Tuileries Palace, Paris: September 1828
“We don’t need a long bloody struggle. Knock them out in Frankfurt, and the Germans will soon back down. If not, dash their amateur armies to pieces”
King Henri shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He was seldom seen standing these days, and even more rarely moving. The rumour had spread that gout had started to affect the king, and that various other diseases were responsible for his premature aging.
Devaux pointed toward the map laid out on a table in front of the king. “We suspect that a large portion of the German force will concentrate here, in Hesse. If we can catch and break them before they have fully mobilized, and before the Austrians join them, we will bring the Germans to their knees”
“And they will soon forget their silly notions, one would hope. We cannot allow a German state. Not while I live. Not while my son lives. It cannot be”. The king spluttered into a napkin. “We must show Europe… no, the world that France will not compromise her security. We are within our rights”
This was the point in which Louis, Duke of Alençon and Henri’s chief minister interjected. “The British may not tolerate this. The Russians may not. We are gambling with our safety here, and if we do not tread carefully, we may unite Europe against us”
Henri, his eyes filled with an impotent rage fuelled more by pain than by Alençon’s words thundered “We will not! They will submit! You will see, Devaux here could defeat all the Asiatic hordes of the Tsar! Don’t you dare criticise our power”. At that point, the king slumped into his chair. A worried look crossed his face, the look of a man who feared losing control.
He brought himself off his chair, and ambled toward Devaux. “Just give me one more victorious war, that is all I ask. Give me one victorious war, and we will have saved France forever more”
Devaux bowed before the king, and took his leave to join the Royal Guard, assembled before the Tuileries Palace.
As the Royal Guard marched through Paris on the 20th of September, the atmosphere in the city was almost electric. From the prosperous west of the city, to the home of the new proletarian class in the east, the mood was almost one of an enormous celebration. Field Marshal Devaux, recalled from retirement, waved his officer’s cap in the air, the streets thronged with admiring crowds. “He will save France’s glory!” “There is the man who will thrash the German monkeys!” More admiring phrases betrayed almost a sense of hero worship of the man who had secured France’s “natural borders” and had delivered her to a position of hegemony in Western Europe with his great victories over the Austrians and the Dutch. Anyone who saw the great burst of enthusiasm for the war could not doubt that France would triumph in the brewing war.
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James Hamlin; Great Power Politics in Europe, 1700 to 2000
The Eve of the "German War"
The French Army was an intimidating instrument in 1828. With around 400,000 men in arms total, it was the largest army in Europe by quite some margin. This was the army with which King Henri V had re-established France’s position as the hegemon of Western Europe at the beginning of the 19th century, and its fearsome size was backed by its fearsome reputation. France’s military innovations had overpowered the Austrians in 1808, seemingly destroying the prestige of the Hapsburg Empire, and cementing her own position. And since the final victory over the Dutch in 1814, the French had not sat on their laurels. The main French musket of 1828, the Charleville Model 1825 was a fearsome weapon. The percussion cap greatly reduced the numbers of misfires and allowed the weapon to be fired even in damp conditions, making it a much more reliable weapon than its predecessor.
The French had improved on the “Chasseur” light infantry. The Chasseur of 1828 was armed with a rifled gun, with a range around twice that of the Charleville Model 1825. Physical fitness was also emphasised, allowing the Chasseurs to advance and retreat quickly, which gave them a particular advantage vis-à-vis the slow-moving line infantry that most European armies still relied upon. On top of this, France also had a well-developed artillery corps, complete with Howitzers and Mortars for sieges, as well as quickly-moving horse drawn artillery, which could provide close support for the advancing infantry. Of all the French forces, it was perhaps only the cavalry which could not be considered “cutting edge” in Europe in 1828. Despite this deficiency, the fear of the French army would play a decisive role in the events to come.
The Austrian Army meanwhile had faced significant difficulties in digesting the lessons of modern warfare. Her army was respectable in size, around 250,000 men. However, on the eve of French mobilization, around 30,000 of these soldiers were station in Venetia, policing the state following the revolution. A further 50,000 were station in garrisons around the country, leaving only 170,000 men for the conflict with France in Germany. The Austrians did have excellent cavalry, with a diverse mix of excellent Hungarian hussars as well as Cuirassiers, Uhlans and irregular cavalry recruited from amongst the Croats. However, the Austrian infantry had not kept up with the times, and still relied heavily on drill and fire tactics. Although these troops had performed adequately in Italy, dispatching hastily raised militias in Venetia, they would have less luck against the agile French forces.
The army of new German Federation was something of a mixed bag. The combined armed forces of the four larger states of the federation, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria and Hesse, numbered around 220,000 men in total, though the kings of each state were unwilling to commit their total strength to a risky effort against the French. By the 27th of September 1828, around 140,000 regulars from these states, as well as 20,000 from the smaller German states, had been pledged to a “National Army of Defence”, gathering around the town of Kassel. These numbers were plainly insufficient to challenge the French, and so on the 29th of September, the Frankfurt Parliament passed an act incorporating the German Landwehr, a body of militias that was loyal to the Frankfurt Parliament only. These armies were slow to gather initially though, and by the eve of the French invasion on the 12th of October, only 40,000 men had joined the Landwehr. This gave the Frankfurt Parliament a force of around 200,000 with which to resist a French invasion. Combined with the 170,000 men from Austria, it may well have presented enough to stop France in her tracks.
Achille MacNamare; European Warfare in the 19th Century
The Battle of Wallau
The initial French crossing over the Rhine had allowed the army to come over intact. Unmolested by the regular German forces, they had easily dispatched the handful of “Landsturm” who enacted a suicidal defence of Mainz Castle. The 1st German army under the Hessian General von Weber was already encamped in Frankfurt, but with his 30,000 regulars and 20,000 Landwehr, he did not have the strength to resist Devaux’s main force of 110,000. Ordered to defend Frankfurt “to the last man”, but sure that retreat was the only way to preserve his force, von Weber dispatched much of the 2nd Hessian division to the village of Wallau, just over a day’s march away from Frankfurt itself. Brigadier General Hirsch was in command of the 2nd Hessians, and was pessimistic about the endeavour. He intended to conduct an orderly retreat into the forested hills overlooking the town to the east, which would allow his forces to escape under the cover of the difficult ground.
Devaux initially was unsure that the Germans would send such a paltry force to block the approach to Frankfurt, and dispatched the 6th French Corps to push the Hessians back from Wallau. Devaux kept his other Corps in reserve, wary of an attempt on the part of the Germans to launch a surprise attack on his forces. As of yet, little reconnaissance had been done by the French, leaving Devaux nervous. While the French General Staff were aware that von Weber was near Frankfurt with a force significantly larger than a Corps, they were not aware of his precise location. This uncertain seemed to give the Germans a brief advantage that was squandered by the overly-cautious von Weber. His main force awaited some 15 kilometres to the east, awaiting the outcome of the battle without having an impact on it.
The French, adhering closely to their doctrine, opened the battle by moving units of chasseur skirmishers within 200 meters of the town. The initial resistance encountered was weak, consisting of a few German riflemen attempting to snipe at the French from the farmhouses of the village. Although the commander of the 6th corps, Belmont, suspected that the Germans were nevertheless concentrating their forces at some point between the villages of Breckenheim and Wallau. Moving cautiously, he continued to engage the German skirmishers at Wallau, before bringing the rest of his army to push any defenders from Breckenheim before pushing back south and encircling the Germans. As they approached Breckenheim however, the French were met with a hail of bullets and canister shots. The advance in Breckenheim was halted, but assuming that the main German force was here, the rest of the French army continued advancing.
It was on the flank of these advancing Frenchmen that Hirsch unleashed his main force. Enjoying local superiority for a brief amount of time, inflicting around 400 casualties on the unprepared French. However, Belmont shifted his axis of attack, halting the German advance and pushing them back into the woods. Belmont was unable to pursue these forces and turned his vengeance on the remaining German forces on the field. By 2pm in the afternoon, the French had extinguished the last elements of German resistance on the field, killing 581, wounding and capturing a further 3000, at a cost of around 500 dead and wounded. However, the bulk of the 2nd Hessians had been able to escape the field, and were on their way to re-joining von Weber near Frankfurt. Nevertheless, the French had performed admirably, their flexible troops meeting the ambush on the field head on, and making up in many respects for the poor reconnaissance. The performance of the French had given Devaux cause for optimism in his campaign.
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Author's Notes - And so the war begins! It is likely that the other European great powers will not let the French get away with a naked grab for power in Germany, and soon the French will be facing more substantial resistance than the hastily gathered German army. This could well turn into a bloody attritional struggle if the players are not careful, and it would likely be those who stand aside in the conflict who benefit from it in the long run.
Unfortunately, this will be the last update for a while. I will be in Malaysia and Indonesia and will likely not have access to a computer, so while I may pop in for a short while, I won't be able to post anything in the way of updates.