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8-08-2015, 16:58

Medieval Naval Tactics Rendered Obsolete

Eventually, however, as sails steadily replaced oars as the chief means of propulsion, naval commanders saw that they could use those sails to great advantage. h ey found that the sails’ wind-catching capabilities could provide not only power but also increased maneuverability. Moreover, that ability to outmaneuver an enemy could be combined with an extremely deadly weapon—the cannon—which began to be used on ships in the early 1500s. h ereby, a new set of naval tactics was born. It deemphasized approaching an enemy and engaging in hand-to-hand combat and instead stressed the concept of destroying an opponent from a distance. h e cannons, in naval jargon, “guns,” that made this possible were mounted in rows below a warship’s main deck. Packing the i repower of twenty, thirty, or more guns, a single large sailing ship was now a military threat of immense proportions. From the late 1500s on, the English called such a vessel a man-of-war. With favorable wind conditions and a skilled captain, a man-of-war could easily cripple or sink an entire small l eet of old-style galleys. In a sea battle, a man-of-war’s captain focused on maneuvering his ship into a position from which his guns could do the most damage. More often than not, that position was broadside-to-broadside, or parallel. Ideally, the captain’s vessel crept up on the enemy ship from the rear, and as it passed by, its guns opened i re, raking the opponent’s hull, masts, and rigging. The i rst large-scale test of this new approach to naval warfare was the clash between the English and Spanish l eets in the English Channel in 1588. Spain’s king Philip II was intent on capturing and ruling England. So he sent some 130 warships—the infamous Spanish Armada—into the channel to destroy the English l eet, which he expected would clear the way for the invasion. he Spanish ships, commanded by the Duke of Medina-Sidonia, were very large, had tall castles, and carried only a few guns. With a military emphasis placed instead on brute manpower, they were crammed with infantrymen—a total of more than eighteen thousand in the leet. Philip and Medina-Sidonia had planned on using these foot soldiers in a traditional medieval sea ight, in which they would board and capture the smaller English ships one by one. he English commander, Baron Howard of Eingham, was well aware of the Spanish strategy and proceeded to counter it by employing the relatively new man-of-war tactics. He outi tted his vessels with about two thousand guns, most having a longer range of i re than those of the Spanish. As the battle commenced, his ships sailed circles around the slow-moving Spanish giants, discharging enormous volleys of cannon i re as they went. h is continued for many days, and thousands of men went to watery graves. In the end, the armada was defeated, England was saved, and although no one likely realized it at the time, in amazingly short order medieval naval tactics were rendered obsolete.