Capture of the Dutch fleet at Den Helder

Last updated
Capture of the Dutch fleet at Den Helder
Part of the War of the First Coalition
Helder Morel-Fatio.jpg
Capture of the Dutch fleet by the French hussars
Date23 January 1795 (1795-01-23)
Location
Between Texel and Den Helder

Coordinates: 52°57′30″N4°45′32″E / 52.9583°N 4.7589°E / 52.9583; 4.7589
Result French victory
Belligerents
Statenvlag.svg  Dutch Republic Flag of France.svg Republican France
Commanders and leaders
Statenvlag.svg Hermanus Reintjes
Strength
  • 14 warships
  • 850 guns
  • 1 hussar regiment
  • 1 infantry battalion
Casualties and losses
Dutch fleet captured

The Capture of the Dutch fleet at Den Helder on the night of 23 January 1795 presents a rare occurrence of a "naval" battle between warships and cavalry, in which a French Revolutionary Hussar regiment captured a Dutch Republican fleet frozen at anchor between the 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) stretch of sea that separates the mainland port of Den Helder and the island of Texel. [1] [2] After a charge across the frozen Zuiderzee, [Note 1] the French cavalry captured 14 Dutch ships and 850 guns. [3] A capture of ships by horsemen is an extremely rare feat in military history. [4] [5] [6]

Contents

The French units were the 8th Hussar Regiment and the 15th Line Infantry Regiment of the French Revolutionary Army. Jean-Charles Pichegru was the leader of the French army that invaded the Dutch Republic. The Dutch fleet was commanded by captain Hermanus Reintjes. The actual capture was accomplished by Louis Joseph Lahure. The action happened during the War of the First Coalition, part of the French Revolutionary Wars.

Background

Den Helder is at the tip of the North Holland peninsula, south of the island of Texel, by an inlet to what was then the shallow Zuiderzee bay (Southern Sea). The Zuiderzee has been closed off and partly drained in the 20th century, and what is left of it now forms the freshwater IJsselmeer.

In the fall of 1794, during the War of the First Coalition of the French Revolutionary Wars, general Jean-Charles Pichegru commanded the French Army forces during the conquest of the Netherlands. The French entered Amsterdam on the 19 January 1795 to stay there over winter. Well informed, the general found out that a Dutch fleet was anchored at Den Helder, approximately eighty kilometers north from Amsterdam.

The winter of 1794–1795 was exceptionally cold, causing the Zuiderzee to freeze. [7] Pichegru ordered General of Brigade Jan Willem de Winter to lead a squadron of the 8th Hussar. De Winter had been serving with the French since 1787, and would later command the Dutch fleet in the Battle of Camperdown.

Capture

The prize of the Dutch fleet, stopped by ice in the Texel sea in the winter of 1795, by Charles Louis Mozin Texel 1.jpg
The prize of the Dutch fleet, stopped by ice in the Texel sea in the winter of 1795, by Charles Louis Mozin

General de Winter arrived at Den Helder with his troops during the night of the 23 January 1795. [Note 2] The Dutch fleet was there as expected, trapped by ice. Each hussar carried an infantryman of the 15th Line Infantry Regiment on his horse. After a careful approach to avoid awakening the Dutch sailors (the hussars had covered the horses' hooves with fabric [8] ), Lieutenant-Colonel Louis Joseph Lahure launched the assault. The ice did not break, and the hussars and infantrymen were able to board the Dutch ships. The French captured the Dutch admiral and the vessels' crews; the French suffered no casualties. [8]

Outcome

With the capture of 14 warships, 850 guns, and several merchant ships, the French conquest of the Netherlands was brought to an end. [8] It is one of the few times in recorded military history wherein cavalry captured a fleet; [3] [4] José Antonio Páez's cavalry attack across the Apure River in 1818 is another example. [9] [10]

Prizes

The ships of the line, frigates, and corvettes received French crews in February 1795. France returned all her prizes to the Batavian Republic in May 1795 under the Treaty of The Hague; one of its other provisions was an indemnity of ƒ100 million.

Subsequent events

In the Vlieter Incident on 30 August 1799, a squadron of the navy of the Batavian Republic under the command of Rear-Admiral Samuel Story surrendered to the British Royal Navy. The incident occurred during the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland. It took place in a tidal trench in the channel between Texel and the mainland that was known as De Vlieter, near Wieringen. Two of the vessels the British seized were Admiral de Ruyter and Gelderland.

Factual authenticity

The traditional narrative of French cavalry storming and capturing the ships at Den Helder is primarily based on French sources. Dutch historian Johannes Cornelis de Jonge states that the Dutch fleet had already received orders on 21 January to offer no resistance, based on documentary sources.[ ambiguous ] Instead, a couple French hussars merely crossed the ice to negotiate a handover by the Dutch officers.

Captain Hermanus Reintjes, the Dutch commanding officer, stayed aboard the Admiraal Piet Heyn to await the arrival of general De Winter, who was scheduled to arrive in three days. De Winter subsequently had the officers and crews of the ships pledge an oath that they would peacefully surrender — similar to the oath administered at the surrender of the fleet at Hellevoetsluis several days earlier. De Jonge states that the misconception stems from an 1819 publication by Swiss general Antoine-Henri Jomini, whose account was subsequently cited by French historians. [17]

Related Research Articles

Texel Municipality and island in North Holland, Netherlands

Texel is a municipality and an island with a population of 13,643 in the province of North Holland in the Netherlands. It is the largest and most populated island of the West Frisian Islands in the Wadden Sea. The island is situated north of Den Helder, northeast of Noorderhaaks, also known as "Razende Bol" and southwest of Vlieland.

Jean-Charles Pichegru French general

Jean-Charles Pichegru was a distinguished French general of the Revolutionary Wars. Under his command, French troops overran Belgium and the Netherlands before fighting on the Rhine front. His royalist positions led to his loss of power and imprisonment in Cayenne, French Guiana during the Coup of 18 Fructidor in 1797. After escaping into exile in London and joining the staff of Alexander Korsakov, he returned to France and planned the Pichegru Conspiracy to remove Napoleon from power, which led to his arrest and death. Despite his defection, his surname is one of the names inscribed under the Arc de Triomphe, on Column 3.

Jan Willem de Winter Dutch admiral

Jan Willem de Winter was a Dutch admiral during the Napoleonic Wars.

Battle of Porto Praya

The Battle of Porto Praya was a naval battle that took place during the American Revolutionary War on 16 April 1781 between a British squadron under Commodore George Johnstone and a French squadron under the Bailli de Suffren.

HMS <i>Babet</i> (1794)

HMS Babet was a 20-gun sixth-rate post ship of the British Royal Navy. She had previously been a corvette of the French Navy under the name Babet, until her capture in 1794, during the French Revolutionary Wars. She served with the British, capturing several privateers and other vessels, and was at the Battle of Groix. She disappeared in the Caribbean in 1801, presumably having foundered.

HMS <i>Latona</i> (1781) Sailing frigate of the Royal Navy

HMS Latona was a 36-gun, fifth-rate frigate of the Royal Navy that served during the American Revolution, the French Revolutionary Wars, and the Napoleonic Wars. Shortly after her launch in 1781, she participated in the Battle of Dogger Bank against a Dutch squadron in the North Sea. In September 1782, Latona took part in the relief of Gibraltar and was the first ship in the convoy to pass through the Straits, when Richard Howe sent her ahead, to spy on the condition of the Franco-Spanish fleet in Algeciras Bay.

Vlieter incident Dutch surrender during the War of the Second Coalition

In the Vlieter incident on 30 August 1799, a squadron of the Batavian Navy, commanded by Rear-Admiral Samuel Story, surrendered to the British navy. The incident occurred during the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland. It took place in the tidal trench between Texel and the mainland that was known as De Vlieter, near Wieringen.

Samuel Story Dutch admiral

Samuel Story was a vice admiral of the Batavian Republic Navy. He commanded the squadron that surrendered without a fight to the Royal Navy at the Vlieter incident in 1799.

Theodorus Frederik van Capellen Dutch admiral

Vice-admiral Jonkheer Theodorus Frederik van Capellen, GCMWO, KCB was a Dutch naval officer. He was married to Petronella de Lange (1779–1835). Alexandrine Tinné, female explorer and pioneering photographer, was his granddaughter.

Willemsoord, Den Helder

Willemsoord is a large former Naval base of the Royal Netherlands Navy in Den Helder. It is now a maritime museum, housing the Dutch Navy Museum and the Nationaal Reddingmuseum Dorus Rijkers. In 2009 the replica of the Dutch East India Company ship Prins Willem which was located in a dock burned down.

Louis Lahure Army General

Louis Joseph Lahure was a general in the service of the First French Republic and First French Empire.

Order of battle at the Battle of Camperdown

The Battle of Camperdown was an important naval action of the French Revolutionary Wars, fought off Camperduin on the North Holland coast on 11 October 1797 between a British fleet under Admiral Adam Duncan and a Dutch fleet under Vice-Admiral Jan de Winter. The French Republic had overrun the Dutch Republic two years earlier, reforming it into the Batavian Republic. In early 1797, the Dutch Navy was ordered to sail to Brest and unite with the French Atlantic Fleet in preparation for an invasion of Ireland. Shortly afterwards, the British fleets were paralysed by the Spithead and Nore mutinies, in which the sailors refused to take their ships to sea until they were awarded better pay and conditions. For two months, the English Channel was undefended, but the Dutch failed to take the opportunity to sail from their harbour in the Texel: their preparations were not complete, and a small squadron of loyal British ships under Duncan convinced de Winter that the British fleet was at sea by sending nonsensical signals to fictitious ships over the horizon.

Batavian Navy

The Batavian navy was the navy of the Batavian Republic. A continuation of the Staatse vloot of the Dutch Republic, though thoroughly reorganized after the Batavian Revolution of 1795, the navy embarked on several naval construction programs which, at least on paper, made her a serious rival of the Royal Navy during War of the Second Coalition. However, the Capitulation of Saldanha Bay, the Battle of Camperdown and the Vlieter Incident showed that she did not measure up to that expectation. Nevertheless, the organisational reorganizations proved durable, when the Batavian Republic was succeeded by the Kingdom of Holland, and later, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, so that the present-day Royal Netherlands Navy should trace its ancestry through her.

The Action of 12 May 1796 was a minor naval engagement during the French Revolutionary Wars between a squadron of British Royal Navy frigates and a frigate and four smaller ships of the Batavian Navy. The British squadron had been detached on the previous day from the British North Sea fleet under Admiral Adam Duncan, which was cruising off the Batavian fleet anchorage at the Texel, while the Batavian squadron was returning to the Netherlands from the Norwegian coast where it had been sheltering since suffering defeat at the Action of 22 August 1795 the previous year. As the Batavian squadron neared the Batavian coast, the British squadron under Captain Lawrence Halstead attacked.

Dutch frigate <i>Alliantie</i> (1788)

The Dutch frigate Alliantie was launched in 1788 at Amsterdam. HMS Stag captured her in 1795 and the British Royal Navy took her into service as HMS Alliance. The Admiralty converted her to a storeship shortly after her capture and fitting. She participated at the siege of Acre in 1799 with the result that her crew qualified for the Naval General Service Medal issued in 1847. She was sold in 1802.

Capitulation of Saldanha Bay Surrender in 1796 to the British Royal Navy of a Dutch expeditionary force sent to recapture the Dutch Cape Colony

The Capitulation of Saldanha Bay was the surrender in 1796 to the British Royal Navy of a Dutch expeditionary force sent to recapture the Dutch Cape Colony. In 1794, early in the French Revolutionary Wars, the army of the French Republic overran the Dutch Republic which then became a French client state, the Batavian Republic. Great Britain was concerned by the threat the Dutch Cape Colony in Southern Africa posed to its trade routes to British India. It therefore sent an expeditionary force that landed at Simon's Town in June 1795 and forced the surrender of the colony in a short campaign. The British commander, Vice-Admiral Sir George Elphinstone, then reinforced the garrison and stationed a naval squadron at the Cape to protect the British conquest.

His Majesty's hired armed vessel Marechal de Cobourg served the British Royal Navy under contract during the French Revolutionary Wars. Contemporary records also referred to her as Marshall de Cobourg, Marshall Cobourg, Marshall Cobourg, Marquis Cobourg, Marquis de Cobourg, Cobourg, Coborg, and Saxe Cobourg. Further adding to the difficulty in tracking her through the records, is that although she was originally a cutter, later the Navy converted her to a brig.

Brest Affair

The Brest Affair, also known as the (Failed) Expedition to Brest is the historiographical designation of a scandal during the Patriottentijd that was exploited by the Patriot faction to politically undermine the regime of stadtholder William V. It followed the refusal of the leadership of the navy of the Dutch Republic to obey a direct order to send a flotilla to the French naval base of Brest before 8 October 1787. The refusal caused a scandal that forced the States General to institute a formal inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the refusal, and this inquiry eventually led to a prosecution before a special admiralty court of the parties responsible, led by Pieter Paulus. However, the prosecution took so much time that meanwhile the Patriot faction was suppressed by Prussian military intervention, so that eventually the case was shelved without coming to a resolution.

Dutch ship <i>Batavier</i> (1779)

Batavier was a Dutch 56-gun fourth-rate ship of the line of the navy of the Admiralty of Amsterdam. In 1795 she became part of the Batavian Navy, and on 30 August 1799 was captured by the Royal Navy, who retained her in various subsidiary roles until she was broken up in 1823.

References

Notes

  1. De Jonge quoting correspondence with Lahure, notes that the French troops moved from Haarlem to Den Helder overland, which was more convenient, as there is no need to make a long detour across the Zuiderzee, whether there was ice on it or not; de Jonge, p. 187, note 1. Besides, on the basis of the testimony of eye witnesses he says that the ice on the Zuiderzee would not have been strong enough to carry a squadron of cavalry; de Jonge, p. 184.
  2. De Jonge states that general de Winter only three days later arrived in Den Helder; p. 191.

Citations

  1. Hérodote, La bataille "navale" du Texel
  2. Eschner, Kat. "The Only Time in History When Men on Horseback Captured a Fleet of Ships". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2019-10-15.
  3. 1 2 Tony Jaques, Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: P-Z, p. 1009.
  4. 1 2 Gregory Fremont-Barnes, The French Revolutionary Wars, p. 36. Archived February 23, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  5. George McDonald, Frommer's Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg, p. 353.
  6. "French Cavalry Defeats Dutch Fleet?". www.napoleon-series.org. Retrieved 2016-08-05.
  7. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Histoire humaine et comparée du climat Tome 2: Disettes et révolutions 1740–1860
  8. 1 2 3 Éditions Chronique, Chronique de la Révolution française
  9. Mitre, Don Bartolome (1893). The Emancipation of South America. Argentina: Chapman & Hall. p. 383. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  10. The Spirit and Manners of the Age. London: Frederick Westley and AH Davis. 1828. p. 567. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  11. Demerliac, p. 199. no 1512
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 Van Maanen, unpublished manuscript.
  13. Demerliac, p. 199. no 1513
  14. Demerliac, p. 199. no 1516
  15. Demerliac, p. 199. no 1514
  16. Demerliac, p. 199. no 1515
  17. de Jonge, pp. 185–193.

Sources