William Charles Henry Wood.

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the Spaniards by his movements, put Carleill ashore in the dark just
where the English soldiers could wade past the Spanish batteries under
cover at the weakest spot. When Carleill reached the barricade his
musketeers fired into the Spaniards' faces and wheeled off to let the
pikemen charge through. After a fierce hand-to-hand fight the
Spaniards ran. The town gave in next day. Having been paid its ransom
Drake sailed for the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine in Florida and
utterly destroyed it, then went on to Sir Walter Raleigh's colony of
Roanoke, in what is now North Carolina, and thence home.

He had missed the yearly treasure fleet by only half a day. He had
lost so many men by sickness that he had no chance of taking and
holding Havana. And the ransoms were less than he had hoped for. But
he had done enough to cripple New Spain for the next few years at any
rate. Arrived at Plymouth he wrote to London, saying, "There is now a
very great gap opened, very little to the liking of the King of Spain."

But the King, stung to the quick, went on with his Armada harder than
before, and in 1587 had it more than half ready in Lisbon and Cadiz.
Then Drake "singed King Philip's beard" by swooping down on Cadiz and
smashing up the shipping there; by going on to Cape St. Vincent, which
he seized and held with an army while his ships swept off the fishing
craft that helped to feed the great Armada; and by taking "the greatest
ship in all Portugal, richly laden, to our Happy Joy." This was the
best East Indies treasure ship, loaded with silks and spices, jewels
and gold, to the value of many millions. But, better than even this,
Drake found among her papers the secrets of the wonderful trade with
the East, a trade now taken over by the Spaniards from the conquered
Portuguese. With these papers in English hands the English oversea
traders set to work and formed the great East India Company on the last
day of the year 1600. This Company - founded, held, and always helped
by British sea-power - went on, step by step, for the next two hundred
and fifty-seven years, after which India, taken over by the British
Crown, at last grew into the present Indian Empire, a country
containing three times as many people as the whole population of the
United States, and yet a country which is only one of the many parts of
the British Empire all round the Seven Seas.

Crippled by English sea-power both in New Spain and Old, threatened by
English sea-power in his trade with the Far East, and harassed by
English sea-power everywhere between Spain and the Spanish Netherlands,
where the Duke of Parma was preparing an army for the invasion of
England, King Philip kept working on with murder in his heart. At
last, in the summer of 1588, his Great Invincible Spanish Armada seemed
to be as Great, Invincible, and Spanish as he could ever hope to make
it. All the landlubbers, even in England, thought it very great
indeed; and most of them think so still. The best Spanish soldiers,
like all the few really good Spanish sailors, had very grave doubts.
Those who knew the English Navy best expected nothing but disaster:
their letters still remain to prove it. But most people, then as now,
knew nothing about navies; and so the Armada went on collecting ships
and men together, heartening the landsmen of Spain, and disheartening
far too many landsmen in England.

The fatal weakness of the Great Armada was its being out of date.
Though little better than an ancient floating army, it had to fight
what then was the one really modern fleet; and this was its undoing.
Time out of mind, as we have seen already, battles on the water had
always been made as much like battles on the land as the wit of man
could make them. They were fought by soldiers under generals, not by
sailors under admirals. They were fought mostly on the platforms of
huge rowboats called galleys; and the despised galley-slaves were
almost the only seamen. Even the officers and men who handled the
clumsy old sailing craft, or the still clumsier sail aboard a galley,
were thought to be next door to nobodies; for their only work was to
fit their craft together like so many bits of land in order that the
soldiers might have the best imitation of a "proper field." The main
bodies of these floating armies drew up in line-abreast (that is, side
by side) charged each other end-on, and fought it out hand-to-hand on
the mass of jammed-together platforms. No such battle was ever fought
far from the land; for a good breeze would make the platforms wobble,
while no galley could survive a gale.

These ancient rowboat battles on calm coastal waters lasted till
Lepanto in 1571. Guns, muskets, and sailing craft were all used at
Lepanto. But the main fighting was done on galley platforms, and not
so very differently done from the way the Greeks and Persians fought at
Salamis twenty _centuries_ before. Then, after less than twenty
_years_, the Armada, though better than the Spaniards at Lepanto, was
sent across the open sea to fight a regular sea-going fleet, whose
leaders were admirals, whose chief fighting men were sailors, whose
movements were made under sail, and whose real weapon was the
shattering broadside gun. It was ancient Spanish floating army against
modern English Sea-Dog fleet.

Philip's silly plan was that the Armada should make for the Straits of
Dover, where it would see that Parma's Spanish army had a safe passage
from Flanders into England. Philip had lost his best admiral, Santa
Cruz, and had put the Armada in charge of Medina Sidonia, a seasick
landlubber, whom he ordered not to fight any more than could possibly
be helped until Parma had reached England. Parma, who was a good
soldier, saw at once what nonsense it was to put the army first and
navy second in the fighting, because, even if he could get into
England, his lines of communication with the bases in Flanders and
Spain could never be safe until Drake's fleet had been beaten. He
knew, as all soldiers and all sailors know, that unless you have a safe
road over which to bring your supplies from your base to your front
your fleets and armies must simply wither away for want of these
supplies - for want of men, arms, food, and all the other things a fleet
and army need. Therefore he wanted the fleet to fight first, so as to
clear, or try to clear, safe roads across the sea. After these roads,
or "lines of communication" between the bases and the front, had been
cleared he would try to conquer England with his Spanish army.

But Philip went his own silly way; and Elizabeth, his deadly enemy,
nearly helped him by having some silly plans of her own. She and her
Council (all landsmen, and no great soldier among them) wanted to
divide the English fleet so as to defend the different places they
thought the Armada might attack. This would also please the people;
for most people do like to see ships and soldiers close in front of
them, even when that is quite the wrong place for the ships and
soldiers to be. Of course this plan could never have worked, except in
favour of the Spaniards, who might have crushed, first, one bit of the
English fleet, and then another, and another, though they had no chance
whatever against the united whole.

Drake's own perfect plan was to take the whole fleet straight to Lisbon
and beat the Armada as it tried to get out. This would have given him
an enormous advantage; first, because he would have found the Armada at
once, instead of having to search for it after it had sailed; secondly,
because he could have crushed it ship by ship as it came out of the
Tagus; and, thirdly, because this defeat of the Armada off the coast of
Portugal would certainly prevent Parma from taking his army from
Flanders into England. On the 30th of March, 1588, a day to be forever
remembered in the history of sea-power, Drake wrote all this from
Plymouth to the Queen and her Councillors. One civilian, Sir Francis
Walsingham, saw at once that Drake was right. But the others shook
their heads; while even those who thought Drake knew better than they
did were afraid to let the fleet go so far away, because the people
liked the comfort of seeing it close beside the coast. Drake's way was
the way of Nelson, Jellicoe, Beatty, and all the greatest seamen. But
he was not allowed to try it till the 7th of July, when the Armada had
left Lisbon and was in the harbour of Corunna at the northwest corner
of the Spanish coast. And even then the Queen kept him so short of
stores that he could not have waited there to take the best chance.

When almost in sight of Spain a roaring sou'wester blew up; so, being
unable to wait, he had to come back to Plymouth on the 12th. Then for
a week the English fleet was taking in stores as hard as it could.
Lord Howard of Effingham, the Lord High Admiral of England, was in
command as the Great Officer of State who represented the Queen. But
he was a very sensible man, who, knowing that Drake was the greatest
seaman in the world, let him do the fighting in the proper way.

[Illustration: One of Drake's Men-of-War that Fought the Great Armada
in 1588.]

The southwest wind that blew Drake back brought the Armada out and up
the English Channel. Howard and Drake, their desperate week of taking
in stores at last quite done, were playing a game of bowls on the green
when Captain Fleming, of the ever famous _Golden Hind_, rushed up to
say the Spaniards were in sight of the Lizard, only sixty miles west.
Drake, knowing perfectly well what time there was to spare, and how
best to calm the people looking on, said, "There's time to finish the
game first and the Spaniards after." But the fleet got its sailing
orders on the spot; and all that fateful night the ships were working
out of Plymouth Sound. The Queen and her politicians, though patriotic
as any Sea-Dog, had, by keeping Drake so short of stores, very nearly
got their own fleet caught in just the same way as Drake had wished to
catch the Great Armada, that is, coming out of port, ship by ship,
against a united fleet outside. But Philip's silly plan, the
clumsiness of the Armada, and, above all, the supreme skill of the
English Sea-Dogs, put everything to rights again.

Next morning Drake was safely out at sea in the Channel, with
fifty-four ships, when he sighted a dim blur toward the west. This was
the Great Invincible Armada. Rain killed the wind, and the English lay
under bare poles, unseen by the Spaniards, who still left some of their
idle sails swinging to and fro. The great day had come at last.
Philip's Armada had drunk to _Der Tag_ (the day) of England's overthrow
just as the Germans did three centuries later; and nearly all the
Spaniards thought that thirty thousand Spaniards on the water were more
than a match for fifteen thousand English. But the Spaniards were six
thousand short, through sickness and desertion, and of the remaining
twenty-four thousand little more than a quarter were seamen. The rest
were soldiers, with many camp-followers. The fifteen thousand English,
on the other hand, were nearly all on board; and most of them had been
trained to sea fighting from their youth up. The Spaniards were
one-quarter seamen and three-quarters landsmen. The English were
three-quarters seamen and one-quarter landsmen; and most of these
landsmen were like the Marines of the present day, "soldier and sailor
too." Nor was this the only difference that helped to seal the fate of
the doomed Armada. For not only were the English seamen twice as many
and twice as good as the Spanish seamen, but in the numbers of their
trained seamen-gunners the English beat the Spaniards no less than ten
to one: and guns were the weapons that decided the issue of the day,
just as they did at Jutland in our recent war against the Germans.

A little before sunset the mist lifted, and the Spaniards, to their
intense surprise, saw the whole English fleet together. Every big ship
in the Armada sent boats hurrying off to know what orders Sidonia had
to give them. But Sidonia had none. That the Sea-Dogs had worked out
of Plymouth so quickly and were all together in a single fleet was
something he had not reckoned on, and something Philip's silly plan had
not provided for. Still, the Armada had one advantage left, the
weather-gage; for the southwest wind was piping up again, blowing from
the Armada to the English. Yet even this advantage was soon lost, not
by any change of wind, but by English seamanship. For while eight
English vessels held the attention of the Armada, by working about
between it and the shore, the rest of Drake's fleet stole off to sea,
got safely out of sight, tacked to windward with splendid skill, edged
in toward the Armada when sea-room west of it was gained, and then,
next morning, to the still more intense surprise of the Armada, came
down to attack it, having won the weather-gage by sailing round behind
it in the night.

This was the decisive stroke. The fight itself was simply the
slaughter of a floating army by a fleet. The Spaniards fought like
heroes, day after slaughterous day. But their light guns, badly served
by ill-trained crews, fired much too high to hull the English ships
"'twixt wind and water," that is, to smash holes in their sides along
the water-line. On the other hand, the English had more and better
guns, far more and far better seaman-gunners, and vessels managed by
the sea's own "handy men." They ran in with the wind, just near enough
to make their well-aimed cannon-balls most deadly on the Spanish
water-line, but never so near that the Spaniards could catch them with
grappling hooks and hold them fast while the Spanish soldiers boarded.
Another way the skilful English had was to turn their broadside against
the enemy's end-on. This, whether for a single ship or for a fleet, is
called "crossing the T"; and if you will look at a T you will see that
guns firing inward from the whole length of the cross-stroke have a
great advantage over guns firing back from the front of the up-stroke.
In other words, the broad front converges on the narrow front and
smashes it.

The crowded Spaniards sailed on, the whole week long, before the
pursuing English in the "eagle formation," with the big ships forming
the body and the lighter ones the wings: good enough for ancient
battles like Lepanto, but of no use against a modern fleet like
Drake's. Most of them could hardly have been more nearly useless if
they had been just so many elephants fighting killer whales at sea. Do
what they could, they could not catch the nimble Sea-Dogs who were
biting them to death. But they still fought on. Their crowded
soldiers were simply targets for the English cannon-balls. Sometimes
the Spanish vessels were seen to drip a horrid red, as if the very
decks were bleeding. But when, at the end of the week, Sidonia asked
Oquendo, "What are we to do now?", Oquendo, a dauntless warrior, at
once replied: "Order up more powder!"

The Spaniards at last reached Calais and anchored in the Roads. But,
when the tidal stream was running toward them full, Drake sent nine
fire-ships in among them. There was no time to get their anchors up;
so they cut their cables, swung round with the tide in horrible
confusion, dashing into one another in the dark, and headed for the
shallows of the Flemish coast. This lost them their last chance of
helping Parma into England. But it also saved Parma from losing the
whole of his army at sea. Once more the brave, though cruel, Spaniards
tried to fight the English fleet. But all in vain. This was the end.
It came at Gravelines, on the 29th of July 1588, just ten days after
Captain Fleming of the _Golden Hind_ had stopped Drake's game of bowls
at Plymouth. North, and still north, the beaten Armada ran for its
life; round by the stormy Orkneys, down the wild waters of the Hebrides
and Western Ireland, strewing the coasts with wreckage and dead men,
till at last the few surviving ships limped home.

[Illustration: ARMADA OFF FOWEY (Cornwall) as first seen in the English

There never was a better victory nor one more clearly gained by greater
skill. Nor has there ever been a victory showing more clearly how
impossible it is to keep sea empires safe without a proper navy.

But, after all, it is the whole Sea-Dog war, and not any single battle
or campaign, that really made those vast changes in world-history which
we enjoy today. For we owe it to the whole Sea-Dog breed that the fair
lands of North America are what they are and not as Spain might
otherwise have made them. The Sea-Dogs won the English right of entry
into Spain's New World. They, strange as it may seem, won French
rights, too; for Spain and France were often deadly enemies, and Spain
would gladly have kept the French out of all America if she had only
had the fleet with which to do it. Thus even the French-Canadians owe
Drake a debt of gratitude for breaking down the great sea barriers of

"The Invincible Armada" could not, of course, have been defeated
without much English bravery. And we know that the Queen, her
Councillors, and the great mass of English people would have fought the
Spanish army bravely enough had it ever landed. For even Henry V,
calling to his army at the siege of Harfleur,

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!

was no braver than Queen Elizabeth addressing her own army at Tilbury
Fort, the outwork of London, when the Armada was sailing up the
Channel: "I am only a poor weak woman. But I have the heart of a king;
and of a King of England too."

There can be no doubt whatever that both leaders and followers must
have good hearts, and have them in the right place too; and that the
heart of England beat high throughout this great campaign. But good
heads, rightly used, are equally needed in war. Sea-Dog courage
counted for much against the Great Armada; but Sea-Dog skill for more.

If you want a fight in which the Sea-Dog hearts might well have quailed
against appalling odds, then turn to the glorious end of Drake's old
flagship, the _Revenge_, when her new captain, Sir Richard Grenville,
fought her single-handed against a whole encircling fleet of Spain.

[Illustration: SIR FRANCIS DRAKE ON BOARD THE _REVENGE_ receiving the
surrender of Don Pedro de Valdes.]

Grenville, Drake, and Sir Philip Sidney had been among those members of
Parliament who had asked Queen Elizabeth to give Sir Walter Raleigh a
Royal Charter to found the first of the English oversea Dominions - the
colony on Roanoke Island in what is now North Carolina. Grenville
himself went out to Roanoke. He was a born soldier of fortune and
"first-class fighting man"; an explorer, scout, and pioneer; but not a
colonist at all. On his return from founding Raleigh's colony his
boats were swept away in a storm just before he saw a Spanish treasure
ship. But he made his carpenter put together some sort of boat with
bits of boxes; and in this he boarded the Spaniard, just reaching her
deck before his makeshift craft went down.

On the 1st of September, 1591, the _Revenge_, with Grenville in command
of her less than two hundred men, was at "Flores in the Azores" when
Don Alonzo de Bazan arrived with fifty-three ships of Spain. The
little English squadron under Lord Thomas Howard had no chance against
this overwhelming force. So it put to sea just in time to escape
destruction. But when Howard saw that the _Revenge_ was being
surrounded he gallantly came back and attacked the Spaniards in rear;
while the little _George Noble_ of London ran alongside the _Revenge_,
offering to stand by through thick and thin. Grenville ordered her
off, and Howard himself also retired, seeing no chance whatever of
helping the _Revenge_ and every chance of losing all his own ships.

Then, at three in the afternoon, the whole Spanish fleet closed in on
the _Revenge_, which had only one hundred men really fit for duty. The
rest were sick. Grenville, who had sworn he would cut down the first
man who touched a rope while there still seemed a chance to escape, now
refused the Spanish summons to surrender and prepared to fight to the
last. Trimming his sails as carefully as if for a yacht race he ran
down close-hauled on the starboard tack, right between the two
divisions of the Spanish fleet, till the flagship, three times the size
of the _Revenge_, ranged up on his weather side, thus blanketing his
canvas and stealing the wind. As the _Revenge_ lost way the ships she
had passed on the other side began ranging up to cut her off
completely. But meanwhile her first broadside had crashed into the
flagship, which hauled off for repairs and was replaced by two more
ships. The fight raged with the utmost fury all that sunny afternoon
and far into the warm dark night. Two Spaniards were sunk on the spot,
a third sank afterwards, and a fourth could only be saved by beaching.
But still the fight went on, the darkness reddened by the flaming guns.

Maddened to see one English ship keeping their whole fleet of
fifty-three at bay the Spaniards closed in till the _Revenge_ was
caught fast by two determined enemies. In came the Spanish grapplings,
hooking fast to the _Revenge_ on either side. "Boarders away!" yelled
the Spanish colonels. "Repel Boarders!" shouted Grenville in reply.
And the boarders were repelled, leaving a hundred killed behind them.
Only fifty English now remained. But they were as defiant as before,
giving the Spaniards deadly broadsides right along the water-line, till
two fresh enemies closed in and grappled fast. Again the boarders
swarmed in from both sides. Again the dauntless English drove them
back. Again the English swords and pikes dripped red with Spanish

But now only twenty fighting men were left, while Grenville himself had
been very badly wounded twice. Two fresh enemies then closed in,
grappled, boarded, fought with fury, and were barely driven back.
After this there was a pause while both sides waited for the dawn.
Four hundred Spaniards had been killed or drowned and quite six hundred
wounded. A hundred Sea-Dogs had thus accounted for a thousand enemies.
But they themselves were now unable to resist the attack the Spaniards
seemed unwilling to resume; for the first streak of dawn found only ten
men left with weapons in their hands, and these half dead with more
than twelve hours' fighting.

"Sink me the ship, Master Gunner!" was the last order Grenville gave.
But meanwhile the only two officers left alive, both badly wounded, had
taken boat to treat for terms; and the terms had been agreed upon. Don
Bazan promised, and worthily accorded, all the honours of war. So
Grenville was carefully taken on board the flagship, laid in Don
Bazan's cabin, and attended by the best Spanish surgeon. Then, with
the Spanish officers standing before him bareheaded, to show him all
possible respect, Grenville, after thanking them in their own language
for all their compliments and courtesies, spoke his farewell to the
world in words which his two wounded officers wrote home:

"'Here die I, Richard Grenville, with a joyful and quiet mind; for that
I have ended my life as a true soldier ought to do, that hath fought
for his Queen and Country, honour and religion.' And when he had said
these and other such like words he gave up the ghost with a great and
stout courage."


_A Ballad of the Fleet_

At Flores in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay,
And a pinnace, like a flutter'd bird, came flying from far away:
"Spanish ships of war at sea! we have sighted fifty three!"

* * * * * *

He had only a hundred seamen to work the ship and to fight,
And he sailed away from Flores till the Spaniard came in sight,
With his huge sea-castles heaving upon the weather bow.

"Shall we fight or shall we fly?
Good Sir Richard, tell us now,
For to fight is but to dip!
There'll be little of us left by the time this sun be set."
And Sir Richard said again: "We be all good Englishmen.
Let us bang these dogs of Seville, the children of the devil,
For I never turn'd my back upon Don or devil yet."

* * * * * *

Sir Richard spoke and he laugh'd, and we roar'd a hurrah, and so,
The little _Revenge_ ran on sheer into the heart of the foe,
With her hundred fighters on deck, and her ninety sick below;
For half of their fleet to the right and half to the left were seen,

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Online LibraryWilliam Charles Henry WoodFlag and Fleet → online text (page 7 of 19)