:: SPANISH SHIPS OF THE LINE (I) ::

HMS Victory
HMS Victory

Anatomy of the ship of the line
Anatomy of the ship of the line

Evolution of the ship of the line
Evolution of the ship of the line

The art of transom
The art of transom

Sovereign of the Seas
Sovereign of the Seas





The first decades of the 18th century would witness the resurgence of the Spanish Navy as one of the most important in the world. In this time the ship of the line had become a highly standardized vessel, and the differences between the models built by the diverse nations would differ only in minor aspects. In 1732 King Felipe V ordered to replace the Spanish gallions of the former century, of heavy and rounded forms, by lighter ships which were called "navíos", denomination which since then would designate the large warships. The diverse classes would be differentiated by the number of cannons and this norm would be also applied to frigates and corvettes.

The new ships would introduce many improvements in the rigging as well. The tops would no longer have a circular shape, the bowsprit top would fall into disuse, studding sails would be adopted to increase the sail area and the running rigging of the sails would suffer modifications, so from that time sails would not be so swollen by the wind as they used to be. The chronicles say that also in 1732 the shipyards at Guarnizo completed one of the most splendid warships of that time, the 114-gun ship of the line Real Felipe, which would serve with the Spanish Navy until 1750. The Real Felipe is the first on this series illustrated by Rafael Berenguer at some point during the 19th century.

The Real Felipe, 1732

The 114-gun Real Felipe, built in Guarnizo, served between 1732 and 1750. Regarding the armament of this ship the information is imprecise. Some sources mention thirty bronze cannons of 36 pounds on the lower gun deck, thirty-two of 24 pounds on the middle gun deck, thirty of 12 pounds on the upper gun deck and twenty-two of 8 pounds on the weather decks. However it is said that this ship never carried 36-pound cannons even if she was prepared for that. Another source mentions thirty 24-pound cannons on the lower gun deck, thirty-two 18-pound cannons on the middle gun deck and thirty 8-pound cannons on the upper gun deck. She had also six cannons on the forecastle, ten on the quarterdeck, two shooting forward and four shooting backwards.

Over time, the 36-pound cannon would be definitely installed on the Spanish three-deckers, while the British counterparts would mount the 32-pounder. Apart from carrying a heavier armament, Spanish three-deckers also carried some extra cannons. The Real Felipe endured combat against four British ships which had to retreat severely damaged from the fight, being unable to sink their target. Spanish ships of the line were indeed admired by the enemy because of their endurance; however, the severe damage inflicted to the Real Felipe caused her premature decommissioning.

Real Felipe 114-gun ship of the line

The Real Fénix, 1749

The 80-gun Real Fénix was built in La Habana in 1749. This ship and her twin Rayo were strong and long-lived ships, much of this due to the excellent qualities of the timber used in the Caribbean shipyards. The Real Fénix was captured by the British in 1780 and renamed HMS Gibraltar, remaining in active service with her captors until 1815. The Rayo was reconstructed as a three-decker during the late century and fought successfully in Trafalgar, avoiding enemy fire. However the storm that followed the battle caused her loss.

Real Fénix 80-gun ship of the line

The San Carlos, 1765

The 98-gun San Carlos, built in La Habana, served between 1765 and 1819. She belonged to a triad of ships launched between 1765 and 1767, being the other two the San Luis and San Fernando. These ships did not give the result expected, for they were "stormy", this is, of abrupt movement during bad weather, which put them at risk of dismasting. They mounted 24-pound cannons in the lower gun deck, 18-pound cannons in the middle gun deck and 8-pound cannons in the upper gun deck, forecastle and poop deck. But in that time warships of this size carried 36-pound cannons in the lower gun deck.

The San Carlos was reconstructed as a 112-gun ship of the line in 1801 in Cartagena, being fitted with 36-pound cannons which not only improved her firepower but her seaworthiness as well. She belonged to a squadron based in Cartagena which served in the Mediterranean in the eve of the Battle of Trafalgar, in which she did not take part. The ship was finally broken up in 1829 in Cartagena.

San Carlos 98-gun ship of the line

The San Genaro, 1766

The 74-gun San Genaro, built in Cartagena, served in the Spanish Navy between 1766 and 1801, when she was transferred to France, where she would be renamed as Ulysse and later as Tourville, serving until 1822. The Spanish Navy put the greater emphasis in the construction of 74-gun ships of the line, and because of this three different series of six ships were built, belonging the San Genaro to the first series. The average tonnage of these 74-gun ships was around 1650 tonnes, in any of the three series.

The armament comprised 24-pound cannons in the lower gun deck, 18-pound cannons in the upper gun deck and 8-pound cannons in the uppermost decks. These ships were carefully tested to achieve the best seaworthiness which would allow to use their lower artillery battery with the highest effectiveness. It was also very important that they were not "stormy", for the artillery pieces could struggle dangerously in their moorings and the cannon balls escape from their boxes.

San Genaro 74-gun ship of the line

The Santísima Trinidad, 1769

The famous Santísima Trinidad (Most Holy Trinity) was built as a 118-gun ship of the line in La Habana in 1769. There are not complete blueprints of this vessel, but there exists a very approximate idea of her aspect, based on contemporary technical data. Already during her travel to Ferrol, where she arrived in 1770 for being armed and tested, the new ship showed severe defects. Because of this she suffered in 1771 her first reconstruction, in which the gun decks had their height decreased and the stem, the sternpost, the rudder and the bowsprit suffered modifications; a very costly rework which gave no benefit.

During the Battle of Cape San Vicente in 1797, in which the Santísima Trinidad was close to be captured, she was already the most highly armed warship in the world and very coveted by the British, who surely ignored her poor sailing qualities. Resulting severely damaged after San Vicente, Admiral Mazarredo, who knew very well the deficiencies of the ship, asked for her retirement, but the prestige of her name induced to repair the ship again, instead of using her as a floating battery anchored at Cádiz harbor.

In occassion of these repairs the ship suffered another costly remodelation, in which her armament was increased to 130 artillery pieces, which comprised the calibers 32, 24, 18, 12 and 8. At this point the Santísima Trinidad became the only four-deck warship in the world. In February 1799 she was armed with a total of 136 artillery pieces, including ten 24-pound howitzers. But her seaworthiness was still deficient, except when sailing with quarter wind, and she was difficult to govern during tacking.

Shortly before the Battle of Trafalgar she received four howitzers on the poop deck, reaching the record number of 140 artillery pieces. So during the Battle of Trafalgar the Santísima Trinidad was armed with thirty-two 36-pound cannons, thirty-four 24-pound cannons, thirty-six 12-pound cannons, eighteen 8-pound cannons, sixteen 34-pound howitzers and four 4-pound howitzers. The "gangways" amidships, clean for walking in other ships, were busy with artillery pieces. In this condition is how she was portrayed in the illustration.

After glorious fight in Cape Trafalgar, where she put into serious trouble the British flagship HMS Victory, the Santísima Trinidad finally had to succumb after a long fight against four enemy first-rate warships, which had come in assistance of their flagship. Finally, while the Santísima Trinidad was being towed towards Gibraltar as a valuable bounty, she suffered the effects of a storm and resulted sank, after being set on fire.

Santísima Trinidad 140-gun ship of the line

The Bahama, 1780

The Bahama, built in La Habana in 1780, belonged to the second series of 74-gun ships which were built roughly between 1766 and 1794. This second series was based in the French system of naval construction, which brought so bad fortune to the Spanish Navy. The fate of the Bahama is uncertain. She was allegedly captured by the British during the Battle of Trafalgar and transferred to Gibraltar to be repaired. Later she would have been brought to Great Britain to serve as a prison ship until being broken up in Chatham in 1814. Some historians have stated that the characteristics of that ship do not match those of the Bahama, and that this one probably resulted sunk after the battle.

Bahama 74-gun ship of the line

The Santa Ana, 1784

The 112-gun Santa Ana, built in Ferrol, served between 1784 and 1816. She had a tonnage of 2017 tonnes, a length of 65 meters, a beam of 17.67 meters and a depth of hold of 8.22 meters. As ballast she carried 368 tonnes of stone and 184 of iron. The lower gun deck was about 1.8 meters above waterline which allowed to keep the gun ports opened during groundswell. With exception of the Santísima Trinidad, those of 112 guns were the larger ships of the line operated by the Spanish Navy, and they were more successful designs than that one.

The Santa Ana in particular was a ship of excellent maneuvering qualities. Like the rest of the 112-gun ships in service with the Spanish Navy in that time, she was armed with 36-pound cannons in the lower gun deck. In 1786 she was designed as prototype ship for the construction of another seven ships of similar characteristics. The Santa Ana took part in the Battle of Trafalgar and survived, but she, like many other Spanish ships, was a victim of the Peninsular War started in 1808. Transferred to La Habana to prevent her capture, she would spontaneously sink there due to the lack of maintenance.

Santa Ana 112-gun ship of the line

The San José, 1784

The 112-gun San José, built in Ferrol in 1784, was another ship of excellent maneuvering qualities. But the Spanish Navy would not enjoy this ship for long, for she was captured by the British during the Battle of Cape San Vicente, in 1797, and towed towards Lagos for repair, where she barely could reach. The British surely appreciated the qualities of this magnificent ship, for she was Nelson's flagship during a brief period and served with the Royal Navy until 1837.

San José 112-gun ship of the line

The San Telmo, 1788

The San Telmo, built in Ferrol, served between 1788 and 1819. This ship belonged to the third series of 74-gun ships of the line, which were regarded as the best Spanish warships of the 18th century. The Montañés, built in 1794 and presented in detail in the article "Anatomy of the ship of the line", was another of the ships of this last series. It is said that these 74-gun ships were the best on their class to the point of being envied by the French and British alike. They had left behind the French system and were gifted with a good balance of speed and stability.

The San Telmo did not take part in any battle and after the Battle of Trafalgar she was intact, but after the Peninsular War she was in poor condition, like the rest of the Spanish Navy. Nonetheless, she was sent in a long expedition to the Pacific across Cape Horn with the purpose to reach Callao, in Peru, to quell the insurrection of the Spanish colonies in South America. The San Telmo would be lost during the travel and her fate is still uncertain, but it is strongly feasible her relation with a flotsam found in Livingston Island, in the Antarctic coast.

San Telmo 74-gun ship of the line



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