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Cape St Vincent, battle of

Cape St Vincent, battle of, 1797. On 14 February 1797, four months after the start of hostilities with Spain and after the British fleet had been forced to evacuate the Mediterranean for the first time in a century, 15 ships under Sir John Jervis met the Spanish grand fleet of 27 more heavily gunned ships 25 miles off the south-western cape of Portugal. The Spanish line was disordered and, in a westerly wind, Jervis steered through a wide gap from the north. Nelson in Captain broke out of the line to prevent the westerly Spaniards rounding the British rear to re-unite with their easterly ships. Captain, only later ‘nobly supported’ by Excellent and Culloden, was fought to a standstill; Nelson then vaulted with boarding parties first into the San Nicolas and then into San Josef: his ‘patent bridge’. In all, four Spaniards were taken, Nelson's irregularity in leaving the line matching Jervis's expressed resolve upon ‘a considerable degree of enterprise’. Jervis was sent to the Lords as Earl St Vincent.

David Denis Aldridge

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