Friday, 11 April 2014

War of the Austrian Succession (part II)

War of the Austrian Succession (part II)

Bergen-op-Zoom in the Netherlands is representative of the fortifications of the period.  Armies could not manoeuvre and ignore such places and so sieges are an important part of this war.

As part of the build up to Dettingen I thought it would be helpful to outline the main areas of fighting during this war.

Topography of the War

There are three main "cockpits" in this war, which generally dominate all European Wars right up until the twentieth century.  In common, they are the friction points between the great powers, they are the main avenues by which the great powers can move their armies against each other and they are the economic hot spots of Europe at this time, and so perversely, great armies can afford to fight in these areas.  They are valuable real estate that everyone wants and cannot allow their enemies to hold!

The Rhineland, Bavaria and Bohemia

This is the main avenue by which France and the Habsburgs get at each other and it is also the theatre in which Prussia operates.  It is the heart of this and most European conficts; the other two "cockpits" are dominated by events in this theatre.  All members of the Holy Roman Empire are sensitive to who dominates this area and it is why Bavaria is repeatedly the most important ally of France.  Their are mountains, rivers and great forests which can impede the movement of armies but they can also give a false sense of security; the terrain is often an important factor in battles but it never seems to prevent the movement of an aggressive army.

Northern Italy and the valley of the Po.

500 miles to the south of Bohemia is the great plain of northern Italy.  Stretching from the border with France at Genoa to Venice on the Adriatic, it is bounded by the Alps to the North and the river Po to the south.  Home to Europe's reborn civilisation, it is still at this point in history, the main industrial hub for luxury products and services.  The terrain is largely flat but filled with rivers and intensive agriculture and studded by several important fortified cities.  Piedmont Sardinia is the local power but must play off Bourbon against Habsburg to maintain its precarious power and influence.  Spain has been the traditional overlord of Italy but lost its pre-eminence in the War of the Spanish Succession.  Spain now sees its chance to seize back territories whilst Austria is weak.

The Low Countries.

Four hundred miles to the west of Bohemia lies the strategically important area of the Dutch and Austrian Netherlands.  Sandwiched between the Holy Roman Empire, France and Great Britain, it is split between the Dutch Republic in the north and the Austrian Netherlands (approximately the same as present day Belgium) in the south, it equated to a neutral zone between the great powers.  The Habsburgs administered it, the Dutch garrisoned its many fortifications and the British made sure that no one controlled and developed its ports.  It was the main access route for British trade into Europe and its proximity to Paris and London made both powers especially anxious that neither dominated it.  Largely flat, intensively farmed, good roads and excellent water borne communications made this area especially useful for the movement and feeding of huge armies.  However, for these reasons all sides had spent the previous centuries constructing and developing the most sophisticated fortifications in the world, and campaigns and battles were dominated by these all important fortresses.

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