Battle of San Juan de Ulúa, 1568

Drawing of the battle from c.1887. Original in the collection of the British Library.

Location Veracruz, Mexico

In 1567, a flotilla of ships under John Hawkins departed England for a trade voyage to the New World, mainly the Caribbean. Part of their cargo consisted of slaves picked up in Africa before heading to the Americas. They successfully navigated the Caribbean for several months, until the flagship, Jesus of Lübeck, was badly damaged in a storm in September, 1568, and the Englishmen sought resupply and repair in a Spanish port. While the repairs were ongoing, a Spanish fleet arrived, en route to Mexico with the new viceroy. The port of San Juan de Ulúa was small, but, after agreeing to a truce, both fleets managed to fit in. However, the Spanish immediately began making plans to take the English flotilla. The English caught on, and demanded the truce be honored, but the Spanish launched their attack on the 24th, and managed to take control of the shore batteries the English had been manning. These were then turned on the English ships, sinking or immobilizing all but two of them. Boarding actions from a Spanish hulk resulted in heavy casualties, but failed to seize any of the English ships. Two of the English ships managed to escape the harbor during a Spanish fireship attack, but the other five were taken or sunk, with 500 men dead. The Spanish lost one galleon sunk and another was badly damaged, but suffered just twenty fatalities. The battle helped foster anti-Spanish sentiment in England, due to the treachery of breaking the truce, and helped lead to the fighting between Spain and England in the 1580s.