The Dutch attack on Landguard Fort.
Tim Barber 11/1
The Dutch attack on Landguard Fort.
Q 1. Source A tells us that the Dutch attacked with about one-thousand men, in five-hundred small vessels and landed near Felixstowe cliff. Many of these soldiers had pikes. Silas Taylor, the author of the source, says that “some part” of the Dutch army attacked the fort, which is an early indication of the rear guard left behind. This also points to a possible reason for the failure of the attack, in that the Dutch did not attack with the full force of their army.
He says that one English soldier was killed, two were wounded and that the Dutch made two attacks. He says the Dutch attacked boldly, but were as boldly and resolutely answered. However, he could be saying that the Dutch attacked boldly to make the English defence sound even better.
We are told that the Dutch were put to “fright and flight” by the small guns from a galliot. The small guns from this ship were fired into the area were the Dutch were taking cover, and pebbles were thrown up which made them retreat.
This source gives the overall impression that the Dutch made a strong attack, but were “boldly” answered by the English. The reliability of this source, however, is questionable, as it was written by an English man, who is bound to be biased towards his own country. Also, he was watching form Harwich, which is roughly two miles from Felixstowe.
Q2. Source F does not support source B. Source B says that the Dutch ships were “so close to Landguard Fort that we expect fire to be given at any moment”. Source F says that the ships were so far away from the fort that their shots would “scarcely reach (the fort).” The Dutch could not get close to the fort because of the shallow water. Also, this factor means that source F cannot support source C. Source C says that it was “the fire ships that … hindered the Dutch coming into this place (Harwich)”. However, source F tells us that “all the marks (buoys) had been cut down”, so that they could not reach the fort, let alone Harwich.
Source F supports source A, in that it says it was decided to “leave a good number of foot at a certain pass”. This is the rearguard that is touched upon in source A. Silas Taylor says that a “good number”, but not all of the Dutch, attacked the fort. Source F does mention the galliot that Silas Taylor talks about, and it does say that some of the soldiers were “upset” by the gunfire, and “threw down their ladders and hid behind a rising”. However, source F does not say that the Dutch retreated because of it. It could be that the Dutch and English sources are talking about the same thing, but that the English exaggerated the effect of the ship to make themselves sound better. Also, the Dutch could have tried to initially take cover, but were later forced to retreat.
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This source is written by a Dutch officer, so he is bound to be biased towards his country, and he could be making excuses to his government. However, the fact that he mentions the galliot and its effect on the men suggests that he was willing to admit mistakes and defeat.
Q 3. Source E is fairly useful in showing why the attack failed, because it was written by an eye witness. It was written by Castillego, who was a Dutch soldier. However, he would want to make their defeat sound not so bad, or at least establish that it was due to factors out of their control.
He mentions the “good bastions” and the English soldiers who were “well disciplined and alert”. This will make the English defences sound good, which will in turn make the Dutch look less bad. When we went to the Landguard Fort museum, we saw a rough model of what the fort would have looked like. Although the model will not look exactly like that which the Dutch attacked, the main characteristics would be much the same, such as the four strong bastions and the ditch around the edge, as described by Castillego. This helps us see how strong the fort was, and how difficult it would have been for the Dutch to destroy it.
Source E briefly mentions the march to the fort, “Colonel Dolman marched to the fort”. From our site record we know that the march from the landing site to the fort was two to three miles, and would have been made more difficult with all of their weapons and gear. Also, much of this journey was over open ground, with the only cover coming from mounds of shingle. This could have had a damaging effect on their morale, which could have led to a lack of effort on the final attack.
Castillego says “there was a considerable pass … Count Van Hoorn … remained there with four or five hundred soldiers”. This shows us how important the Dutch saw the pass, as they left half of their soldiers there. From our site record, we can also see how important it would have been to capture the paths, as they were clear routes down from the good cover of the cliffs. Also, the English troops trapped at Deben ferry would have come down those paths when they returned.
However, the usefulness of source E is questionable, as it was written by a Dutch man who would be biased. He could have played down the number of Dutch troops and exaggerated the English defences to make their defeat sound less bad.
Q 4. The intention of the sea attack was to destroy most of the fort so that the ground troops could just mop up the survivors. However, there were several difficulties in doing this.
The main structure of the fort was made from compressed earth, called Earthenware. This enables the structure to absorb the force of cannonballs, hence the importance of the Dutch ships getting close to the fort. This, however, was made difficult by shallow water and sand banks near the fort.
Source F tells us that the ships were “not able to sail close to the fort”. There was only a small channel that the ships could have sailed down without getting stuck, which was marked out with buoys. However, the Dutch could not follow these, as “all the marks had been cut down”. This is one reason for the failed attack, as for the ships to do any damage to the earthenware fort they would have had to get very close.
Admiral Van Nes did get stuck on one of the sandbanks, and wasted a lot of valuable time that could have been used for the attack. This is left out of the source. The author of the source is a Dutch officer who was writing to the government. He would have been anxious to leave out any mistakes that would have made him look bad, which suggests why it wasn’t mentioned. The author seems to make excuses for the pilot. He says that “the pilot declared all the marks had been cut down, so he could not find the entrance which was very narrow”. This suggests the pilot was inexperienced and did not know the area well.
Admiral De Ruyter was an experienced commander, and would have anticipated the removal of the buoys and the difficulty of the task facing him. He decided against an attack on Landguard fort the previous year presumably for these reasons, but this time was forced to. Source G suggests that De Ruyter still expected it to be a difficult task, in that it says the “well led attack came to nothing with little loss”. This suggests that De Ruyter was willing to retreat early and not lose any mean, because of his views on the fort. The apparent disorganisation of the sea attack suggests the source is referring to the well led retreat, which De Ruyter possibly planned more rigorously due to the difficulty of the task. Also, this could account for his lack of perseverance in finding the narrow channel, for fear of wasting time.
Q 5. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the attack on Landguard Fort was dedicated enough. Source A tells us “they came up boldly, but were as boldly and resolutely answered.” This suggests that the Dutch were dedicated, but the English were too strong. However, the reliability of this source is questionable, as the author was watching from two miles away.
Source B tells that the lord lieutenant of Essex “is making the best preparation he can to receive them (the Dutch).” Although this source was written before the attack, the fact that the English were making the best preparations possible suggests that they were expecting a forceful attack. This could have been assumed by the number of ships and their behaviour. This would have signalled the dedication of the Dutch.
Source D is an order from the Dutch states general to Admiral De Ruyter. It says that he should carry out “a determined attack by the ships…and the army.” This order means that despite his personal reservations, his decision not to attack in 1666, De Ruyter would have to carry out a determined attack. The fact that he had had previously decided against attacking Landguard Fort could explain his apparent willingness to retreat.
Source F is written by Cornelius de Witt, who was a high ranking Dutch officer. This could mean that he is likely to have known what was going on, and give a reliable account. However, his report was made to the Dutch State general, so he could have made events look worse than they actually were. De Witt speaks of the soldier’s morale, which was initially “exceptionally high.” However, this could have changed after a lengthy march with gear, or seeing the fort intact when they arrived. Despite this, the soldiers were still determined enough to make an attack on a fully standing English fort, even when they knew what was up against them. They could have simply failed because the fort was too strong.
There is however, substantial evidence to suggest that the attack was not determined enough. Perhaps the most important factor is that the year before the Dutch attack, De Ruyter decided against attacking the fort, as he thought it was too strong. However, he did not have a choice in 1667, and despite his reservations, he had to attack, as source D shows us, “an exceptional service would be done…if the army…could become masters of the fort.” This suggests De Ruyter would have been willing to retreat, and would have planned it well. This is supported by source E, which says “they withdrew in good order”. Also, the emphasis that the Dutch put on capturing the paths down from the cliffs, and leaving a rearguard, suggests they were expecting a retreat. This tactic proved to be vital, as source E tells us that “the enemy appeared in the pass…trying to break through.” Had the English got down from the cliffs, they could have captured the Dutch from behind. This shows us how much thought was put into defending the landing site, as they would have wanted to make a quick escape in case of the likely retreat.
Also, the amount of casualties suffered by the Dutch, suggests the attack was half hearted. Source G tells us there were “not more than seven killed and thirty-five wounded.” A full blown, determined attack would surely have more casualties. This also could have been linked to De Ruyter’s reluctance to commit large forces to attack. It is likely he did not want to risk any unnecessary victims, especially when he was aware of the task facing him.
Also, while this attack was happening, peace negotiations were being held in Breda. After the Dutch victory in the Medway, they had the upper hand in negotiating a deal. De Ruyter would have wanted to avoid a disaster at Landguard that could have changed the balance of power in the negotiations. This victory was not essential, but keeping his fleet together and in control of the English Channel was.
Overall, I think that the Dutch attack was not committed enough, but this was planned by De Ruyter, He knew the strength of the English fort, and did not want to risk any unnecessary casualties.