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Battle of Vizagapatam

The Battle of Vizagapatam was a minor naval engagement fought in the approaches to Vizagapatam harbour in the Coastal Andhra region of British India on the Bay of Bengal on 15 September 1804 during the Napoleonic Wars. A French squadron under Contre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Durand Linois in the ship of the line Marengo attacked the British Royal Navy fourth rate ship HMS Centurion and two East Indiaman merchant ships anchored in the harbour roads. Linois was engaged in an extended raiding campaign, which had already involved operations in the South China Sea, in the Mozambique Channel, off Ceylon and along the Indian coast of the Bay of Bengal. The French squadron had fought one notable engagement, at the Battle of Pulo Aura on 15 February 1804, in which Linois had attacked the Honourable East India Company's (HEIC) China Fleet, a large convoy of well-armed merchant ships carrying cargo worth £8 million. Linois failed to press the attack and withdrew with the convoy at his mercy, invoking the anger of Napoleon when the news reached France.

Defence of the Centurion
Defence of the Centurion in Vizagapatam Road, Septr. 15th 1804,
Engraving by Thomas Sutherland after a painting by Sir James Lind

Since his failure at Pulo Aura, Linois had been cruising the Indian Ocean, and during August and September 1804 had seized a number of valuable merchant ships as his squadron travelled north from Ceylon along the Indian coast of the Bay of Bengal. From a ship captured off Masulipatam, Linois learned of the presence of the East Indiamen at Vizagapatam and determined to attack, unaware that British Rear-Admiral Peter Rainier had replaced the small frigate HMS Wilhelmina with the larger Centurion as the convoy's escort. Arriving off the port at 06:00, Linois advanced on the convoy, causing one of the East Indiamen to drive ashore in panic. The other merchant vessel failed to support the outnumbered Centurion and was captured, but Centurion continued fighting alone. Initially supported by the fire of gun batteries on shore, Centurion later moved out of their range while engaging the French flagship Marengo, which remained well offshore to avoid the coastal shoals. After an engagement lasting four hours Marengo withdrew, the badly damaged Centurion attempting to pursue but without success. Linois's squadron was forced to return to Île de France in the aftermath of the engagement, where Marengo required six months of repairs.

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