Napoleon's planned invasion of the United Kingdom

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Napoleon's invasion of England
Part of the War of the Third Coalition
Premiere-legion-dhonneur.jpg
Napoleon distributing the first Imperial Légion d'honneur
at the Boulogne camps, on August 16, 1804
DatePlanned from 1803 to 1805
Location
English Channel and
Dutch, French and English coasts
Result Called off
Belligerents
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg  France (land and naval forces)
Flag of the navy of the Batavian Republic.svg  Batavian Republic (invasion barges)
Flag of Spain (1785-1873, 1875-1931).svg Spain (as part of combined fleet)
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Napoleon
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Eustache Bruix
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Pierre-Charles Villeneuve
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg Honoré Joseph Antoine Ganteaume
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg George III
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Robert Calder
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Cuthbert Collingwood
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Horatio Nelson
Casualties and losses
Many men were lost on the Boulogne flotilla during preparations

Napoleon's planned invasion of the United Kingdom at the start of the War of the Third Coalition, although never carried out, was a major influence on British naval strategy and the fortification of the coast of southeast England. French attempts to invade Ireland in order to destabilise the United Kingdom or as a stepping-stone to Great Britain had already occurred in 1796. The first French Army of England had gathered on the Channel coast in 1798, but an invasion of England was sidelined by Napoleon's concentration on campaigns in Egypt and against Austria, and shelved in 1802 by the Peace of Amiens. Building on planning for mooted invasions under France's Ancien Régime in 1744, 1759 and 1779, preparations began again in earnest soon after the outbreak of war in 1803, and were finally called off in 1805. Contrary to popular belief, the invasion was called off before the Battle of Trafalgar.[ citation needed ]

Napoleon 19th century French military leader and politician

Napoleon Bonaparte was a French statesman and military leader of Italian descent who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. He was Emperor of the French as Napoleon I from 1804 until 1814 and again briefly in 1815 during the Hundred Days. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over much of continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. He is considered one of the greatest commanders in history, and his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Napoleon's political and cultural legacy has endured as one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history.

War of the Third Coalition war

The War of the Third Coalition was a European conflict spanning the years 1803 to 1806. During the war, France and its client states under Napoleon I defeated an alliance, the Third Coalition, made up of the Holy Roman Empire, Russia, Britain and others.

French expedition to Ireland (1796)

The French expedition to Ireland, known in French as the Expédition d'Irlande, was an unsuccessful attempt by the First French Republic during the French Revolutionary Wars to assist the outlawed Society of United Irishmen, a popular rebel Irish republican group, in their planned rebellion against British rule. The French intended to land a large expeditionary force in Ireland during the winter of 1796–1797 which would join with the United Irishmen and drive the British out of Ireland. The French anticipated that this would be a major blow to British morale, prestige and military effectiveness, and was also intended to possibly be the first stage of an eventual invasion of Britain itself. To this end, the French Directory gathered a force of approximately 15,000 soldiers at Brest under General Lazare Hoche during late 1796, in readiness for a major landing at Bantry Bay in December.

Contents

French preparations

Inspecting the Troops at Boulogne, 15 August 1804 Inspecting the Troops at Boulogne, 15 August 1804.png
Inspecting the Troops at Boulogne, 15 August 1804
Drop Redoubt, part of the Dover Western Heights complex Drop Redoubt - geograph.org.uk - 170889.jpg
Drop Redoubt, part of the Dover Western Heights complex

From 1803 to 1805 a new army of 200,000 men, known as the Armée des côtes de l'Océan (Army of the Ocean Coasts) or the Armée d'Angleterre (Army of England), was gathered and trained at camps at Boulogne, Bruges and Montreuil. A large "National Flotilla" [1] of invasion barges was built in Channel ports along the coasts of France and the Netherlands (then under French domination as the Batavian Republic), right from Étaples to Flushing, and gathered at Boulogne. This flotilla was initially under the energetic command of Eustache Bruix, but he soon had to return to Paris, where he died of tuberculosis in March 1805. The part of the flotilla built by the Batavian Navy was under the command of vice-admiral Carel Hendrik Ver Huell.

Camp of Boulogne

The Boulogne camp may designate two military camps around Boulogne-sur-Mer in France.

Bruges Municipality in Flemish Community, Belgium

Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium, in the northwest of the country, and the seventh largest city of the country by population.

Montreuil, Pas-de-Calais Subprefecture and commune in Hauts-de-France, France

Montreuil or Montreuil-sur-Mer is a sub-prefecture in the Pas-de-Calais department in northern France. It is located on the Canche river, not far from Étaples. The sea, however, is now some distance away.

Port facilities at Boulogne were improved (even though its tides made it unsuitable for such a role) and forts built, whilst the discontent and boredom that often threatened to overflow among the waiting troops was allayed by constant training and frequent ceremonial visits by Napoleon himself (including the first ever awards of the Imperial Légion d'honneur). [2] A medal was struck and a triumphal column erected at Boulogne to celebrate the invasion's anticipated success. [3] However, when Napoleon ordered a large-scale test of the invasion craft despite choppy weather and against the advice of his naval commanders such as Charles René Magon de Médine (commander of the flotilla's right wing), they were shown up as ill-designed for their task and, though Napoleon led rescue efforts in person, many men were lost.

Charles René Magon de Médine French admiral

Charles René Magon de Médine was a French contre-amiral killed at the battle of Trafalgar whilst commanding the ship-of-the-line Algésiras - his conduct in the battle is seen by French historians as one of the few redeeming features of that disaster, and his name appears on the Arc de Triomphe. He is also notable as a Grand Officer of the Masonic Grand Orient de France.

Cartoon on the invasion, showing a tunnel under the Channel and a fleet of balloons Invasion1805.jpg
Cartoon on the invasion, showing a tunnel under the Channel and a fleet of balloons

Napoleon also seriously considered using a fleet of troop-carrying balloons as part of his proposed invasion force and appointed Marie Madeline Sophie Blanchard as an air service chief, though she said the proposed aerial invasion would fail because of the winds. [4] (France's first military balloon had been used in 1794 by Jean-Marie Coutelle. [5] ) Though an aerial invasion proved a dead-end, the prospect of one captured the minds of the British print media and public.

Sophie Blanchard French aeronaut

Sophie Blanchard, commonly referred to as Madame Blanchard and is also known by many combinations of her maiden and married names, including Madeleine-Sophie Blanchard, Marie Madeleine-Sophie Blanchard, Marie Sophie Armant and Madeleine-Sophie Armant Blanchard, was a French aeronaut and the wife of ballooning pioneer Jean-Pierre Blanchard. Blanchard was the first woman to work as a professional balloonist, and after her husband's death she continued ballooning, making more than 60 ascents. Known throughout Europe for her ballooning exploits, Blanchard entertained Napoleon Bonaparte, who promoted her to the role of "Aeronaut of the Official Festivals", replacing André-Jacques Garnerin. On the restoration of the monarchy in 1814 she performed for Louis XVIII, who named her "Official Aeronaut of the Restoration".

These preparations were financed by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, whereby France ceded her huge North American territories to the United States in return for a payment of 50 million French francs ($11,250,000). The entire amount was spent on the projected invasion. The United States had partly funded the purchase by means of a loan from Baring Brothers, a British bank. [6]

Louisiana Purchase Acquisition by the United States of America of Frances claim to the territory of Louisiana

The Louisiana Purchase was the acquisition of the territory of Louisiana by the United States from France in 1803. In return for fifteen million dollars, the U.S. acquired a total of 828,000 sq mi. The treaty was negotiated by French Treasury Minister François Barbé-Marbois and American delegates James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston.

French franc Former currency of France

The franc, also commonly distinguished as the French franc (FF), was a currency of France. Between 1360 and 1641, it was the name of coins worth 1 livre tournois and it remained in common parlance as a term for this amount of money. It was reintroduced in 1795. After two centuries of inflation, it was revalued in 1960, with each new franc (NF) being worth 100 old francs. The NF designation was continued for a few years before the currency returned to being simply the franc; some mostly older French continued to reference and value items in terms of the old franc until the introduction of the euro in 1999 and 2002. The French franc was a commonly held international reserve currency of reference in the 19th and 20th centuries.

For his planned subsidiary invasion of Ireland Napoleon had formed an Irish Legion in 1803, to create an indigenous part of his 20,000-man Corps d'Irelande.

Napoleon's Irish Legion was a French light infantry battalion established in 1803 for an anticipated invasion of Ireland. It was later expanded to a four battalion regiment with a depot and won distinction in the Walcheren Expedition, the Peninsular War, and the German Campaign of 1813. It was disbanded in 1815.

British countermeasures

John Bull, a national personification of England, holds the head of Napoleon Bonaparte after a conjectured French invasion. 1803 propaganda by James Gillray. Buonaparte, 48 hours after landing.jpg
John Bull, a national personification of England, holds the head of Napoleon Bonaparte after a conjectured French invasion. 1803 propaganda by James Gillray.

Though the fleet-test was unsuccessful, Britain continued to be on high alert with defences from invasion. With the flotilla and encampment at Boulogne visible from the south coast of England, Martello towers were built along the English coast to counter the invasion threat, and militias were raised. In the areas closest to France new fortifications were built and existing ones initiated against the 1779 invasion completed or improved. Dover Castle had underground tunnels added to garrison more troops, the Dover Western Heights were constructed (with a Grand Shaft to deploy its troops from its hilltop site to sea level rapidly should a landing occur [7] ), and the Royal Military Canal cut to impede Napoleon's progress into England should he land on Romney Marsh. Unfounded rumours of a massive flat French invasion raft powered by windmills and paddle-wheels, a secretly-dug channel tunnel and an invasion fleet of balloons spread via the print media, as did caricatures ridiculing the prospect of invasion. A naval raid on Boulogne was also carried out in October 1804 and British fleets continued to blockade the French and Spanish fleets that would be needed to gain naval superiority long enough for a crossing.

Before the flotilla could cross, however, Napoleon had to gain naval control of the English Channel – in his own words, "Let us be masters of the Channel for six hours and we are masters of the world." He envisaged doing this by having the Brest and Toulon Franco Spanish fleets break out from the British blockade (led at Brest by Collingwood and Toulon by Nelson), and then sail across the Atlantic to threaten the West Indies. This, he hoped, would draw off the Royal Navy force under William Cornwallis defending the Western Approaches. The Toulon and Brest fleets (under Pierre-Charles Villeneuve and Honoré Joseph Antoine Ganteaume respectively) could then rendezvous at Martinique, quickly sail back across the Atlantic to Europe (losing both these pursuing British fleets en route), land a force in Ireland (as in the two French Revolutionary invasions of Ireland in 1796 and 1798) and, more importantly, defeat what parts of the Channel Fleet had remained in the Channel, take control of the Channel and defend and transport the invasion force, all before the pursuing fleets could return to stop them.

This plan was typical of Napoleon in its dash and reliance on fast movement and surprise, but such a style was more suited to land than to sea warfare, with the vagaries of tide and wind and the effective British blockade making it ever more impractical and unlikely to succeed as more and more time passed. Only the Toulon force eventually broke out (on 29 March 1805) and, though it managed to cross the Atlantic, it did not find the Brest fleet at the rendezvous and so sailed back to Europe alone, where it was met by the force blockading Rochefort and Ferrol (where invasion vessels had been prepared), were defeated at the Battle of Cape Finisterre and forced back into port. Therefore, on 27 August 1805 Napoleon used the invasion army as the core of the new Grande Armée and had it break camp and march eastwards to begin the Ulm Campaign. Thus, by the time of the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October, the invasion had already been called off, and so this battle further guaranteed British control of the Channel rather than preventing the invasion. The comment attributed to First Lord of the Admiralty Lord St. Vincent – "I do not say they [the French] cannot come – I only say they cannot come by sea" – had been proved right. [8]

Memorial

Today, the Boulogne camp's site is marked by a 53-metre-high column (the tallest of such columns in France), built in the 1850s, with a statue of Napoleon on top, panels on the base showing him presenting medals of the Légion d'Honneur to his troops and surrounded by railings decorated with the golden French Imperial eagle. The arsenal from the camp is preserved.

See also

References and notes

  1. The National Flotilla is also called the "Boulogne flotilla" in some sources (Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition article "Soignies")
  2. Chandler, David G. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. ISBN   0-02-523660-1, p323
  3. "Medal, 1804, National Maritime Museum".
  4. Horn, Benrd, Lt. Col.; Wyczynski, Michel (2003). Paras Versus the Reich: Canada's Paratroopers at War 1942–1945. Dundurn Press. p. 22.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. "www.ctie.monash.edu.au/hargrave/timeline1.html".
  6. The Louisiana Purchase, Thomas J. Fleming, John Wiley & Sons Inc. 2003, ISBN   0-471-26738-4 (p.129-130)
  7. Western Heights – Heritage factsheet – White Cliffs Country Archived 2009-08-21 at the Wayback Machine
  8. It is attributed to him in a statement by him to House of Lords, though there is no definite evidence he actually said it. "Nelson" . Retrieved 2008-07-11.

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