The Gunboat War (1807–1814) was the naval conflict between Denmark–Norway and the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. The war's name is derived from the Danish tactic of employing small gunboats against the conventional Royal Navy. These boats were originally designed by a Swede, Fredrik Henrik af Chapman.
The strategic advantage of gunboats lay in the fact that they could be produced rapidly and inexpensively throughout the kingdom. The tactical advantages were that they were highly manoeuvrable, especially in still and shallow waters and presented small targets. On the other hand, the boats were vulnerable, likely to sink from a single hit; could not be used in rough seas; and were less effective against large warships. More than 200 were eventually produced in two models: the shallop gunboat had a crew of 76 men, with an 18- or 24-pounder cannon in the bow and another in the stern. The smaller barge type had a total crew of 24, armed with a single 24-pounder.
While gunboat tactics were not employed until 1807, the naval conflict between Britain and Denmark commenced with the First Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 when Horatio Nelson's squadron of Admiral Parker's fleet attacked the Danish capital to prevent Denmark from enforcing its own neutrality. Early in the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark-Norway set on a policy of armed neutrality, using its naval forces to protect trade flowing within, into, and out of Dano-Norwegian waters. In the Second Battle of Copenhagen in 1807, the British seized a large part of the Danish fleet, so the Dano-Norwegian government decided to build smaller gunboats in large numbers.
In the first three years of the Gunboat War, these boats were on several occasions able to capture cargo ships from the convoys and to defeat British naval brigs, though they were not strong enough to overcome larger frigates and ships of the line. The British had control of Danish waters during the whole of the 1807–1814 war, and when the season was suited to navigation they were regularly able to escort large merchant convoys out through the Sound and the Great Belt. On March 22 1808, the last Danish ship of the line Prins Christian Frederik, commanded by Captain C.W. Jessen, was destroyed by two British ships of the line in the battle of Zealand Point. On 27 February 1811, Danish gunboats, manned by nearly 1,000 men including infantry forces, attempted to recapture the island of Anholt, but had to withdraw to Jutland with heavy losses. The last major fight between Danish and British men of war took place on July 6, 1812, when British warships destroyed the Danish frigate Najaden at the Battle of Lyngør on the Norwegian coast.
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