Blas de Lezo

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This name uses Spanish naming customs; the first or paternal family name is de Lezo and the second or maternal family name is de Olavarrieta.
Blas de Lezo
Don Blas de Lezo -Museo Naval-.jpg
Portrait of Blas de Lezo in the Naval Museum of Madrid
Birth name Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta
Nickname(s)
  • Patapalo (Pegleg)
  • Mediohombre (Half-man)
Born (1689-02-03)February 3, 1689
Pasaia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Died September 7, 1741(1741-09-07) (aged 52)
Cartagena de Indias, New Granada
Allegiance Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Spain
Service/branch Spanish Navy
Years of service 1704–1741
Rank Admiral
Battles/wars War of the Spanish Succession
War of Jenkins' Ear

Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta (3 February 1689 – 7 September 1741) was a Spanish admiral and one of the greatest commanders and strategists in the history of the Spanish Navy. He is best remembered for his defensive tactics at the Battle of Cartagena de Indias (1741) in modern-day Colombia, where Spanish forces won a decisive victory against the British navy commanded by admiral Vernon.

In his life he was known as "Patapalo" (Pegleg) and later as "Mediohombre" (Half-man), for the many wounds suffered in his long military life.

Biography[edit]

Spanish Admiral Don Blas de Lezo, with only one eye, one leg and one hand. Defended the city of Cartagena against Admiral Vernon in 1741

Born in Pasajes, Guipúzcoa, Spain, Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta commenced his naval career in the French navy in 1701 as a midshipman. In 1704 he fought in the War of Spanish Succession as a crew member in the Franco-Spanish fleet which threw back the combined forces of Britain and Netherlands at the Battle of Vélez Málaga. There Lezo lost his left leg. He received a cannon-shot and he had his leg amputated under the knee without anesthesia and without saying a word or making a noise.[1] Promoted to ensign, he was present at the battles off Peñíscola, Spain and Palermo in Sicily; his service in these and other actions resulted in his promotion to ship's lieutenant. The defense of Toulon cost him his left eye. He demonstrated a shrewd command in a number of convoys, deceiving the Royal Navy off east Spanish coast. In 1711 he served in the Navy under the orders of Andrés de Pez. In 1713 he was promoted to captain. In 1714 he lost his right arm in the Siege of Barcelona. Later in this campaign, at the head of one frigate, he captured eleven British ships and privateers, including the East Indiaman Stanhope.

At the conclusion of the War of Spanish Succession he was entrusted with the command of the flagship Lanfranco and with it the control and generalship of the South Seas Fleet on February 16, 1723. He destroyed and drove out British and Dutch pirates from the Pacific coasts of South America, and captured twelve ships. He was married in Peru in 1725.

In 1730 he returned to Spain and was promoted to chief of the Mediterranean Fleet; with this force he went to the Republic of Genoa to enforce the payment of two million pesos owed to Spain that had been retained in the Bank of San Jorge. Deeming the honour of the Spanish flag to be at stake, Blas de Lezo menaced the city with bombardment.

In 1732, on board the Santiago, he and José Carrillo de Albornoz commanded an expedition to Oran and Mers-el-Kébir with 54 ships and 30,000 men. In the Battle of Aïn-el-Turk they recaptured the cities lost to the Ottoman Empire in 1708. After the defeat, Bey Abu l-Hasan Ali I managed to reunite his troops and surrounded the city of Oran. Lezo returned to its aid with six ships and 5,000 men and managed to drive off the Algerian pirate after a hard fight. Dissatisfied with this he took his 60-gun flagship into the corsair's refuge of Mostaganem Bay, a bastion defended by two forts and 4,000 Moors. He inflicted heavy damage on the forts and town. In the following months he established a naval blockade, preventing the Algerians from receiving reinforcements from Istanbul, thereby gaining valuable time for the securing of Oran's defense, until an epidemic forced him to return to Cadiz.

In 1734 the king promoted him to Lieutenant General of the Navy. He returned to South America with the ships Fuerte and Conquistador in 1737 as General Commander of Cartagena de Indias, in modern-day Colombia. There, his greatly outnumbered forces defeated the British admiral Edward Vernon in the Battle of Cartagena de Indias (1741). The battle proved a turning point in the War of Jenkins' Ear. The complex series of ship to ship skirmishes, sieges and land battles against overwhelming forces lasted sixty-seven days. It was de Lezo's finest victory.

The defeat of the British invasion force assured the preservation of the Spanish Empire in America. Blas de Lezo, suffering from a wound to his one remaining arm, died at Cartagena de Indias shortly after the victory. His burial site remains lost to history.

Blas de Lezo's frigate towing its prize, the East Indiaman Stanhope.

Battle of Cartagena de Indias[edit]

In 1737 Lezo was appointed commanding general of the gold shipping port of Cartagena de Indias. He assumed his new post just prior to the conflict between Great Britain and Spain that would become known as the War of Jenkins' Ear.

That conflict derived its name from an incident which took place seven years before the outbreak of hostilities. In 1731, the British brig Rebecca was boarded by the Spanish patrol boat La Isabela, commanded by Julio León Fandiño. After boarding, Fandiño cut off the left ear of the Rebecca's captain, Robert Jenkins, whom he accused of smuggling. Fandiño told Jenkins, "Go, and tell your King that I will do the same, if he dares to do the same." In March 1738, Jenkins was ordered to testify before Parliament, presumably to repeat his story before a committee of the House of Commons. According to some accounts, he produced the severed ear as part of his presentation, although no detailed record of the hearing exists.[2] The incident was considered alongside various other cases of "Spanish Depredations upon the British Subjects",[3] and was perceived as an insult to the honour of the nation and a clear casus belli.[4]

In the early stages of the conflict, British Admiral Edward Vernon undertook attacks on various Spanish outposts in America. One early victory involved the sacking of the lightly defended city of Portobelo (Panama). Turning his attention to Cartagena, Vernon issued a challenge to the city's commander. Lezo replied: "If I had been in Puerto Belo you would not have assaulted the fortresses of my master the King with impunity, because I could have supplied the valour the defenders of Puerto Belo lacked, and checked their cowardice."

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas (Cartagena). This (then incomplete) fortress played a central role in the battle to maintain the link with Spain via the Atlantic sea lanes.

Admiral Vernon attacked Cartagena de Indias on three separate occasions. Both Vernon and Edward Trelawny, British governor of Jamaica, considered the Spanish gold shipping port to be a prime objective. The first assault, in March 1740, was essentially a reconnaissance in force by a squadron including ships of the line, two fire ships, three bomb vessels, and transport ships. Vernon's intention was to gather information on topography and troop strength and to provoke a response that might give him a better idea of the defensive capabilities of the Spanish. Lezo countered by moving gun emplacements and concentrating his limited forces to mask the true disposition of his defenses, and to thwart Vernon's attempt at an amphibious assault. In the face of strong resistance, Vernon's attempt to land 400 soldiers was unsuccessful. The British then undertook a three day naval bombardment of the city, and withdrew.

In May, Vernon returned to Cartagena de Indias in charge of 13 warships, with the intention of bombarding the city. Lezo reacted by deploying his six ships of the line so that the British fleet was forced into ranges where they could only make short or long shots that were of little value. Vernon subsequently withdrew.

The third attack on Cartagena de Indias took place March 13 - May 20, 1741, and was the largest action of the war. The British concentrated one of the largest fleets ever assembled. The fleet consisted of 186 ships (60 more than the Spanish Armada of Philip II) including 2620 artillery pieces and more than 27,000 men. Of that number, 10,000 were soldiers responsible for initiating a ground assault. There were also 12,600 sailors, 1,000 Jamaican slaves and macheteros, and 4000 recruits from Virginia led by Lawrence Washington (1718-1752), the older half-brother of George Washington, future President of the United States. The defenses of Cartagena de Indias did not exceed 3,000 men between regular troops, militia, 600 Indian archers, plus the crews and troops of six Spanish warships. Blas de Lezo's advantages consisted of a formidable primary fortress, numerous secondary fortifications, and the experience of 22 battles.

On the evening of April 19, the British mounted an assault in force upon San Felipe. Three columns of grenadiers supported by Jamaicans and several British companies moved under cover of darkness, with the aid of an intense naval bombardment. The British fought their way to the base of the fort's ramparts where they discovered that the Spanish had dug deep trenches at the foot of the defensive walls. This effectively rendered the British scaling equipment too short for the task. This stymied the British advance, since the fort's walls had not been breached, and the ramparts could not be topped. Neither could the British easily withdraw, in the face of intense Spanish fire and under the weight of their own equipment. The Spanish seized on this opportunity, with devastating effect. Reversing the tide of battle, the Spanish initiated a fixed bayonet charge at first light, inflicting heavy casualties upon the British. The surviving British forces retreated to the safety of their ships. The British maintained a naval bombardment, sinking what remained of the small Spanish squadron (after Lezo's decision to scuttle some of his ships in an effort to block the harbor entrance). Nonetheless, the Spanish managed to thwart any attempt by the British to land another ground assault force. The British troops were required to remain aboard ship for a month, without sufficient reserves. With supplies running low, and with the outbreak of disease (primarily yellow fever) that took the lives of many of those confined to the crowded ships, Vernon was forced to raise the siege on May 9 and return to Jamaica. Six thousand British died. Spanish casualties are listed as just under one thousand dead. The engagement is considered to be among the greatest defeats of the Royal Navy.

The Battle of Cartagena de Indias was the decisive battle in the War of Jenkins' Ear and had a major effect on the course of actions taken by Spain and its allies in the War of Austrian Succession.

Blas de Lezo Statue in Cartagena de Indias

Admiral Vernon sent a letter to Blas de Lezo which read "We have decided to retreat but we will return to Cartagena after we take reinforcements in Jamaica", to which Blas de Lezo retorted, "In order to come to Cartagena, the English King must build a better and larger fleet, because yours now is only suitable to transport coal from Ireland to London".[5]

Don Blas de Lezo died from an infection, just four months after Vernon's retreat. The site of his grave is unknown.[6]

Blas de Lezo was lionized for his victory at Cartagena de Indias. A square and an avenue in the city of Cartagena are named after him. His statue stands in front of the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. In 2011, during a conference on Blas de Lezo's place in history and honoring the 170th anniversary of Catagena de Indias' defense, a plaque was placed on the wall at the Plaza de los Coches, by the Clock Tower portal.[7][8]

Legacy[edit]

Several Spanish warships have been named Blas de Lezo in his honour including:

The Colombian Navy also had a ship named after Blas de Lezo

  • ARC Blas de Lezo (BT-62), acquired: 26 November 1947, Struck: January 1965. This ship was the former USS Kalamazoo (AOG-30), a Mettawee-class gasoline tanker.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Fernández de Navarrete, Francisco (1848). Colección de opúsculos, volume 1. Imprenta de la viuda de Calero. p. 261. 
  2. ^ "I want...a record confirming that Robert Jenkins exhibited his severed ear to Parliament in 1738 (War of Jenkins’ Ear)". U.K Parliament Archives: FAQ,. Retrieved 7 November 2009. 
  3. ^ "Second Parliament of George II:Fourth session (6 of 9, begins 15 March 1738)". British History Online. Retrieved 7 November 2009. 
  4. ^ James, p. 59
  5. ^ Victoria, Pablo (2005). El día que España derrotó a Inglaterra : de cómo Blas de Lezo, tuerto, manco y cojo, venció en Cartagena de Indias a la otra "Armada Invencible". Barcelona: Áltera. ISBN 84-89779-68-6. .
  6. ^ Meisel Ujueta, Alfonso (1982). Blas de Lezo:vida legendaria del marino Vasco. Barranquilla, Colombia: Litografía Dovel,. p. 1982. 
  7. ^ "Última jornada de homenaje a Blas de Lezo" El Guarida de Goyix, in Spanish, accessed 21 May 2012
  8. ^ Medallas, Mapas y Grabados: La Iconografía de la Defensa de Cartagena" Razon Cartografica, in Spanish

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • James, Lawrence (2001). The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. Abacus. ISBN 0-312-16985-X. 
  • Victoria, Pablo (2005) El día que España derrotó a Inglaterra : de cómo Blas de Lezo, tuerto, manco y cojo, venció en Cartagena de Indias a la otra "Armada Invencible" Áltera, Barcelona, Spain, ISBN 84-89779-68-6
  • Quintero Saravia, Gonzalo M. (2002) Don Blas de Lezo: defensor de Cartagena de Indias Editorial Planeta Colombiana, Bogotá, Colombia, ISBN 958-42-0326-6, in Spanish
  • Meisel Ujueta, Alfonso (1982) Blas de Lezo:vida legendaria del marino Vasco Litografía Dovel, Barranquilla, Colombia, OCLC 27881652, in Spanish
  • Cano, Domingo Manfredi (1956) Blas de Lezo Publicaciones Españolas, Madrid, OCLC 17273075, in Spanish
  • Barcaiztequi y Manso Llobregat, José Javier de (1927) Un general español cojo, manco y tuerto, don Blas de Lezo, natural de Pasajes B. Valverde, Irún, Spain, OCLC 32539491, in Spanish
  • Régniez Philippe Blas de Lezo" El mayor héroe de todos los tiempos Les Editions de La Reconquête, Assomption 2012, en Français

External links[edit]