Saturday, 25 September 2021

The Battle Of Bantam

Strictly I should say that this is the Battle of Bantam Bathtubbed, since it's a little scaled down. And the idea of a bathtubbed naval battle does appeal, it has to be said.

But, anyway, this is the result of another foray into the archives at Three Decks. It was fought off the northwestern tip of Java on 27th December 1601, when eight Portuguese galleons from Goa, supported by some twenty or so fustas (small galleys) under André Furtado de Mendonça met an exploration force five Dutch vessels under Walter Harmensz. The Portuguese were forced to retreat. It seems there were skirmishes into the New Year, but eventually the Portuguese were driven off, allowing the Dutch to establish themselves in the East Indies.

I scaled the battle down to match my available ships and table-size, plus to reduce the Portuguese force. I went with the following:

Portuguese - Four Carracks (Sao Salvador (flag), Santa Cruz, Sao Simeao, Nazare), two Fustas (Domas, Serang)

Dutch - Three Cromsters (Gelderland (Flag), Utrecht, Zeelandia) plus a Jacht (Wachter)

All ships were lifted straight from the book aside from the Fustas which I rated as Q2 C1 with Galley, Shallow Draft and Yare. Domas and Wachter both had the Relay trait which extends the flagship's command radius.

I set up the terrain and wind randomly. The Dutch got initiative and chose a corner, then the Portuguese chose theirs.

Here's the Portuguese, heading south-west on an east wind. At the back is Domas, followed by Serang. In the middle is Santa Cruz, followed by the flagship Sao Salvador. And in the foreground is Nazare, followed by Sao Simeo.


The Dutch were on a north-west heading. Zeeland took the lead, followed by Gelderland. Utrecht was to their starboard and Wachter to the port.

The Portuguese were good on raw strength, but their ships were cumbersome to command. The Dutch vessels were lighter, but had a shallow draft and turned well. The Dutch needed to avoid a head to head fight and try to pick off individual carracks hoping to score criticals and disrupt the enemy squadron's movements. To this end they immediately turned north, aiming to get into the rear of the enemy and seize the weather gauge.

The Portuguese slowly turned towards the south. A shift of wind saw it coming from the north-east, slowing the Dutch, but also making life harder for the Portuguese who found themselves making longer moved now the wind was on their beam.

The opening shots saw the Zeeland fire on Nazare.

Nazare returned fire. Neither side suffered any damage.

The wind began to shift back to the east. In fact during the course of the game it would continue to veer; by the end it was blowing from the south. The Dutch ships swung into the rear of the Portuguese squadron, guns firing, but couldn't inflict any significant damage.

The Portuguese tried to get into the area away from the islands, so they could safely turn and face their opponents. The Dutch pursued. Nazare suffered navigational difficulties and ended up heading towards a small island.

The Dutch plan was to fall on to the rearmost ships of the Portuguese squadron. Zeeland and Utrecht would go after Sao Salvador, whilst Gelderland and Wachter would engage Sao Simeo. But the little Portuguese galleys were moving up as well.

Sao Simeao engaged Gelderland causing some damage.

Meanwhile the fusta Domas ran aboard Zeeland and grappled it. Both sides prepared boarding parties, as Utrecht came up in support.

Nazare couldn't turn out of trouble, and ran aground. Its crew abandoned it.

The crew of the Zeeland seized the initiative and swept on board the Domas, rapidly gaining the upper-hand in the fighting. The Portuguese ship was a mere hairsbreadth from striking.

Meanwhile Sao Simeao and Santa Cruz were slipping away from the Dutch as they tried to turn back into the fight. Gelderland turned and moved to intercept the enemy flagship, Sao Salvador.

Meanwhile the surviving crew of the Domas rallied, and drove the crew of the Zeeland back to their own ship. Caught totally by surprise the Dutch surrendered.

(In game terms the Zeeland scored a 6:1 in their favour when they initiated their boarding action, crippling the Portuguese galley. But the Portuguese got enough activations to respond with a counter-boarding action, and also scored a 6:1, inflicting a crippling hit on the Zeeland. The Zeeland failed an activation on the next turn and struck)

Serang was closing on Utrecht, but the gunners on the Dutch ship were quick and accurate and wrecked the fusta, which caught fire.

Meanwhile Gelderland was in the middle of the main Portuguese squadron, but surprisingly unmolested as teh big carracks expended their efforts on trying to stay in formation and turn.

And what of the smallest Dutch ship? With its lateen rig the Wachter had been slow in coming into the battle as the wind was to its aft. But it swept in as the Domas ungrappled from the struck Zeeland, and raked the galley again and again, leaving it virtually immobile.

The Portuguese exploited the Gelderland's isolation, and the Sao Salvador closed on the smaller Dutch ship. The two vessels were soon locked in a gunnery duel.

Sao Simeao and Santa Cruz were failing to turn, and were rapidly moving out of the action. Utrecht was coming up fast, and fired a broadside which damaged both the hull and rigging of Santa Cruz.

Serang exploded as Domas and Wachter continued their duel. However Domas was too badly damaged and eventually struck.

Sao Simeao fired a broadside at Gelderland, damaging the Dutch flag some more.

As the Sao Salvador closed on the Dutch flagship, the crew of the Gelderland struck. Meanwhile the Sao Simaeo and Santa Cruz left the action, despite the best efforts of the Utrecht to try and damage the latter.

The undamaged Sao Salvador followed the other two carracks rather than try to turn and engage the Utrecht. This left the Dutch in command of the field of battle. However two of their ships were crippled and had struck, leaving them in a bad way. The Portuguese had lost both fustas, and one carrack wrecked early on. So on the whole neither side could claim a victory here; the Dutch would have to contend with the Portuguese coming back, whilst the Portuguese had lost three of their six vessels.

This was a tough, and frustrating, battle for both sides. The Dutch gunnery is potentially good, but the Portuguese ships are tough and difficult to damage. However their ability to activate is abysmal, and they turn very slowly. A good job as if they can fire at a decently short range their gunnery is potentially devastating. The fustas were unexpectedly good; despite their low combat value they could give the Dutch ship a run for their money in a boarding action and if two could have teamed up on once Dutch ship they would have taken it quickly and easily.

This is one I'll probbaly try again.

Postscript: One of the five Dutch ships in the original battle was the Duyfken, which a few years later became the first European vessel to sight and land crew on the coast of Australia. There's a replica of her on display in Sydney.


  1. The port of Bantam, Indonesia gave its name to the small chickens bred there. European sailors found the small chickens useful on board ship.
    FWIW I’ve always found bantams to have waaaaayyyyy more intelligence/personality than full size, standard chickens - but, then again, I don’t think that’s too difficult.

    1. I did wonder if there was a connection in the name. Another word we acquired from Indonesia.

      (Did you know that the name 'cockatoo' - that ubiquitous Australian bird - is Indonesian, and not from a local language?)


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