1703 – Siege of Landau
The siege lasted from October to November 1703
At the start of the campaign of 1703 on the Rhine, the situation of the Imperialist Army in Germany was very bad. Authorities could not gather enough money to pay soldiers. Samuel Oppenheimer the emperor's main financial backer, had bankrupted. Therefore, the army was in a very bad condition.
The situation on the French side was much better. Maréchal Louis-Hector de Villars had crossed the Rhine during the winter of 1702-1703 and driven Imperialist troops out of their their winter-quarters in the region of Breisgau and pushed them back to Kehl. On 9 March, this fortress had surrendered. Then, weather had gotten worse and French troops had taken up their winter-quarters.
In April, Maréchal Camille d'Hostun, Comte de Tallard, assembled his corps and effected a junction with Villars' army on the Upper Rhine. They then unsuccessfully attacked the Lines of Stollhofen. Afterwards, Villars marched through the Black Forest with his army to make a junction with the Bavarian army, leaving Tallard's Corps on the Rhine near Offenburg. For his part, Margrave Ludwig von Baden marched to Franconia with the Imperialist army, leaving only 13,000 men on the Upper-Rhine. The French immediately occupied the Lines of Wissembourg abandoned by the Imperialists. The French then marched to Alt-Breisach, one of the strongest Imperialist fortress at that time. On 6 September, despite the fact that this fortress was in good condition and had enough ammunition and food, its commander FML Count Arco capitulated (he would later be sentenced to death by a court-martial under FM Thüngen).
On 18 September, Tallard received instructions from King Louis XIV about the next objectives of the campaign which would be the recapture of the important Fortress of Landau lost in the previous year. Versailles initially wanted him to occupy Freiburg first but Tallard managed to convince the court to give priority to the siege of Landau.
Tallard was well prepared, all the necessary heavy artillery had been assembled at Strasbourg. He also knew the poor condition of the Imperialist army and did not fear any relief attempt. In these difficult circumstances, Vienna asked the Duke of Marlborough, commander-in-chief of the Allied army in the Low Countries, for assistance. Marlborough sent a corps commanded by the Prince of Hessen-Kassel which should make a junction with the Imperialist troops of the Count of Nassau-Weilburg stationed on the right bank of the Rhine.
Note: a map of the fortress is available in our article on the Siege of Landau of 1702.
The fortress of Landau was protected by seven bastion towers and one big redoubt. A moat that could be flooded ran around the walls. The city had only two gates and was subdivided into two parts by the Queich River. However, the walls had not been repaired after the long siege of 1702. Furthermore, magazines had not been replenished. The place was garrisoned by 6 incomplete battalions from the Circle of the Upper-Rhine, Kurmainz and Austria and by a few squadrons. It totalled 4,290 men (including 155 artillerymen and miners). There were 86 guns and 37 mortars on the walls.
The commander of Landau was the Count von Friesen who had taken the necessary measures to improve the defences of the fortress. The garrison had provisions for two months. Furthermore, since several weeks, Friesen had posted another force in the entrenchments of the Lines of the Speyerbach between Neustadt and Speyerdorf. Colonel von Schönburg commanded this small force consisting of soldiers from the regiments garrisoning Landau and of a few sqns of Loosy Hussars, Gombos Hussars and Czungenberg Hussars.
At the beginning of October
- M. d'Hautefort encamped with 6 bns and 10 sqns between Lauterbourg and Fort-Louis to guard the Rhine.
- Tallard, who had assembled his army (54 bns, 73 sqns) along the Zorn River, sent boats downstream to build a bridge.
- The king had already instructed the Maréchal de Villeroy, commanding in Flanders, to prepare Pracontal's Corps (21 bns, 19 sqns) to march to the Rhine in support of Tallard.
On October 5, Tallard’s Army set off in the direction of the Palatinate, marching in two columns.
On 8 October, Tallard's Army passed the Lauter at Schweighoffen downstream from Wissembourg and encamped at Steinfeld.
On 9 October
- In the morning, M. d'Hautefort at the head of 12 bns and 6 sqns marched against the bridgehead of the Imperialists at Hagenbach, defended by 4 bns and supported by an Imperial corps posted on the right bank of the Rhine.
- Hautefort fired on the bridge with two guns, damaging one pontoon.
- The Imperialists retired to the right bank without opposing resistance and removed their bridge, bringing material to safety.
- The French left 1 bn at Hagenbach. They were now master of the Rhine up to Germersheim.
On 10 October
- Tallard's Army marched in two divisions: one of 10 bns and 19 sqns under Tallard's personal command who marched to Rohrbach; the other of 20 bns and 30 sqns under the Comte de Marsin who advanced up to Mörlheim near Landau and encamped on the right bank of the Queich.
- As Marsin was approaching from Landau, 1 hussar rgt, 1 Palatine dragoon rgt and a few cavalry detachment previously encamped under the walls of Landau, took the road to Philippsburg, to the exception of 300 horse who entered into Landau. The two coys of Darmstadt Infantry posted near Mörlheim retired into the entrenchments of Landau.
- The Palatine Vehlen Dragoons reinforced Schönburg’s detachment near Speyerdorf. This detachment now counted some 1,600 men.
On 11 October, Tallard's Division marched to Impflingen while Marsin passed the Queich and invested Landau, establishing his quarters at Nussdorf and extending his right and his left up to the Queich up to Godramstein on one side and to Queichheim on the other.
On 12 October
- Tallard completed the investment of Landau from Arzheim and Wollmesheim (2 km south-west of Landau), where he established his headquarters, to Queichheim. Work on the circumvallation started the same day. The heavy guns and mortars arrived at Impflingen.
- Friesen sent most of his cavalry out to Spires prior the siege.
- Engagement near Neustadt
- An Imperialists convoy with additional supply (powder and 550 kg of lead) goods, on its way from Philippsburg to Landau, was intercepted and captured by one of Tallard’s detachment near Neustadt/Haardt.
On 13 October
- Tallard's provisions and ammunition convoys joined his army.
- Tallard detached Lieutenant-General Courtebourne with 1,500 foot and 1,500 horse against the Lines of the Speyerbach defended by Schönburg’s detachment.
- Friesen with his 5,600 men could not oppose the encirclement of the fortress.
Tallard planned to make his main attack from the south. Friesen for his part expected an attack on the “Kronwerk”, a large outer work immediately to the north of the fortress, and accordingly concentrated his heavy guns there. Marshal Vauban, the architect of the fortress wanted to participate in the siege but Versailles did not accept (there had been concerns about quarrels between the French generals). In fact, Tallard used the plan proposed by Vauban.
Tallard was assisted by two very capable staff officers: the Marquis de Freselliere, an artillerist, and Colonel Lapara who was responsible for the work on trenches and approaches.
The French engineers used the newest siege plan proposed by Vauban. The approaches and trenches were narrow and shallower than those used by the Imperialist army.
On 15 October
- Tallard detached the Lieutenant-General de Courtebourne with 1,500 foot, including 500 grenadiers, and 1,500 horse to drive the Imperialists from the Lines of Speyerbach.
- Engagement near Speyerdorf
- Courtebourne found them deployed in order of battle behind their entrenchments and he managed to break into their defence and to drive them back.
- The Imperialists lost some 300 hussars and 100 men from Vehlen Dragoons, killed or wounded. The remaining hussars and dragoons, under Colonel Loosy managed to escape and took refuge in Spires. Another part of the Imperialist force (Colonel Schönburg , 34 officers and 600 foot) took refuge in Neustadt where they were encircled and forced to surrender.
- Courtebourne immediately occupied Neustadt and detached M. de Vaillac to make himself master of the Castle of Marientraut on the Speyerbach, and then of Spires and Germersheim.
On 16 October
- Tallard had 54 bns and 73 sqns posted around Landau. All these units were barracked.
- Colonel Lecheraine, sent by the Margrave of Baden, met Marlborough at Düsseldorf to ask for an Allied force to relieve Landau. Marlborough promised that he would try to convince the Dutch to send such a relief corps.
In the night of 17 to 18 October, Colonel Lapara opened the trench in front of the France Gate with 10 bns and 1,800 workers. Tallard estimated that Landau was defended by 4,000 men and a few cavalry rgts. From 9:30 p.m., the artillery of the Imperialists opened against the trench parties. During the night, Tallard sent 2 additional bns to reinforce those covering the trench.
In the night of 18 to 19 October, work at the trenches was covered by 9 bns under M. de Locmaria. The 3,413 m long first parallel was only 500 paces from the covert way. The erection of three batteries of guns (4, 9 and 10 guns respectively) and one battery of 12 mortars started.
On 19 October, three batteries totalling 23 guns and and one of 12 mortars were already in condition to open fire. A fourth battery of 4 guns was erected. Tallard, fearing the arrival of Marlborough's relief forces, protected his camp with breastwork and redoubts.
In the night of 19 to 20 October, the batteries were completed.
On 20 October, the fourth French battery (4 guns) opened on Landau.
In the night of 20 to 21 October, a party of the garrison of Landau (60 men supported by 2 infantry platoons) made a sortie against the rightmost sap. They were driven back by 2 grenadier coys.
On 21 October, the French established a fifth battery of 6 guns and a second battery of 4 mortars on their left wing. They were both ready to fire by the end of the day.
In the night of 21 to 22 October, the French trenches reached the ditch of the lunette located at the foot of the glacis.
On 22 October, the circumvallation was completed. Tallard sent an additional detachment to M. de Courtebourne to speed up the demolition of the Lines of Speyerbach. The fire of the defenders' artillery became very lively.
In the night of 22 to 23 October, the trenches came within 50 m. of the demi-lune and a second parallel of about 800 m. linked the two trenches, enveloping the lunette which had been mined by the defenders.
On 24 October
- In the morning, new saps were started from the second parallel into the glacis of the covert way. The French batteries now totalled 38 guns, 12 mortars and 12 pierriers. Tallard instructed to send additional ammunition for the artillery along with 10 guns.
- Tallard received a very alarming letter from the Elector of Bavaria, describing a very desperate situation and enjoining him to set off immediately from Landau and to plan a junction with his own army in the Black Forest. Tallard answered that it was impossible for his army to abandon the siege at this stage and that he expected to make himself master of the place within 15 days.
- The Hereditary Prince of Hesse-Cassel, who was posted near Limbourg and Verviers, received orders to relieve Landau with his corps (10 bns, 27 sqns for a total of some 12,000 men). He would be accompanied by the Dutch Field-Deputy van Almelo. The Prince of Hessen-Cassel was instructed to effect a junction with the corps of Count von Nassau-Weilburg (18 bns, 27 sqns for a total of some 10,000 men).
In the night of 24 to 25 October, the saps came within 12 m. of the demi-lune.
On 25 October in the morning, the Imperialists exploded the two mines placed in the lunette. The French immediately occupied the destroyed defensive work with 200 grenadiers.
On 27 October in the morning, the saps of the right and centre were within 4 meters of the covert way. The Imperialists were forced to abandon the covert way to the French but they immediately blew up a few mines and several French sappers were killed. The French established a third parallel at 8 meters of the covert way and a cavalier (a battery established higher than the opposing works). The French had managed to do this work within 11 nights where the Imperials had taken 29 nights the previous year.
Tallard concentrated the fire of his heavy guns on the defensive works near the France Gate. Despite many sorties of Friesen's garrison, the trenches got closer to the walls. The fortress artillery was very successful and damaged 40 French heavy guns which had to be sent back to Strasbourg for repair. But they were immediately replaced by 28 12-pdr guns.
In the night of 28 to 29 October, the Imperialists exploded three mines in the parade of the demi-lune. The French established two additional batteries (of 6 guns each) on the covert way and several mortars and pierriers batteries.
On 29 October, 2 coys of the garrison (1 coy of Friesen Infantry, 1 coy of Thüngen Infantry)made a sortie to allow passage to a courier sent by the Count of Nassau-Weilburg. The courier managed to pass the French lines and to reach the fortress where he handed over a message to Friesen asking to hold for another six weeks.
On 31 October, three of the newly established French batteries opened against the demi-lune.
On 1 November, trenches reached the counter-scarp.
On 2 November, the ravelin of the France Gate was nearly destroyed and the garrison expected an attack within a few hours. For some reason, Friesen had been unable to flood the ditch in front of the fortress.
By 3 November, the French had 11 batteries firing on the fortifications of Landau. They also started to work at two bridges to reach the demi-lune.
On 4 November at 5:00 a.m., 3 grenadier companies under Lieutenant-General Yrieix de Magonthier de Laubanie stormed the demi-lune. They were thrice repulsed but their fourth attack was finally successful due to a misunderstanding between the defenders. The Imperialists retired from the demi-lune but exploded two mines while the garrison took position on the rampart and opened a lively fire during two hours. In this action the French lost 80 men, including 12 men killed. The French occupied the place. In this action, the French took 16 men prisoners. The French then started to work on bridges to reach the counter-guards. They also redirected the fire of 11 of their pieces against the curtain.
The besieger now concentrated their fire on the counterguard and destroyed the brick wall.
On 7 November at 3:30 p.m., the French launched a general attack against the counter-guards with 6 grenadier coys supported by another 6 grenadier coys and 12 piquets. The Marquis de Grammont led the attack on the right counter-guard; and Colonel Hautefort, the column sent against the left one. The defenders (detachments of Friesen Infantry, Thüngen Infantry and Buttlar Infantry) had not enough ammunition and had to fight with halberds, scythes and morning stars only. All attacks were driven back and Tallard was obliged to return to mining operations.
On 8 November
- The French started to mine the counter-guards. Forage was now insufficient for the French cavalry. **Tallard was also informed that a relief army was approaching, he then wrote to Pracontal to urge him to speed up march with his corps (21 bns, 19 sqns).
On 10 November
- The Count of Nassau-Weilburg crossed the Rhine with his troops (4,000 men) and 12 guns at Mühlburg near Daxlanden and encamped with his infantry at Leimersheim, east of Rheinzabern while his cavalry advanced in small detachments towards Strasbourg to threaten the line of communication between the besieging army and Alsace.
- The defenders of Landau heard four gunshots, the agreed signal.
- The Prince Hessen-Kassel with his Dutch corps arrived at Frankenthal and Dürkheim.
- Tallard now badly needed support and sent several couriers to Pracontal who was still in Lorraine.
In the night of 12 to 13 November, the French miners completed their work. The mines were now ready to be exploded.
On 13 November at daybreak, Tallard ordered to blow up two large mines under both counter-guards. Immediately after the explosion, 6 grenadier coys attacked the right counter-guard and 7 grenadier coys the left one. After a long struggle, the French finally occupied this part of the defences at the cost of 100 men killed or wounded. The outer defences were now in French hands and the condition of the fortress was so bad that a capitulation was recommendable. Nevertheless, Friesen, knowing that relief forces (troops of Nassau-Weilburg and Hessen-Kassel) were close, refused to surrender.
On 13 November, a small Imperialist corps (4,000 men) under the Count of Nassau-Weilburg effected a junction with the larger Allied corps (16,000 men) under the Prince of Hessen-Kassel near Spires. Additional troops were supposed to join them in a few days. This Allied army planned to march on Landau on 16 November. The two corps had no unified command and encamped in different locations: the Allies near Heiligenstein (far from Spires, on the left bank of the Rhine, on the same side as Tallard's and Pracontal's troops!).
On 14 November, Colonel Frankenberg at the head of 400 horse bumped into a few French squadrons near Esslingen (4 km from Landau). He immediately retired. Frankenberg reported this engagement to the commanders who were comforted in their idea that Tallard's troops were lying around Landau and Pracontal still far away (in fact Pracontal's Corps had already passed Kaiserslautern). Tallard was well informed about the movements of the Allies. He ordered Pracontal to take position at a precise location on the road between Landau and Spires.
On the evening of 14 November, Tallard set off from Landau with his main body (28 bns, 53 sqns), leaving only 6,000 men (26 bns, 20 sqns) under Lieutenant-General Laubanie to continue the Siege of Landau. Tallard then marched to Nieder Essingen where he arrived at 10:00 p.m.
On 15 November at 4:00 a.m., Pracontal with his cavalry (19 sqns) finally effected a junction with Tallard's main army, thus bringing Tallard's forces to 28 bns and 72 sqns. Tallard then engaged and defeated the relief corps sent from Marlborough's distant army to relieve Landau in the Combat of Speyerbach. Tallard then sent Friesen's son, who had been captain in a Dutch regiment, to Landau to inform his father of the outcome of the engagement and to require him to surrender. At that time, most of the defences of Landau had been destroyed and its garrison counted only 2,000 fit for duty, most of them without firearms and gun powder.
On 16 November around 5:00 a.m., Friesen hoisted the white flag. After a short hesitation Tallard granted to the garrison the same conditions that General Mélac had obtained on the previous year. The siege had lasted 30 days.
On 17 November, the North Gate was opened and Friesen at the head of some 3,800 men of the garrison marched by Spires towards Philippsburg. Some 1,000 men, sick or wounded were left behind in Landau. During the march, some French soldiers plundered the baggage of the retreating force. General Laubanie immediately put a stop to these actions (Laubanie was later appointed commander of Landau and defended the fortress in 1704 against Imperialist troops, being mortally wounded by a bomb).
During this siege, the French lost about 5,000 men. On November 8, the attack of the two counterguards alone cost them 1,200 men.
The French captured 81 guns and 37 mortars in Landau.
The Imperialist garrison lost 24 officers and 600 men dead and around 1,000 wounded. In addition, a large number of soldiers died of various diseases.
Orders of Battle
French Order of Battle
Imperialist Order of Battle
Commander-in-Chief: FML Count Friesen
Infantry (4,134 men)
- Austrian Thüngen Infantry (1 bn)
- Austrian Marsigli Infantry (1 bn)
- Austrian Friesen Infantry (? bns) unidentified unit
- Mainzer Schönborn Infantry (? bns) unidentified unit
- Upper-Rhenish District Buttlar Infantry (2 bns)
- Upper-Rhenish District Darmstadt Infantry (2 bns) unidentified unit
Artillery on the walls
- Artillerists (156 men)
- 1 captain
- 1 artificer
- 1 miner lieutenant
- 4 miners
- 4 gunner corporals
- 145 gunners
- Guns (86)
- 26 x Halbe Karthaunen
- 4 x Dreiviertel Karthaunen
- 8 x Quartierschlangen
- 14 x 6-pdrs
- 4 x 4-pdrs
- 16 x 3-pdrs
- 6 x 2-pdrs
- 6 x ½-pdrs
- 2 x 1-pdrs
- Morters (37)
This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Vault, François Eugène de: Mémoires militaires relatifs à la Succession d'Espagne sous Louis XIV, Vol. 3 pp. 471-487
- Abtheilung für Kriegsgeschichte des k. k. Kriegs-Archives: Feldzüge des Prinzen Eugen von Savoyen, Series 1, Vol. 5, Vienna 1878, pp. 360-370, 378-379
Heuser E.: Die Belagerungen von Landau, Landau, 1913
Dolleczek: Geschichte der österreichischen Artillerie, Vienna, 1887
Kriegsarchiv: Feldzüge des Prinzen Eugen v. Savoyen vol. IV. Vienna 1877
Treuenfest, A. v.: Die Geschichte des Husarenregiments Nr. 3 Vienna, 1893
Oster, U. A.: Markgraf Ludwig v. Baden, Bergisch Gladbach, 2001
Stadtarchiv Landau, Belagerung der Stadt (Stich)
Harald Skala for the initial version of this article.