|The Rest of the Colossus - Carlos Parilla Penagos|
The work continues on the current project of 1:700th ship builds as the focus shifts from the British Royal Navy to the Spanish Royal Navy and my first model in this new collection of ships, Nuestra Senora de la Santisima Trinidad or 'The Most Holy Trinity', the mighty Spanish first rate of 136 guns.
Designed by the Irish naval architect Mathew Mullen, named Mateo Mullan after his emigration to Spain, the ship was built and launched on 3rd March 1769 in the Spanish naval base at Havana in Cuba.
|The mighty Santisima Trinidad as she might have looked at Trafalgar flying the pennant of Rear Admiral Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros on her mizzen mast.|
The ship was constructed from cedar wood and originally designed to carry 112 - 116 guns but a refit in 1795 saw the joining of her quarterdeck and forecastle to produce another fourth deck and thereby greater gun capacity, seeing her carrying 136 - 140 guns in her latter years, depending on which source you prefer to follow, making her unique for the largest number of guns carried by a ship of her type at the time.
|Santisima Trinidad - Geoff Hunt|
The weight of all those guns and her size brought issues with her sailing qualities, and despite a height reduction in 1778 and a reduction in guns carried to 130, she is reported to have constantly veered to leeward and heeled too much in any sort of a sea and was not particularly quick, gaining the nickname 'El Poderoso' in Spanish naval circles.
During the American War of Independence, Spain declared war on Great Britain in July 1779 and the Santisima Trinidad became the flagship of Admiral Luis de Cordova commander of the Spanish fleet.
|Admiral Luis de Cordovaa|
Santisima Trinidad took part in several key actions during the Anglo-Spanish war which saw the Spanish fleet operating in close cooperation with the French to take on the badly stretched Royal Navy, very much concerned with supporting British forces in America as well as defending the British mainland and other core interests.
|A three view picture of the East Indiaman Royal George one of the fifty-five ships in the British convoy captured on the 9th August 1780. Francis Holman circa 1779.|
On the 9th of August 1780 this overstretch was laid bare when a Franco-Spanish squadron of 31 ships of the line and 6 frigates, led by Cordova in the Santisima Trinidad, intercepted a British convoy of 63 troop transports and East and West Indiamen in the Atlantic, six days after their escort from the Channel Squadron parted company leaving them with an escort of just one ship of the line and two frigates.
Only eight ships in the convoy escaped, with the Santisima Trinidad firing on the Indiamen 'Godfrey' and 'Mountstuart' forcing them to strike, with all the captured ships being escorted into Cadiz.
With the Spanish navy very much on the offensive, a key objective was the recapture of Gibraltar which resulted in a land and sea blockade of the British possession, that forced the Royal Navy to conduct two relief convoys in 1780 and 1781 to keep the garrison supplied and able to hold out.
In 1782, another such convoy was assembled to be escorted by elements of the Channel Fleet with 35 ships of the line, under Admiral Richard Howe, to be opposed by Cordova aboard the Santisima Trinidad and 49 Franco-Spanish ships of the line assembled in the Bay of Gibraltar.
Between the 11th and 18th of October, the British convoy was successfully shepherded into the Gibraltar harbour and on the 19th Cordova did his best to make best use of the wind gage to press an attack on Howe's retiring fleet, in what became known as the Battle of Cape Spartel, with the Allied van opening fire at 17.45, before the British made sail and broke contact, with it seems their newly coppered hulls giving them the speed advantage over the slower Spanish ships.
The American War of Independence was concluded in 1783 and with Revolution in France, Spain was initially allied to Britain when the French Revolutionary War started in 1793.
However the alliance was over in 1796 and Spain declared war in August, joining forces with France forcing the Royal Navy to evacuate the Mediterranean through a combination of numbers of ships opposed against them and lost bases and allies through successful French action on land.
In November Admiral Jervis and the Mediterranean fleet were operating out of Lisbon, without a single British warship east of the Straits of Gibraltar.
In February 1797, Santisima Trinidad was now the flagship of Tiente General (Vice Admiral) Jose de Cordoba y Ramos who had become the third commander of the Spanish fleet in Cartagena within the previous six weeks.
|Vice Admiral Jose de Cordoba - Naval Museum of Madrid|
The new Spanish Admiral was under considerable pressure, from the new Spanish Chief Minister Manuel de Godoy, who now exercised dictatorial control over the army and navy but, being a former guards officer, seemed to have little concept of matters naval and thus the navy found itself starved of men and material with Cordoba's predecessors sacked for voicing their concerns.
These effects were marked, particularly in the numbers and experience of men that crewed the Spanish ships, with Santisima Trinidad having a crew of 900 men only able to muster 60 men who the Royal Navy would have rated as 'able-seamen', thus the 27 ships of the line and 8 frigates in Cordoba's fleet had crews packed with a preponderance of 'landsmen' and soldiers lacking in the skills, training and experience required to fight and manoeuvre their ships at sea.
|The original figurehead had been a representation of the Holy Trinity, but not considered war like enough the figurehead was changed in a pre-Trafalgar refit to the Castile Lion.|
Spain's new ally was pressing them to muster their fleet and join those of the French in Brest in preparation for the Combined Fleet to overcome the British Channel Squadron and potentially force the British to come to terms or face an invasion.
However before Cordoba could comply with that demand he was tasked with an additional mission to escort four urcas (merchantmen) carrying vital supplies of mercury used in the production process of refining silver and these were waiting at Malaga for an escort to Cadiz.
|Nelson onboard HMS Minerve at Gibraltar - Gordon Frickers|
Cordoba collected his charges and by the 5th of February was sailing through the Straits of Gibraltar, detaching the 74- gun Bahama, Neptuno and Terrible to escort 28 gunboats to Algiciras as he proceeded with the Terrible later rejoining his fleet, not before chasing the 42-gun frigate HMS Minerve commanded by a certain young Commodore, Horatio Nelson returning from a secret mission from Admiral Jervis to rescue Sir Gilbert Elliot and the British garrison left on the island of Elba after the British retreat from the Mediterranean, after which he started to make a bit of a nuisance of himself before finally detecting the position of Cordoba's Spanish fleet, and sending him on his way back to Admiral Jervis, now patrolling off Cape St Vincent, to report his information.
Sadly for Cordoba, just as his plans to drop off his charges in Cadiz seemed to have reached a conclusion, his fleet including the four Urcas were blown away from Cadiz out into the Atlantic in a violent easterly gale which lasted nearly a week, leaving his inexperienced crews exhausted and desperate to get into Cadiz themselves, to recover.
On the 13th of February, Nelson found Jervis and confirmed previous reports that the Spanish fleet was at sea, but this time Nelson was able to give the Admiral a more precise indication of their position and at 08.00 the next morning, the 14th of February the British frigates accompanying Jervis's fleet fired signal guns as the Spanish fleet came into sight through a thinning mist.
|Map of the Battle of Cape St Vincent from The History of Seapower by William Oliver Stevens and Allan Westcott|
In a battle that Jervis was determined to turn into a pell-mell melee in which he expected superior British sailing and gunnery would prevail, the British fleet of 15 ships of the line managed to separate the Spanish van of 5 ships of the line and the 4 Urcas under Vice Admiral Don Joaquin Moreno aboard the Principes de Astaurias 112-guns, from the remaining 18 ships under Cordoba; now a disorganised gaggle after Cordoba had tried to make a 180 degree turn to bring his ships into line on a northerly course keeping the wind and looking to enable a turn to the east behind the British line on a course for Cadiz.
After cutting in and separating Moreno's squadron, Jervis signaled for the following British ships behind HMS Britannia to tack together rather than in succession and thus close individually on the other Spanish ships to prevent their escape, supporting each other as best they could.
HMS Britannia, with Vice Admiral Thompson commanding, failed to acknowledge the signal and continued following the Victory, seemingly prepared to turn on the same point, and Cordoba looked likely to escape until Nelson, on his own initiative, conformed with Jervis's signal, and wore round to intercept the Spanish, forcing them to meet his attack long enough for the other British ships to come up and complete the victory.
At 15.00 the Santisima Trinidad found herself engaged by HMS Culloden and Captain each of 74-guns and joined by the Spanish 112-gun San Josef and the 84-gun San Nicolas, coming to the support of their flagship engaged in an hour long battle leaving both sides with serious damage.
As other British ships came up and entered the melee, the Santisima Trinidad found herself at bay surrounded by several British ships and in the closing stages of the battle she was still putting up fierce resistance against HMS Excellence 74 guns, Blenheim 98-guns and Orion 74-guns but, with her fore and mizzen masts down and close to 200 casualties from the battering, was close to striking, but was most fortunate in that having put up a white flag, then a British flag over her own, she was ignored as Jervis signaled his fleet to cease action and regroup on the starboard tack, at which the Spanish ship rehoisted her own colours and was escorted away by other less damaged Spanish ships.
|HMS Captain capturing the San Nicolas and San Josef at Cape St Vincent - Nicholas Pocock|
The Spanish lost four ships of the line, two of which fell, the San Josef 112-guns and San Nicolas 84-guns, to a joint boarding by Captain Nelson on HMS Captain, added to which they also suffered 800 dead and wounded and another 3,000 prisoners aboard the captured ships. The British casualties amounted to just 73 dead and 227 wounded.
The Santisima Trinidad would live to fight another day, and would meet Nelson commanding a British fleet at Trafalgar on the 21st October 1805, her final action.
Santisima Trinidad was in the centre division of the Combined Fleet at Trafalgar, flying the pennant of Rear Admiral Baltasar Hidalgo Cisneros, astern of the French ship Heros 74-guns and ahead of the French and Combined Fleet flagship Bucentaure 74-guns, making her an obvious target as Nelson, identified Vice Admiral Villeneuve's flagship once he hoisted his pennant at 11.45 am and signaled the Combined Fleet to open fire.
|Rear-Admiral Baltasar Hidalgo Cisneros flew his pennant aboard the Santisima Trindad at the Battle of Trafalgar|
HMS Victory cut the enemy line at about 12.30 delivering stern and bow rakes to the Bucentaure 74-guns and Redoutable 74-guns respectively, taking fire from the Santisima Trinidad as she passed on her port side, to turn in behind the Bucentaure sailing behind.
|The gunners on Santisima Trinidad were kept hard at it, engaging Victory, Neptune, Conqueror and Africa as she became embroiled in the mass melee Admiral Nelson engineered for his battle plan at Trafalgar|
Closely behind the Victory was HMS Neptune 98-guns in close support which, following the flagship in, penetrated between the Bucentaure and the Santisima Trinidad, bow and stern raking them respectively, as she passed to swing around to engage the Santisima Trinidad from the starboard side; later to be joined by the Conqueror 74-guns and Africa 64-guns as the three British ships set about battering the Spanish leviathan into submission.
Her fight with the three British ships was a valiant one, but the cost from the battering she took was high, with some 30% of her crew being hit with 205 killed and 108 wounded among which were Admiral Cisneros and her commander Captain Don Francisco Javia de Uriate y Borja.
|The Lion against the Pack - Carlos Parilla Penagos|
Carlos Parilla's excellent artwork captures the drama of the last battle of the Santisima Trinidad battered by HMS Neptune 98-guns to starboard, Conqueror 74-guns astern and Africa 64-guns to port
Don Peres Galdos book 'Trafalgar' contained a realistic account of what it was like aboard the Santisima Trinidad during the height of the action, and was based on authentic accounts drawn from official records held in the National Archive in Madrid;
'The scene on board the Trinidad was a hellish one. No attention was paid to the sails. The vessel indeed was unmanageable. The energy of all was concentrated upon the business of working the guns as quickly as possible....
The English shot had torn our sails to tatters, It was if huge invisible talons had been dragging at them. Fragments of spars, splinters of wood, thick hempen cables cut as corn is cut by the sickle, shreds of canvass, bits of iron and hundreds of other things that had been wrenched away by the enemy's fire, were piled along the deck, where it was scarcely possible to move about....
|The Aftermath of Trafalgar - Thomas Butterworth|
Blood ran in streams about the deck; and in spite of the sand, the rolling of the ship carried it hither and thither until it made strange patterns on the planks. The enemy's shot, fired as they were, from very short range, caused horrible mutilations. ...
The ship creaked and groaned as she rolled - and through a thousand holes and crevices in her strained hull the sea spurted in, and began to flood the hold.'
The ship itself was left dismasted, but it was the damage to her hull that proved to be her end with a large number of her crew that were still standing forced to man the pumps, battling water rising at 18 inches an hour and would leave fifteen foot of water in her hold when, after striking, her British captors abandoned the attempts to keep her afloat.
Santisima Trinidad was armed at Trafalgar and likely St Vincent with 136 guns with 34 x 36 pounder long guns on her lower deck, 34 x 24 pounders on her middle deck, 34 x 12 pounders on her upper deck, 18 x 8 pounders on her quarterdeck and 6 x 4 pounders augmented by 10 x 24 pounder obusiers (carronades).
Printed Sources referred to in this post:
The Trafalgar Companion - Mark Adkin
Fleet Battle and Blockade - Chatham Pictorial History
Next Up - Steve M and I concluded our game of Breakout Normandy this week and I will cover the last two days of battle we played out using Vassal, plus, with the current ship models all done and a pause whilst new models arrive on the stocks I have an update on my AWI Mohawk collection last covered back in October last year and further play in Tonnage Solitaire with the first three days of combat for Slow Convoy 48 in October 1941.