24 Dec, 2023 @ 11:00
2 mins read

Did Britannia REALLY rule the waves? History buff in Spain reveals the times the Spanish defeated the British at sea (and the many times they did not)

THE British Royal Navy ruled the waves supreme for many centuries, both in deed and reputation.

As the many British victories over Spain have been immortalised in history, one contrary Spanish X (formerly Twitter) user, @thespanishlegcy, decided to see if he could sink the legend of las ‘invencibles’ inglesas.

To that end he put together a list of all the historical occasions that Spanish forces emerged victorious from naval battles in an effort to tweak that stiff British upper lip.

First let’s rewind to 1740 in Cartagena de Indias: Lieutenant General Blas de Lezo, armed with just six Spanish ships, faced off against a mammoth English fleet of 180 ships and 15,000 soldiers. 

The outcome? Let’s just say Edward Vernon and his armada had to make a hasty U-turn after remarkably outmanoeuvring the massive English fleet.

Fast forward to 1797 in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, where none other than Admiral Nelson himself, leading 9 ships and 3,700 soldiers, tried to outmanoeuvre the Spanish. 

However, they were repelled by just 1,600 men under the command of Antonio Gutierrez, the General Commander of the Canaries, comprising militias and fishermen. 

The failed invasion also resulted in Nelson being wounded in battle.

That same year, while the British did manage to conquer Trinidad, their luck ran out in La Española. Governor Ramon de Castro y Gutiérrez’s strategic nous managed to stalemate and eventually defeat the British.

Then there was the 1800 attempt to take Ferrol, an important Spanish arsenal. The Brits, led by Warren and Pulteney, thought they had it in the bag. 

Yet, Lieutenant General Juan Joaquín Moreno had other ideas, holding off the assault for two days until the British were finally forced to retreat.

And who can forget Buenos Aires in 1806? The British held the city for a brief 46 days before being ousted. They tried again in 1807 with 13,500 soldiers, but to no avail.

But before the Spanish historians celebrate too strongly, let’s recount some British wins.

During the Revolutionary Wars, Sir John Jervis, commanding a smaller British fleet, defeated a larger Spanish fleet off the coast of Portugal in the Battle of Cape St Vincent (1797). 

In the Battle of Cape Passaro during the War of the Quadruple Alliance in 1718, the British fleet under Sir George Byng attacked and defeated a larger Spanish fleet off the southeastern coast of Sicily. 

Then there’s perhaps the most famous naval battle involving the British and Spanish fleets, the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, which saw Admiral Nelson defeat a combined French and Spanish fleet off the coast of Spain.

All in all, a rip-roaring history between two countries that now share strong economic, political and cultural ties.


Walter Finch

Walter - or Walt to most people - is a former and sometimes still photographer and filmmaker who likes to dig under the surface.
A NCTJ-trained journalist, he came to the Costa del Sol - Gibraltar hotspot from the Daily Mail in 2022 to report on organised crime, corruption, financial fraud and a little bit of whatever is going on.
Got a story? walter@theolivepress.es

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