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Battle of Palermo

Battle of Palermo
Part of the Franco-Dutch War
Battle of Palermo 1676.jpg
Date June 2, 1676
Location Near Palermo
Result French victory
 United Provinces
Commanders and leaders
Dutch Republic Jan den Haen  
Spain Don Diego de Ibarra  
Kingdom of France Comte de Vivonne
Dutch: 9 ships of the line, 8 frigates;
Spanish: 5 ships of the line, 5 frigates, 19 galleys, 4 fireships
24 ships of the line, 5 frigates, 25 galleys, 9 fireships
Casualties and losses
Dutch: 2 ships of the line, 1 frigate, 260 killed;
Spanish: 1 ship of the line, 3 frigates, 2 galleys, about 1700 killed and wounded
9 fireships, about 200 killed and wounded

The naval Battle of Palermo took place on 2 June 1676 during the Franco-Dutch War, between a French force sent to support a revolt in the city of Messina against the Spanish rule in Sicily, and a Spanish force supported by a Dutch maritime expedition force.

The Dutch and Spanish ships were at bay making repairs from an earlier Battle of Augusta where Dutch Lt. Admiral General de Ruyter suffered lethal injuries. His death caused a severe impact on morale of the Dutch. The command of their fleet was transferred to Vice Admiral den Haen while the general command was assumed by Spanish Admiral de Ibarra. The French fleet under nominal command of Comte de Vivonne arrived from Messina. The actual planning of the battle belonged to Vice Admiral Duquesne, Rear Admiral de Tourville and Rear Admiral Gabaret. The Dutch were inclined to meet the French at sea, but they were disappointed greatly by the Spanish conduct in the previous battle. The Dutch and Spanish ships of the line and frigates were springed in a battle line order across the bay with the Spanish galleys in front of them to protect from enemy fireships. The French fleet was larger and more powerful. Many Spanish ships were of older designs equipped with low calibre cannons and incomplete untrained crews. The Dutch crews were very well trained, though also incomplete due to irrecoverable losses in the previous battles and a dysentery epidemic. The French plan was to engage in combat with the Spanish ships first, continue with the Dutch ships and coastal batteries until the bay got covered with gunpowder smoke under which the fireships should attack.

The Spanish ships couldn't maintain the battle order for a long time. Many of them cut spring ropes and left the line without order. Three Spanish frigates were burnt due to a French fireship attack. Two Spanish galleys were destroyed by artillery fire with Admiral de Villaroel killed. When Spanish resistance on the right side of the line collapsed, the French attacked the left side and centre consisting of the Dutch ships mostly with all their force. The Spanish flagship, 70-gun Nuestra Señora del Pilar, was attacked by four French fireships, caught fire and exploded with 200 sailors and both Admirals, de Ibarra and de La Cerda, killed. The majority of Dutch losses could be attributed to another successful French fireship attack on 68-gun Steenbergen which collided with two other Dutch ships, 50-gun Vrijheid and 36-gun Leiden, in a failed evasive manoeuvre. All three Dutch ships caught fire and exploded, though most of their crews escaped successfully. Rear Admiral van Middelandt was killed on board Steenbergen. The Dutch continued to resist though. Vice Admiral den Haen was killed by a cannonball while commanding his flagship, 76-gun Gouda. With all Dutch and Spanish admirals killed, a flag officer of late de Ruyter, Captain Callenburgh of 76-gun Eendracht, assumed general command. One of Spanish coastal batteries exploded and the town caught fire. The Dutch and Spanish were in a dire position, though the French lost all their fireships by this time and Vivonne ordered a return to Messina.

It could be argued the French were able to achieve a complete destruction of the allied Dutch and Spanish fleet at the cost of higher French losses. Vivonne decided the battle had been won already and it was better to return without losing a single warship. The French victory, however, achieved little, and the French forces in Sicily were recalled on 1 January 1678.[1] As in the Franco-Spanish War of 1635-1659, in the Franco-Dutch War Spain retained its position in Italy and proved able to thwart French hopes of major gains.[2]

Order of battle


Vanguard (Duquesne)

Main force (Vivonne)

Rearguard (Gabaret)




  1. ^ Harding, Richard: Seapower and Naval Warfare, 1650-1830. London: UCL Press, 1999. ISBN 9781135364861, p. 99.
  2. ^ Black, Jeremy: European Warfare in a Global Context, 1660-1815. Oxon: Routledge, 2007. ISBN 9781134159222, p. 59.