The Seven Years' War Starts
The 17th of May 1756 AD
It is easy to see why some, as Churchill did, think of the Seven Years War as the first true world war, with the conflict occurring in the European theatre, North America, and India. The superficial similarities with WWI invite comparisons too: this was a war partly about securing foreign markets and territories; it involved Powers from Russia all the way across Europe to Britain; it was sparked by the diplomatic dance which saw Frederick II’s Prussia largely isolated by France and Russia. The death-toll of The Seven Years War was, for its time, enormous, estimated to be around the million mark if not more.
As with WWI too the formal conflict was presaged by minor clashes, not in the Balkans but with the British in North America as early as 1754 attempting to hit the forts the French had established in a bid to dominate the Ohio valley.
The French managed to unite Russia, Austria, Sweden and Saxony against the growing strength of Prussia, which had added Silesia to its territory during the War of the Austrian Succession preceding the Seven Years War. Faced with such an alliance Frederick made a pre-emptive strike into Saxony in the early part of 1756.
Prussia had the tacit support of Britain even before conflict began, with the Hanoverian monarchy concerned to protect what it perceived as the threat of the alliance to its territory in Germany. George II formally declared war against the French on May 17 1756. The French had already mobilised a considerable task force under the ill-fated Montcalm to move up the St Lawrence River in preparation for open warfare, and the French managed to take Britain by surprise in the Mediterranean, seizing Minorca early in the war, the British military planners showing their usual genius for lack of preparation in spite of obvious danger – only when Pitt was given his head in organising the British forces did the tide turn Britain’s way.
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