A Waste of Blood & Treasure - The 1799 Anglo-Russian Invasion of the Netherlands, Philip Ball

A Waste of Blood & Treasure - The 1799 Anglo-Russian Invasion of the Netherlands, Philip Ball

The Anglo-Russian invasion of the Netherlands of 1799 was one of the least succesful allied campaigns of the Revolutionary Wars. It was launched in an attempt to free the Netherlands from French control, restore the House of Orange, and support the initially succesful Russian campaign in Switzerland. It succeeded in none of these aims – although there were some signs of dis-satisfaction with the French it wasn’t enough to inspire a general uprising, the pro-French Batavian forces largely remained loyal to the republican government of the Batavian Republic, and the French never needed to divert troops away from Switzerland, where the Russian campaign ended in defeat. The only success was the surrender of the Dutch fleet, but that hadn’t actually been one of the main objectives of the expedition.

We begin with a look at the background to the expedition – the formation of a new anti-French coalition, it’s early successes in Switzerland and the desire of the British government to try and take advantage of those French defeats, the formation of a new British army, largly from the Militia, and the agreement of the Russians to contribute a large army for the expedition. This is followed by a look at the four armies involved in the campaign – British, Russian, French and Dutch/ Batavian – each of which had major weaknesses during this campaign, but also some strengths.

One minor quibble is that on several occasions the author comments that the British army involved in this expedition would go on to be one of the most succesful and famous in British history, but never actually explains what he means! Presumably his point is that the same troops formed part of the force sent to Spain and Portugal in 1808, nearly ten years after the failure of this expedition! Some of the leaders involved in this campaign also went on to great success, in particular Abercromby, who was killed while defeating the French in Egypt. This was the Duke of York’s last major combat command, but he went on to be a succesful commander in chief, helping support the army that did fight well in the Peninsula.

The focus on this single campaign means we get more detailed accounts than normal of its three main battles – Bergen, Egmond/ Alkmaar and Castricum – which give us some classic examples of how not to operated with allies. Although the generally unrealistic nature of the entire plan of campaign played a major part in its failure, along with the location of the landings, the increasingly poor relations between the British and Russians also played a major role in the failure.

This is a useful account of this comparatively unknown campaign, probably most famous as one inspiration for the nursery rhyme ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’.

1 - A New Coalition
2 - The Secret Expedition
3 - Red Coats and Gherkins - The Anglo-Russian Army in 1799
4 - The Enemy - The Franco-Batavian Forces
5 - Callantsoog - The Landing
6 - The Vlieter Conspiracy - The Capture of the Fleet
7 - He Who Hesitates - Abercromby's Dilemma
8 - Krabbendam - Brune Counterattacks
9 - The Grand Old Duke of York - The Arrival of the Allied Commander
10 - Bergen - The Russian Attack
11 - The Other Columns - The British at Bergen
12 - The Battle of Egmond/ Alkmaar - 2 October 1799
13 - Egmond - Battle of the Dunes
14 - Naval Operations
15 - The Battle of Castricum - Brune's Triumph
16 - Capitulation
17 - Opinions and Debate

Author: Philip Ball
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 192
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2017

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