Continental Wars

Great Britain's Seven Years' Wars

The Anglo-Prussian Alliance from 1756 to 1763

This Naval History continues on from: "John Byng"

During the Continental Wars Frederick the Great remained Britain's only major ally throughout much of the Seven Years' War.

The major war in continental Europe, that the British had hoped to avoid, exploded in August 1756, when Frederick the Great attacked and overran the Austrian's ally Saxony.

Having occupied it he then launched a similarly bold invasion on Bohemia. In both cases the Prussians caught their Austrian enemies by surprise, and had used this advantage to full effect, capturing major objectives before Austrian troops had been fully mobilised.

Having besieged Prague, an Austrian counter-attack and a defeat at the Battle of Kolin forced the Prussians back.

Britain found itself bound by the Westminster Convention and entered the war on the Prussian side. Prime Minister, Newcastle was deeply reluctant to do this, but he saw that a Prussian collapse would be disastrous to British and Hanoverian interests.

The Anglo-Prussian Alliance was established, which saw large amounts of subsidy given to Prussia. Some supporters of George II were strong advocates of support for Prussia, as they saw it would be impossible to defend his realm of Hanover if they were to be defeated.

John Byng

Invasion of Hanover 1757

When the war with France had commenced, Britain had initially brought Hessian and Hanoverian troops to defend Britain from a feared invasion scare. When the threat of this receded, the German soldiers were sent to defend Hanover along with a small contingent of British troops under the Duke of Cumberland, the King's second son.

The arrival of British troops on the continent was considered a rarity, as the country preferred to make war by using its naval forces.

As with the Prussians, Cumberland's army was initially overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the French attacks. Following the disastrous Battle of Hastenbeck Cumberland was forced to sign the Convention of Klosterzeven by which Hanover would withdraw from the war.

Prussia was extremely alarmed by this development and lobbied hard for it to be reversed. In London too, there was shock at such a capitulation and Pitt recalled Cumberland to London where he was publicly rebuked by his father, the King, and forced to relinquish his commission.

The terms of Klosterzeven were revoked, Hanover re-entered the war - and a new commander was selected to command the Allied Anglo-German forces. Ferdinand of Brunswick the brother-in-law of Frederick the Great, had developed a reputation as a competent and reliable officer.

He set about trying to rally the German troops under his command, by emphasising the extent of the atrocities committed by the French troops who had occupied Hanover, and launched a counter-offensive in late 1757 driving the French back across the Rhine.

Despite several British attempts to persuade them, the Dutch Republic refused to join their former allies in the war and remained neutral. Pitt at one point even feared that the Dutch would enter the war against Britain, in response to repeated violations of Dutch neutrality by the Royal Navy.

Similarly the British were wary of Denmark joining the war against them, but Copenhagen followed a policy of strict neutrality.

Second Newcastle Ministry

William Pitt was the leader of the Patriot Whigs and oversaw British strategy from 1757. In London the Pitt-dominated administration had fallen after just six months because of a lack of support in parliament. A period of political stalemate followed, with no real direction to the British war effort.

It became apparent that the only way a serious war administration could be put together was by an alliance of leading figures. In 1757 a partnership was formed between the Duke of Newcastle and William Pitt - despite their years of enmity.

Newcastle became the head of the administration as Prime Minister, with control of public finances, while Pitt became Secretary of State and de facto war minister with control of much of British military strategy.

The new government's strategic thinking was sharply divided. Pitt had been a long-term advocate of Britain playing as small a role on the European continent while concentrating their resources and naval power to strike against vulnerable French colonies.

Newcastle remained an old-school Continentalist - who believed that the war would be decided in Europe, and was convinced that a strong British presence there was essential. He was supported in this view by George II.

A compromise was eventually established in which Britain would keep troops on the European continent under the command of the Duke of Brunswick, while Pitt was given authority to launch several colonial expeditions.

He sent forces to attack French settlements in West Africa and the West Indies, operations which were tactically successful and brought financial benefits.

In Britain a popular surge of patriotism and support for the government resulted. Pitt formed a group of three powerful people to direct operations with him were, George Anson in command of the navy and John Ligonier in charge of the army.

A Militia Act was passed to create a sizable force to defend Britain which would free up regular troops for operations overseas.

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Naval Descents

As a Colonel James Wolfe participated in the 1757 Raid on Rochefort. He soon rose to be a General, taking part in the seizure of Louisbourg and leading the British troops who captured Quebec in 1759.

The British had received several requests from their German allies to try to relieve the pressure on them by launching diversionary operations against the French.

Pitt had long been an advocate of amphibious strikes or "descents" against the French coastline in which a small British force would land, capture a settlement, destroy its fortifications and munitions supplies and then withdraw.

He believed this would compel the French to withdraw troops from the Northern front to guard the coast.

After an urgent request from Brunswick, Pitt was able to put his plan into action, and in September 1757 a British raid was launched against Rochefort in Western France.

For various reasons it was not a success, but Pitt was determined to press ahead with similar raids. So Another British expedition was organised under Lord Sackville. A landing in St Malo was partially successful, but was cut short by the sudden appearance of French troops – and the force withdrew to Britain.

Pitt organised a third major descent, under the command of Thomas Bligh. His raid on Cherbourg in August 1758 proved to be the most successful of the descents, as he burnt ships and munitions and destroyed the fortifications of the town.

However, an attempt in September to do the same at St Malo ended with the Battle of St Cast and the British withdrawing with heavy casualties. This proved to be the last of the major landings attempted on the French coast.

When British Marines in an amphibious raid captured Belle Isle Britain then took control of the Îsle, off the coast of Brittany, which was used as the main base for marshalling French troops and supplies.

The raids were not financially successful and were described by Henry Fox as being "like breaking windows with guineas". From then on the British concentrated their efforts in Europe on Germany.

The continuation of this Naval History will be: "George Anson"

Continental Wars George Anson

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