Battle of Camperdown

Battle of Camperdown

Military History
Adam Duncan, 1st Viscount Duncan, Henri-Pierre Danloux

11 October 1797 marks the Battle of Camperdown in the 1st Coalition War when Admiral Adam Duncan’s 16 British ships-of-the-line & 2 frigates crushed Vice-Admiral Jan de Winter’s 15 Dutch ships-of-the-line & 6 frigates. France conquered the Netherlands in 1795. It demanded the Dutch fleet help them invade Ireland. Duncan blockaded Winter in Textel Harbor. Winter escaped when Duncan withdrew to resupply.

Winter returned to find Duncan waiting off the coastal village of Camperduin. Duncan’s ships were far outnumbered by Winter.

Dutch ships were constructed lighter due to Holland’s shallow waters. The blockade stopped Winter training his crews in deep-sea operations. This left them inferior to the veteran British sailors in gunnery & seamanship. Many Dutchmen were angry about forcibly serving France. They couldn’t become counted on to fight hard.

Winter formed a line-of-battle. 

Duncan split into 2 groups. He’d lead Group 1 at Winter’s van. Vice-Admiral Richard Onslow would lead Group 2 at Winter’s rear. They would sail straight at Winter, cutting his line. It was risky. Each British ship was vulnerable to concerted attack as it closed. But if they got in between the Dutch ships, they could rake them in almost complete safety. Winter knew this. He tried to close his line’s gaps, but the sudden attack confused his plans.

Duncan attacked at 12:05. 

Onslow’s 8 ships drew close and were fired on. He closed the distance. He raked and quickly overwhelmed Winter’s 4 rearmost ships before Winter’s center could help. All 4 surrendered by 13:45. The fight at Winter’s van was fiercer. Duncan’s flagship, 74-gun HMS Venerable, engaged Winter’s flagship, 74-gun Vrijheid. 64-gun HMS Ardent joined Venerable. Vrijheid mauled her, killing Captain Burges & disabling 100 men.

Winter’s center joined the fight.
Period drawing of Admiral Duncan’s attack with a legend showing the location of each ship, a few moments before firing began.

Venerable’s flag came down. And then raised again. 4 ships attacked her. She disabled 2, setting 68-gun Hercules afire. Other ships scrambled to get out of her way. Hercules’ crew threw her gunpowder overboard to prevent an explosion. They extinguished the fire. 64-gun Wassenaar surrendered. A Dutch ship deliberately fired on her to coax her back into action. At 14:00, Onslow’s ships joined the fight. Hercules surrendered. Winter’s remaining ships fled. 2 surrendered.

Winter stayed behind.
The Battle of Camperdown, painted by Philip de Loutherbourg in 1799.

He fought Duncan’s fleet singlehanded. He refused to surrender. Vrijheid lost all 3 masts – obstructing her starboard battery – and all her officers. HMS Director Captain William Bligh drew bear. He asked if Winter would surrender. Winter defiantly replied, “What do you think?!” He tried to signal his ships back. The halyards were gone. The British boarded Vrijheid around 15:00. They found Winter personally fixing the ship’s boat to sail to another ship & fight on. He was taken.

Duncan lost 203 dead, 622 wounded. Winter lost 540 dead, 620 wounded, 3,775 captive.

Duncan became so impressed by Winter’s gallantry, he refused to accept his sword, shaking his hand instead.

Duncan Receiving the Surrender of De Winter at the Battle of Camperdown, 11 October 1797, Daniel Orme

9 Dutch ships-of-the-line & 2 frigates were captured and all were too badly damaged to ever take frontline service again, Dutch naval power was broken.

Britain was now master of the North Sea. This contributed to Napoleon abandoning his plans to attack Britain directly.

Written by Garrett Anderson

Written by Garrett Anderson

Battle of Camperdown

Military History