Battle of Havana (1762)

The Battle of Havana (1762) was a military action from March to August 1762, as part of the Seven Years' War. British forces besieged and captured the city of Havana, which at the time was an important Spanish naval base in the Caribbean, and dealt a serious blow to the Spanish navy. Havana was subsequently returned to Spain under the 1763 Treaty of Paris that formally ended the war.

Background

Spanish preparations

Before involving his country in the conflict raging in Europe and across the world, Charles III of Spain made provisions to defend the Spanish colonies against the British navy. For the defence of Cuba, he appointed Juan de Prado as commander-in-chief. De Prado arrived at Havana in February 1761 and began work to improve the fortifications of the city.

In June 1761, a flotilla of seven ships of the line under the command of Admiral Gutierre de Hevia arrived at Havana, transporting two regular infantry regiments (España and Aragón) totalling some 1,000 men. However, yellow fever quickly reduced the defending forces, and by the time of the siege, they had been reduced to 3,850 soldiers, 5,000 sailors and marines and 2,800 militia. The main garrison consisted of:

  • España Infantry Regiment (481)
  • Aragón Infantry Regiment (265)
  • Havana Infantry Regiment (856)
  • Edinburgh's Dragoons (150)
  • Army's gunners (104)
  • Navy's gunners and marines (750)

Havana had one of the finest harbours in the West Indies. It could easily accommodate up to 100 ships of the line. A 180 m wide and 800 m long entrance channel gave access to the harbour, and Havana housed important shipyards capable of building first-rate Man-of-war ships.

Two strong fortresses defended the entrance channel; on the north side of the channel stood the very strong Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro (known in English as Morro Castle) on the rocky Cavannos Ridge. It had 64 heavy guns and was garrisoned by 700 men. The south side was defended by the Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta. The channel could also be blocked by a boom chain extending from El Morro to La Punta. Havana itself lay on the south side along the channel and was surrounded by a wall 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) long. Havana was considered impregnable, and hadn't been taken since the French pirates in the 16th century.

British preparations

When war broke out with Spain plans were made in Great Britain for an amphibious attack on Havana. The expedition was under the command of George Keppel, 3rd Earl of Albemarle, with Vice-Admiral Sir George Pocock as naval commander. This plan also called for Jeffrey Amherst to embark 4,000 men from America to join Keppel and to assemble another force of 8,000 men for an attack on Louisiana.

During the month of February, British troops embarked, they consisted of:

On 5 March the British expedition sailed from Spithead, England, with 7 ships of the line and 4,365 men aboard 64 transports, and arrived in Barbados on 20 April. Five days later the expedition reached Fort Royal on the recently conquered island of Martinique where it picked up the remainder of Major-General Robert Monckton's expedition, still numbering 8,461 men. Rear Admiral George Rodney's squadron, amounting to 8 ships of the line also joined the expedition bringing the total number of ships of the line to 15.

On 23 May the expedition, now off the northwest corner of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), was further reinforced by Sir James Douglas' squadron from Port Royal, Jamaica. The force under Albemarle now amounted to 21 ships of the line, 24 lesser warships, and 168 other vessels, carrying some 14,000 seamen and marines plus another 3,000 hired sailors and 12,826 regulars.