The Battle of Vélez-Málaga was the largest naval battle in the War of the Spanish Succession.
It took place on 24 August 1704 south of Málaga, Spain, in an action between an Anglo-Dutch fleet,
which intercepted a Franco-Spanish fleet.
Both fleets had about 50 ships; mostly third rate ships of the line, with a few extra fire-ships and galleys employed, due to the mild weather. The battle itself was bloody, with about 5,000 casualties overall, but no ships were sunk on either side. Both combatants adhered to fighting by line of battle, which offered benefits from mutual support of fire by neighbouring ships, at the restriction of freedom of movement for the fleet. An engraving of the battle gives an impression of the action.
The Franco-Spanish fleet failed to defeat their rivals, and could not retake Gibraltar from the British. Thus, a tactical stalemate turned into an Grand Alliance strategic victory, with long ranging consequences.
Maurepas, a naval minister of Louis XV, once dismissed naval warfare thus: “I don’t think much of these naval combats. C’est piff poff on one side and the other, and leaves the sea as salty as before”. But it’s a deadly piff poff when you’re in the thick of it, as we shall shortly see.
This simulation uses 12 ships per side (i.e. approximately 1/4 ship in original battle), with an Anglo-Dutch fleet intercepting a Franco-Spanish fleet, using simple wargame rules. The names of the ships and the squadrons used for both fleets are found in the velez-malaga-damage-sheets. The weather gauge lies firmly with the Grand Alliance, with the wind blowing from the west, courtesy of the Venti Favonius, at a moderate strength, supporting the approach of the Anglo-Dutch Fleet. During the battle, the wind direction can alter via successive die rolls as explained in the rules. The Franco-Spanish fleet are initially unable to sail directly into wind to head off the Anglo-Dutch, and so wait for their arrival.
The Franco-Spanish fleet have to double round the Anglo-Dutch Fleet, cross their ‘T’ and inflict more damage than they receive, provided the winds change direction. The Anglo-Dutch fleet have to prevent this fleet manoeuver, and in turn inflict more damage than they receive. This will stop an attempted relief of Gibraltar, which lies to the west, by the Franco-Spanish fleet. The English vanguard, under the command of Vice Admiral Sir John Leake in HMS Prince George closes down on the French line, waiting to come into range for combat to commence. Les Vaisseuls de la Marine Royal are ready.
The French vanguard, led by Vice Amiral de Villette Mursay in the ship Fier, steers slightly to port, bringing his ship in extreme range of the British vanguard.
Alas, the broadside causes no significant damage!
Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 0 Franco-Spanish = 0
The weather now becomes fresher; still blown by Favonius, the west wind.
Fortuna Belli now frowns on Fier. The broadside from HMS Prince George takes out two of her port gun decks, and with a double six being thrown, Vice Amiral de Villette Mursay sees his ship catch fire. HMS Norfolk‘s broadside, destroys the remaining gun deck on the port side. Fier cannot retaliate, and must send all hands to put the fire out, otherwise it will shortly explode.
Fier fails to throw a 5,6, and so the fire continues to grow towards the ship’s magazine. Vice Amiral de Villette Mursay has no option but to steer his ship hard to starboard, away from the main fleet, in case the Fates dictate his ship explodes, and spreads further havoc in a chain reaction. Sérieux is now the flag of the French vanguard, under the command of Captain Chamelin. Its first broadside exacts some revenge against HMS Prince George, which loses a starboard gun deck. The Foudroyant‘s first broadside fails to make any damage on HMS Norfolk.
Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 1 Franco-Spanish = 3
The weather gauge remains the same for the next move.
Broadsides from HMS Prince George fail to result in any damage to Sérieux, but shots to the sails from HMS Norfolk and HMS Barfleur bring down the mainsail and mizzen masts of Foudroyant.
Alas, the unhappy blue squadron, vanguard of the French fleet! Fier fails to throw a 6 to put the raging fires out, Fortuna Belli whispers to Morta it is time, and so the flames reach the ship’s magazine and she explodes. Admiral de Villette Mursay and his crew are lost, and all of France will grieve when they hear the news. The loss of rigging from Foudroyant, encourages her to steer to starboard towards the doomed Fier, and out of the line of battle to help save survivors. Before she turns, her broadside damages HMS Norfolk, and the Sage inflicts even more damage on HMS Barfleur. Revenge begins for the French after the loss of their brave Amiral and his crew.
Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 3 Franco-Spanish = 14
The Venti Favonius runs out of breath, and his companion, Afer Ventus, takes over as the wind swings to the south west, still at the same moderate strength.
The English vanguard pass Sérieux, and further shots to her sails bring down her fore-mast. The main mast to Sage is also brought down by shots from HMS Swiftsure. The English red squadon comprising the centre of the fleet is now fully deployed.
Sérieux now replies in kind against HMS Norfolk, which loses another starboard gundeck. Sage and Tonnant, the flagship of Amiral de France de Toulouse, also fire and damages HMS Royal Sovereign, destroying a gundeck.
Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 6 Franco-Spanish = 17
Afer Ventus continues to blow from the south west, still at the same moderate strength.
HMS Prince George senses her moment and decides to commit the vanguard to double round the French and cross their T. Sérieux is now crossed by fire from both the leading English ships, but their gunnery is less than their resolve, so all they bring down is the main mast. Fortuna Belli now frowns on the Englis, as broadsides ripple down the fleet as far as HMS Monmouth, causing no damage to the French. Meanwhile the Dutch rear guard, headed by Graaf van Albemarle has now arrived.
Sérieux swings round to starboard to follow the English vanguard, and she brings down the fore-mast on HMS Prince George. Fortuna Belli smiles on the broadside reply from the French, as ships fromTonnant to La Sirene fire and their shots slam into the English fleet. Admiral Sir George Rooke on HMS Royal Katherine watches helplessly as she loses all gundecks on her starboard side, and, woe to thee, O ship! – catches fire. Will she go the same way as Le Fier?
Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 14 Franco-Spanish = 18
Afer Ventus continues to blow from the south west, still at the same moderate strength and so the weather gauge remains the same for the next move.
HMS Prince George, HMS Norfolk and HMS Barfleur now ring Sérieux and rake her with broadsides, destroying her remaining gundecks on the port side. She now cannot return fire back on the English. O happy ship! O happy Admiral! HMS Royal Katherine manages to put out the fires and she resumes her position as flagship to the red Squadron, the English Centre. HMS Monmouth and HMS Kent fire broadsides against their opposite numbers in the French line of battle, and Esperance and La Sirene are damaged. The Dutch Rear now appears in strength, with Graaf van Albemarle leading, Gelderland next in line. They will soon be in battle.
Sérieux begins her retreat, but must be careful in not blocking the fire of the fast approaching French line of battle led by Sage, which is just out of range of the English. The French red squadron’s Sirene and Solide fire on the English, damaging HMS Monmouth and HMS Kent.
Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 16 Franco-Spanish = 21.
The Venti Afer Ventus runs out of breath, and his companion, Auster, takes over as the wind swings to the south, still at the same moderate strength. The weather gauge is now neutral, favouring neither fleet.
Alas, unhappy ship! Sérieux is now reduced to a prize waiting to be captured, as further broadsides from HMS Norfolk and HMS Barfleur bring down the last of her rigging and rake her stern, destroying much of her starboard guns. HMS Prince George fails to hit Sage. HMS Kent and HMS Essex fire broadsides, damaging both the Sirene and Solide.
Sage fires a broadside beloved by Fortuna Belli and brings down the rigging on HMS Prince George, which will hamper the English vanguard. Solide and El Torro fire their broadsides. The Spanish shot is especially effective; in their delight, they see HMS Essex catch fire. Will she escape like HMS Royal Katherine did, or go the way of Fier, whose survivors are being rescued by Foudroyant?
Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 20 Franco-Spanish = 26.
Auster continues to blow from the south, but at increased strength.
Broadsides from HMS Prince George and HMS Norfolk bring down the mizzen mast of Sage. HMS Essex manages to get her fires under control and then puts them out, thanks to the crew, Captain Hubbard and Fortuna Belli. Broadsides from HMS Kent to Graaf van Albemarle inflict further damage on their opposite numbers in the line of battle, with El Torro receiving a hit. Lieutenant-Admiral Gerard Callenburgh, in command of the rear on Graaf van Albemarle is delighted at the progress of the Dutch ships for they are ready to join battle.
Broadsides from Sage and Tonnant bring down the two leadings masts of HMS Norfolk, and for once the French fleet edges ahead of the Anglo-Dutch line of battle. Solide and El Torro fire in reply which hits Graaf van Albemarle.
Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 23 Franco-Spanish = 29.
Auster now gives way to Subsolanus, blowing from the south-east, at increased strength. The weather gauge has now swung round in favour of the Franco-Spanish fleet. At this wind strength, seamanship will be sorely tested.
HMS Prince George manages to rig up a temporary sail and gets underway in strong seas. HMS Norfolk fires into Sage, damaging her. A broadside from HMS Swiftsure damages Tonnant. The Dutch now fire a broadside from Graaf van Albemarle to Dordrecht, against the Spanish, causing damage down their line of battle from El Torro to Santo Domingo.
Sage closes down onto HMS Norfolk and boards her. Despite gallant resistance from her depleted crew, HMS Norfolk conceeds and strikes her colours. The French have a new ship for their fleet if they can extract her from the mêlée and their tales will be retold many times! A small crew from the Sage transfers to Le Norfolk to begin the task. The French red squadron, Tonnant, Esperance and Sirene all fire broadsides as the ships pass the duel at the head of the line. The damage inflicted is light, as is that from El Toro, Santo Domingo and Sacra Familia against the Dutch.
Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 32 Franco-Spanish = 35.
Subsolanus, blowing from the south-east, now blows at maximum strength. The Fates have turned the battle into one against the wind and waves, as much as ship against ship and so firing efficiency falls together with an inability to board another ship until the wind drops. The weather gauge still remains in favour of the Franco-Spanish fleet. Can they exploit it?
With the wind still at maximum strength, the Anglo-Dutch fleet moves to head off the Franco-Spanish fleet, preventing them in their primary task of sailing off the combat area to the west, which would allow the recapture of Gilbraltar. As the English ships of the blue squadron sail on, they fire broadsides towards Tonnant. However, in the high seas these inflict only minor damage. The Dutch also have limited success against the Spanish ships further down the line of battle. Graaf van Albemarle to Nijmegen all fire and lightly damage the Santo Domingo. More success is gained against the badly damaged Sérieux. Shots from HMS Monmouth to HMS Kent damage her further, and in these high seas, she is on the point of sinking.
Alas, Amiral de France de Toulouse in Tonnant knows the battle cannot be won, and in high seas begins to break off the engagement and head for home. As he steers the French ships round, they fire on HMS Prince George, which catches fire. Further down the line, the Spanish reply against the Dutch, with broadsides from Santo Domingo to Jesus Maria Jose and Dordrecht receives some damage. Having captured her prize, Sage attempts to separate from the Norfolk, but the high seas prevent this, and so they remain lashed together.
Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 36 Franco-Spanish = 41.
Subsolanus still blows from the south-east, at maximum strength.
HMS Swiftsure leads the Anglo-Dutch line of battle round, preparing to head back to Gibraltar. The other ships behind turn in response. Meanwhile, a combination of broadsides from Graaf van Albemarle and heavy seas claims Sérieux, which sinks, with the loss of all hands… The high winds and Fortuna Belli help extinguish the fires on HMS Prince George, and she escapes to fight another day.
The Sage and Norfolk manage to break free in the high seas, and both damaged ships begin turning for home, in the direction of the rest of the fleet. The Franco-Spanish ships are out of range of the Anglo-Dutch in the high seas, so the fight cannot continue. The task is now to get home safely in the ensuing storm.
Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 36 Franco-Spanish = 42.
Subsolanus gives way to Vulturnus, blowing from the East, with slightly reduced force.
The turn to home by the Anglo-Dutch fleet continues, with each ship turning at the same point.
The Franco-Spanish fleet continue to slip away in the high seas.
Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 36 Franco-Spanish = 42.
Vulturnus gives way to Caecius, the Venti of the freezing north east wind, at moderate strength. This direction plays havoc with the remaining lines of battle, which must tack to accomodate the weather.
Alas for Caecius! He scatters the line of battle of the Anglo-Dutch fleet waiting patiently for their appointed time to turn, forcing them towards the English red squadron, which will have to take avoiding action shortly.
The Spanish ships scatter too, off towards the south-east.
Damage so far:- Anglo-Dutch = 36 Franco-Spanish = 42.
Caecius, the Venti of the freezing north east wind, continues his mischief.
The English squadrons scatter to the north west to avoid the approaching English and Dutch ships. It will take a considerable time to regroup all the squadrons into something battle worthy.
The Franco-Spanish fleet have their own disorder to attend to and sail for home, as do the Anglo-Dutch fleet. Thus the Battle of Vélez-Málaga Redux comes to an end.
Victoria sends her blessing to Admiral Sir George Rooke, commander Anglo-Dutch Fleet, and strikes a medal celebrating his victory; Imperium Pelagi, dominion of the sea.
An animated gif of the battle is below.
The Admirals fighting this encounter were:-
Admiral Sir George Rooke, commander Anglo-Dutch Fleet.
Amiral de France de Toulouse, commander Franco-Spanish Fleet.
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