The date was September 23, 1779, and the British were terrified. The War for Independence raged ever since Britain invaded America, and now England faced the very real possibility of being attacked on her own soil.
American sailor John Paul Jones.
Sailing aboard his 42-gun Bonhomme Richard along with four other ships, Jones was headed to Ireland where he intended to lead the British astray as a sizable French and Spanish fleet attack.
Aware that something was afoot, however, the British sent ships throughout the region around Ireland only to come up empty-handed.
Jones escaped their grasp, sailing around the tip of Scotland. He was now in the North Sea.
England was in a state of horror. The Americans were coming.
A Fine Night for Battle
On this particular day, Jones came across an English merchant fleet not far off from Yorkshire, being escorted by two British warships: the HMS Serapis and the HMS Countess of Scarborough.
The sea was exceptionally calm, and little to no wind blew.
The British knew that something was happening and sailed to attack the Bonhomme Richard.
As the British opened fire, it soon became clear that board-for-board, the nimble Serapis was more than a match for the Richard. Its opening salvo caused extreme damage to the American ship, and a number of Richard’s guns were destroyed.
Yet the battle raged on.
Where the Wind Blows
It soon appeared that all was lost for the Americans. They were getting obliterated by superior firepower. But then, something unexpected happened.
A sudden gust of wind materialized, allowing Jones to entangle the Bonhomme Richard in the rigging of the Serapis. The Serapis couldn’t utilize its superior speed and maneuverability.
Now, it would come down to close-quarters combat.
Time to Grapple
Jones ordered his men to attempt to board the Serapis.
Grappling hooks were tossed over, but it was several hours later that the Americans successfully boarded the Serapis, fighting with axes, pikes, pistols, and swords on deck as American sharpshooters in the top decks picked off all the British below.
The Americans tossed grenades at the British below them as well.
When one grenade accidentally fell through the decks of the Serapis, it ignited a quantity of gunpowder below deck, causing a contained explosion that killed or injured 20.
As a result, the British begged for mercy and surrendered the Serapis.
A New Ride for a New Day
Seeing that the Bonhomme Richard was sinking, Jones ordered all of his men aboard the Serapis, which he then sailed for the Netherlands.
Not only had a ragtag collection of sailors just won a battle against the supreme naval force on the planet, but they’d also taken their ship.
And perhaps, for the British, this was the beginning of a realization. America was not to be trifled with.
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