The Armada sailed on July 19th 1588. The fleet of 130 ships - including 22 fighting galleons - sailed in a crescent shape. This was not unusual as most fleets sailed in this shape as it offered the ships in that fleet the most protection. The larger but slower galleons were in the middle of the crescent and they were protected by faster but smaller boats surrounding them. Smaller ships known as zabras and pataches supplied the galleons. The Armada faced little opposition as it approached the coast of Cornwall on July 29th, 1588. It is said that Cornish fishermen fishing off the Lizard watched the Armada pass! However, London was warned that the Armada was nearing England's coastline. Communications in the C16th were very poor yet the English had developed a way of informing London when the Armada was first seen. Beacons were lit along the coast. As soon as one beacon was seen, the next further along the coast was lit. When the beacons reached Beachy Head in Sussex, they went inland and towards London. In this way, London was quickly made aware that the Armada was approaching England. As the Armada sailed up the English Channel, it was attacked by an English force lead by Sir Francis Drake. He was stationed in Plymouth. It is said that when Drake was informed of the Armada's approach, he replied that he had time to finish the game of bowls he was playing on Plymouth Hoe and time to defeat the Armada. It is possible that he knew that the tide of the River Tamar in Plymouth was against him, so that he could not get his ships out of Devonport - therefore, he knew that he could finish his game of bowls because his ships were dependent on the tide to move. If the tide was coming in, his ships had to stay tied up. If the tide was going out, then he had the freedom to move his ships into the Channel. Whatever the truth, what is true is that Drake and his men did very little damage to the Armada as it passed up the English Channel. What the English did do was waste a lot of ammunition firing at the Armada and not having much of an impact as the Spanish ships had well built hulls that proved to be solid.
Sir Francis Drake
As the Armada sailed up the English Channel, the attacks by Drake’s Plymouth fleet proved to be very ineffective. With the exception of two galleons, the Armada remained relatively unscathed. |
However, Medina Sidonia was facing problems of his own - the Armada was running low on ammunition. The one advantage the Spanish had at this time was the weather. On August 4th, a strong wind caused the Channel to become a lot rougher and the smaller English ships suffered from this whereas the Spanish used the wind to move quickly to the European coastline where they would pick up Spanish troops ready for the invasion of England. Throughout the whole of its journey from Spain to the east side of the English Channel, the Armada faced few problems from the English Navy. Even though we knew of its approach, we could do little while it kept in its crescent formation. But it hit real problems when it had to stop to pick up troops in mainland Europe. While the Armada kept its crescent shape it was very difficult for the English Navy to attack it. Once it stopped, it lost its crescent shape and left it open to attack. Medina Sidonia learned to his horror that there was no port deep enough near to where the Spanish troops were for him to stop his fleet. The best he could do was to harbour at Gravelines near modern day Calais on July 27th 1588, and then wait for the troops to arrive. Sir Francis Drake is given the credit for what happened...