Battle of the Downs 21 October 1639


Map Code: Ax02163

By 1639, the Spanish in the Netherlands had just one North Sea port left, Dunkirk, which was blockaded by the Dutch rebels. An armada of 67 ships under Admiral-General Antonio de Oquendo was sent to relieve Dunkirk, but was intercepted by just 17 Dutch ships under Admiral Maarten Tromp. Despite the odds, the Dutch had much the better of the two fierce engagements that took place on 17–18 September, and the Spanish sought refuge by anchoring east of Deal Castle on England’s south coast. A British detachment observed from the west, with Vice-Admiral Pennington trying to mediate between the combatants; when Oquendo replied to Dutch taunts by claiming he was low on gunpowder, Tromp offered to send him 500 barrels. Eventually, on 21 October, with reinforcements in place, Tromp attacked. Twenty Spanish ships ran aground, where they were burned by Dutch fireships or pillaged by the locals. In all, the Spanish lost 40 ships and 7,000 lives, with 18,000 taken prisoner.

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