The defeat of the «Invincible Armada» it was one of the biggest failures in the history of Spain. What was to be a splendid and majestic show of force against England and the rebels in Flanders resulted in one of the most remembered historical national disasters.
Background to the defeat of the "Invincible Armada"
We are in 1583, the British queen Elizabeth I it was causing serious headaches to the Spanish crown by constantly harassing the colonies of the Caribbean aided by corsairs backed by the queen.
To the Spanish King Philip II worries, Flanders rebels they were to be defeated quickly but the war was stretching and Spanish resources were shrinking.
As a single solution to all his problems, the Spanish king had been thinking for some time invade Britain for overthrow Elizabeth I and at the same time encircle the rebels in the Netherlands by joining the fleet to an army led by Alexander of Farnese, which would go there by land.
After consulting Álvaro de Bazán, reputed sailor, it seemed that the idea could be carried out. Thus began in 1584 the preparation of a large fleet that would have about 130 warships.
The death of Álvaro de Bazán and the start of the expedition
Shortly before starting the expedition Álvaro de Bazán dies, which for some experts would be part of what would drastically change the fortunes of the fleet.
In his place was appointed, much to his regret, a 38-year-old military inexperienced named Alfonso Pérez de Guzman, VII Duke of Medina Sidonia.
Forced by the monarch he took command of the army and on May 20, 1588 the invincible army He left Lisbon, skirting the coast with difficulties to La Coruña, where he stocked himself with water and food.
It was not until July 21 that he left this port, to enter the English Channel a week later.
The contingent was made up of a total of 130 ships, among which were 60 galleons, 4 galleys and 4 galleys that represented a total of 57,808 tons and 2,431 artillery pieces.
In order to organize such a monstrous fleet, it was decided to divide it into squads named after the locality where the ships were built.
The crew consisted of 7,050 sailors, 2,088 rowers, 17,017 soldiers and 1,388 auxiliaries among servants, religious and adventurers, in total 27. 543 men.
The Invincible Armada against the Anglo-Dutch fleet
The combat with the Anglo-Dutch fleet began at the height of CalaisAt this point the Spanish fleet had already had some losses due to disorganization and bad weather, a constant wear and tear that had only just begun.
The English fleet did not present battle in a formal way, but rather dedicated itself to following the navy and constantly harassing it, also keeping it located and guarded, which eliminated the Spanish surprise factor.
The harassment of the English fleet
Although the Spanish superiority in ships and men was overwhelming, the fast and light English ships were superior in maneuverability.
The heavy Spanish galleons They could not dodge storms or pursue English ships, while they maneuvered around the invincible with lightness and agility.
The victorious fleet of Lepanto he never got a battle that was properly presented, head-to-head.
On the contrary, there were constant skirmishes and harassment by the English, which was reducing the state of the Spanish fleet along with the weather.
After a necessary rest in the French port of Calais, the fleet was resupplied and tried to contact, without success, with the ground army of the Duke of Parma, which was still far from there.
The anchoring of the fleet in Calais was possible thanks to the fact that the French, neutral to the conflict, were also Catholics and united a resentment against the English.
The Skirmish Against Corsair Drake
Shortly after leaving Calais, a little further north and further into the channel, the largest skirmish took place, although it was still not a real battle.
At the height of Graveline an English flotilla commanded by the corsair drake began the attack on the Spanish fleet always at a distance and avoiding the boarding, with the aim of delaying what seemed an inevitable invasion.
When the English army ran out of ammunition, it began to retreat north, although with hardly any casualties.
The large Spanish fleet continued to suffer the storms in the narrow English channel while the English and Dutch ships thanks to their versatility damaged the heavy floating fortresses of the Spanish in skirmishes.
The English also used small incendiary boats called sprouts that sowed chaos in the large Spanish formation.
The night of August 8 to 9 the Spanish lost about 15 boats and 5,000 men because of the outbreaks, the situation was untenable.
The Anglo-Dutch fleet regrouped and constantly harassed the invincible from the south, such was the continuous attrition, added to the bad news about the Duke of Parma's army that was not ready for the invasion, that Medina Sidonia, after enduring the attacks for several One day he decided to retreat to the North Sea on July 28.
The Invincible Armada: Shipwrecked in the North
Fleeing the English to the south, Medina Sidonia entered a storm that dragged the fleet further north, the English coasts were filled with the remains of Spanish ships that were shipwrecked on the reefs and the English and Irish coasts.
The invincible was already very different from the one that left Cádiz. Lack of food and water, storms and disease caused far more damage than previous fighting.
In the battles with the English about 1,500 men and about 18,000 men died on the way home. Only about 10,000 men arrived out of the total of 30,000 who left Lisbon.
Spain's losses were around 20,000 men, 40 million ducats and about 100 ships. Only about 66 ships returned home.
Elizabeth I did not realize her victory until after some time. The Spanish catastrophe had been so fragmentary and dispersed that the victors, unaware of the position of the fleet, feared that the invincible had taken refuge in a safe harbor.
English losses were also high, mostly for the plague that spread among sailors and soldiers.
The failure of Philip II it assured the nations of the North, hitherto mediocre, their future maritime supremacy. It was also a triumph of Protestantism by Isabel I.