Battle of Copenhagen (1801)

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The Battle of Copenhagen
The naval Battle of Copenhagen (Danish: Slaget på Reden) was fought on 2 April 1801 by a British fleet under the command of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, against a Danish-Norwegian fleet anchored just off Copenhagen. The main attack was led by Admiral Horatio Nelson, who famously disobeyed Parker's order to withdraw and destroyed many of the Danish-Norwegian ships before Denmark-Norway agreed to a truce.


The battle was due to multiple failures of diplomacy in the latter half of 1800 and the beginning of 1801; an Armed Neutrality of the Scandinavian countries and Russia, in combination with Napoleon's domination of the European continent, was perceived by Great Britain as a serious threat to her existence. However, the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway were themselves more afraid of Russia and France.

In early 1801, the British government assembled a fleet at Great Yarmouth, with the goal of intimidating Denmark-Norway before the Baltic Sea thawed and released the Russian fleet from its bases at Kronstadt and Reval (now Tallinn). The fleet sailed on 11 March and reached the Skaw (Danish: Skagen) on 17 March.

The battle

A disagreement between Parker and Nelson saw Nelson's proposal for a pre-emptive show of force overruled and the demands made by a single frigate. The Danish-Norwegians refused to negotiate. The Danish-Norwegians had prepared for the attack and placed a line of defensive blocking ships along the western side of the harbour.

The Copenhagen roads were both treacherous and well-defended. With 12 ships with the shallowest draft, Nelson picked a way through the shoals and commenced action the morning immediately after negotiations had broken down.

For over four hours, the battle was a close run affair with 4 British vessels (Elephant, Defiance, Russel and Bellona) stuck on sandbars. At one point three hours into the battle, Parker signalled to Nelson to disengage, but Nelson was determined to win and ignored the signal. It was on this occasion that Nelson is said to have put his telescope to his blind eye, and maintained he could not read the signal.

Eventually, following extensive shelling of the harbour and nearby buildings, Nelson offered surrender terms to which the Danish-Norwegians agreed. British casualties were about 350 killed, 850 wounded.


This was not to be the end of Danish-Norwegian difficulties with the British. In 1807 similar circumstances led to another British attack, in the Second Battle of Copenhagen.

Ships involved:

Britain (Nelson's squadron)

Polyphemus 64 (Captain John Lawford)
Isis 50 (Captain James Walker)
Edgar 74 (Captain George Murray)
Ardent 64 (Captain Thomas Bertie)
Glatton 54/56 (Captain William Bligh)
Elephant 74 (flag, Captain Thomas Foley)
Ganges 74 (Captain Thomas Francis Fremantle)
Monarch 74 (Captain James Robert Mosse)
Defiance 74 (2nd flag of Thomas Graves, Captain Richard Retalick)
Russell 74 (Captain William Cuming)
Bellona 74 (Captain Thomas Boulden Thompson)
Agamemnon 64 (Captain Robert Devereux Fancourt)
Désirée 36 (Captain Henry Inman)
Amazon 32/38 (Captain Henry Riou)
Blanche 36 (Captain Graham Eden Hamond)
Alcmène 32 (Captain Samuel Sutton)
Jamaica 24 (Captain Jonas Rose)
Arrow (ship-sloop, Captain William Bolton)
Dart (ship-sloop, Captain John Ferris Devonshire)
Cruizer (brig-sloop, CaptainJames Brisbane)
Harpy (brig-sloop, Captain William Birchall)
Discovery (bomb)
Explosion (bomb)
Hecla (bomb)
Sulphur (bomb)
Terror (bomb)
Volcano (bomb)
Zebra (bomb)
Otter (fireship)
Zephyr (fireship)

Britain (Parker's reserve)

London 98 (flag, Captains William Domett and Robert Walker Otway)
St George 98 (Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy)
Warrior 74 Captain Charles Tyler)
Defence 74 (Captain Henry Paulet)
Saturn 74 (Captain Robert Lambert)
Ramillies 74 (Captain James William Taylor Dixon)
Raisonable 64 (Captain John Dilkes)
Veteran 64 (Captain Archibald Collingwood Dickson)

Denmark (Fischer's division)

Order north - south. Only Siælland and Holsteen were in good condition
Prøvesteenen 52/56 (3-decker battleship)
Wagrien 48/52 (2-decker battleship)
Rendsborg 20 (pram)
Nyeborg 20 (pram)
Jylland 48/54 (2-decker battleship)
Sværdfisken 18/20 (radeau)
Kronborg 22 (frigate)
Hajen 18/20 (radeau)
Dannebrog 60 (flag, 2-decker battleship)
Elven 10
Grenier's float/Floating Battery No. 1 20
Aggershus 20 (cavalry transport)
Siælland 74 (2-decker battleship)
Charlotte Amalia 26 (East Indiaman)
Søehesten 18 (radeau)
Holsteen 60 (battleship)
Indfødsretten 64 (2-decker battleship)
Hiælperen 16 (frigate)

Denmark ships, Steen Bille's division

Elephanten 70
Mars 64
Trekroner (fortress) 69


de:Seeschlacht von Kopenhagen fr:Bataille de Copenhague


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