Despite massive effort, little went right despite Lesley Vainikolo's brace of tries and La Rochelle receiving four yellow cards after the break.
Praise must go to the visitors whose defence was exemplary especially when they were down to 13, or indeed 14, men.
La Rochelle kicked their goals and took their chances and were worthy of their win. The result, however, leaves Gloucester's Amlin Challenge Cup campaign in the balance.
The game was understandably in doubt right until the last minute and only a supreme effort by the Gloucester ground staff.
An emotional pre match ensued which saw Ryan and Sean Walkinshaw lead the team out ahead of a minute's silence in honour of their father Tom, the late Gloucester Rugby chairman.
Gloucester started well but the first real chance went to La Rochelle as centre Vincent Roux made a dangerous break into the home 22 but the final pass went to ground.
However, the score wasn't long in coming as powerful number eight Thomas Soucaze broke a tackle and sprinted untouched to the line. Dambielle converted to silence the crowd further.
Gloucester continued to look lively but were a little loose in their execution and the visitors' defence was admirably robust and they showed a willingness to counter where possible. And they extended their lead with a Dambielle penalty on 15 minutes.
However, Gloucester finally put points on the board with a Robinson penalty on 18 minutes to peg the gap to 3-10 and lift the crowd.
It was shortlived, however, as the visiting pack started to take a grip up front and earned a penalty for pulling down a driving maul and Dambielle slotted the penalty for 3-13 after 27 minutes.
Luke Narraway almost inspired an instant comeback as he picked up from the base of a scrum and made a telling break. Nicky Robinson was in support and chipped ahead and regathered but the support knocked on with a try beckoning.
Gloucester continued to hammer away and the try duly came. Vainikolo took a high clearance and smashed his way back. Gloucester came right and then left before Qera found the Tongan who finished the move in the corner. 8-13 after 32 minutes.
Despite the pressure, it was La Rochelle who finished the half off on a high as prop Jonathan Garcia forced his way over from close range to make the half time score 8-18.
It ended a disappointing opening 40 minutes for Gloucester who were, quite literally, caught cold. There was plenty of effort but the execution was lacking and La Rochelle had doled out a lesson in taking chances.
Plenty was going to have to change at half time if Gloucester were to keep their European hopes alive.
It was an inauspicious start though as Robinson missed with an early penalty chance and Dambielle slotted one from distance to extend the lead to 8-21.
Gloucester hit back as Vainikolo and Fuimaono-Sapolu both made half breaks which threatened to break the La Rochelle defence but the breakthrough just wouldn't come and the frustration grew especially when the big winger was bundled into touch at the corner.
The best part of the next ten minutes was then spent in the visitors 22 but, despite being awarded numerous penalties, nothing went Gloucester's way apart for a yellow card for Alexandre Bares.
Gloucester drove over the line on the hour but were adjudged to have been held up to increase the misery but finally an opening was carved out and Vainikolo used every ounce of his strength to make the corner to give Gloucester a glimmer of hope especially when Vincent Roux was sinbinned for punching.
Dambielle, though, continued to be a thorn in Gloucester's side and promptly landed his fourth penalty to make the score 13-24.
Gloucester continued to press and the visitors started to buckle under the pressure. Prop Leupolu was sinbinned and barely had Roux taken the field again, he received his second yellow which translated into a red.
Freddie Burns glided his way over for his side's third try but it was too little too late although Charlie Sharples almost made the line before the match ended, appropriately, upon a Gloucester handling error.