Attack on Landguard Fort, 2 July 1667

The Dutch attack on Landguard Fort (2 July 1667) was intended to clear the way for an attack on the anchorage at Harwich, but was repulsed by one of the earliest precursors of the Royal Marines (Second Dutch War). The attack came in the aftermath of the devastating Dutch raid on the Medway in June 1667. This great victory gave the Dutch, under Michiel de Ruyter, command of the Thames Estuary, and allowed them to establish a naval blockade of London. Further attempts to operate in the Thames met with less success, and so at the start of July de Ruyter decided to attack Harwich, the next good safe anchorage up the coast from the Thames, and a naval base since 1657.

Before they could attack Harwich itself the Dutch needed to neutralise Landguard Fort, the port's outermost line of defence. Landguard Fort is situated on a spit of land that runs south from Felixstow across the mouth of the Stour and Orwell estuaries, and was built to protect the anchorage at Harwich, on the opposite side of the estuary.  The fort still exists, and is open to the public. In 1667 the governor of Landguard was Nathanial Darrell, who the month before the attack had been denounced as a 'malignant papist and incompetent' in the King's Council.

The attack was perhaps most noteworthy for being an early battle honour for both the British and Dutch marines. The Dutch Regiment de Marine had been founded by Michiel de Ruyter in 1665, and had won its first battle honour at Chatham during the attack on the Medway earlier in the year. The garrison of Landguard were provided by the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment, raised in 1664 and one of the earliest precursors of the Royal Marines. The defence of Landguard was their first battle honour.

The Dutch landed somewhere on the coast to the north of the fort, at a place named as the 'cliff of Felixstowe' in the London Gazette. This put them out of range of the guns in the fort, but also meant that they had to split their forces. Different sources give different numbers of Dutch troops. The London Gazette for the period gave a total of 3,000 men, but Dutch and later British sources give a total of 2,000, made up of 1,500 marines and 500 sailors.

The Dutch left the smaller part of their force at the cliffs, while around 1,500 men marched south to attack the fort. De Ruyter had intended to support this attack with naval gunfire, with one squadron operating inside the estuary and one out to sea, but unexpectedly shallow water meant that the attack from the estuary was totally abandoned, while the seaward squadron was only able to fire a few shots at long range. This left the marines to attack alone. Two attacks are recorded, the first lasting for 45 minutes and the second for only 15. After that the Dutch marines retreated, leaving their ladders and other equipment behind but taking their dead with them. The London Gazette reported an estimate of 150 Dutch dead during the two attacks, but only four bodies were found.

While the Dutch marines had been attacking the fort, the troops at their beachhead came under attack by the local trained banks, commanded by the Earl of Suffolk. This skirmish lasted until 10 in the evening, at which point the marines returned from their attack on the fort. According to the London Gazette the Dutch were trapped onshore by low water until around 2am on 3 July, giving 500 regular infantry under Major Legge time to arrive from Harwich. They may have been involved with some more skirmishing with the Dutch, but no British cavalry arrived, and Legge's men were badly outnumbered, so no significant fighting took place. The Dutch were able to re-embark after 2am, and by 6am their fleet had sailed away from Harwich.

After the failure of this raid the Dutch settled down to blockade the Thames. De Ruyter sailed off to cruise up and down the English Channel, leaving Admiral van Nes in charge of the blockade, which lasted until the end of July. Further hostilities were ended by the Peace of Breda, which was signed on 31 July 1667.

De Ruyter, Dutch Admiral, ed Jaap R. Bruijn, Ronald Prud'homme van Reine and Rolof van Hövell tot Westerflier. A collection of interesting essays written by Dutch historians and that examines different aspects of de Ruyter’s life and the wider world of the Dutch Republic. This is a valuable piece of work that helps explain the important of de Ruyter as a European figure (not just as a commander during the Anglo-Dutch Wars). [read full review]
How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 November 2010), Attack on Landguard Fort, 2 July 1667 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/attack_landguard_fort.html

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