1762 - British expedition against Havana – Preparations and Arrival

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1762 - British expedition against Cuba >> 1762 - British expedition against Havana – Preparations and Arrival

The campaign lasted from March to August 1762. This article describes the first phase of the campaign from January to June 5, 1762.

Description

Spanish preparations

Before involving his country in the conflict raging in Europe and across the world, the King Charles III of Spain had made provisions to defend the Spanish colonies against the British Navy. For the defence of Cuba, he had appointed Juan de Prado as commander-in-chief.

In February 1761, de Prado arrived at Havana and began fortifications works to strengthen the city. He was assisted by José Crell as Commander of artillery and Balthazar Ricaud as Chief engineer.

In June 1761, a flotilla of 7 ships of the line under the command of Admiral Guiterre de Hevia arrived at Havana. It transported two regular infantry battalions: II./España and II./Aragón totalling some 1,100 men. With these reinforcements, the garrison of Havana now numbered 2,400 regulars and consisted of:

For its part, the Spanish fleet amounted to 12 ships of the line manned by 5,500 sailors, gunners, and carrying 750 men of the Cuerpo de Batallones de Marina.

Overall, the theoretical strength of the entire Spanish forces defending the island of Cuba totalled about 27,610 men:

  • Regulars (13,610 men)
    • Dragoons (810 men)
    • Infantry (3,500 men)
    • Artillery (300 men)
    • Sailors and Marines (9,000)
  • Militia and freed slaves (14,000)

Map of the Greater Antilles

Map of the Greater Antilles with the lines of operations against Havana in 1762 - Source: England in the Seven Years' War – A Study in Combined Strategy, Vol II by Julian. S. Corbett

British preparations

By proclamation dated January 2 1762, Great Britain declared war to Spain, and, by proclamation of January 16, Spain declared war to Great Britain. It was early resolved to deal with Spain in the most vigorous and uncompromising manner. A large body of British troops had already been ordered from North America to the West Indies for the expedition against Dominica and the expedition against Martinique who led to the reduction of the French Caribbean Islands. The British Ministry determined that these troops should be reinforced from Great Britain, and that, after the newly conquered islands should have been properly garrisoned, an expedition should proceed to the attack of Havana. The command of the army assigned for this service was given to Lieutenant-general George Keppel, Third Earl of Albemarle. He was seconded by Lieutenant-general George Elliot, better known as Lord Heathfield the famous defender of Gibraltar. He had taken part in the expedition against Cherbourg and Saint-Malo in 1758 and had commanded a regiment in Germany where Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick gained a high opinion of him. The two divisional generals were La Fausille and Albemarle's younger brother, William Keppel. Colonel Guy Carleton was appointed quarter-master-general. He had been Wolfe's favourite officer and had also assumed the successful command of a brigade at Belleisle. The command of the squadron was given to Vice-Admiral Sir George Pocock, with, as his second, Commodore A. Keppel, the Earl of Albemarle's brother. This plan also called for Amherst to embark 4,000 men from America to join Keppel and to assemble another force of 8,000 men for an attack on Louisiana. , Colville had to arrange for their transport and escort to Cape St. Nicholas, where they were to meet Pocock, or to Havana if he was not there.

On the death of Rear-admiral Holmes, Sir James Douglas had been appointed to the command at Jamaica while Rear-admiral Rodney still commanded on the Leeward Islands' station.

During the month of February, British troops embarked at Spithead, they consisted of:

On March 5, a month later than it should have been, the British expedition sailed from Spithead, England, with 7 ships of the line and 4,365 men aboard 64 transports.

On March 26, as Rodney was still preparing to sail for Cape St. Nicolas, the Richmond (32) arrived from England with orders for him and General Monckton (who had already made his arrangements for the capture of Tobago) to postpone further operations pending the appearance of Admiral Sir George Pocock, who had been commissioned to conduct a secret expedition on an important scale. This did not prevent Rodney from sending Sir James Douglas, with 10 sail of the line, to the Jamaica station with directions to bring Forrest's squadron thence as soon as possible, and to join Pocock. Douglas' squadron consisted of:

Rodney also sent Captain Swanton, with a division, to cruise off the Spanish Main, and himself went to Saint-Pierre, Martinique, sending a frigate to meet Pocock at Barbados.

On the Jamaica station Captain Forrest was, of course, superseded by the arrival of Sir James Douglas, who despatched a squadron under Captain Augustus John Hervey to blockade M. de Blénac at Cape François, until the whole Jamaica squadron should be ready to join Pocock at Cape St. Nicolas. Hervey's squadron consisted of:

On April 20, 45 days out, but well up to time, Sir George Pocock reached Barbados at the head of the amphibious expedition on board the Namur (90) with 4 other ships of the line, 30 transports, and nearly as many store-ships. Here he learnt of the capture of Martinique, and that Rodney, according to instructions, had appointed Cas des Navires Bay as the best point for the rendezvous. Stores were also ready, which enabled him to complete to six months victuals.

On April 24, Pocock, having taken stores and victuals on board, sailed at once from Barbados to join Rodney.

On April 25, Pocock's expedition reached Cas des Navires Bay near Fort Royal on the recently conquered island of Martinique. Major-General Robert Monckton's transports were all there ready to sail with the troops on board. The land forces of the expedition now consisted of:

However, Rodney's fleet was not at the rendezvous and Pocock's feelings may easily be imagined. As instructed by his secret orders, he had of course expected to find Rodney's whole squadron, with a special division of 10 ships of the line, under Swanton, ready to join his flag. What he did find was nothing but Rodney's own flagship, the Marlborough (68), with 3 other ships of the line, and 3 fifty-guns whose condition demanded their being sent home to refit with the next convoy. It was no more than the security of the island required, and Pocock was aghast. To add to his vexation, Rodney sent off word that he was down with fever at Saint-Pierre and could not come off to pay his respects. The anger of the new commander-in-chief was pardonable; for, in consequence of what Rodney had done, he found himself confronted with a situation which must have looked almost desperate. He was informed that there were 20 Spanish ships of the line in Havana and that the Brest squadron had got into Cap François, but whether it was still there or not was unknown. Pocock had therefore to conduct a combined expedition over an uncommanded sea actually in the face of two fleets, with the least of which he was barely equal.

To add to Pocock's problems, some 50 sail and 2 ships the line of the outward-bound Jamaica convoy lay at St. Kitts, waiting for an escort to proceed across the danger zone. Another convoy was gathering at Kingston for an homewardbound journey. Rodney had committed him to a concentration at Cape St. Nicholas, and from this there was no escape.

However, a concentration of the Franco-Spanish fleets was by no means a simple matter. Both hostile admirals counted upon a concentration but they had diverging strategic goals. Blénac wanted to save what he could of the French islands while Don Juan de Prado Porto Carrero, the Spanish Captain-general was strictly charged with the defence of Havana. He had with him not 20 ships of the line, as reported to Pocock, but 20 sail, of which only 12 were ships of the line. There were also 3 ships of the line at Santiago at the opposite end of the island, and 1 or 2 at Vera Cruz, the port of Mexico. They were all under the command of Don Gutierre de Hevia, Marqués del Real Transporte, who had come out with Prado as commander-in-chief of the American squadrons. Their orders were to keep the Havana squadron concentrated and within the port ready for any emergency and not to risk needless sorties. These at least were the last instructions which they had received, and they were nearly 6 months old. When war was certain, later orders had been sent out, but, owing to Captain Johnstone's smart warning to Rodney, he had been able to intercept them. The Milford (28) fell in with the Aviso, that was carrying them, off Cape Tiburon, the westernmost point of St. Domingo, and after fighting her all day he forced her to strike. The commander, of course, sunk his despatches, and nothing ever reached Havana except a copy of the Madrid Gazette containing the declaration of war.

Rodney and Douglas had already taken care that Blénac should not get to Hevia. Blénac informed Hevia that Hervey's squadron was before the port, and that if Hevia would only come it might easily be surprised and destroyed. But Prado and Hevia, entrenched in their defensive orders, would not move.

On April 26, Pocock sent off an express to Douglas to meet him at Cape St. Nicholas with all the Jamaica squadron, which, according to his instructions, he believed was awaiting his orders in Port Royal. There was plenty of time, for Monckton's arrangements did not please Albemarle, and he spent the best part of a fortnight reorganising the whole of the transport disposition that had been made, getting more troops from Dominica and fitting out horse transports. During this time, Pocock found relief for his feelings in taking away the Marlborough (68), Rodney's flagship to the latter's intense disgust. By this means, with the 2 ships of the line which were waiting at St. Kitts, Pocock was able to bring his own battle squadron up to 8 sail, that is, superior to what he believed Blénac's to be.

On May 6, after having sent forward orders for the convoy to meet him at Basse Terre Road, in St. Kitts, Pocock sailed on his perilous enterprise, leaving Rodney in charge of the Leeward Islands. . The reason why the final concentration was to be at Cape St. Nicholas, that is, in the Windward Passage between St. Domingo and Cuba, brings us to the most brilliant point the British plan. It was not, of course, on the ordinary route from the Windward Islands to Havana. That lay dead to leeward, past Jamaica and through the Yucatan Channel, with an easy beat back of some 400 km with the current along the north-western end of Cuba. The natural plan, therefore, and the one the Spaniards would expect, was a concentration at Port Royal, with a squadron held back off Cap François to blockade Blénac and cover the line of passage from North America as Hervey was then doing. It was indeed a strategical certainty that so long as the Spaniards saw no concentration at Jamaica they would be lulled into comparative security. However, there existed another route to Havana from the eastward and windward. It lay through the Old Bahama Channel who, from its intricacies and dangers, was regarded as impracticable and was never used by the Spaniards except for quite small craft. By this route, not only would the line of advance be wholly unexpected, but it would be quicker. It involved no beat back, it was before the wind the whole way, and it was much shorter. While, therefore, it would ensure a surprise, it would also mean a great gain of time before the hurricanes set in. And, over and above all this, it would permit a sudden and unlooked-for concentration interposed between the two bases of the enemy; it would provide for the rapid junction of the American contingent, and it would probably prevent the Spanish and the French fleets joining hands.

By May 8, Pocock was off St. Kitts, where 2 ships of the line and the Jamaica convoy were awaiting him. Pocock found himself in charge of some 200 sail. In the transports Albemarle, besides military stores, and his artillery and engineers, had 5 brigades of infantry, numbering nearly 12,000 men, and over 2,000 more were to come from North America and Jamaica. With this unwieldy armada the admiral proceeded without stopping, and reached through the Mona Passage, so as to keep to windward of St. Domingo.

On May 17, Pocock made Cape St. Nicholas. Here was awaiting him a letter from Douglas, saying that his orders had been received, that he was about to join him with 9 ships of the line, and that he had also given the rendezvous to Hervey, who with 7 was blockading Cap François. Pocock had secured pilots for the Old Bahama Channel, but as they seemed very incapable, he had despatched Captain Elphinstone in the Richmond (32) to survey it as far to leeward as Cay Sal, where the 800 km of danger came to an end.

On May 18, Hervey, with whom Pocock had already got in touch as he passed, joined him, and reported Blénac still in Cap François. Douglas sailed the same day.

On May 23, the expedition, now off the northwest corner of Saint-Domingue (Haiti), was further reinforced by Sir James Douglas' squadron from Port Royal, Jamaica. The force under Albemarle now amounted to 21 ships of the line, 24 lesser warships, and 168 other vessels, carrying some 14,000 seamen and marines and 12,826 regulars. The fleet at the reduction of Havana and on the Jamaica station consisted of (excluding storeships, hospital ships and transports):

  • Namur (90), Admiral Sir George Pocock, Captain Joseph Harrison
  • Valiant (74), Commodore Hon. Augustus Keppel, Captain Adam Duncan
  • Cambridge (80), Captain William Gorestrey, later escorted convoys from Jamaica to England
  • Culloden (74), Captain John Barker
  • Téméraire (74), Captain Matthew Barton
  • Dragon (74), Captain Hon. Augustus John Hervey
  • Dublin (74), Captain Edward Gascoigne, some time with the broad pennant of Commodore Sir James Douglas
  • Marlborough (68), Captain Thomas Burnett
  • Temple (70), Captain Julian Legge
  • Orford (70), Captain Marriot Arbuthnot
  • Devonshire (74), Captain Samuel Marshall
  • Belle-Isle (64), Captain Joseph Knight
  • Edgar (60), Captain Francis William Drake
  • Hampton Court (70), Captain Alexander Inmex
  • Stirling Castle (70), Captain James Campbell
  • Pembroke (60), Captain John WheeIock
  • Rippon (60), Captain Edward Jekyll
  • Nottingham (60), Captain Thomas Collingwood
  • Defiance (60), Captain George Mackenzie
  • Centurion (60), Captain James Galbraith, some time with the broad pennant of Commodore Sir James Douglas, later escorted convoys from Jamaica to England
  • Deptford (60), Captain Dudley Digges
  • Hampshire (50), Captain Arthur Usher
  • Penzance (44), Captain Philip Boteler, later escorted convoys from Jamaica to England
  • Dover (44), Captain Chaloner Ogle
  • Enterprise (48), Captain John Boulton, later escorted convoys from Jamaica to England
  • Richmond (32), Captain John Elphinstone
  • Alarm (32), Captain James Alms
  • Echo (26), Captain John Lendrick
  • Trent (28), Captain John Lindsay
  • Boreas (28), Captain Samuel Uvedale
  • Mercury (20), Captain Samuel Granston Goodall
  • Rose (24), Captain John Neale Pleydell Nott
  • Port Mahon (24), Captain Richard Bickerton
  • Fowey (24), Captain Joseph Mead
  • Glasgow (20), Captain Richard Carteret
  • Bonetta (10), Commander Lancelot Holmes
  • Cygnet (18), Commander Hon. Charles Napier
  • Merlin (10), Commander William Francis Bourke
  • Barbados (14), Commander James Hawker
  • Viper (10) Commander John Urry
  • Port Royal (14), Commander Stair Douglas
  • Ferret (14), Lieutenant Peter Clarke
  • Lurcher, cutter (14), Lieutenant Walker
  • Thunder bomb (8), Commander Robert Haswell
  • Grenado bomb (8)
  • Basilisk bomb (8), Commander Lowfield

Furthermore, the following vessels joined the fleet at undetermined dates after the siege had begun:

  • Centaur (74), Captain Thomas Lemprière
  • Alcide (64), Captain Thomas Haukerson
  • Sutherland (50), Captain Michael Everitt
  • Cerberus (28), Captain Charles Webber

Pocock despatched to Jamaica to bring stores thence, and to hasten forward such ships as were still there.

It was Pocock's intention to detach the Jamaica convoy under Sir James Douglas' command in the Centurion (60). As Douglas had leave to go home, he was also to take charge of the homeward-bound convoy, which Pocock intended to get away through the Yucatan and Florida Channels if Blénac remained at Cap François. This of course could be done safely, so soon as he had made sure of the Spanish fleet in Havana. The only trouble was the troops from America.

On May 26, Pocock heard from Amherst that they were just about to sail when his despatch left. Pocock no doubt expected them to join in a day or two. But in any case by his secret orders he was instructed not to wait for them.

On May 27, after detaching Douglas and the convoy to Port Royal, Pocock sailed with his huge fleet of about 200 sail for the Old Strait of Bahama, leaving the American transports to take their chance with Blénac. This was the weak part of his design, but Rodney's action in sending Swanton to the Spanish main, and the information available, left no alternative. The latest intelligence Douglas had obtained was that there were 16 ships of the line in Havana. Pocock had but 19 all, except 2, of the lower rates. He also had 1 fourty-four-gun, 5 frigates, 2 sloops and 3 bomb vessels. To divide his fleet was therefore impossible. Moreover, Douglas had received a credible report from a vessel that had been in Cap François that Blénac was bitterly disappointed on finding that Hevia, when he brought out Prado with his 6 ships of the line, had gone on to Havana instead of joining him, and that he had declared his intention, if the Spaniards made no move to unite forces, to go straight home with the French trade.

On May 28, owing to Pocock's foresight, Elphinstone met them. He had been right up to Cay Sal and back again, and was able to produce a complete survey of the channel, with sketches of the land and Cays on both sides, and to report that Anson's chart was correct. He was therefore in a position to lead through, and the main cause for anxiety was at an end. Following the method Saunders had adopted on the Saint-Laurent, Pocock organised the transports into 7 divisions, each with its conducting men-of-war. The way in which the escort was distributed deserves notice. Contrary to what would naturally be looked for, there was no regular vanguard or rearguard the whole of the navy ships being allotted to the various divisions. With the first division were 4 ships of the line under Pocock; with the second was Keppel's ship alone; and with the third were again 4 ships of the line, the idea being apparently to provide for a concentration of 9 ships of the line in the van or the centre. The next two divisions had between them only 2 ships of the line and a 50-gun, but the sixth had 3 ships of the line and a 50-gun, and the last division 5 ships of the line and a 50-gun. The main anxiety, it will be seen, was an attack from the windward upon the rear by Blénac, and provision was thus made for a rearguard of 8 ships of the line and 2 50-gun to deal with him effectively if he made the attempt. But Blénac had less mind than ever to burn his fingers for the Spaniards, whom he regarded as having deserted him. He remained passive, and the fleet proceeded without interference. Elphinstone performed his duty admirably. No hitch of any kind occurred. The narrowest and most dangerous part of the channel between Cay Lobos and Cay Comfite was actually passed at night by means of fires burning upon the rocks. The same day, the Defiance (60) took the Venganza (26), Captain Don D. Argote, and the Marte (18), Captain Don D. Bonechea, at Mariel.

On June 3, the Alarm (32) captured the Spanish Thetis (22), Captain Don J. Porlier, and the storeship Fénix (18) in the Old Strait of Bahama.

By the evening of June 5, a week after leaving Cape Nicholas, the whole fleet was clear of Cay Sal, and in sight of Matanzas, less than a 160 km from its objective.

Meanwhile the authorities at Havana were resting in blind security. Though it was a little more than a year since the captain-general and the admiral had come out with two French engineers and elaborate directions for repairing and improving the defences of the place, next to nothing had been done. The weak point of Havana was a rocky ridge known as La Cabana Hill, which ran along the east side of the harbour opposite the city. It was high enough to command all, or nearly all, the defences as well as the city itself and the harbour. The official scheme of defence provided for its occupation by a powerful redoubt at its inner and landward termination, the famous Morro Castle being at the other. But the work had only been talked about until the copy of the Gazette announcing war had been received. Then they began to clear the site, but some troops and labourers sent for from Mexico had introduced an outbreak of yellow fever and the work had been abandoned. In the eyes of the authorities there was really nothing to fear. Prado fully believed that owing to the other preparations he had made the British would not think of attacking them, and cheerily assured his sovereign that if they were so rash they would certainly break their heads. Nothing could shake the captain-general's complacency. As Pocock lay at Cape St. Nicholas waiting for Douglas to join, a travelled-stained man had rushed into his antechamber demanding an instant audience. He was a Spanish merchant from Jamaica who had got away to Cape Antonio in a boat, and had ridden night and day with news of what was in the wind. The captain-general would not listen. No one, indeed, would admit the possibility of a fleet coming through the Old Bahama Channel.

Map of Havana

Map of Havana - Source: "History of the British Army" volume II by J. W. Fortescue

In these days, Havana probably had the the best harbour of the West Indies. It could easily accommodate up to 100 ships of the line. A 180 m wide and 800 m long entrance channel gave access to the harbour. Furthermore, Havana housed important shipyards building first rate men of war.

Two strong fortress defended the entrance channel. One the north side of the channel stood the very strong Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro on the rocky Cavannos ridge. It had 64 heavy guns and was garrisoned by 700 men (300 infantry, 50 seamen and 50 gunners, with 300 African labourers). The south side was defended by the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta. The channel could also be blocked by a boom chain extending from El Morro to La Punta. Havana itself, lay on the south side along the channel and was surrounded by a 5 km wall.

Continuation

The other phases of the expedition are described in the following articles:

References

This article is mostly a compilation of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Clowes, Wm. Laird: The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. III, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 238-239, 245-250
  • Corbett, Julian S.; England in the Seven Years' War – A Study in Combined Strategy, Vol II; New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1907; pp. 250-284
  • Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 541-544

Other sources

Greentree, David; A Far-Flung Gamble - Havana 1762, Osprey Publishing

Sanchez-Galarraga, Jorge, Luis de Velasco - Siege of Havana, 1762, Seven Years War Association Journal Vol. XII No. 2

Acknowledgments

Andy Francis, Jean-Pierre Loriot and Juan for the information provided