The Dutch Navy Temporarily Gains Control of English Channel

Today on December 10, 1652, Dutch warships temporarily take control over the English Channel after winning the Battle of Dungeness.

The Battle of Dungeness was a naval engagement fought between the English and Dutch navies. The battle was part of the First Anglo-Dutch War and occurred off the coast near Kent. Before the battle, English-commander Robert Blake mistakenly split up his core fleet. He sent the bulk of his ships to serve the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas during the winter months. The Royal Navy recently defeated the Dutch at the Battle of Kentish Knock in September 1652. As a result, Blake falsely assumed that the enemy was finished attacking for the season. It was considered dangerous to try and move the fleet so late in the year.

After their loss at Kentish Knock, the Dutch immediately began reinforcing their navy. They desperately needed warships to protect a recently assembled merchant convoy of three-hundred vessels. Their fleet was under the command of Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp who had 73 warships at his disposal. He safely escorted the convoy through the most dangerous parts of the English Channel by late November. Instead of returning home, Tromp ordered his captains to hunt down the remaining English ships. Blake severely underestimated his enemy and miscalculated the strength of their navy.

The Battle of Dungeness began in the afternoon on December 10. The weather ended up playing a pivotal role in the outcome. The winds conveniently blew Blake’s vanguard directly into the Dutch navy before he was able to confirm the number of their ships. Many of the English ships were in fact impressed merchant vessels that were reluctant to enter the fray. By the end of the day, Tromp succeeded in capturing three boats and sinking two, while only losing one of his own. According to legend, he attached a broom to his mast signaling he had swept the sea clean of his enemies. English reinforcements returned by the following February and quickly re-established control of the Channel. It was once again closed off to Dutch trading.

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