Approach to Contact
Delayed by contrary winds, it was not until August 4th that the
Spaniards got to sea. Their orders were to sail to the Azores to
deal with the English squadron and then to escort the Indies
flotta home. On August 20th the Azores island of Terceria came in
There is little surviving information on the activities of the
English squadron since its arrival in the Azores in mid-May.
Although the islands were raided for provisions and any passing
merchant ships seized, by August English supplies were running low
and the crews considerably depleted by sickness. By the end of the
month perhaps half of them were out of action. Among them were 90
of the crew of Revenge. Aware that the autumnal storms were
approaching and time running short, Lord Thomas Howard decided to
shift his operations to the southern tip of Spain. He gathered off
Flores the 14-22 ships currently with the squadron, and after
landing the sick to benefit from better conditions ashore, he set
to work watering his ships and cleaning out their bilges, an
operation which rendered them dangerously vulnerable to attack.
On August 28th, an easterly shift of the wind caused Howard to
move his ships to the south-eastern side of the anchorage. Most of
his pinnaces and shore lookouts were directing their attention to
the west, from where the treasure flotta might be expected to
appear. Without firm information about the state of readiness of
the Spanish fleet at Ferrol, he seems to have paid little
attention to the easterly and south-easterly approaches to his
anchorage. It was not until early on August 30th, that the pinnace
Moonshine, hastily despatched by Cumberland from the squadron off
the Spanish coast, arrived a few hours ahead of the Spanish fleet
with news of their approach.
Probing cautiously on from Terciera, by nightfall on August 29th
Bazan was only 50 miles from Flores. Learning of the location of
Howard’s squadron, the Spanish Council of War decided to press on
through the night and surprise the enemy with a dawn attack. But
when the "Apostle" San Andres lost her bowsprit the Spanish fleet
shortened sail to stay with her, so that at dawn they were still
27 miles short of their objective.
The news brought by Moonshine caused consternation. Howard was
totally unprepared. Those of his crews still ashore were hastily
recalled, whilst frantic work began to complete the re-ballasting
of his ships, without which they might capsize if they attempted
to hoist full sail.
Meanwhile Bazan prepared for the kill. He split his fleet into two
squadrons. Whilst the main force approached the English anchorage
from the south-west (the direction from which the treasure flotta
might be expected) the Castille Squadron under Don Marcos de
Arambuni would move in from the south-east and head for the
straits between the islands of Flores and Corvo.
By noon, as the main Spanish force was approaching the south-east
of Flores, the squadron of light "fly-boats" accompanying it
became becalmed, and the rest of the fleet was ordered to shorten
sail until it caught up. In mid-afternoon this force was sighted
by the English scouting pinnaces, which assumed it to be the
long-awaited treasure flotta, and firing warning guns, rushed to
The English commander, having completed the re-ballasting of his
ships, ordered the squadron to get under way to intercept the
enemy. Last to raise anchor, because of delays in embarking all of
her sick from the shore, and lagging about " ¾ of a league" behind
the rest of the force, was Sir Richard Grenville’s Revenge.
At the same moment that a Spanish pinnace signalled to Bazan that
the enemy were in sight, with perfect timing the Castillian
squadron came into view . The Spaniards were poised to trap the
entire English force, as the horrified Howard realised that what
had been sighted was no treasure fleet, but "the greatest and
finest armada he had ever seen." He could only attempt desperately
to evade the trap, ordering his ships to hoist full sail and bear
north across the bows of the Castillian squadron towards the
island of Corvo.
He succeeded by the narrowest of margins. By 5pm, after a brief
exchange of shot, the main English squadron "as if they had the
devil himself at their heels", had slipped out of the trap, and
forming up to the north-east, could fight or flee as they chose.
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