Bombardment of Copenhagen 1807: Necessary or Needless?

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,248
#11
I can't pretend to know much about this (just school memories from long ago), so thank you for the information. If a convention was signed, I think the Danes could have had good expectation that their ships would be returned to them. Was there any claim that the Danes were actually intending to attack, rather than that they might be pressured into doing so? I have always felt uncomfortable about this episode, largely on the perhaps unsatisfactory ground that Denamrk doesn't seem a natural enemy to Brtain, but was this anything unusually nasty by the standards of a war that brought suffering and often devastation to just about every part of Europe that armies passed through? Somehow I do think that it is bombardment by a fleet (rather than an attack by an army) that makes it seem so nasty.
From what I understand from Danish sites about the situation, the Danes had actually refrained from fitting out their ships. They weren't sea-worthy, most were apparently de-masted at the time of the British attack. After their defeat of the Danes the British actually had to wait for the Danes to put the ships in sufficient shape to take to sea before they could make off with them. (This was also paid for by the Danes, as stipulated by the terms set by the British.) The reason given for the Danes to take this precaution of rendering their ships temporarily inoperable, was to argue to the British that their navy was at least no immediate threat to them.
 
Feb 2019
444
Serbia
#13
I can't pretend to know much about this (just school memories from long ago), so thank you for the information. If a convention was signed, I think the Danes could have had good expectation that their ships would be returned to them. Was there any claim that the Danes were actually intending to attack, rather than that they might be pressured into doing so? I have always felt uncomfortable about this episode, largely on the perhaps unsatisfactory ground that Denamrk doesn't seem a natural enemy to Brtain, but was this anything unusually nasty by the standards of a war that brought suffering and often devastation to just about every part of Europe that armies passed through? Somehow I do think that it is bombardment by a fleet (rather than an attack by an army) that makes it seem so nasty.
The Danes didn't feel this way at the time, especially after what happened in 1801. There were claims by British intelligence officers that reported that Denmark was hostile and was undergoing an extensive naval mobilisation, as well as the claims that they were ready to give 20 ships of the line to Napoleon which would be used for an expedition to Ireland. This was not true, as was discovered after the expedition, but Canning was convinced and used these reports to convince parliament.

Denmark was seen as an enemy, it was hostile in 1801 as it joined the League of Armed Neutrality and was sympathetic to France due to 1801. The British had a good reason to fear Denmark as it controls the entrance to the Baltic, which was vital to British trade and a source of shipbuilding materials, in a time when the navy constantly needed to grow these materials were crucial. However when Britain attacked Denmark they partially shot themselves in the foot. While they did seize the fleet and prevented Napoleon from having it but opened up a new front in the vital Baltic, stretching the navy even further. Denmark also had a sizeable fleet of small gunboats remaining, which were sufficient to disrupt the British trade in the Baltic.

What made the bombardment so shocking were a few things:

An indiscriminate attack on a neutral nation when it refused to negotiate, it was necessary for Britain's war of national survival but the nature of it was just uncalled for and overly aggressive.
The bombardment by a fleet (There was a land assault at Koge.) destroyed 1/3rd of the city and set it on fire, the damage done to one of the largest urban and trade centres in Northern Europe didn't sit well with many.
The fact that the expedition was justified on false reports also played a part, when the real state of the Danish fleet was discovered many seemingly felt that the attack was unnecessary. Of course Canning tried to justify it and in a total war for national survival the expedition was not entirely unfounded but the sheer nature of it was seen as wrong.
 
Feb 2019
444
Serbia
#15
Thank you. Was the bombardment of the city a necessary part of the enterprise, could the aim not have been achieved in any other way?
If Denmark accepted the convention, then yes. But since they refused the British probably wouldn't want to compromise or to give something up, so after the convention was refused this was probably the only possible way to take the Danish fleet. Setting Copenhagen on fire and destroying a good chunk of it was probably unecessary but the capitulation of the city was probably the only way. Mulgrave proposed an occupation of Zealand to guard the straits and the entrance to the Baltic but this was deemed too costly and was abandoned.
 

Mangekyou

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
7,901
UK
#16
It was controversial even in its time, and was handled in a hurried manner. From a strategic point of view though, the logic for the British of seizing the Danish fleet was sound, and this was a war for survival, with the navy being seen as the prime defence of Britain and her interests. So there is two sides to the coin, but the shelling of the city may have been able to be avoided with a bit more under the table coercion as with the Portuguese and Swedish.
 
Nov 2011
4,697
Ohio, USA
#17
It was controversial even in its time, and was handled in a hurried manner. From a strategic point of view though, the logic for the British of seizing the Danish fleet was sound, and this was a war for survival, with the navy being seen as the prime defence of Britain and her interests. So there is two sides to the coin, but the shelling of the city may have been able to be avoided with a bit more under the table coercion as with the Portuguese and Swedish.
If it had more or less just been a repeat of 1801, then it would have been fine. The bombardment is probably what crossed the line.
 
Feb 2019
444
Serbia
#20
It was controversial even in its time, and was handled in a hurried manner. From a strategic point of view though, the logic for the British of seizing the Danish fleet was sound, and this was a war for survival, with the navy being seen as the prime defence of Britain and her interests. So there is two sides to the coin, but the shelling of the city may have been able to be avoided with a bit more under the table coercion as with the Portuguese and Swedish.
Seizing the Danish fleet was sound, especially when the reports the British had were considered. However I will repeat myself on the Baltic trade, strategically the opening of the new front in the Baltic hurt Britain and stretched the navy further, damaging Britain's strategic situation. The shelling of the city is in question, although there was probably no other way to take the fleet at that point. A repeat of 1801 was harder to do, the city's naval defences were strengthened and would make such an attack more difficult, makes me wonder if the land assault at Koge would've been enough to force the Danes to surrender.
 

Similar History Discussions