This chapter is probably the most ‘old-fashioned’ part of my thesis. It has mainly consisted of various stories which I have taken back out of the drawer from usually very old literature, spiced up with some eye-witness accounts and supplemented with some additional sources. Little new research or new approaches have gone into this chapter. Nonetheless, I felt that a chapter like this was essential for making this thesis meaningful. Knowing the proceedings of the actual campaigns ‘on-the-ground’ adds the last stage to the wider scope of the previous chapter, showing the actual nature of these wars, as well as the results. Putting several of these detailed campaign descriptions, very different in nature and taking place over a huge area, next to each other, offers a kind of crosssection of VOC warfare in this period.
Particularly when contrasting these campaign histories to the last chapter, this approach yields an interesting insight into the nature of VOC warfare. By substantiating the final result of the entire logistic and organisational system as described in chapter III, which after all existed to defend the Company’s possessions and facilitate these battles, it shows the merits and limits of this system. The merits, for one, become clear when we look at the campaign against Makassar or the second siege of Cochin. In the case of Makassar, it is interesting to see how the extensive knowledge of the situation as well as the tendency to plan everything from Batavia had exactly the desired result. Six months before the attack took place, the Hoge Regering in Batavia thought up a battle plan which specified the movements of the fleet, the garrisons from where the soldiers for the attack would have to be drawn, and the exact proceedings of the attack on Makassar, with pretty much every move described in detail. Months later, this plan proved its worth as Van Dam was able to successfully execute it to the letter. The Hoge Regering in Batavia clearly knew what it was doing. In the case of the second siege of Cochin, we wonderfully see the logistical and organisational network kick into gear. Within two months of the news that the war could go on, the Company had amassed an army of both its own soldiers and its allies in Batavia, 800 strong, and had specified where the rest of the army would have to come from. The way in which Godske was sent ahead to mobilize the Malabarese garrisons, Van Goens was ordered to take soldiers from Ceylon, and the gunpowder order to the Coromandel Coast was immediately sent out, all give testimony to the functioning of the Company’s great knowledge of its own possessions and a logistical system to put this knowledge to good use. The Hoge Regering in Batavia was able to mobilize half of Asia from its council room, and even though not all of its plans were executed exactly as hoped (for one, no soldiers from the Cape showed up at Cochin), the way in which “the plan came together” remains an astonishing feat.
The case studies of this chapter, however, have also shown that one could not plan for everything. As Clausewitz wrote: “War is the province of chance. In no other sphere of human activity must such a margin be left for this intruder. It increases the uncertainty of every circumstance and deranges the course of events.” This applied all the more strongly in the vast area of operation of the VOC. Due to the time news took to travel, the Company was always acting upon outdated news. In addition, it was to a very great degree dependent on such whimsical things as the wind for the success of its campaigns. We see this exemplified in the first siege of Cochin: the already somewhat shaky and overenthusiastic plan for this campaign was subsequently further complicated by circumstances which simply could not be planned for, such as the various storms and fires ruining the powder supply or the rather lacking cooperation of the Company’s local ally. Even Van Goens, who had been working nearby on the Coromandel Coast, could not possibly know how well Cochin would be defended when he arrived there. Although Van Goens could adapt plans and tactics to the circumstances, the resources he had at his disposal were entirely determined by earlier planning.
Indeed, reading through the various case-studies treated in this chapter, one gets the impression that storm might have been the most decisive factor in the wars of these years, saving Macao and Mozambique from attack, preventing the aid to Coyet from materializing in time, and severely hampering the 1661 campaign on the Malabar Coast. If we were to follow the reasoning of contemporary Europeans on this matter, who often attributed favourable winds during naval campaigns to divine intervention, we might be tempted to conclude that perhaps in 1588 in the English Channel the winds might have been protestant, but that in Asia in our period of study, they were definitely Catholic. This was certainly the opinion of Van Goens, whom we have seen explicitly wondering whether God Almighty might be attempting to sabotage his campaign. Of course, Van Goens had no idea how many Portuguese fleets were hit or destroyed by storms in this period, and admittedly, neither do I.
Finally, this chapter has also attempted to add to the previous chapters the experience of war, by showing the entire period not in the form of tables, or from the perspective of the decisionmakers, but also from the eyes of soldiers, surgeons and preachers who were actually participating in the campaigns and working in the line of fire. This has hopefully added the roar of the cannon, the long months at sea, and the chaos of battle to an otherwise somewhat technical approach of Company warfare in this period. I have also hoped to show this ‘human aspect’ with regard to the Portuguese. Whereas the former chapters might have rendered an image of these campaigns against the Portuguese as some sort of chess-game, in which both parties had a number of pieces at their disposal, the war was not by far as symmetrical. Van Goens’ remark on his laying siege to a city the size of Leiden gets a wholly new significance when we take into account that he would afterwards simply ‘disband’ this city, by deporting one part of the population and scaring off the rest. Such a city, rid of the society that it had housed, could afterwards become a much smaller trade settlement with garrisoned fortress. This was not one chartered Company driving out another. In order to reach its trade goals, the Company had to drive off an adversary entirely unlike itself; one which had large cities housing schools, churches, civic institutions and a mixed society of which many members no longer considered Portugal their homeland. Van Goens’ successful attempt to monopolize the cinnamon trade, get hold of the Malabar pepper and secure the region, thus drew the curtains on a way of life and society which had existed in this region for 150 years.