"I really do not see the signal!" - Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801

2 April 1801, Nelson won his hardest fought victory in the Battle of Copenhagen against the neutral Danish fleet without an official declaration of war.
“Elephant, off Copenhagen, 3rd April 1801. … Sir…The Action began at five minutes past ten - the Van led by Captain George Murray of the Edgar who set a noble example of intrepidity which was well followed up by every Captain, Officer and Man of the Squadron. I beg leave to express how much I feel indebted to every Captain, Officer and Man for their zeal and distinguished bravery on this occasion. The loss in such a battle has naturally been very heavy. Amongst many other brave officers I have with sorrow to place the names of the gallant and good Captain Riou and Captain Moss of the Monarch who has left a wife and six children to lament his loss.” (Vice Admiral Lord Nelson's official report to Admiral Sir Hyde Parker)

Robert Dodd (1748 – 1815):
 “Nelson Forcing the Passage of the Sound, 30 March 1801, prior to the Battle of Copenhagen”

Peculiar Tsar Paul I’s idea to curb the practice of the waves-ruling British of stopping neutral powers' merchantmen from entering French ports and effectively ending the trade with France was forming a League of Armed Neutrality. At the turn of the year of 1800 and 1801, the naval powers of the Baltic Rim, Russia, Sweden and Denmark, could put a combined fleet of more than 120 battleships to sea, as soon as the ice of the Baltic Sea was melting in April, and that was a strategic challenge even for the mighty Royal Navy and their 40 sail-of-the-line in the Channel and the North Sea who were actually supposed to blockade the French. When Tsar Paul, a member of the Second Coalition against France and thus nominally a British ally, expressed sympathies for the enemy, the British admiralty was put on a state of alert and a hastily assembled Baltic Squadron with 20 battleships under the command of Sir Hyde Parker with Nelson as his second-in-command set sail from Yarmouth on March 12th, arriving at the Skagerrak six days later with orders to break up the League without war having been formally declared to any of its members.

Emil Normann (1798–1881): “The Battle of Copenhagen on the 2nd of April 1801” (1830)

Nelson was all for going directly at Russia’s throat, certainly the key player in the Baltics, but was overruled by Sir Hyde and the Baltic Squadron set course for Copenhagen and a frigate brought word to the Danes along the lines of “leave the League or else" and Copenhagen barricaded up, behind the coastal batteries of the Tre Kroner fortress and no longer seaworthy but still heavily armed battleships, the defensionsskibs, and a few smaller ships-of-the-line guarding  the entrance of King’s Channel and the harbour. With relatively inaccurate charts and adverse winds, three British ships-of-the-line ran aground a day before the general attack on Copenhagen, nevertheless, Nelson’s plan of how to break the Danish defences was sound, risky, but sound. Consequently, he lead the van in HMS “Elephant” (74) with his remaining nine more shallow-drafted ships and the first broadsides were exchanged at 10 o’clock in the morning and then the murderous fireworks began in earnest. Parker, about to engage the northern end of the Danish line with the remaining 8 bigger ships, could no longer make head or tail of the situation and gave the general signal to break off the engagement, knowing that Nelson would ignore it if there was any chance to win the battle and he famously did exactly that, ignoring the signal by holding his telescope to his blind eye, stating "I really do not see the signal!" and won the battle.

Christian Mølsted’s (1862- 1930) imagination of the Danish perspective of the Battle of Copenhagen, showing “the extremely young Sub-lieutenant Peter Willemoes putting heart into his men on his floating naval battery.”  (1901)

1,200 British and 1,800 Danish seamen were either dead or wounded when the Danish crown-prince Frederick agreed to a ceasefire at 4 pm after a dogged, brave and gallant defence. The British burned the captured Danish fleet except the Holsteen (62) that was bought into service of the Royal Navy as HMS “Nassau”, taking part in the Second Battle of Copenhagen six years later. For the time being, the Danes agreed to leave the League, since they had received the news that Tsar Paul had been assassinated on March 23th and Nelson still threatened to bombard the city. The Swedes followed three weeks later and Nelson, appointed as the new admiral of the Baltic Squadron, finally visited Russian Reval (present-day Tallinn) in Mai 1801 without any reaction of Paul’s successor Alexander and the specter of a large Baltic fleet threatening England for the time being was a banished, as a consequence of the British victory and Paul’s death.

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