Sunday, December 21, 2014

Close Action: Cape de Gata

Mark Campbell hosted a scenario from the upcoming "War of Jenkin's Ear and the Austrian Succession" book, a hypothetical action between Spanish and British at Cape de Gata on 16 December 1741. Twelve British ships in three squadrons, ranging from 50 to 80 guns and B to D quality, face fifteen Spanish ships--which include five really weak 50 gun vessels, but also the 108 gun Real Felipe--in two squadrons. of D and E quality. Two of the larger ships on each side are Poor Maneuvering. Both fleets start at Broad Reach (which is unusual) with the wind to port, with the British to windward and the lead ships of both sides about even with each other. I was the admiral for the British van, Stan Sunderwirth was the overall flag, and Albert Parker commanded our rear; Brian Hernandez was in charge of the Spanish van, subordinate to Jim Fleury.

The British commanders anticipated that the Spanish might immediately turn port and come upwind at us, which was the most threatening possibility; we also thought they might all wear, but that would leave them too far away to interfere with out maneuvering. We discussed turning starboard and running down on them (which would let their rear catch up and possibly envelope our rear), wearing close (which the Poor Maneuvering ships can't do), wearing deep (which takes us too close to the Spanish, if they chose the aggressive option; they could easily charge in through gaping holes in our formation and break our line), and even a fleet tack (seriously--but again, the Poor Maneuverability ships made that too risky).  What we decided to do was sail ahead, close up our line, and then cut across the Spanish van and defeat them before the Spanish rear could join in. I wasn't convinced this was the best plan--the Spanish rear would already be broad reaching, and could easily catch up to the fray--but it was simple enough that we didn't have to worry about being caught in disarray if the Spanish did something aggressive, and it gave us the option of responding to whatever the Spanish did.

As it turned out, the Spanish rear maintained course, while the Spanish van wore, and then wore again. This had the effect of refusing the van and closing up their fleet somewhat, with five of their van ships leeward of and protected by the first part of their rear squadron ; however, it also made it easy for my squadron to cut across and get ahead of them. By turn 10, my squadron had gotten ahead of the Spanish leading ships, which were forced to turn downwind to avoid us. On turn 11, I collided with and fouled San Fernando, the lead Spanish ship; this was not what I intended, but it had the advantage that San Fernando was locked in place. The rest of the British fleet was able to pass her, firing as they went; on one turn, she took fire from five ships and my marines.

I finally cut loose at the end of turn 16; San Fernando was dismasted and rather the worse for wear by that point, although she survived to the end of the game. Six ships of the Spanish rear were coming down on us, finally about to join the battle; the Brits had a corresponding clump around San Fernando; and downwind, six Brit and seven Spanish were hotly engaged. Somerset, the British flag, collided and fouled with Paloma in position to rake;  then Real Felipe, the Spanish flag, did the same with Panther.  By turn 21, Somerset got loose and Paloma struck; Gloucester duelled Poder, Dragon
traded shots with Santa Isabel, Guernsey hammered Fama, and Warwick took a shot at the unwounded Javier.

Which blew up.

Warwick, being adjacent to the explosion, was severely damaged; and when the flaming debris settled, Warwick, Dragon, Santa Isabela, Fama and Guernsey were all on fire, but this worked out to a net advantage for the higher quality Brits. The Spanish marines had been ready for firefighting, but apparently not trained well enough, as none of them succeeding in quenching the flames;  Fama struck as a consequence. This brought up to 6pm and the game was declared a British victory.

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