The War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748). When Maria Theresa of Austria succeeded her father Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor in his Habsburg dominions in 1740 in accordance with the pragmaticae sanctiones (Pragmatic Sanction), she, as a woman, was seen as weak, and some other princes (such as Charles Albert of Bavaria) alleged rights to the crown.
In this unsettled dynastic environment hostilities began with the invasion of Silesia by King Frederick II of Prussia in 1740, and only ended with the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) in 1748. After 1741 nearly all the powers of Europe were involved in the struggle, but the most enduring military interest of the war lies in the struggle of Prussia and Austria for Silesia. Southwest Germany, the Low Countries and Italy were, as usual, the battle-grounds of France and Austria. The constant allies of France and Prussia were Spain and Bavaria; various other powers at intervals joined them. The cause of Austria was supported almost as a matter of course by the United Kingdom and by the Netherlands, the traditional enemies of France. Of Austria's allies from time-to-time, Sardinia and Saxony were the most important.
Frederick Invades Silesia: 1740
Prussia in 1740 was a small, compact and thoroughly organised power. The only recent war service of its army had been in the desultory Rhine campaign of 1733 - 1735. It therefore had a reputation as one of the minor armies of Europe, and few thought that it could rival the forces of Austria and France. But King Frederick William I had drilled it to a perfection previously unknown, and the Prussian infantry soldier was so well-trained and well-equipped that he could fire five shots to an Austrian's three, though Prussian cavalry and artillery were less efficient.
But the initial advantage of Frederick's army was that it had, undisturbed by wars, developed the standing-army concept to full effect. While the Austrians had to wait for drafts to complete the field forces, Prussian regiments could take the field at once, and thus Frederick was able to overrun Silesia almost unopposed. His army massed quietly on the Oder, and without declaration of war, on 16 December 1740, it crossed the frontier into Silesia. The Austrian generals could do no more than garrison a few fortresses, and with the small remnant of their available forces fell back to the mountain frontier of Bohemia and Moravia. The Prussian army was soon able to go into winter quarters, holding all Silesia and investing the strong places of Glogow, Brzeg and Neisse. By effect, Prussia had doubled its population and made huge gains in its industrial productivity.
Silesian Campaign of 1741
In February 1741 the Austrians collected a field army under Count Neipperg (1684- 1774) and made preparations to re-conquer Silesia. The Austrians in Neisse and Brieg still held out. Glogau, however, was stormed on the night of 9 March 1741, the Prussians, under Prince Leopold (the younger) of Anhalt-Dessau, executing their task in one hour with a mathematical precision which excited universal admiration. But the Austrian army in Moravia was now in the field, and Frederick's cantonments were dispersed over all Upper Silesia. It was a work of the greatest difficulty to collect the army, for the ground was deep in snow, and before it was completed Neisse was relieved and the Prussians cut off from their own country by the march of Neipperg from Neisse on Brieg; a few days of slow manoeuvring between these places ended in the battle of Mollwitz (10 April 1741), the first pitched battle fought by Frederick and his army. The Prussian right wing of cavalry was speedily routed, but the day was retrieved by the magnificent discipline and tenacity of the infantry. The Austrian cavalry was shattered in repeated attempts to ride down the Prussians, and before the Prussian volleys the Austrian infantry, in spite of all that Neipperg and his officers could do, gradually melted away. After a stubborn contest the Prussians remained masters of the field.
Frederick himself was far away. He had fought in the cavalry mêlée, but after this, when the battle seemed lost, he had been persuaded by Field Marshal Schwerin to ride away. Schwerin thus, like Marshal Saxe at Fontenoy, remained behind to win the victory, and the king narrowly escaped being captured by wandering Austrian hussars.
The immediate result of the battle was that the king secured Brieg, and Neipperg fell back to Neisse, where he maintained himself and engaged in a war of manoeuvre during the summer. But Europe realised suddenly that a new military power had arisen, and France sent Marshal Belle-Isle to Frederick's camp to negotiate an alliance. Thenceforward the "Silesian adventure" became the War of the Austrian Succession. The elector of Bavaria's candidature for the imperial dignity was to be supported by a French "auxiliary" army, and other French forces were sent to observe Hanover. Saxony was already watched by a Prussian army under Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau, the "old Dessauer", who had trained the Prussian army to its present perfection.
The task of Sweden was to prevent Russia from attacking Prussia, but her troops were defeated, on 3 September 1741, at Villmanstrand by a greatly superior Russian army, and in 1742 another great reverse was sustained in the capitulation of Helsingfors in Finland. In central Italy an army of Neapolitans and Spaniards was collected for the conquest of the Milanese.
The Allies in Bohemia
The French duly joined the Bavarian elector's forces on the Danube and advanced towards Vienna; but the objective was suddenly changed, and after many countermarches the anti-Austrian allies advanced, in three widely-separated corps, on Prague. A French corps moved via Amberg and Pilsen. The elector marched on Budweis, and the Saxons (who had now joined the allies) invaded Bohemia by the Elbe valley. The Austrians could at first offer little resistance, but before long a considerable force intervened at Tabor between the Danube and the allies, and Neipperg was now on the march from Neisse to join in the campaign. He had made with Frederick the curious agreement of Klein Schnellendorf (9 October 1741), by which Neisse was surrendered after a mock siege, and the Austrians undertook to leave Frederick unmolested in return for his releasing Neipperg's army for service elsewhere. At the same time the Hungarians, moved to enthusiasm by the personal appeal of Maria Theresa, had put into the field a levée en masse, or "insurrection", which furnished the regular army with an invaluable force of light troops. A fresh army was collected under Field Marshal Khevenhüller at Vienna, and the Austrians planned an offensive winter campaign against the Franco-Bavarian forces in Bohemia and the small Bavarian army that remained on the Danube to defend the electorate.
The French in the meantime had stormed Prague on 26 November 1741, the grand-duke Francis, consort of Maria Theresa, who commanded the Austrians in Bohemia, moving too slowly to save the fortress. The elector of Bavaria, who now styled himself archduke of Austria, was crowned king of Bohemia (9 December 1741) and elected to the imperial throne as Charles VII (24 January 1742), but no active measures were undertaken.
In Bohemia the month of December was occupied in mere skirmishes. On the Danube, Khevenhüller, the best general in the Austrian service, advanced on 27 December, swiftly drove back the allies, shut them up in Linz, and pressed on into Bavaria. Munich itself surrendered to the Austrians on the coronation day of Charles VII.
At the close of this first act of the campaign the French, under the old Marshal de Broglie, maintained a precarious foothold in central Bohemia, menaced by the main army of the Austrians, and Khevenhüller was ranging unopposed in Bavaria, while Frederick, in pursuance of his secret obligations, lay inactive in Silesia. In Italy the allied Neapolitans and Spaniards had advanced towards Modena, the duke of which state had allied himself with them, but the vigilant Austrian commander Count Traun had out-marched them, captured Modena, and forced the duke to make a separate peace.
Campaign of 1742
Frederick had hoped by the truce to secure Silesia, for which alone he was fighting. But with the successes of Khevenhuller and the enthusiastic "insurrection" of Hungary, Maria Theresa's opposition became firmer, and she divulged the provisions of the truce, in order to compromise Frederick with his allies. The war recommenced. Frederick had not rested on his laurels; in the uneventful summer campaign of 1741 he had found time to begin that re-organization of his cavalry which was before long to make it even more efficient than his infantry. The Emperor Charles VII, whose territories were overrun by the Austrians, asked him to create a diversion by invading Moravia. In December 1741, therefore, Schwerin had crossed the border and captured Olomouc. Glatz also was invested, and the Prussian army was concentrated about Olomouc in January 1742. A combined plan of operations was made by the French, Saxons and Prussians for the rescue of Linz. But Linz soon fell; Broglie on the Vltava, weakened by the departure of the Bavarians to oppose Khevenhüller, and of the Saxons to join forces with Frederick, was in no condition to take the offensive, and large forces under Prince Charles of Lorraine lay in his front from Budweis to Jihlava (Iglau). Frederick's march was made towards Iglau in the first place. Brno was invested about the same time (February), but the direction of the march was changed, and instead of moving against Prince Charles, Frederick pushed on southwards by Znojmo and Mikulov. The extreme outposts of the Prussians appeared before Vienna. But Frederick's advance was a mere foray, and Prince Charles, leaving a screen of troops in front of Broglie, marched to cut off the Prussians from Silesia, while the Hungarian levies poured into Upper Silesia by the Jablunka Pass. The Saxons, discontented and demoralized, soon marched off to their own country, and Frederick with his Prussians fell back by Svitavy and Litomysl to Kutná Hora in Bohemia, where he was in touch with Broglie on the one hand and (Glatz having now surrendered) with Silesia on the other. No defence of Olomouc was attempted, and the small Prussian corps remaining in Moravia fell back towards Upper Silesia.
Prince Charles, in pursuit of the king, marched by Jihlava and Teutsch (Deutsch) Brod on Kutna Hora, and on 17 May was fought the battle of Chotusice or Caslav, in which after a severe struggle the king was victorious. His cavalry on this occasion retrieved its previous failure, and its conduct gave an earnest of its future glory not only by its charges on the battlefield, but by its vigorous pursuit of the defeated Austrians. Almost at the same time Broglie fell upon a part of the Austrians left on the Vltava and won a small, but morally and politically important, success in the action of Sahay, near Budweis (24 May 1742). Frederick did not propose another combined movement. His victory and that of Broglie disposed Maria Theresa to cede Silesia in order to make good her position elsewhere, and the separate peace between Prussia and Austria, signed at Wroclaw on 11 June, closed the First Silesian War. The War of the Austrian Succession continued.
The French at Prague
The return of Prince Charles, released by the peace of Breslau, put an end to Broglie's offensive. The prince pushed back the French posts everywhere, and his army converged upon Prague, where, towards the end of June 1742, the French were to all intents and purposes surrounded. Broglie had made the best resistance possible with his inferior forces, and still displayed great activity, but his position was one of great peril. The French government realized at last that it had given its general inadequate forces. The French army on the lower Rhine, hitherto in observation of Hanover and other possibly hostile states, was hurried into Franconia. Prince Charles at once raised the siege of Prague (14 September), called up Khevenhüller with the greater part of the Austrian army on the Danube, and marched towards Amberg to meet the new opponent.
Marshal Maillebois (1682 - 1762), the French commander, then manoeuvred from Amberg towards the Eger valley, to gain touch with Broglie. Marshal Belle-Isle, the political head of French affairs in Germany and a very capable general, had accompanied Broglie throughout, and it seems that Belle-Isle and Broglie believed that Maillebois' mission was to regain a permanent foothold for the army in Bohemia; Maillebois, on the contrary, conceived that his work was simply to disengage the army of Broglie from its dangerous position, and to cover its retreat. His operations were no more than a demonstration, and had so little effect that Broglie was sent for in haste to take over the command from him, Belle-Isle at the same time taking over charge of the army at Prague.
Broglie's command was now on the Danube, east of Regensburg, and the imperial (chiefly Bavarian) army of Charles VII under Seckendorf aided him to clear Bavaria of the Austrians. This was effected with ease, for Khevenhüller and most of his troops had gone to Bohemia. Prince Charles and Khevenhüller now took post between Linz and Passau, leaving a strong force to deal with Belle-Isle in Prague. This, under Prince Lobkowitz, was little superior in numbers or quality to the troops under Belle-Isle, under whom served Saxe and the best of the younger French generals, but its light cavalry swept the country clear of provisions. The French were quickly on the verge of starvation, winter had come, and the marshal resolved to retreat. On the night of 16 December 1742, the army left Prague to be defended by a small garrison under François de Chevert, and took the route of Eger. The retreat (December 16-26) was accounted a triumph of generalship, but the weather made it painful and costly. The brave Chevert displayed such confidence that the Austrians were glad to allow him freedom to join the main army. The cause of the new emperor was now sustained only in the valley of the Danube, where Broglie and Seckendorf opposed Prince Charles and Khevenhüller, who were soon joined by the force lately opposing Belle-Isle.
In Italy, Traun held his own with ease against the Spaniards and Neapolitans. Naples was forced by a British squadron to withdraw her troops for home defence, and Spain, now too weak to advance in the Po valley, sent a second army to Italy via France. Sardinia had allied herself with Austria, and at the same time neither state was at war with France, and this led to curious complications, combats being fought in the Isère valley between the troops of Sardinia and of Spain, in which the French took no part.
The Campaign of 1743
1743 opened disastrously for the emperor. The French and Bavarian armies were not working well together, and Broglie and Seckendorf had actually quarrelled. No connected resistance was offered to the converging march of Prince Charles's army along the Danube, Khevenhüller from Salzburg towards southern Bavaria, and Prince Lobkowitz (1685-1755) from Bohemia towards the Naab. The Bavarians suffered a severe reverse near Braunau (9 May 1743), and now an Anglo-allied army commanded by King George II, which had been formed on the lower Rhine on the withdrawal of Maillebois, was advancing southward to the Main and Neckar country. A French army, under Marshal Noailles, was being collected on the middle Rhine to deal with this new force. But Broglie was now in full retreat, and the strong places of Bavaria surrendered one after the other to Prince Charles. The French and Bavarians had been driven almost to the Rhine when Noailles and the king came to battle. George, completely out-manoeuvred by his veteran antagonist, was in a position of the greatest danger between Aschaffenburg and Hanau in the defile formed by the Spessart Hills and the river Main. Noailles blocked the outlet and had posts all around, but the allied troops forced their way through and inflicted heavy losses on the French, and the Battle of Dettingen is justly reckoned as a notable victory of British arms (June 27).
Both Broglie, who, worn out by age and exertions, was soon replaced by Marshal Coigny (1670 - 1759), and Noailles were now on the strict defensive behind the Rhine. Not a single French soldier remained in Germany, and Prince Charles prepared to force the passage of the great river in the Breisgau while the king of Britain moved forward via Mainz to co-operate by drawing upon himself the attention of both the French marshals. The Anglo-allied army took Worms, but after several unsuccessful attempts to cross, Prince Charles went into winter quarters. The king followed his example, drawing in his troops to the northward, to deal, if necessary, with the army which the French were collecting on the frontier of Flanders. Austria, Britain, Holland and Sardinia were now allied. Saxony changed sides, and Sweden and Russia neutralized each other (peace of Abo, August 1743). Frederick was still quiescent; France, Spain and Bavaria alone continued actively the struggle against Maria Theresa.
In Italy, the Spaniards on the Panaro had achieved a Pyrrhic victory over Traun at Campo Santo (8 February 1743), but the next six months were wasted in inaction, and Lobkowitz, joining Traun with reinforcements from Germany, drove back the enemy to Rimini. The Spanish-Piedmontese war in the Alps continued without much result, the only incident of note being a combat at Casteldelfino won by the king of Sardinia in person.
Campaign of 1744
With 1744 began the Second Silesian War. Frederick of Prussia, disquieted by the universal success of the Austrian cause, secretly concluded a fresh alliance with Louis XV of France. France had posed hitherto as an auxiliary, her officers in Germany had worn the Bavarian cockade, and only with Britain was she officially at war. She now declared war direct upon Austria and Sardinia (April 1744). A corps was assembled at Dunkirk to support the cause of the Old Pretender in Great Britain, and Louis XV in person, with 90,000 men, prepared to invade the Austrian Netherlands, and took Menin and Ypres. His presumed opponent was the allied army previously under King George II and now composed of British, Dutch, Germans and Austrians. On the Rhine, Coigny was to make head against Prince Charles, and a fresh army under the prince de Conti was to assist the Spaniards in Piedmont and Lombardy. This plan was, however, at once dislocated by the advance of Charles, who, assisted by the veteran Traun, skilfully manoeuvred his army over the Rhine near Philippsburg (July 1), captured the lines of Weissenburg, and cut off the French marshal from Alsace. Coigny, however, cut his way through the enemy at Weissenburg and posted himself near Strassburg. Louis XV now abandoned the invasion of Flanders, and his army moved down to take a decisive part in the war in Alsace and Lorraine. At the same time Frederick crossed the Austrian frontier (August).
The attention and resources of Austria were fully occupied, and the Prussians were almost unopposed. One column passed through Saxony, another through Lusatia, while a third advanced from Silesia. Prague, the objective, was reached on 2 September. Six days later the Austrian garrison was compelled to surrender, and the Prussians advanced to Budweis. Maria Theresa once again rose to the emergency, a new "insurrection" took the field in Hungary, and a corps of regulars was assembled to cover Vienna, while the diplomats won over Saxony to the Austrian side. Prince Charles withdrew from Alsace, unmolested by the French, who had been thrown into confusion by, the sudden and dangerous illness of Louis XV at Metz. Only Seckendorf with the Bavarians pursued him. No move was made by the French, and Frederick thus found himself after all isolated and exposed to the combined attack of the Austrians and Saxons. Marshal Traun, summoned from the Rhine, held the king in check in Bohemia, the Hungarian irregulars inflicted numerous minor reverses on the Prussians, and finally Prince Charles arrived with the main army. The campaign resembled that of 1742: the Prussian retreat was closely watched, and the rearguard pressed hard. Prague fell, and Frederick, completely out-manoeuvred by the united forces of Prince Charles and Traun, regained Silesia with heavy losses., At the same time, the Austrians gained no foothold in Silesia.itself. On the Rhine, Louis XV, now recovered, had besieged and taken Freiburg, after which the forces left in the north were reinforced and besieged the strong places of Flanders. There was also a slight war of manoeuvre on the middle Rhine.
In 1744 the Italian war became for the first time serious. A grandiose plan of campaign was formed, and as usual the French and Spanish generals at the front were hampered by the orders of their respective governments. The object was to unite the army in Dauphiné with that on the lower Po. The adhesion of Genoa was secured, and a road thereby obtained into central Italy. But Lobkowitz had already taken the offensive and driven back the Spanish army of Count de Gages towards the Neapolitan frontier. The king of Naples at this juncture was compelled to assist the Spaniards at all hazards. A combined army was formed at Velletri, and defeated Lobkowitz there on 11 August. The crisis past, Lobkowitz then went to Piedmont to assist the king against Conti, the king of Naples returned home, and de Gages followed the Austrians with a weak force. The war in the Alps and the Apennines was keenly contested. Villefranche and Montalban were stormed by Conti on 20 April, a desperate fight took place at Peyre-Longue on 18 July, and the king of Sardinia was defeated in a great battle at Madonna del Olmo (September 30) near Coni (Cuneo). Conti did not, however, succeed in taking this fortress, and had to retire into Dauphiné for his winter quarters. The two armies had, therefore, failed in their attempt to combine, and the Austro-Sardinians still lay between them.
Campaign of 1745
The interest of the next campaign centres in the three greatest battles of the war: Hohenfriedberg, Kesselsdorf and Fontenoy. The first event of the year was the Quadruple Alliance of Britain, Austria, Holland and Saxony, concluded at Warsaw on 8 January 1745. Twelve days later, the death of Charles VII submitted the imperial title to a new election, and his successor in Bavaria was not a candidate. The Bavarian army was again unfortunate; caught in its scattered winter quarters (action of Amberg, January 7), it was driven from point to point, and the young elector had to abandon Munich once more. The peace of Füssen followed on 22 April, by which he secured, his hereditary states on condition of supporting the candidature of the grand-duke Francis, consort of Maria Theresa. The "imperial" army ceased ipso facto to exist, and Frederick was again isolated. No help was to be expected from France, whose efforts this year were centred on the Flanders campaign. In effect, on 10 May, before Frederick took the field, Louis XV and Saxe had besieged Tournay, and inflicted upon the relieving army of the duke of Cumberland the great defeat of Fontenoy.
In Silesia the customary small war had been going on for some time, and the concentration of the Prussian army was not effected without severe fighting. At the end of May, Frederick, with about 65,000 men, lay in the camp of Frankenstein, between Glata and Neisse, while behind the Karkonosze about Landshut Prince Charles had 85,000 Austrians and Saxons. On 4 June was fought the battle of Hohenfriedberg or Striegau, the greatest victory as yet of Frederick's career, and, of all his battles, excelled perhaps by Leuthen and Rossbach only. Prince Charles suffered a complete defeat and withdrew through the mountains as he had come. Frederick's pursuit was methodical, for the country was difficult and barren, and he did not know the extent to which the enemy was demoralised.
The manoeuvres of both leaders on the upper Elbe occupied all the summer, while the political questions of the imperial election and of an understanding between Prussia and Britain were pending. The chief efforts of Austria were directed towards the valleys of the Main and Lahn and Frankfurt, where the French and Austrian armies manoeuvred for a position from which to overawe the electoral body. Marshal Traun was successful, and the grand-duke became the emperor Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor on 13 September. Frederick agreed with Britain to recognise the election a few days later, but Maria Theresa would not conform to the treaty of Breslau without a further appeal to the fortune of war. Saxony joined in this last attempt. A new advance of Prince Charles quickly brought on the battle of Soor, fought on ground destined to be famous in the war of 1866. Frederick was at first in a position of great peril, but his army changed front in the face of the advancing enemy and by its boldness and tenacity won a remarkable victory (September 30).
But the campaign was not ended. An Austrian contingent from the Main joined the Saxons under Marshal Rutowski, and a combined movement was made in the direction of Berlin by Rutowski from Saxony and Prince Charles from Bohemia. The danger, was very great. Frederick hurried up his forces from Silesia and marched as rapidly as possible on Dresden, winning the actions of Katholisch-Hennersdorf (November 24) and Görlitz (November 25). Prince Charles was thereby forced back, and now a second Prussian army under the old Dessauer advanced up the Elbe from Magdeburg to meet Rutowski. The latter took up a strong position at Kesselsdorf between Meissen and Dresden, but the veteran Leopold attacked him directly and without hesitation (December 14). The Saxons and their allies were completely routed after a hard struggle, and Maria Theresa at last gave way. In the peace of Dresden (December 25) Frederick recognized the imperial election, and retained Silesia, as at the peace of Breslau.
Operations in Italy, 1745 - 1747
The campaign in Italy this year was also no mere war of posts. In March 1745 a secret treaty allied the Genoese republic with France, Spain and Naples. A change in the command of the Austrians favoured the first move of the allies. De Gages moved from Modena towards Lucca, the French and Spaniards in the Alps under Marshal Maillebois advanced through the Riviera to the Tanaro, and in the middle of July the two armies were at last concentrated between the Scrivia and the Tanaro, to the unusally large number of 80,000. A swift march on Piacenza drew the Austrian commander thither, and in his absence the allies fell upon and completely defeated the Sardinians at Bassignano (September 27), a victory which was quickly followed by the capture of Alessandria, Valenza and Casale. Jomini calls the concentration of forces which effected the victory "le plus remarquable de toute la guerre".
The complicated politics of Italy, however, brought it about that Maillebois was ultimately unable to turn his victory to account. Indeed, early in 1746, Austrian troops, freed by the peace with Frederick, passed through the Tyrol into Italy; the Franco-Spanish winter quarters were brusquely attacked, and a French garrison of 6000 men at Asti was forced to capitulate. At the same time Count Browne with an Austrian corps struck at the allies on the lower Po, and cut off their communication with the main body in Piedmont. A series of minor actions thus completely destroyed the great concentration. The allies separated, Maillebois covering Liguria, the Spaniards marching against Browne. The latter was promptly and heavily reinforced, and all that the Spaniards could do was to entrench themselves at Piacenza; the Spanish Infant as supreme commander calling up Maillebois to his aid. The French, skilfully conducted and marching rapidly, joined forces once more, but their situation was critical, for only two marches behind them the army of the king of Sardinia was in pursuit, and before them lay the principal army of the Austrians. The pitched battle of Piacenza (June 16) was hard fought, and Maillebois had nearly achieved a victory when orders from the Infant compelled him to retire. That the army escaped at all was in the highest degree creditable to Maillebois and to his son and chief of staff, under whose leadership it eluded both the Austrians and the Sardinians, defeated an Austrian corps in the battle of Rottofreddo (August 12), and made good its retreat on Genoa.
It was, however, a mere remnant of the allied army which returned, and the Austrians were soon masters of north Italy, including Genoa (September). But they met with no success in their forays towards the Alps. Soon Genoa revolted from the oppressive rule of the victors, rose and drove out the Austrians (December 5 -11), and the French, now commanded by Belle-Isle, took the offensive (1747). Genoa held out against a second Austrian siege, and after the plan of campaign had as usual been referred to Paris and Madrid, it was relieved, though a picked corps of the French army under the chevalier de Belle-Isle, brother of the marshal, was defeated in the almost impossible attempt (July 10) to storm the entrenched pass of Exiles (Col di Assietta), the chevalier, and with him the elite of the French nobility, being killed at the barricades. Before the steady advance of Marshal Belle-Isle the Austrians retired into Lombardy, and a desultory campaign was waged up to the conclusion of peace.
Other Theaters of Operations
The war was also conducted beyond Europe, in North America and India. In North America the conflict was known as King George's War, and the most remarkable incident was the capture of the French Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island (Île Royale) by a British expedition (April 29 - June 16, 1745) of colonial militia under Colonel William Pepperrell of Maine (then part of Massachusetts). Louisbourg was then regarded merely as a nest of privateers, but at the peace it was returned to France.
The last three campaigns of the war in the Netherlands were illustrated by the now fully developed genius of Marshal Saxe. After Fontenoy the French carried all before them. The withdrawal of most of the British to aid in suppressing the ‘Forty-Five rebellion at home left their allies in a helpless position. In 1746 the Dutch and the Austrians were driven back towards the line of the Meuse, and most of the important fortresses were taken by the French. The battle of Roucoux (or Raucourt) near Liege, fought on 11 October between the allies under Prince Charles of Lorraine and the French under Saxe, resulted in a victory for the latter. Holland itself was now in danger, and when in April 1747 Saxe's army, which had now conquered the Austrian Netherlands up to the Meuse, turned its attention to the United Provinces, the old fortresses on the frontier offered but slight resistance. The prince of Orange and the duke of Cumberland underwent a severe defeat at Lauffeld (Lawfeld, also called Val) on 2 July 1747, and Saxe, after his victory, promptly and secretly despatched a corps under (Marshal) Lowendahl to besiege Bergen op Zoom. On 18 September Bergen op Zoom was stormed by the French, and in the last year of the war Maastricht, attacked by the entire forces of Saxe and Lowendahl, surrendered on 7 May 1748. A large Russian army arrived to join the allies, but too late to be of use. The quarrel of Russia and Sweden had been settled by the peace of Abo in 1743, and in 1746 Russia had allied herself with Austria. Eventually a large army marched from Moscow to the Rhine, an event which was not without military significance, and in a manner preluded the great invasions of 1813 - 1814 and 1815. The general peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) was signed on the 18th of October 1748.
General Character of the War
Little needs to be said of the military features of the war. The intervention of Prussia as a military power was indeed a striking phenomenon, but her triumph was in a great measure due to her fuller application of principles of tactics and discipline universally recognized though less universally enforced. The other powers re-organised their forces after the war, not so much on the Prussian model as on the basis of a stricter application of known general principles. Prussia, moreover, was far ahead of all the other continental powers in administration, and over Austria, in particular, her advantage in this matter was almost decisive of the struggle. Added to this was the personal ascendancy of Frederick, not yet a great general, but energetic and resolute, and, further, opposed to generals who were responsible for their men to their individual sovereigns. These advantages have been decisive in many wars, almost in all. The special feature of the war of 1740 to 1748, and of other wars of the time, is the extraordinary disparity between the end and the means. The political schemes to be executed by the French and other armies were as grandiose as any of modern times; their execution, under the then conditions of time and space, invariably fell short of expectation, and the history of the war proves, as that of the Seven Years' War was to prove, that the small standing army of the 18th century could conquer by degrees, but could not deliver a decisive blow. Frederick alone, with a definite end and proportionate means wherewith to achieve it, succeeded completely. The French, in spite of their later victories, obtained so little of what they fought for that Parisians could say to each other, when they met in the streets, "You are as stupid as the Peace". And if, when fighting for their own hand, the governments of Europe could so fail of their purpose, even less was to be expected when the armies were composed of allied contingents, sent to the war each for a different object. The allied national armies of 1813 co-operated loyally, for they had much at stake and worked for a common object; those of 1741 represented the divergent private interests of the several dynasties, and achieved nothing.
The naval Operations of this war were languid and confused. They are complicated by the fact that they were entangled with the Spanish war, which broke out in 1739 in consequence of the long disputes between. Britain and Spain over their conflicting claims in America. Until the closing years they were conducted with small intelligence or spirit. The Spanish government was nerveless, and sacrificed its true interest to the family ambition of the king Philip V of Spain, who wished to establish his younger sons as ruling princes in Italy. French administration was corrupt, and the government was chiefly concerned with its political interests in Germany. The British navy was at its lowest point of energy and efficiency after the long administration of Sir Robert Walpole. Therefore, although the war contained passages of vigour, it was neither interesting nor decisive on the sea.
War on Spain was declared by Great Britain on 23 October 1739. It was universally believed that the Spanish colonies would fall at once before attack. A plan was laid for combined operations against them from east and west. One force, military and naval, was to assault them from the West Indies under Admiral Edward Vernon. Another, to be commanded by Commodore George Anson, afterwards Lord Anson, was to round Cape Horn and to fall upon the Pacific coast of Latin America. Delays, bad preparations, dockyard corruption, and the unpatriotic squabbles of the naval and military officers concerned caused the failure of a hopeful scheme. On 21 November 1739 Admiral Vernon did indeed succeed in capturing the ill-defended Spanish harbour of Porto Bello (in the present republic of Panama)—a trifling success to boast of. But he did nothing to prevent the Spanish convoys from reaching Europe.
Spanish privateers cruised with destructive effect against British trade, both in the West Indies and in European waters. When Vernon had been joined by Sir Chaloner Ogle with naval reinforcements and a strong body of troops, an attack was made on Cartagena, Colombia in what is now Colombia (March 9 - April 24, 1741). The delay had given the Spanish admiral, Don Blas de Leso, time to prepare, and the siege failed with a dreadful loss of life to the assailants. Want of success was largely due to the incompetence of the military officers and the brutal insolence of the admiral.
The war in the West Indies, after two other unsuccessful attacks had been made on Spanish territory, died down and did not revive till 1748. The expedition under Anson sailed late, was very ill-provided, and less strong than had been intended. It consisted of six ships and left Britain on 18 September 1740. Anson returned alone with his flagship the Centurion on 15 June 1744. The other vessels had either failed to round the Horn or had been lost. But Anson had harried the coast of Chile and Peru and had captured a Spanish galleon of immense value near the Philippines. His cruise was a great feat of resolution and endurance.
While Anson was pursuing his voyage round the world, Spain was mainly intent on the Italian policy of the king. A squadron was fitted out at Cádiz to convey troops to Italy. It was watched by the British admiral Nicholas Haddock. When the blockading squadron was forced off by want of provisions, the Spanish admiral Don José Navarro put to sea. He was followed, but when the British force came in sight of him Navarro had been joined by a French squadron under M. de Court (December 1741). The French admiral announced that he would support the Spaniards if they were attacked and Haddock retired. France and Great Britain were not yet openly at war, but both were engaged in the struggle in Germany—Great Britain as the ally of the queen of Hungary, Maria Theresa; France as the supporter of the Bavarian claimant of the empire. Navarro and M. de Court went on to Toulon, where they remained till February 1744. A British fleet watched them, under the command of admiral Richard Lestock, till Sir Thomas Mathews was sent out as commander-in-chief and as minister to the court of Turin.
Partial manifestations of hostility between the French and British took place in different seas, but avowed war did not begin till the French government issued its declaration of 30 March, to which Great Britain replied on 31 March. This formality had been preceded by French preparations for the invasion of England, and by a collision between the allies and Mathews in the Mediterranean in the Battle of Toulon. On 11 February a most confused battle was fought, in which the van and centre of the British fleet was engaged with the rear and centre of the allies. Lestock, who was on the worst possible terms with his superior, took no part in the action. He endeavoured to excuse himself by alleging that the orders of Mathews were contradictory. Mathews, a puzzle-headed and hot-tempered man, fought with spirit but in a disorderly way, breaking the formation of his fleet, and showing no power of direction. The mismanagement of the British fleet in the battle, by arousing deep anger among the people, led to a drastic reform of the British navy which bore its first fruits before the war ended.
The French invasion scheme was arranged in combination with the Jacobite leaders, and soldiers were to be transported from Dunkirk. But though the British government showed itself wholly wanting in foresight, the plan broke down. In. February 1744, a French fleet of twenty sail of the line entered the English Channel under Jacques Aymar, comte de Roquefeuil, before the British force under admiral John Norris was ready to oppose him. But the French force was ill-equipped, the admiral was nervous, his mind dwelt on all the misfortunes which might possibly happen, and the weather was bad. M. de Roquefeuil came up almost as far as the Downs, where he learnt that Sir John Norris was at hand with twenty-five sail of the line, and thereupon precipitately retreated.
The military expedition prepared at Dunkirk to cross under cover of Roquefeuil's fleet naturally did not start. The utter weakness of the French at sea, due to long neglect of the fleet and the bankrupt state of the treasury, was shown during the Jacobite rising of 1745, when France made no attempt to profit by the distress of the British government.
The Dutch having by this time joined Great Britain, made a serious addition to the naval power opposed to France, though Holland was compelled by the necessity for maintaining an army in Flanders to play a very subordinate part at sea. Not being stimulated by formidable attack, and having immediate interests both at home and in Germany, the British government was slow to make use of its latest naval strength. Spain, which could do nothing of an offensive character, was almost neglected. During 1745 the New England expedition which took Louisburg (April 30 - June 16) was covered by a British naval force, but the operations were in a general way sporadic, subordinated to the supply of convoy, or to unimportant particular ends. In the East Indies, Mahé de la Bourdonnais made vigorous use of a small squadron to which no effectual resistance was offered by the British naval forces. He captured Madras (July 24 - September 9, 1746), a set-off for Louisburg, for which it was exchanged at the close of the war. In the same year a British combined naval and military expedition to the coast of France - the first of a long series of similar ventures which in the end were derided as "breaking windows with guineas" - was carried out during August and October. The aim was the capture of the French East India Company's dockyard at L'Orient, but it was not attained.
From 1747 until the close of the war in October 1748 the naval policy of the British government, without reaching a high level, was yet more energetic and coherent. A closer watch was kept on the French coast, and effectual means were taken to intercept communication between France and her American possessions. In the spring information was obtained that an important convoy for the East and West Indies was to sail from L'Orient. In the previous year the British government had allowed a French expedition under M. d'Anville to fail mainly by its own weakness. In 1747 a more creditable line was taken. An overwhelming force was employed under the command of Anson to intercept the convoy in the Channel. It was met, crushed and captured, or driven back, on 3 May.
On 14 October another French convoy, protected by a strong squadron, was intercepted by a well-appointed and well-directed squadron of superior numbers - the squadrons were respectively eight French and fourteen British - in the Bay of Biscay. The French admiral Desherbiers de l'Etenduère made a very gallant resistance, and the fine quality of his ships enabled him to counteract to some extent the superior numbers of Sir Edward Hawke, the British admiral. While the war-ships were engaged, the merchant vessels, with the small protection which Desherbiers could spare them, continued on their way to the West Indies. Most of them were, however, intercepted and captured in those waters. This disaster convinced the French government of its helplessness at sea, and it made no further effort.
The last naval operations took place in the West Indies, where the Spaniards, who had for a time been treated as a negligible quantity, were attacked on the coast of Cuba by a British squadron under Sir Charles Knowles. They had a naval force under Admiral Regio at Havana. Each side was at once anxious to cover its own trade, and to intercept that of the other. Capture was rendered particularly desirable to the British by the fact that the Spanish homeward-bound convoy would be laden with the bullion sent from the American mines. In the course of the movement of each to protect its trade, the two squadrons met on 1 October 1748 in the Bahama Channel. The action was indecisive when compared with the successes of British fleets in later days, but the advantage lay with Sir Charles Knowles. He was prevented from following it up by the speedy receipt of the news that peace had been made in Europe by the powers, who were all in various degrees exhausted. That it was arranged on the terms of a mutual restoration of conquests shows that none of the combatants could claim to have established a final superiority. The conquests of the French in the Bay of Bengal, and their military successes in Flanders, enabled them to treat on equal terms, and nothing had been taken from Spain.
The war was remarkable for the prominence of privateering on both sides. It was carried on by the Spaniards in the West Indies with great success, and actively at home. The French were no less active in all seas. Mahé de la Bourdonnais's attack on Madras partook largely of the nature of a privateering venture. The British retaliated with vigour. The total number of captures by French and Spanish corsairs was in all probability larger than the list of British - partly for the reason given by Voltaire, namely, that more British merchants were taken because there were many more British merchant ships to take, but partly also because the British government had not yet begun to enforce the use of convoy so strictly as it did in later times.
See Beatson's Naval and Military Memoirs (London, 1804); La Marine militaire de la France sous le règne de Louis XV, by G. Lacour-Gayet (Paris, 1902); The Royal Navy, by Sir W. L. Clowes and others (London, 1891, &c.).
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.