Intelligence in War: The Value--And Limitations--Of What the Military Can Learn About the Enemy

Free Intelligence in War: The Value--And Limitations--Of What the Military Can Learn About the Enemy by John Keegan

Book: Intelligence in War: The Value--And Limitations--Of What the Military Can Learn About the Enemy by John Keegan Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Keegan
than the stipulated span, he would have been found by Nelson, who himself arrived on station that day.
    On 31 May, however, Hope had detached
Terpsichore
and
Bonne Citoyenne
to search for Nelson between Sardinia and North Africa. On 2 June he met
Mutine
and was told by Hardy that Troubridge, with ten men-of-war, was close behind him, also looking for Nelson. There were now four separate British forces in the western Mediterranean, all looking for Bonaparte but also for each other: Nelson approaching his designated patrol line,
Alcmene
and
Mutine
on it,
Terpsichore
and
Bonne Citoyenne
heading for Sardinia, Troubridge south of all of them but heading north and anxious to make touch. If Hope had kept
Alcmene
and
Bonne Citoyenne
in company and stayed on station with
Mutine,
he would inevitably have met Nelson, and Troubridge later, thus forming a junction of heavy ships and scouts which, with the merest addition of luck, would have intercepted the slow-sailing French in the central Mediterranean within the month at most. The destruction of the French fleet, and with it a major portion of the best of the French army, would have followed, Bonaparte would have been a beaten man and none of his most famous victories, Marengo and Austerlitz foremost, would have been won. The First Coalition might have been revived, the Revolution contained, the French Empire never founded, the future of Europe changed altogether.
    As it was, Hope decided on another course.
Emerald’
s report of the extent of damage suffered by
Vanguard
was decisive in forming his mind. He concluded that its severity would require the flagship to enter dockyard for repairs. The only available were at Naples and Gibraltar. To look for Nelson at Gibraltar required a retrogression, which would add in both space and time to Bonaparte’s head start; in any case, Hope had been told by Hardy when he had left in the
Mutine
that Nelson had not returned to Gibraltar. He also decided against seeking out Troubridge, a bad mistake, since Troubridge shortly found Nelson himself, and had he been able to bring Hope’s frigates with him, would thereby have added enormously to the fleet’s powers of reconnaissance. Hope instead made the calamitous decision to mount a search for the French by himself. Having already detached
Bonne Citoyenne
and
Emerald
to Sardinia, he sent
Terpsichore
to search the north Italian ports while sailing
Alcmene
round Majorca and Minorca, then to Sardinia and eventually towards Naples, picking up his detached consorts on the way. The pattern of search would have been justifiable had either Nelson or the French armada been standing still. Nelson, however, was cruising on the patrol line while the French were heading steadily east and south, opening up irrecoverable searoom with every day that passed. Had Nelson known of Hope’s movements and orders, his anguish at “want of frigates” would have been even more acute than it was.
    Nelson, back on his rendezvous line off Toulon, now at least had the consolation of picking up the ships that were to constitute his fighting force, first
Mutine
, then Troubridge’s ten 74s, on the afternoon of 7 June. Then the weather again intervened. A calm fell, so that it was not until 10 June that
Orion
and
Alexander,
of his original three, which had been detached to chase merchantmen in hope of news, rejoined and the fleet was fully assembled. Nelson, with thirteen 74s, the 50-gun
Leander
and the nimble
Mutine
could now turn in pursuit of the enemy. Where to head?
    Troubridge had brought orders from St. Vincent which recapitulated the strategic situation. Nelson was requested and required to proceed “in quest of the Armament preparing by the enemy at Toulon and Genoa, the object whereof appears to be, either an attack on Naples and Sicily, the conveyance of an army to some part of the coast of Spain, for the purpose of marching towards Portugal or to pass through the Straits [of Gibraltar] with the view to proceeding

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