Battle of La Guaira
|Battle of La Guaira|
|Part of the War of Jenkins' Ear|
Engraving of the attack by the British fleet on La Guayra (1743)
|Commanders and leaders|
8 ships of line
9 frigates, bomb vessels and fireships,
|Casualties and losses|
|300 killed or wounded|
The Battle of La Guaira or La Guayra, took place on 2 March 1743 in the Caribbean, off the coast of La Guaira, present day Venezuela. La Guaira was a port of the Royal Gipuzkoan Company of Caracas, whose ships had rendered great assistance to the Spanish navy during the war in carrying troops, arms, stores and ammunition from Spain to her colonies, and its destruction would be a severe blow both to the Company and the Spanish Government. A British expeditionary fleet under Sir Charles Knowles was defeated, and the expedition ended in failure. 400 men were killed and wounded, among whom was the captain of the Burford, and many of the ships were badly damaged or lost. Sir Charles was therefore unable to proceed to Puerto Cabello until he had refitted.
Sir Chaloner Ogle, who had replaced Admiral Edward Vernon after the defeat at the Battle of Cartagena de Indias in 1741, prepared an invasion of another important commercial port on the Spanish Main. Believing La Guaira to be not well defended, Sir Chaloner Ogle wanted to take advantage and attack. On 22 February 1743, Sir Charles Knowles sailed from the island of Antigua with 19 ships:
- HMS Suffolk 70 gun third-rate
- HMS Burford 70 gun third-rate
- HMS Norwich 50 gun fourth-rate
- HMS Advice 50 gun fourth-rate
- HMS Assistance 50 gun fourth-rate
- HMS Eltham 40 gun fifth-rate
- HMS Scarborough 24 gun sixth-rate
- HMS Lively 20 gun sixth-rate
- HMS Otter 14 gun sloop
- HMS Comet 8 gun bomb vessel (flagship)
- Two Transport ships with 400 militia under Colonel Dalzell
- Seven other ships
Knowles underestimated the defences of La Guaira, believing it to be less well defended than Cartagena de Indias had been. He arrived at La Tortuga island on 27 February. It is said that the Spaniards had two months warning of the attack; whether this be true or not cannot definitely be stated.
At first light of the day, Knowles' squadron was 15 miles (24 km) east of the port of La Guaira and the Otter was sent ahead to reconnoitre the inner harbour. Spanish lookouts lit signal fires at 6:30 A.M., alerting the Spanish at both La Guaira and Caracas and bringing Governor Gabriel de Zuloaga 25 miles (40 km) down to the coast with a large body of militia that had been recruited from Colonel Dalzell's regiment in the West Indies.
The commander of the Spanish garrison Mateo Gual and Captain José Iturriaga prepared for an impending assault. About midday HMS Burford stood into the roadstead, followed by Eltham, Norwich, Suffolk, Advice and Assistance. Despite the hail of rounds from six batteries the English men-of-war anchored in a double line by 1:00 P.M. and began a furious exchange. The Spanish counterfire proved unexpectedly heavy and accurate and this combined with a heavy swell prevented any British disembarkation. The Spanish had been forewarned of Knowles's intentions to capture La Guaira.
After three and a half hours, Burford cut the anchor cable and moved out of range; the frigate Eltham had also been damaged. Both accidentally ran afoul of Norwich, and all three ships left the action, reducing Knowles's overall effort.
Shooting ceased at sundown, around 8:00 P.M, with the battered Burford seeking shelter to leeward, escorted by Norwich, Otter, and Assistance which could not anchor. The English resumed a rather desultorily bombardment at dawn the following day with the bomb vessel Comet. De Zuloaga was obliged to return to Caracas his capital on 4 March to reassure an uneasy populace that the enemy had not come ashore. At 3:00 A.M on 5 March Knowles sent boat parties into La Guaira's roadstead, they boarded a French merchantman before being discovered and driven off.
Having suffered 97 killed and 308 wounded over three days, Knowles decided to retire west before sunrise on 6 March and attack nearby Puerto Cabello. Despite instructing his captains to rendezvous at Borburata Keys—4 miles (6.4 km) east of Puerto Cabello—the detached Burford, Norwich, Assistance, and Otter proceeded to Curaçao, compelling the commodore to angrily follow them in. On 28 March he sent his smaller ships to cruise off Puerto Cabello, and once his main body had been refitted, went to sea again on 31 March, only to then struggle against contrary winds and currents for two weeks before finally diverting to the eastern tip of Santo Domingo by 19 April.
- Fernández Duro p.283
- Shot received 367, Wounded 308, killed 92. The Navy In the War of 1739–48. Cambridge University Press.
- The Navy In the War of 1739–48, Cambridge University Press, p. 251
- The Navy In the War of 1739–48, Cambridge University Press, p. 244
- David Marley, Wars of the Americas; A Chronology of Armed Conflict in the New World, 1492 to the Present, California, 1998, p.263
- The Navy In the War of 1739–48, Cambridge University Press, p. 250
- Marley, David E. (1998). Wars of the Americas: A Chronology of Armed Conflict in the New World, 1492 to the Present. ABC-Clio Inc. ISBN 978-0-87436-837-6.
- Richmond, Herbert William. (1920). The Navy In the War of 1739–48; Cambridge University Press.
- Duro, Cesáreo Fernández (1900). Armada española desde la unión de los reinos de Castilla y de León, Vol. VI. Madrid, Est. tipográfico "Sucesores de Rivadeneyra".