The town of Hastenbeck is situated on the Weser river near Hameln, Germany. The Weser is formed at Münden by the confluence of the Werra and Fulda rivers, on the western border of the Electorate of Hanover. The Weser is 451 km long and flows into the North Sea near Bremerhaven. Fortresses at Hameln, Minden, Nienburg, and Bremen protect the river which is navigable along its entire length. During the summer months the water level between Münden and Hameln may drop to a low of 80 cm, allowing infantry and cavalry to ford the Weser, although artillery may still have to be ferried across.
In April of 1757, two French armies invaded Germany in an attempt to draw Prussian forces away from the Bohemian theater of operations. One army commanded by the Prince de Soubise marched through central Germany and joined the Reichsarmee under the Prinz von Hildburghausen. This coalition army met with disaster at the Battle of Rossbach, 5 November 1757. The other French army, commanded by Maréchal le Comte d’Estrées advanced north to threaten the Electorate of Hanover. The Hanoverian Army of Observation opposing d’Estrées was commanded by Wilhelm August the Duke of Cumberland, the third son of King George II of England. Cumberland’s army was composed of troops from Hanover, Hesse-Cassel, and Brunswick, and he had received six Prussian battalions in support.
- Maréchal d’Estrées
- French Army
- Duke of Cumberland
- Army of Observation
Cumberland held his main army at Hameln, garrisoned Minden with his Prussian infantry, and deployed small patrols all along the Weser from Münden to Bremen. A strong French advance guard crossed the Weser during the night of 7 July, just north of Beverungen, at the town of Blankenau. The advance guard then moved north along the eastern bank of the Weser and established a bridgehead at Höxter, where the main army crossed on 16 July. The French left flank under Lieutenant-General de Broglie remained on the western bank of the Weser to guard the line of communication. With the French army across the Weser, Cumberland deployed his army south of Hameln to engage them. Unfortunately, the Duke of Cumberland now lost the support of his Prussian battalions, as these units were recalled by Frederick the Great following his defeat at Kolin, 18 June 1757.
In the morning of 25 July the armies met at Hastenbeck near Hameln. The commander of the French right flank, Lieutenant-General François Chevert, was immediately ordered to engage Hanoverian troops at the village of Voremberg, but he failed to drive them off. The French left flank under Lieutenant-General de Broglie was still in the process of crossing the Weser near Hameln, and Maréchal d’Estrées decided to postpone the battle until the following day.
On 26 July the Hanoverian army held on a line extending from Hameln to Voremberg. The right flank was anchored on the Hamel river, and deployed behind the marshy Hastenbach creek. The center of the line was deployed north of Hastenbeck, with an artillery battery on high ground immediately opposite the town, called the Obensburg. The left flank consisted of two entrenched batteries, one deployed on high ground immediately north of the Schmiedebrink hill, and the other northwest of Voremberg. Grenadier battalions were available to protect the artillery. The left flank was anchored on the Obensburg, which Cumberland had incorrectly assumed to be impassable to formed troops. Accordingly, only three companies of Jägers were deployed on the summit of the Obensburg. However, General Chevert’s attack of the day before had revealed a weak point in the Hanoverian line of defense: it was entirely feasible to manœuvre into the rear of the left flank by way of another ridgeline east of Voremberg which lead to the Butebrink and from there to the summit of the Obensburg.
Pictures of Hastenbeck Battlefield
Château de Hastenbeck
Hastenbeck church seen from the château
Hastenbeck church at left; and a grain silo near the château
View from the fields northwest of Hastenbeck, looking north, toward the Schecken
View from the fields northwest of Hastenbeck, looking northeast, toward the Obensburg
View from the fields northwest of Hastenbeck, looking east, toward the Schmiedebrink
Denkmalsweg northeast of Hastenbeck, leading up to the Schmiedebrink. Notice the steep slope.
The Hastenbeck Monument is in the clump of trees to the right of the Denkmalsweg on the Schmiedebrink
View from the Denkmalsweg, looking northwest, toward the Schecken
The Hastenbeck Monument at the Denkmalsweg on the Schmiedebrink
View from the Schmiedebrink, looking east, toward the tree-lined road to Voremberg
View from the Schmiedebrink, looking northeast, toward the Butebrink
View from the Schmiedebrink, looking north, toward the Obensburg
View from the Schmiedebrink, looking north/northwest, toward the Obensburg and the artillery emplacement
View from the Schmiedebrink, looking northwest, toward the Obensburg and the Schecken
View from the Schmiedebrink, looking west, toward the Schecken
The eastern slope of the Butebrink, east of Voremberg. Hastenbeck is ahead and to the left
General Chevert’s route of approach east of Voremberg, up to the Butebrink
General Chevert’s flanking force consisted of the brigades of Picardy, la Marine, Navarre, and d’Eu, including their grenadiers and battalion guns. At 09.00 on 26 July this force advanced toward the Obensburg in three battalion columns, with the right flank column aimed at the summit. The flanking movement proved successful: the Jägers were quickly engaged in a firefight and melee, and when the Duke of Cumberland realized that his position was threatened from the rear, he could only order his reserves at Diedersen to try and recapture the Obensburg. In addition, several of the Grenadier battalions deployed to protect the batteries near Voremberg and the Schmiedebrink were drawn into the fight on the Obensburg, and they were no longer available when the main French attacks went in against the Hanoverian left flank.
Once Chevert had reached the Obensburg, General d’Armentieres launched his attack against Voremberg with four brigades of infantry, plus the Swiss brigade of Reding, and four regiments of dismounted dragoons. In the center, Lieutenant-General Contades marched over the Schmiedebrink hill and assaulted the battery immediately north of it. Initially, these attacks were repulsed by heavy artillery fire, but both batteries were eventually overrun. When the Hanoverian reserve infantry under Colonel Dachenhausen finally arrived on the Obensburg they were able to turn the tide momentarily, but the Duke of Cumberland had already begun to withdraw his army, and Dachenhausen could not maintain his isolated position for long.
The battlefield at Hastenbeck is well worth a visit, even though a powerline has been built right through it. There is a diorama of the battle at the museum in Hameln, and there are military museums to visit in Hannover, Celle, and Braunschweig.