This post is intended as a reply to the above article. Specifically I'm challenging the assertion that the War of Jenkin's Ear and specifically the Battle of Cartagena de Indias have been deliberately hidden from the English-speaking world's history books as sensationally claimed.
The battle is certainly forgotten in the British perspective, but it's definitely there in the books: regularly turning up as a chapter in the many books about the British navy and army and their involvement in the Caribbean. One notable account is given by Sir John Fortescue in his iconic 'History of the British Army'. It's not covered that much on the Internet but there are a few sites, starting with Wikipedia, as well as Google Book previews. Try searching under 'wentworth, vernon, Cartagena'.
But basically the 18th century just isn’t a popular period in British popular culture, unlike the Napoleonic or Agincourt eras. Even the era's victories get little coverage online. If you look for accounts of the 1782 'grand assault' on Gibraltar, which was like Cartagena with the roles reversed (and the British even more outnumbered) you’ll find very little – and searching gives you mostly books rather than Internet write-ups. And if you try to find accounts of 'successful Cartagenas' such as the captures of Havana and Manila you'll find virtually nothing, these, like Cartagena, are forgotten in the UK.
It's true that King George did attempt to ‘cover up’ the battle at the time, but hiding defeats from the people was standard practise back then, in fact kings and governments have continued doing it up to today. He was, however, unsuccessful. The expedition's two commanders, Admiral Vernon and General Wentworth, were very quick to publish and distribute pamphlets blaming the debacle on the other. These were followed up by pamphlets penned by resentful veterans condemning the expedition’s mismanagement.
So it was no secret then, and hasn’t been since. British historians do acknowledge it, but of course don't quite see it the same way as the winning side.
Some justifiably proud Spaniards view Cartagena with the winners’ mythology – as the English do the Armada, Waterloo and the Battle of Britain. But when stripped of that mythology and put in the context of military history, Cartagena, though a brilliant and heroic defence, doesn't quite match up to the superhuman event some portray it as (one Spanish acquaintance of mine calls it: "The greatest victory in the history of victories in all the ages.")
There are a number of myths attached to it (besides the cover-up one), some of which are repeated in the article above - which I should add is very good and far more objective than many.
For example, the event is sometimes termed Britain's worst naval defeat, when it wasn't really a naval battle at all. The Royal Navy did suffer heavily, but due to onshore batteries surrounding them in the narrow harbour. In fact, as pompous and ridiculous as Vernon’s epitaph that at Cartagena he “conquered as far as naval forces could carry victory” seems, it is essentially correct. The Royal Navy did achieve its objectives of securing the harbour and landing troops. The Spanish only had six ships, and these were soon captured or scuttled to block the harbour.
It’s on land that the ‘battle’, more correctly a siege, was lost. Essentially that boiled down to the failure of the landing forces (never more than 8000 strong) to capture the town before tropical diseases like yellow fever destroyed it, and the rainy season forced the fleet to depart.
And it certainly wasn’t the largest amphibious assault before D-Day as suggested on some sites. The Ottoman assaults on Rhodes and Malta and the Mongol invasions of Japan are just a sample of pre-WW2 expeditions that used fleets of a comparable or larger size and carried a lot more troops than Vernon’s (and Gallipoli in WW1 dwarfed them all). Even the British expeditionary force to New York at the start of the American Revolution far exceeded Vernon/Wentworth's in terms of men and munitions.
Then there is very loose interpretation of the numbers involved on both sides. Of course it’s tempting to count every sailor and cabin boy as the British ‘assault force’(estimates range from 23-31,000 men). But only 12,000 of these were infantry, half were British regulars and marines with the remainder made up of American militia and machete-armed Jamaican slaves. The British commanders held the latter two components of their force in utter contempt, which may explain the fact they only landed 6-8000 troops during the course of the entire siege.
The major battle of Cartagena involved the British assault on San Lazaro (today's San Felipe), which though not fully developed at the time was well on its way to becoming the era's largest fortification in the western hemisphere. It was a sensationally bloody failure.
British contemporary sources put the number of troops committed to the San Lazaro assault at 1,500; Spanish sources, when they mention numbers at all, tend to assume the full 6-8000 strong landing force was committed - not acknowledging or understanding that this figure actually covers multiple troop landings at different times. Of course some less objective Spanish sources remain studiously silent on the subject of numbers, leaving the reader to infer there were 23,000 British soldiers swarming up the fort walls (which were held by around 600 men).
It's really no wonder that with this kind of misinformation some Spanish people feel the fact Cartagena isn't counted as one of the world's greatest victories can only be the product of some kind of Anglo-conspiracy.
Spanish numbers also get played down. They are often given as only 3600, but besides his regulars, marines and native auxiliaries, Admiral de Lezo also had sailors, armed townspeople and slaves. According to the Cartagena Tourist Board there were up to 6000 defenders - fighting from well-prepared fortifications with hundreds of guns.
Taken in the context of other siege situations in history, de Lezo wasn’t in too bad a position, especially as he knew he only had to delay the attackers until the onset of disease and the rainy season. He was certainly aided in this by the grotesquely incompetent Admiral Vernon, whose bickering with the oddly dithering infantry commander Wentworth wasted a lot of time they didn't have. Notably he refused to supply battery support for the ground assault on San Lazaro on the dubious grounds the harbour was too shallow. This meant the infantry force had to attack without artillery forcing them to storm the walls with ladders - a brave but suicidal tactic thwarted by de Lezo's digging around the walls so the ladders couldn't reach. British casualties were 169 killed outright and 450 wounded.The Spanish then appear to have launched a bayonet charge into the shattered and retreating British as they became entangled in the trenches outside the fort. I say 'appear' because a minority of modern Spanish sources present a very different account of the bayonet charge, describing it as a surprise assault on the British camp - this is an intriguing discrepancy because the latter is actually what the British defenders did to the Franco-Spanish force at Gibraltar, and it would be somewhat ironic if the two assaults had become conflated.
The article above repeats the fiction that the Spanish bayonet charge drove the British back to their ships. This is not true, once they were clear of the killing zone of San Lazaro's walls and trenches the British actually made an orderly covered retreat the long distance back to their camp. After all, they still had more than enough troops to finish the job. Or so their commanders thought. Following the assault's failure, Vernon ordered a siege and bombardment of San Lazaro only to be told yellow fever had reduced the artillery and infantry to a point that it simply wasn't possible. The landing force returned to their ships and the British eventually departed, utterly defeated, their numbers halved by disease.
The estimates of British battle casualties range from 600-3000 killed, up to 7000 wounded, though accounts seem confused regarding the ratio of battle-disease casualties. The higher figures are heavy but not extraordinary for an amphibious siege assault on multiple heavily-fortified and -gunned strongholds. At Gibraltar the Franco-Spanish assault force lost a similar number in a couple of days.
It was diseases such as yellow fever that cut down the British fleet and army in the thousands, not for the first or last time during Britain's Caribbean ventures. It's no wonder British sailors and soldiers considered posting to the Caribbean to be the equivalent of a death sentence. It's also no wonder contemporary Spanish called yellow fever the 'patriotic fever' because it defended Spain's new world territories from would be invaders with far deadlier effect than any armed force could.
As one historian wryly noted: had the British been successful in capturing the city they would simply have had the privilege of dying a diseased death inside its walls, as their more 'successful' compatriots did in Havana, rather than in the harbour and on the voyage back to Jamaica.
Disease also hit the Spanish side, with the heroic de Lezo succumbing soon after seeing the British off.
So it was a brilliant victory crowning the career of a brilliant man. But Britain has suffered worst defeats, and in open battle situations, and for that reason Cartagena de Indias is remembered in British perceptions more for the shocking disease toll, and is cited as a lesson in what happens when different armed branches (in this case the navy and army) don't cooperate. But in general it has been largely forgotten, just as few Spanish people are aware of the reverse event at Gibraltar despite that occurring on what is, at least rightfully, their soil.
As for the coins? Once again, reporting victories before the fact was common practice before modern communications, though in that case it went spectacularly wrong. I'll never understand why George Washington's half-brother named his estate after Vernon, he was there after all, and Vernon tried to put some of the blame on the American forces. In fact Cartagena sometimes turns up in books exploring the build-up to the American Revolutionary War, as an example of the intense ill-will between British regular troops and colonial forces.
Ultimately, in Brtish eyes, Cartagena de Indias just goes down in the long list of failed/successful imperialistic land grabs that modern Britain no longer wants to think about. Spain would pay it back in kind during the American Revolutionary War and neither side can claim moral superiority - there's no honour amongst thieves and frankly that's all colonialist and imperialist powers are.
Had Vernon been successful, what then? Perhaps Columbia would have been another Belize or Jamaica with English-speaking masters rather than Spanish, for a while at least. Both England and Spain’s days in the New World were already numbered.
Ultimately my main point is that Cartagena de Indias hasn't been struck from the history books as some have sensationally claimed. It's just viewed with the loser's pragmatism rather than the winner's mythology.