Naval History of The Netherlands - A World Power

A World Power

The Dutch revolt (1568-1648) resulted in a better command structure of the Dutch navy. The government of the newly established Dutch Republic installed five admiralties (de Maze, Amsterdam, Zeeland, the Noorderkwartier, and Friesland) which had offices in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Middelburg, Hoorn, Enkhuizen, and Dokkum (later Harlingen).

During the 17th century the Dutch Republic was involved in many wars, many of them at sea. The main goal of the Dutch navy was to protect shipping lanes all over the world and, if need be, to repel a naval invasion of Dutch territory.

Until 1648 Spain was the enemy; a Dutch fleet destroyed the main force of a large Spanish fleet still under construction at Gibraltar in 1607. Other activities included blocking the port of Antwerp and the Flemish coast (to prevent the Spanish troops there from getting supplies) and escorting the Dutch merchants in the Baltic.

In the course of the 17th century, Dutch wealth and maritime expansion was the source of much envy across Europe, but especially in England. When the anti-Dutch Navigation Ordinance of 1651 was passed, tensions ran high. During the First Anglo-Dutch War English fleet concentrated on privateering against the Dutch merchant fleet. An example of this is the battle of Dungeness in December 1652, in which Maarten Tromp was able to keep the Channel open for Dutch trade. In the second Anglo-Dutch War 5 major battles took place, nearly all of them in English waters. It was during this period that the Raid on the Medway (1667) took place, the worst naval defeat in English history until this very day. The third Anglo-Dutch war was in fact a conspiracy between France, England, Cologne and Münster to attack the Netherlands and destroy the Dutch Republic as a major naval power.

Although the Dutch fleet was the largest of the world at the time, the combined fleet of France and England quickly put the Dutch in a defensive position, but due to the tactical brilliance of Michiel de Ruyter, it managed to inflict so much damage to both fleets in three consecutive battles in Dutch territorial waters at the nation's most anxious moment, that an invasion had to be called off. The Treaty of Westminster (1674) marked the end of the trade wars between the English and the Dutch. A new era arrived in 1688, when a new Anglo-French alliance seemed imminent; the Dutch stadtholder William III took a desperate gamble by sailing to England with a large fleet that landed in Brixham in Devon. He marched to London and toppled his father in law James II, who was in a very weak position then. William had himself proclaimed King of England, effectively making his greatest maritime rival an ally. In the 25 years after this 'Glorious Revolution' the Dutch and the English successfully fought together with various other allies against France, then at the height of its powers during the reign of Louis XIV. The naval war zone shifted from the North Sea and the English Channel to the French coast and Mediterranean. At the end of the War of the Spanish succession (1713) the series of wars ended.

At the start of the 17th century the squadrons of the Dutch fleet were reinforced with merchant ships adapted for battle in earlier conflicts. The introduction of the line-tactic increased the demand for ships with more manoeuvrability, speed and crew experience. In 1653 the Dutch government decided to build 60 ships, and 10 years later they placed another order for 60 more. The flagship of the Republic, De Zeven Provinciën, was fitted with 96 guns. For comparison, the British HMS Victory, built more than a century later, had only 8 guns more.

With about 4000 sailors the Dutch navy was a relatively small employer in peacetime, but in times of war thousands of men more were hired. Flag officers and captains were themselves responsible for hiring the ship's crew. Usually a ship's crew were hired for only one campaign, excluding the officers. Since the early 17th century, experienced captains were employed for long periods of time by the Dutch navy; they were responsible for the ships provisions, and when they bought supplies for less money than the government provided they could keep the rest, and a smart captain could make a small fortune this way in peacetime.

The crew itself were mostly natives or foreign inhabitants of the many Dutch harbour towns. In 1665 regiments of soldiers were deployed aboard the ships. These soldiers would later become famous and feared Dutch marines.

In the middle of the 17th century the Dutch navy was the most powerful navy in the world.

Read more about this topic:  Naval History Of The Netherlands

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