Battle of Anholt

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Battle of Anholt
Part of Napoleonic Wars
Anholt Island Denmark.jpg
Anholt Island, Denmark
Date 27 March 1811
Location Anholt
Result British victory
United Kingdom United Kingdom Denmark Denmark–Norway
Commanders and leaders
James Wilkes Maurice Jørgen Conrad de Falsen
HMS Tartar,
HMS Sheldrake,
Anholt schooner[1]
350 Royal Marine infantrymen
31 Royal Marine Artillerymen[2]
18 gunboats,
1,000 infantry
Casualties and losses
2 killed
30 wounded
50 killed
638 captured

The Battle of Anholt (25–27 March 1811) occurred during the Gunboat War, a war between the United Kingdom and Denmark-Norway. It was an attempt by the Danes to recapture Anholt, a small Danish island off the coast of Jutland, which the British had captured in 1809. The Danish army had a larger fighting force than the British, but a lack of planning and supply failures led to a devastating defeat and many Danish casualties. After the battle, the British occupation of Anholt continued until the peace treaty in 1814. There is a monument commemorating the battle in Anholt village.

Strategic background to the battle[edit]

Early in the Gunboat War the Danes had closed their lighthouse at the easternmost point of Anholt. In January 1809, the bomb-vessel Proselyte, which the British had stationed off Anholt to act as a lighthouse, struck Anholt Reef and sank.

On 18 May 1809, the 74-gun Third Rate HMS Standard, under Captain Askew Hollis, led in a squadron that also included the frigate Owen Glendower, and the vessels Avenger, Ranger, Rose, and Snipe. Together they captured the island.[3] A landing party of seamen and marines under the command of Captain William Selby of Owen Glendower, with the assistance of Captain Edward Nicolls of the Standard's marines, landed. The Danish garrison of 170 men put up a sharp but ineffectual resistance that killed one British marine and wounded two; the garrison then surrendered. The British took immediate possession of the island.[3]

Hollis, in his report, stated that Anholt was important in that it could furnish supplies of water to His Majesty's fleet, and afford a good anchorage to merchant vessels sailing to and from the Baltic.[3] However, the principal objective of the mission was to restore the lighthouse on the island to its pre-war state to facilitate the movement of British men of war and merchantmen navigating the dangerous seas there.[4]

King Frederick VI of Denmark declared the recovery of Anholt to be the highest priority and gave orders in February 1810 for the collection of the necessary troops and gunboats, under the overall command of General Tellequist. Winter ice and late storms hampered the expedition which set sail three times from Gjerrild Bay, just north of Grenå, without reaching Anholt. Eventually, when British warships started to be seen, the window of opportunity had disappeared and General Tellequist gave the order to abandon the expedition for that year.[5]

Captain Nicolls, of the Royal Marines, the British governor on the island, had heard of the plans to recapture Anholt and deployed a gunboat, the Grinder, to scout the coast of Jutland whenever the weather was fair. Grinder also captured some small merchant vessels, but on 13 April 1810 four Danish gunboats captured her.

In August 1810 Anholt became a stone frigate, and was notionally classified as a 50-gun ship. Although the island garrison consisted of Royal Marines, it was a ship in the eyes of the Admiralty, and the officer commanding the Marines, Captain Torrens[6] of the Royal Marines, was ultimately accountable to Captain Maurice of the Royal Navy, the British governor on the island.[7][8] This arrangement reflected the inequality of status between Royal Navy officers, and Royal Marine counterparts.


At the beginning of March 1811 Vice Admiral Sir James Saumarez received information that the Danes would attack Anholt. Tartar sailed from Yarmouth on 20 March and anchored off the north end of the island on 26 March.

On 24 March, a Danish fleet of 18 gunboats with 1000 Danish marines on board left Gjerrild beach in Jutland. The Danish fleet was unaware that frigates were on the way to protect the British base on Anholt, known as Fort York, and had been reinforced with artillery.

The Danes landed some 1000 troops in the darkness and fog and attempted to outflank the British positions. The Danes landed on the northern beach of Anholt early in the morning and marched towards Fort York, a bastion built in extension of the lighthouse and now manned by 380 British marines.

On 27 March the garrison sighted the enemy off the south side of the island. Maurice marched to meet them with a battery of howitzers and 200 infantry, and signaled Tartar and Sheldrake. The two vessels immediately made every endeavour to beat south but the shoals forced them to stand so far out that it took them many hours.

There was a failure to co-ordinate any Danish plan of battle and the fighting ended in sporadic encounters. The Danish soldiers, without supplies, became thirsty and tired. The batteries at Fort Yorke (the British base) and Massareenes stopped the assault. The Danes launched a final attack on Fort York at 10 in the evening, led by a Major Melsted. With raised sword he led a charge by a small party of men towards the Fort, but a British bullet ended his life and settled the battle. The Danish attempts to take Fort York failed due to a combination of poor planning, a lack of provisions and a failure to bring field artillery - much of this due to the current limitations on Danish shipping following British naval successes. Ultimately, this proved fatal.

Gunfire from Tartar and Sheldrake forced the gunboats to move off westwards. The gunboats made their escape over the reefs while the ships had to beat round the outside. Tartar chased three gunboats towards Læsø but found herself in shoal water as night approached and gave up the chase. On the way back Tartar captured two Danish transports that it had passed while chasing the gunboats; one of them had 22 soldiers on board, with a considerable quantity of ammunition, shells and the like, while the other contained provisions.

Sheldrake managed to capture two gunboats. The Danes on the western side managed to embark on board fourteen gunboats and make their escape. The battle cost the British only two killed and 30 wounded. The Danes lost their commander, three other officers, and 50 men killed. The British took, besides the wounded, five captains, nine lieutenants, and 504 rank and file as prisoners,[9] as well as three pieces of artillery, 500 muskets, and 6,000 rounds of ammunition. In addition, Sheldrake's two captured gunboats resulted in another two Lieutenants of the Danish Navy, and 119 men falling prisoner.[10]

Captain Joseph Baker of Tartar proposed taking his Danish prisoners to Randers and exchanging them for the officers and crew of Pandora, which had wrecked in February.[11]


As a result of the Battle for Anholt, the Royal Marines won many supporters among senior naval officers, which helped to further their cause for fairness in terms of service and officers' promotion.[12] It was customary for senior officers to be presented with ceremonial swords, to commemorate significant victories. As well as Captain Maurice receiving a sword, Captain Torrens received two swords, one from his brother officers, and another from the non-commissioned officers and privates. This latter sword was purchased by the Royal Marines Museum, on the 200th anniversary of the battle of Anholt, and all three are on display at the Royal Marines Museum.[13]

In 1847 the Royal Navy authorized the issuance of the Naval General Service Medal with the bar ‘Anholt 27 March 1811’ to reward this action. Forty men claimed this bar, mainly Royal Marines.[14]

Two hundred years later, in March 2011, Danish and British naval authorities attended the inauguration on the island of a new memorial[15] to those who lost their lives in the battle.


  1. ^ James (1827), Vol. 5, p.344. Armed vessel crewed by volunteers commanded by Henry Baker, Lieutenant R.N.
  2. ^ James (1827), Vol. 5, p.341.
  3. ^ a b c "No. 16260". The London Gazette. 23 May 1809. p. 736. 
  4. ^ James (1827), Vol. 5, p.130.
  5. ^ Wandel, C.F. From the Danish: Søkrigen i de dansk-norske farvande 1807-14 : fra tabet af flaaden til freden i Kiel. pp, 261-2.
  6. ^ To avoid confusion, if there was a Royal Marine captain on a ship (usual for a ship of the line classed as Third-rate or higher), this senior officer was referred to as a Major, to avoid any confusion with the Captain of the ship. Maurice's correspondence refers to Torrens as the 'Major-Commandant', which is in keeping with this custom.
  7. ^ Tracy. Who's who in Nelson's Navy. p. 246.
  8. ^ "Maurice, James Wilkes (1775-1857)". Dictionary of National Biography. 37. 1894. p. 107.
  9. ^ The European magazine, and London review, Volumes 59-60 contains a letter from Captain Maurice stating '500 prisoners, a number greater by 150 men that the garrison I command'
  10. ^ James (1827), Vol. 5, pp341-345.
  11. ^ "No. 16473". The London Gazette. 6 April 1811. pp. 651–652. 
  12. ^ The underlying message from the Anholt lecture, given in 1999 at the Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, was the importance of this victory as a watershed in garnering support for the officer corps of the Royal Marines, which had been a "poor relation" up to that point. Promotion was more forthcoming in the Navy than in the Marines. This sentiment is communicated in the March 2011 press release from the museum, which refers to the outcome of Anholt as having 'won many supporters among senior naval officers'.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Royal Navy claimants of this clasp were limited to four officers and one rating: Captain Maurice, Lieutenant Luckraft, Surgeon Gray, Midshipman Moss, Able Seaman Davies
  15. ^ New memorial
  • James, William (1837) Naval History of Great Britain 1793 - 1827. (London), Vol. 5.

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