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Military


Armada 1700-1808 - Bourbon Spain

Under the Bourbon dynasty which attained the throne in 1700 the Spanish navy was revived, or rather a navy was created on the French model. Don Jose Patino, a very able man, was named intendent de la marina in 1715, and in 1717 he drew up a draft naval organization and code, founded on the French ordonance of 1689. Patino's draft was the basis of the ordenanzas generales (general code) issued in 1748. The Spaniards even set up a squadron of galleys with a separate staff of officers, also on the French model, which was, however, suppressed in the year of the issue of the ordecnancas generates. Fine arsenals were organized at Ferrol and Carthagena. The navy thus created produced some distinguished officers, and fought some brilliant single ship actions. But the embarrassments of the treasury, the tendency of several of the kings to sacrifice their navy to political schemes requiring mainly the employment of troops and the ruin of the seafaring population during the 18th century, prevented it from ever attaining to a high level of efficiency. During the Peninsular War the new navy all but disappeared as the old had done.

The new minister, Cardinal Alberoni, promised Philip V. to put him in a position to reconquer Sicily and Naples, if granted five years of peace. He worked hard to bring up the revenues, rebuild the navy, and re-establish the army, while at the same time promoting manufactures, commerce, and shipping, and the advance made in all these was remarkable. An expedition of twelve ships of war and eighty-six hundred soldiers was sent against Sardinia, the transfer to Savoy not having yet taken effect, and reduced the island in a few months. This happened in 1717. Alberoni's hastily revived navy had not reached nearly the efficiency of his army.

The Spanish navy was struck down on the llth of August, 1718, off Cape Passaro. This settled the fate of Sicily, if it had been doubtful before. The English approached threateningly near, one or more Spanish ships opened fire, whereupon the English, being to windward, stood down and made an end of them ; a few only escaped into Valetta harbor. The Spanish navy was practically annihilated. Thus was completed the destruction of the Spanish navy, which, says an English historian, was ascribed to the maritime jealousy of England. " This was done," wrote the French commander, the Duke of Berwick, a bastard of the house of Stuart, " in order that the English government may be able to show the next Parliament that nothing has been neglected to diminish the navy of Spain."

The want of pecuniary resources and internal instability have prevented its revival on any considerable scale. The navy created by Patino consisted in 1737 of 56 ships in all, of which 28 were of the line, of from 50 to 80 guns, with one of 114 of the Spanish government. In 1778, when at the height of its power, it contained 62 ships of the line.

The Spaniards, since the days of Drake and Hawkins, had been the enemies feared least. Rodney, in the war of American Independence, defeated them with scarcely an effort, and time after time British frigates captured Spanish frigates with absurdly small loss to crews. It is curious to note that in his Life of Rodney, Mr. Hannay speaks of "the extraordinary fatuity which has distinguished the modern Spanish Admiral and General."

"A war with Spain," says Brenton, "was always popular with our sailors, who despised her for her want of skill." In the British fight for life of 1796-1808, the battle of St. Vincent served to illustrate once more the hopeless feebleness of the Spanish Navy. Nelson and the other great captains looked upon "the Dons" with undisguised contempt. "A Spanish ship chased is a Spanish ship taken," was a saying of those days.

The "disaster of Trafalgar" would not of itself have shaken Spanish naval power. That glorious combat was almost as disastrous for the English as for the Spaniards, seeing that Great Britain lost Nelson and its squadron was almost completely destroyed. But the two countries were under very different forms of government. The Spanish king - "stupidly absolute and absolutely stupid" - allowed things to drift, whereas the British were active. Of all things, national character changes most slowly, and what Spaniards were in the last century they still remain, whilst the introduction of steam and machinery into naval war has yet further handicapped them.





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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:56:33 ZULU