Were Frederick the Great's multiple wars against Austria for possession of Silesia sensible from a strategic perspective?

Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
One of the reasons for the conquest of Silesia was not just its proximity to the Kingdom of Prussia, but also its highly valuable industrial and mining resources, which was a significant economic boon to both Austria and later Prussia. The acquisition of this territory at least partially help fund Frederick's military and his future campaigns in the Seven Years War, so from an economic perspective the war made sense. But when one examines the balance sheet of military power, the odds were always against Prussia, even when just facing Austria in the first two Silesian Wars, and obviously the odds were most dramatically stacked against them during the Seven Years War, where they took on the three great Continental powers at once (Austria, Russia, France) with only Great Britain as an ally. Obviously the quality of the Prussian army was superb in the early stages of the war and proved itself many times, but even with the additional economic boon on Silesia the Prussian economy simply could not support the war for an extended period of time, since the country's economy was significantly smaller and weaker than any other major powers', just like their population, which would have especially damaging consequences as multiple Prussian armies were destroyed while Frederick's enemies could keep building new armies and drawing from a much larger recruitable population. This raises the question of how Frederick realistically thought he could emerge from these wars victorious, especially the Seven Years War. The extent of his strategic planning seemed to be to knock out Saxony from the war early, but.... what after that? Saxony was the most minor power he was up against, and it was obvious that Prussia would never be able to win a war of attrition, as it eventually ended up being.

I haven't read any detailed study of the war yet, though I am intending on soon. So, additionally, if any of you had any recommendations for a history of the Seven Years War in the European theatre, that'd be much appreciated.
 
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pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,637
More resources does not mean more mobiliziblle resoucres. Prussia under Frederick was just much more effecient, the Prusisans got something like double the reveune after costs that the Austrians did form Silesia. for example. Austria and France were not well managed highly centralised bearucartic states, Prussia was.

Prussian maintained a much larger per capita army, about half the Prussian army were non Prussians, widespread recuitment in other nations (particlurly HRE but other places) was still going on. Population was not the limiting factor with armies, paying for troops was. And Prussia could afford it;s army much more than other Nations.

By a combination of prudent spending (compared to other monarchies very ltttle was wasted on expensive fripperies, palaces and overheads) brutal exploitation (Saxony) and just better administration.

Prussia was sucessful in the wars mainly because other nations ran out of money to stay in the field the longest.

Frefericks penny pinching eventually started to serious under cut the Prussian army. The centralised recuiting pool introduced later meant regiments no longer cared much about recuits because they were no longer their recuirts but simply a quota to be met. Capatins in the Prussia army used to get teh pay of troops on leave and native Prussian troops (the canton troops) were on leave for most of the year. being a captain in teh early Prussian army was very lucrative, COlonels and Generals maintained one of more cpatains troops as this was their major way of making money. When the system was abolished by Frederick , officers pay became very poor. One of teh reaosns the Prussian officer corps was so old in 1806 was they could not afford to retire.
 
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Apr 2017
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Frederick hoped to knock both Saxony and Austria out of the war early by seizing bohemia and marching into Austria proper forcing Maria Theresa to negotiate. They also had the financial support of Britain and its german allies. The war however lasted significantly longer than what was expected. Frederick kept his personal fortune in reserve to rebuild the country after the war.
 
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Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
The war however lasted significantly longer than what was expected.
But why would he expect it to be over quickly when the military and economic beasts of France and Russia were also at war with them? Austria would never surrender and make peace while these two countries were actively fighting the Prussians.
 
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Apr 2017
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But why would he expect it to be over quickly when the military and economic beasts of France and Russia were also at war with them? Austria would never surrender and make peace while these two countries were actively fighting the Prussians.
France was almost a non issue to the Prussians as Hannover/Britain and other german states would keep them occupied. The war was coming whether Frederick wanted it or not, so might as well try to win it. The plan was to knockout Saxony and Austria quickly by smashing deep into their territory, this would then scare Russia out of the war. Russia was very slow to mobilize and was horrible at logistics. Austria had also performed poorly in the last war, their better organization came as a surprise to everyone.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,239
SoCal
Silesia is a very wealthy province, so yes. This also explains why Austria fought so hard to try and get it back. It wasn't just prestige, even though that was a large part of it, too.
It makes one wonder if Austria would have aimed to recapture Silesia from Prussia with a victory as late as 1866.

France was almost a non issue to the Prussians as Hannover/Britain and other german states would keep them occupied. The war was coming whether Frederick wanted it or not, so might as well try to win it. The plan was to knockout Saxony and Austria quickly by smashing deep into their territory, this would then scare Russia out of the war. Russia was very slow to mobilize and was horrible at logistics. Austria had also performed poorly in the last war, their better organization came as a surprise to everyone.
It's amazing just how far Prussia's fortunes had turned between 1761 and 1795. In 1761, it was fighting for its life whereas in 1795 it was relative secure and comfortable--with a boatload of new formerly Polish territory, to boot!
 
Apr 2017
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It makes one wonder if Austria would have aimed to recapture Silesia from Prussia with a victory as late as 1866.


It's amazing just how far Prussia's fortunes had turned between 1761 and 1795. In 1761, it was fighting for its life whereas in 1795 it was relative secure and comfortable--with a boatload of new formerly Polish territory, to boot!
Which it quickly lost.
 
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nuclearguy165

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
4,816
Ohio, USA
It lost a huge part of it but not all of it. It got to keep the Polish Corridor other than Danzig even under Napoleon and in 1814-1815 it was able to recover both Danzig and Posen Province.
The largest Prussian gains from the Treaty of Paris and Congress of Vienna were in 2/5 of Saxony. Those areas were wealthy enough that it more than made up for the loss of many of their Polish possessions.