Battle of Portland

Battle of Portland

During the period 1652–1674 the Dutch and English fought three naval wars. The First (1652–1654), Second (1664–1667), and Third (1672–1674) Anglo-Dutch Wars resulted from maritime commercial competition between England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands. They were important not only because of the economic and political ramifications but also because they brought innovations in naval warfare. The line of battle formation came into prominence in this period, laying the foundation for the strategic and tactical doctrines inherent in modern naval warfare.

The Battle of Portland (also known as the Three Days’ Battle) was an important naval engagement during the First Anglo-Dutch War. Following their defeat in the Battle of Dungeness on November 30, 1652, the English reviewed their tactics, which led to the March 1653 issuance of the first fighting instructions that called for line-ahead formations to make maximum use of the heavier broadside guns. The English also strengthened their fleet; at the beginning of 1653 they had 80 ships at Portsmouth under the joint command of generals-at-sea Robert Blake and Richard Deane. The English did not, however, have some of their largest ships available as a result of damage sustained in the Battle of Kentish Knock on September 28, 1652.

In early February 1653 Dutch admiral Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp assembled a fleet of 80 warships to escort 200 Dutch merchant ships returning to Holland. On learning that the English fleet was ready for sea Tromp hastened to pass up the English Channel, but on February 18 the English intercepted the Dutch ships. Despite the liability of his convoy, Tromp knew that his own fleet was approximately equal to that of the English, and he immediately attacked, leaving his convoy some four miles to windward and striking in three or four divisions before all the English ships were up. Admiral of the White George Monck was still five miles to leeward when the battle began.

The battle continued for three days, during which the fleets drifted to the northeast. In the running fight, some ships were captured more than once. In the first day of fighting Tromp was able to keep his convoy intact and moving up the Channel, but its presence undoubtedly hindered his conduct of the battle. Fighting resumed the next afternoon, during which the Dutch fleet, acting as a rear guard for the convoy and aided by light winds, managed to hold off the English. Dutch admiral Michiel Adrienszoon de Ruyter stymied repeated English attacks, but Tromp was running out of ammunition when darkness brought fighting to a close.

On February 20 the battle resumed near Beachy Head. The English at last penetrated the Dutch warship screen and attacked the merchantmen. Blake anchored for the night, expecting to resume the battle again on February 21, but Tromp got under way early and managed to bring the remainder of the convoy home. Still, Dutch losses in the Battle of Portland were heavy: 4 warships captured, 5 sunk, and 2 or 3 more burned. The English also captured between 30 and 50 of the merchantmen while losing only 1 or 2 ships, with 3 others disabled. The Battle of Portland was, in fact, a turning point in the war, for the Channel was now effectively closed to Dutch shipping.


Clowes, William Laird. The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present, Vol. 2. London: Sampson Low, Marston, 1898.

Hainsworth, Roger, and Christine Churches. The Anglo-Dutch Naval Wars, 1652–1674. Phoenix Mill, Stroud, UK: Sutton, 1998.

Jones, J. R. The Anglo-Dutch Wars of the Seventeenth Century. New York: Longman, 1996.