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Dutch triumph and RN tragedy is celebrated 350 years after the 'Battle of Chatham'

Dutch triumph and RN tragedy is celebrated 350 years after the Battle of Chatham
16 June 2017
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Prince Maurits of Orange-Nassau van Vollenhoven is introduced to a unique combined Anglo-Dutch Marines Band as the two nations remember the worst defeat the Royal Navy ever suffered in home waters.

In 1667, at the height of the Anglo-Dutch wars and the battle for naval supremacy and control of the Seven Seas, Netherlands warships carried out a surprise raid on the Royal Navy's base at Chatham.

Due to a financial crisis, much of the British fleet was laid up; the Dutch caught them by surprise and, in a five-day battle, sank or captured 15 British warships for the loss of just 50 men, prompting the alarmed Surveyor of the Navy, Sir William Batten, to blurt out: "By God, I think the devil shits Dutchmen"… and prompting his government to sue for peace in little more than a month.

Three and a half centuries later, the 'Battle of Chatham' as it's known in the Netherlands, is justly celebrated by the Dutch.

But is also regarded as one of the most important moments in the Royal Navy's history - "a wake-up call" in the words of today's First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones. The revolution which subsequently swept through the RN helped pave the way for more than two centuries of British naval supremacy.

It was a much needed wake-up call; and what is fascinating for me is how from the ashes of this disaster rose a new Royal Navy: larger, stronger and more professional than before

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones KCB ADC

Admiral Jones joined his Dutch counterpart, Rear Admiral Rob Verkerk, the ships' companies of HMS Richmond and HNLMS Holland, the Dutch Ambassador to the UK Simon Smits, Lord Lieutenant of Kent Viscount De L'Isle, the combined band from the two nations - now staunch allies - in Chatham's Historic Dockyard for 350th anniversary celebrations.

Rear Admiral Verkerk said the fruits of the Anglo-Dutch wars were "a long and enduring partnership".

He continued: "And the rest is history, and a great history it is. I could talk for hours about it. Your history, however, is a bit more glorious than ours."

Admiral Jones told those gathered in Chatham that while the RN rightly celebrated Trafalgar or Taranto, it was right to remember the humiliation it suffered on its own doorstep in 1667.

"It was a much needed wake-up call; and what is fascinating for me is how from the ashes of this disaster rose a new Royal Navy: larger, stronger and more professional than before," he said.

"Most importantly of all, we must never lose our fighting edge. The world is full of instability and uncertainty and for maritime nations like our own, a strong navy remains our most important line of defence."

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