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An express taken by the yacht Zwole from Michiel de Ruyter to The States General following an action on July 24th 1666
It is my misfortune to report to the States General that in an encounter with the English fleet under His Highness and the Lord Albemarle, my own squadron was unable to impress upon the enemy that a conflict between our nations leaves no winner. With the prince having the windward position and the seas being lively from the northwest, I was confident that his heavier guns would provide little real advantage being that his bigger ships had closed their lower ports. As our lines passed with the enemy bearing east and we west, I did not anticipate the aggression which their divisions evinced.
|The line pass - a view from the north|
In the absence of the wounded lion Harman, the White squadron was under the old fox Tomasz Allin. With alacrity he bore southwest to split our line astern of my own division and ahead of Admiral de Liefde. The prince’s ships did likewise, leaving only their trailing rear division bearing roughly west by southwest toward Admiral van Nes’s lead division. The first salvoes from Allin’s ships upon the rear of my division dismayed our crews who hesitated to engage. Ahead, I was astounded to witness the leading three ships of van Nes’s division veer away to the southwest immediately on coming under fire from Loyal London aboard which, Admiral Jeremiah Smyth had his flag.
|Panorama before engagement|
That experienced Dutch captains would run in the face of opening shots is to my mind disgraceful. Notwithstanding that several ships did receive damage, the response seemed disproportionate and nothing less than rank cowardice. This setback immediately pressurized our van and the resolve of the White English to close was to my mind so uncharacteristic that our captains were non plussed. Soon my Lord Allin had led a group of ships, I think the Royal James, Leopard and Plymouth, against the van of de Liefde being that, already the lead English ships had pierced his formation and emerged intact to the south and leeward of our line which to my eye was reasonably well formed and true.
|Allin's White and the Generals' Red turn south to cut the Dutch line|
Only the prompt action of Admiral de Liefde’s Ridderschap accompanied by Maagd van Dordrecht, Wapen van Nassau and Harderwijk prevented further loss, as these ships fell upon the trailing group of English and in a brisk combat were able to capture a fifty and a forty-eight gun for little hurt to the admiral. Alas, this being the single redeeming moment of a black day as Admiral de Liefde had already witnessed the desertion of three of his ships with their guns barely warm from fire, the capture of the fine Geloof by my Lord Allin’s flagship and the burning of the Hollandse Tuin by its escorts.
|Allin's lead ships take fire from de Liefde's van|
My flagship positioned well to rake the attacking red squadron did great hurt upon the prince’s lead ships thereupon we witnessed them pass to our rear, coming on regardless of the weight of shot we heaped upon them. In the passing, my rear guard came under such heavy fire that those smaller and lighter vessels, in fear of capture or worse, broke to the southwest leaving my flank exposed to the massive power of the leviathans. Even at random range and in a lively sea, the guns of the monster Sovereign were notable by uncharacteristic accuracy for the English, finding their mark upon my flagship time after time. This was seen as an omen by many of the crews as English fire is often about quantity not quality.
|The White flanks the rearguard of de Ruyter|
Directly ahead, the group led by Schout bij Nacht van Nes was battered both by the red ships and latterly by the devil Smith whose Loyal London had arrived in the centre of this action having sorely handled Admiral van Nes’s vanguard. Our branders, away to leeward had beat up to attack the White and Blue but their efforts were repulsed in the contra wind, bearing in mind that earlier we too had fought off an attack by their branders from windward. The English ships were now well to leeward of our ragged formation.
|Allin has pierced the Dutch line and the Red sails astern of de Ruyter's division. Blue engaging van Nes|
I am ashamed to bear witness to the truth that we had been deserted by perhaps a dozen of our ships yet in fair fighting order and not from a single admiralty but across the five. One ship was captured and another hulked and burning. Schout bij nacht van Nes’s flagship Delft was sorely hurt and his lionhearted brother’s van was shattered by the blue ships whose sturdy walls appeared to repel shot with impunity. I signalled that we gather our prizes, bear northwest and tack out of the action being that the enemy would now have to turn well abaft of us and beat up. Our route home will be circuitous as I can ill afford to meet the enemy once more with barely 10 serviceable ships and towing several more unrigged.
|The Generals receive the wrath of de Zeven Provincien|
I can barely credit the damage to our fleet and the faint-hearted performance of so many captains in whom I placed my trust. Only the ships escorting the four flag officers remained in good order and able to sail together. The English performed like disciplined, efficient war machines.
|Smith's flagship Loyal London pounds van Nes's lead ships|
They retained excellent sailing order and rode the wind in a brisk and wholly successful cutting manoeuvre which we must mark well for the future. I noted but little hurt to their vessels apart from those in the Red which I myself engaged, and the captured prizes – a merchant Richard and Martha and a frigate Centurion.
|Dutch fire ships attack Allin from leeward. Jan van Nes in Delft engages from windward|
English - 30 ships, 1648 guns
Dutch - 37 ships, 1545 guns
|Prizes - De Liefde with his combat trophies - Centurion and Richard & Martha. Dragon escaped|