Monday, July 18, 2016

Book Review of For God and Kaiser: The Imperial Austrian Army

Cover Art
Dear Reader,

Today we are going to examine a new work covering the Austrian military from 1618 to 1918. Richard Bassett, a British journalist, has set out to rectify a problem. He argues the idea of Austrian writer Hermann Bahr, that "Austria has not been lucky with its biographers," also hangs true for the Austrian Imperial and Royal Army. It seems a bid odd to be making this case in 2015, when both Christopher Duffy and Franz Szabo have done so much to show that Austria had an effective military in the Seven Years' War. Indeed, Duffy is referenced in the acknowledgements as the first among equals of Seven Years' War historians, yet Bassett makes no reference to Duffy's magisterial two volume work on the Austrian army in the Seven Years' War.

As general work on the Austrian Army over the the three centuries, the work is successful, and may well (sadly, as will be shown) become a standard reference work and textbook. However, in the Kabinettskreige era, Bassett makes several glaring mistakes, which are exacerbated by the painfully few number of footnotes provided. Bassett gives an insightful overview of the Theresian military reforms of the 1750s, but comes into more trouble when describing the course of the Seven Years' War itself. As with some previous historians, Bassett sees Frederick II of Prussia more as a mustachio twirling villain than an actual historical figure. Like Szabo, (indeed, Bassett cites Szabo frequently, and for the following quote) Bassett seems to revel in ambassador Mitchell's description Frederick II (at 46) as, "an old man lacking half his teeth, with greying hair, without gaiety or spark or imagination." Once again, Frederick's slovenly habits are brought to the fore, as Bassett notes his predilection for wearing uniforms past the point of no return, and the many stains on his clothing. All of this makes for good reading, and poetic catharsis from the Austrian viewpoint, but does it help advance the narrative forward?

As in Szabo, Frederick becomes the scapegoat in a flimsy morality play, where Prussian defeats are Frederick's sole responsibility. Bassett relates manifold Prussophobic anecdotes, usually without footnotes. Frederick's practice of detaching independent commands is blamed for the defeat at Maxen, and Bassett clearly fails to note that such practices were often devastatingly successful, as when Frederick used a detachment to force the Russian army to retreat from positions surrounding Bunzelwitz. Bassett continuously suggests that Frederick is responsible for failures.

For God and Kaiser becomes almost unreadable when Bassett suggests that at Torgau, the Prussians took 24,000 causalities a to the Austrian 2,000. To put it mildly, such figures are historically irresponsible. Estimates for Prussia losses at Torgau range from around 17,000 to 25,000, and a figure of 20,000 might be plausible, considering the nature of the Prussian attack against massed artillery. However, Austrian losses were comparable,  considering the all-day of the battle, which ended in the Austrian army abandoning the field, (through no work of Frederick's, it has to be said: Hans Joachim von Ziethen's corps, and Johann Dietrich von Huelsen's heroic attack won the battle.)  Duffy's most recent total places the Austrian causality figures around 15,000, which though still a heavy loss on the Prussian side was not the one-sided massacre which For God and Kaiser suggests. This might be compared to the totals at Kunersdorf, where the Prussians lost 18,000 men to the allied total of 16,500. Were these losses which Prussia could ill afford, brought on by Frederick's unwillingness to abandon his preferred method of war? definitely. Did the Prussian king recognize this after Torgau? certainly.

1761 is glossed over as a year of rebuilding, Frederick's achievement at Bunzelwitz does not even warrant a reference, and the text quickly moves to a description of the death of the Tsarina, Elizabeth Petrovna, who was replaced by her nephew, Peter III, who admired Frederick. This led to Russia switching sides in the conflict, but only briefly. Indeed- like Szabo before him, and doubtless others afterwards, Bassett is confronted by the problem of the events of 1762. For those who say that Frederick had no skill and imagination in the Seven Years' War, that the Prussian army was a broken force, 1762 becomes a severe problem. The Prussian army was certainly rescued from destruction by Elizabeth's death, but as Christopher Duffy has suggested, this only brought the Seven Years' War back into the balance. The Prussians won the Seven Years' War in 1762. Frederick's victories at Burkersdorf and Reichenbach, and Prinz Henri's victories at Doeblen and Freiberg won the Seven Years' War. Bassett spends most of this year on the Austria defense of Schwiednitz- admittedly, a heroic endeavor.

Bassett closes out his description of the Seven Years' War arguing that by 1762, the Austrian army was the most widely admired and emulated army in Europe. Clearly, then, Bassett has not heard of Prussomania. It should also be noted, Bassett spends a great deal of time discussing the Austrian success in the War of Bavarian Succession. Clearly, this would be a surprise for Charles IV Theodore of Bavaria, whose was placed on the throne of Bavaria as a result of Prussian military intervention (and perhaps more tellingly, Russian threats.) The Austrian army achieved spectacular feats in the Seven Years' War. They were well- led professional soldiers, who were able to score an impressive number of victories in their contest with Prussia. Kolin, Hochkirch, Maxen, and Landeshut all deserve to be remembered by Austrian soldiers with pride. But by making Frederick into a skin and bones scarecrow leading an army of ill-trained misfits, Bassett does a disservice to the past.

It may seem that I am nitpicking a rather small portion of Bassett's book, or that I have an ax to grind regarding Frederick II of Prussia. I would say that both of those observations are correct. Bassett's overly partisan account of the Seven Years' War takes his "history" into the realm of a morality play. If his book cannot be trusted to give an impartial (or even factual) account of eighteenth century Austrian military history, why should it be trusted to do so for the twentieth century? Indeed, the book resorts to blaming Prussia (and in turn Germany) for many of Austrians military failings, including when the German forces were allied with the k.u.k. army in the First World War. Bassett attempts to turn Holger Herwig's suggestions that the Austrian army dragged down German military capabilities on its head, suggesting that Franz Conrad von Hoetzendorf was prevented from winning World War One by telegrams from Berlin.

In attempting to promote Austrian military success, For God and Kaiser follows an excellent revisionist scholarly trend. In attempting to create a wildly successful Austrian Royal Army which outshone, and was impeded by failures in Prussian and German military professionalism, he falls for a mirage. Bassett creates an excellent overview of Austrian military history, suitable for those who have a passing interest in the Habsburg past, and no serious interest in reading more in depth works on particular periods. For individuals who are interested in a more detailed picture of the past, eschew this work in favor of more focuses studies.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Journal Entry: John Marshall Deane at Ramillies

Map of Ramillies

The following is Private Sentinel John Marshall Deane's account of the Battle of Ramillies, fought between the Duke of Marlborough and the Duc de Villroi. In contrast to my previous entry from Deane, I have kept his spelling and grammar, for you to enjoy, and perhaps, hear a bit of his accent.

...The enemy had posted a brigade of fott nex tot the Mehion and filled the space between that and Ramilies wth. upwards of a hundred sqaudrons of Horse, amongst wch. ware the troops of the French Kings household. And at Ramilies they had above 20 batallions of Foott wth. a battery of 12 pieces of trebble cannon, and from thence to Autreglise they had formed a line of Foott along the Gheete wth a line of Horse at some distance behind them. His Grace the Duke of Marlborough, judging by the situation of the ground that the stress of the action would be on the lefte, ordered that beside the number of Horse belonging to thatt wing, the Danish sqaudrongs, they being twenty in number, should be posted there.

It was about 2 in he afternoone before our could be formed in order of battle and then begann to attacque of our left with. 4 battallions wch. forced the brigade of Foot before mentiond from there post on the Mahion. My Lord Overquirque about the same time charged wth. the horse on that wing. The success was doubtfull for about half an houre which the Dule of Morlborough perceiving, he order the rest of the Horse of the right wing to support those on the left, the English excepted and left still on the right to sustaine the Foote if occation should serve.

Whilst his Grace was rallying some and giving his orders to others to charge, he was in very greate danger, being singled out by severall of the most resolute of the enemy. And his Grace falling from his horse att the same time had eyther been killed or taken prisoner if some of our Ffoote that was neare at hand had not come verry seasonably to his Graces assistance and oblidged the enemy to retire. And after this my Lord Duke had still a great escape, for my Lord Duke just as he was remounting of his horse again and Major Brinfeilde attending of him, he being my Lords Gentleman of the Horse, the ball came so near that it took of Major Bringfeilds head just by my Lord Dukes side.

The village of Ramilies was attacqued by detachments of 12 battalions of Foot commanded by Lt. Genll Schultz who entered at once with great bravery and resolution. And his Grace hasted our line of Foote thither to support them wch., though it was att a great distance, yet came up time enough to beete the enemy quite out of the village and at the same time charged the rest of their Foot that was posted behind the Gheet. And my Lord Duke ordered the English horse to sustaine them.

By this time the enemyes right wing of Horse being intirely defeted, the Horse on our left fell upon there Foote, on there right, of which they slew greate numbers, cutting about 20 battalions to peices whose couler we took and likewise there cannon. The rest of the enemies Foot was intirely broake. The Horse on there left wing seemed to make a stand to gayne time for there Foort to retire, but our folks charged them soe quick and with soe much bravery yt. the enemyes Horse clearly abandoned there Foott, and our Dragoons pushing into the village of Auterglisse made a trebble slaughter of the enemy.

The Ffrench Kings own regiment of Foott called the Regiment du Roy begged for a quarter and delivered up there arms and delivered up there coulers to my Lord John Haynes Draggoones.

We persued the enemy all night by the way of the Judigne as farr as Meldree, being 5 leagues from the place where the action happened. Thus we gayned an intire and compleate victory over the enemy...

Ramillies was a great British victory, and one of the crowing achievements of Marlborough's career.

Thanks for Reading


Monday, July 11, 2016

Greatest Kabinettskriege Commanders: Ranks 5th-1st

Dear Readers,

As you may or may not have heard, I am undertaking to rank the greatest army commanders of the Kabinettskriege age. You can find a full list of the potential candidates here.  These are the following categories upon which these generals are being judged:

A) Battle win-loss record, reckoned against total number of battles fought as commander.
B) Achievement and Sustainment of strategic/political aims
C) Charisma/inspiration of soldiers under their command
D) Scale of operations under their personal command
E) Display of originality/flexibility in thinking

This post will list the highest scoring members from the pool in the previous post, ranked from lowest (5th) to highest (1st). Without further adieu, here are the winners:

5. Nadir Sah Afsar, Shah of Persia
A) 5/5 B) 1/5 C) 3.75/5 D) 4/5 E) 5/5                                                   Total: 18.75/25

An unsung great commander of the Kabinettskriege age, Nadir Shah was truly an exceptional commander. Nadir won the vast majority of the battles which he commanded, as a result of unorthodox tactical system he employed. Starting from a local commander with a few hundred warriors, he built a army of men who employed linear tactics and firepower, rather than missile cavalry, to achieve its goals. In every way the heart of the force were Nadir's Jazareychi, who used heavy muskets weighing close to 40 pounds, and firing a 94 caliber ball, much more on the order of European wall guns. Nadir's use of firepower, mixed with cavalry on the wings of his formations allowed him to conquer an impressive empire, stretching from an Armenia to Pakistan. At the time of his death in 1747, Nadir led the largest army in the world, numbering 375,000 men. His murder by his officers led the the swift collapse of his empire, leading to a number of historians to compare him with Alexander the Great. This swift collapse accounts for his score in criteria B), his assassination by ambitious officers and brutality in later years account for C). In most other aspects, Nadir Shah was one of the most respected commanders of the age, and was  admired by philosphes and military theorists throughout Europe and the world, 

Maurice de Saxe (1696-1750).PNG

4. Maurice de Saxe, Marshal of France
A) 5/5 B) 3/5 C) 3/5 D) 4/5 E) 4/5                                                              Total: 19/25
The greatest French military mind between Turenne, Villars, and Napoleon, Maurice de Saxe showed incredible military in his repeated defeats of British and Allied forces in the War of Austrian Succession. The victor of Fontenoy, Lauffeldt, and Roucoux, A lifelong soldier, he served under Prinz Eugene of Savoy, as well as Peter I of Russia in the late stages of the Great Northern War. Maurice came to the attention of Europe when he commanded the successful surprise attack against the city of Prague in September of 1741.In addition to the successful field battles named above, de Saxe assisted in the capture of Brussels, Bergen-op-Zoom, and Maastricht. Among eighteenth century generals, de Saxe stands out for his ability to capitalize on his successes in the field with consequent gains in terms of territory and fortresses. Dying early, at the age of 54, one wonders that the outcome of the Seven Years' War in Europe might have been different if he had lived another ten years. Despite the passage of two hundred and fifty years, his memoirs remain a fascinating piece of military theory. De Saxe will forever be one of the more romantic figures of eighteenth century warfare, his legacy untainted by the mistakes of later years.    

3. John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough
A) 5/5 B) 3/5 C) 3.5/5 D) 4/5 E) 4/5                                                          Total 19.5/25

Perhaps the greatest praise of Marlborough comes from another of the British "great captains," the Duke of Wellington. In 1836, he commented, "I always used to say that the presence of Napoleon at a battle was worth a reinforcement of 40,000 men. But I can conceive nothing greater than Marlborough at the head of an English army." (Stanhope, Miscellanies, 81.)  Marlborough's achievements are manifold. Coming to prominence in the reign of James, he was able to adroitly transfer his loyalties to William and Mary during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The greatest test of his career was the grueling War of Spanish Succession, where Marlborough was the commander-in-chief of the effort against Louis XIV's France. While Marlborough's great battlefield victories are familiar to many: Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, Malplaquet, the war was less successful in the strategic realm, Philip, Duke of Anjou, would still become King of Spain. Although the allies secured the assurance that Spain and France would not be unified into one Bourbon kingdom, the allied kingdoms of France and Spain would go on to injure England in the course of the eighteenth century, during the American War of Independence. Marlborough's repeated victories and confident planning won him the respect of his men, this is clear the letters and journals of soldiers who served with him, such as John Marshall Deane. Marlborough advanced the art of war tactically, and his predilection for firepower would do much to influence later armies of the Kabinettskriege age.

Suvorov Alex V.jpg

2. Alexander Suvorov
A) 5/5 B) 3/5 C) 4/5 D) 4/5 E) 5/5                                                              Total: 21/25

Alexander Suvorov was, without question, the greatest Russian military mind to grace the eighteenth century. A sickly child, Suvorov spent his early years reading military history intensively, and at age 18, enlisted in the Semyonovsky Guard Regiment. Cutting his teeth in the campaigns against Frederick of Prussia in the Seven Years' War, Suvorov obtained a colonelcy at the age of 32, at the end of the Seven Years' War. His first independent commands saw victories over Polish rebels and the Ottoman Empire. Despite being outnumbered against the Ottomans, Suvorov led his men to victory time and again. Suvorov became famous for his initiative, which occasionally earned him censure. He led campaigns in Eastern Europe until his exile by Paul I of Russia in 1796. Suvorov, who was admired by Catherine, disagreed with Paul about military doctrine, particularly an infectious strain of Prusso-mania which had damaged the Russian fighitng ability. After three years of retirement, Suvorov returned to lead a lightening campaign in Italy in 1799. Though he never fought against Napoleon, Suvorov's victories in this campaign show that the armies of the Ancien Regime, when led by an able commander, were not impotent against the forces of Revolutionary France. Suvorov also gives modern readers a number of exceptionally pithy quotes, such as:

"What is hard in training will be easy in battle."
"Win with ability, not with numbers."
"Perish yourself, but rescue your comrade."

A great leader of men, Suvorov deserves to be considered as one of the foremost military minds in world history.

1.  Frederick II Hohenzollern, "the Great"
A) 3/5 B) 4.5/5 C) 5/5 D) 5/5 E) 4.5/5                                                          Total: 22

Frederick's expression above no doubt mimic's the readers surprise to find him at the top of the list. In all seriousness, it has recently become very fashionable academically, and even in popular history, to look down on Frederick the Great's achievements. I cannot say that I agree with this trend, and while Frederick certainly should not be regarded as a starry-eyed Uebermensch, who single-handedly gave won the wars in which he took part, he is, in my opinion, the greatest captain of the Kabinettskriege age. Now for the justification: how did I arrive at the numbers above. You will note, Frederick scores rather low in the win/loss category. He won around half the battles which he commanded in the Seven Years' War, and all of the battles in the War of Austrian Succession. With this in mind, and with his impressive total number of battles as a commander, he receives an above average, but not exceptional A) criteria score. Frederick generally achieved his goals for the Prussian state- he seized and held Silesia for the duration of his reign, and also added West Prussia to Hohenzollern domains. He failed to acquire the province of Saxony, which might have been one of his goals in the Seven Years' War. Thus, he scores quite will in the B) criteria. The letters of Frederick's officers and men, with the exception of some of his personal aides during the later Seven Years' War, show devotion which exceeds most eighteenth century commanders. This grants Frederick a perfect score in the C) category. In terms of forces under his command, Frederick's role as roi-conntenable allowed him to wage war on multiple fronts, leaving defensive armies in secondary theaters, and bringing his royal army to bare on whatever enemy looked the most pressing. Finally, Frederick's system of flank attacks proved highly successful in the War of Austrian Succession and early Seven Years' War. Though Frederick's enemies adapted to meet this challenge, the king recognized this adaptation, and showed that he was as adept at defensive warfare as his foes. Though not as able on the battlefield as some of his contemporaries, Frederick's system of war allowed Prussia to survive and grow in the aftermath of the Seven Years' War. This achievement places him, in my opinion, at the pinnacle of Kabinettskriege era commanders. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Greatest Kabinettskriege Commanders: Ranks 10th-6th

Dear Reader,

As you may or may not have heard, I am undertaking to rank the greatest army commanders of the Kabinettskriege age. You can find a full list of the potential candidates here.  These are the following categories upon which these generals are being judged:

A) Battle win-loss record, reckoned against total number of battles fought as commander.
B) Achievement and Sustainment of strategic/political aims
C) Charisma/inspiration of soldiers under their command
D) Scale of operations under their personal command
E) Display of originality/flexibility in thinking

This post will list the highest scoring members from the pool in the previous post, ranked from lowest (10th) to highest (6th). Without further adieu, here are the winners:

10. Peter I, Tsar of Russia, "the Great"
A) 2.25/5 B) 5/5 C) 3/5 D) 4/5 E) 3.5/5                                                                                Total: 17.75

An revolutionary monarch, more than a battlefield commander, Peter I is nonetheless noteworthy, taking up the 10th spot on our list. Although he was defeated at Narva (admittedly, after he had left the battlefield) Peter defeated Karl XII at Poltava, a battlefield encounter which decisively ended chances of Swedish victory in the Great Northern War. As a military leader, he expanded his realm with great speed, giving Russia a port on both the Baltic and the Black Sea. He cared about his men, and according to a least one chronicler, his last sickness was brought on by a heroic swim to help save his soldiers on a floundering naval vessel. Despite his force of personality, many of the reforms he enacted were a result of more soldiers more experienced in the technical art of war, brought in from German speaking lands. Despite not being tactically innovative for his time, he did overhaul the Russian way of war, bringing them into modern military practise. Peter spent nearly his entire life in uniform, from his "toy regiments," all the way to becoming commander-in-chief of a green-coated, modern, Russian army.

Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne by Circle of Philippe de Champaigne.jpg

9. Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne
A) 3.75 B) 4/5 C) 3/5 D) 4/5 E) 3.25/5                                                                                Total: 18/25

Historian John Childs has described Turenne as, "arguably the greatest soldier of the seventeenth century." (Childs, Warfare in the Seventeenth Century, 225.) A general who cut his teeth in the bloody fighitng of the Thirty Years' War, Turenne won battle after battle for Louis XIV in the later half of the seventeenth century. The Dutch "rampjaar," or disaster year, of 1672, when the Dutch state nearly collapsed under external military force, was largely due to Turenne's successful military actions, He often emerged victorious against superior forces. He was largely responsible for the Louis XIV's successful rise to sole power, crushing the Parisian Fronde at the Battle of the Faubourg St Antoine. Turenne's victory over Conde at the same battle explains why Turenne. rather than Conde, made the cut. He led increasingly large armies, as Louis XIV solidified his hold on power. A warrior who was beloved of his men, Turenne was able to keep abreast of a number of developments in field and siege warfare.

8. George Washington
A) 2.25/5 B) 5/5 C) 5/5 D) 3/5 E) 3/5                                                                             Total: 18.25/25

Never the greatest battlefield commander, George Washington nonetheless had a spectacular military career. His first independent commands met with disaster, and the capture of his entire force. However, like many of the men on this list, Washington learned from his mistakes, and went on to lead a ill-trained group of part-time soldiers through the steps of becoming a trained professional army. Did he have help? Certainly. But at the end of the day, if we blame him for the military failures of his command (Jamaica Pass,  Brandywine, Germantown, to name a few...) we should also credit him with his successes (Trenton, Princeton, Yorktown). He did defeat the military efforts of a powerful empire, earn the love and admiration of his soldiers, and go on to lead a new nation. Washington is emblematic of the results which can be a achieved when an average commander is left in command long enough to gain considerable experience. That trust earns him his ranking.

7. Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst
A) 4.25/5 B) 4.5/5 C) 2.5/5 D) 5/5 E) 2.1/5                                                                    Total: 18.35/25

Historian of the ancient world Christian Meier wrote of Pompey, "he was... the only man who understood warfare on the grand scale, on land and sea." Jeffery Amherst then, is the Pompey of eighteenth century. What, you say? Surely that claim would be better suited to William Pitt, the ambitious Secretary of State who created policy during 1757-1761 period? I would respond, then, how can we explain Britain's lack of success before this period, then? The overall strategic goals had not changed- indeed, operations were carried out against most of the same major strategic positions. It was Amherst, then, (with some assistance from Admiral Boscawen) who facilitated British success against Fortress Louisbourg, Fort Ticonderoga, and Montreal. He understood warfare on the frontier, and successfully conquered Canada for his King. He oversaw planning for another complex amphibious operation against Martinique. Amherst's military achievements are significant, as Fort Louisboug, and Fort Carillon, were no paper tigers of a defeated France in North America. The French military success reached its peak in 1758, just before Amherst's appointment. Also- was he an Indian hater? Yes.  Did his letters advocate what we would today call ethnic-cleansing? Yes. But, these more grizzly parts of his character do not detract from the way we are examining him now: as a commander. Often lost in sight of more flashy characters such as James Wolfe, Amherst deserves to be remembered as an exceptional strategic planner, and very capable military commander.

Prinz Ferdinand Braunschweig.jpg

6. Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg
A) 4/5 B) 5/5 C) 3.5/5 D) 3.5/5 E) 3/5 

Thanks to his life-long friendship with his brother-in-law, Frederick II, King of Prussia, Ferdinand was able to dialogue on military matters with not only Frederick, but many of the other respected military minds of the age. If only for his winter campaign of 1758, Ferdinand deserves to be placed on this list. Taking command of a dispirited, recently surrendered force, Ferdinand was able to regain the strategic initiative and place the war back in the balance. Though occasionally defeated by the French, who possessed their own excellent leader in the form of the Duc de Broglie, Ferdinand steadily pushed back larger French armies, and made a name for himself. Ferdinand had a unique challenge of leading a coalition force of Hessian, Brunswick, British, Hanoverian, and Prussian forces. He is, in my opinion, the most successful leader of disparate coalition forces to date. Though he did not advance the art of war in theory, he was a highly successful practitioner of Frederick II's search for the decisive battle. The victory at Minden, his brainchild, is one of the greatest battlefield achievements of the Kabinettskriege era.

So, with that, we have completed the next five. Do you agree with my rankings? Have I left someone out? Let me know if the comments below.

Thanks for Reading,


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Greatest Kabinettskriege Commanders: Ranks 15th-11th

Dear Reader,

As you may or may not have heard, I am undertaking to rank the greatest army commanders of the Kabinettskriege age. You can find a full list of the potential candidates here.  These are the following categories upon which these generals are being judged:

A) Battle win-loss record, reckoned against total number of battles fought as commander.
B) Achievement and Sustainment of strategic/political aims
C) Charisma/inspiration of soldiers under their command
D) Scale of operations under their personal command
E) Display of originality/flexibility in thinking

This post will list the highest scoring members from the pool in the previous post, ranked from lowest (15th) to highest (11th). Without further adieu, here are the winners:

15. Prinz Henri von Preussen (Prince Henry of Prussia) 
A) 3.25/5 B) 5/5 C) 3/5 D) 2/5 E) 4/5                                                                             Total: 17.25/25

Ahh, Henri. He was never going to be at the top of the list,but when Frederick II of Prussia is your older brother, sometimes it's hard to get out of the shadow. Henri's victory at the Battle of Freiberg in October of 1762 greatly assisted the Prussian position at the negotiating table, formed part of a wider Prussian resurgence later in the Seven Years' War. Taken together, and considering his lack of command role in other battles, this explains his A) and B) score respectively. In terms of inspiration, he was a controversial figure. A noted homosexual, Henri was more open about his sexual orientation than his more enigmatic brother. Henri was an educated man, and encouraged young officers to learn French, "lest they be considered some sort of Germanic beast." Many Prussian officers greatly admired Henri, who took over the mantle of a humane, educating force in the Prussian army after the death of FM Schwerin. In the dark days of 1761, Prussian officers hoped that Henri might offer some sort of way out of the seemingly impossible military situation. He never commanded more than a minor theatre of operations, and Frederick often sent him lower quality troops, reserving the best regiments for his personal command. However, at Freiberg, Henri embraced the new Austrian method of attack in column, as demonstrated at Hochkirch. His educated and innovative mind greatly assisted the Prussian prosecution of the Seven Years' War.

14. Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis
A) 3.75/5 B) 3/5 C) 5/5 D) 2.5/5 E) 3/5                                                                            Total: 17.4/25

Well known to students of American history, Charles Cornwallis commanded several campaigns against the rebel American forces in the course of the American War of Independence. Perhaps most famous for his surrender at Yorktown, it is important to keep in mind that Charles had a winning military record, and was continually entrusted with sensitive, if not overall, military commands after his failure at Yorktown. His post-revolutionary campaigns in India show a keen military mind, capable of success. Indeed, he did much to win parts of India for the British crown, if he played a role in the loss of the American colonies. Popular with his troops, Sgt. Roger Lamb remembered that in the campaign in the American south, Cornwallis, "fared like a common soldier." Cornwallis' failure to be appointed to supreme command against Revolutionary France, and his inability to find a way out the dire straights at Yorktown, contribute to his D) and E) scores, respectively.

13. Franz Moritz von Lacy
A) 3/5 B) 3/5 C) 2.5/5 D) 4/5 E) 5/5                                                                                 Total: 17.5/25

Franz Moritz von Lacy, the son of Russian (Irish) general Peter von Lacy, was the consummate professional soldier of the eighteenth century. His independent commands came late in the Kabinettskriege era, commanding a force briefly in the Seven Years' War, during the successful relief of the besieged fortress of Olmütz in Moravia. He had a chance to truly prove himself during the War of Bavarian Succession in 1777, when his mastery of positional warfare brought Frederick II to a standstill. Despite not retaking Silesia for Maria Theresa int the Seven Years' War, Lacy was a highly competent soldier, and would carry out reforms which made the Austrian private soldier the equal of the Prussian in the 1770s. A quiet, and rather bookish man, Lacy was never intensely popular with his troops, but they trusted his sound judgment. A master of logistics, Lacy took to commanding the huge armies of the War of Bavarian succession with relative ease, indeed, with more ease than Frederick II. Finally, Lacy's careful planning was behind the greatest Austrian victory of the Seven Years' War, the approach by separate columns and surprise attack at Hochkirch. His attack by divergent tactical columns would change the face of warfare, and be utilized by figures like George Washington. 

12. Karl X Gustav, King of Sweden
 A) 3/5 B) 4/5 C) 2.5/5 D) 3/5 E) 5/5                                                                                  Total:17.5/25

"Who?" you hear yourself saying. A forgotten Swedish national treasure, this bad boy often gets lost in the press to flip from Gustav II Adolph right to Karl XII. He also has a pretty cool anti-tank weapon named after him. Karl X Gustav commanded Swedish armies in the 1550s, during the Second Northern War. In this conflict, he initiated a expansion of Swedish territory, including the parts of Southern Sweden which make up the modern state of Sweden today. In this conflict, he prosecuted a successful campaign against the Poles, starting a period of Polish history called "the Deluge." Though he commanded fairly small armies by later standards, he used with them great originality, most famously in his "March Across the Belts," when he led an army across the frozen Baltic Sea into Denmark, despite the terror and protest of many of his generals. The scheme went off swimmingly (errrrr, not, no soldiers drowned) and Denmark signed a peace treaty which created the modern boundaries of Sweden. He did lose the Swedish colony in Delaware though, so that's a bummer. His achievements would later be squandered by his glorious though ineffective grandson, Karl XII.

11. William Howe, 5th Viscount Howe
A) 4/5 B) 2/5 C) 3.5/5 D) 3/5 E) 5/5                                                                               Total: 17.75/25

William Howe remains a controversial figure among historians, not least because he lost his dog to the Continental army. Many scholars second-guess the generals decisions, and blame him for British failure in the revolutionary war. These criticisms may well have some merit, as his score for B) denotes. As a military commander on the battlefield, Howe achieved some notable results. From 1775-1778, the span of his military career in America, he personally commanded British troops against American rebels 10 times, and was victorious on the battlefield 7 of them. This is a significant achievement. In particular, his recovery of the situation at Germantown, and his flanking movements at Brandywine and Long Island show tactical acumen. He was well beloved by his men, particularly his light infantry forces, for which he had a special affection. As commander-in-chief of British troops in North America, Howe commanded a wide array of forces, and did not always co-ordinate them to full effect. In particular, his lack of support for General Burgoyne's army may have led to British failure in the War for Independence. However, on the other hand, Howe's instance that the British army operate in open order allowed British forces to perform to a very high standard in the American War of Independence. An educated man, Howe wrote a treatise on light infantry tactics. His numerous and successful record in battle, as well as the doctrinal emphasis which allowed the British to achieve some success in the Revolutionary War, earn him his place in this ranking.

What do you think of the line-up so far? Do you agree that these men deserve the place they have earned in the rankings? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

Greatest Kabinettskriege Commanders: Candidate Pool

Knotel image of a Prussian officer, filled with frustration that he failed to make the cut for this post

Dear Reader,

Today, we are going to do something a little fun, harking back to the glory days of aught '13, when this blog was still churning out content like an industrious German cow. In the vein of my earlier post, Who was the Best? on relative efficiency compared between eighteenth century armies, we will be examining the great captains of the Kabinettskriege era. But how to define military "Greatness?"In order to get a wider picture of these individuals military capabilities, I will be ranking the 15 men as commanders by 5 criteria:

A) Battle win-loss record.
B) Achievement and Sustainment of strategic/political aims
C) Charisma/inspiration of soldiers under their command
D) Scale of operations under their personal command
E) Display of originality/flexibility in thinking

In the listings below, the corresponding letter matches to the letters above for each ranking.

The top fifteen enumerated in the following posts were chosen from this list. In order to make the list, they had to hold an independent command on land (I might consider admirals in a separate post). If your favorite Kabinettskriege era general didn't make the list, comment below, give some reasons why, and I might just consider updating the post.

Here are the contenders, in order by time period:

Karl X Gustav of Sweden
Henri, Vicomte de Turenne
Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Conde
William III of England, Prince of Orange
Duc de Villars, Marshall General of France
John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough
Prinz Eugene of Savoy
Peter I of Russia "the Great"
Karl XII of Sweden
Peter von Lacy
Nadir Shah
Maurice de Saxe, Marshall General of France
Leopold von Anhalt Dessau
William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland
Prince Charles Edward Stewart
Frederick II Hohenzollern, "the Great"
Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick
Prinz Henri of Prussia
Leopold Joseph von Daun
Ernst Gideon von Loudon
Franz Moritz von Lacy
Pytor Alexandrovich Rumyantsev
Piotr Semionovitch Saltykov
Sir William Johnson
James Wolfe
John Bradstreet
Robert Clive
Jeffery Amherst
Louis-Joseph de Montcalm
Victor Francois, Duc de Broglie
Obwandiyag (Pontaic)
Sir William Howe
George Washington
Charles Cornwallis
Benedict Arnold
Nathanael Greene
Bernado de Galvez
Banastre Tarleton
Daniel Morgan
Alexander Suvorov

This post will be followed by three others, each containing five individuals who made the top fifteen spots.

Top 5

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Valley Forge vs. the Bunzelwitz Position

George Washington, (no cool royal title)
Frederick II, King of Prussia
Dear Reader,

In the mythos of Kabinettskriege conflict, the modern mind is drawn to aggressive action. Those alive to a sense of the past might recall Karl XII's Karoliner attacking through ice-strewn fields at Narva or Fraustadt, the daring attacks by George Washington at Trenton and Princeton, Wolfe's men scaling the heights at Quebec, or Frederick II of Prussia's masterpiece at Leuthen. Today, we are going to examine something a bit less glamorous, but no less vital to securing the reputation of these great commanders: positional warfare.

The two positions under comparison are George Washington's 1777/1778 winter encampment and defensive position near Valley Forge, and Frederick II of Prussia's defensive position in the autumn of 1761, near the fortress of Schwiednitz. We will examine the Prussian position in the Seven Years' War first, before moving to the American winter encampment.

Although known for his aggressive attacks, Frederick II was also a master of defensive positional warfare. In 1761, Frederick faced disaster when two larger Austrian and Russian armies combined against him. Six years into the conflict, the Prussian army had only 54,000 men with which to face the Austrian and Russian armies combined total of some 140,000 men. Desperate to retain his position in the Prussian province of Silesia, Frederick assumed a defensive position near Schwiednitz, his vital Silesian fortress.  Frederick knew that his troops were no longer of a superior enough quality to risk open battle against such stacked odds.

Positions: Prussian (Blue) Austrian (White) and Russian (Green)

This position, which centers on the modern town of Jaworzyna Slaska (which did not exist in the eighteenth century) saw  39,000 Prussian infantry in a line some 7 miles/11.5 kilometers in distance. Frederick correctly identified the salient around Wickendorf and Jauernick (present-day Witkow and Stary Jaworow) as vulnerable part of the line. Though the Prussian position was not geographically formidable, (certainly nothing like the Zobtenberg east of Schwiednitz) Frederick was able to use heavy field fortifications combined with gently sloping ground in order to offer a truly daunting defensive perimeter.

Photos of the modern-day position capture some of the ground's tactical usefulness.

The view just West of Stary Jaworow (Jauernick) looking north towards the Prussian Nighttime HQ
Prussian defensive positions in between Stary Jaworow and Czechy (Jauernick and Tschechen)

Approach ground of planned Austrian attack in on the Position

Prussian position opposite the previous image

View towards Austrian positions near the Nonnen-Busch (forest underneath Grochotow on the map)

Prussian Positions across from the Nonnen-Busch
The Prussian position, then, did not take its strength from geographic features, but from the clear, sweeping fields of fire which the position afforded Prussian artillery. Frederick had 182 guns in and around Bunzelwitz, and he positioned most of them into redoubts which crisscrossed the gorund with lanes of fire. Indeed, despite his failing health, so often cited by historians who dismiss Frederick as past his prime as a commander in the Seven Years War, Frederick spent every night at Bunzelwitz at the fortifications with his men.

"Officers and soldiers alike had to live on bread and water. So as to set an example to the soldiers, the king made a point of staying every night in one or other of the batteries, where he had a bale of straw brought up to serve as his chair." (Quoted in Christopher Duffy, Frederick the Great: A Military Life, 223, from Warnery, Campanges de Fredriec II, 1788, 474)

The Austrians developed a plan for a grand attack on the Bunzelwitz encampment, but this attack stalled when Frederick destroyed Russian supply depots in Poland by means of a raid, forcing part of the Russian army to withdraw. Although Frederick was forced to abandon the Bunzelwitz position when the fortress of Schwiednitz was captured, this position bought vital time for Frederick, from August 20th to October 6th. This month and a half could have brought disaster for the Prussian army, with vastly superior forces present in theatre against a smaller Prussian army. Instead, Frederick and his soldiers survived in order to enter winter quarters late in 1761, where they would receive the news that Tsarina Elizabeth Petrovna had died. While this news did not mean an immediate end to the war, it did mean the Russians would switch sides in 1762, bringing the war back into roughly equal terms, and allowing Frederick to seize victory.

National Park Service map of the defenses at Valley Forge
I had the pleasure of visiting Valley Forge National Historical Park for the first time over the last weekend, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw there. George Washington utilized excellent defensive terrain in order to winter his army less than twenty miles from substantial British forces. When considering Valley Forge, generally historians gloss over  the defensive nature of the position in order to discuss issues such as the deprivation, sickness, and professionalization of the Continental Army. However, much like the Prussian position at the Bunzelwitz, Valley Forge was chosen with defense in mind. The continental army required a defensible location close enough to continue observation of the British force in Philadelphia. While a winter offensive by British General Howe might not seem likely, it was certainly a possibility, considering Washington's own actions the year before, as well as Frederick II's winter offensive in Silesia in 1757.

The outer line of defenses consisted of a number of infantry brigades occupying a ridge. The fields of fire on this ridge are truly impressive. Behind the initial line, the American position had a further set of defenses on the high ground in between the army's camp and Washington's HQ near Valley Forge. The defensive positions at Valley Forge provided a haven for the army to survive the winter, and allowed for a renewed and retooled Continental Army to prosecute the war successfully against the British in the following years.

 Here are a few photos of the defensive lines at Valley Forge.

The view from just west of the Redan near Muhlenberg's Brigade, facing southwest.
The opposite view, towards the outer line from south of Poor's Brigade, facing northeast.
The southwestern extremity of the outer line, held by Scott's Brigade

From behind the artillery park, facing southeast towards the outer defense line

Now that we have examined both of these positions, some comparison needs to be made. First of all, in my opinion, Valley Forge is much more geographically impressive than position around Bunzelwitz. This is especially apparent terms of the sweeping fields of fire the south of the outer line defenses. The high ground around the inner line at Valley Forge is higher than almost any portion of the Bunzelwitz position, perhaps excepting the Wuerbenburg behind Bunzelwitz.

 Considering the smaller numbers of troops engaged, it should not surprise us that the defenses at Valley Forge are considerably smaller than Bunzelwitz: stretching around 2 miles compared with to Bunzelwitz' 7. However- this is telling. Frederick's infantry were stretched thin at Bunzelwitz, and he had 39,000 men to defend a 7 mile frontage, or around 5,500 per mile. By that calculation, it would seem that the the roughly 7,000 (allowing for desertion and sickness) available to Washington in the early winter would have been inadequate to defend the frontage in the case of an attack. This calculation appears to have even more weight when considering the number of cannon available to both armies. At Monmouth the following year, the Americans seem to have had 16 cannon, but supposing at Valley Forge they had double that number, their position would still have been dangerously short.

Another point worth consideration is the location of the headquarters. The Prussian army manned the Bunzelwitz position in 12 hour shifts, with the night headquarters being much closer to the lines, practically in Jauernick. By contrast, the American headquarters was a mile and a half away from the outer line of defense. While certainly the possibility of attack at Bunzelwitz seemed an imminent reality in a way it did not at Valley Forge. In the advent of a British attack, would valuable time have been lost, making the trek from the headquarters to the outer line?

In the final accounting, Washington's position at Valley Forge was certainly better sited than Frederick's at Bunzelwitz. However, the weakened state of the Continental Army and the smaller number of cannon at the Continental's disposal made the position at Valley Forge tenuous. Both of these eighteenth-century commanders proved their worth, and both of these defensive positions were formidable, and continue to be imposing today.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns

Friday, July 1, 2016

Battle Comparison: Hochkirch and Germantown

Battle of Germantown, della Gatta

Dear Reader,

Today, I want to examine the similarities and differences between two Kabinettskriege era battles, the Battle of Hockirch, which occurred in Saxony on October 14th, 1758, and the Battle of Germantown, which occurred outside Philadelphia on October 4th, 1777. In the first battle, Frederick the Great and his Prussian soldiers squared off against the Austrians under FM Daun. In the second battle, British General Howe led a expert force of British soldiers against George Washington's American rebels.  Aside from the obvious similarities in the weapons systems of the combatants, and the time of the year in which they were fought, these battles contain a number of important similarities useful for students of eighteenth century warfare. A brief description of the two battles will help contextualize the analysis.

In early October, 1758, the Prussian army had recently suffered a setback in its invasion of Moravia, and failed at the siege of Olmütz. However, now that they had returned to Prussian occupied territory, they could rightly expect to return to the string of victories which had previously marked Prussian operations under Frederick. After all, in the previous year, a difficult series of defeats in the summer had been replaced by the crowning achievements of Prussian military history: the twin victories at Rossbach and Leuthen.

The Austrians, on the other hand, had fewer reasons to expect success. Although they had defeated the Prussians at the battles of Kolin and Breslau, they had been horrendously defeated by a smaller force at the Battle of Leuthen the previous year, while their victory at Breslau was a result of superior numbers.

The original Prussian positions are in light blue, note the numerous Austrian attacking columns
Noting that the Prussian position around Hochkirch was spread out, and that in the theatre of operations the Prussians had at most 40,000 men with which to defend against his 78,000, Daun decided to attack. The brainchild behind the attack was Austrian Colonel Charles Amadei, who Christopher Duffy asserts was inspired by the multiple Austrian columns used to attack at the Battle of Moys in 1757. A night march on the evening of the 13th-14th of October brought the Austrian attacking columns to within striking distance of the Prussian positions, close enough to hear music and dancing. This decision to attack in separate columns was a novel and almost untried tactic in the 1750s.

At 5am on October 14th, the Austrian attacking columns burst from cover, overwhelming shocked Prussian pickets, and moving to the attack with great speed. The Austrians had achieved complete surprise, through a mixture of false information spread to the Prussian army, and leaving their main camp attended by a few men of each company. Though the Prussians were often only half-dressed, they maintained an effective resistance in the opening stages of the battle, slowly falling back towards the village of Hochkirch.

The fighitng in Hochkirch, as imagined by 19th century artist Karl Roechling

As the Prussians were pushed back on the village, Prussian FM James Keith began feeding fresh units into the desperate fight developing in the midst of the village. Prussian infantry Regiments 13 and 18 led the way, though both were knocked back by canister fire, and FM Keith was killed. By around 8am, the Prussian position was collapsing, and Prussian infantrymen recalled firing over 120 rounds in this furious engagement. Many Prussian positions were only taken after the infantry had fired away all their ammunition. Prussian sources also note the accuracy of the Austrian fire, which wounded a disproportionate number of officers.

The Prussians were driven from the field, and lost some 9,100 men out of a total of 30,000 engaged, and 104 pieces of artillery. The Austrians, by contrast, lost some 8,000 men out of around 60,000 engaged. With the events of the first battle described, let us move to the second.

The Battle of Germantown
During the opening stages of the American War of Independence, the British army soundly defeated the Americans time and again. Throughout many of the battles of 1776, with the notable exception of Trenton and Princeton, British and German forces overcame the American opposition, and seemed to be winning the war. Indeed, the British had defeated the Americans only a month before at the Battle of Brandywine.

However, George Washington's Continental army had been slowly improving, and Washington decided to risk another battlefield encounter with the British forces under General Howe. In his account to congress on October 5th, Washington indicates that Howe's decision to split his army prompted Washington to attack. The numerical advantage lay with Washington's forces, but it was not decisive: the Americans had 8,000 regulars and 3,000 militia with which to confront the 9,000 British and German troops under General Howe.

The American plan of attack called for four columns to make a night march, and then attack simultaneously at 5am. Leaving their camp around 7pm on October 3rd, the American forces were to reach their forward positions two miles from the British lines by 2am. They approached within musket-shot by 4am. Almost immediately, the American reality failed to mesh with the plan. The American columns did not reach the British pickets until 6am, and only two of the four columns made the attack. The British 2nd Battalion of light infantry moved into support the pickets, and the Americans drove them back with great difficulty. General Howe, not realizing the severity of the enemy force to his front, chided the fleeing light infantry streaming past him, until the magnitude of the American attack became apparent.

Cliveden, the house of Loyalist Justice Chew

As the American attack intensified, British Lt. Colonel Thomas Musgrave located a tactically significant structure- the stone house of Loyalist Judge Benjamin Chew.  Musgrave took initiative, placing 120 men of the 40th Regiment inside the house, which they proceed to defend. The main battle-line stabilized a third of a mile south of the Chew house. However, a number of American units remained behind to besiege the structure. Both of the commanders on the American flanks, Armstrong and Smallwood, failed to apply pressure to the British units in their sector of the battlefield.

The American advance was initially effective as a result of the large volume of fire put out by the 1st and 2nd Maryland Brigades, however, as these brigades moved into contact with more British units, the Marylanders ran out of ammunition. With no ready solution presenting itself, individual men began to move towards the rear, showing their officers empty cartridge boxes to demonstrate that it would be idiotic to stay and fight. A thick blanket of fog, smoke, and noise from the fighting back at the Chew house also served to disorient the advancing American line. The British would counterattack the American positions, relieving the defenders of the Chew house, and begina lackluster pursuit of the American army.  The action had lasted barely four hours.

The British and American forces suffered comparable numbers of killed and wounded, 673 Americans to 520 British. In addition to their killed and wounded, the Americans lost some 450 men taken prisoner.  What made the battle so costly for the Americans, as Washington admitted to Congress on October 7th, was the American loss of men.

What can be learned?

In both circumstances, the army on the attack had previously suffered a series of defeats at the hands of their adversary. Both attacking commanders saw an opportunity to strike at a smaller enemy force. Both attacking armies were less experienced than their foe, and becoming more experienced in the course of the conflict. Both attacking armies sought to use a relatively novel way of attacking in order to take their enemy by surprise along a wide frontage.

Both defending armies were taken unaware by this novel system of attack. The British and Prussians fought obstinately to buy time in order for more units to come up and attack the enemy.  Both defending armies saw subordinate commanders utilizing initiative in order to salvage the situation.

When losses are examined as a percentage of total armies involved, the Prussians suffered by far the heaviest, as around 33% of their total force engaged became casualties.  By contrast, the British suffered the least, with rough 5% of their total force becoming casualties. However, the Prussians did inflict a larger loss on their opponents than the British, with 13% of the Austrian army rendered hors d'combat, compared with 10% of the American fighting force. However, these figures fail to show the true nature of the fighting. Assuming 40% of the Prussian casualties were men captured, (sadly, Prussian losses are not broken down) the Prussian army, in terms of killed and wounded, inflicted a 32% greater loss on the Austrians than they suffered. The British, by contrast, inflicted 23% greater number of killed and wounded on the Americans.

So while the fighting at Germantown was costly to the Americans, the fighting at Hochkirch was some of the bloodiest of the eighteenth century, and left its mark on the Prussian army. It is remarkable that both of these battles played out over the course of only 4 hours.

The American rebels failed to launch an organized attack in the same manner of the Austrians. While FM Keith might have played a more decisive role on the battle if he had lived, his piecemeal counterattack wrecked two of the better infantry regiments in the Prussian army, and did nothing to stem the Austrian tide. By contrast, Lt. Colonel Musgrave saw an opportunity to effectively delay the American advance, and his quick thinking my well have saved the British army under General Howe. Both the Americans and the Prussians struggled with ammunition problems as the battle ensued. While the Prussians were able to keep their infantry supplied via ammunition wagons for the majority of the fight, the American infantry appear to have turned back when their initial ammunition load ran empty. However, for both armies, a lack of ammunition effected the overall outcome.

Attacks by disparate columns would continue to play an important role in warfare, and the generals on the defeated sides would learn from these defeats. Oddly enough, Washington does not mention Hochkirch as his inspiration for the plan at Germantown, though many his plans were the same, down to the letter. Frederick II, who mentioned Germantown in several of his letters during the American War of Independence, did not mention any similarities to between these two battles. These battles, though firmly rooted in Kabinettskriege era warfare, show similarities to later styles of army organization, and presage ideas about divisional level systems of army management.

How should wargamers emulate these battles? Is it good to have two different systems for the AWI and SYW? Could/Should one system capture both eras?

For further information, check out By Force of Arms, by Christopher Duffy, and volume two of The Philadelphia Campaign, by Thomas McGuire.

Thanks for Reading,

Alex Burns