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"Hessian losses and British conduct in battle" Topic

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13 Jul 2021 10:06 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Removed from 18th Century Discussion boardCrossposted to American Revolution board

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StuartG6113 Jul 2021 9:31 a.m. PST

I recently ended up discussing the AWI with someone on YouTube. He claimed (in an attempt to perhaps be patriotic etc) that 'Only about 5500 British soldiers were killed in battle. during the revolution, german Hessian mercenaries on the other hand lost about 15,000, who do you think was doing the bulk of the fighting in that case. If you look at most of the battles the British troops flee the second the Germans fold. Desertion was also completely out of hand at the time too.' This was linked to an earlier claim that `When the British have to do the fighting themselves they flee at the first opportunity`

I believe the above is utter what we call nonsense in the UK. 15,000 KIA (which is what i think he is trying to claim since he only mentions British KIA) would represent 50% of the entire Hessian continent and given the way non battle casualties are in the period would have meant that not a single man went home (as opposed to over 17,000). I think the figures are 1,200 KIA, approx 6,353 from disease and the balance stayed on. Given that British losses from all causes were 24k and that the Hessians were a 1/4 of the total British field strength, their losses are proportionate and indicate he was letting anti British feeling get the better of him

StuartG6113 Jul 2021 10:31 a.m. PST

apparently the British may have lost only 1200 KIA and the British losses one occurred after the US troops had fought through the Germans. Who know etc. Anglophobia i guess

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP13 Jul 2021 12:40 p.m. PST

This is an old game. He's comparing British KIA to German "lost" and pretending it's valid. Actual wikipedia-level German KIA were 1,200. To get 15,000 German "losses" you have to throw in died from illness or accidents (about 6,000) and settled in North America (another 5,000.) Even that's a little short. Possibly he's counting ethnic Germans on the US side? And given German rulers were paid for dead and not for deserters, I'd view the overall deaths somewhat skeptically.

But he's not saying 15,000 killed in action. Maybe he read "lost" somewhere and didn't understand the distinction. I'd say more likely he was hoping you'd do what you just did, and assume it was KIA to match it with the British.

I could find you politicians and general malcontents who do this sort of false comparisons all day long, but it would get me booted from the site. Still, people discussing military history should be held to a higher standard.

As for the British fleeing "at the first opportunity" I recommend your youtubist do a tour of cemeteries in Flanders--or just go village to village in the UK reading the names in the chapels or carved on the monuments.

StuartG6113 Jul 2021 3:01 p.m. PST

apparently he now claims that the British may have lost only 1200 KIA and the British losses one occurred after the US troops had fought through the Germans. Who know etc. Anglophobia i guess. His claims about running away are re the AWI. Not something i have seen mentioned by any decent military historians on either side.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP13 Jul 2021 5:01 p.m. PST

Speaking as a descendant of a German soldier who decided that staying in North America after the AWI was infinitely better than returning to Germany to be sent off to some other way, I imagine that he was listed as "dead" when "deserted" would have been more accurate

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP13 Jul 2021 9:16 p.m. PST

1. The Hessian soldiers were NOT mercenaries. Not by any stretch of the definition. They were conscripted by the Head Poobah of Hesse Cassel and sold (rented) like cattle.

2. A YouTube link would be nice, so we could all point and laugh at him on site.

3. Not everything on the Internet is true.

4. This should be cross posted to the AWI board.

5. His callous disregard of statistical relevance is laughable. Hessians who deserted were not KIA. In fact, the Head Poobah didn't mind at all if some decided to stay.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP13 Jul 2021 11:20 p.m. PST

Let me add…
6. From what battles did the British "flee"?

I haven't encountered such bs since the 60s when I subscribed to the Avalon Hill General.
Some idiot wrote a rather long article about how the Germans defended Normandy with 1000 "Supermen".
I wrote a letter to the editor…

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP14 Jul 2021 1:14 a.m. PST

The Hessian soldiers were NOT mercenaries. Not by any stretch of the definition. They were conscripted by the Head Poobah of Hesse Cassel and sold (rented) like cattle.

What is your definition of 'mercenary' regarding troops hired to fight for someone other than their own country?

Definition of mercenary from Webster's Dictionary:

-one that serves merely for wages
especially : a soldier hired into foreign service.

The various Germans that fought for the British in the War of the Revolution fit this definition.

And they were not just from Hesse-Cassel, although the majority were. They were also from Hesse-Hanau, Brunswick, and Ansbach-Bayreuth.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP14 Jul 2021 4:00 a.m. PST

You forgot Waldeck and Anhalt Zerbst. Did I leave any out?

The difference is that they did not "enlist" to fight in far off Amerika. They were conscripted, snatched off the streets, etc. then their owner rented them to Britain.
Calling them mercenaries is to really stretch the definition. See Fischer, "Washington's Crossing".
But rather than derail this thread, why not agree to disagree about their definition and concentrate on the idiotic main premise? That is the dishonest manipulation and fabrication of statistics?
And, from which battles (he seems to imply "all of them") did the British glee?"

You should also join in my call for a link to that comic video.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP14 Jul 2021 6:41 a.m. PST

You brought the subject up…

The Americans called the assorted Germans mercenaries; the British referred to them as 'auxiliaries.'

See Hessians by Brady Crytzer and The Hessians by Edward Lowell, as a start.

And they were not all 'conscripted.' They were commanded and led by seasoned professionals and they did more than their assigned duty.

That being the case, they are still mercenaries in the true sense of the definition, whether they chose to be there or not.

Fischer states on page 59 of Washington's Crossing that the Hessians were 'not mercenaries in the usual sense' but he does not make a case that they were not mercenaries. They were hired soldiers-that indicates that they were mercenaries.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP14 Jul 2021 8:19 a.m. PST

Now that we seem to be disagreeing without convincing the other, let's move on. I'll drop it if you do.

Comment on the more relevant topic in the OP, which I consider nonsense.

42flanker14 Jul 2021 8:30 a.m. PST

What qualitative distinction exists between the labelling of the German troops in British service as 'mercenaries', or otherwise? There was evidently a propaganda value for the rebel colonists at the time, but other than that?

Bill N14 Jul 2021 9:02 a.m. PST

Look who was doing most of the fighting in the south. From the end of the siege of Charleston until the arrival of Bose and the jaegers it was mostly British and Loyalist forces. The Hessian regiments were used to garrison Savannah and Charleston and to operate in the surrounding low country. Not that this was a picnic, because that area could be quite unhealthy to Europeans in the summer.

Later on there was a fear in the south that Hessian troops might be more prone than British to desert. There was at least one instance where Americans made an attempt to encourage Hessians to do so.

Personal logo enfant perdus Supporting Member of TMP14 Jul 2021 9:14 a.m. PST

There was evidently a propaganda value for the rebel colonists at the time

Showing that then, as now, "mercenary" has some pejorative connotations in English. Subsidy troops (Miethtruppen in German) is the most accurate term, then and now.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP14 Jul 2021 9:57 a.m. PST

Here's an interesting Wikipedia (Gott in Himmel!) article on German troops in the American Revolution. I find Wikipedia useful as a starting point, with "copious notes", as Tyrion would say.
It goes through each contingent, commenting on means of recruitment and:or conscription. It notes that Brunswick was very proud that none of its soldiers were conscripted. The term "mercenaries" and "auxiliaries" were both used.
We discussed earlier ad infinitum Jefferson's prose in the Declaration. Here he calls all the Germans "mercenaries". Again the irony of the Declaration taking place 14 months after the first shots were fired.

The article goes into great detail how many men from each German state came over, and how many returned. One of the highest reasons for troops not returning was "desertion", or simply staying behind. I believe the Duke of Brunswick actually gave soldiers who stayed in America 6 months pay.
Some states listed deserters as KIA. The Waldeck regiment in Florida was attacked before they even knew they were at war with Spain. A good portion of the captured troops were recruited by the Spanish. Never knew that!

German POWs (Trenton, Saratoga, Yorktown, etc) were often stationed in German American areas (Pennsylvania Dutch for example) and allowed to be hired to local farms. "Hans, this is mein daughter, Ilse…" Many stayed.

My good gaming buddy is descended from two such Anspach soldiers. He was telling me about the bewildering array of spellings of their names when he traced his ancestry. Worse than Ellis Island!

My point here is that the original YouTube video is hogwash. "Hessian" KIA was proportionate to "normal" soldiering, and with three times as many deaths due to disease. And even more due to desertion that was winked at by authorities on both sides. And I have yet to hear of any British "fleeing". I once again ask the OP to provide a link to that video.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP14 Jul 2021 9:59 a.m. PST

By the way, that article also goes into some German units on the American side.
As usual, use Wikipedia with caution, and consult its notes.

historygamer14 Jul 2021 2:08 p.m. PST

All soldiers fight for pay. Poor definition.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP14 Jul 2021 2:24 p.m. PST

All soldiers serve and are paid for their time, experience and expertise. And, more often than not, they fight for their country.

That does not make them mercenaries.

historygamer14 Jul 2021 4:32 p.m. PST

Yep, which is the Germans sent here in their national military uniforms, carrying their national flags, fighting under the commands of their sovereigns, rules them out as mercenaries. Most had a record of being allied to the English prior as well, especially Hessen Cassel and Brunswick.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP15 Jul 2021 3:16 a.m. PST

They weren't 'allied', they were hired and paid for by the British government. That is a classical definition of a mercenary.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP15 Jul 2021 4:43 a.m. PST

From Military Uniforms in America, Volume I-The Era of the American Revolution, 1755-1795, edited by John Elting:

'Colonel William Faucitt, the British officer charged with the purchase of German mercenaries, professed himself pleased with one of his acquisitions, the Brunswick Regiment of Dragoons.'-60.

'Among the contingent of Hesse-Cassel troops that came to America during the Revolutionary War were three field companies of Artillery…contracted for by Great Britain in the treaty…with Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel.'-62.

'By the treaty signed by the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel with the British government…the Regiment von Ditfurth was destined for service in North America…'-66.

'The use of mercenary soldiers was not rare in 18th century warfare nor was it unusual for the Landgraves of Hesse-Cassel to provide troops to other nations. As early as 1687, over a thousand soldiers from Hesse-Cassel served under Venetians fighting the Turks. In 1702, 9,000 Hessians served the maritime powers; in 1706, 11,500 were in Italy. England, however, was the best customer of the Landgraves for she had Hessians in her pay for a large part of the 18th Century. The treaty…between the two nations provided for fifteen regiments of Hesse-Cassel troops serving in North America. The treaty did specify, in addition to the payments to be made to the Landgrave, that the troops were to be kept together under their own general and that the sick were to be cared for by their own surgeons. Supplies and equipment were to be provided by the British.'-68.

See also, The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, pages 2-3.

Seems that the term mercenary applied to the assorted Germans contracted by the British government for service in North American is quite accurate.

The quoted narratives above were written by Herbert Knotel, John Elting, and Frederick Todd.

arthur181515 Jul 2021 9:33 a.m. PST

I think part of this debate arises from the term 'mercenary' being regarded now as a far more pejorative term than it was in the past.

Today it is used to refer to individual 'soldiers of fortune' who will fight for anyone who'll pay them well, rather than to members of established national armed forces whose governments agree that they can serve as 'auxiliaries' or 'advisors' to the armed forces of other nations.

It was, perhaps, a useful propaganda ploy by the American rebels by drawing on the xenophobia of many colonists, but if I was being shot or bayonetted I really wouldn't care whether the soldier doing so was British or
German by birth, or whether he was motivated by patriotic spirit, political belief or simply the need to earn some money (which has caused many men to enlist, both then and now).

Personally, I don't have a problem with mercenaries – provided they do not commit treason by fighting against their own country – so long as they do not commit war crimes and fulfil their contract with their employer.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP15 Jul 2021 9:52 a.m. PST

Now that we've thrashed that tangent enough, can we discuss the nonsense that the OP brought up in his first paragraph?
The thread title does mention "British Conduct". Maybe we can run tangents on that for a while.

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