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Principle Events of the Armada Campaign

In order to fully understand the events of the Armada Campaign, it is helpful to review the organization and nature of the ships in the Armada itself. Contrary to popular legend, the magnificint galleons themselves were actually a minority in both the Spanish and English navies. Both sides possessed a core of galleons specifically designed for fighting, but the majority of both orders of battle were merchant vessels and private ships pressed into service.

The Spanish Armada was organized into eight squadrons, each with a specific designation and specific flagship and vice-flagship. Most of the squadrons had a few small ships attached for administrative purposes. Supporting these squadrons were 22 more small pataches and zabras which acted as couriers. Some twenty or so of the largest, most capable ships (a few in each squadron) were designated as "trouble shooters". These ships had permission to leave their assigned sailing station and move to the area of battle as each captain saw fit. Throughout the campaign it was this mobile reserve that saw most of the action and took most of the damage.

The Spanish squadrons can be described as follows:

  • The Squadron of Portugal consisting of 10 war galleons ranging from 350 to 1050 tons. These ships were taken from Portugal when that country was overrun by Spain in 1580. They included both the San Juan and San Martin (Armada flagship), and constituted the best fighting ships in the Armada.
  • The Squadron of Castile consisting of 11 mid-sized galleons and 3 large armed naos. This was considered to be a front line fighting squadron. However, the galleons were all veterans of the West Indies trade routes and were rather lightly armed, being designed more for holding pirates and corsairs at bay. Ship for ship, they were not as powerful or capable as similar sized English vessels.
  • The Squadron of Biscay was comprised of medium to very large sized naos drawn from Baltic and French ports. These ships were variously armed.
  • The Squadron of Andalusia consisted of one galleon and 9 medium to very large sized naos.
  • The Squadron of Guipuzcoa consisted of 10 medium to very large naos.
  • The Squadron of the Levant consisted of 10 large to very large Mediterranian grainships which were given heavy armament in the hopes that they would add a decisive force to the Armada. Instead they turned out to be more of a liability, being very slow and unhandy sailers. Further, thier method of construction was not up to the stresses imposed by the firing of their artillery. Several of these vessels shook their own seams open while engaged. This contributed to the loss of several from this squadron in the post-fighting storms.
  • The Squadron of Hulks was actually a motly collection of ships of all sorts (hulks, carracks, caravels, etc), ranging from a few hundred to over a thousand tons. These ships were not considered part of the fighting force, and instead were transports and storeships. They suffered heavily in the storms, in that at least ten from this squadron did not return to Spain.
  • The Squadron of Galleasses from Naples was expected to contribute heavily to the campaign. They were very active, particularly in the early part of the channel fighting. However, their unsuitibility to Atlantic weather and light Mediterranean construction ultimately lead to the loss of two of the four ships in this squadron.

    Principal Events of the Campaign
    Date Event Ship Losses
    Late July While approaching English coast, Armada scattered by storms Gally Bazana wrecked at Bayonne.

    Galleon Santa Ana partially dismasted, left at Le Havre

    July 31st Action off Plymouth. San Juan, Gran Grin, later San Martin, San Mateo, Nuestra Senora del Rosario and others engaged with most of English fleet. Nao Nuestra Senora del Rosario damaged in battle, later by collision. Partially dismasted, left behind by Armada and captured.

    Nao San Salvador (unengaged) suffers massive powder explosion, partially wrecked. Left behind by Armada and captured

    August 2nd Action off Portland Bill. Fleets start morning becalmed. Early engagement between Triumph and Nao La Regazona. Spanish have wind advantage when breeze springs up, attempt to close with English. Galleases are sent to attempt to outflank English. General action, though English keep their distance.
    August 3rd At daybreak, hulk flagship El Gran Grifon is lagging behind Armada, engaged by Revenge. Later rescued by galleasses.
    August 4th At daybreak, nao Duquesna Santa Ana and galleon San Luis lagging behind Armada and are attacked by English. Galleasses tow La Rata Santa Maria Encoronada into action, later tow all three ships out of engagement.
    August 8th Early morning fireship attack as Spanish are anchored off Calais. No Spanish are destroyed, but Armada is forced to cut cables (sacrificing their best anchors) and scatter seaward.
    August 8th As Armada re-assembles, galleons of the Squadron of Portugal fight rearguard action, keeping English at bay. San Martin, San Juan, San Marcos, San Mateo, San Felipe principal Spanish vessels engaged. As day wears on, other troubleshooters arrive, reinforcing rearguard. Fighting very heavy and many ships severly damaged.

    Many English ships, including fleet flagship are distracted by a damaged Galleass that is trying to regain the Calais anchorage.

    San Mateo, San Felipe knocked out, drift ashore near Ostend and are captured by Dutch.

    Nao San Juan sinks while surrendering.

    Galleass San Lorenzo grounds off Calais, captured.

    Naos Santa Maria de la Rosa, Trinidad Valencera, Gran Griffon, and Regazona all badly damaged.

    August 13th Armada well into North Sea. English abandon pursuit.