Walcheren Expedition

28th July 1809 - December 1809
Part of : The Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815)
Previous action : Operations in the Elbe 7.7.1809 - 8.7.1809
Next action : Action of 1809-08-14 14.8.1809

 

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

 
British Fleet, Richard John Strachan (d.1828)
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Venerable (74)  Fleet Flagship
Caesar (80) Charles Richardson (d.1850)
Assistance (74) Hugh Downman (1765-1858), Amelius Beauclerk (1771-1846)
Belleisle (74) William Charles Fahie (1763-1833), George Cockburn (1772-1853)
Saint Domingo (74) Charles Gill
Blake (74) Edward Codrington (1770-1851)
Repulse (74)  
Victorious (74) Graham Eden Hamond (1779-1862)
Danmark (74) James Bissett
Audacious (74) Thomas Le Marchant Gosselin (1765-1857)
Fisgard (44) William Bolton (d.1817)
Lavinia (44) William Stuart
Clyde (38) Edward William Campbell Rich Owen (1771-1849)
Rota (38) Philip Somerville
Statira (38) Charles Worsley Boys (1778-1809)
Perlen (38) Norborn Thompson
Unite (38) Patrick Campbell (1773-1841)
Heroine (32) Hood Hanway Christian
Amethyst (36) Michael Seymour
Nymphen (36) Keith Maxwell (d.1822)
Aigle (36) George Wolfe
Euryalus (36) George Dundas
Dryad (36) Edward Galway
Plover (18) Philip Browne (1772-?)
Harpy (16) George William Blamey
Raven (16) John Martin Hanchett
Idas (10)  
 
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Rolla (10) John Hardy Godby, Samuel Clarke
 

Allied (Kingdom of Holland & Empire Français)

 
French Squadron in the Scheldt, Édouard Thomas Burgues de Missiessy (Comte de l'Empire) (1756-1837)
Ship NameCommanderNotes
Le Charlemagne (74)  
Le César (74)  
L'Anversois (74)  
Le Commerce de Lyon (74)  
Le Dantzig (74)  
Le Duguesclin (74)  
Le Ville de Berlin (74)  
 

Notes on Action


DescriptionTRN5

By the summer of 1809, there were ready for sea, near the mouth of the river, ten 74-gun ships l under Rear- Admiral Missiessy; and on the stocks at Antwerp and Flushing there were six 80's 2 and four 74's, 3 besides smaller craft. Missiessy waited only for the British blockading force to give him an opportunity to quit the river and sail to the southward.

The Admiralty had more than once experienced the advantages resulting from a strong offensive naval policy; and in May, 1809, it was determined, if possible, to seize the mouth of the Schelde, and to take or destroy the French fleet there ere it could leave its ports. The project, which should have been kept secret, was well advertised by the public press; and, as large British military forces were already serving in Spain and Portugal, it was not easy to quickly collect the troops necessary for an expedition of the kind intended. While, therefore, preparations were completing, the French had warning and time to perfect their scheme of defence. Not, indeed, until the early morning of July 28th, did the main body of the expeditionary force leave the Downs. When at its full strength, this huge armament, the greatest which ever left England, consisted of no fewer than 37 sail of the line, two 50-gun ships, three 44-gun ships, 23 frigates, one 20-gun post ship, 31 sloops, 5 bombs, 23 brigs, about 120 hired cutters, gunboats and tenders, and nearly 400 transports, having on board 39,219 troops, including about 3000 cavalry. The fleet was commanded by Rear-Admiral Sir Richard John Strachan, and the army by Lieutenant-General the Earl of Chatham, brother of William Pitt. The former, as has been seen, was an excellent officer; the latter was destitute alike of energy and of military capacity. Strachan was instructed to take or destroy all the enemy's ships in the Schelde and at Antwerp; to demolish the yards and arsenals at Antwerp, Flushing, and Ter Neuze, and, if possible, to render the Schelde no longer navigable for big ships. To facilitate the operations, Cadzand, on the south side of the West Schelde, and the islands of Walcheren and Zuid Beveland, on the north, were to be occupied by the army

The Commander-in-Chief, in the Venerable, 74, Captain Sir Home Eiggs Popham, anchored in West-Kapelle road in the evening of July 28th, and there found the Fishguard, 38, Captain Sir William Bolton (2). That officer had already stationed small craft as marks upon some of the neighbouring shoals. In the course of the night, the Eoompot channel, between Noordland and Walcheren, was sounded, and marks were placed to show its entrance. On the 29th, a large flotilla of transports, having on board Sir John Hope's division, anchored between Noord Beveland and Schouwen, opposite Zierikzee; and a few hours later, the transports with Sir Eyre Coote's division, 17,000 strong, also arrived, in charge of Rear-Admiral William Albany Otway. Coote's troops were destined exclusively for operations against Walcheren, and should have been at once landed; but bad weather prevented any disembarkation being attempted until 4.80 P.M. on the 30th, when, under cover of the hired cutter Idas, 10, Lieutenant James Duncan, and under direction of Captains Lord Amelius Beauclerk, of the Royal Oak, 74, and George Cockburn, of the Belleisle, 74, Coote's division, after very slight opposition, established itself on the northern extremity of Walcheren. In the evening, some bombs and gunboats entered the Veere Gat, or creek, and, on the 31st, opened fire on the fortified town of Veere, one of the chief places in the island; but, towards nightfall, after three gunboats had been sunk by Dutch shot, the flotilla had to withdraw, without, however, having lost a man. Middelburg, the capital of the island, had, in the meantime, peacefully surrendered, and Veere had been invested. In addition, a naval brigade, landed on the 30th, under Captain Charles Richardson, of the Caesar, 80, and Commander George William Blarney, of the Harpy, 18, had greatly annoyed the place with guns and Congreve rockets. During the night, therefore, the Dutch commandant offered to capitulate, and on August 1st Veere surrendered. Thereupon the army advanced. Fort Eammekens fell on August 3rd, and, immediately afterwards, Flushing was besieged. Sir John Hope's division, under the conduct of Sir Richard Goodwin Keats, had been already landed without opposition on Zuid Beveland, and had occupied some posts there, including Fort Bath, at the eastern end of the island.

On July 29th, as soon as he had been apprised of the approach of the British fleet, Rear-Admiral Missiessy, who had been lying at anchor off the Calot Sand, had weighed and proceeded up the Schelde. By the evening of the 30th, six of his ten ships of the line were above a boom which had been thrown across the river at Lillo. The other four remained below Fort Bath until a few hours before the British occupied it, and so obtained control, to some extent, both of the East and of the West Schelde.

It has been seen that one division of the British army landed on Walcheren, and another on Zuid Beveland. A third should, according to the original plans, have been almost simultaneously disembarked at Cadzand, where General Rousseau commanded a small force. Owing, however, to some mistake, the transports which ought to have put their troops ashore at Cadzand moved round to the Veere Gat. This error enabled Rousseau, on August 1st and 2nd, to send over about 1600 men in schuyts to reinforce the threatened garrison of Flushing. But on the 3rd, his efforts to send more were frustrated by the extremely gallant action of the Raven, 16, Commander John Martin Hanchett. That brig-sloop, by direction of Captain Edward William Campbell Rich Owen, of the Clyde, 38, stood in to cover some boats which, under Lieutenant Charles Burrough Strong, had been ordered to sound and buoy the channel between Flushing and Breskens. She quickly became exposed to a heavy fire from the batteries of both places; but, instead of withdrawing, she returned it, and, assisted by some gunboats, also drove back to the Cadzand side a flotilla of enemy's boats which had been in the act of crossing. As she returned down the river, she passed through a perfect hail of shell, grape, and red-hot shot from the batteries on both shores, and lost her main and fore topmasts, besides receiving other serious damage, having two of her guns dismounted, and drifting on to the Elboog sand, whence she could not be moved until the following morning. In this creditable affair, Commander Hanchett and eight of his men were wounded. Their plucky action produced, however, no permanent result, for, on August 4th, communication between Cadzand and Flushing was re-opened, and between that day and the evening of the 6th, General Rousseau succeeded in sending across about 1500 more men, a reinforcement which brought up the strength of the Flushing garrison to about seven thousand.

Possession of Fort Rammekens opened to the British the Sloe channel, which is one of the connections between the East and the West Schelde, and facilitated the passage into the latter of the flotilla which had been operating against Veere. Part of this was destined to watch the river opposite Flushing, and to prevent further intercourse with Cadzand and Ter Neuze; and part to proceed up the West Schelde, and to co-operate in a naval advance in the direction of Lillo; but, owing to bad weather and the difficulties of the navigation, Flushing was not effectively blockaded until the 6th; and not until the 9th was a division, under Sir Home Riggs Popham, able to push up the West Schelde in order to sound and buoy the Baerlandt channel in preparation for the passage of the larger ships.

On the afternoon of August 11th, with a light westerly breeze, the following frigate squadron, under Lord William Stuart, weighed from below Flushing, and, in line of battle ahead, in the order given, forced the channel between the batteries of Flushing and Cadzand.


SHIPSGUNSCOMMANDERS
Lavinia40Capt. Lord William Stuart
Heroine32Hood Hanway Christian
Amethyst36Sir Michael Seymour, bt.
Rota38Philip Somerville
Nymphen36Keith Maxwell
Aigle36George Wolfe
Euryalus36Hon. George Heneage Lawrence Dundas
Statira38Charles Woreley Boys
Dryad36Edward Galwey
Perlen38Norborne Thompson

In consequence of the little wind, and the opposing tide and current, the frigates were exposed to the fire of the enemy for about two hours; yet their loss was small, amounting only to two killed and nine wounded; and, except the A igle, they reached the upper part of the river without having suffered any material damage. The Aigle had her stern frame shattered by a shell. In the meantime, an attack upon Fort Bath by Missiessy's small craft had been repulsed; and Sir Richard Goodwin Keats, who was in command below Lillo, had obliged the French to move the rest of their line-of-battle ships above the boom which spanned the river at. that spot.

It had been arranged that when the siege batteries of the army should open upon Flushing, a squadron of ships of the line should move up the river and second their efforts. The bombardment was begun at 1.30 P.M. on August 13th; and it was promptly taken part in by two divisions of bomb and gun-vessels respectively commanded by Captain George Cockburn, of the Belleisle, 74, who went on board the Plover, 18, Commander Philip Browne, and Captain Edward William Campbell Rich Owen, of the Clyde, 38. On that day the lightness of the wind prevented the line-of-battle ships from moving to the attack; but at 10 A.M. on the 14th, the following ships, in the order named, weighed from off Dijkshoek, and stood in:


SHIPSGUNSCOMMANDERS
San Domingo74Rear-Adm. Sir Richard John Strachan, Bt. Capt. Charles Gill
Blake74Rear-Adm. Alan Hyde, Lord Gardner (B). Capt. Edward Codrington
Repulse74Hon. Arthur Kaye Legge
Victorious74Graham Eden Hamond
Danmark74James Bissett
Audacious74Donald Campbell
Venerable74Andrew King (pro tem.)

Soon after approaching near enough to open fire, the San Domingo, and then the Blake, which attempted to pass inside of her, grounded on the Dog-sand; whereupon the other ships were signalled to haul off and anchor. The two flagships, in about three hours, got off and anchored with the rest, having lost only two killed and eighteen wounded. The remaining ships of the line had no one hurt. It does not appear what effect was produced by the fire of the squadron; but at 4 P.M. the garrison of Flushing ceased to reply; and at 2 P.M. on the 15th, the French commandant, General Mounet, offered to surrender. Terms were soon agreed to; and, on the following afternoon, ratifications were exchanged.

Apart from the loss sustained by the line-of-battle ships and by Lord William Stuart's squadron, the Navy had 7 killed (including Lieutenant George Rennie) and 22 wounded on board the bombs and gun-vessels; and 7 wounded in the brigade which served on shore with great distinction under Captain Charles Richardson. Among the officers employed with this brigade were Lieutenants John Wyborn, Richard St. Lo Nicholson, Eaton Stannard Travers, Stephen Hilton, John Allen Headway, and John Netherton O'Brien Hall. The army, in the various operations on the island of Walcheren up to the surrender of Flushing, had 103 killed and 443 wounded. On the day of the surrender, the Imperieuse, 38, Captain Thomas Garth, exposed herself to the fire of the fort at Ter Neuze, and, in return, fired some shrapnel shells from her carronades. One of these blew up the magazine of the battery, and caused the death of 75 men. What loss the French sustained in Walcheren is unknown, but it was probably severe. On August 17th, the islands of Schouwen and Duijveland, northward of the East Schelde, surrendered peaceably to Sir Richard Goodwin Keats and Lieutenant-General the Earl of Rosslyn.

From that time forward the campaign collapsed. The Earl of Chatham, who moved his headquarters on the 21st from Middelburg to Veere, transferred them thence on the 23rd to Goes, in Zuid Beveland. He left 10,000 men in Walcheren to hold in check the ever-increasing force of the enemy at Cadzand; and he therefore had but about 29,000 nominally available for the remaining objects of the expedition, namely, the reduction of the strong forts of Lillo and Liefkenshoek, and of the great fortress of Antwerp. At those places, and in Bergen-op-Zoom, there were discovered to be at least 35,000 French; while, from the 19th onward, the British effective strength was daily reduced by malarious sickness. Chatham, moreover, was intimidated by the reports which reached him of the defences of Antwerp, which he had believed to be easily assailable, and of the impossibility of destroying the docks and arsenal there while the citadel remained unreduced. He learnt, too, that there was nothing to prevent the French ships of the line from moving, with everything on board, to Ruppelmonde, five miles beyond Antwerp, or, without their guns and stores, to Dendermonde, fifteen miles higher; and, losing heart, he held a council of war on the 26th. This council declared in favour of abandoning the enterprise rather than of running any risk of failure. Zuid Beveland was accordingly evacuated at once, and Walcheren in December, after the basin, arsenal, and sea-defences had been blown up. Two small vessels on the stocks there were also destroyed; but a 74, that was in frame, was taken to pieces, and the timbers, being subsequently put together at Woolwich Yard, formed the skeleton of the Chatham, 74. The only other material spoil of the expedition was a new frigate, the Fidele, which was added to the Navy as the Laurel, 38. The whole affair was mismanaged, ill-planned, and ill-timed; but its failure was in no-wise due to any remissness either on the part of the Navy in general or on the part of the naval Commander-in-Chief in particular. Nor can it be said that blame rested upon anyone so heavily as upon the Government and the Earl of Chatham.



Sources


IDDescriptionAuthorType
TRN5The Royal Navy : a history from the earliest times to the present Vol VWilliam Laid ClowesDigital Book

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