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View Full Version : On This Day 29 July



Coog
07-29-2012, 22:40
On 29 July 1588 during the Anglo-Spanish War the Battle of Gravelines occurred. English naval forces under the command of Lord Charles Howard and Sir Francis Drake defeated the Spanish Armada off the coast of Gravelines, France.

The small port of Gravelines was then part of Flanders in the Spanish Netherlands, close to the border with France and the closest Spanish territory to England. Medina Sidonia tried to re-form his fleet there and was reluctant to sail further east knowing the danger from the shoals off Flanders, from which his Dutch enemies had removed the sea marks.

The English had learned more of the Armada's strengths and weaknesses during the skirmishes in the English Channel and had concluded it was necessary to close within 100 yards to penetrate the oak hulls of the Spanish ships. They had spent most of their gunpowder in the first engagements, and had after the Isle of Wight been forced to conserve their heavy shot and powder for a final attack near Gravelines. During all the engagements, the Spanish heavy guns could not easily be run in for reloading because of their close spacing and the quantities of supplies stowed between decks, as Francis Drake had discovered on capturing the damaged Rosario in the Channel. Instead the gunners fired once and then jumped to the rigging to attend to their main task as marines ready to board enemy ships, as had been the practice in naval warfare at the time. In fact, evidence from Armada wrecks in Ireland shows that much of the fleet's ammunition was never spent. Their determination to fight by boarding, rather than cannon fire at a distance, proved a weakness for the Spanish; it had been effective on occasions such as the battles of Lepanto and Ponta Delgada (1582), but the English were aware of this strength and sought to avoid it by keeping their distance.

With its superior manoeuvrability, the English fleet provoked Spanish fire while staying out of range. The English then closed, firing repeated and damaging broadsides into the enemy ships. This also enabled them to maintain a position to windward so that the heeling Armada hulls were exposed to damage below the water line. Many of the gunners were killed or wounded, and the task of manning the cannon often fell to the regular foot soldiers on board, who did not know how to operate the guns. The ships were close enough for sailors on the upper decks of the English and Spanish ships to exchange musket fire. After eight hours, the English ships began to run out of ammunition, and some gunners began loading objects such as chains into cannons. Around 4:00 pm, the English fired their last shots and were forced to pull back.

Five Spanish ships were lost. The galleass San Lorenzo ran aground at Calais and was taken by Howard after murderous fighting between the crew, the galley slaves, the English, and the French, who ultimately took possession of the wreck. The galleons San Mateo and San Felipe drifted away in a sinking condition, ran aground on the island of Walcheren the next day, and were taken by the Dutch. One carrack ran aground near Blankenberge; another foundered. Many other Spanish ships were severely damaged, especially the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic-class galleons which had to bear the brunt of the fighting during the early hours of the battle in desperate individual actions against groups of English ships. The Spanish plan to join with Parma's army had been defeated and the English had gained some breathing space, but the Armada's presence in northern waters still posed a great threat to England.