The 1st Schleswig-Holstein War
|Danish vs Schleswig-Holstein, Prussian & German Federation|
Schleswig and Holstein were two duchies on the German/Danish border that were, after an agreement of 1460, "eternally linked" and ruled by a male Royal heir. In 1848, this ruler was the Danish King Frederik VII, and, as a Danish King had held this position for centuries, the Danes considered the two linked Duchies as part of the Danish kingdom.
Holstein, however, had a population almost exclusively German, and was a member of the German Federation. Schleswig, on the other hand, had a population of both Germans (in the north) and Danes (in the south).
In 1848, the German liberals of Schleswig declared secession from Denmark's autocratic rule: stating that they intended to set up a free constitution, affiliate with Holstein properly, and join the German Federation. They were backed by both Prussia and the German Federation.
The Danes objected strongly and stated that Schleswig was actually part of the Danish Kingdom anyway, and should now be formally recognised as such and annexed accordingly.
On 24th March 1848, Schleswig-Holstein insurgents captured the fortress of Rendsburg. The result, unsurprisingly, was war: with the Prussians and German Federation backing Schleswig-Holstein.
The 1848 Campaign
The Schleswig-Holstein army (about 7000 strong), keen to win independence without the intervention of their allies, advanced northwards to Bov/Flensberg, but were forced to retreat after being defeated by the Danes on 9th April 1848 in what was really a large scale skirmish.
Joined by a division of Prussians (some 12,000 men) and a division of German Federation troops (some 10,000 men), the Schleswig-Holstein army (approx. 6,000 men) inflicted a defeat on the Danes at Busdorf (The Battle of Schleswig) on 23th April 1848, although the outnumbered Danish army (approx. 18,000 men) carried out an ordered withdrawal and so remained largely intact.
The Danes fell back to Flensberg but, made overconfident by the way that they had survived the Battle of Schleswig against a numerically superior enemy, and believing the Prussians, who had done most of the fighting, to be incapable of following up, neglected to post more than a token rearguard. This led to disaster when the German Federation troops, unbloodied at Schleswig and keen to prove themselves, carried out an eager pursuit, and, on 24th April 1848, hit the back of the Danish army at Oeversee. Some parts of the Danish rearguard were captured after fierce skirmishing, the rest managed to flee to the main body of the army but only managed to panic them as well ("the Prussians are coming, the Prussians are coming!").
The Danes retreated across the Als Sound, followed by the Allies. On 28th May 1848, 14,000 Danes counterattacked the Allied forces across the Als Sound at Dybbol, and forced them back towards Graasten and Adsboel.
Both sides dug in, and apart from a few fierce skirmishes, nothing more of note happened before the end of the 1848 campaigning season.
The 1849 Campaign
The campaign of 1849 started (3rd April) with a Schleswig-Holstein & German invasion of Southern Jutland with 61.000 men. There were 46.000 German soldiers in three divisions: the First Division was Kurhessian-Bavarian; the Second was Hanoverian; and the Third, Prussian. They were accompanied by the Schleswig-Holstein army of 16.000 men.
The Danes needed to protect northern Jutland and withdrew most of their army far northwards, leaving 15,000 troops on the strategically important Island of Als (from where they could threaten the Allied line of communication and be easily re-supplied and supported by the superior Danish navy); and a 7,000-strong garrison in the Fortress of Frederica (again threatening the potential Allied line of communication and again protected by the Danish fleet).
The Allies split their forces: 20,000 Federation troops protected the line of communication from the Danish forces on Als at Sundeved; the whole Schleswig-Holstein army laid siege to Frederica; and the rest followed the remaining Danes, fighting several small scale actions before the Danes withdrew onto another peninsular at Helgenaes.
This left the Danes in a strong position. The Allies could not advance further north without making sure that the Danes were contained, or they risked being attacked in their rear. Unfortunately, once they had assigned enough troops to contain the Danes, they didn't have any left for further advances! The Danes were also receiving supplies by sea, so couldn't be starved out of their positions and, technically, could very quickly concentrate their forces, again using their fleet to do so.
At seige at Frederica began on the 9th of May and, at first, although they managed to construct a series of four redoubts, the Schleswig-Holstein forces made no headway against the defenders: the Danish garrison being rotated on and off the island of Funen and so remaining fresh and at full strength.
Then the Schleswig-Holsteiners began to construct two more redoubts, on the beach, that effectively threatened to cut the fortress off from the sea, and the Danes decided to break out. They used a feint of two sea borne landings, and attacked late at night (1am on 6th July 1849), after one of their divisions failed to receive its orders in time for a daylight action. This worked to their advantage as the weary Schleswig-Holsteiners had gone to bed after spending all day on the 5th on alert against a possible Danish attack!
The Danish attack was successful, although their General Olav Rye was killed, and the Schleswig-Hostein army fell back in a south-westerly direction. As neither side was now in a strategically sound position, an armistice was agreed, and all German troops were withdrawn from Danish territory. This was the end of the 1849 campaign.
After pressure from Russia, the Prussians and German Federation withdrew their support for Schleswig-Holstein's cause, but the Duchy determined to go it alone and, by July 1850 had advanced their army (now 30,000 strong and headed by a mercenary Prussian general) from Schleswig to Isted, where they dug in and awaited the Danes.
The Danes duly advanced, and made contact on 24th July: a significant skirmish being fought before nightfall. On 25th July 1850, the Danes attacked again. Although the two wings of the Schleswig-Holstein army held, the centre crumbled after a series of three implacable Danish attacks.
The Schleswig-Holstein army fell back, with the Danes following cautiously. A Schleswig-Holstein counterattack was fought at Mysunde on 12th September 1850, but the action did not dislodge the Danes, who consolidated their position and kept the pressure on.
Further actions at Fredrickstadt ("the siege of Fredrickstadt") and a further attempt to dislodge the Danes at Mysunde on 31st December also proved futile, and the forces of Schleswig-Holstein conceded defeat.
In the Treaty of London, signed in 1852, the Danes agreed not to try and annex Schleswig, although this treaty was not subscribed to by the entire German Federation.
In 1864, things came to a head again...
The British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, famously said that only three people had ever known the answer to the Schleswig-Holstein question, and of these, the first, Prince Albert was dead; the second, a Foreign Office official, was mad; and the third and last, he himself, had known the answer but had now forgotten it"