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Second Anglo-Dutch War: Raid on the Medway

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Conflict & Dates:

The Raid on the Medway occurred between June 9 and June 14, 1667, and was part of the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

Fleets & Commanders:

British

  • Prince Rupert of the Rhine
  • George Monck

Dutch

Raid on the Medway Overview:

In 1667, with his treasury badly depleted, King Charles II of England opened negotiations in an effort end the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Commencing in March, Charles stalled signing the peace treaty as he hoped to better the terms by garnering assistance from the French. While the English played for time, Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt devised a daring plan to strike at the English fleet in the River Medway. Laid up to due to a lack of money, Charles' ships were largely undefended. Assigning his brother Cornelis to oversee the operation, de Witt ordered it to move forward in May.

Late that month, the Dutch fleet rendezvoused off Schooneveld with Vice Admiral Michiel de Ruyter in command. Consisting of 62 ships of the line and frigates, 15 lighter vessels, and 12 fireships, the Dutch fleet was divided into three squadrons led by de Ruyter, Lieutenant Admiral Aert Jansse van Nes, and Lieutenant-Admiral Baron Willem Joseph van Ghent. Departing for the Thames on June 4, they were spotted two days later as they entered the mouth of the river. Though the English spy network had alerted Charles of the Dutch attack, he made no efforts to prepare a defense.

Despite these reports, many felt that the Dutch would strike elsewhere along the coast and the bulk of the active English ships were based elsewhere. As the Dutch approached, only three ships guarded the entrance to the Medway and 30 sloops stood by to tow the unmanned English ships further upstream if necessary. Though Dutch advance was slow due to tides and shoals, the English response was confused and ineffective. Though he raised the alarm on June 6, Commissioner Peter Pett did nothing at the Chatham Dockyard for three days until 30 Dutch ships were spotted off Sheerness.

On June 8, Charles ordered the Earl of Oxford to mobilize the militia in the counties around London as well as to construct a ship bridge across the Thames. The following day, a Dutch party came ashore on the Isle of Grain at the mouth of the Medway. Realizing the scope of the threat, Charles dispatched Admiral George Monck, Duke of Albemarle to take command at Chatham, while Prince Rupert of the Rhine was to organize the defenses at Woolwich. Arriving at Chatham, Albemarle found the yard in chaos and only 10 of the 30 sloops available as Pett had dispatched the rest to carry his ships plans and models to safety.

Likewise, he found the chain that stretched across the river to be undefended. As Albemarle attempted to organize a defense upstream, Vice Admiral Sir Edward Spragge sought to block the Dutch advance off Sheerness. Attacking, the Dutch was able to take the fort at Sheerness and drive back the frigate Unity. Retreating to Chatham, Spragge and Albemarle issued countermanding orders which further worsened the situation. On June 11, Albemarle reinforced Upnor Castle, emplaced batteries near the chain, and began sinking blockships in the river.

This line was supported by the ships Charles V, Matthias, and Monmouth. As preparations were underway, Pett informed Albemarle that Royal Charles, the pride of the fleet, needed to be moved upriver. Though Pett had been ordered to move the ship in March, he had delayed. By the time a sloop and pilot could be found it was too late in the day to proceed. Around nightfall, the first Dutch frigates arrived and began clearing a path through the blockships. On June 12, van Ghent's squadron attacked the defenses at the chain.

After capturing Unity, a Dutch fireship penetrated the chain and successfully assaulted Matthias. Moving forward, Dutch engineers severed the chain while the fireship Schiedam sank Charles V. With the defenses in a shambles, the skeleton crew aboard Royal Charles fled allowing the ship to be easily captured by Captain Thomas Tobiasz. Taking it as a prize, the ship was sailed back the Netherlands. Watching the disaster unfold, Albemarle ordered the remaining sixteen warships at Chatham to be sunk to avoid capture. As night fell, the whole of the Thames valley was in a panic with rumors of an impending invasion.

The next morning the Dutch pushed up river, evading fire from Upnor Castle and other shore batteries, to reach Chatham. Sending forward fireships, they burned Loyal London, Royal Oak, and Royal James, all of which had already been sunk by Albemarle. Fearing increased English resistance, de Witt elected to withdraw on June 14, carrying off Royal Charles and Unity. This cautious approach saved the remaining ships at Chatham. Reaching the North Sea, the Dutch raided several villages and ports along the coast but with little success.

Aftermath

The Raid on the Medway was one of the worst defeats in the history of the Royal Navy and severe blow to English pride. In addition to the capture of Royal Charles and Unity, English losses in ships and equipment totaled around £200,000. While Loyal London, Royal Oak, and Royal James were raised and rebuilt, this was done at great expense. For the Dutch, the attack cost them around 50 marines as well as eight fireships. His fleet crippled, Charles pressed his negotiators to conclude a swift peace. As a result, the Treaty of Breda was signed on July 31, 1667, ending the war. Resentful that he was attacked during peace talks, despite the fact that he was negotiating in bad faith, Charles rebuilt the English fleet and opened the Third Anglo-Dutch War in 1672.

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