Battle of the Medway : 350th anniversary of the Dutch “Tocht naar Chatham”

From the announcement in the Newsletter:

This year sees the 350th anniversary of the Battle of Medway, better known to the Dutch as the “Tocht naar Chatham“, one of England’s greatest naval disasters. You will have learned more about this in this years Unilever Lecture (“Learning a hard lesson: the Dutch in the Medway 1667”). In June 1667 the Dutch fleet sailed up the River Medway and destroyed the English fleet. This daring invasion brought the Second Anglo-Dutch War to an end.

Under Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, the Dutch captured the fort at Sheerness before entering the River Medway to attack the English fleet at Chatham. Despite cannon fire from Upnor Castle they broke through the defensive chain and burned a number of ships before towing away England’s flagship, the Royal Charles. Around 30 Royal Navy Ships were sunk by the English themselves to prevent their capture.
The battle was a high point of the Dutch Golden Age and was a humiliating defeat for the English, who subsequently made sure this would never happen again.

To commemorate the 350th anniversary we have organised a visit to the Medway to join in with some of the activities and exhibitions organised in Chatham and at Upnor Castle.
We will start our day at 10.30 am at the Historic Dockyard Chatham where we will visit the exhibition ‘Breaking the Chain’ and be given a guided tour entitled ‘The Dutch Raid’. The exhibition shows wonderful Dutch and British art, literature, historic manuscripts and extraordinary objects drawn from collections at The Royal Museum Greenwich, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Dutch National Maritime Museum, the Michiel de Ruyter Foundation and the British Library.

At around 2 pm we will be picked up from the Dockyard Pier and taken by boat across the river to Upnor Castle. Upnor Castle is an attractive turreted fortress, which was built in 1559 to protect Queen Elizabeth’s warships. In June 1667 it failed disastrously in its mission. Here we will join in with living history events, activities and re-enactments of the battle.

Around 5 pm we will travel back by boat across the Medway to Chatham Marina where you can spend some time before making your way back to your car in the Dockyard carpark or to Chatham Station.

From Wim’s Report on our visit on Saturday 10 June in the Newsletter:

Following Marianne’s excellent directions, ANS and Neerlandia members assembled at the Chatham Dockyard Visitors Centre on a bright sunny Saturday morning, 10th June, to mark almost exactly the 350th anniversary of the famous Battle of Medway or Dutch Raid which took place from 9 – 14 June in 1667.

At the Centre while waiting for our tour to begin we were able to have a coffee and to study an interesting moving table-top depiction/film of the 400 year history and development of the Dockyard. This showed its strategic site on the Medway protected by Upnor and Rochester Castles and also details of the Dutch Raid. Two tour guides were assigned to us and we separated into two groups.

At the old Royal Dockyard Smithery we saw a specially installed temporary exhibition about the Raid. As the details were the subject of the Unilever Lecture in March and very well reported in the Spring Newsletter these are not again repeated here. A map of the North Sea marking the four previous naval clashes of June 1665 and of June, July and August 1666 are all represented as English victories! The last one became known as ‘The Holmes Bonfire’. Not content with burning 150 ships in that battle Holmes allowed the sacking and burning of the town of West Terschelling. It was suggested to us that this sparked Johan de Witt’s plan to rout the English navy at its source in revenge. Included in the exhibition were portraits of the leaders of both sides, dramatic paintings of the action such as the burning of Terschelling, fine models of a typical Fire Ship and the famous ship, the Royal Charles; all these on loan from various British and Dutch museums and libraries.

We were told how the famous chain barrier across the Medway may not in fact have been broken or lowered by the Dutch at all but lowered by English mariners who, unpaid for two years and starving, were open to accepting money to do this. Parliament, deeply shocked by this audacious and devastating raid, was shamed into funding new and better replacement ships, an example on display being a model of HMS Britannia of 1682. It was this new and superior fleet of ships that transformed the capability of The Royal Navy into a force that would “rule the waves” until 1946.

Nothing remains to be seen of the Stewart period dockyard because this now underlies later buildings. We were shown the elegant 1706 Commissioner’s House built on the footprint of its earlier wooden predecessor. In its large walled garden we were shown the more than 400 year old mulberry tree which still bears fruit in abundance. Reputedly, Oliver Cromwell and Samuel Pepys were among those who sat in its shade.

Shipbuilding at Chatham Dockyard was eventually overtaken by new larger yards but it delivered submarines until 1984, the last being HMS Ocelot. She was paid off in 1991 and was returned to the Dockyard Museum in 1992 as part of the onshore exhibition and is open to visitors. She has been kept in perfect condition and is often the set for relevant cinema use. Its former dry dock is still in operation but for civilian craft.

Lunch was available in a café in the Wagon Stop Canteen at the Railway Workshop where there were shunting engines on display. Later, and while we waited on the jetty for our riverboat to arrive, we saw oarsmen racing in two British and Dutch longboats towards a finishing line near us which was a brightly coloured ‘chain.’ A thrilling dead heat between the leading Dutch and British boats was decided in favour of the home side. There were quite a number of Dutch boats and flags on the river including three Tall Mast Ships.

Our boat trip was down river and across to pass by and look up at the formidable 1559 Upnor Castle featured in The Raid. Then upriver, round a sharp bend and under the bridges of Rochester, stopping at the jetty under its imposing Norman Castle, adjacent to the large and distinctive Cathedral, this a somewhat unfortunate combination of Norman, Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Then back past the Dockyard to disembark at Chatham Marina which was crowded with yachts, simple and sophisticated, afloat in the basin and onshore; evidently a major yachting centre.

Our next destination was HNLMS Holland on a courtesy visit to Chatham over the weekend. It dominated the Marina with its distinctive radar dome topping an impressive white hull. This Dutch Naval Patrol Vessel was commissioned in 2012. She is 108 m long by 16 m wide, draft 4.5m, 3750 tons, and speed 22.5 knots. We assembled on the afterdeck/helipad/hangar and formed into four groups for our tour. Our first stop was under the helideck to see the eight seater FRISC (fast rescue interceptor special craft) that has a top speed of 50 knots. We then worked our way up and down very steep stairways toward the bridge, seeing along the way the galley, the eating and relaxation facilities and the safety equipment for the 60 member crew including 13 officers. Highly automated systems control the running of the ship and its armaments. We saw their separate control rooms and the bridge, where of course it all comes together!

After a break for a meal many of us reassembled at the St. George’s Centre, formerly the Barracks Church, near the Dockyard entrance. Marianne had arranged reserved seating for us to enjoy a concert of band music. First up was The Band of the Royal Marines, including a number by their team of drummers and buglers, very smart in their traditional spiked helmets. Then the Marine Band of the Royal Netherlands Navy and finally both bands playing together presenting stirring melodies of popular airs. A thrilling and entertaining end to the day.

Our sincere thanks to Marianne: for her reconnaissance trip to Chatham a few days beforehand, for making all the excellent arrangements with some necessary revision, and for seeing them and us through during a long and rewarding day.