Baron Van Coehoorn

Menno Van Coehoorn (1641-1704) is often described as the "Dutch Vauban". Indeed the two engineers lived at the same time, although Vauban was longer lived than his Dutch contemporary, and the two did pit their skills against one another on at least one occasion. Like Vauban, Coehoorn was employed in both attack and in fortification.

Coehoorn was born in 1641 in the town of Leeuwarden in Friesland. He had a military education and entered the Dutch army as a captain at the age of 16. He took part in the defence of Maastricht in 1673 and later in the siege of Grave. In this siege a small mortar of his own invention was first used, and proved very effective. These mortars are to this day known as Coehoorn mortars.

For his conduct at the Battle of Seneff, 1674, he was promoted to colonel. He saw further action at the battles of Cassel and Saint Denis. At this time he turned his attention to fortification, seeing that many medieval fortifications were inadequate when attacked by modern artillery. Coehoorn published his first work on fortification in 1682. On the strength of it, he was given the task of reconstructing several fortifications in the Netherlands. This was the beginning of his life-long association with the fortified places of Holland. He published another treatise on fortification in 1685, which was later translated into English, French and German.

Coehoorn's attitude was similar to that of Vauban in that he was never tied to a "system" of fortification, always being ready to deviate in exceptional circumstances. He tried to fit the fortification to the ground, rather than trying to force a geometrical shape onto unsuitable terrain at the expense of strength. He commonly used more than one ditch'and also incorperated sluice gates into his fortifications so that weak areas could be flooded if necessary. In the low, flat ground of the Netherlands, this was an excellent technique that was easy to implement.

In the 1680s Coehoorn was involved with updating Naarden's fortifications. In 1688 he was made a brigadier and he distinguished himself at the Battle of Fleurus. In 1692 he defended Namur, which he had fortified, against his rival Vauban. Vauban took the city and fortified it according to his own ideas. Three years later it fell to Coehoorn's attack. Coehoorn served with the Duke of Marlborough'from 1701 to 1704. He successfully besieged the fortresses of Bonn and Huy, considered his greatest offensive work. It was during this time that he remodelled the fortifications of Sluis and Brielle. Coehoorn died of apoplexy in 1704 whilst on his way to meet Marlborough.

Coehoorn's legacy remains not only in the places he fortified, but also in the continued use of the coehoorn mortar (often written "coehorn mortar" in English).

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