Part 26: January 19 Broadcast
You are listening to BBC radio 4. In an hour, we have special guest from BBC 5, Tim Luckhurst talking about the history of Olympic sporting. For the next hour, Professor David Stephenson will be presenting a documentary on the second 80 years war of the eighteenth century. This series will be running every third day, up to 50 episodes. If you want news of the current war in the Middle East please channel in to BBC radio 1.
Good evening, and welcome to BBC radio 4. Im Professor David Stephenson, professor of Dutch historical studies at Cambridge. This is the twenty-sixth part of our 50 episode special on the second 80 years war over Europe. Joining me for these broadcasts are fellow researchers and scholars Doctor Albert Andrews, specialist in German studies from the Berlin academy, Professor Robert Lowe, specialist in French studies at Cambridge, and a graduate student and technical assistant, Anton Thatcher. Last week was the Italian campaign of the Dutch armies.
And while those battles were raging, the last of the British opposition against the Dutch in North America was ended. While they would continue to hold Rupertsland in the far North and the Hudson Bay trading company, the Dutch had pushed away all of the British on the East coast, and were now separated from the British by the independent kingdom of Quebec.
Quebec was a French colony that had a mind and culture all its own. Though it was unable to remain independent through the 1800s, Quebec remains a culture unique to itself.
The Dutch still had to grind their way through two British strongholds. Boston, then Maine. The Boston fort was defending what was probably the most profitable port city in the Americas, the hub of British trade of furs, cotton and tax income of the burgeoning population. The Dutch moved their armies quickly to Boston, broken into three groups. The largest under Vrooman would attack Boston directly, while the others would stay only long enough to reinforce Vrooman if he failed in the initial assault, and to sweep past while their first army consolidated the region. After past Boston, they would attack Maryland within the season.
Boston, one of the wealthiest cities in America was modeled after the cities in Europe. Unlike much of the land, it was considered a fairly civil city compared to the frontier.
The Boston garrison was fairly powerful, but consisted of a large amount of cavalry in addition to the thousands of infantry. Lacking utility in a siege, the British had opted for an aggressive counter attack against the Dutch to try and make best use of their horses. The Dutch hoping to use their artillery to pound the British defenders into oblivion sent hundreds of shells and shots into their ranks completely demolishing the British fortifications along their front. The collapse of their south wall killed hundreds of British defenders.
A British wall collapse killed hundreds of men who were line along it.
The Dutch advanced forward and met the British counter attack. Irregular infantry, line infantry and cavalry charges all assailed the Dutch lines, trying to force them back. Since the Dutch had spread their forces wide to try to get across their defenses all around the fort, many small skirmishes broke out between the Dutch line and whichever forces the British could muster against them.
The Dutch hurry into squares to counter a British counter attack. With the musket armed cavalry, the Dutch could not return fire as effectively, as they couldn't risk receiving a charge out of square.
The tremendous press of numbers, near five thousand men against two thousand, eventually wore away British resistance. With British troops hurled back into the fortifications, the Dutch eventually managed to swarm around them and onto the walls before the few infantry the British did command could retreat from the assault to man them. While they were able to match the Dutch forces on the ground, the British simply couldnt rely on the same numbers as the Dutch and so were slowly being hedged in.
The Dutch troops were rushed around the sides of the fortress. Many of the wall defenders had already been killed, and the remainder had been withdrawn to block up choke points the Dutch had opened up with cannon fire.
Dutch forces got into a series of protracted and bloody firefights with the British in the fort. Fighting from the windows of the captured British command HQ, atop their walls, and in line in the fortress courtyard, the Dutch were able to pour overwhelming firepower into the British lines who had formed up into several lines facing in every which direction to try and fight off the Dutch that were pressing in on multiple sides.
British grenadiers charge up the walls to repel the Dutch assault. Outnumbered, the grenadiers were unable to retake the walls.
The Dutch line however, was clearly in command of the fort. With thousands of troops already through the walls, the courtyard in hand, and the British flag replaced with the Dutch flag, the surrender of the few hundred troops remaining was inevitable.
The fight in the courtyard degenerates into a state of chaos, but with so few defenders alive, the Dutch are able to begin contesting objectives within the stronghold.
There was no time for celebration of the victory over the British in their strongest fort in North America however. The Dutch swept onward to Maine to defeat the last British fort. Even with Vrooman and much of their forces locked down securing Boston, the Dutch numbered three thousand men to the British one thousand five hundred. Wanting end the war the Dutch moved once again onto the assault. Not only did they wish to push the British out quickly, but the rapid march past two cities made it difficult for the Dutch to insure proper security was in place behind them in their conquered states.
The Dutch manage to bound past Boston and directly assault Maine.
The Dutch assault tactics in Boston had worked tremendously well, and so the tactics were repeated in Maine. This time, the Dutch native auxiliaries were not held in reserve, and would be one of the most decisive frontal assault units in the battle, their close range hand axes being far better in a tight pressed melee than the bayonet.
The Dutch move forward to assault the Maine stronghold in a repeat of the Boston Siege.
Even more than the Boston Garrison, the Maine garrison in their fort relied upon mounted natives. While they were armed with muskets, they were not a terribly effective force on foot when forced into a line. They decided to fight the Dutch through hit and run tactics, or by drawing foot battalions away from the fort by running to and fro. However, even with several battalions of Dutch infantry pulled away from the wall, the British were thoroughly outnumbered by the remaining Dutch infantry.
The Dutch garrison had a great mass of cavalry which could do little to hold the walls.
Dutch line infantry were forced into several overlapping formations with crossed fields of fire to protect themselves against the musket armed cavalry which prevented the Dutch from outright enveloping the British forces, but this formation did mean the Dutch were slowly advancing on the British without being spread apart or overtly pulled away from their main goal of capturing the fortress. With the support of their own musket armed cavalry, many of whom were natives of tribes that were less sympathetic to the British cause than those that fought alongside the British, the Dutch were able to push back the skirmishing British forces.
Dutch arranged in staggered lines to fire into the British cavalry.
With the British cavalry forced back into their fortress, the Dutch were free to take the walls. Cavalry that attempted to nip at their heels as they scaled the walls were pushed back, as they no longer had the numbers required to cause decisive casualties, and they were also being picked apart by Dutch counter cavalry actions.
The walls were relatively undefended letting the Dutch breach the fortress with ease.
With few men killed by Dutch artillery, the British forces were in relatively untouched numbers as the Dutch scaled the walls. However, those forces had been severely limited from the start, and desperate fighting broke out in many sections of the British walls. The Dutch had attempted to scale the walls everywhere at once, but backed down at sections the British were deployed along, while other battalions that could climb to the top unmolested and unopposed found their way to the top. Without any means to cover the entire wall, the British could not kill the defenders as they cleared the top of the fort as they would normally have wanted.
The natives storm the walls at the point the British were attempting to defend. Excellent shock troops, the Dutch swept the top of the wall clear.
While cavalry and infantry tried to form a gun line against the Dutch as they swept down into the fort, the British forces were quickly overwhelmed by superior numbers. The Dutch native auxiliaries managed to push what few remaining forces they had off of the walls and into the central courtyard where they were surrounded by Dutch line infantry and forced to surrender.
The Dutch slowly trickled down from the walls, pushing their way through the British defenders.
And with that surrender, the Dutch army was now free somewhat, as the only remaining British forces were too far north to be of any threat. The kingdom of Quebec did declare war on the Dutch as soon as their borders met under the new conquests against the British, but the Dutch were not at all intimidated by the tiny nation, giving them the chance to move several battalions back to the mainland. An army which had never intended to embark on the journey back to the European theater would remain in place to keep the Quebecois in check.
Hudson's Bay Company logo. The British managed to hold on to the region as it was too remote for the Dutch to muster the effort.
The Americas were a land of immigrants and of endless potential. The libertarian ideals of the Dutch took root in the colonies of America, and in the hearts and minds of the citizens. Freedom and slavery, and why some men were free and some men were slaves was of endless debate throughout America. It was these ideals of liberation that led the separation of America from the Alliance by the 1800s into the independent United States of America.
The American continent was almost entirely unprofitable, and the Dutch quickly found that by freeing the British of the obligation of funneling millions of pounds into defending the theater, the British were able to build a sizable army back in England. So much were their finances freed up that the Dutch were actually put onto the defensive in the English channel, fighting against probing British ships as they attempted to find a safe crossing from Portsmouth into Amsterdam and Paris. With threats looming in the East, the Dutch were put on the defensive against the British Navy, but were immensely fortunate that the brunt of the British Navy had mostly been destroyed in the Atlantic.
The Dutch spies managed to note the rapid build up of the British Army. No longer paying the wages of a colonial army, the British had far more financial freedom than they had previously.
As time pressed onward, it became more and more apparent that the Dutch would have to stall for time against the British to prevent their industrial and capital heartlands from being taken and occupied. The past decades had drawn them constantly away from Britain, and it is certain that they could not muster the forces to both cross the English Channel and to deal with threats in their eastern border. Time had run out. Britain, though vulnerable at sea, would not be easily taken at land.
Britain had a full army, and so were searching for a weakness in the Dutch naval blockade. These probing attacks would escalate up until 1750.
Time had also passed for a diplomatic solution. The Dutch were the continental power the British had long feared, and they were working with other nations everywhere they could to undermine Dutch expansion. While Empires had stretched across Europe before, never had an Empire in such a modern age managed so many soldiers that could be moved so far and so fast, and that speed of mobilization and mass of conscripted or recruited men was exactly what Britain feared. With their navy demolished, the British had to rely on their own armies menacing the border of their massive enemy.
The British had long considered the English channel their best military fortification. Now the Dutch had turned to it to hold the British armies at bay while they reversed their fortunes in central Europe.
Patrolling Dutch ships came across a British brig in early 1747, and a fifth rate later in the same year. While the Dutch third rates were managing to control the channel for the time, the British Navy was clearly intensifying both production and aggression against the Dutch. Especially as the British Navys fifth rate was capable of dealing spectacular damage to the Dutch third rate, even sinking one of her supporting sloops before herself sinking.
Dutch ships patrolling through the fog. They had to remain constantly vigilant to defend their shores. British ships were searching for a gap in the Dutch naval defenses.
In the East, the situation was becoming more hostile by the day. The Italian states refused to surrender under terms that would repay the Dutch for the cost of past peace negotiations, and Poland declared war on the Dutch by late 1747. While their ally, the Russians did not opt to assist the Polish in the war against the Dutch as they could not move their armies away from Moscow through Polish controlled lands, the Poles were the strongest continental land power by the middle 1700s.
The Polish land armies were the dominant army in Europe. Backed by Russia, they would be a powerful enemy for the Dutch.
Poland had emerged from the turmoil of the early 1700s in a truly dominating position compared to their adversaries. The Prussians were overextended in their wars against Austria and Westphalia making them an easy target for the Polish armies. Austria had managed to hold their own against constant pressure from both Poland and Prussia, but were blindsided by the Dutch who sacked Vienna. Their capital lost, all of their outlying provinces were rapidly snapped up by the Polish.
Poland was a perplexing mixture of antique military formations and modern ones. Their lancers were still medieval, but their massed formations fought with the full discipline of any other modern army.
With the East Polish border completely secured by their powerful Russian allies, they were in a powerful position, the Prussians and Austrians were completely surrounded by their enemies. While they were now wedged between the remaining Prussians in Berlin, who were still a force to be reckoned with, and the conquering Dutch, their army was still the largest in the region. Having fought nearly endless battles through the 1600s, the Polish were well accustomed to war.
Poland after a victory over the Turks in the late 1600s. That had been their military golden age, but they entered a military revival by the mid 18th century.
The Dutch needed to get back to work. Their armies had been pulled from across their empire and into Europe. Sweden and Russia, while still in a neutral standoff against one another were keeping a close eye on the Dutch. The British were watching and waiting for an opportunity across the channel where they would defeat the Dutch at their capital. Everywhere the Dutch were surrounded by enemies. With more and more of their trade partners declaring war against them, tax income became more important as time progressed, straining America and India to the limit, and all the while, the elections once again loomed.
The Dutch, with their armies pulled in three different directions were starting to find themselves stretched thin. Even with their armies returned from Italy and pulled back into Germany, the Dutch would not find enough men to move an invasion force to Britain. They would need to force Poland out of the war as far as possible before the British could rally an attack into the exposed Dutch heartland.
The Dutch recruited yet another admiral, this one to command their first rate. The most profitable industrial centers of the Dutch Empire lay exposed.
However it had become clear that the Dutch giant would not find peace by beating Britain. The world feared them, but still had the strength to fight their armies. If the remainder of the world, the Ottomans, the Russians, the Polish and the Swedes fully committed to war against the Dutch, the Dutch could find themselves overwhelmed. That war was looking more likely with every conquest.
Next we have Tim Luckhurst from BBC live 5 to discuss the Olympics. In half an hour, we will be presenting world news. If you want news of the current war in the Middle East please channel in to BBC radio 1. David Stephenson will be presenting more on the 80 years war in 3 days.
Also, there is another video special of the Making Of for this series. Please find it on our channel index, or find it here.