Wednesday, 10 March 2021

All at Sea - Principe de Asturias

The Prince of Gravina - Carlos Parrilla Penagos

With work to complete my Trafalgar fleet of models moving into the building of the final six models in the collection, the work now focuses on the remaining big three-deck ships of the line that characterised the fleets of Britain and Spain, two of which were built as part of the penultimate group of six.

This particular model is destined to represent Admiral Don Fredrico Carlos Gravina's flagship at the battle, Principe de Asturias, and when next seen in battle array on the table will be sporting his Admirals pennant to better signify his particular ship in the line of battle.

The header at the top of the post is of course another fantastic representation of the mighty Spanish 112-gun ship by Carlos Parilla Penagos depicting the ship at Trafalgar at around two-o'clock in the afternoon unleashing a full broadside against the 74-gun HMS Revenge as she herself receives a stern-rake from the 64-gun HMS Polyphemus

Spanish 112-gun ship of the line - Naval Museum, Madrid

The Principe de Asturias was one of the class of Spanish three deck 112-gun ships known as the 'Meregildos' and was built by Honorato de Bouyon to the plans of Jose Romero Fernandez de Landa and launched on the 28th January 1794 in Havana, Cuba.

Built with the finest tropical timbers, the Principe de Asturias was destined to carve out a unique record of fighting service in the Spanish navy and some would later claim that she was the best ship overall to see action at Trafalgar.

Honorato de Bouyon and Serze - Naval Museum, Madrid
Naval Engineer

Similar to the British Royal Family, having the substantive title of 'Prince of Wales' used by the heir apparent to the monarch, the title of 'Prince of Asturias' has been used by the Spanish monarchy since 1388 when it was first granted by King John I of Castile to his first born son Henry II of Castile.

The ship set sail from Havana to Cadiz in February 1795 escorting a convoy of 44 merchant ships, arriving in May to begin her tour of duty with the Spanish Mediterranean Squadron operating out of Cadiz and Cartagena and from where she would see her first major action in battle against the British fleet of Admiral Sir John Jervis at the the Battle of Cape St. Vincent on the 14th February 1797.

The Principe de Asturias was under the command of Brigadier don Antonio de Escano who took command of the ship on the 24th January 1797 as flag-captain to Lieutenant-General Juan Joaquin Moreno de Mondragon y D'Hontilier, commanding the third squadron of the Spanish fleet under the overall command of  Lieutenant-General Jose de Cordoba y Ramos.

Brigadier don Antonio de Escano - Jose Sanchez (Naval Museum, Madrid)
Commanded the Principe de Asturias at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent

The events of the battle are well known and I have summarised them before when looking at other Spanish models in the collection, and I have attached a link under the map above that gives details of the battle, suffice to say that the Principe de Asturias is reported to have fought conspicuously; gallantly attacking the British centre and coming to the aid of her 112-gun sister ships the Purísima Concepción and Mexicano before helping to prevent the capture of the 130-gun Santisima Trinidad, whilst coming off relatively unscathed with just twenty-nine casualties of whom ten were killed.

Battle of Cape St Vincent - Derek Gardner
Principe de Asturias, centre, 'bares her teeth' and exchanges broadsides with the British fleet at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, 14th February 1797

Following the battle, Principe de Asturias returned to Cadiz with the rest of the Spanish fleet that escaped the battle, arriving on March 3rd, to be put under blockade by Jervis's British fleet.

The Spanish fleet in Cadiz would remain under constant British blockade through to May of 1799 when the Spanish were joined by the French Brest squadron under Admiral Bruix, ending up joining the French being blockaded in Brest following a brief sortie to Cartagena and finally sailing back to Cadiz and arriving in May 1802 following the Peace of Amiens.

With the resumption of war between France and Great Britain in May of 1803, the Principe de Asturias was laid up in ordinary in El Ferrol and would be rearmed and recommissioned in November 1804, in anticipation of Spain's declaration of war on Great Britain the following month.

The Santa Ana and Principe de Asturias take on supplies in Cadiz, October 1805

The Principe de Asturias would be in El Ferrol when Admiral Pierre Villeneuve led his fleet into the port following the Battle of Cape Finisterre with Admiral Calder's squadron on 22nd July 1805 and would be joined by her previous commander Rear Admiral Antonio de Escano acting as chief of staff and flag-captain to Admiral Gravina who transferred his flag from the Argonauta 80-guns, with Principe de Asturias coming under the command of Commodore Don Rafael de Hore as the Combined Fleet headed south to Cadiz in August 1805 and the climactic battle in October off Cape Trafalgar.

At 12 noon the Principe de Asturias was sailing third from the rear of the Combined Fleet, coming into action at about 1.00pm to rake HMS Revenge and by 3.00pm found herself engaged by several British ships, alone among her squadron, for not having drifted to leeward and out of the main melee.

My interpretation of HMS Revenge, whose history was covered in a previous post
HMS Revenge - JJ's Wargames

Her battle with the second group of Admiral Collingwood's Lee Column was brought to an abrupt end as Captain Richard Grindall brought HMS Prince 98-guns into action, as the British three-decker slammed in two close broadsides to rake the Spanish flagship, as recorded in the log of the Principe de Asturias;

' ... the English three-decker ... discharged all her guns, at grape-shot range, into our stern. The Major [General Gravina] was wounded in the left leg; he was obliged to go below but while he was being temporarily dressed, he gave orders that he should be conveyed back and placed sitting at his post on deck. 

Weakened by loss of blood, he fell fainting; but quickly coming to himself and not perceiving the national colours, he ordered them to be hoisted without delay and he resumed command ... In this critical position we sighted the Neptune and San Justo that were coming to our aid, which was observed by the enemy who obliged them to sheer off.'

HMS Prince turned her attentions to the badly damaged French 74-gun Achille after her close in battle with HMS Revenge, and her crushing broadsides brought the battle of Trafalgar to a devastating close as the French third-rate blew up amid a spectacular explosion at about 5.30pm.

An hour before, the severely wounded Gravina, no doubt sensing the outcome of the battle, ordered all Allied ships that could do so, to withdraw, the Principe de Asturias making her way back to Cadiz, having suffered remarkably lightly considering the attention received from the Prince, with 162 casualties (14% of her crew) which included 52 dead and 110 wounded.

Admiral Don Fredrico Carlos Gravina
Second-in-Command to Villeneuve and commander of the Spanish ships and squadron of observation,
Gravina is reported to have had a difficult relationship with his younger French superior.

Having survived Trafalgar the Principe de Asturias would be in Cadiz at the start of the Peninsular War against Napoleon and would be present at the surrender of the surviving French ships from the battle, caught in the port by the Spanish in 1808 after the French invasion.

In 1810 she sailed from Cadiz back to her place of construction, Havana, where she would be wrecked in 1814 and with her mighty timbers reported to have still been visible in the waters close to the port some twenty years later.

At Trafalgar the Principe de Asturias was armed with 30 x 36 pounder long guns on her lower deck, 32 x 24-pdr guns on her middle deck, 30 x 12-pdr guns on her upper deck and 18 x 8-pdr guns distributed across her quarterdeck and forecastle.

Sources referred to in this post:
The Trafalgar Companion - Mark Adkin

In the next post covering this penultimate group of models I'll be showcasing the latest British three-decker to join the collection.

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