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Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta
3 February 1689 – 7 September 1741
Don Blas de Lezo -Museo Naval-.jpg
Portrait of Blas de Lezo in the Naval Museum of Madrid
Nickname "Patapalo" (Pegleg), "Mediohombre" (Half-man).
Place of birth Pasaia, Guipúzcoa, Basque Country, Spain
Place of death Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
Allegiance Spain
Service/branch Spanish Navy
Years of service 1704–1741
Rank Admiral
Battles/wars War of the Spanish Succession
War of Jenkins' Ear

Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta (3 February 1689 – 7 September 1741), also known as "Patapalo" (Pegleg), and later as "Mediohombre" (Half-man) for the many wounds suffered in his long military life, was a Spanish admiral, and one of the greatest strategists and commanders in the history of the Spanish Navy. He is best known for his successful defence of Cartagena in 1741 against an overwhelming English fleet.

Contents

Biography

Blas de Lezo. Picture of 1882

Born in Pasajes de San Pedro, Guipúzcoa , Basque Country of 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 Spanish Succession as a crew member in the Franco-Spanish fleet which threw back the combined forces of England and Netherlands at the Battle of Vélez Málaga. There Lezo lost his left leg. He received a cannon-shot and he get his leg amputated under the knee without anesthesia and without saying a word or making a noise. Promoted to ensign, he was present at the battles off Peñíscola, Spain and Palermo in Sicily; his service in these and other actions resulted in his promotion to ship's lieutenant. The defense of Toulon cost him his left eye. He demonstrated a shrewd command in a number of convoys, deceiving the Royal Navy off the Catalan coast. In 1711 he served in the Navy under the orders of Andrés de Pez. In 1713 he was promoted to captain. In 1714 he lost his right arm in the Siege of Barcelona. Later in this campaign, at the head of one frigate, he captured eleven British ships, including the Stanhope.

At the conclusion of the War of Spanish Succession he was entrusted with the command of the flagship Lanfranco and with it the control and generalship of the South Seas Fleet on February 16, 1723. He destroyed and drove out British and Dutch pirates from the Pacific coasts of the Americas, and captured twelve ships. He was married in Peru in 1725.

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 menaced the city with bombardment.

Blas de Lezo's frigate towing its prize, the British ship Stanhope.

In 1732, on board the Santiago, he and José Carrillo de Albornoz commanded an expedition to Oran with 54 ships and 30,000 men and recaptured the city from the Ottoman Empire. Bay Hassan managed to reunite his troops and surrounded the city; 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 Mostagan's bay, a bastion defended by two forts and 4,000 Moors. He inflicted heavy damage on the and 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 Cadiz.

In 1734 the king promoted him to General Lieutenant of the Navy. He returned to America with the ships Fuerte and Conquistador in 1737 as General Commander of Cartagena de Indias, a city that he had to defend against the British admiral Edward Vernon in the Battle of Cartagena de Indias (1741) during the War of Jenkins' Ear.

The British invasion fleet was one of the largest in history (the biggest fleet in history until World War II), numbering 186 vessels (the Spanish Armada, in 1588 had 126 vessels), including ships of the line , frigates, fireships, and transports, with a total complement of 23,600 men, 13,000 of which were land forces (soldiers, marines and machete-armed Jamaican slaves) and some 2,000 cannons. To counter this Blas de Lezo had at his disposal less than 6,000 men including 2,400 regular soldiers, 600 Indian archers, and the crews and troops of six ships of the line: the flagship Galicia and the ships San Felipe, San Carlos, Africa, Dragón and Conquistador. Vernon was pretty sure of the victory, and news were sent to London that Cartagena had been conquered even before the battle had started (coins praising Vernon's victory were made prior to the invasion; most of which were disposed of, but some still remain in Spanish National Museums). Yet Blas de Lezo's tactics took Vernon by surprise. Blas de Lezo ordered all his vessels be sunk, thus blocking the port. A pit was dug around the city walls, in order to prevent a direct assault. Trenches were displayed in zig-zag, in order to avoid the effect of cannon fire. Two soldiers were sent to the English camp, feinting surrender, providing the assailants with false information about the Spanish positions. At night, the Spanish army charged by surprise, using bayonnets, forcing the English army to retreat, despite the fact that they were heavily outnumbered. The naval siege still lasted one more month, until the Royal Navy, suffering heavy losses from tropical diseases, returned utterly defeated to Jamaica.

The colossal battle lasted 67 days. The defeat of the British forces assured the preservation of the Spanish Empire in the Americas. Blas de Lezo contracted the plague caused by the huge number of unburied corpses. While it is known that he died in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, his burial site remains lost to history.

When the news that Cartagena hadn't been conquered reached London, and that the invading fleet had been humiliated by a much inferior force, king George II tried to avoid the truth from being printed, written in history books, or taught at Universities (it is one of the reasons because the fate of this fleet and his defeat is comonnly unknown). Vernon was buried with honours in Westminster.

Spanish Navy Ships

Several Spanish Navy warships were named Blas de Lezo in his honour including:

References

Bibliography

  • Victoria, Pablo (2005) El día que España derrotó a Inglaterra : de cómo Blas de Lezo, tuerto, manco y cojo, venció en Cartagena de Indias a la otra "Armada Invencible" Áltera, Barcelona, Spain, ISBN 84-89779-68-6
  • Quintero Saravia, Gonzalo M. (2002) Don Blas de Lezo: defensor de Cartagena de Indias Editorial Planeta Colombiana, Bogotá, Colombia, ISBN 958-42-0326-6, in Spanish
  • Meisel Ujueta, Alfonso (1982) Blas de Lezo:vida legendaria del marino Vasco Litografía Dovel, Barranquilla, Colombia, OCLC 27881652, in Spanish
  • Cano, Domingo Manfredi (1956) Blas de Lezo Publicaciones Españolas, Madrid, OCLC 17273075, in Spanish
  • Barcaiztequi y Manso Llobregat, José Javier de (1927) Un general español cojo, manco y tuerto, don Blas de Lezo, natural de Pasajes B. Valverde, Irún, Spain, OCLC 32539491, in Spanish

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