Cosme Damián de Churruca y Elorza

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Cosme Damián de Churruca y Elorza

Cosme Damián de Churruca y Elorza (Mutriku, 27 September 1761 – Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805) was a Basque Spanish noble, an Admiral of the Royal Spanish Armada, scientist and Major of Mutriku, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar while commanding the ship of the line San Juan Nepomuceno.

He received his early years education in the Seminary of Burgos. Then, he entered the School of Bergara.

Once he finished his studies, he joined the Naval Academy of Cadiz in 1776, and got his degree in the Naval Academy of Ferrol in 1778, becoming a naval officer.

In 1781, Cosme Damián de Churruca, as an officer of the Spanish Navy, performed heroically in a siege of Gibraltar.

Churruca's Death, oil on canvas by Eugenio Álvarez Dumont, Prado Museum

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. Though he knew that the combined fleet was powerful and had sufficient numbers to win, 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 confident that his crew would fight with honor - before the battle, Churruca ordered for the colours to be nailed to the mast.


Under the command of Churruca, the San Juan acted with efficiency and daring, engaging with HMS Mars as it came through the line, and maintaining maritime order and regular fire when it found itself alone with four enemy ships. Churruca, whose leg had been torn off by a cannon ball, ordered for a tourniquet to be applied and continued to command his crew. Before bleeding to death on the quarterdeck, he reminded his second in command, Francisco de Moyna, that the ship was not to be surrendered. Moyna kept his word, and continued the fight until his own death. Finding itself alone, unable to flee, and unable to break the circle of fire formed by six enemy ships, including HMS Defiance, HMS Tonnant, HMS Bellerophon and HMS Dreadnought, and in order to prevent the ship from sinking with all the wounded trapped below, the last officer left alive in San Juan Nepomuceno yielded with over 400 dead and injured on board. [2]

After Trafalgar, the ship was taken to Gibraltar and entered British service, 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 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. [3]

Sources & references[edit]

  1. ^ San Juan, Víctor (2005) Trafalgar: tres armadas en combate ISBN 84-7737-121-0
  2. ^ Ferrer de Couto, José (1851)Historia Del Combate Naval De Trafalgar ISBN 8497614860
  3. ^ Harbron, John D. (1988), Trafalgar and the Spanish Navy ISBN 0-87021-695-3