Battle of Havana

Knowle's Action

12th October 1748
Part of : War of the Austrian Succession (1740 - 1748)
Previous action : Action of 1748/01/31 31st January 1748



The Spanish Line, Don Andres Reggio
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Invencible (70) 74Juan Bautista Bonet, Benito María de Spínola y Mora, Antonio Marroquin
Conquistador (64) 64Tomas de San Just Captured
África (70) 70 Fleet Flagship
Dragon (64) 64Manuel de Paz
Nueva Espanna (60) 70Gutierra de Hevia y Valdes, Francisco Varela
Real Familia (60) 60Marcos Forestal
Not in the Line
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Galga (36) 36Pedro de Garicochea
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Galga (50) 54Francisco Jose de Ovando y Solis, Pedro de Garaicoechea

Great Britain

The British Line, Charles Henry Knowles
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Tilbury (58) 58Charles Powlet
Strafford (60) 58 
Cornwall (80) 80Polycarpus TaylorFleet Flagship
Lennox (70) 70Charles Holmes
Warwick (60) 60Robert Erskine, Thomas Innes
Canterbury (58) 58Edward Clarke
Not in the Line
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Oxford (50) 50Smith Callis, Edmund Toll

Notes on Action

Description of the ActionTRN2

Knowles was informed that the Spanish Plate fleet was expected at Havana from Vera Crux. He therefore detached Captain Holmes, in the Lennox, to convoy a great body of trade, which had been collecting to sail for England; and himself went to cruise off the Tortuga Banks in search of the enemy. The convoy under Holmes sailed from Jamaica on August 25th; and, being prevented from getting through the Windward Passage, had to bear away for the Gulf of Florida. On September 29th it sighted seven large ships, which were presently recognised to be Spanish men-of-war. Holmes signalled the convoy to disperse and to look to its own safety, while he endeavoured to draw the attention of the enemy to his own ship; and, knowing where the Rear-Admiral was cruising at the time, he succeeded, under press of sail, in joining him on the following morning, when he reported what had occurred. Knowles instantly went in quest of the Spaniards, and sighted them early in the morning of October 1st between Tortuga and Havana.

The Spaniards at once formed a line; yet the British, though they had the advantage of the wind, edged down only very gradually, and it was 2 o'clock before either side fired. The distance was then too great for much damage to be done, but at about 2.30 P.M., the two squadrons being nearer, a brisk action was begun. The Spaniards seem to have been in good order and close together, but the Warwick and Canterbury were far astern of station, so that for nearly two hours the British had but four ships opposed to six of the Spanish. During this time the Cornwall engaged the Africa at pistol range, and was so gallantly received that in half an hour she was obliged to fall astern and quit the line, having lost her main-topmast and received other damage to her rigging. Soon afterwards the Conquistador, also much damaged aloft, dropped astern of her consorts and fell nearly where the Cornwall lay refitting. Knowles lost no time in attacking her, and quickly killed her captain; but that officer's successor fought the ship bravely until she had thrice been set on fire by shells from the eight cohorns, which the Cornwall, unlike most of her class, carried. Not until then did he surrender. The Lennox had taken the Cornwall's place and had warmly engaged the Africa; but other Spanish ships succoured their admiral, and Captain Holmes was hard pressed for about an hour until he was relieved by the Warwick and Canterbury. The action then became general and fierce, and so continued until about 8 P.M., when the Spanish drew off towards Havana, closely pursued. All, however, escaped except the Conquistador. The Africa, owing to her damaged condition, had to anchor before she reached port; and, being discovered by the British two days after the action, was burnt by the Spaniards to save her from capture. The enemy lost 86 killed and 197 wounded; the British had 59 killed and 120 wounded. But whilst the Spaniards had several officers of rank included in each category the British had none in either.

Knowles continued to look out for the Plate fleet, but in vain. In the course of time he learnt from a prize that the preliminaries of peace had been concluded and that hostilities were to cease, whereupon he returned to Jamaica. When he went home to England he complained of Holmes for having left the convoy, oblivious of the fact that, had Holmes not rejoined the flag, the victory off Havana could not have been gained. Holmes was most honourably acquitted. On the other hand, some of the captains of the squadron complained of the conduct of the Rear-Admiral, who was in consequence tried on board the Charlotte yacht, at Deptford, by a court-martial which sat from the llth to the 20th December, 1749. It appeared that while Rear-Admiral Knowles was standing for the Spanish fleet he might, by a different disposition of his squadron, have begun the attack simultaneously with six ships, and might have begun it earlier in the day. It appeared too, that, owing to the method which he pursued, he had begun to attack with only four ships. Upon these points the court condemned him; and it was also of the opinion that, in order properly to conduct and direct the operations of his command, he ought to have shifted his flag from the Cornwall to some other vessel, after the former had been disabled. For the rest, the proceedings amply vindicated the Rear-Admiral's personal courage. The sentence was thus worded :

"The court unanimously agree that Rear-Admiral Knowles falls under part of the 14th Article of War, being guilty of negligence, and also under the 23rd Article. The court therefore unanimously adjudge him to be reprimanded for not bringing up the squadron in closer order than he did, and for not beginning the attack with so great a force as he might have done; and also for not shifting his flag, on the Cornwall’s being disabled."


  • The Invencible appears to have been commanded directly by Benito Spínola.

  • Galga was a privateer frigate that was cooperating with the royal squadron.

  • The Oxford and the Galga were held in reserve and were not part of the line of battle.


TRN2 The Royal Navy : a history from the earliest times to the present Vol IIWilliam Laid ClowesDigital Book

Previous comments on this page

Posted by Albert Parker on Tuesday 13th of August 2013 03:49

The best information I have so far from Spanish sources about the commanding officers of the Spanish ships is as follows (rank might have been capitán de navío [ship of the line captain] or capitán de fragata [frigate captain], except where specified):
Invencible--Frig.-Capt. Antonio Marroquin; Conquistador--Tomás de San Justo†; África--Frig.-Capt. Juan Antonio de Colina; Dragón--Manuel de la Paz; Nueva España--Fernando Varela; Real Familia--Marcos Forrestal
I might be find more definitive information about ranks later.
Note that while Conquistador was captured, África had to be burned to prevent capture a few days after the action; only four of the Spanish ships of the line made it back to Havana.
Invencible was the flagship of Lieutenant-General of the Navy [teniente general de la Armada] Benito Maria Spinola, Marquis of Spinola. Andrés Reggio y Brachiforte also held the rank of lieutenant-general and was, of course, senior in that rank to Spinola.

Posted by Albert Parker on Tuesday 13th of August 2013 03:40

Invencible was a 70, not a 74. The Spanish ships other than África and Invencible were all rated by the Spanish at 60 guns.

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