The War against Denmark

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Painting of the Danish attack at the Battle of Dybbøl by Vilhelm Jacob Rosenstand (1894)

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Danish illustration showing the Austrian steam frigate Schwarzenberg burning.

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Military clashes in Schleswig/Slesvig.

We have already encountered Schleswig-Holstein and the ways in which it brought about conflict locally between Danish and German nationalism and war between the Bund, Prussia and Denmark in 1848–49. The matter had finally been subject to international regulation under the terms of the Treaty of London of 1852. Neither side was happy: Danish nationalists wanted to incorporate Schleswig directly into Denmark while German nationalists wanted to bind it to Holstein and form a new German state out of the two Duchies.

In 1848 direct action to alter the status quo had come from the German side and the major European powers, especially Britain and Russia, had taken the Danish side. One major difference in 1863, when the problem re-emerged, was that now the initiative was taken by Denmark. Denmark had drawn up a charter in March 1863 which laid down that the successor to Frederick VII would succeed to rule over Schleswig as well as Denmark. Frederick died on 15 November 1863. His successor, Christian, claimed Schleswig and signed a constitution to that effect. This went against the 1852 treaty.

This enraged German nationalists who insisted instead that the two Duchies be formed into one state under the Duke of Augustenberg and that this state should become a member of the Bund. (The Duke’s father had resigned his claim and had been compensated for that as part of the preparation for the 1852 treaty. The Duke now declared that he was no longer bound by that resignation, given the action of the Danish monarchy.) The Bund decided upon military intervention against Denmark and in November federal troops from Saxony and Hannover occupied Holstein. The differences from 1848 were that Denmark could not be presented this time as a victim, France was more active, Britain was less interventionist and Russia was concerned to maintain good relations with Prussia and Austria because of the Polish issue. The powers also became impatient when Denmark refused to negotiate any compromise on its new position. Denmark was under pressure from its own nationalist opinion and did not think that ultimately the major powers would abandon it.

Thus when Austria and Prussia determined bilaterally upon an invasion of Schleswig in January 1864, insisting that they were doing so in defence of the Treaty of London and not to advance any German national cause, this was not opposed by the other powers. Bismarck had found a way of Prussia acting decisively on a matter dear to German nationalism but the manner of action – with Austria, independently of the Bund and avowedly to restore the 1852 arrangement – had the effect of uniting the medium states and nationalist opinion in condemnation of the policy.

The advantages for Austria were that this policy distanced Prussia from nationalist support, ensured that the Prussian government remained locked in conflict with the liberal majority in parliament and seemed to go a long way towards restoring the cooperative domination of the two states over German affairs which was always the Austrian default position. There was also the hope that such cooperation in north Germany might lead on to cooperation elsewhere, for example in undoing some of the results of the 1859 war. The disadvantages were that Austria undermined its own policy of bidding for liberal and national support in Germany and became entangled in an affair in distant northern Germany in which it had no direct interest and which it could not control.

Denmark was no military match for Austria and Prussia. The war gave the Prussian Chief of Staff, von Moltke, an opportunity to test the efficacy of the army reforms. Many people in Prussia were simply proud as Prussians to see their army winning battles and taking control of new territory.

In the mid-19th century Denmark’s national aspirations were aroused (and thwarted) by the conflict with Germany over what had become known as the Schleswig-Holstein question. Having lost Norway, the Danish monarchy held dearly to the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein as two of the three pillars of its kingdom of Denmark, this despite the fact that the majority of Holstein’s people were German, both culturally and linguistically, and that Schleswig was divided between a Danish-speaking and a German-speaking population. It was when the German liberals in Schleswig began speaking out against autocratic rule and demanding a separate constitution and an affiliation to Holstein and the German Confederation that a Danish National Liberal movement also emerged. These Danish nationalists demanded that Schleswig be incorporated into Denmark. In 1848, when Denmark’s National Liberal government officially adopted this policy (known as the Eider Policy after the Eider River that formed the southern boundary of Schleswig), the Schleswig-Holsteiners took up arms. Backed by the Prussian military, the rebellion proved too much for the Danish army, even with aid from Sweden. The negotiated end of the revolt, while reaffirming Danish rights to Schleswig-Holstein, also forced Denmark to pledge that it would not attempt to tie Schleswig closer to itself than to Holstein, which in effect meant that Denmark had to abandon the Eider Policy. Finally, Denmark agreed that the constitution adopted by the Danes in June 1849 was to apply only to itself, leaving the future of the two duchies in a political limbo the Prussians clearly hoped one day to change.

That day came early in 1864, when Prussian troops under Prince Frederick Charles (1828–85), in cooperation with an Austrian force, once again invaded Schleswig-Holstein. The Danes’ position was hopeless. Though they mobilized some 70,000 men, only 48,000 were ever in the field at one time. Meanwhile, Prussia could commit nearly 64,000 and Austria 20,000. Thus, it was no surprise that the invasion force met with little resistance, nor that by August 1, 1864, Denmark had sued for peace, relinquishing its rights to the duchies. By the Treaty of Gastein, concluded in 1865, Schleswig and Holstein were put under joint Prussian-Austrian rule.

The intransigence of Denmark and its unfounded faith in international intervention led to the loss of the two Duchies. Now the idea began to grow in Prussia, and certainly in Bismarck’s mind, that the final outcome might be Prussian annexation of the two Duchies. He had already broached the subject at a Crown Council meeting as early as February 1864. For Bismarck this was vastly to be preferred to a return to pre-1864 arrangements or the formation of yet another small German state which, in Bismarck’s view, simply added to the nonsense of all other such states.

At what point the matter could also be used to engineer a direct conflict with Austria over the relative position of the two states in Germany is less clear. Already by May 1865 the possibility of war had arisen. The Gastein Convention settled that crisis and made clear the impotence of the other German states or nationalist opinion.

Moltke strongly implied in his memoirs and correspondence that the war of 1866 was deliberately planned by the Prussian government. (Moltke 1925, 1: 34–5; and 3: 51; letter to his brother in May 1861 in Moltke 1956: 289–90. See also his memoranda of April 1866 in Förster 1992: 106–27.) Certainly Bismarck had long insisted that Germany must be divided into a Prussian and an Austrian sphere of influence and that the current arrangements for a shared hegemony over the Bund were not tenable. There were many precedents for such a policy of regional expansion within a ‘national’ zone at Austrian expense. It was, after all, what Frederick the Great had achieved with the invasion and annexation of Silesia in 1740, what Prussia had aimed for over Saxony in 1814–15, what Radowitz had sought in 1849–50 and what Manteuffel had briefly outlined in 1861. Furthermore, there was nothing new about claiming that this policy was in the interests of Germany, not just Prussia. Frederick the Great had justified his policy in just this way and would in the later period of his reign invoke a ‘patriotic’ defence of the Holy Roman Empire. The big difference was that there was now a much more popular and powerful national movement which would insist that reality matched such rhetoric and that expansion could not simply be dynastic annexation.

This national movement was now articulated in numerous organisations and associations and supported by a range of newspapers and periodicals and dense networks of political writers and parliamentary parties and speakers. 1848–49 had crystallised the main issues and the need for conceptions of national unity to combine with practical political and economic programmes. By the early 1860s there was an intense anticipation of German unity and, in the elite middle-class circles which dominated the public sphere, the ‘national’ had become almost a ‘natural’ category, even if a nation-state had never before existed and people remained unclear or even despairing of how it was to be realised.

Still, whatever the precedents might be, no matter what the shifts in the balance of power between Austria and Prussia in the early 1860s, and however dominant might be elite public opinion favouring Prussian leadership in bringing about a national state, confronting Austria was a high-risk policy. Frederick had only succeeded in taking Silesia after two long wars involving all the major powers and had come within a hair’s breadth of complete defeat and occupation. Prussia had backed down in 1814–15 and 1850 when faced with possible war against Austria and other states, especially as the prospect of clearcut and swift victory, indeed of victory at all, seemed remote. Was Bismarck taking the same kind of gamble in 1866 as Frederick had in 1740, a gamble which his more immediate predecessors had refused to take? Or was there some essential difference this time?

Further reading: John Henry Stopford Birch, Denmark in History (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975); Philip G. Dwyer, Modern Prussian History: 1830–1947(New York: Pearson Education, 2001); Bent Ryng, Danish in the South and North (Copenhagen: Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1981).

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Maritime Warfare in the War of the Spanish Succession II

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The Battle of Malaga by Isaac Sailmaker.1704.

Shovell’s death was not the only loss to the allies in 1707, for in Spain Galway had been unable to maintain his hold on Madrid, and in April he was heavily defeated by Berwick at the battle of Almanza. Much of the allied position in Spain unravelled, so the need of a fleet – and therefore a fleet base – in the Mediterranean was as great as ever. The allied fleet, now commanded by Leake, arrived in May, and was soon active in supplying the allied army in Catalonia from Italy. In August Leake secured the surrender of Sardinia (part of the Spanish Mediterranean empire) to ‘Charles III’, providing an essential granary for Catalonia, and a usable naval base at Cagliari. There was, however, a much better and nearer one, which Marlborough and the queen’s ministers had been thinking about for some time: Mahón, in Minorca, by far the best harbour in the Western Mediterranean, and only 300 miles from Toulon. Leake arrived from Sardinia on 25 August and landed his marines. Soon afterwards Major-General James Stanhope arrived from Barcelona with troops, and in spite of the great strength of the island’s main fortress, St Philip’s, the conquest was completed in less than a month. Though it was made in the name of ‘Charles III’, the English intended from the beginning to keep the island for themselves.

The capture of Mahon secured the allies’ naval hold on the Western Mediterranean, but too late to affect the course of the war. The French fleet was past intervention, and the naval contribution to the war in Spain was mainly to control the export of grain from North Africa, which was supplied to the allied army in Catalonia and denied to the French. This was the main work of Sir George Byng in 1709, Sir John Norris next year, and Sir John Jennings in 1711, though Norris also attempted some raids on the coast of France.

All the while that the Mediterranean dominated allied naval strategy, war at sea in English waters had largely been confined to the defence of trade. Then the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland inspired another French attempt to exploit Jacobite sentiment. It seemed a good moment to advance the cause of James VIII, with few troops in Scotland, and many people less than fully committed to the Union or to Queen Anne’s government. Captain Thomas Gordon of the Scottish frigate Royal Mary, for example, was zealous in protecting Scottish merchantmen, but enjoyed a comfortable relationship with the Jacobite leader Lady Errol, who sent him a private signal to steer clear of Slains Castle whenever she had visitors from France.

The French plan was for the royal squadron from Dunkirk under the comte de Forbin to sail in midwinter and land James in the Firth of Forth before allied squadrons could intervene. Dunkirk was all but impossible to blockade effectively even in summertime, Forbin was a bold and experienced commander, and the plan seemed to have a good chance of success even after the secret leaked out and the blockade was reinforced. At first all went well. Forbin got clean away on 9 March, with Sir George Byng in pursuit but far astern. Unfortunately Forbin seems to have had no idea of the strategic value of the expedition, and to have treated it with a carelessness verging on frivolity. He made his initial landfall at dawn on the 12th fifty miles too far north, past Stonehaven; a disastrous blunder which has never been explained. It was the evening of the 13th before the French were able to enter the Forth and anchor off Anstruther. Byng anchored near by off May Island later that night, unseen in the darkness. Even then there was time to land James and his troops, and the sacrifice of Forbin’s small squadron would have been well worth it, but when he sighted Byng’s squadron at dawn, he insisted on escaping to the northward. In the ensuing chase one French ship, the Salisbury (an English prize taken in 1703) was captured by her British namesake (built 1707), but the rest escaped, and Forbin refused another chance to land James. Thus the French threw away a good chance to create, at least, an effective diversion to Marlborough’s plans, which after his victory at Oudenarde on 30 June/11 July, developed into an invasion of France.

The naval war in the Caribbean revived in 1705. In April the enterprising Canadian Iberville mounted a destructive raid on Nevis, only to die of yellow fever at Havana on his way to attack Carolina. In May Rear-Admiral Whetstone arrived with an English squadron, reinforced in August by Commodore William Kerr, who later succeeded to the command. Kerr’s squadron was immobilized by sickness and almost starved; he received no victuals from England until July 1707, and could do nothing to intercept the French squadron which du Casse had brought out to collect Spanish silver. Sir John Jennings arrived in December 1706, with the primary mission of persuading the Spanish governors to acknowledge the authority of ‘Charles III’. In this he failed completely, and returned to England in May 1708, shortly followed by Kerr, who only got back by dint of borrowing men from the incoming British squadron. Kerr was then prosecuted in the common law courts, impeached by the House of Lords and dismissed from the Service for neglecting trade and demanding convoy fees.

Kerr’s relief was Commodore Charles Wager, who sailed in April 1707 with a squadron of seven ships of the line. He was followed by du Casse, who sailed from Brest in October, but spent only a short time in the Caribbean, leaving Havana in July 1708 with the Spanish silver from Mexico – but not the South American silver shipped from Porto Bello, which Wager had intercepted on 28 May. Like Benbow, Wager was abandoned by two of his captains, but he pressed home his attack with his own ship unsupported, took one and sank another of the Spanish ships. The Spaniards lost much money, and a good deal of what du Casse took home never reached Spanish hands. Wager returned to England in December 1709, but the British squadron remained on station.

Further north there was desultory action on the Anglo-Spanish frontier throughout this war, with mutual raids from Carolina and Florida. The English twice attacked the Spanish port of Pensacola, and in 1706 a force of Spanish and French privateers raided Charleston. In these waters, moreover, especially North Carolina (‘where there’s scarce any form of government’, as the Governor of Virginia alleged), piracy was still a real problem. Massachusetts expeditions reached the French privateer base of Port Royal, Acadia, in June and August 1707, but were unable to make an impression on the French defences. On 1 October 1710 the Americans finally achieved a success in taking Port Royal (renamed Annapolis Royal), ‘seven years the great pest and trouble of all navigation and trade of your Majesty’s provinces on the coast of America’.

In European waters another distraction was caused by the Great Northern War between the Baltic powers, which broke out in 1702. The belligerents of the Spanish Succession war were not directly involved, but all European navies depended more or less on mast timber and naval stores imported from the Baltic, while Baltic grain exports became progressively more essential both to England and France in the years of dearth from 1708. The Dutch moreover provided almost all the shipping which carried these goods. The Maritime Powers therefore needed to cover their shipping from Swedish and Russian attacks, while in the North Sea there were both French and allied grain convoys to be attacked and defended. In the Baltic the Swedes were the main aggressors, and relations with England were not helped by the old irritant of the ‘salute to the flag’, which provoked a bloody action off Orfordness in July 1704 between Whetstone and the Swedish Captain Gustav von Psilander of the Öland. In 1709 Norris took a squadron as far as the Sound to escort allied trade and intercept French. From 1710 Swedish privateers became more troublesome, but as long as the war against Spain lasted, the allies had no ships to spare to protect their trade within the Baltic.

Inevitably, it was French privateers that presented the main threat to allied trade. The French continued the composite trade war which had been so effective in the previous war, with squadrons of royal warships, either equipped by the crown or chartered to private shipowners, used as the nutcrackers to break open convoy defences and expose the riches within. The commanders of these squadrons were the heroes of the French war on trade. In May 1703 the marquis de Coëtlogon intercepted a Dutch convoy under Captain Roemer Vlacq off Lisbon and sank or captured all five escorts: a notable victory, but a sterile one, for the escort’s sacrifice enabled the entire convoy of over 100 sail to escape. Unfortunately for the French this was too often the pattern. The chevalier de Saint Pol de Hécourt, commanding the Dunkirk squadron, in 1703 took the Ludlow, 34 (i.e. of thirty-four guns), and later the Salisbury, 52, which he took for his own command. He also inflicted heavy losses on the Dutch fishing fleet off Shetland. Next year he took another English ship of the line, the Falmouth, 58. ‘It is to be desired,’ commented a French official, ‘that Monsieur de Saint Pol find fewer men-of-war and rather more Indiamen or rich interlopers, which would suit his poor owners much better.’ Instead he took a Dutch fifty-gun ship, the Wulverhorst, but once again the convoy had escaped by the time the escort was overwhelmed. Saint Pol’s accounts for this loss-making cruise still had not been cleared up in 1718. In the same year 1704, Duguay-Trouin from St Malo took the Coventry, 54, and the Elizabeth, 70. Both English captains were sent to prison, one of them for life. Finally in October 1705 Saint Pol took an English convoy complete, three escorts and eighteen merchantmen, but was killed in the attack.

His successor in command of the Dunkirk squadron was Forbin, a Gascon nobleman with many of the qualities traditionally associated with his country: bold, gallant and skilful; but also vainglorious and grasping. In May 1707 his squadron of eight ships of the line took two seventy-gun ships, the Hampton Court and Grafton with twenty-two ships of their convoy off Beachy Head, though more than half the merchantmen escaped. In the summer Forbin went north into the Arctic. Whetstone formed the escort of an allied convoy to Archangel, which he had left north of the Shetlands (further north than his orders required), before returning to other duties. Forbin intercepted the convoy off the Murman coast of Arctic Russia, but the local escort under Captain Richard Haddock saved it in a fog bank, and Forbin got only some stragglers. Then on 10 October off Ushant, the squadrons of Forbin and Duguay-Trouin by chance together encountered a convoy carrying troops to Lisbon. Between them they had twelve ships of the line against the five of the escort, though Captain John Richards had two three-deckers, the Devonshire, 90, and the Cumberland, 82. Duguay-Trouin did most of the fighting, in which the Devonshire was burned and three more escorts taken. Forbin arrived later and went straight for the convoy, taking ten (out of about 100). He made all the money, and with undamaged ships he returned early to port to claim all the credit.

Against the undoubted successes of French squadrons must be set the many convoys which were successfully defended, or never attacked at all, and even the most celebrated French commanders were not always successful. In 1704 Saint Pol with six warships was frightened off a Virginia convoy of 135 sail under Captain John Evans, who formed a line of battle with his own four escorts and the ten biggest merchantmen. In 1706 Duguay-Trouin intercepted a rich Portuguese Brazil convoy off Lisbon; one escort was taken, but the Portuguese warships saved the whole convoy. His greatest exploit was the sack of Rio de Janeiro in 1711, which did return a profit, but overall Duguay-Trouin’s career cost his investors and himself a great deal of money. His home port, St Malo, prospered in this war because it progressively abandoned privateering in favour of the extremely profitable interloping trade round Cape Horn to the ‘South Sea’, the Pacific coast of Spanish South America. Three ships which returned from Peru in May 1705 declared cargoes worth more than half the entire gross earnings of all the privateers of the port between 1702 and 1713. In 1709 a convoy of seven ships escorted by Captain Michel Chabert came home laden with Spanish silver, of which Louis XIV received over four million pesos, and a quarter of a million found its way back to Philip V.

The French privateering war certainly caused England heavy losses – the contemporary claim of 3,600 merchantmen taken during the war was probably not much exaggerated – but it is not at all clear that it was profitable, either economically or militarily. English foreign trade was more buoyant than in the 1690s, and better able to bear losses. With experience, the organization of trade protection became gradually more effective, and imaginative. In 1709, in response to petitions from the Scottish Burghs, the local escorts on the east coast of Scotland were put under the operational command of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, who for the rest of the war controlled the convoy system between Newcastle and the Orkneys and across the North Sea. Moreover the efforts of allied privateers, especially from Zealand and the Channel Isles, have to be taken into account.

As in the previous war, the French naval strategy was most effective in English politics. The heavy losses of 1707 caused an outcry in Parliament: ‘Your disasters at sea have been so many, that a man scarce knows where to begin,’ declaimed Lord Haversham in the House of Lords.

Your ships have been taken by your enemies as the Dutch take your herrings, by shoals, upon your own coasts; nay, your Royal Navy itself has not escaped. And these are pregnant misfortunes, and big with innumerable mischiefs; your merchants are beggared, your commerce is broke, your trade is gone, your people and manufactures ruined…

The result was the 1708 Cruizers and Convoys Act, which removed forty-three ships (nearly half of those between the Third and Sixth Rates) from Admiralty control and assigned them to specified home stations. As with the 1694 Act, the effect was probably to reduce the force available for convoy escorts in favour of cruising squadrons of doubtful effectiveness. Effectiveness, however, was not the main issue in Parliament, where Whig opponents of the government aimed to exploit back-bench disquiet to mount a coup against the Admiralty, and indirectly against Marlborough, whose brother Admiral George Churchill was blamed for mismanaging the naval war.

In this case the Whigs profited from the situation, but overall the French war on trade acted in favour of Tory opponents of the Continental war, especially Marlborough’s costly campaigns in Flanders. To aggrandize him, they argued, country gentlemen like themselves paid a heavy burden in Land Tax, too little of which went to protect England’s true interests (notably in seaborne trade), and too much of which ended up in the pockets of City financiers, who profited from the war and paid nothing towards it. Most of the financiers were Whigs in politics, Jews or Nonconformists in religion, and French, Dutch or Portuguese in origin. Associated with them were England’s Dutch allies, who were accused of bleeding England white in their defence, while they withdrew their stipulated quotas from the allied fleets and kept their own ships to escort their own convoys (frequently trading with the enemy). All the xenophobia so deeply rooted in English politics aroused MPs to demand a patriotic, profitable and English war at sea, of the sort which (as they believed) had never failed before. At the same time Tory attachment to the campaigns in Spain was fading, not only because the campaigns themselves were going very badly, but because the Archduke Charles unexpectedly succeeded to the Austrian throne on his elder brother’s death in April 1711, and a re-creation of the sixteenth-century Habsburg empire under Charles VI seemed even less palatable than the Franco-Spanish connection under Philip V.

The Tory government which took power in 1710 gave expression to these discontents. Subsequent historians have constructed a strategic tradition, the ‘Blue-Water policy’, to which the Tories were supposedly attached, but much of this is a modern rationalization of what had more to do with atavistic prejudice than rational calculation, and was to a large extent common ground among politicians of all parties. Mutual self-interest put the Whigs in bed with William III and later Marlborough, but they were not natural friends of kings and captains-general, nor of large armies and campaigns on the Continent; they were simply more realistic, or more prepared to compromise their principles for the sake of power. All English politicians were committed to the myths of English sea power, according to which a truly naval war, against a Catholic enemy, could not fail to succeed. The real distinction tended to be between those in opposition, who were wholeheartedly committed, and those in power, who were forced into some compromises with reality.

Of the leaders of the 1710 Tory administration, Robert Harley was more level-headed than his colleague St John. In March 1711 Harley was stabbed (by a captured French spy who was being questioned by a Privy Council committee), and while he was recovering, St John was largely responsible for mounting a grand amphibious expedition against Quebec. This was a response to New England requests, but it was even more an expression of Tory ideology. The troops were taken from Marlborough’s army in Flanders, and the ships were commanded by an impeccably Tory officer, Rear-Admiral Sir Hovenden Walker. To keep the expedition secret and avoid the ‘tedious forms of our marine management’, as he put it, St John kept both the Admiralty and the Navy Board in the dark, allowing some of the ships to sail with only three months’ victuals aboard in the expectation that they could be resupplied at Boston. When the expedition did arrive there at the end of June, with only a few days’ warning, Walker was surprised to find that it was difficult to supply a force of over 12,000 men (greater than the population of Boston and its surrounding district) with provisions for a whole winter. Eventually they sailed at the end of July with three months’ victuals, effectively gambling that they could conquer Quebec and find it full of food. Walker was worried about this, and further unnerved by the dangers of the St Lawrence without adequate charts or pilots – with reason, for on 23 August the fleet ran on the coast in the dark and seven transports were lost. On paper the force was still formidable, but Walker and his captains had had enough, and hastened to abandon the expedition.

By the time it returned in October, the Tory government was in the process of withdrawing from the war. One month later Marlborough was dismissed from all his offices. At the same time the ministry published Swift’s pamphlet The Conduct of the Allies, an official attack on the Dutch. ‘No nation,’ he proclaimed, ‘was ever so long or so scandalously abused by the folly, the temerity, the corruption, the ambition of its domestic enemies; or treated with so much insolence, injustice and ingratitude by its foreign friends.’ Another pamphleteer ingeniously estimated that the Dutch had made a profit from the war of £12,235,847 5s 5d.60 All this of course was meant to justify the British in abandoning their allies and withdrawing from the war. At the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Britain gained Gibraltar, Minorca, Acadia (renamed Nova Scotia), the whole of Newfoundland and St Kitt’s (hitherto divided), and undisputed possession of Hudson’s Bay. The Spanish Netherlands were transferred to Austria, and as Britain’s reward for betraying her allies, the French repudiated ‘James III’ and agreed to demolish the port and fortifications of Dunkirk. The reputation of ‘perfidious Albion’ was now well established in Europe, and as if to confirm it, Harley skilfully double-crossed the Jacobites, who provided a large part of his support, and engineered the peaceful succession of the Elector of Hanover when Queen Anne died on 1 August 1714.

On most reckonings the material profit to England of almost twenty-five years of costly war against France was meagre. A small number, of territories had been gained, two of them (Minorca and Gibraltar) of real, or at least potential, strategic value. The ambitions of Louis XIV had been checked, and Flanders (always so sensitive for England) safely confided to friendly hands. A Catholic dynasty had been removed, comforting English and Scottish Protestants at the price of a permanent threat to their security. Nothing so effectively destabilized a government as a legitimate pretender to the throne with support at home and abroad, so the price of Protestant liberty was eternal vigilance, and eternal expense. Less obvious than any of these changes, but in the long run most important of all, was the very rapid growth during these years of English foreign trade. The English domestic economy still depended overwhelmingly on agriculture and woollen cloth, but English (and now Scottish) merchants imported, and in large measure re-exported to Europe, greater and greater quantities of sugar and tobacco from the West Indian and American colonies, cotton from India and silk from China. These were long-distance ‘rich trades’, earning large profits but requiring large capital and advanced skills in banking, insurance and the management of shipping. Other shipowners traded in bulk goods with European ports: English cloth, timber and naval stores from the Baltic, salted cod from Newfoundland. All these trades, multiplied by the Navigation Acts, generated shipping and seamen as well as income. They went to build up what has been called a ‘maritime-imperial’ system, based on shipping and overseas trade much more than on extent of territory. Eighteenth-century Englishmen were ‘proud of their empire in the sea’; for them the word ‘empire’ still had the value of the Latin imperium, an abstract noun rather than a geographical expression. ‘Trade,’ as Addison put it, ‘without enlarging the British territories, has given us a kind of additional empire.’ To a greater and greater extent, Britain’s real wealth was generated, and seen to be generated, from a maritime system in which overseas trade created the income which paid for the Navy, merchant shipping trained the seamen which manned it, so that the Navy in turn could protect trade and the country. Much was still to be learned about how best to do both, but few informed observers in 1714 would have disputed Lord Haversham’s judgement that ‘Your trade is the mother and nurse of your seamen; your seamen are the life of your fleet; and your fleet is the security and protection of your trade: and both together are the wealth, strength, security and glory of Britain.’

Battle of Oudenaarde [Oudenarde] , (11 July 1708)

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The Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Oudenaarde (John Wootton).

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The perfect illustration of the difficulties of double command. In 1708, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, wanted to raise the morale of his Dutch allies by winning a battle in Flanders. His main objective was to retake all the territories lost the two previous years. On the French side, the king had sent his grandson, the Duc de Bourgogne, to command the field army with the Marechal de Vendôme on a secondary front. Eugene of Savoy’s army was far away, and Marlborough’s troops were deployed all over northern Flanders, with Brussels as headquarters. On 16 May, the French army advanced toward Brussels, its superior number pushing away Marlborough’s troops. Then Bourgogne stopped waiting for orders from Versailles, 200 miles away. A very religious man, Bourgogne was also very cautious and was always at variance with Vendôme’s orders. On the other side, Marlborough asked Prince Eugene to join his army as soon as possible to coordinate an aggressive defense.

At the beginning of July, a sycophantic noble follower of Bourgogne suggested an attack toward Bruges and Ghent. The two towns were easily taken, and the royal army decided to encircle Oudenaarde on the River Scheldt. But Marlborough had discerned this move and sent his army to cross the river before the French arrived.

On 11 July, the French general Biron discovered the waiting allied troops and asked for orders. Vendôme refused to believe Biron and left his army without deployment orders until it was too late. Marlborough, urging his troops on, arrived at noon and deployed on a line of low hills north of Oudenaarde. His lines were protected by meadows and hedges. By 3 P.M., Bourgogne gave the order to the marching French to assault the waiting English lines. The attack began on the French right, soon supported by the center. All this uncoordinated movement gave predictable results, as all the columns were repulsed. The French left, under Vendôme, remained useless.

Eventually, with Eugene’s army facing Vendôme, Marlborough took the initiative. Following the retiring French right, he managed to encircle them, forcing thousands to surrender. The French rout sent them back to Bruges. Marlborough’s victory restored allied morale. The French had lost more than 15,000 soldiers and were no longer able to protect their northern border. France lay open to an invasion.

References and further reading: Belloc,H. The Tactics and Strategy of the Great Duke of Marlborough. London: Arrowsmith, 1933. Bluche, François. Dictionnaire du Grand Siècle. Paris: Fayard, 1990.

Vendôme, Louis Joseph, duc de (1654–1712). Maréchal de France.

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Vendôme was one of Louis XIV’s late appointments to high command, a role in which he proved less able than he had previously shown himself to be as a subordinate to Luxembourg. Vendôme fought throughout the Nine Years’ War (1688–1697), including service under Luxembourg at Steenkerke (July 24/August 3, 1692). He next went to Spain, where he campaigned in Catalonia from 1695. He took Barcelona in 1697, after a two-year Allied occupation. Vendôme was the main French commander in northern Italy during the opening years of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714). He replaced the captured Villeroi in northern Italy and was immediately defeated at Luzzara (August 4/15, 1702) by an Imperial army led by Prince Eugene. Vendôme faced Eugene again at Cassano (August 16, 1705), this time beating him. That allowed Vendôme to add additional Italian territory to Louis’ conquests.

Vendôme was recalled to Flanders to repair the damage done to French defenses when Marlborough partially broke the Lines of Brabant. He managed to slow Marlborough down over the rest of 1707. The next year, Vendôme bested Marlborough in a campaign of maneuver that allowed him to retake Bruges and Ghent. However, Marlborough and Eugene linked, caught up with Vendôme, and defeated him soundly at Oudenarde (June 30/July 11, 1708). Worse lay ahead: Vendôme lost the siege of Lille (1708) and with it, Louis’ confidence. He was removed from command, and was not restored until 1710. Thereafter, he fought with more success against the British and other Allied forces in Spain, winning at Brihuega (December 8–9/19–20, 1710) and again at Villa Viciosa(December 10/21, 1710). He died two years later. By that time, the succession in Spain was essentially won for Louis’ grandson, Philip V, in part due to Vendôme’s efforts.

Duc de Bourgogne, Louis, Duke of Burgundy

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Louis de France, Duke of Burgundy, and later Dauphin of France 1682 –1712 was the eldest son of Louis, Dauphin of France. He became the official Dauphin of France upon his father’s death in 1711 but he died himself a year later.

In 1708, during the Spanish War of Succession, Louis, Duke of Burgundy, was given command of an army in Flanders, advised by Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme. Confusion arose over who was in command of the army, which led to delays in giving orders. For a time, all military decisions had to be referred to King Louis XIV. This caused further confusion as messages had to travel between the battle front and Versailles. The Grand Alliance, which opposed France in the war, took advantage of the indecisiveness and advanced its forces. The culminating Battle of Oudenarde was a significant defeat for the French due to Louis’ poor choices and reluctance to support Vendôme. In the aftermath, France lost the city of Lille and Grand Alliance forces made their way into France for a brief time.

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Napoleonic Era: Austrian Army Reform I

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A triumphant Archduke Charles of Austria-Teschen led the Austrians to victory at the Battle of Aspern-Essling.

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The army had fought well but it had been out-generalled. After Ulm and Austerlitz, it was clear to the dynasty that two things were needed to offer the chance of success in any future struggle against Napoleon. First the Archduke Charles must be put in charge; and then the army had to be given time to train to adapt to modern warfare.

The Peace of Pressburg signed on Boxing Day 1805 did not impose a Carthaginian settlement on Vienna – that was almost to come in four years’ time – but the conditions were certainly onerous. As usual the Emperor Francis coolly summed it up in a letter to Tsar Alexander. The treaty, he wrote, ‘turned out to be capitulation before an enemy who pressed home his advantages to the full’.1 With that detachment and low-key logic which marked so many of Francis’s utterances, the Kaiser dispassionately concluded: ‘I have been forced to abandon part of my provinces so that I may preserve the rest.’ Amputation always signified life for the dynasty.

The ‘part’ that had to be sacrificed was significant: Venetia, Friuli, Dalmatia and Istria were all either rich agricultural lands or strategically important, although none of them formed part of the hereditary crown lands. The ceding of the Tyrol to Bavaria was another matter. The proud and tough men (and women) of the Tyrolean valleys spoke their own dialect and were fiercely contemptuous of outsiders. They only needed to hear a Bavarian accent for their hackles to rise. Heavy-handed Bavarian rule fuelled the embers of national revolt. The surrender of Lindau and the surviving Habsburg possessions close to Breisgau confirmed the anti-Habsburg arrangements in Germany.

These arrangements meant establishing the tapestry of German mini-states as dependencies of France. Baden and Württemberg had already been rewarded for their support of the Napoleonic cause. On 16 July 1806, the Napoleonic protectorate of the ‘Rheinbund’ confirmed the allegiance of sixteen princes of southern and western Germany who were now obliged, in the event of hostilities, to supply 65,000 soldiers to serve France. Amid great celebrations these little German princes, mediatised and much reduced, declared their wish to be forever separated from the German Empire. The Holy Roman Empire, which had been a Habsburg prerogative, had become an empty shell; its prestige diminished, its utility dismantled. Faced with the choice of the crown of Charlemagne or the guns of Napoleon, the leaders of these Lilliputian states had embraced collaboration.

Five days later, Emperor Francis laid aside the sacred regalia of the Holy Roman Empire and the magnificent crown of Charlemagne and never wore them again. Two years earlier, prompted by the defection of the German princes, the Emperor had been crowned Emperor of Austria. From now on the old Austrian crown lands were to be the engine of Habsburg power and, because many of the inhabitants were German-speaking, the dynasty saw clearly the need to ignite the flames of German nationhood, to ‘fight fire with fire’.

With the tenacity of purpose which characterised Austria throughout this period, the Emperor supported this policy with a new programme of military reform. The keystone of this reform was, at last, the elevation of the Archduke Charles. Putting aside the petty intrigues and jealousies of the court, Francis appointed his brother ‘Generalissimus’, supreme commander, as well as President of the Aulic Council.

With his usual energy, Charles immersed himself in turning the Austrian army into a modern force, capable of holding its own against the French. This was no easy task. After Austerlitz, Napoleon stood at the zenith of his powers. He was a warlord who seemingly had never known defeat. Charles worked away at his reforms: new units of reserves, new tactics and drills, new formations and more cost-effective uniforms. Napoleon continued to wage war. A year after Austerlitz, the Prussians were wiped out in a single afternoon on the fields of Jena and Auerstädt. For once Napoleon was not exaggerating when, in his dispatch of 16 November 1806, he noted: ‘Of the Saxon-Prussian army we have found nothing left. All of 145,000 men have been either killed or wounded or taken prisoner. The King, Queen, General Kalkreuth and 10 or 12 officers are all that have escaped.’

The Archdukes create a Landwehr and a Reserve

The experience of the Napoleonic Levée en masse and the scale of the armies now waging war had left the Archduke Charles in no doubt that the Imperial forces needed to be recalibrated to incorporate a flexible and reliable reserve drawn from a wider base. The creation of the Landwehr (militia) and Reserveanstalt (reserve depot) went a long way to achieving this, providing a source of manpower that could release regular soldiers for the front line once hostilities broke out. Charles did not expect too much of the Landwehr at first, convinced as he was that Napoleon’s army could only be defeated by highly trained regular troops. It was left to his brother the Archduke John, whose travels around Alpine Austria had left him impressed by the calibre and patriotism of the local population, to pursue the Landwehr idea to its logical conclusion. A shattered Prussia and a demoralised mediatised constellation of princes created a vacuum that could only be filled by Austria. The Archduke John knew well how to exploit this and Charles was happy to let his brother get to work on the new It helped that the news of Prussia’s annihilation at Jena encouraged many German writers to place their hopes for liberation not in Berlin but in Vienna. Thus the great Prussian writer Heinrich Kleist (1777–1811) turned his creative talents to praising the Archduke Charles while his Austrian contemporary Heinrich Collin (1771–1811), whose Coriolan inspired Beethoven, composed a poem with a refrain that became the hymn of the newly established Landwehr:

Auf, ihr Völker, bildet Heere!

An die Grenzen fort zur Wehre!

(Awake you peoples: form your armies!

To the frontiers: grab your weaponry!)

To Collin’s cries were added those of the younger Ludwig Uhland: ‘Awake powerful Austria!’ and Ernst Moritz Arndt: ‘Awake Friends! Franz is our Emperor not Bonaparte!’ and finally, striking a note of almost Prussian vengefulness, Max von Schenkendorf: ‘German Kaiser! German Kaiser! Come to Avenge! Come to Save!’ (‘Komm zu rächen! komm zu retten!’). These sentiments were not entirely welcome to Emperor Francis, who was always suspicious of populism. When told that someone at his court was a patriot, he waspishly and famously enquired: ‘But is he a patriot for me?’ a phrase later transposed and immortalised by John Osborne’s 1966 play of the same name.

Napoleonic Era: Austrian Army Reform II

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The Archduke John was so engaged with the Landwehr that he devoted most of the winter of 1808 to the organisation of the force and its training. Typical of the Archduke John’s devotion to the new unit was his insistence that orders and training were inescapably bound up with the idea of a ‘comprehensive defence of the land’ (umfassenden Landesverteidigung). Uniforms and weapons had to reflect local traditions. John fought many battles with the rigid Austrian military hierarchy to ensure that the militia were not forced to adopt weapons that were alien to them or drill that was adapted for more formal manoeuvres.

As John noted: ‘The utter concept of this method of waging war rests on movement and speed, cunning and courage, calm in critical moments: this is what we must encourage.’ The officers were urged to speak frequently with their men and involve themselves even with their domestic issues (häuslichen Angelegenheiten). At all times the officers of the Landwehr must demonstrate their ‘support and paternal comfort’. To help encourage these instincts of solidarity among the other inhabitants of the crown lands, the songs of Collin were translated into Polish, Czech, Slovene and Hungarian.

While John worked ceaselessly on perfecting the Landwehr into a credible force, instilled with a Befreiungshoffnungsrausch (the intoxicating hope of liberty), Charles worked away at the regular forces in an attempt to raise not only morale and discipline but initiative and prestige.

The period of service in the regular army was reformed. Instead of a lifelong commitment to ‘the colours’, service was now limited to men between the ages of 18 and 40. Fourteen years was the envisaged length of service in the artillery arm; twelve years in the cavalry and ten years in the infantry. Recruitment was by ballot and the prescribed term of service could, on expiry, be extended for a further six years through agreeing a ‘Kapitulation’. (This automatically offered a bonus and the right to marry while in service.)

A newly organised regular Reserve consisted of those who were eligible for military service but were superfluous to standing military requirements. Members of the Reserve were required to train each year but they retained their jobs and were not required to change location. During their annual training they would be paid for their military service as if they were regulars.

In addition to its permanent establishment, each Austrian line regiment came to have two Reserve battalions, members of which had to train for four weeks in their first year of service and three weeks in their second. By 1808, this ‘sedentary army’ had reached a strength of 60,000 men.

To ensure that the manpower once available to the Habsburgs in the German provinces of the Holy Roman Empire was not entirely lost through the supineness of their rulers, ‘Confinenwerbung’ (Frontier recruitment) replaced the old ‘Reichswerbung’ (Imperial recruitment). This enabled German volunteers to join the Austrian service.

The Archduke John’s Landwehr complemented this Reserve perfectly. Charged with the defence of the ‘Habsburg soil’ and including in its remit all men capable of bearing arms, not just those between 18 and 45, it drew on the experiences of the American War of Independence. For the first time in Habsburg history, the Landwehr developed the concept of a nation in arms. Uniforms were to be worn over civilian clothes and the individual companies that made up the Landwehr were divided between localities. The Landwehr enjoyed a strong local flavour not dissimilar to the Yeomanry regiments of the British Army, which had been raised a few years earlier (without the particular social structures of the English rural population which were perhaps only echoed by the feudal arrangements of the Hungarian lands).

Four Landwehr companies comprised a Landwehr battalion, which usually trained every Sunday. Each month, training in larger formations took place. In the event of one of the Imperial frontiers being threatened, the Landwehr would muster and take an oath of loyalty in front of the local commanding general of the area. As the Landwehr recruited locally, many middle-class professionals were automatically drawn to its commissioned and non-commissioned officer ranks. Those who had never wished to bear arms – teachers, professors, doctors and lawyers – were turned by the Archduke John into patriotic and well-drilled defenders of the dynasty. Only in Galicia and the Bukowina was the Landwehr not introduced, because the local population was still considered politically unreliable, due to the painful partition of Poland some fifteen years earlier. Elsewhere, the Landwehr slowly became a regular feature of the Imperial military landscape and would rise to the occasion in 1809 with singular heroism, bearing out John’s faith in the middle class he so greatly preferred to the aristocracy, whom he viewed as lethargic and gripped by a ‘longing for distraction’ (Zerstreuungssucht).

The creation of the Landwehr and its elevation to a well-trained force was an ambitious project which could not easily be perfected in the few years of peace between Austerlitz and the next round of hostilities. John was given the rank of Landwehrinspektor for Inner Austria (Styria, Carinthia and Carniola). He immediately set about imbuing the troops there with his ideals of a democratic defence of the regions along Spanish lines. From the summer of 1808, the uprisings of the Spanish militia and their successes had illuminated the Austrian military horizon like flashes of inspired lightning. But discipline in these newly formed units was still far from rock solid at home by the time hostilities began. Petrie notes how some units of the Landwehr had staged bayonet attacks against their officers and how two regiments refused to march at all.

As the news of these formations spread, Napoleon began to realise that Austria planned to challenge him yet again. In 1808 he had accepted assurances from Vienna that the Landwehr was not an aggressive force but in January 1809, while at Valladolid, he decided to leave Marshal Soult to pursue the defeated British from Corunna. By returning to Paris Napoleon hoped to discover in more detail the significance of the disquieting rumours reaching him from Vienna.

As the fateful year of 1809 began, war became increasingly certain. In March, the Archduke Charles hastily ordered the establishment of volunteer battalions. Thousands flocked to the Habsburg colours. In Bohemia alone, 6,000 men rushed to join the newly formed Legion Erzherzog Karl. In Vienna, six battalions of volunteers were recruited, mostly from among middle-class professionals. They would put up a formidable fight against some of Napoleon’s best troops.

Perhaps most important of all, the Archduke adopted a ‘corps’ system of army organisation which would be a key factor in the improved Austrian performance in the campaigns of 1809.

Mobility increased: The new Jaeger Corps and artillery reform

These developments were complemented by a strengthening of the Empire’s light infantry capabilities. In 1804 a ‘Jaegerregiment’ had been established from the different light infantry formations that had fought since the First Coalition War. This had been increased to become a ‘Jaeger Korps’, inspiring the Archduke Charles to establish eight full battalions of Jaeger by 1808. Crack elite troops drawn from the Alpine valleys and forests, these were soldiers noted for their strong mental and physical qualities, but their elevation reflected other political considerations.

The proven quality of Austrian Alpine troops had led to the Tyrolean ‘Landmiliz’ being established from the remnants of the century-old Tyrolean ‘Verteidigungsmiliz’ or defence militia. Though Tyrol was now nominally part of Bavaria, the Tyroleans secretly organised themselves with little encouragement into a formidable irregular force of some 20,000 insurgents ready to strike as soon as Vienna gave the word. The incorporation of all these Alpine units into the coming campaign imparted something new to the army the Archduke Charles was creating: these forces would be the Habsburgs’ first ever Volksheer (People’s army).

These developments were only part of the process of bringing the Imperial forces into the new century. They were accompanied by equally significant reforms in drill and tactics. Artillery was reorganised into a distinct and wholly independent tactical unit. The Archduke abolished the old reliance on tactical lines of batteries supporting infantry in favour of more mobile formations, drawing on the experience of Napoleon’s more inventive use of artillery. The brigade artillery was divided into batteries of eight guns while horse-artillery batteries would comprise smaller, more agile units of four guns and two howitzers, The so-called static artillery (Positionsbatterien) would be made up of four heavy guns and four howitzers. Garrison artillery was divided into fourteen districts to reduce the century-old exclusive dependence on Bohemia.

The Archduke John was appointed commandant of engineers and, in the short time available, he established a strong line of defensive forts along the French model. One of these, Komorn on the Danube, was fortified under Chasteler and would serve Austria well in the coming campaign.

Similar reforms awaited the infantry. Although the grenadier battalions were still denied regimental status, they were now formally grouped on a permanent basis into a ‘Grenadier Korps’, which was to serve as a tactical reserve directly under the command of the FZM or FM of any campaign (Feldzeugmeister or Feldmarschall).

In addition to the Grenadier Korps, the infantry now comprised 63 line regiments, one Jaeger regiment of eight battalions and 17 Grenz regiments (including the Czaikistenbattalion: boat crews on the Banat Military Frontier). Each regiment comprised five battalions, each of these made up of four companies. Cavalry was divided into eight Cuirassier, six Dragoon, six Chevauxleger, 12 Hussar and three Lancer regiments, each of eight squadrons. This gave a slight preponderance to light over heavy shock cavalry and again emphasised the need for greater mobility in the arm.

The new ‘Generalgeniedirektor’, the Archduke John, reorganised the structure of the Engineer corps, which was commanded by 145 officers, of whom nine were of general rank to reflect the corp’s importance. A Mineurkorps and Pontonier battalion (sappers) of six companies were also placed under Archduke John’s control.

Overhaul of staff and the Hofkriegsrat: New tactics: the Mass

After the fiasco of Weyrother’s staff work at Austerlitz, the Archduke Charles ordered a total overhaul of the Austrian staff system. The Generalquartiermeisterstab (General Quartermaster Staff) was organised into a logistics staff comprising one general, 24 staff and 36 senior officers. Military transport was divided into divisions based on the regional capitals.

No less important was the overhaul of the venerable Aulic Council or Hofkriegsrat whose lack of support Charles had so often experienced in the previous five years. This institution was now split into four subdivisions with responsibility for: (1) military affairs; (2) political-economic issues; (3) artillery and engineering issues; and (4) judicial and legal matters. (Subdivisions 1 and 2 were the critical parts of the Council because they dealt with the issues of uniforms, training, recruitment and equipment.)

Charles was formally placed above the Council so that the chain of command was entirely unambiguous. At the same time the forces of the Empire were divided into corps formations which, in 1808, were assigned to the individual crown lands. Each corps had its own internal organisational structure, General Staff, artillery commander and quartermaster so that in the event of hostilities it could operate completely independently of any other military unit.

Changes were introduced to enable weapons drill to become simpler. On 1 September 1807, the new Reglement for infantry was introduced. Besides simplifying certain parts of musket drill, it reinforced marksmanship skills significantly. Every infantryman in the Austrian army now had to hit a certain number of targets, shooting from a distance of 300 paces, if he was to continue to serve. Fire discipline and formation drill were also strongly emphasised in training. A new quick-pace drill (120 paces a minute) was introduced to speed up movement and reactions. At the same time more complicated drills such as firing while marching in oblique formation, a relic of the Frederician wars, were dropped.

In their place came some of the Archduke’s own ideas of tactical formation, which his military theorising had evolved after careful study of Napoleonic techniques. Notable among these was the ‘Mass’, a formation that drew infantry into flexible lines, capable of withstanding (even in theory on occasions charging!) cavalry and column attack. The ‘Mass’ in its novel use of company front and support lines became a hallmark of the 1809 Austrian infantry tactics and generally served them well.

The 1806–7 regulations also humanised discipline: ‘All forms of maltreatment and heavy-handedness in the drilling of a soldier are firmly forbidden. Brutality is usually the evidence of some lack of knowledge and destroys that self-respect which must be at the very heart of a soldier.’

To save money, the expensive classical helmet that virtually every unit of the Austrian army wore was to be replaced by a cheaper black felt shako. By 1809, not all of the Hungarian infantry regiments had been equipped with these, so Austria went to war against Napoleon more or less attired as she had been at Austerlitz, though with an army which had digested many useful lessons in the art of war.

In the whirlwind of reforms, the Archduke Charles left no stone unturned: new cadet companies were established in Olmütz and Graz while the Wiener Neustadt Academy was reorganised to lengthen the time of study to eight years. Everywhere the Archduke did his utmost to ensure that, when it came to the next measuring of swords with Napoleon, the Austrians would be in better shape. It was a desperate race against time.

Another two years, perhaps even another eighteen months, and most of these reforms would certainly have borne fruit. However, fate dictated that Austria would wage war once again against the Archduke’s wishes and before she was ready. But that the campaign of 1809 was fought with such glory for Austrian arms is entirely due to the Archduke Charles. Europe stood at Napoleon’s feet; only the insurgency in parts of Spain and the refusal of London to treat prevented him dominating the entire Continent. With Prussia vanquished and Russia pacified, Austria was under no illusions that she stood alone. Neither England nor Spain could offer her a single soldier or gun. Prussia, broken and dismembered, with her armies ruined, could barely offer moral support, and when some officers urged support for the Austrians, their spineless and weak King would have none of it. England, her treasury at a low ebb, offered diversions but none of these came to pass until long after the campaign on the Danube was over.

Frederick the Great and War I

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When Friedrich II, later called the Great, came to the throne of Prussia in 1740, he inherited a realm both physically and in population a little larger than Portugal, but sprawled all across northeast Germany in little packages, and without any natural barriers to serve as points d’appui for fortresses. An unfortunate heritage of the Thirty Years’ War was the fact that the armies of both sides had marched very much where they pleased, regardless of neutralities, except in those few cases where the neutral had an armed force of his own big enough to insure respect. Johann Georg of Saxony was such a neutral until the Emperor Ferdinand forced him to choose sides; Georg Wilhelm of Brandenburg tried to be such a neutral and found he lacked the means. The lesson was not lost on the strong and imperious Hohenzollerns who followed him and turned the Electorate of Brandenburg into the Kingdom of Prussia, and most especially not on Friedrich II’s father, Friedrich Wilhelm I, not the least strong or imperious of that remarkable line. In addition, Friedrich Wilhelm was a kind of military connoisseur. In his younger days he had personally fought under Marlborough and Eugene at Malplaquet, and had fully accepted the opinion that one of the leading concerns of a royal personage was war.

There were no wars any more, but Friedrich Wilhelm behaved as though he expected one tomorrow morning. A series of financial and administrative economies, including the maintenance of his own court on a scale hardly more elaborate than that of a country gentleman, gave him one of the fattest treasuries of Europe from one of its poorest countries. He used the money to equip an army of 80,000, almost as large as the imperial forces, and equal to 4 per cent of Prussia’s population. In spite of a conscription system and the duty laid on males of noble families to serve in the officer corps from childhood up, little Prussia simply could not furnish that many men. Friedrich Wilhelm’s recruiting agents cruised through the whole of Europe in search of what they wanted, and when the candidates did not come willingly, they were kidnaped. This was especially true of very tall men; in one of those evolutionary specializations that made the head of triceratops almost too heavy to carry, the king devoted vast effort to assembling a regiment of giants for his personal guard. His people even sandbagged and carried off an exceptionally tall Italian priest while he was saying Mass.

The armies of the age of the balance of power were the product of a sharply stratified society, seeking everywhere to improve its productive mechanism. Even in soldier-hungry Prussia the fact that a man was an artisan or a trader exempted him from military service. It was the business of the middle class to pay taxes to support the armies, and the men who made them up were drawn from the lower levels–peasants, vagabonds, the tradeless. As a result, discipline everywhere was of the severest sort; but this severity was carried further under Friedrich Wilhelm than anywhere else in Europe. Flogging through the line was the usual punishment for talking back to an officer; a man who struck his superior was simply shot out of hand without trial. With this discipline went unceasing drill in the Prussian army, day in and day out, till the men moved like machines, on reflex and without even thinking.

Also there went with it a reduction in the number of movements required to load and fire a musket, and a new type of iron ramrod, introduced by Friedrich Wilhelm’s friend and officer, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau. In other armies the ramrods were wood.

The rest of Europe regarded these antics with amusement; the regiment of giants was funny, and an army that drilled all the time but never did any fighting was an agreeable royal idiosyncrasy, like a collection of cameos, and about as useful. Indeed, an official report to the Holy Roman emperor said that the Prussian soldiers had been flogged so much that they would infallibly desert at the first fire.

But on October 20, 1740, the Holy Roman emperor died.

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King Friedrich II was twenty-seven at the time of his accession, known for his liberalizing tendencies, his addiction to the arts and sciences, and what was generally considered to be a levity of temper. He abolished torture, proclaimed the freedom of the press and absolute religious toleration, and began writing all over Europe to tempt Voltaire, Maupertuis, anyone with a reputation, to come to Berlin and help set up an academy. He discontinued the regiment of giants, gave orders that in view of a prospective poor harvest the army magazines should be opened and grain sold at low rates. European editorial opinion was that he would reduce the army and maintain one of those German courts shining with reflected French cultural glitter.

All this was before the death of the emperor, Charles VI. He had produced only daughters, but before his death he spent a great deal of time and effort hurrying about Europe to get everybody to sign a document called the Pragmatic Sanction, guaranteeing the Hapsburg succession to the eldest girl, Maria Theresa, who was married to Francis, titular Duke of Lorraine. Everybody did sign, probably most of them with mental reservations, for there were two women with better hereditary claims, the daughters of Charles’ elder brother, Joseph. One was the wife of Charles Albert, Elector of Bavaria, and the Wittelsbach house had never abandoned its hope of becoming imperial; the other was the wife of Augustus, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, who did not want the whole heritage, but only a part of it. Spain and Sardinia also had claims of a vague sort; and in the background there was always France, ready to promote anything that would keep the empire weak and divided.

These complications added up to the fact that the Hapsburg empire, made up of a collection of possessions under varying rules of inheritance, was surrounded by expanding states, which saw an opportunity to chip off pieces. But the balance of power and the futility of war to attain decisions had become so well established that nobody did anything practical about it until December 16, two months after Charles VI’s death.

On that date Friedrich marched across the border of the duchy of Silesia at the head of 30,000 men, claiming it as his own.

Legally the claim was of the flimsiest sort. It was rested on a document of 1537, in which the Duke of Liegnitz and the then Markgraf of Brandenburg mutually agreed that if the male heirs of either line ran out the other should inherit. Actually, as everyone recognized at the time, it was a straight case of expanding state, and, moreover, expansion by war. The effect was a transvaluation of values, not instantaneously, but as soon as Friedrich had demonstrated that something important could be accomplished by such means.

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The demonstration was furnished at Mollwitz on 10 April, 1741, on a field blanketed with snow. Friedrich had been masking and besieging fortresses throughout Silesia and his strategy left a great deal to be desired, but he managed to get some 20,000 men to Mollwitz to oppose an approximately equal number of Austrians under Marshal Neipperg. There were several peculiarities about that battle. Although the total forces were nearly equal, the Austrian cavalry outnumbered the Prussian slightly more than two to one, which meant that Austria was similarly deficient in infantry; and the Prussians had sixty field guns against eighteen. King Friedrich, in imitation of Gustavus, took his station with the cavalry of the right wing. In the deployment there was not quite enough room for all the infantry on that wing, so that some of it had to be drawn back at an angle, en potence; and the ground was such that this wing was much forward, nearer the enemy.

The battle was opened by the guns; they galled the horse of the Austrian left so sore that these charged without orders and carried the Prussian cavalry right away–including the king, who took no further part in the proceedings that day. But when the Austrians tried to finish things by turning in on the infantary flank, they found themselves up against something much tougher than they could have imagined. Friedrich Wilhelm’s foot, drilled to the likeness of machines, did not break, but stood in their ranks and shot the horsemen down. Five times Austria tried against that angle of the Prussian right wing, five times the cavalry went back; at the last charge broken, just as the infantry lines came into contact. The battalions en potence swung forward, they overlapped the Austrian left, and with the mechanical Prussians firing five shots with their iron ramrods for every two of their opponents, with the overplus of Prussian artillery cutting holes in the Austrian front, Neipperg’s men could not stand it. They melted away into a wintry twilight, their line collapsing from left to right.

Mollwitz decided Silesia for the time being, and also made in Europe a noise almost as loud as Breitenfeld, for it was the defeat of a mighty empire by a power almost as little regarded as Sicily. The required demonstration was furnished; namely, that the military strength of a state is not necessarily proportionate to its size, and that it was still possible to accomplish something by military means. Forthwith, Charles Albert of Bavaria claimed the whole imperial heritage, Augustus of Saxony-Poland claimed part of it, and their alliance was backed by France with force of arms. This made it practically obligatory for England, already locked with France in a struggle for overseas dominion, to support Austria, and the War of the Austrian Succession began.

But these were only the publicly, immediately decisive events that flowed from Mollwitz. The privately decisive matters, which became the more important in the long run, were that Friedrich, who deserves to rank as a great man, if only because he learned something from every blunder and accident with humility unequaled in history, meditated long and hard over what happened in battle. His infantry had withstood the best cavalry in Europe; very well, infantry trained in the school of Friedrich Wilhelm could turn back any cavalry. His Marshal Schwerin had urged him to leave the field after the first cavalry charge, and then won the battle; very well, he would never leave a battlefield again and Schwerin was in disfavor. Most important of all was the train of accidents that resulted in a heavily weighted Prussian right wing striking the Austrian left at an oblique angle. Friedrich studied military history very hard and had the memory of an elephant; it reminded him of Epaminondas of Thebes, and he never forgot it.

 

Frederick the Great and War II

If you had spoken to an expanding-state dignitary about anything like consent of the governed or plebiscites, he would have thought you out of your mind; but the million or more Silesians conquered by Friedrich at Mollwitz or in the sieges were well content to be Prussian. They were predominantly Protestant, and the Austrian Catholic officials, while not actually oppressing them, made things difficult. Moreover, Prussian administration was more efficient than Austrian; more precise, with a better sense of essential justice. Friedrich had not only made a conquest, he had secured the reconciliation of the conquered.

But there was one person who would never be reconciled to Prussia in Silesia, and that was Maria Theresa, empress and queen. She regarded Friedrich as the most wicked and dangerous man in Europe, and she said so; a reaction not merely of personal pique, but of an underlying sense that his success threatened the whole system of which she formed a part. This opinion was implemented through a long series of diplomatic and military maneuvers. In 1742, at the urging of her British friends, Maria Theresa signed a peace which turned out to be an armistice. It gave Friedrich his Silesia and allowed her to turn on the Bavarians and French. In 1743 the French were disastrously defeated in Bohemia and on the Rhine; Bavaria fell entirely into Austrian hands and Friedrich re-entered the war as the ally of France, more or less to keep the revived Hapsburg power from being turned on him alone. In 1744 he invaded Bohemia and captured Prague, but got himself maneuvered out by attacks on his communications. In 1745 the Austrians, now with Saxony as an ally, counterinvaded Silesia and were well beaten at Hohenfriedberg and Sohr, so that the peace finally signed only confirmed the verdict of Mollwitz.

In every series of campaigns certain features establish themselves on a semi-permanent basis as part of the frame of reference. In the War of the Austrian Succession one of these features was the operations of the Hungarian irregular light cavalry, pandours, who hung in clouds across the front and flanks of every Austrian army. They were barbarians who used to bum towns, raid camps, and cut the wounded to pieces when they found them, but they made communications a problem for every army opposing the Austrian, and they forced the king to fight for his intelligence of enemy movements. As a result he developed his own cavalry service on lines parallel to those given the infantry by Friedrich Wilhelm–careful training, perfect co-ordination, precision of movement–and reared up a group of remarkable cavalry officers, Ziethen, Seydlitz, Rothenbourg. This was not so much a true light cavalry, like the pandours, but an instrument for combat intelligence and battle purposes, and it was the first of its kind.

The infantry did not need improving, only an intensification of its previous status. Friedrich had discovered that his foot could not only fire twice as fast as its opponents, but also that it could maneuver much faster, and on this he based a new system of minor tactics. The infantry was to fire a platoon volley, advance four paces behind the smoke while reloading for the next volley and, when close enough to the bullet-racked enemy line, fall on with the bayonet.

In major tactics every one of his big battles of the war–Chotusitz, Hohenfriedberg, Sohr–was a deliberate repetition of the accident of Mollwitz. In each Friedrich pushed forward a heavily loaded right wing, took the enemy at the oblique, and rolled up his line. There were variations in the individual case, but this was the basic pattern, and it was noted beyond the borders of Prussia.

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This was the military background for the next act. Part of the political background was furnished by the fact that, having obtained what he wanted, Friedrich was opposed to war. “We must get rid of it as a doctor does of a fever.” But there was now on the imperial side Wenzel Anton, Graf von Kaunitz, counselor to Maria Theresa. She had been rather reluctantly willing to accept Bavaria in compensation for the loss of Silesia, but the peace that ended the general war gave her neither, and though her husband secured election as emperor, there remained in her an inextinguishable fund of bitterness against the robber who had taken her province.

Wenzel Anton (who exercised by riding in a hall to avoid fresh air and kept dozens of kittens, which he gave away as soon as they became cats) exploited this bitterness, and he exploited it in the name of the balance of power. He argued that the presence of a new great power in north Germany–and with her army and accession of territory, no one could doubt that Prussia had become one–had deprived Austria of her proper place in Europe and freedom of action. If she was ever to recover either, if the French influence which had become so predominant in Europe through Friedrich was ever to be allayed, Prussia must be destroyed. Austria’s traditional alliance was with the sea powers, England and Holland; but it was hopeless to expect these Protestant nations to support an enterprise against Protestant Prussia. The true line of Austrian policy was therefore in forming an alliance with France and Russia, the former of whom could be repaid in the Netherlands and Italy, and the latter in East Prussia, none of which lands were really part of the empire.

Thus Kaunitz to the empress. It was not hard to talk Russia into the combination, for Russia was perpetually ambitious and, for quite personal reasons, the Russian Empress Elizabeth had conceived a deep dislike for Friedrich. France and some of the lesser states–Sweden, Saxony–came harder, but Kaunitz was a diplomat of almost uncanny skill, who had a goodie for everybody. Also he was aided by the underlying feeling he used with the empress, more a sensation than a statable idea, that the balance of power had been overthrown by the expanding Prussian state, and there was no security for anyone unless this tendency was ruthlessly punished. France signed; and England promptly allied herself with Friedrich–the sea power to furnish money, the Prussians troops for the protection of King George’s Hannover.

These were the roots of the Seven Years’ War, the first of the true world wars, itself decisive in more than one way, but whose importance is often hidden beneath the overlays of later struggles.

The actual fighting began in August 1756, when Friedrich invaded Saxony without a declaration of war, occupied Dresden, and shut up the Saxon army in an entrenched camp at Pirna. His espionage service was exceptionally good; he had a man named Menzel in the Saxon chancellery who, incidentally, was discovered and spent the remaining eighteen years of his life in irons in prison growing a fine crop of hair. Friedrich published the documents Menzel furnished as a justification for his aggression against Saxony. Not that it did much good, since the adroit Kaunitz instantly summoned the Diet of the empire and persuaded all the smaller states to send contingents to an imperial army, which made part of the half million men who began to flow in for the demolition of Prussia.

Friedrich’s aggression succeeded in its first object. Saxony was knocked out, and what was left of its enlisted troops was offered the choice of serving under Friedrich henceforth or going to prison. Friedrich invaded Bohemia for a second time, won a battle under the walls of Prague, threw a blockade around the town and pressed southward until he encountered an army twice the size of his own under Marshal Leopold Josef Daun at Kolin on June 18, 1757.

This officer was probably the best commander Friedrich ever faced. His plan was the same as that of the usual Austrian leader–draw up and await attack, since he lacked the mobility to compete with the Prussians in maneuver. But he chose his position very well, the left on a high wooded ridge, center running across little knolls and swampy pools, and right resting on another hill, with an oakwood on it and a marshy stream running past. Daun was in three lines instead of the usual two; all across the front, in reeds, woods, and tall grass, he scattered quantities of Croat irregular sharpshooters. Friedrich judged the Austrian left unassailable and angled to his own left to make an oblique attack on that wing, with each of what we would call his brigades to follow on in turn, swinging rightward when they reached position to sweep out Daun’s line. The leading formation, Hülsen’s, did break through the extreme flank and drove back the first two Austrian lines; but those that followed had to cross Daun’s front, with the fire from the Croats coming into their flank. One group halted and faced round to drive off these tormentors by firing a few volleys, and the brigade immediately behind, believing that the battle plan had been changed, also faced round and went into action.

That is, they had begun too soon, and in somewhat the wrong place. This should not have been fatal, for Friedrich had a strong column under Prince Moritz of Dessau coming up to form the link between Hülsen and the groups prematurely engaged. But Friedrich chose this moment to lose his temper and order Moritz in at once, using a form of words that caused him also to make contact too soon. The consequence was that Hülsen was isolated. The Austrians counter attacked him, completely broke up his formation, turned in on the flank of the remainder of the Prussian line, and drove Friedrich from the field with 13,000 lost out of 33,000 men.

The allies now thought they had him and began to shoot columns at him from all directions. The Prince of Hildburghausen with the army of the empire, and Marshal Soubise with the French, together 63,000 strong, drove toward Saxony; 17,000 Swedes landed in Pomerania; 80,000 Russians moved in from their side, and Charles of Lorraine, with his own and Daun’s troops, over 100,000, marched on Silesia from the south.

That summer there was fighting all around the circle, with Prussia slowly going down. The Swedes were incompetently led, accomplished nothing against the detachment that faced them, but they still forced Friedrich to make that detachment. The Russians beat a third of their number of Prussians in a battle, but their supply organization broke down, the machine ground to a halt just when it might have taken Berlin, and a large part of the army melted away in desertions. The Austrians, as might be expected, made a war of sieges, but it took 41,000 men to keep them from overrunning everything, and Friedrich could gather barely 22,000 men to meet the incursion of Soubise and Hildburghausen into Saxony.

There was some maneuvering west of the Saale before the two armies faced each other at Rossbach, Friedrich’s at the western terminus of a sausage-shaped complex of low eminences, with the Janus and Polzen hills at his rear. The Austrians were moving in Friedrich’s strategic rear, and however slowly they advanced, he was required to do something. He was proposing to attack the enemy camp, a rather desperate undertaking in a completely open plain dotted with villages, when on November 5 they saved him the trouble.

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Soubise and Hildburghausen had been reading, and from their documents they learned that the King of Prussia won battles by throwing his full strength against the enemy’s left flank. Now they decided to outdo him by hurling their whole army quite around his left and rear to take the hills there and cut his communications. They formed with their cavalry in the vanguard, the infantry in three columns behind, and began a wide sweep around the Prussian left through the village of Pettstädt, with their trumpets blowing.

There were only three defects in this plan. One was that the plain was completely open, and Friedrich had an officer on the roof of the highest building in Rossbach who could observe every move; the second was that the tracks were both sandy and muddy, and the march slow; and the third was that the moving column, in some witless idea of gaining surprise, threw out no scouts or cavalry screen. When word was brought to the king that the enemy had swung through Pettstädt, he calmly finished his dinner, then at the double-quick took up an entirely new disposition. Seydlitz, with all the cavalry, was posted out of sight behind the Polzen hill, with a couple of hussars as pickets atop; the artillery on the reverse slope of Janus, only the muzzles projecting; the infantry behind the guns, most of them rightward. The beginning of the movement and the apparent disappearance of the Prussian force were observed from the allied army; they assumed that Friedrich was retreating, and ordered hurry to catch him.

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As they sped up, at three-thirty in the afternoon, Seydlitz came over Polzen Hill with 4,000 cavalry, “compact as a wall and with incredible speed.” He hit the allied horse vanguard in flank and undeployed; rode right through them, overturned them utterly, and drove what was left from the field. Seydlitz followed till the rout was complete; then sounded a recall and formed in a dip of ground at Tagweben, behind the enemy right rear. The moment their field of fire was cleared the Prussian guns opened on the hapless allied columns, tearing down whole ranks, and as they strove to deploy, Friedrich’s infantry came over Janus Hill, all in line and firing like clockwork. As the writhing columns tried to fall back, tried to get their rear battalions in formation, Seydlitz came out of his hollow and charged them from the rear. It was one of the briefest great battles of record; by four-thirty the allied army was a panic-stricken mob, having lost 3,000 killed and wounded, 5,000 prisoners, and sixty-seven guns. The Prussian losses were 541.

Worst of all for the allies, what was left of their army was so broken that it could never be assembled again. Rossbach was decisive in the sense that it took France out of the war against Friedrich; he had no more fighting to do against the French except by deputy in Hannover. He had cracked the circle of enemies; and he had also achieved a focus for German nationalism and assured the support of England. After the battle Parliament increased his subsidy almost tenfold.

But there was still almost too much for any one man and any one army to do. While Friedrich was eliminating the imperial and French armies from the war, Austria had slowly rolled up all of southern Silesia, beaten the Prussian forces there in battle, and taken Breslau and Schweidnitz, with their huge, carefully assembled magazines. Friedrich turned over command of the beaten army to Ziethen, a thick-lipped ugly little man; picked up his forces at Parchwitz, and hurried forward to offer the Austrians battle.

He now had 36,000 men and 167 guns, of which one big battery was superheavy pieces brought from the fortress of Glogau. Prince Charles and Daun had nearly 80,000. The latter had expected winter quarters, but the news of Friedrich’s approach drew him out of Breslau into a position in double line. The right was under General Lucchesi, resting on the village of Nippern, behind a wood and some bogs, the center at Leuthen village, the left on Sagschütz. The tips of both wings were somewhat drawn back, and General Nadasti, who commanded the left, covered his position with abbates. Forward in the village of Borne was a cavalry detachment under the Saxon General Nostitz, but most of the cavalry were in reserve behind the center.

It may have been that Friedrich had some doubts about the morale of the beaten army Ziethen now commanded; if so, they were dispelled on the freezing dark night of December 4, when he rode through the camp and all the soldiers hailed him with, “Good night, Fritz.” He assembled his generals and told them that what he intended to do was against all the rules of war, but he was going to beat the enemy “or perish before his batteries,” then gave orders for an advance at dawn.

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It struck Nostitz and his detachment through a light mist. Ziethen charged the Saxons furiously, front and flank, made most of the men prisoners, and drove the rest in on Lucchesi’s wing. There was a halt while the mist burned away and Friedrich surveyed the hostile line. He knew the area well, having maneuvered there frequently; rightward from Borne there was a fold of ground that would conceal movement, and he immediately planned to do what the allies had attempted on him at Rossbach–throw his entire army on the enemy left wing. As a preliminary, the cavalry of the vanguard were put in to follow up the Nostitz wreck in the opposite direction. This feint worked; Lucchesi, who like Soubise and Hildburghausen, knew of Friedrich’s penchant for flank attacks, imagined he was about to receive a heavy one and appealed for reinforcement. Prince Charles sent him the reserve cavalry from the center and some of that from the left.

But the storm died down there, and to Charles and Daun, standing near the center, it seemed that this must have been a flurry to cover the retreat of inferior force, for Friedrich’s army had passed out of sight. “The Prussians are packing off,” remarked Daun. “Don’t disturb them!” There is no record of his further conversation down to the moment a little after noon, when Friedrich’s head of column poked its nose from behind the fold of ground and the whole array of horse, foot, and artillery did a left wheel and came rolling down on Nadasti’s flank at an angle of maybe 75 degrees.

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Nadasti, a reasonably good battle captain, charged in at once with what cavalry he had, and succeeded in throwing Ziethen back, but came up against infantry behind, and was badly broken. One can picture the hurry, confusion, and shouting as his whole wing, taken in enfilade by the Prussian volleys, went to pieces. But there were so many of these Austrians that they began to build up a defense around the mills and ditches of Leuthen, and especially its churchyard, which had stone walls. Prince Charles fed in battalions as fast as he could draw them from any point whatever; in places the Austrians were twenty ranks deep, and the fighting was very furious. The new line was almost at right angles to the old and badly bunched at the center, but still a line, heavily manned and pretty solid.

Friedrich had to put in his last infantry reserves, and even so was held. But he got his superheavy guns onto the rise that had concealed his first movement, they enfiladed the new Austrian right wing and it began to go. At this juncture Lucchesi reached the spot from his former station. He saw that the Prussian infantry left was bare and ordered a charge. But Friedrich had foreseen exactly this. The cavalry of his own left wing, under General Driesen, was concealed behind the heavy battery, and as Lucchesi came forward at the trot, he was charged front, flank, and rear, all at once. It was like Seydlitz’s charge at Rossbach; Lucchesi himself was killed and his men scattered as though by some kind of human explosion, while Driesen wheeled in on the Austrian infantry flank and rear around Leuthen. Under the December twilight what was left of them were running.