During the years 1807-1814 gunboats of the Kingdom of Denmark and Norway conducted guerrilla maritime warfare in both Danish and Norwegian waters.
af Claus Christiansen and Eric Nielsen
Britain’s unprovoked attack upon neutral Denmark in 1807, the devastating British bombardment of civilians in the Danish capitol of Copenhagen, with the resulting British confiscation of the Danish-Norwegian fleet and vast amounts of Danish naval stores and armament, cripples Denmark and outrages Denmark’s populace.
Thereafter, shorn of her fleet, an aroused Kingdom of Denmark-Norway quickly builds large numbers of gunboats which sally forth to conduct a guerrilla maritime warfare against British convoys and the merchant shipping and warships of Britain and her allies, in both Danish and Norwegian waters.
The Danish brig-of-war Lougen (18) had fortuitously escaped being confiscated with the rest of the Danish-Norwegian fleet in 1807 by being in Norwegian waters, rather than in Copenhagen, at the time of the British attack on the Danish capitol.
In 1808, the Lougen is the only square-rigged regular Danish-Norwegian warship in Norwegian waters, and is ably commanded by the Danish-born 1st Lt. Peter Wulff. Available on station to cooperate with the Lougen on operations is the Norwegian gunboat flotilla, consisting largely of mass-produced cannon-shallops (2-24 pdr. cannon) and cannon-jollies (1-24 pdr. cannon) which are collectively referred to as gunboats.
March 14, 1808, off Hitterø (Hidra)
In the early months of 1808 the Norwegian coast west of Lindenes was harassed by the British brig-of-war Childers. As of this Lougen is ordered to hunt down this hostile brig destroying or capturing her. 1st Lt. Wulff descries the hostile Childers outside Hitterø late in the afternoon of March 14, 1808, finding her busy bringing up a small vessel. Lougen closes in and initiates her first action in Norwegian waters in a hot and prolonged, but ultimately indecisive, engagement.
From 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. the Lougen exchanges sustained fire with the Childers. At 11 p.m., while Childers sets all her sail and manoeuvres to obtain the weather gauge, the Lougen delivers a powerful broadside into the Childers’ bow, head on and at so close a range as to be within pistol shot. After receiving this broadside, a battered and chastened Childers, realising she is out-gunned by the Lougen and with 2 dead and 8 wounded, beat a retreat and eventually manages to escape by outsailing the heavier Lougen.
The Lougen-Childers duel lasts nearly 5 hours, but the Lougen sustains no casualties and virtually no damage compared to the Childers. The Childers was ill-matched against the Lougen in material terms, being an elderly vessel launched in 1778, and mounting a light and relatively ineffectual battery of 14-12 pdr. carronades against the Lougen’s 18 new 18 pdr. cannon of the newly-introduced system of 1804. However, the Childers’ material disadvantages are balanced by her advantage in personnel, for the Childers’ crew consists of 80 seasoned and veteran sailors compared to Lougen’s 85 raw and inexperienced men.
Sunday, June 19, 1808, off Flekkero
On June 19 at 2 a.m. with westerly wind the Lougen weighs for sea. At 11 a.m. beating against the wind, the Lougen falls in with an unidentified ship on the weather side approximately 2½ mil off of Flekkerø, Norway. This turns out to be a British brig-of-war The ship is Seagull (16), a more powerful and effective warship than the Childers. The Seagull is commanded by Commander Robert Cathcart, and is cruising the Skaggerak off the Norwegian coast.
At 3 p.m. the Seagull gives chase to the Lougen, assuming the Lougen to be a merchantman. The Lougen beats up the wind with force of sails towards him. The Lougen lowers its foresail and brace the great topsail waiting for the for the approaching ship. Around 4:30 p.m. the mistake is realised on the Seagull and the ship clears for action. The Seagull hoists the British ensign and opens long-range fire on the Lougen.Lt. Wulff of the Lougen, seemingly smarting from the previous escape of the Childers, appears resolved to avoid a similar indecisive result with this new opponent. Lt. Wulff withholds the fire of the Lougen’s longer-range armament of 18 short 18 pdr. and 2-6 pdr. cannon until Lougen comes to grips with the Seagull in close-quarters action, where the Lougen’s capture or destruction of the Seagull is more likely.
At 5 p.m. the Lougen engages with a full broadside, hitting the Seagull heads-on. As in her duel with the Childers, the Lougen in this engagement proves to be well armed and her crew well officered, and as a result of the Childers action the Lougen’s gun crews are now well exercised in the use of their weapons and both offices and men are familiar with their weapons’ qualities.
As a slackening wind almost becalms the combatants, both Lougen and Seagull are compelled to deploy their sweeps in order to maintain movement and manoeuvre.
While still closing on the Lougen, the Seagull attempts to get in between the Lougen and the Norwegian coast to cut off Lougen from her potential escape route, while simultaneously seeking to obtain an advantageous firing position. Both ships continue to exchange intense broadside fire as they close. After about twenty minutes, the two ships position themselves beside one another, within musket range. At this distance, the Lougen has forfeited the range advantage of her cannon, and the contestant’s respective broadside weights are virtually equal.
At 6 a.m. two cannon-shallops (2-24 pdr. cannon each) and two cannon-jollies (1-24 pdr. cannon each), which are commanded by the Danish-born Lt. Fønns, appear from nearby Kristianssand and close on the Seagull under both sail and oar. With this accretion of strength to the Lougen the battle turns decisively against the Seagull, as the gunboats take up position at points around the Seagull while the Lougen remains off the Seagull’s port bow.
Surrounded, virtually becalmed by the prevailing weather conditions, deprived of movement and manoeuvrability because her deployed sweeps have been shot away, confined on all sides by her opponents who now engage her vulnerable stern, with her damage and casualties mounting, the Seagull has no possibility of escaping the superior Danish-Norwegian force.
At 7:30 p.m. (some sources say 6:45 p.m.), having been raked repeatedly, her rigging reduced to shreds, her hull shot through in several places, and with five of her carronades dismounted, the Seagull sees the hopelessness of her situation and the futility of further resistance. The Seagull surrenders, with a loss of eight killed and twenty wounded. The Seagull in then boarded.
As the British second in command officer is shot, the commander and the other officers badly wounded, the master mate hands over the ship. Wulff’s second in command the well and brave Lieutenant Wigelsen, is given the command of the of the ship. Of the Danish-Norwegian force only the Lougen sustains casualties, suffering one killed and thirteen wounded.
In this engagement, the Lougen fires 32 rounds per gun (the equivalent of 32 broadsides) with each of its starboard battery guns, or a total of 288 rounds, during the nearly two hour long exchange of fire – roughly equivalent to a broadside every 4 minutes. In the course of an hour’s combat, the most heavily engaged of the cannon-shallops fires 20 rounds (13 round shot and 7 canisters of grape) with one of its two guns, giving a rate of fire of one shot per three minutes.
While the Lougen sustains only light hull damage and the gunboats are unscathed, the Seagull is in sinking condition, and is eased inshore with great difficulty. When she reaches the bay of Fossholm, the Seagull capsizes and sinks. As the port bulwark remains above water, the Seagull ship can be raised. With great effort the brig Seagull is raised, repaired by the Norwegians, taken into the Danish-Norwegian navy under her British name, and is employed in the Norwegian gunboat flotilla operating primarily out of Norwegian waters. First Lieutenant Budde commands the brig. In the late days of June 1808 Wulff’s report is forwarded to the Amiralty.
Wulff’s After-Action Report to the Danish Admiralty
First Lieutenant P.F. Wulff’s report to the Admiralty in the last part of June.
On June 19 at 2 a.m., wind westerly, weighed and headed for sea. At 11 a.m., while beating against the wind with full force of sail, descried a hostile brig right on the weather side approximately 2 1/2 miles off. At 3 p.m., he bore down on me. I lowered my foresail and braced the great topsail to wait for him. At 5 p.m., gave him a full broadside head on; he remained in that position with his bow towards us during my different broadsides, as the wind fell he could hardly manoeuvre to turn his broadside against us. Around 6 p.m., three or four of the gunboats, commanded by First Lieutenant Fønns came out and engaged him stern on.
At 6:45 he struck. She was the brig Seagull, Commander Cathcard. I boarded her and gave my second officer, the brave and commendable Lieutenant Wigelsen, command of her. The weather calmed, and by force of towage we brought her into Fossholm Bay, where she capsized and sank. Her port bulwark remains above water, so it may be possible to have her raised. As the British second in command is shot, the Commander and the other officers badly wounded, the master mate handed over the ship. Because of the ship’s sudden capsize, the crew was picked up by different ships of the gunboat flotilla, and it is not possible for me to give the exact number of dead and wounded; I estimate about thirty. The brig Lougen has one dead and twelve slightly wounded; the gunboats have no dead or wounded.
P.F. Wulff commander of Lougen Fossholm Bugt
Wulff is promoted shortly after to Lieutenant-Commander and becomes knight of Dannebrog.On May 12, 1810, the Seagull participates in a skirmish against the British frigate Tribune (36) off of Mandahl, Norway. The outcome of the Lougen-Seagull battle should be attributed to Lt. Wulff of the Lougen, who profited from his experience in the Childers action and put the lessons learned there to good use in the tactics employed against the Seagull. By grappling with the Seagull at close quarters, Lt. Wulff set the stage for the successful intervention of the Danish-Norwegian gunboats.
In both the Childers and Seagull actions, the Danish naval officers demonstrated what they could have achieved against their opponents had they still had a fleet of regular warships to employ in action. Unlike the French officer corps, which had been decimated by the French revolution, the Danish-Norwegian officer corps remained intact and – unlike the French – performed at a consistently high standard.
The Lougen’s captain, 1st Lt. Peter Frederik Wulff (1774-1842), was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was christened and buried in Holmen’s Church, in Copenhagen where most of Denmark’s naval heroes are buried. 2d Lt. Jorgen Martinus Ring Fønss (1790-1870), commanding the gunboat division at Kristianssand from 1808-1809, was born at Gesing, Denmark, and died in Århus, Denmark.
The first hours of the Lougen-Seagull battle were fought on almost equal terms as measured by broadside weight of the ship’s respective batteries.
The Seagull has 14 24 pdr. carronades and 2 6 pdr. long guns, giving a total of 316 pounds in total firepower, and 158 lbs. on the broadside, compared with Lougen’s 18 short 18 pdr. cannon, for a total of 348 pounds in total firepower and 174 lbs. on the broadside.
The Lougen’s 18 pdr. cannon were of the new Danish 1804 system of cast-iron naval artillery, designed by the naval officer and gun founder Høyer. The excellent qualities of this cannon ensured that this gun remained in Danish service into the 1860s. This short cannon proved to be a superior weapon to the carronade, and during the 1807-1814 gunboat war this weapon was often the cause of unpleasant surprise to Denmark’s British opponents, who mistakenly believed they were being engaged by long 18 pdrs. rather than the improved, short 18 pdr. cannon of the 1804 system which could be worked more easily by its shipboard gun crews.
This misjudgement often found its way into British captains’ reports, where the Danes’ strength was exaggerated and that of the British understated. After the first brig battles, the British mention the Danes’ new 18 pdr. cannon for the first time, along with their supposition that the Danish brigs “had to be equipped with long and not short 18 pdrs., based upon the Danes’ actual shooting.”
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