The Second Battle of Copenhagen (or the Bombardment of Copenhagen) (16 August – 7 September 1807) 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.
|Battle of Copenhagen 1807|
|Part of the Gunboat War and the Napoleonic Wars|
A painting of the British bombardment by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
Entire fleet surrendered
|195 civilians killed and 768 wounded|
Britain's first response to Napoleon's Continental System was to launch a major naval attack on Denmark. Although ostensibly neutral, Denmark was under heavy French pressure to pledge its fleet to Napoleon. In September 1807, the Royal Navy bombarded Copenhagen, seizing the Danish fleet and assured use of the sea lanes in the North Sea and Baltic Sea for the British merchant fleet. A consequence of the attack was that Denmark did join the Continental System and the war on the side of France, but without a fleet it had little to offer.
The attack gave rise to the term to Copenhagenize.
Despite the defeat and loss of many ships in the first Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, Denmark-Norway, possessing Jutland, Norway, Greenland, Schleswig-Holstein, Iceland and several smaller territories, still maintained a considerable navy. The majority of the Danish Army, under the Crown Prince, was at this time defending the southern border against possible attack from the French.
There was concern in Britain that Napoleon might try to force Denmark to close the Baltic Sea to British ships, perhaps by marching French troops into Zealand. The British believed that access to the Baltic was "vitally important to Britain" for trade as well as a major source of necessary raw materials for building and maintaining warships and that it gave the Royal Navy access to help Britain's allies Sweden and (before Tilsit) Russia against France. The British thought that after Prussia had been defeated in December 1806, Denmark's independence looked increasingly under threat from France. George Canning's predecessor as Foreign Secretary, Lord Howick, had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Denmark into a secret alliance with Britain and Sweden.
On 21 January 1807, Lord Hawkesbury told the House of Lords that he had received information from someone on the Continent "that there were secret engagements in the Treaty of Tilsit to employ the navies of Denmark and Portugal against this country". He refused to publish the source because he said it would endanger their lives.
The reports of French diplomats and merchants in northern Europe made the British government uneasy, and by mid-July, the British believed that the French intended to invade Holstein in order to use Denmark against Britain. Some reports suggested that the Danes had secretly agreed to this. The Cabinet decided to act, and on 14 July Lord Mulgrave obtained from the King permission to send a naval force of 21 to 22 ships to the Kattegat for surveillance of the Danish navy in order to pursue "prompt and vigorous operations" if that seemed necessary. The Cabinet decided on 18 July to send Francis Jackson on a secret mission to Copenhagen to persuade Denmark to give its fleet to Britain. That same day, the Admiralty issued an order for more than 50 ships to sail for "particular service" under Admiral James Gambier. On 19 July, Lord Castlereagh, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, ordered General Lord Cathcart at Stralsund to go with his troops to the Sound where they would get reinforcements.
During the night of 21/22 July, Canning received intelligence from Tilsit that Napoleon had tried to persuade Alexander I of Russia to form a maritime league with Denmark and Portugal against Britain. Spencer Perceval, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote a memorandum setting out the government's case for sending forces to Copenhagen: "The intelligence from so many and such various sources" that Napoleon's intent was to force Denmark into war against Britain could not be doubted. "Nay, the fact that he has openly avowed such intention in an interview with the Emperor of Russia is brought to this country in such a way as it cannot be doubted. Under such circumstances it would be madness, it would be idiotic... to wait for an overt act". Historian Hilary Barnes notes that Canning had no knowledge of the secret articles of the Treaty of Tilsit. He argues that Canning's decision was "rash, calamitous, and lacking in understanding of the Danes and of Danish foreign policy."
The British assembled a force of 25,000 troops, and the vanguard sailed on 30 July; Jackson set out the next day. Canning offered Denmark a treaty of alliance and mutual defence, with a convention signed for the return of the fleet after the war, the protection of 21 British warships and a subsidy for how many soldiers Denmark kept standing. On 31 July, Napoleon ordered Talleyrand to tell Denmark to prepare for war against Britain or else Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte would invade Holstein. Neither Talleyrand nor Jackson persuaded the Danes to end their neutrality, so Jackson went back to the British fleet assembled in the Sound on 15 August. The British published a proclamation demanding the deposit of the Danish fleet; the Danes responded with "what amounted to a declaration of war".
As the first move in the campaign a division of twenty-nine vessels under Commodore Richard Goodwin Keats was detached to the great belt with instructions to seal the island of Zealand off from Funen and the west. Within a week some 200 miles of coast had been secured and the Danish army in Holstein prevented from passing into Zealand to lend support. The city of Copenhagen was left to its own resources to defend itself from a British force of 25,000.
On 12 August, the 32-gun Danish frigate Friderichsværn sailed for Norway from Elsinor. Admiral Lord Gambier sent the 74-gun third-rate Defence and the 22-gun sixth-rate Comus after her, even though war had not yet been declared. Comus was much faster than Defence in the light winds and so outdistanced her. On 15 August, Comus caught Friderichsværn off Marstrand and captured her. The British took her into service as HMS Frederikscoarn.
The Danish forces in the city amounted to 5,000 regular troops and a similar number of militias. Most of the civilian inhabitants of Copenhagen were evacuated in the few days before Copenhagen was completely invested.
On 26 August, General Wellesley was detached with his reserve and two light brigades of British artillery, as well as one battalion, eight squadrons and one troop of horse artillery from the King's German Legion (KGL) to disperse a force which had been sent to relieve the beleaguered city. On 29 August, at the rivulet of Køge, this significant British force swiftly overpowered the Danish troops, which amounted to only three or four regular battalions and some cavalry (see Battle of Køge).
The Danes rejected British demands, so the Royal Navy fleet under the command of Admiral Gambier bombarded the city from 2 to 5 September. In addition to the military casualties incurred by the Danish army, the bombardment killed roughly 195 civilians and injured 768.
On 5 September, the Danes sued for peace, and the capitulation was signed on 7 September. Denmark agreed to surrender its navy and its naval stores. In return, the British undertook to leave Copenhagen within six weeks.
Thus, on 7 September Peymann surrendered the fleet (eighteen ships of the line, eleven frigates, two smaller ships, two ship-sloops, seven brig-sloops, two brigs, one schooner and twenty-six gunboats). In addition, the British broke up or destroyed three 74-gun ships of the line on the stocks, along with two of the ships-of-the-fleet and two elderly frigates.
After her capture, one ex-Danish ship of the line, Neptunos, ran aground and was burnt on or near the island of Hven. Then, when a storm arose in the Kattegat, the British destroyed or abandoned twenty-three of the captured gunboats. The British added the fifteen captured ships of the line that reached Britain to the British Navy but only four—Christian VII 80, Dannemark 74, Norge 74 and Princess Carolina 74—saw subsequent active service.
Contemporary Danish painting of the bombardment at night
Copenhagen after the bombardment, 1807
The Most Terrible Night. View of Kongens Nytorv in Copenhagen During the English Bombardment of Copenhagen at Night between 4 and 5 September 1807
C.W. Eckersberg's The British Destruction of the Danish Ships under Construction at Holmen
The news of what happened did not reach Canning until 16 September. He wrote to Rev. William Leigh: "Did I not tell you we would save Plumstead from bombardment?" One week later he wrote: "Nothing ever was more brilliant, more salutary or more effectual than the success [at Copenhagen]" and Perceval expressed similar sentiments. The Times said that the confiscation of the Danish fleet was "a bare act of self-preservation" and noticed the short distance between Denmark and Ireland or north-east Scotland. William Cobbett in his Political Register wrote that it was "vile mockery" and "mere party cavilling" to claim that Denmark had the means to preserve her neutrality. MP William Wilberforce said the expedition could be defended on grounds of self-defence. Thomas Grenville wrote to his brother Lord Grenville that he could not help feeling "that in their [the government's] situation we should very probably have given the same order without being able to publish to Parliament the grounds on which we had believed in the hostile mind of Denmark". Lord Erskine condemned it by saying "if hell did not exist before, Providence would create it now to punish ministers for that damnable measure".
The opposition claimed the national character was stained and Canning read out in Parliament the previous administration's plans in 1806 to stop the Portuguese navy falling into the hands of France. Canning and Castlereagh wished to hold Zealand and suggested that when the British evacuated it as part of the peace they should immediately occupy it again. This was strongly opposed by Sir Arthur Wellesley, however, and it did not happen. The opposition claimed that the attack had turned Denmark from a neutral into an enemy. Canning replied by saying that the British were already hated throughout Europe and so Britain could wage an "all-out maritime war" against France without worrying who they were going to upset.
The opposition did not at first table a vote of censure on the battle and instead, on 3 February 1808, demanded the publication of all the letters sent by the British envoy in Denmark on information regarding the war-readiness of the Danish navy. Canning replied with a three-hour speech which Lord Palmerston described as "so powerful that it gave a decisive turn to the debate". The three motions on this subject were heavily defeated and on 21 March the opposition tabled a direct motion of censure on the battle. It was defeated by 224 votes to 64 after Canning made a speech "very witty, very eloquent and very able".
The British bombardment frustrated the first attempt to publish a modern edition of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf as the subsequent fire destroyed the 20-year work of scholar Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin. Two manuscripts, however, were recovered and Thorkelin eventually published the poem in 1815.
A horse foaled in 1808 (the year following the battle) was named "Copenhagen" in its honour, and was eventually sold to Wellesley and became his favoured mount, most notably at the Battle of Waterloo.
Within one week of the British forces departing Copenhagen, King Christian VII's government promulgated the Danish Privateers Regulations (1807). Denmark was now at war with Britain, and a part of the Anglo-Danish conflict would be taken up by privateers.Kaperbreve (letters of marque) were issued in Denmark and Norway from 1807 to 1813—copies of original letters of marque for the two ships Odin and Norges Statholder are included in this reference. Danish shipping companies donated suitable ships (brigs, schooners and galleases) to the state which could then equip the ships for their new privateering role. One such ship was the brig Admiral Juel which ranged the North Sea before her capture by the British off Scarborough.
One hundred and twenty-six ships, large and small, were involved at Copenhagen, included those named below.
In addition to those named here, there were another three dozen smaller frigates, sloops, bomb vessels, gun-brigs and schooners (e.g. HMS Rook attached to the British fleet), and a very large number of merchant or requisitioned ships carrying troops or supplies.[c]
The following ships sailed with Gambier from England on 26 July 1807:
The following vessels joined on 5 August off Helsingør:
The following further vessels joined on 7 August off Helsingør:
The following vessels joined on 8 August or later:
Lieutenant-General Lord Cathcart arrived in the Africaine on 12 August to take command of the ground forces.
The Danes surrendered the following warships on 7 September under the terms of the capitulation following the attack:[d]
There were a further 25 gunboats similar to the Stege, of which 23 were lost in the October storm in the Kattegat or destroyed rather than sailed to Britain. These lost were:
Four barges (stykpram), floating gun platforms each with 20 cannon, were incapable of being moved far and so the British scuttled the barges during their brief occupation of Copenhagen. Of these four barges (Hajen, Kiempen, Lindormen and Sværdfisken) only Hajen was not raised and refurbished by the Danes after the British departure. A further "unsinkable" floating battery (Flaadebatteri No 1) of twenty-four 24-pound cannon was rendered inoperable and decommissioned the following year. [e]
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The following website in Danish or in English gives the list of ships, as recorded by the Danes, "forcefully taken" by the British in September 1807 at Copenhagen. The references, in Danish, are as follows
Siege of Stralsund (1807)
Battle of Copenhagen (1807)
Invasion of Portugal (1807)