Battle of Eckmühl 1809

Antoine de Marbot recounted an incident that demonstrated the properties of the two styles of cuirass, when at Eckmühl in April 1809 French and Austrian cuirassiers crashed together, while the accompanying light cavalry drew off to the flanks to avoid being caught up in the fight.

The cuirassiers advanced rapidly upon each other, and became one immense melée. Courage, tenacity and strength were well matched, but the defensive arms were unequal, for the Austrian cuirasses only covered them in front, and gave no protection to the back in a crowd. In this way, the French troopers who, having double cuirasses and no fear of being wounded from behind had only to think of thrusting, were able to give point to the enemy’s backs, and slew a great many of them with small loss to themselves. [When the Austrians wheeled about to withdraw] the fight became a butchery, as our cuirassiers pursued the enemy. This fight settled a question which had long been debated, as to the necessity of double cuirasses, for the proportion of Austrians wounded and killed amounted respectively to eight and thirteen for one Frenchman.

A further item of protective equipment used by heavy cavalry was a consequence of the knee-to-knee charge formation: the long boots worn to prevent the legs being crushed. Some thought them more an encumbrance than a protection, as Marbot observed of a dismounted cuirassier officer at Eckmühl who was unable to run fast enough to escape the enemy – he was killed in the act of pulling off his boots

At Landshut one of the Archduke’s Corps (V) attacked a strong force of Bavarians, driving it from the town, before turning to attack an isolated French force under Davout occupying Regensburg. Unfortunately, the Archduke had discovered too late that Davout was unsupported. While Archduke Charles pulled back, having failed to destroy Marshal Louis Davout’s III Corps during the action at Teugn-Hausen on 19 April, Napoleon launched his counteroffensive on the following day, splitting the Austrian army in two. Napoleon pursued what he erroneously believed was the main force southward toward Landshut, leaving Davout and Marshal François Lefebvre to deal with what he perceived as an Austrian rear guard. However, on 21 April, as Davout closed in on the village of Eckmühl, he realized that he faced a much stronger force. Despite this Davout attacked, but a tenacious Austrian defense held firm.

Archduke Charles could have been crushed 24 hours earlier, but Napoleon had now arrived. With his arrival, the uncoordinated and disparate French forces began to take on some cohesion. But even Napoleon misread what was happening. He did not realise until it was almost too late that Davout was facing most of the Archduke’s army.

Davout sent Napoleon a number of messages during the day expressing his concerns, but it was only in the early hours of 22 April that Napoleon finally recognized his error.

As soon as he saw his mistake, his legendary skills of improvisation took hold immediately. Davout was supported by the bulk of Napoleon’s forces and a concerted effort was made to break the Austrian left, which was sheltering behind a battery of guns. Prince Rosenberg and his staff of IV Korps watched for two hours while 22 Austrian battalions held out against overwhelming numbers until 68 French battalions attacked them on three sides. As Napoleon committed his cavalry, Rosenberg’s retreat degenerated into a rout. Repeatedly he had asked Charles for reinforcements but repeatedly Charles had advised him to extricate himself as best he `thought fit’. The Archduke had no intention of sacrificing fresh troops on ground not of his own choosing.

Nevertheless, seeing panic taking hold among Rosenberg’s men, Charles immediately deployed a Cuirassier brigade and his Grenadier Reserve under Rohan to stem the tide. The Austrian cavalry slowed the French advance, forcing the infantry to form squares, but Rohan’s grenadiers with the exception of two battalions broke under the tide of IV Korps’s demoralised remnants. IV Korps was facing annihilation as a heavy mass of French cuirassiers approached to finish off its survivors.

It was 7 p. m. and the rising moon illuminated a dramatic scene. Six thousand French cuirassiers in two lines supported by their Württemberg and Bavarian auxiliaries advanced towards two much thinner lines of Austrian cuirassiers supported on their flanks by some squadrons of hussars. The tired French horsemen trotted forward while the Austrians with the gradient in their favour galloped towards them, about to break into a charge. As there were five French regiments against just two Austrian, this fight could only last a few moments and the Austrians were soon riding as fast as they could back to their lines. Two battalions of Austrian grenadiers appeared and formed square but were cut to pieces by St Sulpice’s Cuirassiers. The Archduke Charles himself escaped only with the greatest of difficulty. Exhaustion on the part of the French, and darkness, rescued the Austrians from annihilation. Charles however could take some consolation from the fact that he had husbanded his forces and he had not even committed 33,000 of his troops.

Thus ended the Battle of Eckmühl; unsatisfactory for Napoleon, who had not deployed his characteristic ruthlessness to inflict a `second Jena’ and highly unsatisfactory for the Archduke Charles, who had seen his elite units fail to rise to the occasion, though they had bought him the time necessary to effect an escape from the clutches of his foe.

In fact Charles’s position at this stage was stronger than it appeared. Eckmühl was a rearguard action fought by Rosenberg against a greatly superior enemy attacking him from the west, south and east. Two Austrian Korps, I and II, were far from demoralised and the Generalissimus still had his lines of communication with Vienna, though these now ran through Bohemia. True, II and IV Korps had been defeated and had retired in poor shape, but they had not been completely crushed. On the morning of 23 April Charles wrote to his brother, the Emperor, advising him to leave Schärding where he was awaiting results and not rely on the Archduke to be able to save either him or Vienna.

While Napoleon paused, Charles got most of his army across the Danube, leaving a small force to withstand the siege that was inevitable the following day when the French invested Regensburg. It was here that Napoleon received his only known wound in twenty years of making war, when a spent cannonball hit his foot. Napoleon’s failure to pursue Charles has been attributed by the renowned French military historian General H. Bonnal to his dwindling grasp of the strategic imperative to destroy his opponents. His Bavarian campaign involved his forces in three battles in as many days but each time Charles was able to withdraw in reasonable order. As the Austrians had lost two- thirds of their artillery the question rightly arises as to what might have happened had the French cavalry pursued them `epée dans les reins’. But Napoleon later admitted to Wimpfen that he never imagined the defeated Austrians would rise like a phoenix from the ashes within weeks.

Retreating across the Danube at Regensburg, the Austrian army marched through Bohemia to link up with the left wing of the army arriving from Landshut. The French advanced and occupied Vienna on 13 May. Eight days later the reunited Austrian army engaged Napoleon once more at the Battle of Aspern-Essling.


Austro-Hungarian WWI Aces

The leading Austro-Hungarian pilot was Hauptmann Godwin Brumowski, a professional soldier who had joined the air service in 1915, becoming commanding officer of Fliegerkompagnie (Flik) 12 in the East. Late in 1916 he visited the Western Front to study German fighter organization, and on return formed the first Austro-Hungarian fighter unit, Flik 41J, with Brandenberg D. Is. By late 1917 Austrian-built Albatros D. IIIs were received in time for the Caporetto fighting, in which Brumowski played a leading part. His final score has been quoted variously as 35-40. He served with the Austrian Air Force after the war, but was killed in a flying accident in 1937.

One of his most successful pilots was half-English ex-cavalryman Oberleutnant Frank Linke-Crawford, who joined the flying service in 1916, first flying on the Italian Front with Flik 12. He later transferred to Brumowski’s Flik 41J, and late in 1917 was given command of Flik 60J. His aircraft went down in flames on 31 July 1918 when five aircraft from his unit were lost in combat with Italian and British fighters. It was originally believed that Capt Jack Cottle of 45 Squadron (11 victories) had shot down the 27 to 30 victory Austro-Hungarian number three ace, although recent research indicates that it is more likely that he fell to an Italian Hanriot.

Obit Benno Fiala, Ritter von Fernbrugg, joined the air service in 1914, initially as a technical officer, and then as an observer on the Russian Front. He then moved to the Italian Front with Flik 10, and on 4 May 1916 was observer in a Brandenberg C.I which intercepted the Italian airship M.4 which had bombed Lubiana by night, but had suffered an engine failure. He shot this dirigible down with his flexible machine-gun for his first victory. Training as a pilot, he flew two-seaters in which he is reported to have gained five victories, but finally in 1917 transferred to single-seater Brandenberg D. Is. He later became commander of Flik 51J. and on 3 March 1918 shot down Lt A Jerrard of 66 Squadron, RAF, who was later awarded the Victoria Cross. Fiala survived the war with a score of 27-29, joining Junkers aircraft as an engineer.

In the class-conscious and conservative Austro-Hungarian forces it was virtually impossible for an NCO to be commissioned, however splendid his service, and there is no better example of this than the number two ace, Offizierstellvertreter Julius Arigi. Becoming a pilot in November 1914 at the age of 19, Arigi served on the Russian and Balkan fronts, achieving an astonishing success on 22 August 1916 when in a single flight in a two-seater he and his gunner claimed five aircraft shot down! On 4 September they gained a further success over an Italian Farman in Albania. Converting to single-seaters early in 1917, he moved to the Italian Front and later in the year served in Flik 60J. The most highly decorated NCO with 26-32 victories, he became a test pilot after the war. After 1938 he served in the Luftwaffe as an instructor. his two most brilliant pupils being the World War II aces Marseille and Nowotny. He lived to a ripe old age, dying on 1 August 1981. Another leading NCO ace was Josef Kiss, who became a pilot in April 1916. On the Italian front with Flik 55J he was wounded in combat with the Italian ace Scaroni on 25 January 1918, but on 24 May was shot down and killed by an RAF Camel – probably that flown by Capt WG Barker of 66 Squadron. With 19 victories to his credit, this NCO did get his commission – posthumously!

Linienschiffsleutnant Gottfried Banfield became an ace in rather different circumstances. A Naval Air Service pilot who flew Brandenberg K. D. W. fighter flying-boats over the northern Adriatic coast, his first four victories were all against balloons. Intercepting French and Italian air raids on Trieste, he then brought down three F. B. A. flying-boats and a Caproni trimotor by September 1916, his final score reaching nine.

Phönix D I

Austria-Hungary – Air Service 1916

Austria-Hungary – Air Service 1917

Battle of the Asiago Plateau and the Piave River, July 1918

Austro-Hungarian Emperor Karl’s promise of a two-pronged offensive flew in the face of warnings that Field Marshal Boroević (his new rank) had sent to the high command since the end of March. Karl and his chief of staff hoped to make Rome negotiate, and enlarge their spoils when Germany won the war. Boroević did not believe the Central Powers could win. Instead of wasting its strength on needless offensives, Austria should conserve it to deal with the turmoil that peace would unleash in the empire.

But Karl and the high command were adamant: there must be an offensive. Boroević prepared a plan to attack across the River Piave, towards Venice and Padua. Yet again, Conrad argued for an attack from the Asiago plateau: if successful, this would make the Piave line indefensible and force another Italian retreat. He urged the Emperor to attack on both sectors, and Karl gave way. Preparations began on 1 April with a view to attacking on 11 June.

Boroević had seen Cadorna make this very mistake time and again, attacking on too broad a front. He spoke up again: if they had to attack on both sectors, the high command should send reinforcements. In mid-May, he repeated his warning that it was irresponsible to attack without enough shells and with troops ill-equipped and famished. By way of reply, the high command told Boroević to confirm that he would be ready by 11 June. Not before the 25th, he replied. The date was set for 15 June.

On paper, the Austrian army looked strong enough. With Russia out of the war, most of the 53 divisions with a further ten in reserve could be kept in Italy, which was now the empire’s major front. However, the infantry divisions were down from 12,000 to 8,000 or even 5,000 men. New battalions were at roughly half strength. Some 200,000 Hungarian soldiers had deserted in the first three months of 1918. In the spring, Karl approved the call-up of the class of 1900; the new intake would be boys of 17, plus older men returning after convalescence. Cavalry divisions were even more depleted. The railways were dilapidated from over use, and motor vehicles lacked fuel.

The industrial capacity of the empire had never been strong; by 1917, output was declining under the double impact of battlefield casualties and the Allied blockade. In 1918, the decline became a slump. Production of artillery weapons and shells halved in the first half of the year, compared with 1917. Production of rifles fell by 80 per cent in the same period. Uniforms were tattered, there was no new underwear, and worn-out boots could not be replaced. Food shortages helped to trigger a general strike in January. The stoppages spread until 700,000 workers were crying for peace, justice and bread. Radical Socialists exploited the hardship caused by hunger, war taxes and inflation. (‘In Russia, the land, the factories and the mines are being given to the people.’) The mainstream Social Democrats, however, decided not to support the calls for revolution; instead they negotiated with the government. Even so, the army had to send forces from the front to ensure order. February brought the first significant mutiny, by naval crews in Montenegro. Food shortages and officers’ privileges were the trigger, and the unrest spread up the Adriatic coast. Hopes that cooperation with newly independent Ukraine would unlock huge imports of grain came to nothing. April brought food riots in Laibach and ‘mass rallies at which oaths for unity and independence were being sworn’. By now, seven divisions were deployed in the interior of the empire.

The army was not cushioned against the shortages. By 1918, it was getting only half the flour it needed. The daily rations of front-line troops in Italy were reduced in January to 300 grams of bread and 200 grams of meat. Even these statistics only tell half the story. A Czech NCO, Jan Triska of the 13th Artillery Regiment, recorded the real conditions. The rations had run out during the Caporetto offensive, and matters had grown much worse since then. The army was ordered to provision itself from the occupied territory. This was only possible for a month or two; in February, Boroević told the Army High Command that the situation was critical: the men had been hungry for four weeks, and were ‘no longer moved by incessant empty phrases that the hinterland is starving or that we must hold out’. They must be properly fed if they were to fight.

By late April, the men were starving. Bread and polenta were very scarce, and often mixed with sawdust or even sand. Meat practically disappeared. Soldiers stole the prime cuts from horses killed by enemy fire, and orders went out for carcasses to be delivered directly to the slaughterhouse. Triska’s battery horses were dying; only six of 36 were healthy. Even the coffee made of chicory was in short supply. ‘Salt was only a memory.’ The men were often given money instead of food, but there was nothing to spend it on. The men grew so weak during May that they could only walk with difficulty. Triska risked punishment by trading his service revolver and ammunition for horsemeat. He collected stems of grass to boil and eat, and picked mulberries when they could be found. Such was the condition of the men who were sent against the Italians in June.


With 23 undersized divisions on the Asiago plateau, another 15 on the line of the Piave and 22 more in reserve, the Habsburg force barely outnumbered the Italians, who had a clear advantage in firepower and in the air. The offensive would start on the Piave, where Boroević’s divisions would attack across the river. Conrad’s divisions were to follow up by striking from the north.

Addressing his officers, Boroević openly criticised the shortages of men and supplies. Due to Conrad’s stubbornness, he implied, the Piave line was short of ten divisions. After this rare indiscretion, the field marshal did his duty, ordering his battalion commanders to attack like a hurricane and not pause until they reached the River Adige. ‘For this, gentlemen, could well be the last battle. The fate of our monarchy and the survival of the empire depend on your victory and the sacrifice of your men.’ It has been claimed that, despite everything, Habsburg morale ran high in June. Certainly, there are reports of soldiers marching to the line with maps of Treviso in their pockets, gaily asking the bystanders how far it was to Rome. They would have taken heart from the order to plunder the Allied lines (no shortages there). Different testimony came from Pero Blašković, commanding a Bosnian battalion on the Piave. According to Blašković, a Habsburg loyalist to the bone, everyone without exception hoped the offensive would be postponed, for they were all aware of Karl’s muted search for a separate peace. It was this, more than hunger or lack of munitions, Blašković says, that took the men’s minds off victory, making them reflect that defeat would cost fewer lives, letting more of them get safely home in the end.

The bombardment began at 03:00 on 15 June. As at Caporetto, the Austrians aimed to incapacitate the enemy batteries with a pinpoint attack, including gas shells. However, their accuracy was poor, due to Allied control of the skies; many of the shells may have been time-expired, and the Italians had been supplied with superior British gas-masks. Too many Austrian guns were deployed in the Trentino, a secondary sector; some heavy batteries had no shells at all; and there was no element of surprise, for Diaz’s army had agents in the occupied territory, and deserters were talkative. The Austrian gunners only had the advantage on the Asiago plateau, where thick fog blanketed the preparations.

At 05:10, the guns lengthened their fire to strike the Italian rear lines and reserves. The pontoons were dragged out from behind the gravel islands near the river’s eastern shore. The enemy batteries were still silent; perhaps the gas shells had knocked them out? No such luck; the Italian guns opened up, pounding the Austrian jump-off positions. The Italian riverbank was still wreathed in gas fumes when the assault teams jumped ashore, quickly taking the Italian forward positions amid the chatter of machine guns.

The morning went well; the Austrians moved 100,000 men across the river under heavy rain. Watching the infantry pour over the pontoons, Jan Triska and his gunners wondered if this time they would reach Venice. Enlarging the bridgeheads proved more difficult. Progress was made on the Montello, where the four divisions pushed forward several kilometres, and around San Donà, near the sea. Elsewhere, the attackers were pinned down near the river. Further north, Conrad’s divisions attacked from Asiago towards Mount Grappa. Slight initial gains could not be held; the Italians had learned how to use the ‘elastic defence’, absorbing enemy thrusts in a deep system of trenches, then counter-attacking. By the end of the day, Blašković realised, ‘our paper house had been blown down’. The Emperor sent Boroević a desperate telegram: ‘Hold your positions, I implore you in the name of the monarchy!’ The answer was curt: ‘We shall do our best.’

Progress on the second day was no easier. Conrad was in retreat; his batteries – more than a third of all the Habsburg guns in Italy – were out of the fight. Boroević ordered his commanders to hunker down while forces were transferred from the north. Meanwhile the Piave rose again, washing away many of the pontoons. Supplying the bridgeheads across the torrent became even more dangerous. The Austrians were too close to exhaustion and their supplies too uncertain for a sustained battle to run in their favour. By the first afternoon, Major Blašković realised that the Austrian artillery, laying down a rolling barrage for the assault troops, were already husbanding their shells. If the under-used Italian units further north were to be redeployed around Montello, the Habsburg goose would soon be cooked. Overhead, the Caproni aeroplanes chased away the Habsburg planes and British Sopwith Camels proved their worth, bombing along the river. (‘In aviation, too, morale is very important,’ Blašković remarked sadly, ‘but technology is even more so.’) The pontoons and columns of men on the riverbank, waiting to cross, offered easy targets. While the Austrians ran out of shells, the Allied artillery and air bombardment were unrelenting. The fate of Jan Triska’s battery on the Piave was indicative: over the week of battle, it lost 58 men, half its strength.

Conrad’s divisions were too hard pressed to transfer men to the Piave. In fact, the opposite happened: the Italians transferred forces from the mountains to the river. When these reinforcements arrived, on 19 June, the Italians counter-attacked along the Piave. They failed to crack the bridgeheads, but the Austrian position was untenable. Pontoons that had survived the bombing were damaged by high water and debris. Blašković’s regiment (the 3rd Bosnia & Herzegovina Infantry) ran out of shells and bullets; the men fought on with bayonets and hand-grenades until a Hungarian regiment managed to bring up a few crates of ammunition from the river.

Boroević told the Emperor that if the Montello could be secured, it should be the springboard for a new offensive. Securing it would need at least three more divisions, including artillery. If the high command did not intend to renew the offensive from the Montello, it was pointless to retain the bridgeheads; they should be abandoned and all efforts dedicated to strengthening the defences east of the river. As Karl wondered what to do, the German high command stepped in, ordering a cessation of hostilities so that the Austrians could despatch their six strongest divisions to the Western Front. For Ludendorff’s spring offensives were running out of steam and 250,000 American troops were arriving every month. Karl consulted his commanders in the field, who echoed Boroević’s stark choice: either reinforce or withdraw. Then he consulted his chief of the general staff, General Arz von Straussenberg. A new offensive within a few weeks was, they agreed, not a realistic prospect. Their reserves were almost used up; even if enough divisions could be transferred to the Piave from elsewhere – and none could safely be spared from Ukraine or the Balkans – the Italians would match them. It would not be possible to recapture the zest of 15 June without a lengthy recovery.

Late on the 20th, Karl ordered the right bank of the Piave to be abandoned. General Goiginger, commanding the corps that had performed so well on the Montello, refused to obey. They had taken 12,000 prisoners and 84 guns; how could they retreat? Eventually he submitted, and the withdrawal began. Both sides were exhausted, and the manoeuvre was completed without much fighting. The Bosnians and Hungarians on the Montello worked their way back to the river. The last Austrians crossed on 23 June, ending the Battle of the Solstice. The Italians had lost around 10,000 dead, 35,000 wounded and more than 40,000 prisoners, against 118,000 Habsburg dead, wounded, sick, captured and missing. Early in July, Third Army units capped the achievement by seizing the swampy delta at the mouth of the Piave which the Austrians had held since Caporetto.

The rejoicing was widespread and spontaneous. For many soldiers, the Battle of the Solstice cleansed the stain of Caporetto, and the name of the Piave has ever since evoked a glow of fulfilment, as smooth as the sound of its utterance, untouched by the horrors of the Isonzo front or the controversy that overshadowed Italy’s victory in November. Ferruccio Parri, a much-decorated veteran who became a leading antifascist, said at the end of his long life that the Battle of the Solstice was ‘the only proper national battle of which our country can truly be proud’.

For the Allies, two things were clear: the Italians were a fighting force again, and the Austro-Hungarian army was still dangerous: its morale had not collapsed and the soldiers were still loyal. The view inside Boroević’s army was different; to their eyes, the civilian system had let them down. They were still better soldiers than the Italians, but what could they do without food or munitions? The spectacle of his own men after the battle filled the genial Blašković with despair: ‘weary, dejected and starving, their tattered uniforms crusted with reddish dry clay. Their weapons alone gave them any likeness to soldiers, for otherwise they looked like beggars roaming from pillar to post.’ Gloom settled over the Austrian lines.

Battle of Assietta 1747

Piedmont proved to be an impenetrable barrier to every advance from the French side of the Alps. The first attempt, by way of the little-used Varaita valley, was checked by the entrenched position of the Piedmontese near Casteldelfino in October 1743. In the following year the French staff officer Pierre Bourcet (who was brought up in the Alps) accomplished a clever concentration of 33,700 French and Spanish troops in the Stura valley further to the south. This venture too came to an end in front of a Piedmontese strongpoint, in this case the pentagonal fortress of Cuneo. The place was held by 3,000 men under the command of a fine old Saxon soldier of fortune, Major-General Leutrum, and few sieges have ever undergone such varied and comprehensive misfortunes – disagreements in command, floods, and guerrillas roving around on the lines of communication. The French and Spanish raised the siege on the night of 21-22 October and marched back over the Alps, having fired away 43,000 rounds of shot and bombs, and having lost 15,000 men through enemy action, sickness and desertion.

One final attempt to pierce the Alps, by way of the Mont-Genevre route, was shattered on the ridge of the Colle dell’ Assietta on 19 July 1747.


In the spring of 1747, a new French army marched along the Mediterranean coast. Charles Emmanuel ordered his troops to hold Nice, but soon he knew that another French expeditionary force was approaching the Alps from the west. If they crossed the Alps, they could effectively threaten Turin. Charles Emmanuel had no troops to stem the invasion.

in June 1747 a French army under Marshal Belle-Isle advanced along the Mediterranean coast, the siege of Genoa was lifted.

Now the French and Spanish decided on a concerted attack on Savoy-Piedmont, hoping to knock it out of the war.  While the Spanish were advancing north along the Appeninnes, Marshal Belle-Isle attempted to advance through Stura Pass.  The marshal’s brother, the Chevalier Belle-Isle would advance on Turin from further north.  The French crossed Mont Genevre into Italy on July 15th and 16th and were faced with two valleys, both heading toward their object – Turin, the capital of Savoy.  The northern valley was protected by a fortress at Exilles.  The southern valley was protected by the Fenestrelle fortress.  Between these two valleys was the Colle della Assietta, a mountain with an elevation of around 8,000 feet.  Seeing that the enemy could pass along the ridge, and that a road over the ridge was the best connection between the fortresses of Exilles and Fenestrelle, on June 29th the King of Savoy had ordered that 3,000 workers start building a defensive line there.  Numerous obstacles, redoubts and an 18 foot high palisade, had been built on the slope.

To the south, the mountain descends 3,000 feet in around two miles.  To the north, it descends over 5,000 feet in around two miles to Exilles.  Terrain this difficult was greatly advantageous to the Allied defenders.  As an additional advantage, they might descend from the mountain into the rear of an enemy army in the valley.  The French received bad intelligence and believed that Colle della Assiatta was weakly defended. 

The Sardinian had fortified the area with 13 infantry battalions: 9 Sardinian, the remaining were Austrian and Swiss taken from the troops that had unsuccessfully besieged Genoa.

After a delay of several days due to bad weather, the French army advanced along the ridge on July 19, 1747 hoping to get behind the two valley fortresses.  If they could get behind the Exilles fortress and capture it, the road to Turin would be open.  Instead they would meet the enemy in difficult terrain and behind entrenchments.

That morning the Savoy army woke up early but found no enemy to their front.  Later in the day, however, the French emerged.  Rejecting advice to delay an attack in order to prepare scaling ladders, Belle Isle ordered an advance.  Separating into three columns, the French army of around 40,000 men moved on the enemy position, since reinforced (including a few Austrian troops) to a total of around 7,500 men in 13 battalions.

The French right column of 14 battalions under the command of Marshal Villemur swung wide to the right and around much of the enemy position to attack it on another section of the mountain.  The effort failed. 

The French left column of 9 battalions under General Mailly was to move through a ravine and attack the enemy position.

The French center column of 8 battalions under Marshal d’Arnaud was to attack the salient to their front.  At 4:30, the French attacked.

The French attacks were a disaster.  Belle-Isle was dead along with Marshal D’Arnault and many other high ranking officers.  Montcalm, a colonel who would become famous in Canada during the next war, was left wounded in a ditch overnight covered with bodies.  After five hours of battle, the French retreated.

What ensued in the late afternoon was celebrated as the most one-sided slaughter of the war. Neither the flanking columns moved decisively enough to influence events in. These, lashed by determined officers, the French struggled up the slope, disassembling the various man-made impediments as they proceeded, while withering musket fire from concealed and protected hideouts exacted the heavy toll. Four times the French fell back before the onslaught; each time they returned to the struggle. The living climbed over the piles of dead as they tried to surmount the palisades. Defenders rained bullets and rocks down on the relentless blood-drenched attackers. A retreat, more orderly than the butchery, ensured.

The French lost around 5,000 men in all.  Accounts give the losses of Savoy and its allies at just 219.  The Franco-Spanish attempt to crush Savoy was a failure, and the war settled down in Italy after the battle. 

The beaten French troops returned to France. Frederick II of Prussia, after hearing of news of the Sardinian defence at Assietta, declared that, if he had had such valorous troops, he could easily become King of Italy.

The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, or Aachen, ended the war the next year with Savoy gaining some territory.  The kingdom continued to survive and in the next century was prominent in efforts to unify Italy:  the King of Savoy would become King of Italy.

Battle of Assietta

Belgrade 1717

Eugene of Savoy at the Battle of Belgrade by Johann Gottfried Auerbach. Eugene crowned his career with the battle of Belgrade, after which he retired as the most successful general of the Austrian Habsburgs.

National Trust; (c) Chirk Castle; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

There is no doubt that the blood which is going to flow on both sides will fall like a curse upon you, your children and your children’s children until the last judgment. GRAND VIZIER SILAHDAR ALI PASHA TO EUGENE OF SAVOY, APRIL 1716.

The Austrian defeat of the Ottomans in the Battle of Belgrade on August 16, 1717, led to the Ottoman cession of their portion of Hungary and much of Serbia. Ottoman military fortunes, in decline following the Ottoman rebuff before Vienna in 1683, revived in 1712 when the Ottomans defeated Russian czar Peter the Great’s army on the Pruth River. With the large force mobilized against Russia still available, Grand Vizier Damad Ali decided to wage war against Venice, a long-standing Ottoman enemy, that was then in decline and seemingly without allies.

In 1714 the Ottomans retook the Morea (southernmost Greece) from the Venetians; many Greeks welcomed the Ottomans as liberators, which made the task easier. Damad Ali miscalculated the reaction of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, however. Charles signed a defensive alliance with Venice to oppose the Ottomans. The Ottoman army then headed north, crossing the Sava River and moving up the south bank of the Danube to Peterwardein (present-day Novi Sad). The Habsburg leadership, awed by the size of the Ottoman force and Damad Ali’s success in the Morea, was divided on the course to follow.

A number of Habsburg generals opposed a pitched battle and instead advocated a war of attrition. The brilliant Habsburg general Prince Eugene of Savoy carried the day, however. He respected the Ottoman soldiers for their bravery in assault but also recognized their weaknesses: antiquated weaponry, an inability to adjust to unforeseen tactics by the opposing side, and a tendency to panic in a reverse. Eugene urged an immediate offensive. The Austrians therefore marched to Peterwardein.

Damad Ali arrived there with 150,000 men to find Eugene with 60,000 Austrians drawn up to meet him. The battle occurred on August 5, 1716. The Janissaries (the Ottoman elite force) gained an immediate advantage in an attack on the Habsburg infantry in the center of the line. Eugene countered from the flanks, breaking the Ottoman formation with a heavy cavalry charge. Damad Ali galloped forward on horseback to try to rally his fleeing troops, but he was struck in the forehead by a bullet and mortally wounded. The Ottomans reportedly lost 6,000 men killed and a large number of wounded. The Austrians also secured all 140 Ottoman artillery pieces.

Following up his victory at Peterwardein, in August Eugene laid siege to Temesvar (Timiscoara), the last remaining Ottoman stronghold in Hungary. The Ottomans had controlled it since the days of Suleiman the Magnificent. Temesvar surrendered after only five weeks. This was the prelude to the siege of Belgrade the next year, which Eugene undertook with some 70,000 men.

Held by some 30,000 soldiers, Belgrade was the strongest Ottoman post in the Balkans. As Eugene prepared his forces for an assault on Belgrade, an Ottoman army estimated at 200,000 men under the Grand Vizier Khahil Pasha arrived on the scene. Eugene was outnumbered more than 3 to 1, and his position seemed critical. Ottoman overconfidence, however, and their failure to launch an immediate attack worked to his advantage.

On August 16, 1717, while elements of his forces repelled a sortie by the Belgrade garrison, Eugene took the remainder and, in a daring move that caught the Ottomans by surprise, stormed their main lines. Eugene was wounded in the attack (his 13th and last battle wound) but remained on the field.

Maurice de Saxe famously describes a battalion of Imperial infantry getting cut up by Ottoman cavalry at Belgrade in 1717:

“… At the battle of Belgrade (August 16, 1717), I saw two battalions cut to pieces in an instant. This is how it happened. A battalion of Neuperg’s and another of Lorraine’s were on a hill we call the battery. At the moment when a gust of wind dissipated the fog which kept us from distinguishing anything, I saw the troops on the crest of the hill, separated from the rest of our army. Prince Eugene, at the same time discovering a detachment of cavalry in motion on the side of the hill, asked me if I could distinguish what they were. I answered that they were 30 or 40 Turks. He said: “Those men are enveloped,” speaking of the two battalions. However, I could perceive no sign of their being attacked, not being able to see what was on the other side of the hill. I hastened there at a gallop. The instant I arrived the two battalions raised their arms and fired a general discharge at thirty paces against the main body of the attacking Turks. The fire and melee’ were simultaneous, and the two battalions did not have time to flee for every man was cut to pieces on the spot. The only persons who escaped were M. Neuperg, who, fortunately for him, was on a horse, an ensign with his flag who clung to my horse’s mane and bothered me not a little, and two or three soldiers.

At this moment Prince Eugene came up, almost alone, being attended only by his body guard, and the Turks retired for reasons unknown to me… … Some cavalry and infantry arriving, M. Neuperg requested a detachment to collect the clothing. Sentries were posted at the four corners of the ground occupied by the dead of the two battalions, and their clothes, hats, shoes, etc., were collected in heaps. During this ceremony, I had curiosity enough to count the dead; I found only thirty-two Turks killed by the general discharge of the two battalions–which has not increased my regard for infantry fire.”

The Austrians won through the boldness of his assault and the superb discipline of their infantry, which advanced with colors flying and drums beating despite Ottoman artillery fire. Holding their fire until they were but a short distance from the Ottoman lines, the Austrians launched a bayonet charge that broke up the Janissaries and produced victory. Ottoman casualties were estimated at 20,000 men, while the Austrians suffered only 2,000 casualties. Five days later, on August 21, Belgrade surrendered to the Austrians.

As their main army retreated south, their other force abandoned the siege of Corfu, releasing pressure on the Venetians. Realizing it was now too late to attack Belgrade, Eugene turned northeast to besiege Timisoara, capital of the Banat and last Turkish enclave north of the Danube. Though an attempt to storm the place on Charles’s birthday (1 October) failed, the garrison surrendered two weeks later after a relief force disintegrated en route through desertion. By the end of the year, the imperialists had overrun most of Wallachia west of the river Olt (Aluta)-the so-called Olteria or Little Wallachia.

Though a successful campaign, it was now obvious that the Austrians had seriously underestimated Ottoman strength, but it was decided to continue the war the following year to consolidate the gains. The arrival of Bavarian and other reinforcements brought Eugene’s army up to 100,000, strong enough to attempt the siege of Belgrade, and, assisted by the Danube Flotilla, the city was completely cut off and subjected to a regular siege. However, Eugene was running out of supplies as an Ottoman relief force approached in August. A lucky shot detonated the city’s largest magazine on the 14th, killing 3,000 of the defenders. Realizing that a sortie was now unlikely, Eugene sallied forth from his trenches with 60,000 men to surprise the Turks in the early morning mist. Fortified by drink and keeping close together, the imperialists poured devastating musketry into the disordered Turkish ranks, routing them and sealing the garrison’s fate. With the fall of Belgrade on 18 August, the Turkish position in Northern Serbia collapsed and the Habsburg frontier advanced south of the Danube to reach the fullest extent achieved during the Great Turkish War.

Charles had no intention of going any further. The Austrians were already beginning to doubt the wisdom of pushing deeper into the Balkan wastelands, and it was clear the Turks desired peace. This was very welcome given that Rakoczi had just arrived in Edirne, raising the spectre of renewed trouble in Hungary. Meanwhile the Turks were suspected of trying to reach a rapprochement with the tsar, and Spain had launched its attempt to recover its lost Italian possessions. Following long negotiations with Anglo-Dutch mediation, peace was concluded at Passarowitz (Pozarevac) on 27 July 1717, confirming Austria’s recent gains. It was not a moment too soon. Austrian units were already departing for Italy, while five days later, the emperor concluded the Quadruple Alliance with France, Britain and the Dutch, thus committing himself to the war with Spain.

The short successful war considerably extended Habsburg territory, indicating that Austria was now a major European power and raising the emperor’s prestige in the Reich. Prince Eugene was a genuine folk hero, and even other generals became household names.

The Battle of Belgrade was a watershed. After the Battle of Belgrade they were firmly on the defensive, no longer expanding in Europe but merely seeking to retain conquered territory.

1845: Austria Drops Balloon Bombs on Venice

In July 1849, in the first aerial bombardment in history, the Austrians launched an aerial attack on the beseiged Venice, in the Republic of San Marco. They released balloons carrying, it was claimed, 30lb bombs. According to a report in the Scientific American of the previous March from Vienna, the intention of the Austrians had been to launch five balloons 23 feet in diameter each carrying 5 bombs which were to be ignited by means of electromagnetism, using a long copper wire connected to a large galvanic battery on the shore. Though reports of the actual raid conflict in that it is not clear whether 2 or 20 balloons took part in the raid, none suggest that this system was employed, but they do not dispute that the attack was largely unsuccessful, and Venice did not surrender to the Austrian Empire until August 27 1849.

On Aug. 22, 1849, Austria launched a pilotless balloon bomb attack against Venice. The attack caused little damaged, but Venice surrendered two days later.

The Republic of Venice had been independent for more than 1,000 years before it was conquered in 1797 by Napoleon, who ceded it to Austria later that year. In 1848, a year during which revolutions swept through Europe, Daniele Manin led a revolt against Austrian rule, declaring Venice to be a republic.

The Austrians retaliated by blockading Venice, causing starvation, disease and hunger. “Although Austrian Field Marshall von Radetsky beleaguered the city by land and sea, his siege artillery couldn’t get close enough to bear fire on the whole city because of its formidable coastal defenses and shallow Lagoons,” according to the 2005 documentary “On a Wind and a Prayer.”

A young Austrian artillery lieutenant named Franz von Uchatius hatched the idea of launching balloons carrying explosives over Venice. The first attempt, carried out on July 12, 1849, failed because the wind was not in Austria’s favor.

Time magazine provided an account from one eyewitness: “The balloons appeared to rise to about 4,500 ft. Then they exploded in midair or fell into the water, or, blown by a sudden southeast wind, sped over the city and dropped on the besiegers. Venetians, abandoning their homes, crowded into the streets and squares to enjoy the strange spectacle. … When a cloud of smoke appeared in the air to make an explosion, all clapped and shouted. Applause was greatest when the balloons blew over the Austrian forces and exploded, and in such cases the Venetians added cries of ‘Bravo!’ and ‘Good appetite!’”

In the second attempt, on Aug. 22, the balloons, measuring 5.7 meters in diameter and using “charcoal and greasy cotton as a continuous combustion source,” were released from a “stable platform at sea,” according to the documentary.

According to Monash University professor Russell Naughton, about 200 of balloons, carrying 33 pounds of explosives and armed with half-hour time fuses- they are also said to have used fuses electrically activated via signals fed up trailing copper wires, were launched into Venice that day. The balloons caused minimal damage to Venice and some even blew back towards the Austrians.

“On a Wind and a Prayer,”  however, claims that the balloons did have a substantial psychological effect. Whether out of balloon-related fear or due to exhaustion and starvation, the Venetians would surrender just two days later.

Scientific American, March 1849 “The Presse, of Vienna, Austria, has the following: ‘Venice is to be bombarded by balloons, as the lagunes prevent the approaching of artillery. Five balloons, each twenty-three feet in diameter, are in construction at Treviso. In a favorable wind the balloons will be launched and directed as near to Venice as possible, and on their being brought to vertical positions over the town, they will be fired by electro magnetism by means of a long isolated copper wire with a large galvanic battery placed on the shore. The bomb falls perpendicularly, and explodes on reaching the ground.”

Venice and the Revolution of 1848-49

The first air bomb: Venice, 15 July 1849

Siege of Genoa (1746)

Italy and the naval bombardment of Genoa in 1684

At the same time as Strasbourg was being swallowed up in the north, the French appeared to give a clue to their sinister intentions elsewhere in Europe when they occupied Casale, a fortress in the Montferrat forty miles east of Turin. The Duke of Mantua was one of those hard-up petty potentates who abounded at the time, and after being sounded by the French he willingly parted with his enclave at Casale in return for a bribe.

It was bad enough that Louis got Casale at all, for it supplemented Pinerolo as a base for French operations on the Italian side of the Alps. The way in which the enterprise was carried out was more significant still, because the occupying force and the subsequent reliefs marched straight across Piedmontese territory without the formality of gaining the Duke of Savoy’s leave. In a similarly cavalier fashion the French made a naval bombardment of Genoa in 1684, simply because the republic appeared to be too friendly with Spain. This drastic measure confirmed the impression that Louis regarded north Italy as part of his own domains.

Piedmont and neighbouring states in the War of the Austrian Succession.

War of Austrian Succession

At the beginning of 1745, during the War of Austrian Succession the situation was altogether, in favor of the tenacious Maria Theresa. France, however, had in the meantime found a new ally in Genvoa, irritated by Piedmont and Austria for the threat to their possession of the Finale (Treaty of Aranjuez May 7, 1745). With the help of the Genoese, the two armies of the French-Spanish under Maillebois and Gages, came into Piedmont from the Riviera and defeated the Austro-Piedmontese at Bassignana (September 28), then occupied successively Tortona, Piacenza, Parma, Pavia, Alessandria, Asti and Casale, while Philip of Bourbon finally took Milan in December 19, 1745. In the Netherlands, France were dominant. The valiant Marshal Maurice de Saxe won the Anglo-Dutch at Fontenay (11 May 1745) and occupied Tournai (May 22), Ghent (July 10), Bruges (July 18), Oudenarde (July 21) and finally Ostend (July 23). To threaten England the French organized, in the summer of 1745, the landing of Charles Edward Stuart in Scotland (August 4).

In Germany, the French influence was almost nil, while England, threatened by Stuart, tried to reconcile once again Maria Theresa and Frederick II. The latter, however, due to the stagnation of diplomatic negotiations sort a military solution: won against the Austrians in Bohemia, invaded Saxony, won the battle of Kesselsdorf (December 15), occupied Leipzig and Dresden. So achieved his goal: Maria Teresa gave up Silesia and made peace (Treaty of Dresden, December 25, 1745).

France was supported by Spain, Naples, Genoa, and Austria, had as ally the kingdom of Sardinia, England, the Netherlands. The landing of the Stuart in Scotland caused, in the autumn of 1745, a general uprising of the Scots and caused terrible panic in London. But this uprising was ended with the battle of Culloden (April 16, 1746). The only consequence was the opportunity, given to Maurice of Saxony, to extend the involvement of the Austrian Netherlands, beating an Austrian army in Rocoux in September, and threatening Netherlands. On the other hand, Carlo Emanuele III took up the arms in agreement with Maria Theresa. So he reoccupied Asti on March 8, 1746, expelled the Franco-Hispanic armies from Piedmont and Lombardy, won in battle of Piacenza (June 16), that caused the enemy’s retreat into Genoa. At this time, the King Philip V of Spain died (July 9) and his successor, Ferdinand VI, was inclined towards peace and the withdrawal of his troops from Italy. The Austro-Sardinian pressed the enemy down on the Riviera, and Marshal Botta Adorno, occupied Genoa on September 7, while Carlo Emanuele III blockaded Savona, took Finale and pursued the Franco-Hispanic Army to Varo. Genoa underwent three months of harsh occupation by Austria, but due to a violent popular uprising, adroitly directed by the Genoese government (5-10 December 1746) freed itself.

The revolt in the Portoria district in Genoa against the Austrians in 1746, led by Giovan Battista Perasso (1735-1781) known as Balilla, 19th century print. Italy, 18th-19th century.

The Austrian alliance invaded Provence, with British naval support, but they were pushed back in 1747, while the Austrians failed to regain Genoa, which had rebelled against their control. The Genoese revolt of December 1746, a successful popular rising, prefigured much that was to be associated with the revolutionary warfare of the close of the century. The swiftly changing course of the conflict in Italy indicated the volatile character of war in this period.

Meanwhile, Carlo Emanuele III was able to occupy Savona (18 December). From Vienna, he asked for an expedition against Naples to chase away the Bourbons. But England did not want an absolute Austrian domination in Italy. So, Provence was invaded, the military port of Toulon was occupied and France was forced to halt its operations in the Netherlands. The Austro-Sardinian forces advanced to Antibes, but then retreated (February 1747).

In the last major conflict in Italy prior to the French Revolutionary War, Franco-Spanish forces failed in 1743-4 to break through the alpine defences of the kingdom of Sardinia, the most important possessions of which were Piedmont and Savoy. Politics offered a new approach: by gaining the alliance of Genoa in 1745, the Bourbons were able to circumvent the alpine defences and invade Piedmont from the south. Initial successes, however, were reversed in 1746 and the Austrians and Sardinians won a decisive victory at Piacenza (16 June 1746), ending, for the remainder of the ancien regime a quarter-millennium of French efforts to dominate northern Italy.


The Reich proudly considered itself an independent body politic and refused to serve merely as a passive tool in the hands of its formal head, the Habsburg Emperor. Despite these structural limitations and the paralysing effects of confessional strife during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Reich’s financial and military help against the Turkish threat was central to the Habsburgs’ survival and even to their counter-offensive after 1683.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there were two armies linked to the Reich in some way, but nonetheless distinct. The first was the Imperial army proper (kaiserliche Armee), the Emperor’s own standing army which had no direct connection to the Reich except its designation. The second force was the army of the Empire (Reichsarmee), the true army of the Reich, raised and paid for by the Imperial Estates and only partially under the Emperor’s control.

In no way reflecting the true potential of the territories and almost always unsuccessful in battle, the Reichsarmee embodied the political and military weakness and fragmentation of the Reich in the eyes of many nineteenth- and early twentieth-century historians. Even the most patriotic eighteenth-century Reich jurists would not deny that the Germany of the Ancien Régime was suited to anything but waging wars.

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Reichsarmee remained a force only mobilized in times of need, to defend the Reich’s territory in the case of a formally proclaimed Reichskrieg (as declared against France in 1674, 1689, 1702, 1734 and 1793) or to secure peace against domestic trouble-makers formally denounced as such by the Imperial Diet (Reichsexekution, as for example against Prussia in 1757, but mostly police actions against lesser disturbers of the peace). The Reichsarmee was an auxiliary force, normally fighting side by side with the Emperor’s own troops, and rather unserviceable in case of offensive operations, for which it was never intended.

The basic troop quota for the Reichsarmee, the Simplum, was fixed at 24,000 horse and foot in 1521; its monthly pay or Römermonat soon became the standard unit of account in all financial matters of the Reich. Depending on the level of danger, the Simplum could be multiplied (Duplum, Triplum and so forth). With the Imperial Executive Ordinance of 1555, the executive and thus ultimately the military defence of the Reich was to a considerable extent devolved to the Imperial Circles.

Yet, for at least a century, civil war came before defence against external threats. Shortly after 1600, the previous century’s confessional strife finally produced two formal groupings, the Catholic League (1609) and the Protestant Union (1608), and both armed at the beginning of the Thirty Years War. The noble idea of a concerted defence of the Reich was abandoned in favour of petty actions in defence of the respective confessions. When the Emperor and the elector of Saxony, the leader of Germany’s Protestant rulers, concluded the Peace of Prague in 1635, their aim was the restoration of law and order throughout the Reich and the removal of all foreign armies from its soil. They agreed to raise a Reichsarmee, organizationally unified but confessionally mixed, with the Emperor nominally in supreme command. Funded by contributions from the Imperial Estates, it was to comprise some 80,000 men. There were problems from the outset, however, particularly regarding the high command, and many Protestant princes remained lukewarm.

In 1648, the Imperial Estates were granted not only the right freely to form alliances but also the ius armorum at once exploited by the more powerful rulers to create standing armies. In the end, the Emperor himself was to profit from the trained troops of these so-called ‘armed Estates’, the support of whom Vienna secured by means of subsidy treaties and political privileges. Such forces, moreover, were generally more effective than a hastily raised Reichsarmee, which had to be approved by the Imperial Diet and consisted of a mixed bag of contingents sent by medium-sized and smaller Estates. The Emperor’s Turkish War of 1663–64 is a good illustration of the potential kaleidoscope of troops making up the military aid from the Reich. The Rhenish League sent a 13,500-strong contingent to Hungary, while Saxony, Bavaria or Brandenburg fell back on units from their standing armies to supply auxiliary troops (4,500 men). The third element finally came from the Reich proper: the Diet, summoned to Regensburg for this very purpose in 1663, granted 20,900 soldiers – a sizeable contribution, even if only a small number ever got as far as Hungary.

During the revived struggle with France in the 1670s, Vienna tried again to institutionalize a Reichsarmee under the Emperor’s sole command. The prospects were favourable given the ‘patriotic enthusiasm’ provoked by an aggressive French policy of annexations along the Reich’s western border, yet the Emperor soon had to reduce his demands and accept the Reichsdefensionalordnung of 1681–82, which laid down the future fundamental principles of the Reich’s new military organization. The Simplum of the Reichsarmee was increased to 40,000 men (12,000 cavalry and 28,000 infantry), while the Triplum, i.e. 120,000 men, would usually be granted when a major war broke out. The Imperial Circles were given the responsibility of raising the contingents which together made up the Reichsarmee. The Austrian Circle, virtually identical with the Habsburg Hereditary Lands, alone accounted for 8,000 men of the 40,000 strong Simplum. The Habsburg contingent was a purely nominal part of the Reichsarmee, since it would be taken from the Emperor’s own standing army and operate as a separate force in its own right. The same was true of the forces to be provided by the ‘armed Estates’ whose territories often belonged to more than one Circle, but who fielded single contingents rather than divide their units up and amalgamate them into the Circle troops. Varying from Circle to Circle, the raising of troops was highly complicated, not least because of the political fragmentation of the Reich. In the particularly heterogeneous Swabian Circle, for instance, the fact that some 90 territories were responsible for raising 4,000 Circle troops resulted in a corresponding lack of cohesion among the latter. Hence Reiehstruppen were mostly deployed for defence purposes in order to relieve the actual fighting troops – the Emperor’s own units and the contingents sent by the ‘armed Estates’.

During the Nine Years War and the War of the Spanish Succession troops from the so-called ‘anterior Circles’ in fact bore the brunt of the defence against the French threat from across the Rhine. It was here, in southern Germany, that the Swabian and Franconian Circles, mustering some 24,000 men in the 1690s, mounted a concerted effort to ward off French aggression. Alliances between several Circles, so-called Circle Associations, could field considerable forces and thus play a role in high politics on a European scale. In 1697, an impressive league was created by the Franconian, Swabian, Electoral Rhenish, Upper Rhenish and Lower Rhenish-Westphalian Circles (‘Frankfurt Association’) with a view to raising a permanent army of 40,000 men in times of peace and 60,000 in times of war, but implementation of this scheme soon came to a standstill. In 1702, the Swabian, Franconian, Upper and Electoral Rhenish, Austrian and Westphalian Circles once more tried to set up an efficient association, which was to field more than 53,000 men (including 16,000 from the Austrian Circle alone) to defend southern Germany: via its individual members, this so-called ‘Nördlingen Association’ joined the Grand Alliance of 1701.

The disaster of Rossbach in November 1757, where Reich troops together with a French contingent were routed by the Prussians, was a serious blow for the ill-fated Reichsarmee, henceforth mocked as ‘Reißausarmee’ (run-away army). However, the scale of the Reich’s military effort should not be underestimated, and recent scholarship in this field has provided a more positive assessment.

The structure of the commanding generals (Reichsgeneralität) of the Reichsarmee, headed by the Imperial Field Marshal (Reichsgeneralfeldmarschall), was highly complex – particularly since, from the beginning of the eighteenth century, all positions had to be filled by both a Catholic and a Protestant. Among the outstanding Reich field marshals Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden (1655–1707) or Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736) deserve particular mention. Prince Eugene, succeeding Baden as Catholic Imperial Field Marshal in 1707, was not only a field marshal in the Emperor’s own standing army, exactly like his predecessor, but also president of the Aulic War Council in Vienna. This was a typical overlap: Reich generals and Austrian generals rapidly came to be one and the same thing. In 1664, only a third of the Reichsgeneralität was staffed by Habsburg generals, compared to half in the 1670s. Eventually, around 1700, it was exclusively Austrian generals who acted as Reich generals, and most of them were German princes or members of the south German aristocracy.