The War of the Spanish Succession


The Battle of Vigo Bay in 1701

War of the Spanish Succession (1701 – 1714)
This major conflict raged for 13 years at the beginning of the century and contained two of the three largest battles fought anywhere in the world in the 18th Century – Oudenarde in 1708 and Malpauquet in 1709, both of which had about 160,000 combatants.

Great Britain was a major player, Winston Churchill’s ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, commanded the Allied armies at both Oudenarde and Malpauquet and many British troops took part. The Act of Union in 1707 occurred during the war and at the outset England and Scotland were listed as separate combatants. It was mostly fought in western Europe but had a North American theatre with small detachments of British and French regular troops with colonial militia and Native American allies; Iroquois in the case of the British and Wakaniki in the French case. This was a small-scale war in the wildernesses for control of key towns and forts, known also as Queen Anne’s war.
Conflict arose when Charles II, the last Hapsburg King of Spain died childless in 1700, having left his throne to his grandnephew Philip, Duc d’Anjou, the second eldest grandson of King Louis XIV of France. Other great powers were alarmed by the extension of French power into Spain and formed a Grand Alliance to press the claim of a Hapsburg candidate – Austrian Archduke Charles.

Spain divided along tribal lines, with Castille, including Madrid, supporting the Bourbon Anjou and Aragon (Catalonia) supporting the Hapsburg Charles. Two opposing alliances formed – France, Bavaria, Naples, Sicily and Mantua supported the Bourbon candidate whilst Austria, Britain, Dutch Republic, Prussia, Portugal, Savoy and Hanover supported the Hapsburg claimant, known as the Grand Alliance.

At the battle of Vigo Bay in 1701, a British / Dutch fleet captured a Spanish treasure convoy of 3 ships intact and captured or destroyed its entire French escort fleet of 15 ships of the line; in 1704 2,000 British and Dutch troops attacked and captured Gibraltar.
The Alliance was successful in defeating the Bourbons in continental Europe at the battles of Blenheim, Oudenarde, Malpauquet and Ramillies, albeit at a heavy cost, and overrunning the Spanish Netherlands (Belgium) before staging an invasion of Spain in 1710. The Hapsburg allies however began to falter; the Tories came to power in Britain in the same year with policy of ending the war. Britain ceased military operations in 1712, but the other allies fought on hoping for a greater share of the spoils to offset the huge cost of the war – the main reason that Britain withdrew. The Hapsburg invasion of Spain was defeated at the battle of Villaviciosa in 1710 and Philip confirmed as King. The treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Rastatt (1714) allowed Philip to keep Spain and South America, but he lost most of his European territories to Austria and ceded Gibraltar to Britain.


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Great War Statistics – U-Boat and Merchant Shipping


Great War - Shipping Losses

1 British and Neutral Merchant Tonnage Sunk (1,000 tons) – by Cause

Britain 7,760
Norway 1,177
France 889
Italy 846
USA 395
Other Countries 1,785
Total 12,852

2 Entente and Neutral Merchant Tonnage Sunk (1,000 tons) – By Country

Germany 187
Turkey 62
Austria-Hungary 15
Total 264

3 Central Powers Merchant Tonnage Sunk (1,000 tons) – By Country


Great War - U Boat Losses

4 U-Boat Losses 1914-1918


Rank Name 1,000 tons
KK Lothar von Arnauld de la Periere 400
KL Walther Forstmann 380
KK Max Valentiner 300
KL Hans Rose 210
KL Otto Streinbrink 210
KL Waldemar Kophamel 190
KL Walther Schweiger 190
KL Hans von Mellenthin 170
KL Claus Rücker 170
KL Otto Wünsche 160
OL Reinhold Salzwedel 150
OL Wolfgang Steinbauer 140
KL Konrad Gansser 140
KL Robert Moraht 130
KL Willhelm Werner 130
KL Leo Hillebrand 130
KL Otto Schultze 130
KL Rudolf Schneider 130
KL Ernst Hashagen 130
KL Kurt Hartwig 130

5 Top Twenty U-Boat Aces 1914-1918

Sources used for statistics

Savereo John 2017


The Battle of Heligoland Bight (1914)

churchill and tirpitz 2

Alfred von Tirpitz and Winston Churchill


Battle of Heligoland Bight (28th Aug 1914)

Entente – 5 battlecruisers, 8 light cruisers, 33 destroyers, 8 submarines

Central Powers – 6 light cruisers, 19 torpedo boats, 12 minesweepers

Result – Entente victory


Entente – 1 light cruiser and 3 destroyers damaged. 35 dead, 45 wounded

Central Powers – 3 light cruisers, 1 destroyer, 2 torpedo boats sunk and 3 light cruisers, 3 destroyers damaged. 715 dead, 149 wounded, 338 POW.

This was the first full-scale naval battle of the Great War.

By the end of Aug 1914, the war on land for the Entente looked grim. On the western front, the Germans had overrun Belgium, and in the east, they had turned inflicted such a defeat at the battle of Tannenberg that the Russian commander, Gen Alexander Samsonov, shot himself.

The war at sea was a different story. As soon as war was declared all the telegraph cables between Germany and the outside world were cut. A minefield was laid across the Straits of Dover with lanes patrolled by submarines and airships. The North Sea was declared a war zone patrolled by destroyers, submarines and weaponised trawlers. A blockade was imposed on all goods, even food and medicine. Germany’s GDP was the 2nd highest in the world in 1914, but the blockade ended the multi-billion dollar trade with the Americas and crippled the economy.

To counter bad news from France, First Sea Lord Winston Churchill a ordered a flotilla from Harwich to ambush a regular patrol north of the main German base at Willhelshaven.

Attacking in patchy fog, they achieved complete surprise and despite poor visibility, sheer weight of numbers won out and the Germans took heavy losses. In the final action, two German cruisers, SMS Arethusa and the flagship Cöln, were caught by the flagship of Grand Fleet, the 26,000 ton HMS Lion and sunk, with the dead including the German Commander Rear Admiral Leberecht Maas. The British picked up over 300 German survivors before withdrawing, including Wolfgang von Tirpitz, son of Winston Churchill’s opposite number in the Kreigsmarine – Großadmiral Alfred von Tirpitz.

The Entente followed a containment policy in the North Sea from this point on and relied on the long term effect of the economic blockade to cause the most harm to the enemy. By the wars end, 400,000 German civilians would be dead from shortages of food and medicines; the biggest impact came from the end of imported fertilisers which caused agricultural yields to fall at a time when Germany needed to become self-sufficient in food.

The Germans for their part realised the futility of trying to match the British ship for ship. Instead they looked to attack commerce with surface raiders stationed in the oceans and the new naval weapon, and the one for which the Kriegsmarine would become famous – the U-Boat.


Copyright ©2017 Savereo John