A naval signal introduced into the British Navy in the mid-18th century in an attempt to circumvent the rigid line of battle laid down for naval action by the current fighting instructions. Few admirals were prepared to risk their reputations by departing from the tactical rules in these instructions, one of which was that battle could not be joined with an enemy fleet until the ships of the line had been formed into line of battle and were directly opposite the enemy's line. As a result of this order, naval battles were somewhat formal affairs in which each ship fought its opposite number in the enemy's line while remaining rigidly on station in its own line. In order to break this sterility the general chase signal was introduced. This allowed each ship of war to make all sail towards the enemy and engage the nearest ship as she came up to it, even though it was not the ship she would have engaged in a line battle, succeeding ships coming up, passing her on her disengaged side, and engaging the next enemy ship within reach. It was a signal which restored initiative to the naval commander and flexibility to the line of battle and, when employed, produced some notable victories. The battles of Cape Finisterre (1747) and Quiberon Bay (1759) are fine examples of naval battles fought with the signal flying for a general chase. See also warfare at sea.
Subjects: Maritime History.