Battle of Lowestoft - The Battle

The Battle

See Battle of Lowestoft ship list for all the Dutch and English ships involved in the battle.

It is difficult to give a strictly coherent account of the battle. Whilst there is a wealth of historical sources, these have never been properly studied. The English found the behavior of 'foggy Opdam' (as they would sometimes call him) puzzling and ascribed all kinds of intentions to him that, in reality, he never had. After the defeat the surviving Dutch flag officers, in order to exonerate themselves, pretended their fleet had followed the original written orders, blaming misfortune and cowardice among the merchant captains for the disaster.

In the early morning of the 13th the Dutch fleet was positioned to the southeast of the English fleet. Most English historians have assumed Van Wassenaer (who on the 12 June had sent all of his silverware and other valuables home as to show how much confidence he had in himself) made a sudden dash to the west, trying to regain the weather gage, and the English beat him to it. If so, the wind must have been blowing from the southwest — otherwise there was no gain in this manoeuvre — but this makes it difficult to explain how the English fleet, sailing to the south, could be swifter than the Dutch. An alternative interpretation, more in accordance with the Dutch sources, would be that the wind was blowing from the northwest and Van Wassenaer tried to engage the English from a defensive leeward position, his favorite tactic. Indeed both fleets passed in opposite tack and then turned. During the turn HMS Great Charity (originally an Amsterdam Directors' ship the "Groote Liefde", captured during the Battle of Portland in 1653) became isolated and was boarded and captured by captain Jan de Haen, the later admiral, who immediately returned with his prize to the Netherlands, an obviously unsound practice that would be forbidden after this battle.

Later an English victory tune "The Dutch Armado A Meer Bravado" declared: "Fortune was pleasant when she lent the Dutch our 'Charity' a thing they wanted much".

After this there was a second pass. Though the English had some trouble controlling these manoeuvres, the Dutch now completely failed to maintain a line of battle. In theory their being in a leeward position would have given their guns a superior range, allowing them to destroy from a safe distance the rigging of the English ships with chain-shot. In reality the several squadrons began to block each other's line of sight, those flagofficers and captains most hungry for battle left the less enthusiastic and older ships quickly behind, while company ships — never trained in these tactics — behaved as if no other vessels were present and this disorder caused a part of the English line to shift over some heavier Dutch ships who only just managed to escape to their main force. Later they would claim they had intentionally tried to directly attack the enemy in accordace with general orders. Some other ships happened to be in an optimal range for the English to concentrate their fire and took heavy damage. The young life of the commander of the Frisian fleet, Lieutenant-Admiral Auke Stellingwerf, was ended when he was shot in two. Veteran Lieutenant-Admiral Kortenaer, probably the most competent Dutch commander present, was fatally wounded in the hip by a cannonball. Quartermaster Ate Stinstra took command of Kortenaer's ship. Van Wassenaer now suspended the squadron command structure, hoping by placing all ships directly under his own guidance to bring some coherence to the Dutch force. This only added to the confusion however.

Again both fleets turned. And now something strange happened that has proven very difficult to explain. After the manoeuvre the English rear should obviously have been to the north of the centre. All sources agree however that it resulted in a reversed order of the English fleet in that the rearguard was now to the south of the centre. The traditional English solution to this riddle has been that their fleet tacked synchronously, i.e. each individual ship turned simultaneously to reverse fleet order, instead of turning one behind the other. If true that would have been a truly unique accomplishment for that age. Dutch sources suggest a different explanation: while executing the third turn the Dutch fleet lost all coherence because the wind suddenly turned to the southwest. It then slammed into the English van and centre. The English rear, avoiding the mass of confused ships, sailed behind the Dutch fleet to the south. A flotilla from the van then closed the trap completely, blocking the intended return to the Dutch coast. This scenario explains why all manoeuvring stopped and why some English flotillas clearly report trying to sail to the west, which would be inexplicable if they hadn't been to the east of the Dutch fleet.

If indeed surrounded the Dutch would have been in a hopeless position. The English main force to the west of them would have had the weather gage precluding boarding as a viable tactic. The English rear, firing from a leeward position, could have damaged the Dutch with impunity. As the Dutch had again the weather gauge in relation to the English rear, some of their ships wore to the east to attack it. Through such an action Montague's flagship was boarded and temporarily taken over by the crew of Oranje, commanded by captain Bastian Senten, who even raised the Dutch flag on the Prince Royal until Rupert himself on Royal James came to the rescue retaking the ship. At that point, the entire battle seems to have degenerated into a gigantic shapeless melee. During these fights the Earl of Marlborough and the Earl of Portland perished. A few hours later around noon Montague raised the blue squadron flag on his mizen topmast - "A sign for my squadron to follow" - and indeed most captains of the English rear followed their leader when he went straight for the Dutch 'line' and broke through it (most likely he sailed through a gap) effectively dividing the Dutch fleet and surrounding part of it (if the traditional English scenario is true now for the first time a part only of the Dutch fleet was surrounded).

Apart from these positional problems the Dutch had a structural disadvantage: on average their guns were much lighter. Especially the eight largest English vessels were almost unsinkable themselves but could wreck the smallest Dutch ships with a single broadside. The larger Dutch vessels therefore tried to protect the little ones. The Dutch flagship Eendracht duelled Royal Charles. James was nearly killed by a Dutch chain-shot decapitating several of his courtiers, The Hon. Rchard Boyle (Son of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Burlington), The Viscount Muskerry and The Earl of Falmouth who was not very high thought of, prompting the "poet of state affairs" (probably Andrew Marvell using the name of John Denham) to later declare: "His shatterd' head the fearless duke disdains, and gave the last first proof that he had brains". Around three in the afternoon the duel between Royal Charles and Eendracht ended abruptly when Eendracht exploded, killing Van Obdam and all but five of the crew. Kortenaer was second in command; though fatally wounded he hadn't died yet and the other Admirals were unaware of his condition. For hours the Dutch fleet was therefore without effective command. After Eendracht had exploded, the English immediately became more aggressive, while many Dutch captains faltered: some Dutch ships already fled a little later, followed by Kortenaer's ship Groot Hollandia now commanded by Stinstra. Needless too say all of this had a rather negative effect on Dutch morale. By evening most of the Dutch fleet was in full flight, save for 40 ships or so under Vice-Admiral Cornelis Tromp and Lieutenant-Admiral Johan Evertsen, both having assumed command (showing the utter confusion on the Dutch side), who made possible an escape and covered the flight, thus preventing complete catastrophe, though 16 more ships were lost. The English lost only one ship, the captured Great Charity mentioned above. Eight Dutch ships were sunk by the English; six of these were burnt in two separate incidents when they got entangled while fleeing and set ablaze by a fire ship: this happened to Tergoes entangling with the company ship Maarseveen and the merchantman Swanenburg; and also to the Koevorden, Stad Utrecht and Prinse Maurits. The earlier mentioned company ship Oranje exploded after being set on fire by another fire ship following many an attempt to block, board and enter the HMS Charles; in which she was prevented first by the Mary under captain Jeremiah Smith (Mary would lose 99 men of its crew), one of York's seconds, and later by HMS Royal Oak, Essex and Royal Katherine. According to some Oranje lost half of its crew of 400 before succumbing, a severely wounded Senten (rumoured to be an expatriat Scotsman) was picked up by an English vessel and shortly after succumbed himself. During the Dutch flight the English captured nine more ships: Hilversum, Delft, Zeelandia, Wapen van Edam and Jonge Prins; the VOC-ship Nagelboom and the merchants Carolus Quintus, Mars and Geldersche Ruyter. Tromp was captured but escaped. Eight older ships had to be written off later, as the costs of repair would have exceeded their value.

The English had lost one flag officer: Rear-Admiral Robert Samsun, while Vice Admiral Lawson was mortally wounded. Notable English captains present at the battle included Captain of the Fleet William Penn in HMS Royal Charles, ex-buccaneer Christopher Myngs and George Ayscue. It has always been a mystery why the English fleet didn't at least try to pursue the Dutch. Several anecdotes are told to explain this. According to one Penn remarked to James that he was looking forward to the heavy fighting the next day — since he believed the Dutch were at their best when cornered. James, having narrowly escaped death already, then would have lost his nerve completely. Another legend has it that James' wife ordered Lord Henry Brouncker to keep her husband safe; he obeyed by giving flagcaptain John Harman the false order to stop Charles in the night. In any case the Royal Charles reduced sail in the course of the evening and the rest of the English fleet followed suit.

The outcome of the battle was partially caused by an inequality in firepower, but the Dutch had already embarked on an ambitious expansion programme, building many heavier ships. The English failed to take advantage of their victory. They never managed an effective blockade of the Dutch coast and couldn't prevent the VOC-fleet from returning from the Indies (Battle of Vågen). The fleets, now much more equal in quality, met again at the Four Days Battle in June 1666.

Read more about this topic:  Battle Of Lowestoft

Other articles related to "the battle, battle":

Military Career Of Ali - The Battle of Badr - The Battle
... By noon the battle was over ... The believers had lost fourteen men on the field of battle ... himself as a warrior in 624, at the Battle of Badr ...
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke Of Wellington - Military Career - Waterloo Campaign - The Battle
... The Battle of Waterloo commenced with a diversionary attack on Hougoumont by a division of French soldiers ...
Battle Of The Hornburg - Adaptations - Peter Jackson's "Battle of Helm's Deep"
... The Battle of the Hornburg is also a key part of Peter Jackson's film adaptation, The Lord of the Rings The Two Towers ... context of the film, it is referred to as the Battle of Helm's Deep, and like Bakshi, Jackson identifies "Helm's Deep" with the fortress itself ... which is defended by around 300 Rohirrim (before the battle, Legolas states their strength to be "three hundred against ten thousand", but he may have meant at that time, as more were fleeing to the fortress) ...
Danite - Militia - Battle of Crooked River - The Battle
... The Mormon company approached the camp of the Ray militia and formed a battle line in three columns, led by David W ... to charge the militia position, shouting the Mormon battle cry of "God and Liberty!" The Missourians were without swords and so broke their lines and fled across the river in all directions ...

Famous quotes containing the word battle:

    A woman watches her body uneasily, as though it were an unreliable ally in the battle for love.
    Leonard Cohen (b. 1934)

    The battle of the North Atlantic is a grim business, and it isn’t going to be won by charm and personality.
    Edmund H. North, British screenwriter, and Lewis Gilbert. First Sea Lord (Laurence Naismith)