Wednesday 18 October 2023

The Potato War

The Potato War. Discuss. This new book in Helion’s ‘from Reason to Revolution’ series delves into what to many readers is a conflict that may have passed them by, or they may have heard of it by what it was called by contemporaries, that is, the aforementioned ‘Potato War’, so named as the troops spent more time trying to find food and other provisions rather than actually fighting the enemy.

What makes this short war of particular interest is that it was Frederick the Great’s last war and arguably marked the beginning of the decline of the famed Prussian army of the preceding years of the eighteenth century.

The author begins with introducing his approach to writing about the war, whereby he aims to give a balanced account of the capabilities of the Prussian army. His analysis of the road to war, the armies involved and of taking a fresh view of the organisation capabilities of the Prussian military machine is clearly presented. He also provides a good account of the armies of the Austro-Hungarians and Saxons. For a war largely devoid of battles the chapter covering the war itself is full of detail regarding troop movements and what actual combat there was largely restricted to the ‘Klein Krieg’ of skirmishes (at which the Austrians excelled) and the occasional bombardment.

The book is illustrated with many contemporary black and white images, some of which are new to me, and eight striking colour plates showing some of the uniforms of the troops involved. These are really good, and I particularly like the last one depicting a Saxon jäger in a very unusual hat.

There are also three appendices, which will be of particular interest to war gamers looking for something a little different as they provide very detailed orders of battle of the Imperial and Royal Austrian army and the allied Prussian and Saxon forces. The final appendix gives a breakdown of the composition of the Prussian army in 1778, and it might be interesting perhaps to compare this with the Prussians at the close of the Seven Year’s War.

This is a well written and researched book, using many primary German language sources supported by a wide range of secondary sources. As a fascinating and rare English language account of a little known war, it should be of great interest to anyone attracted to the campaigns and life of Frederick the Great.


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