The Keith Papers

Part I: Channel and North Sea, 1803-1807; 1. Operations; 19. Keith to Secretary of Admiralty

The Document

20. Smith to Keith

Antelope, Hoseley Bay,
August 5, 1803.

My Lord, In pursuance of your Lordship’s directions to me to concert with the general commanding H.M. troops on this part of the coast, I have made it my business to examine with Sir Eyre Coote those points of the shore where an enemy may be supposed to attempt a landing, and where the Navy might be expected to cooperate with the Army in opposing such an attempt. The result of my observations is that there are very few points on the whole coast from Landguard fort to Southwold but what offer a beach allowing the approach of boats, the parts marked ‘cliff’ in the chart about Baudsey and Dunwich not excepted, there being a bed of shingle at the foot of these cliffs and many gaps of easy ascent therein. There is one dangerous and impracticable quicksand at the mouth of the sluice draining from the bog near Dunwich which, however, must be well known to Johnson the outlaw, who resided on this coast and is now in Bonaparte’s suite and consulted by him as his English pilot.

Lt. General Craig (who will probably be on the coast in a few days), relying on earlier information from the Navy in order that he may be apprised of the enemy’s approach in time enough for the Army to march from its centrical position to the point menaced, [says] it appears necessary that the signal stations should be enabled to indicate the place towards which the enemy may be steering with greater precision than the present code admits of, which indicates only what are called provisional stations; in short, they can only indicate points, but not the particular part of the great bay towards which the enemy may be directing his course. For instance, the officer stationed at Aldborough or the beacon near Dunwich, towards which places the enemy may be steering, can only indicate Orford Castle or Eastern cliff, where the signal originated, which would mislead the army by directing its march to one of those points above twenty miles from each other, whereas the most likely place on this coast for an enemy to fetch with a westerly wind and an ebb tide to find smooth water with sufficient depth close to the beach is Solebay.

It appears likewise necessary that all these stations should be furnished with at least one gun, as well for the purpose of more distinct alarm than the fires afford, such fires being frequently made on the waste for other purposes, as to afford a refuge to the coasters when the signal is made for the enemy’s small cruisers being on the coast. Some heavy guns (not easily transported by the enemy if taken) seem requisite to protect the mouths of the Deben (leading to Woodbridge) and the Alde (leading to Orford) with rowing gunboats on these rivers, and likewise the Blythe, to enable the Sea Fencibles to act to greater advantage in the exercise of their local knowledge. Otherwise the enemy may profit by these waters to carry their gunboats in the rear of our army when down on the beach to oppose a landing. A tower or some regular enclosed defensible work is absolutely required on each of the two narrow parts of the long isthmus of Orford, where boats may easily be hauled over from the sea beach to the river, the neck being but 96 paces wide. The defence of the latter point is of the more consequence as it is the only pass by which an army that may be thrown on shore anywhere between Alderton and Aldborough, either by stress of weather or ignorance of the directions of the river, could get to the mainland without boats in the Alde, or by which an army landing anywhere else thereabouts can get the supply of sheep which the Lanthorn marshes would afford them if not removed in time, amounting at present to 5,400.

Orford Castle (proposed and absolutely necessary for a signal house), if roofed flat with strong beams, is capable of bearing three 24-pounders on the top on traversing platforms, pointing between the turrets on its three sides. It would then be able to command a very vulnerable part of the river and a great extent of the isthmus and oblige the enemy to lose some time in regular approaches to reduce it, in which they might not succeed after all before relief came if it was well defended.

I have further to acquaint your Lordship that I had an opportunity the day before yesterday at Southwold of observing the peculiar facility with which men may disembark from a vessel of the construction of those in use in the Dutch fisheries. A vessel of this description, taken off Goree by a privateer, was driven on shore by stress of weather on the beach with considerable surf. The vessel lying broadside to the shore formed a breakwater which made smooth water within her, and the shingle was very soon heaped up between her and the shore by the effect of the surf, so as for the men to step thereon not more than midleg in water. I have &c.

W. SIDNEY SMITH.

See Also

Books on the Napoleonic Wars | Subject Index: Napoleonic Wars | Napoleonic Homepage

How to cite this article

LLoyd, C . (eds.) (1955) The Keith Papers, vol III, 1803-1815. Navy Records Society, pp. 28-30

Web Page: Rickard, J (24 July 2006), Keith to Secretary of Admiralty, http://www.historyofwar.org/sources/acw/napoleonic/nrs1955/1_1_020.html


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