Honour - ARMADA 1588

Date - 21/29-July
Type - Fleet or Squadron Actions
Conflict - War with Spain: 1588-96

Description The action took place in the English Channel. Beginning at Plymouth in the west to Gravelines on the Flemish coast. And comprised a number of running actions from the Cornish coast to the North Sea. With a final action at Gravelines of the Flemish coast.

The Spanish Armada of about 130 ships sailed form Spain. It comprised about 20 warships or sizeable armed merchantmen, the rest being transports and small craft with 18,000 troops embarked. Their orders were to rendezvous with the Duke of Parma forces near Dunkirk, embark his army and land the entire force on English shores.

They were opposed by an English Fleet which eventually rose to 197 ships ranging from large warships to victuallers and small 20-ton pinnaces. The maximum strength at any one time was 140.

Another important difference between the Fleets was the way in which guns were reloaded at that time. No heavy guns were reloaded while the ship was in action. The English ships tried to approached their target in line ahead. As a ship closed, it would fire its bow guns, followed by the guns on one side as they were brought to bear. Next the stern guns would fire as the ship turned away and finally the guns on the second side would fire as she tacked away. The next ship in line would then repeat the exercise. meanwhile the first ship would begin the process of reloading her guns. If there were sufficient attacking ships to keep up a continuous attack, the defender would have no opportunity to reload between attacks.

The smaller more manoeuvrable English ships were able to achieve this type of attack as the two Fleets moved up the Channel. The larger Spanish ships were unable to do much about it as they had to defend their merchant charges. However their larger size meant they were able to withstand the attacks and only lost a few ships by the time they neared the Flanders coast at Gravelines. The effect was that English ships fired 1.5 rounds per gun per hour. The Spanish, 1.5 rounds per gun per day.

During the night with a westerly wind, 8 fireships were loosed towards the Spanish anchorage. This was expected by the Spanish who slipped their cables and stood out to sea.

Next morning the English attacked and were opposed by six Spanish warships who formed a rearguard cover while the main fleet reformed. In a strengthening wind many Spanish ships were damaged but a fighting formation was slowly restored. However by afternoon the weather deteriorated and the Spanish ships were being driven towards the Zealand banks and their destruction.

On the morning of the 30th the wind backed just in time and the bulk of the Spanish Fleet saved from being driven on-shore. They moved north and as the English were virtually out of ammunition the action ended. The English followed while awaiting re-supply turning back about the line of the Firth of Forth.

The English expected the Spanish would seek refuge in a friendly port, with options being at Hamburg, Denmark, Norway or Scotland. After which the fighting would resume. But they decided to return to Spain by way rounding the North of Scotland then west and south into the Atlantic. They were very short of water and supplies with rations reduced to about one third of normal. In the continuing bad weather only 67 ships made it home to Spain, including most of the best warships. The remainder were wrecked on the Irish, or Scottish shores. Some having their starving crews killed when they landed to obtain water or food.

While the war against Spain continued the threat of invasion ended.

Note: This is the first Battle Honour Awarded to Royal Navy ships even although the Battle was fought by Elizabeth I, Navy Royal, before the formation of the Royal Navy. The prefix Royal was granted by Charles II on 1660.

The Battle Honours Committee which recommends awards to the Navy Board decided that "the earliest action of which sufficient is known, and which is in all respects worthy of inclusion, was 'ARMADA 1588' ".


Queens Ships
Achates  Advice  Aid  Antelope  Ark (Royal) 
Brigandine  Bull  Charles  Cygnet  Disdain 
Dreadnought  Elizabeth Bonaventure  Elizabeth Jonas  Fancy  Foresight 
Galley Bonavolia  George  (Golden) Lion  Hope  Mary Rose 
Merlin  Moon  Nonpareil  Rainbow  Revenge 
Scout  Spy  Sun  Swallow  Swiftsure 
Tiger  Tramontana  Triumph  Vanguard  Victory 
White Bear  White Lion       
Merchant Ships under Drake
Bark Bond  Bark Bonner  Bark Buggins  Bark Burr  Bark Hawkyns 
Bark Manington  Bark St. Leger  Bark Talbot  Bear Young  Chance 
Delight  Diamond of Dartmouth  Edward Bonaventure  Elizabeth Drake  Elizabeth Founes 
Flyboat Yonge  Galleon Dudley  Galleon Leicester  Golden Hind  Golden Noble 
Griffin  Hearts-ease  Hope Hawkyns  Hopewell  Makeshift 
Merchant Royal  Minion  Nightingale  Roebuck  Spark 
Speedwell  Thomas Drake  Unity  Virgin God save her  1 small caravel 
Merchant Ships from the City of London
Antelope  Anthony  Ascension  Bark Burr  Brave 
Centurion  Diana  Dolphin  George Noble  Hercules 
Jewel  Gift of God   Golden Lion  Margaret and John  Mayflower 
Minion Moonshine  Pansy  Passport  Primrose 
Prudence  Red Lion  Release  Rose Lion  Royal Defence 
Salamander  Thomas Bonaventure  Tiger  Toby    
Merchant Ships under the Lord High Admiral
Anne Francis  George Bonaventure  Jane Bonaventure  Samuel  Solomon 
Susan Parnell  Vineyard  Violet     
Merchant Ships in Queen's pay
Black Dog  Edward of Maldon  Katharine  Lark  Marigold 
Nightingale  Pippin       
Victuallers to the Westward
Bearsabe  Elizabeth Bonaventure  Elizabeth of Leigh  Gift of God  Hope 
John of London  Jonas  Marigold  Mary Rose  Pearl 
Pelican  Richard Duffield  Solomon  Unity  White Hind 
Coasters under the Lord High Admiral
Aid of Bristol  Bark of Bridgewater  Bark Potts  Bark Webb  Bartholomew of Apsam 
Crescent of Dartmouth  Galleon of Weymouth  Gift of Apsam  Handmaid of Bristol  Hearty Anne 
Hart of Dartmouth  Jacob of Lyme  John of Chichester  John Trelawney  Katharine of Weymouth 
Little John  Minion of Bristol  Revenge of Lyme  Rose of Apsam  Unicorn of Bristol 
Coasters under Lord Henry Seymour
Anne Bonaventure  Bark Lamb  Daniel  Elizabeth of Dover  Fancy 
Galleon Hutchins  Grace of God  Grace of Yarmouth  Griffin  Handmaid 
Hazard of Feversham  John Young  Katharine of Ipswich  Little Hare  Marigold 
Matthew  Mayflower  Primrose of Harwich  Robin of Sandwich  Susan 
William of Colchester  William of Ipswich  William of Rye     
Voluntary Ships
Bark Halse  Bark Sutton of Weymouth  Carouse  Elizabeth  Elizabeth of Lowestoft 
Flyboat  Fortune of Aldborough  Frances of Fowey  Gallego of Plymouth  Golden Ryall of Weymouth 
Grace of Apsam  Greyhound of Aldborough  Heathen of Weymouth  John of Barnstaple  Jonas of Aldborough 
Margaret  Raphael  Rat of Wight  Samaritan of Dartmouth  Sampson 
Thomas Bonaventure  Unicorn of Dartmouth  William of Plymouth     
This page last edited - 06 February, 2013.

Copyright Ian M King, except where otherwise indicated.