Thursday, 11 June 2015

1864

I finally managed to watch the last episode of the Danish TV/film series 1864 last night ... and my feelings afterwards were somewhat mixed.


The TV/film series was produced to mark to 150th anniversary of the war between Denmark and Prussia which ended with Denmark losing control of the Duchies of Schleswig, Holstein, and Lauenburg.

This painting was used as a backdrop to the opening titles of the TV/film series.
Whilst the battle scenes are extremely well done, I felt the rest of the TV/film series rather fell flat in places. Social conditions in mid-nineteenth century Denmark were shown to be very jingoistic and class-ridden, and – for those who did the majority of the work – quite realistically grim. There seemed to be a degree of sexual content in the TV/film series that did not always seem appropriate or necessary to the story-line. In addition, some of the characters – particularly the German military and political leaders – were portrayed in a style that made them seem rather too much like caricatures or cartoon villains.

One thing that did come across very well was the impact that losing the Second Schleswig War had upon Denmark. Before the war she was a country of some importance in Europe; after it she was consigned to the sidelines.

A brief history of the Second Schleswig War of 1864
As a consequence of the Treaty of Vienna (1815), the Unified Monarchy of Denmark saw its position of power in northern Europe considerably reduced. It was forced to cede Norway to Sweden, and henceforth only comprised the Kingdom of Denmark and the Duchies of Schleswig, Holstein, and Lauenburg (which was handed over to Denmark by Hanover), of which the King of Denmark was hereditary Duke. Of these Duchies, Holstein and Lauenburg – but not Schleswig – were members of the German Confederation, and the majority of their inhabitants spoke German and not Danish.

After 1815 liberalism and nationalism took hold within Denmark, and it eventually led to the creation of two national liberal movements within Denmark:
  • A Danish-Schleswig one centred upon Copenhagen and
  • A German-Schleswig-Holstein one with its base in Kiel.
Both sides claimed Schleswig as theirs, and matters were not helped by the fact that most of the population of the northern part of the Duchy spoke Danish whilst those in the south spoke German. This internal tension led to the outbreak of a civil war within the Unified Monarchy (the First Schleswig War), which lasted from 1848 until 1851.

The end of the war saw a conservative government in power and they promised that:
  • A single, unified constitution would be introduced throughout the Unified Monarchy
  • Schleswig would not be more closely linked to the Kingdom of Denmark than Holstein
  • All the constituent parts of the Unified Monarchy would be regarded as equal.
These promises came to nothing, and a policy of enforcing the use of Danish in Central Schleswig kept the tensions between the two sides bubbling away. Pressure from outside Denmark to divide Schleswig into two halves – one Danish and the other German-speaking – made Danish politicians harden their attitude to the situation. They began to see the retention of the Duchies as a matter of national pride, and in 1857 the National Liberal government moved from supporting a policy that supported the concept of a Unified Monarchy in favour of the closer integration of Schleswig with Denmark. This policy was the basis of the new constitution that was proclaimed in March 1863. It included Schleswig within Denmark, but did not extend this integration to the other two Duchies.

The new constitution contravened the spirit of the agreement that had ended the First Schleswig War, and the death of King Frederik VII before it could be signed complicated matters. The new king – Christian IX – warned his government that signing the new constitution into law could lead to war, but his concerns were dismissed by the government which had whipped up a wave of nationalist fervour across Denmark. Riots and demonstrations on the streets of Copenhagen convinced the King to sign the new constitution … and in January 1864 Prussia and Austria demanded that it be rescinded.

War had become inevitable.

The growing tension had not been ignored by the Danish armed forces, and the army had begun to prepare for the war that they saw as inevitable. In December 1863 General de Meza was appointed Commander-in-Chief, and he mobilised the army to defend the Dannevirke fortifications in the southern part of Schleswig.

The Dannevirke.
When war finally broke out on 1st February 1864, the Prussian and Austrian troops were already in Holstein, and they immediately marched across the border and into Schleswig. Their plan was to threaten the Danish forces holding the Dannevirke fortifications whilst flanking the defences by crossing the River Schlei. This was not unexpected, and the Danish troops at Mysunde – one of the places the Prussians were going to use to cross river – easily repulsed the far more numerous Prussians.

Despite this initial success the Danes realised that their strategy was ultimately going to fail as they just did not have enough troops to hold the fortifications and repel further flanking attacks. A Council of War decided that the frontal defence strategy had to be abandoned, and during the night of the 5th – 6th February the Danes troops began to retreat from the Dannevirke fortifications.

The retreat from the Dannevike. (By Niels Simonsen)
During the 6th February some pursuing Austrian troops caught up with the Danish rearguard at Sankelmark, and after some very heavy fighting the Danes were able to defeat the Austrians and continue their retreat.

News of the retreat was not well received in Copenhagen, and there were anti-government and anti-monarchist riots. This all led to the inevitable dismissal of General de Meza from his command … but did nothing to help the military situation.

The Danish strategy switched to preventing the advancing Prussians and Austrians by occupying flanking positions. The army was now split up into several parts and took up positions at Dybbøl, Fredericia and along the border between Schleswig and Denmark. The Prussians and Austrians moved forward slowly as they were uncertain about whether or not to cross the border into Denmark proper as the war was concerned primarily about the Duchies. They were also very concerned about the reactions of the Russians, British, and French to such a move.

A small Danish force abandoned the town of Kolding – the southernmost town in Denmark – and Prussian troops crossed the border and occupied the town. The international reaction to this was muted, and the Prussians and Austrians moved slowly forward with the intention of cutting off the Danish troops in Fredericia and forming a defensive line that could meet any Danish advance from northern Jutland.

After further fighting near Vejle on 8th March, the main part of the Danish army began to retreat northwards, and the Prussians and Austrians were able to surround Fredericia and begin to encircle Dybbøl. On 15th March the Prussians started to shell the Danish positions and the siege of Dybbøl began.

The Danish trenches during the siege of Dybbøl. (By Jørgen Valentin Sonne)
This siege took on great political and symbolic significance to the Danes even though its defence was pointless and the Danish Army High Command had requested permission to abandon its positions. On 18th April the Prussian bombardment ended, and at 10 o’clock the assault began. Both sides lost large numbers of men, but the assault failed. The bombardment was resumed, and once the defences became untenable, the remains of the Danish defenders began to retreat. The Prussians attempted to stop them, but a costly Danish counter-attack by the 8th Brigade near the mill at Dybbøl allowed the survivors to escape.

The counter-attack by the Danish 8th Brigade. (By Vilhelm Rosenstand)
The battle had been a costly one. The Danes lost 4,700 men, of whom 1,700 were dead and the rest were prisoners; the Prussians lost 1,200 men dead and wounded.

On 9th May ships of the Danish Navy engaged a combined force of Prussian and Austrian ships off Heligoland. In a classic close range sea battle the Danes were able to set fire to one of the Austrian ships and forced the Austro-Prussian force to withdraw into neutral waters.

The Battle of Heligoland.
This battle was a Danish victory, and did much to raise morale … but did nothing to change the military or political situation.

On 20th April 1864 an international peace conference was opened in London. The delegates came from Russia, Great Britain, France, Austria, Prussia, the German League, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, and the aim of the conference was to try to find a peaceful solution to the war. As a result of the initial negotiations, an armistice was called for and came into effect on 12th May. Finding a solution to the situation was – however – rather more difficult. The Danes wanted the new border to be near the Dannevirke fortifications but the Germans (led by Prussia) wanted it to follow the linguistic divide. Great Britain proposed a boundary that lay between the Danish and German proposals, and that it should be determined by a neutral arbiter.

The Danes rejected this proposal, and after a meeting of the Danish Privy Council the Prime Minister passed the decision as to what to do next to the King. Christian IX realised that public opinion was against any form of partition, and the Danish rejection of the proposed solution brought the peace conference to an end. On 26th June the armistice ended, and the final stage of the war began.

During the night of 29th June Prussian troops – covered by a massive artillery bombardment from Sundeved – began landing on the island of Als. Their intention was to capture the last remaining part of Schleswig that remained in Danish hands. The Danish ironclad Rolf Krake intervened and for a time she prevented the Prussians from sending further troops across the Alssund to Als, but she was then ordered to cover the evacuation of the Danish troops on Als and sailed out of Alssund to do so.

The Danish ironclad, Rolf Krake.
The fighting on Als was intense, and eventually the Danish troops were forced to retreat to the southern end of the island, from where they were evacuated by ship. The fighting effectively broke the remaining fighting capability of the Danish army, and they were unable to prevent the invaders from advancing into Jutland. The final battle of the war took place at Lundby (which is south of Aalborg) on 3rd July when a Danish attack was shot to pieces by Prussian troops armed with Dreyse breech-loading needle guns.

The Danish attack at Lundby was shot to pieces by Prussian Infantry armed with Dreyse breech-loading needle guns.
This was the final straw, and on 8th July the King dismissed the National Liberal government and asked the Conservatives to take over. The new government immediately began negotiations with the Prussians and Austrians, and a ceasefire came into effect on 20th July.

The Treaty of Vienna formally ended the war and was signed on 30th October 1864. The results were catastrophic for Denmark. The Duchies of Schleswig, Holstein, and Lauenburg were ceded to the victors, with Prussia administering Schleswig and Austria administering Holstein on behalf of the German Confederation. As a result of the Treaty, Denmark lost two-fifths of its former area and one-third of its population.

20 comments:

  1. I've seen similar reactions from other wargaming friends. I'm not sure I'll ever have a chance to get watch it but that's just as well. When I first starting collecting recast Britain's 54mm my plan was to do a British intervention in Denmark. Circumstances led me to the ACW instead but no need to waken sleeping ideas.

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  2. Ross Mac,

    What I had hoped to see was a history of the conflict as seen through the eyes of a number of characters ... and to an extent that is what it was. That said, the story is about the angst suffered by those who are affected by war (and not just the effect war has upon those who do the fighting), and is full of what is currently written about as 'Scandinavian noir' (i.e. full of introspection and morally complex).

    As the Danish uniforms worn during the 2nd Schleswig War were very similar to those worn by the Union troops during the American Civil War, it would be no problem to resurrect your original plan ... if you ever want to.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  3. I know sod all about this issue except to recall Lord Palmerston's remark:
    “The Schleswig-Holstein question is so complicated, only three men in Europe have ever understood it. One was Prince Albert, who is dead. The second was a German professor who became mad. I am the third and I have forgotten all about it.”
    Oh - and Harry Flashman's involvement in a long-forgotten duchy in the region (:-))
    By the sound of it, consudering the resources arrayed against them, the danes gave a good account of themselves.

    The thing about projects of this type, you want it to be interesting enough to draw the attention, and not too one-sided. Strategically I don't reckon Denmark had a prayer, but they might have made the allies pay big for their success. As it was, in the long term Austria did, but Prussia? Aye, well.

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  4. Very useful history. I have recorded it but not watched it yet. North Star are going to be producing 28mm figures for the Danish side (as they already have appropriate Prussians and Austrians in their 1866 range)

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  5. Archduke Piccolo,

    The Danes expected to be victorious, just as the had been during the First Schleswig War (or Schleswig-Holstein Revolt as it is also known). The two wars were fought over the same terrain, and only fourteen years apart ... but in that time the technology of warfare had moved on faster than the Danes had been able to keep up with. They went to war with percussion cap muzzle-loading rifles ... and the Prussians had bolt-action, breech-loading needle guns.

    As a wargames campaigns both the First and Second Schleswig Wars have a lot to offer wargamers with an interest in the nineteenth century, and if the wargamers are not too fussy about absolute historical uniform and weapon accuracy, anyone with an American Civil War Union Army and Austro-Prussian War/Franco-Prussian War Austrian and Prussian Armys could easily re-fight it.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  6. Legatus Hedlius,

    I think that you will enjoy watching this series, but I must admit that I did find some of it a bit tedious in places.

    I will certainly have a look at the North Star figures when they become available as I do have a hankering to re-fight this campaign ... although it may well take on the form of a fight between imagi-nations.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  7. I had so been looking forward to it but was really underwhelmed.I was relieved when the final credits came.
    Alan

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  8. Tradgardmastare (Alan),

    As you will gather from my blog entry, I felt very much like you did. Rather like the Curate's egg, it was good in parts but ultimately disappointing overall.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  9. Bob,

    Have you read "Bismarck's First War"? It's the last word on this. I think Helion still have copies.

    Regards,

    Eamon

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  10. Conrad Kinch (Eamon),

    I haven't read it as yet, but I will probably buy a copy if I can.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  11. I've bought it recently and it is an excellent read.
    Alan

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  12. I enjoyed the series, although I share some of your reservations about some of the "non-military" scenes. I thought the bits set in the present added nothing to the plot (perhaps to link sacrifice in Afghanistan with that of 1864?) anyway a complete waste of time. The battle scenes were very well done. Thank you for the potted history of the war - I was fascinated by some of the illustrations you re-produced - they were almost like stills out of the film -so someone over Denmark had been doing their research. Despite my reservations I still thought it was one of the best dramas on TV at the moment.

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  13. http://www.em4miniatures.com/acatalog/American-Civil-War.html

    Actually a cost conscious wargamer with an eye to a Danish army could have a look at the link above.

    Regards,

    Conrad

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  14. David Bradley,

    I think that the Danish involvement in Afghanistan did have an impact upon Danish society, and its consequences have been greater than a lot of non-Danes realise. When I went to the Army Museum in Copenhagen last year the exhibition about 1864 led straight into an excellent exhibition about Danish involvement in Afghanistan, and left me with the impression that they saw the one leading to the other.

    The whole series was very well put together, and whoever had story-boarded it made strong references to the images shown in contemporary paintings. The most obvious examples were the retreat from the Dannevirke and the counter-attack by the Danish 8th Brigade.

    It was an excellent drama ... but I do feel that it could have been better without losing its impact.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  15. Tradgardmastare (Alan),

    I must admit that the book does appeal to me ... but the price does seem to be a little on the steep side. Perhaps I will wait until I can get a second-hand copy.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  16. Conrad Kinch,

    Thanks for the link and the suggestion.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  17. A close friend of mine comes from a Danish family and he tells me that the series has not proved popular with the Danish far-right; so I conclude it must be doing something correct :)

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  18. Red_Cardinal,

    Thanks for your very interesting comment. I must admit that I am not surprised that the Danish right wingers don't think must of this TV/film series; the Danish politicians portrayed in the programmes are shown to be very nationalistic and out of touch with the realities of mid nineteenth century warfare. Furthermore the TV/film series is a reminder of just how impotent and unimportant Denmark became as a result of losing the Second Schleswig War ... and that is something no right wing politician would wish to be reminded about.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  19. Bob,

    Indeed I think you're spot on. I believe the "incident" with the cow didn't go down too well either. Not the scene per se but because it showed posh people in a bad light... :)

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  20. Red_Cardinal,

    I have visited Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, and I have been conscious of the fact that despite the surface appearance of being countries where equality and social justice prevail, there is a dark shadow underlying life there. This is borne out by the subject matter covered by much of the Scandinavian noir literature, TV, and films. Mind you, one could say the same of the UK and several other European countries.

    All the best,

    Bob

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