|Finisterre - Carlos Parrilla Penagos|
The 80-gun Argonauta, flying the pennant of Admiral Gravina at her mizzen, and leading the van of the Combined Fleet, exchanges broadsides with HMS Hero in the van of Vice Admiral Sir Robert Calder's squadron during the Battle of Cape Finisterre 22nd July 1805
The final ship to present in the series looking at the Third Rates of Renown is a great one to finish on and described in her time, along with her sister Neptuno, as one of the best ships in Europe, namely the Spanish 80-gun ship of the line, Argonauta designed by Julian Martin de Rematosa and built in El Ferrol, launching there on the 28th June 1798.
However the launch of the Argonauta also signalled a significant point in the trajectory of the Spanish navy and Spain's future role as a European power at that time, in that the years of war and decline had started to take effect and the ship would be the last Spanish warship to be launched until after Trafalgar with the previous rhythm of three to four warships built a year now no longer possible with King Charles IV treasury unable to fund that level of investment as well as maintaining the fleet as it was.
On the 28th April 1799 the Argonauta together with two frigates and a brig departed El Ferrol under her new commander Captain Juan Herrera Davila, bound for Roquefort to join a French squadron as part of a plan to join the French in an invasion of Ireland.
|Captain Juan Herrera Davila, Argonauta's first commander|
During their time there waiting for the French to complete their preparations, the port was attacked by a British naval squadron on the 2nd July under Rear Admiral Charles Morice Pole, supported by bomb ships, with the affair ending with the British ships being driven off by a combination of fire from a French mortar battery outranging the bombs and French gunboats that succeeded in driving them away.
The British maintained their blockade of Rochefort but in September the Spanish squadron managed to put to sea, attempting to join the Spanish and French ships under Admirals Bruix and Mazarredo in Brest, but on finding that port blockaded by forty British ships decided to abort their mission and return to El Ferrol.
|Rear Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, seen here in a picture from 1799, |
led the abortive raid on El Ferrol on the 25th-26th August 1800
With a Spanish squadron of six ships of the line, four frigates and two brigs in El Ferrol, the port also soon found itself under British blockade by a detachment from the British Channel fleet under Rear-Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren who initiated a landing on August 25th-26th 1800 with troops under the command of Lieutenant General Sir James Pultney who succeeded in silencing a nearby fort overlooking the bay in which they were landed and reaching the heights above the port, which it seems was completely open to attack, but with Pultney convinced that he was facing stiffer defences than anticipated, misled by reports from captured prisoners, he withdrew the force the next day, leaving Argonauta and her sister ships to fight another day.
On the 20th April 1801 in company with San Fernando 98-guns, Real Carlos 112-guns, San Hermenegildo 112-guns, San Augustin 74-guns the Argonauta left Ferrol bound for Cadiz to join the Spanish squadron under Admiral Don Jose de Mazzaredo.
On the 6th July French Rear-Admiral Charles Linois squadron of three ships and a frigate had been attacked on route to Cadiz by Rear-Admiral Sir James Saumarez at the First Battle of Algeciras, and with the British beaten off and withdrawing across the bay to Gibraltar to make repairs, Linois requested support from the Spanish in Cadiz to escort his equally battered ships to the Spanish port.
Thus on the 9th July the El Ferrol squadron now under Mazzeredo's command accompanied by the French 74-gun Saint Antoine, recently purchased by France from Spain and the frigates Santa Sabina and Perla each of 34-guns left Cadiz to join their beleaguered French allies, before escorting them back to Cadiz via the Gibraltar Straits on the 12th July, triggering the Second Battle of Algeciras as Saumarez set off in pursuit from Gibraltar with the evening sky darkening as both squadrons moved to the horizon.
The battle that followed was a confusing night action that allowed the fastest of the British ships HMS Superb to close with the Franco-Spanish rear and provoke the two confused Spanish first rates into firing into each other, resulting in their joint destruction as seen in Thomas Whitcombe's picture above.
However the final casualty bill tells its own tale with overall Allied casualties amounting to more than 2,000 men in killed, wounded and captured with the British force suffering 119 killed and wounded in return.
Argonauta, for her part avoided combat and arrived in Cadiz the next morning with no casualties or damage.
The Argonauta would continue to operate from Cadiz for the rest of the war escorting mercury and gold convoys between Vera Cruz and Havana and her home port before being laid up there in ordinary in 1803 following the Peace of Amiens,
With the recommencement of war Argonauta was recommissioned in December 1804 and with the evolving Napoleonic plan for the invasion of Britain the following year, newly coppered and careened in January 1805, joined what would become the Trafalgar campaign in April of that year with the arrival of Villeneuve's French fleet from Toulon, having evaded the attentions of Vice-Admiral Nelson's Mediterranean squadron and prompting high praise from the normally pessimistic French Admiral, describing the Argonauta as 'excellent'.
|Spanish Admiral Frederico Gravina|
On the 9th of April, the Combined fleet set sail from Cadiz heading to the Caribbean with Admiral Frederico Gravina hoisting his pennant aboard the Argonauta under the command of Flag-Captain Rafael de Hore, arriving in Fort de France Bay, Martinique on the 14th May.
Following the taking of the British held Diamond Rock off Martinique, Villeneuve set in motion the next stage of his orders, to head back to Europe with his twenty ships of the line on the 11th June only to be intercepted by Vice Admiral Sir Robert Calder's Rochefort squadron directed to their station off Cape Finisterre by the insightful command of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Barham, guessing the intent of the Combined Fleet to get into the Bay of Biscay and raise the blockades on the French and Spanish ports along the coast.
In what would turn out to be a controversial battle that would put paid to Napoleon's plan of mustering a large Franco-Spanish fleet in the Channel, Sir Robert Calder spotted the Combined Fleet in foggy conditions at about 12.00 p.m. on the 22nd July 1805 and brought on an action that succeeded in forcing Villeneuve to turn south eventually ending back in Cadiz, but failed to destroy a significant number of his ships to remove the the threat his fleet posed, once and for all.
|Admiral Sir Robert Calder's Action off Cape Finisterre 23rd July 1805 - William Anderson|
Calder's flagship Prince of Wales is depicted in the centre foreground with the misty conditions, made worse by clouds of gun smoke that characterised the battle making it extremely difficult for both sides to conduct accurate gunnery.
|Arogonauta sports her metal deck with two bow chasers mounted on the forecastle adding to the ferocity of her figurehead.|
Of course both sides claimed a victory, with Calder going so far to describe it as
'A very decisive action which lasted upward of four hours, when I found it necessary to bring up the squadron to cover the captured ships.'
However Villeneuve had a completely different impression of matters when he conveniently ignored his losses stating;
'The enemy then made off. He had several vessels crippled aloft and the field of battle remained ours. Cries of joy and victory were heard from all our ships.' (except, no doubt, from Firme and San Rafeal!)
Who said 'Fake News' was anything new? It takes me back to the good old days of the First Gulf War with Radio Baghdad telling everyone about how well they were all doing with bomb explosions going off in the background of their broadcasts!
|San Rafael in the thick of the action at the Battle of Cape Finisterre 23rd July 1805, before finally striking, dismasted to Sir Robert Calder's squadron.|
Either way, Napoleon's invasion was off and he made plans to march on Austria, as the Combined Fleet happily sailed into El Ferrol for repairs and recuperation before heading south to Cadiz in August, whilst Calder was apparently not fooling anyone and would look forward to a court-martial to clear his name and reputation, for actually doing a reasonable job at a strategic level in conditions that did not allow for a much better result probably.
|The metal deck seen from her starboard stern quarter displays realigned signal lockers on her poop and a unique spar deck arrangement for her boat stowage.|
|Captain Antonio Pareja y Serrano de Leon - Naval Museum of Madrid|
|My interpretation of the Montanes, the first Spanish ship engaged by HMS Achille|