Battle in the Bay of Matanzas

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Battle in the Bay of Matanzas
Part of the Eighty Years' War
Griffis silver fleet.jpg
Piet Hein capturing the Spanish silver fleet
Date 7 September–8 September 1628
Location Near Matanzas, Cuba

Decisive Dutch Victory

  • Capture of the Spanish treasure fleet by the Dutch
Dutch Republic United Provinces Spain Spain
Commanders and leaders
Dutch Republic Piet Hein
Dutch Republic Witte de With
Spain Juan de Benavides Bazán
31 vessels 21 vessels
Casualties and losses
No casualties

16 vessels captured

Minimal casualties

The Battle in the Bay of Matanzas was a naval battle during the Eighty Years' War in which a Dutch squadron was able to defeat and capture a Spanish treasure fleet.


In 1628, Admiral Piet Hein, with Witte de With as his flag captain, sailed out to capture the Spanish treasure fleet loaded with silver from their American colonies. With him was Admiral Hendrick Lonck, and he was later joined by a squadron of Vice-Admiral Joost Banckert. Part of the Spanish fleet in Venezuela had been warned because a Dutch cabin boy had lost his way on Blanquilla and was captured, betraying the plan, but the other half from Mexico continued its voyage, unaware of the threat. Sixteen Spanish ships were intercepted: one galleon was taken after a surprise encounter during the night, nine smaller merchants were talked into surrendering; two small ships were overtaken at sea, and four fleeing galleons were trapped on the Cuban coast in the Bay of Matanzas. After some musket volleys from Dutch sloops, these ships surrendered also.

Altogether, Hein captured 11,509,524 guilders of booty in gold, silver and expensive trade goods, such as indigo and cochineal, without any bloodshed. The Dutch didn't keep their prisoners: they gave the Spanish crews ample supplies for a march to Havana. The released men were surprised to hear the admiral personally giving them directions in fluent Spanish; Hein after all was well acquainted with the language as he had been a Spanish prisoner after 1603. The taking of the treasure was the Dutch West India Company's greatest victory in the Caribbean.

The money funded the Dutch army for eight months, allowing it to capture the fortress 's-Hertogenbosch, and the shareholders enjoyed a cash dividend of 50% for that year. Hein returned to the Netherlands in 1629, where he was hailed as a hero. Watching the crowds cheering him standing on the balcony of the town hall of Leiden he remarked to the town mayor: "Now they praise me because I gained riches without the least danger; but earlier when I risked my life in full combat they didn't even know I existed." He was the first and last to capture such a large part of a Spanish "silver fleet" from the Americas, these fleets being very well-protected.

Plan of the West Indies Company (WIC)

One squadron of 12 ships (180 cannons), under the command of Direck Symensz, went the state of Permambuco, in the north-east part of Brazil, and took several sugar ships. A second squadron, also of 12 ships, but larger and more heavily armed, was under the command of Pieter Adriaansz from the city of Vlissingen (Flushing, province Zeeland). His orders were to operate in the waters of the West Indies and attack ships from Honduras and Mexico. These squadrons were nothing compared to the main force of the WIC, consisting of 31 ships (14 of more than 250 tons). Among them were the Amsterdam (625 tons – 22 x 48 pounders and 30 x 25 pounders) and the Hollandsche Thuyn (500 tons), enormous ships for those days. The rest of the fleet had 32 and 42 pounders. All in all, the Dutch West Indies Company had 65 ships in the region.

May 22, 1628

The big fleet left Texel and sail to Brazil, staying out of the sight of the Portuguese. What admiral Hein didn’t know was that the Spaniards knew about the plans.

July 10, 1628

A cannon shot was fired when they sighted land. Short after they anchored at St Vincent. Here they put in water and food, except for meat which they couldn't get here. They therefore decided to go to the island Isla Blanca where were a lot of goats. When the fleet left there, they were missing a crewmember. They tried to find the man but did not. They left him behind but this would be a disaster. Shortly after that a privateer ship landed on the island, and found the crewmember sleeping. After interrogating and arresting him, the privateer continued on to La Guayara, where the man was put on a transport to Cartagena. Here he was further interrogated and gave the Spaniards information about the plan to attack their silver fleet from Terra Firma. Piet Hein was lucky that the news had not reached Vera Cruz and the silver fleet from there sailed for Spain.out from there.

Meanwhile, the squadron of Pieter Adriaensz, having reached the West Indies, had no problems until it reached the island Grenada, where 16 crewmen lost their lives, being killed by natives while fishing. Later some prizes or bounty ships were taken. The reconnaissance of the copper harbor of Santiago de Cuba had no result. The squadron cruised the coast of Cuba around Cape Antonio.

July 21, 1628

The 1628 Spanish silver fleet of Mexico departed early. It contained 30 cargo ships and 5 galleons. The latter under the command of Don Juan de Benevides y Bazan as "Capitan-General" with Don Juan de Leoz as second in command or "Almirante" and Don Francisco Denneboa as commander of the soldiers. Immediately after they left Vera Cruz bad luck began for the fleet. Not far from the coast, they were surprised by a storm coming from the north. The Capitana, the admiral's ship, stranded on a beach and the rest returned confused. Some ships were damaged so they could not continue.

July 27, 1628

Piet Hein with his 31 ships reached Cap Tiburon in Hispaniola. From there they went to Isla de Pinos.

July 31, 1628

The squadron of Pieter Adriaensz sighted the Honduras sailors. These large ships seamed to have been warned; they were sailing near the coast, trying in this way to reach the harbor of Havana. They were intercepted by the Leeuwin, the best sailing ship of the Dutch fleet. During this action it ran aground and was heavily damaged by the gunfire of two Spanish ships. Finally both ships were overpowered. One was so heavily damaged that it was decided to put the precious cargo onto the other ship. The Nuestra Señora de los Remedios was set on fire off the coast of Florida. Everything happened very fast because they were waiting for the arrival of the other Spanish ships. All of this was unknown to Piet Hein and he didn't know that the Spaniards know about his presence in the region.

August 3, 1628

During Piet Hein’s voyage from Cap Tiburon to Isla de Pinos, between both capes they saw 2 sails. They immediately began the pursuit. It seemed to be two Dutch ship that came loose from the fleet. The Rode Leeuw and the Pinas both from the chamber of Amsterdam. It seemed they sailed more to the south than the rest of the convoy. The Roode Leeuw and the Pinas joined the fleet after recovery of the attack by the Dunkerque privateers.

August 5, 1628

The ships arrived in San Antonio and were keeled. Between August 5th and 10th the ships were cleaned near Cape Antonio. Because the course of the ships of New Spain was more to the north, Piet Hein went to the Tortugas, a group of islands that continue the Keys on the west side of Florida. There they were told by fishermen that the fleet from New Spain from Vera Cruz could arrive at any moment. Due to unforeseen circumstances it would not arrive for three more weeks, but now the Dutch knew for sure that they still had a chance.

August 8, 1628

The Spanish silver fleet from Mexico left again from Vera Cruz. Their force was reduced to eleven cargo ships and four galleons. The cargo of the ships that were left behind was dispersed under the other ships and also on the war ships. This meant that the warships were packed so full that the guns could just be partly served.

August 21, 1628

The Dutch fleet met two Spanish ships who thought that they were the fleet from New Spain. When they saw the mistake, skipper Marcus d’Almeida told the Dutch that he had sailed by order of the governor of Havana. He knew nothing of the position of the Spanish, or the Dutch fleet but had to warn them. He was held for 29 days aboard the Dutch fleet.

August 22, 1628

To verify the new information the ships immediately went to the north coast of Cuba because the Spanish fleet from Terra Firma or the fleet from New Spain were not here.

August 24, 1628

They arrived at Havana. The castle of El Morro was seen very clearly but it seemed very difficult to sail in that region. The east orientated stream, that goes by the Great Antilles made the ships drift continuously so they lost Havana out of their sight very soon and saw a mountain that, seen from the sea, had the form of a loaf of bread and was called by the Spanish "Pan de Matanzas". While the main force was trying to fight the stream, which was difficult because of the stormy weather, Piet Hein sent out some ships as look-outs.

August 27, 1628

Around this day they had a council because they were already 14 days overdue to the orders of the “Lords of 19”. They proposed to stop the operation and to sail back to Europe.

August 28, 1628

Another Spanish ship was sighted. Witte de With asked to attack and obtained permission. The ship with his 50 men crew was overwhelmed. The prisoners were brought to the admiral's ship were they were questioned. This ship was also sent out by the governor of Havana to warn the Spanish fleet. Out of the questioning appeared it that they were coming. So they did not leave for Europe, and thanks to Witte de With the mission would be successful. From the captured prisoners they also heard that the cruising Dutch fleet had been seen by El Morro, that there were 400 to 500 men and 70 guns in the castle. In the two forts in front of the castle were 20 and 28 cannons. So it was the plan to catch the fleet before they could arrive in the strong harbor. There was no danger for this because there were no warships in the harbor of Havana, only a just finished galley and one who was still under construction. Although they were now very sure that the silver fleet could not escape, they didn't know why the fleet was so late.

September 2, 1628

Piet Hein sent out his fastest ship, De Vos again in the direction of the Tortugas to know something about Banckert, whose fleet was still missing. They were not found there.

September 7, 1628

In the morning at sunrise sails were seen at the horizon sailing towards the fleet. It seemed to be the squadron of Banckert; Neptunus, De Goude Sonne, De Goude Leeuw, the Dolphijn (dolphin) and the yacht Postpaert. Finally the fleet was complete.

September 8, 1628

Matanzas lies on Cuba's north coast, east of Havana

During the night the guard of the Witte Leeuw sighted down under their bow a Spanish merchant ship that was lost from the Spanish silver fleet. He shouted to stay away and the Spaniards answered "Qué queréis". The sloops were immediately manned and the Nuestra Señora de la Concepcion was captured. The captain of the ship was brought to the Dutch commander. When the sun came up, about 20 sails were sighted. nine of which were captured with some difficulty. Afterwards it turned out that, without knowing of the Dutch presence, they followed the shooting of the enemy ships during the night. These seemed to be cargo ships.

At a large distance some numbers of big ships were seen. Once they saw the Dutch they went to the coast, trying to reach the bay of Matanzas because Admiral Hendrick Lonck could cut off the way to Havana. The only reachable harbor for the Spaniards was now in the Bay of Matanzas[disambiguation needed]. But these waters were not known to the Spanish steersmen. Meanwhile, there was a race going on. The Dutch did all efforts to overtake the Spaniards.

September 9, 1628

The next morning the Dutch fleet also entered the bay. (There is no agreement in the archives about the time that the Dutch fleet entered the bay of Matanza. Netscher writes “the next day at 9 o clock”, other archives mentioned that Piet Hein was close upon his heels of the Spaniards. Piet Hein was probably not in the possession of good maps of the Cuban coast. Even those of the Spaniards were not accurate because some of their ships stranded on sand banks or other shoal that were not marked on the maps. This made it probable that the Dutch attack happened in the morning. The Spaniards also tried to unload their ships and trying to make an entrenchment on the shore, points into that direction. They wouldn’t have the time if Piet Hein followed them close. The evening before the Dutch tried in vain to cut of the way, although all sails were set and Piet Hein even made them wet to let them catch more wind. The whole Spanish fleet was confused when the Dutch arrived. Some ships were run aground when night fell and were lying in such a way that the available cannons couldn’t reach the entrance of the bay. The Dutch reached the bay in time. Some of their ships also ran aground. Piet Hein had to act quickly because the Spaniards planned to build a stronghold on land and defend the treasures there. When admiral Hein anchored in the bay, he found already several boats around his ship that were set out by admiral Lonck and vice admiral Banckert to enter the ships. Hein went on board of a sloop of the Hollandsche Thuyn and ordered to go first to the ship of the vice admiral Benavides. The crew of the Spanish ship, who already partially left in panic, shot some musket fire, but were talked to by the “General”, that is how the Spaniards called Piet Hein. The same was done with the rest of the fleet.

During one week they were working transferring the cargo of the captured ships to the Dutch fleet. They had not much confidence in the seaworthiness of the Spanish ships. They hurried up because they feared that the fleet of Terra Firma would showed. But this fleet was lying safely and well in the harbor of Cartagena. When making inventory of the booty, it consisted 177.000 pound silver, some gold (some chains and a crown), skins, chests with sugar, etc. The Spanish galleons were partially unloaded. He took 4 Spanish galleons (Santa Ana Maria, Santa Gertrudis, San Juan Bautista and the Nuestra Señora de la Antigua) and one new smaller ship with the same name. All other ships were burned or sunk on site. The Galleon Nuestra Señora de la Antigua was renamed to Santa Lucia. The smaller ship Nuestra Señora de la Antigua was renamed to Medemblik.

September 17, 1628

Two hours before sunrise Piet Hein's fleet left the bay on his way back. The governor from Havana sent out two ships to the street of Florida to watch for the Dutch fleet, one in the north and one in the south. It was sent 140 miles west of the Bermudas. It was given to the yachts Ooievaar and Vos.

September 26, 1628

On his way back admiral Hein wrote the Lords of 19 a letter of the event. It is dated September 26, 1628.

September 30, 1628

The Spanish ships signalled Piet Hein's fleet passing the passage of Florida.

October 25, 1628

During the night the Santa Gertrudis lost his foremast and the stem of the ship.

October 31, 1628

After installing a new mast she was seen the 31st for the last time. In a short time the admiral had left only 14 ships. Afterwards some ships rejoined the convoy.

November 14, 1628

The Ooievaar arrived in Rotterdam with the news of the captured fleet. Due to many storms the master fleet it was very hard.

December 4, 1628

Further they lost a lot of men by scurvy. The main fleet arrived at the island Wight were the met Jan Evertsen with 3 warships. The Santa Gertudis, full with sick men, arrived in the harbor of Falmouth in sinking condition and was sold there for 200 pound.

List of ships[edit]

Dutch ship list: (31)

  • Amsterdam - Admiral-General Hein
  • Hollandse Tuin - Admiral Lonck
  • Neptunus - Vice Admiral Banckert
  • Utrecht - Schout-bij-nacht (rear admiral) Cornelis Claeszoon Melckmeyt
  • Hollandia
  • Gelderland
  • Provincie Utrecht
  • Witte Leeuw
  • Zwarte Leeuw
  • Rode Leeuw
  • Vergulde Valk
  • Haarlem
  • Pinas
  • Tijger
  • Gouden Zon
  • Dordrecht
  • Monnickendam
  • Griffioen
  • Gouden Leeuw


  • Muiden
  • Naarden
  • Eenhoorn
  • Zwarte Ruiter
  • Langebark
  • Postpaard
  • Oud-Vlissingen
  • Tijger
  • Ooievaar
  • Dolfijn
  • Vos

Spanish ship list: (21)

  • Santa Ana Maria - Admiral Juan de Benavides y Bazan
Stranded on the south-east coast of Ireland. The captain Pieter Franz knew to save the crew and guns.
  • Santa Gertrudis - Baltasar de Amezquita
Arrived sinking in England and was sold.
  • San Juan Bautista - Alonso de Ayspuru
Called "Platluys" due to the insects on board. Was put on fire in full sea.
  • Santa Lucia de van Guerra
Arrived as troffe on the Schelde. It was renamed "Middelburg" and served for some years.
  • Nuestra Señora de la Antigua - Francisco Ortuno
  • Nuestra Señora de la Concepcion
  • Nuestra Señora de la Antigua (new ship)
  • unknown yet
  • The San Juan Bautista was declared as lost and was destroyed on the way back.
  • The Santa Ana Maria sank on the way back home before the Irish coast.


Coordinates: 23°20′00″N 81°34′00″W / 23.3333°N 81.5667°W / 23.3333; -81.5667