Cosme Damián de Churruca y Elorza
Cosme Damián de Churruca y Elorza (Mutriku, 27 September 1761 – Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805) was a Spanish noble, an Admiral of the Royal Spanish Armada, a scientist and Major of Mutriku, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar while commanding the ship of the line San Juan Nepomuceno.
In 1781, Cosme Damián de Churruca, as an officer of the Spanish Navy, performed heroically in a siege of Gibraltar.
In 1805, a few months before his death, Churruca married María Dolores Ruiz de Apodaca, niece of Juan Ruiz de Apodaca, in 1797. Doña María was only 19 when Churruca died.
He commanded the 74-gun San Juan Nepomuceno in the Battle of Trafalgar. It had known that the combined fleet was powerful and had sufficient numbers to win, but he also knew that the English were more experienced and better drilled. He also had significant doubts about the competence of the French high command. Nevertheless, he was determined to fight to the death, and determined that his Spanish crew would fight with honor - which they did. Before the battle, Churruca :
|“||Si llegas a saber que mi navío ha sido hecho prisionero, di que he muerto.
[If you come to hear that my ship has been captured, say I am dead]
—Cosme Damián Churruca
Churruca's went below to the gun deck to check the aim of his gunners, and as he was returning up top, his right leg was torn off by a cannonball just below the hip. Somehow, he made his way back to the quarter-deck, which was by now covered in the blood of his wounded and dead seamen, and continued to voice command, until he died, probably from loss of blood. At that point, his men who had been extremely loyal to him lost heart and surrendered just as HMS Defiance was bearing down.
The San Juan had fought very bravely, at first engaging with HMS Mars as they came through the line. Then HMS Tonnant, HMS Bellerophon and HMS Defiance. At the end, the surrender was made to HMS Dreadnought.
After Trafalgar, the ship was taken to Gibraltar and entered British service as initially as HMS Berwick before her Spanish name was restored. In honour of Churruca's courage, his cabin bore his name on a brass plate, and all who entered it were required to remove their hat as a mark of respect for a gallant enemy. HMS San Juan served as a supply hulk in Gibraltar until 1815, when she was broken up.
Sources & references
- (Spanish) Foro Historia Naval de España
- San Juan, Víctor (2005) Trafalgar: tres armadas en combate ISBN 84-7737-121-0
- Harbron, John D. (1988), Trafalgar and the Spanish Navy ISBN 0-87021-695-3