Battle of Cape Palos
The Battle of Cape Palos, also known as the Second Battle of Cape Palos, was the biggest naval battle of the Spanish Civil War, fought on the night of March 5–6, 1938, east of Cape Palos near Cartagena, Spain.
On March 5, 1938 the two Nationalist heavy cruisers, Canarias and Baleares, sortied from the naval base at Palma de Mallorca, in company with the light cruiser Almirante Cervera, and three destroyers. The squadron acted as a distant escort of a convoy bearing war equipment from Italy.
On the same day, forces of the Spanish Republican Navy, led by Admiral Luis González de Ubieta and consisting of two light cruisers (the new Libertad and the older Méndez Núñez) and five destroyers, sailed from Cartagena. At night, the Nationalist destroyers returned to base, while the cruisers remained on course.
The squadrons, going in opposite directions, met by chance in the dead of night of 5-6 March 1938. A Republican destroyer fired torpedoes but missed, and both fleets passed each other by. Nationalist Rear Admiral de Vierna preferred to wait until dawn, which would enable him to use his ships' superior artillery, but Republican Vice Admiral de Ubieta decided to turn and pursue the enemy.
The forces met again at about 02:15. the Nationalist cruisers commenced fire on Libertad from a range of about 5,000 m (5,500 yd) and the Republican cruisers returned fire. As the cruisers duelled, three Republican destroyers, probably unseen by the Nationalists, detached from escorting Libertad. At about 3,000 m (3,300 yd), Sanchéz Barcáiztegui, Lepanto, and Almirante Antequera each fired four torpedoes. Two or three torpedoes hit Baleares between 'A' and 'B' turrets and detonated her forward magazine. The kill is generally credited to Lepanto,2 but also to the destroyer Almirante Antequera by some authors.3
The two surviving Nationalist cruisers quickly cleared the area, leaving Baleares to her fate. The stern remained afloat and it was from this part of the ship that survivors were rescued, thanks to the efforts of the British Royal Navy destroyers Kempenfelt and Boreas, under Captain McGrigor, who made towards the scene of the action from 74 km (40 nm) away. Only 441 out of her crew of 1,206 were saved.1
The Nationalist cruisers returned at dawn and survivors rescued by Boreas were transferred to them by boats. An air attack by Republican bombers interrupted the proceedings and caused one British fatality.4
The sinking of rebel heavy cruiser Baleares was hailed as a great victory by the republican government and Luis González de Ubieta, the commander of the republican fleet, was awarded the Laureate Plate of Madrid (Placa Laureada de Madrid), the highest military award for gallantry of the Second Spanish Republic.5 The Distintivo de Madrid, which had been established by the Spanish Republic in order to reward courage,6 was given to cruisers Libertad and Méndez Núñez, and destroyers Lepanto, Almirante Antequera and Sánchez Barcáiztegui, as well as to their crew members. These ships would thenceforward fly a special pennant and the men would wear a special badge on their uniforms with the old Coat of arms of Madrid. 7
The Battle of Cape Palos was one of the last Republican victories of the war. Although the action was the largest naval battle of the Spanish Civil War and an important Republican victory, it had little noticeable long-term effect on the war.
- Fullana, Jeroni F.; Eduardo Conolloy; Daniel Cota (2000). El Crucero "Baleares" (in Spanish). ISBN 84-95360-02-0. Retrieved 21 August 2009.
- Naval Institute proceedings: Volume 66 of Proceedings, United States Naval Institute, 1940, p. 820
- Salas Larrázabal, Ramón, Salas Larrazábal, Jesús: Historia general de la Guerra de España. Rialp, 1986, p. 315. ISBN 84-321-2340-4 (Spanish)
- Manuel Rubio Cabeza, Diccionario de la Guerra Civil Española 1, Pág. 95. Editorial Planeta, Barcelona, 1987.
- Second Spanish Republic 23 January 1938 Decree
- Enrique García Domingo, Recompensas republicanas por el hundimiento del Baleares, Revista de Historia Naval 1997, Año XV no. 59, pg. 70
- Hugh Thomas (historian) (2001). The Spanish Civil War. Modern Library. ISBN 0-375-75515-2.
- V. Turon (historian) (1982). The sinking of the cruiser Baleares. Warship Supplement, 68.
- ADM 116/3677. UK National Archive.
- El hundimiento del crucero Baleares (Spanish)