Battle of Ponta Delgada
|Battle of Ponta Delgada|
|Part of the War of the Portuguese Succession and the Anglo–Spanish War (1585)|
Portuguese loyal to Prior of Crato
Portuguese loyal to Philip of Spain
|Commanders and leaders|
|Piero Strozzi †||Álvaro de Bazán|
|60 warships||28 warships|
|Casualties and losses|
1,500 wounded, missing or captured,
7 ships missing,
4 ships sunk,
2 ships burned,
4 ships captured
The naval Battle of Ponta Delgada, Battle of São Miguel or Battle of Terceira took place on July 26, 1582, in the sea near the Azores, off São Miguel Island, as part of the War of the Portuguese Succession. An Anglo-French corsair expedition sailed against a Spanish naval force to preserve control of the Azores under pretender António, Prior of Crato and to defend the islands from incorporation into the Iberian Union—the largest French force sent overseas before the age of Louis XIV.
In the first engagement between large fleets of galleons operating at great distances from the mainland, the mercenary fleet under Filippo di Piero Strozzi was severely defeated by a squadron under Álvaro de Bazán. The Spanish victory resulted in the rapid Spanish conquest of the Azores, completing the incorporation of Portugal into the Spanish Empire.
The only portion of the Portuguese overseas empire to resist the Habsburg King Philip II of Spain (Philip I of Portugal) were the Azores Islands. The French crown sent a fleet under the command of the mercenary admiral Filipo Strozzi in order to help defend the islands.
King Philip had offered an amnesty to the seven islands if they would surrender, but his messenger met with a very hostile reception at Angra, and retired to the island of São Miguel, which had presented its allegiance to the King of Spain and Portugal. While a fleet was prepared at Lisbon to subdue the seven islands, a Spanish commander sent out to escort the incoming treasure fleet, Pedro Valdés, was ordered to deliver a new offer of pardon, but on no account to begin hostilities until the necessary force was assembled. However, receiving the same replies the former envoy, Valdés was persuaded to attempt an assault on Terceira. At what became known as the Battle of Salga, his landing-force of 600 men met with a savage welcome; the half-wild bulls of the island were driven into them and they were cut to pieces as they fled to the ships.
Meanwhile António reached Calais and proceeded to England. Walsingham and Burghley favoured the sending of an expedition to the Azores: the Count of Vimioso even made an agreement with Drake and Hawkings, but Elizabeth was unwilling to make war on Philip, and António returned to France.
In June 1582 António's French fleet left Belle-Isle, intending to subdue the two islands of São Miguel and Santa Maria and to capture the treasure fleet which would probably put in at the Azores. However, on learning that Strozzi had sailed, Santa Cruz also made for the Azores with less ships but larger in size and arms than Strozzi and about an equal number of men. He arrived too late to prevent the French from landing on São Miguel, but in time to save the capital, Ponta Delgada.
After an indecisive gunfight on 24 July 1582 the fleets met two days later in a fierce close battle south of the island of São Miguel. The French initially had the advantage of the wind and attacked the Spanish rear with superior forces but that gave the Spanish commander the opportunity to gain the wind for the Spanish vanguard which in its turn attacked the French. The Spanish were outnumbered two to one, the brunt of the French attack was borne by the Portuguese-built Spanish galleon San Mateo (São Mateus), a vessel of 750 tonnes armed with 30 guns. Although surrounded, battered by artillery and boarded by several French ships, her sailors held their ground and repulsed all attacks. They then took the fight to the enemy, boarding and capturing two French vessels before the battle ended. Several French ships took flight. Santa Cruz began the action by arranging themselves in a line abreast. This was the traditional tactic employed by the Spanish galleys, which carried its few cannon in the bow.
Santa Cruz in his Portuguese-built flagship São Martinho sought out Strozzi's ship amid the smoke and chaos and, having found her, pounded her with gunfire until she was close to sinking. At the battle's close, the Pretender's fleet had lost 10 ships sunk or captured, and well over 1,000 men, including Strozzi, wounded to death by order of Santa Cruz, and then, still breathing, thrown into the sea. Santa Cruz defeated the French through a combination of gunfire and boarding.
Some thought that Strozzi had been unlucky to lose. His ships had proved nimbler than those of Santa Cruz, and, like Hawkings at San Juan de Ulúa, they had used their artillery well, operating in mutually supporting groups of four to charge, and assail each of them one of the great vessels of the enemy. The Spanish fleet suffered severe damage, Philip II's commemorative mural in the Escorial's Hall of Battles correctly depicts extensive shot damage on the Spanish side. The galleon San Martín (São Martinho) barely managed to tow the captured enemy flagship back to port. On July 26, after a five-hour naval engagement, the French and English fleets weaker in battle-power, were routed; seventeen of their ships deserted. Men over seventeen who were captured were put to death as pirates. This sentence seemed very cruel to all, so some of the Spanish soldiers and captains came forward to plead to Alvaro de Bazan for mercy, and suggested that he make an exemption for the French prisoners by sparing their lives as prisoners of war. Alvaro de Bazan responded by saying that he was only executing the "mandates" of the King of France, that being at peace with Castile would not allow his subjects to act as armed pirates attacking the Spaniards.
An improvised French fleet had not been sufficient to challenge the Spanish in the Atlantic triangle. The magnitude of French losses is uncertain but they were heavy and decisive. In 1583 a Spanish fleet with about 16,000 men systematically conquered the Azores. It comprised five large sailing warships, 31 armed merchantment, two galleasses, 12 galleys and 48 small vessels. This was the largest force any European power had sent out in the Atlantic up to then, and it indicates both the rising Spanish ability to organise large sailing battle fleets and the importance of the Azores in their Atlantic strategy.
Santa Cruz had won a great victory, and jubilation at his triumphant return seems to have gripped the whole of Spain. The French ambassador at Philip II's court sourly reported that some Spaniards went so far as to claim that "even Christ was no longer safe in Paradise, for the marquis might go there to bring him back and crucify him all over again". Later some of this pride and passion turned against the vanquished: according to the same ambassador by October 1582 the Spaniards had taken to "spitting in the faces of any French-men they happened to meet in the street." Nevertheless Terceira remained in the Pretender's hands, and in the spring of 1583 he managed to reinforce his garrisons there with 800 fresh French troops.
Santa Cruz, who now enjoyed total command of the sea, reacted swiftly. Secure within his Lisbon base he prepared an amphibious invasion of overwhelming force: 15,372 men and 98 ships, including 31 big merchantmen converted as troop transports, small vessels and landing craft, fighting galleons, 12 galleys and 2 galleasses. This time his aim was not to fight a fleet but to land an army—the task force could certainly defend itself if necessary, but its primary role was to put troops, together with their supporting equipment and supplies, on a selected beach-head and then to back them up until the military objectives had been gained.
The Terceirans expected the Spaniards to land at the harbours of Angra and Peggia, and had disposed their forces accordingly. However, Santa Cruz decided to deliver his main thrust at Mole, a beach 10 miles from Angra defended only by light earthworks occupied by infantry with some artillery support. Santa Cruz's own report of the landings has a strikingly modern ring:
|“||"The flag galley began to batter and dismount the enemy artillery and the rest of the galleys did likewise.... the landing craft ran aground and placed soldiers on the flanks of the fortifications, and along the trenches, although with much difficulty and working under the pressure of the furious artillery, arquebus, and musket fire of the enemy. The soldiers mounting the trenches in several places came under heavy small-arms fire, but finally won the forts and trenches"||”|
—Álvaro de Bazán, Marquis of Santa Cruz, 1583
António himself was on Terceira, where he supervised the raising of levies for defense, but left in November to persuade the French to furnish another 1,500 men, who arrived in June 1583. Santa Cruz had increased his fleet to ninety-six ships and 9,500 men with a garrison of 2,000 on São Miguel. His lavish offers of mercy, marriage and money for António's capitulation were refused, but after one day's fighting Terceira fell. French and English soldiers on the island were allowed to retire unharmed, but sixteen supporters of António, including Silva, who had tried to flee on the night of the attack, were executed. Dom António and a handful of his supporters were lucky to escape with their lives.
A bowl commemorating the Terceira landings shows Spain's warrior patron saint, Saint James, with new attributes. He is depicted mounted on a charger, his cloak flowing in the wind and his sword-arm raised to strike down his foes. But these foes are no longer cowering infidels. They are the swirling waves of the Ocean Sea itself, waves now conquered along with the human enemies who sought refuge among them. Beyond the swirling waves, and behind the defeated enemies, lay England. Elizabeth and her advisers viewed the rising tide of Spanish victory in 1583, with the conquest of Terceira in the south and of the Flemish coast in the north, with trepidation; and the events of 1584, with the deaths of Anjou and Orange and the fall of Ghent and Bruges, foreshadowed worse.
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