Siege of Dunkirk (1793) - Assessment


Alfred Burne devotes several pages assessing the Siege of Dunkirk and Hondschoote, including much of the Duke of York's subsequent correspondence to the King. York ends his report: "I think therefore that I am justified in saying that there were three grand causes which made this expedition miscarry: the first owing to the promises and assurances I received from your Majesty's Ministers not being in any way fulfilled; the second owing to the alteration made in the plan of campaign by the Armies of the King of Prussia and of General Wurmser, by which means the enemy was able to bring the whole of the Army of the Moselle against the Field Marshal and Me; and the third owing to the Field Marshal's (i.e. Freytag's) own conduct."

An officer wrote to the Morning Chronicle just two days after the battle of Hondschoote: "There is but one sentiment throughout the whole camp. If the gun-boats and floating batteries had been ready, according to the express promise to co-operate with the Duke of York, and if his alacrity had been at all seconded on the part of the officers in England there is no doubt that Dunkirk would have fallen at the first attack. Every man that has since perished... is to be set down to the score of the ministers, who have sacrificed their duty to the holiday mummery of camps or to the amusements of partridge shooting".

Burne also points out the oft-overlooked fact that the French broke the terms of capitulation at Valenciennes, which dictated that released prisoners were not to fight again, and sent repatriated prisoners-of-war straight to reinforce the garrison of Dunkirk. "Had the French not broken the terms of capitulation of Valenciennes and used it's garrison for the relief of Dunkirk, that town would probably have fallen."

Historian Digby Smith argues that Dunkirk represented a missed opportunity. He blames the British government for its insistence on mounting this operation instead of properly supporting their Austrian allies against the French field armies.

Burne however believes that although it transgresses the principle of concentration, in this case it's extremely doubtful whether the Austrians would have marched on Paris without first taking Maubeuge and Quesnoy; therefore the British army was better employed capturing Dunkirk than helping the Austrians take Quesnoy.

Read more about this topic:  Siege Of Dunkirk (1793)

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