The battle of Minden took place during the Seven Years’ War which broke out in 1756 when the balance of power in Europe was upset and Britain and Prussia were allied against the Empires of France, Austria and Russia.
Britain and France were each competing to increase their colonial power, while Prussia was fighting for control of the German speaking peoples in the Austrian and Russian Empires. Colonial wars were waged by Britain but on the continent of Europe the main battles were fought by the Prussians, under Frederick the Great, on their eastern and southern frontiers.
British troops on the continent were involved only on the western front. The object of the campaign was to secure Hanover and keep the French Army occupied leaving Frederick free to fight his battles on the other fronts.
Minden was not a war-winning battle but it will always be remembered as an outstanding example of the discipline, courage and professional skill of the ordinary British infantry soldier.
The Battle of Minden was the culminating and only major battle of the campaign in 1759. In the space of a few hours on 1st August Marshal Contades, commander of the numerically superior French forces, saw the accumulated advantages of his brilliantly executed three month campaign dissipated. This was largely because, against all the odds and rulesof war, nine battalions of infantry, six British and three Hanoverian, marched through the crossfire from sixty enemy cannon against the whole of the French Cavalry and shot them to pieces. The 12th Foot was the senior of the British Battalions and therefore was on the right of the line.
On 1st August Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, one of the most able allied commanders, had formed up his troops near Minden with the Infantry in the middle facing the French cavalry.
Because of a mistaken order the infantry advanced unsupported towards the French line with Colours flying and drums beating.
Eleven squadrons of enemy cavalry charged on the leading three Battalions:- the 12th, 37th and 23rd Regiments of Foot. The three Battalions held their fire until the enemy were within ten yards of them then, in the words of an eyewitness, “A crashing deadly volley strewed the ground with horses and riders and the surviving cavalry fled in confusion”.
The infantry were charged six times by French cavalry and each time, by their steadfastness and accurate musketry, they repulsed the charge. In spite of the resulting casualties and the gaps torn in their lines by grapeshot from the sixty enemy cannon they continued to advance.
Seventeen Regiments of French infantry then deployed towards the right flank of the two allied Brigades in order to stop them but the 12th and 37th wheeled and with deadly accuracy delivered volley after volley into their ranks, causing considerable casualties.
Confusion and panic spread amongst the French forces and when the German cavalry attacked from a flank, they broke ranks and fled.
The Suffolk Regiment at Minden
The French Grenadiers, their finest troops, then attacked in their turn but were also beaten back. Since they had rifle barrels they withdrew out of musket range and caused a number of casualties to the British infantry. The British quickly closed up on them and delivered several volleys at short range into the Grenadiers’ ranks, whereupon they too broke and fled.
While closing their ranks more French infantry attacked the leading Brigade but, in spite of the casualties, it was able to rally and hold them off until the second Brigade moved forward from the second line and with one volley caused the French infantry to break and run.
The French defeat would have been a complete rout except that Lord George Sackvile and the English cavalry did not carry out their orders to charge the fleeing French and they escaped, although badly mauled by the English artillery.
|The six British Infantry Regiments which took part in the memorable advance were:|
|On the right of the line – the Senior Regiment. (Napier's Regiment)|
|Napier's Regiment||12th Foot||The Suffolk Regiment||1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment|
|Kingsley's Regiment||20th Foot||The Lancashire Fusiliers||Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (RRF)|
|Huske's Regiment||23rd Foot||The Royal Welch Fusiliers||Royal Welsh Regiment (RWR)|
|Home's Regiment||25th Foot||King's Own Scottish Borderers||Royal Regiment of Scotland|
|Stewart's Regiment||27th Foot||The Royal Hampshire Regiment||Princess of Wales Royal Regiment (PWRR)|
|Brudnel's Regiment||51st Foot||King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry||The Rifles|
As the infantry passed through the rose gardens on the morning of the battle the soldiers picked blooms which they fastened to their head-dress. In honour of this battle the 1st Battalion continues the custom of wearing red and yellow roses in the head-dress on the 1st August and has the Battle honour “MINDEN” on the Regimental Colour.
To this day, the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment proudly wear a Minden Flash on the right upper sleeve of their uniform as below. The flash is worn on the arm with the red to the front.
NB: Red and yellow roses can also be worn on the occasion of the Sovereign’s Birthday but this is a memento of a different occasion – The Battle of Dettinggen when King George II placed himself directly in front of the 12th Foot.
In recognition of their conduct the King granted the Regiment the privilege of wearing laurel wreaths on their Colours on those occasions when the Sovereign was present and on his Birthday. Roses were later adopted in place of laurels and are still so used at present.
Two interesting afterthoughts:
1. Marshal Contades is reputed to have said bitterly after the battle: “I never thought to see a single line of infantry break through three lines of cavalry, ranked in order of battle, and tumble them to ruin.”
2. Against this success is set the dark failure of the cavalry under Sackville. Sackville was dismissed from the army by King George II. He insisted on being tried by general court martial and his demand was conceded. Sackville was tried at the Horse Guards for disobeying Prince Ferdinand’s orders. He was convicted and the sentence was that he should never serve His Majesty in any capacity thereafter.
(Unfortunately the sentence was not maintained and in the next reign Sackville, under the name of Lord Germaine, became Secretary for War and directed the operations of the British Army during the American War of Independence.)