Sunday, December 21, 2003
My Theory About Tactics My theory, long-held, is that the only way that the Dutch were able to compete in the First, Second, and Third Anglo-Dutch Wars was to use tactics of "mutual support and concentration". The basics are that when a ship is attacked, other ships will converge to support them in the fight. On the attack, several ships will concentrate against a single opponent. The Dutch always operated in a rough line, divided into squadrons. They were not that concerned with sailing in a rigid, single line, although they would do that, on occasion. The advantage of a single line is that all guns can be brought to bear on the opposing line, if they are willing to play the game and also sail in line. There was a great clamour for single-line tactics in the Dutch ranks, after their defeat at the Battle of Lowestoft, in 1665. The great admiral, Michiel Adriaansz. de Ruyter was not one of the believers. My assessment was that the Dutch were so soundly beaten at Lowestoft because they were so badly lead, and had included so many merchant captains in their ranks. That, and they still had many small ships. They were mainly equipped with the ships build by the two thirty-ship building programs from the First Anglo-Dutch War. The large majority of those ships were 130 feet long (in Amsterdam feet). They were approximately equivalent to the smaller, English Fourth Rate frigates. The Dutch admiral was a political choice: Jacob Wassenaer, Lord Obdam. He was a former cavalryman, not a sailor. Johan de Witt, the Dutch leader, was nervous enough about him to appoint Egbert Meeussen Kortenaer as his flag captain. By Lowestoft, Kortenaer had become Lt.-Admiral of the Maas (Rotterdam). At the St. James Day Battle in 1666, the Dutch tried the strict single line formation and were heavily battered. They were beaten in moral terms, although they lost two ships while the English lost one. De Ruyter was successful in the Third Anglo-Dutch War through judicious use of concentration and mutual support, and not risking his fleet until the decisive moment, when they beat the combined English-French fleet at the Battle of the Texel, in 1673. A feature of the Third Anglo-Dutch War was that the Dutch had larger ships that were more heavily armed. While De Ruyter's flagship, the Zeven Provinciën, had a mixed armament of 24 and 36 pounders on the lower tier during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. By the third war, the Zeven Provinciën had a uniform lower tier of 36 pounders. The Dutch had also benefitted from the building program initiated in 1664, once it was clear that another war was inevitable: 1664 12-160 foot ships 12-150 foot ships 1665 12-150 foot ships 12-140 foot ships 1666 12-170 and 171 foot ships See my analysis on my web site: The Dutch building program, starting in 1664.