Minden 1759 II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Antisubmarine War WWI – Mediterranean 1916-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Koprulu and Vienna II

Battle of Vienna 1683

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Austrian Army circa 1800 Part I

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

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

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

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

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INFANTRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Austrian Army circa 1800 Part II

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ARTILLERY

The Austrian artillery of our period was a creation of the Lichtenstein system of the 1750s. Known for its economy and standardization of equipment, this system of guns and equipment would remain in use until 1850. The system produced a series of 3,6, 12 and 18pdr calibre guns, together with 7 and 10pdr howitzers, based around standardized carriage and wheel designs. In the 1780s more mobile cavalry artillery guns were added with their Wurst seats, on which sat most of the crew. Heavier 12, 18 and 24pdrs were divided into two types: Batterie Geschiitz (siege guns) and Verteidigungs Geschiitz (defence artillery).

The artillery was a single force within the army under the Director General of Artillery. From 1772 it was organized into the Feldartillerie (field artillery), the Garnisonsamt (garrison force) and the Feldzeugamt (administrative organization with responsibilities across the artillery service). The field artillery was mustered in three regiments (increased to four in 1802), each comprising four battalions that subdivided into four companies, expanded to a total of 22 in wartime (18 for the Wars of Liberation). In 1805 an artillery company was composed of 4 officers, 14 NCOs, 159 gunners and 5 others.

By 1790, Austria’s artillery was considered the best in Europe, primarily because of its technical specialists, the bombardiers. No other army possessed similar artillery personnel. Prince Lichtenstein had established a specialist Artillery Korps school near Budweis (Bohemia) in I 744, which also included depots and laboratories. Officers together with able NCOs and gunners were instructed in both the theoretical and practical aspects of artillery subjects. After a move to the Artillerielyceum in Vienna in 1778, the Bombardier Regiment was established as the elite of the artillery in 1786, when its home was renamed the Bombardier Korps school. The Korps was composed of four companies, expanded to five in 1802. The bombardier companies were commanded by the lecturers and comprised 1 Hauptmann, 3 Leutnants, 24 Oberfeuerwerker, 36 Feuerwerker, 6 Kadetts and 108 Bombardiers.

This unit was the main training school for the NCOs and officers, drawing on the most intelligent and able recruits, who were trained for up to seven years in a mix of advanced academic and military subjects. Winter work focused on theory, summer on practical exercises. They would join military exercises and perform garrison duties. The first five years focused on arithmetic, geometry, two years of advanced maths, mechanics and ballistics. Throughout, they undertook the same general artillery training as gunners, with additional classes in geometric drawing, topography and surveying, fortress warfare, tactics, logistics, staff and adjutant work. After five years, most were appointed as Feuerwerkers or Korporals and joined the regiments, particularly the howitzer crews. The best candidates were promoted to Oberfeuerwerker and stayed for a further two years, focusing on physics and finally, chemistry and technology, after which they would join the regiments. Most would be commissioned within an additional four years.

Gunners were paid one-third more than the equivalent ranks in the infantry and this, together with the humane conditions prescribed by the 1757 regulations, enabled the artillery to recruit freely amongst the more intelligent men in the rest of the army and to seek civilian volunteers, especially skilled tradesmen, across the Austrian Empire. Volunteers, who had to be Imperial subjects, were chosen for their self-reliance and decisiveness, alongside the ability to absorb the technical details of the arm. The training and knowledge required meant that service was for life, reduced to 14 years under the 1802 reforms.

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CAVALRY

The Austrian cavalry had started the French Revolutionary Wars as completely dominant over their French counterparts. By 1801, they still believed themselves to be the best horsemen in Europe, and in March 1809 there was a total of 44,490 cavalrymen and 42,791 horses in the forces of the Hapsburg Empire. By this time, however, any notions of supremacy had received a nasty shock. While the Austrians’ tactics and training remained stagnant, their French counterparts had creating cavalry that could function en masse. The majority of the Austrian cavalry was parceled out in ‘penny packets’ to the various infantry formations, which led to occasion after occasion where they would be thrown over by superior enemy numbers at the point of attack. Individually their cuirassiers, dragoons, chevauxlegers and Uhlans were still good, but coordination was all but nonexistent. The limitations in the command system employed prevented the cavalry from reaching their full, lethal potential, and successive reorganizations did little to correct the problems.

Cavalrymen were recruited in much the same way as infantrymen. They were supposed to come from the ranks of those who had already completed their infantry training, but this stipulation was largely ignored. Cavalry regiments (especially Hungarian units) were rarely short of those wanting to join their ranks. This was reflected in the bounties paid to men enlisted in the smaller south German states, which provided so much of the Austrian army’s manpower: an infantry recruit received 35 florins, whereas a cavalry recruit took only 29 – such was a clear indication of the preference for the mounted arm amongst the mass of potential recruits.

The rank system used in the cavalry was much like that of the infantry, and as in the infantry the quality of the officer corps was critical to the efficacy of the regiment. Such was apparent in the 1806 regulations, which claimed that poor-quality soldiers with good officers had a combat superiority over well-trained soldiers with poor officers. Yet finding fine officers amongst a higher command influenced by nepotism and politics was no easy business. Many commanders went into battle lacking experience of active service. As Archduke Charles reported from the Netherlands in 1794, so dissatisfied with their commanders were the officers of the Kinsky Chevaux-legers that ‘they have sworn that the first such gentleman who delivers an order to attack will be forced to take part in the charge’ As with the infantry, the Inhaber (colonel-proprietor) had an unusual amount of control over the regiment, dictating everything from general orders through to who received a regimental commission. Each regiment actually bore the name of its Inhaber, meaning that there was a regimental name change with the appointment of a new commander.

Again as with the infantry, there were distinct differences between those regiments formed in ‘German’ and ‘Hungarian’ areas of the empire; the former included all non ‘Hungarians’ such as Walloons and Italians, and the latter Croatians, Slovenians and Transylvanians. Hungarian cavalry were all hussars, and therefore acted as the light cavalry. The other ‘German’ cavalry regiments provided the heavy and medium cavalry, although the chevauxlegers were classed as light cavalry but had more in common with medium dragoons. Cavalry took more time to train than infantry, and this led to little difference between peacetime and wartime establishments. A ‘Reserve Division’ was also kept active, this serving an emergency resource during times of war.

In 1792 the Austrian cavalry had numbered 40,000 troops. These men were organized as follows: two regiments of carabiniers; nine regiments of cuirassiers, six regiments of dragoons; seven regiments of chevaux-legers, one ‘Staff-Dragoon’ regiment; nine regiments of Hungarian hussars; one regiment of Skekler Grenz (border) hussars; and one regiment of Uhlans. Regiments were organized into ‘divisions’, these comprising two squadrons, with two Flügel (‘wings’) per squadron and two Zugen (platoons) each. Carabinier and cuirassier regiments had squadrons numbering around 150 men all ranks, while the medium and light cavalry regiments had 170-180. Carabinier and hussar regiments had four divisions totalling eight squadrons; the Skekler Grenz hussars had five divisions; the Uhlans had two divisions; and all other regiments had three divisions. There was also a standard-escort, which totalled 24 men in the carabiniers and hussars and 18 men in the other regiments.

In 1798 structural changes swept through the Austrian cavalry, mainly affecting the German regiments. The number of cuirassier regiments was taken up to 12, this being achieved by creating a new formation, the 12th Cuirassiers, and by converting both of the carabinier corps. Dragoons and Chevauxlegers were compressed into 15 light dragoon regiments, and the hussars were expanded to 12 regiments. An additional Uhlan regiment was created, as was a new corps of mounted Jagers (Jager Regt,. zu Pferd ‘Bussy). Also, from this date Austrian cavalry regiments were numbered consecutively across all their types.

Tilly and the evolution of tactics

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Contemporary painting showing the Battle of White Mountain (1620), where Imperial-Spanish forces under Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly won a decisive victory.

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Count Tilly on a portrait by Anthony van Dyck.

Count Jean Tserclaes Tilly (1559–1632) was another outstanding product of Jesuit training. First seeing service in Spain, the Walloon learnt the art of war from the age of 15, serving under the Duke of Parma in his war against the Dutch. In 1610, he was appointed commander of the forces of the Catholic League, established in 1609 as a loose alliance of Catholic principalities and minor states. Like Wallenstein, Tilly brought in important reforms, especially from his experience of the formidable Spanish infantry. Nicknamed the ‘monk of war’, he soon proved to be a highly capable organiser of infantry tactics, which were quickly adopted by Ferdinand’s troops.

The infantry at this stage still consisted of pikemen and musketeers. The pikemen wore armour and carried a pike, which at that time was between 15 and 18 feet long, made of ash with a sharp metal point. Their officers carried shorter pikes with coloured ribbons. The musketeers were a kind of light infantry with a light metal helmet, later replaced by a felt hat. The heavy musket they carried needed to be rested on a wooden pole with an iron fork to be fired. The ‘ammunition’ was contained variously in a bandolier, a flask of gunpowder and a brass bottle of combustible material, the so-called Zundkraut as well as a leather bag containing small metal balls. A small bottle of oil was also carried to ensure that the ‘alchemy’ required to fire the weapon functioned smoothly. This was far from straightforward. A hint of the complexity of firing this primitive musket is given by the fact that ninety-nine separate commands were needed to fire and reload the weapon.

A further forty-one commands existed for dealing with the musket at other times. As this suggests, the need to increase the rate of fire and simplify the munitions were priorities for all commanders throughout the Thirty Years War. These problems would only be solved with the advent of the Swedes, who entered the fray against the Habsburg in 1630. They had a modern solution to many of these problems: the introduction of small cartridges wrapped in paper.

The only tactical unit at this time was the company, which was deployed in a large square made up usually of between 15 and 20 companies. This formation was 50 men deep with its flanks protected by 10 rows of musketeers. Despite much practice at marching to form such elaborate formations as the so-called ‘Cross of Burgundy’ or ‘Eight-pointed Star’, it takes little imagination to realise that manoeuvring in such formations was virtually impossible. The idea of marching to a single beat of the drum had still to be widely introduced and cohesive movement was only possible by extended rank.

Where Tilly proved so successful in organising infantry tactics, Wallenstein proved no less formidable in handling cavalry. Cavalry like infantry were divided into heavy and light. The heavy cavalry were cuirassiers and lancers, both armoured down to their boots. In addition to their main weapon, lancers were also armed with a sword and two pistols, symbols of their privileged status as bodyguards to the commanders in the field. The cuirassiers carried the heavy straight sabre or ‘pallasch’, which was designed to cut as well as thrust.

The horsed ‘carabiniers’ were organised as light cavalry as their only armour was a metal helmet and a light breastplate. Equipped with a shorter musket and 18 cartridges, these horsemen also carried pistols and a short sword. The dragoons were also equipped with a short musket and were indeed originally horsed musketeers. As the barrels of their muskets were often decorated with a dragon, they became known as dragoons. Deployed as advance guard cavalry they carried an axe with which, in theory, they could batter down doors and gates.

To these conventional groupings Wallenstein added new elements. An important part of the horsed advance guard was the ‘ungrischen Hussaren’, or Hungarian hussars. Together with the Croats they formed the irregular elements of the army who could be deployed to plunder and terrorise their opponents as well as perform scouting and reconnaissance.

The origin of the term ‘hussar’ to this day is a source of debate. The word most likely stems from the Slavic Gursar or Gusar. Other theories link the word to the German Herumstreifender or Corsaren; this last with its imagery of piracy perhaps being nearer to the truth than many a Hungarian would care to admit. Famous for giving their enemies no quarter, they became the nucleus of what would become the finest light cavalry in the world.

As with the infantry, the cavalry were grouped into companies. Often these were called Cornetten and hence the title of the junior officer of each such company was ‘Cornet’. As these were formed into a square, the custom arose to call four of these companies a ‘squadron’ from the Italian quadra, meaning square. In theory every cavalry regiment consisted of ten companies each of a hundred riders but in reality no cavalry regiment had more than 500 men.

Drill of these formations was aimed at disordering infantry by charging the last 60 paces at the enemy’s pikemen or cavalry. There was to be no firing from the saddle until the cavalry could ‘see the white in the eye of the foe’ (‘Weiss im Aug des Feindt sehen thut’). Led by such Imperial officers as Gottfried Pappenheim, famous for his many wounds and refusal to be impressed by titles, or the redoubtable Johann Sporck, a giant of a man with hair like bronze, perhaps the most feared cavalry general of his time, the Imperial cavalry was trained in shock tactics relying on aggression and surprise to demoralise their opponents.

The artillery remained a strict caste apart. Each unit of artillery was in theory organised to have 24 guns of different calibre. Mortars and other guns were added to each unit. Every gun had as its team a lieutenant and eleven gunners. These were supported by the so-called Schanzbauern or Pioneers, who were organised into units as large as 300 under an officer of the rank of Captain. The unit had its own flag made of silk which displayed as its badge a shovel and its men were also skilled carpenters able to strengthen bridges, not just demolish them.

Imperialist versus rebel

Such an army for all its appearance was not in any way comparable to the armies of later years. There was no obvious way of telling one army from another. As any army advanced across the ravaged plains of Germany during the horrors of the Thirty Years War, it was accompanied by bands of irregulars, bandits and marauders, including spies and other n’er-do-wells who plundered the local landscape like locusts.

Armies learnt to distinguish each other by what would in modern parlance be called ‘call signs’. At Breitenfeld in 1631, a battle which threw into sharp relief the energy and skill of the Swedes under their king, Gustavus Adolphus, the Imperialists under Tilly shouted ‘Jesus-Maria’ as they fought while the Swedes used the phrase: ‘God with us’. As battles were fought and won, it became the custom to reward the officers and men with financial gifts. Thus after Lutzen, General Breuner was given 10,000 gulden while the brave Colloredo regiment was awarded collectively 9,200 gulden.

The names of the Imperial officers came from two sources. The aristocrats who had preferred to convert to Catholicism took full advantage of the political support Ferdinand offered them. Many of the names we encounter here for the first time will pop up again and again in our story: Khevenhueller, Trauttmannsdorff, Liechtenstein, Forgách, Eggenberg and Althan (these last two left behind them world-class works of architecture to commemorate their position and wealth: Schloss Eggenberg, on the outskirts of Graz, and Vranov – Schloss Frein – in Moravia). Then came a group whose careers were made in the long Turkish wars. These included not only Ferdinand’s enemies Thurn, Hohenlohe, Schlick and Mansfeld, but a large number of his most important military commanders from Wallenstein downwards.

By 1620, Ferdinand was ready to move on to the attack. He now had no fewer than five separate armies with which to renew the offensive. Dampierre held Vienna with 5,000 men. Bucquoy was advancing along the Wachau with 21,000; from Upper Austria, the Duke of Bavaria, Maximilian, advanced alongside Tilly with 21,000, while a Spanish army invaded the Lower Palatinate. The previously Protestant lands of Lower Austria and Upper Austria were cleared of the rebels and more than sixty Protestant noblemen fled to Retz with their families. Half of these would be proclaimed outlaws. Both provinces had been recovered for Ferdinand and the Church with barely a shot being fired.

As the armies advanced into Lusatia and Moravia, the irregular forces of the Emperor began to introduce a far more brutal and indiscriminate warfare. Plundering, rape and other atrocities became widespread, especially among the Cossacks sent by the Polish Queen who was Ferdinand’s sister. On the rebels’ side Hungarian irregulars proved no less capable of atrocities and had in Ferdinand’s own words ‘subjected the prisoners to unheard of torture …’ killing pregnant women and throwing babies on to fires. Ferdinand would later note: ‘So badly have the enemy behaved that one cannot recall whether such terror was the prerogative of the Turk.’

These acts of cruelty set the tone for much of what occurred later. On 7 November 1620 Maximilian and Tilly finally reached the outskirts of Prague where they faced the new rebel commander, Prince Christian of Anhalt, who had taken up a potentially strong defensive position exploiting the advantage of the so-called White Mountain, in reality more of a hill, a few miles to the west of Prague.

Anhalt’s forces consisted of about 20,000 men of whom half were cavalry. Some 5,000 of these were Hungarian light cavalry. His artillery consisted of only a few guns. The entrenching tools to convert his position into something more formidable never arrived. Thus was the stage set for destruction of the Bohemian rebels. The Imperial forces were superior in artillery, but more importantly in morale. The commanders were divided on what they should do next and it was only when an image of the Madonna whose eyes had been burnt out by Calvinist iconoclasts was brandished in front of Wallenstein’s ally Bucquoy that he suddenly ordered the attack.

Anhalt deployed his cavalry but they made no impact on the Imperial horsemen and they fled after an initial skirmish. The Bohemian foot followed rapidly and even the feared Moravian infantry dissolved when Tilly appeared in front of them. The Battle of the White Mountain was over by early afternoon. The Imperial forces had suffered barely 600 casualties and the rebels more than 2,000 but what turned this skirmish into a decisive victory was Tilly’s determination to keep up the momentum against a demoralised enemy. Prague, despite its fortifications, surrendered as rebel morale everywhere collapsed. Frederick joined the fugitives streaming out of the city to the east, leaving his crown behind him along with the hopes of a Protestant Europe. As the Czech historian Josef Pekař rightly observed, the Battle of the White Mountain was the clash between the German and Roman worlds and the Roman world won. Had the German world won, Bohemia would have rapidly been absorbed by Protestant Germany and Czech culture would have ceased to exist.

For Protestantism, with the departure of the Winter King and his wife into exile in Holland, the tide of history which had seemed to run in the direction of the new faith in the sixteenth century now appeared to have turned irrevocably. Increasingly perceived as divisive, unhistorical and radical, Protestantism unsettled those who feared anarchy and extremism. The population of Prague sought refuge in the old certainties and comfortable verities of the Catholic Church and within a year the Jesuits had made the city into a bulwark of the Counter-Reformation.

As Professor R.J.W. Evans has pointed out, the demoralised forces of the new faith had little reply to the intellectual and practical solutions of the Society of Jesus. Those who sought refuge in the occult and Rosicrucian view of the world were ‘qualified at best only for passive resistance to the attacks of the Counter-Reformation’.

Moreover not only did Ferdinand’s personal piety inspire his subjects through the widespread dissemination of the Virtutes Ferdinandi II penned by his Jesuit confessor Lamormaini, but the international flavour of the new orders, like Ferdinand’s army, was a powerful intellectual weapon. At the opening of the Jesuit University of Graz the inaugural addresses had been given in eighteen languages. When Ignatius Loyola had founded the Society of Jesus in 1540 he had from the beginning conceived it as a ‘military’ formation led by a ‘general’ who expected unhesitating obedience and the highest intellectual and spiritual formation among his recruits. These principles guided Ferdinand’s vision of his army. The offensive of the intellect was supported by more practical steps. In 1621, all of the ringleaders of the Bohemian rebels were executed on Ferdinand’s orders in the Old Town Square in Prague.

It was typical of Ferdinand II that while these ‘Bohemian martyrs’ were brought to the gallows, the Habsburg went on a pilgrimage to the great Marian shrine of Mariazell in his native Styria specifically to pray for their souls. In the years that followed, prayer and sword moved in perfect counterpoint for the Habsburg cause. If Ferdinand was the spearhead of spiritual revival, on the battlefield the corresponding military reawakening was to be organised by Wallenstein.

Wallenstein stood out from the newly minted nobility around Ferdinand because of his logistical skills, which he deployed with unrivalled expertise despite his physical disabilities. Plagued by gout which often forced him to be carried by litter, Wallenstein ceaselessly instructed his subordinates to organise his affairs to the last detail. Agriculture was virtually collectivised under his control to ensure that every crop and animal was nurtured efficiently to supply his armies. A fortunate second marriage to the daughter of Count Harrach, one of Ferdinand’s principal advisers, brought him yet more support at court. In April 1625, Ferdinand agreed to Wallenstein raising 6,000 horsemen and nearly 20,000 foot soldiers. Wallenstein’s force gave the Emperor freedom of manoeuvre. He now had formidable forces to counterbalance the armies of the Catholic League led by Tilly, who always showed signs of answering in the first instance to his Bavarian masters rather than to the Emperor Ferdinand.

Habsburg irregulars: the Pandours

banalist-and-pandour-freikorps-trenck-morier-1748-hmd-163-royal-collection

Bannalist and Pandour, Freikorps Trenck. By Morier, 1743.

As well as the Hungarians there came another group of volunteers: the Pandours. These brigands, often the natives of the ‘wrong side’ of the Military Frontier, followed their leader, the gifted Baron Trenck. This Trenck is not to be confused with his kinsman who was initially in the Prussian service and whose memoirs were widely read in the eighteenth century. The Austrian Trenck pledged a unit of irregulars, a Freikorps (Free Corps) numbering about 1,000 to Maria Theresa’s aid.

These irregulars were welcomed into the Imperial service even though they possessed no conventional officer corps but a system whereby each unit of fifty men obeyed a ‘Harumbascha’. All the Pandours, Harumbaschas included, were paid 6 kreutzer a day out of Trenck’s own estates, a pitiful sum. This was certainly not enough for any semblance of a uniform and their appearance was highly exotic. When they appeared in Vienna at the end of May 1741, the ‘Wienerische Diarium’ could write:

Two Battalions of regular infantry lined up to parade as the Pandours entered the city. The Irregulars greeted the regulars with long drum rolls on long Turkish drums. They bore no colours but were attired in picturesque oriental garments from which protruded pistols, knives and other weapons. The Empress ordered twelve of the tallest to be invited with their officer to her Ante-Room where they were paraded in front of the dowager Empress Christina.

Neipperg found the Pandours rather raw meat. He was unused to the ways of the Military Frontier. On several occasions while campaigning he had to remind them that they were ‘here to kill the enemy not to plunder the civilian population’. The Pandour excesses soon provoked Neipperg into attempting to replace Trenck. The man chosen for this daunting task was a Major Mentzel who had seen service in Russia and was therefore deemed to be familiar with the ‘barbaric’ ways of the Pandours. Unfortunately, some Pandours fell upon Mentzel as soon as news of his appointment was announced and the hapless Major only escaped with his life after the intervention of several senior Harumbaschas and Austrian officers.

Mentzel, notwithstanding this indignity, was formally proclaimed commander of the Pandours, whereupon a mutiny took place which only Khevenhueller, a man of the Austrian south and therefore familiar with Slavic methods, could stem by reinstating Trenck under his personal command. At both Steyr and Linz, the Pandours in their colourful dress decorated with heart-shaped badges and Turkic headdresses would distinguish themselvesagainst the Bavarians. Indeed, by the middle of 1742 the mention of their name alone was enough to clear the terrain of faint-hearted opponents. Within five years they would be incorporated into the regular army though with an order of precedence on Maria Theresa’s specific instruction ‘naturally after that of my Regular infantry regiments’. At Budweis (Budejovice) they captured ten Prussian standards and four guns.

The crisis was far from over. While Khevenhueller prepared a force to defend Vienna, the Bavarians gave the Austrian capital some respite by turning north from Upper Austria and invading Bohemia. By November, joined by French and Saxon troops, this force surprised the Prague garrison of some 3,000 men under General Ogilvy and stormed into the city largely unopposed on the night of 25 November. To deal with these new threats, Maria Theresa using Neipperg as her plenipotentiary had signed an armistice with Frederick at Klein Schnellendorf. She realised that her armies were in no condition to fight Bavarians, Saxons, French and Prussians simultaneously.

Maria Theresa received the news of Prague’s surrender with redoubled determination. In a letter to Kinsky, her Bohemian Chancellor she insisted: ‘I must have Grund and Boden and to this end I shall have all my armies, all my Hungarians killed off before I cede so much as an inch of ground.’

Charles Albert the Elector of Bavaria rubbed salt into the wounds by crowning himself King of Bohemia and thus eligible to be elected Holy Roman Emperor. The dismemberment of the Habsburg Empire was entering a new and deadly phase. Maria Theresa was now only Archduchess of Austria and ‘King’ of Hungary.

The election of a non-Habsburg ‘Emperor’ immediately provided a practical challenge for the Habsburg forces on the battlefield. Their opponents were swift to put the famous twin-headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire on their standards. To avoid confusion Maria Theresa ordered its ‘temporary’ removal from her own army’s standards. The Imperial eagle with its two heads vanished from the standards of Maria Theresa’s infantry to be replaced on both sides of the flag with a bold image of the Madonna, an inspired choice, uniting as it did the Mother of Austria with the Mother of Christ and so investing the ‘Mater Castrorum’ with all the divine prestige and purity of motive of the Virgin Mary.

Another development followed: because Maria Theresa’s forces could no longer be designated ‘Imperial’ there emerged the concept of a royal Bohemian and Hungarian army which became increasingly referred to for simplicity’s sake as ‘Austrian’. The name would stick. When less than five years later Maria Theresa’s husband was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, Europe had become accustomed to referring to the Habsburg armies as the Austrians.

A glimmer of hope appeared as Khevenhueller cleared Upper Austria of the Bavarians and French. He blockaded Linz, which was held by 10,000 French troops under Ségur. And by seizing Scharding on the Inn he deprived the unfortunate French garrison of all chance of relief from Bavaria. The Tyroleans showed their skill at mountain warfare and ambushed one Bavarian force after another, inflicting fearful casualties. On the day that Charles Albert of Bavaria was elected Holy Roman Emperor, Khevenhueller sent the Bavarian upstart an unequivocal message: he occupied his home city of Munich and torched his palace.