Thursday, 1 August 2013

In celebration: the Battle of Minden

August 1st marks Minden Day, commemorating the victory of the British-German allied army over the French at the Battle of Minden in 1759 during the Seven Years’ War. The battle is of particular interest to me, not least because the GSUOTC keeps a print of the decisive action of the battle in the Officer Cadets’ mess.

The Battle of Minden took place on a plain to the northwest of Minden, immediately to the front of the city, in what is now North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany. The British-German army of 42,500 and 187 guns, composed of contingents from Britain, Hanover, Schaumberg-Lippe, Brunswick-Wolfenb├╝ttel and Hesse-Kassel, was commanded by Prince Ferdinand of Hanover and Lieutenant General Lord George Sackville. The French army of 54,000 thousand and 170 guns was commanded by the Marshal of France Louis, Marquis de Contades.

The decisive action of the battle took place in the centre of the French line, fought by two British brigades and two Hanoverian Guard battalions. Contades had placed his artillery and cavalry in the centre of his line with the infantry on the flanks. The British brigades were ordered to “advance on the beating of the drums”. Famously, the British misinterpreted this to mean “advanced to the beating of the drums”, and advanced straight into 10,000 French cavalry. As they advanced, they are said to have picked wild roses and wore them in their uniforms for the battle.

The division came under tremendous artillery fire and faced repeated French cavalry charges. However, ably supported by the Royal Artillery and Hanoverian guns, the British formed square and drove off the French cavalry with heavy musket fire. The French centre was decisively broken and the entire allied line eventually advanced, chasing the French from the field. The sole significant resistance came from a rearguard under the command of the Duc de Broglie.

Allied losses were 2,800 dead compared to between 10,000 and 11,000 for the French, a staggering total that comes to nearly a fifth of the army that took to the field. The French threat to Hanover was ended for the rest of the year, and in Britain the victory was celebrated as part of the Annus Mirabilis of 1759, the “Year of Victories” which also comprised the victory at the Plains of Abraham under James Wolfe, the relief of Madras by Robert Clive in India, and the victories of Lagos and Quiberon Bay by the Royal Navy.

Today, Minden Day is celebrated by certain British Army regiments whose forerunners were present at the battle, commemorated through the wearing of roses. The regiments that today celebrate the battle are the Royal Artillery; the Royal Anglian Regiment; the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; 1st Battalion, The Royal Welsh (Royal Welch Fusiliers); the Royal Scots Borderers (1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland); the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment; and the Rifles. To this day they are still known as “the Minden Regiments”.

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