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The Four Days' Battle of 1666: The Greatest Sea Fight of the Age of Sail
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 23 April 2010
Frank Fox is well known for his interest and considerable knowledge of the seventeenth century English Navy and Van de Velde art, quite an achievement from someone who lives in Birmingham, Alabama. Having read several accounts of eighteenth and nineteenth century battles it is clear that at the end of a days bloody fighting both sides have had enough and are exhausted. Fox brilliantly illustrates the quality and courage of both English and Dutch fleets in their determination to fight and win. Just when you think one side is beaten they rally or have a piece of luck with the battle swaying one way then the other, day after day. Fox describes this so vividly it becomes impossible to put the book down as if you were reading a novel. But this is no novel, it is history writing at it's best.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This is an excellent study of the campaign and battle of June 1666 - `the greatest battle in the Age of Sail', fought between the Royal Navy and the United Provinces during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. The book is told primarily from the English view, due to the nature of the sources, but the activities of the Dutch, French and Danes are adequately covered, and the narrative is not biased.

The Contents are:
P001: The Generals
P015: The Royal Navy
P036: The Ships
P051: Guns, Flags, and the River Thames
P066: Preparations
P083: Lowestoft
P102: The Indian Prize
P120: The Other Side of the Hill
P136: The Division of the Fleet
P153: Rupert's Expedition
P168: The French
P182: The Morning of the First of June
P198: The First Day
P219: The Second Day
P236: The Third Day
P251: The Fourth Day
P271: The Aftermath
P287: The Sequel
P304: Epilogue
P313: Appendices A - M
P363: Notes
P387: Sources
P392-404: Index
There are 32 pages of illustrations, and many excellent tactical maps, and the endpapers have a map of the battle area, with the various days' positions marked, and excellent details of the shoals and banks which defined the area involved.

The book is well laid out in structure, the opening chapters introducing the main (English) characters, the ships and their outfitting and the development of tactics from the previous war. The first major battle of the war in 1665 was at Lowestoft, followed by an attempt to seize the Dutch merchant fleets sheltering in Denmark - with the connivance of the Danish king, who neglected to inform his subordinates of his treachery, and so foiled his own plans. Then there is a study of the Dutch fleet, followed by the English strategic decision to divide the fleet in the face of French intervention and a possible invasion of Ireland, leading to an under-strength fleet being left to face the Dutch. The battle is described day-by-day in great detail, with excellent and informative maps of the fleet manoeuvres. Rupert's division returned just in time to save the English from disaster on the third day, but eventually numbers tell, and the Dutch manage to win the day on the final day of the battle. Despite being severely outnumbered in ships, the tactics and greater firepower of the Royal Navy managed to keep the battle going for four days, and there were several occasions during the battle when a victory for both sides was feasible. We also see the `breaking of the line' achieved several times, by both sides, and we see demonstrated successes that in later line-breaking sea fights could only be dreamed of by the victors.

This is a well-written and readable account, though it desperately needs a Glossary for those who are not familiar with the terminology of sailing warfare; you can still follow the action quite easily, but it would not have been difficult to provide one. The author spent twelve years studying the original sources, and the wealth of detail is superb. This is an essential book for anyone interested in the age of fighting sail.

Further reading:
A Distant Storm: The Four Days' Battle of 1666 - the first edition of this book, profusely illustrated in colour.
Great Ships: The Battle Fleet of King Charles II
The Anglo-Dutch Wars of the Seventeenth Century (Modern Wars In Perspective)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
If the ordered world of the 18th century is how you see naval warfare under sail, all turns and orders, be prepared for a shock with this book as two of the most aggressive naval nations batter each other in a bare-knuckle fight from an era where retreating and saving oneself was not always the first choice of a gentleman or of a tarpaulin.

Even in the Napoleonic era, with much smaller ships the Dutch could be trusted to put up a hell of a fight; in the Second Dutch War, where they had learned from their thrashing by the Commonwealth, they had much more comparable ships.

Frank Fox describes a war that should not have occurred; an underfunded Royal Navy taking on the financial might of the greatest trading nation in Europe. Yet it involved more twists and turns than enough in its three years as England sought to throttle the Dutch carrying trade.

We have a number of battles: Lowestoft, The Four Days, the St James Day Fight (and the later St James Day Flight)

We have the massive raid of Holmes's Bonfire on the Vlie. We have the near capture of the Dutch East India fleet in Bergen.

An English squadron in the Med causes terror in France, and a French squadron in Biscay causes terror in England - neither of which was their intention.

We have French fleets escorting princesses, fears of invasions of Ireland, large merchant fleets ready for the taking, the raid up the Medway.

In the battles we have remarkable twisting and turning and both sides take certain defeat and transform it into the possibility of significant victory by manoeuvres of breathtaking impudence. Even in defeat both sides are very dangerous.

And on top of all of that we have the febrile world of Reformation England with politics reported in satirical verse by Andrew Marvell.

This is a book of wide-ranging knowledge, a delight to read, which made even me understand something of naval tactics.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 26 March 2010
This is a truly excellent book. In my opinion it strikes exactly the right balance between general background information and detail, containing both an extensive description of the strategic background (extensive accounts of the battle of Lowestoft, the action off Bergen and the decision-making at the british court leading to the division of the fleet) as well as a detailed account of the battle itself. I believe the author has succeeded in writing a book that is a good read for anyone with a general interest in 17th century (military) history while also being very educational to those already knowledgeable in naval warfare in the age of sail. Finally, as a Dutchman I was pleasantly surprised by the author's objectivity. Very highly recommended.
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on 2 January 2014
This is a great book showing a considerable amount of research and knowledge.

The Four Days Battle is, at best, normally a footnote in books concerning Restoration history. Frank L fox shines a very clear light on a glorious - perhaps unnecessary - action in the early years of Charles II's reign. The description of the battle rivals O'Brien, Kent & Co - the only difference being that these were real men who took sensational, and almost unbelievable, risks.

The book traces the history of the Second Anglo Dutch War (in particular) to give the Four Days Battle its proper context. With Appendices giving the full details of participants (i.e. ships and captains) and the losses incurred, a full picture is given of the true impact of the battle.

Frank L Fox pulls no punches, either in the descriptions of the various aspects of the war and battle or in the way in which the Royal Navy was considerably humbled by the outcome.

This book is objective, well-researched and highly readable. I would recommend it for anyone interested in the history of the Navy, the Restoration or naval warfare in the 17th century. (FLF really brings this period to life - what a pity it was not even mentioned when I was at school!)
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on 20 July 2014
Excellent description of the batle, the navy and the ships, supported by diagrams of the movements of the fleets. In places there are a few too many details about the specific ships and persons that participated in the battle, but all in all a very good book.
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on 3 April 2015
A great book by the leading authority on the Restoration navy. Good background history without being dry and over historical leading up to the riveting four days battle. This is Forester and O`Brian for real.
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Wonderfully engrossing time machine of a book that makes you feel you are there sometimes. Well researched and written. I love it.
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on 17 February 2015
Great period book
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