Like most of the African coast, Gabon’s waters have seen plenty of activity from British ships. In the Battle of Cape Lopez in 1722, for example, HMS Swallow under Captain Chaloner Ogle (great name) defeated the only slightly less impressively named pirate Bartholomew Roberts. It was all over rather quickly for Roberts since his ship the Royal Fortune, unfortunately for it, rapidly took two massive broadsides from the Swallow, killing Roberts. The pirates fought on but eventually 272 were taken prisoner.
When we went from slaving nation to anti-slaving nation, our West Africa squadron intercepted a number of ships in Gabon’s waters.
During the Second World War, we helped liberate Gabon, then part of French Equatorial Africa, from Vichy French control. In autumn 1940, while Britain was still fearing German invasion, our navy was in action far to the south. In late October, Free French forces from Cameroon penetrated 70 miles across the border into Gabon. Then on 7 November, HMS Milford, with cruisers HMS Delhi and HMS Devonshire, deployed in support of Free French landings at Libreville. The Vichy French submarine Poncelet fired a torpedo at Milford. Luckily for us, but unluckily for Poncelet, the torpedo failed to explode and when the submarine surfaced it was hit by a shot and the crew were forced to surrender, all except the captain, De Saussine, who went down with his ship. On 9 November, after heavy fighting, Free French troops entered Libreville and on 12 November Vichy French forces in Gabon surrendered.