Friday 24 May 2024

HMS Speedy and El Gamo, 6th May 1801 - Introducing my first 3D Prints from Turner Miniatures & Only-Games.

Perhaps one of the perennial interests for naval wargamers, and I guess for historical wargamers in general, are those David and Goliath encounters that seem to defy all the maths and odds ratios so beloved of those articles in 'The General' magazine from the 80's that would pore over the odds for Avalon Hill games to come up with the best strategy to win; with these historical actions seeming to prove the old adage, 'it's not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, but rather the size of the fight in the dog' with their 'against the odds' outcomes.

Introducing His Most Catholic Majesty's xebec frigate 'El Gamo' 32-guns and His Majesty's Brig-Sloop 'Speedy' 14-guns, my two new 3D prints from Henry Turner's collection on Only Games, fitted out with masts ratlines and boats from Warlord Black Seas frigate and brig models.

One particular encounter that readily comes to mind and has been one that I have imagined refighting when and if the most appropriate models became available was the action between HMS Speedy and the Spanish xebec-frigate, El Gamo "The Fallow Deer", fought off Barcelona at about 09.00 on the 6th May 1801.

Captain Lord Cochrane's and the brig-sloop Speedy's hunting ground in the Western Mediterranean, showing the approximate location of her action with El Gamo in May 1801 and her operating base, Port Mahon on the British held island of Minorca.

However the stress in the previous paragraph was definitely on the 'when and if the most appropriate models became available' as in this particular action the two ships involved were in many ways quite unique as far as similar naval actions of this type were concerned, and for me the aesthetics for bringing this famous sea-fight to the table required not only the right scale of model but also the look of these particular ships captured in the models themselves, that is a generic brig or xebec would simply not do, and so I contented myself to put this historic action on the back-burner until now.

In 1801, the war at sea in the French Revolutionary War had swung back markedly in Britain's favour with victories at Cape St. Vincent and Camperdown in 1797, significantly reducing the likelihood of an invasion of mainland Britain and allowing the Royal Navy to send ships back into the Mediterranean after it's withdrawal to Lisbon previously.

Port Mahon, Minorca, with British Men-of-War at Anchor - John Thomas Serres (1759–1825)

This success was rapidly exploited and followed up in August 1798 by Nelson's stunning and overwhelming victory at Aboukir Bay or better known as the Battle of the Nile, that effectively ended General Bonaparte's plans to lead a French army overland to India, and stranded his army and the French garrison occupying Malta, put under British blockade; with the Royal Navy, now making use of the excellent harbour of Port Mahon on the Spanish island of Minorca, recaptured from Spain in November 1798 and made into one of its principal bases of operations and from which HMS Speedy operated under the overall command of Vice-admiral Lord Keith, Commander in Chief, Mediterranean.

Vice-admiral Lord Keith, Commander in Chief, Mediterranean, c 1799 - John Hoppner (RCT)

HMS Speedy
HMS Speedy was a 14-gun Speedy-class brig of the British Royal Navy, built during the last years of the American War of Independence in Dover, Kent, launching on the 29th June 1782 and completing by the 25th of October that same year.

HMS Speedy - Geoff Hunt
Speedy had an extremely active career in the Mediterranean. Much of this involved shore raids and boat work, as suggested in this scene.

The Speedy class was designed in 1781 by the shipbuilder Thomas King, of Dover, a specialist builder of such craft. They were designed with a cutter-type hull, and anticipated the development of a new concept of the brig in naval warfare, that of small, fast escort vessels, instead of the slower but more seaworthy ship-sloops.

Plans for HMS Speedy

Their names were selected to epitomise this approach, HMS Speedy, and HMS Flirt, both small, light craft, they were 207 21⁄94 Tons bm, and measured 78 feet 3 inches (23.85 m) overall and with a beam of 25 feet 8.25 inches (7.8296 m) and a depth in the hold of 10 feet 10 inches (3.30 m).

Armed with fourteen 4-pounders, giving a broadside weight of 28 pounds, and twelve 1⁄2pdr swivel guns, they had a crew of 70. This was broken up into 57 officers, seamen and marines; 12 servants and boys; and 1 widow's man, a fictitious seaman kept on the books of Royal Navy ships during the 18th and early 19th centuries so that their pay and rations could be redistributed to the families of dead crew members.

HMS or HM Brig Speedy as depicted by Derek Gardner and really capturing the compact and sleek little warship she was, not much bigger than a naval cutter, weighing in at just 208 tons and here displaying her graceful sheer and steeply raked stern.

On the 20th April 1800, a certain Commander, Lord Cochrane, recently arrived in Port Mahon in command of the French prize Généreux 80-guns, recently taken the previous February by Lord Nelson off Malta, and Cochrane awarded the command to return the prize to Mahon, stepped aboard Speedy to have his commission as captain read in.

Captain Jahleel Brenton circa 1802
He was born in Rhode Island, British North-America but his family relocated to England after the outbreak of the American War of Independence. He followed his father into the Royal Navy, enrolling as a midshipman and reached the rank of lieutenant in 1790.

The arrival of the Généreux allowed Lord Keith to fulfil his decision to promote the captain of the Speedy to Post-Captain, Captain Jahleel Brenton for his distinguished service commanding the little brig in the previous year and now to command the newly refurbished prize third-rate, whilst also allowing the promotion of Cochrane to Commander and captain of HMS Speedy.

The crew of the Speedy must have eyed their new commander with some suspicion, already having proven themselves a redoubtable fighting unit under the command of Brenton.

"Gunboats" - Carlos Parrilla Penegos
A division of gunboats sailing through the bay of Algeciras to harass possible vessels that wanted to enter or leave Gibraltar.

In February 1799 with Brenton having just taken command, Speedy was escorting a convoy of supply ships that were ambushed by twenty-three Spanish gunboats in the Bay of Gibraltar. He gave orders for the convoy to close up and make all sail for Gibraltar while he brought Speedy between the convoy and the enemy ships whereupon she was set upon by the entire Spanish flotilla. 

After ensuring the convoy had reached safety, Brenton broke off and joined them under the gun batteries of Gibraltar. He subsequently received the congratulations of Jervis—now titled Earl St Vincent—and the Governor of Gibraltar.

“Corsair” - Carlos Parrilla Penegos
A privateer felucca harassing an English brig-of-war in the Strait of Gibraltar with the rock in the background.

Speedy was sailing off Gibraltar again on the 9th of August with the British privateer Defender when they spotted three armed Spanish xebecs. When Speedy gave chase, the Spanish ships ran for a small sandy bay where they moored in a single line bow to stern. Finding that no progress had been made after engaging the Spanish ships for over two hours while under sail, Brenton anchored Speedy within pistol shot of the central Spanish vessel and exchanged a cannonade for three-quarters of an hour, inducing the Spanish to abandon their ships and make for the shore. Speedy had suffered two wounded; the Spanish ships were taken as prizes and brought to Gibraltar.

Sloop of War Speedy Attacked by Spanish Gun-Boats: an engraving (234mm x 147mm) created on the 6th November 1799 and published by Bunney & Gold on 1 July 1801.

On the 6th of November Speedy was standing off Europa Point while escorting a merchant vessel and a transport ship laden with wine for the British fleet when twelve Spanish gun boats raced out from Algeciras to launch an opportunistic attack. Although greatly outgunned, Brenton bore down on the enemy ships and opened fire, enabling the merchant ship to escape to safety. 

The gunboats then concentrated their efforts on capturing the transport ship. Brenton took Speedy amidst the flotilla, close enough to break several oars, while firing broadsides from both sides of the ship and maintaining a brisk musketry for around forty-five minutes. The Spanish consequently broke off their attack and ran for the Spanish coast. Meanwhile, Speedy, which suffered two dead, one wounded and extensive damage to her rigging and hull, was unable to pursue and limped to the Moroccan coast off Tétouan to make hasty repairs. 

Arriving back in Gibraltar the following day, Brenton received widespread praise for his conduct: the Governor of Gibraltar, General Charles O'Hara, urged the Admiralty to award Brenton a promotion and Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson praised Brenton's "uncommon skill and gallantry", plaudits that would be rewarded in April the following year.

Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald GCB (14th December 1775 – 31st October 1860),
styled Lord Cochrane, later known by the French as 
"Le Loup des Mers" (The Sea Wolf)
and by the Spanish as "El Diablo" (The Devil).

Cochrane had everything to prove, and the Speedy gave him every opportunity to make his name and secure promotion to post-captain, the most crucial of all ranks for an ambitious young officer.

Cochrane would be in command of Speedy for less than fifteen months, describing his command as 'little more than a burlesque of a vessel of war' and famously declared to have been able to walk the deck with her entire broadside of 4-pounder shot contained in the pockets of his coat. 

His captain's cabin was anything other than comfortable with a floor area no more than six foot by four and with such low head space, especially for a tall man like Cochrane, that to shave he had to resort to opening the overhead companion skylight, and protruding his head through it whilst laying out his shaving kit on the deck above. 

The superb 1/64th scale model of Speedy by Vanguard Models. Note the companion skylight below the tiller bar, that served as Cochrane's 'shaving-port'

In the months that followed he developed his tactics and perfected the skills of a highly effective cruiser, taking Speedy all round the Western Mediterranean, developing a first hand knowledge of all the bays, anchorages, harbours and fortifications from Malta and Tunis to Gibraltar, Genoa and the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, becoming a master of hit-and-run raids, moving at night and attacking early in the morning and becoming expert at ruses-de-guerre such as false flags and misleading signals to catch the enemy off guard.

In this time, Cochrane would conduct a series of raids on Spanish anchorages, capture more than fifty vessels, 122 guns, and 534 prisoners and cause the Spanish to deploy several warships directed to bring his destructive career to an end, and that would lead to his fighting and winning a single ship encounter with El Gamo against overwhelming odds. 

The Spanish 'corvette' El Gamo as depicted by Antoine Roux in 1799

On the 22nd September, 1800, Cochrane captured a large Neapolitan vessel and, on bringing her into Port Mahon, discovered that the Spanish had taken notice of his depredations and were preparing a frigate to capture Speedy.

Cochrane thus prepared for such an encounter with this Spanish vessel by painting Speedy to resemble the Danish brig Clomer, then in the Mediterranean and appointing a Dane as quartermaster whilst finding him a Danish naval officer's uniform. 

While cruising off Alicante on the 21st of December, Speedy encountered a large ship they mistook for a heavily laden merchantman, but on closer inspection found themselves staring at the raised gunports of a Spanish frigate, most likely El Gamo

An excellent French model of a ship-rigged xebec-frigate illustrating the look of El Gamo.

With escape impossible against the faster sailing enemy, Cochrane managed to trick her into thinking she was a neutral vessel again using his false flag technique to advantage, with his disguised quartermaster, explaining in Danish from a text prepared by Cochrane that Speedy was two days out from Algiers where the plague was raging and with the word 'quarantine' nearly the same in most languages, saw the Spanish officer in the boarding party's boat exclaim 'Oh! oh! qurantina, quarantina' instructing his boat to keep off that enabled Speedy to escape in the dark.

'. . . the detail is excellent with bulwarks modelled with a bristling array of swivel guns, nicely modelled deck railing and even including the ports along the hull on the lower gundeck of El Gamo for deploying her sweeps.'

By the beginning of May 1801, Speedy had captured or destroyed seventeen enemy vessels and had made a number of audacious raids on vessels sheltering under the guns of Spanish forts, causing them to be on the lookout for this menace to their shipping and seeing the frigate El Gamo cruising off Barcelona.

Speedy was cruising off Barcelona at dawn on the 6th of May 1801 when she sighted a large enemy frigate that proved to be the xebec-rigged vessel named El Gamo, carrying 319 men, and armed with 8- and 12-pounder guns and 24-pounder carronades; amounting to a total broadside of 190 pounds, more than seven times that of Speedy, and furthermore found Cochrane with only 54 men on board; the rest away serving as prize crews.

False Flag - John Christian
'. . . at 9:30 a.m. Gamo fired a gun and hoisted Spanish colours. In return Cochrane hoisted American colours.'

Instead of evading the frigate, Cochrane closed on her, and at 9:30 a.m. El Gamo fired a gun and hoisted Spanish colours. In return Cochrane hoisted American colours. The Spanish hesitated, allowing Cochrane to get closer, hoist British colours, and evade the first broadside followed by another, which Cochrane again evaded, holding his fire until Speedy ran alongside and locked her yards in El Gamo's rigging.

El Gamo attempted to fire upon her smaller opponent, but her guns were mounted too high and could not be depressed sufficiently, causing their shot to pass through Speedy's sails and rigging. Cochrane on the other hand had mounted the front of his guns on blocks so they could fire upward through El Gamo's sides. 

Cochrane then opened fire with his 4-pounders double-and treble-shotted, their shots passing up through the sides and decks, and the first broadside killing the Spanish captain and boatswain.

Seeing their disadvantage the Spanish second-in-command assembled a boarding party, at which Cochrane drew off and pounded their massed ranks with shot and musket fire before drawing in close again. After having their attempts to board frustrated three times, the Spanish returned to their guns. 

Cochrane then decided to board the El Gamo, and assembled his entire crew into two parties, leaving only the ship's doctor aboard. The British rushed El Gamo, some boarding from the bow with faces blackened to look like pirates, the rest boarding from the waist.

There was a hard-fought battle between the two crews, until Cochrane called down to the doctor, at the time the only person on Speedy, ordering him to send another fifty men over. At the same time he ordered the Spanish colours to be torn down.

The Action and Capture of the Spanish Xebeque Frigate 'El Gamo', c1845 - Clarkson Stanfield
Cochrane can be seen sword raised on the El Gamo's quarterdeck as he makes his way towards the Spanish colours.

Thinking that their officers had surrendered the ship, the remaining Spanish seamen stopped fighting. The British had lost three men killed and nine wounded, while the Spanish had lost 14 killed and 41 wounded, a casualty list exceeding Speedy's entire complement.

The British then secured the Spanish prisoners below deck and made their way back to Port Mahon.

Stung that he had been beaten by such an inferior foe, the Spanish second-in-command asked Cochrane for a certificate assuring him that he had done all he could to defend his ship, and Cochrane obliged, with the equivocal wording that he had "conducted himself like a true Spaniard",  amused to learn later that this certificate had secured the Spanish officer further advancement.

In 1847 the Admiralty awarded the Naval General Service Medal with clasp "Speedy 6 May 1801" to all surviving claimants from the action.

A similarly ship-rigged French Xebec to El Gamo, this drawing of a 22-gun corvette. An interesting point to note is the mizzen mast carrying only a mizen topsail, and not the usual mizzen topgallant above, a point Antoine Roux depicted in his picture of El Gamo and replicated on my model.

The xebec frigate El Gamo is described as ship-rigged with 32-guns, 22 x 12-pounder on her gun deck, 6 x 8-pounder and 2 x 24-pounder carronades on her quarterdeck and a further 2 x 8-pounders on her forecastle and displacing about 560 Tons bm, with 319 men aboard.

The Models
These two models represent my first build and painting of 3D prints, with the two models designed by Henry Turner and supplied to me ready printed by Only Games, see link below.

Only Games - Turner Miniatures

My models arrived carefully bubble wrapped in a secure package which preserved the multiple swivle-guns and although there was a slight delay in getting them due to reprints having to be made following the initial runs failing quality control, which was good to see, I had a follow up email from Olive in customer care to make sure I had received everything in good condition, which was very much appreciated as well, and explains my decision to place another order for models.

As mentioned in previous posts my take up of 3D model designs has been tentative and I decided to wait to see what became available and how well they were at capturing the look of specific vessels, not so easily represented by more generic types, which prompted my purchase of these two models and, to follow, the two Dutch corvettes that will be joining the Camperdown Collection.

With Speedy front and centre, six models fitting out in the rigging yard

As you can see below in the preparation phase prior to priming the models, the detail is excellent with bulwarks modelled with a bristling array of swivel guns, nicely modelled deck railing and even including the ports along the hull lower gun deck of El Gamo for deploying her sweeps. The white plastic card and rod shows where I made some needed alterations to provide better defined channels and a stern sprit in the case of El Gamo, and I also added figureheads to my Dutch corvettes, but other than a few holes drilled for anchoring rigging, not much cleaning and prep work was required, and I have to say the models were perfectly scaled to 1:700, capturing the size difference between the two combatants, matching the scale plans I crossed referenced them with and fitting in nicely with the rest of my collection which is otherwise from the Warlord Black Seas range.

For the masts and sails, I opted to use Warlord plastic offerings from their existing frigate and brig models, preferring the look combined with Peter Dennis's beautiful card sails over the 3D printed options and that choice seemed to work well, with this decision causing me to fabricate my own mizzen lateen sail for El Gamo out of card and painted up as best I could to Mr Dennis's high standards.

El Gamo's new mizzen under construction

My only small negative critique was the lack of anchors modelled on the hulls, as the plastic options looked over scale and scratch building these items is a bit of a chore, but not impossible. My suggestion would be to have the model with them on which would allow them to be scrapped off with a modelling knife should an at anchor option be required.

My painting decisions were directed by a range of illustrations, with Speedy's being the more plentiful but showing a typical RN brig scheme of the period, whilst for El Gamo, I erred towards the contemporary work of Antoine Roux who lived in Marseille and would have seen El Gamo and others on visits to his home town and it is to him that my offering is greatly influenced by.

My two Dutch corvettes Minerva and Waakzaamheid both 24-guns at the back, HMS Circe 28-guns and HMS Beaulieu 40-guns closest to camera in JJ's fitting out yard, to feature in the next post looking at the small ships at Camperdown.

I really enjoyed working with Mr Turner's designs, so much so that I have some others on order to help add some variations to my small ship collections and I will of course show my Dutch corvettes in the next post.

More Anon


  1. Cheers JJ and excellent read.


  2. Loved reading and also looking at the excellently detailed ships. You mention Peter Dennis' beautiful card sails, but I fail to find such. Possibly my poor search of the internet. Can you please supply a link ? Very much appreciate your time, thanks Dan Desser (

    1. Hi Dan,
      The card sails are produced by Warlord Games which they supply along with rigging thread with their models and which you can purchase separately on their web store and are available for the key ratings from brigs up to first-rates.

      You should find what you are looking for here;

      Hope that helps