Christopher Duffy, The Army of Frederick the Great, 2nd Edition (Helion, 2020)
It might seem odd to review a book first written in 1974, but Christopher Duffy makes it clear this new edition is not a rehash but a ‘radical refashioning’ of what was already a seminal work on the Prussian Army under its greatest commander. In the thirty years since its release, Duffy has continued studying Frederick the Great’s army, reviewed his earlier findings, and revised his thinking on some key aspects: that is how the practice of history is supposed to work.
After surveying the historical background of Prussia and the pivotal role of the military in its survival and success, Duffy examines each element of the already impressive army that Frederick inherited. He begins with Frederick as King and Commander; how he managed and led his army through vigilance and discipline. Duffy works his way through the command structure in characteristic detail then recruitment, training, and conditions of service. Frederick also bent the Prussian economy to the service of the military and the State, which became synonymous for the most part. Each of the main elements of the army comes under Duffy’s careful gaze, beginning with the all important Infantry. He takes us through their organization, equipment, and tactical formations and practice, recognizing their strengths and deficiencies. The brilliant Prussian Cavalry is next with Duffy stressing that this was Frederick’s creation rather than his inheritance. Frederick’s understanding of artillery, however, proved a great weakness. He also had little time for his Navy, but the King’s grasp of engineering and logistics enabled Frederick to gain the strategic advantage for most of his campaigns.
It was Frederick’s application of concentration of force, iron discipline, and extraordinary energy that made him so effective strategically and tactically, and Duffy highlights this through a narrative description of Frederick’s wars and battles. The King was not always successful, of course, and the procession of battles inevitably weakened the army, but Prussia survived the onslaughts of the Seven Years War, a major achievement in itself. The stalemate that ended the War of the Bavarian Succession, however, demonstrated the decay that had set into the Prussian Army for what was Frederick’s last campaign. Duffy concludes with a consideration of Frederick’s military legacy that did not survive intact in practical terms through Napoleon’s military revolution, but there is no doubt surrounding his greatness in his own lifetime.
The Army of Frederick the Great is a detailed and comprehensive work that is essential reading for anyone interested in 18th Century warfare. Duffy covers everything you need to know about Frederick’s army and then some. This new edition is well written, with effectively deployed quotes from Prussian and foreign observers, placing Frederick’s army in its European context. The text is liberally sprinkled with illustrations and maps, though some colour plates might have been helpful. Duffy’s use of bullet points is also a bit irritating, and avoidable, as are the occasional typos. Nevertheless, what was a pivotal work in 1974 remains so today in its upgraded version, and I suspect will continue to be that way in the future. Highly recommended. 9/10