A tale of Sir Francis Drake and the Spanish Armada. If you like this, try our SECOND HISTORIES
Oh hello, my name is William and I be a master gunner and I serve none other than Sir Francis Drake, the finest ships captain and sailor the world has ever known. Do you know, I must have sailed I must have sailed half way around the world with him, to the New World, to Spain and back to England again, all aboard the Golden Hind but now I’m serving on the good ship Revenge. Now, Sir Francis Drake he is a master amongst us men, you know he doesn’t refer to us as the crew, he refers to us as the ship’s company, and he knows every single one of us men, the lads by our names and he even searches the ship, every nook and cranny he looks to see that it’s clean and we’ve done our job. He’s not a strutting peacock like those Spanish Captains, no, he’s an inspiration that’s what he is, he’s an inspiration. It was through that the world was opened up for trade for we English, no longer do the Spaniards rule the oceans not with Drake on the high sees. You know and he wasn’t above listening to other men’s ideas. When it came to ship building, he realised that our old ships were too slow, too cumbersome in the water so he got the finest of the English shipwrights to redesign the ships, make them lower, more streamlined so they move faster through the water. He even changed the way we fought our battle tactics. In the old days you came alongside, fired a few shots at the enemy then boarded their ship and fought it out. A terrible waste of life. The new tactics, well our guns have got longer decks to mount more guns. You can fire a full broadside into them. I tell ye there’s not a man aboard who wouldn’t follow Sir Francis Drake to the very to the very shores of hell. Now the Spaniards knew of his reputation, and they were fearful of him, they hated him, they did just because he out foxed them at every turn. They called him a pirate, a pirate indeed! Well, we have stopped the occasional Spanish ship and taken treasure and their gold but we never keep it for ourselves, we always give it to the Queen, its for good Queen Bess, for the crown. Sir Francis Drake is the finest sailor, finest captain and the finest gentleman you could ever wish to meet. Pirate, pirate indeed. Now I train our gunners and I must admit I do push em hard, but they’re mighty fine gunners. But you must understand there’s more to this gunnery than meets the eye. You take our guns, this saker here, we mount them on a low carriage with small wooden wheels. That means we can ram them right up to the hull, to the side of the ship so the barrel pokes right the way out, get a good clear shot of the enemy. Then we rope our guns to the hull of the ship so when they fire and pull back, what we call the recoil, they don’t shoot right the way across the side of the ship. Now you take a look at this gun, this is the ball we fire, a five-pound iron ball. We can fire one of these out of these guns once every ten minutes. We simply release the rope, bring them in, load ‘em and then rope them back out again. Now the Spaniards, bless ‘em, they have to climb outside many of their ships and load the guns from the other side. Their guns are mounted on great big wheels like cartwheels, field guns they are really and they can’t bring them fully back in to the ship. Many a brave Spanish sailor has been lost off the outside of his ship during a battle, simply blown clean off the side. I’m often asked just how we beat the Spanish Armada. Well I reckon it all started long before the Armada actually sailed. I was with Drake on the raid on Cadiz. We captured a load of stores you see, wooden staves for barrels, these were seasoned oak meant to be made into barrels that would store the food and the water for the Armada, seasoned oak and watertight barrels, well we burnt the lot. The Armada had to sail with soft wooded barrels that leaked their food and their water went rotten very quickly, I can tell ye. I can remember the first time I saw the Armada, the first time we spied them was just off the coast of Cornwall. Their sails stretched half way across the horizon. We were going to use our local knowledge you see, sail betwixt them and the land, get behind them. Their position on the sea was that like a crescent moon, they had their store ships behind surrounded by their war ships, the most powerful ships were at the front. They expected us to go straight and hit them on the nose. Well, we had other plans you see. We split our forces and me on Revenge with Drake we went off towards the French side of them. I remember as we came alongside we opened the gun ports, ran out the loaded guns and fired close. What a broadside. This was that new kind of fighting, those new battle tactics, where you give ‘em a broadside and blow them out of the water. Don’t board them, too many men loose their lives. Well the Spaniards had never seen out like it. I tell ye, the flames shot out yellow across the sea and the smoke billowed, you never seen anything like it. Ha ha, well the Spaniards they sent four of their fastest ships against us, they’re called Galliuses, they have oars as well as sails so they can manoeuvre in any kind of sea. As soon as they showed themselves, we simply hauled back on the sheets and disappeared for a while. Oh, we shadowed them, you see we knew what they were up to. They were trying to land so we came betwixt them and the land just off Portland Bill. We could move faster than them there cos we used what’s called a current, the Portland Race, and we stopped them getting into Weymouth Harbour picking off any ships on the way. We did the same at the Isle of Wight, it was something to behold I’ll tell ye. By this time, the Spanish had to make way across the channel; they regrouped just off the coast of France near a place called Dunkirk. We were behind them of course picking off any ships we could but now they were too close together, we couldn’t get in amongst them to give ‘em our broadside, this new tactic of ours of simply blowing them out of the water instead of attacking their ships and boarding them. So we had to stand off. But we English were cunning you see so we had eight of our ships, the small ones you understand, cut out, filled them full of inflammable stuff, oil, gunpowder. We loaded our guns, put them low down in the hull and set them on fire. The fire wouldn’t show straight away, it’d take a while to catch and we sailed them out with skeleton crews. There was a nice current, which took them straight towards the Spanish Armada. The flames didn’t show straight away, our crews, they disembarked into their rowing boats and came back to us then we saw the flames flickering. They climbed up the masts and into the sails then one of the guns actually exploded, what a sheet of flame, the noise was like thunder. Ha ha, well I tell ye, the Armada panicked, they must have cut their cable lines losing their anchors, they sailed smashing into each other. We’d done it! We broke ‘em. We couldn’t pursue it was too dark, we simply watched the mayhem but at first light we gave chase and we went straight into the heart of them. I ordered the gun ports open and the loaded guns ran out. We come that close to the hulls of the Spanish ships you could almost touch them and then we fired every gun a broadside. Our guns fired so hard, so fast that the canon balls smashed straight through the Spanish ships going through one side of the hull and out the other and then we sailed straight past them and Master Drake spun our new ships around, so streamlined, so true and we gave them a broadside from the other guns. The noise was so incredible, bursting your eardrums through the roar of the canons the popping of the muskets. It was like hell it really was and then, afterwards when the smoke did clear, we saw the wreckage of the Spanish ships, smashed to pieces and we could see blood literally gushing out of the gun ports and the holes that we’d made. You could hear the noise of the wounded screaming and the low moaning of the men that were dying. We’d heard that before, we knew what it was. I’ll carry that sound to the grave I reckon, but we couldn’t tarry, we had to pursue what was left of the Armada and we followed them up the east coast of England into Scottish waters but then we had to leave as we were short of ammunition and rations. I remember looking back and seeing those Spanish ladies sailing off into the distance, many of them sailing to their doom.
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