Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Spanish Armada goes horribly wrong for Spain

The other main topic of discussion between Medina Sidonia and his senior officers seems to have been the conduct of sea fighting against the English. Since the last Council of War, the Armada had enjoyed the weather gauge against the English, and had used galleasses in a dead calm. Neither had proved to be particularly useful. Even when the Spanish ships had the advantage of being upwind, they had not been able to close with the English ships and force them into a boarding battle. They had been too nimble and had been able to dart away at the last minute.

What was needed, the Spanish officers seem to have agreed, was smaller craft that could outmanoeuvre the English. These smaller craft could grapple the English ships, slowing them down so that the larger Spanish ships could catch them and board them. The smaller ships would need to be not only fast but armed, which ruled out the pataches and zabras that had come with the Armada. Medina Sidonia had no such craft with him, but he knew a man who did: Parma.

Thus it was that after the Council of War broke up Medina Sidonia sent a second patache racing eastward toward Flanders. This craft carried the pilot Domingo Ochoa with orders to arrange the rendezvous and decide exactly where the Armada should anchor off Flanders. He was told to find a few local pilots who knew the coastal waters and to send them back to the Armada. The craft also carried a message which repeated the request for cannonballs and then added “The Duke [Medina Sidonia] praying him [Parma] as soon as possible to send 40 flyboats to join with this Armada that he might be able with them to close with the enemy, because it had been impossible to come to hand-stroke with them.”

When he got this letter a couple of days later, Parma must have finally realised that disaster was staring them all in the face. He had been warning for months that he could not get his barges out unless he had protection against the Dutch flyboats. He had received no reply and had assumed that Philip had some plan. Now it was plain that there was no plan at all, just hope. That Medina Sidonia was asking Parma to send the very craft that Parma hoped the Armada had with it was proof that the rendezvous was not going to take place. After all, Parma only had a dozen flyboats, and he needed all of those to patrol the entrances to Dunkirk and Nieuport to keep them free of the Dutch flyboats. He had nothing to spare.

All that was left for Parma to do was to keep his troops safe and try to ensure that he did not get the blame for what was about to happen. Parma gave orders for the embarkation of the troops into the barges to begin. On the evening of Monday 7 August Parma himself left Bruges to ride to Dunkirk to personally supervise the embarkation - knowing that it was all a charade.

Although Parma did not know it, he was already too late. The climax of the campaign was underway. The final battle was about to begin.

from "The Spanish Armada" by Rupert Matthews
Buy your copy at Amazon or a local bookshop

In this, the fourth book of Spellmount's "Campaign in Context" series, Rupert Matthews looks to the ill-fated invasion of England by King Philip II of Spain. The Armada of 22 warships and 108 converted merchant vessels sailed under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia in 1588, but found itself harried by storms, fireships, and the redoubtable English fleet. In "The Spanish Armada", Rupert Matthews considers the characters of the commanders such as Francis Drake, Medina, and the opposing monarchs, and as with his previous titles in the series he carefully balances the evidence from textual sources with knowledge of the theatre and reconstructed weaponry in order to explain the events of the battle to the general reader, and the context in which it took place.

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