In 1339 the French utilised a strategy that had worked incredibly well for them in 1338. They set out to raid English ports and coastal areas. Following the devastation caused by the raids on Portsmouth and Southampton a year earlier, they were confident that they would be able to cause considerable damage to shipping, goods, and morale. On 20th May 1339, the French fleet entered Plymouth Sound. The French Raid on Plymouth resulted in damage to ships and buildings.
Fear of a French Invasion
In 1339 the English feared an invasion by the French. Squadrons of galleys that operated around the French coast, along with Italian ones that France hired, were making their way to Normandy. An army was being gathered near French ports. England feared the worst.
Defence of the Coast
England already had many of its military assets deployed. The Council now needed to prepare for the defence of the coast. Planning for the defence of the coast was placed in the hands of the Earl of Huntingdon. As Constable of Dover, he was given oversight of the coastal defences with other nobles given commands of various parts of the coast.
Militarisation of the Solent
Large garrisons were quickly established at the main ports. Those around the Solent saw a massive military presence with large garrisons being established at Southampton, Portsmouth, Porchester and on the Isle of Wight. Hampshire was seen as the most likely landing site for the expected invasion, and so as well as defending the ports, most things of value were transported inland to Winchester.
The defences were soon tested. A large French raiding party sailed into Southampton Water on 15th May 1339. The temporary earthworks and the number of defenders made landing too perilous. They soon moved on. They chose to sail in a westerly direction, around Lands End and into the Bristol Channel, where they sank several English vessels.
French Raid on Plymouth, 20th May 1339
After attacking shipping in the Bristol channel the French fleet turned around and on 20th May were off the coast at Plymouth. Plymouth in 1339 was not as significant a port as it later became. It was, however, used as a haven in storms and times of raiding.
Surprise attack in Plymouth Sound
The French arrival caught several ships by surprise, and they found themselves trapped in the Sound. The French-Italian fleet seized these, sinking them and killing the crews. They then landed on the shore and began ransacking the houses. An English force under the Earl of Devon engaged them in a skirmish, which resulted in the raiders returning to their ships and sailing off.
The raids illustrated that shipping remained vulnerable to raids from France and her allies. Defences along the whole southern coastline would need to be improved to minimise the risk. This would be an expensive task both financially and in terms of manpower.
Further attempts to Raid Plymouth
In August 1340 French ships sailed into Plymouth Sound but opted to sail on. This fleet did land on the Isle of Wight, and once again at Portsmouth.
From 1343 the port of Plymouth saw more use for military purposes. This was due to the English involvement in the war of Breton Succession, which made Plymouth an ideal port of embarkation for campaigns there, or further south in Gascony.