British expedition against Belle-Isle 1761 and the 36th Foot


The Capture of small French island of Belle-Isle (Belle Île) in the Bay of Biscay was a British amphibious expedition In April 1761, during the Seven Years War. After the initial British attack by General John Crauford forces was repulsed, a second attempt under General Studholme Hodgson eventually forced a beachhead. A second landing was then made, and after a six week siege the island's main citadel at Le Palais was stormed, consolidating British control of the island. A French relief effort from the nearby mainland was unable to succeed because of British control of the sea. The British then occupied the island for the next two years before returning it to the French following the Treaty of Paris in 1763.


First Attack

The British expedition sailed from Plymouth on the 29th March 1761. It arrived off the island of Belle-Isle (Belle-Île) in the Bay of Biscay on the 6th April after a delay due to bad weather. After a reconnaissance of the south of the island it was decided to try a landing around Port Andre on the south of Belle-Isle.

General John Crauford forces attempted to make a landing. In order to divert attention away from the main landing area, a force of two battalions of infantry and a contingent of Royal Marines were employed at the north of the island.

However, Crauford's force encountered much heavier opposition than had been expected, as the French were well-entrenched and their fire took a heavy toll on the British forces. One company of 60 grenadiers of the 36th Regiment of Foot did however manage to scale the nearby cliffs, but with little support, they were overpowered by superior numbers and all but 20 were killed or taken prisoners.

General Crauford's troops had to abandoned the attack and retreated back to their ships, having lost about 500 men, killed, wounded, or taken prisoner.

Finally, after a violent storm lasting all night, many of the landing craft were wrecked, it was decided to abandon the attack.


Major-General Hodgson subsequently received the following reinforcements, of which the 36th Foot (which later became the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment) formed part :


Commanding Officers


3rd Foot

Major J. Biddulph


36th Foot

Lieut.-Colonel W. Preston


75th Foot (afterwards disbanded)

Lieut.-Colonel C. Parry


85th Foot (afterwards disbanded)

Major Sir Hugh Williams





Attack made by the British Fleet at Port André on the Island of Belle Isle (8th April 1761)

Second Attack

William Pitt ordered British reinforcements and as a result Troop transports carrying forces to take part in the attack on Martinique were diverted to join Commodore Augustus Keppel (later Admiral) along with other significant reinforcements.

Commodore Augustus Keppel was appointed to command the sea, and Major-General Studholme Hodgson the land forces. A second landing was now planned. After lengthy examination of the island's defences it was decided that the best chance of success was another attack at Port André. This time two diversionary attacks were planned to draw attention away from the main attack with one in the west against Sauzon and one in the north against St Foy.

On 22nd April 1761 the main attack, again led by John Crauford, met equally heavy opposition as it had last time and soon stalled. Meanwhile the diversionary attack to the north led by Brigadier-General Hamilton Lambart discovered the stretch of coast around St. Foy undefended by troops as the French had believed that the high cliffs were a strong enough defence against any attack. Lambart decided that they could be scaled, and his troops successfully gained a position on top of the ridge at the rocks near Point Lomaria. Beauclerk's grenadiers (19th foot), with Captain Patterson, of that regiment, gained the summit before the enemy saw what was intended, who immediately marched a body of three hundred men to attack them; the grenadiers, however, maintained their ground till the remainder of Brigadier Lambert's troops arrived. The success thus gained was promptly followed up; the French were eventually repulsed, and three brass field-pieces, with a few prisoners, were captured.

Realising what had happened, General Crauford abandoned his attack and took his troops via boat around to assist Brigadier Lambart. The British commanders poured further reinforcements in to secure the beachhead. By nightfall the whole British force was ashore. According to a pre-arranged signal the French forces and inhabitants withdrew into the main fortification at Le Palais leaving the rest of the island to the invaders.

The town of Palais was eventually carried by assault, and the siege of the citadel was prosecuted with vigour. The garrison, under their governor, the Chevalier de St. Croix, made a gallant defence; but on the 7th of June were forced to surrender, and were permitted to march through the breach with the honours of war, in consideration of their bravery. The capture of the island was thus achieved, with the loss of about eighteen hundred men killed and wounded.
This conquest was regarded with great pride by the British nation; but the island was restored to France, at the peace of Fontainebleau in 1763, in exchange for Minorca, which had been taken by the French at the commencement of the war.