The War of the Austrian Succession rages in Europe. The Dutch have been sucked into the side of the English, bringing them into direct conflict with the French. The latter see an opportunity – the vast spice island holdings of the Dutch are relatively weakly defended.
Two pairs of battleships are dispatched – Amiral Marquis du Roed with the new 74-gun Neptune and the old 50-gun Alcyon from Toulon and Amiral le Duc de Vale with the 78-gun Terrible and the anachronistic 46-gun two-decker Gloire from Rochefort. They are given orders to cooperate but also promised large compensation if they are the first to occupy the port of Jakarta.
The two pairs rendezvoused at Matatana, Madagascar and took on water and fresh provisions. While they lay to, however, the small brig Timor observed their arrival and races toward the Dutch colonies. Having no small vessels, the French had no way to intercept Timor and continued provisioning.
The Dutch assembled what ships they could at Surabaya and sailed to meet the French. The resulting fleet was a motley assortment of older ships and captains who had grown fat and complacent on the Indies station. Senior Captain van Ochs was elected to lead a three-ship group of his own 62-gun Rotterdam, the 56-gun Damiaten and the 58-gun Utrecht. Senior Captain van Kuper had his own 72-gun Haarlem as well as the Wageningen, a 36-gun frigate cum Indiaman, and the little 14-gun Timor.
Neither van Ochs nor van Kuper would accede to the other being in overall command, much like the differences between Amirals du Roed and de Vale. As a result, neither force had a unified command and none of the individual captains knew any of the seniors very well. The stage was set for one of the most disorganized battle between two flotillas of battleships in the entire war.
Under a fair sky and a stiff southerly breeze, the two fleets approached each other off the coast of Java. The French held the weather gauge, Amiral du Roed in the lead. Captain van Ochs led the Dutch line.
Both sides commenced cannonading at a range just under 300 yards. The fire being ineffwctual the French wore together. Alcyon raked little Timor, causing her main t’gallant to foul her port side. Unfortunately, as the wear continued, the maneuver put Gloire, Terrible, and Alcyon in a row where the broadsides of the latter two were masked. Neptune slowed and turned tightly to pass behind the other three ships.
Meanwhile, having been passed by the French, Captain van Ochs ordered a tack together. Captain van Kuper ordered his ships to maintain course, mostly in an attempt to clear Timor whose battle with the wearing French was the epitome of uneven.
Haarlem slammed into Utrecht and the two ships became tightly fouled by their respective bowsprits. Damiatan, having completed her tack with sternboard, was just slow enough for Wageningen to slide past. The Indiaman then engaged Terrible at 100 yards as the latter surged ahead of Gloire.
Amiral du Vale, now on a course to clear the western tip of Java and with only Wageningen in position to offer resistance, made signal to disengage. Alcyon, on the other hand, now turned close-hauled to come up on the north side of the Dutch while Neptune engaged from the south.
Neptune came up on the still fouled Haarlem and Utrecht, exchanging fire with Damiatan as night came on.
Damiatan and Haarlem suffered significant damage, with several hits between wind and water. The former also lost her mizzen topmast. Little Timor was also badly torn about but was saved from complete destruction by her low profile, many shots having simply whooshed over her hull instead of splintering her.
Gloire, being engaged by the heaviest Dutch ships and being the smallest of the French, suffered the most damage on the aggressor’s side with minor damage to the other three ships.
Poor adherence to the Fighting Instructions ensured an uncoordinated and often ineffectual engagement. Gunnery was poor until the ships closed, with the French wearing maneuver, to under musket shot.
In the end du Vale had insufficient strength to take the forts as Jakarta and was forced to abandon his attack when the Dutch fleet limped around the horn. Du Roed, forced to leave the battered Dutch as his own two ships were simply not strong enough on their own, retreated to Pondichery and filed a formal protest of du Vale’s actions. This came to naught as yellow fever took the disgruntled admiral.
Both Captain van Ochs and Captain van Kuper took new commissions as silk traders and gave up fighting, except against Chinese and Annamite pirates. None of them mounted 36-pounders!
A little Napoleonic action. A French corps and the remnants of their Polish allies tried to surprise a Russo-Prussian army somewhere on the Frontiers of France. Unfortunately for the French, the Russians were awake, the picquets were active and the assault was checked.
Furious little game, fought to a stalemate, with about equal casualties on both sides. Great fun!
Diatribes are simply often humorous recountings of the games played by the Long Island Irregulars. We play with toy soldiers and are unabashedly happy to have never lost this part of our childhoods..