On this day in 1588 – the Battle of Gravelines began during the Spanish Armada

July 1588 saw England under threat from the Spanish Armada. King Philip of Spain attempted to invade England by sending 130 ships to join with a large army that were waiting in Flanders led by the Duke of Parma. The Spanish had already made their way past the English navy who were docked in Plymouth and were heading towards London before the English caught up with them and battle commenced. See http://wp.me/p5LWKn-as for more on the first part of the Spanish Armada.

On 27th July the Armada were in Calais waiting for the Duke of Parma whose army had been reduced to 16000 men through disease, Medina Sidonia was expecting the army to be ready and their barges stocked for them to depart instantly. However, because there was no communication between the two armies Parma was not ready and it would take at least six days for the barges to be loaded. Meanwhile, in England a council of war was taking place to decide how to deal with the latest developments and Lord Howard was joined by Lord Seymour and Sir Winter. Without knowing about it England had the upper hand.

In an attempt to panic the Spanish on the 28th July at midnight the English took eight of their ships, stripped them of any fireships2valuables, painted the masts and rigging with tar and packed them with combustible material. A skeleton crew sailed them close to the Spanish who were still docked in Calais before abandoning the ship and boarded small boats that would take them away from what was about to happen. A double shot to the material would set the boats alight and they would travel straight into the waiting Armada. Medina Sidonia had expected the English to make some sort of move and so protected the Armada with smaller ships. Six of the eight ships sailed straight into the heart of the Armada and panic took a hold of the Spanish. In order to move away quickly the Spanish ships cut their anchors, which meant that they would be unable to dock anywhere else.

Although no Spanish ships were burnt they had become scattered and the English closed in further. On 29th July in a small port near Flanders called Gravelines the English were joined by an extra 35 ships that had set sail from Kent with fresh supplies for the navy. Sir Francis Drake was determined to take advantage of the fireships and so began moving the navy to attack the Spanish at 6am with all the intelligence Drake had gathered during the smaller battles England had learnt a lot about the Armada. The canons that the English were using were far superior to the Spanish, they could fire faster and cause more damage at a longer range. After eight hours of fighting the English began to run out of ammunition and were forced to retreat.

However, the English had destroyed five Spanish ships but the Spanish were not able to fight back any more. With no anchors and low ammunition and the English in pursuit the Spanish could only head north and travel around England. Lord Howard eventually called off the English navy as they were approaching the Firth of Forth, Scotland. By this point the Spanish were exhausted and Medina Sidonia decided that the only option left to the Armada was to return back to Spain defeated.

battle of gravelinesThe Battle of Gravelines

The Spanish continued around Scotland and travelled back to Spain via Ireland. Food and water were running short and the men aboard the Armada were tired and becoming ill. Off the coast of Ireland the Armada encountered gales and many ships were wrecked on the coast of Ireland. Less than half the ships that originally set out from Spain made it back.

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