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MEDIEVAL BATTLES - The Spanish Armada

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  • MEDIEVAL BATTLES - The Spanish Armada

    1588. The Spanish Empire is at its peak. The Pope has divided the world into two portions and given half to the Spanish and half to the Portuguese. Ships laden with gold cross the seas bringing incredible wealth to Spain. The King of Spain’s wealth and power are unrivalled in the world.

    Almost.

    English sea-captains, hearing tales of ships filled with gold, cruise the Atlantic and the Caribean attacking Spanish treasure ships. Ships were sunk, treasures stolen, and forts attacked. Even Panama City was looted and burned.

    The Spanish king decided to end the English menace once a for all. A command went forth for hundreds of ships to be gathered, under the command of the Duke of Alburquerque, to sail to the Spanish Netherlands in order to transport an invasion army to England to crush the upstarts. Church bells were melted to make cannon. Every city and village in Spain contributed.

    Months later, and the greatest assemly of ships ever gathered lay at the bottom of the sea. Reportedly, every family in Spain lost a member. Sir Francis Drake and his fellow “sea hawks” had raid, harried, and fought the Spanish fleet, humiliating and destroying it.

    How did this come to be? How, for the Spanish, could it have been avoided? What was the impact of the battle? Share your opnions!

    JS

    PS – I know that 1588 is post medieval, but this is part of a series and I don’t see a need for a series on “Renaissance Battles”.
    Barcsi János ispán vezérőrnagy
    Time Magazine's Person of the Year for 2003 & 2006


    "Never pet a burning dog."

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  • #2
    What you have to remember here is that the Spanish NEVER intended to engage in a naval battle. The Armada was essentially an exercise in transporting troops to England to bring the Protestants to heel and convert the country to Catholicism. Sort of like a combined version of the Crusades and Operation Overlord in reverse (!).

    Many of the Spanish vessels were converted merchant ships, broad and heavy and unable to manoeuvre easily under sail.

    As a result, when the English engaged the Armada, the Spanish suffered. They also suffered because of the new forms of naval warfare and artillery with which the English were more experienced and adept than the Spaniards.

    The plan was for the Armada to rendezvous with an army in the Netherlands, which would be loaded and transported to England. Unfortunately, King Philip of Spain insisted on controlling every facet of the plan himself, never allowing his own military commanders to come up with their own thoughts or plans and this made communications and logistics very slow.

    The English knew all about the Armada plans well before they even set sail. Indeed, it was Sir Francis Drake who famously "singed the king's beard" in an unauthorised raid with a small fleet on Cadiz, a major staging area for the Armada.

    When the Armada was first sighted (because they had been waiting for it) off the coast of Cornwall, fire beacons soon spread the word across the country. And as a result, the English fleet was able to slip out of Plymouth at night and behind the Armada without being noticed.

    The fact that the Armada maintained its "crescent" formation (troop ships in the "protected" centre) all along the English Channel made it an easy target for the smaller and faster British ships to harass and harry the Spanish as they crawled along. Also, this tight formation made it easy for the English to cause havoc when they released fire ships into the Armada.

    When the inevitable massed engagement took place, the English won the battle, although the Armada was still virtually intact. However the Spanish decided that they had no choice but to return home. They were clearly not going to be able to mount their invasion. However this is where cruel fate takes a turn.

    Because the English fleet was blocking the way, the only escape route for the Armada was to go north and swing around Scotland and down past Ireland - whilst undertaking these manoeuvres, a series of strong and violent storms wiped out half the remaining fleet and 75% of the sailors and men aboard.

    Many people say that the weather was the only thing that defeated the Armada - this is true to a certain extent, however it had effectively been neutralised beforehand by the English fleet, and the "surprise" invasion was thwarted.

    How could this have been avoided? Well, the King of Spain might have allowed his military men a free hand and stopped trying to micromanage everything from a thousand miles away. Perhaps some operational flexibility or improved training for the Spanish sailors might have made the outcome a bit less disastrous in the engagement. I’ve heard it said that a Spanish warship was like a little slice of Spain – from the aristocrats in command, all the way down through the social classes, the command structure was unwieldy and top heavy. Whereas on an English ship, there was the Captain, and then there was everyone else. There was no complicated chain of command.

    What was the impact of the battle? Well it was a bloody nose for Spain and their ambitions, and a poke in the eye for the Pope. It allowed the Protestant branch of Christianity to thrive and mature and set the seeds for the rise of the British Empire.

    God save the Queen!

    Dr. S.
    Imagine a ball of iron, the size of the sun. And once a year a tiny sparrow brushes its surface with the tip of its wing. And when that ball of iron, the size of the sun, is worn away to nothing, your punishment will barely have begun.

    www.sinisterincorporated.co.uk

    www.tabletown.co.uk

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    • #3
      I just saw a show on this today. Weird. Anyway, the Spanish Armada might have been a success had it not been for the strict orders of the King on The Duke of Medina-Sedona(i think i speltted right ). He wasn't able to deviate from the plan,so he wasn't able to catch the English fleet in Plymouth

      God save the Queen!
      Rule Britannia!

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by NapoleonRocks
        I just saw a show on this today. Weird. Anyway, the Spanish Armada might have been a success had it not been for the strict orders of the King on The Duke of Medina-Sedona(i think i speltted right ). He wasn't able to deviate from the plan,so he wasn't able to catch the English fleet in Plymouth
        Interesting. This seems to be confirmation of Dr. Sinister's post that the Spanish never intended to fight a naval battle. Clearly, as he says, their ships were not well suited to it, being intended to ferry the fleet across from the mainland.
        JS
        Barcsi János ispán vezérőrnagy
        Time Magazine's Person of the Year for 2003 & 2006


        "Never pet a burning dog."

        RECOMMENDED WEBSITES:
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        http://www.scv.org/
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        • #5
          Something else of interest; the Spainish ships were not equiped to engage in long naval gun duels. They only had enough powder and shot for a few volleys. They intended to board the English ships which the English were unwilling to do.

          After seeing that show, I really gained a lot of respect for the English sailers and gunners. Their best gun (the culverin) was very inaccurate. The test they preformed showed the gun hit a small wooden target (representing the waterline of a ship) only 1 out of several tries at about 200 meters.

          The English were able to decisivly beat the Spainish because the their ships were forced out and lost cohesion. The English were able to close (50m) with the slower Spanish ships into one-on-one battles.

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          • #6
            Several Points

            The coordination of land forces and sea forces was flawed and movements impossible to coordinate over the distances involved.

            The Spanish at this time did not view ships as gun platforms. Generally a couple of long range guns Guns simply to slow down the opponent to allow closing and boarding other ordnance was designed around supporting troop to troop fighting. The English prefered to stand off and use ships as gun platforms. In fact it was the experience of the Armada that largely led to this line of development continuing to be emphasized in England so that they perfected sea borne gunnery far more than other European forces.

            These were not Napoleonic era ships of the line. Ship handling was much more cumbersome. Much more subject to effects of tide, currents, winds etc. greatly limiting tactical manuverability.

            What the English did was manage to maintain and effective fleet in being even without serious damage to the Armada. This forced the withdrawal to the north where it was ultimately General Weather, not the English fleet that destroyed the Armada.
            Boston Strong!

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            • #7
              Re: MEDIEVAL BATTLES - The Spanish Armada

              Originally posted by Janos
              1588. The Spanish Empire is at its peak. The Pope has divided the world into two portions and given half to the Spanish and half to the Portuguese. Ships laden with gold cross the seas bringing incredible wealth to Spain. The King of Spain’s wealth and power are unrivalled in the world.

              Almost.

              English sea-captains, hearing tales of ships filled with gold, cruise the Atlantic and the Caribean attacking Spanish treasure ships. Ships were sunk, treasures stolen, and forts attacked. Even Panama City was looted and burned.

              The Spanish king decided to end the English menace once a for all. A command went forth for hundreds of ships to be gathered, under the command of the Duke of Alburquerque, to sail to the Spanish Netherlands in order to transport an invasion army to England to crush the upstarts. Church bells were melted to make cannon. Every city and village in Spain contributed.

              Months later, and the greatest assemly of ships ever gathered lay at the bottom of the sea. Reportedly, every family in Spain lost a member. Sir Francis Drake and his fellow “sea hawks” had raid, harried, and fought the Spanish fleet, humiliating and destroying it.

              How did this come to be? How, for the Spanish, could it have been avoided? What was the impact of the battle? Share your opnions!

              JS

              PS – I know that 1588 is post medieval, but this is part of a series and I don’t see a need for a series on “Renaissance Battles”.
              I have found it interesting that, when I was in middle school and high school, it was generally agreed by academic and teachers that weather was the determining factor in the loss of the Armada. This was apparently a "sacred cow", no contradiction. Now, in recent years, I have heard new accounts theorizing that weather was a mere nuisance. I have heard theories that the appearance of British ships caused the Armada to scatter, and they were then destroyed in detail, I have heard that the Armada retreated, got lost and who knows what happened then. Not sure who to believe, but I find the alternate theories interesting.

              As an aside, I have heard apocryphal stories that some Spaniards landed in Ireland, and that some Spanish sounding names are still to be found there.
              Mens Est Clavis Victoriae
              (The Mind Is The Key To Victory)

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Re: MEDIEVAL BATTLES - The Spanish Armada

                Originally posted by hogdriver
                As an aside, I have heard apocryphal stories that some Spaniards landed in Ireland, and that some Spanish sounding names are still to be found there.
                Yeah, I've heard this too. I have no idea if it's true or not, but it's a nice story.

                Dr. S.
                Imagine a ball of iron, the size of the sun. And once a year a tiny sparrow brushes its surface with the tip of its wing. And when that ball of iron, the size of the sun, is worn away to nothing, your punishment will barely have begun.

                www.sinisterincorporated.co.uk

                www.tabletown.co.uk

                Comment


                • #9
                  There is an alternate history book called Rule Britannia. It is set a few years after the Spanish conquered England. Has anybody read it?

                  The Spanish military theory at the time was get a whole lotta soldiers (pikemen, mostly), put them in a huge and cumbersome formation called a 'tercio,' and walk toward the enemy troops. The theory was that if you threw enough troops in a big impressive formation at the enemy, you would win.

                  The men who commanded the ships weren't naval officers, but army officers who had no experience in naval warfare. These two points may have helped give the English the edge.
                  "You realize that if I could actually purchase a weapon, I would stab you with it now?" --Roy, Order of the Stick #136

                  Governor of South Florida, Cuba, Louisiana, Manhattan, Hawaii, Illinois, Moon and Mars. Chief of Cybernetics Div., S.INC

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Bariman
                    The Spanish military theory at the time was get a whole lotta soldiers (pikemen, mostly), put them in a huge and cumbersome formation called a 'tercio,' and walk toward the enemy troops. The theory was that if you threw enough troops in a big impressive formation at the enemy, you would win.
                    This is a time in history I don't know much about, but IIRC, the Spanish tercio was the dominant land force at the time -- apparently they were hard to beat!
                    JS
                    Barcsi János ispán vezérőrnagy
                    Time Magazine's Person of the Year for 2003 & 2006


                    "Never pet a burning dog."

                    RECOMMENDED WEBSITES:
                    http://www.mormon.org
                    http://www.sca.org
                    http://www.scv.org/
                    http://www.scouting.org/

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Re: MEDIEVAL BATTLES - The Spanish Armada

                      Originally posted by hogdriver
                      I have found it interesting that, when I was in middle school and high school, it was generally agreed by academic and teachers that weather was the determining factor in the loss of the Armada. This was apparently a "sacred cow", no contradiction. Now, in recent years, I have heard new accounts theorizing that weather was a mere nuisance. I have heard theories that the appearance of British ships caused the Armada to scatter, and they were then destroyed in detail, I have heard that the Armada retreated, got lost and who knows what happened then. Not sure who to believe, but I find the alternate theories interesting.

                      As an aside, I have heard apocryphal stories that some Spaniards landed in Ireland, and that some Spanish sounding names are still to be found there.
                      One of the reasons the Spanish ships became so scattered was a result of Drake's use of "fireships". The "fireships" themselves did not damage the Spanish fleet, but to avoid the "fireships" the Spanish had to cut their anchor lines and then were at the mercy of the Channel tides and currents.
                      Lance W.

                      Peace through superior firepower.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Re: MEDIEVAL BATTLES - The Spanish Armada

                        Originally posted by hogdriver
                        I have found it interesting that, when I was in middle school and high school, it was generally agreed by academic and teachers that weather was the determining factor in the loss of the Armada. This was apparently a "sacred cow", no contradiction. Now, in recent years, I have heard new accounts theorizing that weather was a mere nuisance. I have heard theories that the appearance of British ships caused the Armada to scatter, and they were then destroyed in detail, I have heard that the Armada retreated, got lost and who knows what happened then. Not sure who to believe, but I find the alternate theories interesting.

                        As an aside, I have heard apocryphal stories that some Spaniards landed in Ireland, and that some Spanish sounding names are still to be found there.
                        The weather was not a significant factor in the battle itself although the limited ability of the spanish ships to haul into the wind was. The combination of these two also kept the fleet from putting in to pick up the invaision forces. The better maneuverability and gunnery of the English allowed enough damage that, coupled with an inability to beat into the wind, forced a withdrawal around the British isles. In the North severe gales, again made worse by the limited ship handling caused the greatest number of losses.

                        The primary Iberian approach to navigation was to find a prevailing wind going the right direction and run before it. It would be fifty to 100 years before they could tack close to the wind.

                        Living conditions were also pretty horrific. No forecastle with neatly hung hammocks. Indeed no real bedding or area for crew living at all on most vessels. You just crashed where you could often exposed to weather. Basically you slept when you were so tire that nothing could keep you awake. Rations in general were beyond description.
                        Boston Strong!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Re: Re: MEDIEVAL BATTLES - The Spanish Armada

                          Originally posted by JSMoss
                          The weather was not a significant factor in the battle itself although the limited ability of the spanish ships to haul into the wind was. The combination of these two also kept the fleet from putting in to pick up the invaision forces. The better maneuverability and gunnery of the English allowed enough damage that, coupled with an inability to beat into the wind, forced a withdrawal around the British isles. In the North severe gales, again made worse by the limited ship handling caused the greatest number of losses.

                          The primary Iberian approach to navigation was to find a prevailing wind going the right direction and run before it. It would be fifty to 100 years before they could tack close to the wind.

                          Living conditions were also pretty horrific. No forecastle with neatly hung hammocks. Indeed no real bedding or area for crew living at all on most vessels. You just crashed where you could often exposed to weather. Basically you slept when you were so tire that nothing could keep you awake. Rations in general were beyond description.
                          Another factor in the destruction of many of the Spanish ships as they rounded Scotland and Ireland was the quality of Spanish maps. These waters were not accurately charted by the Spanish, so many small islands did not appear on their maps. The planners of the Armada had never considered their ships might end up in these waters, a contingency plan not being in the Spanish mindset. Often the Spanish simply ran aground on islets or shoals they had no idea existed.
                          Lance W.

                          Peace through superior firepower.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Probably one of the largest reasons that the Armada failed was that the Army they were supposed to be picked up in Calais(I beleive this was the rendevous.) never showed up. Messengers sent onshore returned with the message that it would take at least six weeks for the army to arrive at Calais. About this time the commander of the Armada realised the army had no intention of arriving at all. The army had determined on its own accord that the plan was doomed to fail. As for the involvement of the English fleet I beleive they could only account for less than 10 of the Spanish ships. Although, they did cause a lot of damage among others. Concerning Spaniards settling in Ireland, while it is certainly possible I have heard that they were massacred by the Irish as the surviors were washed ashore. Either way, it was a devestating defeat for Philip's Spain. His country had spent millions of dollars on the Armada.
                            There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full. -Henry Kissinger

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Janos
                              1588. The Spanish Empire is at its peak. The Pope has divided the world into two portions and given half to the Spanish and half to the Portuguese. Ships laden with gold cross the seas bringing incredible wealth to Spain. The King of Spain’s wealth and power are unrivalled in the world.

                              Almost.
                              English sea-captains, hearing tales of ships filled with gold, cruise the Atlantic and the Caribean attacking Spanish treasure ships. Ships were sunk, treasures stolen, and forts attacked. Even Panama City was looted and burned.

                              The Spanish king decided to end the English menace once a for all. A command went forth for hundreds of ships to be gathered, under the command of the Duke of Alburquerque, to sail to the Spanish Netherlands in order to transport an invasion army to England to crush the upstarts. Church bells were melted to make cannon. Every city and village in Spain contributed.

                              Months later, and the greatest assemly of ships ever gathered lay at the bottom of the sea. Reportedly, every family in Spain lost a member. Sir Francis Drake and his fellow “sea hawks” had raid, harried, and fought the Spanish fleet, humiliating and destroying it.

                              How did this come to be? How, for the Spanish, could it have been avoided? What was the impact of the battle? Share your opnions!

                              How you view the battle, the events leading up to it, and those those that followed, you will tend to arrive at different conclusions.

                              This is certain - the Spanish (as so many others) wanted to challenge Britain's hegemony upon the high seas. Believing that a pitched battle would not see them prevail, King Philip had drawn up a plan to challenge Britain not only on the high seas, but also on land. Philip's plan was to transport to English soil the professional army of Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma - the shrewd and effective general of Philip's armies in the Netherlands, and perhaps the most intimidating battlefield opponent in Europe at the time. Protestant Dutch naval forces and pirates had posed enough of a threat to Parma that he maintained any potential invasion force in barges scattered throughout the canals and channels of the Netherlands and northern France. Philip believed that Parma could assemble and ferry his force to England only with the assistance of an escort to rendezvous with him in the English Channel, and for this purpose he conceived the Spanish Armada, a force of nearly 130 ships - many of them Mediterranean-style galleons - and almost 30,000 soldiers, to be led by the Duke of Medina Sidonia. Finally in May of 1588, Medina Sidonia's fleet set sail from Lisbon.

                              It should be noted that at no time did Philip, or anyone else within the Spanish court or military, dub the invasion fleet the Invincible Armada. This was a term applied in later years by English historians. The Spaniards, in fact, were keenly aware of the possibilities of the Armada's failure and the capriciousness of the Atlantic weather, and they scrupulously prepared for adversity by ensuring that major ports in Spain and Portugal could quickly muster food, water, and medical resources for returning sailors. As discussed below, this preparation was crucial in minimizing casualties.

                              In combat off Gravelines, France (29 July 1588), the British had some advantages, including - they had longer-range (and more accurate) cannon, their ships were lighter and much more maneuverable. The Spanish vessels were hulking galleons, better suited to the hook-and-grapple operations at which the Spanish were so proficient. With the longer range, the British were able to avoid such a scenario. Despite the advantages, Gravelines was inconclusive. However, Medina-Sedonia decided that a linkup with the Duke of Parma was not well-advised and resolved to return to Spain by rounding the northern tip of Great Britain. Unknown to Medina-Sedonia was that the British had exhausted their ammunition and were returning to their ports. In the North Atlantic, the Spanish fleet met its most formidable foe - the viloent and unpredictable ocean storms. It was here that the most grievous losses occurred, 10-15,000 sailors and perhaps 60 ships. The formation broke up, with some grounding on Irish beaches (hence the oddity of some Irish families with Spanish-sounding surnames), some surviving to return to Spain, and others falling prey the fury of the Atlantic.

                              Spain's lack of a deep-water port in northwest Spain (Bay of Biscay) has been cited as a glaring flaw that doomed Philip's operation to failure. Since no port could accomodate all the ship of Philip's force, they would have to sail separately and link up while at sea, not an easy task to perform. Also a critical weakness was the near impossibility of coordination between Parma and Medina-Sedonia. It could be argued that, after Gravelines, the dispersal of Medina-Sedonia's fleet, and the survivor of the British fleet, apparently (to Medina-Sedonia's view) unscathed, British victory was a fait accompli, and Medina-Sedonia had only one course of action open to him. Where's an Aegis cruiser when you need it?

                              Was the Armada doomed at the start? As the plan was formulated, yes. Today, coordinating two far distance naval forces can be daunting, and this with satellites, AWACS, J-STARS, shipboard high-technology combat information centers, and the other technological wonders of modern warfare. For a late 16th Century navy, limited to line-of-sight communication, it was downright bound for failure. Philip's thirst for British blood ended up spilling primarily the blood of his own sailors.
                              Mens Est Clavis Victoriae
                              (The Mind Is The Key To Victory)

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