Cape St Vincent

14 February 1797

Maritime Art of Paul Deacon

Keeping with the aggressive policy of the navy, Admiral Sir John Jervis did not have a second thought when he ordered his 15 line-of-battle ships against 27 Spanish vessels off Cape St Vincent.

The Spanish were in a 20-mile line with plenty of space between each vessel so Jervis sailed through and split the leading 18 ships off from the rest of the fleet.

The battle began in earnest and after an exchange of broadsides the Spanish were prevented from turning back to rejoin battle by the bravery and foresight of Horatio Nelson.

Nelson, who had pulled his vessel - the 74-gun Captain - out of battle line to block the Spanish vanguard now had to fight the enemy vessels on his own.

Not content with just getting in the way of the Spaniards, Nelson wanted to show them the Royal Navy was not to be trifled with and set to the largest ship afloat - the 130-gun Santissima Trinidad - with gusto.

With his masts and rigging badly damaged, Nelson was saved by the arrival of Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood in the Excellent.

Collingwood's broadsides forced the San Nicolas away and it became entangled with the nearby San Josef.

Again alone with the Spanish ships, Nelson steered his badly damaged ship alongside the San Nicolas and led boarding parties on to her.

Overwhelming the crew, Nelson then boarded the still-entangled San Josef forcing its surrender.

By the battle's end, four Spanish ships had been taken and 3000 men lost. The British lost only 300.




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