On this day in history : 2nd September 1807 – The bombardment of Copenhagen – Britain attacks the Danish capital in order to prevent Denmark’s naval fleet from falling into the hands of Napoleon….

Battle of Copenhagen – Public domain

During the Napoleonic Wars Denmark was resolved to remain neutral…. In 1806 Napoleon had launched his campaign of destruction on British commerce in an attempt to paralyse Great Britain…. Under his Continental Blockade the allies of France and all neutral countries were prohibited from trading with Britain…. Whilst this was damaging to some British industries generally Napoleon was unsuccessful in maintaining his blockade, as Britain’s naval supremacy meant that French forces were spread too thinly….

Denmark was the weakest point in Napoleon’s coalition; still vowing to remain neutral the Danes were facing enormous pressure from France and Russia to surrender their fleet to Napoleon…. Britain was worried that Napoleon would force Denmark to close the Baltic Sea to British shipping severing a vital link with ally Sweden – an essential trading partner for raw materials…. Britain and Sweden tried to persuade Denmark to join them in a secret alliance – but the Danes remained firmly neutral…. Concerns began to grow that once Prussia was defeated, which looked increasingly likely, Denmark would fall under French control…. And then came the news that it appeared Napoleon had persuaded Alexander I of Russia to form an agreement with Denmark and Portugal against Britain…. Something had to be done….

Britain assembled a force of 25,000 troops – and offered Denmark a treaty of alliance and mutual defence…. In return for the protection of 21 British warships the Danes were expected to hand over their fleet after the war…. On the 31st of July 1807 Napoleon responded by telling Denmark it either prepared for war against Britain – or France would invade Denmark…. Britain retaliated by demanding the surrender of the Danish fleet…. Poor Denmark really was caught in the middle of it ~ things had to go one way or the other ~ and so the Danes responded with what was effectively a declaration of war against Britain….

Denmark had a strong naval fleet and around 10,000 troops based around Copenhagen…. Expecting an attack by the British most – but not all – civilians had been evacuated from the city…. On the 26th of August General Sir Arthur Wellesley led his own reserve, along with two light brigades of British artillery, one battalion, eight squadrons and one troop of horse artillery into battle…. On the 29th of August the British forces overpowered the Danish troops….

Contemporary Danish painting of the Battle as seen from land – Public domain

But still the Danes resisted British demands to give up its naval fleet – so the order was given that from the 2nd to the 5th of September Copenhagen would be bombarded…. During the bombardment of fire bombs and phosphorus rockets over 1,000 buildings were burned down…. On top of the expected military casualties 768 civilians were injured – and a further 195 were killed….

Public domain
Public domain

On the 5th of September Denmark surrendered and agreed to give up its navy….the capitulation was signed on the 7th…. In return Britain pledged to leave Copenhagen within six weeks – which it did on the 21st of October 1807…. However, Britain and Denmark remained at war until 1814….

After the bombardment – Public domain

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