Battle of Dettingen, 1743

In 1740 Europe was engulfed by war once more when France, Saxony, Prussia and Bavaria repudiated the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 by which the Austrian Emperor Charles VI had attempted to secure the succession of his daughter Maria Theresa to all his Habsburg lands. The War of the Austrian Succession pitted these powers against Britain, Hanover and Austria. In 1742 Britain sent troops to Europe, ostensibly to protect Flanders from the ravages of the French army. However, their presence was as much to safeguard Hanoverian independence since King George II was also Elector of Hanover.

The Battle of Dettingen took place on June 27 1743 on the banks of the River Main in south-west Germany between the so-called Pragmatic Army, comprising 50,000 British, Hanoverian and Austrian troops under King George II, and a 70,000-strong French army. It resulted in victory for the allies and is significant for being the only time in modern history that British troops have been led into battle by a reigning monarch.

The allied army was in the process of retreating from Germany back towards Flanders when it found its path blocked by the French under the Duke of Noailles. In an audacious move, Noailles ordered the Count of Grammont to hold his strong positions at the village of Dettingen with the bulk of the army while he led a smaller force to try to come up on the allies in the rear through Aschaffenburg. However, the move was spotted and British and Hanoverian troops were dispatched to counter it. Meanwhile, Grammont, despite being ordered to stay put, sent his troops out to attack the allies. After some initial success, particularly by the cavalry, the attack ran out of steam. The allies counter-attacked, driving the confused and panic-stricken French back through Dettingen and across the Main on bridges of boats. One bridge collapsed and many French troops drowned.

Alliance cavalry and foot soldiers made no attempt was made to pursue the French, an indication, perhaps, of the poor state state at the time of the British Army which had not been involved in a Continental war for 25 years. The victory allowed the Alliance army to return unhindered to its bases in Flanders.

Alliance casualties numbered between 2 – 3,000, including around 850 British. French losses totalled about 4,500.

By 1743, the 37th Foot (as Meredith’s original regiment had been redesignated early in George I’s reign) and came under the command of Henry Ponsonby, son of the 1st Viscount Duncannon, and an experienced soldier. The battalion was one of five in the Alliance second line at Dettingen and their withering fire helped to check the French cavalry as they appeared poised to break through. The battalion suffered four men killed and 15 wounded.

Colonel C. Russell wrote to his wife of the part played by Ponsonby’s 37th at Dettingen:

“ … Our men and their regimental officers won the day, not in the manner of Hyde Park discipline, but our foot almost kneeled by whole ranks, and fired on ‘em a running fire, making almost every ball take place; but for ten or twelve minutes ‘twas doubtful which would succeed, as they overpowered us so much, and the bravery of the Maison du Roy coming upon us eight or nine ranks deep; yet our troops were not seen to retreat, but to bend back only – I mean our foot – and that only while they fresh loaded; then, of their own accord, marched boldly up to ‘em, gave them such a smash with loud hurrahs every time they saw them retire that then they were at once put to flight. The English infantry behaved like heroes, and as they won the major part of the action, to them the honours of the day were due.”

Battle of Dettingen, 1743