Battle of Southwold

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Battle of Southwold

Southwold, Suffolk The 7th of June 1672 AD

The Battle of Southwold, or Sole Bay, was a naval engagement at the start of the third Anglo-Dutch War. Like the second conflict under the restored Charles II in 1665-7, this was a war about trade, specifically the spice trade dominated by the Dutch. The East India Companies of the two nations were deadly rivals. The English knew that if they could smash the Dutch fleet the eastern trade would be up for grabs, and returning Dutch trade ships easy pickings.

In this conflict, however, the English had allied with the Louis XIVís France, who planned to invade the Netherlands. Backing Catholic France against Protestant Holland was unpopular in England, a black mark against the future James II that would not be forgotten.

War had commenced in March 1672, with the rival fleets shadow boxing and eluding one another. At the end of May James had taken his fleet to Sole Bay, a major fleet anchorage, and with no news of the Dutch he had taken his ships to harbour at Southwold and Dunwich to re-provision and to careen (scrape the hulls of barnacles). The French lay off Dunwich below Southwold, the belief being the Dutch were to the south.

After 2am a French frigate sailed into Southwold warning the Dutch were coming, and from the north. Then English sailors were turfed out of the inns they were enjoying and the fleet set sail before 6 in the morning, some ships having to cut anchor ropes they were so pressed. Caught on the lee, however, the fleet struggled to get out to sea, and the line was poorly held. Two hours later the Dutch, having sent 20 ships under Vice-Admiral Banckers to encounter the French, swooped on the English, taking advantage of the wind that favoured them. There is still debate now as there was controversy then about whether the French deliberately stood off the main battle, rumours of secret orders from Louis easily believed by the anti-Catholic English.

The English fleet was 98 ships and 30 fireships, their 35,000 men having just over 6,000 guns. The Dutch were less numerous: 70 ships, 35 fireships, about 21,000 men and 4,500 guns.

The English were divided into two squadrons, Blue commanded by the Earl of Sandwich aboard the Royal James, Red by the James Duke of York , the future James II, on the Royal Prince. De Ruyter commanded the Dutch on the Zeven Provincien, with the statesman Cornelis de Witt also present.

The battle was a long and bloody one, lasting until 7 in the evening. Ships were boarded, enough broadsides fired to create smoke that was impenetrable at times. Fireships were rowed and sailed at the greatest targets Ė James had to shift from the Royal Prince to the Saint Michael and then to the London such was the draw of his royal ensign to the enemy. The Royal James was sunk by the Dutch fireship Vrede, and the Earl of Sandwich drowned when the boat taking him to safety capsized under the weight of panicking men, the admiralís drowned body identified days later by the Order of the Garter he was wearing.

The battle ended inconclusively, but with heavy casualties. Both sides lost four ships, but the toll of cannons and boarding parties was huge: the English lost 2,500 men, the Dutch 1,800, the French 450, and Southwold had to cope with 800 wounded in the aftermath, as well as the bodies of the dead washed ashore for weeks.

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Comment

From Sean on 7th June 2011
Battle of Solebay, Southwold was actually 28th May not 7th June http://owl.li/5cav9

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