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When the American colonies declared their independence, Great Britain had the world's most powerful navy. Although a naval force was established, the American navy would never be able to confront the British fleet in a full onslaught. Instead, the mission for the American navy was to disrupt the delivery of armaments to British forces in America and to harass British maritime commerce. In August 1779, American naval commander John Paul Jones began attacking British ships in British waters to divert attention from French operations in the Channel.
During the American Revolutionary War, Captain John Paul Jones led a squadron of the American Continental Navy, the Bonhomme Richard, the Pallas, and the Alliance, on raiding parties around Ireland, Scotland and the east coast of England. On 23 September 1779, John Paul Jones spotted a merchant convoy escorted by two British warships, the Serapis and the Countess of Scarborough. When the fleet saw the American squadron, they headed to refuge; the two warships prepared for battle.
The main conflict was a close sea battle between the Bonhomme Richard, captained by John Paul Jones, and the Serapis under Richard Pearson. Both ships were badly damaged in the battle, but when the Alliance joined the fight, Pearson surrendered his ship. The Bonhomme Richard was leaking badly, and all attempts were made to keep the ship afloat. A fire raged on the ship and the flames were not extinguished until the next morning. Finally on 25 September 1779, the Bonhomme Richard sunk in Filey Bay after all crew were removed to the Serapis.
Although the British warship was taken by the American commander, the merchant convoy escaped into Scarborough. The toposcope at Flamborough Head was erected in 1959 to commemorate the battle.