HMS Serapis (1779)

HMS Serapis was a Roebuck class 44-gun, two-deck ship launched in the year of 1779. Her claim to fame is that the American Commodore John Paul Jones captured her as a prize of battle later in the same year. She then became a French ship but was lost in a fire in 1781.

How It Began

At the time, John Paul Jones had mustered a fleet of four French and American ships with the intention of circling the British Isles in his ship, the Bonhomme Richard, and attacking British merchant ships as a diversionary tactic from French operations in the English Channel. After several successful captures of merchant ships, the renegade Commander Pierre Landais left the fleet but returned to Flamborough Head on September 23rd.

Responding to the reports of his lookouts, John Paul Jones set sail to intercept a convoy of ships guarded by the frigate HMS Serapis and HMS Countess of Scarborough. The Bonhomme Richard approached the HMS Serapis at her port quarter, and after an exchange of words with HMS Serapis commander, opened fire with Bonhomme Richard’s starboard guns.

The Battle of Flamborough

In the battle that ensued with the two ships, Bonhomme Richard was no match for the superior firepower of HMS Serapis, the ship became heavily damaged, and its guns had to be taken out of commission. HMS Serapis continued to pound Bonhomme Richard with fire. John Paul Jones knew he could only capture the ship by boarding her. He turned and rammed the Serapis and his crew quickly tied the two ships together using grappling hooks. The ships still continued to fire at each other while attempts were made by both ships’ crews to board the other. After two hours of fighting, the renegade French commander Landais unexpectedly began firing at both Bonhomme Richard and Serapis, adding to the difficulties of John Paul Jones.

The Bonhomme Richard crew gained the upper hand in fighting the crew of the HMS Serapis, and she was boarded. Captain Pearson of the HMS Serapis was forced to surrender. At this stage, the Bonhomme Richard had suffered extreme damage and could not be saved. John Paul Jones made essential repairs to HMS Serapis and sailed her to Texel in the Netherlands. Arguably, the greatest prize ever taken by the Continental Navy, Serapis was transferred to the French and the capture of Serapis made John Paul Jones a legend in American Naval history.

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