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Mounted Marines and the Invasion of Java

Updated: Apr 2, 2022

Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines

Location: Java

Period/ Conflict: Napoleonic Wars

Year: 1811

Date/s: 4th August 1811`

The invasion of Java in 1811 was a successful British amphibious operation against the Dutch East Indian island of Java that took place between August and September 1811 during the Napoleonic Wars.

The Conquest of Java. A Battalion of Royal Marines under the command of Brevet Major F. Liardet was landed to reinforce the Army under Sir Samuel Achmuty. Batavia having been occupied without resistance, the British advanced against the Dutch Army which was entrenched at Meester Cornelis, about 9 miles from the city. After some days fighting an assault was ordered under the command of General Gillespie.

The men detailed for this were 250 of the Royal Marines Battalion, the Grenadiers of the 78th and two companies of the 89th Regiment. The troops moved forward at midnight on the 25th August, and after a desperate struggle, in which the Royal Marines bore a most distinguished part, carried all before them. 257 officers including 3 Generals and 5,000 men were made prisoners and more than 1,000 were found dead in the works.

After the battle Sir Samuel Achmuty thus addressed the battalion, “I have halted you to express my high opinion of the zeal and gallantry displayed by the Royal Marines, who were attached to the advance under general Gillespie in the action of the 25th. I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude for their exemplary good conduct, I beg you therefore to accept my warmest thanks, and to communicate the same to the officers and men under your command.

Meester Cornelis was a formidable fortress. Built by Janssens’ predecessor, Marshal Daendels, it comprised five miles of fortifications studded with 280 pieces of heavy cannon, and was flanked to the west by the meandering Ciliwung River, and to the east by a deep canal called the Slokan. The surrounding countryside, meanwhile, was ‘intersected with ravines, enclosures, and betel plantations, resembling hop-grounds, many parts of which could only be passed in single file’

On the 31st August an expedition was sent to Cheribon to intercept the retreat of the Dutch General Jansens from Meester Cornelis. As it would have taken too long to embark troops for the purpose, HMS Nisus, HMS President, HMS Phoebe and HMS Hesper were sent round and landed their Royal Marines together with the detachment belonging to HMS Lion, amounting to 180 men in all, who were under the command of Captain Welchman of the Royal Marines.

The fort of Cheribon surrendered and was occupied by Captain Welchman and his Marines, but on the news arriving of the approach of 250 men of the enemy’s Infantry and of the same number of Cavalry from Buitzenburg, the Marine Garrison was relieved by a detachment of seamen in order that it might be free to assume the offensive.

The Marines and fifty seamen were therefore mounted on horseback, and under the command of Captain Welchman Royal Marines, were pushed forward by forced march’s to attack a fort at Carang Sambang about 35 miles off in the interior of the island. This small advanced force was supported by a body of troops under the command of Colonel Wood.

Captain Welchman captured 22 chests of money at Bongas, about half way to Catang Sambang, which were sent back by Colonel Wood, and pushing on met a Dutch officer with a flag of truce proposing the surrender of Carang Sambang. A great quantity of stores was taken at this place including coffee to the value of 250,000 Spanish dollars, as well as a large number of prisoners.

The Marines were now re-embarked as HMS Nisus and HMS Phoebe were moving along the coast, landed them successively at Panca and Taggal, both of which places were taken. Samarang, Gressie, and Sourabaya were occupied shortly afterwards, the main body of the Marines being under the command of Captain Bunce who had become senior officer present by the death of Major Liardet from dysentery. Lieutenant White Royal Marines, of HMS Minden who, with his detachment and a party of the 14th Regiment had been landed to keep open communications with Pangorah and to procure supplies for the squadron, was sharply attacked by considerable body of the enemy with two guns,

After 12 minutes fighting they were driven off, but just as reinforcements were arriving from the 14th and 89th Regiments they renewed the attack in great force. They were again defeated with some loss. Captain E.W. Hoare. R.N. from HMS Minden, in making his official report of this affair wrote: “I feel it my duty to report the conduct of Captain Robert White of the Royal Marines, who commanded at the first attack, assisted by two officers of the 14th Regiment. I was astonished at the bravery and coolness displayed by those officer and their men.”

The reduction of the neighbouring Island of Madura was effected by the seamen and Marines of HMS Drake and HMS Phaeton, although the native troops had been strengthened by the landing of a French force. Effecting a landing under cover of the darkness, the small British force advanced on the Fort of Samanap, the capital of the Island, in two columns, each consisting of 60 bayonets (presumably Marines) and 20 pike men. The Marine detachment of the ‘Hussar’ acted as a reserve. The fort was taken by a sudden rush just before daybreak.

A spirited battle with a very superior force followed as soon as it was light in which the resolution and superior tactics of the British secured them the victory. Lieutenant Roch, Royal Marines, was twice speared by the native pike men while wresting the colours from a French officer, whom he slew in the contest. The Conquest of Java was now complete and the captors were rewarded by distribution of prize money to the value of the property taken which amounted to no less than a million sterling.

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