|First Battle of Copenhagen|
|Part of the War of the Second Coalition and the English Wars|
Battle of Copenhagen by Nicholas Pocock
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Copenhagen of 1801 (Danish: Slaget på Reden), also known as the First Battle of Copenhagen to distinguish it from the Second Battle of Copenhagen in 1807, was a naval battle in which a British fleet fought and defeated a smaller force of the Dano-Norwegian Navy anchored near Copenhagen on 2 April 1801. The battle came about over British fears that the powerful Danish fleet would ally with France, and a breakdown in diplomatic communications on both sides.
As the British ships entered the harbour of the Danish fleet, several of its ships stationed in the city's inlet forming a blockade. The Danish fleet defended the capital with these ships and bastions on both sides of the harbour inlet.It was the second attempt by the British to try to prevent a Franco-Danish alliance, as the British had already entered Øresund with a fleet in August 1800, in order to persuade Denmark not to ally with France. The Danes agreed to the British terms upon hearing news of the assassination of Tsar Paul I of Russia, as his death meant the end of the Russian-led League of Armed Neutrality of which Denmark was a member.
The battle was the result of multiple failures of diplomacy in the latter half of the 18th century. At the beginning of 1801, during the French Revolutionary Wars, Britain's principal advantage over France was its naval superiority. The Royal Navy searched neutral ships trading with French ports, seizing their cargoes if they were deemed to be trading with France.It was in the British interest to guarantee its naval supremacy and all trade advantages that resulted from it. The Russian tsar, Paul, having been a British ally, arranged a League of Armed Neutrality comprising Denmark, Sweden, Prussia, and Russia, to enforce free trade with France. The British viewed the League to be very much in the French interest and a serious threat. The league was hostile to the British blockade and, according to the British, its existence threatened the supply of timber and naval stores from Scandinavia.
In early 1801, the British government assembled a fleet off Great Yarmouth at Yarmouth Roads,with the goal of breaking up the league. The British needed to act before the Baltic Sea thawed and released the Russian fleet from its bases at Kronstadt and Reval (now Tallinn). If the Russian fleet joined with the Swedish and Danish fleets, the combined fleets would form a formidable force of up to 123 ships-of-the-line. The British fleet was under the command of Admiral Hyde Parker, with Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson as second-in-command.
Frustrated by the delay, Nelson sent a letter to Captain Thomas Troubridge, a friend and a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty. [ clarification needed ]This prompted the Earl of St Vincent (First Lord of the Admiralty) to send a private note, which resulted in the fleet sailing from Yarmouth on 12 March. Orders were sent to Parker to go to Copenhagen and detach Denmark from the league by "amicable arrangement or by actual hostilities", to be followed by "an immediate and vigorous attack" on the Russians at Reval and then Kronstadt. The British fleet reached the Skaw (Danish: Skagen) on 19 March, where they met a British diplomat, Nicholas Vansittart, who told them that the Danes had rejected an ultimatum.
Although the Admiralty had instructed Parker to frustrate the league, by force if necessary, he was a naturally cautious person and moved slowly. He wanted to blockade the Baltic despite the danger of the combination of fleets; Nelson wanted to ignore Denmark and Sweden, who were both reluctant partners in the alliance, and instead sail to the Baltic to fight the Russians.In the end Nelson was able to persuade Sir Hyde to attack the Danish fleet currently concentrated off Copenhagen. Promised naval support for the Danes from Karlskrona, in Sweden, did not arrive, perhaps because of adverse winds. The Prussians had only minimal naval forces and also could not assist. On 30 March, the British force passed through the narrows between Denmark and Sweden, sailing close to the Swedish coast to put themselves as far from the Danish guns as possible; fortunately for the British, the Swedish batteries remained silent.
Attacking the Danish fleet would have been difficult as Parker's delay in sailing had allowed the Danes to prepare their positions well. Most of the Danish ships were not fitted for sea but were moored along the shore with old ships (hulks), no longer fit for service at sea, but still powerfully armed, as a line of floating batteries off the eastern coast of the island of Amager, in front of the city in the King's Channel. The northern end of the line terminated at the Tre Kroner ('Three Crowns' — Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, referring to the Kalmar Union, Three Crowns is also the Swedish coat of arms) forts armed with 68 guns (equal to twice the broadside of a ship-of-the-line). North of the fort, in the entrance to Copenhagen harbour, were two ships-of-the-line, a large frigate, and two brigs, all rigged for sea, and two more hulks. Batteries covered the water between the Danish line and the shore, and further out to sea a large shoal, the Middle Ground, constricted the channel. The British had no reliable charts or pilots, so Captain Thomas Hardy spent most of the night of 31 March taking soundings in the channel up to the Danish line. Even so, the British ships were not able to locate the deepest part of the channel properly and so kept too far to seaward.
Parker gave Nelson the twelve ships-of-the-line with the shallowest drafts, and all the smaller ships in the fleet.[ citation needed ] Parker himself stayed to the north-east of the battle with the heavier ships – whose deeper drafts did not allow them to safely enter the channel – screening Nelson from possible external interference and moving towards Copenhagen to engage the northern defences. Nelson transferred his command from the large 98-gun HMS St George to the shallower 74-gun HMS Elephant for this reason.
On 30 March, Nelson, and his second-in-command, Rear Admiral Thomas Graves, accompanied by Captain Domett and the commanding officer of the troops, Lieutenant Colonel William Stewart, sailed in the hired lugger Lark to reconnoitre the Danish defences at Copenhagen. [ citation needed ]They found the defences to be strong and so spent the evening discussing the plan. Fixed batteries had a significant advantage over ship borne cannon owing to their greater stability and larger guns, and the Danes could reinforce their ships during the battle. On the other hand, their ships were a motley collection, many of them small, and out-gunned if engaged by the whole of Nelson's force.
Nelson's plan was for the British ships to approach the weaker, southern end of the Danish defences in a line parallel to the Danish one. As the foremost ship drew alongside a Danish ship, it would anchor and engage that ship. The remainder of the line would pass outside the engagement until the next British ship drew alongside the next Danish ship, and so on. The frigate HMS Desirée, together with small gun-brigs, would rake the Danish line from the south, and a force of frigates, commanded by Captain Edward Riou of HMS Amazon, would attack the northern end of the line. Troops would land and assault the Tre Kroner fortress once the fleet had subdued the Danish line of ships. Bomb vessels would sit outside the British line and bombard the Danes by firing over it. Should the British be unable to subdue the stronger, northern defences, the destruction of the southern ships would be enough to allow the bomb vessels to approach within range of the city and force negotiations to prevent the bombardment of the city.[ citation needed ]
With a southerly wind on 2 April, Nelson picked his way through the shoals. However, HMS Agamemnon ran aground before entering the channel, and took no part in the battle. Then HMS Russell and HMS Bellona ran aground on the Middle Ground, severely restricting their role in the battle. The loss of the three vessels required hurried changes in the line and weakened the force's northern end.[ citation needed ]
The Danish batteries started firing at 10:05 am, the first half of the British fleet was engaged in about half an hour, and the battle was general by 11:30 am.Once the British line was in place there was very little manoeuvring. The British ships anchored by the stern about a cable from the line of Danish ships and batteries, which was relatively long range, and the two exchanged broadsides until a ship ceased firing. The British encountered heavy resistance, partly because they had not spotted the low-lying floating batteries, and partly because of the courage with which the Danes fought. The northern Danish ships, which were rigged and manned, did not enter the battle but remained on station as reserve units, even though the wind direction forced Parker's squadron to approach only slowly.
At 1:00 pm, the battle was still in full swing. Prøvesteenen's heavier fire would have destroyed HMS Isis if it had not been raked by Desirée, assisted by HMS Polyphemus. HMS Monarch suffered badly from the combined fires of Holsteen and Sjælland.
Admiral Parker could see little of the battle owing to gun smoke, but could see the signals on the three grounded British ships, with Bellona and Russell flying signals of distress and Agamemnon a signal of inability to proceed.Thinking that Nelson might have fought to a stand-still but might be unable to retreat without orders (the Articles of War demanded that all ranks "do their utmost" against the enemy in battle), at 1:30 pm Parker told his flag captain:
I will make the signal of recall for Nelson's sake. If he is in condition to continue the action, he will disregard it; if he is not, it will be an excuse for his retreat and no blame can be imputed to him.
Nelson ordered that the signal be acknowledged, but not repeated. He turned to his flag captain, Thomas Foley, and said "You know, Foley, I only have one eye — I have the right to be blind sometimes," and then, holding his telescope to his blind eye, said "I really do not see the signal!"Rear Admiral Graves repeated the signal, but in a place invisible to most other ships while keeping Nelson's "close action" signal at his masthead. Of Nelson's captains, only Riou, who could not see Nelson's flagship Elephant, followed Parker's signal. Riou withdrew his force, which was then attacking the Tre Kroner fortress, exposing himself to heavy fire that killed him.
It was at this time that the battle swung decisively to the British, as their superior gunnery took effect. The guns of the dozen southernmost Danish ships had started to fall silent owing to the damage they had sustained, and the fighting moved northward. According to British eyewitness accounts, much of the Danish line had fallen silent by 2:00 pm.The cessation of firing left the way open for the British bomb vessels to approach Copenhagen. In addition, the reinforcements of the ships from the shore batteries were causing the latter to become ineffective.
Nyborg tried to leave the line with Aggershuus in tow, but both sank. The most northerly ship, the frigate Hjælperen, successfully withdrew. The Danish commander, Commodore Olfert Fischer, moved from Dannebrog at 11:30 am, when it caught fire, to Holsteen. When Indfødsretten, immediately north of Holsteen, struck its colours at about 2:30 pm, he moved on to the Tre Kroner fortress. There he engaged three of Parker's ships,[ clarification needed ] which had lost their manoeuvrability after being badly damaged and had drifted within range. Indfødsretten resumed firing after Captain Schrodersee was ferried to it and took command of the ship.
Perhaps because of inexperienced crews, several Danish ships fired on British boats sent out to them after their officers had signalled their surrender. Nelson said that he "must either send on shore and stop this irregular proceeding, or send in our fire ships and burn them" and went to his cabin to write a note to the Danes. He sent it with a Danish-speaking officer, Captain Sir Frederick Thesiger, under a flag of truce to the Danish-Norwegian regent, Crown Prince Frederik, who had been watching the battle from the ramparts of the Citadel.The note read:
To the Brothers of Englishmen, the Danes
Lord Nelson has directions to spare Denmark when she is no longer resisting, but if firing is continued on the part of Denmark, Lord Nelson will be obliged to set on fire the floating batteries he has taken, without having the power of saving the brave Danes who have defended them.
All action ceased when Crown Prince Frederick sent his Adjutant General, Hans Lindholm (a Danish member of parliament), asking for the reason for Nelson's letter. He[ who? ] was asked to put it in writing, which he did, in English, while making the joke:
If your guns are not better pointed than your pens, then you will make little impression on Copenhagen.
In reply, Nelson wrote a note:
Lord Nelson's object in sending the Flag of Truce was humanity; he therefore consents that hostilities shall cease, and that the wounded Danes may be taken on shore. And Lord Nelson will take his prisoners out of the Vessels, and burn and carry off his prizes as he shall see fit.
Lord Nelson, with humble duty to His Royal Highness the Prince of Denmark, will consider this the greatest victory he has ever gained, if it may be the cause of a happy reconciliation and union between his own most gracious Sovereign, and His Majesty the King of Denmark.— Nelson, [ citation needed ]
which was sent back to the Crown Prince. He then referred Lindholm to Parker on HMS London. Following him there at 4:00 pm,[ clarification needed ] a twenty-four-hour ceasefire was agreed.
After fighting had ended, the Danish flagship Dannebrog exploded at 4:30 pm, killing 250 men. By the end of the afternoon, three more badly-damaged British ships ran aground, including Elephant. The Danish-Norwegian ships had been partly manned by volunteers, many having little or no naval experience, and as they were not all listed after the battle, it is uncertain what the exact Danish-Norwegian losses were. Estimates vary between 1,135 and 2,215 captured, killed or wounded.[ citation needed ] The official report by Olfert Fischer estimated the Danish-Norwegian casualties to be between 1,600 and 1,800 captured, killed or wounded.[ citation needed ] According to the official returns recorded by each British ship, and repeated in dispatches from Nelson and forwarded by Parker to the Admiralty, British casualties were 963 killed and wounded.[ citation needed ]
Of the Danish ships engaged in the battle, two had sunk, one had exploded, and twelve had been captured. The British could not spare men for manning prizes as they suspected that further battles were to come. They burned eleven of the captured ships, and only one, Holsteen, was sailed to England with the wounded under surgeon William Fergusson. Holstein (later HMS Nassau). .Holsteen was then taken into service with the Royal Navy and renamed HMS
The next day, Nelson landed in Copenhagen to open negotiations. Colonel Stewart reported that "the population showed an admixture of admiration, curiosity and displeasure".[ citation needed ] In a two-hour meeting with the Crown Prince (who spoke English), Nelson was able to secure an indefinite armistice. He then tried to convince first Fischer (whom he had known in the West Indies), and then the Prince, of British protection against the Russians. Negotiations continued by letter and on 8 April Nelson returned in person with a formal agreement.
The one sticking point out of the seven articles was a sixteen-week armistice to allow action against the Russians. [ citation needed ]At this point Stewart claims that one of the Danes turned to another and said in French that disagreement might lead to a renewal of hostilities. "Renew hostilities!" responded Nelson, and turning to his interpreter said "Tell him that we are ready in a moment; ready to bombard this very night!" Hurried apologies followed (the British fleet now occupied positions that would allow the bombardment of Copenhagen) and agreement was reached and signed the next day. The armistice was reduced to fourteen weeks, but during it armed neutrality would be suspended and the British were to have free access to Copenhagen. Danish prisoners were also paroled. In the final hour of negotiations, the Danes found out (but not the British) that Tsar Paul had been assassinated. This resulted in the dissolution of the League of Armed Neutrality and allowed the Danes to accept British terms. The final peace agreement was then signed on 23 October 1801.
On 12 April, Parker sailed to Karlskrona and on the British approach, the Swedish fleet returned to the port where Parker attempted to persuade them to also leave the League. [ citation needed ]Parker refused to sail into the eastern Baltic and instead returned to Copenhagen, where he found that news of his lack of vigour had reached London. On 5 May, he was recalled and ordered to hand his command over to Nelson. Nelson sailed eastwards again and, leaving six ships-of-the-line at Karlskrona, he arrived at Reval on 14 May to find that the ice had melted and the Russian fleet had departed for Kronstadt. He also found out that negotiations for ending the armed neutrality had started and so withdrew on 17 May. As a result of the battle, Lord Nelson was created Viscount Nelson of the Nile.
This was not the end of the Danish-Norwegian conflict with the British. In 1807, similar circumstances led to another British attack, in the Second Battle of Copenhagen.
Fischer's division in the King's Deep (order south–north. Only Sjælland and Holsteen were in good condition, also note the age of the ships.) These seven were listed by Nelson on 2 May 1801 with his numbering of actual gun ports in bold:
Fischer's division in the Inner Run (These ships did not see action)
All those listed in the Inner Run, apart from Elephantenwhich was decommissioned later in 1801 and apparently used as a blockship and a powder store (Karduser), were captured by the British at the later Battle of Copenhagen (1807)
Steen Bille's divisionThese ships did not see action, the list is incomplete. Around 14 modern ships of the line and the same number of smaller ships were kept in the harbour.
The death of Tsar Paul of Russia changed the diplomatic scene and reduced the political importance of the battle, and material losses in the battle were of little importance to the fighting strength of either navy (the Danish side had taken great care to spare its first-class ships), it did however demonstrate that British determination to ensure continued naval superiority in the war against France was supreme.
The Second Battle of Copenhagen was a British bombardment of the Danish capital, Copenhagen, in order to capture or destroy the Dano-Norwegian fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. The incident led to the outbreak of the Anglo-Russian War of 1807, which ended with the Treaty of Örebro in 1812. In Denmark it is widely known as the first terror attack on a European capital.
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Vice-Admiral Sir George Murray KCB was an officer in the Royal Navy who saw service in a wide range of theatres and campaigns. His active naval career spanned the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Murray served under many of the most notable commanders of his age and participated in several of their greatest victories. He was with Parker and Howe in the West Indies and North America, Johnstone and Hughes in the East Indies, Jervis at Cape St Vincent, Nelson at Copenhagen, and took part in a host of other actions and engagements. Temporarily a captive of the French he was a keen scholar and spent time learning the French language and their naval customs, as well as being a competent surveyor, experience that was to help him in later life. He had a particularly enduring friendship with Nelson, who personally requested his services as his captain of the fleet. It was only chance that prevented Murray from serving as such at Trafalgar. With Murray absent, Nelson declined to appoint a replacement, one biographer reasoning that "none but Murray would do".
Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Baker KCB was an officer of the Royal Navy, who saw service during the American War of Independence, and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He had obtained his own command during the French Revolutionary Wars and was to play a part in bringing about three of the battles of the Napoleonic Wars, the Battle of Copenhagen, the Battle of Trafalgar, and the Battle of Cape Ortegal. He only directly participated in the third, but his actions there, and the capture of the French frigate Didon (1805) beforehand brought him honours and rewards. While towing the Didon to a British port, he and another vessel were sighted by the combined Franco-Spanish fleet under Pierre-Charles Villeneuve, and mistaken as scouts for the Channel Fleet. He therefore turned south to Cadiz, leading to the abandonment of the planned invasion of England, and the destruction of the French fleet at Trafalgar by Horatio Nelson some months later. He rose through the ranks after the end of the wars with France, and was commander of the South America Station during Charles Darwin's voyage aboard HMS Beagle. He eventually died with the rank of vice-admiral in 1845 after a long and distinguished career.
Captain Henry Inman was a British Royal Navy officer during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, serving in the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. Inman's service in the American war was punctuated by three shipwrecks: the burning of HMS Lark off Rhode Island in the face of a superior French squadron, the grounding of HMS Santa Monica on Tortola and the foundering of Hector following an engagement with two French ships in the Mid-Atlantic. After the war he was placed in reserve until the Spanish Armament of 1790, when he was given command of the 14-gun cutter HMS Pygmy stationed off the Isle of Man.
Sir John Lawford was an officer of the Royal Navy who served during the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
Rear-Admiral Edward Sneyd Clay was an officer of the Royal Navy who served during the American War of Independence, and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
Thomas Charles Brodie was an officer in the Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. As a lieutenant, he fought at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 and the Siege of Acre in 1799. Promoted to the rank of commander on 14 February 1801, Brodie is one of two people credited with the command of HMS Arrow at the Battle of Copenhagen in April.
William Cuming (1760–1824) was an officer in the Royal Navy who served during the American and French Revolutionary Wars. He was the captain of HMS Russell at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, where his men captured the Danish ship of the line Prøvesteenen. In 1805, as flag captain aboard HMS Prince of Wales, he returned to England for Robert Calder's court martial, following perceived inaction at the Battle of Cape Finisterre. Cuming, therefore, missed the Battle of Trafalgar.
Captain Jonas Rose was a Royal Navy officer during the American Revolutionary, French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He commanded at the Battles of Copenhagen in 1801 and 1807, and the operations in the Baltic that followed. On 16 June 1809, he wrecked his ship, HMS Agamemnon, off Maldonado, Uruguay, the second such accident of his career. He never commanded again and died in Portsmouth in 1820.
John Yelland (1755–1827) was an officer in the Royal Navy who served during the American Revolutionary, French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. He commanded HMS Monarch at Copenhagen in 1801, for which he was mentioned in despatches but despite this and having served under some influential admirals, his promotion was slow and he never rose above the rank of captain.