The Seven Years War
Part of John's Military History Page
The 1740s War of Austrian Succession satisfied almost no one. Frederick the Great of Prussia acquired the province of Silesia from Austria, greatly increasing his realm, but Austria resented the theft and plotted revenge. France began building a string of forts from the Great Lakes south to modern day Pittsburg. They saw this as a way of protecting the connection between Canada and their other North American possessions, but Britain saw it as a provocation. George Washington was dispatched west with an ultimatum. When the French declared their intention to stay, Washington was sent with a small force to remove them, but after a small skirmish, Washington holed up in Fort Necessity and surrendered. Although war had not yet been declared, Britain sent two regiments, or 800 men under Edward Braddock to America to take the disputed area, but in 1755, the force was routed and Braddock killed. Elsewhere in North America, a British force captured Forts St. John and Beausejour on the Atlantic coast of Canada which helped the British protect Nova Scotia. An advance to Crown Point on Lake Champlain was unsuccessfully attacked by the French at Lake George, but the colonials halted and built Fort William Henry. An expedition up the Mohawk Valley failed to capture French forts along Lake Ontario. The French determined to send 3,000 troops to reinforce Canada. The Royal Navy intercepted and attacked the convoy but captured only a fraction of the force while creating a major diplomatic incident.
In Canada, Montcalm assumed command and captured Oswego on the southern coast of Lake Ontario while the main British force under Lord Loudoun concentrated near Albany.
Britain tried to prevent the war from spreading and to isolate France diplomatically. King George II of Britain was Elector of Hanover in northwestern Germany. If France occupied Hanover, Britain would be forced to exchange any colonial conquests to regain it. Further, Britain's safety from invasion relied on friendly or neutral occupation of the North Sea ports. Britain had a defensive alliance with the Netherlands and Austria for the protection of the Austrian Netherlands, now Belgium. Because Britain had planned to commit its troops to colonial conquest, they refused to help defend the Barrier Forts protecting the area, which weakened their ties to their two former allies. Britain's interception of the Canada convoy, and not French expansion in North America was interpreted as aggression by the European powers. Since the alliance with Holland and Austria was doomed, Britain approached Russia for assistance against potential attacks on Hanover from the French or France's ally from the last war, Prussia. Austria interfered with these efforts by exploiting Czarina Elizabeth's hatred of the Prussian king Frederick. Frederick was in desperate need of an ally and successfully made an alliance with Britain for the protection of Hanover.
The Austrians wanted to retake Silesia, the province Prussia had taken from them during the last war. Chancellor Kaunitz, an advisor to the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, plotted with France, Russia, Sweden, and Saxony to dismember Prussia. The King of Prussia, Frederick the Great, learned through his spies of the alliance building against him. He decided to strike first before his enemies were prepared, invading Saxony on August 29, 1756 and absorbing its army into his own that winter. Frederick defeated an Austrian army coming to the Saxons' relief at Lobositz in October, but Saxon resistance forced Frederick to delay his planned invasion of Bohemia until next year.
Although war was not yet declared, France began all out preparations against Britain. Early in 1756, French troops concentrated along their northern coast as if to invade England. In the Mediterranean, a French naval force escorted a French army to Minorca, a British held island of great value to any British blockading force. Naval efforts to relieve the island failed, and the garrison surrendered. Byng, the admiral in charge of the relief force, was made the scapegoat and executed by firing squad. England declared war, but the war had already begun disastrously. Because of the British failures, the government of Newcastle was weak and William Pitt assumed primary control of the war effort.
Frederick continued the advance into Bohemia, where he besieged an Austrian army in Prague after defeating it on May 6th. An Austrian relief army did major damage to Frederick at Kolin on June 18th, forcing him to abandon the siege and the Bohemia invasion. On August 30th, Prussian Field Marshal Lehwaldt with 25,000 men attacked 80,000 Russians at Gross Jagersdorf and was defeated, but the Russians withdrew because of supply problems
As part of Pitt's plans, Loudoun removed troops from the American wilderness for an amphibious attack on Louisbourg. The expedition failed and the troop removal allowed Montcalm to attack and captured Fort William Henry. France's Indian allies massacred some of the surrendered British troops, an event made famous by the novel, "The Last of the Mohicans." In India, Robert Clive's British and Indian force retook Calcutta, which had been taken during the previous year, captured the French post in Bengal, and defeated a much larger Bengali army at Plassey.
In September, the British made a diversion on the French coast at Rochefort, apparently to little effect. (See map.) Although the fort was poorly manned, the British failed to take the town or the fourteen ships of the line, eight frigates, and other ships in the harbor. On their return, an angry William Pitt planned to send them back to take the island of Rhe outside Rochefort, but there was little support and the project was cancelled.
The French advanced into Germany, with one army advancing against Hanover and another toward Saxony. A Hanoverian-Prussian-German army under the Duke of Cumberland was formed to defend Hanover and northwest Germany. Following the defeat at Hastenbeck, the allied army withdrew north and Cumberland signed the humiliating Convention of Klosterzeven, ending the war in Germany. (See map and details.)
The other French army, under Soubise, advanced through Germany eastward toward Saxony, but Frederick defeated it with an army half its size at Rossbach on November 5th. While Frederick was away, 3,500 Austrians under Hadik had raided to Berlin and ransomed the city. Now, despite the cold of December, Frederick advanced into Silesia where an Austrian army was reconquering the province. On December 5th, although again outnumbered two to one, Frederick marched his army unseen behind a ridge and deployed facing the Austrian left flank obliquely. Frederick attacked and smashed the Austrians at Leuthen (See map.) and recovered Silesia in the following months.
Frederick had hopes of a Royal Navy squadron in the Baltic to counter Russian and Swedish naval power, or of bringing Denmark in the war on his side. Frederick also hoped that Sardinia would enter the war and threaten Corsica and southern France and that Turkey would attack Austria. He also attempted to bribe the court of the Czarina, but none of these efforts succeeded. Frederick was on his own. But with Frederick's decisive victory over the French at Rossbach, the British reneged on the Convention of Klosterzeven and continued the war. In November 1757, the Hanover army, now under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick advanced to near Celle on the Aller River. Frederick hoped the returning troops from Rochefort would land at the mouth of the Elbe in January, combine with Lehwaldt's corps and the Hanover army and push the French up the Weser River to Minden. In the spring, with 3,000 more cavalry, they could push the French completely out of Germany. Pitt did not want to get bogged down in a Continental war, and the fanciful plan was not adopted. In December, the French advanced again, pushing Ferdinand back to Luneberg and taking Harburg on the 30th.
In a brilliant campaign, Ferdinand pushed the French army back across the Rhine. The allied army crossed the river, and scouts reached as far as Louvain and Charleroi in modern Belgium. The French fell back south along the Rhine, but Ferdinand had to withdraw when his rear was threatened. (See map and details.)
Frederick began the year in April by besieging Olmutz in Moravia from his base in Silesia, but the Austrians threatened his lines of communications and forced him to withdraw. The Russians advanced to the Oder River, threatening Berlin, the heart of Prussia. Frederick moved north, evading the Austrians, and struck the Russians at Zorndorf on August 25th, winning a costly victory. The Russians withdrew but besieged Kolberg on Prussia's Baltic coast. Frederick then moved into Saxony to counter the Austrians, who attacked and defeated him at Hochkirk on October 14th. Prussian maneuvering mitigated the defeat.
William Pitt proved an excellent manager of the war, subsidizing Prussia and minimizing Continental troop commitments while protecting Hanover mostly with troops from the German states. For 1758, British troops were sent on diversionary attacks on the French coast, at St. Malo (see map) and Cherbourg, which were thought by Pitt and Frederick to divert troops away from Germany. An expedition to western Africa captured the French slaving station at Senegal. In North America, a force was dispatched to take the vital fortress of Louisbourg, which it did, but there was no time to take Quebec, the next objective. A British force under Maj. Gen. James Abercrombie took heavy casualties in a failed attack on Ticonderoga, but an expedition under Col. John Bradstreet captured Fort Frontenac and gained control of Lake Ontario. As a result, an expedition under Col. Forbes found Fort Duquense abandoned and burned. Fort Pitt on the modern site of Pittsburg was built in its place.
The army under James Wolfe at Louisbourg captured Quebec in the decisive battle on the Plains of Abraham in which Wolfe and Montcalm were both killed. In this brilliant campaign Wolfe captured the key to Canada, preventing the French from reinforcing or escaping from Canada. Along Lake Ontario, the British captured Oswego and Fort Niagara. The main army in America under Jeffrey Amherst slowly advanced north to Crown Point and built a fleet to control Lake Champlain.
For 1759, Pitt ceased diversions on the French coast and instead directed attention to the West Indies, specifically Martinique. The island was found too formidable so Guadeloupe (map) was taken. Meanwhile in France preparations were being made to invade England, but decisive naval actions at Lagos off Portugal, where seven of twelve ships of the line were captured or sunk, and Quiberon Bay where seven more ships were lost, ended the possibility of invasion and cemented British naval mastery. The blockade, however, was difficult on neutrals and there was the real possibility of Spain, Holland, and Denmark entering the war against Britain. Pitt restricted privateers and returned captured ships to ease relations.
In Germany, Ferdinand had been in winter quarters along Munster, Lippstadt, and Paterborn. In addition to the lower Rhine army, now under Armentieres, Ferdinand was faced by Broglie, who threatened his rear from his Frankfort base. Ferdinand advanced on Frankfort, but was repulsed at Bergen on April 13th. Fortunately, Broglie did not pursue. Prince Henry had advanced into Bohemia, and in May advanced from Zwickau to Bayreuth, forcing the Imperialist army back to Nurnberg until Henry fell back. (See map.)
In July, Contades advanced from Geissen, threatening Ferdinand's left, pushing him back beyond Minden, which was taken July 9th. The lower Rhine army, under Armentieres took Munster and moved to join Contades. Just when Hanover seemed lost, Ferdinand turned and attacked at Minden (battle map) on August 1st, gaining a great victory. The whole French army could have been destroyed, but the cavalry under Lord George Sackville did not join the attack. Ferdinand followed the French to Warburg, but did not pursue vigorously. An allied force retook Munster, and Contades continued to fall back to Giessen on the Lahn River. Frederick's difficulties forced a reinforcement from Ferdinand, weakening him just when he was doing so well. The new French commander, Broglie, now ordered the lower Rhine army to threaten Ferdinand's right by advancing from Colonge to Dillenburg on the Dill River, but Ferdinand successfully held Marburg.
The Austrians moved against and conquered Silesia but denied Frederick the chance for decisive battle. The Russians were approaching Frankfurt on the Oder River, and Frederick moved up from Silesia to confront them. Frederick tried another of his famous flank attacks, but rough terrain hampered the effort and he was badly beaten at Kunersdorf, losing 19,000 of his nearly 50,000 men. The armies of Russia and Austria now combined, and Austria's army of the Holy Roman Empire retook Dresden, the capital of Saxony. The Austrians and Russians had now planned to advance on Berlin and finish Frederick off, but the Prussian army of Prince Henry maneuvered into allied lines of communication which forced them back into Silesia. The Russians now saw that their communications from the north were vulnerable and withdrew. The Austrians withdrew into Moravia, so the armies ended the year just where they had begun it.
In Germany, Ferdinand was reinforced by British troops while the Prussian contingent joined Frederick. The French, under Broglie outmaneuvered Ferdinand, threatening his right and advancing from Giessen, clashing with the allies at Korbach near Waldeck on July 10th, and continuing the advance and capturing Kassel. Despite an allied success against a French army approaching from the lower Rhine at Warburg on July 31st, the allies and French went into stalemate. (See map.)
Ferdinand sent a detachment to the Rhine to pressure France into peace, but after crossing the Rhine it was defeated at Klosterkamp on October 16th in part by a new French army formed from coastal units. The campaign ended with the allies withdrawing.
Frederick had a difficult year, with pressure in both Silesia and Saxony. Frederick defeated an attack on his marching army by the Austrians at Liegnitz on August 15th. He then maneuvered the Russians out of Silesia, and ended plans of Russian and Austrian cooperation. Although Berlin was briefly taken, Frederick won a costly victory over the Austrians at Torgau, forcing them to retreat from Saxony.
In Canada, the British had spent a difficult winter in Quebec, and the city was nearly retaken by the French. When the ice cleared away, British reinforcements ended the threat. The year's campaign involved mopping up French resistance, culminating in the surrender of French forces in Montreal in September 1760. This ended the war in America.
Admiral Hawke, in charge of the blockade of France, took the island of Dumet off Morbihan in Quiberon Bay. (See map.) This island proved useful in supplying vegetables and water to the blockading fleet. Hawke created a plan to land troops on the nearby Rhuys peninsula. Using it as a base, the troops would be used against the remaining French ships in the Villaine River by landings and operations around Auray and Vannes. Pitt, however, decided the occupation of Belleisle would provide a good base for further raids. Hawke's promising plan was cancelled in favor of Pitt's.
In southern India, the French had captured Fort St. David in 1758 and besieged Madras in 1759. The French force, under Lally, was however defeated at Masulipatam in 1759 and at Wandewash in 1760 and all French territory was captured by 1761.
In February, Ferdinand began a winter offensive, advancing south beyond Kassel, but failing to capture it. In March, a French counteroffensive pushed the allies back. In June, a French army under Soubise advanced from the lower Rhine while an army under Broglie moved north to take Hanover. Ferdinand moved on Soubise and marched completely behind him. Broglie joined Soubise and attacked Ferdinand at Vellinghausen on July 15th and 16th. Despite having 92,000 French to 65,000 allies, Ferdinand was victorious. Soubise withdrew to near Munster while Broglie went back to Warburg. Maneuvering the rest of the summer was inconclusive.
Belleisle (map) was captured by the British in early 1761 but proved disappointing. Another abandoned project, the capture of Mauritius and Bourbon in the Indian Ocean, would require a year to complete and was cancelled with a possible peace approaching. In Germany, Ferdinand forced Soubise out of Hesse to Frankfort. By late July, however, French armies under Soubise and de Broglie, which outnumbered Ferdinand two to one, tried to maneuver the allies from the Lippe River, from which they protected Hanover. Ferdinand defeated Broglie, ending French hopes.
Frederick was unable to prevent the junction of the Austrians and Russians in Silesia, and took up a strong position at Bunzelwitz which the allies would not attack. Meanwhile, the Austrians made progress in Saxony while the Russians took Colberg on the Baltic, which greatly increased the threat to Prussia.
France convinced Spain to enter the war to regain enough naval power to once again attempt an invasion of England. Controversies related to the entry of Spain as well as the coronation of George III led to the fall of Newcastle's and Pitt's government and the formation of a new one under Bute. An invasion of England was never really practical and Spain gained nothing by the war. Despite having a new enemy, Britain captured Martinique (map) from France followed by Havana (map) on August 12, 1762 and Manila on October 6, 1762, both from Spain. With the loss of Havana, Spain lost three ships of the line sunk, nine captured, and two being built, which amounted to roughly 20% of the Spanish navy. More importantly, this blocked Spain's vital trade and treasure network which financed their war effort. Spain invaded Britain's ally Portugal in the hopes of gaining a bargaining chip at the peace talks. They hoped to divert troops from Britain in preparation for the foiled desperate invasion attempt. Britain shifted troops from Belleisle to Portugal and the Spanish invasion was halted.
In Germany, the two French armies under D'Estrees and Soubise combined and advanced from Cassel to Ferdinand's line behind the Diemal River. Ferdinand crossed the river and attacked and defeated 70,000 French with his army of only 40,000 at Wilhelmsthal on June 24th, ending any French offensive plans and forcing them back to Kassel. A French army under Conde advanced from the Rhine to link up with the main French army, whose communications with Frankfurt were now nearly cut. On July 23rd, Ferdinand battled the main French army at Lutterberg to draw their attention north, but his attempt to advance from the south and completely cut their communications was frustrated by the weather. Ferdinand withdrew and the war bogged down along one of Germany's many defensible rivers.
Meanwhile, Czarina Elizabeth died and was replaced by Peter III, an admirer of Frederick the Great. Russia made peace with Prussia and even supplied Frederick with troops. Austria was left on its own against Frederick, as Sweden had also exited the war. Peace was made, with Frederick retaining Silesia. France and Spain also came to unfavorable terms, ending the seven plus years of war in 1763.
The Importance of the War
The Seven Years War, or the French and Indian War in North America, had a great impact on world history in several ways.
1) Britain conquered Canada. The American colonists no longer needed protection from Britain, and the attempt by Parliament to tax the colonists to help pay for the war sparked the American Revolution.
2) France and Spain embarked upon a major naval buildup, made possible by the retention by France of fishing rights off the Canadian coast. Stronger Bourbon navies made possible the American victory in the Revolutionary War.
3) The debts France incurred in this war and later in the American Revolution helped cause the French Revolution. The humiliation of the army led to reforms and innovations which were later used with great success by Napoleon.
4) Prussia survived the war and retained Silesia despite enormous odds and confirmed its place as an important European power. After the Napoleonic Wars, Prussia increased its power relative to Austria, and in 1870 Prussia united Germany.
5) Russia showed itself to be a major power capable of enormous influence. It gained greater influence in Poland, and this would eventually lead to its partition.
6) By its lack of participation, The Netherlands showed itself to be in relative decline. Smaller states like The Netherlands and Saxony were becoming increasingly vulnerable. Despite its glorious past, Spain confirmed that it was a weak client state of France with minimal military power.
7) Britain confirmed itself as the world's dominant naval and economic power and a force to be reckoned with in the European balance of power. Britain became the dominant European power in India enabling it to eventually conquer all of India and used its resources to further expand the empire. Some non-"Eurocentric" historians believe British control of India made the Industrial Revolution possible.
British Military Infrastructure
Tower of London a section from John's Military History Tour of Britain
Woolwich Arsenal a section from John's Military History Tour of Britain
Portsmouth Dockyard a section from John's Military History Tour of Britain
Chatham Dockyard a section from John's Military History Tour of Britain
Seven Years War Links
General and European Specific
West Point Atlas - Dawn of Modern War
Battle of Hastenbeck Excellent photos of the battlefield.
battletour.com Includes photos of several battlefields - Rossbach, Hochkirch, and Torgau.
Minden Maps and battle account, with Quebec.
Battlefield Anomalies Includes sections of W. of Austrian Succession battles of Fontenoy and Lauffeldt
Nec Pluribus Impar Focuses on French units of the era. In French and English.
Guerre De Sept Ans Includes letters, orders of battle, and maps. Part of a larger site with a section on the Austrian Succession. It makes me wish I knew French.
Seven Years War Association Journal With books for sale and info on subscribing to the Journal.
The Seven Years War Association Includes photos of several battlefields.
La Tactique Brent Nosworthy's discussion of 18th Century tactics.
Eighteenth Century Homepage Includes sections on Swedish and Spanish involvement and more.
The Discriminating General Includes articles and links.
Seven Years War Group Discussion group of the war and other 18th Century wars.
Prussian and German Uniforms In German.
My French Army Roly's miniatures - plenty of them and well photographed.
Tricorne Miniatures of several 18th Century armies.
13th Foot A British re-enacting group. Includes the Manual Exercise and other info.
North America and Western Hemisphere Related
West Point Atlas - Colonial Wars
Havana 1762 Historical account with an excellent photo tour.
Eighteenth Century Homepage Includes a section on Spain vs. Portugal in South America.
The Valcour Bay Research Project Don't miss the section of photos of area at http://www.historiclakes.org/contents.htm
French and Indian War MSN Group Includes good photos and info.
Fort Necessity See where the war began.
Fort Duquesne A table top model by a diorama maker.
Forts Carillon and Ticonderoga Includes photos.
Canadian Iroquois Essays related to Indian involvement and inland naval warfare.
Questionable Business Practices
Motel 6 Do They Keep Their Word?
Trans-Union Container Line and OEC Shipping Do Not Deserve Your Business An account of my dealings with these two shipping companies when I shipped home an Eighteenth Century reproduction Korean bookshelf.
Military History Bookstore An extensive selection of good books.
Kolin 1757: Frederick the Great's First Defeat **** (Osprey Campaign) Simon Millar makes sense of this complicated and important battle, which has been often neglected. Coverage of the campaigns leading up to the battle, and after the battle, are well covered, although a map of the battle of Prague would have been useful. The 3D battle maps were useful, but more battlefield photos would have helped, but the author is able to successfully convey his solid understanding of the battle. With all the Osprey books, the strict size limitation is annoying, but overall, this is a very good succinct account of the battle.
With sections on John's Military History Tour of Britain, Revolutionary War Virtual Battlefields, Civil War Virtual Battlefields, Return to Korea, Armored Fighting Vehicles, essays, and Miscellaneous Tours including New Orleans and the Little Big Horn.
Since 2/2001, meter since 5/17/01.