Austria-Hungary – Air Service 1917

The Russian collapse left the small Austro-Hungarian air service with an intensifying air war against Italy on the Southwestern Front, where it was outnumbered and confronted with Caproni attacks. Austrian battle fliers saw their first action in the tenth Battle of the Isonzo, in May and June, while the best fighter pilots, Godwin Brumowski, Julius Arigi, and Frank Linke-Crawford, continued to score as they shifted from the Hansa-Brandenburg D1 to the Austrian-built Albatros D3. For the twelfth Battle of the Isonzo, in October, 150 Austrian aircraft, reinforced by 90 German planes, including bomber units, were pitted against 320 Italian aircraft, including 85 Capronis. Though short of aircraft, the air arm fought well and routed the Italians. By the fall the air arm had grown to 66 flight companies and one G-plane squadron, only 5 units short of the planned expansion, but no company had more than 60 percent of its designated aircraft or pilot complement.

In 1917 a newly created naval aviation command had its arsenal at Pola with stations along the Adriatic coast. Naval aviator Gottfried Banfield, commander of the Trieste naval air station, fought Italian ace Francesco Baracca to a draw in his flying boat on New Year’s Day 1917, then went on to score the first night victory and attack Italian motorboat patrols. Naval aviators were forced on the defensive during the summer over the Adriatic, and the navy had to order landplanes, since flying boats could not reach the altitude of the Capronis that were striking Pola and other targets. During the Isonzo battles, Austro-Hungarian naval fliers attacked harbors and supply bases and performed reconnaissance missions over land.

In 1917 the Castiglioni conglomerate supplied the Austro-Hungarian army with C1 observation planes and D1 fighters, and the navy with CC flying boat fighters and K-boats for reconnaissance and bombing. The navy intended to rely on planes from Hansa-Brandenburg and engines from Rapp, later BMW in Munich, which Castiglioni acquired in July to increase deliveries of Porsche’s 350-hp engine. Yet the German army and navy monopolized the services of Brandenburg and BMW, with catastrophic effects on engine, and consequently K-boat, production. By fall the naval air arm had only fighters and no bombers.

As German mobilization reduced the flow of German supplies to 32 planes for the entire year, Austro-Hungarian aviation forces were forced to rely on their own limited resources and Brandenburg subsidiaries Ufag and Albatros. The Hindenburg Program prohibited the previous system of exporting aircraft frames, while the Prussian army was more reluctant to grant export permits for aircraft materials and plant machinery.

The army’s policies generally did little to solve production problems. In 1917 the aviation arsenal and a special military price commission determined that aircraft price increases were needed to keep pace with rising labor and material costs, but the War Ministry granted none because it was not assured of sufficient funds to cover raises. Such stringency impeded production and robbed the industry of the reserves accumulation necessary for postwar survival. Profit per plane in Austria-Hungary, where serial deliveries were small and production problems great, needed to exceed that in Germany, but it did not.

The deficient organization of exemptions compounded the aircraft factories’ problems in the summer of 1917. In the absence of an oft-requested central agency to distribute workers to industry, ordinary carpenters performed intricate work in the factories while skilled furniture makers and carpenters passed their time in frontline companies “making ingenious war mementoes to amuse themselves,” and large-scale-lathe hands did the precision work of turning motor cylinders while precision-lathe hands did large-scale work in metal factories.

In September the high command established a General Inspectorate to assume control of aviation in the rear from the War Ministry. In Germany the high command had granted the air force a procurement bureaucracy with some autonomy from the War Ministry. The Austro-Hungarian method of superimposing a new agency on top of the existing hierarchy was more comparable to the German high command’s superimposition of the War Office on the War Ministry in the Hindenburg Program. It yielded similar results, as the General Inspectorate merely complicated command in aviation.

In light of such rampant military and industrial inefficiency, monthly aircraft deliveries in 1917 were low and erratic. Starting at 37 aircraft in January, deliveries rose to 135 in May, plummeted to 67 in June because of strikes and shortages, peaked at 211 in August, gradually declined to 142 in November, and stopped altogether in December because of severe winter shortages. Despite this dismal ending, the industry did increase its deliveries of aircraft from 732 in 1916 to 1,272 in 1917 and of engines from 854 to 1,230.

In July, the army aviation arsenal was determined to reach 400 aircraft monthly in 1918, but could secure only 4,500 workers through October to add to the existing labor force of nearly 6,000, when it estimated needs at a grandiose and unattainable 28,000 workers. The technological prerequisites for the expansion were also lacking. German firms adamantly refused to allow the dissemination of German technical reports in Austria, Austrian factories were reluctant to exchange information, and the arsenal’s research institute did not share its proceedings with the firms. In any case, Theodore von Karman, one of the arsenal’s best scientists, was preoccupied with the development of helicopters rather than war planes.

Despite the difficulties, in the fall the AOK stipulated the production of 750 planes and 1,000 engines monthly in 1918 and further insisted on having twin-engine G-planes and armored infantry J-planes. The aviation arsenal, aware of insurmountable difficulties yet reluctant to contradict the high command, concluded that the numbers were attainable. Ultimately, the disastrous effects of the winter coal shortage in December brought the arsenal to its senses, and it revised expectations to only 125 to 200 planes monthly through April 1918. Conceding that its reach had far exceeded its grasp, the arsenal grimly prepared to face what would be the final year of the war.

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Austria-Hungary – Air Service 1916

Aviatik-Berg B.III Pilot – Zug Friedrich Schallinger, Observer – Fah Gustav Wangler. Russian Front, June 1916.

The small Austro-Hungarian air arm worked to capacity on the far-flung fronts. On the Western Front one unit patrolled 8 kilometers of territory, on the eastern front a unit patrolled 32 kilometers of war zone, and a unit in the Balkans monitored 70 kilometers of front. In Macedonia a four-plane Fokker unit was responsible for 200 kilometers of war front. On the Eastern and Balkan Fronts, supply was particularly difficult. In the Balkans aviators contended with mountains and disease; on the Southwestern Front in Italy they confronted mountains and violent storms. By the end of 1916, with Serbia defeated and Russia and Rumania collapsing, the Southwestern Front against Italy on the Isonzo River became the main emphasis of Austria-Hungary’s air arm and army.

The air arm continued to expand slowly. At the beginning of 1916 the army was 22 flight companies short of Conrad von Hötzendorff’s prewar goal of 40 by early 1916. Soon the army raised its goal to 48 companies and managed to have 44 of at most eight planes each by the year’s end.

Austro-Hungarian naval aviators were increasingly engaged on the Italian Front. Italian Capronis could not reach the 420 kilometers to Vienna from the Isonzo River, but escorted by Nieuports they could and did bomb Pola, Trieste, Fiume, and Cattaro. Naval aviators had to defend against these raids, fly reconnaissance and bombing missions against ships, submarines, and harbors, and escort cruiser sorties against the Otranto blockade. They also attacked troop assembly points and supply dumps on the Isonzo battlefield starting in March 1916.

Austria-Hungary’s included army aces Capt. Godwin Brumowski, who became a pilot in July 1916 and commanded a fighter unit on the Italian Front, and Sgt. Julius Arigi, a noncommissioned officer pilot who began his career in 1916 as a two-seater Brandenburg C1 pilot stationed in Albania. There Sergeant Arigi and his observer intercepted six Italian Farmans and shot down five in a 30-minute fight on 22 August. Gottfried Banfield, who had been in aerial combat since July 1915, commanded the naval air station at Trieste from February 1916 until the war’s end. Flying Lohner boats, and ultimately the Brandenburg CC boat, he continued to down enemy aircraft despite the Allies’ increasing aerial supremacy on the Southwestern Front.

As the Italian war effort put more pressure on Austria-Hungary’s limited aviation resources, the army and navy sought to increase their forces. On 22 January a high command committee of representatives from the General Staff, War Ministry, and the aviation troops command met to set guidelines for aircraft procurement. The navy was allowed to dispense a total of 264 aircraft contracts among four Austrian firms, while the army could rely on domestic factories and Hansa-Brandenburg. These guidelines presumed a tremendous increase in production during 1916 over the 281 airplanes produced domestically in 1915, yet raw-material and skilled-worker shortages meant that the industry was not likely to perform much better in 1916.

The skilled-labor shortage was one of the most severe impediments to production, and the air department and the industry only narrowly averted disaster by preventing the War Ministry from inducting exempted personnel born between 1878 and 1897. In response to requests for 5,126 skilled workers in 1916, the aviation department received 2,857, and even then the industry was receiving primarily woodworkers when it urgently needed metalworkers. Despite these problems, the industry produced 807 aircraft in 1916, a substantial improvement over the 281 produced in 1915, while by January 1917 the firms employed nearly 6,000 workers, a tremendous increase from the 200 to 300 in August 1914. This growth, however, did not keep pace with the escalating air war.

To compensate for these deficiencies, in April 1916 the army high command established an aircraft acceptance section under its plenipotentiary in Berlin. As this procurement bureaucracy was formalized, the German armed forces’ increasing demand for aircraft reduced its exports to Austria-Hungary from 186 in 1915 to 95 in 1916. Camillo Castiglioni’s connection to Germany consequently became more important for procurement than official military channels, as his three companies—the German parent firm, Hansa-Brandenburg, and its licensed producers, Austrian Albatros and the Hungarian Aircraft Works—became the primary channel for the flow of German aircraft technology to Austria-Hungary.

After spring 1916 the Austro-Hungarian air arm relied primarily on the Castiglioni conglomerate. The Brandenburg C1 was the army’s standard reconnaissance plane from spring 1916 to the war’s end, while the D1 was the mainstay of the fighter force from fall 1916 until mid-1917, despite its early reputation as a Sarg, or coffin. The navy relied on the Brandenburg CC flying boat fighter and the large bomber-reconnaissance K-boat in 1916 and 1917. As alternatives the navy had only a few Lohner L-boats; the army possessed Lloyd and Aviatik products.

When the conglomerate attempted to capitalize on this dependence by raising prices, the navy accepted a price increase from 38,000 to 60,000 crowns in July 1916, while the army permitted only minuscule increases, thus allowing little or no profit on its planes. These disparate responses exacerbated the interservice rivalry, as Brandenburg attempted to cancel its army contracts to tend to the more lucrative naval offers. After lengthy disputes, the Austrian High Command merely confirmed its adherence to the 1916 norms granting the army all of Brandenburg’s production, which made little difference, since in 1917 and 1918 the German navy would monopolize Brandenburg’s production and the Austro-Hungarian forces would buy only from its subsidiaries.

Skilled-labor and material shortages also impeded engine production in the dual monarchy. Stoppages in deliveries of Austro-Daimler and Warchalowky Hiero engines resulted from copper, tin, and nickel shortages. When Austro-Daimler chief Ferdinand Porsche developed a 250-hp 12-cylinder V engine and a 360-hp six-cylinder engine in 1916, a license had to be negotiated with the Rapp engine works in Munich in November 1916 to build the engine for naval K-boats.

Minden 1759 I

The day before Minden fell (11 July) Ferdinand received another carping letter from Frederick, chiding him for his Fabian tactics. Exhorting him to remember Rossbach, Frederick admonished his brother-in-law that it was better to join battle with the enemy and lose than demoralise the troops by constant retreat; in a particularly nasty jibe, Frederick suggested that Ferdinand was a second Cumberland. At the same time George II was growing anxious about the lack of good news from Germany and was also starting to nag him for results. The effect on a man already suffering self-doubt can be imagined. His particular current anxiety was that the French would move on Hanover and cut him off from his communications with Frederick; perhaps the Prussian king had spoken more truly than he knew and it was now to be his (Ferdinand’s) fate to suffer Cumberland’s 1757 humiliation. This was the moment when his secretary, Christian Heinrich Philipp Edler von Westphalen, stiffened his resolve with a famous letter, urging Ferdinand to follow his own lights and not just agree with the last person he spoke to. From a secretary, this sounds at first like impertinence, but Westphalen had already shown that, when the occasion demanded, he was prepared to waive protocol and to go beyond the bounds of his formally subordinate station. Devoted to Ferdinand, having been with him at the battles of Lobositz, Prague and Rossbach, Westphalen was the Prince’s chief planning officer and strategist, a devotee of boldness and imagination as against the sound space-time logistics of the military manuals. Ferdinand trusted him, listened to him and always took his advice seriously. On this occasion his response to Westphalen’s written homily was as decisive as his secretary could have wished. Ferdinand decided he would make no attempt to retake Münster but would march to the Weser river and establish himself on both sides of the river, daring Contades to dislodge him.

Contades though, exhibited the usual inertia of French commanders in Germany in the 1750s. Excessively circumspect, by covering all possible options he left himself with insufficient troops to mount an offensive. Even the capture of Minden was something of an embarrassment to him, as his distribution of numbers left him in no real position to take advantage of it. Nonetheless he decided that the town gave him another impregnable base from which to operate, so he dug in there. Ferdinand then tried all the ruses he knew to get Contades to leave his Minden position and fight before French reinforcements arrived, but Contades refused to take the bait. There were constant skirmishes along the Weser and both sides’ big guns blazed away pointlessly at each other. After failing to coax Contades out of his prepared positions, Ferdinand tried to threaten his communications at Minden by a march on Lübbecke. This operation he entrusted to his favourite commander, the twenty-four-year-old Erbprinz of Brunswick, Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand, who had won Ferdinand’s undying respect and affection by serving under him even after his father (the Duke of Brunswick) had forbidden it. Ferdinand’s thinking was that Contades would have to deal with this threat either by turning south or giving battle. When the Erbprinz with his force of nearly 10,000 men brushed the French aside at Lübbecke on 28 July, Contades decided this was a challenge he could not ignore and sent the Duc de Brissac to intercept him. Brissac was told to buy time until reinforcements, expected under the command of the veteran Lieutenant-General, the Comte de St-Germain, arrived, guaranteeing overwhelming numerical superiority. The vanguards of the two armies collided near Bünde on 31 July, but this did not halt the Erbprinz’s probe and soon he had advanced as far as Kirchlengern and Quernheim. Now in serious alarm at the threat to his communications, Contades realised that inaction was no longer an option. But would he plump for retreat or battle? Ferdinand made contingency plans for either eventuality, detaching a liaison force under General Gilsa to make sure he was in constant touch with the Erbprinz, but meanwhile disposing his army so that it could operate at a moment’s notice in the Minden plain.

Contades had been in Minden for sixteen days, in a position of great strength, with his right resting on the Weser and Minden and his left covered by the Bastau marshes. Situated at the confluence of the rivers Bastau and Weser, Minden looked out to the north-west over a plain where on the horizon could be seen the villages and hamlets of Hahlen, Stemmer, Kutenhausen and Maulbeerkamp; the principal features on the skyline were a windmill and a cemetery. As one headed north and east from Hahlen, the landscape became more choppy, broken up by smallholdings, plantations and orchards abutting the hamlets. Contades’s idea was to recall Armentières from the protracted siege of Lippstadt, leaving Chevreuse to invest it and with the Armentières and St-Germain forces to overwhelm Ferdinand. Contades was irritated that the Brunswick prince had given him the slip since Bergen and wanted to finish him off in one go. His preference was to wait for Ferdinand to attack him, but he was under the same sort of nagging pressure from Belle-Isle and Versailles as Ferdinand was experiencing from Frederick and Berlin. He wanted to win the glory of being the French commander who made the definitive conquest of Hanover, and it was also in his mind that Versailles needed a decisive breakthrough in west Germany so that it could switch some of the 100,000 troops there to the invasion of the British Isles.

Contades therefore decided to launch a surprise attack on Ferdinand. But first he had to extricate his troops from the bottleneck – perfect for defence but not offence – between the Bastau marshes and Minden and this, he decided, was best done at night. Because of the difficult terrain, the infantry would have to be on the flanks of the cavalry instead of the other way round as in normal circumstances. Meticulous planning was necessary for the surprise attack, since while this night manoeuvre in unorthodox formation on a narrow front was going on, Broglie’s troops would have to be brought over from the other side of the river. At 6 p.m. on 31 July, therefore, Contades summoned his generals and issued his orders. Broglie was to march at dusk, cross the Weser by a stone bridge, proceed through Minden and link up with the artillery and eight battalions of Grenadiers. Situated on Contades’s right, at dawn he would launch a sudden attack of unparalleled ferocity, exposing Ferdinand’s left flank. The main army meanwhile would cross the Bastau by bridge and draw up, ready for daybreak, with the infantry on the flanks and the cavalry in the centre; artillery would cover the cavalry by enfilading fire from both flanks. Between Broglie’s corps and the right of the main army, a third column, eight battalions strong under General Nikolai (yet another veteran who would have to wait until his sixties to receive a Marshal’s baton) would support Broglie’s left and make sure the enemy could not drive a wedge between Broglie and Contades. Nikolai, whose forty-seventh birthday it was on the morrow, hoped to celebrate with a notable victory. Contades’s left meanwhile would be protected against flank attack by the Duc d’Havre and four battalions. Making sure that proper contact was maintained with the Duc de Brissac in the reserve, d’Havre would initiate the action by feinting across the causeway towards Ferdinand’s right just before dawn.

The plan might have worked had not Ferdinand almost simultaneously decided that he would launch a surprise attack on the French after a night march. The army was to be ready to march at 1 a.m., the right was to seize the Hahlen windmill and the left to occupy the hamlet of Stemmer. The best scholarship discounts the idea that Ferdinand was forewarned of French intentions by a peasant who brought him a package containing Contades’s battle orders; what is not explained in the traditional story is how a peasant with anti-French sentiments could have been entrusted with top-secret documents – and ones, moreover that were in clear and not coded. The most likely explanation is that Ferdinand simply intuited what Contades intended and beat him to the punch. By this time he too probably wanted a decisive confrontation. The strain on him of the chivvying and carping George II and Frederick was not assuaged by an extremely difficult relationship with the British commander, Lord George Sackville.

Estimates of Sackville’s character range from the moderately critical to the outright denunciatory. According to Lord Shelburne, who knew him well, Sackville was the avatar of all the vices: he was incompetent, cowardly, an intriguer, a vindictive enemy, a lover of low company and an unbalanced individual who swung violently from spurious optimism to false pessimism. The reference to ‘low company’ was code for the consistent canard that Sackville, even though he was married and would sire five children, was a homosexual. Even his friends conceded that he was a difficult man, reserved, haughty and socially isolated even among his peers and equals. Relations between Ferdinand and Sackville by 31 July 1759 were icy, and it is clear that at one of the many conferences Ferdinand liked to convene, Lord George had given deep offence by something he had said. The most plausible explanation is that Sackville expressed his frustration with the constant retreating before the French and threatened to pull the British troops out of the campaign. The threat could not be presumed to be idle, for in the War of Spanish Succession the great Duke of Marlborough had done just that to his ally Prince Eugene of Savoy.

The upshot of the two converging night marches was that by dawn on 1 August Contades’s army was drawn up along a line stretching from Hahlen to Maulbeerkamp and Ferdinand’s from Hartum to Stemmer. The British troops during their night march had noticed that the fields and hedgerows were teeming with wild red and yellow roses, so they picked the flowers and put them in their hats. Broglie’s corps completed the march as planned, made contact with the enemy left at about 5 a.m. and opened fire. Lieutenant-General Georg August von Wangenheim, the Hanoverian commander who enjoyed the best relations with the British – he had been a battalion commander in England in 1756–57 during the invasion scare – was taken by surprise as a heavy pre-dawn thunderstorm drowned the noise of the approaching attackers. But the French plans began to unravel almost immediately. Instead of pressing home his advantage, Broglie waited for Nikolai to come up in support, giving Wangenheim time to get his big guns ready. There followed a pounding artillery duel, in which Broglie’s leading troops, the Grenadiers, took heavy casualties. By 6 a.m., with Wangenheim’s artillery gaining the advantage, Broglie sent Nikolai to try to loop round the enemy and occupy Kutenhausen. But, cautious like all French commanders, he first reconnoitred and seems to have persuaded himself that a German cavalry charge was imminent.

Contades, realising that his plans were already behind schedule, sent a mounted messenger to find out why Broglie had not advanced. Broglie then wasted further time by galloping over to Contades’s headquarters to explain his fears. In the meantime Contades, as dithering as his second-in-command, became alarmed by a supposed threat to his left, so told Broglie to return and contain the enemy right, until the situation on the left wing was sorted out; he even discussed with Broglie contingency plans for withdrawal. So, only two hours into the battle, things had already gone seriously awry; instead of launching a dawn attack, Broglie was now in limbo and even thinking of retreat. He could scarcely feel pleased with the morning’s work. He should not have waited for Nikolai, but attacked Wangenheim without delay; since Wangenheim was caught unawares, Ferdinand’s left would then have been turned. Broglie showed himself indecisive: he mistook a movement by Wangenheim’s men when taking up their position as an attack and therefore decided to wait for Nikolai. And so Broglie’s advance, on which the whole battle plan of Contades was supposed to turn, petered out. The unintended consequence was that he spent the rest of the battle containing Wangenheim – a stalemate that was compatible with Ferdinand’s tactics, but not with Contades’s.

Meanwhile Contades’s infantry had been delayed crossing the Bastau. They saw the sky lit up by flashes of gunfire and assumed that Broglie’s attack was proceeding as planned. The consequence was that the Comte de Lusace, on the French left, commanding fifteen battalions of Saxons, came to a halt near Hahlen at dawn, in close contact with another sixteen French battalions who were already in the village. This was the precise moment when Ferdinand, unaware that the enemy was present in strength, ordered forward Karl, Prinz von Anhalt-Bernburg and his men to occupy the village. Luck was with the Germans that morning. As they stormed forward into a potential death-trap, houses on the western side of the village caught fire, probably from incendiary shells. The wind caught up the fire and fanned it into the faces of the French defenders, who were driven back by the fierce heat and blinding smoke. The first British troops seriously engaged in battle in Germany now came into play as Foy’s Light Infantry Battalion collided with the French at the windmill just north of Hahlen. Seeing his attack now well under way on the right, Ferdinand ordered Wangenheim on the left to advance, and also gave the signal to Spőrcken’s corps on the right centre to close the gap left as Anhalt advanced.

General Freiherr von Spőrcken was, at sixty-one, the oldest officer on the field that day, an unspectacular plodder as a soldier but very popular with his men. Although nominally a German column, Number Three column (Spörcken’s) was actually comprised largely of British troops, including the Royal Welch Fusiliers, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (51st Foot) and the other troops commanded by General Waldegrave and Colonel Kingsley, six regiments all told. Spörcken’s column came on at the double, at first hidden by woods, then deploying as it emerged from the sylvan darkness. To his alarm Ferdinand noticed Spörcken’s men getting ahead of the rest of the army and sent word for them to slow down. They made a brief halt in a copse but then recommenced their advance at the same rapid pace. Swerving to the left, and thus not hitting their intended target, they caught the left flank of the French cavalry. So on Ferdinand’s right, the situation was that the leading British and Hanoverian infantry were not only ahead of the rest of their comrades but had cut across them and were beginning to crowd them out. Nobody knows exactly why Spörcken’s men decided to fight virtually at running pace. Some say the orders were garbled in transmission because of language problems, but since Spörcken was in command this hardly makes sense. Others say the British wanted to show the other regiments their mettle, as they had been criticised for being raw troops. Doubtless a combination of élan and naivety caused the near-fiasco. Having dislocated the order of battle and being caught alone out in the open, they should have been severely punished and defeated in detail. But luck was with Ferdinand in all sectors this morning.

The battle for Hahlen now settled into a grim slugging match between the big guns of the French and those of Spörcken. This was a critical moment in the battle for, as Spörcken’s men stumbled towards them, the French infantry should have been able to seize the big guns before the artillery duel began. Unaccountably they failed to do so – later it was said they had been blinded by smoke and dust from the battle. That Ferdinand’s artillery was able to engage the French big guns was a hugely significant development, as the French were thereby prevented from sweeping away the opposition facing their own cavalry. Had these German guns not come into play at this juncture, the right flank of the British infantry would have been at the mercy of the French guns, causing heavy casualties and possibly affecting the entire result of the battle. In a letter to his mother written on the afternoon of the battle, Lieutenant Hugh Montgomery of the 12th Regiment of Foot explained the atmosphere that morning:

We advanced more than a quarter of a mile through a most furious fire from a most infernal battery of 18-pounders, which was at first upon our front, but as we proceeded, bore upon our flank, and at last upon our rear. It might be imagined, that this cannonade would render the regiments incapable of bearing the shock of unhurt troops drawn up long before on ground of their own choosing, but firmness and resolution will surmount almost any difficulty.

Minden 1759 II

(German) Map of the Battle of Minden 1759. The work is based on a seperate map in Großer Generalstab / Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung (Hrsg.): Der Siebenjährige Krieg 1756–1763, Bd.11: Minden und Maxen, Verlag Ernst Siegfried Mittler & Sohn, Berlin 1912 (= Die Kriege Friedrichs des Großen, Theil 3).

Relentlessly the British battalions pressed forward onto the French cavalry, 7,000 strong, who could do nothing to stop them as they were equipped with sabres and pistols, and not muskets. Seeing that they were in danger of becoming sitting targets, the cavalry commander gave the order to charge. Commanding the cavalry was the Due de Fitzjames, yet another forty-seven-year-old at Minden that day. Grandson of James II of England and son of the Duke of Berwick, the Jacobite warrior who was killed at Philipsburg in 1734 (the young Fitzjames was at his side when he died), the Duc de Fitzjames was a veteran of a dozen battlefields, first in the War of Austrian Succession and more recently at Hastenbeck, Krefeld and Lutterberg. Now he ordered the Marquis de Castries to lead the first cavalry wave of eleven squadrons in a daring attempt to demoralise and rout the enemy. Spörcken’s infantry had just one round apiece, after which it would be a combat of bayonets against sabres. Every round had to tell.

A series of crashing volleys from the superbly disciplined British regiments tore the heart out of the French cavalry; those who survived the deadly fire and got through to the enemy were finished off with the bayonet. As the French retreated, their tormentors reloaded and stood ready for the next charge. Fitzjames then ordered his second line – twenty-two squadrons – to charge. Now, if ever, the British proved their calibre for their casualties were mounting and yet there was no sign that they were losing their heads or becoming downhearted. Lieutenant Montgomery summed up the situation nonchalantly: ‘These visitants [i.e. the first French cavalry wave] being thus dismissed, without giving us a moment’s time to recover the unavoidable disaster, down came upon us like lightning the glory of France in the person of the Gens d’Armes.’ Once again murderous volleys tore holes in the careering horsemen; once again a few French horsemen got through only to be skewered at point-blank range; once again the German infantry reloaded and stood ready. This time they did not wait for a third charge but surged forward. In so doing they exposed their right flank, and the Comte de Guerchy on Fitzjames’s left saw his opportunity.

Forced to turn their second line half-right to meet this new challenge, the hard-pressed Spörcken’s infantry now had just three battalions to pit against a new enemy nearly three times as strong. It would have gone hard with them, had not Ferdinand spotted the new development and ordered to their support five battalions of Scheele’s men (situated on Spörcken’s right) and a brigade of heavy artillery. Ferdinand had only just plugged this hole when the French launched another cavalry attack, this time under General de Poyanne and 2,000 horsemen. This was not a frontal attack like Fitzjames’s but an enveloping movement on Spörcken’s left flank and rear. This was the crux of the battle, for Poyanne’s attack was the most dangerous French movement so far. Lieutenant Montgomery continued his recital: ‘The next who made their appearance were some regiments of the Grenadiers of France, as fine and terrible looking fellows as ever I saw. They stood us a tug, notwithstanding we beat them off to a distance, where they galded [goaded] us much, they having rifled barrels, and our muskets would not reach them. To remedy this we advanced, they took the hint and ran away.’ But how much longer could the British regiments really withstand this dual envelopment, by infantry to the right and cavalry to the left and rear?

This was the supreme moment of glory for the Royal Welch Fusiliers, who have had Minden among their most prized battle honours from that day on. Ably supported by the Hanoverian Guards, they fought like lions, taking the brunt of a frenzied attack from front, flank and rear. The hindmost ranks turned and faced about, knowing there was no reserve behind them. For a brief moment they wavered and looked likely to break. Vicious fighting ensued with the French tearing large holes in the defence and the British holding firm and closing the gaps. Again and again Guerchy’s infantry tried to make the breakthrough but were driven off by close, precise fire, with the Anglo-Hanoverian artillery joining in during the final stages of the titanic struggle. Finally Ferdinand was able to get reinforcements to the vital arena. Wutginau’s column (from the centre and thus immediately to the left of Scheele’s) came up, and its right wing, composed of Hanoverians and Hessians, caught the French in the flank. More slaughterous close-quarter and often hand-to-hand fighting resulted. Poyanne’s cavalry were the first to snap. Soon the flower of French horsemen, the Gendarmerie and Carabineers, were streaming away in defeat, having lost half their numbers. By this time General Imhoff ‘s column on the Anglo-German left centre had come into line. They were late onto the field partly because they had marched all night and partly because Spörcken’s column crowded them out by advancing so quickly and impetuously. Their arrival completed the disarray of the French who had been trying to rally. The remaining French cavalry were especially devastated. As Fitzjames desperately tried to get them to regroup and mass, the big guns further decimated them. Finally Fitzjames ordered his remaining horsemen to charge, but their attempt was flung back with ease by an allied army already confident of victory.

It was now about 9 a.m. and Anhalt sensed a great opportunity not just to defeat but to annihilate the French army. Ferdinand sent orders to Lord George Sackville to enter the fray and tip the balance decisively with his fresh troops. Sackville had found the waiting period exasperating and began to fume at the delay and inaction. But now began one of the most disgraceful incidents in the Seven Years War. Two separate aides arrived from Frederick but with what Sackville claimed were contradictory orders, making no sense and in no way conforming with the battle plans discussed the day before; further confusion arose from the fact that the two messages were delivered independently and no one could agree which of the aides had arrived first. In the end Sackville rode to Ferdinand to find out exactly what his orders were. Ferdinand, already nursing a giant grievance against the British commander for the threat to leave him in the lurch, listened to Sackville’s explanation of confusion with icy politeness and then replied: ‘My lord, the situation has changed, my dispositions of yesterday can no longer have any effect; and in any case it is enough that I want it so and I beg you to do it immediately.’ Sackville bowed and withdrew but then took an unconscionable time about drawing up his cavalry on the heath and getting them into position. What was the reason for this slowness? Was Sackville confused by the earlier contretemps and still slightly dazed at Ferdinand’s words? Was he simply incompetent at cavalry tactics? Or was he, as his critics suggest and as seems most likely from his psychological profile, deliberately dragging his feet and ‘working to rule’ in rage at Ferdinand’s publicly delivered rebuke?

The battle continued without Sackville’s intervention. The French centre was by now decisively broken, but Contades riposted by throwing his sole hitherto uncommitted troops into the struggle. Eight battalions of Beauprieu’s in the right centre, to the left of Broglie and Nikolai, were just preparing to launch a shock attack when they were overwhelmed by a combined onset of nineteen Prussian and Hanoverian cavalry squadrons, backed up by four bayonet-wielding Hessian infantry battalions. Contades’s last forces were thrown back onto the pitiful remnants of the French cavalry. The only part of the French line still holding firm was the axis formed by Beaupréau’s second line and the ten squadrons of cavalry from Broglie’s left flank. But at this precise moment Wangenheim, hitherto on the defensive, unleashed his cavalry, all sixteen squadrons, who smashed through Nikolai’s two brigades and collided with Broglie’s cavalry. The thrusting, slashing combat of horseman against horseman was almost Contades’s last throw. On the left the Comte de Lusace and his Saxons meanwhile made a last effort against Spörcken’s infantry and performed valiantly. The Saxons actually forced the British heroes of the earlier struggle to give way, only to be beaten off when they came under artillery fire north of Hahlen. Seeing the day lost, Contades reluctantly ordered a general retreat. He was in danger of rout and annihilation, and all that was needed was the charge of the twenty-four cavalry squadrons that Sackville continued to manoeuvre around Hartum. They never appeared on the field. While Sackville was away receiving his reprimand from Ferdinand, his deputy Lord Granby actually ordered the cavalry forward on his own responsibility and they were just setting off at a trot when the peevish Sackville, smarting from the ‘insult’ offered by Ferdinand, returned from the interview and countermanded the order.

Ferdinand’s other chances for destroying Contades also came to nothing. Wangenheim’s infantry were slow to leave their entrenchments and in the end did so only after direct orders from Ferdinand, so whatever pursuit there was of the French right came from the heavily encumbered artillerymen. Broglie successfully covered the retreat of the French right, and by 11 a.m. the French were back across the Bastau, with Broglie occupying a position protected by Minden fortress. Even so he was hard pressed and soon found himself retreating right back through Minden itself. Brissac, covering the retreat of the French left, was theoretically in danger from the Erbprinz’s mobile columns, for Ferdinand had intended that he should envelop Brissac and close the road behind him, thus trapping the French left between Minden and the Porta Westfalica. But the Erbprinz, instead of pressing on to the bank of the Weser, allowed his worries about the forces under Armentières and Chevreuse to prey on his mind; in short, he feared that while he sought to trap Brissac, he might be ambushed himself and the two French commanders not at Minden might suddenly appear on his flank with superior numbers. At any rate the French made good their escape and by noon all firing had ceased; Contades got his army across the Weser and did not stop retreating until he reached Kassel.

The allies pitched their camp between Hahlen and Friedewalde and started sifting through the battlefield wreckage. Ferdinand had every reason to be proud. He had successfully enticed Contades to come out and fight, the French had been driven from Westphalia and Hanover was no longer threatened. The victory at Minden was crucial. Since Frederick of Prussia was defeated by the Russians at Kunersdorf on 12 August, if Ferdinand had lost at Minden and been forced to retreat east to Prussia, Frederick would have been in a desperate situation. Indeed, he came close to losing his nerve altogether after his defeat. A brilliant beginning to the battle, when he broke the Russian left wing and captured 180 cannon, petered out after furious fighting, when he was first thrown back and later routed. He had two horses killed under him and for two days could barely speak with rage and disappointment. To his favourite Frenchman, d’Argens, he wrote: ‘Death is sweet in comparison to such a life as mine. Have pity on me and it; believe that I still keep to myself a great many evil things, not wishing to burden or disgust anybody with them, and that I would not advise you to escape these unlucky countries if I had any ray of hope. Adieu, mon cher.’

Frederick was in the doldrums, but Ferdinand’s reputation, in danger of dipping after his first twelve months on a roll, was now once again sky-high. He had proved himself a good general who could think quickly and turn subordinates’ mistakes to his advantage. He had handled his artillery superbly, especially on the right as, but for the big guns, Spörcken’s corps would have been badly mauled and perhaps ‘eaten up’. Bergen had taught Ferdinand the importance of artillery and he had learned the lesson well. A delighted George II awarded him £20,000 and the Order of the Garter when he received news of Minden.

But for Contades the battle was a disaster and his reputation was in tatters. Belle-Isle wrote to his friend the Marquis de Castries, who at thirty-two had now added Minden to a long list of battle honours (Dettingen, Fontenoy, Roucoux, Lawfeldt, Rossbach, Lutterberg; he probably saw more front-line service than any other senior French commander in the eighteenth century): ‘I can’t understand why sixty squadrons at the height of their powers could not break nine or ten battalions of infantry, especially as the same British infantry also put to flight four of our infantry brigades who on their own were numerically superior to them.’

So alarmed and despondent was Belle-Isle that he sent the veteran sixty-four-year-old Marshal d’Estrées, now also a member of Louis XV’s elite Council of State, to Germany, officially as Contades’s ‘adviser’ but really to oversee operations and report directly to the War Minister, since Belle-Isle had lost confidence. As all the senior French commanders were madly jealous of each other, it was not surprising that d’Estrées immediately found much to criticise. He wrote to Versailles as follows:

I can’t recover from my surprise when I reflect that, in less than two months, a strong French army of 100,000 men has been reduced to about half that number. Here are the finest regiments in the French Army and one can hardly recognise them. To help poor Contades, against whom the duc de Broglie, the comte de Saint-Germain and Saint-Pern make such loud and derisive cries, I have made the least wounding report possible to the Court; but despite that, the mere reading of a factual recital of this battle is enough to ensure his immediate recall, unless he receives the protection of the woman of whom we have spoken so many times [i.e. Madame de Pompadour].

D’Estrées did not like what he saw in Germany and cannily resisted pressure from Versailles (and the despondent Contades himself) to take over command. But if Contades clearly had to be replaced to restore morale and credibility, who could replace him? Broglie was the obvious choice but he was not popular at court and was junior in rank to many would-be marshals who considered themselves just as good he was. But in the end Austrian pressure was decisive, and Broglie was confirmed as French Commander-in-Chief in Germany in November.

In many accounts of the Seven Years War in Germany, Minden receives scant mention compared with Rossbach and Krefeld, and especially the terrible maulings Frederick took from the Russians on the eastern front. But it is worth emphasising that it was a colossal military achievement. With 41,000 troops ranged against Contades’s 51,000, Ferdinand’s army inflicted 11,000–12,000 casualties; among the French infantry alone, six generals and 438 officers were killed. Ferdinand’s total losses amounted to 2,762, of whom 1,392 were from the heroic six British regiments, which lost an incredible 30 per cent of their fighting strength. These six regiments had seen off altogether thirty-six squadrons of cavalry and forty battalions of infantry; truly, as was said at the time, ‘at Minden the impossible was achieved’.

Although Minden relieved the pressure on Frederick, it was not the decisive battle it might have been had the war in west Germany been a self-contained affair. Ferdinand quickly cleared Hesse of the French and wanted to take Frankfurt and then push the French back to the Rhine. But he wasted time on triumphalism, with Te Deums being sung and fireworks (feux de joie) being let off. And after Kunersdorf Frederick’s pleas for help became so insistent that Ferdinand had to abandon his more ambitious plans. Frederick pressed him to move on Leipzig instead of Frankfurt, but Ferdinand was unwilliing to move to the eastern front until he had cleared the French out of Münster; otherwise they would retain it as a base for future threats on Hanover. Since Münster did not surrender until 22 November, it was only then that Ferdinand felt able to transfer troops to Frederick. Once again the western front restored Frederick’s fortunes. His defeats at Maxen (20 November) and Meissen (3–4 December), which made 1759 as black a year for Prussia as it was for France and Louis XV, restored the balance of continental fortunes to the Austrian coalition, even after Ferdinand (and his replacement Wangenheim, during the Prince of Brunswick’s frequent absences to confer with Frederick) had checkmated the initial moves of the new French commander, Broglie.

Antisubmarine War WWI – Mediterranean 1916-17

Kaba departing Ryojun, 1925. She was deployed in the Mediterranean in WWI.

Japanese cruiser Akashi in drydock. Rear-Admiral Kōzō Satō commanded the “Second Special Squadron” with Akashi as flagship with the 10th and 11th Destroyer Units (eight destroyers) based at Malta from 13 April 1917. He was reinforced by the 15th Destroyer Unit with four more destroyers from 1 June 1917 to carry out on direct escort duties for Allied troop transports in the Mediterranean.

The Allies had abandoned exclusive use of patrolled routes in the Mediterranean shortly before the Germans adopted unrestricted submarine warfare. The Germans declared the great majority of the Mediterranean a Sperrgebiet (prohibited area) except for the extreme western portion off Spain, including the Balearics, and initially, the 20-mile-wide corridor to Greek waters. The Austrians promised to assist the Germans outside of the Adriatic. Their smaller submarines as they became available would now operate against Allied shipping between Malta and Cerigo. In the early part of 1917, the situation in the Mediterranean was deceptively favorable to the Allies, for in January the greater part of the Mediterranean U-boat flotilla was under repair and refit at Pola and Cattaro after the heavy demands of 1916. In January sinkings fell to 78,541 tons, only 24 percent of the total of 328,391 tons sunk in all theaters. It was the lull before the storm, for by 10 February the Germans had 10 U-boats at sea in the Mediterranean, along with an Austrian submarine, and that month submarines sank 105,670 tons of shipping. This, however, represented only 20.3 percent of the 520,412 tons sunk in all theaters, for with the introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare, the Mediterranean percentage of total sinkings inevitably declined. The successes of the Mediterranean U-boat flotilla declined again in March to 61,917 tons, just under 11 percent of the total of 564,497 tons in all theaters. April 1917 turned into a record month for the Mediterranean flotilla, just as it was a record month for U-boats in all theaters. The Germans had 14 U-boats at sea at the beginning of the month, joined by 2 Austrians. They sank in the Mediterranean 254,911 tons (3,724 tons by submarine-laid mines), or 29.6 percent of the 860,334 tons sunk in all theaters. The Austrians contributed another 23,037 tons.

The Admiralty were so alarmed by the heavy losses along the coast of Algeria, which they naturally attributed to the ineffectiveness of French patrols, that they ordered British shipping to abandon the coastal route in favor of hugging the Spanish coast from Gibraltar to Cape San Antonio and then use dispersed routes to Malta. The French, however, complained that they were using more than eighty patrol craft of all sorts on their patrolled routes in the western Mediterranean whereas the British were escorting all British troopships or ships with valuable cargoes and following routes entirely different from the French. Furthermore, the French charged that the British used their destroyers to escort troopships, leaving trawlers on the patrolled routes through British zones. These trawlers often lacked wireless receivers and could not be counted upon to divert ships from threatened areas. Admiral Gauchet, now French commander in chief, described the situation on the Malta-Cerigo route as “every man for himself.”

Allied merchant ships deliberately made use of Spanish territorial waters. This proved to be correct, if not very heroic, and it naturally added to the length and duration of a voyage. German U-boat commanders were ordered to observe the Spanish 3-mile limit, and, in fact, to avoid mistakes they were normally to observe a 4-mile limit unless there was a particularly valuable target in the fourth mile and they were quite sure of their position. On the whole, German U-boat commanders respected Spanish territorial waters and the Allies made extensive use of them. The Allies suspected the Germans were violating them, but careful analysis of sinkings generally established that the ships had strayed out of those waters when they were sunk. It was not hard to do; navigation so close to the coast could be difficult and hazardous, and merchant ship captains often were inclined to take a shortcut across the curve of a bay, which made them legitimate targets for the Germans. U-boat commanders were not angels; they obviously found more than enough targets in the Mediterranean without having to violate Spanish waters.

The Mediterranean situation could not be ignored by the Allied leaders by the spring of 1917. In early April General Sir William Robertson, chief of the imperial general staff, asked Jellicoe about a joint statement from the British naval leaders as to what reductions at Salonika would be necessary if the British were to continue the war in 1918. Jellicoe was a strong partisan of abandoning the Salonika expedition because of the strain on shipping and naval resources to support it. He recommended the immediate reduction or withdrawal of the British contingent, and he advocated a complete withdrawal if the cabinet expected the war to continue beyond 1917. This would then allow the British to recover a number of patrol craft for safeguarding commerce in home waters, free a large amount of shipping to build up a reserve of food and supply the French and Italians with coal and other necessities, and permit the British to give better protection to the sea communications with the army in Egypt. The French could be expected to strongly oppose what in their eyes was a British attempt to abandon the Salonika expedition, where France was preponderant, in favor of the pursuit of imperial gains in Palestine. An Allied conference with the Italians at St. Jean de Maurienne on 19 April took no decision on Jellicoe’s proposal, and one is inclined to believe that if the Allies did not succeed in mastering the submarine danger the issue was likely to be moot. It would then be a question of whether or not the British could continue the war.

The conflicting policies in the Mediterranean had made it obvious that another international conference was necessary. The Corfu conference took place during the crisis of the naval war. It was held in Gauchet’s flagship Provence at Corfu 28 April to 1 May. The Allies unanimously decided they would not return to the discredited system of patrolled routes created at Malta in 1916. They would navigate only by night and along coastal routes whenever possible, and those coastal routes would be patrolled along with certain strategic straits. The conference made a major change in procedure: on routes that ran far from the coast, ships would be protected by convoys and escorts following dispersed routes, that is, routes chosen by a routing officer at the port of departure according to the circumstances of the moment.

The Corfu conference had really created a hybrid system rather than one of general convoys or ships sailing independently. All ships entering the Mediterranean were now required to stop at Gibraltar for instructions and formation into convoys before proceeding to Oran, although the authorities sometimes allowed ships to navigate independently without escort if there was no submarine danger. Ships followed the patrolled coastal route between Oran and Bizerte, but they were not necessarily escorted in those waters. Ships were formed into convoys again at Bizerte for the remainder of their voyage eastward. Ships bound from Gibraltar to Marseille or Genoa continued to follow Spanish coastal waters as long as the Germans respected them.

The most important decision of the Corfu conference as far as its implications for the future were concerned was the establishment of a “Direction Générale” at Malta, which was composed of officers delegated by the different navies and was charged with the direction of everything concerning transport routes and their protection. The idea was proposed by Admiral Gauchet, but the British managed to turn it to their own advantage, for they proposed that, without modifying the present system of a French commander in chief for all the Mediterranean, all the British naval forces be placed under a single commander. The British commander in chief would have an officer of flag rank charged with protecting transport routes who would be the British representative on the Direction Générale that Gauchet had proposed. The effect of this would be to give the British the predominant role in the antisubmarine campaign. Gauchet remained the theoretical commander in chief with the largest number of dreadnoughts, seemingly preoccupied with preparing for that major naval encounter with the Austrian fleet.

The French and the Italians had by far the preponderance in capital ships, but the real action in the Mediterranean by this date was the antisubmarine war, and here the balance had quietly swung decisively toward the British. In May 1917 the total of patrol vessels of all sorts in the Mediterranean, from destroyers to sloops, from trawlers to small torpedo boats, was: British, 429; French, 302; Italian, 119; and Japanese, 8. The British had really learned that the Mediterranean was too important to be left to the French. British interests, whether they were shipping or overseas expeditions, were extensive, and they could not rely on others who, with the best will in the world, were apt to lack the resources to do the job. The British were forced to assume the leading part in the antisubmarine war.

The Japanese contribution needs a word of explanation. The British had long been anxious for Japanese assistance. The Japanese had been reluctant to send forces to European waters, although they had, as we have seen, provided considerable assistance in the opening months of the war and later in the search for the German raiders. In mid-April Rear Admiral Kozo Sato arrived at Malta with the Tenth and Eleventh Japanese destroyer flotillas, eight 650-ton Kaba class. Sato flew his flag in the cruiser Akashi, which served as headquarters ship. In August 1917 the Fifteenth Flotilla arrived with four of the new 850-ton Momo class and the armored cruiser Idzumo, which relieved the Akashi. The Japanese were nominally independent, but actually carried out whatever orders they received from the British commander in chief at Malta. The Japanese in fact worked very closely with the British, particularly in escorting troopships. They soon gained an excellent reputation. Their ships were new and well-handled, and the British paid them the ultimate compliment by turning over two of their own H-class destroyers to be renamed and manned by Japanese crews for the duration of the war. This Japanese contribution of fourteen destroyers at a critical moment in the war against submarines has been largely forgotten, but under the circumstances it was far from negligible.

The decisions of the Corfu conference were only recommendations; they naturally had to be accepted by the respective governments. The Admiralty, however, acted fairly quickly, and the Malta-Alexandria convoy was introduced on 22 May with four ships escorted by four trawlers. It proved a success; only two ships were lost between 22 May and 16 July. The French on 18 June formally established a special directorate for the submarine war. The Direction générale de la guerre sous-marine was to a large extent the result of pressure from the French parliament, where there were strong suspicions that the French naval staff had been too tradition-bound and had not paid enough attention to submarine warfare.

Admiral the Honorable Sir Somerset Gough-Calthorpe, second son of the seventh Baron Calthorpe, was appointed British Mediterranean commander in chief. He had formerly commanded the Second Cruiser Squadron and had been second sea lord in 1916. Calthorpe was hardly one of the household names of the war and was deceptively mild mannered. He apparently had a certain amount of difficulty getting his authority accepted by the other commands, but he grew in assurance as time went on. He also possessed good judgment, although he was unfortunately somewhat backward about realizing the value of convoys. At the end of the war he was destined to play a considerable role in negotiating the armistice with the Turks and subsequently became high commissioner in Turkey and the Black Sea. One of his staff officers considered him a man who never sought greatness but had it thrust on him.

The introduction of convoys into the Mediterranean proved difficult. The route structure was complex and the entire Mediterranean was considered a danger area, unlike the situation in the Atlantic where only about 350 miles required special protection for convoys. The British Isles naturally received priority in the allocation of escorts, and the Admiralty added to their own difficulties by insisting that convoys must remain small. There was also the problem of dealing with Allies, notably the Italians. The Italians proved extremely recalcitrant about contributing destroyers and escorts to the common cause, that is, convoys from Gibraltar, and Calthorpe really had no authority over their antisubmarine operations. The Italians insisted they were the only one of the Allies close to the enemy battle fleet, for Pola was only a few hours steaming distance from Venice. They therefore had to retain a significant destroyer force for the protection of Venice and needed their other antisubmarine forces for the protection of Italian traffic in the Tyrrhenian or on the routes to and from Albania and Libya.

Koprulu and Vienna II

Battle of Vienna 1683

News of the Turkish advance reached Vienna in garbled bulletins. Early reports of what was in fact a skirmish at the rear of the retreating Austrian army which had required the intervention of its commander, the Duke of Lorraine, came out as news of a ghastly rout. People began packing. The Emperor Leopold was very prone to take the advice of the last person he had spoken to; he now tried to determine whether his imperial duty was to remain in the city and risk the enemy, or to retire. When he was finally pressed to leave with the imperial family on 7 July, the royal party found itself sneaking along between the night-fires of Tartar encampments.

The city’s fortifications had been improved over the years, but not urgently; now stocks of grain in the city were examined, the crown jewels were removed for safe keeping, and the fortifications were reinforced by teams of city burghers and labourers. Money to pay the troops and men in the city was raised partly from loans made by departing grandees, partly by sequestering the assets of the Primate of Hungary, who was living safely elsewhere. On 13 July the city commander, Stahremberg, had the glacis, or outer wall, cleared of houses which had grown up around it over the years, in defiance of the law, in order to give the attackers no cover.

He was just in time. By the next day, Kara Mustafa was encamped before the city. Behind the glorious order of the camp, the magnificence of the tents themselves, and the quiet industry of the men, lay a brilliant feat of organisation, perfected over centuries; established now with such finality that to the men on Vienna’s walls it seemed as if the Turks meant to erect another city beside it. Vienna had taken a thousand years to grow; the Ottomans eclipsed it in two days. Kara Mustafa had a garden planted in front of his own quarters – a succession of tents, of silk and cotton, strewn with rich carpets, with lobby tents and sleeping tents and latrines and public meeting rooms, as gorgeous as any palace.

Immediately, the Turks began digging towards deep trenches, often roofed in timber and earth, which allowed them to approach the walls under cover. This digging made the siege memorable: the methodical extension, inch by inch, of a network of tunnels and trenches. The besieging army had very little artillery, and none heavy enough to penetrate the defensive walls: because the walls would have to be breached for an assault to succeed, all depended on laying mines. Meanwhile the Turks’ light cannon fired on the city. Stahremberg escaped serious injury when he was hit on the head by a piece of stone. The paving stones inside the city were dug up, partly to soften the effect of cannon balls falling in the street, and partly to help repair the walls. Yet even in these desperate circumstances, when it seemed the fate of Christendom hung in the balance, the commander found himself having to warn Viennese women from stealing out of the city and trading bread for vegetables with the Turkish soldiers.

To deal with the Turkish mines, the defenders resorted to furious sallies, in which a group of soldiers would rush out and attempt to damage as much of the enemy earthworks as possible. The classic response, though, was to countermine, and the defenders in this case had to invent the science for themselves, taking warfare away from noise and light and into the quiet bowels of the earth: listening for the sound of digging; making their own tunnels, hoping to break into the enemy tunnels – ghastly hand-to-hand fights in tight little holes underground. It was then, according to legend, that the city bakers saved Vienna: for early one morning, standing beside their bread ovens, they heard the tell-tale noise of Turkish tunnellers, and alerted the defence in the nick of time; which feat they commemorated by baking little crescent buns, or croissants.

And for those above ground, the waiting. On 12 August an eerie hush fell over the city and the camp; both sides waiting, listening. Early that afternoon there was a huge uprush of earth and stone as a Turkish mine silently laid beneath the outer moat threw up a huge causeway against the ravelin wall, up which fifty men could march abreast. Soon Turkish standards were planted on the wall. The fall of Vienna could not be long in coming.

Away from the city, Tartar and Turkish horsemen harried the countryside. The Austrians sent frantic pleas to the Polish king, Jan Sobieski, and to the German princes. Some of the princes struck good bargains – the Habsburgs, in effect, bought their troops, and saved them the expense of keeping standing armies at home. The Elector of Saxony made the mistake of promising aid before negotiating terms, and never forgave himself. In Poland, Jan Sobieski began a weary round of bargaining with his overmighty nobility, many of whom were in the pay of France, which viewed the storm breaking around its old Habsburg enemy with profound and scarcely Christian satisfaction.

As summer turned to autumn, the Christian coalition slowly came together: agonisingly slowly for the people of Vienna, who had been left with no means of communicating with the outside world – no system of flags or fires had been established before the Turks cut the lines of communication with the court and the army. But meanwhile the inaction of the Grand Vizier became curiously apparent. The outer walls were breached; the inner walls were crumbling; now, if ever, was the time for the blood-curdling general assault that Ottoman troops were accustomed to make as soon as a breach appeared: when eager volunteers would fling themselves forward, wear down the enemy’s defences, and, martyring themselves in their hundreds, provide a slippery footing for the fresh professional troops who closed in for the kill. Nothing of the sort was happening now; always the eerie, slow, methodical trenching and mining.

Kara Mustafa has been roundly criticised ever since for this slowness to attack. Perhaps he was over-confident of victory; certainly he is said to have disbelieved reports of a meeting between Lorraine and the King of Poland, with their armies a few days’ march away. If Kara Mustafa had been a better general, or Stahremberg less energetic, or Sobieski less chivalrous, or if the French had rattled their sabres on the Rhine with a little more vigour to pin down the German princes, Vienna would have become an Ottoman bridgehead from which to soften and break down the resistance of Central Europe. When the King of Poland did see the Ottoman camp he wrote that ‘the general of an army, who had neither thought of entrenching himself nor concentrating his forces, but lies encamped as if we were hundreds of miles from him, is predestined to be beaten’.

The Grand Vizier seems to have believed that the city was on the point of surrender. A city stormed, according to Muslim law, was to be given over to plunder for three days and nights before authority stepped in – to take possession of the ruins. A city which surrendered, however, was inviolate, and everything in it belonged to the state. The Grand Vizier doubtless hoped to bring the wealth and revenues of Vienna and its dependencies into the service of the sultan, rather than squandering them on the soldiers and inheriting a desert. Meanwhile, however, the Christian allies were moving up, presenting poor Emperor Leopold with yet another difficult decision. Should he head the army? Would it not be better to avoid riding amongst all these warlike princes and remain, instead, imperially aloof? As ever, unable to make either decision, he took both at once, and so dithered on the Danube, halfway between Vienna and his new headquarters at Passau. It didn’t matter: the German armies were already ahead of him. By early September they had begun taking possession of the heights north and west of the city, from which the Christian troops could survey both the spires of Vienna and the gorgeous pavilions of the Turkish encampment.

On 4 September, a mine blew a big hole in the inner wall of the city; whole lengths began crumbling. Belated assaults were launched with increasing ferocity upon these breaches; but overnight the citizens did their best to repair the holes, and fought back with equal ferocity, although the effects of the siege were beginning to tell. Butcher’s meat had run out; vegetables were scarce; families sat down to donkey and cat. The elderly and weak began dying, and disease stalked the unpaved streets. Even Stahremberg fell ill.

Kara Mustafa should never have allowed the enemy to occupy the ridges surrounding his camp virtually unopposed, and he ought to have spared some of his sappers for digging trenches around the camp, to help break a cavalry charge and to give his own musketeers cover. Perhaps he relied on the broken ground, the endless dips and hollows and ravines which broke the hillsides.

On the night of the eleventh, the Germans were in position to the north of the city, with the Danube to their left. In the morning the battle began, the German infantry advancing from one ridge to the next in the wake of their big guns. Co-ordination was difficult. Whole companies of men vanished for hours on end into some ravine, and horsemen and infantry became hopelessly entangled.

The Turks put up an improvised but furious resistance, and the battle raged until noon, when a sort of lull occurred, occasioned partly by the expectation of the Poles’ arrival on the Christian right wing. At one o’clock a shout of triumph – or relief – came from the German wing as they saw the Poles emerge onto the plain through a narrow defile, and make their way forward against stiff Turkish opposition.

There was a brief discussion among the Christian commanders over whether the battle should be pressed today, or not; everyone was for going on. ‘I am an old man,’ said one Saxon general, ‘and I want comfy quarters in Vienna tonight.’

He got them: the Turkish camp, suddenly stormed, collapsed. Kara Mustafa himself fled, with most of his money and the sacred standard of the Prophet. The hapless sappers in the trenches turned to find themselves assailed from the rear. Sobieski at the head of the Polish army broke into the camp while the German regiments strove to catch up: Sobieski and his men secured most of the booty of that day. Never had a Turkish camp been so suddenly overthrown.

The besieging army was routed and chased down the Danube all the way to Belgrade, and the Ottomans suffered their first decisive loss of territory to a Christian foe. Kara Mustafa must have hoped to reach his sovereign in Belgrade, in order to explain the débácle to Sultan Mehmet in person. It was a bitter blow to learn that the Sultan had already departed for Edirne. Less than noble in defeat, Kara Mustafa blamed, and executed, scores of his own officers. It was from Edirne, a few weeks later, that an imperial messenger reached the Grand Vizier. Kara Mustafa did not wait to read the command. ‘Am I to die?’ he asked. ‘It must be so,’ the messengers replied. ‘So be it,’ he said, and washed his hands. Then he bowed his head for the strangler’s bowstring.

Kara Mustafa’s head, as custom required, was delivered to the Sultan in a velvet bag.

The Koprulu family, though, survived the disgrace, and two more scions of the dynasty were to be invested in office. The last to hold the vizierate, Amdjazade Huseyin Pasha, died in 1703, ill and despondent: he had cut unnecessary taxes and drastically reduced the numbers of palace men and janissaries on the payroll, combing the timar registers for irregularities; he had managed to steady the currency; but he left office beset by enemies who gathered around the Grand Mufti himself.

Hereditary rank was no substitute for the stern-minded meritocracy of former years. The Koprulu line had already grown degenerate when the bookish and etiolated Nuuman Koprulu became obsessed with a fly he imagined had settled on the end of his nose, ‘which indeed flew away when he scared it, but returned again immediately to the same place’. All Constantinople’s physicians made efforts to cure him of the delusion, but it was Le Duc, a French physician, who solemnly agreed that he saw the fly, and made the pasha take a few ‘innocent juleps, under the name of purging and opening medicines; at last, he drew a knife gently along his nose, as if he was going to cut off the fly, and then shewed him a dead fly which he had kept in his hand for that purpose: whereupon Nuuman Pasha immediately cried out “this is the very fly which has so long plagued me”: and thus he was perfectly cured.’

An inordinate number of places preserve the memory of the Turkish wars, like bladderwrack left by a receding tide. In Austria you may hear the Türkenglocken, peals which once were rung to warn of an impending akinci raid. In German museums you may find the whips and scourges by which wandering men allayed the Great Fear. In Transylvania, churches are built like fortresses, and it was the custom, well into this century, for every local family to deposit, each year, a flitch of bacon or sack of flour in the storerooms built within the walls, against the possibility of a Tartar raid.

Kosovo was so often a theatre of war that even now it rumbles with discontent, and the Albanians who moved or returned there after the great exodus of Serbs to Austria in the seventeenth century retain a prickly and dangerous hostility to the Serbs who govern them now. Men in the Serbian army that passed through in 1911 stooped to unlace their boots, and crossed it barefoot so not to disturb the souls of their fallen forebears. A huge pile of masonry, approached by 234 steps, now sits atop the pass at Sumla in Bulgaria, to commemorate the passage of Soviet armies in the spring of 1944; but its purpose was to evoke the memory of Russian armies in the autumn of 1779, when Diebitsch avoided the pass and wound his way around almost to Edirne, with a force that everyone supposed, from its martial confidence as much as anything, to amount to 100,000 men, so that the Turks sued for a disastrous peace whose terms gave rise to the Crimean War half a century later, while in fact Diebitsch led an army of perhaps 13,000, wasted by disease.

Often the scene of battle is softly commemorated, by people who have long since forgotten the terror of the day: in St Gotthard, the battle of 1674 is remembered in a café sign; and Vienna 1683, the great lost opportunity for Ottoman arms, is remembered in a croissant: the head of the Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, who besieged the city, lies somewhere in the vaults of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, where it used to be displayed on a cushion, in a cabinet, before curators in our lily-livered age chose to hide it from the public gaze.

The sixteen years of war which followed the reverse at Vienna were full of military disasters for the Ottoman Empire. The Austrian armies expelled the Ottomans from Hungary. Venetian troops, led by that Morosini who had surrendered nobly at Candia, took the Peloponnese. In 1687 a defeat at the hands of the Austrians at Mohacs, the scene of Suleyman’s great victory in the previous century, rebounded on the pleasure-loving Sultan Mehmet IV, who was deposed in favour of another Suleyman, his brother. On 20 August 1688 the citadel at Belgrade surrendered to the Austrians; Nis a year later; and in this crisis, with the enemy circling for a push into the heart of the Balkans, the Ottomans rallied under a new Grand Vizier, brother to Fazil Ahmet, Fazil Mustafa. He managed to push the Austrians out of Serbia, but he died gloriously (if ineptly), sword in hand, at the battle of Peterwaradin in 1691. Suleyman II had died that year; his successor Ahmet II was to die of grief and shame in 1695; and at last, in 1699, the belligerents accepted a peace, mediated by the English ambassador to the Porte.

The treaty of Karlowitz was signed on the general principle of ‘uti possidetis’: that matters should be fixed as they stood. The Habsburg emperor was recognised as sovereign of Transylvania, and most of Hungary. Poland recovered Podolia and her fortress at Kaminiec. Venice retained the Peloponnese, and made gains in Dalmatia. Russia was a reluctant party to the peace: she kept the Sea of Azov behind the ear of the Crimea, and lands north, which she had seized in 1696. The empire which barely a generation earlier had challenged Vienna lost half its European dominions at a stroke; and what perhaps was worse, her cover was blown, her weakness revealed, and her importance, in the world’s eyes, was now almost wholly diplomatic.

The Austrian Army circa 1800 Part I

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The Austrian Army at the very beginning of the 19th century was in a state of confusion, still reeling from the debacles of the First and the Second Coalitions. In these wars, the armies of the French Revolution and Consulate continually outperformed their Habsburg counterparts. The problems that confronted the armies of the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II (r. 1792- 1806), were broad: logistically, tactically, strategically, and politically, the armies suffered handicaps compared to the rapidly modernizing French. The army of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria (r. 1740-80) had held off the greatest general of his day, Frederick the Great of Prussia (r. 1740-86). Her artillery was the envy of the world, and the infantry and cavalry accounted well for themselves. Following the Seven Years War (1756-63), a number of ‘reforms’ were attempted. The worst of these was an overhaul of the artillery arm. The result was a disaster, with several humiliating defeats at the hands of the Turks. Attempts to redress this situation succeeded only partially. Austria had the best artillery of the continental allies, but it could not compare to that of the French.

Throughout the reigns of the Emperors Joseph and Leopold, a number of changes were attempted in the infantry. Light infantry regiments were raised in 1798, but disbanded in 1801. The Habsburg commanders had no faith in the average troops performing well when not under the direct supervision of their officers. There were Jager battalions (elite rifle-armed light troops) and the Grenz troops (hardy frontiersmen from the Balkans with a traditional duty of military service), but there were never enough to counter the infuriating French swarm of skirmishers. To compound the problem, the Austrians were introducing greater discipline into the Grenzer to ensure their political reliability and make them more compatible with the rest of their army, but suppressing their old flair for irregular warfare.

The problems faced by the Austrian Emperor were in large part due to past Habsburg successes. Primarily through marriages, they had acquired many provinces with varied ethnic and racial populations – therefore, no universal language existed in the army. Further, many of these provinces owed no loyalty to the Austrians, just to the Emperor personally. This meant that the Hungarians, for example, believed they could decide among themselves how much they would support the war effort. As the Empire was teetering on bankruptcy in 1805, the regiments were dispersed to minimize the costs of upkeep and to aid recruitment. Whatever its economic advantages, such dispersal meant that mobilization was a long process.

The Emperor’s brother, the Archduke Charles, had set about reforming the army in 1801. He had taken power from the Hofkriegsrat, a military/civilian assembly, and had streamlined the logistical procedures. He was unquestionably Austria’s best field commander, but he had a knack of alienating the court personalities and the ossified high command. He had close favourites whom he allowed to dictate to others considered above their station. Charles was constantly at odds with a series of foreign ministers and a combination of his enemies worked to remove him from his position of power. They launched a two-front attack, playing on Francis’s paranoia regarding his brother’s popularity, while urging him to join the alliance against Napoleon. Charles was adamant that the army was in no shape to fight the French and that Austria needed further peace to get her financial house in order. To that end he even advocated recognizing Napoleon’s imperial status, humiliating as that might be for the oldest ruling family in Europe.

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INFANTRY

The army’s core was its German infantry, Upper Austrians in particular being considered ‘brave, laborious, industrious, intelligent and agreeable’. Conscription had operated across the Hereditary and Bohemian (western) lands from 1781, based on population rolls of each regiment’s district. All able-bodied men aged between 17 and 40 (with those aged 18-26 taken first) were liable unless exempted those exempted included nobles and priests; most skilled workers, including miners and workers in licensed factories; many townsfolk; and all free peasants and their eldest sons. The burden thus fell on junior sons of peasants and the urban proletariat. Service was for a tough 25 years (effectively life), except for bakers and equipment suppliers, who enlisted for three years. Prior to 1802, aside from complete incapacity, release was only possible when, through inheritance, purchase or marriage, a man acquired property or a business which he was required to run; but release was conditional on the district providing a substitute.

From 1782 to 1808 German regiments had Aushilfsbezirke (supplementary districts) in Galicia, and they were certainly productive: by 1802 Galicia’s population was contributing about 54,000 Poles and Ruthenes (Russians) to the army, and 11 regiments were transferred to Galicia in 1808 when the recruitment districts were changed. Moravian regiments retained their districts, which supplied half of their 3rd battalions.

The army contingent of Hungary (comprising Croatia, Hungary and Transylvania) rose steadily from 35,000 to 63,000, requiring 6,034 recruits per year. Renowned for their fighting spirit, the eastern provinces retained a feudal system to raise infantry, mainly from a peasant population ‘as rude and savage as the animals they dwelt amongst’. In the south the Serbs and Croats provided ‘doughty fighters [who] consumed vast quantities of strong liquors’, according to one contemporary commentator. Officered by local Saxons, who were ‘tall and more commonly fair than brown’ with ‘a high forehead, large blue eyes and an open cheerful countenance’, the Transylvanian regiments contained a mix of them, known for their ‘industry and sobriety’ and Vlach (Romanians) who were ‘rather lively, but of cunning, revengeful, indolent [and] brutal character… short in body, but of a strong, muscular strain [which] bears hardship with fortitude… His features are strong and expressive, his hair dark and bushy.’ The addition of ‘well-made brave, robust, and indefatigable’ Szeckels, with their reputation for ‘preceding the army and lying in ambush’, made them regular advance- and rearguard troops.

Apart from Galician regiments, the infantry were usually garrisoned in their home district. Some barracks, such as that of the Infanterie-Regiment 4 (4th Infantry Regiment) at Alserkaserne in Vienna, accommodated one battalion, but lack of purpose-built facilities meant most units were garrisoned in fortresses. Officers naturally enjoyed the best local houses, with some companies quartered in houses in the locality.

The recruit was formally enlisted at the garrison, and having sworn a resounding allegiance to the Emperor, received 3 Gulden, from which he had to purchase hairbands, comb, knife and fork, shoebrushcs and cleaning equipment. His pay didn’t go far – it had to cover his daily food, laundry and cleaning costs. His tunic was undyed ‘perlgrau’ wool (1769 Regulations), with a camisol (waistcoat) worn underneath. The regulations continued: ‘The uniform [must be] cleaned daily with a brush, and each piece cleaned with pipeclay and chalk [to render it white] and dusted down, shoes were to be polished every day’, and the leather maintained by ‘rubbing in unsalted fat regularly’. Both uniform and weapon were to be maintained in good order and the man ‘must not lose, exchange or sell any of it’ (1807 Regulations).

Those garrisoned in houses were fortunate: in barracks the man’s bed was ‘a wooden bed for two with a bed-end and a raised head board… on it a square pallias and straw bolster, a linen sheet, which the man could pull off to improve his uniform by cleaning it. In winter, a coarse blanket… which is like a board; in summer, he has nothing beyond his coat to cover himself with.’

A 1790 company comprised: Hauptmann (captain), Oberleutnant (1st lieutenant), Unterleutnant (2nd lieutenant), Fahnrich (ensign), Feldwebel (sergeant), four Korporals (corporals), two Tambours (drummers), eight Gefreite (lance corporal), a Zimmerman (pioneer) and 91 Gemeine (privates); Grenadiers were to maintain full strength at 99 Gemeine (no Fahnrich nor Gefreite), taking infantry as required – in 1795 the 4th Infantry Regiment’s grenadiers received 50 veterans from the 3rd Battalion.

The Feldwebel was effectively the company adjutant, a typically tough-minded, loud-voiced individual responsible for internal discipline, administration and drill. He organized distribution of bread in the rear tent line or at a convenient place in the garrison.