The Spaniards often call it ‘the Defeat of the British Armada’. In 1741, during the wonderfully-named ‘War of Jenkins’ Ear’, the British dispatched the biggest force they had ever sent to the West Indies – 10,000 men and more than 20 ships - to join the fleet already out there under Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon.
The objective was to capture Spain’s fortress of Cartagena de Indias in modern-day Colombia, but right from the start, things went wrong. The army commander, Lord Cathcart, and 600 of his men died from sickness on the way out.
Then once the force arrived, a feud broke out between Cathcart’s replacement, the inexperienced Sir Thomas Wentworth, and Vernon, while the Spanish defences were cleverly organised by Admiral Blas de Lezo, nicknamed ‘half-man’, who had lost an arm, a leg and an eye in the service of his country.
A number of British assaults failed, while sickness continued to take a terrible toll. When only 1,700 of the 10,000 who left Britain were still fit for duty, the assault was called off, and the country’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, was forced to resign.