The Bombardment of Algiers, 1816

On March 25th, 1807, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed by the British House of Commons. Though it did not abolish the institution of slavery initially, it was a great step towards this. Within the year, vessels of the Royal Navy were ordered to commence anti-slavery operations, intercepting and freeing the cargoes of slave ships.

One such operation was the Bombardment of Algiers in 1816. The Napoleonic Wars had recently ended in Europe, and the British had no need of supplies from the Regency of Algiers (A vassal of the Ottoman Empire). As such, the British began to exert their substantial political and military muscle to force the Regent to end the practice of piracy and the enslavement of captured crews, many of whom were European.

Initially this was a diplomatic mission. Lord Exmouth and a squadron of ships visited the different Barbary states, and 'negotiated' with them to end piracy and the slave trade (at the end of a cannon). All except the Dey (Regency) of Algiers complied immediately. Negotiations dragged on, and eventually Exmouth went home, believing he had succeeded. This was not the case though, and the Regent massacred several hundred captive European fisherman.

This provoked outrage in Europe, and Exmouth was ordered back, with a substantial force of Royal Naval ships in tow to punish the Algerians. In Gibraltar, he was joined by a force of five Dutch ships, bringing his total strength up to 27 ships of the line. This was more than enough to bombard the crumbling and ancient defenses of Algiers.

The Allied ships sailed in column into the bay, into the so called 'dead' zone, where Algerian guns could not be brought to bear. There they bombarded the shore defences and meager fleet of Algiers. A force of 2 frigates and the 50 gun HMS Leander was sent to destroy shipping in the harbour.

The Algerians never stood a chance. The Regent had planned to swarm and board the Allied ships, but his vessels were sunk before they even got close.

The Allies were poorly organized though. Some of the ships did not make it into the dead zone, and suffered horrific casualties as a result. Many of the Algerian guns were silenced, but many strong points held out against withering Allied fire. Allied fire on the city was ineffective, as cannon shot went straight through the houses, leaving a neat hole, but causing no lasting damage. Eventually, facing mounting casualties and low ammunition, the Allies were forced to withdraw out of range.

The next day, Exmouth sent the Regent a list of demands:

"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."

The Regent quickly accepted, not knowing the the Allied fleet had run out of ammunition. In total, more than 50, 000 rounds had been fired by the Allied fleet, and more than 3000 slaves were freed. 

The battle was not over though. The barbary states would soon resume piracy, and the practice of slavery, so the Royal Navy was kept busy for the better part of the next 60 years. Several hundred Allied sailors lost their lives in this action. Freedom is never free.