By Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
Last updated 2011-02-17
The key features of successful design were traditional - robust construction and manoeuvrability in battle. But English shipwrights concentrated on developing features that proved important in confronting the Armada, giving ships a low profile for speed and manoeuvrability, and cutting down the space traditionally reserved on the superstructure for large numbers of soldiers. Baker, in particular, favoured what came to be known as the 'race-built' hull - relatively long and narrow.
The Armada had no more than 19 fighting vessels that were as well suited to Atlantic waters as the English ships, while 16 converted merchantmen, or vessels designed for Mediterranean warfare, made up the rest of the core squadron. The remainder of the 151 ships were transports. Essentially, the Armada was a troop-carrying convoy, and the fighting ships were there to guard it, not to invite combat.
Gunnery played an increasing role in naval warfare; so the size and siting of ordnance became a major consideration. At the battle of Terceira in 1583, the Spanish navy had shown that it was possible to disable and even to sink ships by well-directed firepower. The English tried to turn this tactic against the Spaniards, keeping their distance to avoid boarding, while pounding the enemy with their cannon. But they enjoyed little success: only one Spanish ship was sunk in combat.
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