The Action of 8 January 1780 was a naval encounter off Cape Finisterre between a British Royal Naval fleet under Admiral Sir George Rodney, and a fleet of Spanish merchants sailing in convoy with seven warships of the Caracas Company, under the command of Commodore Don Juan Augustin de Yardi. During the action the entire Spanish convoy was captured. Rodney's fleet was en route to relieve Gibraltar, and this action took place several days before Rodney's engagement and defeat of a Spanish fleet at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent.
One of Spain's principal goals upon its entry into the American Revolutionary War in 1779 was the recovery of Gibraltar, which had been lost to England in 1704. The Spanish consequently planned to retake Gibraltar by blockading and starving out its garrison, which included troops from Britain and the Electorate of Hanover. The siege formally began in June 1779, with the Spanish establishing a land blockade around The Rock. The matching naval blockade was comparatively weak, and the British discovered that small fast ships could evade the blockaders, while slower and larger supply ships generally could not. By late 1779, however, supplies in Gibraltar had become seriously depleted, and General George Eliott appealed to London for relief.
A supply convoy was organized, and in late December 1779 a large fleet sailed from England under the command of Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney. Although Rodney's final destination was the West Indies, he had secret instructions to first resupply Gibraltar and Minorca.
On 4 January Rodney parted with the ship of the line HMS Hector under Sir John Hamilton, and the frigates HMS Phoenix, HMS Andromeda and HMS Greyhound under Captains Hyde Parker, H. Bryne and William Dickson respectively, to escort the West Indies-bound merchants. The following day Rodney encountered a Spanish convoy consisting of 22 ships, bound from San Sebastián to Cádiz. He closed on them, the copper sheathing on some of his ships allowing them to outsail the Spanish. The whole convoy was captured, except for one merchant vessel. Vessels which had been carrying naval stores to the Spanish fleet at Cádiz, and baled goods for the Royal Caracas Company were sent back to England, escorted by HMS America and HMS Pearl. Rodney took those Spanish ships that were found to be carrying provisions useful to Gibraltar to relieve the British forces there. In addition Rodney commissioned and manned the captured Spanish flagship, the 64-gun Guipuzcoana, naming her HMS Prince William, in honour of Prince William, who was present at the engagement. Rodney remarked in his despatches to the Admiralty that the loss of the ships "must greatly distress the enemy, who I am well informed are in much want of provisions and naval stores". Several days later Rodney engaged and defeated a Spanish fleet under Don Juan de Lángara at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, on 16 January 1780, before going on to relieve Gibraltar and Minorca.
The order of battle is as reported by Beatson.
- HMS Sandwich (90) Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney, Captain Walter Young
- HMS Prince George (98) Rear-Admiral Robert Digby, Captain Philip Patton
- HMS Royal George (100) Rear-Admiral John Lockhart Ross, Captain J. Bourmaster
- HMS Alcide (74) Captain J. Brisbane
- HMS Ajax (74) Captain S. Uvedale
- HMS Bedford (74) Captain Edmund Affleck
- HMS Culloden (74) Captain George Balfour
- HMS Cumberland (74) Captain J. Peyton
- HMS Edgar (74) Captain John Elliot
- HMS Montagu (74) Captain J. Houlton
- HMS Monarch (74) Captain Adam Duncan
- HMS Shrewsbury (74) Captain Mark Robinson
- HMS Terrible (74) Captain J. Douglas
- HMS Resolution (74) Captain Chaloner Ogle
- HMS Invincible (74) Captain S. Cornish
- HMS Defence (74) Captain James Cranston
- HMS Marlborough (74) Captain T. Penny
- HMS Dublin (74) Captain S. Wallis
- HMS America (64) Captain S. Thompson
- HMS Bienfaisant (64) Captain John MacBride
- HMS Convert (32) Captain Henry Harvey
- HMS Pearl (28) Captain George Montagu
- HMS Triton (24) Captain Skeffington Lutwidge
- HMS Pegasus (24) Captain John Bazely
- HMS Porcupine (24) Captain Lord Hugh Seymour
- HMS Hyaena (24) Captain Edward Thomson
Caracas Company warships
- Guipuzcoano (64) Commodore Don Juan Augustin de Yardi, Captain Don Tomás de Malay
- San Carlos (32) Captain Don Firmin Urtizberea
- San Rafael (30) Captain Don Luis Aranburu
- Santa Teresa (28) Captain Don Jose J. de Mendizabal
- San Bruno (26) Captain J. M. de Goicoechea
- San Fermín (16) Captain J. Vin. Eloy Sanchez
- San Vicente (10) Captain Don José de Ugalde
- Nues. Señora de L'Oves
- San Francisco
- La Concepción
- San Nicolás
- San Jeronimo
- Divinia Providencia
- San Gavilán
- San Pacora
- San Lauren
- La Providencia
- La Bellona
- Le Cidada de Mercia
- La Amistad
- San Miguel
- Basil p.218
- Syrett (2007), p. 304
- Syrett (1998), p. 85
- Chartrand, pp. 12, 30
- Chartrand, pp. 23, 30–31, 37
- Chartrand, p. 30
- Chartrand, p. 37
- Syrett (2007), p. 237
- Beatson. Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain. pp. 232–3.
- Syrett (2007), p. 303
- "No. 12056". 8 January 1780. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/12056/page/
- "No. 12050". 18 January 1780. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/12050/page/
- Syrett. The Rodney papers: Selections from the Correspondence of Admiral Lord Rodney. pp. 304–5.
- Winfield. British Warships of the Age of Sail. p. 101.
- Allen, Joseph (1853). Battles of the British Navy. 1. H.G. Bohn.
- Beatson, Robert (1804). Naval and Military Memoirs of Great Britain, From 1727 to 1783. 6. Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme.
- Chartrand, René (2006). Gibraltar 1779–1783: The Great Siege. Courcelle, Patrice (1st Edition ed.). Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-977-6. OCLC 255272192. http://www.ospreypublishing.com/title_detail.php/title=S9770.
- The life and correspondence of the late Admiral Lord Rodney, Volume 1 By Godfrey Basil Mundy
- Syrett, David (1998). The Royal Navy in European waters during the American Revolutionary War. Univ of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1-57003-238-6.
- Syrett, David (2007). The Rodney Papers: Selections from the Correspondence of Admiral Lord Rodney. 2. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. ISBN 0-7546-6007-9.
- Winfield, Rif (2007). British Warships of the Age of Sail 1714–1792: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth. ISBN 1-86176-295-X.
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