Maarten van Tromp, (1598-1653)


Dutch admiral. While at sea with his father on a Vereenigde Oostindische Compaagnie (VOC) ship to India, he was taken prisoner by an English pirate and made to serve as a cabin boy for two years. He saw his first naval action in 1617 against the Barbary corsairs. He signed on to a Dutch armed merchantman two years later, and was captured by pirates a second time in 1621. In 1624, he took command of a Dutch frigate in the war against Spain. Within five years, he rose to captain of the admiral’s flagship. He rose to admiral himself by the mid-1630s, after overcoming personal and political rivalries.

Over the rest of his career, Tromp emerged as one of the premier sea captains in any Navy during the 17th century. In 1639, he carried out a raid against Dunkirk pirates and privateers. That same year he led a squadron of 18 Dutch sail to victory over a huge Spanish invasion fleet off The Downs, capturing 13 galleons and 57 other prizes out of a convoy of 100 ships. It was an astonishing, decisive, crushing victory that helped decide the outcome of the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648). In 1646, Tromp aided an attack on the privateer base at Dunkirk. He exchanged fire with Robert Blake off Dover on May 19/29, 1652, in defiance of the English claim to “sovereignty of the sea.” That action led directly to the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654).

Tromp lost half his fleet to a gale in July 1652, and was sacked upon his return to the Netherlands. He was restored after the disaster, for the Dutch suffered in his absence at Kentish Knock (September 28/October 8, 1652). He fought Blake twice in the Channel, driving him up the Thames at Dungeness (November 30/ December 10, 1652). He again fought Blake, but inconclusively, in a three-day battle off Portland (February 18-20/February 28-March 2, 1653). Tromp fought next at Gabbard Shoal (June 2-3/12-13, 1653). He and the Dutch Navy failed to adjust to the new English tactic of line of battle, as ordered in the fighting instructions. As a result, Tromp led and lost badly at Texel (July 31/August 10, 1653), where he was killed by a musket ball.

Battle of Portland, (February 18-20/February 28-March 2, 1653)

“Three Days’ Battle.” A sea fight of the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654).Maarten van Tromp, with 75 warships, was escorting a Dutch convoy of 150 merchantmen up the Channel when he was met off Portland by Robert Blake. The latter was lying in wait with a picket line of ships from Portland to the Cotentin peninsula, but he had neglected to post any scouts. Accordingly, Tromp struck as soon as he came upon one end of the English line, attacking an exposed wing before the rest of Blake’s fleet could close. Poor Dutch gunnery and still poorer discipline allowed the rest of Blake’s ships to beat close toward the end of the first day. The next morning, superior English broadside gunnery inflicted serious damage on the Dutch, but the skillful Tromp re-formed his escorts into a defensive shield at the rear of the convoy and fought well as he retreated up the Channel. During the third day, English frigates broke in among the merchantmen and began to take prizes, like wolves cutting individual sheep from a flock. Dutch escorts began to lose heart, even as they also ran low on powder and shot. Many ships were pressed hard against the French coast to await surrender at dawn of the fourth day. Instead, Tromp brilliantly escaped on the tide and was gone before the English noticed. Over three days, the Dutch had lost nine warships and 24 merchantmen, but the English had again failed to close a trap that had been improperly set.

Battle of Texel, (August 11/21, 1673)

A major sea fight of the Third Anglo- Dutch War (1672-1674). Admiral de Ruyter engaged an Anglo-French fleet of 86 sail mounting 5,386 guns with his much smaller Dutch fleet mounting just 3,667 guns. His fleet was also under-crewed, owing to the desperate need to man Dutch barrier fortresses against the invading French, who well prepared and timed the start of the Dutch War (1672-1678) to coincide with a secret alliance with England. The fight off Texel Island in the West Frisians lasted 11 hours. De Ruyter and the Dutch managed to inflict enough damage on their enemy’s ships that a long-planned Anglo-French invasion of Holland was denied.


Cornelius van Tromp, (1629-1691)


Dutch admiral of Orangist political persuasion. As the son of Maarten van Tromp, he learned seamanship and tactics at the highest level, though not always to the highest degree of competence, when he went to sea on his father’s ship. He enjoyed solid political connections and was promoted young and often. He fought as captain of his own man-of-war at the start of the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654). He rose quickly to squadron command, promoted to vice-admiral as a result of several successful sea actions. He fought Barbary corsairs off the coast of Africa while cruising the Mediterranean in 1654. During the Second Northern War (1655-1660), he sailed with the great Admiral de Ruyter to the Baltic to repel a Swedish invasion and siege of Copenhagen. He quarreled fiercely with the republican de Ruyter during the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1664-1667), in which Tromp enjoyed no notable successes in cruising or fleet actions. At the Battle of The Downs (June 1-4/11-14, 1666), his squadron was rescued by de Ruyter’s decisive action. After the battle, de Ruyter so undermined him politically with the Regents of Holland that Tromp was nearly arrested and was dismissed from the sea service.

Still quarreling, but reinstated, Tromp fought under de Ruyter at North Foreland, or the St. James’ Day Fight (July 25/August 4, 1666), where his squadron was rudely defeated by George Monk. When Monk proceeded to destroy 160 Dutch merchantmen huddling at anchor behind a small islet along the Holland coast, de Ruyter and other republican admirals fixed the blame on Tromp, and he was forcibly retired. He did not return to the Dutch Navy until William III (then still Prince of Orange) reconciled Tromp and de Ruyter in 1673, in the midst of the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674). Tromp was again partly rescued by de Ruyter at the First Battle of Schooneveld (1673). Tromp then led an expedition to Belle Ile from June to August 1674, a failure for which he was publicly and harshly rebuked. He fought next in the Baltic in support of the Danes during the Scanian War (1674-1679). He defeated a small Swedish fleet at Jasmund (May 25, 1676). He won again at Öland (June 1, 1676), where his squadron sank the three largest ships in the Swedish Navy. Tromp defeated the Swedes a third time at Köge Bay (July 1, 1677), a shattering victory won together with Danish Admiral Niels Juel. Tromp rose to the highest level of command after the death of de Ruyter. However, by the onset of the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697), he was too old to actually fight.

St. James’ Day Fight (July 25/August 4, 1666)

“North Foreland.” St. James’ Day was July 25 OS, August 4 NS. Coming after the Dutch victory at The Downs (June 1-4/11-14, 1666), this sea fight of the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667) inflicted grave losses on the Dutch. George Monk, with 88 sail and a number of fireships, brushed aside a Dutch fleet of near-equal numbers under de Ruyter. There is no clear record of the fight itself, beyond the conclusion that the English gained ascendancy over the Dutch early in the battle and never surrendered the position. After the fight the English gave chase, taking several Dutch men-of-war. The pursuit continued the next day, but did not lead to another general action. The English fleet sailed on, proceeding to destroy 160 Dutch merchantmen lying at anchor off the Holland coast on August 8/18. That action is sometimes called “Holmes’ Bonfire,” after the English admiral in command of the attacking ships, Robert Holmes (1622-1692).

Raid on Belle Ile, (June-August 1674)

A failed expedition to take this island, located off the coast of Brittany, was led by Admiral Cornelius Tromp during the Dutch War (1672-1678). The Dutch landed 10,000 men on June 27, but failed to take the island from the French after some two months of desultory fighting.

Köge Bay (July 1, 1677)

A Danish-Dutch fleet commanded by Niels Juel and Cornelius van Tromp resoundingly defeated a Swedish fleet led by Admiral Evert Horn. Horn lost 10 ships-of-the-line and 12 smaller vessels out of the 36 Swedish warships that had participated in the fight. The Swedish fleet lost 1,200 dead and wounded, and another 3,000 were taken from burning decks or out of the water as prisoners. No ships were lost by the Allies, although many casualties were inflicted onboard Allied ships from Swedish broadsides. That result ended Swedish naval domination of the Baltic and permitted the Allies to roll up Swedish garrisons along the German coastline, until none were left by the end of 1678.