Saturday, December 06, 2003
More thoughts on the Battle of Scheveningen (Ter Heide) I had several, long-held misconceptions about Scheveningen. One was that the English were on the attack. The second was that the English repeatedly broke the Dutch line. The third was that the English used the line formation while the Dutch did not. The fourth was that the Dutch were able to limit their losses, compared to the Battle of the Gabbard. With regard to the first, the reality was that the Dutch started the battle with the advantage of the wind, and they used that to attack the English, who had held back, in a defensive posture. With regard to the second point, the Dutch often were the aggressors in breaking the English line. At the point of contact, there was confusion on both sides. Volume V of the First Dutch War has a description that is the most accessible to the English speaking reader. The third point is rather controversial, but a reading of the same description in The First Dutch War leads me to believe that the Dutch were also emulating the English example from the Gabbard, in keeping a rough line formation. We know that the Dutch had used this formation in the past. A Van de Velde drawing of a battle in 1645 shows the Dutch squadron in a single line. Legend also sayst that the line formation was employed at the Battle of the Downs, in 1639, against the Spanish. Permit me an aside about the line formation. The line formation is a good defensive formation, and, for small squadrons, is a requirement. However, for the attack, and I would argue, even in defense, a large fleet in a single line is an unwieldy formation and does not allow for concentration against a smaller opponent. The Dutch were generally out-matched in ship size and broadside weight through first, second, and third Anglo-Dutch wars. They managed to survive by the judicious use of mutual support and concentration. That was the preferred tactical scheme used by Michiel De Ruyter. The Dutch misread the lessons of the Battle of Lowestoft, in 1665, and thought that they had failed by not employing the strict, single line. My reading is that they failed to poor fleet command, tolerance for timid captains with only merchant experience, small ships, and too many armed merchant vessels. My fourth misconception was that the determination by Witte de With, Jan Evertsen, and Michiel De Ruyter had by a rear-guard action, limited the losses at Scheveningen, compared to the Gabbard (see my listing of these losses, in my November 22 posting). Admittedly, 13 ships were lost at the Gabbard, while there may have been 10 at Scheveningen. My current assessment is that the only achievement by the admirals was to prevent the headlong pursuit that happened as the Battle of the Gabbard descended into chaos, as cowardly captains fled the battle, when they saw that the battle was going badly.