It is both amazing and ironic that the powerful Royal Navy could be forced to combat a warship built in its shipyard, yet this is what happened at the Battle of Pacocha on May 29, 1877. Built for Peru in 1865, the ironclad Huascar was a version of the monitor type boat first conceived during the American Civil War.
Her displacement was 1300 tons with a length of 67 meters and possessed a very low freeboard. Her sides were shielded from 4 1/2 inches of armor belt backed by 14 inches of teak. The manually operated gun turret was guarded by 5 1/2 inch armor plating and mounted 2×10 inch Armstrong cannon. She might speed at 11 knots, also carried 300 tons of coal and a team of 200.
In contrast, the British had no comparable boat in South American waters. The forces of this Commander in Chief Pacific Station, Rear Admiral Algernon Frederick Rous p Horsey, comprised the unarmored frigate HMS Shah and also the wooden corvette HMS Amethyst.
Shah was a marvelous example of wooden steam boats, built in reply to fast American cruisers of the Wampanoag class. She was huge at 6950 heaps, swift at 16 knots, and heavily armed using 2×9 inch, 16×7 inchand 8×64 pounder rifled guns. Amethyst was substantially lighter at 1970 tons and loaded 14×64 pounders. Shah carried an advanced new accuracy weapon called the Whitehead torpedo, and the corvette owned an unguided spar torpedo.
Maybe not surprisingly, Huascar was the pride of Peru’s navy if she was captured by revolutionaries at 1877. Captain German Astete was a supporter of a rival politician that had to overthrow the duly elected President.
Astete and his crew jumped to carry out”acts of piracy” against the Peruvian government. Unfortunatelythe thepiratebay ironclad also made the mistake to briefly detain two British steamers, whose owners promptly complained to Queen Victoria’s representative at Lima.
Royal Navy intervention became almost certain after the Huascar defeated a Peruvian naval force comprising their ironclad Independence, which was twice her size. Your choice was made after a British collier was captured.
Both forces met in the Bay of Pacocha on may 29, together with de Horsey sending a message into Astete declaring”…I have come to take possession of this (Huascar) from Queen Victoria’s name”. The Peruvian replied that he would only lower his flag”when there is not any longer a single man aboard to conserve it”. The bizarre conflict between timber and armor began.
The British began the cannonade using their better gunnery at 1700 meters. Sitting lower in the water, the Huascar presented a tricky target, and the RN firepower made no dent in the armored hull. De Horsey fruitlessly attempted to improve his own firing closing the range, however, the ironclad outmaneuvered him at the shallow bay.
Finally acknowledging the Peruvian battleship’s advantage over his gunnery, the Admiral determined to attack with torpedoes. In so doing, the Shah performed the first combat attack by the Whitehead torpedo. The marvel of this age can reach 550 yards at a speed of 18 knots, which wasn’t sufficient to catch the nimble Huascar.
Again that the pirate ironclad escaped harm, to the consternation of the British. Emboldened by the failure of his attackers, Astete increased his passion for the Shah and Amethyst. Choosing reality over bliss, Admiral de Horsey ordered his squadron to withdraw. Though perhaps not with a final attack by the corvette’s spar torpedo. If this final attempt failed, the Royal Navy withdrew; a stunning blow to national pride.
The 427 shots shot by the British resulted in only one death on Huascar, as the Royal Navy suffered just a few injured sailors. Two days later, the”pirate ironclad” surrendered to Peruvian authorities the revolution coming to naught. The powerful rebel warship was later captured by Chile during the War of the Pacific and exists to this day as a museum boat. De Horsey’s action was criticized by Parliament, and after the British South American, Squadron would consist only of ironclads.