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Seven Years' War: Battle of Minden

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Seven Years' War: Battle of Minden

Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Minden - Conflict & Dates:

The Battle of Minden was fought August 1, 1759, during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763).

Armies & Commanders

Allies

  • Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick
  • 42,500 men

    French

  • Marquis de Contades
  • 54,000 men

  • Battle of Minden - Background:

    With the beginning of the Seven Years' War in 1756, French forces began targeting the Electorate of Hanover which was the home territory of Britain's King George II. To defend the electorate, George II dispatched his son, the Duke of Cumberland, to lead an Army of Observation. This force consisted of largely German forces. As Britain was allied with Prussia, the successful defense of Hanover would effectively protect that realm's western borders. That July, Cumberland was defeated at the Battle of Hastenbeck and was ultimately compelled to sign the Convention of Klosterzeven. This agreement saw Cumberland's army de-mobilized and Hanover exit the war. Infuriated by the convention, London quickly repudiated it following Prussia's victories that fall at Rossbach and Leuthen.

    In 1758, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick was tasked with rebuilding the allied army in Hanover. Training his men, he was soon confronted by a French army led by the Duc de Richelieu. Moving rapidly, Ferdinand began pushing back several French garrisons that were in winter quarters. Outmaneuvering the enemy, he succeeded in recapturing the town of Hanover in February and by the end of March had cleared the electorate of French forces. For the remainder of the 1758, he conducted a campaign of maneuver to prevent the French from attacking Hanover. In May his army was renamed His Britannic Majesty's Army in Germany and in August the first of 9,000 British soldiers arrived to reinforce the army. This deployment marked London's firm commitment to the campaign on the Continent.

    Battle of Minden - The 1759 Campaign:

    Taking the initiative, Ferdinand opened 1759 with attacks against Frankfurt and Wesel. On April 13, he engaged a French force at Bergen led by the Duc de Broglie and was driven back. In June, the French began marching against Hanover with a large army commanded by Marshal Louis Contades. His operations were supported by a smaller force under Broglie. Attempting to out-maneuver Ferdinand, the French were unable to trap him but did capture the vital supply depot at Minden. Having taken the town, Contades moved into a strong defensive position behind the swampy Bastau River. Unwilling to attack the French defenses, Ferdinand began efforts to draw out Contades' army.

    After ordering von Wangenheim's corps to entrench near the village of Todtenhausen, just north of Minden and near the Weser River, Ferdinand conducted operations intended to make Contades think he was marching to the west. It was hoped that the French would emerge from their defenses to strike at the isolated von Wangenheim thus allowing the allies to strike as they crossed the Bastau. Under pressure from Paris to produce a victory, Contades took the bait and began building bridges across the river preparatory to an attack. Moving over the bridges before dawn on August 1, the French began to fill the plain northwest of Minden. Advancing, Contades desired troops under Broglie, which occupied the French right, to crush von Wangenheim before the entire army wheeled left to attack Ferdinand's main force to the west.

    Battle of Minden - The Armies Form:

    Due to the swampy conditions, the Contades found himself having to deploy his army with infantry on the flanks and his cavalry in the center. Quickly advancing, Ferdinand's troops began arriving and were screened by forces under Lieutenant General Prince Karl of Anhalt-Bernberg. While Hanoverian and Prussian infantry linked up with von Wangenheim's right, the allied right was held by Lieutenant General Friedrich von Spörcken's division which consisted of British and Hanoverian infantry. This force was aided by allied artillery. Ferdinand desired to anchor his right on the village of Hahlen. The capture of the village was tasked to Lieutenant General Lord George Sackville's cavalry, however this force was not ready and Anhalt's command was assigned this task instead. Aided by British artillery, Anhalt was able to attack into Hahlen (Map).

    Battle of Minden - A Gallant Stand:

    While Ferdinand desired to mount a general advance once his flank was secured, Contades ordered Broglie to attack von Wangenheim. Advancing, this attack quickly stalled and degenerated into an artillery duel. As the allied army paused to await the securing of Hahlen, a misunderstanding of orders led to von Spörcken's division advancing on its own. Though directed to "advance on the beat of drum," his men instead believed the order to be “advance to the beat of drum.” Pressing forward, von Spörcken's two brigades, led by Major Generals John Waldegrave and William Kingsley, attacked towards the French cavalry. In the lead, Waldegrave's men angled towards the left flank of the enemy horse with Kingsley in support.

    As von Spörcken's division came into sight, the French artillery began a heavy bombardment and the Duc de FitzJames ordered eleven squadrons of cavalry to attack. This charge was repulsed as was a second attack by twenty-two squadrons. On the French left, infantry, under Lieutenant General Duc de Guerchy were being forced out of Hahlen. Falling back, they attacked into the flank of von Spörcken's command. Seeing this, Ferdinand began directing reinforcements to von Spörcken's aid. Around the same time, a third cavalry charge, led by Lieutenant General Duc de Poyanne roared forward. Though this moved past von Spörcken's right flank, supporting fire from Hanoverian and Hessian troops nearby ensured that this and the infantry attack were repulsed.

    As Ferdinand advanced his forces to von Spörcken's aid, his artillery battered the French lines putting heavy pressure on Contades' army. With the battle tipping in his favor, Ferdinand issued several orders directing Sackville to attack and deliver a decisive blow. These orders were largely ignored by the British commander though his subordinate, the Earl of Granby, attempted to bring the cavalry forward. In an attempt to rescue the situation, Contades directed his right to attack the allied flank. This was checked by Ferdinand's men who quickly counterattacked and drove the French through the village of Maulbeerkamp (Malbergen). With the failure of an attack by Saxon troops on von Spörcken, Contades' position began to collapse and the French began retreating back across the bridges while under artillery fire.

    Battle of Minden - Aftermath:

    Having won a clear victory, Ferdinand's army incurred 2,762 killed, wounded, and missing while inflicting 7,086 casualties on the French. The victory at Minden secured Hanover for the remainder of 1759 as the French retreat south to Kassel. For his triumph, George II presented Ferdinand with the Order of the Garter and an award of £20,000. The victory was considered part of Britain's Annus Mirabilis of 1759 which saw its forces also win key victories at Quebec and Quiberon Bay. For his failure to respond to Ferdinand's calls to attack, Sackville was court-martialed and expelled from the army. Despite this disgrace, he achieved high public office as Lord George Germain. Serving as Secretary of State for the Colonies, Germain gained further infamy for his handling of operations during the American Revolution.

    Selected Sources

  • British Battles: Battle of Minden
  • History of War: Battle of Minden
  • Battle of Minden

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