THE AUSTRIAN ARMY OF THE 18TH CENTURY
From the book by Bruce Bassett-Powell published by Uniformology in 2007
The Thirty Years War ended with no real winner and devastation on a scale not seen again for over two hundred years. Ger many was laid waste leaving many of its kingdoms, principalities, electorates and other petty states impoverished while Austria, or more aptly the Hapsburg Empire, emerged as strong as ever.
Within twenty years of the Treaty of Westphalia, its armies were on the march again. They fought in all the wars of the late 17th century; the Dutch Wars and the War of the League of Augsberg (or the war of the Grand Alliance) 1688-1697. The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) saw the Austrian forces under their great general Eugene of Savoy pitted against France, Bavaria, and Spain. Alongside him was the Duke of Marl borough and his British Army with their Dutch and Prussian allies. In1704 they combined to beat the Franco-Bavarians at Blenheim under Tallard, causing Bavaria to exit the war. For the next four years Eugene and the Austrian Army campaigned in Italy then united again with Marlborough in the low countries to overcome the Franco-Spanish forces at Oudenarde in 1708. In1709 defeated Marechal de Villars at the battle of Malplaquet leaving twenty thousand of their own dead upon the field.
The Treaty of Utrecht aggrandized Austria, especially in the Netherlands and Italy and made her the most powerful entity in central Europe. No sooner had this peace been negotiated that the Austrian Army (with Venice as an ally) was fighting again, this time with Turkey, in the Balkan states. At the end of this war, by the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718 the remaining parts of Hungary held by the Turks passed to the Hapsburgs. There were two more wars with the ever-weakening Turkey in 1737 and 1787, with Russia as an ally.
In 1733, Austria allied with Russia in the War of Polish Succession and mainly campaigned in Italy where they defeated the Franco-Spanish at the Battle of San Pietro in 1734 then lost to them in the Battle of Luzzara three months later. Defeat at the hands of the Spanish in the south at Bitonto resulted in the loss of the Hapsburg lands in Naples and Sicily. At the conclusion of the war in 1738 (Treaty of Vienna) Austria gained Parma and Tuscany.
In 1740, Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, died leaving no male heir. His eldest daughter Maria Theresa, had been granted accession to his Austrian and Hungarian thrones and lands under the will of his prede cessor, Leopold. Although the crown of the Holy Roman Empire was not at issue, its vacancy or succession by a non-Hapsburg was a break with a long tradition. This Will, known as the Pragmatic Sanction, was contested by a number of nations, including France, Prussia, Bavaria and Saxony who had previously agreed to it. The same year, Frederick the Great of Prussia invaded Austrian Silesia beginning the 1st SilesianWar (1740-1744) that became known as the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), placing Austria, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Russia against the alliance of Prussia, France, Bavaria, Spain and Sweden, later joined by Sardinia and Naples.
Austrian Armies along with their Hungarian troops fought in all theaters from Silesia to Italy and from the Low Countries to Bohemia. Frederick and his magnificent army bested them at almost every turn in the Silesian campaign with the battles of Mollwitz and Chotusitz being the most notable of Prussian victories. In 1743, Frederick with drew from the war. Charles VII of Bavaria was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, but he died two years later after defeat at the hands of Austria. In 1744 Frederick led Prus sia back into the war (the 2nd SilesianWar) confirming superiority over Austria at the battle of Hohenfriedburg in 1745 where the armies of Austria under Charles of Lorraine were destroyed.
We do not have space to recount the labyrinthine twists and turns of the War of Austrian Succession, but despite their losses, the Hapsburg armies survived intact. Al though Prussia retained Silesia, Maria Theresa, whose husband, Francis I had been elected as Holy Roman Emperor in 1745 was accepted as the sovereign of Austria, Hungary and Bohemia. Maria Theresa, in her long reign as Queen had a great impact on the Hapsburg Empire and her reforms reached into every institution. Not least of these insti tutions was the Army, which became themost powerful in Europe.
Its next test would be the Seven YearsWar (1756-1763). In many ways a continuation of the War of Austrian Succession. It began in 1756 with Frederick the Great invading Saxony. Although he des troyed and captured the Saxon Army, his move into Bohemia was checked in early 1757 at Kolin by a rejuvenated Hapsburg Army led byMarshal Leopold J. von Daun who demonstrated the superiority of his artillery. 1757 brought other countries into the war. the Brit ish, along with Hanover, sided with Prussia after a complicated round of diplomacy which saw France separated from her erstwhile ally, and aligned with Austria, Rus sia, Sweden and most of the German electorates and petty states.
Surprised by the Austrian success at Kolin, Frederick intensified his efforts and at Rossbach on November 4th he defeated a French Army along with their Imperial allies. Moving swiftly east to counter Austrian moves in Silesia, he retook Breslau and on 5th December, 1757, in his most brilliant battle he defeated the Austrian army under Charles of Lorraine at Leuthen. This was the high point of Frederick's fortunes, for despite a victory at Zomdorf against the Russians in August 1758, he was defeated by Daun again with a combined Russian / Austrian force at Kunersdorf a year later. Although he was able to outmaneuver the Hapsburg and Russian armies on several occasions during the next few years his army was gradually weakened by the constant pressure from the numerically superior forces arrayed against him. By the end of the war in 1763 Prussia was impoverished.
With the Treaty of Paris that ended the war Maria Theresa and her army emerged as strong as ever. Though she never regained Silesia, her vast Empire was secure from Prussian aggression for the rest of her reign. The true winner of the Seven Years War was Britain who had waged war against France in India, North America and on the high seas and prevailed everywhere leaving her with the mightiest Empire in the world. Apart from the constant warfare on her borders with the Turks, Austria was at peace until the death of Maria Theresa. Her army became legendary and by the end of her reign it had acquired the identity that would define it until 1918. It was one of the largest and most diverse armies in the world. In its ranks, apart from the German speaking Austrians were Hungarians, Bohemians, Moravians, Italians, Poles, Slovenes, Slovakians, Romanians, Ruthenians, and Croats. From its border territories came colorful irregular Pandour and border units from Bosnia and Serbia. It was one of the first countries to field the le gendary Hussar regiments from Hungary.
At the death of Maria Theresa the Hapsburg Armies consisted of 59 infantry regiments(ll of which were Hungarian), 7 Border Infantry Regiments, 12 Cuirassier Regiments, 13 Carabiniers & Dragoons Regiments, and 15 Hussar Regiments The artillery was considered to be the finest in Europe and there were technical corps of engineers, sappers, pioneers, pontonniers and miners. Despite not often being victorious, the Hapsburg armies had the depth to wear its enemies down. This was never more so than during the twenty-six years of warfare with revolutionary, later Napoleonic France. Even though defeated time after time, the Austrian 'whitecoats' would be back to face their enemies stronger than before until they were the last ones standing.