expedition say that the scouts, by recommending a landing there, "had exposed, without realizing it, the safety of the colony"

-for a moment, it seemed as if success hung in the balance, and the expedition might be abandoned a mile short of its objective

-Le Mercier, the commander of the Colonial artillery, decided to take matters into his own hands

-he ignored the French officers, who were dithering and worrying, and had four 12 pounders landed, established a shore battery, he then went to Montcalm, and convinced him that the position was feasible

-once the feasibility of the beach had been established, the rest of bateaux began to land

-the landing proceeded without incident, and, long before dawn, the first division of the french army was safely ashore

-the next morning, 11 August, camps built, work began on a road through swampy pine forest for the guns, and trench and battery on ridge overlooking fort ontario, east of fort George

-even though the British had been informed by a prisoner of the impending attack, and the french squadron did not reach oswego until after the siege, they failed to intercept the flotilla of bateaux that carried the french army

-by 29 july, London and Mohawk had been fitted out and were ready for sea, but naval, officers, seamen, and guns were still in short supply

-Captain Broadley, however, though that "it was for the good of his Majesty service that we should appear out on the lake as strong as we could, with what officers, men and guns we had got

-on 30 july he sortied with his entire armed strength, London, Ontario and Mohawk,

-but the squadron returned to port after Ontario had sprung a boom and London carried away a gaff

-five days later, they put to sea one more, but on 6 august, the gunpowder carried by London and Mohawk was discovered to be so wet that we could not have used it"

-without ammunition, the guns were useless, so Broadley returned to Oswego one more to repair the magazines and replace is powder. but when entering the harbour, the squadron was caught by a "violent thunder squall" and London, the most powerful british ship on the lake, ran aground

-she was refloated the next morning, but was still drawn up on the beach and awaiting repairs when the siege began

-these repairs required the services of every seaman in Oswego, except for the crew of the remaining small schooner, which was "employed cruising to the eastward and westward of the harbours mouth [in order]... that the garrison might not be surprised."

-the 11 of august began quietly for the garrison of oswego

-the troops were hard at work improving the fortifications, while the seamen were kept busy with repairs to the damaged London

-their first indication that a powerful french army had disembarked within two kilometres of the fort came when a stray bateau was sighted down the lake.

-the small schooner was sent to investigate, and soon returned to report that a large french force was encamped at the cove.

-Ontario and Mohawk, "the only vessels then ready were sent out to make the enemy decamp"

-However, as one of Broadley's seamen later related, as the two ships drew near the French, "before they could reach the shore where the enemy"y lay they were fired upon with cannon very briskly...[and] they did not think it advisable to make any further attempt"

-they withdrew after ontario had been hit by three shot from a french shore battery mounting four twelve-pounders, to which the british replied only with a single volley and two broadsides of grapeshot that fall short

-the two sloops cruised off the french camp for a while, then headed back to harbour

-the british were not allowed to return in peace, however, for as they sailed back some canadians and amerindian posted along the shore opened fire

-Ontario and mohawk responded, but only succeeded in knocking down a few trees near the french camp

-early the next morning, the second division of montcalm's army carrying the supplies and siege train, arrived, and were sighted by the british

-Ontario and mohawk sortied once more, but the french bateaux were safely ashore under the guns of the shore battery before the sloops arrived on the scene

-that night, work began on first parallel of the siege works, next day, battery established, british abandoned fort ontario, covered by the sloops, crossed oswego river in the afternoon despite the successful landing and rapid progress of the siege works, French anxieties were aroused when Ontario and Mohawk appeared once again on the 13th and cruised for a time off the northern end of the french entrenchments

-their presence caused the french some uneasiness, since from this position "a cannon ball fired [from the sloops] would have raked the trench from one end to the other"

-fortunately for the besiegers, either this did not occur to the captains of the sloops or they were wary of the possibility that the french had covered the end of the trench with masked batteries., and the Royal Navy thereby missed an opportunity to inflict a shrewd blow upon the besiegers

-during the last hours of the siege, Broadley's ships remained in harbour, and played no further role beyond firing a few ineffective shots at a body of Canadians and amerindians crossing the Oswego river to occupy an outwork on 14 august, as the siege drew to a predictable conclusion.

-night of 13-14 august, new batteries established in front of fort ontario, overlooking fort george, completely exposed

-on the morning of the 14th, the British decided that they couldn't resist in fort george, planned to retreat to last outwork, Fort Oswego, on a hill overlooking for George from the west, but before they could do this, it was captured by a force of canadians and Amerindians

-10:00 a.m., hoisted white flag, by 11:00, signed articles of capitulation

-fort oswego was razed and the British squadron, which, if completed and armed "would have assured the English of superiority on Lake Ontario," fell into french hands

-the former warships were used by the victors to transport prisoners and captured provisions, munitions and armaments to forts frontenac and niagara

-even though the French naval forces did not arrive until after the capitulation,the French did successfully sea-lift an army and siege train to Oswego without encountering the slightest opposition from the Royal Navy

-thus, in the event, the British naval presence on Lake Ontario proved to be as ineffective as the fortifications of Oswego in deterring or interfering with French ambitions in the region. this came about because they were unable to bring their entire squadron into action

throughout the summer, British attempts to augment their maritime forces were plagued by all of the difficulties that one would expect shipbuilders working at the end of a long and vulnerable line of communications to experience

-not only did broadley have to cope with the delays imposed by the need to transport supplies in infrequent large armed convoys, but he had "great reason to believe...that many of the stores design'd for the use of the navy have been stop'd at the carrying place for the use of the forts built & a'building there"

-his squadron consequently suffered from shortages of naval stores, skilled artisans, artillery, seamen and naval officers

-the british failed to man and arm halifax and oswego, the vessels that could have given them command of the lake, for want of a quantity of naval stores, guns and seamen that was insignificant relative to their total resources.

-that this was allowed to occur does not say much for the British command,

-the siege of Oswego fell between the dismissal of one commander in chief and the arrival of another

-in the meantime, 2 officers arrived, one after the other, so the job kept changing hands and no one put everything together

-the British, moreover, were the victims of simple misfortune. Following a number of uneventful cruises in 1755 and 1756, during the critical period just prior to the siege Broadley's squadron was twice forced to return to harbour on account of broken spars and damp magazines

-moreover, his most powerful ship ran aground and was out of action during the siege

-if broadley had not been forced to tun back by these mishaps, he might have caught montcalm's flotilla on the lake

-on the other hand, when defending his conduct during the siege, Broadley asserted that "had we been out, we could not have prevented their coming, the enemy having taken precaution not to cross the lake' but to coast with their bateaux close to the sore round the bottom of it, where we could not have come near them" the fact that the french travelled only by night and took very careful precautions to avoid detection would have made interception very difficult

-the conduct of Captain broadley did not meet with the approval of the admiralty,and he was asked to justify his actions after his return to england

-it is certainly possible to argue that broadley's conduct should have been more aggressive, since his squadron ultimately contributed virtually nothing to the defence of Oswego.

-but considering the odds against him, the bad luck that dogged the british on the lake during the crucial final weeks of the campaign, and the vigorous reaction of the french when mohawk and ontario attempted to bombard their encampment, it is difficult to see just what he could have done. Broadley may have been somewhat lacking in enterprise, but he also lacked the means to challenge the french squadron upon the open lake.

-Between may, 1755 and August, 1756, the Lake Ontario region was the scene of a competition for naval predominance between France and England, whose ultimate result was the expulsion of the Royal Navy from the lake

-this came about, not as the result of a dramatic and decisive battle of lake ontario, but because the Royal Navy proved to be unequal to the task of preventing the passage of the bateaux carrying the French army and siege train that captured and razed the british port and shipyard, together with broadley's entire squadron

-the real battle for control of lake ontario took place in the shipyards and along the lines of communication that linked the two outposts to the colonial centres of population and ultimately to france and england

-in the end, the french logistics system delivered the human and material resources needed for the two warships that together outgunned their british counterparts

-a completed british squadron could have blockaded the french in fort frontenac

-the british, on the other had, at the time of the siege had control of the lake almost within their grasp, but were just unable to transport the men and material that would have enabled them to add oswego and halifax to their squadron

-Instead of facing the choice of being blockaded in fort frontenac, or having to "oppose our two cruisers to six [[six] of theirs" the french invasion flotilla crossed the lake unopposed and landed two kilometres from oswego, which fell after a four day siege

-Judging from the difference that a few score british seamen and the twenty four six pounders that were rusting away impotently at the portage could have made, it is perhaps less correct to say that the french won control of lake ontario in 1756 than that the british lost it



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Copyright © 1988, 2001 D. Peter MacLeod

The bottom center image is a detail from David Rickman, Eastern Woodland Indians, middle of the eighteenth century, Department of National Defence.