Menno van Coehoorn

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Menno, Baron van Coehoorn
Menno Baron van Coehoorn after Caspar Netscher.jpg
Menno, Baron van Coehoorn.
BornMarch, 1641
Britsum, Friesland, Dutch Republic
Died17 March 1704 (aged 62–63)
The Hague
Buried
AllegianceDutch Republic Dutch Republic
Service/branchInfantry, then Engineers
Years of service1657 – 1704
RankLieutenant General
Ingenieur Generaal der Fortificatiën
General of Artillery
Commands heldGarrison Commander Namur 1692
Zeelandic Flanders 1702
Battles/warsSecond Anglo-Dutch War
Franco-Dutch War
Maastricht; Seneffe; Cassel; Saint-Denis
Nine Years' War
Fleurus; Namur (1692); Namur (1695)
War of the Spanish Succession
Venlo and Roermond, 1702

Menno, Baron van Coehoorn (March 1641 – 17 March 1704) was a Dutch soldier and engineer regarded as one of the most significant figures in Dutch military history. During his lifetime, he and his French counterpart Vauban were the acknowledged experts in siege warfare and the design of fortifications.

Life[edit]

The United Provinces; Friesland at top

Van Coehoorn was born at Britsum in March 1641, one of six sons of Goosewijn van Coehoorn and Aaltje van Hinckena, who owned an estate, the Lettinga State, near Leeuwarden, in the Dutch province of Friesland. His father was an officer in a Friesland regiment of the Dutch States Army and a member of the petty nobility. Menno's great-grandfather had been a German squire from Kuhhornshof near Frankfurt, a follower of William the Silent, who had joined the Dutch Revolt in 1572.

Menno was educated at home with his brothers, then later at the University of Franeker by his uncle, the mathematician Professor Bernardus Fullenius, where he showed a talent for mathematics and military drawing.[1] In 1657, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in his father's company, part of the permanent garrison in Maastricht.[2]

He married Magdalena van Scheltinga in 1678 and they had four surviving children: Goosewijn (1678-1737), Gertruda (1679-1757), Hendrik (1683-1756) and Amalia (1683-1708). After Magdalena's death in 1683, he married Truytje van Wigara (dates unknown), and died on 17 March 1704.[3]

Early career[edit]

Promoted captain in October 1660, Van Coehoorn first saw action in 1665 during the Second Anglo-Dutch War when he helped repulse an English-funded invasion by the Bishop of Munster.

During the 1672 to 1678 Franco-Dutch War, he was wounded at the defence of Maastricht in 1673, then fought at Grave and Seneffe in 1674. Promoted major prior to Cassel in 1677, he was a Lieutenant-Colonel when the war ended.[1]

In the Netherlands, 1672 is still referred to as the Rampjaar or Year of Disaster. The rapid fall of major fortresses like Nijmegen and Fort Crèvecœur near 's-Hertogenbosch demonstrated the Republic's vulnerability and the obsolescence of its defences. This caused intense debate in two areas; first, where to locate defences and second, how to design fortifications that could withstand a long siege in the flat terrain of the Netherlands.[4]

Design Principles[edit]

Sluice gate near Utrecht; Van Coehoorn incorporated water defences in his designs

Van Coehoorn set out his ideas in a public debate over the design of a new fortress at Coevorden with Captain Louis Paen, a fellow officer who in 1679 produced a well-received critique of the Dutch drill manual.[5] This resulted in the 1682 publication of Van Coehoorn's Versterckinge des Vijfhoeks met al syne buytenwerken or Fortification of the Pentagon and all its outer works, followed in 1685 by his best-known work Nieuwe Vestingbouw op een natte of lage horisont or New Fortress Construction on a Wet or Low Horizon.[1]

Since a large permanent force was too expensive for most states, the purpose of permanent fortifications was providing time to mobilise their reserves.[6] The Dutch were nearly overrun in 1672 by the speed with which fortresses like Nijmegen were captured and saved only by activating the Hollandic Water Line. Van Coehoorn's approach accepted that the flat terrain of the Netherlands and huge cost of construction meant an effective defence could not rely solely on fortifications. His designs were based on some key principles;

Active defence; defenders should constantly disrupt the besiegers rather than simply sitting behind their walls. This meant providing open areas within the fortifications to assemble a counter-attacking force.[7]

Multiple defence lines; the existing practice of all round defence meant a breach in one area often led to the rapid surrender of the whole position. Instead, Van Coehoorn created multiple 'Inner' and 'Outer' defence zones that funnelled attackers through successive 'killing zones' of flanking fire; {{efn|Variously delivered from loopholed redoubts in the re-entrant places-of-arms, from earthen faussebrayes, and long, concave double-bastioned flanks. These works were screened from view by their low profiles, and, in the case of the flanks, by narrow, tower-like orillons of solid masonry;"[8]

Denial of terrain; "... he protected his works by digging alternate ranks of wet and dry ditches. The dry ditches and covertways were cut down to within a few inches of the water table ... (if the besiegers) cut into the floor in the normal way, they would soon be flooded out;"[9]

Van Coehoorn claimed his methods required only two-thirds of the materials needed for similar French fortifications, largely because the high water table common in the Netherlands made the danger of mining academic.[10] Water was another feature of his work; although completed years after his death, he designed the Zuider Waterlinie between Sluis and Nijmegen. His recommendation of a defensive barrier in the east, using the IJssel and the Dutch portion of the Lower Rhine, formed the basis of a NATO defence line built in the 1950s, codenamed Plans 'C' for Coehoorn and 'D' for Deventer.[11]

Namur; the Sieges of 1692 and 1695[edit]

Menno van Coehoorn is located in Belgium
Nieuwpoort
Nieuwpoort
Maastricht
Maastricht
Bergen op Zoom
Bergen op Zoom
Brussels
Brussels
Liège
Liège
Charleroi
Charleroi
Namur
Namur
Huy
Huy
Mons
Mons
Ostend
Ostend
The Spanish Netherlands (yellow area); key locations plus major Dutch sites

His ideas remained untested until the 1688-1697 Nine Years War, whose tactics placed great emphasis on manoeuvre and siege warfare.[12] He was present at the capture of Kaiserswerth and Bonn in 1690; his role is unclear but Frederick I offered him a position as Major-General in the Prussian army, which he refused.[2]

Van Coehoorn was finally able to implement his ideas when he was appointed commander of Namur in 1691. Namur was divided into the 'City' on the flat northern bank of the River Sambre and the Citadel on high ground to the south controlling access to the Sambre and Meuse rivers. He strengthened the 'inner' Citadel with new outworks at Fort William and La Casotte but did not have time to do the same for the 'outer' City area. The garrison of 5,000 was too small for an active defence, while many were poorly-trained Spanish troops with little interest in fighting for the Dutch.[13]

In the first Siege of Namur in May 1692, the City fell in less than five days, with the Citadel and its 500 Dutch defenders holding out until 30 June. This was partly due to the terms negotiated by Van Coehoorn when surrendering the City. He agreed not to fire on the City from the Citadel in return for the French not attacking from that direction, making it almost impregnable.[13]

Regardless, the defence was a significant achievement and William III promoted Van Coehoorn to Major-General and commander of the vital city of Liège. He also supervised the construction of new defences at Huy which the Dutch lost in July 1693 but recaptured in September 1694.

His French counterpart and rival, Vauban (1633-1707)

The focus of the 1695 Allied campaign was the second Siege of Namur. The fortifications had been strengthened by Vauban, while Marshall Boufflers had a garrison of 13,000 that was large enough to conduct an active defence. Van Coehoorn was put in charge of siege operations and quickly captured the outer City but by mid-August the Citadel remained largely intact and William was growing impatient. A battery of 200 guns was established and on 21 August began a continuous 24 hour bombardment of the Citadel's lower defences; assaults on the resulting breaches were extremely bloody, including 3,000 casualties in three hours on 30 August but the defenders surrendered on 4 September.[14]

The two sieges of Namur were the key events of the Nine Years War in Flanders and made Van Coehoorn's reputation. Nieuwe Vestingbouw was translated into English, French and German among others and reprinted on a regular basis while his ideas were widely used elsewhere, including Mannheim, Belgrade and Temesvar. Ironically, Boufflers' defence of Namur was the best example of Van Coehoorn's defensive principles. He ...demonstrated one could effectively win a campaign by losing a fortress but exhausting the besieging force...(Boufflers) conducted a classic active defence and contested every advance as best he could.[15]

An often overlooked innovation used by both Vauban and Van Coehoorn was to focus their artillery on specific parts of the fortifications, rather than the accepted practice of targeting multiple areas; this was a particular issue for armies like the Alliance, that were composed of separate contingents. Overwhelming defences with massive firepower was known as the 'Van Coehoorn method,' while Vauban preferred a more gradual approach.[16] Both methods had their supporters; Vauban argued his was more efficient in the use of artillery and less costly in terms of casualties but took more time, an important consideration in an age when far more soldiers died from disease than combat.[17]

Later career[edit]

Bergen op Zoom after Van Coehoorn's renovations; note diversion of the Scheldt.

In recognition of his part in the capture of Namur, Van Coehoorn was promoted Lieutenant General and appointed Ingenieur Generaal der Fortificatiën and General of Artillery. His brother Gideon replaced him as Colonel of the Nassau Friesland Regiment, while Van Coehoorn himself transferred to a Holland regiment; this increased his influence, since he now reported to William, rather than the Frisian Stadholder Hendrik Casimir.

The 1697 Treaty of Ryswick ending the Nine Year War allowed the Dutch to garrison Nieuwpoort, Charleroi, Luxembourg, Mons and Namur in the Spanish Netherlands although these all fell rapidly to the French in 1701.[2] Van Coehoorn was given responsibility for the Dutch Republic's fortifications; one of his strengths was adapting to fit individual sites and minimising costs, essential skills as the Dutch had insufficient funds for all the repairs and additions needed.[18]

Nijmegen and Bergen op Zoom were prioritised for upgrades although both were incomplete in 1701 when the War of the Spanish Succession broke out.[19] Van Coehoorn was appointed Governor of Sluis and military commander in Zeeuws Vlaanderen or Zeelandic Flanders. John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, commander of the Anglo-Dutch forces advocated a more aggressive strategy, arguing one battle was more beneficial than taking 12 fortresses and Van Coehoorn himself supported this approach.[20] The Dutch survived a century of almost constant warfare by keeping their army together; losing a battle might lose them the war and they considered Marlborough's approach unnecessarily risky.[21]

Van Coehoorn's burial place in Wijckel

Instead, the Allies spent 1702 and 1703 taking towns such as Venlo and Roermond in the modern Dutch province of Limburg, as well as Liège, Bonn and Huy. This was hampered by conflicting objectives; a Dutch army was surrounded by a French force several times their size at Ekeren on 30 June and only just escaped. Van Coehoorn was blamed for this; he was a difficult character and William's death in March 1702 had deprived him of his most powerful sponsor.[22]

The campaigns of 1702 and 1703 showed his limitations as a field officer and led to criticism from Marlborough and his Dutch colleagues.[23] In early 1704, he considered an offer from the Duchy of Savoy, but died on 17 March in The Hague, where he was attending a conference with Marlborough.[24] He is buried at Wijckel, the States of Friesland paying for a monument over his grave.

Other[edit]

In May 1701, Van Coehoorn demonstrated a light-weight mortar to William, later known as the Coehorn (sic). Designed to provide cover for infantry assaults, it was first used at Kaiserworth in 1702 and variations remained in service during the US Civil War in 1861.[25]

The Menno van Coehoorn Foundation was established in 1932 to preserve the cultural heritage of historical fortifications in the Netherlands and their associated wildlife.

His son Gosewijn Theodor van Coehoorn (1678-1736) wrote a biography of his father, The Life Of Menno Baron Van Coehoorn which is still in print.

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Eysten 1911, p. 620.
  2. ^ a b c & Duffy 1995, p. 63.
  3. ^ Eysten 1911, p. 622.
  4. ^ & Duffy 1995, p. 35.
  5. ^ Van Nimwegen 2010, p. 105.
  6. ^ Afflerbach & Strachan 2012, p. 159.
  7. ^ Nolan 2008, p. 84.
  8. ^ & Duffy 1995, p. 67.
  9. ^ & Duffy 1995, p. 68.
  10. ^ & Duffy 1995, p. 69.
  11. ^ Hoof van, JCPM. "Menno van Coehoorn, een historische schets". Menno van Coehoorn Foundation. Retrieved 24 June 2018.
  12. ^ Childs, p. 2.
  13. ^ a b de la Colonie 1904, p. 16.
  14. ^ Lenihan 2011, pp. 25-26.
  15. ^ Lynn 1999, pp. 248–249.
  16. ^ Ostwald 2006, pp. 285-286.
  17. ^ Afflerbach & Strachan 2012, p. 160.
  18. ^ & Duffy 1995, pp. 69-70.
  19. ^ & Duffy 1995, p. 34.
  20. ^ Van Hoof 2004, p. 83.
  21. ^ Bromley 1970, p. 416.
  22. ^ Ostwald 2006, p. 114.
  23. ^ Ostwald 2006, p. 237.
  24. ^ & Duffy 1995, p. 64.
  25. ^ & Duffy 1995, p. 65.

Sources[edit]

  • Afflerbach, Holger (ed), Strachan, Hew (ed) (2012). How Fighting Ends: A History of Surrender. OUP. ISBN 0199693625.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link);
  • Bromley, A.S (ed) (1970). The New Cambridge Modern History: Volume 6, The Rise of Great Britain and Russia, 1688-1715. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521293960.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link);
  • Childs, John (1991). The Nine Years War and the British Army 1688-97: The Operations in the Low Countries. Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0719089961.;
  • Coehoorn, M. van (1685). Nieuwe vestingbouw, op een natte of lage horisont; etc. Hendrik Rintjes.
  • Coehoorn, Gozewijn Theodoor van, Sypesteyn, Willem Jan van (1860). Het Leven Van Menno Baron Van Coehoorn (in Dutch). Kessinger Publishing Co. ISBN 1104059185.
  • Duffy, Christopher (1995). Siege Warfare: The Fortress in the Early Modern World 1494-1660. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415146494.;
  • Eysten (1911). Coehoorn (Menno baron van), in: P.J. Blok, P.C. Molhuysen (eds)., Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek. Deel 1. Digitale Bibliotheek der Nederlandse Letteren (in Dutch).;
  • Lenihan, Padraig (2011). "Namur Citadel, 1695: A Case Study in Allied Siege Tactics". War in History. 18 (3).;
  • Lynn, John (1999). The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667-1714 (Modern Wars In Perspective). Longman. ISBN 0582056292.;
  • Martin de la Colonie, Horsley, Walter (1904). The Chronicles of an Old Campaigner M. de la Colonie, 1692-1717 (2015 ed.). Scholars Choice. ISBN 1296409791.;
  • Nolan, Cathal (2008). Wars of the Age of Louis XIV, 1650-1715: An Encyclopedia of Global Warfare. Greenwood. ISBN 0313330468.
  • Ostwald, Jamel (2006). Vauban Under Siege: Engineering Efficiency and Martial Vigor in the War of the Spanish Succession. Brill. ISBN 9004154892.;
  • Van Hoof, Jaep (2004). Menno van Coehoorn 1641 - 1704, Vestingbouwer ~ belegeraar ~ infanterist (in Dutch). Instituut voor Militaire Geschiedenis.;
  • Van Nimwegen, Olaf (2010). The Dutch Army and the Military Revolutions, 1588-1688. Boydell Press. ISBN 1843835754.;
  • Young, William (2004). International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV. iUniverse.;

External links[edit]

  • [1] Web page for the Menno van Coehoorn Foundation
  • [2] Article on Coehoorn at fortified-places.com