Olfert Fischer

Olfert Fischer

Portrait of Olfert Fischer
Born (1747-08-04)4 August 1747
Copenhagen, Denmark
Died 18 February 1829(1829-02-18) (aged 81)
Copenhagen, Denmark
Buried at Reformed Church, Copenhagen
Allegiance Denmark Denmark–Norway
Service/branch Royal Dano-Norwegian Navy
Rank Vice Admiral

French Revolutionary Wars

Johan Olfert Fischer (4 August 1747 – 18 February 1829) was a Danish officer in the Royal Dano-Norwegian Navy. He commanded the Dano-Norwegian fleet against British forces under Lord Nelson during the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801.[1]

Life and career

Johan Olfert Fischer was born in Copenhagen in 1747,[2] the son of the Danish Vice Admiral Olfert Fasvier Fischer whom he followed to a naval career.[3] While still a young man, his rise through the military ranks was set back and almost destroyed in an incident with a prostitute while he was on guard duty on the island of Holmen off Copenhagen. The prostitute compounded Fischer's disgrace by accusing him of violent assault and her charges were believed by a military court: Fischer, then a lieutenant, was punished and demoted back to common seaman for a period of one year.[4]

By 1784, however, Fischer had rebuilt his reputation enough to be promoted to captain, and he was dispatched to the West Indies as commander of the warship Bornholme.[2] It was during this three-year mission that he first met — on friendly terms — his future foe Nelson, then a captain aboard HMS Boreas.[2][5]

Battle of Copenhagen

By 1801, Fischer had risen to the rank of commodore and was appointed to lead the critical naval defense of Copenhagen during the French Revolutionary Wars. Aboard his flagship Dannebrog, he attempted to organize a comprehensive defense with which to face Nelson's invading British armada. The Dannebrog, however, caught fire early in the battle and Fischer was forced to transfer his command, first to a different ship and then, when that ship was crippled also, to a shore-based battery. Under these circumstances, Fischer had little control over the situation and Nelson himself was inclined to believe he had surrendered. Though the Danish fleet fought a spirited battle, the much larger British force eventually compelled a ceasefire through one of Fischer's subordinate commanders. Recent histories have posited the difficulty of battle communications and a cumbersome Danish chain of command as reasons for the end of hostilities. Fischer, however, believed otherwise: he swiftly published an official account of the action in which he asserted that the Dano-Norwegian fleet had not in fact been bested, and that the British arrangement of a truce had been a ruse de guerre to mask their retreat. Nelson dismissed these claims vehemently, yet privately admitted that the victory "had not been as complete as he had hoped."[2][6]

Later life

The tenacious Fischer, who had been wounded in the combat, was revered as a national hero and bemedaled by the Danish crown for his bravery.[7] Nelson himself, who had at that time been involved in over a hundred actions, pronounced that the battle was the fiercest he had ever fought.[8]

Fischer remained with the navy and was elevated to the rank of Vice Admiral.[2] He died on 18 February 1829 and was buried in the churchyard of the Reformed Church, Copenhagen.[9]


Although some contemporary scholars have criticized Fischer's reputation and minimized his significance,[4] he remains a military hero in Denmark. Among ships named for him, the coastal defense monitor Olfert Fischer was one of the main ships of the Royal Danish Navy (RDN) before World War I.[10] It was first laid down at Copenhagen in 1900[11] and commissioned to service in 1903.[12] The vessel took part in the coronation celebrations of King George V in June 1911, representing Denmark at the naval ceremonies in Spithead.[13] The modern Olfert Fischer (F355) is a Niels Juel-class corvette of the RDN, commissioned to service in 1981.[14] In addition to coastal duties, this ship served among allied forces in the Persian Gulf during the conflicts of 1990[15] and 2003.[16]


Olfert Fischer is commemorated in the composition The Hope by Frederik Magle which was commissioned by the Admiral Danish Fleet and the Reformed Church in Copenhagen. The Hope was premiered on 1 and 2 April 2001, marking the 200th anniversary of the battle of Copenhagen.[17][18]


  1. Spencer Tucker (11 November 2010). Battles That Changed History: An Encyclopedia of World Conflict. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 278. ISBN 978-1-59884-429-0. Retrieved 10 July 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Colin White (2002). The Nelson encyclopedia. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-8117-0013-9. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
  3. Chr Grünwald; Knud Lyne Rahbek (1953). Kommentar og personregister til Knud Lyne Rahbeks Erindringer [Memoirs of Knud Lyne Rahbek] (in Danish). Aalborg. p. 90. OCLC 13268336. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
  4. 1 2 Sørensen, Irene Berg (2010). "Olfert Fischers eftermæle til debat" [Olfert Fischer's legacy debated] (in Danish). Jyllands Posten (JP.dk). Retrieved 28 July 2011.
  5. Nicholas Tracy (1996). Nelson's battles: the art of victory in the age of sail. Naval Institute Press. p. 138. ISBN 978-1-55750-621-4. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
  6. Viscount Horatio Nelson Nelson (1886). Letters and despatches of Horatio, viscount Nelson. Longmans, Green. pp. 259ff. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
  7. Johnny E. Balsved (2009). "Fischer, J. Olfert". NavalHistory.DK. Retrieved 10 July 2011.
  8. Henry Smith Williams (1904). The Historians' History of the World: Vol. XVI. New York: The Outlook Company. pp. 421–422. Retrieved 12 July 2011.
  9. "Johan Olfert Fischer, Danish vice admiral". Gravsted.dk. Retrieved 10 July 2011.
  10. Frederick Martin; Sir John Scott Keltie; Isaac Parker Anderson Renwick; et al. (1906). The Statesman's year-book. St. Martin's Press. p. 814. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
  11. Antony Preston (1972). Battleships of World War I: an illustrated encyclopedia of the battleships of all nations, 1914-1918. Galahad Books. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-88365-300-5. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
  12. "The Danish Fleet, 1860–1990" (in Danish). Royal Danish Naval Museum. 2011. Retrieved 16 July 2011.
  13. (Staff) (25 June 1911). "King Reviews 188 Warships; Magnificent Scene at Spithead". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 July 2011.
  14. Frederick Thomas Jane; Jane's Information Group (1994). Jane's fighting ships. Sampson Low, Marston and Co. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-7106-1161-1. Retrieved 10 July 2011.
  15. Naval Records Club (U.S.); International Naval Research Organization (1991). Warship International. International Naval Research Organization. p. 75. Retrieved 10 July 2011.
  16. Johnny E. Balsved (2009). "Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003)". NavalHistory.DK. Retrieved 10 July 2011.
  17. "Værk for Olfert Fischer". Kristeligt Dagblad (in Danish). 29 March 2001. Retrieved 2012-01-05.
  18. "The Hope". magle.dk. Retrieved 29 July 2012.

Further reading

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