|Part of the War of the Fifth Coalition|
Illness-stricken British troops evacuating the island of Walcheren on 30 August.
Kingdom of Holland
|Commanders and leaders|
Louis Claude Monnet de Lorbeau
Sir Richard Strachan
Alexander Mackenzie Fraser †
|Casualties and losses|
4,000 dead, wounded or captured|
(including 1st battalion, Irish legion)
4,150 dead, wounded or captured|
The Walcheren Campaign ([ˈʋɑlxərə(n)] WAHL-khə-rən) was an unsuccessful British expedition to the Netherlands in 1809 intended to open another front in the Austrian Empire's struggle with France during the War of the Fifth Coalition. Sir John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, was the commander of the expedition, with the missions of capturing Flushing and Antwerp in the Netherlands and enabling navigation of the Scheldt River. Some 39,000 soldiers and 15,000 horses, together with field artillery and two siege trains, crossed the North Sea and landed at Walcheren on 30 July. This was the largest British expedition of that year, larger than the army serving in the Peninsular War in Portugal. Nevertheless, it failed to achieve any of its goals. The Walcheren Campaign involved little fighting, but heavy losses from the sickness popularly dubbed "Walcheren Fever". Although more than 4,000 British troops died during the expedition, only 106 died in combat; the survivors withdrew on 9 December.
In July 1809, the British decided to seal the mouth of the Scheldt to prevent the port of Antwerp being used as a base against them. The primary aim of the campaign was to destroy the French fleet thought to be in Flushing whilst providing a diversion for the hard-pressed Austrians. However, the Battle of Wagram had already occurred before the start of the campaign and the Austrians had effectively already lost the war.
John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham commanded the army, whilst Sir Richard Strachan commanded the navy, the full expeditionary force of 37 ships, the greatest to have ever left England, leaving The Downs on 28 July. Commanders included Hugh Downman, Edward Codrington, Amelius Beauclerk, William Charles Fahie, George Cockburn and George Dundas.
As a first move, the British seized the swampy island of Walcheren at the mouth of river Scheldt, as well as South Beveland island, both in the present-day Netherlands. The British troops soon began to suffer from "Walcheren fever", due to the symptoms present most likely a combination of malaria, typhus, typhoid and dysentery. Within a month of seizing the island, they had over 8,000 fever cases. The medical provisions for the expedition proved inadequate despite reports that an occupying French force had lost 80% of its numbers a few years earlier, also due to disease. Once it had been decided to garrison Walcheren Island in September 1809, Pitt was replaced by Lieutenant-general Eyre Coote who in October was replaced by Lieutenant-general George Don.
At the time of the initial landings, the French forces were characterized by a divided command over a motley crew of units manned by soldiers of many nationalities spanning French-occupied Europe. There were a few French units among those present considered to be of inferior quality as they were manned by the physically infirm and dregs of the training depots.
However, on 10 August 1809, as reinforcements began flowing into the invasion zone, Napoleon approved the appointment of Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, the Prince of Ponte Corvo, who had recently resigned his command after incurring Napoleon's displeasure at the Battle of Wagram as overall commander of the invasion zone. Bernadotte had returned to Paris and was sent to defend the Netherlands by the council of ministers. His arrival gave the French a much-needed unity of command and he brought with him a genius for organization and training. Bernadotte led the reinforced and reorganized French forces competently and although the British had captured Flushing on the day of his arrival to the war zone after a ferocious bombardment, and the surrounding towns on 15 August, he had already ordered the French fleet to Antwerp and heavily reinforced the city. The French numbers were such that the main objective for the British, Antwerp, was now out of reach. The expedition was called off in early September. Around 12,000 troops stayed on Walcheren, but by October only 5,500 remained fit for duty.
In all, the British government spent almost £8 million on the campaign. Along with the 4,000 men who had died during the campaign, almost 12,000 were still ill by February 1810 and many others remained permanently weakened. Those sent to the Peninsular War to join Wellington's army caused a permanent doubling of the sick lists there.
This campaign led to the plant known as Thanet cress being introduced to Britain in the sick men's bedding.
The debacle was also a source of acute political embarrassment, in particular for Lord Castlereagh upon whom the former United Irishman, Peter Finnerty, who at the invitation of Sir Home Popham accompanied the expedition as a special correspondent for The Morning Chronicle, heaped the blame.
Order of battle
The below order of battle is for 28 July.
British Expeditionary Force to Walcheren
|British Expeditionary Force to Walcheren|
Corps of Observation of Holland
|Corps of Observation of Holland|
The French local forces were not organised into a separate corps of observation till the later part of the year, but were organised as such by the end of the campaign and are therefore shown here. Note: According to Smith pp. 294–301, the artillery came from the following regiments: 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 8th Foot Artillery and 4th and 5th Horse Artillery.
A fleet of around 40 vessels, including sixteen 74 gun warships of the third rate, participated under the overall command of Strachan. A number of smaller vessels including customs-house and excise cutters were also involved, as was a packet ship. The City of London, Loyal Greenwich, and Royal Harbour River Fencibles also contributed men to the expedition.
The 1st battalion of the Irish Legion (raised by the French for an invasion of Ireland that never happened) was stationed in Flushing during the assault and received its baptism of fire there. It fought a rear guard action for several days but the battalion was almost completely captured. The Legion's brass band followed by the Irish battalion led the surrendered French garrison out of the town. However, a small party of Irishmen escaped and went into hiding with the battalion's cherished imperial eagle, and after a few days they crossed the Scheldt River and escaped. Commandant Lawless was presented to Napoleon and he together with Captain O'Reilly received the Légion d'honneur in gratitude.
- ^ The term 'Company' was merely an official title, in the field the term 'brigade' was used instead, though both were the same strength, led by a Captain or Major.
- ^ Brett-James 1963, pp. 811–820.
- ^ a b Burnham & McGuigan 2010, p. 42.
- ^ Harrison, Cy. "Walcheren Expedition, 28th July 1809 - December 1809". Threedecks. Retrieved 7 June 2018.
- ^ Howard, Martin R. (18 December 1999). "Walcheren 1809: a medical catastrophe". BMJ. 319 (7225): 1642–1645. doi:10.1136/bmj.319.7225.1642. ISSN 0959-8138. PMC 1127097. PMID 10600979.
- ^ Barton 1921, pp. 226–231.
- ^ Howard 2012, pp. 142–149.
- ^ Bond, W.; Davies, G.; Turner, R. (October 2007), The biology and non-chemical control of Hoary Cress (Cardaria draba (L.) Desv.) (PDF), HDRA, Ryton Organic Gardens
- ^ Finnerty 1811.
- ^ Legg 2016.
- ^ Durán de Porras 2014, pp. 163–184.
- ^ "The British Expeditionary Force to Walcheren: 1809". www.napoleon-series.org. Retrieved 21 July 2021.
- ^ Nafziger, George. "British on Walcheren, 7 September 1809" (PDF). United States Army Combined Arms Centre. Nafziger Collections. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
- ^ Duncan Volume I, pp. 179, 181, 219, 220–222, 224–226, 380, 408
- ^ Duncan Volume II, pp. 154–157, 187–188, 195, 223–224, 226, 229–237, 240, 242, 451
- ^ a b Brown, Steve (August 2014). "British Artillery Battalions and the Men Who Led Them 1793–1815: Royal Engineers / Royal Sappers and Miners" (PDF). Napoleon Series. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
- ^ Nafziger, George. "French Army at Walachern, 1 August 1809" (PDF). United States Army Combined Arms Centre. Retrieved 21 July 2021.
- ^ "No. 16650". The London Gazette. 26 September 1812. pp. 1971–1972.
- ^ Howard 2012, p. 133.
- Barton, Dunbar Plunket (1921). Bernadotte and Napoleon, 1763-1810. London: John Murray.
- Brett-James, Antony (December 1963). "The Walcheren Failure". History Today. 13 (12): 811–820.
- Brett-James, Antony (January 1964). "The Walcheren Failure". History Today. 14 (1): 60–68.
- Burnham, Bob; McGuigan, Ron (2010). The British Army Against Napoleon: Facts, Lists and Trivia, 1805-1815. Frontline Books. ISBN 978-1-84832-562-3.
- Duncan, Major Francis (1873). History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. Vol. I. London, United Kingdom.
- Duncan, Captain Francis (1873). History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. Vol. II. London, United Kingdom.
- Durán de Porras, Elías (2014). "Peter Finnerty, un antepasado de los corresponsales de guerra modernos" (PDF). Textual & Visual Media. 7. ISSN 1889-2515.
- Feibel, Robert (1968). "What Happened At Walcheren: The Primary Medical Sources". Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 42 (1): 62–79. JSTOR 44449904. PMID 4867561. Retrieved 12 July 2021.
- Finnerty, Peter (1811). Case of Peter Finnerty, Including a Full Report of All Proceedings which Took Place in the Court of King's Bench Upon the Subject ... London: J. M'Creery.
- Howard, Martin R. (2012). Walcheren 1809: The Scandalous Destruction of a British Army. Pen & Sword. ISBN 978-1-84884-468-1.
- Legg, Marie-Louise (26 May 2016). "Finnerty, Peter (1766?–1822)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/9474. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Smith, Digby (2000). Napoleon's Regiments: Battle Histories of the Regiments of the French Army, 1792–1815. London, United Kingdom: Greenhill Books. ISBN 978-1853674136. OCLC 43787649.
- The British Expeditionary Force to Walcheren: 1809
- Media related to Walcheren Campaign at Wikimedia Commons
Battle of Talavera
Battle of Ölper (1809)
- Conflicts in 1809
- Campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars
- Battles of the War of the Fifth Coalition
- 19th-century military history of the United Kingdom
- Military campaigns involving France
- 1809 in France
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- Kingdom of Holland
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