War Of The Austrian Succession (1740-1748). This war began with the invasion of Silesia by Frederick II. of Prussia in 1740, and was ended by the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) in 1748. After 1741 nearly all the powers of Europe were involved in the struggle, but the most enduring interest of the war lies in the struggle of Prussia and Austria for Silesia. Southwest Germany, the Low Countries and Italy were, as usual, the battle-grounds of France and Austria. The constant allies of France and Prussia were Spain and Bavaria; various other powers at intervals joined them. The cause of Austria was supported almost as a matter of course by England and Holland, the traditional enemies of France. Of Austria's allies from time to time Sardinia and Saxony were the most important.
1. Frederick's Invasion of Silesia, 1740. - Prussia in 1740 was a small, compact and thoroughly organized power, with an army 100,000 strong. The only recent war service of this army had been in the desultory Rhine campaign of 1733-35. It was therefore regarded as one of the minor armies of Europe, and few thought that it could rival the forces of Austria and France. But it was drilled to a perfection not hitherto attained, and the Prussian infantry soldier was so well trained and equipped that he could fire five shots to the Austrian's three, though the cavalry and artillery were less efficient. But the initial advantage of Frederick's army was that it had, undisturbed by wars, developed the standing army theory to full effect. While the Austrians had to wait for drafts to complete the field forces, Prussian regiments could take the field at once, and thus Frederick was able to overrun Silesia almost unopposed. His army was concentrated quietly upon the Oder, and without declaration of war, on the 16th of December 1740, it crossed the frontier into Silesia. The Austrian generals could do no more than garrison a few fortresses, and with the small remnant of their available forces fell back to the mountain frontier of Bohemia and Moravia. The Prussian army was soon able to go into winter quarters, holding all Silesia and investing the strong places of Glogau, Brieg and Neisse.
2. Silesian Campaign of 1741. - In February 1741, the Austrians collected a field army under Count Neipperg (1684-1774) and made preparations to reconquer Silesia. The Austrians in Neisse and Brieg still held out. Glogau, however, was stormed on the night of the 9th of March, the Prussians, under Prince Leopold (the younger) of Anhalt-Dessau, executing their task in one hour with a mathematical precision which excited universal admiration. But the Austrian army in Moravia was now in the field, and Frederick's cantonments were dispersed over all Upper Silesia. It was a work of the greatest difficulty to collect the army, for the ground was deep in snow, and before it was completed Neisse was relieved and the Prussians cut off from their own country by the march of Neipperg from Neisse on Brieg; a few days of slow manoeuvring between these places ended in the battle of Mollwitz (10th April 1741), the first pitched battle fought by Frederick and his army. The Prussian right wing of cavalry was speedily routed, but the day was retrieved by the magnificent discipline and tenacity of the infantry.
The Austrian cavalry was shattered in repeated attempts to ride them down, and before the Prussian volleys the Austrian infantry, in spite of all that Neipperg and his officers could do, gradually melted away. After a stubborn contest the Prussians remained masters of the field. Frederick himself was far away. He had fought in the cavalry mêlée, but after this, when the battle seemed lost, he had been persuaded by Field Marshal Schwerin to ride away. Schwerin thus, like Marshal Saxe at Fontenoy, remained behind to win the victory, and the king narrowly escaped being captured by wandering Austrian hussars. The immediate result of the battle was that the king secured Brieg, and Neipperg fell back to Neisse, where he maintained himself and engaged in a war of manoeuvre during the summer. But Europe realized suddenly that a new military power had arisen, and France sent Marshal Belleisle to Frederick's camp to negotiate an alliance. Thenceforward the "Silesian adventure" became the War of the Austrian Succession. The elector of Bavaria's candidature for the imperial dignity was to be supported by a French "auxiliary" army, and other French forces were sent to observe Hanover. Saxony was already watched by a Prussian army under Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau, the "old Dessauer," who had trained the Prussian army to its present perfection.
The task of Sweden was to prevent Russia from attacking Prussia, but her troops were defeated, on the 3rd of September 1741, at Wilmanstrand by a greatly superior Russian army, and in 1742 another great reverse was sustained in the capitulation of Helsingfors. In central Italy an army of Neapolitans and Spaniards was collected for the conquest of the Milanese.
3. The Allies in Bohemia. - The French duly joined the elector's forces on the Danube and advanced on Vienna; but the objective was suddenly changed, and after many countermarches the allies advanced, in three widely-separated corps, on Prague. A French corps moved via Amberg and Pilsen. The elector marched on Budweis, and the Saxons (who had now joined the allies) invaded Bohemia by the Elbe valley. The Austrians could at first offer little resistance, but before long a considerable force intervened at Tabor between the Danube and the allies, and Neipperg was now on the march from Neisse to join in the campaign. He had made with Frederick the curious agreement of Klein Schnellendorf (9th October 1741), by which Neisse was surrendered after a mock siege, and the Austrians undertook to leave Frederick unmolested in return for his releasing Neipperg's army for service elsewhere. At the same time the Hungarians, moved to enthusiasm by the personal appeal of Maria Theresa, had put into the field a levée en masse, or "insurrection," which furnished the regular army with an invaluable force of light troops.