Horses vs. ships

In the long history of war, there are almost no conflicts between cavalry and navy. But in 1795, there was. And the cavalry won.

Den Helder
Léon Morel-Fatio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
From 1792 a collection of European powers (including Britain, Spain, the Dutch Republic, and the Holy Roman Empire) battled the newly declared French Republic in the War of the First Coalition. Around Christmas of 1794, a Dutch fleet of 14 warships was anchored in the shallow waters off the coast of the Dutch mainland, between it and the island of Texel.

It was a cold winter, and the sea froze, trapping the whole fleet in ice. A French force of light cavalry and infantry approached in early 1795. But this is where the historical accounts differ.

If you listen to the Dutch account, the fleet had been instructed to surrender (Amsterdam had already fallen to French forces) and a couple of cavalrymen rode out across the ice to negotiate terms. But the French propaganda was another matter. The cavalry shrouded their steeds’ hooves in cloth to silence their approach! A charge across the frozen bay! Sailors readying for the defence but overwhelmed by the force that bore down upon them! A whole fleet captured! A mighty triumph!

It’s a great story, and who am I to get in the way of a great story?


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