Olaf van Nimwegen on Dutch logistics

Edwin reminded me that Olaf van Nimwegen’s book on Allied logistics in the Low Countries during the War of the Spanish Succession has a lengthy English summary. So I’ve taken the liberty of posting it here, so that non-Dutch readers can see what they’re missing, and maybe it’ll encourage Olaf to get the book translated into English. The transcription is a quick-‘n-dirty OCR, so there may be a few formatting errors.

Olaf van Nimwegen, De subsistentie van het leger: Logistiek en strategie van het Geallieerde en met name het Staatse leger tijdens de Spaanse Successieoorlog in de Nederlanden en het Heilige Roomse Rijk (1701-1712), (Amsterdam: De Bataafsche Leeuw, 1995), 339-344.


During the  War  of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713/14), almost one million soldiers served yearly in the  armies of the  Second Grand Alliance (the  Dutch Republic, England, the Holy Roman Emperor and  a host  of minor powers)  and  those of their opponents, the Two Crowns (France and Spain). At the beginning of the war  field armies numbered between 60,000 and  80,000 men, but from 1708 onwards they increased in size  to more than 120,000. Never before had  Europe seen  such masses. Only with the start of the Napoleonic wars would armies become even  greater. The governments of early modern Europe, however, were  unable to undertake the maintenance of their own  creations. They had  to restrict their role  to supervising and  delegating. Recruiting was left to the company commanders of the infantry and cavalry regiments. Procurement of food (bread and  fodder) was farmed out to merchants specialising in army provisioning.

English historians tend to credit Allied  successes during the war  almost exclusively to John Churchill first Duke  of Marlborough, commander-in­ chief of the Anglo-Dutch field army in the Netherlands from 1702 to 1712, in whom, according to Phelan in his  article on  Marlborough as logistician, “…the art of war  had  found its first and  possibly greatest individual manager’ in the business of war.1  Only at the end of his short study does he  point out Marlborough had dealings with bread purveyors, such as Solomon de Medina and  Leonard and Adriaan van  der  Kaa.z David Chandler also praises Marlborough: “As an administrator, he was also without peer.”3 According to Chandler, attention must first be drawn to Marlborough’s skill  in choosing dedicated members for  his general staff: for example, Quartermaster-General Cadogan, secretary Cardonnel and the English resident in Frankfurt on  the Main, Davenant. Nowhere does he mention, however, the cooperation with the  Dutch officials and  generals, such as Field-marshall Ouwerkerk, Simon van  Slingelandt (secretary of the Council of State  at the Hague), Jacob Hop (Treasurer of the Republic), the Field-Deputies (amongst others Geldermalsen, Goslinga, Vegilin van Claerbergen), the Receiver of the Contributions Pesters, Quartermaster­ General Dopff  and  the Generals Coehoorn, Albemarle, Tilly, Hompesch, Ivoy, to name but a few. The provediteurs or bread-purveyors are mentioned but briefly, and  moreover, unjustly, in a negative sense. “The bulk bread contractors…were for  the most part Spanish or Dutch Jews of varying reliability and  venality.”4 And  at the end  of his study he writes:

It is true that the  administrative systems he [Marlborough] inherited were often inefficient and  rudimentary, but close supervision of the responsible

* I thank Mr. T.A. Anderson, Captain, U.S.A.F., for correcting the  draft text.

[339] authorities kept such bread contractors as Solomon and Moses Medina and Vanderkaa up to the mark, or revealed the fraudulent practises of the less scrupulous who included Machado and Solomon Abraham.5

It is not difficult to explain this. English  historians have all made extensive use of the same  sources, namely Murray’s Letters and dispatches (1845) and Snyder’s Marlborough-Godolphin correspondence (1975). The former does contain some material concerned with  logistics, but the greater part is as “matters of detail” omitted. Snyder points out that in the archives of Blenheim Palace “troop musters, forage contracts, and correspondence with kings, princes, and foreign ministers and generals abound.” This material was collected by Cardonnel. Nothing of this, however, is used by Snyder, because it did not relate to his subject.6 Moreover, most English publications on the War of the Spanish Succession, and indeed most Austrian, are biographical in nature. Because of this, English historians tend to portray Marlborough as a military genius whose plans were constantly frustrated by the overcautious or jealous Dutch. This is not correct. With the exception of the autumn of 1703 and the second half of 1705 Marlborough and  the Dutch generals and Field Deputies cooperated very successfully with each other. The War of the Spanish Succession was a joint  venture. By taking care of the logistics of the Allied army and putting the greatest number of soldiers in the field, the  Dutch Republic enabled Marlborough, as Allied commander, to operate succesfully. At the end of 1711, when Marlborough had to defend himself against accusations of corruption, he pointed out”…that it is well known our army  in Flanders has been  duly supplied with bread during the whole war, and has received it with an exactness that will be hardly thought consistent with secrecy, and sudenness of some of the  motions that have been  made.”7

Lack of research about the logistics  of the Allied army  and unfamiliarity with Dutch sources, have hitherto prevented English  historians from revising  their view of the military side of the War of Spanish Succession. The Dutch  historian Wijn has given a much more  balanced view of the conflict than for example Chandler, but he also restricted himself to the more traditional aspects  of military history. He pays only slight attention to logistics. This is very unfortunate because food supply was at the  heart of the art and the conduct of the war, and sometimes it was even the aim of war itself. During the campaign on the Moselle in 1705 and in the Netherlands in 1707 for example, hardly a musket was fired.

The Council of State in The Hague and the Treasury in London took care of the food supply of the Allied army, whereby the latter almost always followed the example of the former. The influence of the Council  of State was not limited to the material aspects of the war. Decisions of strategic and financial importance were only reached after a committee of the Estates General had held  a conference with four to five delegates of the Council. One of the most important functions of the Council was the presentation of petitions to the Estates General. In these, the  costs of a [340] year of the war were estimated by the Treasurer General  of the Union. The expenses of the  food supply  were contained in two petitions: those  of bread as part  of the  petitie voor de legerlasten, and  those of forage in the petities voor de fouragemagazijnen.

Each year merchants could  tender for the bread- and forage contracts. Between 1672 and 1707, though, this  was only a formality, because the contracts were always given to Moses alias Antonio Alvares Machado, provediteur-generaal van de Staat, a Dutch Sephardic Jew. After the Glorious  Revolution (1688) he also provisioned the English troops. No one was as skillful, financially and technically, as Machado when it came to organizing the bread  and fodder supply of tens of thousands of soldiers and horses. The provediteur received  from  the Council  a loan to the amount of half the value of the rye he had to buy. The rest and  all other expenses, such as transport costs, tolls, milling en baking, he had  to pay for himself.s

The Dutch Republic and England had agreed they would try to recover  the Spanish Netherlands by using  all their forces. In 1702 the Dutch  paid for 102,000 troops  (42,000 in garrisons) and England for 40,000. Until 1708 bread was supplied to the combined Anglo-Dutch field army using the rule-of-thumb of two English soldiers for every three paid by the Dutch. Between 1708 and 1713, however, a ratio of three to five was applied. Machado had therefore to supply bread to 50,000 Dutch and 30,000 to 35,000 English  soldiers. After his death (16 December 1706) the  Dutch share  increased from  62,500 men in 1709, to 95,000 in 1710, after  which it decreased to 80,000 in 1711 and 1712 because more  troops were needed to garrison the many  captured fortresses. The English  provediteurs had to supply 37,500, 57,000 and 48,000 men respectively.

To enable the forage merchants to buy provisions, they received an advance (anticipatie) per ration to the amount of the  difference between the contracted prize and 6 stuivers. The 6 stuivers were deducted from the soldiers’ pay. The advance was seldom paid in full and  on time. This meant that the merchants often had to wait months or even years before they received their payment. The provediteurs and the forage merchants were themselves responsible for settling the accounts with the troops. As a result they often had to wait for several years on their money.

With the exception of sieges, armies burnt little powder until the First World War. During the War of the  Spanish Succession one or two pounds of lead and  powder were deemed sufficient per soldier for the entire campaign. The infantry and cavalry consumed about 100,000 pounds of powder during a battle and the artillery 9,000 pounds. Sieges, however, were much more costly. The siege of an average fortress required 1,000 shot per canon, 600 bombs  and grenades per mortar and howitzer respectively, and at least  700,000 pounds of powder.  All siege artillery was supplied by the Dutch;  the English only had field  artillery. The draught horses for pulling the  artillery pieces and munition carts were rented.

To what extent were strategy and the course of the operations influenced by logistics? It was impossible for an army to operate without bread. And [341] since there were not enough windmills and ovens available in the cities of the Netherlands to grind and bake for the  army and the inhabitants at the same time, provisions of Prussian rye (two thirds flour), enough for a total of 150 to 160 days, were stocked in 5 or 6 magazines before the  opening of the campaign. The largest magazines were established in two or three very strong fortresses in the  rear of the  army. This made  it possible  to attack on a wide front. Farther away, two smaller magazines were stocked  in case the  army  had  to retreat. Between 1702 and 1706, magazines were established each year in Bergen op Zoom [and] Maastricht. This made it possible to attack Antwerp and Namur respectively. Bread was carried to the army using carts or wagons. Up to a distance of 40 kilometers (a two days’ march) the carts or wagons could travel within four days to and from the magazine to the army  to deliver a new load for four  days. In 1705, the Allied army suffered from  a shortage of bread because Marlborough had failed to capture Louvain, with the result that the distance between the army and the magazines on the Meuse became too great. To prevent this from happening again, the number of breadwagons was doubled and a ‘good  provision’ of flour was stocked  in Zoutleeuw, halfway Louvain and Maastricht.

The Allied victory  at Ramillies (23 May 1706) was the  turning-point in the war. Ramillies was remarkable in two respects: firstly,  it was one of those rare battles which both sides had deliberately sought, but even more importantly, was the early date at which the battle had been fought, namely at the beginning of the campaigning season. This meant that the Allies had more than five months to make conquests. In Louvain,  Malines and Gand the provisions stocked  for the French army were captured almost intact by the Allies, which meant that the advance could be continued without any loss of time.

With the fall of Antwerp on 6 June 1706, the War of the Spanish Succession entered a new stage. The great cities  of Brabant and Flanders had  no significant fortifications. For their safety they had depended on the ‘lines of Brabant’ and the French field army. With the decision to attack Menin the Allies penetrated the pre carre or fortified zone protecting the  Northern frontier of France. The fortresses of the frontiere de fer were all very strong. This meant that the Allies would  have to systematically conquer fortress after fortress before they could enter France itself. An alternative for this very costly strategy did not  exist. No army could ignore or bypass a enemy fortress without exposing its lines of communications to grave dangers. Were the supply  lines cut, the army would  almost immediately be without bread.

Magazines stocked with rye made it possible for an army to operate everywhere and as long as it was required. Without them warfare in the Netherlands, an area covered with fortresses, was impossible. Siege warfare demanded that the armies spent most of their time in encampments. For every 10 days during the War of the Spanish Succession, eight or nine  were spent in a camp. The length of the encampements varied  from 1 day to 118 days (siege of Lille in 1708). If the [342] armies had ravaged the countryside in search for food in the same way as had been the case during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), the much bigger Allied and French armies of the War of the  Spanish Succession would never have been able to operate for so long in such a small theatre of war as the  Netherlands.

The magazine system gave an army virtual freedom of action as far as its bread was concerned. This solution was only partly applicable to the supply of forage. As a rule, campaigns were not opened until the grass had grown sufficiently for the horses  to eat. Usually not before the middle or the end  of May. It was impossible to supply the army in the field with dry forage (oats, hay and  straw) during the entire campaigning season. Not only would  the costs become prohibitively high,  but  apart from  that there were also practical reasons which made it unfeasible. On average a ration of dry forage weighed 12 kilograms. Dry forage could therefore only be carried from the magazine to the army over a maximum distance of 10 to 15 kilometers. Otherwise the horses would  be ruined. This meant that an army would literally be shackled to its magazines. From 1710 onwards the Allies, however, did use special  forage magazines, called reservemagazijnen, to get a head start at the beginning of a campaign. This enabled them to enter into the field 30 to 40 days before the French army could  be concentrated. In this way the Allies had been in a position to besiege Douai unopposed in 1710. That these magazines could not be used to same  effect in the next two years was due  to the unexpected death of emperor Joseph and  the effective  counter-measures of Marshall Montesquiou who blocked  all crossing on the river Sensee respectively. Between May and October forage as a rule was collected in the field. Until the harvest (August) the standing crop was simply mowen by the troops, after that the farmers’ storehouses were emptied. Once the area  around the army  had been  cleared of all forage,  the commander-in-chief had no alternative than to look for a new camp. This could  have very serious consequences. In 1703, for example, the Allied army commanded by Obdam was almost destroyed at the  battle of Ekeren, because Marlborough and Ouwerkerk had crossed the Jeker  too soon. By the end  of June  all forage between the Jeker and  the Meuse had been eaten. As a result they were no longer able to pin down the main French army in the South. The failure of the Moselle campaign of 1705 was for a great part  the result of the lack of forage between the vineyards. By systematically devastating the country side round about a city, a siege could be made impossible, because the attackers would  not  be able to feed their horses. Marshall Villars used  this  tactic with  great success  in 1709 and 1710 to prevent the siege of Douai and Arras respectively.

The War of the Spanish Succession was the last war in which the Dutch Republic participated as a great power. Forty years of almost continuous warfare with France exhausted the Dutch finances. Each year the Dutch had had to bear the brunt of the fighting. Not only had  they contributed the greatest share  of soldiers, they also had  to undertake all the sieges. Wijn has shown that many  accusations of Dutch  timidity were false and [344] that the Dutch had a much greater share in the Allied victories then is admitted or is deliberately left out by English and Austrian historians. That the entire system of supply for the Allied army was organized by Dutch merchants under the supervision of the Council of State and the Estates-General has, up to now, received hardly any attention. Hopefully this study will help  to give to the provediteurs, the Council of State, the Field-Deputies and the Dutch generals the  recognition they deserve.”


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3 responses to “Olaf van Nimwegen on Dutch logistics”

  1. Erik Lund says :

    “Mowen.” Hee. Thanks for posting this, Jamel. I may have hinted at some point, somewhere, just how important I consider the forage issue to be for unlocking key historical puzzles, and this is a good summary of some of the important issues.

  2. Martin Jourdan says :

    Is Olaf Van N still around?

    • jostwald says :

      I haven’t heard from Olaf in several years. I don’t even think I have any contact info. One of the problems with EMEMH: so few jobs that people drop out or don’t have many opportunities to reconnect.

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