In July, 1588, Philip II of Spain sent out an enormous fleet of 130 ships organised into a crescent formation. They were to head for England to launch an invasion against the Protestant Queen, but would Philip really have achieved his ambitions… or was it doomed to fail all along?
1. High Predictability
With a spy network winding all across Europe, Queen Elizabeth was able to receive gathered information about Philip’s plans, the types and sizes of the ships, and probably the formation they were planning to sail in also. The English had been expecting an armada from Spain for years and other European countries had theorised about how the fleet would be launched. Since the Reformation, strong tensions had existed between Spain and England. There was almost no doubt that action would be taken soon. It was just a matter of how and when.
In fact, an English force had been sent under Drake to attack the port and harbour at Cadiz in an attempt to delay the progress of preparations for the Armada. Drake and his men made off with huge quantities of gold after destroying some one hundred Spanish ships. Philip was forced to call off the invasion until 1588, almost a year later.
2. Badly-Founded Objectives
King Philip of Spain was not intending to merely defeat the English in a sea battle and impose fines and sanctions upon the English. His ultimate aim was to transport a huge force of soldiers to the coast. Overthrowing Elizabeth I and making himself the King of England was most likely his primary goal when planning the armada. Philip had aimed for at least 30,000 troops to be picked up from the Netherlands and shipped to enemy territory. Seen as the Spanish soldiers in the Lowlands were stuck fast fighting Dutch rebels who had been supported by the English Queen, they were unable to effectively leave their position and board the ships. Consequently, Philip only managed to get about 24,00 Spanish men on his vessels.
3. Poor Technology
Philip rushed to prepare his fleet for the invasion, and Spanish forces were therefore lacking necessary equipment and technology to be able to fight as efficiently. Spanish cannon balls were poor quality, made hurriedly from low-grade materials, giving them a severe disadvantage. The same goes for the cannons; many were not as small and powerful as the English, as Spain was not as adept at producing artillery as Britain.
Not only this, but English ships were much smaller and lighter, allowing them to be manoeuvred much more quickly. This enabled them to rush in towards Spanish ships and release cannon volleys, then speed off before they were boarded by the clumsy enemy planks and towers.
4. Untrained Soldiers
The majority of King Philip’s men had been recruited in the Netherlands, or had been picked up from the Lowlands after fighting Dutch rebels. They were hardly trained in naval warfare and for a long period had been fighting upon land. With Philip wanting to deploy his armada as soon as possible, many troops were not properly prepared for the coming conflict. There were by far not enough cannon specialists on board the Spanish ships. This meant that they struggled to maintain their artillery and fire as quickly as the English, who had many more trained men in their vessels.
Moreover, Spain’s best sea commander, Santa Cruz, had died not long before the flight of the Spanish Armada. Some speculate that the cause of his death was intense fear over whether Philip could achieve his goals – or if it would be a tragic disaster, bankrupting the nation. In his place was the Duke of Medina Sidonia, a feeble man who was only chosen because he came from a line of nobility. He was often said to have got seasick, making his position as general not the best decision.
5. Weather and Tactics
Philip made his armada sail in a crescent formation, probably for the purposes of holding a packed position and resisting English attacks. However, the decision eventually turned upon him, as communication was difficult, due to the distance between the ends of the crescent and the centre, where Medina Sidonia was commanding. The English were also able to launch sudden attacks upon the Spanish wings, distracting rear guard ships and enticing them into battle. After long periods of English failure to get involved, they eventually figured out the disadvantages of the Spanish Armada and immediately exploited them, causing immense damage to Spanish ships.
Additionally, there were several storms where the Spanish ships were scattered and had difficult reorganising. Whenever such an event happened, the little English ships were able to survive through it and then prey on the loose Spanish ships. The English believed that the tempests were sent from the true Protestant god.
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