NOT THEIR FINEST HOUR
By 1807 the Napoleonic War had become a stalemate. The French had defeated the armies of Austria and Prussia at Austerlitz and Jena, and had control of virtually all mainland Europe. The British had destroyed the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar and controlled the seas. What this meant was that Britain could not invade Europe because its army was no match for the French whilst the French could not invade Britain because any invading force would be destroyed in the Channel by the Royal Navy.
Attention turned to neutral Denmark; specifically, to its navy.
The British, acting on intelligence that the French intended to invade Denmark to seize its fleet in order to address its naval disadvantage, decided to impound “for safe keeping” the Danish fleet. Denmark resisted, seeing this as a threat to its neutrality and an insult to its national integrity.
Britain sent a small fleet of its own to take the Danes’, by force if necessary. Denmark refused to surrender and the British fleet, along with a land force, bombarded Copenhagen which lay in its path to the Danish fleet.
After a number of days of cannonade, rocketry and shelling the Danes, recognising the futility of further resistance, surrendered the city and fleet.
Britain’s actions were successful and, in view of the fact that the French arrived days later, it can be argued, strategically justified. But it was not their finest hour.
and pretty civic streets
Razed to rubble, choking dust
payment for our fleets.
Death from fire and rocketry
death from cannonade
Where peaceful parks and gardens stood
were Danish bodies laid.
Hundreds lay and hundreds more
blown by flies and stench
Perpetrated by the guns
of Britain – not the French.
At the price of Danish blood
Albion guards her power
History writes that this was not,
Not their Finest Hour.