In february 1782 bourbon forces finally captured minorca, the only firstclass natural harbour in the mediterranean under british control, and built up for a decisive attack on gibraltar, which had survived the blockade through the timely arrival of the two relief convoys. However, howe agreed to take command of the channel fleet in april, and the western squadron strategy began to function properl~ french convoys heading for the east indies were crippled, and British trade was protected. When the allies deployed a fleet of fifty battleships, howe, with only half as many, conducted a skilled defence, which included sailing through the dangerous waters of the scillies. By the middle of the year it was necessary to re-supply gibraltar, and howe, in the victory, assembled the Fleet and transports at spithead. Here on 27 august the royal george sank, taking with her kempenfelt and 900 men, women and children, for many families were on board.
The loss was caused entirely by poor seamanship. She was being heeled over for a minor repair below the waterline when the officers on deck allowed her to get too far over. However, the sea officers persuaded the court martial that the ship’s bottom had fallen out, thus passing the blame on to the Dockyard.
Despite the disaster howe conducted a masterly relief, getting the convoy into gibraltar bay, in the face of a larger allied force, without a battle. Howe considered this his greatest achievement, but it also reflected the demoralization of the allies. On 13 september they had launched their grand attack from the sea, using ten specially constructed spanish floating batteries. These had very thick sides, with water pumps to keep them wet.