Vice Admiral Witte de Witt from the Admiralty of Rotterdam replaced Commander-in-Chief Martin Tromp. Lt. Admiral Tromp refused in August 1652 to fight the British at the Shetland Islands, for which the States-General of the Netherlands fired him. The new appointment split the fleet: Witt was the personal enemy of Fleet Commander of the Province of Zealand, Vice Admiral Johan Evertsen. The latter, by the way, left the service because of a conflict with the States-General, whose faithful servant was the new commander-in-chief. Witt advocated open conflict with the British, instead of the usual tactics of protecting trade convoys in the event of an attack. Why wait for an attack if you can strike first.
The attack was decided to commit during a raid at Downs near Dover. The ships left Schoneveld on October 5, but along the way the Dutch got into a storm that damaged most of the ships. Nine ships were forced back for repairs. Admiral Mikhail de Ruyter suggested that in such a damaged state the fleet was not ready for battle, and it is probably worthwhile to return to defensive tactics. However, Witte was determined to fight the English fleet.
Witte de Witt
On October 8, the Dutch approached the battleground, battered and scattered. From the United Provinces there were 62 ships, about 1,900 guns and 7,000 sailors. England had a numerical advantage - 68 ships, 2,400 guns and 10,000 sailors under the command of Admiral Robert Blake. The British, coming from the south, saw that the enemy's ships were scattered, and Blake decided to attack the disordered structure of the enemy, especially since the wind was on their side.
Witt hastily gathered his ships by 2:30 pm, except for five ships drifting too far to the north. He decided to transfer his flag from a small vessel to the former flagship of Tromp “Brederod”, which was the most powerful ship of the entire fleet. But the sailors, loyal to the former commander-in-chief, refused to let Witt on board and even fired several warning shots at his boat. The sailors hated Witt. About a hundred sailors defiantly left the fleet as soon as they learned about his appointment. They tried to come to terms with them and even called Evertsen’s brother in the role of a truce, but the sailors stood their ground and said they would not serve under Witt. Anyway, the new commander-in-chief, who was not allowed on the ship, was forced to raise the flag on the big but slow Prince William. The crew left much to be desired - Witt was met by drunk officers and sailors unprepared for the fight.
Meanwhile, Blake also changed the flagship from a very fast ship to a more maneuverable one. The battle began only around 17:00. Blake wanted to break the Dutch system, but they began to go east. The wind has weakened considerably and both fleets slowly passed by each other in the opposite tack. In this case, the wind was favorable for the British and gave them an advantage in accuracy of shooting. However, several English ships almost lost some ships - two ships ran aground at Kentish-Nok and withdrew from it with difficulty, another pair got too deep and almost surrounded, but then other British ships arrived. By 19:00 due to the darkness, hostilities were halted. The Dutch suffered losses. One ship was captured by enemies, the other in a dilapidated state abandoned the crew, but then he was nevertheless rescued. But the hardest for the sailors was to undermine their own crew of the ship "Burgh van Alkmaar", so that he did not get the enemy. The morale of the Dutch was broken and several ships left the battlefield.
The next morning, Witt held a failed military council, at which a scandal broke out. He called the captains from Zeeland a coward and said that there was enough wood in the country to build a gallows for each of them. In response to this attack, the captains broke the oath and took 10 Dutch ships back home. The position of Witt’s fleet was deplorable, but he continued to insist on fighting. He took the ships south, hoping that the wind there would be more favorable. But the maneuver failed: several ships moved too far to the west and came under fire from the British. The wind changed and was again in favor of the British. Then de Ruyter nevertheless managed to convince the commander-in-chief of the inevitability of defeat and the fleet began to retreat to the east.
The British stopped pursuing the Dutch when they reached the Flemish banks. But Witt was not ready to give up. He decided to quickly bring the fleet into the sea in the basin of Villingen and make another attempt to defeat the enemy. Ruiter objected to Witt that "such courage is too dangerous," and under pressure from the officers, the commander-in-chief, nevertheless, refused the risky venture. On 12 October, the fleet arrived at Hellevutesls.
The States General made conclusions from the defeat and recognized that the fleet needed larger and more powerful ships in order to defeat England. But the public, and so disliking Witt, appointed him to be the culprit for the incident. On the same day, the States General sent letters to Tromp and Evertsen with a request to return to the service. Witt could not survive the shame, he had a nervous breakdown, and in May 1653 he was dismissed from the post of commander-in-chief of the fleet of Holland.