Austrian Emperor Rudolf confidently took up a challenge to his lands from the Ottomans in 1593, embarking on what became the Long Turkish War that proved a fiasco for both sides. The thirteen-year struggle contributed to a chain of problems that kept the Ottoman empire out of the Thirty Years War and ensured a period of relative tranquillity for Hungary. With hindsight, this was of undoubted benefit for the Habsburgs, since it enabled them to concentrate on the problems of the Empire and their western and northern European enemies. However, this was not clear at the time and the Turkish menace remained a constant source of anxiety. Worse, the Turkish War left the Habsburgs financially and politically bankrupt, in turn contributing to the outbreak of renewed conflict in 1618.

The Scourge of God

These events and their consequences have not received the attention they deserve, leaving the Ottomans as a shadowy presence in most accounts of the Thirty Years War. Their empire was the superpower of the early modern world, stretching for 2.3 million square kilometres across three continents with at least 22 million inhabitants, well over three times the number in the Habsburg monarchy. Much of the original dynamism was lost after the death of Süleyman the Magnificent in 1566, but it would be wrong to categorize the Ottomans as in decline. They remained the terror of Europe, associated by Protestants and Catholics alike with the scourge of God sent to punish a sinful mankind and viewed with a mixture of awe and revulsion. Their empire continued to expand, particularly in the east where they seized Georgia and Azerbaijan from the Shiite Persian empire between 1576 and 1590. The Habsburgs were sufficiently alarmed by this that they accepted humiliating terms in November 1590 to obtain an eight-year extension to the truce agreed at the end of the previous Turkish war in 1568. Despite the expense, the emperor maintained a permanent embassy in Constantinople, whereas the sultan disdained to deal with the infidel and rarely sent ambassadors to Christian courts. The Austrian diplomats struggled to secure accurate intelligence at a court that was truly the successor to medieval Byzantium. They were kept waiting for weeks before being received by officials who gave evasive or contradictory answers. The presence of Dutch, English, French, Venetian and other Christian embassies was a further source of concern as these were all powers considered hostile to the emperor.

The difficulty in obtaining a clear picture prevented outsiders from perceiving the Ottomans’ mounting internal difficulties. The absence of accepted rules of succession bred bitter family feuds and forced each new sultan to command his deaf mutes to strangle his immediate brothers and sisters. The internal intrigues weakened the sultanate that lost direction at a time when their most dangerous foes to the east were entering a period of renewed vigour under the Safavid dynasty in Persia. The new conquests failed to bring sufficient rewards to satisfy the groups essential to the running of the Ottoman empire – notably the army, which had once been a pillar of strength and which now entered politics with disastrous results. Accustomed to rich bonuses from new sultans, the regular Janissary infantry began extorting rewards in return for continued loyalty, leading to the assassination of Osman II in 1622, setting a precedent that was repeated in 1648 and again later in the seventeenth century.

The internal problems of their empire made the Ottomans more unpredictable in their actions, adding to an already unstable situation in south-east Europe at the point where their empire met that of the Habsburgs to the west and the lands of the Poles to the north. The war that broke out in 1593 was essentially a struggle between two of these powers to extend influence over the intervening region while denying access to their rivals. Hungary to the west was already split into Habsburg and Ottoman spheres, with the emperor controlling the north and south-west, along with Croatia, while the sultan commanded the central area and south-east. Neither side had a clear position in the region further east that was split into four principalities, all nominally under Turkish suzerainty, but pursuing varying degrees of autonomy. The area along the northern shores of the Black Sea belonged to the Crimean Tartars, the descendants of Ghengis Khan who had paid tribute to the sultan since the later fifteenth century. They provided useful auxiliaries for his armies, but were largely left alone since they served as a buffer between Ottoman territory and that of the Russian tsar further to the north-east. The three Christian principalities of Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania lay to the north and west of the Tartars. They likewise paid tribute, but were more open to influence from Poland and Austria. The Poles sought access to the Black Sea by pushing into Podolia, between Moldavia and the Crimea. Polish influence grew pronounced in Moldavia during the 1590s and they also intrigued in Transylvanian and Wallachian politics.


Of the three, Transylvania is the most significant to our story, and an examination of its internal politics reveals much that was typical for Moldavia and Wallachia as well. Formed from the wreckage of old Hungary in the 1540s, Transylvania was a patchwork of four major and several minor communities. In addition to pockets of Turkish peasants and Eastern Slavs, there were Orthodox Romanians, Calvinist Magyars, Lutheran German immigrants, called Saxons, and finally the self-governing Szekler people, living in the forested east, who remained Catholic. The prince maintained power by brokering agreements between these groups, particularly the three ‘nations’ of Magyar nobles, Saxon towns and Szekler villages entitled to sit in the diet. The balance was enshrined in the Torda agreement from 1568 that extended equal rights to Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and the radical Unitarians (who rejected the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and refused to believe that Christ had been human in any way). Separate princely decrees extended toleration to Jews and the substantial Romanian population.

It was an arrangement that worked surprisingly well at a time when people elsewhere in Europe were murdering each other in God’s name. All parties recognized Transylvania’s vulnerability and wanted to deny predatory outsiders a chance to intervene. Over time, toleration became embedded in society and political culture, enhancing princely power since he could pose as the defender of all faiths and their liberties against Habsburg confessionalization and absolutism. However, it created confusion for external relations, particularly once the prince converted to Calvinism in 1604. While nine-tenths of his nobles now shared his faith, the peasantry were mainly Catholic or Orthodox, while the burghers were Lutheran. Christian powers looking to Transylvania only saw its leadership and mistook the principality as a Protestant champion ready to save them in their hour of need. While it might serve his purpose to present himself as such to outsiders, the prince remained conscious that his rule depended on preserving the balance between the ethnic and confessional groups.

There were also significant material obstacles that inhibited Transylvania from playing a major role in European affairs. Over half its territory was covered by forest and barely a fifth lay under cultivation. The population was concentrated in isolated pockets largely cut off from each other by trees and mountains. It was impossible to maintain a western-style regular army, and in any case, such an army would be ill-suited to operating in such conditions. Like its immediate neighbours, Transylvania relied on lightly armed cavalry able to cover 35km a day, supported by smaller numbers of irregular musketeers to hold outposts on the border. Such forces lacked staying power in a formal battle, which they generally avoided, preferring to break their opponent’s will to resist by rounding up livestock and civilians. These tactics were thwarted if the enemy took refuge in walled towns or fortresses, since the Transylvanians lacked artillery and the disciplined infantry needed for a siege. They were also unable to sustain operations for more than a few months, waiting until the grass grew in the spring for their horses before setting out, and returning home with their booty before the high summer scorched the ground.



Strategy and Logistics

These logistical problems were found elsewhere in the Danube valley and across the Hungarian plains (puszta) where temperatures soared in the summer and plummeted below freezing in winter, and hampered all combatants. The surrounding mountains were blocked by snow from the autumn until the spring thaws that swelled the rivers and flooded a third of the plains for much of the year, providing a rich breeding ground for malarial mosquitoes. Hungary lay at the north-west periphery of the Ottomans’ world empire, 1,100km from their European base at Adrianople (Edirne). A field army of 40,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry required 300 tonnes of bread and fodder a day. Crop yields in eastern Europe were half those of Flanders and other western agricultural regions that could support ten times more non-producers. Even Poland, rapidly becoming the bread basket of western European cities, exported only about 10 per cent of its net crop in the later sixteenth century. It was often impossible to requisition supplies locally in the Danube area, especially as the population tended to be concentrated in isolated pockets, as in Transylvania. The Turks were forced to follow the line of the river during hostilities, reducing their advance to 15km a day. If they set out in April, they could not reach Vienna before July. Not surprisingly, Ottoman armies relied on Belgrade once war broke out, since this was already two-thirds of the way to the front and was the first major city on the Danube west of the Iron Gates (Orsova) pass between the Transylvanian Alps and the northern reaches of the Balkan mountains of modern Bulgaria. These strategic and logistical factors imposed a certain routine on the Turks’ campaigns. Operations began slowly with the collection of troops from across the empire at Adrianople or Belgrade. The main army reached the front in July, leaving only a few months to achieve success before the autumn rains set in during September, while the sultan traditionally suspended campaigns on 30 November with the onset of winter.

Major operations were the exception and most fighting involved cross-border raiding that remained endemic due to political, ideological and social factors. The region lay at the extremity of both the Ottoman empire and the kingdom of Poland, and while physically closer to the heart of Habsburg power, it was still politically distant. All the major powers were forced to rely on local landowners and their private armies who commanded the resources, loyalty and respect of the scattered population. Though wealthy, the magnates in Hungary and Transylvania were adopting expensive new lifestyles, with decorated country houses, foreign university education and grand European tours for sons and heirs. They could not afford large permanent forces to defend the frontier and also needed to satisfy poorer clients who relied on banditry to supplement their incomes from livestock, horse breeding or farming. Those at the centre tolerated the situation as the only way to retain the loyalty of the unruly border lords, and as a convenient means to put pressure on their international opponents. As the secular representatives of opposing world religions, neither the emperor nor the sultan could accept permanent peace without implying recognition of an alternative civilization. The lack of clear frontiers allowed a policy of gradual expansion by encroachment, whereby whichever side was currently stronger exploited weakness in the other to assert the right to collect tribute from border villages. Frontiers shifted back and forth like sand with the tide, while major fortified towns remained immovable rocks that required open war to crack.

Such fortresses began to be built during the 1530s as both the Ottomans and Habsburgs entrenched their hold over Hungary. The Turks had the advantage of shorter interior lines of defence, with a compact position along the middle Danube and in Bosnia to the south-west. They relied on around 65 relatively large castles held by 18,000 regular soldiers, with 22,000 militia recruited from their predominantly Christian subjects to patrol the gaps. The Habsburgs were forced to defend an 850km-long arc to the west and north, partly detached from Austria and Bohemia by chains of mountains. Lateral movement was restricted, since all the rivers drained eastwards into the Ottoman-held Hungarian plain. Each Austrian and Bohemian province had its own militia, but mobilization depended on the Estates who wanted them mainly for local defence. The Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1529 proved a shock and prompted the construction there of new bastioned fortifications in the Italian manner between 1531 and 1567. Plans to modernize these had to be shelved in 1596 due to the peasant unrest and a lack of funds, leaving the capital weakly defended when the Bohemians and Transylvanians attacked in 1619. The civic militia was converted into a regular garrison in 1582, but they numbered only five hundred men.

The Military Frontier


To keep the Turks at bay, the Habsburgs revived and expanded existing Hungarian defence measures to create what became known as the ‘military frontier’. This militarized zone around 50km deep ran the entire length of the frontier and rested on 12 major and around 130 minor fortified posts held by over 22,000 men by the 1570s. Its development and upkeep was heavily subsidized by the Reichstag, which voted eight grants with a nominal value of around 12 million fl. between 1530 and 1582, plus well over another million towards fortress construction. At least four-fifths of this amount was actually paid, despite the confessional tension in the Empire, since the Ottomans were considered a common menace to all Christians.8 Indeed, the largest two grants had been made in 1576 and 1582 at a time when many historians think confessional tension was growing worse. However, disagreements did ensure there was no immediate renewal when the last grant expired in 1587, increasing the dynasty’s dependency on taxes voted by its Estates to maintain particular sectors. Only about half the border troops could be spared from their garrisons, limiting the scope for offensive operations. A major army of 55,000 men was reckoned to cost at least 7.4 million fl. for a single campaign, a figure way in excess of the monarchy’s entire revenue.

Financial considerations forced the Habsburgs to place large sections of the frontier in local hands. The southern or maritime border, based around Senj on the Adriatic, was held by a people known as the Uskoks, after the Serbian for ‘refugee’. This mountainous region could not support the growing number of refugees who were supposed to be paid by the government to defend the frontier with Ottoman Bosnia. Chronic indebtedness forced the Habsburgs to tolerate Uskok raiding and piracy instead. The next sector to the north was the Croatian border around the castle of Karlstadt that had been built in 1579 with funds granted by the Inner Austrian Estates in return for the Pacification of Bruck, and which protected the upper reaches of the Save river, blocking an invasion of Carniola. The Slovenian border around Warasdin on the upper Drava was also subsidized by Inner Austria since it protected Styria. Around half of all the minor posts were concentrated in these two sectors and were manned by colonists settled on crown land in return for militia duty. They received little help from central coffers and were expected to supplement their meagre existence from farming by raiding villages across the frontier.

The Hungarian border was split into three sections, with that in the south stretching from the Drava to the southern end of Lake Balaton and containing the important fortress of Kanizsa. The middle section ran north from Lake Balaton to the Danube, before curving east around the Ottoman salient at Gran where the river makes a right-angled turn from due east to flow south past Buda and Pest. This was the most heavily contested sector, because the Danube valley gave the best access for both sides. The Ottomans were concerned to protect Buda as the seat of their Hungarian government and as a forward base for an attack against Vienna. To forestall this, the Habsburgs built Komorn at the east end of Schütt Island, a large area that stretched west to Pressburg which was formed by two branches of the river and often flooded. Another fortress was constructed at Raab, approximately 40km south west of Komorn, to guard the only practicable route south of Schütt Island into Lower Austria. The lesser fortress of Neuhäusel covered Komorn’s northern flank by blocking the Neutra river. The final Hungarian section stretched eastwards from there to the Tisza river and Transylvania. Its main fortress was Erlau, which blocked the road north over the Matra mountains into Upper Hungary and so safeguarded communications between Austria and Transylvania. Central funds covered only the principal garrisons, leaving the intervening sections in the hands of Hungarian magnates who maintained private armies of haiduk infantry. The haiduks were originally nomadic oxen drovers who had been forced by the partition of Hungary to accept a semi-settled existence as border guards, living in their own villages under elected headmen and relying on banditry between wars to supplement their irregular pay.

Leuthen, 1757: Victory for Quality


…furthermore called his generals and senior field grade officers to his tent where he delivered a rousing speech, calling on them to do their duty and uphold their honour, explaining his basic plan to attack the Austrians at Breslau.






The summer and autumn of 1757 were not kind to Frederick. He had been forced to abandon his invasion of Bohemia after lifting his siege of Prague and had suffered a sharp defeat at Köln, before retiring to Saxony. Moreover, he found himself with more enemies when France, Sweden and Russia all declared war against him, and without his key ally, as Britain withdrew from the war in order to preserve her territorial interests in Hanover. Frederick was, however, able to stabilize the situation in Saxony with a decisive victory over a large force of French and Imperial troops at Rossbach on 4 November. The victory had tremendous implications internationally, bringing Britain back into the war and with her the cash subsidies to support Prussia, and the help of her troops in northern Germany.

But Frederick still had problems on his eastern flank. His forces in Silesia, the casus belli back in 1740, under the command of the duke of Bevern, were on the run. They had been defeated by an Austrian army under Charles of Lorraine and the veteran commander Field Marshal Leopold Daun outside of Breslau on 22 November and were driven back across the River Oder. Shortly thereafter Bevern himself was captured. Frederick had already begun moving to re-inforce his army in Silesia with 18 battalions of infantry and 23 squadrons of cavalry. He sent Hans von Ziethen, the commander of Prussia’s hussar regiments, to keep Bevern’s force together until he arrived. On 2 December, Frederick joined Ziethen and his troops. His original plan was to get Bevern’s forces ready for combat and attack the Austrians at Breslau, but the overall strategic situation forced Frederick to move almost immediately.

The stage was set for the Battle of Leuthen, which was fought just three days later. In this battle Frederick demonstrated the effectiveness of the Prussian army when led by a commander who understood its capabilities. In the course of this battle Frederick used the great manoeuvrability of his infantry to execute his oblique order of attack and to concentrate his outnumbered troops against one wing of the enemy. It also demonstrated the firepower that the well-disciplined Prussian infantry could deliver in the attack. Frederick’s first task was to restore confidence to the officers and men of Bevern’s command. The king strolled through the Prussian camp, talking to the troops, offering encouragement, and giving promises of rewards for merit in the action that was ahead of them. He likewise told the officers that they could redeem themselves in the battle they were about to fight. Frederick also encouraged interaction between the forces that had been defeated in Silesia and those returning from Saxony, flushed with the victory of Rossbach the previous month. Frederick hoped that the veterans of Rossbach would help raise the morale of the rest. He also took particular care to look after the comforts of his men, distributing additional rations and spirits to the troops to fortify their strength and courage. He furthermore called his generals and senior field grade officers to his tent where he delivered a rousing speech, calling on them to do their duty and uphold their honour, explaining his basic plan to attack the Austrians at Breslau. But he also promised punishments for failure, noting that cavalry regiments that failed to charge would be dismounted and downgraded to garrison service, and infantry regiments that did not press the attack would be disgraced, losing their colours, swords and having the facings cut from their uniforms.

Frederick allowed his troops to rest on 3 December but the next day advanced on Breslau. While on the march Frederick learnt that the Austrians had left the city and had deployed their army around the village of Leuthen. Frederick had looked for a decisive battle to restore the situation in Silesia and was grateful to Charles and Daun for this move. The Austrians certainly had reason to be confident since they outnumbered the Prussians by nearly two to one, with great advantages in both infantry and artillery. The Austrians had some 66,000 men and more than 200 artillery pieces, compared to the Prussian’s 39,000 men and 170 guns. Moreover, about two-thirds of the Prussians had been part of Bevern’s force, which they had already defeated. Frederick seems mistakenly to have believed the Austrians were comparable in strength to his own forces.

The Austrians were encamped along a front about five kilometres (four and a half miles) long between the small hamlets of Nippern and Sagschiitz, with the village of Leuthen behind their lines. Charles and Daun seemed ready to give Frederick an open battle, relying on their numbers to give them the victory. The Prussians made their advance to the battlefield beginning about 4 AM, and were deployed in two large infantry columns each flanked by a column of cavalry. There was also a sizeable advance guard of light infantry, including some rifle-armed Jager, and hussars led by the king himself.

Battle is Joined

The action began with the Prussian advanced guard easily brushing aside a small force of Saxon dragoons and Austrian light horse, taking 200 captive. Frederick ordered these men to be paraded past the army as it advanced, to raise the morale of his troops. As Frederick viewed the long white lines of Austrian troops deployed in front of Leuthen the great size of the enemy’s army became clear to him and it was plain that they had the numerical edge. But, using the coup d’oeil for which he was famous, he noted two key features of the battlefield’s topography. The first was that the Austrian left had not taken advantage of some marshy ground to anchor their left flank, which was consequently left exposed, although they had hastily constructed some barricades and redoubts for their batteries there. Moreover, there was a small ridgeline that ran in front of the Austrian left, which could be used to conceal his movements in front of the Austrian left flank.

Frederick quickly determined to take advantage of the vulnerable Austrian flank and to use the low ridges to mask his manoeuvre. To keep the enemy occupied, the Prussian cavalry of the left wing supported by some of the Prussian foot would feign an attack to keep the Austrian centre and right wing distracted. The idea of splitting an inferior force and marching a large part of it across the length of the enemy’s line, all the while presenting the flank of advancing columns to musket and artillery fire, might have seemed suicidal, but because of the nature of the terrain and the speed and manoeuvrability of the Prussian infantry Frederick was willing to take the risk. By 11 AM Frederick had made his deployments, with his left-flank cavalry, supported by a small force of infantry, slowly advancing against the right flank of the Austrian line. The Austrian commander there immediately called for assistance, assuming that his flank was the object of Frederick’s main assault. Charles and Daun responded by shifting their reserves to support the right, and galloped over to the right wing to oversee the engagement in person. In the meantime, the bulk of the Prussian infantry and their right-wing cavalry had begun their movement across the front of the Austrian line. The infantry, formed in two columns, moved with amazing speed due to their disciplined cadenced marching. In less than two hours they had started to form a line of battle at right-angles to the Austrian left flank, with the right-hand units extended slightly behind the Austrian line. The assault troops consisted of three excellent line infantry battalions, supported by a column of four additional battalions, three of grenadiers and one more from a crack line regiment. There were also 20 heavy twelve-pounder guns in support. The majority of the remaining Prussian infantry were deploying en echelon behind the assault force and spreading out to its left. Frederick retained 53 squadrons and six battalions in reserve. What made this manoeuvre possible was the low ridgeline that obscured the Prussians’ movements. The position was strengthened by the fact that the Austrian commanders had moved over to their left flank, and so were even less likely to discern Frederick’s intent. Indeed, although they noticed the Prussians moving behind the hill, they could not determine numbers or directions and assumed them to be in retreat. By 1 PM Frederick’s forces were in position and ready to begin the assault.

Where the Prussian attack hit the Austrian left the troops were composed mostly of soldiers of varied quality from those minor German states whose contingents were combined to form the Reichsarmee. They were under the command of General Franz Nadasdy, a bold Hungarian hussar general. The Prussians advanced on the troops of the Reichsarmee and engaged them in a fierce firefight, routing the Württembergers and pushing them back into the Bavarians, who joined in the rout. The firepower delivered by the assault troops must have been crushing – they were running out of ammunition by the time the supporting units arrived. Fortunately Frederick had brought ammunitions wagons with him. These units drew more cartridges and remained in the battle line. Nadasdy tried to restore the situation by attacking the Prussian foot with his dragoons and hussars, but he was countered by the 53 squadrons of Prussians from Frederick’s reserve under the command of Ziethen. The Prussian cavalry overthrew the Austrians. Rather than pursuing the cavalry, they turned to complete the destruction of Nadasdy’s broken infantry, taking over 2000 Württembergers and Bavarians prisoner.

Having realized that the attack on the right was a diversion, Charles and Daun tried to turn their centre 90 degrees to face the advancing Prussians. The Austrian line was to be anchored on the village of Leuthen itself. But there was little time to plan the redeployment and units were sent in piecemeal, not properly deployed into firing lines. The manouevre was much more difficult for the Austrians, who did not manoeuvre in the closed columns of the Prussians. As they performed it they were subjected to intense Prussian musketry and the fire of 40 twelve-pounders now moved up to the high ground overlooking Leuthen. At about 3:30 the Prussian infantry began their assault against the new Austrian position. After a sharp struggle they cleared Leuthen, which had been admirably defended by a few Austrian units and a Wiirzburg regiment of Reichsarmee troops. Another Austrian cavalry charge was made but was driven back by the Prussian cavalry. At this point, the Austrian army broke. Frederick attempted a pursuit but the weather, time of day and exhaustion of his troops prevented this being very effective.

Leuthen was a great victory for Frederick but it was also a costly one. Frederick lost 6000 men, nearly one-fifth of his forces. He in turn inflicted 10,000 killed and wounded, took more than 12,000 prisoners, and captured more than 100 cannon. A further 17,000 Austrians surrendered when Breslau capitulated later in the month. Leuthen demonstrated just what could be accomplished in the age of linear warfare with an army as disciplined as that of Prussia, especially when commanded by one of the ‘Great Captains’ of the period.

Austrian Artillery at Sadowa 1866


Austrian Troops


“The last stand.” Artillery units sacrifice themselves to cover the retreat of the Austrian army on July 3, 1866 at Königgätz/Sadowa, the battle that established Prussian/German hegemony in Central Europe.

The Austro-Hungarian artillery was a lot better there than the Prussian. Without the bravery of the Austrian artillery the battle would have ended as a bigger disaster than it already was. The Austrian guns were more efficient and shot “at the point”. Archduke Wilhelm as Inspector General of the Artillery did best work in the days before the battle. Most of the 700 guns were dug in and had pre-measured shooting-plans. The breechloading rifles were a cause for the high rate of dead and wounded but they were not the reason for losing the battle by the Austrians.

In contemporary military opinion, the Austrians were greatly superior in all arms to their adversary. Their rifle, though a muzzle-loader, was in every other respect superior to the Prussian needle-gun, and their M.L. rifled guns with shrapnel shell were considered more than sufficient to make good the slight advantage then conceded to the breech-loader. The cavalry was far better trained in individual and real horsemanship and manoeuvre, and was expected to sweep the field in the splendid cavalry terrain of Moravia. All three arms trained their men for seven years, and almost all officers and non-commissioned officers had considerable war experience. But the Prussians having studied their allies in the war of 1864 knew the weakness of the Austrian staff and the untrustworthiness of the contingents of some of the Austrian nationalities, and felt fairly confident that against equal numbers they could hold their own.

The Austrian Army was maintained by a conscription system which allowed the buying of substitutes. The Army as a whole was not as homogeneous as the Prussian, taking in units from across the empire and it was not as well organized, having no Divisional level of command. The peacetime organization consisted of seven Army Corps, each of 4 brigades, plus cavalry and artillery. For the Austro Prussian war this was expanded to 10 Corps, resulting in considerable disorganization.

Infantry were armed with a muzzle¬-loading rifle. This out ranged the Prussian needle gun but was much slower to load. Moreover, since a soldier was only allowed 20 practice rounds per year, the standard of accuracy was appalling.

Artillery was strong. All guns were rifled and had an effective range of about 2000 paces, again out ranging the Prussians.

The Austrian plan in 1866 was to use interior lines of communication to concentrate and destroy the Prussian forces piecemeal, in classic Napoleonic form. Benedek, the Austrian commander, decided to make his stand at Sadowa, approximately 10 miles west of the Elbe River, which constituted a major obstacle. The Elbe had one permanent bridge and one pontoon bridge, which was anchored on the fortress city of Koniggratz (from which the battle takes its name). This latter bridge could provide a withdrawal route for the Austrians should it be required. In order to hold this defensive position, Benedek deployed 215 000 infantry and 750 guns.

The Prussian 1st Army made contact with the Austrian position at 0400 hrs on 3 July. The commander of 1st Army had decided to commence his attack at 1000 hrs after his troops had been rested and fed. This was over-ruled by von Moltke. A delay in attacking and fixing the Austrians might allow them to slip away before 2nd Army could encircle them. Von Moltke instead ordered 1st Army to attack immediately. Unfortunately, von Moltke had no way of knowing that the Austrians had no intention of withdrawing; this unprepared attack would play right into their hands. The battle ebbed and flowed and degenerated into a confusing morass as commanders lost control of their troops. For a time, the Prussians thought that the battle was lost, but von Moltke was unshaken. By noon, 2nd Army threatened the Austrian right; the Austrians were forced to mount costly counterattacks against massed rifle fire in order to delay the Prussians long enough to enable a withdrawal across the River Elbe. Shortly after the battle, the Austrians conceded defeat and sued for peace. Von Moltke’s doctrine had been a success.

After the war, the Prussians went back to study their own effectiveness to see if there were any lessons to be learned. As a result, they moved their artillery from the rear of its columns to the front and deployed their cavalry well forward to conduct reconnaissance. Within four years, the Prussians would be at war again. This time, with the French.

Ernest Gideon, Freiherr von Laudon


Laudon in victory pose at the Battle of Kunersdorf, 1878 portrait. Baron Ernst Gideon von Laudon (German: Ernst Gideon Freiherr von Laudon (originally Laudohn or Loudon) (February 2, 1717 – July 14, 1790) was an Austrian generalisimo, one of the most successful opponents of the Prussian king Frederick the Great, allegedly lauded by Alexander Suvorov as his teacher.

Austrian Lieutenant-colonel (1756-57), Colonel (1757-58), Feldmarshall Lieutenant (1758-59), Feldzeugmeister (1759-78) born February 2, 1717, Tootzen, Livonia died July 14, 1790, Neutitschein, Moravia

Loudon was the son of Petrol Gerhard von Loudon, a lieutenant-colonel, retired from the Swedish service and of Sofia Eleonore von Bornemann. His family was of Scottish origin and had settled in Livonia before 1400.

In 1732, Loudon was sent into the Russian army as a cadet.

In 1734, during the War of the Polish Succession, Loudon took part to the siege of Danzig by Field Marshal Münnich.

In 1735, Loudon accompanied the Russian corps who marched to the Rhine.

In 1738 and 1739, Loudon participated to the war against Turkey.

In 1741, dissatisfied with his prospects in the Russian army, Loudon resigned from the Russian service and sought military employment elsewhere. He applied first to Frederick II of Prussia who declined his services. Finally, thanks to his relations with Lieutenant-colonel Franz von Trenck, Loudon was enlisted in the Austrian army as captain in the famous Trenck’s Pandour Corps.

In 1744, Loudon fought with Trenck’s unit in Alsace where he was wounded and taken prisoner. He was shortly released by the advance of the main Austrian army.

In 1745, Loudon saw active service, once more under Trenck, in the Silesian Mountains. During this campaign, he greatly distinguished himself as a leader of light troops. On September 30, Loudon was present at the battle of Soor. Later, he had a conflict with Trenck, left his unit and went to Vienna.

In 1746, Loudon was appointed captain in the Karlstädter Infantry Regiment, a unit of Grenzers (frontier light troops). He spent the next 10 years with this unit in the Carlstadt district. At Bunich, where he was stationed, he built a church and planted an oak forest now called by his name.

In 1753, Loudon was promoted lieutenant-colonel. With his Grenzers unit, he served under Browne.

Before the beginning of the campaign of 1757, Loudon was promoted colonel. In August, he repeatedly distinguished himself while conducting guerrilla operations against the Prussian army during its retreat from Bohemia.

In 1758, Loudon became a knight of the newly founded Order of Maria Theresa. During the Prussian invasion of Moravia, he got his first opportunity to act as commander of an Austrian corps. On June 30, by his action at Dormstadtl where he destroyed a Prussian supply convoy of 4,000 wagons, he forced Frederick II to abandon the siege of Olmütz and to retire into Bohemia. Three days later, Loudon was rewarded with the grade of Feldmarshall Lieutenant (roughly equivalent to lieutenant-general). After the battle of Hochkirch where he showed himself an active and daring commander, Loudon was created a Freiherr (baron) in the Austrian nobility by Maria Theresa and in the peerage of the Holy Roman Empire by her husband the Emperor Francis. Furthermore, Maria Theresa gave him the Grand Cross of her order and an estate near Kuttenberg in Bohemia.

In 1759, Loudon was placed in command of the Austrian contingent sent to join the Russians on the Oder. He advanced into Neumark and made his junction with the Russian army of Saltykov. On August 12, they both won the battle of Kunersdorf but failed to pursue the Prussians. After this victory, Loudon was promoted Feldzeugmeister (general of infantry) and made commander-in-chief in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia.

At the battle of Landeshut on June 23 1760, Loudon destroyed an entire Prussian corps led by Fouqué. He also stormed the important fortress of Glatz (present-day Kłodzko). On August 15, he sustained a reverse at Frederick’s hands in the battle of Liegnitz, which action led to bitter controversy with Daun and Lacy, the commanders of the main army, who, Loudon claimed, had left his corps unsupported.

In 1761, Loudon operated in Silesia in conjunction with a Russian corps. All attempts against Frederick’s entrenched camp of Bunzelwitz failed. However, on the night of September 30 to October 1, he succeeded in the storming of Schweidnitz. His tireless activity continued to the end of the war, in conspicuous contrast with the temporizing strategy of Daun and Lacy. The last three years of the war are marked by an ever increasing friction between Daun and Loudon.

After the peace, when Daun became the virtual commander-in-chief of the army, Loudon fell into the background. Offers were made, by Frederick II amongst others, to induce Loudon to transfer his services elsewhere. Loudon did not entertain these proposals. When Lacy succeeded Daun as president of the council of war, Loudon was made inspector-general of infantry. Dissensions, however, continued between Loudon and Lacy, and on the accession of Joseph II, who was intimate with Lacy, Loudon retired to his estate near Kuttenberg.

In 1769, under the influence of Maria Theresa and Kaunitz, Loudon was appointed commander-in-chief in Bohemia and Moravia. He assumed this function for three years.

In 1776, Maria Theresa repurchased his estate near Kuttenberg on generous terms. Loudon then settled at Hadersdorf near Vienna.

On February 27 1778, Loudon was finally appointed Feldmarshall. At the outbreak of the War of the Bavarian Succession, Emperor Joseph and Lacy reconciled to Loudon. Lacy and Loudon then commanded the two armies in the field. However, the performance of Loudon during this war did not stand to his reputation. For two years after this Loudon lived quietly at Hadersdorf.

In 1779, other Austrian generals having suffered important reverses against the Turks, Loudon was called for the last time into the field. Though old and broken in health, he was commander-in-chief in fact as well as in name and won a last brilliant success by capturing Belgrade in three weeks (October 8).

In March 1790, Loudon received supreme command over the Observation army on the Prussian border. On July 14, he died at Neu-Titschein, his Moravian headquarters, while still on duty.

Austrian Army Spanish War of Succession





The Habsburg Empire dominated Germanic central Europe at the start of the eighteenth century, dwarfing its rivals in size, population, and military might. Prussia numbered only 1.6 million persons and Bavaria 2.0 million; the Habsburg lands held 11.0 million. In the first decades of the century, Habsburg armies under the skilful command of Prince Eugene of Savoy had fought well in the War of the Spanish Succession, and the peace treaties of 1714 gave the Habsburgs the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium) and Lombardy. Wars with the Ottoman Empire at the end of the seventeenth century had acquired the Kingdom of Hungary, including vast territories in Eastern Europe. Thus, in 1714 Vienna controlled lands from Brussels in the west to Milan in the south, Belgrade in the east, and Prague in the north—plus the crown of the Holy Roman Empire. This gave the Habsburg emperor Charles VI, who reigned from 1711 to 1740, daunting political problems. The heterogeneous, polyglot realm was united only by the person of the Habsburg monarch.

The forces maintained by the Austrian Habsburgs often operated in an Imperial Army, but on an organizational level it’s better to describe the Austrian Habsburg element separately. One can say that the Austrian army was founded when after the thirty years war the emperor decided to hang on to 24,500 men even though he was at peace. This new ‘standing’ army then first came into action in the war between Sweden and Poland (1655-1660). In 1663 and 1664 it fought the Turks, and after that it took part in the ‘Guerre de Hollande’ to 1679. Together with the Poles it then got the great victory over the Turks at the siege of Vienna in 1683. The subsequent campaign against the Turks led to conquest of Hungary by which Austria became a great power. The fact that the simultaneous campaign in the west ended less well was deplorable but not as significant as the annexation of Hungary. The support for the Austrian Army

The emperor could not follow the French example in reorganising his army. Unlike the French the emperor was not able to levy taxes at will, and he was therefore highly dependent on the Stände to grant him taxes. The recent success against the Turks had been gained by the support of allies like Bavaria and Prussia, the financial support of some Stände that were afraid of the Turks, and even the financial support of rich feudal lords that commanded in the emperor’s armies. The shortages had been paid by loans and subsidies (a. o. from the church). Apart from this the Habsburg state was not a model of efficient governance. The apparatus of Hofkammer, Hofkriegsrat, Stände and even local authorities each having their say about the army did not function smoothly at all, and led to a significant loss in the already small means that were allotted to the army. Prinz Eugen would personally oversee the reform of the army’s administration during the Spanish Succession War.

The Habsburg army would thus enter the war while at a serious disadvantage in matters like provisions, equipment and above all numbers. As regards innovation it was probably not more or less modern than other armies. In command however it probably ranks first. It had the incomparable Prinz Eugen, but also men like Starhemberg and Daun, and these again had an emperor and soldiers that trusted their judgement.

The transformation and rapid growth of the Austrian monarchy’s capacity for war as judged from its army transport services in the period between the mid-1750s and 1780 was certainly impressive when compared to the situation during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-13). Then, the Habsburg Empire’s supply system had a well-deserved reputation as `probably the worst in western Europe’.2 During the Austro-Ottoman conflict of 1714-18, Eugene of Savoy, despite his brilliance on the battlefield, struggled largely unsuccessfully against the weight of custom and long-established practice to introduce an element of cohesion and rationality into the Austrian military system. In spite of his thirty-three-year term as president of the Hofkriegsrat (Aulic War Council) between 1703 and his death in 1736, the general left a chequered legacy characterised overall by institutional stagnation or even regression, and it is generally agreed that he was a much better fighter than he was an administrator. Real progress was made only after 1749, as part of broader centralising reforms.

Eugene of Savoy, Belgrade’s temporary liberator in 1717, also acquired legendary and later mythical status in traditional European historiography. Yet if the personal qualities of an exceptional commander were on occasions crucial to success in individual campaigns and battles, more important than these exceptional individuals – who were not reproducible and unlikely to emerge more than once a century – was the strength of the underlying military systems. After Eugene’s brilliant successes against the Ottomans in back-to-back campaigns, one defensive (at Petrovaradin in 1716) and the other offensive (against Belgrade in 1717), his successors’ failure twenty years later in the anti-Ottoman wars of 1737-9 to match his record can be attributed only in part to poor leadership. The problems besetting the early-eighteenth-century Austrian army were above all organisational, linked to the inadequacy of their military planning process and the ad hoc and unreliable systems for delivery of basic supplies to the army. The failures in Austria’s military systems were cruelly exposed in the first and second Silesian wars of 1740-2 and 1744-5 respectively, which revealed unresolved problems arising from the related issues of institutional fragmentation, poor communications, and a lack of centralised planning. These resulted in serious military inefficiencies that undermined battlefield performance.

Marengo: 14 June 1800 Part I

Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David

Napoleon is presented the body of Desaix

Give me lucky generals.


During his voyage back to France on board Muiron, Bonaparte frequently referred to the importance of luck. No matter how strong his belief in determinism, ‘all great events hang by a hair and I believe in luck’. On the other hand, nothing should be neglected which could promote a man’s destiny. His main concern when he contemplated the situation in France was that he might be too late to take advantage of it, that ‘the fruit might be overripe’. He was going to need all the luck going. As things turned out, not only did he neglect nothing which might bolster his cause, but he had the devil’s own luck as well.

There was serious work to be done, for while Bonaparte had been in Egypt, the Directory, a government of lawyers, had fallen from favour, and every sort of intrigue was under way to bring about change. This was not to be wondered at for everything was going wrong. Bonaparte’s glorious conquests in Italy had been forfeited, the Treasury was empty, widespread disorder reflected widespread discontent. The armies, except for Masséna’s on the Frontiers of Switzerland and Brune’s in Flanders, had been defeated. The Allied campaign in the Netherlands may be summed up by saying simply that their armies had advanced in drenching rain from Den Helder to the line of the Zype Canal, where they stuck fast in the mud, while the Dutch people did not so much as lift a finger to support their supposed liberators. After much dithering and recrimination, the Allied armies withdrew and were evacuated. One more British expedition to the Netherlands had ended in failure. No wonder Macaulay condemned Pitt’s military administration as that of a mere driveller.

Despite their losses elsewhere, the French were still defying their enemies further south. The Austrians under Archduke Charles were poised to invade France by crossing the Rhine, while the hideous butcher, Suvorov, whose military doctrine was to go bull-headed at the enemy, and whom Byron called half demon and half dirt, was coming up from Italy towards Nice. Yet if either did invade, Masséna would be able to emerge from his Alpine bastion, pounce on their communications and sever them from their supply columns. There was a third threat to Masséna. Korsakov, reputed lover of Catherine the Great and a celebrated bon viveur, was commanding an Austro-Russian army at Zurich. But Masséna, undeterred by the prospect of a simultaneous attack from three sides, concentrated his force outside Zurich at the very time when the Allies did not concentrate against him. Archduke Charles took his army off towards the Netherlands; Suvorov had been slowed down by snow and harassed by French forces under Lecombe; and Korsakov had dangerously extended his position to the west of Zurich, prompting Masséna to attack him with his entire force, driving him out of Switzerland and capturing 8,000 men, guns, money and supplies. Suvorov then abandoned his offensive. Thus Masséna had plucked the flower, safety, from the nettle, danger. His cold, crafty, calculating waiting game, played with great patience and perseverance, harbouring the opportunity to pounce on vulnerability, had saved the Republic from invasion. By the time it was next threatened, Bonaparte would not only be once more in command of the army, he would be the political leader of France.

The process by which this came about was set in train by the Abbé Sieyès, one of the Government’s Directors. He hit upon the idea that he himself would be an excellent replacement for the Directory. But others would need to be similarly persuaded, among them that great survivor, Talleyrand, and the Chief of Police, Fouché. There would also have to be a soldier to wield the sword for Sieyès. At first Sieyès thought of Bernadotte, Minister of War, but he was too circumspect. Moreau might do, but he was too timid. It was, however, Moreau who made the crucial suggestion when he heard on 13 October 1799 that Bonaparte had landed at Fréjus. Bonaparte, Moreau told Sieyès, was the man to manage a coup d’état. And manage it he did.

There was a lot of preliminary manoeuvring to be done, and between 16 October and the end of that month, Josephine’s salon – Bonaparte had forgiven her dalliance with Lieutenant Hippolyte Charles and they were now on more comfortable terms – was crowded with politicians and soldiers, while her husband ruminated, gauged the temperature and formulated his plans. After deliberating for two weeks, he threw in his lot with Sieyès and Ducos, another Director, and assured himself that the support of those soldiers essential to him if it came to a fight would be forthcoming. The men who mattered – Berthier, Murat, Lannes, Marmont – had been with him in the Italian and Egyptian campaigns. All would later become Marshals of the Empire. Bonaparte also made sure of Sérurier and Moreau. He still had to get the Military Governor of Paris, Lefèbvre, on his side, but he was manipulable enough. Bluff and naïve, Lefèbvre fell for Josephine’s blandishments and Bonaparte’s smooth confidences. Bernadotte, on the other hand, continued to sit on the fence. The conspiracy would have to proceed without him. The first step was to get the soldiers into their proper positions. On 9 November Bonaparte’s supporters fastened their grip on the key places and deployed their troops in readiness. Marmont, one of Bonaparte’s oldest friends and, like him, an artilleryman, was fittingly enough in charge of the guns; Murat, one of history’s greatest cavalry leaders, was with his hussars and chasseurs at the Palais Bourbon; Lannes – who while in Egypt, not having seen his wife for more than a year, heard that she had given birth to a bouncing boy – was in command of the Tuileries; Macdonald was at Versailles; Sérurier at St-Cloud. By the end of that day all the Directors were rendered impotent and it only remained for Bonaparte to appear the following day and confront the Council of the Ancients and the Deputies at St-Cloud for the whole coup d’état to be complete.

Few things daunted Bonaparte, but one of them was a hostile mob, and this was precisely what he had to face in the Council Chamber at St-Cloud, outside Paris, on 10 November. When he addressed the Council of the Ancients, he struck quite the wrong chord, speaking to them not as the statesman they expected, but as soldier, bragging that the god of Victory and the god of Fortune marched with him. He was greeted with angry shouts. Worse was to come when he entered the Orangery to address the Five Hundred Deputies. At once he was accused of violating the law. Angry Deputies crowded round him, clawing and striking at him, shouting that he was a dictator and should be outlawed. Bonaparte was rescued by four stalwart soldiers and led outside. His brother Lucien, who was President of the Five Hundred, then made an attempt to restore order and sent an urgent note to Bonaparte telling him to act at once. After making an appeal to the soldiers – ‘I led you to victory, can I count on you?’ – powerfully reinforced by Lucien, who swore that he would run his own brother through should he jeopardize the freedom of Frenchmen, Bonaparte ordered General Leclerc, a comrade-in-arms at Toulon and husband of Bonaparte’s sister, Pauline, to clear the Orangery, together with Murat. Murat, who never stood on ceremony, acted with his characteristic blend of eloquent bravado and practical action, inviting his grenadiers to chuck the Deputies – ‘these blighters’ – out of the Orangery window. This action effectively put a stop to all opposition and early the following morning, 11 November 1799, still at the Orangery, the new Government formally took office.

There were to be three Consuls – Bonaparte, Ducos and Sieyès. They all swore their loyal service to the Republic. The principles of Liberty, Equality and the Representative System would be upheld. But none of this counted for much when about a month later Bonaparte became First Consul and virtual ruler of France. He was thirty years old. He moved to the Tuileries in February 1800, telling the ‘little Creole’, Josephine, to ‘sleep in the bed of your masters’. It would not be long, however, before he found himself at the head of the army, once more confronting the enemies of France. He would have preferred to concentrate on matters of peace, but neither Austria nor Great Britain was prepared to follow suit. That Bonaparte wished for peace was made clear by his declaration to the people on becoming First Consul that he knew they wanted peace and that the Government wanted it even more. He himself wanted to set about the gigantic task of overhauling completely the organization of France and the conduct of its affairs. He went so far as to send a message to King George III proposing a settlement and asking ‘why the two most enlightened nations of Europe should go on sacrificing their trade, their prosperity, and their domestic happiness to false ideas of grandeur?’ His own ideas of grandeur were to take huge strides in the coming years and he would create for himself a position and fame unparalleled in contemporary history. Yet it must be borne in mind that all the wars fought by him up to 1807, when he sent troops into Spain to conquer Portugal, were defensive wars against a series of coalitions, sponsored by England and joined by Russia, Austria and Prussia. And while waging these wars to preserve the integrity of France, Bonaparte was generally successful. It was only when the wars of aggression began that his game began to go wrong.

Bonaparte’s overtures to George III met with a dusty answer. George instructed his Foreign Secretary, Grenville, to write to Talleyrand and reject any idea of negotiating with the First Consul. This rejection could have been couched in firm, diplomatic and inoffensive language, but Grenville chose to employ irrational and tactless pomposity, demanding restoration of the Bourbons and a return to pre-revolutionary frontiers. It was, of course, Pitt who was the arbiter of this dismissal of Bonaparte’s peace offer, and when challenged in the House of Commons as to the purpose of continuing the war, against which there was now high feeling in the country, he justified his policy on the grounds of security. He went so far as to speak of the danger which threatened the world as being the greatest that had ever done so, one that had been resisted by the nations of Europe, and with notable success by England. Jacobinism, which had previously been embodied in the persons of Robespierre and Barras, the Terror and the Directory, had not gone away. It had now ‘been centred and condensed into one man, who was reared and nursed in its bosom, whose celebrity was gained under its auspices, who was at once child and champion of all its atrocities and horrors’. There was no security for England in making peace with Bonaparte. The prosecution of war, on the other hand, would attain security. Yet for the time being, as far as making war on land was concerned, it would have to be left to the Austrians. The irony of it all was that this brought about another triumphant victory for Bonaparte, and in spite of Nelson’s destruction of the Danish fleet at Copenhagen and the recapture of Egypt by Abercromby, England did make peace with France. But by then Pitt had ceased to be Prime Minister and Addington was in his place. How did Bonaparte set about beating the Austrians?

During the early months of 1800 the First Consul was obliged to interrupt his formidable task of organizing France’s finances, judicial system, Civil Code, religion, educational structure, its roads, ports, canals and countrywide administration, in order to raise another army to beat off enemies which were gathering again to overthrow the Revolution once and for all. France was being threatened on two fronts – from the Rhine and from Italy. Bonaparte positioned his Army of the Reserve at Dijon from where he could reinforce either front. It was to Italy that he marched for, whilst the Army of the Rhine succeeded in checking the Austrians at Biberach, south of Ulm, the position in Italy was potentially much more dangerous. It all depended on that old fox Masséna, who was defending Genoa, hemmed in by the Austrian army on land and by the British navy at sea. Masséna defied all the odds – starvation, disease, a mutinous army, a rebellious population – hanging on at all costs, for the Austrians dared not advance beyond Genoa leaving French forces, albeit weak, astride their communications. Towards the end of May 1800, Masséna heard at last that the First Consul had crossed the Great St Bernard Pass with the Reserve Army (not as depicted in David’s famous painting mounted on a full-blooded grey charger, but on a mule well behind the main body), and was in Lombardy at Marengo, positioned between Vienna and the Austrian army under Melas. Masséna could now march out of Genoa with his bedraggled remains of an army and leave the rest of the business to Bonaparte.

Somewhat later in his career, Napoleon – we may refer to him thus now, as after the peace of Amiens in 1802 he was confirmed for life as First Consul and would from then on be known as Napoleon – made his plea: ‘Give me lucky generals.’ At Marengo in June 1800, making the mistakes he did, he needed plenty of luck himself – and got it! Having dispersed his forces too widely, astonishing in a general who knew all too well that concentration was a cardinal principle of war, never to be breached, and failing to give the Austrian commander credit for being able to mount a concentrated attack on him, Napoleon was dismayed to find his divisions being pushed back and his entire position in danger of disintegrating. There was but one measure that could save the day – a counter-attack. It was then that three of his subordinate commanders came to the rescue. First, Napoleon sent a desperate plea to Desaix, who with his infantry division of some 5,000 men had earlier been sent off south to cut the road to Genoa: ‘For God’s sake come back.’ At about five o’clock Desaix returned and, according to Correlli Barnett, more or less took charge of the situation, commenting to Napoleon that although one encounter seemed to have gone wrong, there was still time to win the battle. Meanwhile, Marmont, who was in charge of the guns, and who had been fighting all day, supplemented his five pieces of artillery with five from the reserve and eight from Desaix, making up a battery of eighteen guns. Thus Marmont was able to deliver an effective bombardment against the advancing Austrians, enabling Desaix to go forward. On the flank with 400 cavalrymen was young General Kellermann, and their charge just as the Austrians were trying to recover from the combined shocks of Marmont’s discharge of cannister and Desaix’s assault completed a perfectly combined action of horse, foot and guns, which transformed the fortunes of a battle the Austrians thought they had won.