Don Blas de Lezo vs Admiral Edward Vernon, in Cartagena de Indias, 1741

From the Editor (Monday, 12/29/2014, Gaudium Press) Don Blas de Lezo -who protected Cartagena de Indias, in now a days Colombia, against the British giant fleet commanded by Admiral Edward Vernon, in 1741- was a see warrior out of common.

General-Admiral Blas de Lezo, who was nicknamed ” Pata de palo” (wood leg) is one of those public figures that the prince of darkness hates from the depths of his being. He wants them to be ignored and, when this is not possible, he wants them to be discredited, slandered and calumniated.Don Blas de Lezo vs Admiral Edward Vernon.jpg

Certainly the Viceroy Eslava, the highest authority in Cartagena during the siege, was an instrument of the devil, who, envious of the military successes of the Basque sailor at the battle of Cartagena, and with the intention of defending himself against possible allegations of his incompetence in the defense of the “Key of the America”, he manufactured a distorted version of the events. This is well narrated by Don Pablo Victoria in his very interesting and informative book ” El día que Cartagena derrotó a Inglaterra” (The Day Cartagena defeated England ). [1]

Don Blas de Lezo’s final outcome resembles that of Saint Joan of Arc, the ‘pucelle’ of Domremy, who died condemned by the Inquisition of the Church she always served, and somehow abandoned by her own Nation, France, of whom she was a saviour. Or, it also remembers the glorious end of the life of the great Saint Francis Xavier, who died still young, aged 46, on the beach of Sancian, with his faithful Antonio, realizing that God did not allow him to fulfill his great dream, which was to be a missionary in China. Don Blas died in anonymity, surrounded only by his close family, forgotten by the city he saved, slandered by the Viceroy whose prestige he maintained. It is not yet known where the remains of Don Blas are: such was the indifference and negligence of the inhabitants of Cartagena for whom he fought.

Just over a month after his death, and not knowing that he had already died, a royal order was given dismissing Don Blas de Lezo as commander of Cartagena and ordering him to return to Spain for trial. Death had saved him from this last outrage and humiliation. “[2]

But God ignores these wiles of the devil, and makes the sun shine on those he wants to reward. The report written by Don Blas was saved and survived the uncertainties of time allowing, along with other evidences, for the truth to be told. In fact, in recent times, there is a growing interest his deeds and his uncommon valour.

Just to encourage the reader to deepen its knowledge into the life of this man, we will give here some singular facts of his life. Don Blas always carried with him a silver crucifix, which was a source of inspiration in moments of great affliction.

Besides eminent strategist Blas de Lezo was a resourceful inventor. The guns of that time had a serious problem, which was its rigidity. He invented “a simple but effective mechanism to fill the gap and gain speed and efficiency; was this mechanism in a kind of wooden ramp on top of which there was a slit to fit the wheels of the carriage [cart carrying barrel], but that allowed the barrel recoil with every shot; the ramp lift allowed it to rich the desired height and thereby adjust the shot without altering the size or the powder charge; also allowed to use the same piece for long shots and short ones”. [3] The British were surprised with the invention, which largely allowed balancing the disproportion between British and Hispanic forces.

Don Blas also created a type of union between two cannonballs that swept the masts of the attacking ships; thereby preventing free movement. Already in the battles of the Mediterranean, Don Blas had devised stratagems of concealment, creating smoke screens with straws, some launched from the cannon themselves.

Don Blas was also a practical man on the ground. The stone walls then had slits on top from where you could cobble a defender from where he could shoot or spy. But because it was not attached to the wall it was the weakest part of it and when it was hit by a cannonball it turns into thousands of deadly projectiles. “That is why Lezo recommended grounding them out and replace them with full sacks of sand, stacked on each other, damping the blow and diminishing the impact.” [4]

At the end of the siege of Cartagena, two facts were of high importance. One was that Don Blas commanded the opening of a moat around the Castle of San Felipe, the great bastion of the defense, which was crucial, because the stepladders of the British became too short to climb the walls. Another one was what was called “the call to prayer”: on the key day, and at the peak of the heat of the battle of the Castle of San Felipe, the defenders of the fort, in any position, ceased fire in order to pray the Angelus: “the angel of the Lord declared unto Mary …” said by Fr. Thomas P. Lobo; “and she conceived of the Holy Spirit …” all replied. The British could not but be astonished of the Spanish ‘fanaticism’ …

By Saul Castiblanco

[1] Victoria, Pablo. El día que Cartagena derrotó a Inglaterra. Ed. Planeta. Bogotá. 2011. El libro ya va en su cuarta edición española.
[2] Ibídem. p. 343
[3] Ibídem. p. 187
[4] Ibídem. p. 227

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