Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Did Soldiers use Grenades in the Mid-Eighteenth Century?


Plate from, The Grenadiers exercise of the Granado...
published December 4th, 1744

Dear Reader,

I sincerely apologize for the long silence. It has been too long since I've created any content on this site. I promised someone very dear to me that I would not write any more posts until after I had defended my dissertation, and I am delighted to report that I passed my dissertation defense on March 1st. Although I am still hard at work on revisions, I decided to take a bit of time out of that schedule to provide a short write-up on grenades. 

The use of hand grenades is commonly associated with the period just before the Seven Years War: the grenadiers of the 1690s employed grenades in siege combat, and no-one would dispute this.  Likewise, it is common knowledge that grenades continued to be employed by naval forces during the eighteenth century. On land, however, it is commonly asserted, that grenades fell out of fashion after the War of Spanish Succession, and played little part in warfare during the Seven Years War or American War of Independence. Evidence shows that this is incorrect. Grenades continued to play an important part in siege warfare throughout this period, and both European and American officers concurred that armies needed to be supplied and equipped with grenades. 

During this entire period, the hand grenade was a hollow ball of metal (glass grenades were also employed by the Austrian military, but may be from an earlier period) filled with gunpowder and ignited by means of a short fuse. A military author defined grenades in 1783: 

The hand-grenade, which is a hollow ball or shell, generally of iron, but sometimes of tin... of about 2 1/2 inches in diameter; was first used in 1594... it is filled with a very fine powder, and set on fire by means of a small fuze driven into the fuze hole.[1]


A pile of early modern grenades and musket balls,
Forchtenstein Castle

Evidence for the continued use of grenades by European armies is substantial. In 1747, two (probably drunk) Prussian cantonists disrupted a engagement party by exploding hand grenades nearby, until the minister had them chased off (no mean feat).[2] When the Austrians captured Schweidnitz in 1757, they inherited a store of almost 81,000 hand grenades from their former Prussian owners.[3] In 1779, Gaston de Commines, a soldier formerly in Austrian service, writing from the United Provinces, attempted to convince Benjamin Franklin of the efficacy of his new grenade launcher, which he envisioned mounted troops employing.[4] Lewis Lochée, a naturalized British military writer from the Austrian Netherlands, wrote on hand grenades in his 1783 treatise on field fortification, arguing that camps should have, "palisades fixed at a certain distances from the parapet.. to obtain the additional security against hand grenades." Lochee continued, "the distance that hand-grenades can be thrown is from 25 to 30 yards."[5] Thus, Prussian cantonists had access to grenades in peacetime, and set a considerable store of them aside. Authors and inventors with Austrian, Dutch, and British connections likewise considered the use of hand grenades, and developed new weapons for their employ. However, were they used in actual combat? 

It seems that, much like their use during the Nine Years War and War of Spanish Succession, hand grenades were most commonly deployed around fortresses. British troops utilized hand grenades in colonial conflict, such as against the Native Americans who took part in Pontiac's War in 1763. Simeon Ecuyer, the officer commanding at Fort Pitt, noted that the Indians, "continued firing at the fort all night, [we] threw some hand grenades into the ditch where we imagined some of the enemy were."[6] Captain Dalrympe of the Loyal Irish Volunteers wrote Lord Germain in 1779, describing the attack on the fortress at Porto Omoa, asserting that his troops, "were formed into four columns in line, four men advanced in each column, with guides at the head... followed [by] eight men with carrying the ladders, who were followed by a few hand grenade men."[7] Although the Loyal Irish took part in this assault, seamen and marines also formed part of the attack. 

Grenades were also captured, acquired and employed by American troops during the War of Independence. At the capture of Fort Chambly in October of 1775, part of the stores which fell into American hands were, "500 hand grenades."[8] American Colonel Richard Gridley estimated that American troops would need, "2000 hand grenades" in order to successfully besiege Boston.[9] Captain Thomas Antoine Mauduit du Plessis, a French engineer working with the American troops, wrote to Washington in 1777 that Fort Red Bank could better defended if, "we can with mines [and] hands grenades... secure him."[10] Like most European armies, then, the North American rebels primarily used grenades in the context of sieges and defending positions. 

Russian Troops experimenting with mortars, 1750s[11]

The Russians, in contrast with most armies in Military Europe, stood out for their great love of hand grenades during the eighteenth century. Russian grenadiers and fusiliers carried grenades throughout the Seven Years War, carrying two grenades in a special bandoleer.[12] Grenadiers were instructed to throw these grenades whenever the enemy was close enough.[13] This was also done by the dragoon regiments in the Russian Army, who like the infantry had special ammunition carts for the transport of grenades. Perhaps uniquely among eighteenth-century armies, Russian troops planned for the use of grenades outside siege warfare. In skirmishes with East Prussian militia forces, Russian dragoons were instructed to dismount and throw their grenades whenever the enemy took cover or used buildings as a strongpoint.[14] The Russian army employed grenades in a variety of settings, and even equipped their mounted troops with grenades.

Thus, although there were some regional differences, troops all across Europe and North America continued to employ hand grenades in specific settings during the middle decades of the eighteenth-century. These weapons did not disappear with the end of the War of Spanish Succession, and continue to be employed throughout the period. 

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitterConsider checking out our exclusive content on Patreon. Finally, we are dedicated to keeping Kabinettskriege ad-free. In order to assist with this, please consider supporting us via the donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the page. As always:

Thanks for Reading, 

Alex Burns


[1] Lewis Lochée, Elements of Field Fortification, 22.
[2] William W. Hagen, Ordinary Prussians, 155, 472.
[3] George Grey Butler (editor) and Horace St. Paul, A Journal of the First Two Campaigns of the Seven Years War, (Cambridge: 1914), 380.
[4] Barbara B. Oberg, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, November 1, 1779, through February 29, 1780, Volume 31, 48–54.
[5] Lewis Lochée, Elements of Field Fortification, 22.
[6] Mary C. Darlington, Fort Pitt and Letters from the Frontier, 105.
[7] The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure, Volume 65, 319.
[8] The Scots Magazine, Volume 37 (1775), 651.
[9] Philander D. Chase, The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, Volume 2, 210.
[10]Philander D. Chase, The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, Volume 12, 287.
[11] For this and more excellent images of the Russian Army, see: Tomasz Karpinski, "Unknown Iconographic Sources for the History of the Russian Army: The Russian garrison in Elblag during the Seven Years War though the Observation of Eyewitnesses," Milihist Info. Link
[12] Groβen Generalstabe, Die Krieges Friedrichs des Groβen, Teil 3, Der Siebenjaehrige Krieg, Volume 4 (Berlin, E. Mittler und Sohn, 1914) 5,29.
[13] Ibid.
[14]Christopher Duffy, Russia's Military Way to the West, 64.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Life in the Red Coat Podcast

Dear Readers,

I wanted to attach a link for a podcast, Khaki Malarkey, which I was recently on, discussing the publication of a new book on British soldiers in and out of combat during the eighteenth century and Napoleonic era. I had the good fortune to join Dr. Andrew Bamford, in addition to a number of other historians. 

Podcast Link

If you enjoyed this podocast, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitterConsider checking out our exclusive content on Patreon. Finally, we are dedicated to keeping Kabinettskriege ad-free. In order to assist with this, please consider supporting us via the donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the page. As always:

Thanks for Reading,


Thursday, August 20, 2020

260th Anniversary of the Battle of Strehla (Gefecht bei Oschatz)

View from the Dürrenberg to the southeast, where the vast majority of the
Reichsarmee remained as a fixing force.

Today is the 260th anniversary of the Battle of Strehla (Gefect bei Oschatz), during the Seven Years War in German Central Europe. A small battle by the standards of the European Seven Years War, with perhaps just under 40,000 men on the battlefield, it is larger than any of the battles of the American War of Independence. Fought in the electorate of Saxony, allied forces attempted to use their large numerical superiority to force the occupying Prussian army to abandon a good defensive position on the river Elbe. I had the good fortune to be able to walk this battlefield in 2018, in the summer just a few weeks before the battle's anniversary.

A (not breath-takingly accuarte) period map of Strehla
In this battle, the 67 year-old Prussian Lt. General, Johann Dietrich von Hülsen was attacked by an Austrian and Reichsarmee force under the command of Karl Friedrich Graf von Pfalz Zweibrücken-Birkenfeld.[1] At this battle, the allied Austrians and Reichsarmee numbered between 25,000 to 30,000 men, and faced a Prussian Army of 10,000 to 12,000 men.[2]

Hülsen deployed his soldiers on two sets of rising ground near the small town of Strehla, with his main army in a defensive camp by the town, and a detached force of grenadiers and artillery further west from the river on the high ground north of the village of Clanzschwitz. In this battle, the Austrians would ignore Hülsen's main camp, and focus their efforts on the relatively isolated grenadiers.

The view from Prussian positions at the Dürrenberg, towards Gausco's Austrian
Grenadiers. The village of Clanzschwitz is in shadow

Attempting an attack by multiple columns, the allies surrounded Hülsen's isolated advanced post at the Dürrenberg, where Major General Braun stood with 4-5 battalions of Prussian Grenadiers. Tying up the Austrian Grenadiers from the south with an artillery duel, Braun shifted his forces move towards a large hill with a windmill to the west, just as FML. Kleefeld's detachment of five battalions broke out of woods directly to Braun's north. Shifting his battalions to meet this more immediate threat, Braun benefited from the relative inactivity of Austrian forces to his west and south, who continued to engage his forces in an artillery duel, but did not launch heavy attacks. FML Kreefeld's force engaged the Prussian grenadiers in a close range firefight.

Looking north from the Dürrenberg, to where the Austrians under Kleefeld would
have emerged. 
At this point, Hülsen, realizing the danger, immediately moved the Schorlemer Dragoons across the battlefield, riding between the dueling Austrian and Prussian artillery, to attack the flank of Kleefeld's corps. Eventually, these troops were bailed out by Austrian cuirassier, but not before the dragoons had broken up the attack, with the support of the grenadiers already engaged. The battle ended with a cavalry fight on the north end of the battlefield above the village of Laas, where Colonel Kleist, having redeployed to face a large body of allied cavalry, pushed these forces back, ending the battle. 

A view of the northern cavalry battlefield on the flat ground northwest of the
village of Laas
In a sharp fight lasting only two hours, the Prussians had defeated an enemy force that outnumbered them over two to one. The Prussians suffered approximately 1,000 killed and wounded, the allies suffered 1,800 killed and wounded, and 1,200 prisoners lost to the Prussians.[3] Realizing that discretion was the better part of valor, Hülsen withdrew to the stronger defensive position at Torgau the same day, delaying the allied advance for a month from that position.

The battle shows fighting typical of the middle stages of the Seven Years War. The Austrians, impressed by their success at Hochkirch, continue to employ the  method of moving independent columns to partially surround the enemy before attacking. Likewise, Austrian and higher quality Reichsarmee troops are used for actual combat operations, while the majority of the Reichsarmee is used to fix the enemy in place. In the actual battle, the difficulties in coordinating simultaneous independent assaults because evident, as the Prussians manage to fix enemy columns in place with long-range artillery duels. All in all, Hülsen, Braun, and Kleist performed quite well in the face of superior enemy forces.

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitterConsider checking out our exclusive content on Patreon. Finally, we are dedicated to keeping Kabinettskriege ad-free. In order to assist with this, please consider supporting us via the donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the page. As always:

Thanks for Reading, 

Alex Burns

[1] As a complete aside, Friedrich Wilhelm, Freiherr de Steuben (Baron Steuben), likely fought at this battle as a member of Hülsen's staff. Palmer, General von Steuben, 38.
[2] Christopher Duffy, By Force of Arms, 273.
[3] German General Staff, Die Kriege Friedrichs des Großen. Theil 3, Der Siebenjährige Krieg, 1756-1763 Bd. 13, pg. 178.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Urban Warfare in the Eighteenth Century

Two members of HM 40th Foot / 2nd Battalion LI - "Bloodhounds" take cover
in Cliveden, photo credit Suzanne Shaw
Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to examine an understudied topic in eighteenth-century military history: urban warfare. Although the eighteenth century was an age where generals preferred to fight large field battles and conduct formal sieges, the century did indeed see its share of urban warfare, that is to say, troops fighting house to house in built-up areas. Troops would occasionally find themselves fighting in village houses during large field battles, but addressing that is not the main goal of my post today. Rather, I seek to understand what happened when armies clashed in actual urban environments, towns or cities as they would have been identified in the eighteenth century.

Encounters of this sort are rare, but not unheard of. Principally, in writing this post, I examined the fight at Preston in 1715, the Austrian attack on Velletri in 1744, and the American assault on Quebec in 1775. At Preston, the Hanoverians attacked a unfortified town that a small Jacobite army had hastily attempted to barricade. At Velletri, an Austrian army attempted to capture the entourage of the future King Charles III of Spain. At Quebec, an initially successful assault on a fortified city bogged down in heavy street fighting. These experiences will be supplements by descriptions of village fighting in larger field battles. With these sources of experience in mind, what common experiences can we identify between these actions?

When fighting in an urban environment, soldiers quickly sought out cover, usually by barricading themselves in houses. At Preston in 1715, when the Jacobite commander William  MacIntosh was asked why he chose to defend Preston rather than a nearby ridge, explained, "the body of the town was the security of the army."[1] At Velletri in 1744, civilians, seeing the fire that Austrian troops were spreading in the town, began firing at the troops in the street from barricaded houses. The Austrians soon followed suite, taking cover in whatever houses they could force open.[2] Events followed the same pattern at Quebec in 1775, when French civilians, loyal to the crown, opened fire on rebel troops marching through the lower town. In the words of a junior British officer observing the scene, "some of the French who took to the houses... ke[pt] gauling them so as obliged the rebels also to take to the houses... where they remained and returned our fire."[3] Larger buildings were valued as observation points and firing platforms.[4] At confused fighting at Leuthen and Hochkirch in the Seven Years War, Austrian and Prussian soldiers sought any cover they could find, and used a high churchyard walls in these villages as miniature fortresses.[5] At the Battle of Blenheim/Höchstadt in 1704, the French attempted to use the village of Blenheim (Blindheim) itself as a strongpoint.[6]

Schlacht bei Hochkirch, Carl Röchling
In addition to houses, soldiers constructed street barricades and fighting positions. Searching for cover, soldiers used whatever they could find in order to provide cover for themselves. John Deane helpfully lists the materials used for the construction of street barricades at Blenheim: "trees, planks, coffers, chests, wagons, carts and palisades[.]"[7] At Leuthen in 1757, Austrians troops were told off, in the midst of battle, to construct fighting positions in the village.[8] At Preston in 1715, the Jacobites constructed numerous barricades across the streets, encompassing multiple lines of defense. In a running battle that lasted for days, the Hanoverians followed suit by building trenches and barricades of their own.[9] At Preston, some of these barricades were large enough for hundreds of men to take shelter behind.

In the course of the natural use of houses as cover by soldiers, structures were almost always burned. Fire had important tactical uses in the eighteenth century. Obviously, only immobile and suicidal men would remain in a burning structure during a fight, and many wounded men burned to death in these horrible encounters.[10] Soldiers set buildings on fire intentionally, in order to drive out defenders, at Preston and Velletri.[11] Fire, of course, spread unintentionally from there. Soldiers also believed that the smoke that fires generated could be employed as cover, essentially as a smoke screen. At Blenheim in 1704, and Preston in 1715, fires were intentionally set to give concealment to friendly forces. At Blenheim, John Deane relates that, "The village was sett on fire before we came to it by the enemy whereby they though to have blinded our gunners[.]"[12] At Preston, both the Hanoverians and the Jacobites used the smoke of burning buildings as cover, and may have set fire intentionally for that purpose.[13]

The Battle of Quebec, F. H. Wellington

In this urban setting, artillery played the role of supporting weapons, clearing streets, and demolishing enemy strongpoints.  Thomas Ainslee, a British officer at Quebec in 1775, described the process of taking a large house on a city street with American rebel troops inside:
Capt. Nairn...had by this time run up a ladder and entered a window at the end of the corner house where the enemy were posted, there they killed one and took another prisoner and my detachment in the other street having by my direction enlarged the post of one of the guns... brought it to bear on the house where most of them were. I ordered it to be fired and as it was loaded with canister and grape shott, it killed Capt. Hendrick of the Rifllers, wounded Capt. Lamb... and several others in the room all of these circumstances together... obliged them to lay down their arms and surrender.[14]
At Trenton in 1776, the American continental army used artillery to stop enemy movement on village streets, this tactic was also used by the Austrians at Hochkirch in 1758.[15] At Preston in 1715, cannons were used extensively to sweep streets of enemy forces, as well as fire on and demolish enemy strong points.[16] Henry Knox's suggestion to use artillery on the Cliveden at Germantown in 1777 may fit into this type of tactical thinking.

Heavy fighting in an urban setting usually led to a high number of enemy troops surrendering, when cover and dense terrain meant that flight was impossible. At Preston in 1715, the battle ended when after four days of resistance, the entirety of the Jacobite Army surrendered.[17] At Velletri, the fighting in the town netted the Austrians almost 600 prisoners. [18] At Quebec in 1775, more than one third of Montgomery's initial force, over 400 men, were captured by the British and their Canadian allies.[19]

Finally, the consequences for the urban environment involved in the fighting were usually severe. At Velletri in 1744, civilians were accidentally shot on one occasion, and looting by Austrian Grenzer was widespread.[20] In Preston, the prolonged nature of the fighting caused widespread destruction, and a commission for civilian relief set up after the end of hostilities received 226 requests from the inhabitants of Preston for relief, totalling sums of approximately £6,500, or approximately $850,000 today.[21]

Fighting in an urban environment was provided eighteenth-century soldiers with an odd mix of contradictions. In dense terrain, soldiers were more likely to have an abundance of cover, and use that cover effectively. Fire was used both offensively and defensively, to provide cover from the enemy, and drive the enemy from buildings. Artillery was employed with an impressive degree of tactical flexibility,  to control enemy movement and reduce enemy strong points. Finally, despite the greater cover afforded by urban environments, soldiers were much more likely to be captured by the enemy in large numbers if they lost the engagement. Fighting in urban environments also had the possibility of causing great damage to civilian property.  By and large, eighteenth-century warfare in an urban environment possess more than a passing continuity to the experiences of urban warfare in the modern world.

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitterConsider checking out our exclusive content on Patreon. Finally, we are dedicated to keeping Kabinettskriege ad-free. In order to assist with this, please consider supporting us via the donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the page. As always:

Thanks for Reading, 

Alex Burns


[1] Charles Hardwick, History of the Borough of Preston and Its Environs, 224.
[2] Christopher Duffy, The Wild Goose and the Eagle, (2019 edition), 85-6.
[3] MSS L2019F60, Society of the Cincinnati Library, (Thomas Ainslee's account of the Siege of Quebec)
[4]Charles Hardwick, History of the Borough of Preston and Its Environs, 225-6.
[5] Christopher Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, (1996 edition) 272, 284.
[6] John Deane, A Journal of Marlborough's Campaigns, 11.
[7] Ibid.
[8]Christopher Duffy, Prussia's Glory, 158.
[9] Charles Hardwick, History of the Borough of Preston and Its Environs, 224-228.
[10] John Deane, A Journal of Marlborough's Campaigns, 11.
[11]Charles Hardwick, History of the Borough of Preston and Its Environs, 229; Duffy, The Wild Goose and the Eagle, 85.
[12] John Deane, A Journal of Marlborough's Campaigns, 11.
[13]Charles Hardwick, History of the Borough of Preston and Its Environs, 229
[14]MSS L2019F60, Society of the Cincinnati Library, (Thomas Ainslee's account of the Siege of Quebec)
[15]Charles Hardwick, History of the Borough of Preston and Its Environs, 225, 227
[16] David Hackett Fisher, Washington's Crossing, 244; Christopher Duffy, Army of Frederick the Great, (1996 edition), 284.
[17] Ibid, 233.
[18]Christopher Duffy, The Wild Goose and the Eagle, (2019 edition), 87.
[19]MSS L2019F60, Society of the Cincinnati Library, (Thomas Ainslee's account of the Siege of Quebec)
[20] Christopher Duffy, The Wild Goose and the Eagle, (2019 edition), 86.
[21]Charles Hardwick, History of the Borough of Preston and Its Environs, 240

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Hear the Eighteenth Century Come Alive: Hogarth and the Art of Noise

Detail, The March of the Guards to Finchley, William Hogarth
Dear Reader,

Between May and September of 2019, the Foundling Museum in London hosted a spectacular exhibit centered on famous Hogarth painting, The March of the Guards to Finchley. This exhibit, entitled, "Hogarth and the Art of Noise," was designed to match this painting with recreations of sounds from the eighteenth century, including dialogue. You can access the entire 12:12 long track of the exhibit here. Feel free to listen along while viewing the images of the exhibit.

The Foundling Museum, located a few blocks east of the Russell Square tube station in London, preserves the memory of one of the earliest and best kept European orphanages. Today, the building is used exclusively as a museum, with a large collection of eighteenth-century art and material objects.

One of the centerpieces of the collection is the famous Hogarth painting, The March of the Guards to Finchley. Last summer, I was fortunate enough to be in London while the Foundling Museum was highlighting this part of its collection with a special exhibit. Specifically, the museum attempted to replicate the soundscape of Hogarth's painting. As a result, the basement of the museum was given over to a special exhibit on the sounds of London and the military world of the Jacobite Rebellion in the eighteenth century.

The special exhibit consisted of a number of panels and alcoves with reproduce eighteenth-century documents and images, usually with headphones for listening to pieces of reproduced music. Front plates from period works were also reproduced.

With that said, the centerpiece of the exhibit was The March of the Guards to Finchley itself,and the soundscape produced to accompany it. A long cushioned bench was helpfully provided for patrons to sit and listen to the entirety of the soundscape. 

The brief selection of below can help give a feel for the experience of the entire soundscape. 

The exhibit made clever use of the limited space that was available for it, and allowed patrons sufficient time to experience the entire soundscape without being rushed. All in all, the exhibit firmly rested on its use of The March of the Guards, and managed to use the painting in a highly effective and innovated manner. I'll leave you with some close-up shots of the painting. 

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitterConsider checking out our exclusive content on Patreon. Finally, we are dedicated to keeping Kabinettskriege ad-free. In order to assist with this, please consider supporting us via the donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the page. As always:

Thanks for Reading, 

Alex Burns

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Russian Soldiers on American Soil? Catherine the Great, George III, and the American Revolution

Russians troops, 1770s
image graciously provided by Артур Юшкевич
Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to examine a subject which may be familiar to some of you, but I hope to explore the topic with a source base that will be new for many of you. The apocalyptic vision of Russian troops invading the United States became increasingly common during the Cold War, and has carried on into the post-Cold War era through the medium of video games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The most famous example of this trend is perhaps the 1984 film, Red Dawn. 
The American fear of invasion by Russian troops existed long before the twentieth century, however. During the American War of Independence, many Americans feared that the Tsarina of Russia, Catherine II "the Great", would send troops to support the British during the War of Independence.

This possibility, both eagerly anticipated by British officers, and feared by the American people, has been addressed by a number of diplomatic historians, going all the way back to Frank A. Golder's 1915 treatment of the subject, "Catherine the Great and the American Revolution" in the American Historical Review. The best book in English on this subject is doubtlessly still Normal Saul's Distant Friends: The United States and Russia, 1763-1867. More recently, Norman Desmarais has covered the topic via published writings by British officers, as well as tracking down newspaper reports of Russian involvement throughout the war. This is a post about an agreement between two countries that was never reached: in the words of Norman Saul, "Russians would not be Hessians." For first making me aware of this incident, and all of his incredible assistance during my MA studies, I would like to thank Prof. Dr. Sergei Zhuk, of Ball State University, who was gracious enough to work with a student who was interested in the Hessians.

A Court Portrait of Sir Robert Gunning
On the 7th of August, 1775, the British Ambassador at the Russian Court, Sir Robert Gunning, received a letter from Henry Howard, the 12th Earl of Suffolk. Suffolk, a highly placed minister in Lord North's government, who eventually secured the use of Hessian and Hanoverian forces for the British Crown, wrote to Gunning, the Ambassador in Russian, confidentially asking him to put out feelers regarding obtaining Russian troops for British use in North America. In his cyphered reply to Suffolk, on the 8th of August, 1775, Gunning spoke of the "delicate and difficult commission" which the government had charged him, namely, obtaining, "a Body of Her Imperial Majesty's Infantry[.]"[1]

Henry Howard, 12th Earl of Suffolk
Almost immediately in this process, Gunning appeared to hedge his bets in his letters back to his handler in London: he carefully explained that he needed to bring this topic of conversation up organically with the Empress herself, or with her minister Nikita Ivanonvich Panin. He planned to wait for the Empress to make one of her "numberless assurances [that] she has formerly given me of Her wishes to have any opportunity of serving the King (George III)."[2] This type of assurance was normally given in the course of diplomatic niceties at court, and can be understood as the equivalent of the modern English nicety, 'let us know if you need anything.' In a difficult situation, Gunning planned to follow-up this nicety with, 'actually, your Imperial Majesty, we need about 20,000 troops for service in North America.'

Nikita Ivanonvich Panin
By the 8th of September, Suffolk had replied to Gunning, indicating that he should be prepared to offer the Russian Empress a subsidy treaty in exchange for use of this "body of troops", but that "it is more profitable," for Gunning to pursue, "the same line of sentiment on which she [Empress Catherine] has thus far proceeded; she may think a treaty unncessary and lend the assistance required without any formal obligation whatever."[3] Acknowledging that this level of generosity seemed unlikely, Suffolk continued, "That you however may be prepared for every possible contingency, His Majesty commands me to inform you that the proposal of a Subsidy is not to frustrate the negotiations."[4]

Helpfully, Suffolk drew up a draft of a subsidy treaty, leaving key areas, such as numbers of troops committed, blank, so that Gunning would have something tangible to present the Russian Empress. This treaty, written in French, contained the following points:

1. George III would secure a body of troops for service, the exact number of troops left blank, they would be officered by Russians.
2. The troops would be picked up by British transports from various seaports on the 25th of March, 1776.
3. The troops would be reviewed before embarkation by an English commissioner, who would administer an oath of loyalty to George III, which the treaty was careful to note, "of course, this will not supersede their oath of Loyalty taken to the Her Majesty the Empress of all the Russians."[5]
4.The British crown would provide two battalion guns (light cannon) to each battalion serving in this manner, and also provide the necessary men for crewing these pieces.
5. Having taken the oath of Loyalty on March 25th, they would for all intents and purposes be British National Troops, receiving pay at the same rate as their British counterparts.
6. Should these battalions be damaged or destroyed while in British service, the British crown would pay for the cost of re-raising the troops, and return them into Russian service in the same condition that they were received.
7. The troops will serve for the duration of the treaty, the British crown would give a three-month warning when the treaty was to be dissolved, and send the troops back to Russian with two months pay for their travel costs.
8. Should hostilities break out in Russia, the troops would be returned immediately with the same arrangement for back pay, and in addition the British government would transport them free of charge.
9. The treaty would last for two years with the possibility of renewal.
10. The Russians have ten weeks from the British signature to ratify the treaty.[6]
Having drafted the treaty, Suffolk felt the need to clarify points in his following letters to Gunning, instructing him, "have it fully understood that the supreme command is to be with General Carlton, or Genl. Howe, or whoever may be the British commander in chief in the District where the Russians are to act[.]"[7] Suffolk continued, "I must again remind you of the great importance of bringing this matter to an immediate Decision so as the Account of it may arrive on or before the 24th of October."[8]

On the September 11th, 1775, Gunning reported to Suffolk a conversation with Catherine II, where she had asked the British Ambassador "whether any progress had been made in settling disputes in America."[9] Before Gunning could reply, the Empress continued, "for God's sake, put an End to it as soon as possible, and do not confine yourself to one Method of accomplishing this desirable End there are various means of doing it, and they ought all to be tried."[10]

Tragically for the British, Gunning was at this particular moment unaware of the drafted subsidy treaty, which had just been written three days earlier by Suffolk, and was still enroute to him. Only on October 1st did Gunning report back that the message had arrived to late, and the empress had departed for another country seat when the subsidy treaty arrived. Notwithstanding this setback, Gunning immediately approached Panin, "the next morning, and on account of the extreme Readiness and good Will which he had shewn in the Business hitherto, I was resolved to treat with him with all possible Openness."[11] Panin initially treated Gunning's request with favor: "Neither the number of troops nor the place of their destination seemed to strike him as exceptionable: he repeated to me that he saw it perfectly in the light I did, as a matter of Friendship between sovereign and sovereign."[12] Panin seemed to wholeheartedly support the plan, but Gunning related that his, "impatience to have the business communicated to the Empress was checked by my knowledge of the persons by whom she was then surrounded, Mons. Potemkin and the Tchernychevs."[13] Panin confirmed Gunning's suspicions that the idea might be shot down in the presence of this hostile party, and "was of the opinion that he ought himself to be the Bearer of His Majesty's Letter to the Empress."[14]

Count Osterman

Gunning next approached Count Ivan Andreyevich Osterman, and received a cooler response. Osterman, "asked me whether such an assistance would not alarm the other powers."[15] Gunning was unable to convince Osterman of the feasibility of the scheme. When Gunning had the opportunity to speak to Panin once again, "the less positive manner in which he expressed his hopes of the success of my application made me very much apprehensive that Count Osterman's ideas of the difficulty of the business had infected him."[16] That was Wednesday. By Friday, at 5pm, Panin relayed to Gunning that the Empress,
"shewed much repugnance to the [idea of] having her troops employed in America, where they could have no communication with this country; and that the number requested was so great that she did not think it was possible to grant them in the present state of her forces, wasted as they were by the length of hte late war; as well as on account of the unsettled state of Poland and the uncertainty of that of Sweden[.]... She had asked whether it was not possible for Her to assisted Us in any other Manner than by sending Her troops out of Europe?"[17]

Panin, in passing, added to Gunning, "could not His Majesty make use of Hanoverians?"[18] At this point, Gunning resorted to begging, pleading, and that most unhelpful of suggestions, 'we could have assisted the Turks in the late war.'  Gunning then attempted to negotiate for a smaller body of troops, reducing his request to 15,000 men. Panin was noncommittal,  and Gunning concluded, "I can scarcely entertain any Hopes at present that Her Imperial Majesty will be prevailed upon to send Troops to America[.]"[19]

Finally, Catherine II sent a lengthy letter to George III via Gunning. Despite a warm and effusive opening, Catherine indicated that, "your minister explains and desires a body of twenty thousand men from my troops be transported to Canada next spring, I cannot hide from your Majesty that such aid with such a destination not only sits ill with me, but also exceeds the limits of my powers to oblige."[] She continued, "Nor can I stop thinking about what should have resulted for Our own dignity, if  two monarchies and two nations had thus joined of our forces simply to calm a rebellion."[20]

In summary, though Gunning and Suffolk worked at some length to obtain a body of Russian subsidy troops, the opinions of Count Osterman and other prominent members of the Russian Court intervened to prevent Russian soldiers from intervening on the British side of the American War of Independence.

Now, we turn to that most dangerous of historical enterprises: the counterfactual hypothesis. What would have occurred if Tsarina and her ministers had been disposed to accept the subsidy treaty with the government of George III?  Obviously, take what follows with a giant helping of salt.

Period drawing of Russian Troops, 18th Century
Unknown artist, oil on canvas, image graciously provided by Артур Юшкевич
Assuming all went well with the inspection and embarkation of troops on March 25th, the Russian force of 20,000 men would have been available for the New York offensive, and could have arrived off Long Island with the rest of Howe's forces by the end of June. Uniformed in their red summer jackets  the Russians would have fit in quite well with the British forces. There is little doubt that they would have performed as effectively as the Hessians did in the late summer and fall campaign across New York in 1776. As the year drew to a close, gaining a similar amount of ground, Howe would likely have dispersed his men into garrisons, and placed 1,500 men under the command of Major General Alexander Suvorov in the area around Trenton. Following established Russian doctrine, Suvorov followed his subordinates' suggestion to place redoubts around key positions at Trenton. When the American attack came on December 26th, 1776, the Russians where still operationally surprised, but doggedly held out in their defensive positions, suffering numerous casualties, but rebuffing Washington's surprise counterattack. With the final failure of this gamble, American resistance continued, but the war ended in a negotiated settlement with most of the thirteenth colonies returning to British rule. Perhaps a bit too, "on the nose," but you get the point.

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitterConsider checking out our exclusive content on Patreon. Finally, we are dedicated to keeping Kabinettskriege ad-free. In order to assist with this, please consider supporting us via the donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the page. As always:

Thanks for Reading, 

Alex Burns
[1] Robert Gunning to Earl of Suffolk, August 8th 1775, TNA UK, SP 91 Russia, Vol 99, 44,46.
[2] Ibid, 45.
[3]Suffolk to Gunning, 8th September 1775, TNA UK, SP 91 Russia, Vol 99, 59-60.
[4] Ibid
[5] Draft of Subsidy Treaty, TNA UK SP 91 Russia, Vol 99, 63.
[6] Ibid, 62-65.
[7] Suffolk to Gunning, 11th September 1775, TNA UK SP 91 Russia, Vol 99, 72.
[8] Ibid
[9]Gunning to Suffolk, 11th September 1775, TNA UK SP 91 Russia, Vol 99, 99-100.
[11] Gunning to Suffolk, 1st October, 1775, TNA UK SP 91 Russia, Vol 99, 109.
[12] Ibid, 110.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid, 111.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid, 112.
[17] Ibid, 113.
[18] Ibid, 114.
[19] Catherine II to George III, 7th October 1775, TNA UK SP 91 Russia, Vol 99, 128.
[20] Ibid, 129.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

SYW Wargame Campaign Report: Week 8

General Tchernychev attempts to escape from General Huelsen's forces
Dear Reader,

Today, I am reporting on the eighth week of the Seven Years War Campaign which I have been umpiring over the last two months. You can find links to previous weeks at the bottom of the post. Beginning in the middle of March, the campaign is ongoing and still in progress. The period of time for today's post is roughly May 6th to May 13th. Below is a map for those dates. As stated before, the campaign switched to a new map to allow for in the inclusion of a few more players.This week's report only includes the new map.

Swedes (Black) Prussians (Blue) Russians (Green) Austrians (Red)

In the far north, the Prussians and Swedes sat inactive before Stralsund, with both forces believing that the enemy was too strong to engage. The Prussian force mainly consisted of hastily raised Kurmarkisch and Pommeranian Land Militia, but the Swedes were not tempted to engage, and both sides spend the week quietly at Stralsund. We move now to the incredibly busy Russian theater of war.

The Russian Theater, May 6th-13th

General Tchernychev, leaving the environs of Berlin after his eventful raid, moved north towards the Oder crossing at Freyemwalde, found that the crossing was occupied by troops under General J.D. von Huelsen. Huelsen, moving to block all crossings, and pursuing Tchernychev, placed the Russian in a difficult position. Ordering his men to dragoon Prussian prisoners willing to join the Russian Army, and shoot the rest, Tchernychev calmly watched as his forces shot 1,200 men into a shallow grave, and took the remaining 300 as recruits. Psychotically muttering, "this is for Dresden, you Brandenburger козлы" Tchernychev also burned the loot taken from San Souci, and shot the three beloved whippets confiscated from Frederick II's palace.  This raised a number of eyebrows from other players. (Thanks to Dr. Mikaberidze for correcting the gender of this insult).

Tchernychev and Company Swim the Oder
Tchernychev's wild ride was cut short when he and his raiders attempted to swim the Oder on May 9th . Reaching the far side, Tchernychev found Huelsen's dragoons waiting for him. Engaging the enemy, most of Tchernychev's forces managed to evade capture, but approximately 1500 of his men, and Tchernychev himself, were captured by the Prussians in the course of the fight. What horrors awaited him in captivity.

General Butulrin's plan for breaking out of the Meseritz deadlock
By far, the most active theater of war in this week was the Prussian/Russian Oder theater, where after weeks of inactivity, in which both sides successfully deceived the enemy as to their strengths, the Russians brought considerable forces to bear. General Buturlin, hoping to break the deadlock in a campaign of maneuver,  ordered General Totleben to follow the red path on the map above, hoping keep the Prussians at Paradies in the dark regarding his movement as long as possible.

Although Totleben and Buturlin's plan was sound, the wily Zieten received word that the enemy had outflanked him as Totleben's force reached Koepnitz, and Zieten immediately began a full retreat towards Crossen, having already detailed forces to guard the Tschicherzig bridge over the Oder.

Buturlin's campaign plan for this week

Buturlin planned Totleben's offensive as part of a wider strategic movement, in which all parts of the Russian force would cross the Oder, and deal with the Prussian defenses there. This plan quickly became confused. General Rumyantsev (Purple), finding the enemy holding the position at Crossen, diverted to Fuerstenberg, and started work on a bridge there. General Totleben (Red), finding enemy forces guarding his designated crossing, began work on a bridge south of Leutersdorf. The Russian offensive was further hampered by Prussian raiding parties send into the rear areas of the Russian Army, which began to interrupt supply chains, and most importantly, General Saltykov (Green) was severely threatened on May 13th, when Prussian forces seized the supply base at Landsberg, and General Huelsen's Army moved to confront Saltykov's force, bridging the Oder at Bruch. Buturlin's own force decided to bridge the Oder at Goeritz, and hearing of Saltykov's danger, moved to support that force at Bruch on May 13th.

The Russian campaign plan had been severely hampered by Prussian commanders operating independently, and whose forces, though they were unaware of the overall strategic picture, decisively took independent action. The Russian difficulties would only multiply in the following week.

The Silesian Theater, May 6th-13th
In Saxony, FM Keith and Gen d' Kav Serbelloni, still recovering from the Battle of Torgau in the previous week, maneuvered cautiously, attempting to lay cities under contribution for the war effort, in order to recruit reinforcements.

The Silesian theater remained quiet. Somewhat disorganized by the King of Prussia's passage through the theater, the Austrians diverted forces to Königgrätz and Olmütz in order to deal with raiding forces that the Prussians sprinkled throughout the region. FM Neipperg, in a farsighted move, ordered his army at Königgrätz to begin fortifying the city. Though expensive in time and  resources, this was a sound strategic decision.  FM Daun, likewise, resumed the siege of Glatz.

Content to let the Austrians depart, the Duke of Bevern moved his force to cover Schweidnitz, while the King of Prussia began moving northward from Breslau on May 7th, with the goal of linking up with the Army of Zieten. By the 13th, the King was nearing Glogau. The stage was set for the a decisive campaign against the Russian forces.

Background and Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

If you enjoyed this post, or any of our other posts, please consider liking us on facebook, or following us on twitterConsider checking out our exclusive content on Patreon. Finally, we are dedicated to keeping Kabinettskriege ad-free. In order to assist with this, please consider supporting us via the donate button in the upper right-hand corner of the page. As always:

Thanks for Reading, 

Alex Burns