Part 42: March 8 Broadcast
You are listening to BBC radio 4. In an hour, doctor Murray will be talking about the dangers of this years fad diets, and why you should be careful who you trust. 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 forty second 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 episode, we discussed the battles at Dresden and Prague.
By now, the Dutch had shown their mastery of warfare compared to the Polish. It was becoming obvious that Britain was receiving direct assistance from the Polish and vice versa, as British weapons were found in Polish hands, and Transylvania was found under British control. This was a major grievance to the Dutch, and the Republican party felt they needed to redress it. The Dutch were preparing thousands of men to capture Britain.
Well trained Dutch soldiers were completely outmatching the Polish army. Poland was mighty in terms of numbers, and had been slowly winning the war against Prussia, but by contrast, the Dutch had swept aside mighty empires, and had spent the last months amassing enough men to overwhelm the Polish forces.
They werent prepared to mobilize their forces from Cologne until they had cleared away Prague, Dresden and Berlin. Once secure, they would be free to move forces from Western Germany to aid in the assault. With renegotiation of the ceasefire in less than a year, the Dutch and British were preparing for war.
The Polish army had held up the Dutch forces, but could not forestall them any longer.
1765 was a poor year for the Polish forces. The Dutch had kept them contained in all fronts, maintaining their armies over the Polish while preventing them from reinforcing their army. The only reason the Dutch hadnt gotten through the walls already, was that the Dutch had been misinformed by Catholic agents about the remaining strength within the walls of each of the Polish fortresses. In the most extreme case, the Polish force was reduced down to only six men. An artillery crew with a six pound cannon.
In the most extreme case at Prague, the Dutch were forestalled by six men, outnumbering their opponent approximately four hundred to one.
In the winter of 1765 however, the Polish garrisons were desperate. After the second year of defeat, death, starvation and thirst, the Polish forces were reportedly under fits of madness, and believing themselves to be guided by the hand of God hoped to martyr themselves in a last ditch effort to push through the Dutch. The Polish still remember the six brave men from Prague as martyrs, even though their names were not known.
The unnamed Martyrs awaiting St. Peter.
In Berlin, the Dutch were faced by the strongest of the remnant forces. Their multiple armies which had moved through Hannover assembled into a single force, bringing their total strength to two thousand five hundred. They had two batteries of mortars, and two of riflemen, backing a tremendous contingent of line. While the Berlin force was originally to contain four mortar batteries and four riflemen battalions, two of each were split off to the Dutch force around Dresden to allow for stronger power around each fortification.
The Polish force of Berlin. Only a fraction the size of the Dutch army, these men were outnumbered ten to one.
The Dutch had set their mortars at the edge of their range, and had been sporadically bombarding the Polish force for months, wearing away their morale and sanity. With bombs exploding around them, interrupting their sleep, putting them on edge, and sometimes even killing a man or two, the Polish had been slowly losing their minds. By the end of it all, the Polish forces just wanted to get away from that fortress and performed a fanatical charge.
The Polish forces, tired of chronic bombardment over fourteen months march to face the Dutch. Every one of them had been exhausted, terrified and shell shocked for over a year with no hope of respite.
Now that they were exposed, dressed in all their panoply of war, the Dutch shells thickened in intensity, and now out in the open, the Polish were being annihilated by shells. Struggling at a walking pace through the snow, spattered with red from the occasional man torn apart by shrapnel, they made their way to the Dutch line.
A lucky shell lands true, killing a dozen men in an instant.
Once at the front, the few survivors seemed to be in too much a stupor to fight effectively. The Dutch riflemen and line infantry, well prepared, and in place, mowing down the rest of the Polish forces. Berlin was in Dutch hands after over a year of constant shelling.
The Polish force stagger in ragged groups into firing range of the Dutch. Their death is more akin to an execution than a battle as the Dutch riflemen pick their targets and eliminate the survivors.
In Dresden, a similar scene was unfolding. The mortar batteries which had been redirected to the army around Dresden were constantly bombarding the Polish position. As it had arrived later, the Polish force hadnt been bombarded to a state of madness, but still hoped to break out of the encirclement. The Dutch around Dresden had opted to fortify their position with earth works. Around Berlin, they were having a hard time setting up earth works properly as their troops were constantly streaming onto the field. In Dresden, they had remained emplaced long enough to fortify, leaving the Polish force to attack into soldiers that were behind cover.
The Polish forces in Dresden sally forth. Berlin, Dresden and Prague are set to fall like dominoes, North to South.
Again, as the Polish forces advanced towards the Dutch, the mortar batteries rained death down onto the already outnumbered infantry. These men were far more aware and cogent than the Berlin Garrison. Running through trees to try and avoid as much mortar fire as possible, they took far fewer casualties from artillery, and arrived at the front far sooner.
Polish forces were moving rapidly between copses of trees to avoid shell fire, and made it to the Dutch lines mostly intact.
Even so, they had pushed forward quickly into an envelopment that the Dutch had formed, pushing their riflemen around to the flank to surround them. The Polish tried to turn their line to counter the riflemen, observing that the riflemen were not behind earthworks as the line infantry were. Outnumbered even by the riflemen battalions, the Polish were slaughtered by the accurate rifle fire, and the massive volleys which tore through their flanks.
Dutch riflemen move to envelope the Polish forces. The Polish infantry turned to face them rather than try to fire at the line infantry entrenched behind dirt walls.
The remaining troops were killed. All that had remained were the Polish cannon and their crew, but these few men surrendered Dresden to the Dutch. In the same month, Berlin and Dresden had been lost in desperate frontal assaults.
The last defenders of Dresden make their final stand.
Lastly, Prague set out. The Dutch, suspecting the Polish forces were too weak to continue fighting, had offered to spare their lives if they surrendered Prague to them. Instead of responding, the artillery crew fired off every cannon on their wall, each of the six men firing a single shot which had been loaded prior. This somewhat gave the illusion that there were more of them than there were, but in reality, the Dutch could have taken the fortress at any time.
Eventually however, the six of them agreed that they would sally forth and die bravely. Wheeling their cannon out in broad daylight, Strijders could scarcely believe what he was seeing. So stunned was he, that he didnt even order his howitzers to load and fire until the Polish cannon had deployed, loaded and fired a shot. The Dutch line similarly, had been stunned into watching.
The last defenders of Prague. They managed to get to within a stones throw of the Dutch lines before the Dutch began to react.
With a crack of cannon fire however, the riflemen, always the ones with the greatest reflexes and initiative sprinted forward into range. Sighting their rifles, over a hundred fifty bullets were discharged to kill six men. Unlike the random spread of musket fire, over a quarter of the bullets found their marks leaving the Polish crew as little more than a bloodied mass. The Dutch lines were stunned into silence after the assault, and didnt move to check the fortress for another hour. The bodies of all six Polish defenders were sent back with honours to Warsaw at the expense of General Strijders, who could not help but be moved by the audacity, courage and tragedy of their last stand.
A lonely cannon, surrounded by her faithful crew remains in the field, a testament to their courage. The cannon of the six martyrs is currently kept in the national museum of Prague.
Strijders took Prague in the same week that the Dutch had taken Dresden. Determining that the Polish forces around Breslau and Gdansk was minimal, the Dutch were eager to send their forces from western Germany to Britain. Berlin, Breslau and Prague were given over to Prussia so the Dutch could secure their East flank without having to fight the Polish army themselves.
The Prussian revival. Berlin, Dresden and Prague are turned over to the Prussians to create a buffer zone between the Dutch and Polish forces. This came not a moment too soon as East Prussia, the last bastion of the Prussian nation fell only months after.
In the East, once again, Hungarian rebels had captured Prepburg, throwing off their Ottoman occupiers, and splitting the Dutch and Ottoman alliance. With turbulence around Vienna, the Dutch were unwilling to commit to moving their forces away from that front, and as Vienna had the least defense from the Polish forces surrounding it, it was considered a strategically crucial city.
Hungary once again declares independence. This was the fourth time in two years.
With their forces now prepared to invade, the Dutch had the freedom to move against Britain. However, before an official declaration of war, the Dutch wished to commit some subterfuge. Not wanting the British government to flee Britain to Transylvania, far beyond the reach of the Dutch army, the Dutch traded Ireland back to Britain for Transylvania, with an additional payment of two million guilders. The Dutch didnt intend to let the British keep them for long anyway.
Romania was of little economic or military value, the Dutch simply needed to deny the British territory to flee to which the Dutch could not access from either land or sea.
The Dutch had amassed thousands of troops along every port of their west coast. Two thousand men were prepared to depart from Brest, another two thousand five hundred were ready at Le Havre, another two thousand five hundred at Veurne, and three thousand prepared to depart from Rotterdam. Two thousand more were still being recruited when the Dutch were preparing the assault.
The man to lead them was Dirk Ruysh. A member of the Holland guard, and survivor of the battle of London, he was a stern man, and had limited command experience at an army level, but had held the guard together well during the battle of London. Colonel of one of the guard battalions which had sallied forth from the walls of London, Ruysh was a bit of a mad man even before the battle, and hadnt been as heavily influenced by it. He also showed tremendous aggression, and the Dutch wanted that in their general for the second assault to Britain. They wished to take Ireland, Scotland and England all in the span of a month in a single devastating blow.
Dirk Ruysh. He was chosen for his unbridled aggression.
To do this, the Dutch would need to engage in a completely organized assault from all across their coastline. Each assaulting army would have to move to their appropriate staging point in the appropriate numbers, with armies deployed from one port ending up in different regions. A quarter of the army at Brest would be tasked with retaking Ireland. With the Dutch evacuating it after the trade for Transylvania, the Dutch knew they had a short window where Ireland would be un-garrisoned.
Even without the trade of provinces, the English didnt seriously consider Ireland a priority. In fact, the vast majority of the English army was stationed around Edinburgh. With the first loss of London, the English parliament had been relocated to Scotland, and as of 1765, many members of parliament considered Scotland safer, being further from the theoretically more important city of London. This allowed the English a certain amount of defence in depth, with the Dutch having to move through London, and over the Scotland, lest the Dutch correctly split their forces.
Five thousand British soldiers guarding Edinburgh, knowing they could not realistically hold London.
The guard would depart to retake London once more. Departing from Le Havre, the two and a half thousand guard would be responsible for defeating the London garrison and the few battalions of troops which were scattered about the region. The remaining Dutch forces were all prepared to defeat the heavy British garrison around Edinburgh. If lost, the Dutch would have finally defeated Britain.
All in all, this meant five hundred men were being sent to secure Ireland. Two thousand five hundred were to be sent to London. The remaining seven thousand would be sent to Edinburgh in three waves hoping to land armies one after another through Newcastle to grind the Scottish garrison down to nothing, and to subsequently defeat Edinburgh, the Dutch would knock Britain out of the war in a single swift blow.
The Dutch soldiers preparing to depart were so numerous that a single port could not accommodate them. Dutch forces departed for Britain from four ports.
All preparations were in place, and just in time. The Republicans were up for election in 1766 with new candidates, and with the Empire as it was, they were not feeling that victory was within their grasp. London would be the final key to unlock another victory, and if it was not grasped quickly, defeat would be absolute.
Next we will be looking at the dangers of this springs fad diets, followed by 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.