Battle of Dettingen
|Battle of Dettingen|
|Part of War of the Austrian Succession|
George II at Dettingen
|Commanders and leaders|
George II |
Earl of Stair
Duke of Arenberg
duc de Noailles |
duc de Gramont
|Casualties and losses|
|760 killed, 1,600 wounded (500 left behind as prisoners)||2,000-4,000 dead and wounded|
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 combined British, Hanoverian and Austrian force, the so-called Pragmatic Allies, and a French army commanded by the duc de Noailles.
Although the Earl of Stair exercised operational control, the Allies were nominally commanded by George II, accompanied by his son the Duke of Cumberland. This means it is now best remembered as the last time a reigning British monarch led troops in combat.
Technically 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.'
The War of the Austrian Succession was sparked by the death of Charles VI in 1740 and the succession of his daughter Maria Theresa. The Habsburg Monarchy [b] was subject to Salic law, which excluded women from inheriting it; the 1713 Pragmatic Sanction set this aside, allowing Maria Theresa to succeed her father.
This became a European issue because the Monarchy was part of the Holy Roman Empire, a federation of mostly German states, headed by the Holy Roman Emperor. In 1740, Charles of Bavaria was elected as the first non-Habsburg Emperor in 300 years, supported by France, Prussia and Saxony. Maria Theresa was backed by the Pragmatic Allies, including Britain, Hanover and the Dutch Republic; the latter two remained neutral.
Prussia invaded the Austrian province of Silesia, while France, Saxony and Bavaria occupied Habsburg territories in Bohemia. Spain also joined the war, hoped to regain possessions in Northern Italy lost to Austria and Sardinia in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. 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.
However, the Austrian position substantially improved after the June Treaty of Breslau; it made peace with Prussia, Saxony left the war and Hanover ended its neutrality. By the end of 1742, Austria occupied most of Bavaria and the French armies were being devastated by sickness. The 1743 campaign focused on Germany; in May, an Austrian army under Charles of Lorraine defeated the Bavarians at Simbach. In mid-June, Stair's army of British, Hanoverian and Austrian troops 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.
Until the advent of railways in 19th century, bulk transportation relied on rivers or waterways and the Pragmatic Army a long way from its bases in Flanders. Its supply lines were blocked at several places along the Main and Rhine rivers; by the end of June, they were short of supplies and had to retreat. Anticipating this, the duc de Noailles established a blocking force of 23,000 men at Dettingen, across the road to Hanau, led by his nephew, the duc de Gramont.
At around 1:00 am on the morning of 27 June, the Pragmatic Army left Aschaffenburg in three columns and marched along the north bank of the Main, heading for their supply depots at Hanau. 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. Another 12,000 French troops were sent across the Main at Aschaffenburg, behind the Allies; Noailles had high hopes of destroying their entire army.
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. 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.
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.[c] 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.
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. 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.
Various British regiments were awarded a battle honour for Dettingen and many senior officers promoted but in truth it was a lucky escape and the Allies might have suffered a serious defeat if Noailles' orders had been followed. This was his last military command; he was appointed Foreign Minister in 1744 and thereafter held a number of diplomatic positions; de Gramont was killed at Fontenoy in 1745.
Nearly 70 at the time of Dettingen, Stair asked to be allowed to retire. He was replaced by George Wade, who was the same age, with Cumberland appointed commander in 1745.
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. 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.'
- 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
- Often referred to as 'Austria', it included Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, the Austrian Netherlands, and Parma
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- Mackinnon 1883, p. 358.
- Mallinson 2009, p. 83.
- De Périni 1896, p. 300.
- Brumwell 2006, p. 31.
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- Mallinson 2009, p. 84.
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