The Battle of Flamborough Head: When the US and the UK Really Went To War – Off The Coast of England.

The Battle of Flamborough Head: When the US and the UK Really Went To War – Off The Coast of England.

Above Photo: The Bon Homme Richard in 1779.

One on of my recent research trawls, I came across photographs of an aircraft carrier used during the Vietnam War, called the Bon Homme Richard, which I thought was a very odd name for a US Carrier.

Bonhomme Richard in Gulf of Tonkin during Vietnam War (

Bon Homme Richard in Gulf of Tonkin during Vietnam War (

Then I did some research and came across a remarkable account of a naval battle fought during the US War of Independence, in September 1779, right off the Yorkshire coast, near Scarborough, in England.

It’s  called the Battle of Flamborough Head and although of little significance from a naval or military perspective, its psychological impact on the War of Independence and its importance in the development of the US navy was immense.

American Captain Paul Jones was commanding a small raiding group of mostly French-loaned ships, but which also included one American ship, the Alliance. Ironically, The Alliance was being captained by a stroppy Frenchman, disinclined to accept Jones’s authority, and who kept disappearing with the ship to go off on frolics of his own.

The Battle of Flamborough Head

The Battle of Flamborough Head

Luckily he’d rejoined Jones after an absence of two weeks when they came upon two large British ships escorting a 50-strong merchant convoy off the coast of Yorkshire, and Jones decided to engage.

Jones was aboard a ramshackle East India merchant ship which had been converted for military use, called the Bonhomme Richard, which eventually forced a superior, more modern and far more powerfully-armed British ship, the HMS Seraphis to strike its colours (or surrender), after an intense, bloody and violent battle at sea.

Captain John Paul Jones

Captain John Paul Jones

Interestingly hand grenades also played a large part in the fighting.

Jones took possession of the Seraphis as a prize of war, and moved his command onto it a couple of days later when the Bonhomme Richard sank from the damage it had sustained during the battle: the Seraphis was ultimately given to the French.

The battle of Flamborough Head proved an embarrassment for the Royal Navy, even though the convoy had ultimately been protected, and in the US it ensured Captain Paul Jones would take his place in the pantheon of American naval heroes.

The deck of the Bonhomme Richard

The deck of the Bonhomme Richard (© unknown)

So, learning about that engagement off the coast of England in 1779 cleared up why an aircraft carrier in the Vietnam War was called the Bon Homme Richard almost two hundred years later.

I also like this tale of US/Brit conflict because BACK, the usually harmonious but sometimes fractious relationship between the US and the UK is mirrored in the British and American characters in the book. The suspicions, misunderstandings and deceptions between the two groups eventually lead to disastrous consequences for the trekkers when they’re helplessly deep in the jungle, backpacking along the modern-day Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.

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See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. 

And for POWs left behind in Laos:

© Peter Alan Lloyd

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Twitter: @PeterAlanLloyd



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