The Bombardment of Algiers

 On 27th August 1816 an attempt by Britain to end the slavery practices of the Dey of Algiers.

 

An Anglo-Dutch fleet under the command of Admiral Lord Exmouth bombarded ships and the harbour defences of Algiers.Although there was a continuing campaign by various European and the American navies to suppress the piracy against Europeans by the North African Barbary states, the specific aim of this expedition was to free Christian slaves and to stop the practice of enslaving Europeans.

 

To this end, it was partially successful as the Dey of Algiers freed around 3,000 slaves following the bombardment and signed a treaty against the slavery of Europeans. However, the cessation of slavery did not last long.Lord Exmouth in Queen Charlotte anchored approximately 80 yd (73 m) off the mole facing the Algerian guns.

 

However, a number of the other ships, notably Admiral Milne aboard HMS Impregnable anchored out of position, in the case of Milne's ship 400 yards from where it should have been. This error reduced the effectiveness of these ships and exposed them to fiercer Algerian fire.

 

Some of the other ships, including HMS Superb, sailed past Impregnable and anchored in positions closer to the plan. The unfortunate gap created by the misplaced HMS Impregnable was closed by the frigate HMS Granicus , HMS Superb and the sloop Heron.

 

In their earlier negotiations, both Exmouth and the Dey of Algiers had stated that they would not fire the first shot. The Dey's plan was to allow the fleet to anchor and then to sortie from the harbour and board the ships with large numbers of men in small boats. But, Algerian discipline was less effective and one Algerian gun fired a shot at 1515. Exmouth immediately began the bombardment.

 

The Algerian flotilla made an attempt to board but thirty-three of their boats were sunk. After an hour, the cannon on the mole were effectively silenced, and Exmouth turned his attention to the shipping in the harbour, including a number of naval vessels of frigate size or smaller, which were destroyed by 1930.

 

Although the fleet also bombarded the city, there was comparatively little damage as the construction of the houses meant that cannon balls passed through the walls, leaving a neat hole without destroying them. The explosive mortar shells and rockets caused some destruction to domestic buildings, and the shipping in the harbour burned so fiercely that the warehouses nearby caught light and were burnt down.

 

At 2000, Milne asked that a sloop that had been fitted out as an explosion vessel, with 143 barrels of gunpowder aboard, be used against the "Lighthouse battery", which was mauling his ship. The vessel was exploded, but to little effect and against the wrong battery.

 

Despite this, the Algerian batteries could not maintain fire and by 22:15, Exmouth gave the order for the fleet to weigh anchor and sail out of range, leaving HMS Minden to keep firing to suppress any further resistance.

 

By 01:30 the next morning, the fleet was anchored out of range. The wounded were treated, and the crew cleared the damage caused by the Algerian guns.

 

Casualties on the British side were 16 percent killed or wounded. As a comparison, the British casualties at the Battle of Trafalgar had been only 9 percent.

 

The allied squadron had fired over 50.000 round shot using 118 tons of gunpowder, and the bomb vessels had fired 960 explosive mortar shells.

 

The following day at noon, Exmouth sent the following letter to the Dey:

 

"Sir, for your atrocities at Bona on defenceless Christians, and your unbecoming disregard of the demands I made yesterday in the name of the Prince Regent of England, the fleet under my orders has given you a signal chastisement, by the total destruction of your navy, storehouse, and arsenal, with half your batteries. As England does not war for the destruction of cities, I am unwilling to visit your personal cruelties upon the unoffending inhabitants of the country, and I therefore offer you the same terms of peace which I conveyed to you yesterday in my Sovereign's name. Without the acceptance of these terms, you can have no peace with England."

 

He warned that if they were not accepted, then he would continue the action. The Dey accepted the terms, not realising that they were a bluff, as the fleet had already fired off almost all of its ammunition.

 

A treaty was signed on September 24, 1816. The Dey freed 1,083 Christian slaves and the British Consul and repaid the ransom money.

 

Over 3000 slaves in total were later freed.  After some time, Algiers and other Barbary states renewed their piracy and slavery, as they earned revenues from the ransoms for some European slaves and had a market for others.