Saturday, May 05, 2018
Fighting for a parking spot
Skipping chronologically over Guadalete, Covadonga, Navas de Tolosa and Ceriñola we arrive at the Battle of Otumba in 1520. This was the one where Hernán Cortés crushed the Aztec Empire and opened the way to the conquest of what is now Mexico. He did it with the help of lots of locals but let's pretend, as Spaniards often do, that Hernán, his horses and a few lads from Extremadura did it alone.
So we ignore Pavia and San Quintín and move on to Lepanto in 1571. This was a naval battle between the Turkish Ottoman Empire and an alliance of Christian powers sponsored by the Spanish King. Cervantes, the writer of Don Quixote, was there and he was wounded – fortunately in his left hand, not the one he wrote with. Lepanto was fought off the coast of Greece. The Ottomans lost which halted Turkish expansion and established Spain as a naval power.
No space for the Battles of Rocroi or Villaviviciosa but I can't miss out Almansa. After all Almansa is only fifty minutes from home. This was a battle fought in 1707 as part of the Spanish War of Succession between the French backed Bourbons and the Austrian backed Hapsburgs with Spaniards on both sides. In the battle the Duke of Berwick, the illegitimate son of James II of England serving in the French Army, beat the French Henri de Massue, leading British troops. In fact we Britons backed the losing side, the Hapsburgs, but it was a good war for us. The treaty of Utrecht, signed at the end of the war, gave us Gibraltar.
Next up is Trafalgar and unless you were asleep when they did this at school you know about Nelson taking apart a combined fleet of French and Spanish ships but dying in the process. It was fought off the coast of Cádiz in1805 and basically after Nelson's first onslaught the French ran away leaving the Spanish fleet to be smashed to smithereens. It was the end of Spanish naval power and the battle was hugely influential in the future of Europe and Spain's American possessions.
By the time that the Battle of Bailén was fought in 1809 the Spanish had joined the British against Napoleon's French in what we call the Peninsular War. This was the start of Wellington's campaigns all the way to Waterloo. Completely against the grain a Spanish Army, commanded by General Castaños, beat a French Army in direct battle. It was the first time that Napoleon's Grande Armée had been beaten. By the way it was at this time that the Spaniards invented Guerrilla warfare, attack and run. Guerrilla means little war.
No space for the battle of Ayacucho in Peru in 1824 when the Spanish lost control of mainland America or for the 1898 naval battle of Santiago de Cuba when the Spanish fleet was pulverized by the U.S Navy. The Spanish lost Cuba (and the Philippines) their last American possessions as a result.
The last battle on my list, the 1938 Battle of the Ebro was the bloodiest and longest battle of the Spanish Civil war. The Nationalist victory put paid to the Republic and paved the way for the next 37 years of dictatorial government in Spain.