1708 – British conquest of Minorca
The campaign took place in September 1708
In December 1707, at the death of Sir Thomas Dilkes in Livorno, Captain Jasper Hicks of the Cornwall (80) assumed command of the British Mediterranean squadron.
Early in 1708, the Earl of Galway had withdrawn from Catalonia to Lisbon, and the command in Catalonia had been given at Marlborough's instance to Field-Marshal von Starhemberg, an Imperial officer of much experience and deservedly high reputation. Starhemberg, however, could do little with but 10,000 men against the Bourbon's army of twice his strength, so by Marlborough's advice the troops were used to second the operations of the Mediterranean squadron.
On 18 March, Captain Hicks, after having convoyed some transports from Italy to Spain, reached Lisbon to await the arrival from Great Britain of Sir John Leake, who had been appointed Admiral of the Fleet, and Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean.
On 8 April, Leake, who had left the Channel with a large convoy in his charge, reached Lisbon.
On 9 May, Admiral Leake sailed from Lisbon for Barcelona with 13 British and 12 Dutch ships of the line, besides transport carrying troops, as well as several small craft.
Off the coast of Catalonia, Leake captured the greater part of a valuable French convoy (about 90 settees and tartans) laden with supplies for the French army.
On 26 May, Leake's fleet anchored off Barcelona, and was joined by 4 more British vessels of war.
Leake's fleet then proceeded to Vado to confer with the military leaders of the Allies, and to carry to Spain Princess Elizabeth Christina of Brunswick, who was about to marry Archduke Charles.
Having returned with the princess to Barcelona, where he took on board a few Spanish troops, Leake sailed for Sardinia. The British troops employed in this expedition were the Thomas Harrison's Foot, 600 Marines and a battalion of seamen.
On 12 August, Leake's fleet appeared before Cagliari, which, together with the rest of Sardinia, submitted to the Habsburg Pretender after a very few bombs had been thrown into the city.
On 29 August, Leake's fleet left Cagliari and sailed for the Island of Minorca.
On 5 September, Leake's fleet reached Port Mahon in Minorca. There Admiral Leake made preparations to reduce the island. The rural population of Minorca and of Mahon itself, was not ill-disposed to Archduke Charles; but the party of Philip V held several strong posts in the island, including Ciudadella, the capital, Fornells, on the north, and three forts defending the entrance to Port Mahon.
On 14 September, after collecting from Majorca and elsewhere sufficient troops for the conquest of the island, Admiral Leake landed a force of about 2,600 men, 1,200 of whom, including a number of Marines, were British. These troops were under the command of Major-General Stanhope.
The garrison of Port Mahon consisted of 1,000 men (French and Spaniards). The Castle of San Felipe de Mahon had recently been strengthened and a new line-wall had been constructed across the whole neck of land in front of the other works.
By that time the season had arrived when, in accordance with precedent, the Commander-in-Chief should return to England, leaving the winter operations to a subordinate officer. Leake, therefore, contented himself with seeing to the completeness of the preliminary measures.
On 17 September, Leake sailed fro home with 7 British and 8 Dutch ships of the line. Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Whitaker remained behind to command the winter squadron, and to superintend the reduction of Minorca. He lost no time in detaching the Dunkirk (50) and the Centurion (54) to bombard the fort of Fornells.
On 20 September, the fort of Fornells surrendered.
On 22 September, the garrison of Ciudadella submitted.
When he was off Gibraltar, Leake detached a few ships to look for French cruisers from Cádiz operating in the region.
On 28 September, the forces of Major-General Stanhope opened a battery against the new bulwark in front of the Castle of San Felipe, and effected several breaches in it. Some grenadiers, in their eagerness, pushed into the enclosure, without waiting for orders; which the General perceiving, advanced, with all the men he could collect, to support them. After a sharp attack , he drove the enemy out of the front towers, and effected a lodgement, before night, at the foot of the inner glacis. In the course of this attack, Captain Philip Stanhope, of the Milford galley, was killed and about 40 men were killed or wounded.
On 29 September, Stanhope was preparing for a second attack, when the enemy beat the chamade, and commenced a parley, which ended in their capitulation the same afternoon.
On 30 September, Stanhope took possession of Port Mahon. He found in the fortress about 100 pieces of cannon, 3,000 barrels of powder, and all things necessary for a good defence. Having been instructed by the Queen to take reprisals on the first opportunity, for the violation of the terms granted by Asfeld to the British garrison of Xativa, he detained the French soldiers as prisoners of war.
On 30 October, Leake's squadron reached St. Helens.
Rear-Admiral Whitaker spent the rest of the year in attending to the safety of the convoys of the Allies, in putting pressure upon the Pope in order to induce him to acknowledge Archduke Charles as king of Spain, and in carrying troops.
In the meantime, it had been decided at home to strengthen the winter force in the Mediterranean; and Admiral Sir John Byng had been dispatched with a fleet from England, to carry the Queen of Portugal to Lisbon, to arrange for the safety of the Portuguese Brazil fleet and the British trade, to leave a detachment in the Tagus River under Sir John Jennings, and to proceed to Port Mahon.
On 23 January 1709, Admiral Byng anchored in the harbour of Port Mahon.
The British had gained their first port in the Mediterranean; and the news of the capture of Minorca reached sailLondon on the same day as that of the fall of Lille.
This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Clowes, Wm. Laird: The Royal Navy – A History from the Earliest Time to the Present, Vol. II, Sampson Low, Marston and Company, London: 1898, pp. 412-414
- Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army, Vol. I, MacMillan, London, 1899, p. 511
- Mahon, Lord: History of the War of the Succession in Spain, London: John Murray, 1836, pp. 252-259
Arre Caballo – Campañas en 1.708