Since historical times, invasions and war have been a common occurrence that was well known to conventional societies. In most instances, this was employed when fighting for certain rights and resources that were fundamental for effective functioning of the then societies. The ability of a given army or group of fighters to overthrow their opponents was influenced by effective planning and coordination amongst major stakeholders. In most instances, the leaders provided their armies with sufficient ammunition and trained them on various techniques that they would employ during the battles. Secrecy was held in high regard as it prevented the perceived enemies from understanding vital strategies that were to be employed in battles. More often than not, failures in wars and battles by certain groups of individual were attributed to lack of strict adherence on the above measures. It is against this background that this paper reviews the historic Spanish Armada. In detail, it provides an account of the characteristic events and underscores the factors that contributed to the defeat of the Spanish and success of their opponents.
Essentially, Spanish Armada denotes a Spanish fleet that reportedly sailed in 1588 to fight against England. The underlying motive for this was to overthrow the then leader of England, Elizabeth 1. The main aim for this was to eliminate protestant rule and instead restore Catholicism in England. Historical evidence indicates that this mission was not successful as the Spanish were defeated in the long run. The historical background to this event dates back in the 1530s when the protestant Church of England broke away from the Roman Catholic and the Papal rule. This occurred during the reign of King Henry the eighth. After his death, he was succeeded by Queen Mary who made attempts to restore Catholic rule in England by marrying the Spanish King Philip the second. In his review, Mattingly indicates that this marriage did not bear any fruits as King Philip was refrained from interfering with the English rule by the then government of England.
After the death of Queen Mary, her half sister who was also a protestant assumed leadership. This is because the former had died childless and there was no heir to take after her. Queen Elizabeth was undecided with regard to whether to enforce Catholicism or not especially after King Phillip proposing marriage to her. However, this changed in the 1960s, when Queen Elizabeth openly supported Protestants who were reportedly protesting against the occupation of the Spanish in the Netherlands. In this respect, Lewis reports that the Protestants supposedly wanted independence and therefore made efforts to stop the Spanish forces form occupying the region. The Spanish attained this through the use of Inquisition, the religious police that secretly hunted out Protestants.
This move by Queen Elizabeth prompted King Phillip to make a decision to invade England. Thus he began making preparations by constructing a massive armada of strong ships that had the ability to effectively carry several soldiers and armies that would effectively conquer his enemy. These efforts were supported by the pope and the over confidence of King Phillip made him to name Isabella, his daughter as the successor of Queen Elizabeth.
According to Knerr, the preparations for this battle by the Spanish were huge. Guns, cannons, swords and powder were bought in open air markets. Innumerable other essential equipment and supplies that were to be employed in the venture were purchased openly. This made it possible for every individual to understand the ongoing preparations and as such, the Spanish did not succeed in keeping it a secret. Nonetheless, historical evidence shows that these efforts were geared towards worrying their enemy. In particular, they wanted to employ the ‘shock and awe’ tactics that were presumably meant to constantly keep their enemy worried. This bore some results as Sir Drake, accompanied by a small fleet of English army sailed to port Cadiz and destroyed several Spanish ships. Further, they also burnt a stock of barrels that was expected to transport vital stores to be employed in the invasion. Consequently, it was believed that this would affect the supply of essentials such as food and water.
Various measures were also undertaken in mainland England in order to counter the invasion. Among these were the erection of signal beacons along the Welsh and England coasts. These would be instrumental in warning London about the approach of the Armada. Also worth mentioning was the strong leadership of the English forces. In this respect, Felipe indicates that Queen Elizabeth had commanded Lord Howard to be in command. He did not only have the ability to offer credible directions but also had the strength to control the activities of his juniors.
Initially, the Amada set off in April but this was compounded by heavy storms that made it difficult for them to leave their waters. In July 1588, the Spanish fleet finally set off to Bay of Biscay, constituting close to 130 ships and 30,000 soldiers on board. They assumed their classic crescent formation during sailing. Essentially, the larger fighting galleons that also moved slowly occupied the middle. These were surrounded by smaller ships that were more flexible and could therefore easily maneuver their way through. Regardless of the fact that the fleet had already set off, King Philip had devised a plan to pick up more Spanish soldiers that would be re deployed to Netherlands before invading England.
One aspect that contributed to the failure of the Spanish according to Felipe was their leadership. Medina Sidonia was appointed to command the Spanish Armada by the King. Irrespective of his having experience and being competent, he did not have sufficient experience at the sea. As a result, he developed sea sickness and experienced difficulties that compromised his performance as a commander. The Spanish armada was cited by the English on the 19th of July. The first English force that was under the command of Sir Drake was released to meet the Armada. Initial efforts to get the ships out of the Devonport harbor were delayed by unsuitable weather conditions for almost two hours. This had devastating impacts on the English force as they found it difficult to significant damage the Spanish ships that were well built. The crescent shape was also beneficial as it prevented the Drake’s force from having major impacts on the main ships. After five days, historical evidence cites that Spanish forces were running out of ammunition. In addition, they had not picked the extra troops from the mainland and thus they ceased their operations on 27th of July in order to wait for the arrival of the extra troops.
The English forces made quick decisions to exploit this vulnerable condition of the Spanish forces to their advantage. They set the old wooden ships near the Amada ablaze. Since their ships were loaded with gun powder, the Spanish became afraid and dispersed. In fact, a significant percentage of them cut the cables that were used in anchoring their ships and left the sea waters. Since it was pitch dark and the escape was characterized by confusion, they broke the crescent shape and exposed the Armada to attack. This gave the English forces a chance to attack the core of the Spanish Armada. However, it is indicated that four Spanish galleons bravely fought against them in bit to protect the rest of the Armada. Nonetheless, the Spanish were outnumbered in the long run and this led to loss of significant lives. The English force had initially assumed a position that made it difficult for the Armada to retreat to the English Channel. The only direction that the Spanish Armada would head to was northwards. The English forces followed the Armada and caused considerable damage to it.
The ability of the Spanish to fight back and protect themselves was further undermined by the British autumnal weather that was extreme as well as insufficient supplies. In particular, they ran short of fresh water and food supplies. As they approached Scotland, they sailed in a very strong storm that had hit the coast. Since they did not have anchor cables, they were unable to shelter from the strong storms and as such, they relied on rocks. This led to a loss of significant lives as they tried to search for alternative shelter.
The Spanish soldiers that survived the storms headed for Ireland in order to replenish their supplies and head home. Ireland was renowned for its famous hospitality and after sheltering in the current Armada bay, they proceeded ashore in order to benefit from this. However, the immigration controls in this region were short and shift and those who were found in the region were attacked and killed. Colin and Geoffrey indicate that by the time the Armada arrived home; it was tattered and had lost almost three quarters of its soldiers. Statistics show that a significant 20,000 sailors ad soldiers had been killed in the battle. In addition, close to half of its ships had also been destroyed. The English force on the other hand only lost a hundred soldiers and all its ships were intact.
From the preceding account, it is certain that effective organization and coordination of troops and armies is elemental in their success. Notably, the Spanish Armada failed because of their pride and inability to conduct their operations in secrecy. In addition, their leadership and coordination was poor and this increased their vulnerability to being attacked by their opponents. In contrast, the English forces kept their operations a secret and their coordination was effective. Furthermore, their leadership was apt and this enabled them to seize the opportunity to attack the Spanish forces in a timely manner. In addition, they managed to drive away their enemy by blocking all entries to England. The defeat of the Spanish Armada by the English forces further exposed them to various harsh treatments on their way home. Ultimately, they experienced immense losses and suffering as compared to their enemy.
Colin, Martin and Geoffrey, Parker. The Spanish Armada. USA: Penguin Books, 1999.
Felipe, Fernandez- Arnesto. The Spanish Armada: Experience in 1588. Oxford: University Press, 1988.
Knerr, Douglas. Through the Golden Mist: A Brief Overview of Armada Historiography. American Neptune 49, No. 1 (1989) 3-12.
Lewis, Michael. The Spanish Armada in 1588. New York: T.Y. Crowell, 1968.
Mattingly, Garett. The Armada. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959.