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For the 1815 battle, see Battle off Cape Palos.
Battle of Cape Palos
Part of the Spanish Civil War
Date March 5 - 6, 1938
Location Near Cartagena, Spain, Mediterranean Sea
Result Republican victory
Spain Spanish Republic Spain Nationalist Spain
Luis González Ubieta Manuel de Vierna †
2 light cruisers
5 destroyers
2 heavy cruisers
1 light cruiser
Casualties and losses
None 1 heavy cruiser sunk
765 dead[1]

The Battle of Cape Palos, also known as the Second Battle of Cape Palos, was the biggest naval battle of the Spanish Civil War, fought on the night of March 5 - 6 1938, 70 miles east of Cape Palos near Cartagena, Spain.


Leadup to the battle

On March 5, 1938 the Nationalists' two heavy cruisers, Canarias and Baleares, sortied from the naval base at Palma de Mallorca, in company with the light cruiser Almirante Cervera, and three destroyers. The squadron acted as a distant escort of a convoy bearing war equipment from Italy. On the same day, Republican forces, consisting of two light cruisers (the new Libertad and the older Méndez Núñez) and five destroyers, sailed from Cartagena. At night, Nationalist destroyers returned to base, while the cruisers remained on course.

The battle

The squadrons, going in opposite directions, met by chance in the dead of night of 5-6 Marchh 1938. A Republican destroyer fired torpedoes but missed, and both fleets passed each other by. Nationalist Rear Admiral de Vierna preferred to wait until dawn, which would enable him to use his ships' superior artillery, but Republican Vice Admiral de Ubieto decided to turn and pursue the enemy.

The forces met again at about 02:15. the Nationalist cruisers commenced fire on Libertad from a range of about 5,000 m (5,500 yd) and the Republican cruisers returned fire. However, due to lack of experience in night combat, neither side's gunnery practise was good and few hits were scored. As the cruisers duelled, three Republican destroyers, probably unseen by the Nationalists, detached from escorting Libertad. At about 3,000 m (3,300 yd), Sanchéz Barcáiztegui, Lepanto, and Almirante Antequera each fired four torpedoes. Two or three, generally credited to Lepanto,[2] but also to the destroyer Antequera by some authors[3] hit Baleares between 'A' and 'B' turrets and detonated her forward magazine. The forepart of the ship as far aft as the funnel disintigrated, killing all including Admiral de Vierna.

The two surviving Nationalist cruisers quickly cleared the area, leaving Baleares to her fate. The stern remained afloat and it was from this part of the ship that survivors were rescued, thanks to the efforts of destroyers HMS Kempenfelt and Boreas, under Captain McGrigor, RN, who made towards the scene of the action from 74 km (40 nm) away. Only 441 out of her crew of 1,206 were saved.[1]

The sinking of Baleares photographed from attacking Republican aircraft, 6 March 1938

The Nationalist cruisers returned at dawn and survivors rescued by Boreas were transferred to them by boats. An air attack by Republican bombers interrupted the proceedings and caused one RN fatality.[4]

The Battle of Cape Palos was the last Republican victory of the war. Although the action was the largest naval battle of the Spanish Civil War and an important Republican victory, it had little noticeable effect on the war.


  1. ^ a b Fullana, Jeroni F.; Eduardo Conolloy, Daniel Cota (2000) (in Spanish). El Crucero "Baleares". ISBN 8495360020. Retrieved 21 August 2009.  
  2. ^ Naval Institute proceedings: Volume 66 of Proceedings, United States Naval Institute, 1940, p. 820
  3. ^ Salas Larrázabal, Ramón, Salas Larrazábal, Jesús: Historia general de la Guerra de España. Rialp, 1986, p. 315. ISBN 8432123404 (Spanish)
  4. ^


  • Hugh Thomas (historian) (2001). The Spanish Civil War. Modern Library. ISBN 0-375-75515-2.  
  • V. Turon (historian) (1982). The sinking of the cruiser Baleares. Warship Supplement, 68.  
  • ADM 116/3677. UK National Archive.  

External links

Coordinates: 37°52′18″N 0°52′00″E / 37.87167°N 0.8666667°E / 37.87167; 0.8666667



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