1759 - Allied spring offensive in Western Germany

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The campaign lasted from January to April 1759


General situation

During the winter of 1758-59, reinforcements were sent from Great Britain with requisite stores while some thousands of recruits were raised in Germany for the Allied army, bringing the army of Ferdinand of Brunswick to 70,000 men. A truce had been concluded until March 16 1759.

At the beginning of 1759, the Reichsarmee was in winter quarters in Thuringia and Franconia, facing Hesse and the advanced posts of the Allies.

The French Army of the Rhine, under the marquis de Contades, was positioned in front of the Meuse and the Dutch borders. It extended from Wesel, Contades headquarters, southward almost to Koblenz and faced the Lower-Rhine. The general plan of operation called for the French Army of the Lower Rhine to advance into Westphalia and Hanover along the river Lippe.

Meanwhile, the French Army of the Main, under the prince de Soubise, was enquartered in the countship of Hanau and the Wetterau (Wetteravie) areas, between the Main and the Lahn, with his back to the Rhine. It counted some 25,000 men. Plans called for the Army of the Main to invade Hesse.

The general plan of the French, Austrians and Imperials for this campaign was to occupy Thuringia and Franconia with an Austro-Imperial army to create a continuous front linking all these armies.

The Allied Army under Ferdinand of Brunswick had taken its winter quarters from Coesfeld, a little to westward of Münster, through Münster, Lippstadt and Paderborn to the Diemel. Ferdinand had detached prince von Ysenburg with 8 to 10,000 men to cover the outposts of the French Army of the Main. With his less numerous army, Ferdinand was on the defensive. He was facing two French armies. Furthermore, Ferdinand's position was potentially threatened to be taken in his left rear by the Saxon Army. However, a Prussian corps of observation covered the Saxons.

To secure his line of communication, Ferdinand had to retain possession of the Weser. To do so, he had to hold two fortresses: Münster in Westphalia and Lippstadt on the Upper Lippe. The fall of Münster would allow the French to push on unhindered to the Weser while the loss of Lippstadt would cut any communication between Westphalia and Hesse and allow the two French armies to make their junction. Furthermore, Ferdinand had to prevent the junction of these two French armies with the Austro-Imperial army operating in Saxony. He counted on Frederick II to advance in Thuringia and Franconia, forcing the Austro-Imperials to retreat.

Roughly speaking, the field of operations lay between the Rhine and the Weser, with the sea and the Main for northern and southern boundaries. Three rivers barred the advance of the French northward from Frankfurt to Kassel and beyond, from south to north: the Ohm, the Eder, and the Diemel. With the Diemel as the final barrier between Hesse and Westphalia.

Soubise captures Frankfurt-on-Main

On December 31 1758, the authorities of Frankfurt-am-Main authorized Soubise to march one regiment through the city.

On Tuesday January 2 1759, at about 5:00 AM, Nassau Prince Louis Infanterie presented itself before the Sachsenhausen Gate of Frankfurt and was admitted as agreed. As soon as it had entered the town, the regiment ordered the town-guard to deposit arms and to admit 5 other regiments (Beauvoisis (2 bns), Rohan Montbazon (2 bns), Rohan Rochefort (2 bns), Bentheim (2 bns) and Royal Deux-Ponts (4 bns)). These regiments then seized the artillery on the walls and all the other gates. Soubise had easily captured Frankfurt. This very important town remained under French control for the last four years of the war. The possession of Frankfurt secured a starting-point for French attacks on Hesse and Hanover and for co-operation with Contades and the Lower Rhine. It also provided a sure means of retreat.

On January 17, the marquis d'Armentières, who would replace Contades during his sojourn at Versailles, arrived at Krefeld.

On January 19, Contades departed for Versailles after authorising the comte de Saint-Germain to negotiate the neutrality of the county of Mark with the Allies. Soon afterwards, d'Armentières was informed of the arrival of British troops at Münster. D'Armentières immediately took dispositions to assemble 72 bns and 50 sqns at Xanten within 6 days.

On January 20, Soubise was informed that the Allies were working on the road from Brilon to Kassel by Volkmarsen and on the road from Paderborn to Warburg and Kassel. Meanwhile, considerable magazines were assembled at Kassel.

On January 24, the duc de Broglie arrived at Frankfurt to replace the prince de Soubise at the head of the Army of the Main which now numbered some 35,000 men. Soubise had been recalled to command the army destined to the planned invasion of Great Britain.

On January 27, when d'Armentières was informed of prince Henri's movements against the Austro-Imperial army, he sent Johann Christian Fischer and the comte de Schomberg ahead with the Volontaires d'Alsace.

Before the end of January, Madelet, at the head of a French detachment of 300 foot and 60 horse, left Wesel and tried to surprise a Hanoverian advanced post but was rather surprised himself by an Allied detachment sent from Coesfeld. The French also made an attempt against the Allied posts on the Ruhr river but were repulsed and forced to abandon their post at Hattingen.

Hearing of a possible involvement of the Netherlands in the war, Belle-Isle prepared 20 bns, 4 dragoon sqns and 15 pieces for Dunkerque; and 15 bns, 20 sqns (including the "Maison du Roi") and 10 pieces for Gand to march on Anvers and Bruges in such a case.

Ysenburg's corps was now encamped between Kassel and Zwehren with an advanced party eastward between Witzenhausen and Allendorf. The Hessians also had 6 bns and 2 cavalry rgts posted to the south near Rotenburg and 2 dragoon rgts and 3 bns near Homberg.

On February 4, Soubise departed from Frankfurt for Paris.

During the Prussian incursion in Thuringia against the Austro-Imperial army, Allied light troops were sent towards Hersfeld while another Allied detachment went to Allendorf on the Werra to observe the movements of the French in these areas. Fischer informed the French commanders of these movements. Broglie immediately ordered Fischer to deploy his force between Homberg on the Ohm and Schlitz on the Fulda while keeping communications opened with the Reichsarmee on his right.

On March 6, Broglie advanced 3 dragoon rgts to support the Volontaires de Schomberg who had taken position at Neuhof, about 24 km from Steinau. Broglie also sent 1 cavalry rgt between Hanau and the quarters of Apchon Dragons to cover Schomberg's retreat.

On March 13, upon Broglie's request, d'Armentières sent a corps (1,400 foot and 1,200 horse, consisting of: Volontaires de Clermont, Volontaires de Haller, Volontaires de Flandres, Turpin Hussars, La Marck Infanterie, Noé Cavalerie, Bergh Infanterie and La Rochefoucauld Cavalerie) under the command of d'Auvet. This corps took post at Hachenburg with detachments at Siegen.

D'Armentières also sent a detachment (3,000 foot, 1,700 horse) to Altenkirchen on the road to Marburg.

Allied Raid on Frankfurt and Battle of Bergen

Order of Battle
Detailed order of battle of Ferdinand' army operating in Hesse during the first half of 1759.

On March 14, the French detached some squadrons of cavalry and dragoons from the area of Frankfurt to take post near Friedberg in Hesse. They also sent a corps of 3,000 men into the district of Dillenburg and Herborn where they were in a good position to cooperate with the Austro-Imperial army which was now doing a second attempt against Hesse.

On March 22 in the morning, Ferdinand set out from Münster and marched to Hesse with the duke of Holstein-Gottorp's and the Hereditary Prince's corps to contain the Austro-Imperial offensive in these quarters. He left lord George Sackville and general Spörcken in command on the Lower Rhine during his absence.

On March 24, Ferdinand arrived at Kassel where he made a junction with Ysenburg's corps.

On March 25, Ferdinand's divisions concentrated near Kassel.

Broglie sent forward M. de Puységur to Schotten to screen his positions near Friedberg. He also sent prince Camille to Hungen for the same purpose.

On March 26, Ferdinand encamped at Rotenburg on the Fulda.

On March 27, Ferdinand advanced to Hersfeld where his vanguard surprised about 100 enemies while the Austro-Imperial troops retreated everywhere. Ferdinand then marched to Fulda thus cutting off communications between the French and Austro-Imperial armies.

On March 30, Ferdinand sent the Hereditary Prince from Fulda with his vanguard on an expedition to clear his left flank from an advance of the Austrians upon the river Werra, by raiding Meiningen and Wasungen. The Hereditary Prince swiftly accomplished this task. Two columns were detached from the French Army of the Lower Rhine, one under Blaisel from Elberfeldt to Fritzlar and another under d’Auvet to Marburg. Meanwhile, prince Henri had detached Knobloch and Lindsädt against Franconia to draw the attention of the Reichsarmee.

On March 31 between Stockheim and Mellrichstadt, two squadrons of Black Hussars belonging to the vanguard under the Hereditary Prince charged sword at hand an enemy detachment consisting of the Hohenzollern Cuirassiers and of 1 battalion of the Blau Würzburg Infantry. They first routed the cuirassiers, then charged the infantry, taking many prisoners.

On April 1, the duke of Holstein-Gottorp dislodged a French detachment from Freiensteinau, making 2 officers and 56 privates prisoners. The same day, the Hereditary Prince attacked Meiningen and Wasungen, forcing their garrisons to surrender as prisoners of war. The garrison of Wasungen consisted of Nagel Infantry while the Meiningen garrison consisted of Elverfeldt Infantry and Kurköln Leibregiment. In this occasion, the Hereditary Prince also captured 6 guns and 6 flags. During this raid, he made a total of some 2,000 prisoners.

N.B.: Blumenthal in his book Schwarze Husaren mentions 2 standards belonging to the Hohenzollern Cuirassiers in addition to the 6 flags and 6 guns.

On April 3, Broglie moved all the regiments who were more than one march distant towards Friedberg and recalled the Saxons as well as all the cavalry rgts who were still on the left bank of the Rhine.

On April 6, upon Broglie's request, d'Armentières sent an additional 8 bns toward Altenkirchen under the command of M. de Lutzelburg.

On April 7, with the Austro-Imperial army now retreating towards Bamberg and the threat of their junction with the French armies eliminated, the various Allied detachments assembled at Fulda where the headquarters were established. This force totalled about 30,000 men and consisted of all the Hessian infantry and cavalry, all Brunswick line infantry, 20 sqns of Prussian dragoons, 3 rgts of British horse and 7 bns and 6 sqns of Hanoverian troops. Ferdinand then resolved to risk a long march at this bad season and to attack de Broglie near Frankfurt. He hoped to paralyse French operations in this region by severing them from their base. Contades was in Paris at that time so any attack from the Army of the Lower Rhine seemed rather unlikely. This allowed Ferdinand to concentrate his efforts on the Army of the Main. Since his arrival, Broglie had taken defensive measures, cantoning his troops within 2 days march of Bergen and covering the cantonments with light troops.

On April 8, M. de Lutzelburg arrived at Altenkirchen.

On April 10, Ferdinand decamped from Fulda with the main Allied army, leaving about 11,000 men to cover the electorate of Hanover and the bishopric of Münster, and marched in three columns towards Broglie's positions. The duke of Holstein-Gottorp holding the right wing, the Hereditary Prince the centre and Ysenburg the left. The duke of Holstein-Gottorp reached Voelzberg, south of Vogelsberg, then Ulrichstein and Freiensteinau, but he found these last villages occupied by French troops which offered a fierce resistance at Freiensteinau. After the fight, the French retired on Frankfurt. M. d'Esparbès, colonel of Piémont Infanterie, then retired to Birstein and Gelnhausen where M. de Castries join him for support.

On April 11, the Allies columns reached Pferdebach, Rinderbügen and Büdingen. The same day, Broglie was informed of the approach of the Allied army and sent some French troops, including Narbonne’s regiment of Grenadiers Royaux to slow down the Allied advance. These troops distinguished themselves in the defence of Fritzlar. Still the same day, the French garrisons of Birstein and Salmunster retired on the main army, concentrating under Broglie at Friedberg. Fischer was sent to Friedberg with his corps to guard the magazine. Finally, the town of Hanau and Giessen were garrisoned. Furthermore d'Armentières sent Saint-Germain with a corps of 10,000 (14 bns and 4 sqns consisting of Champagne Infanterie (4), Navarre Infanterie (4), Belzunce Infanterie (4), Bouillon Infanterie (2), and Caraman Dragons (4 sqns)) as reinforcements to Broglie. Saint-Germain marched towards the Lahn river.

On Thursday April 12, Broglie then ordered an advance on the Bergen-Vilbel line. He immediately prepared his positions at Bergen, a village about 10 km from Frankfurt on the road to Hanau, ordering to make gabions and abatis while he threw 8 bns into the village. Bergen, located on the slope of a steep height, covered the French right. A large plain extended in front and to the left of the village up to the wood of Vilbel. Bergen was surrounded by a wall and gardens delimited by hedges. The same day, Ferdinand arrived at Windecken, a village about 24 km north-east of Frankfurt where he passed the night under arms, intending a battle on the morrow.

On April 13 at daybreak, Ferdinand marched in 5 columns directly towards Bergen. He fought Broglie at the battle of Bergen but was repulsed with a loss of over 2,000 men. His audacious attempt to cripple one French army, before the campaign had even been opened, had failed.

During the night of April 13 to 14, the Allied army retreated unmolested to Windecken. Meanwhile, a French detachment under M. d'Apchon was sent to Friedberg with 2 dragoon rgts supported by 8 bns to reinforce Fischer's corps.

On April 14, the Allied army remained at Windecken. The same day, Saint-Germain corps joined Broglie's army.

On April 15, the Allied army marched from Windecken to Marienhof while the wounded were removed to Büdingen.

At about this time, Ferdinand sent Hardenberg's corps to lay siege to the castle of Marburg, hoping once more to lure Broglie out of his entrenchments but the latter remained at Bergen, sending detachments to harass the Allied rearguard.

On April 16, the Allied army remained at Marienhof.

On April 17, the Allied army decamped from Marienhof, passed the Nidder at Altenstadt, the Nidda at Staden where Ferdinand encamped with his left at Staden and his right at Bingenheim. Broglie did not know whether Ferdinand intended to march towards Hessen or to make an attempt against the French magazine at Friedberg. Fearing for Friedberg, Broglie sent 8 sqns of German cavalry to the heights of Wickstadt where they were instructed to light many camp fires to suggest the occupation of the heights by a large force.

On April 18, the Allied army marched to Grünberg. The same day, French light troops led by M. de Blaisel harassed the Allied rearguard but were repulsed.

On April 19, the Allied army marched to Alsfeld where it remained encamped until April 23. The same day, an Allied detachment consisting of 1 grenadier bn and 2 sqns of Finckenstein Dragoons was surrounded by the French who captured the 2 sqns. The grenadiers managed to rejoin the Allied army. Still the same day, Broglie dispersed his army in various cantonments and fortified the villages of Bergen and Sachsenhausen near Frankfurt. However, his entire army was so posted that it could assemble in 2 days. Furthermore, Broglie sent Waldner brigade to Friedberg, instructing him to support the light troops with 2 dragoon rgts and the latter with the 8 sqns of German cavalry previously posted at Wickstadt. Broglie also instructed du Blaisel and Fischer to follow the Allies up to Grünberg and to then seize Lauterbach and Schlitz to cut communications between Fulda and Hersfeld. Broglie also sent the Volontaires d'Alsace under M. de Beyerlé towards Fulda by Büdingen, and M. de Schomberg towards Fulda by Gedern.

Meanwhile Frederick II had detached prince Henri of Prussia northward to secure Ferdinand's position against any attack from the Austrians. The latter made little movement during the ensuing month.

On April 22, Broglie cantoned his army along the Lahn river.

On April 23, the Allied marched from Alsfeld to Ziegenhain, a village about 30 km from Fritzlar. Ferdinand then detached General von Urff from Hirschfeld (unidentified location, maybe Bad Hersfeld) against the Austro-Imperial army into Franconia to assist the Prussian army of prince Henri who had just entered the country in 3 columns.

On April 24, Lieutenant-General von Dyherrn of the Saxon contingent, who had been wounded during the Battle of Bergen, died. The French wanted to have Baron von Glaubitz as his successor while Vienna authorities preferred General Franz de Crousatz. Finally, Prince Xavier with the help of his sister, Princess Maria Josepha, promoted his adjutant, Major-General Friedrich Christoph Count Solms.

On April 25, Contades arrived at Frankfurt from Paris to take command of his army. He had an approved plan of campaign in his pocket. At the beginning of May, he launched an general offensive in Western Germany.


This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Anonymous, A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 359-363, 397-417
  • Carlyle T. History of Friedrich II of Prussia, Vol. 19
  • Fortescue J. W., A History of the British Army Vol. II, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 478-498
  • 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. 74-135
  • Jomini, baron de, Traité des grandes opérations militaires, Vol. 3, 2nd ed., Magimel, Paris, 1811, pp. 1-46
  • Pajol, Charles P. V., Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. IV, Paris, 1891, pp. 356-417

Other Sources

Rogge, Christian, The French & Allied Armies in Germany during the Seven Years War, Frankfurt, 2006

Savory, Reginald, His Britannic Majesty's Army in Germany during the Seven Years War, Oxford University Press: 1966

Service historique de l'armée de terre - A1 3518, pièce 40

Susane, Louis, Histoire de l'infanterie française, Librairie Militaire Maritime et Polytechnique de J. Corréard, Paris: 1876

Westphalen, Christian Heinrich Philipp, Geschichte der Feldzüge des Herzogs Ferdinand von Braunschweig-Lüneburg, Berlin: 1859