Walcheren Campaign 1809

Walcheren Campaign in the Netherlands, was unsuccessful and ended in a medical catastrophe for the British expedition force during 1809.

The Walcheren Campaign was an unsuccessful British expedition to the Netherlands, during the summer of 1809. Despite the growing professionalism of the British Army, indicated by the Peninsula War. It could still be involved in disastrous operations, with the Walcheren Campaign being the most dramatic.

The British government ordered an attack on the island of Walcheren. The south-western tip of the archipelago, protecting the Scheldt estuary in Holland.

siege of vlissingen 1809
Siege of Vlissingen – painted by Jan Anthonie Langendijk

40,000 soldiers, 6,000 horses, 70 guns, 74 mortars, Congreve Rockets, and two siege trains was assembled. The large force was commanded by General Sir John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (William Pitt’s elder brother). The Royal Navy under the command of Admiral Sir Richard Strachan, gave support with 250 ships of various sizes.

30th July 1809, the largest British expedition, crossed the North Sea and landed on the swampy island of Walcheren.

15th August 1809, after a ferocious bombardment, Flushing and surrounding towns on Walcheren was sized. However, the Earl of Chatham refused to exploit his advantage by advancing 12-miles to Antwerp, the location of the French fleet.

Walcheren fever spreads amongst the British Troops

The French and Dutch forces under the command of Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, had effectively sealed off Walcheren. The British troops soon began to suffer the ravages of ‘Walcheren fever’ (a form of malaria).

3rd September 1809, the Walcheren fever had grown from 700 cases in early August, to 8,100 cases. Burials were taking place during the cover of the night to keep up the morale of the soldiers.

11th September 1809, the expedition was called off, the Earl of Chatham was ordered to return to Britain. 12,000 soldiers remained behind at Walcheren as a garrison.

October 1809, only 5,500 soldiers were fit for duty. A large amount of sick men was being loaded on to transports, and sent back to England.

9th December 1809, the last of the British expeditionary force was evacuated. Over 4,000 men had died of disease before the Walcheren Campaign had come to an end.