Battle of Copenhagen
The 2nd of April 1801 AD
The Battle of Copenhagen was an attack by a British fleet on the Danish capital and the ships guarding it. Britain as a great naval power at war with France wished to impose a blockade on the French; Russia, Denmark, Sweden and Prussia formed The Armed Neutrality to defend their right to trade freely with France. A fleet was assembled at Great Yarmouth under Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, older than the recently ennobled Nelson, and senior to him, but it was Nelson who continually pushed his commanding officer to action – including using contacts to actually get Parker to leave the Norfolk port.
Forcing the Danes out of the Armed Neutrality was the first of three aims, the others being to tackle the Russian Baltic fleet, and if necessary the Swedes.
Parker, to Nelson’s frustration, proceeded with caution, apparently more open to seeing problems than opportunities. Nelson eventually persuaded his commander to let him lead an attack using the smaller ships of the line and lesser vessels in a daring and carefully choreographed raid on the line of moored Danish ships, hulks and floating batteries which formed a defensive line before their capital, backed with shore batteries including those in a fort, the Trekroner: Nelson’s larger ships moored parallel to the Danish line to fire broadsides from a distance; bomb ships (firing mortars) sat beyond them; and a small craft manoeuvred to the southern end of the Danish line to rake fire along it.
The Danes, many volunteers with no experience at sea, fought bravely, but the British wore them down. At one point Parker signalled Nelson to break off the action to give his junior an honourable reason to retreat should he need one, prompting Nelson’s famous reaction of putting his telescope to his blind eye and saying: “I really do not see the signal.”
A truce was agreed, and negotiations (again Nelson not Parker) concluded to British satisfaction – a 14-week Danish withdrawal from the Armed Neutrality offered Parker – soon to be recalled for his lethargy - the time to attack the Russians.
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