Battle of Dungeness

Battle of Dungeness

The naval Battle of Dungeness took place on 10 December 1652 during the First Anglo-Dutch War near the cape of Dungeness in Kent.


In October 1652 the English government, mistakenly believing that the United Provinces after their defeat at the Battle of the Kentish Knock would desist from bringing out a fleet so late in the season, sent away ships to the Mediterranean. This left the English badly outnumbered in home waters. Meanwhile the Dutch were making every effort to reinforce their fleet.


On 1 December 1652 Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp, again (unofficial) supreme commander after his successor Vice-Admiral Witte de With had suffered a breakdown because of his defeat at the Battle of the Kentish Knock, set sail from Hellevoetsluis with 88 men of war and five fire ships, escorting a vast convoy bound for the Indies. With the convoy safely delivered through the Straits of Dover, Tromp turned in search of the English, and on 9 December 1652 he encountered the English fleet of 42 ships commanded by General-at-Sea Robert Blake. Bad weather prevented an action that day, but the next day Blake came out to fight and the two fleets met at about 15:00 near the cape of Dungeness in a "bounteous rhetoric of powder and bullet" (according to a contemporary account).

A strong North-East wind prevented a large part of the Dutch fleet from engaging Blake, whose fleet by nightfall had lost five ships of which the Dutch captured two, and damaged many more. The Dutch lost one ship through fire. Blake retreated under cover of darkness to his anchorage in the Downs. Tromp could not be satisfied with the result however as the Dutch had missed an opportunity to annihilate the English.

The victory gave the Dutch temporary control of the English Channel and so control of merchant shipping. A legend says that Tromp attached a broom to his mast as a sign that he had swept the sea clean of his enemies, but in his book "The Command of the Ocean", N.A.M. Roger doubts the legend as such a boasting action would have been out of character for Tromp. Additionally,at the time, a broom attached to a mast was the way of showing that a ship was for sale.

Also Dutch contemporaneous sources make no mention of it. The battle not only showed the folly of dividing forces while the Dutch still possessed a large fleet in home waters, but exposed "much baseness of spirit, not among the merchantmen only, but many of the state's ships". It seemed that the captains of hired merchant ships were reluctant to risk their vessels in combat, while the state's ships lacked the men to sail and fight them.

Over the winter, Blake and the Commissioners of the English Navy repaired the fleet, reviewed naval tactics and wrote the Sailing and Fighting Instructions, issued to commanders in 1653, and including the first formal descriptions of the line of battle tactic. By February 1653 the English were ready to challenge the Dutch control of the seas, resulting in the three-day Battle of Portland.

Ships involved:

England (Blake)

"Triumph" 60 (flag)
"Victory" 60 (Lionel Lane)
"Vanguard" 58 (John Mildmay)
"Fairfax"* 56 (John Lawson)
"Speaker"* 54 (John Gilson)
"Laurel" 50 (John Taylor)
"Worcester" 44 (Anthony Young)
HMS|Garland|1620|2 44 (Robert Batten) - Captured
"Entrance" 43 (Edmund Chapman)
"Lion" 42 (Charles Saltonsall)
"Convertine" 42
"Foresight" 42
"Dragon" 40
"Fortune" 36
"Hound" 35
"Sapphire" 34
"Princess Maria" 33
"Mary flyboat" 32
"Waterhound" 30
"Dolphin"* 30 (William Badiley)
"Advantage" 26 (William Beck)
"Swan"* 22
"Greyhound"* 20
"Hannibal"* 44 (Francis Barham)
"Anthony Bonaventure" 36 (Walter Hoxon) - Captured
"Lisbon Merchant" 34
"Loyalty"* 34
"Culpepper" 30
"Cullen" 28
"Prudent Mary" 26
"Samuel" 26
"Martha" 25
"Katherine"* 24
"Exchange" 24
"Acorn" 22

Ships marked * are probables.

Netherlands (Tromp)

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