The History of the Second Vanguard of the Royal Navy
1631  -   1667

                                                                                           LIST OF CAPTAINS

                                                                       1633    Sir John Penington (and as Admiral of the Narrow Seas)
                                                         Mar.     1635    Sir Francis Sydenham
                                                         Oct.      1635    John Mennes
                                                         Nov.     1635    Sir John Penington (and as Admiral of the Narrow Seas)
                                                    3  June.     1652    Mark Harrison
                                                  16  July       1652    William Haddock (and as Admiral of the Narrow Seas)
                                                        Nov.      1652    John Mildmay (Killed in action)
                                                 29   Mar.     1653    Joseph Jordan ( and as Vice-Admiral of the Blue)
                                                   2   April.     1665    Jonas Poole
                                                                      1665    Robert Moulton
                                                                      1665    Martin Carslake
                                                                      1665    Robert Anderson
                                                        Feb.       1666    John Whitty (Killed in action)
                                                        June.     1666    Anthony Langston

The second Vanguard was a Second Rate of 731 tons, 58 guns and a crew of 300 men. Her building , or "rebuilding", was done by Thomas Elliott, of Woolwich; charges were made that he used new timber in her and that his workmanship left much to be desired. The ship was, however, given a satisfactory certificate by Phineas Pett in November 1630, and Sir John Penington described her as a stout and stiff  ship " which " rolls and labours little, and is easy in a seaway."

She was first commissioned in 1631 for a seven-month voyage to the southward with five other Royal Ships and 24 merchantmen. In 1633 she was commissioned as flagship of Sir John Penington as " Admiral of the  Narrow Seas," one of whose main duties was to see  that the Dutch paid the then proper marks of respect to our ships in the Channel. She was commissioned for similar service in some subsequent years and had an occasional brush with the Dutch in the course of her duty, even though the two countries were at peace. But she saw no real fighting till 1652, when the First Dutch war broke out.

Though this had been brewing for some time, the Vanguard was not. in commission when the first action took place-before war was declared-between Blake and Tromp off Dover on 19th May 1652. She was  commissioned in a hurry in June;  in July, under the command of Captain William Haddock, who was appointed  Vice-Admiral, she joined the squadron which was assembling in the Downs under Sir George Ayscue. She was  in action with the enemy two months after commissioning ; Ayscue's squadron of some 40 ships which had been  stationed off Plymouth fell in with a Dutch fleet of 30 ships under de Ruyter on 16th August. The action lasted from 1300 till dusk and was stubbornly fought, but it was not as bloody an affair as some of the later  battles in the war, the losses on neither side being heavy. The naval tactics of those days were an elephantine  version of the " dive and zoom"of the fighter aircraft of to-day: the fleet with the windward gage bore down on, and charge through, the enemy line firing briskly ; both fleets would then work up to windward and, when one was in a suitable position, it would repeat the procedure on the other. In this action on 16th August we, having the advantage of the wind and of a larger force, might have expected a decisive victory; but it was no more than an honourable draw with some advantage to the Dutch, who were able to remain at sea while our force retired to Plymouth at the end of the day to effect repairs.

The Vanguard was at sea again on 14th September, in a squadron under the command of Sir William Penn. After an unsuccessful attempt to bring a numerically superior Dutch force to action off Torbay on the 16th.  Penn sailed up Channel and joined Blake's fleet, which was anchored in the Downs, on 25th September. That same afternoon, while our fleet was still at anchor,  a Dutch force of 58 ships under de With approached to attack but was, fortunately, unable to do so as a gale forcing it to make for more open water. When the weather had moderated, on the 28th, Blake put to sea with his 68 ships and came up with the Dutch off the Kentish Knock shoal, under the lee of which they were hove to. Holding off until his rear squadron joined him, he then bore down on the enemy ; Penn and some of the heavier ships in the leading squadrons grounded on the shoal, but it is likely that the smaller Vanguard cleared it and was in the battle with the leading ships. The Dutch turned south to be met by Blake and Penn, who bad got clear of the shoal, and by the rear squadron ; fighting  continued fiercely till nightfall. Our fleet, was admittedly larger, better armed and better manned than the Dutch but, if the latter  had formed any ideas of superiority as a result of Ayscue's action off Plymouth, they certainly changed them at the Kentish Knock ;  when dawn broke on 29th September, the Dutch had the weather-gage but, instead of taking the opportunity to attack, they made for  home, having lost several ships captured or sunk and with 2,000 wounded to and from the remainder of their fleet.

Throughout October and November the English fleet lay in the Downs, waiting for the reappearance of the Dutch, but constantly weakened by ships and men being withdrawn for service in the Straits or for North Sea convoys. The Dutch fleet, on the other hand, was being reinforced and reconstituted under the command of Tromp, Ruyter and de With. On 24th November, Tromp came out with 88 ships and found Blake with only 42. A gale drove the Dutch back to the shelter of their own coast, but it provided only a short respite ; when the storm abated both fleets put to sea, sighting each other off Dover on 30th November. Again we had the weather-gage and, when off Dungeness in the afternoon the fleets came within striking distance, Blake ordered the attack ; sad to relate, only half the fleet obeyed the order, the rest holding off out of gun- shot; in extenuation of their behaviour it may be said that they were much undermanned. But we need say no more about it as the Vanguard was not one of them ; she was hotly engaged throughout the three hours the action lasted, not breaking away until darkness made further fighting impossible: she gained a special mention in Blake's report for the manner in which she went to the succour of her consort, the Victory, who was heavily beset by several of the enemy. Later in the action she went to the aid of Blake's flagship, the Triumph, and it may well be that it was only the coming of night that saved them both from capture. This was a sad day for the Navy, with the loss of two ships to the enemy, and an even heavier loss of honour. 1t is one that the Vanguard, however, can remember with pride.

After the battle, the ship was taken in hand for repairs and docking. She was back in service by mid - January 1653, whilst General Monck hoisted his flag in her as Admiral of the White when the reinforced English fleet of some 60 ships sailed from the Downs on 10th February. On this occasion our fleet, under Admiral Blake, was looking for a more numerous Dutch fleet under Tromp, who was escorting a convoy of some 150 Merchantmen up Channel ; for a week Blake beat westwards against head winds and, when on 18th February he sighted the Dutch off Portland, the three squadrons of the English fleet were somewhat separated, with Monck's four miles to leeward. The Dutch,having the weather  position, seized the opportunity to attack, our Red and Blue squadrons bearing the weight, of the initial shock ;  one Dutch squadron bore down to engage Monck and there is no doubt that the Vanguard had her share of the fighting,for she lost her captain and 30 men killed on this day.  She was again mentioned in dispatches as having been "fought" with singular dexterity and courage."
Tromp, having disengaged before evening to guard his convoy, resumed his course to the eastward with his warships formed in a protective crescent astern of the merchantmen. Thus they proceeded up Channel throughout 19th and 20th February, being continuously harassed by our fleet, and suffering further losses amongst the convoy as well as the escort.
The Vanguard was sent to Portsmouth to make good her battle damage: this was done by 30th March when she was at sea again, now under the command of Captain Joseph Jordan, who was appointed Vice-Admiral in Sir William Penn's squadron -the Blue-which was to patrol off the south and east coasts to watch for the reappearance of the Dutch.
By the end of April the English fleet, including the Vanguard, had been reformed under the command of Generals Monck and Deane, as Blake was still recovering from a wound received at the battle of Portland.  Tromp also was at sea again, this time escorting a convoy returning home by the Shetlands having got his convoy safely home without encountering our fleet he put to sea to look for it; he first made his whereabouts known by bombarding Dover with considerable expense of ammunition and little result on 26th May; he then returned to the North Sea and, during the afternoon of 1st June, the two fleets came in sight of one another in the vicinity of the Gabbard shoal.

The Gabbard
Each fleet consisted of about 100 ships and both were seeking action,so a battle on the morrrow was a certainty.  June 2nd was a day of light airs but, having the advantage of the wind such as it was, we were able to choose the time and method of attack.  This was a matter of particular interest on this occasion as a  set of Fighting Instructions had been issued since the battle of Portland: the ships in our squadrons were to form and fight "in file at half cannon shot,'' instead of just grouping themselves close to their flagships and developing a "free for all " as soon as the battle started. As our  guns were heavier and of longer range than those of the Dutch, we were able thus to inflict much damage on them while remaining comparatively undamaged ourselves. In spite of this, many hand-to-hand encounters took place and the Dutch continued fighting until dusk.
During the night Blake joined with eighteen fresh ships, so Tromp, now outnumbered and running short of ammunition, was justified next morning in trying to withdraw to the cover of the shoals off his own coast. But the wind failed him and enabled Blake to renew the fight before mid-day ; at first the Dutch fought stoutly, but soon confusion set in so that we "had the harvest and the gleanings," as a contemporary writer put it. The coming of darkness and the nearness of the Dutch shoals put an end to the battle:  the Dutch had lost 20 ships captured or sunk, while we had lost not a single one The Vanguard with the Blue squadron was amongst the first ships engaged;  she was thus fighting from 1100 till sunset on 2nd June and from noon till 2200 on the 3rd.

The Texel
After this defeat the Dutch had a considerable deficiency in ships, men and morale to make up before they could seek action again. Our fleet was not idle, however, but was almost continuously at sea maintaining a close blockade on the enemy coast. By the end of July the Dutch had raised a fleet of 8O ships in the Wielings under Tromp, with 27 more in the Texel under de With. Tromp, coming out on 25th July in spite of his inferiority, was sighted and chased by Monck's fleet of 100 ships on the 29th. The leading English ships, of which the Vanguard was one, came up with him that evening; a sharp engagement took place between 1800 and 2100, but darkness intervened before any decision could be reached. During the night Tromp put about to join de With, who had taken his opportunity to come out of the Texel: the two Dutch forces joined on the 30th, but it blew so strongly from the N.W. that both fleets were fully occupied in keeping off the lee shore and fighting the weather without fighting each other as well. After dark the wind fell and on the 31st. it came from the South, thus giving us the weather-gage once more. We attacked at once, the action being general by 0700;  in spite of Tromp's death in the early stages it continued fiercely until 1300, by which time our superiority had become evident ; de With, who had assumed command, then decided to retire, but fought bravely on until 2000 while doing so. The chase continued until midnight, when the proximity of the Dutch shoals caused our ships to haul off.

This was the conclusive victory of the war, though peace was not signed for another eight months. The Vanguard had suffered considerable damage in her hull and had a mast in need of replacement, so she was taken in hand for repairs during the winter to be ready for the next summer's operations. She was commissioned in the Spring of 1654, but the war ended in April and she saw no more action for eleven years.

Though the first Dutch war had ended satisfactorily enough for us from a purely naval point of view, it did not remove the basic differences between the two countries. A series of incidents in 1664 culminated in a declaration of war on us by the Dutch in January 1665.

1665  Lowestoft
In spite of the initiative having been taken by the Dutch, our fleet, including the Vanguard, was the first. to get to sea, being off the Texel by 23rd April. It was driven back to our own coast by bad weather in the  middle of May; the Dutch took the opportunity to concentrate their   squadrons  from their various harbours as  soon as the weather moderated. They appeared off Southwold Bay where our fleet was at anchor on 1st June but, as their ships were somewhat scattered and the wind was light, did not attack at once. Each fleet numbered about 100 ships, a formidable unit. to manuvre, so it is not surprising that it was not until 0330 on 3rd June, when the wind had freshened, that they got into action. The wind veered to the S.W. as it rose, giving us the weather-gage, but this was of little import as both fleets were out to fight:  they sailed past each other on opposite tacks at close range, firing the while, then tacked and repeated the dose on the opposite tack. As was to be expected, the action developed into a general mêlée as ships could not maintain their station when they had suffered damage;  by 1300 the Dutch were beginning to feel the superiority of our gun-power;  some of their ships made for home without orders, but many stayed and the battle continued fiercely until 1900, by which time the enemy had lost about 30 ships, with 4,000 men killed and 2,000 taken prisoner. Out losses, in comparison, were trifling - two ships, with 250 men killed and about 200 taken prisoner; hence it is a little difficult to understand how, on a day like that, ships on the victorious side should lay themselves open to a charge of cowardice. It seems, however, that several of our ships did fail in their duty, and Pepys records on 16th June that Captain Jonas Poole, of the Vanguard, "who did basely in the recent action, was dismissed his ship."

The navy's administrative difficulties, aggravated by the Great Plague in 1665, persisted  throughout the winter so that it was not until the end of May that a fleet of 80 sail got to sea ; there was then an additional enemy to face, as the French had come in on the Dutch side. General Monck, the Commonwealth veteran - now the Earl of Albemarle - was given the command and, on 29th May, his strength was seriously reduced when Prince Rupert was detached with 20 ships to intercept a French squadron which was reported to be coming up Channel to join the Dutch. Two days later Monck was on passage with his remaining ships from the Downs to the Gunfleet when, at 0900, he came upon the Dutch fleet of some 85 ships, under de Ruyter, at anchor. The Dutch squadrons were somewhat separated ;  Albemarle immediately bore down on the windward one to engage it before the others could come to its assistance. The Dutch cut their cables and set course on the starboard tack, thus taking the battle towards their own shoals, which eventually forced Albemarle to go about: the English fleet thus running into the fresh Dutch centre and rear, fierce fighting continued until darkness fell at about 2200. Both sides having suffered losses and damage during the day, the night was spent on action repairs.
At daylight on 2nd June, Albemarle's strength was reduced to 44 ships, but with these he manuvred for the windward-gage, won it and renewed the battle; he tacked past the enemy four times in close action, but his fleet was then in no condition to continue the unequal contest, so he retired towards our coast. The Dutch chased, but in poor order, and there was little more fighting that day.
On 3rd June, Albemarle continued his retreat, sending the more seriously damaged ships ahead and covering them with those still able to fight. The Dutch must have been in a poor plight too, as  they did little to molest our ships during this day; at about 1500 relief arrived in the shape of Prince Rupert returning with his 20 ships, which joined Albemarle before nightfall.

The action recommenced all along the line on the morning of 4th June, continuing fiercely for several hours, both fleets on the port tack towards the English coast with ours to leeward. Gradually our ships fought their way to windward through the Dutch, and broke off the action.

Though this was undoubtedly a Dutch victory, and our losses had been severe, we had caused the Dutch considerable casualties in men and ships and had managed to bring back more than the nucleus of a fleet. Among the flag and commanding officers killed in this long hard-fought battle was John Whitty, captain of the Vanguard.

St. James Day
That the defeat was not final was shown by our fleet being at sea again, seeking action, on 23rd July. The Dutch were out before us, but had still not been joined by their French allies. Calms prevented the fleets closing within range on the 23rd ; the 24th was spent in manoeuvring for the weather-gage. That night our fleet anchored ; it weighed at 0200 and slowly approached the Dutch from leeward. At about 1000 the vans became engaged and by mid-day the fight was general;  it continued hotly until 1600 when the Dutch centre gave way. But the Dutch were by no means routed ; de Ruyter fought a sound rearguard action with his least damaged ships, gaining the shelter of his home shoals on the morning of 26th July. The Vanguard lost 60 men killed in this action, but claimed to have captured 1 ship, sunk 2 and set 2 more on fire.

This victory gave us complete command of the sea for the rest of 1666 and, apart from putting a stop to all Dutch trade, no further actions took place.   It also seemed likely that the Dutch would be prepared to make peace at the beginning of 1667, with the result that Charles II neglected to commission the fleet in the Spring of that year. As peace was not signed, however, the Dutch,  under de With, seized the opportunity to avenge the defeat of the previous year. He sailed up the Thames,  captured Sheerness on the 10th June, then on up the Medway to capture or burn the English fleet at its moorings. Defences were hastily improvised -blockships sunk, a chain stretched across the river and guarded by batteries - the fleet being moved up river above them. The Vanguard was moored just below Rochester bridge and, when the Dutch broke through the defences lower down the river, there she was scuttled on the 12th or 13th June 1667.
All the scuttled ships other than the Vanguard were raised by the end of June, but work on her continued throughout July. All efforts were unsuccessful, however, and her wreck was still lying there in the autumn, being stripped of its fittings by thieves. A sad end to a ship which had fought with distinction in eight major actions.

Back to the History Page