St. James's Day Battle

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=St James' Day Battle
partof=the Second Anglo-Dutch War
caption=
date=25 July (Julian calendar) or 4 August (Gregorian calendar), 1666
place=near North Foreland, England
casus=
territory=
result=English Victory
combatant1=flagicon|England England
combatant2=flagicon|Netherlands|pri United Provinces
commander1=Prince Rupert of the Rhine and George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle
commander2=Michiel de Ruyter
strength1=90 ships, plus 16 fireships
strength2=89 ships, plus 20 fireships and 9 yachts
casualties2=2 Dutch ships ("Sneek" and "Tholen") taken, ca 800 killed
casualties1=1 English ship ("Resolution") sunk, ca 300 killed|

The naval St James' Day Battle (also known as the St James' Day Fight, the Battle of the North Foreland and the Battle of Orfordness) took place on 25 July 1666 — St James' day in the Julian calendar then in use in England (4 August 1666 in the Gregorian calendar), during the Second Anglo-Dutch War and was fought between fleets of England, commanded jointly by Prince Rupert of the Rhine and George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, and the United Provinces commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter. In The Netherlands the battle is known as the "Two Days Battle".

Dutch intentions

After the Dutch had inflicted considerable damage on the British fleet in the Four Days Battle, the leading Dutch politician Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt ordered Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter to carry out a plan that had been prepared for over a year: to land in the Medway to destroy the British fleet while it was being repaired in the Chatham dockyards. For this purpose ten fluyt ships carried 2,700 marines of the newly created Dutch Marine Corps, one of the first in history to be specialised in amphibious landings. Also De Ruyter was to combine his fleet with the French one.

The French however didn't show up and bad weather prevented the landing. De Ruyter had to limit his actions to a blockade of the Thames. On the 1st of August he observed that the British fleet was leaving port - earlier than expected. Then a storm drove the Dutch fleet back to the Flemish coast. On the 3rd De Ruyter again crossed the North Sea, leaving behind the troop ships.

First day

In the early morning of the 25th July the Dutch fleet of 88 ships discovered near North Foreland the British of 89 ships sailing to the north and pursued it from the southeast, in a leeward position as the wind blew from the northwest. Suddenly the wind turned to the northeast. The commander of the British fleet, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, then turned sharply east to regain the weather gauge; and De Ruyter followed to keep it. This proved to be a fatal manoeuvre for the Dutch. They now sailed right into the core of a high pressure area. The Dutch van, commanded by Lieutenant-Admiral Johan Evertsen, lost all speed and couldn't maintain a line of battle. This awkward situation lasted for hours; then again a soft breeze began to blow from the northeast. Immediately the British van commanded by Thomas Allin and part of the centre formed a line of battle and sailed right to the Dutch van, still in disarray and basically defenseless. Ship after ship of the Frisian fleet was mauled by the combined fire power of the British line. Vice-Admiral Rudolf Coenders was killed. Lieutenant-Admiral Tjerk Hiddes de Vries had an arm and a leg shot off, yet still tried to bring cohesion to his force — but to no avail. Unable to reach them with his centre, the horrified De Ruyter saw the Frisian ships drifting to the south, now no more than floating wrecks full of dead, the moans of the dying clearly audible above the other sounds of battle.

Now Rupert combined his full van and centre to deliver the coup-de-grâce to the Dutch centre. George Monck, accompanying Rupert, predicted that De Ruyter would give two broadsides and run, but the latter put up a furious fight on the Dutch flagship "De Zeven Provinciën". He withstood a combined attack by "Sovereign of the Seas" and "Royal Charles" and forced Rupert to leave the damaged "Royal Charles" for "Royal James". This way he covered the retreat of the Dutch van.

Meanwhile Lieutenant-Admiral Cornelis Tromp, commanding the Dutch rear, had from a great distance seen the sad events evolve. Annoyed by the lack of competence shown, he decided to give the correct example. He turned sharply to the west, crossed the line of the British rear, commanded by Jeremy Smith, separating it from the rest of the English fleet and then, having the weather gauge, kept on attacking it rabidly until at last the British were routed and fled to the west. He pursued well into the night, destroying "Resolution" with a fireship. After Tromp three times shot the entire crew from its rigging, Smith's flagship "Loyal London" had to be towed home. Subcommander of the British rear was Edward Spragge, who felt so humiliated by the course of events, he became a personal enemy of Tromp, dying himself while trying to kill his foe in the Battle of Texel.

econd day

On the morning of the 26th Tromp broke off pursuit, well pleased with his first real victory as a squadron commander. During the night a ship had brought him the message that De Ruyter had likewise been victorious, so Tromp was in a euphoric mood. That abruptly changed upon the discovery of the drifting flagship of the dying Tjerk Hiddes. Suddenly he feared that his was now the only remnant of the Dutch fleet and he was in mortal peril. Behind him those ships of the British rear still operational had again turned to the east. In front the other enemy squadrons surely awaited him. On the horizon only English flags were to be seen. Manoeuvring wildly, Tromp, drinking a lot of gin to restore his nerve, dodged any attempt to trap him and brought his squadron safely home in the port of Flushing on the morning of the 6th. There, to great mutual relief, he discovered the rest of the Dutch fleet.

It took Tromp six hours to gather enough courage to face De Ruyter. It was obvious to him that he should never have allowed himself to get completely separated from the main force. Indeed De Ruyter, not being his usual charitable self, immediately blamed him for the defeat and ordered Tromp and his subcommanders Isaac Sweers and Willem van der Zaan from his sight, and told them to never again set foot on "De Zeven Provinciën". The commander of the Dutch fleet still hadn't mentally recovered from the events of the previous day.

After a short summer's night, De Ruyter on the morning of the 5th discovered that his position had become hopeless. Lieutenant-Admiral Johan Evertsen had died after losing a leg. De Ruyter's force was now reduced to about forty ships, crowding together. Most of these were inoperational, survivors of the van. Some fifteen good ships had apparently deserted during the night. A strong gale from the east prevented an easy retreat to the continental coast. To the west the British van and centre (about fifty ships) surrounded him in a half-circle, safely bombarding him from a leeward position.

De Ruyter was desperate. When his second-in-command of the centre, Lieutenant-Admiral Aert Jansse van Nes visited him for a council of war, he exclaimed "With seven or eight against the mass!" He then sagged, mumbling: "What's wrong with us? I wish I were dead." His close personal friend Van Nes tried to cheer him up, joking: "Me too. But you never die when you want to!" No sooner had both men left the cabin, the table they had been sitting at was smashed by a cannonball.

The British however had their problems too. The strong gale prevented them from closing with the Dutch. They tried to use fire ships, but these too had trouble reaching the enemy. Only the sloop "Fan-Fan", Rupert's personal pleasure yacht, rowed to the Dutch flagship "De Zeven Provinciën" to harass it with its two little guns, much to the hilarious laughter of the British crews.

When his ship had again warded off an attack by a fire ship (the "Land of Promise") and Tromp still didn't show up, for De Ruyter tension became unbearable. He sought death exposing himself deliberately on the deck. When he failed to be hit, he exclaimed: "O, God, how infortunate I am: among so many thousands of cannonballs, is there not one that would take me?" His son-in-law, Captain of the Marines Johann de Witte, heard him and said: "Father, what desperate words! If you merely want to die, let us then turn, sail in the midst of our enemies and fight ourselves to death!". This brave but foolish proposal brought the Admiral back to his senses, for he discovered that he wasn't as desperate as all that and answered: "You don't know what you are talking about! If I did that, all would be lost. But if I can bring myself and these ships safely home, we'll finish the job later."

Then the wind that in this battle had brought so much misfortune to the Dutch saved them by turning to the west. They formed a line of battle and brought their fleet to safety through the Flemish shoals, Vice-Admiral Adriaen Banckert of the Zealandic fleet covering the retreat of all damaged ships with the operational vessels, the number of the latter slowly growing as it turned out that very few ships had actually deserted in the night: most had merely drifted away and now one after the other rejoined the battle.

Results

The battle was a clear English victory — though the separate clash of the two rears was a victory for Tromp. Dutch manpower losses were enormous, immediately after the battle estimated at about 5,000 man (compared with 300 British killed), although more precise information showed that only about 1,200 of these had been killed or seriously wounded. But the Dutch only lost two ships — De Ruyter had been successful at saving almost the complete van, only "Sneek" and "Tholen" struck their flag — and they could quickly repair the damage. The twin disasters of the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire of London however, combined with his financial mismanagement, left Charles II without the funds to continue the war. In fact he had had only enough reserves for this last battle. The Dutch soon recovered: within a month they again took sea but only a minor skirmish resulted. During this later fight De Ruyter inhaled a burning fuse filament that burnt a fistula in his throat; he would just recover in time to inflict a severe blow on the English navy in the Raid on the Medway in 1667, when at last he could carry out the plan he was prevented from executing in 1666 by this defeat.

During the weeks that the Dutch fleet was in repair, Admiral Robert Holmes, aided by the Dutch traitor Laurens van Heemskerck penetrated the Vlie estuary, burnt a fleet of 150 merchants (Holmes's Bonfire) and sacked the town of ter Schelling (the present West-Terschelling) on the Frisian island of Terschelling. "Fan-Fan" was again present.

In the Republic the defeat had also far-reaching political effects. Tromp was the champion of the Orangist party. Now that he was accused of severe neglicence the country split over this issue. To defend himself Tromp let his brother-in-law Johan Kievit publish an account of his conduct. Kievit shortly afterwards was discovered to have planned a coup, secretly negotiating a peace treaty with the English king. He fled to England and was condemned to death in his absence; Tromp's family was fined and he himself forbidden to serve on the fleet. In November 1669 a Tromp-supporter tried to stab Michiel de Ruyter in the entrance-hall of his house. Only in 1672 Tromp would have his revenge, when Johan de Witt was murdered; some claim Tromp has had a hand in this. The new ruler, William III of Orange, in 1673 with great difficulty succeeded in reconciling De Ruyter with Tromp.

References

Citation
last = Brandt
first = Gerard
year = 1687
title = Het Leven en bedryf van den Heere Michiel de Ruiter
edition = 1st
publisher = Uitgeverij van Wijnen, Franeker


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