Action Replay - the MIGHTY Fighting White


Set up on a 6 x 4 table

Where to begin? The last battle was a decisive victory for the English fleet. This encounter sees de Ruyter’s large 1st squadron of the Dutch fleet, badly battered after a day of engaging the Duke of Albemarle off the Suffolk coast. Having broken off in the late afternoon, the Dutch are heading southeast to regroup, repair and replenish when to windward, they spot twenty-one ships heading on an interdiction bearing from the southwest. The Dutch are not in fighting order. Their divisions are roughly bunched, many of the thirty-three ships have significant battle-damage, the crews are tired, and some ships are low on ammunition. Prince Rupert’s composite squadron is outgunned on paper, but his ships are fresh, and the crews rested.

Van Nes gets to windward of the English White and swoops down to attack

The initial Dutch reaction was to cram on sail and manoeuvre for battle. Aert van Nes’s van division was able to work to windward of the lead English ships of the White and approach from behind their larboard quarter to the north-west. De Ruyter turned his centre division into the wind and beat up toward the head of the White line.  Effectively Ayscue’s six ships were under attack from two directions simultaneously. As the other two English divisions crammed on sail to get into action, the battle had already begun. De Ruyter’s flagship led in Gelderland 60, Klein Hollandia 54 and the tiny Schiedam.

The White pummels de Ruyter's lead ships as the admiral prepares to attck head on

Before contact was made, fire from Ayscue’s ships badly damaged Wapen van Utrecht and her escorts forcing them to veer west to avoid being caught up in the imminent close quarter fighting. De Ruyter, charged in De Zeven Provinciën and was soon fighting hand to hand with Ayscue’s Royal Prince 92, Helverson 60 and Crown 48. As John Harman tried to bring his three ships to the aid of Ayscue his command was hit from behind by Aert van Nes in Eendraght 76 accompanied by Geloof, Prinses Louise and Zwole. These had swooped in on the wind approaching from the larboard quarter very quickly. This massive melee continued to sway back and forth for nearly two hours with each side gaining the advantage and then losing it again. Three more ships from de Ruyter’s division were able to join and at its height, the fighting involved seventeen ships locked together boarding and cannonading each other.

White sandwiched between de Ruyter and van Nes

Elsewhere, the Dutch had been scattered by a determined fireship attack which split de Liefde’s rear division allowing it to be compressed between the Red and Blue elements of Rupert’s command. Some of de Liefde’s ships were badly mauled from the earlier battle and their offensive capability was severally written down. Nevertheless, the normally competent admiral handled his ships ineptly and three withdrew whilst another group fought to repel the enemy fireships.

A fireship attack disrupts de Liefde's ships

 His own group was raked at close range by the rearmost of Teddiman’s Blue and these Dutch ships, comprising one third of de Ruyter’s squadron, slunk off to the southeast in penny packets. Aert van Nes’s Van division had become fractured when the admiral broke off to support his friend de Ruyter against Ayscue, but the remaining six ships pushed on, gaining a windward position over the English and swooped down from behind, but they could do little to aid de Liefde and eventually were compelled to retire to save themselves.

Teddiman in action against the disorganized Dutch Rear Division of de Liefde

Returning to the intense struggle in the north, the outnumbered White squadron fought grimly, wearing down the already damaged Dutch ships further. Although Harman and Ayscue were taking losses, they battled on for nearly two hours and then, Jan Jansse van Nes’s flagship Delft was taken by Harman’s Henry and the Dutch admiral was killed by a musket shot. Close by, Amsterdam struck her colours forcing Duivenvoorde to cut and ran. Ayscue, despite being outnumbered two to one, witnessed his prize ship Helverson capture the mighty Eendraght and soon was accepting the sword of the legendary Aert van Nes on his bloody quarterdeck as fighting continued to rage all around.

The great melee involving 17 ships

His ships Geloof, Prinses Louise and Zwole, all cut and ran southeast with terrible damage to each. De Ruyter’s flagship was locked in combat with Royal Prince in the most intense area of fighting and finally he was compelled to strike his colours with his ship together with Gelderland and Schiedam, burned and broken. The remaining ship in his command the 54-gun Klein Hollandia, was captured as a prize.

The Dutch fleet was utterly broken and scattered. Three flagships were taken together with one other sail of the line. Three were burned and hulked. One admiral was killed and two of the most celebrated were captured, van Nes by Harman and de Ruyter by Ayscue (who first fought each other 14 years previously at Plymouth where the Dutchman was victorious). English losses were negligible in comparison although every ship from the White Squadron was badly damaged and sustained heavy casualties . Not a single ship was lost, again. A remarkable victory.

Prince Rupert sails on, his guns did not fire.

During both these battles Prince Rupert did not fire a shot and The Red did not engage. The battle was won by the Fighting White once more and a heavily outnumbered force totally routed its enemy.