THE BATTLE OF HAVANA (KNOWLES' ACTION)

Austrian War of Succession

1 OCTOBER, 1748

SAMUEL E. KIMPTON


Copyright 1998 Samuel E. Kimpton (All rights reserved)


Painting of the beginning of the action by Samuel Scott (NMM)




CREDITS

Thanks to Dan Nelson and the participants of the Brave Naval Forum.


The Battle of Havana occured on the morning of the First of October in the year 1748. The beligerants comprised two squadrons under the command of Admiral Don Andres Reggio of the Spanish Navy and Admiral Sir Charles Henry Knowles of the Royal Navy respectively. It was the final naval action of the Austrian War of Succession (1740-1748).

the death of Charles VI of Austria, The Holy Roman Emperor, was marked by political turmoil in Europe. A dispute by Frederick the Great of Prussia over the Austrian province of Silesia, to which Prussia had made long standing claims, and his opposition to the succession of the Imperial throne by Charles' daughter, Maria Theresa, precipitated the conflict. France, Spain, Bavaria, and Saxony became subsumed by the conflict in support of Prussia. England, and Holland supported Austria.

With the exception of actions fought between England and Spain in the America's during the War of Jenkin's Ear (1739-1743) naval warfare did not play a significant role in the outcome of the War of Austrian Succession. None the less there were a few individual actions of importance. Those preceding the Battle of Havana include: The rise to prominance of First Baron George Anson of the Royal Navy through his raiding of Spanish posessions off the West Coast of the Americas in 1740 during his circumnavigation of the globe (which ended in 1744). Britain's blockade of Toulon which effectivley paralizing a combined Franco-Spanish fleet based there and also interdicted this ports potential role a base for convoy activity until the Batttle of Toulon on February 11th, 1744. This battle resulted in the retirement of the blockaiding fleet by its commander. A planned French invasion of England was stopped by inclement weather and the Royal Navy in March and April of the same year. On July 25th England was repelled by French Naval forces at the Battle of Negapatam resulting in the capture of Madras by France. The First Battle of Finister occured in May of 1747. The Second Battle of Finister took place during October of the same year and resulted in the loss of the last effective French escort squadron.

in 1748 Admiral Sir Charles Henry Knowles, commander of England's Jamaican squadron left Port Royal in search of Spanish treasure convoys. Admiral Don Andres Reggio, commanding Spains Havana Squadron, left Havana with the intention of protecting Spain's shipping lanes from raids by British forces.

This establishes the background for the Battle of Havana.



TABLE 1
The British "Jamaican" Squadron
Admiral Sir Charles Henry Knowles
SHIP NAME RATE MEASURE* COMMENTS
CANTERBURY 4TH RATE (60) 1,117BM
CORNWALL 2ND RATE (80) 1,350BM
LENOX 3RD RATE (70) 1,128BM SAPHERSON (1) SITES THIS SHIP AS HAVING 56 GUNS
OXFORD 4TH RATE (50) 767BM TUNSTALL (2) SITES THIS SHIP AS A 3RD RATE OF 60 GUNS
STRAFFORD 4TH RATE (50) 1,067BM SAPHERSON (1) SITES THIS SHIP AS HAVING 60 GUNS
TILBURY 4TH RATE (58) 1,124BM SAPHERSON (1)SITES THIS SHIP AS HAVING 60 GUNS
WARWICK 4TH RATE (60) 951BM CAPTURED BY THE FRENCH L'ATLANTE ON MARCH 11, 1756. RECAPTURED BY HMS MINERVA on JANUARY 24, 1761 AND BROKEN UP
* In the case of British vessels of this period the standard for measurement was "builders measure" (abreviated BM). This was more properly a measure of volume and represented the number of tonnes or 2,000 pound casks the hull could carry. a conversion factor of 1.68 may be used to detirmine displacement from BM. This value is derived from official values for these quantities as given for HMS Victory (3). Since the scantlings for vessels of different rates and of different establishments may vary, this conversion factor is admittedly a crude one.


TABLE 2
The Spanish "Havana" Squadron
Admiral Don Andres Reggio
SHIP NAME RATE MEASURE COMMENTS
AFRICA 3RD RATE (70) Tunstall (2) and Sapherson (1) give the number of guns carried at 75
CONQUISTADOR 4TH RATE (64)
DRAGON 4TH RATE (60) Sapherson (1) gives 65 as the number of guns carried
GALGO Frigata (36)
INVENCIBLE 3RD RATE (70) Sapherson (1) gives the number of guns as 75
NUEVO ESPANA 4TH RRATE (60) Sapherson (1) gives the number of guns carried as 65
REAL FAMILIA 4TH RATE (60) Sapherson (1) gives the number of guns carried as 65

The wind was easterly and varied in intensity throughout the day. It diminished significantly around mid-day and picked up again in early afternoon.





Figure 1

On the morning of October 1st, 1748 The Spanish Havana Squadron under the command of Adm Don Andres Reggio was sailing roughly Northward in disorganized formation off of Havana.

Reggio sighted what he believed to be a Spanish convoy bearing North by Northwest of his position heading westerly. With the intention of offering escort to this "squadron" he signalled his command to bear directly on a course to intercept it without evolving into any particular formation (fig. 1 A).

At this time Admiral Sir Charles Henry Knowles, commanding the British Jamaican squadron, sighted a disorganized formation of vessels, Reggio, bearing on a course leading directly towards him. He immediately signalled his own squadron to form line ahead bearing Northward (fig. 1 B). His intention was to put sufficient distance between himself and The Havana Squadron to enable him to gain the weather guage and close.

Reggio realized the convoy he had sighted was in actuality the British Jamaican squadron. His squadron was not in formation and several vessels were to the southwest and astern the main force. He immediately signalled his command to steer to leeward to facilitate the formation of a line ahead (fig 1 A). He thus lost the weather guage.




Figure 2

At about 6:30 Knowles signalled the squadron to to tack in succusseion on a larbord tack bringing them on a bearing of south by east (fig 2 C). This put him in a favorable position to obtain the weather guage.

At aout the same time Reggio formed line ahead and tacked in succession bringing him to almost the same course as Knowles.




Figure 3

At 8:30 Knowles' formation was aproximately three miles northeast and well to windward of the Spanish squadron and gaining on it on a slightly convergent course.

The two trailing ships in his line, HMS Warwick and HMS Canterbury, were roughly a mile to sternward of the rest of the British line. This is atributed to the slowness of HMS Warwick which was the leader of the two stragglers.

In the mean time Reggio's squadron was in good order, standing on easy sail and waiting to recieve the British attack.R>





Figure 4

Knowles gave the signal for the ships in his line to "lead large" or edge in to close with the Spanish on a more convergent course (fig 4 E). The action taken by the leading ships in reponse to this is uncertain but the captains of the trailing three ships interpreted the signal as intended for them and brought their ships about to comply (fig 4 F).

In time the error was corrected by Knowles but not in time to signal Canterbury to change position in line with Warwick. This was Knowles' intention and would have helped to dress his line somewhat. He shortened sail on board his flagship, HMS Cornwall, causing the lead ships in the line to increase there distance before also bringing to (fig 4 G).

Reggio changed his position in the Spanish line from fourth to third and signalled the Galgo (36) to fall out.

Knowles also changed his position from third to fourth in his line and signalled HMS Oxford to drop out and to act as reserve.


At about 12:00 the wind subsided to an average of less than two knots. It picked up again in the early afternoon and had then shifted slightly north easterly (fig 5).




Figure 5

With the afternoon change in the wind the two leading ships in Knowles' line drifted withing long range of Reggio's center which then opened fire on them. Knowles had issued standing orders to his entire command to hold their fire. Regardless of this fact the lead ships returned the fire of the Spanish.

Knowles responded to this development by giving the signal for his leading ship to "lead large and engage" the Spanish squadron.

HMS Tilbury, the lead vessel, did not comply with the order. Presumably her captain did not see it or could not make it out. Instead She continued on her gradually converging course with the Spanish and continued to fire at long range.

When the captain of HMS Strafford, which was second in the British line, detirmined that Tilbury was not going to follow Knowles' instruction he set a direct course Reggio's line. HMS Warwick again interpreted Knowles' signal as meant for her. Due to the slowness of Warwick's progress Knowles ordered Canterbury to pass her at 3:00 It was not until 4:00 that the Knowles' flagship HMS Cornwall, and HMS Lenox entered the engagement.

At 4:30 the Spanish "navio" Conquistador struck to HMS Strafford. Strafford failed to send any boats to take posession of her. Reggio recognized this fact and forced Conquistador to rehoist her colors by firing on her from his flagship; The Africa. Conquistador again struck her colors to Knowles in HMS Cornwall. At about this time MHS Canterbury entered the action. Her captain later claimed that Conquistador had struck to her subsequent to her entrance into the battle. This angered Knowles.

Knowles, with four ships of the line, managed to drive Reggio out of the line and the remainder of the Spanish squadron followed him. Running before the wind to the west.

Knowles gave the signal for his squadron to break line and give general chase to the enemy. Strafford again led in this as HMS Cornwall was slowed down by the loss of her her fore topsail. The chase continued though into the night and was terminated at about 10:00. (4) Of Regio's Squadron, four ships returned to Havana harbor. Conquistador had been captured during the action. Africa, the flagship, retreated into a small bay and was burned the following day. Invencible had suffered heavy damage and avoided capture by a very narrow margin.

The Battle of Havana demonstrates the importance of tactical cohesion within a unit. Due to a lack of such cohesion Knowles squadron was not able to come to a close engagement quickly enough. If Regio had so desired he could have easliy evaded the British squadron by retiring to the west. The British squadron also fired on the Spanish too soon at too great a range.

Knowles villification of the Captians under his command, excepting David Brodie of the Strafford and Edward Clark of the Canterbury, after this action resulted in there petitioning the Admiralty for his court martial. He had managed to force and win the battle and was only reprimanded as a result of the proceedings. Although Knowles was to suffer a mixed reputation as a result the Battle of Havana He eventually attained the rank of admiral in 1758. (5)

Regio was Court martialed by Spanish Naval authorities on 30 seperate counts dealing with virtually every aspect of the battle and with the burning of the Africa. Even the British historian Tunstall (6) conceeded that if Knowles had encountered a French rather than a Spanish squadron the outcome of the battle might have been far different.





BIBLIOGRAPHY


Bruce, Anthony and Cogar, William (1998): AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NAVAL HISTORY
c. 1998 Anthony Bruce, Checkmark Books, New York, NY

Colledge, J.J. (1969): SHIPS OF THE ROYAL NAVY; THE COMPLETE RECORD OF ALL THE FIGHTING SHIPS OF THE ROYAL NAVY FROM THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY TO THE PRESENT
c. 1969, 1987 J.J. Colledge, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD

Harbron, John D. (1988): TRAFALGAR AND THE SPANISH NAVY
c.1988John D. Harbron, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD

Sapherson (19 )

Tunstall, brian (1990): NAVAL WARFARE IN THE AGE OF SAIL; THE EVOLUTION OF FIGHTING TACTICS 1650-1815
c.1990 Brian Tunstall, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD



REFERENCES AND FOOTNOTES


1. Sapherson(19 ) Navy List. The armament carried by a ship could, and often did, vary from its rated compliment of guns. Santisma Trinidad, for example, carried 140 guns at Trafalgar although it was rated at 130. Similarly HMS Victory carried 104 guns thus exceeding it's compliment by 4. The greatest discrepancy between the rating for a ship as given in the official records (College (3)) and the figures given by Sapherson is in the case of the Lenox.

2. Tunstall(1990) Page.102 This figure is also given by Sapherson (1).

3. According to Colledge(1969) the measure of HMS Victory after here 1801 rebuild is listed as being 2,164BM. Harbron (1988) sites her displacement as given by "one of the official guidebooks" for HMS Victory at 3,500 tons. A conversion factor of 1.678871415 is derived by deviding the displacement tonnage by the builders measure for this ship i.e. 3,500/2,162=1.678871415. For purposes of brevity this figure is rounded off to 1.68 in the text.

4. This was a rare occurance for the time. Especially in Cuban waters as The islands lee shores were frought with reefs and other hazards.

5. Tunstall (1990) p. 103

6. Bruce and Cogar (1998) p. 213



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