1761 - French campaign in West Germany – Preliminary operations
At the beginning of 1761, Ferdinand of Brunswick had launched a surprise attack against the French winter quarters in Hesse. He succeeded in destroying a large portion of the supplies of the French army of the duc de Broglie, thus delaying the opening of the campaign. However, the Allies failed to make any significant gains in Hesse and by the end of March, they were back to their initial winter quarters.
For months, both armies remained idle. During this period, the French strengthened their positions near Wesel and fortified the places of Hessen. Meanwhile, the Allies strengthened the fortifications of Hameln, Münster and Lippstadt.
The Court of Versailles had, in fact, resolved to make a gigantic effort and to close the war forthwith by employment of an overwhelming force. The army of the Rhine was raised to 100,000 men, under the Prince of Soubise, and that of the Main to 60,000 men under Broglie. Soubise was to advance from the Rhine against Ferdinand early in May; thus forcing the duke either to abandon Westphalia, together with Münster and Lippstadt, in order to gain time for recuperation of his army, or to march with his troops, still weakened and exhausted by the winter's campaign, to fight him. Soubise's task in fact was simply to keep Ferdinand's army in motion until Broglie's troops were refreshed, and ready to advance either into Hanover or to Hameln on the Weser. When Broglie thus occupied the attention of Ferdinand, Soubise would find himself with a free hand in a free field. The weak point of the plan was that the two French armies were to act independently, and that the stronger of them was entrusted to Soubise, an incompetent commander but a favourite with Madame de Pompadour. But in any case the outlook for Ferdinand was formidable, since at the very most he could muster but 93,000 men against 160,000 of the French.
|Order of Battle|
|Detailed order of battle of the French Upper-Rhine Army (Broglie and Contades) on April 15 1761.|
On April 13, Ferdinand, selecting the least exhausted of his troops, sent a corps under the Hereditary Prince of Brunswick to Nottuln, a little to the west of Münster, to watch Soubise, and by great exertions contrived within 10 weeks to render both his army and his transport fit to take the field. Soubise's army was known to be encumbered by a vast train of baggage; one troop of Horse Guards, for instance, with a strength of 140 men, travelling with no fewer than 1,200 horses attached to it. So all the forage about Münster was destroyed, the inhabitants and their herds being provided for by the king's commissaries, and every step was taken to embarrass the French in their advance to the east.
On April 15, Soubise left Versailles.
On April 19, Soubise duly arrived at Frankfort and summoned Broglie to discuss matters with him.
On April 20, 7 Hanoverian regiments marched from the country of Paderborn towards Hamm while the Hereditary Prince marched towards Münster where he established his headquarters.
On April 21, a large magazine of hay, which the French had collected at Wesel, took fire. About 1,250,000 rations were lost and 33 men of Normandie Infanterie perished in the flames. There were also more than 60 boats burned and sunk. The same day, Soubise set out from Frankfurt for Düsseldorf
On April 23, Soubise reached Düsseldorf where he found his army so poorly organised that he could not march with it. In fact, the 23 bns returning from Hesse were not in condition to march at the beginning of May. Of the 19 bns from Broglie's army arriving on the Lower-Rhine, only one brigade was in good condition. Finally the 40 bns arriving from France were not yet arrived and they lacked artillery. Therefore, instead of taking the field early in May, Soubise remained motionless behind the Rhine on various pretexts until the beginning of June. Further, he determined, contrary to the advice given to him at Versailles, to pursue operations to the south of the Lippe, and between that river and the Ruhr, in order to effect a junction with Broglie. The motives that may have dictated this resolution are unknown; but it was conjectured that he shrank from engaging so formidable an adversary as Ferdinand without a colleague to share the risk and responsibility.
On April 24, a French detachment (3,000 men) advanced from Göttingen towards Uslar and surprised a battalion of the Légion Britannique at the village of Feldhaven, making about 100 prisoners. Luckner soon arrived with grenadiers and hussars and dislodged them, capturing 50 dragoons.
Towards the end of April, Ferdinand marched on Paderborn and the Diemel with the main Allied army.
At the beginning of May, Broglie's army, deployed on the Main and in Hesse, counted 87 bns, 78 sqns and 5,000 light troops. Soubises's army counted 112 bns, 119 sqns and 5,000 light troops for a total of 100,000 men on the Rhine from Coblence to Wesel.
On May 1, a French detachment under M. de Belzunce advanced from Göttingen towards Moringen but it was intercepted by Luckner who pursued it up to the Leine. Belzunce just had time to cross this river and was forced to abandon part of his baggage.
On May 4 at 8:00 PM, M. de Belzunce detached M. de Larre fils with light troops against Luckner's Hussars who were posted between Northeim and Salzderhelden since a couple of weeks. Belzunce followed at midnight with dragoons to support Larre's attack.
On May 5, Luckner, having been informed that a French detachment (300 horse) under Belzunce was on its way from Göttingen, retired to his main corps in time to avoid encirclement. Luckner set out with 100 hussars in pursuit of the retiring French cavalry. Luckner finally intercepted this detachment. His hussars charged the French in the village of Neukweig (unidentified location) and routed them, capturing 1 officer, 30 troopers and 61 horses. The routing French detachment was once more engaged by Captain Brinsky with 100 hussars and 50 Brunswicker horse at the bridge of Wester (unidentified location). They drove it before them into Göttingen, making 2 captains, 1 lieutenant, 2 cornets and 53 dragoons prisoners. Belzunce himself narrowly escaped, his horse being wounded by a sabre blow.
On May 7, Captain Riedesel with 100 men of Roth Hussars attacked the village of Speele, beyond the Fulda, defended by an officer and 50 Volontaires. Riedesel took 30 men prisoners and killed the rest. In this action, he lost only 5 hussars killed and some few wounded.
By this time, Prince Xaxier Comte de Lusace had assembled his corps at Fulda. It consisted of:
- M. de Soupire (19 bns, 6 sqns)
- M. de Fleury (6 sqns)
- M. de Montchenu (8 sqns)
- Volontaires de Flandre
- Volontaires du Hainaut
- Corps Royal de l'Artillerie (1 division)
On May 12, another engagement took place between the corps of M. de Belzunce and the Allied corps of Luckner.
On May 14, the Hereditary Prince at the head of a large corps (16,500 men) marched from Münster towards the Rhine to observe Soubise’s motions, establishing his headquarters at Nottuln. His light troops, who had taken position at Coesfeld and Dülmen, attacked French outposts near Rees and Wesel.
On May 14, 15 and 16, the first division and the dragoons of the army of the Prince de Soubise marched forward. The first division, under the command of the Marquis de Voyer, encamping near Rees; the second division, under Chevert, near Düsseldorf; and the third, which was part of the main body, near Wesel where Soubise had established his headquarters.
On May 17, the French heavy artillery, accompanied by several regiments, set out from Frankfurt for Kassel and Hirschfeld (probably Bad Hersfeld). A reinforcement of 3,000 was also sent to Göttingen where the French built ovens.
On May 19, Soubise resolved to advance his cavalry, to the exception of 2 brigades, to the Rhine.
On May 29, Luckner sent Captain-lieutenant Neimeier with a detachment of 100 horse of Chevalerie Cavalry (unidentified unit) to occupy the area of Northeim. Neimeier attacked and dispersed a French detachment of the garrison of Göttingen, capturing 1 lieutenant-colonel, 34 dragoons and 40 horses. M. de Belzunce narrowly escaped.
On May 30, Spörcken (13 rgts of foot, 6 rgts of horse) camped at Warburg. Meanwhile, the Hereditary Prince encamped at Nottuln, sending a detachment (6 bns, 4 sqns) at Appelhülsen and his light troops at Coesfeld, Dülmen and Gescher.
At the end of May, torrential rains made the roads almost impracticable.
The other phases of the campaign are described in the following articles:
- Campaign till the battle of Vellinghausen (June 1 to July 26, 1761) describing the French manoeuvres to make a junction of their two armies, the battle of Vellinghausen and stalemate which resulted after this battle.
- French first attempt against Hanover (July 27 to September 6, 1761) describing Broglie's march through Westphalia, Soubise's advance on Münster, Broglie's first advance into Hanover, and Ferdinand's counter-attack towards Münden.
- French second attempt against Hanover (September 7 to October 5, 1761) describing Broglie's second advance into Hanover, Soubise's operations in East Frisia, and Ferdinand's counter-attack towards Kassel.
- French and Allied last operations (October 6 to December 31, 1761) describing Prince Xavier's operations against Wolfenbüttel and Braunschweig, Ferdinand's offensive on Einbeck, and the winter-quarters of each army.
N.B.: another campaign had taken place earlier during the year (February and March) when Ferdinand of Brunswick had launched a surprise attack against the French winter quarters in Hesse. This campaign is covered in an independent article: 1761 - Allied campaign in Hesse.
This article is essentially a compilation of texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Fortescue, J. W.; A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 524-527, 531-534
- Hotham (probably), 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, pp. 203-240
- Jomini, Henri, Traité des grandes opérations militaires, 2ème édition, 4ème partie, Magimel, Paris: 1811, pp. 2-78
- Pajol, Charles P. V., Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. V, Paris, 1891, pp. 170-178, 229-238