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Sunday, June 27, 2004

The Battle of Dungeness: how the English could have won

I just ran the Battle of Dungeness scenario, to show my wife how Privateers Bounty looked. I commanded the English and set the difficulty to hard. The English tactics were sail as a single group, to have full sails set, and to only turn downwind. The Dutch, under AI control, "came at them". That was a bad move. The English essentially "crossed the T". At 4:07pm, the English had 74% of their fleet left, while the Dutch only had 35%. The collection of large English ships, heavily armed, was sufficient to overcome the "two-to-one" ration between the fleets.

So, why did the English do so badly in the real battle? It wasn't because of Dutch tactical brilliance, as they did not do particularly well, either. The real reason was that the English were timid, largely did not even try close and fight, and did not operate as a unit.

By the way, at 5:17pm, the ratio was 70% of the English versus 17% of the Dutch. It was a fight to the finish, but a one-sided slaughter, not "mutual destruction". A few minutes later, all the Dutch ships were sunk, with no further English losses. What a contrast with the real battle!

A change of pace: the Battle of the Virginia Capes scenario

I just got my computer set up at home, and decided to try something different, for my first simulation run. I have my own version of the Battle of the Virginia Capes scenario. Privateers Bounty has their own scenario, but I did not like it, as it starts with the two sides making contact. I wanted to start with the French leaving their anchorage, as the English approach from the sea.

I commanded the French, and set the difficulty to hard. As usual, I set the speed of the simulation near the maximum, so that the time scale was compressed.

I divided the French into three groups, at the start, so that I could deal with the different ship positions independently. One group is underway, with the wind off their port bow. Another group is starting to leave the anchorage, and has the wind on their starboard bow. The third group is just starting to sail, after weighing anchor.

The first group threatened to leave the others behind, so I had them wear, and go on the opposite tack. I finally got the three groups relatively close together, at which point I created a single group.

Just as this happened, the lead British ships arrived on the scene, at the southern end of the French group. The initial ship, a frigate, was quickly eliminated. The battle was on.

My tactics for the French were to set full sail, to maneuver as a group, using the helm, and to try to break the British in half. When the French got too close to the land, I had to quickly wear, and head to seaward, even when it was an inconvenient time.

When I shut the simulator down, the French still had 79% of their fleet, while the British were reduced to 31%. The only problem was that most of the surviving British ships were mobile, while the French were almost totally dismasted and, therefore, immobile.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

I am curious to know what sort of tactics are typically used by gamers

I would like to know what sort of tactics that sailing naval wargamers use. If I was to guess, I would assume that they use the single line, exclusively. After looking at the panoramic Van de Velde drawings, I would have to think that battles quickly devolved into melees (such as occurred after the initial attack at Trafalgar). It seems like the typical tactics used by Lord Nelson were designed to disrupt the enemy formation and allow the British to concentrate against individual ships, after the opposing line was broken.

I have thought that Lord Nelson was influenced by tales of what had been done during the 17th Century. The first 80% of the 18th Century was not very instructive. The British plan was to fight rather defensive and unimaginative battles in single line. It was not until the Seven Years War that you would see admirals like Hawke be willing to even chase. I may be exaggerating, somewhat, but British tactical ideas prior to the Seven Years War seem quite dismal. I would welcome a dissenting view.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Iain Stanford has made good progress on scenarios for General-at-Sea

We may not see them until at least the fall, but Iain Stanford has assembled scenarios from 1639 up to the Four Days Battle, in 1666, for the General-at-Sea rules. Iain has a new version of the rules that considers burden for defense values, broadside weight for combat values, and real crew numbers. I think that it should improve the realism to use that, rather than "counting guns". Certainly, plenty of rule designers have "counted guns", and it is one thing that you can do, when you don't have much information.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


I had long theorized that fighting with independent squadrons would be superior to a fleet fighting in a single line. This was the tactical plan adopted by Sir David Beatty after the Battle of Jutland, when he relieved Admiral Jellicoe as Grand Fleet commander.

The Third Anglo-Dutch War seems to have particularly been fought this way. Partly, it was because of the personal conflict between Sir Edward Spragge and Cornelis Tromp. They often would go their own way, independent of the main fleets. That is not what I am advocating. Instead, I am advocating using squadrons to be able to concentrate and combine against portions of the enemy fleet. In a single line, concentration is only minimally possible (the French solution was to build heavily armed ships, and to keep close order, to obtain a pseudo-concentration).

I have also had a fascination with breaking the enemy's line, although gaming with Privateers Bounty and First Anglo-Dutch War scenarios, it is difficult to get much advantage. In my initial simulation runs, I was continually attacking with the intent of breaking the line, but with the light Dutch ships, it was difficult to maintain fighting strength at close range. The English, under AI control, would quickly pick off the Dutch by maneuvering independently and firing at close range.

Almost out of frustration, I have been reduced to maneuvering fleets as a single entity and firing at a distance. A fleet, in Privateers Bounty, seems like a blunt instrument, due to the difficulties in mantaining formation. I have found it possible to maneuver two to three squadrons.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

In my continuing series of battles: the Battle off Dover (29 May 1652)

I just ran the Battle off Dover scenario using Privateers Bounty. I fought it as a "fight to the finish", but the result shows just how outclassed the Dutch were at the beginning of the war. The English had 62% of their force left while the Dutch were all sunk or surrendered. Most were sunk, as only two remained afloat but surrendered.

Two pictures are posted at

I took four pictures on the afternoon of the third day. Here is an example. I have more pictures posted at

Some of the stronger English ships towards the end.

This picture shows the Speaker and accompanying ships towards the end. At this point, the Speaker was almost undamaged, although in finishing off the remaining Dutch ships, she did take considerable damage. The smaller 3rd Rate Worcester is in the foreground. She already has taken a lot of damage to her sails and rigging.

My conclusion from the simulation run is that the English could have inflicted considerable damage on the Dutch in this opening action. The English must not have pressed the Dutch that hard, although they did succeed in disabling and capturing two hired merchantmen, one of which was later retaken by the Dutch (the Sint Maria). As long as Robert Blake commanded the English "underachieved". The best that Blake was able to do was at the Battle of Portland, and it was his timidity towards the end that allowed the defeated Dutch to escape with the majority of their convoy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

An example of a Dutch advice yacht

We don't have as much information about Dutch yachts as we would like. Apparently, these were three-masted yachts, even for relatively small vessels. One "adviesjacht" that we have information about is the Vliegende Hert (or Lopende Hert). She took part in the Four Days Battle in 1666. Dr. Weber lists the following information:

The Vliegende Hert was built in 1662, perhaps at Rotterdam. The dimensions were: 76ft-4in x 19ft-7in x 9ft-3in (Amsterdam feet of 11 inches). The armament was 8 guns consisting of 4-6pdr and 4-4pdr. The crew was 14 sailors and marines and 6 land soldiers. I am guessing that the size was about 60 lasts.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

I still have undiminished enthusiasm for Privateers Bounty

I don't know if you can tell, but I am still enthusiastic about being able to run simulations of 17th Century battles with Privateers Bounty. It has many drawbacks, but the advantages far outway the disadvantages. Even though scenarios are limited to about 84 ships (some number like that), the numbers are sufficiently large to give some of the flavor of 17th Century battles. After the early 18th Century, nothing the size of 17th Century battles was seen until the Battle of Jutland, fought on May 31st to June 1st, 1916.

The drawbacks of Privateers Bounty are sufficient to have started me on the path of building my own simulator, using the Torque engine. That is a longterm project, however. I am still at the stage of determining requirements and learning the tools.

Battle of the Sound (I commanded the Swedes)

I ran my Battle of the Sound scenario, with me commanding the Swedes against the Dutch. The results were not surprising to me, as the Swedes were ahead with 74% of their fleet strength left, while the Dutch only had 30% of their strength left. Given the greater numbers and the number of very large Swedish ships, I would expect this outcome. What should have been unexpected was the actual outcome of the battle, where the Dutch beat the Swedes, and ran their transports down to reinforce and resupply Copenhagen.

The Swedish fleet late in the day with Dutch survivors in the background

This picture shows the Swedish fleet, late in the day, winning big. The simulation time was about 6pm, and the sky shows that the day was late. Some of the Dutch survivors can be seen in the background.

I used what are my standard tactics. I group the fleet that I am commanding into a single unit, if they are a compact group. Then I control them with the helm, and have full sails set. The idea is to keep maximum way on, for best maneuverability. I ALWAYS wear, rather than tack. That way, my ships always maintain a good speed. If you don't do that, you risk having ships caught in stays, dead into the wind. Perhaps in "real life", it was not a big issue, but with Privateers Bounty, it is a significant issue.

It still can happen, as ships suffer damage, and may have different speeds and turning ability, so a few individual ships may have different courses than you expect. This system at least minimizes the chances of that happening.

The other big tactical feature is that I keep a distance from the opposing fleet, so that the AI control can't rake my ships as easily. In this battle, the Swedes were always to the leeward, and let the Dutch have the weather gauge. My thinking was that my purpose was to stop the Dutch from breaking through to the south, so I needed to keep my fleet between the Dutch and their goal. In this case, it worked.

I will post more pictures of this simulation run at

Battle of Plymouth (I commanded the English)

This morning, I ran the Battle of Plymouth scenario. I commanded the English and had the difficulty set to "Hard". I only maneuvered the English as a unit, not as individual ships, and I always kept the weather gauge. The probably kept on past the point that the real combatants would have stayed, as I repeatedly broke off, and then re-engaged. The result, when I shut down the simulator, was that the Dutch were reduced to 16% while the English were 30% of their original strength. Apparently, Privateers Bounty is not just counting ship numbers, but the strengths must be weighted in some manner. There were more than 5 Dutch ships still in action.

My conclusion is that the English must have really done poorly in the actual battle, to have not sunk or captured a single Dutch ship. We know that the tactics were pretty much "charge at the enemy", and that there was never any attempt to group even into an informal line. In the real battle, the Dutch did better than I would have expected, given ship numbers and strengths (size and armament).

Panoramic view of the Battle of Plymouth

This picture is a panoramic view of the battle, with the English with green names, in the foreground, with the Dutch, with red names, in the background.

We can see the English are clearly winning the Battle of Plymouth

This picture shows the English fleet in the foreground, with the remnants of the Dutch fleet on the far left.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Battle of Dover scenario: I command the English

As part of my continued program of experiments, I ran the Battle off Dover scenario in Privateers Bounty. I commanded the English and set the difficulty to "Hard". When I shut the game down, the English had been reduced to 50% while the Dutch still had 84% of their fleet. I had set the English sails to "full", and had brought the two squadrons together, as well as Anthony Young's division. Anthony Young's flagship, the President had surrendered, and had slowed down the Dutch fleet (under AI control). The remaining English were proceeding at full sail to the southeast, fleeing the scene. The Dutch had taken control of the sea off Dover, with fairly minimal casualties.

It still seems to be the case that if you maneuver your fleet as a unit, the opposing fleet, maneuvering individual ships under AI control is stronger, especially if the difficulty is set to "Hard". The Battle off Dover is difficult, anyway, as the English were outnumbered almost 2-to-1. In the real battle, the Dutch were handled quite timidly, and did not maneuver as a unit (apparently). The larger English ships broke the Dutch into smaller groups, and severely damaged two ships that were taken (one being later abandoned and retaken by the Dutch). I am tempted to try this again. Perhaps if the English kept their distance and fought at longer range, they might do better.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

I am working on Dutch ship data to support 2nd and 3rd Anglo-Dutch War scenarios

I have embarked on building an Excel spreadsheet to compute values for Privateers Bounty for Dutch ships from 1656 to 1677. I had already done some of the work for 1658, when I prepared the Battle of the Sound scenario (1658). I am using my document "Dutch Ships 1620-1700" (ordered by captain) as the basis. There are redundant entries for ships, as there is one entry for every time the ship and captain appear in the literature.

Part of the rationale is to be able to have a Four Days Battle scenario, with the wind set up pretty high, to see how Privateers Bounty handles that situation.

New Pictures from the Battle of Dungeness Scenario from June 5, 2004

I have new pictures on from a simulation run of the Battle of Dungeness scenario. I commanded the English, and had the difficulty set to "Hard". The English initially did well, and then the battle deteriorated rapidly. Towards the end, the Dutch still had many fresh ships while the remaining English were all damaged. A few English ships were able to escape to the south, as the sun was setting.

Dutch ships on opposite tack after decimating English

This picture shows Dutch ships going on the opposite tack, towards the end of the battle, after having decimated the remaining northern group of English ships.

This picture shows the fresh Dutch ships closing the northern group, towards the end of the battle

This picture shows fresh Dutch ships closing the northern English ships, towards the end of the battle.

I will be reporting on a new set of experiments with Privateers Bounty

I intend to experiment with commanding the English in the various First Anglo-Dutch War scenarios, to see the impact of having the Dutch being controlled by AI. The one advantage I have seen for AI control is that every ship is maneuvered independently, while those under manual control must necessarily be controlled as a group (generally), due to the large numbers involved. My first experiment will be with the Battle of Dungeness, since it is such an extreme situation, where the English were so heavily outnumbered.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

17th Century Naval Warfare Game/Simulator

I really would be interested to read suggestions from readers for requirements for a new computer sailing naval warfare simulator/game. I am in the initial stages of design, and am drawing up a list of requirements. I have been focused, except for this week, on trying to learn from Privateers Bounty, what are some basics that need to be incorporated.

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