Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (1657)
The Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife was a military operation in the Anglo-Spanish War (1654–60) in which an English fleet under Admiral Robert Blake attacked a Spanish treasure fleet at Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands. Most of the Spanish merchantmen were scuttled and the remainder were burnt by the English, though the treasure, which had already been landed, was saved.
|Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife|
|Part of the Anglo-Spanish War (1654–1660)|
Robert Blake's flagship George at the battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1657.
|Commanders and leaders|
| Admiral Diego de Egües y Beaumont
Alonso Dávila y Guzmán
| Admiral Robert Blake
Sir Richard Stayner
9 merchant ships,[b]
5 other vessels,
1 castle and various shore gun emplacements
|Casualties and losses|
|2 galleons scuttled
9 merchant ships scuttled
|1 ship severely damaged,
48 killed & 120 wounded
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England had decided to support France in its war in the Low Countries with the Spanish. War was openly declared in October 1655 and endorsed when the Second Protectorate Parliament assembled the following year. One of the prime enterprises was the blockade of Cadiz, which had not previously been attempted on such a scale. Robert Blake was to be in charge and also was to come up with methods that he had used in his previous encounters with the Dutch and Barbary pirates.
Blake kept the fleet at sea throughout an entire winter in order to maintain the blockade. During this period a Spanish convoy was destroyed by one of Blake's captains, Richard Stayner. A further six ships were sent from England as reinforcements towards the end of 1656, including George, which became Blake's flagship. In February 1657, Blake received intelligence that the convoy from Mexico was on its way across the Atlantic. Although his captains wanted to search for the Spanish galleons immediately, Blake refused to divide his forces and waited until victualling ships from England arrived to re-provision his fleet at the end of March. After this Blake (with only two ships to watch Cadiz), sailed from Cadiz Bay on 13 April 1657 to attack the plate fleet, which had docked at Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands to await an escort to Spain.
Blake's fleet arrived off Santa Cruz on 19 April. Santa Cruz lies in a deeply indented bay and the harbour was defended by a castle armed with forty guns and a number of smaller forts connected by a triple line of breastworks to shelter musketeers.
In an operation similar to the raid on the Barbary pirates of Porto Farina in Tunisia in 1655, Blake planned to send twelve frigates under the command of Rear-Admiral Stayner in Speaker into the harbour to attack the galleons while he followed in George with the rest of the fleet to bombard the shore batteries.
The attack began at 9:00 am on 20 April. Stayner's division manoeuvred alongside the Spanish ships, which protected the English ships to some extent from the guns of the castle and forts. No shot was fired from the English ships until they had moved into position and dropped anchor. Blake saw what the Spanish had not; that the six galleons masked the fire of the other ten ships. While the frigates attacked the galleons, Blake's heavier warships sailed into the harbour to bombard the shore defences. Blake ordered that no prizes were to be taken; the Spanish fleet was to be utterly destroyed. Most of the Spanish fleet, made up of smaller armed merchantmen, were quickly silenced by the superior gunnery of Stayner's warships. The two great galleons fought on for several hours. Blake's division cleared the breastworks and smaller forts; smoke from the gunfire and burning ships worked to the advantage of the English by obscuring their ships from the Spanish batteries.
Around noon, the flagship of the Spanish admiral, Don Diego de Egues, caught fire; shortly afterwards she was destroyed when her powder magazine exploded. English sailors took to boats to board Spanish ships and set them on fire. By 3:00 pm, all sixteen Spanish ships in the harbour were sunk, ablaze or had surrendered. Contrary to orders, Swiftsure and four other frigates each took a surrendered ship as a prize and attempted to tow them out of the harbour. Blake sent peremptory orders that the prizes were to be burnt. He had to repeat his order three times before the reluctant captains obeyed.
Having achieved its objective of destroying the Spanish vessels, the English fleet was faced with the hazardous task of withdrawing from Santa Cruz harbour under continuing fire from the forts. According to accounts the wind suddenly shifted from the north-east to the south-west at exactly the right moment to carry Blake's ships out of the harbour; however, this story is probably based upon a misunderstanding of a report pertaining to general weather conditions on the voyage as a whole. The English fleet worked its way back out to the open sea by warping out, or hauling on anchor ropes, a tactic Blake had introduced during the raid on Porto Farina. Speaker, which was the first ship to enter the harbour and last to leave, had been badly damaged, but no English ships were lost in the battle.
The Spanish treasure from Mexico had been unloaded and secured ashore. Blake was unable to seize it but it was also temporarily unavailable to the government in Madrid. Blake's force had suffered no more than 48 men killed and 120 wounded.
News of the victory reached England the following month. On 28 May, Parliament voted to reward Blake with a jewel worth £500, which was equivalent to the reward voted to General Thomas Fairfax for his victory at the Battle of Naseby in 1645. Stayner was knighted by Oliver Cromwell. Blake received orders to return home in June. He made one further voyage to Salé in Morocco, where he succeeded in concluding a treaty to secure the release of English slaves. He returned to Cadiz in mid-July and handed command of the fleet to his flag captain, John Stoakes. Leaving nineteen ships to maintain the blockade, Blake sailed for England with eleven ships, most in need of repair. However, Blake's health was in terminal decline. Worn out by his years of campaigning, he died aboard his flagship the George on 7 August 1657 as his fleet approached Plymouth Sound.
Blake's fleet comprised 23 vessels:
- They were Jesús María, under D. Diego de Egues, and Concepción, under D. José Centeno.
- They were Nuestra Señora de los Reyes, Capt. Roque Galindo; San Juan Colorado, Capt. Sebastián Martínez; Santo Cristo de Buen Viaje, Capt. Pedro de Arana; Campechano grande, Capt. Pedro de Urguía; Campechano chico, Capt. Miguel de Elizondo; Vizcaína, Capt. Cristóbal de Aguilar; Sacramento, Capt. Francisco de Villegas; Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, Capt. Istueta; and a patache under Pedro de Orihuela.
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