Sunday, March 7, 2010
During the short period between 1795 and 1814 Holmen and the Royal Danish Navy took center stage on three occasions. In 1795, 1801 and again in 1807 some of the most dramatic events in the history of Denmark unfolded at Holmen and in the roadstead of Copenhagen.
These events touched all Copenhageners and revealed with horrifying grimness the dangers of having placed the berth of the navy as well as the country’s largest dockyard in the middle of the capital.
On June 5, following an unusually dry spring, a fire erupted in the so-called Dehlehave, a storage place for timber and coal at Gammelholm. Due to a number of adverse circumstances the fire got out of control and spread to the center of Copenhagen. For days the citizens tried to fight the fire and when they finally got it under control over 900 houses had burnt down and more than 6000 people had lost their home. Misfortune never comes singly. Hardly had new habitation been found for the many homeless Copenhageners before a new catastrophe occurred.
Politically, Denmark had been gambling with the great sea powers of Europe and now it was time to pay the debt. At the end of March 1801 a large English fleet arrived at the roadstead of Copenhagen. Few people believed that confrontation could be avoided. For weeks Copenhagen had been in a whirl of excitement. Mornings and nights groups of artisans, seamen, and workmen marched from Nyboder, the seamen’s yellow quarter, to Holmen and back. The narrow streets rang with the sound of wagons loaded with equipment and provisions for the sea defense that had been laid out in great haste; a palisade of fortresses and floating batteries.
In the morning of the 2, of April the first thunder of guns was heard. The battle of Copenhagen had begun. The many Copenhageners who out of curiosity had assembled on Toldboden and at the point of the Citadel of Copenhagen, watched the unequal struggle which in less than four hours brought the Danes to their knees. Copenhagen had thrown its sons before the English lion and it had devoured them with ravenous appetite.
The fate of the city and that of the entire country for that matter was sealed only six years later. Without encountering any resistance the English landed a large force north of Copenhagen and in surprisingly short time the city was caught in an iron grip.
The English demanded unconditional surrender and the handing over of the Danish Navy. If these demands were not met the English would not hesitate to bombard the almost unprotected city. On the 2, of September the English had lost patience and in the following days and nights a virtual inferno of bombs and rockets were fired over the city’s houses and squares. The material damage was enormous and more than 1600 civilians were killed and even more were disabled.
Not until October 21, did the English Navy leave Copenhagen. The English brought with them all the ships of the Danish Navy and several hundred transport-ships followed, their holds filled with equipment from the storage houses at Holmen. An epoch had come to an end. In its aftermath came the bankruptcy of the State in 1813 and the painful separation of Denmark and Norway in 1814. The technological center of the country had been ravaged and the berth of the Navy was deserted. The flourishing trade had withered away, the harbor and its storage houses were left empty. It would take several decades to restore what had been lost.