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Naval hero outwitted the enemy

by on
in Firing,Human Resources

Lord Thomas Cochrane’s early exploits with the Speedy built his reputation and became legendary. Taking on the Spanish ship El Gamo in 1801, his daring assault is still considered one of the best single-ship actions in British naval history.

Here are the tactics he used at a time when England ruled the high seas—when both his opportunity and competition were greatest:
  • Remain unfazed. The Speedy raced toward the 32-gun frigate, which had more than twice as many weapons as the Speedy. El Gamo also had 319 men on board, five times as many as the Speedy. Cochrane’s only hope was to fight at close quarters.

  • Use a ruse. As soon as El Gamo raised its Spanish colors, Cochrane hoisted an American flag, creating just enough uncertainty to keep the enemy from firing. When it did fire, the enemy’s broadside fell harmlessly.
  • Employ a little math. Cochrane brought the Speedy under the lee of the frigate and locked into its rigging, calculating that the low placement of his ship would cause the taller El Gamo to fire over his men’s heads. By adjusting the Speedy’s guns, he destroyed the Spaniards’ deck, killing the captain and boatswain.
  • Spring a surprise. Knowing he was outnumbered, Cochrane either had to board the ship or be taken. He led a boarding party of his crew, leaving behind only the doctor and two boys. He split his men in two, one group taking the head of the ship and the other boarding amidships. Taken by surprise up front, the Spanish then were hit from behind.
  • Outwit the enemy. Cochrane’s final coup came during hand-to-hand combat. He ordered one of his men to take down the Spanish flag. Thinking their ship had surrendered, the Spanish crew simply laid down their weapons.
—Adapted from Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander, David Cordingly, Bloomsbury.

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