Battle of Camperdown

Thomas Whitcombe Battle of Camperdown

Battle of Camperdown

The narrow lane between Queen and King Streets, east of Regent Street in Fredericton, pays tribute to the Battle of Camperdown, which took place on October 11, 1797. This naval engagement during the French Revolution was fought between a Dutch fleet under Admiral de Winter and a British fleet under Admiral Adam Duncan. The battle marked the most significant encounter between the British and Dutch forces during the French Revolutionary Wars and resulted in a resounding victory for the British, who captured eleven Dutch ships without losing any of their own.

Admiral Adam Duncan
Admiral Adam Duncan

In 1795 the Dutch Republic had been overrun by the army of the French Republic and had been reorganized into the Batavian Republic, a French client state. In early 1797, after the French Atlantic Fleet had suffered heavy losses in a disastrous winter campaign, the Dutch fleet was ordered to reinforce the French at Brest. The rendezvous never occurred; the continental allies failed to capitalize on the Spithead and Nore mutinies that paralyzed the British Channel forces and North Sea fleets during the spring of 1797.

By September, the Dutch fleet under De Winter were blockaded within their harbour in the Texel by the British North Sea fleet under Duncan. At the start of October, Duncan was forced to return to Yarmouth for supplies and De Winter used the opportunity to conduct a brief raid into the North Sea. When the Dutch fleet returned to the Dutch coast on 11 October, Duncan was waiting, and intercepted De Winter off the coastal village of Camperduin. Attacking the Dutch line of battle in two loose groups, Duncan’s ships broke through at the rear and van and were subsequently engaged by Dutch frigates lined up on the other side. The battle split into two melees, one to south, or leeward, where the more numerous British overwhelmed the Dutch rear, and one to the north, or windward, where a more evenly matched exchange centred on the battling flagships. As the Dutch fleet attempted to reach shallower waters in an effort to escape the British attack, the British leeward division joined the windward combat and eventually forced the surrender of the Dutch flagship Vrijheid and ten other ships.

Admiral Adam Duncan Receiving the Surrender of Admiral de Winter at the Battle of Camperdown

The loss of their flagship prompted the surviving Dutch ships to disperse and retreat, Duncan recalling the British ships with their prizes for the journey back to Yarmouth. En route, the fleet was struck by a series of gales and two prizes were wrecked and another recaptured before the remainder reached Britain. Casualties in both fleets were heavy, as the Dutch followed the British practice of firing at the hulls of enemy ships rather than their masts and rigging, which caused higher losses among the British crews than were normally experienced against continental nations. The Dutch fleet was broken as a fighting force, losing ten ships and more than 1,100 men. When British forces confronted the Dutch Navy again two years later in the Vlieter Incident, the Dutch sailors refused to fight and their ships surrendered en masse.

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