Netherlander Free Corps

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Introduction

The four Freicorps from the Austrian Netherlands are treated together in this article, due their small importance to the war, in combination with scarcity of material; only publicly available sources could be considered. (as usual: contributions would be very welcome).

Among the very few sources available for this topic the newest is a university thesis of 2004ref.1. It states that there were 3 vrijkorpsen (Freicorps) in Habsburg service during the Seven Years' War: Béthune, Le Bon, Kuhwein (sic) (no reason is given for disregarding the Wurmser unit). A few more details have been picked up from Histoire des Régiments Nationaux Belges pendant la Guerre de Sept Ansref. 2. These details broadly agree with those given in the Neues Generalstabswerkref. 3. A few newspaper accounts have brought additional info on Kuhlwein Freicorps and Wurmser Freicorps.

Origin and History

Béthune Freicorps

The unit was raised in September 1756. It first consisted of 3 companies. of which 2 (236 men, 17 horses) were under the order of Major Jacques Béthune and a third (117 men, 58 horses), under the command of Captain Le Clerque. In 1757 three additional companies were established (Captain Beyne), which were then given to the newly promoted Lieutenant-Colonel Béthune (Béthune died in 1760; his successor was major Baron Drais). In the critical circumstances in 1762 (the armistice agreed between Prussia and Austria was valid only for the eastern theatre of war) this corps was increased to 15 companies (from 6 to 8 companies of infantry and 7 of cavalry), for a total of 936 men and 445 horse.

Kuhlwein (sic) Freicorps

In December 1762, after the signature of an armistice for the eastern theatre of war, Lieutenant-Colonel Kuhlwein (sic), recently released from French service, raised a Freicorps of 7 companies (grenadiers, fusiliers, chasseurs) and 2 companies (maybe squadrons) of hussars; for a total of 1,262 men (1038 foot and 224 horse).

A newspaper accountref 4 (this reads like a recruiting poster) mentions:

'Kühlewein' (sic) was raised in Frankfurth in February 1763 (but accepted volunteers also in Cologne) and was to consist of Mounted and Foot-Jäger, grenadiers and 'black' dragoons. On February 11, the second hussar company was sworn in and all the others were to follow soon. Mounted Jägers to receive a per diem of 15 Kreuzer, Chasseurs a pied 12, plus bread portion. All kinds of professions were needed and chances of advancement in such a 'Frei Corps' were splendid.

Le Bon Freicorps

In December 1762, after the signature of an armistice for the eastern theatre of war, Lieutenant-Colonel Le Bon (aka von Bohn), recently released from French service, raised a Freicorps of 3 companies of chasseurs à pied, 1 squadron of hussars and 1 squadron of chasseurs à cheval; for a total of 796 men (563 foot and 233 horse).

Wurmser Freicorps

In December 1762, after the signature of an armistice for the eastern theatre of war, General Dagobert Sigmund Count Wurmser, recently released from French service where he commanded the Volontaires de Wurmser, was authorised to organize a corps consisting of a regiment of infantry (Colonel Kirchheim, 808 grenadiers and fusiliers) plus a regiment of hussars (Colonel Wimpfen, 952 men, 1042 horses).

Service during the War

Freicorps Béthune did not serve in Silesia or Bohemia but stood by in the Netherlands to cover against possible British incursions from the sea. It did relieve the regular regiments of this duty and thus gave them opportunity to leave for the main theatres of war.

Wichelen, the author of the thesis, finds it surprising that light infantry was picked for this purpose in a country which did not offer itself for guerrilla tactics; he offers the explanation that it was thought these short-comings could be overcome by the use of the mentioned hussars.

Béthune Freicorps moved to the coast of Austrian Flanders in the middle of November 1756, shortly after its creation. The two first companies, under the command of Béthune, first deployed to Ostende, then along the coast; the third, under the command of Le Clerque, was at Bruges. No additional information on activities of this unit until the very closing days of the war has been found.

As shown above the other Freicorps were only raised late in the war.

A newspaper accountref 5 mentions:

On January 23 1763, a detachment of 1,000 men of the Wurmser Corps left Cologne. These were the advance guard of those troops which were being moved towards the Lower Rhine River under the command of Major-General von Seckendorf

In fact, all these Freicorps were to take part in operations against Prussians and their allies along the Meuse River. How far the establishment of these corps had proceeded and whether any actions took place before the Peace of Hubertusburg (February 15, 1763) took effect could not be found out.

At the time of disbandment, Wurmser, le Bon and Kilvin (sic) had been garrisoned at Stüremonde, Mecheln and Vilvorden; disbandment happened at the end of April 1763ref.6.

Uniform and equipment

A sketch of a uniform of 'Béthune' Foot shows up in a plate entitled “Der Standhafte Zinnsoldat – Uniformenblatt Nr. 27 Österreich, Freikorps im Siebenjährigen Krieg”. Another sketch shows up in the Vinkhuijzen collection without attribution or dating. This section is based on these two sketches.

Privates

Uniform - Source: from "Zinnsoldat", Dieter Müller's collection
Uniform Details
Headgear black felt unlaced tricorne with a black cockade
Neck stock black
Coat jonquil yellow
Collar none
Shoulder Straps red (left shoulder only)
Lapels red with yellow buttons
Pockets no information found
Cuffs red with yellow buttons
Turnbacks red
Waistcoat red with two rows of small yellow buttons and horizontal pockets
Breeches white
Gaiters white
Leather Equipment
Crossbelt white
Waistbelt white with a brass buckle
Cartridge Box brown leather pouch with white straps and belt
Bayonet Scabbard black with a brass tip
Scabbard no information found
Footgear black shoes


NCOs

no information found

Officers

no information found

Musicians

no information found

Colours

No information on colours could be found.

References

ref.1 Wichelen, Peter van: Het lelijke eendje en de keizerlijke adelaar. De hervormingen van, en het beleid ten overstaan van de nationale regimenten, 1713-1763: 2004 (note: for numbers he relies on: Duffy, Christopher: Instrument of War)

ref.2 Guillaume, G.: Histoire des Régiments Nationaux Belges pendant la Guerre de Sept Ans, Bruxelles 1854

ref.3 Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II – Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 1, Anlage 4

ref 4 Ordinari-Münchner-Zeitungen, 1763, February 24

ref 5 Ordinari-Münchner-Zeitungen, 1763, February 4

ref 6 Ordinari-Münchner-Zeitungen, 1763, May 17

Acknowledgements

Dieter Müller for the initial version of this article