Battle of Cape Passaro

The Battle of Cape Passaro (or Passero) was the defeat of a Spanish fleet under Admirals Antonio de Gaztañeta and Fernando Chacón by a British fleet under Admiral George Byng, near Cape Passero, Sicily, on 11 August 1718, four months before the War of the Quadruple Alliance was formally declared.


Tensions between Spain and Britain were high. On 2 August 1718 the Quadruple Alliance consisting of the Holy Roman Empire, Kingdom of France, Kingdom of Great Britain and the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, demanded that the Spanish withdraw their invading forces from Sicily and Sardinia. The British fleet had landed a small Austrian army near Messina, which began besieging that city which was controlled by the Spanish.


Cape Passaro 1718
Painting of battle showing Spanish flagship Real San Felipe (centre) being bombarded by British ships

The men-of-war of the Spanish fleet were made up of eleven ships of the line of 50 guns or above, ten frigates, four bomb vessels, two fireships and seven galleys; the rest were merchantmen with stores and provisions.

The fleet was sailing in a scattered way and it sensed no danger when it caught sight of the British ships because it was unaware of the Quadruple Alliance's ultimatum. When the British fleet began to approach in an aggressive way, the Spanish fleet split into two – the smaller ships and merchantmen made for the coast, while the larger men-of-war engaged the British as they came up. HMS Canterbury, under George Walton was detached along with HMS Argyll, HMS Burford and four other ships to chase the first group and captured most of them. These captured Spanish warships were afterwards laid up in Menorca.

A shipwreck has been found (2012) just off Avola, near the south-eastern tip of Sicily. Cannon have been raised from the wreck identifying it as a British ship, probably one sunk in this battle. The location of the wreck helps to pinpoint the site of the battle.[2]


Four months later on 17 December 1718, France, Britain and Austria declared war on Spain, starting the War of the Quadruple Alliance. The Netherlands joined them later, declaring war on Spain in August 1719.

Thwarted by Spanish interference, the besieging Austrian army captured Messina the next year, and destroyed the remaining Spanish ships in the harbour. These events combined to eventually force the Spanish king to accept the terms of the Quadruple Alliance in 1720.

Byng was rewarded handsomely for this victory by King George I of Great Britain, and given full power to negotiate with the various princes and states of Italy, on behalf of the British crown. On his return to England in 1721, he was made Rear-Admiral of Great Britain, a member of the Privy Council, and ennobled as Baron Byng of Southill and 1st Viscount Torrington, in Devon.

Of the ships captured in this battle, the Principe de Asturias had formerly been the British 80-gun ship Cumberland, captured by the French in 1707 and later sold to Spain; after the Battle of Cape Passaro, she was sold to Austria. In 1731 the British offered to return the other captured ships laid up in Menorca, but they were found to be rotten and were broken up instead.

Order of battle

Britain (Sir George Byng)

Total was 1 of 90 guns, 2 of 80 guns, 9 of 70 guns, 7 of 60 guns, 2 of 50 guns, 1 of 44 guns. The British fleet also comprised 6 smaller vessels – the fireships Garland (Samuel Atkins) and Griffin (Humphrey Orme), the storeship Success (Francis Knighton), the hospital ship Looe (Timothy Splaine), the bomb-ketch Basilisk (John Hubbard) and an unnamed bomb tender.

Spain (Vice-Admiral Don José Antonio de Gaztañeta)

  • Real San Felipe (El Real) 74 (flag) – Captured by Superbe and Kent, blew up after being towed to Mahon
  • Principe de Asturias 70 (Rear-Admiral Don Fernando Chacón) – Captured by Breda and Captain
  • San Juan Bautista 60 (Don Francisco Guerrero) – Escaped to Malta.
  • San Luis 60 (Rear-Admiral Don Balthasar de Guevara) – Escaped to Malta.
  • San Pedro 60 (Don Antonio de Arizaga) – Escaped
  • San Carlos 60 (Prince de Chalois) – Captured by Kent
  • Real Mazi (El Real) 60 (Rear-Admiral Marquiss de Mari) – Captured by Canterbury's division
  • San Fernando 60 (Rear-Admiral George Cammock) – Escaped to Malta
  • Santa Isabel(la) / San Isabel 60 (Don Andrea Reggio) – Captured by Dorsetshire
  • Santa Rosa 60 (Don Antonio González) – Captured by Orford
  • Perla de España 54 (Don Gabriel de Alderete) – Escaped to Malta
  • San Isidro 46 (Don Manuel de Villavicencio) – Captured by Canterbury's division
  • Hermione 44 (Don Rodrigo de Torres) – Escaped, but then burnt at Messina
  • Volante 44 (Don Antonio Escudero) – Captured by Montagu and Rupert
  • Esperanza 46 (Don Juan Maria Delfin) – Burnt to avoid capture
  • Juno 36 (Don Pedro Moyano) – Captured by Essex
  • Sorpresa 36 (Don Miguel de Sada, count of Clavijo) – Captured by Canterbury's division
  • Galera 30 (Don Francisco Álvarez Barreiro) – Escaped
  • Castilla 30 (Don Francisco de Liaño) – Escaped
  • Conde de Tolosa 30 (Don José de Goycoechea) – Escaped, but then captured at Messina
  • Tigre 26 (M Cavaigne) - Captured
  • Aguila 24 (Don Lucas Masnata) – Captured by Canterbury's division
  • San Francisco d'Assis 22 - Escaped
  • San Fernando Menor 20 - Escaped
  • San Juan Menor 20 (Don Ignacio Valevale) - Escaped, but captured later
  • Flecha 18 (Don Juan Papagena) - Escaped

Total was one 74-gun, 1 70-gun, 8 60-gun, 1 54-gun, 2 46-gun, 2 44-gun, 2 36-gun, 3 30-gun, one 26-gun, one 24-gun, one 22-gun, two 20-gun and one 18-gun. The Spanish fleet also included three bomb ships, a fireship, one ordnance store ship, three ordinary store ships, a settee and seven galleys.

See also


  1. ^ a b Gaston Bodart: Militär-historisches Kriegs-Lexikon, (1618-1905). Wien, 1908 pg. 176 (German)
  2. ^ In pictures: British guns lifted from wreck off Sicily, BBC


  • William Laird Clowes. The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to 1900. Chatham Publishing, 1996 reprint. Vol. 3, pp. 29-40.


  • Trafalgar and the Spanish Navy (1988)
  • Pattee Byng's Journal 1718–1720 (1950)

External links

Coordinates: 36°41′13″N 15°08′54″E / 36.6869°N 15.1483°E



was a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar, the 1718th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 718th year of the 2nd millennium, the 18th year of the 18th century, and the 9th year of the 1710s decade. As of the start of 1718, the Gregorian calendar was

11 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.

Battle of Milazzo (1718)

The Battle of Milazzo was fought on October 15, 1718 near the city of Milazzo in Sicily, Italy between Spain and Austria as part of the War of the Quadruple Alliance.

George Anson, 1st Baron Anson

Admiral of the Fleet George Anson, 1st Baron Anson, (23 April 1697 – 6 June 1762) was a Royal Navy officer. Anson served as a junior officer during the War of the Spanish Succession and then saw active service against Spain at the Battle of Cape Passaro during the War of the Quadruple Alliance. He then undertook a circumnavigation of the globe during the War of Jenkins' Ear. Anson commanded the fleet that defeated the French Admiral de la Jonquière at the First Battle of Cape Finisterre during the War of the Austrian Succession.

Anson went on to be First Lord of the Admiralty during the Seven Years' War. Among his reforms were the removal of corrupt defence contractors, improved medical care, submitting a revision of the Articles of War to Parliament to tighten discipline throughout the Navy, uniforms for commissioned officers, the transfer of the Marines from Army to Navy authority, and a system for rating ships according to their number of guns.

George Byng, 1st Viscount Torrington

Admiral of the Fleet George Byng, 1st Viscount Torrington, (27 January 1663 – 17 January 1733) of Southill Park in Bedfordshire, was a Royal Navy officer and statesman. While still a lieutenant, he delivered a letter from various captains to Prince William of Orange, who had just landed at Torbay, assuring the Prince of the captains' support; the Prince gave Byng a response which ultimately led to the Royal Navy switching allegiance to the Prince and the Glorious Revolution of November 1688.

As a captain, Byng saw action at the Battle of Vigo Bay, when the French fleet were defeated, during the War of the Spanish Succession. As a flag officer, he led the bombardment squadron while serving under Admiral Sir George Rooke at the Capture of Gibraltar and then took part in the Battle of Málaga at a later stage in the same war.

Byng was sent to the Mediterranean to thwart any attempt by the Spanish to take Sicily. He encountered the Spanish fleet at Naples and, after pursuing it down the Strait of Messina, sent ahead his fastest ships causing the Spanish fleet to split in two. In the ensuing action, known as the Battle of Cape Passaro, the Spanish fleet was devastated: 10 ships of the line were captured, four ships of the line sunk or burnt and four frigates were captured at this early and critical stage of the War of the Quadruple Alliance. He went on to be First Lord of the Admiralty during the reign of King George II.

HMS Barfleur (1697)

HMS Barfleur was a 90-gun second rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched at Deptford Dockyard on 10 August 1697.She was rebuilt according to the 1706 Establishment at Deptford, relaunching on 27 June 1716. She took part in the Battle of Cape Passaro in 1719, and then served during the War of 1739–48, including the Battle of Toulon in 1744, before being paid off in 1745. However, the Barfleur was reduced to an 80-gun third rate in 1755 and served throughout the Seven Years' War, prior to being hulked in 1764, and eventually broken up in 1783.

HMS Basilisk (1695)

HMS Basilisk was a Serpent-class bomb vessel of the Royal Navy, one of ten such vessels commissioned in 1695 to support land assaults on continental ports. Initially commissioned as part of Admiral John Berkeley's fleet during the Nine Years' War, she also saw service as an exploratory vessel along the St Lawrence River, and later as part of the victorious British forces at the Battle of Cape Passaro.At 163 tonnes burthen she was the largest vessel in her class and also the last survivor of it; all nine of her sister ships had been lost or broken up by the time she was decommissioned and broken up at Deptford Dockyard in 1729.

HMS Blast (1695)

HMS Blast was a Serpent-class bomb vessel of the Royal Navy, one of ten such vessels commissioned in 1695 to support land assaults on continental ports. Over a 30-year period she saw service in the fleets of Admirals Berkeley and Byng and took part in the British victory at the Battle of Cape Passaro in 1718.

In 1721 she was converted to a storeship in British-controlled Port Mahón, and was broken up there in 1724.

HMS Breda (1692)

HMS Breda was a 70-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched at Woolwich Dockyard on 23 April 1692. She was named after the Declaration of Breda made in 1660 by Charles II of England.

In 1701, under Captain Christopher Fogg, she became the flagship of Vice-Admiral John Benbow. His squadron left for the West Indies on 2 September 1701 as the War of the Spanish Succession began.During the Action of August 1702, Breda, under Benbow's command, was one of only two ships in the squadron to effectively engage the French. After several days, the contumacy of Benbow's captains in refusing to fight, and his own injuries, forced him to return to Port Royal, where several were convicted of cowardice at a court-martial.In 1718, Breda was commanded by Captain Barrows Harris, and took part in the Battle of Cape Passaro. During the Blockade of Porto Bello (1726–7) she served as flagship for Vice-Admiral Hosier, who died aboard her in 1727. She was broken up in 1730.

HMS Burford (1679)

HMS Burford was a 70-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched at Woolwich Dockyard in 1679 as part of the Thirty Ships Programme of 1677. She fought in the War of English Succession, including the Battle of Barfleur, before being rebuilt at Deptford in 1699, remaining as a 70-gun third rate.. During the War of Spanish Succession she was mostly in the Mediterranean fleet and fought at the capture of Gibraltar and the Battle of Málaga in 1704 before being extensively repaired between 1710 and 1712 at Portsmouth Dockyard. Burford served in the Baltic in 1715 and 1717 before returning to the Mediterranean to fight the Spanish at the Battle of Cape Passaro in 1718. She was wrecked on the Italian coast in a storm on 14 February 1719.

HMS Cumberland

Eleven ships of the Royal Navy have borne the name HMS Cumberland, after the traditional English county of Cumberland, England:

HMS Cumberland (1695) was an 80-gun third rate ship of the line launched in 1695. She was captured by the French in the Battle at the Lizard in 1707. In 1715 she was sold to Genoa, in 1717 to Spain and renamed Principe de Asturias. Then captured back by Britain at the Battle of Cape Passaro in 1718 and sold to Austria in 1720, and renamed San Carlos.

HMS Cumberland (1710) was an 80-gun third rate launched in 1710. She was rebuilt in 1739 to carry 66 guns and foundered at anchor in 1760.

HMS Cumberland (1739) was an 8-gun fire ship, previously the civilian Alex Roberts. She was purchased in 1739 and was broken up by 1742.

HMS Cumberland (1745) was an 8-gun fire ship in service in 1745.

HMS Cumberland (1774) was a 74-gun third rate launched in 1774 and broken up in 1805.

HMS Cumberland (1803) was a schooner purchased in 1803. The French captured her in 1804.

HMS Cumberland (1807) was a 74-gun third rate launched in 1807. She was converted to a convict ship in 1830 and was renamed HMS Fortitude in 1833. She was put on the sale list in 1870 and was subsequently sold.

HMS Cumberland (1842) was a 70-gun third rate launched in 1842. She was used as a training ship from 1870, and was burnt in 1889. The wreck was broken up later that year.

HMS Cumberland (1902) was a Monmouth-class armoured cruiser launched in 1902. She was sold in 1921 and was broken up in 1923.

HMS Cumberland (57) was a County-class heavy cruiser launched in 1926 and broken up in 1959.

HMS Cumberland (F85) was a Type 22 frigate launched in 1986 and decommissioned on 23 June 2011.

HMS Cumberland (1695)

HMS Cumberland was a three-decker 80-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched at Bursledon on 12 November 1695.Cumberland was captured by the French in the Battle at the Lizard in 1707. She served in the French navy under her old name, and in 1715 was sold to Genoa. The Genoese sold her to Spain in 1717 and she was renamed Principe de Asturias. She was recaptured by the British at the Battle of Cape Passaro in 1718, but did not return to service, and was instead sold to Austria in 1720. She was based at Naples and was renamed San Carlos. She served until being broken up in 1733, having by then served under five flags.

HMS Grafton (1709)

HMS Grafton was a 70-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. She was built by Swallow and Fowler, of Limehouse, London to the dimensions of the 1706 Establishment, and was launched on 9 August 1709.She spent some time under the command of George Forbes, 3rd Earl of Granard, and by 1718 she was commanded by Nicholas Haddock, and was present at the Battle of Cape Passaro. By 1738 she was stationed at the Nore, when she was commanded by Richard Lestock.

On 21 September 1722 Grafton was ordered to be taken to pieces and rebuilt to the 1719 Establishment at Woolwich, from where she was relaunched on 25 November 1725. She remained in service until 1744, when she was broken up.

HMS Orford (1698)

HMS Orford was a 70-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, launched at Deptford in 1698. She carried twenty-two 24-pounder guns and four (18-pounder) culverins on the lower deck; twenty-six 12-pounder guns on the upper deck; fourteen (5-pounder) sakers on the quarter-deck and forecastle; and four 3-pounder guns on the poop or roundhouse.

In 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession, Orford served in Admiral Sir George Rooke's fleet in the Mediterranean; she was present as a member of the naval bombardment force at the Capture of Gibraltar. Shortly thereafter, at the Battle of Malaga, commanded by Captain John Norris, Orford was a member of the vanguard division of Rooke's fleet under Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell and Vice-Admiral John Leake; all these officers but the latter, who himself became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1710, were future admirals of the fleet.

In 1707, she belonged to Admiral Shovell's fleet. She saw action during the unsuccessful Battle of Toulon and was present during the great naval disaster off the Isles of Scilly when Shovell and four of his ships (Association, Firebrand, Romney and Eagle) were lost, claiming the lives of nearly 2,000 sailors. Orford suffered little to no damage and finally managed to reach Portsmouth.

She was rebuilt for the first time according to the 1706 Establishment at Limehouse, relaunching on 17 March 1713. She underwent a second rebuild in 1727.In 1718 she was present at the Battle of Cape Passaro, and in 1736 she brought John Harrison and his first marine clock back from Lisbon.

Orford was wrecked on 13 February 1745 in the Windward Passage, though all her crew were saved.

HMS Royal Oak (1674)

HMS Royal Oak was a 74-gun third rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built by Jonas Shish at Deptford and launched in 1674. She was one of only three Royal Navy ships to be equipped with the Rupertinoe naval gun. Life aboard her when cruising in the Mediterranean in 1679 is described in the diary of Henry Teonge.

She was rebuilt at Chatham Dockyard in 1690 as a 70-gun third rate.On 24 August 1704, Royal Oak participated in the Battle of Vélez-Málaga, in the centre division of the combined English-Dutch fleet under Admiral George Rooke.

She was rebuilt a second time at Woolwich Dockyard, relaunching on 14 May 1713 as a 70-gun third rate built to the 1706 Establishment. She fought off Forbin's squadron during the Action of 2 May 1707, and was also present in the Battle at The Lizard.

Under the command of Captain Thomas Kempthorne, Royal Oak took part in the Battle of Cape Passaro on 11 August 1718 as part of Admiral Sir George Byng's fleet.

On 8 March 1737 she was ordered to be taken to pieces at Plymouth, and rebuilt as a 70-gun ship according to the 1733 proposals of the 1719 Establishment. She was relaunched on 29 August 1741. Captain Philip Vincent took command and the ship was assigned to the Mediterranean with Rear Admiral Richard Lestock's squadron. Vincent was succeeded by Captain Edmund Willams, Captain Charles Long and finally Captain James Hodsall.Royal Oak was converted to serve as a prison ship at Plymouth in 1756. The ship was the scene of an incident in January 1759 in which a French prisoner, Jean Manaux, told the warden that his fellow prisoners were forging passes. His fellow prisoners discovered this and, on 25 January, dragged him to a remote part of the ship, gave him approximately 60 strokes with a large iron thimble tied to a rope, then beat him to death after he struggled from his bonds. They dismembered his body in an attempt to dispose of it. At an inquest ashore the next day, one of the prisoners provided information on the murder, which resulted in the hanging of Charles Darras, Louis Bourdec, Fleurant Termineu, Pierre Pitroll and Pierre Lagnal on April 25 at Exeter.Royal Oak was broken up in 1763.

HMS Superb (1710)

HMS Superb was a 64-gun third-rate ship of the line of the British Royal Navy. She had previously been Le Superbe, a 56-gun warship of the French Navy, until her capture off Lizard Point by HMS Kent in July 1710. Commissioned into the Royal Navy in September 1710, HMS Superb served throughout Queen Anne's War and the War of the Quadruple Alliance, during which she participated in the destruction of the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Cape Passaro in 1718. She was broken up in 1732.

José Antonio de Gaztañeta

Don José Antonio de Gaztañeta (alternatively José Antonio de Castaneta) (Mutriku, Gipuzkoa, 1656 – Madrid, 1728) was a Spanish Basque Vice-Admiral and ship builder.

List of ships of the line of Spain

This is a list of Spanish ships of the line (comprising the battlefleet) built or acquired during the period 1640-1854:

Those with 94 or more guns were three-deckers, while all the others listed were two-deckers. Those ships with secular names (e.g. royal, geographical or adjectival names) were additionally given an official religious name (or advocación) which appears below in parenthesis following the secular name.

Until 1716 there was not one single Spanish Navy but several naval forces, of which the Armada del Mar Océano was the primary one but several other distinct forces existed. The Real Armada ("Royal Navy") was created by the newly-established Bourbon government in 1716, but the other armadas (in Spanish, the word "armada" is used for both "navy" and "fleet") endured for several years thereafter. During the early 1750s, the term Real Armada was replaced by Armada Español.

Philip Vanbrugh

Philip Vanbrugh (c. 1681 – 22 July 1753) was an officer of the Royal Navy. He served as Commodore Governor of Newfoundland.

Thomas Mathews

Thomas Mathews (October 1676 – 2 October 1751) was a British officer of the Royal Navy, who rose to the rank of admiral.

Mathews joined the navy in 1690 and saw service on a number of ships, including during the Nine Years' War and the War of the Spanish Succession. He interspersed periods spent commanding ships with time at home at the family estate in Llandaff. He distinguished himself with service with Sir George Byng at the Battle of Cape Passaro in 1718, and went on to command squadrons in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean, before largely retiring from naval service. He returned to active service in 1741, following Britain's entry to the War of the Austrian Succession, and took command of the fleet in the Mediterranean. The usual difficulties of performing delicate diplomatic duties were further exacerbated by the fact that he was on bad terms with his second in command, Richard Lestock, on whom he relied to manage the fleet. The pivotal moment of his naval career came in 1744, when he attempted to intercept a Franco-Spanish fleet at the Battle of Toulon. The action was fought in confused circumstances, with poor communications and the breakdown of the chain of command. Despite possessing the superior force, Mathews was unable to secure a decisive result, and the enemy were able to escape with the loss of one ship, while Mathews's fleet lost one and had several others badly damaged.

The failure to secure a victory incensed the British public, and a series of courts-martial and a public inquiry led to several officers being cashiered. Mathews' second in command, Lestock, was tried but acquitted, blaming the outcome on Mathews' poor planning and ill-tempered and unwise attack. Mathews was tried and convicted of the charges, and dismissed from the navy. He returned to his estates at Llandaff, before moving to London and dying there in 1751.

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