Battle of Dettingen

The Battle of Dettingen (German: Schlacht bei Dettingen) took place on 27 June 1743 during the War of the Austrian Succession, at Dettingen, now Karlstein am Main in Bavaria. It was fought between a Pragmatic Army,[lower-alpha 2] composed of British, Hanoverian and Austrian troops, and a French army commanded by the duc de Noailles.

Battle of Dettingen
Part of War of the Austrian Succession

George II at Dettingen
Date27 June 1743 [lower-alpha 1]
Location
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
 Great Britain
Hanover
 Austria
 France
Commanders and leaders
George II
Earl of Stair
Duke of Arenberg
von Neipperg
Lt-General Ilton
duc de Noailles
duc de Gramont
duc d'Harcourt
Strength
50,000 45,000
Casualties and losses
760 killed, 1,600 wounded (500 left behind as prisoners) 2,000-4,000 dead and wounded

While the Earl of Stair exercised operational control, the Allied army was nominally commanded by George II, accompanied by his son the Duke of Cumberland. As a result, it is now best remembered as the last time a reigning British monarch led troops in combat.

Despite being an Allied victory, the battle had little effect on the wider war and has been described as 'a happy escape, rather than a great victory.'[1]

Background

The immediate cause of the War of the Austrian Succession was the death in 1740 of Emperor Charles VI, last male Habsburg in the direct line. This left his eldest daughter, Maria Theresa, as heir to the Habsburg Monarchy, [lower-alpha 3] whose laws excluded women from the succession. The 1713 Pragmatic Sanction waived this and allowed her to inherit, but this was challenged by Charles of Bavaria, the closest male heir.[2]

The dispute became a European issue because the Monarchy formed the most powerful single element in the Holy Roman Empire. A federation of mostly German states, it was headed by the Holy Roman Emperor, in theory an elected position but held by the Habsburgs since 1440. In January 1742, Charles of Bavaria became the first non-Habsburg Emperor in 300 years, with the support of France, Prussia and Saxony. Maria Theresa was backed by the so-called Pragmatic Allies, which in addition to Austria included Britain, Hanover and the Dutch Republic.[3]

In December 1740, Prussia invaded the Austrian province of Silesia, whose mining, weaving and dyeing industries provided 10% of total Imperial income.[4] France, Saxony and Bavaria occupied Habsburg territories in Bohemia, while Spain joined the war, hoping to regain possessions in Northern Italy lost to Austria in 1713. By early 1742, Austria's position seemed desperate; Britain agreed to send a naval squadron to the Mediterranean and 17,000 troops to the Austrian Netherlands, under the Earl of Stair.[5]

However, Austria made peace with Prussia in the June 1742 Treaty of Breslau; by December, they occupied most of Bavaria while the French armies were devastated by disease.[6] The focus of the 1743 campaign switched to Germany; the Austrians defeated the Bavarians at Simbach and in mid-June, the Allied army arrived at Aschaffenburg, on the north bank of the River Main. Here they were joined by George II, who was attending the coronation of a new Elector of Mainz.[7]

By late June, the Allies were running short of bread, with their nearest supply depot at Hanau. Noailles blocked their retreat by placing 23,000 men at Dettingen, commanded by his nephew, the duc de Gramont.[8]

The battle

Mainz
Aschaffenburg
Hanau
Dettingen
The Battle of Dettingen; key locations

Around 1:00 am on 27 June, the Allies left Aschaffenburg in three columns and marched along the north bank of the Main, heading for their supply depots at Hanau.[9] The road ran through Dettingen, which was occupied by de Gramont's infantry, who held a line running from the village to the Spessart Heights, with the cavalry on level ground to their left. Noailles instructed his artillery commander de Vallière to place his guns on the south bank of the Main, allowing them to fire on the Pragmatic army's left flank.[10] Another 12,000 French troops were sent across the Main at Aschaffenburg, behind the Allies; Noailles had high hopes of destroying their entire army.[11]

The French presence in Dettingen took the Allies by surprise and the danger of their situation quickly became apparent when they saw the detachment moving into their rear. General Ilton ordered the British and Hanoverian Foot Guards back to Aschaffenburg, while the remainder spent the next six hours forming up in four lines to attack the French position. As they did so, they were fired on by the French artillery, although this caused relatively few casualties.

Around midday, despite being ordered by Noailles three times to hold their positions, the elite Maison du Roi cavalry attacked the Allied lines.[12] Who initiated the attack is disputed, de Gramont being the most common choice. French commentators suggest the Maison de Roi had not seen action since Malplaquet in 1709 and were frustrated at their lack of opportunities. Their charge was followed by the Gardes Françaises infantry, in a disjointed and piecemeal attack.[13]

Led by the duc d'Harcourt, they broke through the first three lines, capturing a number of standards and throwing the inexperienced British cavalry into confusion.[lower-alpha 4][14] De Vallière's artillery had to cease fire for fear of hitting their own troops and the British infantry of the fourth line held their ground. A Hanoverian artillery battery began firing at close range into the French infantry, while an Austrian brigade took them in the flank. After three hours of fighting, the French were forced back across the river, most of their casualties occurring when one of the bridges collapsed.[15]

Once across the river on the left bank of the Main, the French allowed the Allies to continue their march towards Hanau; it has been suggested they could have exploited their victory but in reality they were in no shape to attempt an river crossing.[16] As agreed prior to the battle, their wounded were left behind for the French to look after. Noailles followed close behind and the Allied army took up winter quarters in Hanover at the end of October.[17]

Aftermath

Dettingen was a lucky escape and the Allies might have suffered a serious defeat if Noailles' orders had been followed.[18] This was his last military command; appointed Foreign Minister in 1744, he held a number of diplomatic positions, while de Gramont was killed at Fontenoy in 1745. The 70 year old Stair retired and replaced by the equally elderly George Wade.

30 years of peace showed in the performance of the British cavalry; they failed to locate 23,000 men across their line of retreat, less than 8 miles away, while many troopers were allegedly unable to control their horses.[19] Poor reconnaissance was also a factor at Lauffeld in 1747. Training and discipline was credited with having saved the army from destruction; in recognition of this lesson, since 1947 one of the training companies at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst has been named 'Dettingen.'[20]

In honour of the battle and his patron George II, Handel composed the Dettingen Te Deum and Dettingen Anthem.[21]

Notes

  1. Until 1752, Britain used the Julian calendar, sometimes written as 'OS' or Old Style, which was 11 days behind the Gregorian calendar or 'NS' New Style; all dates are NS
  2. Supporters of the 1713 Pragmatic Sanction were generally known as the Pragmatic Allies
  3. Often referred to as 'Austria', this included Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, the Austrian Netherlands, and Parma
  4. "The charge came with such force that it broke, at least in parts, the three front lines of the British, but could not break the fourth."

References

  1. Lecky 1878.
  2. Anderson 1995, p. 3.
  3. Black 1999, p. 82.
  4. Armour 2012, pp. 99-101.
  5. Harding 2013, p. 135.
  6. Harding 2013, pp. 152-153.
  7. Browning 1995, p. 136.
  8. De Périni 1896, p. 295.
  9. De Périni 1896, p. 296.
  10. "Vallière, Joseph-Florent de". kronoskaf.com. Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  11. Brumwell 2006, p. 30.
  12. Duffy 1987, p. 19.
  13. De Périni 1896, p. 298.
  14. Morris 1886, p. 126.
  15. Mackinnon 1883, p. 358.
  16. Mallinson 2009, p. 83.
  17. De Périni 1896, p. 300.
  18. Brumwell 2006, p. 31.
  19. "Battle of Dettingen". British Battles. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
  20. Mallinson 2009, p. 84.
  21. "Handel Dettingen Te Deum; Te Deum in A". Gramophone.co.uk. Retrieved 11 July 2019.

Sources

  • Anderson, MS (1995). The War of the Austrian Succession 1740–1748. Routledge. ISBN 978-0582059504.
  • Black, James (1999). From Louis XIV to Napoleon: The Fate of a Great Power. Routledge. ISBN 978-1857289343.
  • Browning, Reed (1995). The War of the Austrian Succession. Griffin. ISBN 978-0312125615.
  • Brumwell, Stephen (2006). Paths of Glory: The Life and Death of General James Wolfe. Hambledon Continuum. ISBN 978-1852855536.
  • De Périni, Hardÿ (1896). Batailles françaises; Volume VI. Ernest Flammarion, Paris.
  • Duffy, Christopher (1987). Military Experience in the Age of Reason (2016 ed.). Routledge. ISBN 978-1138995864.
  • Harding, Richard (2013). The Emergence of Britain's Global Naval Supremacy: The War of 1739-1748. Boydell Press. ISBN 978-1843838234.
  • Lecky, WEH (1878). A history of England in the Eighteenth century; Volume I.
  • Mackinnon, Colonel Daniel (1883). Origin and Services of the Coldstream Guards: Volume I. Richard Bentley.
  • Mallinson, Alan (2009). The Making of the British Army. Bantam Press. ISBN 978-0593051085.
  • Morris, Edward Ellis (1886). The Early Hanoverians. Charles Scribner & Sons.
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