THE BATTLE OF CAPE ST VINCENT FEBRUARY 14TH 1797 WAS ONE OF OPENING BATTLES OF THE BRITISH - SPANISH WAR (1796–1808).THE NAVAL BATTLE OF ST. VINCENT WAS PART OF FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WARS ENDED WITH A BRITISH VICTORY.THE BATTLE ST.VINCENT TOOK PLACE OFF THE COAST OF PORTUGAL.

The Moonlight Battle off Cape St Vincent, 16 January 1780.As the fog began to lift, it became clear that the British were outnumbered nearly two-to-one. Unfazed by the odds, Jervis instructed his fleet to form a line of battle. As the British approached, the Spanish fleet was divided into two groups. The larger, consisting of 18 ships of the line, was to the west, while the smaller, made up of 9 ships of the line stood to the east. Seeking to maximize the firepower of his ships, Jervis intended to pass between the two Spanish formations. Led by Captain Thomas Troubridge's HMS Culloden (74) Jervis' line began to pass the western Spanish group.

The Battle of the Levant Convoy was a naval engagement of the French Revolutionary Wars fought on 7 October 1795. During the battle, a powerful French squadron surprised a valuable British convoy from the Levant off Cape St Vincent on the coast of Portugal. The convoy was weakly defended, and although the small escort squadron tried to drive the French back, they were outmatched. In the ensuing action one of the British ships of the line and almost the entire convoy was overrun and captured. The French commander, Commodore Joseph de Richery, then retired to the neutral Spanish port of Cádiz, where he came under blockade.By August 1796, it was clear that Spain were about to enter the war on the side of revolutionary France.  The fleets of the two countries combined would greatly outnumber the British, and so Admiral Jervis was ordered to retreat from the Mediterranean.  He had sent his second in command, Rear-Admiral Man, with a squadron of seven ships, to get supplies from Gibraltar.  After receiving the evacuation order, Jervis sent orders for Man to meet him back at Corsica as soon as possible.The Spanish declaration of war on Britain and Portugal in October 1796 made the British position in the Mediterranean untenable. The combined Franco-Spanish fleet of 38 ships of the line heavily outnumbered the British Mediterranean Fleet of fifteen ships of the line, forcing the British to evacuate their positions in first Corsica and then Elba.The Royal Navy, under the command of Admiral Sir John Jervis with 15 ships of the line defeated a Spanish fleet of 27 ships under the command of Vice-Admiral Don José de Córdoba Y Ramos.The Spanish fleet was formed in two loose columns, one of about 18 ships to windward and the other, of about 9 ships, somewhat closer to the British. The single British steered to pass between the two Spanish columns.The British line, led by Culloden, tacked in succession to reverse course and overhaul the larger Spanish column. The smaller Spanish division engaged the British line at the point they were tacking and some British ships were damaged and fell out of the line. As the last ship in the British line passed the end of the main Spanish line, the British line was in a U shape with Culloden in the lead and on the reverse course but chasing the rear of the Spanish. The Spanish lee division bore up in an effort to join their compatriots. Nelson, in Captain, towards the rear of the British line, disobeying previous ordered Captain Miller to take Captain out of line and engaged tthe smaller group. Other British ships from both ends of the line Culloden,  Excellent, Blenheim and Prince George, supported this and prevented the two Spanish groups combining. The Captain was now under fire from up to as six Spanish ships, three of  112 guns and including Cordóba's flagship Santísima Trinidad .San Nicolás ran foul of San José, and they were boarded and taken by Captain, whilst 2 other Spanish ships struck to the supporting ships.The Spanish fleet was formed in two loose columns, one of about 18 ships to windward and the other, of about 9 ships, somewhat closer to the British. The single British steered to pass between the two Spanish columns.The British line, led by Culloden, tacked in succession to reverse course and overhaul the larger Spanish column. The smaller Spanish division engaged the British line at the point they were tacking and some British ships were damaged and fell out of the line. As the last ship in the British line passed the end of the main Spanish line, the British line was in a U shape with Culloden in the lead and on the reverse course but chasing the rear of the Spanish. The Spanish lee division bore up in an effort to join their compatriots. Nelson, in Captain, towards the rear of the British line, disobeying previous ordered Captain Miller to take Captain out of line and engaged tthe smaller group. Other British ships from both ends of the line Culloden,  Excellent, Blenheim and Prince George, supported this and prevented the two Spanish groups combining. The Captain was now under fire from up to as six Spanish ships, three of  112 guns and including Cordóba's flagship Santísima Trinidad .Meanwhile, in October, he sent Commodore Horatio Nelson to evacuate the British garrison at Bastia and take them to Porto-Ferrajo at Elba.  While there, Nelson learnt that Corsica were negotiating with France and planning to seize British property and imprison Gilbert Elliot, the viceroy.  Nelson was having none of that, and threatened to bombard the town.  Unsurprisingly, they backed down.On the 15th October, the Spanish fleet were seen off Cape Corse, and Jervis expected a major battle.  But he was outnumbered, and had to wait for Man's squadron to return.  But Man didn't show up, and on the 26th October the Spanish went into Toulon and joined the French fleet there, making a combined fleet of 34 ships of the line.  Jervis had just 15. Jervis was left with no choice but to leave the Mediterranean, so on the 2nd November he and his fleet sailed for Gibraltar.  He still held out hope of seeing Man on the way, but rumours were begin to spread through the fleet that he had deserted.In fact, Admiral Man had seen the Spanish fleet while at Gibraltar, and watched them sail eastwards into the Mediterranean.  Knowing that the enemy were now between his small squadron and the main fleet, he turned tail and ran back to England.  Having deprived the British fleet of seven valuable ships, Man was ordered by the Admiralty to strike his flag, and he never served again.Jervis' fleet reached Gibraltar on the 1st December, and there he found orders to move his base to Lisbon.  He sent Nelson, in a frigate called La Minerve and accompanied by another frigate, the Blanche, back to Elba, this time to rescue the garrison now stationed in Porto-Ferrajo, as the British fleet's evacuation of the Mediterranean would leave them stranded and at the mercy of the French.  Jervis trusted Nelson enough to tell him to use his own judgement in his command, something which Nelson relished. On the 19th, at 10.20pm, Captain D'Arcy Preston in the Blanche saw two Spanish frigates, the Santa Sabina and the Ceres.  Eager to leap into action, Nelson handled La Minerve himself (an unusual move for a flag officer, as this would normally be the Captain's job) and got to Santa Sabina's stern, close enough that he could hail the captain and ask him to surrender.  The captain who, surprisingly, spoke very good English, refused with the remarkable reply,So Nelson began, and the fight was vicious and close-run.  In terms of men and guns, there wasn't much difference between the two frigates.  They remained at such close-range that Nelson was able to hail the captain several more times, but each time received a refusal.  Eventually, however, the Spanish were forced to surrender.  As it turned out, the English-speaking captain of the Santa Sabina was Don Jacobo Stuart, a great grandson of the English king James II!  Taking such a prestigious prisoner was something that Nelson was understandably very proud of.  Meanwhile, the Blanche fought and took the Ceres.Nelson arrived at Elba expecting to begin an evacuation of the garrison, but the British army officer General de Burgh had not had any orders to do so, so didn't agree to it.  Impatiently, Nelson sent Captain Thomas Fremantle in the Inconstant to go and get the viceroy, Sir Gilbert Elliot, from Naples.  He arrived on the 22nd January 1797, but he also didn't agree to evacuate the garrison.  In the end, Nelson agreed to take Elliot on La Minerve to Lisbon to speak with Admiral Jervis, and he did manage to take a convoy of naval supplies from the island.

Toward Cape St Vincent the hills constantly grow flatter, and that promontory itself is a desert plain, consisting of a grey limestone, so naked and rough near the point that it is very difficult to travel over it. In other parts it is merely covered with sand.At the utmost extremity in this desert country is a monastery of Capuchins. Ships can approach very near the rock, and the monks assured us that sometimes in fine weather they speak with them. They also related to us many particulars of the engagement between the Spaniards and Lord St Vincent, which they distinctly saw from the monastery. Such incidents alone can render a residence on this remote point of land interesting.

On the way back to Lisbon, Nelson had a scout about for the enemy fleet.  He had a peek into Toulon, where they were last seen, but they weren't there.He continued along the coast to the Spanish port of Cartagena, but they weren't there either.  He came to the conclusion that they must be heading for the Straits of Gibraltar.in October the Spanish fleet under commander Langara, had joined the French fleet, under Rear-Admiral Pierre Villeneuve (who would appear more than once in the Nelson story!), at Toulon.  The combined fleets were then ordered to leave the Mediterranean and head north to help with the French invasion of Ireland.  So in December they made a move.  Villeneuve was successful in dodging the British fleets, and got out of the Mediterranean and reached Brest, on the north-west coast of France - but, as it turned out, too late to help with the invasion, which failed. But Langara knew that the Spanish ships were in a poor state for a battle so stopped off at Cartagena on 6th December for supplies and repairs.  This action led to him being replaced by an impatient Spanish government, but his successor, Admiral José de Mazarredo, also refused to leave until the problems with ships, supplies and under-manning were solved.  He, too, was therefore replaced, by Admiral José de Córdova y Ramos.  The problem was that Spain didn't dedicate anywhere near enough resources to their navy in order to fight a successful war at sea.  Technically, their ships were some of the largest and finest in the world, but they were under-supplied and their crews were not skilled or trained particularly well.  For example, the Santisima Trinidad was a beast of a ship - with four decks and 130 guns, she was the largest ship in the world at that time.  But only 60 out of her 900 crew had the experience and skill needed to successfully man a ship of war.In 1793, while captain of the Agamemnon, Nelson had visited Cadiz and had a look round the dockyard.  He wrote to his wife, Frances, concluding that "I am certain if our six barges' crews (which are picked men) had got on board one of their first rates they would have taken her.Therefore in vain may the Dons make fine ships, they cannot however make men.This conclusion probably contributed to giving him the confidence that led to his remarkable actions in the forthcoming battle.The annual British Levant convoy was a mercantile operation in which valuable merchant shipping from ports across the Eastern Mediterranean gathered together for security under escort to Britain by Royal Navy warships. In 1795, this escort comprised three ships of the line, one in a poor state of repair, and several frigates under the command of Commodore Thomas Taylor. Taylor split the convoy, sailing in two separate divisions. On 7 October a French squadron under Richery, sent from Toulon to attack the Newfoundland fisheries, encountered Taylor's division of the convoy.Taylor attempted to hold off Richery for long enough for the merchant ships to scatter and escape, but one of his ships, HMS Censeur lost a top-mast as he formed a line of battle and was rapidly overwhelmed by the French. With his line broken and frigates seizing the merchant ships unopposed, Taylor turned away from the battle and withdrew, leaving the convoy to its fate. Only one ship survived. Richery took his prizes to Cádiz in Southern Spain, where he was subject to a blockade by a British squadron under Rear-Admiral Robert Mann. Nearly a year later he escaped with the help of the Spanish to inflict severe damage on the fishing fleets off Maritime Canada.The French Navy in the Atlantic had suffered severe losses in a series of defeats during the early years of the French Revolutionary Wars, particularly at the Glorious First of June in 1794 and during the Croisière du Grand Hiver the following winter.In June 1795 three more ships were lost in the defeat at the Battle of Groix.Requests for reinforcements were sent to the Mediterranean Fleet, which had suffered its own severe losses at the Siege of Toulon in 1793, and later at the Battle of Genoa and the Battle of the Hyères Islands in the spring and summer of 1795. The commander of the Mediterranean Fleet, Vice-amiral Pierre Martin acceded to the request, preparing a squadron of six ships of the line and three frigates under Contre-amiral Joseph de Richery to reinforce the Brest .After the signing of the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1796 allying Spanish and French forces against Great Britain, the British navy blockaded Spain in 1797, impairing communications with its Spanish Empire. Saint Vincent’s Fault, located about 180 km southwest of Cape St. Vincent. In the vicinity where all the glory started to take shape, all the aspirations started to crumble. Yet, effulgent grandeur and abrupt changes of fortune were nothing new to the Cape. A real playground of empires, between 1337 and 1833 the watery surface off St. Vincent witnessed no less than nine major naval combats. A staggering total by any account, this average number of almost two great military clashes per century accurately reflects the strategic importance of the Cape. Eight battles and a naval action bear the label ‘Cape St. Vincent’, be it to the Portuguese, to the Spanish, to the Dutch, to the Algerian, to the French, to the German (Brandenburg) or to the British. These same British would produce the other great mastermind whose naval actions are forever linked to Cape St. Vincent.During the French Revolutionary Wars, the Kingdom of Spain declared war on the opposing Anglo-Portuguese long-held alliance. Suddenly, the British position in southern Europe came under mortal threat: how to access the Mediterranean if the Spaniards and French were blocking its entrance with no less than 38 ships of the line? Just slightly worried about battling French and Foe with only 15 ships, Sir John Jervis (later, Earl St. Vincent) proceeded to broke enemy lines. It was the 14th day of February, 1797. Under his authority, there was a perennially seasick Commodore mastering a small 74-gun ship named HMS Captain.Disobeying orders, the seasick, soon-to-be famous 39 years-old Horatio Nelson, decided to engage three much larger rival ships. One of them (the 130-gun Santísima Trinidad) was the heaviest-armed vessel in the World. After a protracted hour-long fight, Nelson captured two of the three larger enemy ships while inflicting heavy damage on the huge Santísima Trinidad. Looming over the horizon, the Cape witnessed as another rising star contributed decisively to yet one more brilliant outcome.Nowadays, the most brilliant thing at Cape St. Vincent is the Portuguese Navy’s St. Vincent Lighthouse. Safeguarding one of the world’s most hectic shipping lanes, it hurls a powerful white beam 60 km into the dark expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. It is the second most powerful lighthouse in Europe after Phare du Creach, in Brittanny. But you cannot visit St. Vincent’s Lighthouse, unfortunately. But you might observe awe-inducing sunsets, as well as the annual gatherings of Griffon and Egyptian vultures, thousands of them – and we bet that there will be some vigilant ravens patrolling the immense skies nearby


Commodore Nelson receives the Spanish Admiral's sword on the deck of the San Josef - 14th February 1797 .By about 3.00pm, Excellent was in close action with San Nicolas which, with foretop mast shot away, had been in action against Captain. Excellent fired broadsides into San Nicolas and then made sail to clear ahead. San Nicolas ran foul of San Josef which had suffered the loss of mizen mast and other damage. Captain was by now almost uncontrollable with her wheel shot away. At this point her foretop mast fell over the side leaving her in a completely unmanageable state and with little option but to board the Spanish vessels. Captain opened fire on the Spanish vessels with her larboard (port) side broadside and then put the helm over and hooked her larboard cat-head with the starboard quarter of the San Nicolas.

Early in 1797, the Spanish fleet of 27 ships of the line, which were supposed to join the French fleet at Brest lay at Cartagena, on the Mediterranean Sea, with the intention of sailing to Cádiz as an escort of a 57 merchant convoy, carrying mainly mercury—necessary for gold and silver production—which would eventually enter that Spanish harbour along with warships Neptuno, Terrible and Bahama, prior to running into the British force.Don José de Córdoba and the Spanish fleet left Cartagena on 1 February and might have reached Cádiz safely but for a fierce Levanter, the easterly wind, blowing between Gibraltar and Cádiz, which pushed the Spanish fleet further out into the Atlantic than intended. As the winds died down, the fleet began working its way back to Cádiz.In the meantime, the British Mediterranean Fleet, under Admiral Sir John Jervis, had sailed from the Tagus with ten ships of the line to try to intercept the Spanish fleet. On 6 February, Jervis was joined off Cape St. Vincent by a reinforcement of five ships of the line from the Channel Fleet under Rear-Admiral William Parker.On 11 February, the British frigate HMS Minerve, under the command of Commodore Horatio Nelson, passed through the Spanish fleet unseen thanks to heavy fog. Nelson reached the British fleet of fifteen ships off Spain on 13 February, and passed the location of the Spanish fleet to Jervis, commanding the fleet from his flagship Victory. Unaware of the size of his opponent's fleet—in the fog, Nelson had not been able to count them Jervis's squadron immediately sailed to intercept.Unaware of the British presence, the Spanish continued toward Cádiz. Early on the 14th, Jervis learnt that the Spanish fleet was 35 miles to windward. During the night came the sounds that the British fleet had been waiting to hear – the signal guns of the Spanish ships in the fog. At 2:50 a.m. came the report that the Spanish fleet was some fifteen miles distant. By early morning, at 5:30 a.m., Niger reported them to be closer still. As the dawn came, it brought a cold and foggy February morning. In the increasing light, Jervis saw his fleet around him, formed into two lines of battle. He turned to his officers on the quarter-deck of Victory and said, "A victory to England is very essential at this moment." Jervis gave orders for the fleet to prepare for the coming action.Captain Thomas Troubridge in Culloden was in the lead. At 6:30 a.m., Culloden signalled that she could see five enemy sail to the south east, and then with Blenheim and Prince George turned toward the Spanish ships. Jervis had no idea of the size of the fleet he was up against. As they loomed up out of the fog, a signal lieutenant in Barfleur described them as "thumpers, looming like Beachy Head in a fog."As dawn broke, Jervis's ships were in position to engage the Spanish. On the quarter-deck of Victory, Jervis, Captain Robert Calder and Captain Benjamin Hallowell counted the ships. It was at this point Jervis discovered that he was outnumbered nearly two-to-one: As the light grew, it became obvious that the Spanish ships were formed in two loose columns, one of about 18 ships to windward and the other, of about nine ships, somewhat closer to the British. At about 10:30 a.m., the Spanish ships in the weather column were seen to wear ship and turn to port. This gave the impression that they might form a line and pass along the weather column of the British fleet, exposing the smaller British column to the fire of the larger Spanish division. Both Spanish vessels were successfully captured. This manoeuvre was so unusual and so widely admired in the Royal Navy that using one enemy ship to cross to another became known facetiously as "Nelson's patent bridge for boarding enemy vessels.By the time Santísima Trinidad had struck her colours to surrender, Pelayo and San Pablo, separated from de Córdoba's group during action, having been dispatched by the commander the day before, sailed in and bore down on Diadem and Excellent. Pelayo´s captain Cayetano Valdés warned Santísima Trinidad to fly her flag again under threat she would be deemed an enemy ship and raked. The Spanish four-decker raised her flag. She was saved from being captured by the British.By 4:00, the Spanish ship Santísima Trinidad was relieved by two of her escorts and made away from the scene. Admiral Moreno's squad put together the survivors of Córdoba's group and turned to assist the harassed Spanish sails. Jervis signalled his fleet to cover the prizes and disabled vessels and at 4:15 the frigates were directed to take the prizes in tow. At 4:39 the fleet was ordered to take station in line astern of Victory. The battle was by now almost over with only some remaining skirmishing between Britannia, Orion and the departing Spanish covering Santísima TrinidadNelson remained on board the captured Spanish ships while they were made secure – and was cheered by the British ships as they passed. He returned to the Captain to thank Captain Miller and presented him with the sword of the captain of the San Nicolás.At 5:00, Nelson shifted his pennant from the disabled Captain to Irresistible. The Battle of Cape St. Vincent had cost the lives of 73 men of the Royal Navy and wounded a further 227. Casualties amongst the Spanish ships were far higher – aboard San Nicolás alone 144 were killed. Then, still black with smoke and with his uniform in shreds, Nelson went on board Victory where he was received on the quarter-deck by Admiral Jervis  "the Admiral embraced me, said he could not sufficiently thank me, and used every kind expression which could not fail to make me happy."It was a great and welcome victory for the Royal Navy – fifteen British ships had defeated a Spanish fleet of 27, and the Spanish ships had a greater number of guns and men. But, Admiral Jervis had trained a highly disciplined force and this was pitted against an inexperienced Spanish navy under Don José Córdoba. The Spanish men fought fiercely but without direction. After the San José was captured it was found that some of her guns still had their tampions in the muzzles. The confusion amongst the Spanish fleet was so great that they were unable to use their guns without causing more damage to their own ships than to the British.

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