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Invasion of Guadeloupe (1810)

Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines

Location: Guadeloupe

Period/ Conflict: Napoleonic Wars

Year: 1810

Date/s: 28 January and 6 February 1810

The Attack upon Guadeloupe, by the troops under the command of Lt. Gen. Beckwith, on the 3rd of February 1810 at midnight.

The Invasion of Guadeloupe was a British amphibious operation fought between 28 January and 6 February 1810 over control of the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe during the Napoleonic Wars. The island was the final remaining French colony in the Americas, following the systematic invasion and capture of the others during 1809 by British forces.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the French colonies had provided protected harbours for French privateers and warships, which could prey on the numerous British trade routes in the Caribbean and then return to the colonies before British warships could react. In response, the British instituted a blockade of the islands, stationing ships off every port and seizing any vessel that tried to enter or leave.

With trade and communication made dangerous by the British blockade squadrons, the economies and morale of the French colonies began to collapse, and in the summer of 1808 desperate messages were sent to France requesting help. Despite repeated efforts, the French Navy failed to reinforce and resupply the garrison, as their ships were intercepted and defeated either in European waters or in the Caribbean itself.

The British had intercepted a number of these messages, and launched a series of successful invasions during 1809, until Guadeloupe was the only French colony remaining.

British military operations in southern Guadeloupe 1810

After a brief period of consolidation on Dominica, Cochrane and Beckwith sailed for Guadeloupe on 27 January 1810, arriving off Le Gosier in the evening and landing the larger division at the village of Sainte-Marie under the command of Hislop. The division split, with one half marching south towards Basse-Terre and the other north. Neither met serious opposition, the militia forces deserting in large numbers and abandoning their fortifications as the British approached. Messages were sent by the approaching British ordering the surrender of towns and forts, and both forces made rapid progress over the following two days.

On 30 January the island's commander, General Jean Augustin Ernouf, took up a position with his remaining garrison in the Beaupère–St. Louis Ridge highlands that guarded the approaches to Basse-Terre, Hislop forming his men in front of Ernouf's position. Later in the day, Harcourt's men came ashore to the north of Basse-Terre, outflanking the strongest French positions at Trois-Rivières and forcing their withdrawal to Basse-Terre itself.

With his capital coming under bombardment from gun batteries set up by Royal Navy sailors organised into naval brigades, Ernouf marched to meet the British on the plain at Matabar on 3 February. Forming up, Ernouf attacked the British and initially drove them back, before superior numbers forced him to retire after he was outflanked by Wale's force attacking from the north. General Wale was wounded in the attack, in which his men suffered 40 casualties.

One eyewitness, an Irish sailor from HMS Alfred, claimed that Ernouf had laid a large land mine along his line of retreat and planned to detonate it as the British advanced but was prevented from doing so when Beckwith spotted the trap and refused to be drawn into it, although this story does not appear in other accounts. While Ernouf was retreating, Commodore Fahie seized the opportunity to attack the undefended town of Basse-Terre, landing with a force of Royal Marines and capturing the town, cutting off Ernouf's route of escape. Isolated and surrounded, the French general requested a truce at 08:00 on 4 February to bury the dead from the battle the day before. This was accepted, and on 5 February he formally surrendered.

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