Walcheren Campaign

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Walcheren Campaign
Part of the War of the Fifth Coalition
Evacuation de Walcheren par les Anglais - 30 aout 1809 - Composition de PHILIPPOTEAUX.jpg
Illness-stricken British troops evacuating the island of Walcheren on 30 August.
Date30 July – 9 December 1809
Location
Walcheren, Netherlands
Result

Franco-Dutch victory

  • British forces withdraw
Belligerents
Flag of France.svg First French Empire
Flag of the Netherlands.svg Kingdom of Holland
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte
Flag of France.svg Louis Claude Monnet de Lorbeau
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Lord Chatham
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Sir Richard Strachan
Strength
20,000 40,000
Casualties and losses
4,000 dead, wounded or captured
(including 1st battalion, Irish legion)
5,000+ sick
4,000+ dead, wounded or captured
12,000+ sick

The Walcheren Campaign was an unsuccessful British expedition to the Netherlands in 1809 intended to open another front in the Austrian Empire's struggle with France during the War of the Fifth Coalition [1] . Around 40,000 soldiers, 15,000 horses together with field artillery and two siege trains crossed the North Sea and landed at Walcheren on 30 July. This was the largest British expedition of that year, larger than the army serving in the Peninsular War in Portugal. The Walcheren Campaign involved little fighting, but heavy losses from the sickness popularly dubbed "Walcheren Fever". Although more than 4,000 British troops died during the expedition, only 106 died in combat; the survivors withdrew on 9 December.

Kingdom of Holland former country

The Kingdom of Holland was set up by Napoléon Bonaparte as a puppet kingdom for his third brother, Louis Bonaparte, in order to better control the Netherlands. The name of the leading province, Holland, was now taken for the whole country. In 1807 Prussian East Frisia and Jever were added to the kingdom but in 1809, after a British invasion, Holland had to surrender all territories south of the river Rhine to France.

Austrian Empire monarchy in Central Europe between 1804 and 1867

The Austrian Empire was a Central European multinational great power from 1804 to 1867, created by proclamation out of the realms of the Habsburgs. During its existence, it was the third most populous empire after the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom in Europe. Along with Prussia, it was one of the two major powers of the German Confederation. Geographically, it was the third largest empire in Europe after the Russian Empire and the First French Empire. Proclaimed in response to the First French Empire, it partially overlapped with the Holy Roman Empire until the latter's dissolution in 1806.

First French Empire Empire of Napoleon I of France between 1804–1815

The First French Empire, officially the French Empire, was the empire of Napoleon Bonaparte of France and the dominant power in much of continental Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. Although France had already established an overseas colonial empire beginning in the 17th century, the French state had remained a kingdom under the Bourbons and a republic after the Revolution. Historians refer to Napoleon's regime as the First Empire to distinguish it from the restorationist Second Empire (1852–1870) ruled by his nephew as Napoleon III.

Contents

Background

In July 1809, the British decided to seal the mouth of the Scheldt to prevent the port of Antwerp being used as a base against them. [2] The primary aim of the campaign was to destroy the French fleet thought to be in Flushing whilst providing a diversion for the hard-pressed Austrians. However, the Battle of Wagram had already occurred before the start of the campaign and the Austrians had effectively already lost the war.

Scheldt river in France, Belgium and the Netherlands

The Scheldt is a 350-kilometre (220 mi) long river in northern France, western Belgium, and the southwestern part of the Netherlands. Its name is derived from an adjective corresponding to Old English sceald ("shallow"), Modern English shoal, Low German schol, West Frisian skol, and Swedish (obsolete) skäll ("thin").

Antwerp Municipality in Flemish Community, Belgium

Antwerp is a city in Belgium, and is the capital of Antwerp province in Flanders. With a population of 520,504, it is the most populous city proper in Belgium, and with 1,200,000 the second largest metropolitan region after Brussels.

Battle of Wagram battle

The Battle of Wagram was a military engagement of the Napoleonic Wars that ended in a costly but decisive victory for Emperor Napoleon I's French and allied army against the Austrian army under the command of Archduke Charles of Austria-Teschen. The battle led to the breakup of the Fifth Coalition, the Austrian and British-led alliance against France.

John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham commanded the army, whilst Sir Richard Strachan commanded the navy, the full expeditionary force of 37 ships, the greatest which had ever left England, leaving The Downs on 28 July. Commanders included Hugh Downman, Edward Codrington, Amelius Beauclerk, William Charles Fahie, George Cockburn and George Dundas. [3]

John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham British Army general

General John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, was a British soldier and politician. He is best known for commanding the disastrous Walcheren Campaign of 1809.

Sir Richard John Strachan, 6th Baronet GCB was a British officer of the Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, eventually rising to the rank of admiral. Sir Dicky, as his friends referred to him, was the last Chief of Clan Strachan. The Baronetcy became dormant in 1854 as he died without male heir.

The Downs (ship anchorage)

The Downs are a roadstead in the southern North Sea near the English Channel off the east Kent coast, between the North and the South Foreland in southern England. In 1639 the Battle of the Downs took place here, when the Dutch navy destroyed a Spanish fleet which had sought refuge in neutral English waters. From the Elizabethan era onwards, the presence of the Downs helped to make Deal one of the premier ports in England, and in the 19th century, it was equipped with its own telegraph and timeball tower to enable ships to set their marine chronometers.

Campaign

As a first move, the British seized the swampy island of Walcheren at the mouth of river Scheldt, as well as South Beveland island, both in the present-day Netherlands. The British troops soon began to suffer from malaria; within a month of seizing the island, they had over 8,000 fever cases. The medical provisions for the expedition proved inadequate despite reports that an occupying French force had lost 80% of its numbers a few years earlier, also due to disease. Once it had been decided to garrison Walcheren Island in September 1809, Pitt was replaced by Lieutenant-general Eyre Coote who in October was replaced by Lieutenant-general George Don. [2]

Walcheren Former Island in Zeeland, Netherlands


Walcheren is a region and former island in the Dutch province of Zeeland at the mouth of the Scheldt estuary. It lies between the Eastern Scheldt in the north and the Western Scheldt in the south and is roughly the shape of a rhombus. The two sides facing the North Sea consist of dunes; the rest of its coastline is made up of dykes. Middelburg lies at its centre; this city is the provincial capital and Vlissingen 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) to the south is the main harbour. The third municipality is Veere.

Netherlands Constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe

The Netherlands is a country located mainly in Northwestern Europe. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve separate provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. Together with three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba— it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian.

Malaria Mosquito-borne infectious disease

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease that affects humans and other animals. Malaria causes symptoms that typically include fever, tiredness, vomiting, and headaches. In severe cases it can cause yellow skin, seizures, coma, or death. Symptoms usually begin ten to fifteen days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. If not properly treated, people may have recurrences of the disease months later. In those who have recently survived an infection, reinfection usually causes milder symptoms. This partial resistance disappears over months to years if the person has no continuing exposure to malaria.

The bombardment of Flushing Bombardment of Flushing.jpg
The bombardment of Flushing

At the time of the initial landings, the French forces were characterized by a divided command over a motley crew of units manned by soldiers of many nationalities spanning French-occupied Europe. There were a few French units among those present considered to be of inferior quality as they were manned by the physically infirm and dregs of the training depots. However, on August 10 1809, as reinforcements began flowing into the invasion zone, Napoleon approved the appointment of Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, the Prince of Ponte Corvo, who had recently been stripped of his command after disobeying orders at the Battle of Wagram as overall commander of the invasion zone. Dismissed from Napoleon's Grande Armée, Bernadotte returned to Paris and was sent to defend the Netherlands by the council of ministers. His arrival gave the French a much-needed unity of command and he brought with him a genius for organization and training [4] . Bernadotte led the reinforced and reorganized French forces competently and although the British had captured Flushing on the day of his arrival to the war zone after a ferocious bombardment, and the surrounding towns on 15 August, he had already ordered the French fleet to Antwerp and heavily reinforced the city. The French numbers were such that the main objective for the British, Antwerp, was now out of reach. The expedition was called off in early September. Around 12,000 troops stayed on Walcheren, but by October only 5,500 remained fit for duty.

Charles XIV John of Sweden King of Sweden and Norway between 1818-1844. Prince of Ponte Corvo 1806-1810 and French field marshal

Charles XIV John or Carl John, from 1818 until his death was King of Sweden and King of Norway and served as de facto regent and head of state from 1810 to 1818. He was also the Sovereign Prince of Pontecorvo, in south-central Italy, from 1806 until 1810.

The Grande Armée was the army commanded by Napoleon I during the Napoleonic Wars. From 1805 to 1809, the Grande Armée scored a series of historic victories that gave the French Empire an unprecedented grip on power over the European continent. Widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest fighting forces ever assembled, it suffered terrible losses during the French invasion of Russia in 1812 and never recovered its tactical superiority after that campaign.

Vlissingen Municipality in Zeeland, Netherlands

Vlissingen is a municipality and a city in the southwestern Netherlands on the former island of Walcheren. With its strategic location between the Scheldt river and the North Sea, Vlissingen has been an important harbour for centuries. It was granted city rights in 1315. In the 17th century Vlissingen was a main harbour for ships of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). It is also known as the birthplace of Admiral Michiel de Ruyter.

Aftermath

In all, the British government spent almost £8 million on the campaign. Along with the 4,000 men that had died during the campaign, almost 12,000 were still ill by February 1810 and many others remained permanently weakened. Those sent to the Peninsular War to join Wellington's army caused a permanent doubling of the sick lists there.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington 18th and 19th-century British soldier and statesman

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, was an Anglo-Irish soldier and Tory statesman who was one of the leading military and political figures of 19th-century Britain, serving twice as Prime Minister. His victory against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 puts him in the first rank of Britain's military heroes.

This campaign led to the weed known as Thanet cress being introduced to Britain in the sick men's bedding. [5]

Order of battle

British Expeditionary Force to Walcheren

Infantry of the 50 and 91 Regiments. Engelschen1809.jpg
Infantry of the 50 and 91 Regiments.

A fleet of around 40 vessels, including sixteen 74 gun warships of the third rate, participated under the overall command of Rear Admiral James Bissett. A number of smaller vessels including customs-house and excise cutters were also involved, as was a packet ship. The City of London, Loyal Greenwich, and Royal Harbour River Fencibles also contributed men to the expedition. [8]

Irish legion

The 1st battalion of the Irish Legion (raised by the French for an invasion of Ireland that never happened) was stationed in Flushing during the assault and received its baptism of fire there. It fought a rear guard action for several days but the battalion was almost completely captured. The Legion's brass band followed by the Irish battalion led the surrendered French garrison out of the town. However, a small party of Irishmen escaped and went into hiding with the battalion's cherished imperial eagle, and after a few days they crossed the Scheldt River and escaped. Commandant Lawless was presented to Napoleon and he together with Captain O'Reilly received the Légion d'honneur in gratitude. [9]

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References

  1. Hicks, Peter. "Walcheren – The Debacle". Trafalgar Chronicle Review (20): 121–131.
  2. 1 2 Burnham, Bob; McGuigan, Ron (2010). The British Army Against Napoleon: Facts, Lists and Trivia, 1805-1815. Frontline Books. p. 42. ISBN   978-1-84832-562-3.
  3. Harrison, Simon. "Walcheren Expedition, 28th July 1809 - December 1809". Threedecks. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
  4. Howard, Martin (2012). Walcheren 1809. Pen and Sword Books. Pp. 142-149. ISBN   978-1-84884-468-1.
  5. https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/sites/www.gardenorganic.org.uk/files/organic-weeds/cardaria-draba.pdf
  6. Brigade here refers to half-battery
  7. Brown, Steve (May 2010). "British Royal Horse Artillery Companies and the Men Who Led Them – 1793 To 1815". The Napoleon Series. Retrieved 17 December 2015.
  8. "No. 16650". The London Gazette . 26 September 1812. pp. 1971–1972.
  9. Howard, Martin (2012). Walcheren 1809. Pen and Sword Books. P. 133. ISBN   978-1-84884-468-1.