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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

Illustration BATTLE OF CAMPERDOWN


Duncan

faced the trouble with the courage but not the mingling of fair treatment and sharp justice which marked its suppression by that great master of discipline, Jervis, in the fleet off Spain. On his own ship and another, Duncan drew up the loyal marines under arms, spoke to the sailors, and won their allegiance, picking one troublesome spirit up bodily and shaking him over the side. But the rest of the squadron suddenly sailed off two days later to join the mutineers at the Nore, where all the ships were then in the hands of the crews. With his two faithful ships, Duncan made for the Texel, swearing that if the Dutch came out he would go down with colors flying. Fortunately he was rejoined before that event by the rest of his squadron, the mutinous ships having been either retaken by the officers or voluntarily surrendered by the men.

[Illustration: BATTLE OF CAMPERDOWN, OCTOBER 11, 1797, ABOUT 12:30 P.M.

British, 16 of the line; Dutch, 15 of the line.]

The whole affair, among the ships in Thames mouth, was over in a month's time, from mid-May to mid-June, so quickly that the enemy had little chance to seize the advantage. The Dutch, driven willy-nilly into alliance with France and not too eager to embark upon desperate adventures in the new cause, were nevertheless not restrained from action by any kind feeling for England, who had seized their ships and colonies and ruined their

trade. When at last, during a brief withdrawal of Duncan, their fleet under Admiral de Winter attempted a cruise, it was in a run-down condition. Aside from small units, it consisted of 15 ships (4 of 74 guns, 5 of 68, 2 of 64, and 4 under 60), against Duncan's stronger force of 16 (7 of 74, 7 of 64 and 2 of 50). The Dutch ships were flat-bottomed and light-draft for navigation in their shallow coastal waters, and generally inferior to British vessels of similar rating, even though the latter were left-overs from the Channel Fleet.

On the morning of the Battle of Camperdown, October 11, 1797, the Dutch were streaming along their coast on a northwest wind bent on return into the Texel. Pressing forward in pursuit, Duncan when in striking distance determined to prevent the enemy's escape into shallow water by breaking through their line and attacking to leeward. The signal to this effect, however, was soon changed to "Close action," and only the two leading ships eventually broke through. The two British divisions--for they were still in cruising formation and strung out by the pursuit--came down before the wind. Onslow, the second in command, in the _Monarch_, struck the line first at 12:30 and engaged the Dutch _Jupiter_, fourth from the rear. Eighteen minutes later Duncan in the _Venerable_ closed similarly to leeward of the _Staten Generaal_, and afterward the _Vrijheid_, in the Dutch van.

The two leaders were soon supported--though there was straggling on both sides; and the battle that ensued was the bloodiest and fiercest of this period of the war. The British lost 825 out of a total of 8221 officers and men,[1] more than half the loss occurring in the first four ships in action. The British ships were also severely injured by the gruelling broadsides during the onset, but finally took 11 prizes, all of them injured beyond repair. Though less carefully thought out and executed, the plan of the attack closely resembles that of Nelson at Trafalgar. The head-on approach seems not to have involved fatal risks against even such redoubtable opponents as the Dutch, and it insured decisive results.

[Footnote 1: As compared with this loss of 10%, the casualties in Nelson's three chief battles were as follows: Nile, 896 out of 7401, or 12.1%; Copenhagen, 941 out of 6892, or 13.75%; Trafalgar, 1690 out of 17,256, or 9.73%.]


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