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Raid on Boulogne
Part of the Napoleonic Wars
Nelson fails against the flotilla near Boulogne - 15th of August 1801, by Louis-Philippe Crepin (1772 Paris – 1851)
Date 4 and 15 August 1801
Location Boulogne
Result French victory
United Kingdom United Kingdom France France
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson Latouche Tréville
3 Third Rates, 3 Fourth Rates, 7 frigates, 11 sloops, 7 bomb vessels, 32 gun-brigs, large number of gunboats [1] 24 brigs and lugger-rigged flats, 1 schooner [2]
Casualties and losses
6 ships sunk
44 killed
126 wounded[3]
20 captured [4]
4 deserted[5]
2 ships sunk
10 killed
30 wounded[6]

The raid on Boulogne in 1801 was a failed attempt by elements of the Royal Navy led by Vice Admiral Lord Nelson to destroy a French vessels flotilla anchored in the port of Boulogne supposed to be used for the invasion of England, during the Napoleonic Wars. At dawn on August 4, Nelson ordered five bomb vessels to move forward and open fire against the French line. Despite the inferior gunpowder of French artillery and the high number of shots fired by the bomb vessels, the British sustained more causalities. The night of 15 August Nelson returned and tried to seize the port attacking with 70 boats organized in 4 divisions, but was successfully repelled by the defenders, led by Admiral Latouche Tréville.



The 12th of July Bonaparte issued an order for the assemblage there of nine divisions of gun-vessels and of the same number of battalions of troops, besides several detachments of artillery to serve the guns on board the flotilla. Rear-Admiral Latouche Tréville was appointed the commander in chief and was given directions to exercise the troops in ship-working, in firing the guns, in boarding and in getting in and out of the vessels[7]. Concentrations of troops and flat-bottomed boats were also reported at the ports of Le Havre and Dunkirk. These preparations were exaggerated by the French journals, including the official French government newspaper, Le Moniteur, which published the first consul’s threat of invasion on 21 June[8]. In fact, Bonaparte’s only objective was intimidate the British government into accepting disadvantageous peace terms.

Although the British intelligence doubted that the French invasion would take place, the counter-invasion orders of 1797 were reintroduced. The number of sloops and gun brigs in the Channel Islands were increased. In the southern counties cattle were driven inland, and main roads were blocked. Nelson, who recently returned from the Baltic, received detailed instructions of the admiralty to be employed in the defence of the mouths of the Thames and Medway, and all parts of the coast of Sussex, Essex and Kent. He was also required to block up or destroy, if practicable, the French vessels and craft in the ports wherein they may be assembled.

Attack on 4 August

Nelson, with the 38 guns frigate HMS Medusa as flagship arrived at the port of Buologne the evening of August 3. He placed his 28 gunboats and 5 bomb vessels at a distance of 3 km from the port, out of the French army land batteries above and beside Boulogne range. At 5 am the next day the division of bomb vessels was placed ahead of the rest of the squad and the attack began, although Nelson was aware that a long-distance naval bombardment was unlikely to be decisive[9].

The 5 bomb vessels bombarded the French defensive line moored in front of Boulogne during 16 hours firing between 750 and 848 shots[10]. The French forces were unable to respond to the British fire because off the poor state of his gunpowder. As a result of this, Latouche Tréville considered moving towards the British ships to board him, but finally refused this plan because off the poor construction of his gunboats.

Finally, Nelson, seeing that the bombardment only caused little damage, returned to England. He reported three flats and a brig sunk and the driving of several others on shore[11]; however, Latouche Tréville only admitted two gunboats sunk, from one could be later recovered. The British lost 4 or 5 men and two gunboats, one of which exploded when its mortar burst.


  1. ^ Knight, p. 405
  2. ^ James, p. 84
  3. ^ James, p.86
  4. ^ Pelham, p. 539
  5. ^ Knight, p.412
  6. ^ James, p.86
  7. ^ James, p. 84
  8. ^ Knight, p. 403
  9. ^ Knight, p. 406
  10. ^ Knight, p. 406
  11. ^ James, p.86


  • James, William, The naval history of Great Britain, from ... 1793, to ... 1820, with an account of the origin and increase of the British navy. Chamier, Vol III, 1859.
  • Pelham Brenton, Edward, The naval history of Great Britain, from the year MDCCLXXXIII. to MDCCCXXXVI, Vol 1. H. Colburn, 1837.
  • Knight, Roger, The Pursuit of Victory: The Life and Achievement of Horatio Nelson. Westview Press, 2007. ISBN 9780465037650


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