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Four Days' Battle
Part of the Second Anglo–Dutch War
Van Soest, Four Days Battle.jpg
The Four Days' Battle, 1–4 June 1666 (Pieter Cornelisz van Soest), c. 1666
Date1–4 June 1666
Location
Result Dutch victory
Belligerents
England England  Dutch Republic
Commanders and leaders

England George Monck
England Christopher Myngs  

England William Berkeley  

Dutch Republic Michiel de Ruyter
Dutch Republic Cornelis Evertsen  

Dutch Republic Abraham Hulst  
Strength
79 ships 84 ships
Casualties and losses
10 ships lost,
~1,500 killed,
1,450 wounded,
1,800 captured
4 ships lost,
~1,500 killed,
1,300 wounded

The Four Days' Battle was a naval battle of the Second Anglo–Dutch War. Fought from 1 June to 4 June 1666 in the Julian or Old Style calendar then used in England (11 June to 14 June New Style) off the Flemish and English coast, it remains one of the longest naval engagements in history.

The Dutch inflicted significant damage on the English fleet. The English had gambled that the crews of the many new Dutch ships of the line would not have been fully trained yet, but were deceived in their hopes: they lost ten ships in total, with around 1,500 men killed including two vice-admirals, Sir Christopher Myngs and Sir William Berkeley, while about 2000 English were taken prisoner. Dutch losses were four ships destroyed by fire and over 1,550 men killed, including Lieut-Admiral Cornelis Evertsen, Vice-Admiral Abraham van der Hulst and Rear-Admiral Frederik Stachouwer.

Background

In June 1665 the English had soundly defeated the Dutch in the Battle of Lowestoft, but failed to take advantage of it. The Dutch Spice Fleet, loaded with fabulous riches, managed to return home safely after the Battle of Vågen. The Dutch navy was enormously expanded through the largest building programme in its history. In August 1665 the English fleet was again challenged, though no large battles resulted. In 1666, the English became anxious to destroy the Dutch navy completely before it could grow too strong and were desperate to end the activity of Dutch raiders as a collapse of English trade threatened.

On learning that the French fleet intended to join the Dutch at Dunkirk, the English decided to prevent this by splitting their fleet. Their main force would try to destroy the Dutch fleet first, while a squadron under Prince Rupert was sent to block the Strait of Dover against the French – who however did not appear.

At the start of the battle the English fleet of 56 ships commanded by George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle who also commanded the Red Squadron, was outnumbered by the 84-strong Dutch fleet commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter. The battle ended with an English flight into a fog bank after both fleets had expended most of their ammunition.

Battle

First Day

Four Days' Battle.svg
HMS Swiftsure, Seven Oaks and Loyal George captured and flying Dutch colours, by Willem van de Velde the Younger

On the first day Monck, sailing in the van with George Ayscue's white squadron behind him and Thomas Teddiman's blue squadron forming the rear, surprised the Dutch fleet at anchor near Dunkirk. Despite disadvantageous weather conditions Monck decided to attack the Dutch rear under Lieutenant-Admiral Cornelis Tromp hoping to cripple it before the Dutch centre and van could intervene. After sending a message to Rupert to join him if possible, Monck aggressively attacked Tromp who fled over the Flemish shoals. Monck then wore to the northwest, to meet the Dutch centre (under De Ruyter) and van (commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Cornelis Evertsen the Elder). Tromp again turned, but his ship Liefde collided with Groot Hollandia. Vice-Admiral Sir William Berkeley saw this and closed in with HMS Swiftsure. Immediately Callantsoog and Reiger came to the rescue of their commander, destroying the rigging of the English ship with chain shot; the Reiger then managed to board the Swiftsure.

Berkeley challenged the Dutch sea soldiers, shouting: You dogs, you rogues, have you the heart, so press on board! but was fatally wounded in the throat by a musket ball, after which the Swiftsure was captured. In the powder room the constable was found with his throat cut; he had tried to blow up the ship but his own crew killed him first and drenched the powder, claiming afterwards the man had cut his own throat from pure frustration. The damaged HMS Seven Oaks (the former Sevenwolden) was captured by the Beschermer while HMS Loyal George tried to assist the Swiftsure but this only resulted in the capture of both ships. The embalmed body of Berkeley, after being displayed in The Hague, was later returned to England under a truce, accompanied by a letter of the States General praising the Admiral for his courage. HMS Rainbow, one of the two scouts who had first spotted the Dutch fleet, got isolated and fled to neutral Ostend, chased by twelve ships from Tromp's squadron while the other, the Kent, left the battlefield in search of Rupert's squadron.

Both fleets bombarded each other in a line of battle. The Hof van Zeeland and the Duivenvoorde were hit by fire shot and burnt. The Dutch didn't know of the existence of this type of ammunition, consisting of hollow brass balls filled with a flammable substance, so they were greatly surprised. Luckily for them the English had only a small supply because of the high cost of production.

Monck retreated for the night, but the ship of Rear-Admiral Harman, HMS Henry, drifted to the Dutch lines and was set aflame by two fireships. The parson asked Harman what could save them; when the latter sarcastically replied that the good parson could always jump overboard, to his horror the panicked clergyman at once followed his advice together with a third of the crew. All drowned. Harman made an end to the panic by threatening with a drawn sword to run through anyone showing the slightest inclination to abandon ship. Evertsen now closed in and inquired whether Harman would perhaps like to surrender; it came as no surprise to him the renowned fighter respectfully declined, yelling "I'm not up to it yet!". Despite repeated Dutch attacks and the loss of two masts, one in its fall crushing Harman's leg, the fire was put out and the Henry escaped, with its last shot shooting Evertsen in two.

Second Day

On the morning of the second day Monck decided to destroy the Dutch by a direct attack and sailed to them from the southwest; but De Ruyter in the De Zeven Provinciën crossed his line sailing to the southeast, heavily damaging the English fleet and gaining the weather gauge. HMS Anne, HMS Bristol and HMS Baltimore had to return to the Thames. After a calm used for repairs he turned to attack the English from the south with the red flag raised, the sign for an all-out attack, but just when he approached the enemy line he noticed to his dismay that part of the rear squadron under Tromp had got separated and now was positioned to the other side of the English line who had surrounded Tromp and were giving him his belly full. Often this is explained by assuming Tromp had not followed orders, but although he is indeed infamous for his usual insubordination, this time he simply had not seen the sign flags and the look-out of the centre mistakenly reported a confirmation sign. De Ruyter took in the red flag and broke through the enemy line with Vice Admiral Johan de Liefde, while the rest of the Dutch fleet under Aert van Nes headed south. He secured all of Tromp's ships except the burnt Liefde and the sinking Spieghel on which Vice-Admiral Abraham van der Hulst had just been killed by a musket shot in the breast and returned to join van Nes and the main force by again breaking through, noticing with satisfaction the second time the English ships quickly gave way.

Tromp, switching to his fourth ship already, then visited De Ruyter to thank him for the rescue. Both men were in a dark mood. Rear-Admiral Frederick Stachouwer had also been killed. The previous day the damaged Hollandia had been sent home together with the Gelderland, Delft, Reiger, Asperen and Beschermer to guard the three captured English vessels; now also the damaged Pacificatie, Vrijheid, Provincie Utrecht and Calantsoog had to return and only a handful of the rear squadron remained. Besides, the enemy had again gained the weather gauge, the dangers of which became immediately clear as George Ayscue, seeing the two Admirals together in a vulnerable position, tried to isolate them; with great difficulty they managed to return to their main force.

Willem van de Velde: Episode from the Four Day Battle

Both fleets now passed three times in opposite tack; on the second pass De Zeven Provinciën got damaged and De Ruyter retreated from the fight to repair his ship. Later some historians would accuse him of cowardice, but he had strict detailed written orders from the States General to act exactly so, to prevent a repeat of the events of the Battle of Lowestoft when the loss of the supreme commander had wrecked the Dutch command structure. Lieutenant-Admiral Aert van Nes led the third pass.

As the Dutch were in a leeward position their guns had a superior range and some English ships now took dreadful damage. HMS Loyal Subject turned for the home port and had to be written off on arrival. HMS Black Eagle (the former Groningen) raised the distress flag but simply disintegrated before any ships could assist.

Then, at three in the afternoon, a Dutch flotilla of twelve ships appeared on the horizon. Monck was shocked, not because the event was totally unexpected but because his worst fear seemed to come true. The English had learned from their excellent intelligence network that the Dutch planned to keep a strong fourth squadron behind as a tactical reserve. Surely these new ships must be the avantguard of a fresh force. Monck ordered to check for the number of operational English ships. When only 29 ships reported to have any fight left in them, and Rupert was still nowhere to be seen, he decided to withdraw. In fact De Ruyter had just before the battle been convinced by the other admirals to use only three squadrons. Monck had never noticed that the Rainbow had disappeared - indeed he couldn't understand where Berkeley had gone either. The dozen ships were those of Tromp's squadron giving chase and now rejoining the fight after the intended prey had escaped to Ostend. The entire English fleet tacked to the southwest at four. The straggling St Paul (the former Sint Paulus) was captured in the evening.

Third Day

Willem van de Velde: The surrender of the Prince Royal

On the third day the English continued to retreat to the west. The Dutch advanced on a broad front, Van Nes still in command, both to catch any more stragglers and to avoid the enormous 32-pounder stern cannon of the big ships. In the evening Rupert, having already on the first day been ordered to join Monck, at last appeared with twenty ships. He had been unable to reach Monck earlier because he had sailed as far as Wight in search of the imaginary French fleet. Monck ordered his fleet to set a straight course for the green squadron despite warnings that this would take them over the infamous Galloper Shoal at low tide. HMS Royal Charles and HMS Royal Katherine indeed were grounded but managed to get free in time; but HMS Prince Royal was stuck fast.

Vice-Admiral George Ayscue, commander of the white squadron, pleaded with his men to stay calm until flood would lift the ship; but when two fire ships approached the crew panicked. A certain Lambeth struck the flag and Ayscue had to surrender to Tromp on the Gouda, the first and last time in history an English admiral of so high a rank would be captured at sea. De Ruyter had clear orders to destroy any prize; as the English fleet was still close he couldn't disobey in the matter of such a capital vessel and ordered the Prince burnt. Tromp didn't dare to make any objections because he had already sent home some prizes against orders; but later he would freely express his discontent, in 1681 still trying to get compensation from the admiralty of Amsterdam for this perceived wrong.

Van Nes now tried to prevent both English fleets from joining. But when they both sailed behind the back of his blocking squadron, De Ruyter took over operational command and ordered to wait. This way he regained the weather gauge.

Fourth Day

Early next morning five more ships (the Convertine, Sancta Maria, Centurion, Kent and Hampshire) and another fireship (Happy Entrance), joined the English fleet; as against these, six of the most damaged ships were sent home for repair. Thus enforced with 23 'fresh' ships and so numbering in between 60 and 65 men-of-war and six fireships, the English attacked in line on the fourth day with Sir Christopher Myngs now in charge of the van, Rupert of the center, and Monk of the rear squadron. But the Dutch, now to the southwest and reduced to 68 ships (and some six or seven fireships), had the weather gauge and also attacked aggressively.

De Ruyter had tried to impress on his flag officers that the fight of that day would be decisive for the entire war. The English attack, vulnerable from a leeward position, faltered. De Ruyter had planned to disrupt the English line by breaking it in three places, cutting off parts of the English fleet before dealing with the rest. Vice admiral Johan de Liefde on the Ridderschap and Myngs on the Victory began a close quarters duel; two musket balls hit Myngs, fatally wounding him; he died on his return to London. The English regrouped trying to break free to the south by executing four passes in opposite tack, but Tromp and Van Nes surrounded them. Monck then wore to the north. Tromp's squadron was routed, the Landman burnt by a fireship. Van Nes was forced to withdraw.

De Ruyter, more anxious than at any other moment in the battle and fearing the fight lost, raised the red flag and sailed past Rupert to attack Monck from behind. When Rupert tried to do the same to him, three shots in quick succession dismasted his HMS Royal James and the entire squadron of the green withdrew from the battle to the south, protecting and towing the flagship. Nothing now prevented De Ruyter from attacking Monck and the English main force was routed, many of the English ships were short on powder after three days of fighting. The Dutch boarded and captured four stragglers: Wassenaar captured HMS Clove Tree (the former VOC-ship Nagelboom), and the Frisian Rear-Admiral Hendrik Brunsvelt captured HMS Convertine, the entangled HMS Essex and HMS Black Bull; Black Bull later sank.

De Ruyter seeing the English fleet escape in a dense fog decided to break off the pursuit. His own fleet was heavily damaged too; his logbook only speaks of a fear for the English shoals. The deeply religious De Ruyter interpreted the sudden unseasonal fog bank as a sign from God, "that He merely wanted the enemy humbled for his pride but preserved from utter destruction".

Aftermath

Abraham Storck: "The Four Days' Battle" Greenwich, National Maritime Museum

The biggest sea battle of the Second Anglo-Dutch War and in the age of sail was a Dutch victory. However, the outcome is sometimes described as inconclusive, because both sides initially claimed victory.

Immediately after the battle the English captains of Rupert's squadron, not having seen the final outcome, claimed De Ruyter had retreated first, then normally seen as an acknowledgement of the superiority of the enemy fleet. Though the Dutch fleet was eventually forced to end the pursuit, they had managed to cripple the English fleet, and lost only four smaller ships themselves as the Spieghel refused to sink and was repaired.

The contemporaneous Dutch view on this matter is expressed in a famous epigram by the poet Constantijn Huygens:

Two fight — and for their lives
The one that caused the row
is beaten — but survives
And boasts: "I've won it now!
As master of the field!"
And did he win? For sure!
Face-down he couldn't yield:
His victory was pure
The other took his hat,
his rapier and his gold
And left him lying flat,
The glorious field to hold
So master he has been:
Our Neighbours are the same:
If thus they like to win,
we wish them lasting fame

Around 1,800 English sailors were taken prisoner and transported to Holland. Many subsequently took service in the Dutch fleet against England. Those that refused to do so remained in Dutch prisons for the following two years.[1]

Two months later the recuperated English fleet challenged the Dutch fleet again, now much more successfully at North Foreland in the St. James's Day Battle. This proved to be a partial victory as the Dutch fleet wasn't destroyed. The enormous costs of repair after both battles depleted the English treasury, so the Four Days' Battle is usually seen as both a tactical and important strategic victory for the Dutch.

Film

The Four Days' Battle is dramatized in the Dutch-English film Admiral (2015), also known as Michiel de Ruyter although it is not clear which phase of the battle is shown.

References

  1. ^ Kemp, Peter (1970). The British Sailor: A Social History of the Lower Deck. JM Dent & Sons. pp. 38–39. ISBN 0460039571..mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:"\"""\"""'""'"}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/65/Lock-green.svg/9px-Lock-green.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d6/Lock-gray-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-gray-alt-2.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/aa/Lock-red-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-red-alt-2.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4c/Wikisource-logo.svg/12px-Wikisource-logo.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}

Further reading

  • Fox, Frank L., A Distant Storm: The Four Days' Battle of 1666, Rotherfield, 1996. ISBN 0-948864-29-X.
  • Van Foreest, HA, Weber, REJ, De Vierdaagse Zeeslag 11–14 June 1666, Amsterdam, 1984.

Coordinates: 51°24′N 2°0′E / 51.400°N 2.000°E / 51.400; 2.000

10 Annotations

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

This gently-edited excerpt from The Project Gutenberg eBook, “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783”, by A. T. Mahan and recommended by Ruben in 2008 may be an old book, but it is clear and interesting.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/13529/13529.txt
Since it’s an eBook I think I’m free to copy and post.

I like it because it is written from the point-of-view of two eye witnesses (one French, one Dutch). They are not as hard on Monck as Pepys and the Diary would lead us to believe.

It’s worth remembering Macaulay's well-known saying: "There were seamen and there were gentlemen in the navy of Charles II; but the seamen were not gentlemen, and the gentlemen were not seamen."
###
We come now to the justly celebrated Four Days' Battle of June 1666, which claims special notice, not only on account of the great number of ships engaged on either side, nor yet only for the extraordinary physical endurance of the men who kept up a hot naval action for so many successive days, but also because the commanders-in-chief on either side, Monck and De Ruyter, were the most distinguished seamen, or rather sea-commanders, brought forth by their respective countries in the 17th century.

Monck was possibly inferior to Blake in the annals of the English navy; but there is a general agreement that De Ruyter is the foremost figure, not only in the Dutch service, but among all the naval officers of that age.

The account about to be given is mainly taken from a recent number of the "Revue Maritime et Coloniale," and is there published as a letter, recently
discovered, from a Dutch gentleman serving as volunteer on board De Ruyter's ship, to a friend in France.

The narrative is delightfully clear and probable --qualities not generally found in the description of those long-ago fights -- and the satisfaction it gave was increased by finding in the Memoirs of the Count de Guiche, who also served as volunteer in the fleet, and was taken to De Ruyter after his own vessel had been destroyed by a fire-ship, an account confirming the former in its principal details.

This additional pleasure was unhappily marred by recognizing certain phrases as common to both stories; and a comparison showed that the two could not be accepted as independent narratives. There are, however, points of internal difference which make it possible that the two accounts are by different eye-witnesses, who compared and corrected their versions before sending them out to their friends or writing them in their journals.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The numbers of the two fleets were: English about 80 ships, the Dutch about 100; but the inequality in numbers was largely compensated by the greater size of many of the English.

A great strategic blunder by the government in London immediately preceded the fight. Charles II was informed that a French squadron was on its way from the Atlantic to join the Dutch. He at once divided his fleet, sending 20 ships under Prince Rupert to the westward to meet the French, while the remainder under Monck were to go east and oppose the Dutch.

A position like that of the English fleet, threatened with an attack from two quarters, presents one of the subtlest temptations to a commander. The impulse is very strong to meet both by dividing his own numbers as Charles did; but unless in possession of overwhelming force it is an error, exposing both divisions to be beaten separately, which, as we are about to see, actually happened in this case. The result of the first two days was disastrous to the larger English division under Monck, which was then obliged to retreat toward Rupert; and probably the opportune return of the latter alone saved the English fleet from a very serious loss, or at the least from being shut up in their own ports.

140 years later, in the exciting game of strategy that was played in the Bay of Biscay before Trafalgar, the English admiral Cornwallis made precisely the same blunder, dividing his fleet into two equal parts out of supporting distance, which Napoleon at the time characterized as a glaring piece of stupidity. The lesson is the same in all ages.

The Dutch had sailed for the English coast with a fair easterly wind, but it changed later to southwest with thick weather, and freshened, so that De Ruyter, to avoid being driven too far, came to anchor between Dunkirk and the Downs.

The fleet then rode with its head to the south-southwest and the van on the right; while Tromp, who commanded the rear division in the natural order, was on the left. For some cause this left was most to windward, the center squadron under De Ruyter being to leeward, and the right, or van, to leeward again of the center.

This was the position of the Dutch fleet at daylight of June 11, 1666; and although not expressly so stated, it is likely, from the whole tenor of the narratives, that it was not in good order.

The same morning Monck, who was also at anchor, made out the Dutch fleet to leeward, and although so inferior in numbers determined to attack at once, hoping that by keeping the advantage of the wind he would be able to commit himself only so far as might seem best.

Monck therefore stood along the Dutch line on the starboard tack, leaving the right and center out of cannon-shot, until he came abreast of the left, Tromp's squadron.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Monck then had 35 ships well in hand; but the rear had opened and was straggling, as is apt to be the case with long columns. With the 35 he then put his helm up and ran down for Tromp, whose squadron cut their cables and made sail on the same tack (V'); the two engaged lines thus standing over toward the French coast, and the breeze heeling the ships so that the English could not use their lower-deck guns.

The Dutch center and rear also cut, and followed the movement, but being so far to leeward, could not for some time come into action.

It was during this time that a large Dutch ship, becoming separated from her own fleet, was set on fire and burned, doubtless the ship in which was Count de Guiche.

As they drew near Dunkirk the English went about, probably all together; for in the return to the northward and westward the proper English van fell in with and was roughly handled by the Dutch center under De Ruyter.

This fate would be more likely to befall the rear, and indicates that a simultaneous movement had reversed the order. The engaged ships had naturally lost to leeward, thus enabling De Ruyter to fetch up with them.

Two English flag-ships were here disabled and cut off; one, the "Swiftsure," hauled down her colors after the admiral, a young man of 27, was killed. "Highly to be admired," says a contemporary writer, "was the resolution of Vice-Admiral Berkeley, who, although cut off from the line, surrounded by enemies, great numbers of his men killed, his ship disabled and boarded on all sides, yet continued fighting almost alone, killed several with his own hand, and would accept no quarter; till at length, being shot in the throat with a musket-ball, he retired into the captain's cabin, where he was found dead, extended at his full length upon a table, and almost covered with his own blood."

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Quite as heroic, but more fortunate in its issue, was the conduct of the other English admiral thus cut off; and the incidents of his struggle, although not specially instructive otherwise, are worth quoting, as giving a lively picture of the scenes which passed in the heat of the contests of those days, and afford coloring to otherwise dry details.

"Being in a short time completely disabled, one of the enemy's fire-ships grappled him on the starboard quarter; he was, however, freed by the almost incredible exertions of his lieutenant, who, having in the midst of the flames loosed the grappling-irons, swung back on board his own ship unhurt. The Dutch, bent on the destruction of this unfortunate ship, sent a second which grappled her on the larboard side, and with greater success than the former; for the sails instantly taking fire, the crew were so terrified that nearly 50 of them jumped overboard. The admiral, Sir John Harman, seeing this confusion, ran with his sword drawn among those who remained, and threatened with instant death the first man who should attempt to quit the ship, or should not exert himself to quench the flames. The crew then returned to their duty and got the fire under; but the rigging being a good deal burned, one of the topsail yards fell and broke Sir John's leg. In the midst of this accumulated distress, a third fire-ship prepared to grapple him, but was sunk by the guns before she could effect her purpose. The Dutch vice-admiral, Evertzen, now bore down to him and offered quarter; but Sir John replied, 'No, no, it is not come to that yet,' and giving him a broadside, killed the Dutch commander; after which the other enemies sheered off."

It is therefore not surprising that the account we have been following reported two English flag-ships lost, one by a fire-ship. "The English chief still continued on the port tack, and," says the writer, "as night fell we could see him proudly leading his line past the squadron of North Holland and Zealand [the actual rear, but proper van], which from noon up to that time had not been able to reach the enemy from their leewardly position."

The merit of Monck's attack as a piece of grand tactics is evident, and bears a strong resemblance to that of Nelson at the Nile. Discerning quickly the weakness of the Dutch order, he had attacked a vastly superior force in such a way that only part of it could come into action; and although the English lost more heavily, they carried off a brilliant prestige and must have left considerable depression and heart-burning among the Dutch.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The eye-witness goes on: "The affair continued until ten P.M., friends and foes mixed together and as likely to receive injury from one as from the other. It will be remarked that the success of the day and the misfortunes of the English came from their being too much scattered, too extended in their line; but for which we could never have cut off a corner of them, as we did.

“The mistake of Monck was in not keeping his ships better together;" that is, closed up. The remark is just, the criticism scarcely so; the opening out of the line was almost unavoidable in so long a column of sailing-ships, and was one of the chances taken by Monck when he offered battle.

The English stood off on the port tack to the west or west-northwest, and next day returned to the fight. The Dutch were now on the port tack in natural order, the right leading, and were to windward; but the enemy, being more weatherly and better disciplined, soon gained the advantage of the wind.

The English this day had 44 ships in action, the Dutch about 80; many of the English, as before said, larger. The two fleets passed on opposite tacks, the English to windward; but Tromp, in the rear, seeing that the Dutch order of battle was badly formed, the ships in two or three lines, overlapping and so masking each other's fire, went about and gained to windward of the enemy's van; which he was able to do from the length of the line, and because the English, running parallel to the Dutch order, were off the wind.

"At this moment two flag-officers of the Dutch van kept broad off, presenting their sterns to the English. De Ruyter, greatly astonished, tried to stop them, but in vain, and therefore felt obliged to imitate the maneuver in order to keep his squadron together; but he did so with some order, keeping some ships around him, and was joined by one of the van ships, disgusted with the conduct of his immediate superior.

Tromp was now in great danger, separated [by his own act first and then by the conduct of the van] from his own fleet by the English, and would have been destroyed but for De Ruyter, who, seeing the urgency of the case, hauled up for him," the van and center thus standing back for the rear on the opposite tack to that on which they entered action.

This prevented the English from keeping up the attack on Tromp, lest De Ruyter should gain the wind of them, which they could not afford to yield because of their inferior numbers.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Both the action of Tromp and that of the junior flag-officers in the van, although showing different degrees of warlike ardor, bring out strongly the lack of subordination and of military feeling which has been charged against the Dutch officers as a body; no signs of which appear among the English at this time.

How keenly De Ruyter felt the conduct of his lieutenants was manifested when "Tromp, immediately after this partial action, went on board his flagship. The seamen cheered him; but De Ruyter said, 'This is no time for rejoicing, but rather for tears.'

“Indeed, our position was bad, each squadron acting differently, in no line, and all the ships huddled together like a flock of sheep, so packed that the English might have surrounded all of them with their 40 ships.

“The English were in admirable order, but did not push their advantage as they should, whatever the reason."

The reason no doubt was the same that often prevented sailing-ships from pressing an advantage -- disability from crippled spars and rigging, added to the inexpediency of such inferior numbers risking a decisive action.

De Ruyter was thus able to draw his fleet out into line again, although much maltreated by the English, and the two fleets passed again on opposite tacks, the Dutch to leeward, and De Ruyter's ship the last in his column.

As he passed the English rear, De Ruyter lost his maintopmast and mainyard. After another partial rencounter the English drew away to the northwest toward their own shores, the Dutch following them; the wind being still from southwest, but light.

The English were now fairly in retreat, and the pursuit continued all night, De Ruyter's own ship dropping out of sight in the rear from her crippled state.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The third day Monck continued retreating to the westward. He burned, by the English accounts, three disabled ships, sent ahead those that were most crippled, and brought up the rear himself with those that were in fighting condition, which are variously stated, again by the English, at 28 and 16 in number (June 13).

One of the largest and finest of the English fleet, the "Royal Prince," of 90 guns, ran aground on the Galloper Shoal and was taken by Tromp; but Monck's retreat was so steady and orderly that he was otherwise unmolested. This shows that the Dutch had suffered severely.

Toward evening Rupert's squadron was seen; and all the ships of the English fleet, except those crippled in action, were at last united.

The next day the wind came out again very fresh from the southwest, giving the Dutch the weather-gage. The English, instead of attempting to pass upon opposite tacks, came up from astern relying upon the speed and handiness of their ships.

So doing, the battle engaged all along the line on the port tack, the English to leeward.

The Dutch fire-ships were badly handled and did no harm, whereas the English burned two of their enemies.

The two fleets ran on thus, exchanging broadsides for two hours, at the end of which time the bulk of the English fleet had passed through the Dutch line.

All regularity of order was henceforward lost. "At this moment," says the eye-witness, "the lookout was extraordinary, for all were separated, the English as
well as we. But luck would have it that the largest of our fractions surrounding the admiral remained to windward, and the largest fraction of the English, also with their admiral, remained to leeward. This was the cause of our victory and their ruin.

Our admiral had with him 35 or 40 ships of his own and of other squadrons, for the squadrons were scattered and order much lost.

The rest of the Dutch ships had left him. The leader of the van, Van Ness, had gone off with 14 ships in chase of three or four English ships, which under a press of sail had gained to windward of the Dutch van.

Van Tromp with the rear squadron had fallen to leeward, and so had to keep on [to leeward of De Ruyter and the English main body] after Van Ness, in order to rejoin the admiral by passing round the English centre."

De Ruyter and the English main body kept up a sharp action, beating to windward all the time.

Van Tromp, having carried sail, overtook Van Ness, and returned bringing the van back with him; but owing to the constant plying to windward of the English main body he came up to leeward of it and could not rejoin De Ruyter, who was to windward.

De Ruyter, seeing this, made signal to the ships around him, and the main body of the Dutch kept away before the wind, which was then very strong.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

"Thus in less than no time we found ourselves in the midst of the English; who, being attacked on both sides, were thrown into confusion and saw their whole order destroyed, as well by dint of the action, as by the strong wind that was then blowing. This was the hottest of the fight. We saw the high admiral of England separated from his fleet, followed only by one fire-ship. With that he gained to windward, and passing through the North Holland squadron, placed himself again at the head of 15 or 20 ships that rallied to him."

Thus ended this great sea-fight, the most remarkable, in some of its aspects, that has ever been fought upon the ocean.

Amid conflicting reports it is not possible to do more than estimate the results. A fairly impartial account says: "The States lost in these actions three vice-admirals, 2,000 men, and four ships. The loss of the English was 5,000 killed and 3,000 prisoners; and they lost besides 17 ships, of which nine remained in the hands of the victors."

There is no doubt that the English had much the worst of it, and that this was owing wholly to the original blunder of weakening the fleet by a great detachment sent in another direction.

Great detachments are sometimes necessary evils, but in this case no necessity existed. Granting the approach of the French, the proper course for the English was to fall with their whole fleet upon the Dutch before their allies could come up. This lesson is as applicable today as it ever was.

A second lesson, likewise of present application, is the necessity of sound military institutions for implanting correct military feeling, pride, and discipline. Great as was the first blunder of the English, and serious as was the disaster, there can be no doubt that the consequences would have been much worse but for the high spirit and skill with which the plans of Monck were carried out by his subordinates, and the lack of similar support to De Ruyter on the part of the Dutch subalterns.

In the movements of the English, we hear nothing of two juniors turning tail at a critical moment, nor of a third, with misdirected ardor, getting on the wrong
side of the enemy's fleet. Their drill also, their tactical precision, was remarked even then.

The Frenchman De Guiche, after witnessing this Four Days' Fight, wrote:

"Nothing equals the beautiful order of the English at sea. Never was a line drawn straighter than that formed by their ships; thus they bring all their fire to bear upon those who draw near them. ... They fight like a line of cavalry which is handled according to rule, and applies itself solely to force back those who oppose; whereas the Dutch advance like cavalry whose squadrons leave their ranks and come separately to the charge."

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The Dutch government, averse to expense, unmilitary in its tone, and incautious from long and easy victory over the degenerate navy of Spain, had allowed its fleet to sink into a mere assembly of armed merchant-men.

Things were at their worst in the days of Cromwell.

Taught by the severe lessons of that war, the United Provinces, under an able ruler, had done much to mend matters, but full efficiency had not yet been gained.

"In 1666 as in 1653," says a French naval writer, "the fortune of war seemed to lean to the side of the English. Of the three great battles fought two were decided victories; and the third, although adverse, had but increased the glory of her seamen. This was due to the intelligent boldness of Monck and Rupert, the talents of part of the admirals and captains, and the skill of the seamen and soldiers under them. The wise and vigorous efforts made by the government of the United Provinces, and the undeniable superiority of De Ruyter in experience and genius over any one of his opponents, could not compensate for the weakness or incapacity of part of the Dutch officers, and the manifest inferiority of the men under their orders."

England, as has been said before, still felt the impress of Cromwell's iron hand upon her military institutions; but that impress was growing weaker.

Before the third Anglo-Dutch war, Monck was dead, and was poorly replaced by the cavalier Rupert. Court extravagance cut down the equipment of the navy as did the burgomaster's parsimony, and court corruption undermined discipline as surely as commercial indifference.

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References

Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.

1666

1667

  • Apr