Second Battle of Algeciras, 1801

Drawing from 1844 depicting HMS Superb sailing by the sinking Spanish ships San Hermenegildo and Real Carlos. Original by Antoine Léon Morel-Fatio, now in the public domain.

Location Strait of Gibraltar
Year
1801
AD/BC
AD
History

Friendly fire incidents happen all the time, but sometimes they are truly spectacular. During the War of the Second Coalition, the French and British engaged in a brutal fight in Algeciras Bay, Spain, on 6 June. Both sides retreated to effect repairs, and Spanish ships arrived to escort the French squadron away from the area. Pursuing, the British managed to catch up, resulting in the Second Battle of Algeciras, on the 12th. The first ship in the British squadron, HMS Superb, caught up and engaged the joint Franco-Spanish squadron as dark fell. In the confusion of the moonless night, two of Spain's ships of the line opened up on each other. Real Carlos and San Hermenegildo, both of 112 guns, exchanged multiple broadsides. Carlos' foretop mast was knocked down, and caught fire from one of her own broadsides. Hermenegildo closed, but accidentally ran into her "enemy", and also caught fire. Both ships burned until the fires reached their magazines, and they exploded, killing over 1,700 of their crew. Meanwhile, Superb captured the French 74-gun Saint Antoine, and HMS Venerable engaged in a fierce fight with the French flagship Formidable. Formidable lived up to her name, disabling Venerable and escaping despite heavy damage. The Spanish also lost a frigate, Perla, which was not part of the combined squadron, and seems to have wandered into the crossfire. The fighting wrapped up early on the 13th, with the remaining Franco-Spanish ships escaping, and the British towing Venerable back to Gibraltar. While the French claimed victory, based on an exaggerated report, the battle helped secure British domination of the Mediterranean Sea, and allowed them to effect an unopposed landing in Egypt.