Battle of the Gabbard (or Nieuwpoort), 2-3 June 1653

The battle of the Gabbard (or Nieuwpoort) of 2-3 June 1653 was the decisive battle of the First Anglo-Dutch War. It was the first battle to involve the full fleets of both nations, and ended as a major English victory.

After the English victory off Portland (18-20 February 1653) negotiations were opened between Cromwell and the Dutch, but both sides also prepared for another battle, which each hoped would give them the advantage in the peace talks. A series of opportunities for battle were missed during May. First the English fleet under Monck and Deane failed to intercept Tromp and a home-bound convoy from the Baltic. The combined Dutch fleet under Tromp, de Ruyter, De With, Jan Evertsen and Floriszoon then attempted to catch the English in the Downs (14 May), only to find that they were at sea. Tromp was driven away from Dover by a bombardment from the castle, and crossed over to the Flanders coast, where he received news that the English had been seen off Nieuwpoort.

In fact on 1 June the English were further to the north, off Great Yarmouth. Learning that the Dutch were closing in, the English moved to a new anchorage two miles outside the Gabbard Bank (seventeen miles to the south-east of Orford. Tromp spent the night of 1-2 June anchored a similar distance to the north-east of the North Foreland, placing him just to the south of the English. On the morning of 2 June, when the two fleets sighted each other, the Dutch were sailing S.S.W., and were to the leeward (down-wind) of the English, sailing away from them on a north-easterly wind.

The Dutch had ninety-eight men of war and six fireships, the English one hundred men-of-war and five fireships. Given than the English ships were generally larger and better armed than their Dutch equivalents, the English had quite a substantial advantage. They also benefited from the new Instructions for the Better Ordering of the Fleet in Fighting of March 1653, a set of fighting instructions put together by Monck, Blake and Deane. These instructions contained the first version of the line of battle that would soon come to dominate naval warfare. Although the Dutch, and Tromp in particular, seem to have been responsible for the earliest use of some sort of line formation, they were still prone to break the line to board damaged enemy ships. At the Gabbard the English maintained their discipline for much longer. At this date the line of battle didn't involve the individual ships –there were simply too many ships involved in major battles for that to be possible, but instead saw the fleet divided into a number of small subdivisions, which found in a line of divisions.

The first days fighting, on 2 June, saw the Dutch lose two ships in fierce fighting, and almost lose Tromp's flagship Brederode to boarding (only after Tromp had attempted to board Penn's flagship the James). At about six the fighting ended, although another Dutch ship exploded before nightfall. Tromp was aware that his ships were running short of ammunition, and so on the morning of 3 June he attempted to escape from the battlefield, but at eleven in the morning, as he was on the brink of success, the wind fell, leaving the Dutch fleet marooned under the heavier guns of the English. The somewhat one-sided fight lasted from noon until about four, when the Dutch finally managed to escape. By the end of the battle the English had captured eleven major warships, sunk six and seen two burnt or explode. 1,350 prisoners were taken, amongst them six captains.

The English lost no ships, although they did suffer 126 dead and 236 wounded. After the battle the Dutch ports were blockaded and peace negotations resumed, but once again the Dutch prepared to fight one more battle in an attempt to restore the situation. Only after this battle too ended in defeat (battle of Scheveningen), did the war finally come to an end

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 the Gabbard (or Nieuwpoort), 2-3 June 1653 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_the_gabbard.html

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