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Walcheren Expedition

The Walcheren expedition (July 30 - December 10, 1809) was a British military operation during the Napoleonic Wars. It was the last in a series of operations in Flanders (present-day Belgium) in 1809. It was the largest British expedition of that year, around 40,000 soldiers were transported across the North Sea.

The intention of the expedition was to attack the French controlled naval base at Antwerp and provide a diversion for the hard pressed Austrians (unfortunately the Battle of Wagram occurred before the expedition got under way). The first move was to seize the swampy, fever ridden island of Walcheren at the mouth of river Scheldt as well as South Beveland[?] island (both in present-day Netherlands). The British troops soon began to suffer from malaria, within a month of seizing the island there were over 8,000 fever cases. The medical provisions for the expedition were found to be completely inadequate.

The operation was commanded by John Pitt, Lord Chatham (Army) and Sir Richard Strachan (Navy). Chatham was known as extremely cautious and gave the operation a dangerously slow pace. While the British troops were diverted into the capture of Flushing (August 15) and surrounding towns, Antwerp was heavily reinforced. With the main objective lost the expedition was called off in early September. Around 12,000 troops were left on Walcheren, by October only 5,500 were fit for duty.

In all the British government had wasted almost 8 million on the expedition, 4,067 men had died (only 106 in combat) and almost 12,000 were still ill in February 1810 and many others were permanently weakened.

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