Battle of Lowestoft, 3 June 1665 (O.S.)

The battle of Lowestoft (3 June 1665 O.S./ 13 June 1665 N.S.) was the first major battle of the Second Anglo-Dutch War and was a rare British victory in a war that came to be dominated by the Dutch.

The Dutch fleet, under the command of Jacob van Wassenaer, Lord of Obdam, contained 103 men-of-war, seven yachts, eleven fireships and twelve galliots. It was split into seven squadrons, each of three divisions, for a total of twenty-one divisions. Each division was commanded by an admiral or captain performing that role, so the Dutch fleet contained twenty-one flagships!

Battle of Lowestoft, 1665
Battle of Lowestoft, 1665

The British fleet was split into three squadrons, each of three divisions. It was commanded by James, Duke of York (the future James II), with Prince Rupert of the Rhine and Edward Montagu, Earl of Sandwich commanding the White and Blue squadrons respectively. The British fleet was larger than the Dutch, with 109 men-of-war and twenty-eight fireships, but since the first war the Dutch had built many bigger ships, and their fleet actually carried more guns.

The British put to sea first, on 21 April, and took up a position off the Texel, where the Duke of York attempted to blockade the Dutch coast. On 8 May, after two weeks, he withdrew from the coast, made an unsuccessful attempt to intercept de Reyter (believed to be on his way home from West Africa), and then returned to Harwich.

The Dutch put to sea on 13-14 May, and on 20 May captured a convoy of English merchants trading with Hamburg. This forced the British fleet back to sea, and at midday on 1 June the two fleets sighted each other. The Dutch had the wind, but Obdam's fleet was too scattered for him to attack that afternoon. On 2 June the two fleets remained three miles apart, waiting for the wind. At 2.30am on the morning of 3 June the fleets were fourteen miles north-east of Lowestoft, and the wind was right for a British attack.

Since the First Anglo-Dutch War naval tactics had advanced. The massed melees of that war still occurred, but only after a period spent fighting in lines of battle. At Lowestoft the first phase of the battle lasted from around 3.30 am until 1 pm. The line of battle was not yet the static formation of later wars. Instead the two fleets sailed past each other in opposite directions in their lines, before turning around to repeat the exercise. The two fleets seem to have adopted different methods of turning. The Dutch turned in succession, so the front of the line of the first pass was still the front of the line on the second. The British turned in squadrons, so the front squadron on the first pass was the rear squadron on the second.

Loss of the Eendracht at Lowestoft, 1665
Loss of the Eendracht at Lowestoft, 1665

This period of the battle ended when Sir Edward Montagu, earl of Sandwich, saw a chance to break through a gap that had opened up in the Dutch line. This split the Dutch fleet in half, and brought on a general melee. The most important clash during the melee was between the two Commanders in Chief – the Duke of York in the Royal Charles and Opdam in the Eendracht. For some time the Duke of York was in real danger, and three of his aides were killed at his side, but at about 3 pm, after a two hour duel, the Eendracht exploded, with the loss of all but four of her four hundred and nine crew.

The death of the Dutch Commander-in-Chief caused chaos in their fleet. Jan Evertsen and Cornelis Tromp both assumed command of the fleet, and even two days after the battle Tromp didn’t know what had happened to Evertsen, who was in fact the senior officer. The situation wasn't help by the death of Vice Admiral Egbert Meussen Cortenaer, one of Opdam's key advisors, early in the battle. After the death of Opdam Cortenaer's ship, with the Admiral's flag still flying, was seen to leave the battle, and was followed by a number of ships.

Portrait of Cornelis Tromp by Abraham Willaerts
Portrait of Cornelis Tromp
by Abraham Willaerts

Some sections of the Dutch fleet continued to fight bravely, most notably the squadron under Cornelis Tromp, but by 7 pm the Dutch were in full retreat. Some of the worst losses were suffered during this stage of the battle. One group of three ships and another of four began tangled in the chaos, and were attacked by the British fireships Fame and Dolphin (the second attack was made after the Dutch ships had surrendered, and her captain disappeared after the battle rather than face trial).

The surviving Dutch ships fled into the Mass (Evertsen) and the Texel (Tromp). During the battle eighteen ships had been taken by the British, of which fourteen reached port. Another fourteen ships were sunk, bringing the total number of Dutch ships lost up to thirty-two. The total might have been higher if the British pursuit had been better handled, but on the night after the battle one of the Duke of York's courtiers ordered the sails to be slackened while the Duke was asleep, and the Dutch were able to escape (a lack of remaining fireships on the English side also probably helped).

The British only lost two ships during the battle – the Charity and the John and Mary – both taken by the Dutch. Despite this great success the Duke of York was soon removed from his command, partly because of the failure of the pursuit and partly to protect the heir to the throne from exposure to danger.

This first British victory did not set a pattern for the war. Early in 1666 the French and Danes joined the Dutch, forcing the English to split their fleet, which was also suffering from a lack of funds. The next major clash, the Four Days' Battle of 1-4 June 1666 would be a Dutch victory.

Fireship: The Terror Weapon of the Age of Sail, Peter Kirsch. A lavishly illustrated look at one of the most feared weapons of the age of sail. This is a very impressive piece of work – well written and researched, wide ranging in scope and with detailed accounts of most of the key fireship attacks from the sixteenth century wars against Spain to the Greek War of Independence. An essential read for anyone interested in naval warfare in the age of sail. [see more]
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Subject Index: Anglo-Dutch Wars

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 August 2009), Battle of Lowestoft, 3 June 1665 (O.S.) ,

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