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Younger brother of the duke of Brunswick, Ferdinand was one of Frederick the Great's most able generals during the Seven Years War. From 1758 he was placed in charge of the army charged with the defense of western Germany against the French. He was given an army of 50,000 men, and was always outnumbered by the French. Luckily, he was one of the few generals of the period who was capable of success in this campaign, and he conducted a defense by means of counter attack, aided by his ability to gain advantage in numbers at the key moments through rapid movement and concentration of troops that was rare during this war. By March 1758, he had forced the French to withdraw from Germany, and he followed up by crossing the Rhine, before inflicting a defeat on a larger French army at Crefeld (23 June 1758), which forced the French to abandon plans to sent troops to aid Austria and send them instead to face Ferdinand, who in the face of superior force recrossed the Rhine, where he was joined by British troops sent by William Pitt the Elder, and with his larger force he was able to finish the year in possession of all the areas he had conquered early in the year.

The following year he was equally successful. He took the field in March, months before the French had intended to start campaigning, and had some intial success, before being slowly forced back into Germany by the French, who were determined to split Ferdinand from Frederick the Great. Ferdinand was eventually forced to seek battle, and despite being outnumbered, won the great victory of Minden (1 August 1759). Ferdinand was able to regain all of the ground lost before the battle, although he failed to take full advantage of the victory and allowed the shattered French army to withdraw and reform.

In 1760 Ferdinand was less successful, and despite defeating one French force at Warburg (31 July), he was forced further back into Germany than in any previous year, although he was still able to hold Frederick's flank. The following year, Ferdinand found himself facing over 100,000 French troops, in two seperate armys, who threatened to overwhelm him. He threatened their communications, and in response the two French armies merged, reducing the danger from them, and allowing Ferdinand to bring all of his own troops together to face them. He took up a defensive positon at Vellinghausen with 60,000 men, which forced the French to attack him if they were to progress any further. Despite having 100,000 men, the two French generals did not properly cooperate during the battle (15-16 July 1761), and after their defeat, the two French armies split, allowing Ferdinand to limit their actions by attacking their lines of communication, so that another campaigning season passed without any advantage to the French. However, by the end of 1761 Ferdinand's resources were very thinly stretched. By 1762 the war was coming to an end, hastened by the withdrawal of Russian during the brief reign of Tsar Peter III. Ferdinand still had to fight one last campaign, once again against two much larger French armies. Once again, Ferdinand was able to out maneuver the French, and when news of an armistice arrived in November 1762, he had once again denied the French any success. Ferdinand was probably the most consistently successfull commander during the Seven Years War, and without his repeated victories over the French, Frederick the Great would have found himself threatened on three, not two fronts, and would almost certainly have been defeated.

See Also
Books on the Seven Years's War
Subject Index: Seven Years' War

JR, 4 November 2000