In the winter of 1795, a French cavalry regiment captured 14 Dutch ships and 850 guns without a fight. How’d they do it? They simply trotted across the ice. Universally regarded as one of the strangest victories in the history of warfare, the Battle of Texel is the only documented occurrence of a “naval” skirmish between warships and cavalry.
Capture of the Dutch fleet by the French hussars, Léon Morel-Fatio | Public Domain
Why were the French at war with the Dutch?
By 1792, Revolutionary France was looking to pick a fight with Europe’s monarchist powers. On 20 April, the Legislative Assembly declared war against the King of Bohemia and Hungary (meaning the Hapsburg Empire). Their plan worked. They ignited a twenty-three year conflict between France and the rest of the continent. In January 1795, the French Revolutionary Army invaded the Dutch Republic. They were met with little resistance.
What went down during the battle?
The winter of 1794-5 was particularly brutal. Stationed near the village of den Helder, the Dutch fleet was immobilized when the Zuiderzee bay froze overnight. It didn’t take long for the French commander to take stock of the situation—all the calvary had to do was gallop across the ice. The Dutch admiral was left with the embarrassing task of surrendering his ships to a handful of soldiers on horseback. A.G.M. Macdonell describes the French advance in his book Napoleon and his Marshals:
“The ragged men carried the Three Colours and sang the terrible song of Marseilles from Fleurus to the Rhine, and captured the fortresses of Flanders and the fortresses of Holland and Brabant…and entered Antwerp and Rotterdam and the Hague, and thundered on their horses across the ice to capture with naked swords the battlefleet of Holland.”
What happened afterwards?
The United Provinces of the Netherlands became the Batavian Republic. The French puppet state lasted until 1806, when it was replaced by the Kingdom of Holland after Napoleon decided to put his brother Louis on the throne.