Bombardment of Algiers (1816)

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Bombardment of Algiers
Martinus Schouman - Het bombardement van Algiers.jpg
Bombardment of Algiers, 1823, by Martinus Schouman.
Date 27 August 1816
Location Algiers, Algeria
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom
 United Netherlands
 Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Lord Exmouth
Netherlands Theodorus Frederik van Capellen
Omar Agha
Strength
27 ships (5 ships of the line) Garrison of 8,000 men, 30,000 irregular troops in and around Algiers, shore batteries with ~1,000 cannon1
several frigates and sloops, ~90 boats.
Casualties and losses
41 dead, 690 wounded (British) - 13 dead, 52 wounded (Dutch)2 500 dead.3

The Bombardment of Algiers (27 August 1816) was an attempt by Britain to end the slavery practices of the Dey of Algiers. An Anglo-Dutch fleet under the command of Admiral Lord Exmouth bombarded ships and the harbour defences of Algiers.

Although there was a continuing campaign by various European and the American navies to suppress the piracy against Europeans by the North African Barbary states, the specific aim of this expedition was to free Christian slaves and to stop the practice of enslaving Europeans. To this end, it was partially successful as the Dey of Algiers freed around 3,000 slaves following the bombardment and signed a treaty against the slavery of Europeans. However, the cessation of slavery did not last long.

Background

Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the Royal Navy no longer needed the Barbary states as a source of supplies for Gibraltar and their fleet in the Mediterranean Sea. This freed Britain to exert considerable political pressure to force the Barbary states to end their piracy and practice of enslaving European Christians.

In early 1816, Exmouth undertook a diplomatic mission, backed by a small squadron of ships of the line to Tunis, Tripoli, and Algiers to convince the Deys to stop the practice and free the Christian slaves. The Deys of Tunis and Tripoli agreed without any resistance, but the Dey of Algiers was more recalcitrant and the negotiations were stormy. Exmouth believed that he had managed to negotiate a treaty to stop the slavery of Christians and returned to England. However, due to confused orders, Algerian troops massacred 200 Corsican, Sicilian and Sardinian fishermen who were under British protection just after the treaty was signed. This caused outrage in Britain and Europe, and Exmouth's negotiations were seen as a failure.4

As a result, Exmouth was ordered to sea again to complete the job and punish the Algerians. He gathered a squadron of five ships of the line, one 50-gun fourth-rate ship (HMS Leander), four frigates (HMS Severn, Glasgow, Granicus and Hebrus), and five bombs (HMS Belzebub, Fury, Hecla and Infernal). HMS Queen Charlotte—100 guns—was his flagship and Rear Admiral David Milne was his second in command aboard HMS Impregnable, 98 guns. This squadron was considered by many to be an insufficient force, but Exmouth had already unobtrusively surveyed the defences of Algiers: he was very familiar with the town, and was aware of a weakness in the field of fire of the defensive batteries. He believed that more large ships would have interfered with each other without being able to bring much more fire to bear. In addition to the main fleet, there were four sloops (HMS Heron, Mutine, Cordelia and Britomart), eight ships' boats armed with Congreve rockets, and some transports to carry the rescued slaves.

When the British arrived in Gibraltar, a squadron of five Dutch frigates (Melampus, Frederica, Dageraad, Diana and Amstel) and a corvette—led by Vice-Admiral Theodorus Frederik van Capellen—offered to join the expedition. Exmouth decided to assign them to cover the main force from Algerian flanking batteries, as there was insufficient space in the mole for the Dutch frigates.5

Plan of attack

Sketch showing the positions of the fleet during the bombardment
Council of war on board the Queen Charlotte, 1818, Nicolaas Bauer

The day before the attack, the frigate Prometheus arrived and its captain Dashwood attempted to secretly rescue the British Consul and his wife and infant. Some of the rescue party was discovered and arrested. The attack was described by the US Consul.

The plan of attack was for the larger ships to approach in a column. They were to sail into the zone where the majority of the Algerian guns could not be brought to bear. Then, they were to come to anchor and bombard the batteries and fortifications on the mole to destroy the defences. Simultaneously, HMS Leander—50 guns—was to anchor off the mouth of the harbour and bombard the shipping inside the mole. To protect Leander from the shore battery, two frigates—HMS Severn and Glasgow—were to sail inshore and bombard the battery.6

Bombardment

Painting by George Chambers Sr.

Exmouth in Queen Charlotte anchored approximately 80 yd (73 m) off the mole facing the Algerian guns. However, a number of the other ships, notably Admiral Milne aboard HMS Impregnable anchored out of position, in the case of Milne's ship 400 yards from where it should have been. This error reduced the effectiveness of these ships and exposed them to fiercer Algerian fire. Some of the other ships sailed past Impregnable and anchored in positions closer to the plan. The unfortunate gap created by the misplaced HMS Impregnable was closed by the frigate HMS Granicus and the sloop Heron.7

Painting of the action by Thomas Luny

In their earlier negotiations, both Exmouth and the Dey of Algiers had stated that they would not fire the first shot. The Dey's plan was to allow the fleet to anchor and then to sortie from the harbour and board the ships with large numbers of men in small boats. But, Algerian discipline was less effective and one Algerian gun fired a shot at 15:15. Exmouth immediately began the bombardment. The Algerian flotilla made an attempt to board but thirty-three of their boats were sunk. After an hour, the cannon on the mole were effectively silenced, and Exmouth turned his attention to the shipping in the harbour, including a number of naval vessels of frigate size or smaller, which were destroyed by 19:30.

Although the fleet also bombarded the city, there was comparatively little damage as the construction of the houses meant that cannon balls passed through the walls, leaving a neat hole without destroying them. The explosive mortar shells and rockets caused some destruction to domestic buildings, and the shipping in the harbour burned so fiercely that the warehouses nearby caught light and were burnt down.

At 20:00, Milne asked that a sloop that had been fitted out as an explosion vessel, with 143 barrels of gunpowder aboard, be used against the "Lighthouse battery", which was mauling his ship. The vessel was exploded, but to little effect and against the wrong battery.8

Despite this, the Algerian batteries could not maintain fire and by 22:15, Exmouth gave the order for the fleet to weigh anchor and sail out of range, leaving HMS Minden to keep firing to suppress any further resistance. By 01:30 the next morning, the fleet was anchored out of range. The wounded were treated, and the crew cleared the damage caused by the Algerian guns. Casualties on the British side were 16 percent killed or wounded. As a comparison, the British casualties at the Battle of Trafalgar had been only 9 percent.9

The allied squadron had fired over 50.000 round shot using 118 tons of gunpowder, and the bomb vessels had fired 960 explosive mortar shells.10

Result

The following day at noon, Exmouth sent the following letter to the Dey:

"Sir, for your atrocities at Bona on defenceless Christians, and your unbecoming disregard of the demands I made yesterday in the name of the Prince Regent of England, the fleet under my orders has given you a signal chastisement, by the total destruction of your navy, storehouse, and arsenal, with half your batteries. As England does not war for the destruction of cities, I am unwilling to visit your personal cruelties upon the unoffending inhabitants of the country, and I therefore offer you the same terms of peace which I conveyed to you yesterday in my Sovereign's name. Without the acceptance of these terms, you can have no peace with England."

He warned that if they were not accepted, then he would continue the action. The Dey accepted the terms, not realising that they were a bluff, as the fleet had already fired off almost all of its ammunition.11

A treaty was signed on September 24, 1816. The Dey freed 1,083 Christian slaves and the British Consul and repaid the ransom money. Over 3000 slaves in total were later freed.

After some time, Algiers and other Barbary states renewed their piracy and slavery, as they earned revenues from the ransoms for some European slaves and had a market for others.

References

  1. ^ Northcote Parkinson (1977), p. 161
  2. ^ Northcote Parkinson (1977), p. 167
  3. ^ (French) Documents turcs inédits sur le bombardement d'Alger en 1816, Abdeljelil Temimi, Revue de l'Occident musulman et de la Méditerranée, 1968, Volume 5, Numéro 5, pp. 111-133
  4. ^ Northcote Parkinson (1977), p. 160
  5. ^ Otridge et al., p. 233
  6. ^ Northcote Parkinson (1977), p. 162-164
  7. ^ Northcote Parkinson (1977), p. 164-
  8. ^ Northcote Parkinson (1977), p. 166-
  9. ^ Northcote Parkinson (1977), p. 167
  10. ^ Northcote Parkinson (1977), pp. 166-167
  11. ^ Northcote Parkinson (1977), p. 166

Sources

  • Britannia Rules: The Classic Age of Naval History 1793-1815, C. Northcote Parkinson (1977) Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  • The Life of Admiral Viscount Exmouth, by William Osler, 1841
  • Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, by C. Northcote Parkinson, 1934
  • Mariner's Mirror (1941)
  • Otridge, J. et al. (1817), "Dispatches from Admiral Lord Exmouth, G.C.B., addressed to John Wilson Croker, Esq," in:The Annual Register, Or, A View of the History, Politics, and Literature for the Year 1816, pp. 230–240; and "Dutch official account of the battle", ibid., pp. 240–243

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