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1588

Spanish Armada sets sail to secure English Channel

A massive Spanish fleet, known as the “Invincible Armada,” sets sail from Lisbon on a mission to secure control of the English Channel and transport a Spanish invasion army to Britain from the Netherlands.

In the late 1580s, Queen Elizabeth’s support of the Dutch rebels in the Spanish Netherlands led King Philip II of Spain to plan the conquest of England. A giant Spanish invasion fleet was completed by 1587, but Sir Francis Drake’s daring raid on the port of Cadiz delayed the Armada’s departure until May 1588. The Invincible Armada consisted of 130 ships and carried 2,500 guns and 30,000 men, two-thirds of them soldiers. Delayed by storms, the Armada did not reach the southern coast of England until late July. By that time the British were ready.

On July 21, the outnumbered English navy began bombarding the seven-mile-long line of Spanish ships from a safe distance, taking full advantage of their superior long-range guns. The Spanish Armada continued to advance during the next few days, but its ranks were thinned considerably by the English assault. On July 28, the Spanish retreated to Calais, France, but the English sent ships loaded with explosives into the crowded harbor, which took a heavy toll on the Armada. The next day, an attempt to reach the Netherlands was thwarted by a small Dutch fleet, and the Spanish were forced to face the pursuing English fleet. The superior English guns again won the day, and the Armada retreated north to Scotland.

Battered by storms and suffering from a lack of supplies, the Armada sailed on a difficult journey back to Spain through the North Sea and around Ireland. By the time the last of the surviving fleet reached Spain in October, half of the original armada was destroyed. Queen Elizabeth’s decisive defeat of the Invincible Armada made England a world-class naval power and introduced effective long-range weapons into naval warfare for the first time, ending the era of boarding and close-quarter fighting.

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