On Sunday 28 May a group of us took over the wonderful Southwold Sailors’ Reading Room
overlooking Sole Bay.
The Sailors Reading Room, Southwold, Suffolk, England
Our purpose — to do a tabletop re-creation of the Battle of Sole Bay which took place on 28 May (old Julian calendar) in 1672.
Although three times larger than Trafalgar and fought in plain sight of the Suffolk coast (three miles from where I live), this battle and much of the Anglo-Dutch wars seem to have been largely forgotten in modern times.
This being as near as possible to the 345th anniversary of a battle and a bank holiday weekend as well (long weekend for readers on the other side of the Atlantic) we made it a public event running a game in parallel with explanations of the historical battle. As Southwold is a holiday destination we expect quite a few visitors and there was indeed a steady flow from 11am through to 5pm.
I did my best to explain to the many interested visitors what went on 345 years ago and what was going on with the tiny 1:2400 scale ships on the table. Meanwhile one Umpire, two English and two Dutch players got on with the game.
The Anglo-French fleet moves out from shore to meet the Dutch attack
We set the historical start position with 3 Dutch squadrons coming in from the northeast with the wind to their backs. The two English squadrons and French fleet started close into the Southwold shore on the western table edge. Thereafter the players were free to make their own decisions.
The French fleet turns south
The umpire intervened at one point with an appropriately annoying instruction for the French fleet which was to sail to the south - away from the action as happened historically. Our assumption that Admiral d'Estrées was under orders from Louis XIV not to loose any ships. That he was from landlocked Switzerland probably had nothing to do with it!
The ghostly Flying Dutchman
Less historical, but adding a bit of fun, was the sudden appearance of the ghostly Flying Dutchman, famously celebrated in Adnams Southwold-brewed Ghost Ship pale ale just as their Broadside beer commemorates the Battle of Sole Bay,
In 1672 the Dutch achieved a strategic victory by inflicting enough damage on the Anglo-French fleet so as to prevent it from blockading the Dutch ports which had been the allied intention. It did not go so well in our mini re-creation of 2017. Attempting to head off the front of the English ships the Dutch found themselves getting in too close where they were raked by multiple broadsides from the English ships.
A Dutch fire ship sails towards the English Blue Squadron
The fireships the Dutch sent forward against the English were not as effective as they had hoped. Some were sunk by cannon fire, others missed their target and one exploded prematurely. An English fireship was successful, however.
English and Dutch flagships come to close quarters
Quite early on in the battle the Dutch Admiral de Ruyters was killed in the fighting. With a Dutch defeat certain the French fleet was allowed to return to the action.
The French flagship captures a crippled Dutch ship
For most of us this was a first foray into naval wargaming. It was also the first time any of us had run a game in the public eye — tying it in with an historical event and location. It was incredibly gratifying to encounter such an interested audience, most of whom had little or no knowledge of the battle and even less about wargaming.
Many stayed to watch for quite a while, others came in the morning and then re-visited to see how things had progressed. All of us were pleasantly surprised by how interested the visitors were, not only in the history of the original event but also the mechanics of the game.
We used 1:2400 scale ships from Tumbling Dice. They were a bit fiddly to put together but most of us found them very enjoyable to paint. The wonderful seascape was made by Terrain Mats in nearby Ipswich.
The peacful Sole Bay today viewed from the Southwold Sailors' Reading Room