Walcheren 1809, Martin R. Howard

Walcheren 1809, Martin R. Howard

The Scandalous Destruction of a British Army

In 1809 Britain sent the largest ever army overseas to fight Napoleon. Many would expect that this was Wellington's army in Portugal, but in fact it was a relatively unknown expedition that was dispatched to the Netherlands in an attempt to capture Antwerp and destroy the powerful French fleet that was sheltering in that port. The expedition was originally planned to provide aid for the Austrians, but by the time the fleet sailed Napoleon had defeated them at Wagram and peace negotiations were underway. The expedition went ahead anyway, partly in the hope that it would encourage the Austrians to remain in the fight, partly because the French fleet was still a threat and possibly simply because the preparations were so far advanced (it also helped that Napoleon and his main army were both distant in central Europe).

I knew bits and pieces about this campaign, but had never read a full scale account of it. I was thus surprised to find that the early part of the expedition actually went quite well. Walcheren Island was captured and the port of Flushing fell quite easily. The French were actually quite worried by the British expedition for a few weeks. It was only when the British advance stalled and Walcheren fever began to cut into the army (Howard produces a good study of that fever or fevers) that the French became more confident and even then it took some time for them to get a senior commander into the area and entire secure their position.

This is a useful reminder that Wellington's successful exploits in Spain and Portugal and at Waterloo were the exception for the British Army of the Napoleonic period. The expedition to Walcheren might have been a bigger disaster than normal, but almost every expedition to northern Europe ended with failure and an evacuation back to Britain. Howard has also produced a good study of a failed amphibious expedition that helps demonstrate what not to do.

1 - Generals and Admirals
2 - Soldiers and Sailors
3 - Coup de Main
4 - Brothers in Arms
5 - First Landing
6 - Deep Waters
7 - Hope of South Beveland
8 - Divided Commands
9 - Bombardment
10 - A French Marshal
11 - Retreat
12 - Fever
13 - An Unexpected Calamity
14 - Last Act
15 - Enquiry
16 - The Swampy Shore

Author: Martin R. Howard
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 242
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2012

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