His Britannic Majesty’s Army in Germany
By Toby McLeod
Paper given at the British Commission for Military History: “The Seven Years War” (2009)
Introduction: 2009 sees the 350th anniversary of the year of miracles, chief among which was the victory of His Britannic Majesty’s Army in Germany at Minden on 1 August, soon to be the theme for a major celebration in that town this year, with attendant trinket stands, Bratwurst, Bierstuben, battle re-enactment events and a dazzling cultural festival…
I have long nurtured a deep and abiding interest in the Seven Years’ War. In fact, ever since I rushed home from the library as a very young boy, clutching a shiny full-colour copy of Brigadier Peter Young’s ‘Charge!’, the serried ranks of beautifully painted German flats and the dramatic tales of manoeuvre and counter-manoeuvre, resulting in stirring victories or tragic defeats, served to inspire a lifetime interest in the vicarious joys of wargaming, and a parallel passion for the history of the period. Indeed, the first course I ever taught at university concerned the art of war in the eighteenth century. So it was with great pleasure that I accepted the Secretary-General’s invitation to address the Commission this May.
The historiography of German campaign of the Seven Years’ War’ has long been dominated by the work of Namier, Mahan, Fortescue, and Corbett, all of whom propagated the imperialcolonial view of British strategy. However, new thinking on the war, chiefly advanced by Savory, Duffy, Conway, and Simms has led to a reassessment of the significance of the campaigns in Higher Germany among contemporary military historians. From the point of view of the eighteenth century specialists and British army historians, this campaign is of specific interest in that it is a prime example of the use of German auxiliaries, and debates about the efficacy British troops on campaign.
It is not my intention here to rewrite the history of the wars in Germany, that task will have to wait, but rather to challenge some well-worn truths and encourage a different interpretation of these events. What follows is a transcript of the paper given earlier this year at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.