Historical reference: Wikipedia
There lay sleeping at anchor a French Squadron of four ships of the line and two fire-ships moored behind them (see below, commanded by Jean II d'Estrees, who looked like a young lad of about nine):
Separated by a small (inconvenient) gap the British had six man-o-war and another posse of four fire-ships (see below, commanded by James Duke of York [the future king], older to the eye, who had a paternal bearing the Frenchman [aka "Dad and Lad"]):
Whereas I was the lone wolf in command of three squadrons of four man-o-war and two fire-ships apiece. I was bearing down on the Anglo-French force holding the "weather gauge" but needed to quickly divide and conquer (see below, I am Michiel de Ruyter bane of the British):
The seascape from the vantage point of 20,000 feet, Dutch left and French top right, British bottom right (see below):
As the Anglo-French force slowly tack about I make haste and send two thirds (Dutch Squadrons one and two) of my force heading for the smaller French mini-fleet while the third Dutch squadron moves into position to shield me from the British from [Ed: Well that was the plan!]. Notice how the Dutch fire-ships have complete freedom of movement to get in front of the Dutch line of battle and intend to meander into the British battle line and "sow confusion". By way of contrast the British and French fire-ships are on the wrong side of the Anglo-French battle-line. It will take some skillful sailing to get them "into the game". (see below):
The Dutch plan is unfolding nicely. Fate (as in "kind" weather rolls from the umpire) keeps the weather gauge in my favour with the wind to to my back. The Dutch fire-ships are well ahead of their main force and menacing the enemy man-o-war. The Dutch ships travel faster and have to turn less so can close the enemy quickly at the angle of their choosing. All three of my squadrons play "follow my leader" in line ahead to present three squadron lines of broadsides intent in "crossing the enemy's tee". The British have opted for a complicated simultaneous turn about and the French have broken into two mini-squadrons in their mini-fleet. However the French fire-ships are in a good position to "get in to the game". However I still feel it is all looking good for the Dutch but just before "contact" (in the sense of the fleets coming into range of each other) the wind shifts direction and the crews frantically 'tack' to try and gain a critical advantage in the ensuing combat (see below, the Fleets in a last semblance of order, French bottom left, British bottom right [father rushing to the aid of his son] and Dutch descend in three lines with the British seemingly sacrificing their "tee" to come to the aid of the French [certainly brave a non-Brexit sort of thing to do]):
General action, a fast and furious melee develops in three separate sections:
The Anglo-French (French) Far Right (right hand side of the photograph below):
The third Dutch squadron (right hand side, middle edge) opts to go the 'long way round' the French right as the cunning young French Admiral sends his fire-ships menacingly at the Dutch (Third) Squadron. These small fast ships are (or can be) deadly if they can hit a man-o-war, but they have to brave the line of guns first. (In fact the crew set fire to the ship and row away hoping the wind will carry the ship to its intended target. Many a fire-ship has indeed inadvertently hit a friendly by fate of winds and tides.) However I am relieved to see the Dutch gun down the French fire-ships by removing their sail and making them immobile. This however this does allow the much more precious French man-o-war to "escape" to the centre of the battle in a wiggly line ahead formation. A tactical draw here as the Dutch fire-ships here are driven to a standstill, likewise de-masted.
The "Confused" (British) Centre:
The rear of the British squadron has now become the van but is lead imperturbably forward by the British Admiral. This however is straight into the path of two Dutch fire-ships, one of which finds its mark and starts a fire that eventually turns into an uncontrollable blaze leading up to a tremendous magazine explosion, devastating and sinking a fine British man-o-war. This explosion in turn catches another British man-of-war within its blast radius and starts a fire raging on it. The Dutch by grace of a favourable dice roll just escape the same fate. The third British man-o-war holds its own in a furious gun battle, trading battle honours with the leading Dutch man-o-war. Through the course of this damning exchange of broadsides a Dutch man-o-war is lost to a blaze started by the British fire that grows out of control and results in a magazine explosion, stoically the Dutch fight on. The Dutch in line ahead formation press the advantage and the second and third in line Dutch man-o-wars cripple the remaining British ship on the port side, guns all gone and no sails, leaving her a tempting "boarding" target. The valiant British fire-ships try to get into play, but one is de-masted and the other is still on the wrong side of the battle line, "wanting for a targe"t.
The Anglo-French (British) Far Left:
Again the Dutch fire-ships cause havoc and make the British man-o-war jink around them delaying battle for a considerable time. Yet again a Dutch it was a fire-ship that struck home and the British sailors were unable to control the blaze. Progressively the fire became worse, then the air was rent with yet another British magazine explosion (shades of Jutland perhaps), this time painfully close to the Dutch battle line that had to "tack-away" with haste. The two British fire-ships are out of position "searching in vain for targets".
End game. The British have suffered far too much in the centre (two ships down and one captured with another starting to burn), the French mini-fleet have seen enough and turns away. They may suffer some retreating damage but with the wind behind them they will "get away". There simply is no more fighting ships in the British Centre. The last semblance being the burning British flag ship with the future(?) King James II on board. On the British far left, although they are in an advantageous position, if they linger they will surely be caught and crushed by Dutch superior numbers, fortunately the weather gauge will allow then to safely disengage. The game is called and the players shake hands (see below):
The result is a decisive Dutch victory, to the finale of the British flag ship exploding off-table (we rolled to see what would have happened to her .. and she blew up .. poor King James)! A great game, simple house rules that played to a result on the night and brilliant fleets of ships [cut-out paper, small blocks of wood, detachable cocktail stick masts and a pin with a flag on it, on a blue base .. simply brilliant], cheap and cheerful and perfect for wargaming. I too often fall into the "cover photo" modelling magazine quality or nothing syndrome. My next project is to put a few dozen of these ships together. Saving the best bit till last, we did it in the back room of a pub, I could drink and walk home. Nirvana!
Many thanks to umpire Ian and fellow Admirals Alex (French) and Adrian (Royal Navy). Please also check out Ian's blog (including this previous battle report ,, which has a lot more background history to it):
An Audible book purchase or two on this period is required methinks! Watch this space for me building some boats!