The Spanish Armada
When the Armada was defeated and by whom prompts numerous answers. An Armada was damaged by Drake in Cadiz on April 19 1587 , when he ‘singed the king of Spain’s beard’, destroying more than 30 ships and vitally some 1600 tons of wood destined for the Armada’s supply barrels. The following year the replacement green wood caused the Armada problems.
Some date February 14 1588 as the day Philip defeated his own forces, appointing the Duke of Medina-Sidonia, weak and with negligible seafaring experience, the Armada’s commander. But as Spain’s senior Duke noble officers would feel it no insult to obey him; the Duke’s weakness perhaps expedient as he would defer to the Duke of Parma when the Armada rendezvoused with his army.
Even the make-up of the Armada helped ensure defeat: 28 warships of great size, but four of them galleys more suited to Mediterranean conditions; plus 120 converted merchant vessels, some just troop-transport hulks; manned by sailors ill-trained in cannonry. The English fleet was more numerous contrary to legend, though mainly smaller vessels: 34 royal warships, and nearly 200 converted merchantmen and smaller craft; the English sailors experienced, and capable with cannon.
Spain’s army was Europe’s best; the Armada had plentiful cavalry and siege weapons. Had Medina-Sidonia and Parma joined forces and landed a combined 50,000 men in England victory was probable.
But no army did land. English attacks off Lizard Point on July 29 having failed to break the Spanish defensive crescent formation, Medina-Sidonia anchored his ships off Calais to link with Parma. But the fire-ships sent among them by English commander Lord Howard caused panic: at the subsequent battle of Gravelines the Armada suffered minor ship losses, but morale plummeted. Medina-Sidonia ordered a run for home; but the winds forced them north and round Britain. Terrible storms sank many ships; others were driven onto rocks, with no anchors - cut in the fire-ship panic - to prevent this. The poor state of supplies meant thousands perished from disease and starvation before reaching Spain; thousands more immediately after.
English battle-losses were small, though disease later claimed many as contrary to the image of ‘Good Queen Bess’ the returning sick were not cared for, and the men went unpaid for months.
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