A Brief History
On January 23, 1795, one of the most unusual battles in history took place when a force of French cavalry galloped across the frozen Zuiderzee to capture 14 Dutch ships and seize 850 guns (cannon). Known as The Battle of Texel, or otherwise known as The Capture of the Dutch Fleet at Den Helder, the action took place during The War of the First Coalition, one of a series of wars that started with the French Revolution and ended with The War of the Seventh Coalition when Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated at Waterloo in 1915.
The Zuiderzee is a shallow arm of the North Sea, back then a salt water bay, located off the North coast of Holland. (Today it has been cut off and partially pumped out to create a freshwater lake.) The Dutch fleet was anchored off the port of Den Helder, inside of the island of Texel. The Dutch ships found themselves frozen in by ice, unable to move.
The French had virtually conquered the Netherlands and Holland at this point, having taken Amsterdam on January 19, 1795. The French army entered the city with the intention of staying for the winter, when the commander, General Pichegru found out about the helpless Dutch fleet. Pichegru sent General de Winter (what an appropriate name!) with a regiment and of cavalry and a battalion of infantry to seize the ships. The attack on the fleet was made at night, with the horses hooves covered in cloth to mask the noise of their clopping. Each horseman carried an infantry man with him as the French successfully snuck up on the sleeping Dutch sailors.
The French achieved one of the most complete victories in naval warfare, capturing 14 warships and with them 850 cannons, along with several merchant vessels. No French soldiers were lost, and of course, the French suffered no loss of ships. Of course, the French counted this action among their great victories, but later Dutch historians claimed the Dutch ship captains had orders not to resist. The ships were crewed by the French and entered into service with the French navy.
Question for students (and subscribers): Can you think of a more unusual “naval” battle? If so, please tell us about it in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Davis, Peter. “French Cavalry Defeats Dutch Fleet?” The Napoleon Series. http://www.napoleon-series.org/military/battles/c_jonge.html (accessed 22 January 2018).
Macdonell, Archibald G. Napoleon and his Marshals. Macmillan, 1934.
The featured image in this article, a painting by Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633–1707) of The ‘Gouden Leeuw’ at the Battle of Texel, 21 August 1673, is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason: This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or fewer.