Battle of Madras, 2 November 1746

The battle of Madras (2 November 1746) was the first of two victories in three days that saw tiny French armies defeat the much larger army of the Nawab of the Carnatic (First Carnatic War).

Before the war the French East India Company was generally on good terms with Anwar-ur-Din, the Nawab of the Carnatic. Their possessions in southern India were surrounded by (and officially part of) the Nawab's province, as were the possessions of the British East India Company. When fighting broke out between the British and French (part of the War of the Austrian Succession) the Nawab declared his territory to be neutral and forbade any fighting on land. The British obeyed this decree, but a French fleet under Admiral La Bourdonnais first bombarded and then besieged Madras (14-21 September 1746). This siege ended in success, and the town fell into French hands.

During the short siege the Nawab ordered the French governor, Marquis Joseph-François Dupleix, to halt the attack. Dupleix sidestepped this demand by claiming that he was conquering Madras in the Nawab's name, and would hand the town over to him. Admiral La Bordonnais disagreed with this plan. He intended to ransom the town and hand it back to the British, but a storm badly damaged his fleet, forcing him to leave the area.

This left Dupleix in control, but by then the Nawab had lost patience with the French, and sent a 10,000 strong army under the command of his son Maphuze Khan to besiege the French in Madras. Dupleix now changed his mind, and claimed Madras for France. The commander of the garrison, D'Espréménil, was ordered to hold the town for as long as possible, and a relief force was sent from Pondicherry.

D'Espréménil found himself in a very dangerous position. Only the southern part of Madras was fortified, and as the English had recently discovered those fortifications weren't very strong. The French were very badly outnumbered, and even the relief force wouldn't change that. He decided that his best hope of success was to take the initiative and launch a sortie against the Nawab's army. Accordingly he led 400 of his troops with two field guns, out of the town.

Maphuze responded by sending his cavalry to smash the tiny French force. As the cavalry approached the French, the French opened a gap in their lines to reveal their two guns, which began a rapid bombardment of the approaching cavalry. The French field guns had a much higher rate of fire than the cannons in the Nawab's army (most sources give a rate of fire of four shots per hour for the Indian guns compared to fifteen shots per minute for the French!). Seventy Indian cavalrymen were struck down in the bombardment, and the rest of the force retreated. The panic spread to the entire army, and the Nawab's forces fled, abandoning their camp.

Maphuze Khan was soon able to regain control of his army, and on the next day he moved south to St. Thome, to block a small French force that was on its way to reinforce the garrison of Madras. On 4 November this force won another dramatic victory (Battle of St. Thome, 4 November 1746), and this time the Nawab's army fled back towards his capital of Arcot. These two victories secured the French position at Madras, but they also had a wider significance. Small but disciplined European armies had proved capable of beating much larger Indian armies, a discovery that altered the balance of power in India.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (8 December 2011), Battle of Madras, 2 November 1746 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_madras_1746.html

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