Action of 16 May 1797

The action of 16 May 1797 was a naval battle that took place near Tripoli in Ottoman Tripolitania (present-day Libya). The Danish squadron was victorious over a Tripolitan squadron that outnumbered them in terms of the number of vessels. The result was a peace treaty between the Bey of Tripoli and Denmark-Norway.

Action of 16 May 1797
HDMS Najaden (1796).jpg
A painting of the engagement by Terkild Emanuel Lønning
Date16 May 1797
Result Dano-Norwegian victory
Denmark–Norway Tripolitania
Commanders and leaders
Steen Bille Unknown
1 frigate
1 brig
1 xebec
3 xebecs
3 smaller vessels
Casualties and losses
1 killed
1 wounded


After the newly appointed Bey of Tripoli, Sidi Yussuf, demanded an increased tribute (essentially a bribe to stop Tripolitans preying on Danish merchant ships), and captured two Danish vessels, whose crews he sold into slavery, Denmark sent Captain Lorenz Fisker in the 40-gun frigate Thetis to Tripoli. He had two missions: first, to escort the annual "gift ship" to Algiers, and second, to arrange for the freeing of the two Danish vessels and their crews. He arrived at Tripoli on 30 August 1796, but failed to free the captured sailors, or even agree to a ransom price.[1]

The ActionEdit

The Danes therefore decided to make a second attempt. They sent Captain Steen Andersen Bille in the frigate Najaden 40, under Captain John Hoppe, to Malta, where she arrived on 2 May 1797. There the Danes met up with the brig Sarpen 18, under Captain Charles Christian De Holck. They also hired a xebec of six guns, which was then sailed by a Danish crew under Lieutenant Hans Munck (or Munk), of Sarpen. This squadron then sailed from Malta for Tripoli. On 12 May, off the coast of Lampedusa, they met with Fisker and Thetis. Fisker transferred command of Danish forces in the Mediterranean to Bille and sailed for home. Bille's small squadron sailed past the forts guarding Tripoli on 15 May 1797.[1] Among the guns firing on the Danish vessels from the forts were four Danish cannons that the Libyan envoy Abderahman al Bidiri had obtained from the King of Denmark in 1772.

On 16 May Najaden sailed into the harbor and attacked the six armed vessels there. The Tripolitan forces consisted of the 28-gun xebec Meshuda, two other xebecs of similar size and three smaller vessels. Although the Danish cannon fire caused extensive casualties among the Tripolitans, the latter nevertheless got close to the Danish vessels and almost managed to board Najaden. Hoppe's deft maneuvering forestalled defeat. Although the two smaller Danish ships were more of a hindrance than a help, the Tripolitans retreated after two hours. Danish casualties were one killed and one wounded.[1]

The Norwegian Poul S. Stub, who was held in slavery in Tripoli after his merchant ship Providentia had been captured, observed the battle from the land and wrote up his impressions.[2]

Bille then blockaded the harbor, stopping trade. Subsequent negotiations resulted in a peace treaty on 25 May. Denmark agreed to continue to pay tribute, but at a reduced rate.[1] Bille was also able to buy the freedom of the Danish prisoners.[3]


Bille remained in the Mediterranean until 1801 with a force that the Danish government increased to three frigates and two brigs. After the Danish government recalled him to become the chief of the naval defense, the Danish flotilla remained, continuing to protect Danish shipping for a few more years. Bille went on to command a division of the navy in the Battle of Copenhagen.

Ships involvedEdit

Denmark-Norway (Bille)Edit

Najaden 40 (flag)
Sarpen 18
Unnamed xebec


Meshuda 28
2 other xebecs of 28 guns
3 smaller vessels


  1. ^ a b c d "Dansk Militaer Historie". Archived from the original on 2010-11-26. Retrieved 2010-07-27.
  2. ^ Topsøe-Jensen Vol 1 p 132
  3. ^ Danish Naval History before 1801 Archived July 23, 2010, at the Wayback Machine


  • (in Danish)T. A. Topsøe-Jensen og Emil Marquard (1935) “Officerer i den dansk-norske Søetat 1660-1814 og den danske Søetat 1814-1932“. Two volumes. Download here.

Coordinates: 32°54′8″N 13°11′9″E / 32.90222°N 13.18583°E / 32.90222; 13.18583