Blas de Lezo
He was called “the half man”, but he was able to humiliate the most powerful fleet of the time on his own. However, it was not until recently that Blas de Lezo, a sailor from guipuzcoano, has been remembered: biographies, exhibitions and even a proposed monument in his memory have brought him back to life.
But before I tell you what he did to make history, we are going to have a look at his early life. He was born in 1869 in a seafaring family home. He studied in France and when he was just 12 years old, he joined the army to defend the French claimant to the Spanish throne during the bloody War of Succession. In the fourteen years of war he lost his left eye, his left leg and his right arm became useless. Hence the nickname that was mentioned at the beginning.
He alternated between officer positions in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean and was always fighting against piracy, whether it was English or Ottoman. In 1737, he was promoted to General of the Navy and left for his final destination, Cartagena de Indias (now Colombia).
It was not a peaceful place: the English pirates plagued the Spanish ports and in 1739 the situation became more difficult because of the War of Jenkins’ Ear. In the context of this confrontation, the English Admiral Edward Vernon decided to bet heavily and besiege the Caragena de Indias in 1741: more than 186 ships and 23,000 men set sail to defeat the Spanish port that was only being defended by 6 boats and 3,000 people. The British were so confident of victory that they sent commemorative coins before even finishing the battle.
Vernon did not take “the half man´s” experience into consideration (de Lezo had fought in 22 battles): An ingenious tactic in which they key aspects would defend the most important points, combined with the mobility of the artillery and taking advantage of difficult terrain that was marshy because of the dredging of a canal, led the General to do the unthinkable and defeat the most powerful navy in the world with greatly limited resources. De Lezo became a hero, but this is where an envious viceroy Sebastián Eslava emerged, who heaped shame and misery upon the hero, who sadly died a few months later as a result of wounds sustained in battle. And now over 200 years of oblivion are over…better late than never.