The Battle off Flamborough Head
For five weeks a young Scottish-born captain in the new
Continental Navy had been sailing around the British Isles,
raiding towns and cities, capturing or sinking many valuable
merchant ships, and generally raising alarm and havoc under the
nose of the greatest naval power on earth.
The Battle off Flamborough Head
Artist: Dean Mosher
changed on September 23, 1779, when forty one sail were sighted
off Flamborough Head, on the north-east coast of England.
Captain John Paul Jones knew he had found the great Baltic
convoy, the very lifeblood of England's naval dockyards. Jones
ordered his small squadron to attack and prepared for action.
and the convoy lay the Royal Navy escorts, the 44-gun
ship Serapis, and the 20-gun ship Countess of Scarborough.
Serapis was a 44-gun brand-new two-decker with frigate lines, commanded by a seasoned captain and crew.
Jones's ship, the Bonhomme Richard, was a weary
fourteen-year-old East Indiaman converted into a 40-gun ship and
lent to the Continental Navy by King Louis XVI of France.
was flying the British ensign and wearing an English-style
uniform, his adversary, Captain Richard Pearson, R.N., was highly
suspicious that this was "Paul Jones the Pirate" and prepared for
musket shot range (80 yards) in deepening twilight, Jones
realized his ruse dc guerre had run its course and ordered the
Stars and Stripes raised, which was followed immediately by
broadsides from both ships. On the second broadside, two of
Jones's old double-shotted 18-pounders exploded, killing or
wounding several gun crews and rendering useless his heaviest
Jones was now
severely handicapped and engaged with a superior enemy in a
running battle, with Bonhomme Richard being out-gunned
and outsailed nearly two to one by Serapis. After an hour of
terrible punishment, Jones took advantage of a fortuitous gust of wind and
pulled ahead of Serapis, in an attempt to cross Serapis's bow and rake
her. Bonhomme Richard lost way, causing the two ships to
collide, and became locked together, bow to stern, in a deadly
embrace, their sides grinding together.
next two-and-a-half hours of furious combat, Serapis
fired both her gun decks through Bonhomme Richard's lower
decks, virtually cutting her in half. With five feet of water in
the hold and rising, Jones was in command of a burning, sinking
ship, on a hostile lee shore, with half his crew dead or
When one of
his own crew called: "Quarters, quarters, our ship is sinking,"
Jones in a rage threw his empty pistols at them, fracturing the
skull of one, as the other ran for cover.
cries for "Quarters," Captain Pearson emerged from beneath his
quarterdeck, and shouted to Jones "Do you strike?"
the leading edge of his quarterdeck bulwark, Jones' legendary words have resounded through
“I have not
yet begun to fight!”
twenty minutes the battle raged on, until a Scottish seaman
carried a bucket of grenades to the end of the Bonhomme
Richard's mainyard, directly over Serapis’s deck, and
threw a grenade down Serapis' main hatch. The grenade struck the
lower gun deck hatch coaming and rolled aft along Serapis's
lower gun deck, where it exploded among many black powder
cartridges. The resulting explosions and intense flash fires killed
more than twenty English
seamen, and put Serapis’s lower gundeck out of action.
At this point,
Captain Pearson called for "Quarters," and hauled down his ensign
himself, ending one of the hottest single-ship actions in the age of
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