1607 – Battle of Gibraltar
The southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula has always been seen as a vital military base. It controls the entrance and exit of the Mediterranean Sea and gives access to the Atlantic Ocean. The Strait of Gibraltar continues to be one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Europe and Africa are separated by only 7.7 nautical miles. This importance has led the area to have its fair share of naval battles.
The Battle of Gibraltar in 1607 was part of the Eighty Years War, a conflict between the Dutch and the Spanish caused by taxation and once again religion. The battle is a fine example of what military experts would call a rout. 26 Dutch warships surprised and engaged a Spanish fleet of 21 ships which were anchored at the Bay of Gibralter.
The Dutch were commanded by Jacob van Heemskerk, whose previous claim to fame was his attempt to discover an Artic passage from Europe to China, known later as the Northeast Passage. Van Heemskerk was described as “a gentleman adventurer, somewhat proud and lofty”, the gentleman side of his nature was not on show when he sneaked up on the Spanish fleet. Van Heemskerk made sure that the rout would be total, he left a number of ships at the entrance of the bay to prevent the escape of any Spanish ships.
The Dutch fleet was split up, with twenty of the ships sent to attack the Spanish galleons while the remaining ships attacked the smaller vessels. After 4 hours of fighting, 21 Spanish ships were destroyed and 4000 men were lost or killed. The Dutch made sure of the victory by deploying small boats with the aim of killing hundreds of swimming Spanish sailors. The Dutch lost 100 men including their commander, Van Heemskerk, whose leg got in the way of a cannonball, died as a result of the wound.