Siege of Pondicherry

  • Name: Siege of Pondicherry
  • Venue: Pondicherry or Puducherry
  • Year: 1778 AD

There were three major siege operations of Pondicherry. The first siege of Pondicherry was in the year 1748, the second in 1760 and the last and the third, and also the major one, took place in 1778 AD, in which the British East India Company defeated the French East India Company.

The reasons that led to the battle

In the year 1748, the British forces conducted the first siege of Pondicherry, in which the port was under the French East India company, led by Governor-General Joseph Francois Dupleix. This British siege which started in the months of July-August was called off due to the arrival of monsoon rains in October 1748. This siege was considered to be the last important action of the First Carnatic War.

In the third Carnatic war, which was a part of Seven Year's war, the second siege of Pondicherry took place in the year 1760-61. It lasted for few months from 4 September 1760 to 15 January 1761, in which the French retreated and surrendered French colonial outpost of Pondicherry to the British. At the time of the surrender of the French commander Lally, many civilians were killed. Lally also tried to evict as many civilians from the port town so that few people remained in the city when under siege. This siege of Pondicherry was an important act by the British as they could take over land in the Indian subcontinent. The result of the siege was a decisive British victory.

The third siege of Pondicherry took place in 1778. Pondicherry remained the capital of French India. This port town was also the largest possession of the French in India. It was possible for the British to take over almost all the possessions of the French without any difficulty in 1778. Pondicherry was the only town that was efficiently defended. The Siege of Pondicherry in 1778 was considered to be the first military action in India, which took place as a result of the declaration of war between the Great Britain and France in the American War of Independence. Pondicherry, like other European outposts in India, was always the target for siege as it changed hands many a time in the colonial period. During the American war of Independence, the British colonies had received orders to seize all the possessions of the French in India and they started with their military preparations.

The strength of warring forces

The British army had 1,500 British regulars and more than 9,000 sepoys. On the other hand, the French army had 700 French regulars and 400 to 600 sepoys.

Aftermath of the battle: winner and loser
  • Winner: British East India Company
  • Loser: French East India Company
The French East India company was under the command of the French governor, General Guillaume de Bellecombe. Pondicherry had already been sieged earlier by the British as a result of which most of the parts of the city were exposed to direct attack. Bellecombe in order to protect the city against the British army tried improving the defences. The main gates were blocked. Gun batteries and stockades were constructed along the shore. Any kind of protective cover given to the British was removed or destroyed, before the British arrived. When the British occupied the garrison from Karikal on 10 August 1778, additional troops were added to Bellecombe's army of 700 French regulars and 400 sepoys. This also included the natives of Pondicherry. However, the French army was comparatively much smaller in size compared to the British army. The British East India Company was led by General Hector Munro. By 20 August 1778, the entire army of the British arrived and the siege operations started. Slowly, General Bellecombe started losing his arms and army. Heavy rains also disrupted the war. The northern ditch was drained by the British, which the French tried to fill it with flood water but was not successful. The British targeted two bastions on 14 October 2014, which were completely ruined. Bellecombe was compelled to send a truce flag to General Munro on 15 October 2014 after holding a war council as he was running out of ammunition. The ten weeks of siege of Pondicherry ended on 18 October 1778, when Bellecombe signed the terms of capitulation.

The larger implications of the battle

It was clear that the French force was much smaller than the British force. Yet, the French army of less than 1,500 had put up a brave fight for nearly 80 days against the British strong army of more than 20,000. The losses of French East India Company's army were high. More than 300 French and 150 sepoys died, along with the death of more than 200 civilian casualties. The British army lost around 900 soldiers and 684 were wounded.

The overall place and significance of the battle in the Indian history

After the siege, the city of Pondicherry was completely surrendered to the British. The French East India Company began to fall. The British East India Company, on the other hand, continued with the siege operations on other Indian colonies ruled by the French. Eventually they returned to France. But they were allowed to march out in full honours. Also, the siege of Pondicherry contributed to the beginning of the Second Mysore War.

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Last Updated on : January 19, 2015