Battle of Sluys, 1340

Painting of the Battle of Sluys by Jean Froissart, c.late 1300s or early 1400s, that appeared in his Chronicles. Original in the collection of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

Location Sluys, Flanders

In 1338 and 1339, the English coast suffered a series of major raids by French ships augmented by Genoese mercenaries. By 1340, the mercs had abandoned their contracts and gone home, and the English were able to launch raids of their own. King Philip IV of France formed a massive fleet of 202 ships, concentrated in the port of Sluys, now in Holland. English King Edward III had planned to land on the continent through Sluys, but now ordered the conversion of his transports to warships. On 22 June, 1340, an English fleet consisting of 120-250 ships and personally led by Edward, headed for Sluys. They arrived on the 24th, and the French formed three fighting platforms by lashing their ships together, a common tactic before cannons made it impracticable. Edward took his time, and maneuvered to gain a wind and tide advantage. Meanwhile, the French ships drifted out of position, and the commanders ordered them to break up their formations and return to protect the port. It was a fatal decision. Edward's fleet was able to fall upon small sections of the disorganized French, and defeat them before moving on. The English suffered very few casualties, while the French lost 16-20,000 men, and around 190 ships. The Battle of Sluys is one of the most devastating defeats in the annals of warfare, but Edward was unable to fully capitalize on the victory. He landed his army and besieged Tournai, but the French were able to rebuild their fleet within a month, and were soon back to raiding the English coast, and running arms to the Scots.