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The siege of Landrecies (17-30 April 1794) was the first Allied operation of 1794 in northern France (War of the First Coalition). Although the siege was successful, it did nothing to advance the Allied cause, which was soon threatened by a powerful French offensive further west in maritime Flanders.
Of the two sides, the French had the most ambitious plans for 1794. Carnot decided to attack on both flanks of the Allied army, towards Ypres and Ghent at the western end of the front line, and towards Namur and Liège at the eastern end, cutting both the British and Austrian supply lines. In contrast the Allies, now led by the Emperor Francis II in person, decided to begin the year with an attack on Landrecies (close to Le Cateau, and south west of the site of the great French victory at Wattignies in the previous October.
The siege of Landrecies was conducted by the main Allied army in Flanders at the start of 1794. This consisted of three main contingents – 43,000 Austrians under the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, the commander-in-chief until Francis arrived; 19,000 Dutch troops under the Prince of Orange, and 22,000 men under the command of the Duke of York. After deducting garrisons, Saxe-Coburg had 65,000 men free for active operations.
The Allies moved forwards on 17 April, driving the French out of their outposts around Landrecies. On 20 April the Prince of Orange pushed the French out of their positions on the left bank of the Sambre, and after a fight that cost him 1,000 casualties and the French 2,000, opened the first siege works outside the town.
On the next two days General Pichegru, command of the French armies being assembled for the great offensive, made a number of ineffective attempts to attack the Allies. Meanwhile Saxe-Coburg settled his covering army into a twenty mile long semi-circle, protecting the force carrying out the actual siege.
The French made two attempts to break the siege. On 23 April a force of about 10,000 men moved north-east from Cambrai, possibly in an attempt to catch the Emperor Francis, who was then travelling from Brussels to the army headquarters. On 24 April this French force was defeated by a smaller force of Austrian and British cavalry at Villers-en-Cauchies, while on 26 April a more serious attack on almost the entire covering force was beaten off (known as the battle of Landrecies or Beaumont-en-Cambresis, although this village was at the far right of the Allied lines).
After the attempt of this second relief effort, the garrison lost heart, and on 30 April Landrecies surrendered. By now the main French offensive was well under way. General Clerfayt had been defeated at Mouscron (29 April), while attempting to lift a siege of Menin (25-30 April), while on the Allied left General Kaunitz had been forced back from his position between Maubeuge and Dinant on the Meuse to the line of the Sambre, threatening Austrian communications to the east. The entire Allied position in Belgium was in serious danger.
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