Action of 25 January 1797
The Action of 25 January 1797 was a minor naval battle of the French Revolutionary Wars, fought in the Gulf of Cádiz. The Spanish third-rate ship of the line San Francisco de Asís was attacked and pursued for several hours by three British fifth-rates frigates and a sixth-rate corvette. After an intermittent but fierce exchange of fire, the British ships, badly damaged, were eventually forced to withdraw. The San Francisco de Asís, which suffered only minor damage, was able to return to Cádiz without difficulties. Captain Alonso de Torres-Guerra was promoted for his success.
The winter of 1796–1797 was one of the stormiest winters of the 18th century. The British Royal Navy lost the ships of line HMS Courageux, wrecked off Gibraltar and HMS Bombay Castle, foundered in the shoals of Tagus river's mouth, as well as two frigates. A French expedition to Ireland failed due to the storms. The Spanish also suffered the effects of the winter. The third-rate ship of the line San Francisco de Asís, commanded by Captain Don Alonso de Torres y Guerra, was anchored in the Bay of Cádiz during her mission of protect the Spanish trade vessels landfall on the coast, when the storms surprised her. Having lost her anchor, she was forced to go out open sea.
At dawn on 25 January, having finished the storms, four suspicious ships were sighted at a distance of 11 leagues from the port of Cádiz. The lack of response to the signs of recognition that made them the San Francisco de Asís put on alert the crew of the Spanish ship. The suspicious vessels, which proved to be British warships, began to chase the San Francisco de Asís, relying on their advantage of sailing and the superiority of their forces, as the squadron consisted of two frigates of 40 guns, one 34 and a corvette of 28.
At 1 pm the British warships had approached enough to open fire on the San Francisco, who had hoisted their flag, ready for combat. The British frigates also hoisted their British flags. The San Francisco then opened fire, but retreating without intermission until 4 pm, suffering the fire of two frigates which successively beat him with grapeshot. The San Francisco could only return the fire with the stern chasers of both batteries, although occasionally she luffed to shoot all their artillery on the frigates, inflicting serious damage.
The British frigates left the battle at 4 pm, and although after consulting among themselves the British commanders resolved return to fight at 4:30 pm, they finally withdrew half an our later. The proximity of the night and the danger of running aground on the coast between Huelva and Ayamonte convinced Alonso de Torres y Guerra to turn back, but determined to pass between the British warships beating them by both bands. However, they managed to evade the action taking advantage of its lightness and the darkness of the night.
- San Juan p.84
- Fernández Duro p. 82
- Mercurio histórico y político p. 170
- Fernández Duro, Cesáreo (1902). Armada Española desde la unión de los reinos de Castilla y Aragón VIII. Madrid, Spain: Est. tipográfico "Sucesores de Rivadeneyra".
- San Juan, Víctor (2005). Trafalgar: Tres armadas en combate. Silex Ediciones. ISBN 84-7737-121-0.
- Mercurio histórico y político. Madrid: Imprenta Real. 1797.
- Historia del Navío de línea San Francisco de Asís Revista de Historia Naval (Spanish)