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VI. Jacob Van Heemskerk Off Gibraltar
In order to repair the blunders of Admiral Haultain the Dutch states-general collected a fine fleet of 26 small war-galleons to employ off the Spanish coast during the year 1607.
The command of this fleet was appropriately given to the greatest Dutch seaman of that time, if not of all times, Admiral Jacob van Heemskerk. This adventurous seaman had had a most remarkable career. He had been by turns an arctic explorer, a merchant captain, the commander of a privateer and a naval officer; in all of these lines he had obtained the most astounding successes. He had commanded an arctic expedition in the attempt to discover the northwestern passage to China and had reached a position nearer the North Pole than any other man of his time. On his return his ship was caught in the icepack and destroyed. Undiscouraged by this misfortune, he led his comrades to the shore of Xova Zembla, built shelters and passed the entire winter in 77 degrees of latitude. The Dutch seamen, entirely unprepared for this rude experience and having to fight for their lives against polar bears nearly every day, suffered untold privations, but the heroic Heemskerk by his cheerful and hopeful manner sustained the courage of his comrades. In the spring the party set out in small boats. After remarkable exertions, which caused the death of several of the party, they were rescued by another Dutch vessel. Heemskerk had recently commanded two small trading ships in the East Indies. Although his crews totalled but 130 men in all, he attacked a great Portuguese carrack carrying 800 men and 17 guns. The audacious Dutchmen carried this great ship by boarding and divided among themselves 1,000,000 florins in prize money. Although quiet and gentle by nature, Heemskerk had a most intense ambition for military glory and the entire world was ringing with the daring deeds he had performed on every ocean. So great was the confidence of the states-general in this admiral that he was allowed complete discretion to carry out any enterprises which in his opinion would be of advantage to the republic.
In addition to this leader, many of the lesser officers were men of great reputations. The second in command was Laurenz Alteras, Vice Admiral of Zeeland, who was soon to prove that he was worthy of his high position. Captain Henry Janzoon, known by the familiar name of "I-ong Harry," and Admiral Lambert Heinrichzoon were both well-known officers. The latter had taken part in the two fights against Frederic Spinola and had later captured in a desperate encounter the admiral of the Dunkirk pirate fleet.
On April 10, the fleet arrived ofT the mouth of the Tagus and spies were sent ashore to get the news. They returned with the word that a great Spanish war-fleet was cruising ofT Gibraltar. Heemskerk, who cared nothing for the prize money he could gain by taking treasure ships from the Indies, was overjoyed when this information was brought to him. The very fact that this armada was reported to be so superior to his fleet in guns and men increased his eagerness to bring it to action.
On April 25, the Dutch fleet sighted the Spanish Armada at anchor in the bay of Gibraltar. It consisted of 10 galleons of the first class and 11 smaller, but very formidable, war vessels. It was commanded by a veteran of the battle of Lepanto, Admiral Don Juan Alvarez d'Avila. Exclusive of seamen, over 4000 soldiers and 200 gentlemen volunteers were aboard the ships.
Admiral Heemskerk called his captains on board Aeolus, his flagship, and made a stirring address: "It is difficult for Netherlanders not to conquer on salt water. Our fathers have gained many a victory in distant seas, but it is for us to tear from the enemy's list of titles his arrogant appellation of monarch of the ocean. Here, on the verge of two continents, Europe is watching our deeds, while the Moors of Africa are to learn for the first time in what estimation they are to hold the Batavian Republic. Remember that you have no choice between triumph and destruction. I have led you into a position whence escape is impossible— and I ask none of you more than I am prepared to do myself— whither I am sure that you will follow. The enemy's ships are far superior to ours in bulk; but remember that their excessive size makes them difficult to handle and easier to hit, while our vessels are entirely within control. Their decks are swarming with men, and thus there will be more certainty that our shot will take effect. Remember, too, that we are all sailors, accustomed from our cradles to the ocean; while yonder Spaniards are mostly soldiers and landsmen, qualmish at the smell of bilge-water, and sickening at the roll of the waves. This day begins a long list of naval victories, which will make our fatherland forever illustrious, or lay the foundation of an honorable peace, by placing, through our triumph, in the hands of the states-general, the power of dictating its terms."
The admiral then laid before them his plan of attack. Two ships were detailed to grapple with all of the 10 galleons. The admiral in Aeolus and Lambert Heinrichzoon in Tiger were to attack the flagship of the Spanish commander-in-chief. Vice Admiral Alteras and Captain Bras were to attack the Spanish vice admiral. Two other ships were detailed for all of the other eight. The six remaining ships, which were the smallest in the fleet, were to advance on the flanks so as to prevent the escape of any of the enemy. After the plan had been explained, the captains returned to their ships, and the fleet, led by Aeolus and Tiger, advanced to the attack. The crews knelt in prayer and passed around the loving cup, according to the Dutch custom.
When the Spanish admiral saw the little Dutch ships advancing, he had called on deck a Dutch merchant captain, who was a prisoner on board. The admiral asked him whether they were Dutch ships and if he could guess why they were coming so close. The Dutchman replied: "Either I am entirely mistaken in my countrymen or they are coming for the express purpose of offering you battle." At this d'Avila laughed and promised to take the whole enemy fleet with his flagship alone.
As Aeolus neared the flagship of the Spanish Admiral, St. Augustine, Heemskerk, like Nelson at a later day, ordered that not a shot should be fired until the vessels came together: "Wait till you hear it crack." DAvila cut his cable in the attempt to avoid the collision, but Aeolus followed him through the Spanish battle line. St. Augustine opened fire, but with little effect. Aeolus crashed into her at full speed, firing her forward guns a volley of musketry. At the same time Tiger grappled with the Spanish flagship on the other side.
But like Nelson, the brave Heemskerk was to be struck down at the very beginning of his last and greatest victory. None can equal Motley's description of this dramatic scene, the victor dying in the hour of victory:. " The St. Augustine fired again, straight across the center of the Aeolus, at a few yards' distance. A cannon-ball took off the head of a sailor, standing near Heemskerk, and carried away the admiral's leg, close to the body. He fell on deck, and, knowing himself to be mortally wounded, implored the next in command on board, Captain Verhoef, to fight his ship to the last, and to conceal his death from the rest of the fleet. Then prophesying; a glorious victory for the republic, and piously commending- his soul to his Maker, he soon breathed his last. A cloak was thrown over him, and the battle raged. The few who were aware that the noble Heemskerk was gone burned to avenge his death, and to obey the dying commands of their beloved chief. The rest of the Hollanders believed themselves under his directing influence, and fought as if his eyes were upon them. Thus the spirit of the departed hero still watched over and guided the battle."
Aeolus now poured her first broadside into St. Augustine. It killed Admiral d'Avila and caused very heavy losses on the crowded decks of the great flagship. The three ships now continued their grim struggle, yardarm to yardarm.
Meanwhile Vice Admiral Alteras was playing a fine part. As he made for the flagship of the Spanish vice admiral, Our Lady of Vega, two galleons attacked him. With great skill he fought them both, defeated them, pursued them to almost within range of the shore batteries and finally sank one and forced the other ashore.
But Our Lady of Vega was by no means being neglected. Three Dutch ships concentrated on her, set her on fire and totally destroyed her. Captain Janzoon was also busy. He attacked a large galleon and destroyed her, but was himself killed in the combat.
By this time the smoke of the guns and that from the blazing galleons had produced a scene of indescribable confusion, the ships of the two fleets being mixed in a melee, and hardly able to distinguish their own ships from those of the enemy. But now the Spaniards experienced a great disaster. A hot shot struck the magazine of a galleon, and the ship was blown into the air. Burning spars and sails ignited two other galleons, which likewise burned and blew up. This disaster broke the spirit of the enemy and each ship tried only to escape. The St. Augustine surrendered; the other ships, being unable to get to sea, due to Heemskerk's disposition of the smaller vessels on the flanks of the line for this purpose, ran ashore. The survivors attempted to gain the beach by swimming or in small boats, but the Dutch gave no quarter and massacred great numbers of the enemy in the water. Had the gallant Heemskerk lived he could probably have prevented this. As it was, the Dutch did no more than repay the Spaniards for the most inhuman atrocities and tortures which the latter had invariably practiced. Orders signed by the king, which were found in St. Augustine's cabin, describing in detail how these tortures were to be carried out, did not tend to make the Dutch any kinder toward their helpless enemies.
Heemskerk's last and greatest victory was probably the most complete of all battles on a large scale in naval history. Not a ship of the enemy escaped and hardly any of the crews were saved. The Dutch lost but 100 men killed.
Perhaps you may notice a Very striking resemblance between this Dutch admiral and another and more famous British seaman, Nelson. Each had had a long and varied naval career, in which remarkable successes had been won; each stood out above his fellows as the greatest naval commander of his day; each fought his last and greatest battle off the Spanish coast at nearly trie same place; each desired a decision at close quarters; each concentrated a superior force upon a part of the enemy's fleet, although they accomplished this in different ways; each grappled with the hostile admiral; each received his death-blow at the beginning of the battle; each won one of the most decisive battles in naval history; each had the most intense ambition for the military glory their great deeds so richly deserved.
But Nelson lived in a time still close at hand; Heemskerk lived in the dark ages. Nelson's name is on every tongue; that of Heemskerk is known only to his own countrymen. More's the pity; the glorious life and deeds of this great admiral belong not to the Dutch alone, but to all nations. His name is worthy of remembrance by all who admire great men and daring deeds. Remember it!
VII. Admiral Matelieff's Campaign In The East Indies
In May, 1605, the Dutch East India Company sent out its third fleet. It consisted of 11 vessels of moderate size and was commanded by Matelieff de Jonghe, one of the directors of the company. The crews of the ships totalled about 1400 men.
In the summer of 1606, Admiral Matelieff—as we shall call him by courtesy, for he deserved this title if ever an admiral did—arrived in the East Indies. Although he was but a merchant skipper and his first object was to trade and not to fight, the