Extract from "Tom Richards’ Log"|
Rebellion of General Conturas.
"Swiftsure" to the rescue.
Ram and Battleship, carrying fourteen 12 ton guns (18 tons including carriage and slide) and firing a shot or shell of 250 lbs with a battering charge of 43 lbs. Also four 64 pounder shunt guns, as well as small guns for the boats. Complement of 450 men, commissioned at Devonport in early May 1872 by Captain the Hon. W.J.Ward.
Western Mediterranean, July 1873
It was about this time we received the news of the abdication of Amadeus, King of Spain and the setting up of a Republican Government, called the Madrid Government. The different provinces were set under governors. General Conturas, the fat officer who accompanied the King on board the "Swiftsure" in Ferrol, was governor of Murcia, the principal part of which is Cartagena, a very strongly fortified naval port. Conturas had not been here very long before he rebelled, and his government sent an army in rear of the town and besieged it. Conturas sent his ships along the coast, demanding provisions, &c. If refused, he would bombard the towns. It was at this crisis the "Swiftsure" suddenly had orders to proceed with all possible speed to Gibraltar. Our field guns being on shore, we hastily got them on board, spare sails and stores from the dockyard, we slipped mooring and were soon steaming hard for Gibraltar. We lay to under steam for about ½ an hour, then proceeded to Malaga, south coast of Spain. We arrived same evening between 5 and 6 pm and dropped anchor. A German ironclad named the "Frederick Carl", Commodore Von Werner, was lying here. We had news that 2 large ships from Cartagena were expected here at Malaga early next morning. The following morning about 4 am, the "Swiftsure" and German ironclad weighed anchor and proceeded north. Just before 5 am - it was my morning watch out and I happened to be on the top-gallant-forecastle - a large black ship hove in sight and was reported right ahead. A minute or two afterwards the bugler sounded to quarters for action. Immediately everyone dropped what he was about, and made a rush for the guns and cast them loose. In the midst of this din and rattle of securing chains and winches, &c, the 1st Lieutenant Mr Dowding, who was also our gunnery Lieutenant appeared on the main hatchway ladder with the bugler at his heels. Mr Dowding raised the forefinger of his right hand. The bugler immediately sounded a sharp, shrill note (the still). In an instant all is quiet except the splash of the water alongside. So strict is the discipline in this respect on board a perfect British ship-of-war that if a man should happen to fall, he is to remain in this position till the bugle sounds the "carry on". If he does not, he is liable to punishment.
The "Swiftsure" and the German "Frederick Carl" encounter
Mr Dowding then gave the command in a clear, ringing voice; "Load with full charge and common shell". This shell was 250 lbs. including a bursting charge of 18 lbs of powder. Down drops Mr Dowding's finger, the bugle sounds the "carry on" and all again is rattle and din for about two minutes, when all is quiet and ready to let drive at the enemy.
The Spanish rebel ships "Almanza" and "Vittoria"
The ship was a very large Spanish frigate "The Almanza", a wooden ship with only her lower masts in and crowded with men and flying a red flag. The "Frederick Carl" steamed ahead to fire a blank as a demand for her to heave to. This she disregarded. The "Frederick Carl" then fixed a common shell close across her bows, which burst just beyond. This brought the Spaniard to his senses, for he up helm and lay to. The German sent a boat on board, ordering him to haul down his flag and surrender it to us. This he refused to do, saying that no foreign power had the right to interfere. The German steamed alongside the "Swiftsure". The Commodore hailed our Captain in broken English, "Captain Ward, that rebel has refused to haul his flag down. I have again sent on board to tell him - I vas give him 20 minutes, if he vas not haul it down then, I vas give him broadside." Captain Ward answered, "Is that according to our arrangement Commodore?" The Commodore replied, "I vas give him broadside." Meanwhile we could see the Almanza's guns being trained upon us. Our Captain kept the "Swiftsure" broadside on to her. At last just as the 20 minutes were expired, she very slowly hauled down her flag and left it hanging over her stern. We ordered her to accompany us back to Cartagena. Our guns were left loaded and secured and each man went to his duty. In less than an hour after this, another large ship was reported right ahead. It proved to be the Spanish 1st class ironclad "Vittoria", the same which conveyed King Amadeus to Ferrol. The bugle again sounded, "quarters for action", the same rush to the guns and amid the same din and rattle, the same forefinger was raised, the "still" sounded and Mr Dowding's clear voice was heard giving the command: "Withdraw the charges, and load with battering charge and chilled shell." The finger drops, the "carry on" is sounded, the din and rattle is renewed for 2 or 8 minutes, but not a voice heard, and all is ready to let drive. The battery charge is 43 lbs, shell 250 lbs. with a bursting charge of 5½ lbs. It has no fuze and is steel pointed, is extremely hard, and has immense penetrating power. It is supposed to be used against immense penetrating power. It is supposed to be used against ironclad and stone fortifications. The "Vittoria" was also crowded with men. The German fixed a blank for her to heave to. This she disregarded. A common shell was then fixed across her bows.
Force them to return to Catagena
The Spaniard then hove to. She was ordered to haul down her flag - also a red one - and accompany us back to Cartagena. It was some time - about ½ an hour - before they consented to do this, during which time we could see them at their quarters and training their guns. We were nearly all stripped to our flannels. Mr Dowding came halfway down the main hatchway ladder, with the bugler at his heels. He called out so as to be heard in both batteries, "If ordered to commence firing, you will take careful aim at the midship main deck ports of the enemy." This was because the heavy guns were there. Some one remarked, "We are going to have some fun this time lads!" Another remarked, "Well, if we do, the fun won't last long, for one well directed broadside would be quite enough for her, we wouldn't see much of her after that. As for the Ironclad, she is a powerful one and crammed with men, but she is not the better for that, because they are only an undisciplined rabble." At last she hauled down her flag, steamed ahead and accompanied us. A young signalman named Wilson was sent from us to the German, so that we could communicate. The Spaniards gave us to understand that they could not steam faster than from 3 to 4 knots.
Desperate attempts of Spanish ships to escape
Whether there was any truth in this or not, they both managed to steam out of sight during the darkness of the 2nd night after we captured them. As soon as they were missed, signals were made between the "Swiftsure" and "Frederick Carl", when both steamed ahead full speed, coming up with them some time after daylight. They were nearing land. The "Vittoria" made another desperate attempt to escape. This time the Commodore was so exasperated that he steamed full speed across the "Vittoria's" bows, carrying away her bowsprit and all her headgear; the German having a boat smashed to bits. Had the German been a few yards further to starboard, the Spaniard would have been rammed and sent to the bottom. Commodore Von Werner seemed to be a very hot-headed man. As it was, the German steamed round the Spaniard, coming up on her port quarter, and ordered her to lay to immediately, which she did. The Commodore then sent on board the Spaniard, took his best boat and hoisted it up to his own davits in place of the smashed one. All went on well till we arrived at Cartagena, when they both made desperate attempts to enter the harbour, but we placed ourselves across the entrance and ordered them to anchor outside in Escombiera Bay. We anchored a few hundred yards from them. A few hours after we had anchored I happened to be at my gun in the lower battery. Mr Dowding came into the battery and stood at one of the opposite guns. He ordered me to give this gun extreme evaluation. He then looked along the sights and found she would not bear of the forts on the hill, the ship being too close in shore. He reported this to the Captain, who ordered anchor to be weighed and to steam farther off, so that the guns could command the forts. The natural strength of this first class naval fort surprised me. The entrance to the harbour was narrow, with high hills on each side, with several strongly built forts on each, the guns of which could play down on the decks of the enemy.
Disarming the "Almanza" and "Vittoria"
A few days after our arrival, orders were given to the rebel ships that they were to abandon their ships without their arms on the following Sunday morn. They said they would land but not without their arms. The Commodore came on board the "Swiftsure" and was soon followed by several Spanish officers from each ship. Several of us were standing in the starboard gangway and could see what was going on. I saw the Commodore shake his fist at some of these officers and draw his fingers across his throat, and point to our foreyard arm, meaning, I suppose, that he would hang such rebels. Captain Ward and the Commodore told them that they were determined they should leave their ships without their arms. Sunday morn came and there was no sign of them leaving the ships. Signals were made to and from "Frederick Carl" and "Swiftsure", each manned and armed all boats, the "Swiftsure's" boats boarding the "Vittoria", the "Frederick Carl's", the "Almanza". In less than 2 hours every Spaniard had left his ship without his arms.
Conference with Conturas, the Governor of Murcia: re - the ships
About a week after this our Captain and the German Commodore paid a visit to the 'Junto' or governing body, presided over by Conturas, on shore and told them they were determined to take the two ships from Cartagena to Gibraltar and deliver them to the Madrid Government. This, they said, they would not allow. They were given a week to consider it. At the end of the week, the answer was that if we attempted to take away the ships, all the forts and such ships as they could bring to bear, would open fire upon us. Just at this time, Admiral Sir Hastings Yelverton arrived form Malta on board the "Lord Warden", and brought with him the "Defence" and 2 smaller ships.
Taking the Spanish ships to Gibraltar
Soon after this, a considerable number of ships of was arrived, representing all the Great Powers: France, Russia, Austria, Italy, America, and one of two small ones from Germany. When the day arrived to remove the ships, a party of men was sent from the "Swiftsure" to the "Vittoria" (the 2nd division to which I belonged) and also from the German to the "Almanza". Mr Dowding had the command of the "Vittoria", taking with him an instrument called 'Moorson's director', for the purpose of aligning all the guns on one object. On getting on board, we prepared the cable for slipping, got steam up, and all hands were told off to the guns - 3 men to each - to lay them accurately right abeam with a certain elevation. The guns were all loaded by to Spaniards of course, against us. The Spaniards had manned the guns in all the forts and moored a large ironclad named the "Numansia" across the entrance of the harbour. The Admiral had sent written orders to each of his ships. The "Swiftsure's" were: "First ram the "Numansia", then engage certain forts". The Admiral then hoisted the signal, "Prepare for battle!" All was ready in about ¼ hour. The signal was then made to the "Vittoria" and "Almanza" - 'Slip'. A knock with a hammer, and a rattle of the cable, we steamed slowly ahead. This was a very exciting moment! We fully thought the forts would have opened fire upon us. Had they done so, the "Vittoria" would have fired the broadside, then steamed round and fired the other broadside, after which we were to make the best of our way to Gibraltar, leaving the other ships to fight it out. But not a shot was fired, and we proceeded on our way. A few hours afterwards, the "Swiftsure" and "Frederick Carl" were sighted steaming rapidly. They soon came up and accompanied us to Gibraltar. We tried to empty the "Vittoria's" guns by firing them off, but more than one half of them would not explode, and we had some difficulty in withdrawing the charges.
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