Battle of Portland

Three Days' Battle

18th February 1653 - 20th February 1653
Part of : The First Anglo-Dutch War (1652 - 1654)
Previous action : Action of 1652-12-14 14th December 1652
Next action : Battle of Leghorn 4th March 1653


Dutch Republic

Dutch Fleet, Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Brederode 54Abel Roelantszoon VerboomFleet Flagship
Kampen 54Joris van der Zaen CO Killed
Vrijheid 50Augustin Balck CO Killed
Vogelstruis 40Adriaen Cruyck
Prinses Louise 40Abel Roelantszoon Verboom
Groote Liefde 38Bruijn van Seelst
Zwarte Raaf 38 
Gekroonde Liefde 38 
Vergulde Haan 36Jan le Sage Captured
Elias 34Jacob Sijvertsen Spanheim CO Killed
Kroon Imperiaal 34Cornelis Janszoon Poort Sunk
Gelderland 40Michiel Franszoon van der Bergh
Breda 34Adriaan Bruynsveld
Engel Gabriel 34Isaak Sweers
Meerman 30Jacob Cleijdijck Sunk
Gorcum 30Willem Adriaanszoon Warmont
Gouden Leeuwin 30Johannes Regermorter CO Killed
Amsterdam 30Sijmon van der Aeck CO Killed
Faam 30Swart Pieterszoon Sunk
Frisia 30  Exploded
Arke Trojane 28Abraham van Campen Sunk
Sint Francisco 28 
Sphera Mundi 28Marinus de Clerq
Gelderland 28Cornelis van Velsen
Sint Maria 28 † CO Killed
Roskam 26Corstiaen Eldertszoon
Liefde 26Joost Bankert de Jonge
Berkouter Kerk van Saardam 26 
Maria 24Quirijn van den Kerckhoff
Salamander 24Jan Duijm
Haes 20Johannes Michielszoon

Commonwealth of England

English Fleet, Robert Blake
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Triumph 60Lionel LaneFleet Flagship
Rainbow 64Bryan Harrison
Vanguard 56John Mildmay
Fairfax 52John Lawson
Speaker 50William Penn
Worcester 48William Hill
Richard and Martha 46Eustace Smith
Laurel 46Samuel Howett
Kentish 46Jacob Reynolds
Hannibal 44William Haddock
Victory 52John Stokes
Lion 50John Lambert
Ruby 42Anthony Houlding
Diamond 42Roger Martin
Prosperous 42John Barker CO Killed
Reformation 40Anthony Earning
Assurance 40Robert Sanders
Convertine 44Anthony Joyne
Sussex 40Roger Cuttance
Tiger 38Edmund Seaman
Angel 38William Rande
Lisbon Merchant 38Simon Bailey
Dragon 38Edmund Seaman
Success 38William Kendall
Princess Maria 38Edward Witheridge
Amity 36Henry Packe
Thomas and William 36John Jefferson
Gift 36Thomas Salmon
Fortune 36William Tatnell CO Killed
Advice 42John Day
Assistance 40John Bourne
Centurion 50Walter Wood
Thomas and Lucy 34Andrew Rand
President 44Thomas Graves
Foresight 42Richard Stayner
Arms of Holland 34Francis Harditch
Nonsuch 38Thomas Penrose
Pelican 42John Stokes
Sapphire 38William Hill
Charles 33Robert Knox
Adventure 32Robert Nixon
Eagle 32Anthony Young
Convert 32Philip Gethings
Waterhound 32Giles Shelley
Oak 32John Edwin
Tulip 32John Clarke
Anne Percy 32Thomas Hare
Exchange 32Jeffrey Dare
Giles 30Henry Toope
Brazil Frigate 30Thomas Heathe
Nightingale 30John Humphrey
Guinea 34Edmond Curtis
Elizabeth and Anne 30Richard Langford
Happy Entrance 40William Goodson
Cullen 28Thomas Gilbert
Anne and Joyce 26William Pile
Satisfaction 26Michael Nutton
Plover 26Robert Robinson
Advantage 26Edmund Thompson
Chase 22Benjamin Gunston
Pearl 22James Cadman
Sampson 22Edmond Button
Discovery 20Thomas Marryott
Katherine 20William Redgacke
Cygnet 18Robert Fuller
Merlin 14George Crapnell
Paradox 14Roger Jones
Lions Whelp X 14David Dove
Ship NameGunsCommanderNotes
Mary Prize 36William Tunick
William and John 34Nathaniel Jesson
Roebuck 30Henry Fenn
Ruth 30Edmund Thompson
Providence 24George Swanley

Notes on Action

Description of the actionTRN2

Tromp, having some two hundred merchantmen to convoy home, would have been glad to get this charge off his hands before falling in with the enemy. Accordingly when he received news from the States General that the English fleet was ready for sea, he made haste to pass the Channel. But on February 18th, in the morning, "to his amazement," as we are told, he discovered the English fleet to the number of eighty sail, standing south on the starboard tack. The wind was fresh at W.N.W., and, his fleet being about equal to the English, he at once decided to engage. He had indeed every advantage, and an inspection of the relative positions of the fleets will show that the arrangement of the English was such as to invite attack.

Here we may pause for a moment to congratulate the English Navy on the happy chance that had decided Deane to remain with Blake in the Triumph , when he might have elected to command the Blue squadron as Monck did the White. Monck had allowed himself to fall four or five miles to leeward with his whole squadron. But Penn remained to windward with the Blue squadron ahead of the Generals, and actually with Blake were not more than ten or a dozen ships. Lawson was a short distance astern of the Triumph, and about a mile to leeward.

It was of course open to Blake to run to leeward and form his line on the lee squadron, but rather than risk any semblance of giving way, he elected to fight where he was, thus making it necessary for a part of the fleet to sustain the action for a considerable time before the leewardmost ships could support it. The attack was bound to fall upon Blake and Penn, and it was possible for Tromp to throw the bulk of his force on either.

Tromp was not slow to seize the opportunity. With his fleet in three divisions, or possibly four, he ran down to engage, leaving his convoy some four miles to windward. Of the engagement that followed details are sadly lacking, but as far as can be ascertained, Tromp commanded in the centre, De Ruijter on the left and Jan Evertsen on the right. The Dutch centre attacked Blake directly, and immediately pressed him very hard. De Ruijter passed on and bore in among Blake's ships from the north, while Evertsen was to the southward and threatened entirely to surround him. It was at this point, when the danger was already most serious, that the great advantage of having trained seamen in command at least of part of the fleet appeared.

Penn, like Blake, hauled to the wind to meet the attack, and opened fire on Evertsen, who was then on his starboard bow. Evertsen held his course, and Penn, to avoid being cut off from the lied squadron, tacked at once, passed through the opposing Dutch squadron and joined the few ships which were, with the Generals, engaged against Tromp. Lawson, meanwhile, had also shown his ability. If he should haul on a wind as Penn had done, he saw that De Ruijter could interpose between him and the Generals, while still keeping up the severity of the attack. He therefore bore away, with the wind abeam, till he had made enough southing to be able, by tacking, to fetch the main body of the enemy. And this he did, following the Blue squadron very closely when it crashed into Tromp's rear.

Meanwhile, part at least of Evertsen's squadron ran down to leeward, and engaged Monck and the White squadron within a couple of hours from the beginning of the battle. Some of the ships of the lee line, not improbably the stragglers of the Red and Blue squadrons, by dint of sailing close-hauled on the starboard tack, were by four o'clock in a position to weather the Dutch main body. But in the van, where the ships were massed most thickly and where both Tromp and Blake were, the fighting had been of a very stubborn order, and the Dutch were left in no position to withstand the attack of comparatively fresh ships. Accordingly, both for this reason and to avoid the possibility of the English stretching to windward enough to fall upon his convoy, Tromp drew out of action and rejoined the merchantmen. In the van the battle was over for the day, but to leeward the fighting continued till dark. Details of Monck's share in the action are almost entirely wanting, but as Mildmay, the captain of his ship the Vanguard, was killed, we can at least be certain of the truth of the statement that he was engaged towards evening.

In the Red and Blue squadrons the loss was heavy; and as the Triumph was first into action against overwhelming numbers, and was for a while unsupported, she suffered extremely. Her captain, Andrew Ball, was killed; so, too, was the Generals' secretary, Sparrow; Blake himself was badly wounded in the thigh by a splinter; and of men put ashore dangerously wounded, fifty-five were from her and the Worcester alone. The Triumph, too, was much damaged, and lay till the morning refitting. Other vessels were so much shattered that they had to be sent into Portsmouth, after contributing men to make up the complements of some that had lost most heavily.

Among these ships were the Assistance, 48, Rear-Admiral John Bourne; the Oak, 32, Captain Edwin, and the Advice, 48, Captain Day. Bourne himself was wounded in the head, and the three ships lost so many men in the action, besides contributing to Blake at its close, that they must have reached port all but unmanned. They were all, as was officially reported, " so disabled as to be unfit for service till repaired.":

Both the Oak and the Assistance were taken by the Dutch but afterwards re-won; so, too, was the Prosperous, 40. Boarded by De Ruijter, the last named, cleared her deck, her men then following the Dutch on board their own ship. A second attempt was made and she was carried, but, the Martin coming up, she was re-taken. Her loss, of course, was great, and among the dead was John Barker, her captain.

The English lost but one ship, the Samson, which they found to be in a sinking condition. Button, her captain, and most of the crew were dead, but the survivors were taken out before the ship was allowed to founder. It is claimed by the Dutch that the Speaker put into port much damaged, a thing most probable in itself, but quite unsupported by official record.

Of the Dutch, one was taken and sent dismasted into port. This was the Struisvogel Captain Adriaen Cruick; but others were destroyed. The Dutch confessed to three ships sunk and one blown up, and it is fairly certain that some others were burnt.

Where Tromp himself had been the English had suffered so heavily that he may have naturally exaggerated the damage done to the entire fleet. When morning dawned, it was found that he had passed to leeward and was running up Channel before the wind with his fleet in crescent formation between the English and his convoy. Towards two o'clock the greater part of the English fleet came up with the Dutch off the Isle of Wight, the wind having fallen light, and "had warm work, till night parted" them.

The event proved the necessity for Tromp's manoeuvre, though his action certainly gave the Generals the impression that they were pursuing a beaten fleet. But Tromp's first duty was to bring his convoy safely home, and not to risk such loss as would leave it unprotected.

Ammunition ran very short in the Dutch fleet, and only the fitful lightness of the wind on the 19th prevented the English from reaping their harvest. The fighting was partial, but heavy. De Ruijter withstood the attack time after time, and, towards night, entirely dismasted and riddled with shot, had to be taken in tow. 8 What the day's loss was is uncertain, but Lawson, with a few of the quicker-sailing "frigates," contrived to cut off from the right wing two or three men-of-war and a handful of merchantmen. It is probable that the Dutch estimate, viz., two men-of-war, with ten or twelve merchantmen taken, is right. 1 Disorder crept in as the convoy lost faith in the men-of-war. Many vessels turned their heads towards the French coast, some few escaping into Le Havre.

At night the Generals steered their course by the Dutch lights with a steady breeze at W.N.W. The next day's action is well described in the official report.

"On the 20th, about nine in the morning, we fell close in with them with some five great ships and all the frigates of strength, though very many could not come up that day; and seeing their men-of-war somewhat weakened, we sent ships of less force that could get up amongst the merchantmen." The Dutch, who were now past Beachy Head, standing towards Boulogne, turned some merchantmen out of the fleet for a bait. The scheme failed to draw off the English who, hauling to windward, fought on till dusk. They were then ten miles from Gris Nez, "so that, had it been three hours longer to-night, we had probably made an interposition between them and home, whereby they might have been obliged to have made their way through with their men-of-war, which at this time were not above thirty-five."; That they were so few was due in great measure to the flight of some twenty who had fired away all their powder.

At night the English anchored three leagues from Gris Nez, which bore N.E. by E.; and the enemy lay in-shore to leeward. This step was taken by the advice of the pilots, who pointed out that, with a lee tide, the Dutch would be unable to weather the point. But, in the morning, not one Dutch ship remained in sight. After refitting, the English weighed on the night of the 21st, and on the 27th made Stokes Bay.

Monck and Deane's estimate that the enemy had lost seventeen or eighteen men-of-war, is certainly an exaggeration. Only four were admitted by the Dutch to have been taken, and only four were brought in. This agreement disposes us to accept the Dutch statement that only five were sunk, though two or three more at least seem to have been burnt. The number of merchantmen taken is stated variously at from thirty to fifty, but no official list was ever made.

Of English ships, only the Samson miscarried, though three more were quite disabled. To these three the Dutch added a fourth, the Fairfax, which they asserted was purposely burnt as unfit for service. This was not so, however; the burning was due to criminal negligence, but was accidental.


TRN2 The Royal Navy : a history from the earliest times to the present Vol IIWilliam Laid ClowesDigital Book
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