NOT THEIR FINEST HOUR

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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.

 

Copenhagen’s avenues

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.

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Comments

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Tommy Carroll

Thu 14th Mar 2019 12:02

Bong! silly me (walks away whistling, looking skyward,hands in pockets) The French National anthem has this second started playing on BBC radio 4. Serendipity?

Tommy

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John Coopey

Wed 13th Mar 2019 22:54

You’ve confused me even more, Tommy. I suspect we are at cross purposes, you referring to the Nazis and the Second World War, me referring to the French in the Napoleonic War and the scheme to take the Danish fleet.

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Tommy Carroll

Wed 13th Mar 2019 19:15

John sorry I may have confused the point slightly.
Having advance notice
of the German's intent the British could have supplied the Danes with the information, and the willingness to assist. "Neutrals" are often sourced for resources viz a viz Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia. Providing Danes (now
allies) with some assistance would re-enforce the threat the Natzis posed. GB could then have an easier target.
The Danes may have wanted "neutrality" but events would have proven otherwise.

Tommy

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John Coopey

Wed 13th Mar 2019 17:49

War is indeed a dirty business, MC. And you’re right when you say that it sometimes takes dirty tricks. In this case it was a case of British expansionism meets French expansionism. In any event we owed them for Lindisfarne 1000 years earlier.
I’m sure your strategic military thinking would have come in handy in the day, Tommy. The small flaw in the plan was that Denmark was neutral and would not countenance a surprise attack on the French fleet, not least because the French were expected to arrive by land. So sometimes you have to get your hands dirty.

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Tommy Carroll

Wed 13th Mar 2019 17:41

British foolery- they could have pre warned the intentions of France and the Danes (with some help) could spring a surprise attack upon the unweary French Fleet- meanwhile the main British fleet would have easier access to French shores. But then The "Charge of the Lightbrigade" comes to mind as does Dunkirk and the "Dam buster" event etal.

Tommy

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M.C. Newberry

Wed 13th Mar 2019 16:46

Worth pondering for its essential truth that advantage in war is not
always straightforward and admirable. Fast-forward to the shelling of the French fleet before the Germans (those other European
aggressors) got their hands on the vessels and used them to gain
dominance in the strategically vital Mediterranean. Also, the
bombing of Calais to rubble to force the enemy into retreat circa D-Day and the eventual liberation of Europe. Not to be applauded
but rather to be understood within the wider parameters of war
against a ruthless ambitious foe intent on enslaving a continent.

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John Coopey

Wed 13th Mar 2019 12:04

ThanksDon and Dorothy.

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Don Matthews

Wed 13th Mar 2019 09:54

Well done John

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