The Cruise of the Speedy – c1840
- March 1979
- Dundonald, Admiral Lord
- Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- Originally published in the Naval Historical Review edition (all rights reserved)
The Gamo’s loss was Captain de Torres – the boatswain – and thirteen seamen killed, together with forty-one wounded; her casualties thus exceeding the whole number of officers and crew on board the Speedy.
Some time after the surrender of the Gamo, and when we were in quiet possession, the officer who had succeeded the deceased Captain Don Francisco de Torres not in command, but in rank, applied to me for a certificate that he had done his duty during the action, whereupon he received from me a certificate that he had ‘conducted himself like a true Spaniard‘, with which Document he appeared highly gratified, and I had afterwards the satisfaction of learning that it procured him further promotion in the Spanish service!
Shortly before boarding an incident occurred which, by those who had never been placed in similar circumstances, may be thought too absurd for notice. Knowing that the final struggle would be a desperate one, and calculating on the superstitious wonder which forms an element in the Spanish character, a portion of our crew were ordered to blacken their faces, and what with this and the excitement of combat, more ferocious looking objects could scarcely be imagined. The fellows thus disguised were directed to board by the head, and the effect produced was precisely that calculated on.
The greater portion of the Spaniard’s crew was prepared to repel boarders in that direction, but stood for a few moments as it were transfixed to the deck by the apparition of so many diabolical looking figures emerging from the white smoke of the bow guns; whilst our other men, who boarded by the waist, rushed on them from behind, before they could recover from their surprise at the unexpected phenomenon.
In difficult or doubtful attacks by sea – and the odds of 50 men to 320 comes within this description – no device can be too minute, even if apparently absurd, provided it has the effect of diverting the enemy’s attention whilst you are concentrating your own.
In this, and other successes against odds, I have no hesitation in saying that success in no slight degree depends on out-of-the-way devices, which the enemy not suspecting, were in some measure thrown off their guard.
The subjoined tabular view of the respective force of the two vessels will best show the nature of the contest:
|Main-deck guns||Twenty-two long 12-pounders||Fourteen 4-pounders|
|Quarter-deck||Eight long 8-pounders and
two 24-pounder carronades
|No. of crew||319||54|
|Broadside weight||190 lbs.||28 lbs.|
|Tonnage||600 and upwards||158|
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