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
Born (1689-02-03)February 3, 1689
Pasajes, Guipúzcoa, 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 best remembered for the Battle of Cartagena de Indias (1741) in modern-day Colombia, where the Spaniards resisted a siege by a combined British force under the command of Admiral Vernon.

Although it has been repeatedly stated that in his lifetime he was known as "Patapalo" (Pegleg) and later as "Mediohombre" (Half-man), for the many wounds suffered in his long military career, there is no historical evidence for either assertion. He appears as "Admiral One-Leg" in James Michener's 1989 novel Caribbean, while there is no mention of him as "medio hombre" until the publication of the school textbook Historia de Colombia para la Enseñanza Secundaria, by Jesús María Henao and Gerardo Arrubla, whose third edition was published in Bogotá in 1920: "el famoso General de los galeones don Blas de Lezo, marino vascongado, quien en combates anteriores, en Málaga, Tolón y Barcelona había perdido la pierna izquierda, el ojo izquierdo y el brazo derecho; este medio hombre contribuyó poderosamente al triunfo que obtuvieron las armas castellanas".[1]

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 fought the combined forces of Great Britain and the Netherlands at the indecisive Battle of Vélez Málaga. There Lezo lost his left leg. He received a cannon-shot and he had his leg amputated under the knee.[2] Promoted to ensign, he was present at the relief of Peñíscola, Spain, and Palermo in Sicily; his service in these and other actions resulted in his promotion to ship's lieutenant. The defence of Toulon cost him his left eye. 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 the 20-gun East Indiaman Stanhope.

Lezo served in the Pacific in 1720-1728. Although it has been claimed that he took many prizes during this period, documentary evidence indicates that in fact he took only two French frigates and not in the Pacific but in the Atlantic. He reached Callao with them in January 1720 although he had left Spain in 1716 as second-in-command of the Nuestra Señora del Carmen or Lanfranco as part of the expedition commanded by Juan Nicolás de Martinet. He was separated from the expedition while attempting to sail past Cape Horn. The prizes attributed to Lezo were taken by Martinet, who reached Callao in June 1717 and left the Pacific in 1719 before Lezo's arrival.[3]

Lezo 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 threatened the city with bombardment.

In 1732, on board the Santiago, he and José Carrillo de Albornoz commanded the enormous expedition to Oran and Mers-el-Kébir with more than 300 ships and around 28,000 troops, comprising infantry, cavalry and artillery. 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, outnumbered Spanish forces deployed in a succession of extremely strong fortifications managed to thwart the British admiral Edward Vernon's attempt to conquer Cartagena de Indias (1741). The operation lasted sixty-seven days until the British forces decided to withdraw and abandon the siege.

A fanciful 19th-century depiction of Blas de Lezo's frigate towing its prize, the East Indiaman Stanhope.

Battle of Cartagena de Indias[edit]

In 1737 Lezo was appointed commander of the fleet at Cartagena de Indias. He took up his new post just prior to the conflict between Great Britain and Spain that would become known as the War of Jenkins' Ear and that would later be subsumed into the War of Austrian Succession.

The conflict took its name from an incident which took place seven years before the outbreak of hostilities. In 1731, the British smuggler brig Rebecca was boarded by the Spanish patrol boat La Isabela, commanded by Juan de León Fandiño. After boarding, Fandiño allegedly cut off the left ear of the Rebecca's captain, Robert Jenkins, whom he accused of smuggling. Fandiño reportedly 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 asked to testify before Parliament, presumably to repeat his story before a committee of the House of Commons. There is no evidence that he did.[4] The incident was considered alongside over 100 cases of "Spanish Depredations upon British Subjects",[5]

In the early stages of the conflict, the British Admiral Edward Vernon undertook attacks on various Spanish outposts in America. One early victory involved the conquest of Portobelo (Panama).

Admiral Vernon approached 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 attempt, 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 defencss, 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.

Monument in Plaza de Colón (Madrid) built to commemorate Admiral Blas de Lezo.

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 a large fleet consisting of 124 ships, including 2,620 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 elder half-brother of George Washington, future President of the United States. The defences of Cartagena de Indias comprised 3,000 soldiers between regular troops, Black & Afro-descendants militia,[6] 600 Indian archers, plus the crews and troops of six Spanish warships. Blas de Lezo's advantages consisted of a formidable primary fortress and numerous secondary fortifications.

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. 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 decided 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.

Blas de Lezo Statue in Cartagena de Indias

Lezo died four months after the siege was raised and a contemporary source indicates that the cause of death was epidemic typhus: "unas calenturas, que en breves días se le declaró tabardillo".[7] The site of his grave is unknown.[8]

Blas de Lezo was blamed for not having used his naval forces to full effect and for having sunk his own ships to no gain and at an immense cost to the Crown. He was later honoured for his part in the siege of Cartagena de Indias as a square and an avenue in the city of Cartagena are named after him. A modern 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 honouring the 270th anniversary of Cartagena de Indias' defence, a mendacious plaque was placed on the wall at the Plaza de los Coches, by the Clock Tower portal.[9][10] And in November 2014, a 35,000 kilo statue of Lezo was erected in Madrid's Plaza Colón.[11]

Legacy[edit]

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

  • A Blas de Lezo class cruiser built in 1924, sunk in a shipwreck in 1932.
  • The former USS Noa (DD-841) a Gearing class destroyer - 1978 to 1991.
  • An Álvaro de Bazán class frigate, F103 was built at the Spanish Izar shipyard and launched in May 2003. She was commissioned in December 2004 and has a displacement of 5,800 tonnes. During the Neptune Warrior exercises off Scotland in September 2007 she suffered damage after a "slight grounding". After the incident, her Captain, Federico Supervielle, was relieved of his command.

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.

Contemporary Lezomania[edit]

In 2005 the novel with the (unintentionally counterproductive) title El día que España venció a Inglaterra, a fictionalised account of the siege of Cartagena de Indias written by the one-time Colombian ultra-right-wing senator Pablo Victoria, proved to be a publishing success in Spain. Several re-prints have since been issued. Despite the novel being heavy on ideologically-motivated anachronisms and very poorly researched historically, it gave rise to an epidemic of historical novelettes in Spain itself:

  • Carlos Alonso Mendizábal (2008), Blas de Lezo, el malquerido, Dossoles, Burgos.
  • Ramiro Ribas Narváez (2009), La conjura de la mentira. Derrota de Inglaterra en Cartagena de Indias, Akrón.
  • Alber Vázquez (2010), Mediohombre. La batalla que Inglaterra ocultó al mundo, Inédita Editores.
  • Felipe Blasco Patiño (2010), El hombre sin rey. ¿Pudo un solo hombre cambiar el destino de América? El desastre de la Armada Invencible inglesa, Bohodón Ediciones, Madrid.
  • Santiago Iglesias de Paúl (2011), El marino que cazaba lagartos... y que luchó junto a Blas de Lezo, JM Ediciones.
  • Orlando Name Bayona (2012), Blas de Lezo. El almirante patapalo. ¡Anka Motz!, Oveja negra.
  • Juan Antonio Pérez-Foncea (2012), El héroe del Caribe. La última batalla de Blas de Lezo, Libroslibres.
  • José Vicente Pascual (2013), Almirante en tierra firme. La aventura de Blas de Lezo, el español que derrotó a Inglaterra, Áltera, Madrid.
  • Francisco Javier Romero Valentín (2013), El paisano de Jamaica, Amazon Media.
  • David López (2013), El aventurero Vivar, Rocaeditorial.
  • Víctor San Juan (2014), Morirás por Cartagena, Punto de Vista Editores.
  • Rafael Vidal & José Pablo García (2014), Blas de Lezo. El marino invicto.
  • Pablo Victoria (2014), Los amores prohibidos de Cecilita Caxiao. La extraña historia de cómo se salvó el diario de guerra de Blas de Lezo, Amazon Media.
  • Fernando de Artacho (2015), El almirante Mediohombre, Algaida, Sevilla.

The result has been the conversion of an 18th-century historical figure into something of a comic superhero. Unfortunately, very little serious historical research on Lezo and the battle of Cartagena has appeared in Spain and the perception of public opinion has been formed by the bombastic and highly simplistic views expressed in the works listed above. They are generally of poor literary quality, with flat characterisations, crass stereotypes and crude pontification, and merely present variations of the same essential storyline.

Sadly, Lezomania has led to historical absurdities such as the inscriptions on the Lezo monument in Cádiz. Not only does it attribute Lezo with "saving an empire", but also repeats the old chestnut of a British ban on mentioning the defeat at Cartagena and quotes impossible last words (Lezo's wife was in Cádiz at the time, not in Cartagena) lifted from the novelette by Pablo Victoria.

The Spanish naval historian Hugo O’Donnell y Duque de Estrada has commented on the image that has been created of Blas de Lezo and expressed his concern over grossly exaggerated claims about Cartagena being England’s “greatest naval defeat” and that thanks to Lezo “Spanish is still spoken in America”.[12]

Similarly, the curators of the Blas de Lezo exhibition at Madrid's Naval Museum, Mariela Beltrán and Carolina Aguado, have called for the need to revise many of the extravagant statements made on the subject and repeated over the Internet and other media.[13]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Jesús María Henao y Gerardo Arrobla (1920), Historia de Colombia para la enseñanza secundaria, Obra laureada con medalla de oro y diploma en el concurso nacional que se abrió para celebrar el primer centenario de la Independencia, y con la adopción oficial, Tomo I, tercera edición, notablemente adicionada y corregida, Librería Colombiana, Camacho Roldán y Tamayo, Bogotá.
  2. ^ Fernández de Navarrete, Francisco (1848). Colección de opúsculos, volume 1. Imprenta de la viuda de Calero. p. 261. 
  3. ^ http://abcblogs.abc.es/espejo-de-navegantes/2014/11/18/blas-de-lezo-una-revision-historica/
  4. ^ "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. 
  5. ^ "Second Parliament of George II:Fourth session (6 of 9, begins 15 March 1738)". British History Online. Retrieved 7 November 2009. 
  6. ^ [1] Petro se ‘subleva’ ante el alcalde de Cartagena, in Spanish, accessed 04 Nov 2014
  7. ^ Letter from Rodrigo Torres to Zenón de Somodevilla, Marqués de la Ensenada, 28 October 1741.
  8. ^ Meisel Ujueta, Alfonso (1982). Blas de Lezo:vida legendaria del marino Vasco. Barranquilla, Colombia: Litografía Dovel,. p. 1982. 
  9. ^ "Última jornada de homenaje a Blas de Lezo" El Guarida de Goyix, in Spanish, accessed 21 May 2012
  10. ^ Medallas, Mapas y Grabados: La Iconografía de la Defensa de Cartagena" Razon Cartografica, in Spanish
  11. ^ http://www.abc.es/madrid/20141112/abci-blas-estatua-colon-201411112050.html
  12. ^ "Hugo O'Donnell: «Nada distorsiona más el pasado que el nacionalismo»", ABC, 10/XII/2014, http://www.abc.es/cultura/20141209/abci-entrevista-hugo-odonell-201412091725.html
  13. ^ Mariela Beltrán & Carolina Aguado, "Blas de Lezo, una revisión histórica", ABC, 18/XI/2014, http://abcblogs.abc.es/espejo-de-navegantes/2014/11/18/blas-de-lezo-una-revision-historica/

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • James, Lawrence (2001). The Rise and Fall of the British Empire. Abacus. ISBN 0-312-16985-X. 
  • 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
  • Manfredi Cano, Domingo (1956) Blas de Lezo Publicaciones Españolas, Madrid, OCLC 17273075, in Spanish
  • Barcáiztegui y Manso, José Javier de, Conde del Llobregat (1927) Un general español cojo, manco y tuerto, don Blas de Lezo, natural de Pasajes B. Valverde, Irún, Spain, OCLC 32539491, in Spanish
  • Hartmann, Cyril Hughes (1953), The Angry Admiral. The Later Career of Edward Vernon, Admiral of the White, William Heinemann Ltd, London.
  • Ranft, B. McL. (1958), The Vernon Papers, The Navy Records Society, London.

External links[edit]