The Walcheren Campaign was an unsuccessful British expedition to the Netherlands in 1809 intended to open another front in the Austrian Empire’s struggle with France during the War of the Fifth Coalition. Around 40,000 soldiers, 15,000 horses together with field artillery and two siege trains crossed the North Sea and landed at Walcheren on 30 July. This was the largest British expedition of that year, larger than the army serving in the Peninsular War in Portugal. The Walcheren Campaign involved little fighting, but heavy losses from the sickness popularly dubbed “Walcheren Fever.” Over 4,000 British troops died (only 106 in combat) and the rest withdrew on 9 December 1809.
The primary aim of the campaign was to destroy the French fleet thought to be in Flushing whilst providing a diversion for the hard-pressed Austrians. However, the Battle of Wagram had already occurred before the start of the campaign, and the Austrians had effectively already lost the war.
The army was commanded by John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham whilst the navy was commanded by Sir Richard Strachan. As a first move, the British seized the swampy island of Walcheren at the mouth of river Scheldt, as well as South Beveland island, both in the present-day Netherlands. The British troops soon began to suffer from malaria; within a month of seizing the island, they had over 8,000 fever cases. The medical provisions for the expedition proved inadequate, despite reports that an occupying French force had lost 80% of its numbers a few years earlier, also due to disease.
The French forces were commanded by Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, who had just been stripped of his command after disobeying orders at Wagram. Dismissed from Napoleon’s Grande Armée, Bernadotte returned to Paris and was sent to the defence of the Netherlands by the council of ministers. He led the French forces competently and although the British captured Flushing, after a ferocious bombardment, and surrounding towns on 15 August, he had already ordered the French fleet to Antwerp and heavily reinforced the city. With the main objective for the British out of reach, the expedition was called off in early September. Around 12,000 troops stayed on Walcheren, but by October only 5,500 remained fit for duty.
In all, the British government spent almost £8 million on the campaign. Along with the 4,000 men that had died during the campaign, almost 12,000 were still ill by February 1810, and many others remained permanently weakened. Those sent to the Peninsular War to join Wellington’s army caused a permanent doubling of the sick lists there.
Order of Battle
British Expeditionary Force to Walcheren
Commander-in-Chief: General Lord Chatham
Second-in-Command: Lieutenant General Sir Eyre Coote
Chief-of-Staff: Sir Robert Brownrigg
Brigadier General John Macleod, RA
1 troop, Royal Horse Artillery
2 brigades, 2nd Battalion, Royal Artillery
8 brigades, 3rd Battalion, Royal Artillery
2 brigades, 5th Battalion, Royal Artillery (including 1 heavy brigade)
4 brigades, 9th Battalion, Royal Artillery
Lieutenant General Sir John Craddock
Major General Graham’s Brigade (3/1st; 2/35th; 2/81st)
Major General Houston’s Brigade (2/14th; 51st; 2/63rd)
Lieutenant General the Marquess of Huntly
Major General Dyott’s Brigade (1/6th; 1/50th; 1/91st)
Brigadier General Montresor’s Brigade (1/9th; 1/38th; 1/42nd)
Lieutenant General T. Gresvenor
Major General Leith’s Brigade (2/11th; 2/59th; 1/79th)
Brigadier General Acland’s Brigade (2nd; 76th; 2/84th)
Lieutenant General Alexander Mackenzie-Fraser
Brigadier General Browne’s Brigade (1/5th; 1/26th; 1/32nd; 4 coys., 2/23rd)
Major General Picton’s Brigade (1/36th; 77th; 1/82nd; 2 coys., 2/8th)
Lieutenant General James, Earl of Rosslyn
Major General Stewart’s Brigade (2/43rd; 2/52nd; 8 coys., 2/95th)
Major General von Linsingen’s Cavalry Brigade (3rd Dragoons; 9th Light Dragoons, 12th Light Dragoons; 2nd Hussars, KGL)
Lieutenant General John Hope
Brigadier General Disney’s Brigade (1/1st Foot Guards, 3/1st Foot Guards; Flank coys., 2nd Bn., Coldstream Guards & 2/3rd Foot Guards)
Major General Erskine’s Brigade (20th, 1/92nd)
Major General Lord Dalhousie’s Brigade (1/4th, 2/4th, 1/28th)
1 coy, 2/95th
Light Troops, Attached to the Left Wing of the Army
Brigadier General Baron de Rottenberg’s Brigade (68th, 1/71st, 85th, 2 Coys., 2/95th)
Brigadier General Mahon (9th Light Dragoons)
In addition to the large number of naval vessels, customs-house and excise cutters participated, as did a packet ship. The City of London, Loyal Greenwich, and Royal Harbour River Fencibles also contributed men to the expedition.
The 1st battalion of the Irish legion (raised for an invasion of Ireland that never happened) was stationed in Flushing during the assault, and was therefor almost completely captured. However, two officers went into hiding with the regimental eagle, and after a few days they crossed the river and escaped towards the south. Napoleon gave them the Légion d’honneur and a promotion as a sign of gratitude.