Europe vs Maria Theresa
In the autumn of 1740, the Austrian Emperor Charles VI died, the throne of the Habsburg monarchy, under the Pragmatic Sanction (approved as early as 1713), was succeeded by his daughter Maria Theresa, whose rights were recognized by European powers during her father's life. However, the body of the emperor did not cool down, as a mass of other applicants for the throne appeared in Vienna - a whole coalition was made against the young ruler (Mary was only 23 years old), which included Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Sweden, France and other countries. The War of the Austrian Succession began (1740–1748).
Coalition in the war for the Austrian Succession. Blue - supporters of the Pragmatic sanction, Green - opponents
At first, the anti-Habsburg coalition acted more than successfully: the Prussian king Frederick occupied Silesia, and the united Franco-Saxon-Bavarian army occupied the capital of Bohemia - Prague. Maria Theresia, however, managed to navigate in a difficult political situation and formed a coalition in opposition. She even managed to withdraw Prussia from the war (by way of concession to Silesia), however, as soon as the Pragmatic army began to win, Frederick II entered the war again. Nevertheless, in 1742, the Austrians managed to recapture Prague, England, Holland entered the war on the side of Maria Theresa. In the east, Elizabeth Petrovna supported the Pragmatic Sanction, and Sweden was tied with the war with Russia.
Campaign of 1745
At the beginning of 1745, despite the fact that the war had been going on for four years, the winner was not yet determined. The Austrian troops were tied up with the fight against Frederick in Germany, the colonies were clearing up the relations between the British and the French, and the main front was the Austrian Netherlands - modern Belgium. In previous years, the French army was ousted to its borders, the Allies even managed to occupy Alsace, but in 1745 the newly made French Marshal Moritz of Saxony had to change the balance of power, capturing the Austrian Netherlands, which the French monarchy had long attempted, and at the same time resurrect the prestige of the French army somewhat faded during the war for the Spanish Succession. It must be said that during the campaign in the previous 1744 the French did not succeed in achieving decisive success - the army of Louis XV seized only a few border fortresses, and the final approval of the French government was postponed until 1745.
The Netherlands in 1740-1748
Moritz de sachs
French commander Moritz Saxon is one of the most charismatic figures of the era - his life (and death) beautifully illustrate the character and spirit of the XVIII century. The illegitimate son (one of the 350 (!) Recognized descendants) of the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland Augustus II the Strong - Peter the Great's ally in the Northern War - he entered military service early, having participated in the War for the Spanish Inheritance (1700−1714) on the Russian service (since 1710), under the command of Peter I stormed Riga, later was in the service of his own father and even solicited the Courland throne, wanting to get engaged to Anna Ioannovna. It is amusing that in return he was offered “just” to marry Peter’s daughter Elizabeth, who (like Anna Ioanovna) later became the Russian empress.
Moritz Saxon with a marshal's baton
By the will of fate, he found himself in the French service, where he proved himself to be a talented and courageous commander. Despite the intrigues of the courtiers, Moritz managed to earn the rank of general, and later the marshal's baton. By the beginning of the campaign in 1745, he enjoyed the full confidence of King Louis XV, who wanted to gain military glory and arrived on May 9 (at the invitation of Moritz) in the army.
Siege of Tournai
Opening the campaign in mid-April, Moritz Saxon did not think to wait or maneuver in search of the enemy: the Netherlands (that the South, that the North) were entangled in a network of rivers and canals, on which stood numerous cities, fortresses and forts. It was necessary to wage a real siege war, with which Moritz coped brilliantly (as early as 1741 he carried out an almost bloodless assault on Prague, the next year he commanded its defense) - the French army (65 thousand), concentrated at the border, laid siege to Tournai, located at the mouth of the river Scheldt.
View of the siege of Tournai in 1745
The Allied Anglo-Dutch Army (ca. 70 thousand), moved from Brussels to the Rescue of Tournai: the loss of a strategically important point at the very beginning of the campaign could seriously complicate the task of the Pragmatic Army to retain the Austrian Netherlands. The British set the tone for the Netherlands campaigns - having landed on the continent in 1743, they managed to defeat the French under Dettingham, and now the young English commander - William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (son of King George II) wanted to teach the French a lesson that they would remember for a long time.
Duke of Cumberland
Cumberland expected that the French would not accept the battle - they needed to detach a part of the forces for the siege of Tournai, which means that the allies would have a numerical advantage. The qualities of the British infantry were difficult to doubt — they were well-trained and disciplined troops, ready to fight the enemy to the end, which cannot be said of their Dutch allies. In the army, Moritz was full of recruits from the provinces who could not even close with the British infantry. Nevertheless, the French commander decided to take the fight, preparing a defensive position on the east coast of the Scheldt.
The Legacy of Peter the Great
The center of the French army was the village of Fontenoy, which was artificially strengthened and turned into a real stronghold. The left flank was bounded by the Barry Forest, where Moritz hid a squad of grasenov skirmishers (800 people), made abutments and even built a redoubt, which precisely had to protect this wing from enemy coverage.
At the southern edge of the forest, covering the road on Tournai, another redoubt was built, however, the distance between this redoubt and the fortifications of Fontenoy, which was about 800 meters, was occupied exclusively by infantry, without any trenches or fortsii (the Moritz trenches were simply harmful, and there was not enough time to build additional redoubts). The right flank of the French army was bent under 90 degrees and rested against the castle of Antien, on the Scheldt. The space between Fontenoy and Antienne, where, according to the calculations of the French commander, the main attack will be directed, covered three separate redoubts.
Map of the Battle of Fontenoy
Interestingly, the basic elements of tactics used by Moritz under Fontenoy were inspired by his experience in the Russian army, where he studied in detail the experience of the Poltava operation, which he himself spoke without concealing his admiration for the figure of Peter the Great. The device of the forest notch, the strengthening of the defensive position with redoubts and not with trenches and a deeply echeloned front, which ensured the victory of the Russian army over Charles XII, should have undergone a severe test in the struggle against an equally talented and more prepared for battle enemy.
On the eve of battle
On May 10, 1745, the Allied army approached the outskirts of Tournai - to the east of Fontenoy in Vezon there was a short-lived avant-garde battle, but the French retreated and the Duke of Cumberland’s headquarters were located in the city. The English prince himself went on reconnaissance - instead of a retreating enemy, he saw in front of him an army of French ready for battle, entrenched in Fontenoy. It is unclear whether the Cumberland’s own mistakes or thanks to the opposition of the French soldiers, but during the reconnaissance, the English commander did not take into account that Barry’s forest was occupied by the French, or that the French redoubt was built on the edge of the forest.
Altogether, the French had about 47 thousand soldiers in positions at Fontenoy (the rest covered the ferries across the Scheldt and the siege of Tournai), the Anglo-Dutch army numbered about 55 thousand (while the Allies also had a pair of Austrian squadrons - everything Maria Theresia could help, busy fight with Frederick). In the artillery, the opponents actually had parity: 100 guns at Moritz, versus 93 at the Duke of Cumberland.
It was not possible to start the battle on May 10 - the Allied army was off the march, after the reconnaissance, the English commander attempted to withdraw the troops, but the army did not have time to line up and the battle was postponed the next morning.
The French army during the war of the Austrian Succession
In accordance with the Duke of Cumberland’s plan, Dutch troops were to be stationed on the Allied left flank and attack Fontenoy and Antien while the British and Hesse infantry advanced north of Fontenoy. The cherry on the cake was supposed to be a roundabout maneuver of the English cavalry — it had to go through Barry’s forest and cover the left flank of the French, as happened at Malplak in 1709, after which it was necessary to press the French to the Scheldt and celebrate the triumph. However, "it was smooth on paper, but they forgot about the ravines."
Beginning of the battle
The allied army was raised at 2:00, the troops lined up and launched an offensive against the French positions. Honor to start the battle fell to General Ingolsby - one of the favorites of the Duke of Cumberland - he (his detachment numbered from 2.5 to 5 thousand, according to various estimates) was to attack the enemy redoubt found on the edge of the forest. Ingolsby, however, did not justify the confidence of the commander: having learned that the forest was occupied by enemy arrows, he was afraid to attack the redoubt and sent for help. The reinforcements had arrived, but he still trampled on the spot, indecisively (there is a version that the general, who was fond of drinking, was on a hangover that day). Even the visit of the commander did not change the situation, Ingolsby seemed to try to attack the forest, but was discarded and continued to knead the dirt on the edge of the forest.
Panorama of the Battle of Fontenoy
By 7 am, the situation did not actually change: the French artillery fired at the positions of the allies, but until they approached, she couldn’t inflict any special damage, Ingolsby did not stand still. At this time, the Dutch began the attack, but even they attacked Fontenoy and Antienne not zealously enough: the infantry fell under heavy gunfire and artillery fire, so Kampberland had to reinforce the Dutch with its own infantry (including the Scottish Guard, the famous Black Guard). The English cavalry, seeing Ingolbi’s vain attempts to occupy the forest, attempted to attack between the forest of Barry and Fontenoy, but was thrown back by enemy fire, from which the cavalry commander Campbell died, after which the attack choked and the horsemen returned to their starting positions.
The height of the battle and the attack in the center
The Duke of Cumberland understood that eight hours had passed, as the soldiers were raised to battle, but on the right flank the battle did not actually begin: Ingolsbi stumbled in place, and the timid attack of cavalry was repulsed. It was necessary to do something urgently: either blow the waste and admit that, at least, this day was left to Moritz Saxon, or to attack right now. The young duke chose the second option: according to the hastily drawn up plan, the Dutch had to launch the attack on Fontenoy and Antienne again, and the main forces of the British at that time would hit the French positions between Fontenoy and the forest of Barry. This attack by Cumberland decided not to trust anyone and personally led the infantry forward.
Around 10 am, the second attack on Fontenoy began - this time the Dutch attacked along with the Scottish "guards" and the British, but were again thrown back with terrible losses: the French shot point-blank, mowing down entire lines of Allied infantry, especially the cruel losses were among the Scots and English . The failure of the second attack finally demoralized the Dutch - in fact, they dropped out of battle, although everything was still far from being decided - the main events unfolded north of Fontenoy.
Figure, which gives a visual representation of how the English attack looked
Cumberland collected all the available infantry (25 baht. - about 15 thousand soldiers) and moved it into the gap between the forest and the village. The British infantrymen were slowly advancing, having built up in 6 ranks, as they approached the French, the enemy fire grew stronger, but the sea of red uniforms seemed not to notice this. Here were the best parts of the allied army - the British Guards, famous for their training and discipline.
Shoot first - Only after you!
The plain between Fontenoy and Barry’s forest was uneven, sometimes hilly, so that at a certain point, the advancing British units were face to face with the French “Gard Frances” regiment - it was a privileged regiment of the French army that was quartered in the capital. According to contemporaries, the distance between the lines of infantry did not exceed 50 meters. According to legend, the officers of the enemy regiments greeted each other, after which the British exclaimed "Shoot first!", While the French officers replied "Only after you!". A volley thundered, then another, then another, and the first rows of the French "Gard Frances" fell like a decimated.
The dialogue, however, appeared to be of a slightly different nature: English officer Charles Hay said to the French: “I, gentlemen, hope that you will wait for us today and not run for Scheldt, as you did for Mine at Dettingham” . After that, the British shouted "Hurray!", The French launched a volley and were literally swept away under the pressure of the English Guards.
Anyway, the Cumberland plan, albeit partially, but worked - despite the fact that the Dutch attack was repulsed, the French front north of Fontenoy snapped at the seams: although the Barry forest and redoubt on its edge remained in the hands of the French, and all attempts to take Fontenoy was repulsed, the giant square of English infantry slowly crawled towards the Scheldt. Attempts by the Swiss Guard to stop the British breakthrough were unsuccessful. In the battle came the crisis, it seemed that a little more and the Pragmatic Army would be able to defeat the enemy.
Where was Moritz Saxon at this moment? It must be said that the commander himself was categorically not ready for battle - he severely suffered with edema - to such an extent that the doctor recommended refraining from love pleasures, and in the morning the marshal could not even keep himself in the saddle and had to be carried in a wheelchair. Evil tongues whispered to the king, whose headquarters were located on a hill nearby, that the marshal was sick and was leading the army to inevitable death, however, Louis XV wisely decided to trust Moritz of Saxon and the first to set an example of obedience. At the moment when the English square wedged into the position of the French, the marshal even decided that the battle was lost and wanted to send the king for Scheldt so that the latter could escape in case of failure, but did not have time.
«Gard Frances " meet the English attack
Moritz Saxon, suffering from the disease, strained all his strength and climbed his horse and galloped off to the place of the hottest fight. To stop the attack of the British, the marshal did not even regret the Guards cavalry (including the famous royal musketeer), which he threw straight at the British bayonets. However, even this failed to shake the English system - Cumberland personally gave orders, and encouraged the soldiers.
All the attacks of the French were repulsed, it seemed that the British can no longer be stopped. As soon as the Dutchman launched another attack, the strength of the French defense would be overcome - there was already nothing to shoot at Fontenoy itself, the soldiers were tired, and the best regiments of the French army washed themselves with blood trying to stop the “red car”. But the Dutch were inactive - there was enough of them today - the Dutch troops could not even compare with the English guard.
Then Cumberland decided to get the last ace out of the sleeve and ordered a general attack of cavalry: several dozen squadrons rushed forward, but were met with friendly fire from redoubts and houses (some reinforcements and ammunition did approach Fontenoy), so the Dutch and Austrian squadrons rushed to the right, mixing the ranks of the English cavalry.
Irish Brigade in attack
It became clear that a full-fledged attack would not work and the square, having lost its momentum, quickly became an easy target for the French artillery. Moritz also had an ace up his sleeve: he specially left a battery of 12 guns in reserve, which he was able to pull up to the epicenter of the battle. Кроме того, видя, что голландская пехота больше не собирается атаковать, Мориц Саксонский снял с правого фланга все имеющиеся силы и бросил их на англичан. Теперь стало ясно, что Камберленду нужно как можно быстрее отходить, пока вся английская гвардия не осталась лежать между Фонтенуа и лесом Барри. Герцог приказал трубить отход.
The Allies retreated organized, preparing at any moment to repel the attack of dashing French cavalry, however, no one pursued the retreating - the French army was drained of blood, and Moritz of Saxony seriously feared that the Allied counterattack could break the structure of the French infantry and victory would be a terrible defeat.
On the battlefield at Fontenoy left about 7.5 thousand allies wounded and killed. A few thousand more were taken prisoner, so that the total losses of the Allied army are estimated at 10-13 thousand people. Also, the British had to leave the lion’s share of their artillery (40 out of 93 guns went to the winners). The victory was not easy, and the French: about 7 thousand people were wounded and killed. Many glorious officers and generals died in the battle, both armies fought with surprising persistence and composure.
Louis XV with the dauphin on the battlefield of Fontenoy
Consequences of the Battle of Fontenoy
After the victory at Fontenoy, the fame of the genius Moritz of Saxony spread throughout Europe. Marshal became a European celebrity, his accomplishments were compared with the Duke of Marlborough and Eugene of Savoy - the heroes of the war of the Spanish Succession. For the sake of Moritz of Saxony, the title of Chief Marshal of France was even revived, who was rewarded by King Louis XV.
For General Ingolsby, who so indecisively attacked the French left flank at the beginning of the battle, the defeat at Fontenoy turned into a military court. The Duke of Cumberland failed to win the glory of the great European commander, he was later noted in the suppression of the uprising of the Jacobites in Scotland, for which he was nicknamed the Butcher.
After the victory at Fontenoy, the surrender of Tournai was only a matter of time - the fortress surrendered only 10 days later. By the end of 1745, the Austrian Netherlands came under French control, however, at the conclusion of peace, Louis XV abandoned all conquests in Flanders, returning these territories to Maria Theresa. It is not surprising that he remained in the memory of the French as a weak-willed and narrow-minded monarch. The only one who really gained something in the War of the Austrian Succession was Friedrich of Prussia. And in France, the saying “to work for the King of Prussia” became popular - that is, to work for nothing.