1759-08-01 - Engagement of Gohfeld
Prelude to the Battle
Early in July 1759, during their offensive in West Germany, the French captured Minden. The French had now secured a bridge over the Weser and had free access into Hanover. This forced Ferdinand of Brunswick to react quickly to this threat. On July 17, hoping to lure the French into a battle, he deployed his army in the plain of Minden but this plan did not succeed. Ferdinand then methodically advanced his positions towards Minden while giving the impression that his various corps were isolated.
The Erbrinz had left Petershagen on the 27th with 10 squadrons, seven battaliosn and 16 guns. His task was to cross the Wiehen Gebirge and strike eastwards against Contades's communications south from Minden.
The Erbrinz reached Lübbecke on the 28th, had a small fight with a party of Frecnh hussars (Turpin and Bercheny regiments), drove them back and, next day, the 29th, arrived at Riemsloh, where he was joined by Dreves and Schlieffen. His force now amounted to some 9.700 men.
Contades, hearing of the clash of Lübbecke, sent Lieut.-general the Duc de Brissac with some cavalry and infantry and at least five guns to Bünde (ar. 7 miles on the west of Gohfeld). The cavalry of the Volontaires de Dauphiné was charged to maintain communication between d'Havré's and Brissac's corps through the vale of Bergkirchen.
The French initially occupied a strong advanced defensive position at the bridges over the Else in the area of Bünde northwest of Herford and were able to strike back here on July 30, a first attack of the allies. Brissac's task had first been the protection of an important convoy of money and supplies on its way from Herford to Minden. The convoy was safe.
The Duke of Brissac, however, was ordered to retreat east to immediately secure supplies through the main road. His task was now the defence of the life-line of Contades's army.
On July 31 1759, the Hereditary Prince of Brunswick and general Dreves established themselves between Kirchlengern and Quernheim, frightening the lines of communication between Minden and Paderborn and Kassel, cutting all supplies coming from the south to Contades's army at Minden.
In the evening, Brissac's corps took position at Gohfeld with the Werre river in his front, to protect the "Gohfelder Werrebrücke". The Hereditary Prince decided to attack Brissac the next morning, at 3 a.m (just as the battle in the Minden plain was starting).
First, here is a large 1772 map of the district of Minden covering the battle of Minden (red rectangle) and the engagement at Gohfeld (purple rectangle):
And here is a 1834 map of the area of Gohfled showing the Werre river in blue, the stone bridge of Gohfeld (red circle) and the Haus Beck (green circle). Please note the information about the fight's location written on the map (black rectangle on the center of the map).
The situation of the main features are :
- The main road to Minden: at the upper right side of the map
- The roads to the vale of Bergkirchen: at the top center of the map
- The road to Lübbecke: at the left top corner of the map
- The road to Quernheim: at the upper left side of the map
- The road to Kirchlengern: just in the south of the "Haus Beck" (green circle)
- The road to Löhne: at the bottom left side of the map
- The road to Herford: at the bottom center of the map
- The road to Rehme: at the bottom right side of the map
- Near the junction between the Weser and the Werre (on the middle of the left side of the map), there were salt pans with a flimsy wooden bridge called the Salt Pan Bridge. Designed mainly for the salt pan workers to use, this small bridge collapsed during the French retreat.
- The "Gohfeld Werre" stone bridge (red circle) ran over the road to Minden
- Just a few kilometers on the east of Gohfeld, there was another important bridge in Rehme (where the French baggage were)
- There are several small streams running into the Warre downstream of the French force initial positions which were between Gohfeld and the salt pans
- The Beck defile was located in the south of the town of Mennighüffen and in the west of a large estate house called "Haus Beck" (green circle)
Description of Events
On August 1 at 3:00 AM, the Hereditary Prince set from his camp at Kirchlengern. His plan was to envelop both of Brissac's flanks and cut the roads behind him. He divided his troops into three roughly equal groups for this purpose. The middle group under Lieutenant General von Kielmannsegge was to march north of the Werre on the Gohfeld bridge and take the enemy's positions under fire with the bulk of the guns. The right-wing group, led by general Dreves and the Hereditary Prince himself, was initially to cross the Else at Kirchlengern, then cross the Werre at the village of Löhne, advance south of the river on Gohfeld, and finally fall into the enemy's left flank. The third, left group under Major General von Bock should continue north to the bridge of Salt Pan Bridge (now Bad Oeynhausen, located in the east of Gohfeld) to prevent a retreat of the French to the east.
However, Brissac's troops too were on the move to attack the Allies and had crossed the Werre. Brissac transferred his main power over the bridge to the north bank of the Werre, where the terrain was flatter and more open, offering better combat conditions for his strong cavalry. When count Kielmansegg came out of the defile of Beck, he came into contact with the French, had an enemy touch earlier and elsewhere than planned and initially without any further support. The Allied cavalry carried a first attack, but was beaten back by those of the French. Thereupon the two forces cannonaded each other for more than 2 hours. Brissac's cavalry charged but was repulsed by the Hanoverian Alt Zastrow Infantry battalion. Despite his inferiority in guns, the duke was willing to hold his position as long as possible, so that the troops of the Hereditary Prince could not advance on Minden and decide the local battle. After noticing that the enemy forces were spread out over a wide area, at about 7 o'clock he ordered his cavalry to form an attack on the center of the Allies, whom he now considers rather weak. In fact, the attack delivered under heavy fire broke through the first enemy line. However, the preparations for the attack had not gone unnoticed, hastily deployed infantry reserves inflicted heavy losses on the French riders and threw them back again. And Brissac's guns were soon silenced.
Meanwhile, the Allied right (Dreves and the Hereditary Prince) finally crossed the Werre at Bermbeck and soon arrived in the south of Löhne. He pushed on to the bridge at Gohfeld which was protected by only two French companies.
When Brissac saw that his left had been turned, he thought his position had become untenable, so that he ordered a withdrawal northwards, in the direction of Bergkirchen. While retreating, and with the Allied center still on the rear, they came under the fire of the regimental artillery of the Allied left wing under Major General von Bock, coming from the north. Completely surrounded, the Brissac's force broke and routed either over the hills on the north, or back to Rehme and Minden. The planned dismantling of the French corps was thus largely successful.
In Rehme, the commander ordered to an arriving transport column to go back to Vlotho in the south and decided to burn the bridges over the Werre at Rehme. Contade's line of communications back to Herford was now cut and the situation of his main army precarious.
The Allies captured 5 guns and all the baggage. Loss figures are not known, but they are on the side of the French, of which alone about 300 were captured, as high.
Immediately after the engagement, the Hereditary Prince took position near the vale of Bergkirchen.
The same day (August 1), the army of Ferdinand of Brunswick defeated the main French army in the battle of Minden. The events at Gohfeld prevented them from retreating to the southwest, where they could possibly have formed more quickly. Since the Hereditary Prince had already cut the line of communication from Minden to Paderborn, where the French had considerable magazines, the main French army was forced to retreat through countries where it had no subsistence. They retreated to Kassel, did not become active for the remainder of the year, and were never to venture so far northeastward in the ensuing war years.
The young hereditary Prince Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand von Braunschweig had proved himself to be a capable army commander; he later brought it to the Prussian field marshal and commander-in-chief (Auerstaedt). The Duke Jean-Paul-Timoléon of Brissac has not hurt from his defeat against a numerically superior enemy, he should eventually receive the title of Marshal of France. The same was true of the later Secretary of War Philippe-Henri de Ségur, who had led the French infantry at Gohfeld.
Note : On the battlefield at Gohfeld or Mennighüffen-Ostscheid, around 1900 skeletal remains and combat tools such as cannonballs and weapons were found. Part of the area is still called "blood meadow" today. A memorial stone on the Börstelstraße reminds of the happening.
Order of Battle
Allied Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Hereditary Prince of Brunswick
Summary: 10 battalions, 10 squadrons and some light troops for a total of about 10,000 men
- Right wing under general Dreves
- Centre under lieutenant-general count Kilmansegge
- Left wing under Bock
- Light troops:
N.B.: 1 battalion of Prussian volunteers (Trümbach) had been detached to Herford.
French Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Jean-Paul Timoléon duc de Brissac
Summary: 4 battalions, 12 squadrons, 3 regiments of Volontaires (Infantry and Dragoons) and a few guns for a total of about 6,500 men.
- Infantry under comte de Segur
- Cavalry under comte Turpin de Crissé
N.B : The baggage was in Rehme, in the near East from Gohfeld.
Anonymous, A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 405-406
Hotham, The operations of the Allied Amy under the command of his Serene Highness Prince Ferdinand Duke of Brunswic and Luneberg beginning in the year 1757 and ending in the year 1762, London: T. Jefferies, 1764, p. 98
Jomini, baron de, Traité des grandes opérations militaires, Vol. 3, 2nd ed., Magimel, Paris, 1811, pp. 35, 46
Rogge, Christian, The French & Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt, 2006
Witzel, Rudolf, Hessen Kassels Armee in der Alliierten Armee 1762, p. 238