Battle of Leghorn, 4 March 1653

The battle of Leghorn of 4 March 1653 was a disastrous English attempt to break a Dutch blockade that was preventing them from uniting the two halves of the English fleet in the Mediterranean.

One part of the English fleet, under Henry Appleton, had been blockaded in Leghorn (Livorno) since the start of the First Anglo-Dutch War. The other half of the fleet, commanded by Admiral Richard Badiley, had been defeated at Elba early in the war (28 August 1652). Appleton had the warship Leopard and the armed merchant ships Bonaventure, Samson, Mary, Peregrine and Levant Merchant. Badiley had four warships and two merchantmen.

Although the fleets were blocked in port their commanders were still able to communicate. When the Dutch decided to concentrate all of their ships at Leghorn Appleton and Badiley were able to put into action a pre-existing plan. Badiley sailed for Leghorn. If the wind was blowing onto the shore, then Appleton was to immediately leave port and attack the Dutch. Once battle had begun Badiley would use the wind to attack the already engaged Dutch. If the wind was coming from the land, then Appleton was to wait in port until Badiley was in combat with the Dutch, and then use the wind to join the battle.

The Dutch squadron, under Commodore Jan van Galen, didn't fall into the trap. As Badiley approached van Galen made a feint towards him. The wind was coming from the land, so Appleton was meant to wait in port until Badiley was engaged, but instead he set sail once van Galen had made his feint. Seeing this, the Dutch turned back, and attacked Appleton's isolated force. With the wind against him Badiley could do nothing but watch as Appleton's squadron was destroyed. The Bonaventure was destroyed by a great explosion early in the fight. Only the Mary escaped, with all four of the other ships falling into Dutch hands. By the end of the battle Appleton's flagship only had 50 fit men left out of her crew of 200.

The only blot on the Dutch victory was the death of van Galen. He was hit by a round shot, probably from the Bonaventure, and died of his wounds. In the aftermath of the defeat Badiley departed for home waters, leaving the Dutch in uncontested control of the Mediterranean. 

Subject Index: Anglo-Dutch Wars

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 August 2009), Battle of Leghorn, 4 March 1653 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_leghorn.html

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