Battle of Dungeness, 30 November 1652

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The battle of Dungeness (30 November 1652) was the most significant Dutch victory during the First Anglo-Dutch War, and saw a fleet under Maarten Tromp win temporary control of the English Channel.

In the aftermath of the English victory at Kentish Knock (28 September 2009) the Council, believing that the naval war was won, dispersed the English fleet. One squadron was sent to the Sound in an attempt to reopen the Baltic trade. Another, under Admiral Penn, was sent north to protect the coastal coal trade. A third was sent west to Plymouth and a fourth, under Captain James Peacock, was to be sent to the Mediterranean. Admiral Blake, in the Downs, was left with only thirty-seven warships.

The English had dangerously underestimated the Dutch. A massive convoy of 300 merchant ships was ready to leave the Netherlands, and a large fleet of warships were sent to sea to protect it. Maarten Tromp was in overall command, with Jan Evertsen and De Ruyter under his command. De With, the defeated commander at Kentish Knock, was to have accompanied the fleet, but illness kept him at home. Tromp had seventy-three warships and a small number of fireships.

Tromp escorted the convoy through the most dangerous part of the Channel and then turned back to search for the English fleet. He found it in its anchorage at the Downs on 29 November. Despite being badly outnumbered Blake ordered his fleet out to sea. Two alternative reasons are normally suggested for this. The poor visibility on 29 November means that he may have misjudged the size of the Dutch fleet, or he may have remembered the Dutch destruction of a Spanish fleet in the same waters (battle of the Downs, 11 October 1639), and left the Downs to avoid being trapped.

The weather now played a major part in forcing a battle. By the time Blake realised he was outnumbered the wind had swung around to the north-west, preventing him from returning to the Downs, and also making it impossible to fight. At the end of the day Blake anchored off Dover, with Tromp two miles downwind.

On the following morning (30 November), both fleets sailed south-west along the coast, with Blake closest to the coast and Tromp downwind and further out to sea. As the two fleets sailed towards Dungeness the coastline began to curve to the south, forcing Blake's van into contact with the Dutch fleet.

The resulting battle only involved a part of each fleet. The wind prevented some of the Dutch ships from reaching the fighting, while some of the English captains appear to have used the same wind to avoid being engaged.

The English van was hard pressed. Blake's flagship, the Triumph, alongside the Victory and the Vanguard, took on Evertsen and de Ruyter, while the Garlandand the Bonaventure attacked Tromp's flagship, the Brederode. Evertsen came to Tromp's aid, and captured the Bonaventure, while Tromp captured the Garland. Blake attempted to rescue these two ships, but only succeeded in placing the Triumph in temporary danger. Three more English ships were sunk during the fighting, while the only Dutch loss was a ship that was destroyed by an accidental explosion.

After the battle Tromp returned to his convoy and escorted it into the Bay of Biscay, where he waited for a returning convoy. For the next few weeks the Channel filled with Dutch cruisers, who captured a large number of English ships.

In the aftermath of the defeat Blake offered his resignation, but it was refused. The Council of State held an investigation into the defeat, which resulting in the building of thirty new frigates, the removal and arrest of a number of the captains who had refused to fight and the end of the practise of allowing merchant captains to command their ships in battle.

The Dutch control of the Channel was short-lived. A stronger English fleet was in place early in 1653, and when Tromp attempted to bring the next convoy home he was engaged in a three day long running fight (battle of Portland, 18-20 February 1653). Both sides suffered heavy losses during the battle, but the Dutch suffered worse, and the Channel was once again closed to their trade.

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]

Subject Index: Anglo-Dutch Wars

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 August 2009), Battle of Dungeness, 30 November 1652 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_dungeness.html

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