Blas de Lezo

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Blas de Lezo
Don Blas de Lezo -Museo Naval-.jpg
Portrait of Lezo, Museo Naval de Madrid
Birth nameBlas de Lezo y Olavarrieta
Born(1689-02-03)February 3, 1689
Pasajes, Guipúzcoa, Spain
DiedSeptember 7, 1741(1741-09-07) (aged 52)
Cartagena de Indias, New Granada
Allegiance Bandera de Espana 1701-1760.svg Kingdom of Spain
Service/branch Royal Spanish Navy
Years of service1704–1741
Rank Admiral
Battles/wars War of the Spanish Succession

Spanish-Algerian War

War of the Austrian Succession

Admiral Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta (3 February 1689 – 7 September 1741) was a Spanish navy officer best remembered for the Battle of Cartagena de Indias (1741) in modern-day Colombia, where Spanish imperial forces under his command decisively defeated a large British invasion fleet under Admiral Edward Vernon.

Battle of Cartagena de Indias

The Battle of Cartagena de Indias took place during the 1739 to 1748 War of Jenkins' Ear between Spain and Britain. The result of long-standing commercial tensions, the war was primarily fought in the Caribbean; the British tried to capture key Spanish ports in the region, including Porto Bello and Chagres, in Panama, Havana and Cartagena de Indias, in present-day Colombia.

Colombia Country in South America

Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia, is a country largely situated in the north of South America, with land, and territories in North America. Colombia is bounded on the north by the Caribbean Sea, the northwest by Panama, the south by both Ecuador and Peru, the east by Venezuela, the southeast by Brazil and the west by the Pacific. It comprises thirty-two departments, with the capital in Bogotá.

Viceroyalty of New Granada Viceroyalty of the Spanish Empire

The Viceroyalty of New Granada was the name given on 27 May 1717, to the jurisdiction of the Spanish Empire in northern South America, corresponding to modern Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. The territory corresponding to Panama was incorporated later in 1739, and the provinces of Venezuela were separated from the Viceroyalty and assigned to the Captaincy General of Venezuela in 1777. In addition to these core areas, the territory of the Viceroyalty of New Granada included Guyana, southwestern Suriname, parts of northwestern Brazil, and northern Peru.


Throughout his naval career, Lezo sustained many severe wounds; he lost his left eye, left hand, complete mobility of the right arm, caught typhoid fever and had his left leg amputated in situ after being hit by the projectile of a cannon. [1] He was known as Captain Pegleg and Half-man. There is ample documented evidence in medical records of the wounds he sustained. He perceived his wounds and physical limitations as medals, he refused to wear an eye patch to hide his blind eye. Wearing his past battles history on his flesh won the respect of his peers and soldiers . [2]

Typhoid fever Bacterial infection due to a specific type of Salmonella

Typhoid fever, also known simply as typhoid, is a bacterial infection due to a specific type of Salmonella that causes symptoms. Symptoms may vary from mild to severe, and usually begin 6 to 30 days after exposure. Often there is a gradual onset of a high fever over several days. This is commonly accompanied by weakness, abdominal pain, constipation, headaches, and mild vomiting. Some people develop a skin rash with rose colored spots. In severe cases, people may experience confusion. Without treatment, symptoms may last weeks or months. Diarrhea is uncommon. Other people may carry the bacterium without being affected; however, they are still able to spread the disease to others. Typhoid fever is a type of enteric fever, along with paratyphoid fever.

In situ is a Latin phrase that translates literally to "on site" or "in position." It can mean "locally", "on site", "on the premises", or "in place" to describe where an event takes place and is used in many different contexts. For example, in fields such as physics, geology, chemistry, or biology, in situ may describe the way a measurement is taken, that is, in the same place the phenomenon is occurring without isolating it from other systems or altering the original conditions of the test.

A projectile is any object thrown into space by the exertion of a force. Although any object in motion through space may be called a projectile, the term more commonly refers to a ranged weapon. Mathematical equations of motion are used to analyze projectile trajectory. An object projected at an angle to the horizontal has both the vertical and horizontal components of velocity. The vertical component of the velocity on the y-axis given as Vy=USin(teta) while the horizontal component of the velocity Vx=UCos(teta). There are various terms used in projectiles at specific angle teta 1. Time to reach maximum height. It is symbolized as (t), which is the time taken for the projectile to reach the maximum height from the plane of projection. Mathematically, it is give as t=USin(teta)/g Where g=acceleration due to gravity(app 10m/s²) U= initial velocity (m/s) teta= angle made by the projectile with the horizontal axis.

Lezo's actions at Cartagena de Indias consolidated his legacy as one of the most heroic figures in the history of Spain and he has thus been promoted as one of the greatest strategists in naval history. [3] [4]


Early missions and injuries

Born in Pasajes (by then still part of San Sebastián), in the Basque Province of Guipúzcoa in Spain, Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta commenced his naval career in the French navy in 1701 as a midshipman. In 1704 he fought in the War of the Spanish Succession as a crew member in the Franco-Spanish fleet which fought the combined forces of Great Britain and the Netherlands at the indecisive Battle of Vélez Málaga. At this time, his left leg was hit by cannon-shot and was later amputated under the knee. [5] Promoted to ensign, he was present at the relief of Peñíscola, Spain, and Palermo in Sicily; his service in these and other actions resulted in his promotion to ship lieutenant. Participating in the 1707 defence of the French naval base of Toulon cost him his left eye. In 1711 he served in the Spanish Navy under the orders of Andrés de Pez. In 1713 he was promoted to captain. In 1714 he lost use of his right arm in the Siege of Barcelona. Later in this campaign, his ship captured the Stanhope commanded by John Combes, sometimes claimed to be a 70-gun but actually just a 20-gun merchantman. [6]

San Sebastián City in the Basque Autonomous Community, Spain

San Sebastián or Donostia is a coastal city and municipality located in the Basque Autonomous Community, Spain. It lies on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, 20 km from the French border. The capital city of Gipuzkoa, the municipality's population is 186,095 as of 2015, with its metropolitan area reaching 436,500 in 2010. Locals call themselves donostiarra (singular), both in Spanish and Basque.

A midshipman is an officer of the junior-most rank, in the Royal Navy, United States Navy, and many Commonwealth navies. Commonwealth countries which use the rank include Canada, Australia, Bangladesh, Namibia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Kenya.

War of the Spanish Succession 18th-century conflict in Europe

The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) was a European conflict of the early 18th century, triggered by the death of the childless Charles II of Spain in November 1700. His closest heirs were members of the Austrian Habsburg and French Bourbon families; acquisition of an undivided Spanish Empire by either threatened the European balance of power and thus involved the other leading powers. Related conflicts include Rákóczi's War of Independence in Hungary, the Camisard revolt in Southern France, Queen Anne's War in North America, and minor struggles in Colonial India. The 1700-1721 Great Northern War is viewed as connected but separate.

Thus, by age 25 or 27, depending on the sources, de Lezo had lost his left eye, his left leg below the knee, and the use of his right arm. [7] [8] Modern sources often focus on these salient features and refer to Lezo with nicknames such as "Patapalo" (Pegleg) and "Mediohombre" (Half-man). There is no contemporary proof that these (or others) were actually used during Lezo's lifetime.

A pegleg is a prosthesis, or artificial limb, fitted to the remaining stump of a human leg. Its use dates to antiquity.

A 19th-century depiction of Blas de Lezo's frigate towing its prize, the Stanhope (ca. 1710) CombateDeUnFragataEspanolaConElNavioBritanicoStanhopeHacia1710.jpg
A 19th-century depiction of Blas de Lezo's frigate towing its prize, the Stanhope (ca. 1710)

First posting to the Americas

Lezo served in the Pacific in 1720–1728. Although it has been claimed that he took many prizes during this period, documentary evidence indicates that in fact he took only two French frigates and not in the Pacific but in the Atlantic. He reached Callao with them in January 1720 although he had left Spain in 1716 as second-in-command of the Nuestra Señora del Carmen or Lanfranco as part of the expedition commanded by Juan Nicolás de Martinet. He was separated from the expedition while attempting to sail past Cape Horn. The prizes attributed to Lezo were taken by Martinet, who reached Callao in June 1717 and left the Pacific in 1719 before Lezo's arrival. [9] Lezo married in Peru in 1725.

Peru Republic in South America

Peru, officially the Republic of Peru, is a country in western South America. It is bordered in the north by Ecuador and Colombia, in the east by Brazil, in the southeast by Bolivia, in the south by Chile, and in the west by the Pacific Ocean. Peru is a megadiverse country with habitats ranging from the arid plains of the Pacific coastal region in the west to the peaks of the Andes mountains vertically extending from the north to the southeast of the country to the tropical Amazon Basin rainforest in the east with the Amazon river.

Return to the Mediterranean

In 1730 he returned to Spain and was promoted to chief of the Mediterranean Fleet; with this force he went to the Republic of Genoa to enforce the payment of two million pesos owed to Spain that had been retained in the Bank of San Jorge. Deeming the honour of the Spanish flag to be at stake, Blas de Lezo threatened the city with bombardment.

In 1732, on board the Santiago, he and José Carrillo de Albornoz commanded the enormous expedition to Oran and Mers-el-Kébir with more than 300 ships and around 28,000 troops, comprising infantry, cavalry and artillery. In the Battle of Aïn-el-Turk they recaptured the cities lost to the Ottoman Empire in 1708. After the defeat, Bey Abu l-Hasan Ali I managed to reunite his troops and surrounded the city of Oran. Lezo returned to its aid with six ships and 5,000 men and managed to drive off the Algerian pirate after a hard fight. Dissatisfied with this he took his 60-gun flagship into the corsair's refuge of Mostaganem Bay, a bastion defended by two forts and 4,000 Moors. He inflicted heavy damage on the forts and town. In the following months he established a naval blockade, preventing the Algerians from receiving reinforcements from Istanbul, thereby gaining valuable time for the securing of Oran's defense, until an epidemic forced him to return to Cádiz.

General Commander and Battle of Cartagena de Indias

In 1734 the king promoted him to Lieutenant General of the Navy. He returned to South America with the ships Fuerte and Conquistador in 1737 as General Commander of the Spanish fleet stationed at Cartagena de Indias, in modern-day Colombia. He took up his new post just prior to the conflict between Great Britain and Spain that would become known as the War of Jenkins' Ear and that would later be subsumed into the War of Austrian Succession.

Monument to Lezo in Columbus Square, Madrid Blas de Lezo Madrid 2014 03.jpg
Monument to Lezo in Columbus Square, Madrid

In the early stages of the conflict, the British Admiral Edward Vernon undertook attacks on various Spanish outposts in America. One early victory involved the capture of Portobelo (Panama), the dismantling of its fortifications and the withdrawal of British forces having left the place defenceless.

Statue of Blas de Lezo in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia 61 - Carthagene - Decembre 2008.jpg
Statue of Blas de Lezo in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

Admiral Vernon tested Cartagena de Indias on three separate occasions. Both Vernon and Edward Trelawny, British governor of Jamaica, considered the Spanish gold shipping port to be a prime objective. The first attempt, in March 1740, was essentially a reconnaissance in force by a squadron including ships of the line, two fire ships, three bomb vessels, and transport ships. Vernon's intention was to gather information on topography and troop strength and to provoke a response that might give him a better idea of the defensive capabilities of the Spanish.

In May, Vernon returned to Cartagena de Indias in charge of 13 warships, with the intention of probing the city's defences.

The actual attack on Cartagena de Indias took place on March 13-May 20, 1741. The British concentrated a fleet consisting of 196 ships, including 2,620 artillery pieces and more. There were 10,000 soldiers, 12,600 sailors, 1,000 Jamaican slaves and 4,000 recruits from Virginia. The defences of Cartagena de Indias comprised between 3,000 and 6,000 combatants, including regular troops, militia, Indian archers and the crews of six Spanish warships. Blas de Lezo's advantages consisted of a formidable primary fortress and numerous secondary fortifications.

On the evening of April 19, the British mounted an assault in force upon San Felipe. Three columns of grenadiers supported by Jamaicans and several British companies moved under cover of darkness, with the aid of an intense naval bombardment. The British fought their way to the base of the fort's ramparts but were unable to overcome the defence and withdrew. After comprehensively destroying the forts in their possession, the British began an orderly withdrawal back to Jamaica.

Following the news of the disaster Robert Walpole's government soon collapsed. [10] Spain retained control over its most strategically important colonies, including the vitally crucial port in the Caribbean that helped secure the defense of the Spanish Main and its trans-Atlantic trade with Spain.

News of Britain's defeat reached Europe at the end of June, 1741 and had immense repercussions. It caused George II of Great Britain, who had been acting as mediator between Frederick the Great of Prussia and Maria Theresa supporting Austria over Prussian seizure of Silesia in December 1740, to withdraw Britain's guarantees of armed support for the Pragmatic Sanction. That encouraged France and Spain, the Bourbon allies, revealed to also be allied with Prussia, to move militarily against a now isolated Austria. [11] A greater and wider war, the War of the Austrian Succession, now began.

Death and blame

Lezo died four months after the siege was raised and a contemporary source indicates that the cause of death was epidemic typhus: "unas calenturas, que en breves días se le declaró tabardillo". [12] The site of his grave is unknown. [13]

He was later honoured for his part in the siege of Cartagena de Indias as a square and an avenue in the city of Cartagena are named after him. A modern statue stands in front of the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. In 2011, during a conference on Blas de Lezo's place in history and honouring the 270th anniversary of Cartagena de Indias' defence, a plaque was placed on the wall at the Plaza de los Coches, by the Clock Tower portal. [14] And in November 2014, a 35,000 kilo statue of Lezo was erected in Madrid's Plaza Colón . [15]


Blas de Lezo (F-103) in Tallinn Blas de Lezo (F-103) in Tallinn.JPG
Blas de Lezo (F-103) in Tallinn

Several Spanish warships have been named Blas de Lezo in his honour, including:

The Colombian Navy also had a ship named after Blas de Lezo:

In 2013 the Naval Museum of Madrid organised an exhibition on Blas de Lezo, including portraits, uniforms and layouts of battle plans. [17]

Recent publications

Unknown oil on canvas of Blas de Lezo. Blas de Lezo unknown author.jpg
Unknown oil on canvas of Blas de Lezo.

Francisco Hernando Muñoz Atuesta, compiler of "Diarios de ofensa y defensa" has shown that it has "traditionally been affirmed that the English King forbade any writing on the failure of his armed forces at Cartagena de Indias, which is absolutely false". There was a spate of impressionistic and highly inaccurate novels following the publication by the Colombian historian Pablo Victoria of his fictional biography of Lezo:


Coat of arms of Blas de Lezo
Greater coat of arms of Blas de Lezo.svg
Coronet of a Marquess (posthumously bestowed)
Quartered shield: first and fourth, gules, a star or; Second and third, or, a wolf sable
The Order of the Holy Spirit collar
The Order of the Golden Fleece collar

See also

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  1. "Pérez-Piqueras, Antonio: Blas de Lezo, sus cirujanos y el nacimiento de la cirugía española moderna (2015)" (PDF). Complutense University of Madrid.
  2. Henao, Jesús María; Arrubla, Gerardo. Historia de Colombia para la Enseñanza Secundaria (Bogotá, 1920) "...el famoso General de los galeones don Blas de Lezo, marino vascongado, quien en combates anteriores, en Málaga, Tolón y Barcelona había perdido la pierna izquierda, el ojo izquierdo y el brazo derecho a la edad de 25 años; este medio hombre contribuyó poderosamente al triunfo que obtuvieron las armas castellanas."
  3. "Lezo, el héroe español mas valiente de la historia". Intereconomía .
  4. Larrie D. Ferreiro, Measure of the Earth: The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our World, (Basic Books, 2011), 191.
  5. Fernández de Navarrete, Francisco (1848). Colección de opúsculos, volume 1. Imprenta de la viuda de Calero. p. 261.
  6. Beltrán, Mariela; Aguado, Carolina (18 November 2014). "Blas de Lezo, una revisión histórica". Blogs ABC. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  7. Ruiz Mantilla, Jesús (10 August 2013). "Cojo, tuerto y manco contra los ingleses". El País. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  8. Villatoro, Manuel (25 July 2014). "Blas de Lezo: el almirante español cojo, manco y tuerto que venció a Inglaterra". ABC. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  9. "Blas de Lezo, una revisión histórica | Espejo de navegantes". 18 November 2014. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  10. For a good account of the mood of London and Vernon's enmity to Walpole see: Ford, Douglas. Admiral Vernon and the Navy: A Memoir and Vindication London, MCMVII, pp. 141–45,"The debate in Parliament was one the most exciting and memorable ever heard...the climax lay in Walpole's alleged misconduct in relation to the war, and that, in turn, practically meant his failure to give proper support to Admiral Vernon....But Walpole's victory was of the sort that presages ultimate defeat."; p. 147, "In January, 1742, Pulteney again marshalled his forces, and moved for the appointment of a committee to examine papers capable of affording evidence as to the conduct of the war with Spain." Walpole would resign the first week of February, 1742.
  11. Browning, Reed. The War of the Austrian Succession, New York, 1993 ISBN   0-312-12561-5, pp. 58–66, " 'now America must be fought for in Europe', Britain's Lord Hardwicke. If Britain could not prevail where it could muster all its maritime advantages, what fatality might await it when it engaged-as now it must-under severe disadvantages?".
  12. Letter from Rodrigo Torres to Zenón de Somodevilla, Marqués de la Ensenada, 28 October 1741.
  13. Meisel Ujueta, Alfonso (1982). Blas de Lezo:vida legendaria del marino Vasco. Barranquilla, Colombia: Litografía Dovel. p. 1982.
  14. Medallas, Mapas y Grabados: La Iconografía de la Defensa de Cartagena" Razon Cartografica, in Spanish
  15. "Blas de Lezo "aterriza" en la plaza de Colón de Madrid". 12 November 2014. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  16. "Destituido el comandante de una fragata que tocó fondo | Edición impresa | EL PAÍS". 6 October 2007. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  17. "相続放棄の問題は弁護士にお任せ!|期限内にパパっとスピード解決". Archived from the original on 10 March 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2016.