Battle of Copenhagen (1807)


Battle of Copenhagen (1807)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Copenhagen 1807


caption=Copenhagen on fire, painted by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg
partof=Napoleonic Wars
date=16 AugustSeptember 5, 1807
place=Copenhagen
result=Decisive British victory. Danish navy surrendered to Great Britain.
combatant1=flagicon|United Kingdom United Kingdom
combatant2=flagicon|Denmark Denmark–Norway
commander1=James Gambier
commander2=Ernst Peymann
strength1=
strength2=
casualties1=42 killed,
145 wounded,
24 missingSmith, D. p.254]
casualties2=5,000 soldiers, militia and civiliansSmith, D. p.254]
The Second Battle of Copenhagen, (16 August - 5 September 1807) was a British preemptive attack on Copenhagen, targeting the civilian population in order to seize the Danish fleet.

Background

Denmark was a greater European power than today, possessing the province of Holstein (currently part of Germany) and all of Norway. At this time most of the Danish army under the Crown Prince was defending the southern border against possible attack from the French; thus the defence of Copenhagen was extremely limited.

There was concern in Britain that Napoleon might try to force Denmark to close the Baltic Sea to British ships, perhaps by marching French troops into Zealand. The British believed that access to the Baltic was "vitally important to Britain" for trade as well as a major source of necessary raw materials for building and maintaining warships, and that it gave the Royal Navy access to help Britain's allies Sweden and (before Tilsit) Russia against France. [Wendy Hinde, "George Canning" (Purnell Books Services, 1973), p. 168.] The British thought that after Prussia had been defeated in December 1806, Denmark's independence looked increasingly under threat from France. George Canning's predecessor as Foreign Secretary, Lord Howick, had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Denmark into a secret alliance with Britain and Sweden. [Hinde, p. 169.]

The reports of British diplomats and merchants in northern Europe made the British government feel uneasy and by mid-July the British believed that the French intended to invade Holstein in order to use Denmark against Britain. Some reports had suggested the Danes had secretly agreed to this. [Hinde, p. 170.] The Cabinet decided to act and on 14 July Lord Mulgrave obtained from the King permission to send a naval force of 21 to 22 ships to the Kattegat for surveillance of the Danish navy in order to pursue "prompt and vigorous operations" if that seemed necessary. The Cabinet decided on 18 July to send Francis Jackson on a secret mission to Copenhagen to convince Denmark to give its fleet to Britain. That same day the Admiralty issued an order for more than 50 ships to sail for "particular service" under Admiral James Gambier. On the 19 July Lord Castlereagh, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, ordered General Lord Cathcart at Stralsund to go with his troops to the Sound where they would get reinforcements. [Hinde, p. 170.]

In January 1808 Lord Hawkesbury told the House of Lords that he received information from someone on the Continent "that there were secret engagements in the Treaty of Tilsit to employ the navies of Denmark and Portugal against this country". He refused to publish the source because he said it would endanger their life. [Hinde, p. 171.] During the night of 21/22 July Canning was sent intelligence from Tilsit that Napoleon had tried to persuade Alexander I of Russia to form a maritime league with Denmark and Portugal against Britain. Spencer Perceval, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote a memorandum setting out the government's case for sending forces to Copenhagen: "The intelligence from so many and such various sources" that Napoleon's intent was to force Denmark into war against Britain could not be doubted. "Nay, the fact that he has openly avowed such intention in an interview with the E [mperor] of R [ussia] is brought to this country in such a way as it cannot be doubted. Under such circumstances it would be madness, it would be idiotic...to wait for an overt act". [Hinde, pp. 170-1.]

25,000 troops were put together and the first contingent sailed on 30 July, with Jackson travelling the next day. Canning offered Denmark a treaty of alliance and mutual defence, with a convention signed for the return of the fleet after the war and the protection of 21 British warships with a subsidy for how many soldiers Denmark kept standing. On 31 July Napoleon ordered Talleyrand to tell Denmark to prepare for war against Britain otherwise Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte would invade Holstein. [Hinde, p. 173.] Neither Talleyrand nor Jackson convinced the Danes to end their neutrality so Jackson went back to the British fleet assembled in the Sound on 15 August. The British published a proclamation demanding the deposit of the Danish fleet; the Danes responded with "what amounted to a declaration of war". [Hinde, p. 174.]

Battle

British troops commanded by General Wellesley defeated weak Danish forces near the town of Køge, south of Copenhagen. Within a few days, Copenhagen was completely encircled. The Danes rejected British demands to surrender, so the British fleet under Admiral Gambier bombarded the city from 2 September to 5 September, 1807. On 7 September 1807, Danish General Peymann surrendered both the city and the fleet (eighteen ships of the line, eleven frigates, two smaller ships, two ship-sloops, seven brig-sloops, two brigs, one schooner and twenty-six gunboats) to the overwhelming British and Hanoverian (the King's German Legion) force under General Lord Cathcart. In addition, three 74-gun ships-of-the-line on the stocks were broken up or destroyed, along with two of the aforementioned ships-of-the-fleet and two elderly frigates.

The British fired 5,000 rounds into Copenhagen on the first night of bombardment, only 2,000 rounds into the city on the second night, and 7,000 rounds on the third night. More than 2,000 civilians were killed and 30% of the buildings were destroyed during the battle. The bombardment had included Congreve Rockets, which caused fires. On 5 September the Danes sued for peace and it was signed on 7 September. Denmark agreed to give up their navy and naval stores in return for Britain to leave Copenhagen within six weeks. On 21 October 1807, the British fleet left Copenhagen for England. The war continued up to 1814, when the Treaty of Kiel was signed.

Peymann was under orders from the Crown Prince to burn the Danish fleet,Fact|date=August 2007 as the Danish king at this time was not mentally stable. No one really knows why the fleet was not burned. After capture, one ex-Danish ship-of-the-line, "Neptunos", ran aground and was burnt on or near the island of Hven, and when a storm arose in the Kattegat twenty-three of the captured gunboats similarly had to be destroyed or abandoned. Of the fifteen ships-of-the-line which reached England, all were added to the British Navy but only four — "Christian VII" 80, "Dannemark" 74, "Norge" 74 and "Princess Carolina" 74 — saw subsequent active service.

Aftermath

The news of what happened did not reach Canning until 16 September. He wrote to Rev. William Leigh: "Did I not tell you we would save Plumstead from bombardment?" One week later he wrote: "Nothing ever was more brilliant, more salutary or more effectual than the success [at Copenhagen] " and Perceval expressed similar sentiments. [Hinde, p. 175.] "The Times" said that the confiscation of the Danish fleet was "a bare act of self-preservation" and noticed the short distance between Denmark and Ireland or north-east Scotland. William Cobbett in his "Political Register" wrote that it was "vile mockery" and "mere party cavilling" to claim that Denmark had the means to preserve her neutrality. William Wilberforce MP said the expedition could be defended on grounds of self-defence. Thomas Grenville wrote to his brother Lord Grenville that he could not help feeling "that in their [the government's] situation we should very probably have given the same order without being able to publish to Parliament the grounds on which we had believed in the hostile mind of Denmark". [Hinde, p. 175.] Lord Erskine condemned it by saying "if hell did not exist before, Providence would create it now to punish ministers for that d—able measure".

The opposition claimed the national character was stained and Canning read out in Parliament the previous administration's plans in 1806 to stop the Portuguese navy falling into the hands of France. Canning and Castlereagh wished to hold Zealand and suggested that when the British evacuated it as part of the peace they should immediately occupy it again. This was strongly opposed by Sir Arthur Wellesley, however and it did not happen. [Hinde, pp. 177-78.] The opposition claimed that the attack had turned Denmark from a neutral into an enemy. Canning replied by saying that the British were hated throughout Europe and so Britain could wage an "all-out maritime war" against France without worrying who they were going to upset. [Hinde, p. 186.]

The opposition did not at first table a vote of censure on the battle and instead on 3 February 1808 demanded the publication of all the letters sent by the British envoy in Denmark on information regarding the war-readiness of the Danish navy. Canning replied with a three hour speech which Lord Palmerston described as "so powerful that it gave a decisive turn to the debate". Lord Howick said the speech was "eloquent and powerful" but that it was an "audacious misrepresentation" and "positive falsehood" of the correspondence between himself and Benjamin Garlike. The three motions on this subject were heavily defeated and on 21 March the opposition tabled a direct motion of censure on the battle. It was defeated by 224 votes to 64 after Canning made a speech "very witty, very eloquent and very able". [Hinde, p. 188.]

The ships involved

The following ships sailed with Gambier from England on 26th July 1807:

"Prince of Wales" 98 (flag of Admiral James Gambier, 1st Captain Sir Home Riggs Popham, 2nd Captain Adam Mackenzie)

"Pompee" 74 (Vice-Admiral Henry Edwyn Stanhope, Captain Richard Dacres)

"Centaur" 74 (Commodore Sir Samuel Hood, Captain William Henry Webley)

"Ganges" 74 (Commodore Richard Goodwin Keats, Captain Peter Halkett)

"Alfred" 74 (Captain John Bligh)

"Brunswick" 74 (Captain Thomas Graves)

"Captain" 74 (Captain Isaac Wolley)

"Goliath" 74 (Captain Peter Puget)

"Hercule" 74 (Captain John Colville)

"Maida" 74 (Captain Samuel Hood Linzee)

"Orion" 74 (Captain Sir Archibald Collingwood Dickson)

"Resolution" 74 (Captain George Burlton)

"Spencer" 74 (Captain Robert Stopford)

"Vanguard" 74 (Captain Alexander Fraser)

"Dictator" 64 (Captain Donald Campbell)

"Nassau" 64 (Captain Robert Campbell)

"Ruby" 64 (Captain John Draper)

"Sibylle" 38 (Capt. Clotworthy Upton)

"Franchise" 36 (Capt. Charles Dashwood)

"Nymphe" 36 (Capt. Conway Shipley)
The following vessels joined on 5th August off Helsingor:

"Superb" 74 (Captain Donald M'Leod)
The following further vessels joined on 7th August off Helsingor:

"Minotaur" 74 (Rear-Admiral William Essington, Captain Charles John Moore Mansfield)

"Valiant" 74 (Captain James Young)

"Inflexible" 64 (Captain Joshua Rowley Watson)

"Leyden" 64 (Captain William Cumberland)
The following vessels joined on 8th August or later:

"Defence" 74 (Captain Charles Ekins)

"Mars" 74 (Captain William Lukin)

"Agamemnon" 64 (Captain Jonas Rose)

"Africaine" 32 (Capt. Richard Raggett)
Note that Lieutenant-General Lord Cathcart arrived in the "Africaine" on 12th August to take command of the ground forces.
In addition, there were another three dozen smaller frigates, sloops, bomb vessels and gun-brigs attached to the British fleet, and a very large number of merchant or requisitioned ships carrying troops or supplies.

The ships surrendered

The following Danish warships were surrendered on 7th September under the terms of the capitulation following the attack:
"Christian den Syvende" 84 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Christian VII" 80
"Neptunos" 80 - sailed for Britain, but wrecked en route.
"Waldemar" 80 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Waldemar" 80
"Danmark" 74 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Danmark" 74
"Norge" 74 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Norge" 74
"Fyen" 74 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Fyen" 74
"Kronprinds Friderich" 74 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Kron Princen" 74
"Tre Kroner" 74 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Tree Kronen" 74
"Arveprinds Friderich" 74 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Heir Apparent Frederick" 74
"Skjold" 74 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Skiold" 74
"Odin" 74 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Odin" 74
"Justitia" 74 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Justitia" 74
"Kronprindsesse Maria" 74 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Kron Princessen" 74
"Prindsesse Sophia Friderica" 74 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Princess Sophia Frederica" 74
"Prindsesse Caroline" 74 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Princess Carolina" 74
(Note a sistership of this vessel, the "Prinds Christian Friderick", was not present at Copenhagen at the time of the assault, but was captured and burnt by the British Navy on 23 March 1808.)
"Dittsmarschen" 64 - not sailed to Britain, but deemed useless and burnt.
"Mars" 64 - not sailed to Britain, but deemed useless and burnt.
"Seijeren" 64 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Syeren" 64
"Paerlen" 38 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Perlen" 38
"Rota" 36 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Rota" 38
"Havfruen" 36 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Hasfruen" 36
"Freja" 36 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Freya" 36
"Iris" 36 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Iris" 36
"Najaden" 36 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Nyaden" 36
"Havfruen" 36 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Hasfruen" 36
"Nymfen" 36 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Nymphen" 36
"Venus" 36 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Venus" 36
"Frederichsteen" 26 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Frederickstein" 32
"St Thomas" 22 - not sailed to Britain, but deemed useless and burnt.
"Triton" 22 - not sailed to Britain, but deemed useless and burnt.
"Lille Belt" 22 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as HMS|Little Belt|1807| "Little Belt" 20
"Fylla" 22 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Fylla" 20
"Eijderen" 18 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Eyderen" 18
"Elvin" 18 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Elvin" 18
"Gluckstadt" 18 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Gluckstadt" 16
"Nidelven" 18 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Nid Elven" 16
"Sarpen" 18 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Sarpen" 16
"Glommen" 18 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Glommen" 16
"Mercurius" 18 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Mercurius" 16
"Delphinen" 18 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Delphinen" 16
"Allart" 18 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Allart" 16
"Flyvende Fiske" 14 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Flying Fish" 14
"Brevdrageren" 18 - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Brev Drageren" 12
"Ornen" 12 (schooner) - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Ornen" 12
"Stege" 2 (gunboats) - sailed to Britain, added to British Navy as "Warning" 2
There were a further 25 gunboats similar to the "Stege", of which 23 were destroyed in the Kattegat rather than sailed to Britain - these were the "Arendal", "Nykjobing", "Nakskov", "Aalborg", "Odense", "Langesund", "Stavoern", "Christiansund", "Flensborg", "Wiborg", "Kallundborg", "Helsingoer", "Nestved", "Roeskilde", "Saltholmen", "Fredericksund", "Stubbekjobing", "Rodby", "Nysted", "Svendborg", "Faaborg", "Holbek", "Middelfart", "Assens" and "Kjerteminde".
(Note that in 1809 there was a plan to give almost all of captured vessels more 'traditional' British warship names, but this plan was later cancelled, and most Danish vessels retained their original names (or at least, 'anglicised' versions thereof) until they were taken to pieces.)

Footnotes

References

* Smith, D. "The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book". Greenhill Books, 1998.
* Winfield, Rif. "British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1793 - 1817". Chatham Publishing, 2005.

See also a new account of the British assault on Denmark in 1807 - 'Defying Napoleon. How Britain bombarded Copenhagen and seized the Danish Fleet in 1807' by Thomas Munch-Petersen (Sutton Publishing, 2007) Details available on http://www.copenhagen1807.info.

Historical Fiction

Author: Bernard Cornwell;Title: "Sharpe's Prey"-Richard Sharpe and the Expedition to Copenhagen, 1807

External links

* [http://www.fco.gov.uk/Files/kfile/Translation%20of%20Skolehefte%20pamphlet%20-final.pdf The Bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807; by Jens Rahbek Rasmussen; translated by David Frost, British Ambassador in Copenhagen]


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