Freiburg 1644 – THIRTY YEARS’ WAR DOCUMENTARY


The French have decisively won at Rocroi and
that has swung the pendulum of the Thirty Years’ War yet again. Their Swedish allies,
commanded by Torstensson, have recovered from their earlier defeats, and are now attacking
the heart of the Holy Roman Empire, advancing further than even their legendary king Gustavus
Adolphus. But is that enough to end the war? The battle of Freiburg is going to prove that
more blood has to flow. Shoutout to Brilliant for sponsoring this
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loved ones finish their day a little smarter. Rocroi was one of the most serious defeats
the Habsburgs suffered during the 30 years’ War. It now seemed that nothing could stop
Conde from taking over the Spanish Netherlands, as his opponent Jean de Beck’s Spanish army
was much smaller than that of the French Prince. However, the Spanish Netherlands was a country
of many dozens of fortified cities, so all Beck needed to do was to reinforce the city
Conde was going to attack. The latter went for Thionville in the hopes
of cutting the Spanish Netherlands from the Habsburg territory to the south. Beck managed
to sneak in reinforcements before Conde besieged Thionville on June 16th, 1643. This allowed
the city to withstand a 2-months siege. The campaigning season was coming to the end,
so Conde abandoned the siege and returned to France. The leader of the Dutch Republic,
Frederick Henry, attempted to advance from the east, but Beck successfully bluffed him
into thinking that the Spaniards received fresh troops, which forced the former to retreat.
Despite this minor improvement in the situation, it was clear to the Spanish king Philip IV
that the situation in the Netherlands was untenable – he needed all his troops to
fight off the uprisings in Portugal and Catalonia, so Beck would get no help. Philip also basically
broke his alliance with his Habsburg cousin Ferdinand III, and started peace negotiations
with the Dutch Republic. Back west the Swedish commander Torstensson
was slow to exploit his recent decisive victory at Breitenfeld. In November of 1642, he besieged
Leipzig and sent Konigsmarck towards Westphalia to distract the imperial forces in that area.
The fall of Leipzig a month later was a serious blow to the elector of Saxony John George.
Torstensson’s troops took Chemnitz in late December and started marching towards the
crucial fortress of Freiburg , besieging it in early 1643.
Meanwhile, the loser of the battle of Breitenfeld – Archduke Leopold Wilhelm – had returned
to Vienna, leaving his army under Piccolomini to be reformed at Rakonitz. The latter was
incredibly effective, and by February had 14 thousand men available to help Freiburg.
Indeed, Piccolomini’s advance towards the fortress forced Torstensson to go into winter
quarters . Piccolomini returned to Bohemia and was inexplicably removed from command
in favor of Gallas. The campaign was renewed in late March as
Torstensson attempted to invade Bohemia. A long series of maneuvers, marches and countermarches
between his army and that of Gallas began and ran well into October, when Torstensson
was able to reach Brunn and raided the area. His hope was that he might receive support
for an attack from the largely protestant Transylvania. Simultaneously, the Swedish
commander sent a force under Konigsmarck to raid Franconia and then Saxony in hopes that
it would force the Imperials to divide their forces, while Gallas ordered Krockow to march
into Pomerania via Brandenburg to weaken Sweden’s hold over the region.
Supported by a small Polish detachment, Krockow managed to take a few settlements. Gallas
decided to reinforce him with cavalry under Puchheim, but Torstensson was able to destroy
that group around Troppau. At the same time, Konigsmarck was commanded to engage Krockow,
and by the end of September, the imperial force was pushed into neutral Poland . Back
in Moravia, Torstensson, who didn’t get any help from Transylvania, lost all of his
momentum besieging Jagerndorf, and as Oxenstierna was planning to invade Denmark, he called
the commander back north. Despite being Protestant and starting the
Thirty Years’ War on the same side, Denmark and Sweden were natural rivals. The success
of Sweden, made Danish King Christian IV increase the tax for trade passing through the straits.
Word leaked out that the Danes were negotiating an alliance with the Habsburgs, and that made
the conflict that would be later known as the Torstensson War, inevitable. Oxenstierna’s
plan was for Marshal Horn to attack from the north, admiral Fleming to secure the Baltic
sea, and Torstensson to strike Jutland from the south.
Although Torstensson feared that his absence would allow Gallas to take back Silesia, Moravia
and Saxony, he strengthened the fortresses in the area and publicly announced that he
was retreating to Pomerania, in order to confuse the enemy. The march north started in mid-November,
and in late November he entered the Danish holdings in Holstein. Torstensson occupied
a number of fortresses, and by January 20th 1644, the Swedes were ready to invade Jutland.
Leaving some troops to besiege Gluckstadt, Torstensson moved the rest to the narrow channel
separating mainland from the island of Funen, while Horn took the provinces of Halland and
Scania, save for Malmo. Both Swedish generals needed Fleming to win the naval battle to
take the Danish capital, but Christian took the command of the fleet and defeated the
Swedes in a number of naval engagements between February and July, most importantly at Kolberger
Heide, in the aftermath of which Fleming was killed and the Swedish fleet was blockaded
at Kiel. Simultaneously, Imperial commander in Westphalia,
Hatzfeld, began threatening Torstensson from the southwest, and Gallas appeared from the
southeast in July. The Swedish commander left Wrangel to secure Jutland and advanced south
rapidly with what troops he had, using scorched earth tactics while retreating back to his
initial positions. Gallas’ troops suffered from the lack of supplies, and he wasted months
worried that the Swedes might cross the Elbe. At the same time Konigsmarck was sent south,
drawing away Hatzfeld. The caution the imperial commanders employed played against them, as
Sweden entered an alliance with the Dutch, and their united navies finally defeated Christian
at Fehmarn, crippling the Danish navy in the process.
Although no major battles were fought between the Swedes and the Imperials in 1644, Gallas’
mismanagement, famine, desertions, and plague reduced his troops to a few thousand, and
the Habsburg army basically ceased to exist. An alliance between Sweden and Transylvania
was signed, and the prince of the latter, George I Rákóczi was eager to support Torstensson’s
march against Vienna. However, we need to leave Torstensson for
now and focus on the events in the West. The defense of the Holy Roman Empire in the Rhine
region was mostly left to the Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian I, and his army, commanded by Franz
von Mercy, managed to effectively destroy the French army under Rantzau at Tuttlingen
on November 24th, 1643. This balanced the decisive French victory at Rocroi, and gave
Bavaria the initiative. After wintering in the area, Mercy took Uberlingen in May and
then besieged Hohentwiel , planning to starve it out.
This gave the new French commander of the theatre, Henri Turenne, time to organize his
forces. Although he had 10 thousand troops, mostly made up of Germans from Weimar, against
20 thousand commanded by Mercy, Turenne crossed the Rhine on June 1st in two columns . By
June 4th, Turenne was at Hufingen, and even defeated a small Bavarian detachment. Despite
that, the French just didn’t have enough troops to fight and started their retreat.
Mercy left a small group to continue the siege and moved to the west, besieging Freiburg
on the 26th, while Turenne set a camp at Batzenberg and started a series of skirmishes, killing
a few hundred Imperial soldiers . However, all that was in vain, as Freiburg fell on
the 29th. It seemed that all the French gains of 1638 were about to be reversed.
Yet, the French Prime-minister Cardinal Mazarin, had another idea. Duke of Orleans Gaston was
assigned to lead the army in Flanders and Conde was sent to the Rhine theatre, and appointed
as the commander of the German army. His 10 thousand marched towards Turenne, reaching
him on August 2nd, just 13 days after the appointment. As Mercy was forced to leave
small detachments at Freiburg and Hohentwiel, he now had 17 thousand troops against 20 thousand
under Conde. Mercy probably knew that the usually rash
Conde was going to attack directly, and he also lacked horses, which made a retreat difficult,
so he started creating a fortified position to the southwest of Freiburg , an area that
was favorable for this tactic, with its river valleys, hills and forests. The Schonberg
hill, which was impossible to form a line formation on, was central in this plan. Mercy’s
north was secured due to the river Dreisam, while on his right flank his troops erected
a line of palisades from Haslach to the western slopes of the Schonberg hill, further defended
by the Mooswald forest to the west. A sconce and a star fort were placed on the eastern
edge of the hill to make scaling it even more costly. These fortifications, that could have
put the likes of Julius Caesar to shame, were manned by 5 infantry regiments – 4000 or
so soldiers, supported by 5 guns. The Imperial left was made up of 1000 or so
footmen, but that was enough as they were defending a narrow passage, the Bannstein,
between Schonberg hill and another forest to the east. That pass was also blocked by
obstacles, but in general it wasn’t expected that the French were going to attack here,
as bypassing Schonberg would have their left flank open to attack. A small group was stationed
on the top of the hill to coordinate the two wings divided by the hill. The Majority of
the Imperial troops, some 12 thousand stayed in the main camp to the south of Haslach.
The French knew of these preparations. Turenne and Conde argued on the best of course of
action, and this was the precursor of the debates that would happen within the French
military community for the next decades and centuries. Turenne was advising not to engage
Mercy’s remarkable position directly, and to move north and then west, cutting the imperial
supply line to the north of Freiburg, which would have forced the Bavarian commander to
retreat east, leaving his rear vulnerable to the charges of the superior French cavalry.
However, Conde was in charge, and he believed that the Bavarians could be defeated with
a frontal attack, so he overruled Turenne and other generals, ordering a direct assault
on the 3rd of August. Turenne was sent to reconnoiter the enemy
defenses and found the Bannstein Pass. He was instructed to advance here with 5 thousand
footmen, while Conde would command 5 thousand infantry and a few hundred cavalry against
the Imperial right. 3 thousand or so horsemen defended the left side of Conde’s forces
and a few guns were set up on a small hill behind his positions, with the rest of the
army in reserve between the two French commanders. The attack was to start at 5 PM, which was
another controversial decision – Turenne’s forces had to march for hours before the fight
which tired them, and it was just hours before the sunset, meaning that the French had mere
hours to win the battle. Conde’s offense started from the village
of Ebringen against the village of Bohl – this was the weakest link in the imperial fortifications,
since other redoubts weren’t able to assist directly, and the French led by d’Espenan
were able to overcome the wall despite enemy fire. Scaling the walls broke their formation,
however, and the Imperial fire on the other side of the wall forced Conde’s forces to
retreat down the hill. This time the French leader ordered d’Espenan
to attack the southeast portion of the wall, with Tournon being sent against the southwest.
Once again, the wall was taken, and once again the French were greeted by Bavarian fire.
d’Espenan’s already battered troops weren’t able to resist for long. Most of them retreated
downhill, while a group under Persan dispersed in the forest to the east. Soon Tournon’s
units, who were disheartened by the allied rout, fell back to Ebringen.
The French were taking heavy casualties, but not nearly enough to change Conde’s mind.
The French general ordered a third attack, leaving only cavalry in reserve. For the third
time his troops surmounted the walls, however this time Bavarian cannons further north were
finally turned and used against them, killing many. On other hand, the defenders of Bohl
were running low on ammunition, and the troops led personally by Conde reached and attacked
them. Simultaneously, Persan’s regiment surprisingly managed to reform in the woods
and joined the fight against the imperial defences from the east. The defenders were
overwhelmed and slaughtered. Meanwhile, Turenne’s flank reached its position
earlier than expected, headed by a vanguard of 1000 musketeers under Roqueserviere. Mercy’s
outposts sent word of their approach and informed the commander. Turenne probably knew that
he was facing a minor force, and attacked at 4:15 PM, eager to break his foe before
they were reinforced. The initial French advance pushed the defenders back, but Mercy, who
considered this attack to be more dangerous than the one that was being openly prepared
by Conde, arrived in time with 5000 soldiers to push Roqueserviere back, wounding the French
leader in the process. Turenne’s situation was bad. He had the
numerical advantage, a cavalry reserve and artillery nearby, but wasn’t able to use
any of that due to the narrowness of the passage. Furthermore, he had to attack immediately
in order to tie up enough of Mercy’s forces to give Conde’s attack a chance, so he moved
to the front line and led the offense himself. With no room to maneuver and use their advantages,
the French were suffering heavy casualties, but continued to fight.
At that moment, Conde’s troops once again were moving north, this time to take Sternschanze.
Ruischenberg, who was left in command by Mercy, mustered 2000 and moved south to reinforce
the redoubts on Schonberg. Two sides skirmished for an hour, but Ruischenberg, who clearly
was a weak commander, decided that he couldn’t defend the position without the southernmost
defences and had to retreat to the main camp. Conde, ever an opportunist, would have followed,
but his troops were in terrible shape, and it was now dark and raining, so he called
it a day after taking Sternschanze. The French now controlled Schonberg, mostly due to Conde’s
personal bravery. To the west the dogged fighting continued
until 4 AM, when Mercy was informed that the hill was lost. This meant that his rear might
be open to an attack, so the Imperial commander disengaged and moved back to the camp, leaving
Turenne in control of the passage. The French lost almost 3 thousand troops on this day,
most of them on Turenne’s flank. Imperial casualties were around 1 thousand.
On August 4th, using the fact that Conde’s army was exhausted, Mercy moved his army to
the east and ordered his troops to create another line of defence based around the hills
of Loretto and Gipfel. The Imperials were now defended by the Dreisam to the north and
east, with Freiburg providing cover for their northern flank. Most of their infantry was
on the hills with the rest of the footmen and cavalry in reserve near the village of
Adelhausen. As there was now parity in the number of troops for both sides, Mercy was
sure of victory. Conde took the main imperial camp on the same
day, while Turenne positioned his troops in Merzhausen. The French used the day to rest
and tend to the wounded. There was still no agreement between their commanders, as Turenne
wasn’t eager to go on another frontal attack. Conde, however, was sure that Mercy’s retreat
on the 3rd was a rout and that the fortifications on the hills were a bluff. The commander devised
a plan to take the fortifications – his troops would charge up the Loretto hill and
tie up as many enemies as possible, while Turenne was to use the cover of the Becher
Wood to cover his advance and then take Wonnhalde, which would make the defense of the hills
untenable and give the French victory. The French attack was supposed to start at
8 AM on the 5th of August , yet Conde and Turenne were suddenly informed of movement
to the south of Wonnhalde. Both commanders rode to their extreme right to personally
scout the situation, as the imperial presence in the area would mean that Turenne’s right
flank might be in danger and their plans were no good. However, d’Espenan, who was to
command the French movement towards the Loretto hill, didn’t receive news of that, and his
troops were too close to Mercy’s forward redoubts. A group of dismounted dragoons was
defending this position and they opened fire at the advancing French. Although this wasn’t
the position d’Espenan had to attack, he ordered a unit to take it. In response, Mercy
reinforced the redoubt, d’Espenan had to send even more reinforcements, and the battle
started. L’Eschelle’s musketeers tasked with taking
the Becher wood thought that it was the signal to attack, but the Bavarian troops were still
not distracted, so most of the Frenchmen who exited the forested area were killed on sight.
D’Aumont, who had to charge here, moved forward in confusion, but immediately was
greeted by imperial volleys. The French were stopped in their tracks. The imperials then
counterattacked, pushing D’Aumont downhill. Conde, who was returning to his flank from
reconnaissance, concentrated nearby forces and charged the advancing Bavarians, driving
them away. The French commander then took over the troops of D’Aumont and moved against
the enemy position at Wonnhalde. This attack was met by overwhelming musket and cannon
fire, killing and wounding many Frenchmen, missing Conde only by chance. Luckily for
the retreating Conde, the French center, led by Turrenne, attacked the center of the imperial
fortifications, which forced Mercy to reinforce this position and allowed Conde and d’Espenan
to disengage. The French lost more than a thousand in that encounter battle, while Mercy’s
casualties were less than 3 hundred. Once again, Conde wasn’t discouraged and
ordered another attack – this time Turenne was going to divert enemy attention to the
south, while d’Espenan would take Loretto Hill. This assault began at 3 PM. The French
managed to scale the northern hill, but were promptly treated with bullets and cannonballs,
and were forced to fall back. The second wave was able to get closer to the redoubts, but
once again was forced to run. The same fate awaited the third and the fourth French waves
stubbornly sent uphill by Conde. The French commander decided to add another
element to his attack: the third and fourth waves reformed and attacked the enemy fortifications
from the west, while the dismounted dragoons, whose armor was heavier than those of the
footmen, charged the Loretto hill from the north. Initially, that worked as intended,
with the Bavarians being pushed back and losing the redoubt. However, Mercy had his own cavalry
reserve and it was sent forth to attack the French dragoons from the right. This stopped
the French advance. Conde attempted to turn the tide by sending his last reserves into
the fray, but that was countered by Mercy’s last reserves. This was a desperate fight!
Slowly but surely, the Bavarians started to gain an upper hand and pushed the French downhill.
Luckily for Conde, Turenne still had some cavalry reserves and they moved left, blocking
the Imperial pursuit. These horsemen defended the French footmen until nightfall. Conde
lost another 2000 men, bringing the total of his losses to 8000, almost half of his
army! The third day of the battle was the deadliest for Mercy, with more than a thousand
killed or wounded. Overall, he had lost 2500 through 3 days of battle.
Conde and Turenne spent the 6th fortifying their camp, worried that Mercy, who now outnumbered
them, was going to attack, but the latter proved to be too cautious, or maybe his army
was also too battered to attack. This indecisiveness gave the French commanders the opportunity
to recall most of the nearby garrisons, and within 24 hours more than 6000 men were marching
to reinforce them. Conde’s bravery, that gave him the brilliant
victory at Rocroi, was perfectly countered by Mercy, whose defensive strategy changed
the balance of power in the war once again. But was that enough to save the empire? We
will find out in the coming videos in this series, which will be released soon, so make
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100 Replies to “Freiburg 1644 – THIRTY YEARS’ WAR DOCUMENTARY”

  1. 12:52 Remember, it is a joke. Don't surrender to your rage, don't charge even if you are a part of the light brigade.
    Consider liking and sharing this video. This battle is a great representation of this era, a spectacular battle that influenced the military thought of the next centuries.

  2. fortifications that would put Julius Caesar to shame ?!

    With 1700 years difference in technology there is no shame for Caesar

  3. If you ever have the chance, visit this place. Head for the altstadt and don't wander far from it. It's Brothers Grimm land.

  4. 30 years war is a hidden gym in history. I guess no such relatively short period conflict involved so many states and swings u till WW1. I am amused to learn how smartly religion was used for personal ambitions.

  5. What about generalissimo Suvorov. He commanded in more than 50 battles and never loose.his strategies are masterpieces of military thought

  6. Conde looks like one of those commanders that love to lunch their mens to die just because he can, sending them to the meat grinder untill there is no men left

  7. Was confused for a good minute wondering how Freiburg was in two places before realising one is FreibErg and the other is FreibUrg

  8. Most of the original belligerents are dead, Tilly, Frederick of the Rhine, Wallenstein, Gustavus Adolphus, Ferdinand II and Cardinal Richeliu…its like watching rounds in some epic game in which new combatants are added. It went on so long, that I lose track of all the names and new generals..

  9. This was one of the most intense battles you have covered. The French would attack, gain ground, only to be repulsed by the Imperial forces time and time again. I utterly enjoyed every minute of this one. Keep up the good work!

    Suggestion: Do a series on the Italian Front in WW1. Explaining the cause of the conflict and covering events all the way from the Stalemate at Isonzo, the Asiago offensive to the Italian defeat at Caporetto, the battles of the Piave and the final victory and collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at Vittorio Veneto.
    I would absolutely love to see this, and I am sure many others would as well.

  10. French- We are Catholic.
    Also French- Turks attacking Catholics? We should be friends.
    Swedes attacking Catholics? You need help, my good man?
    Pope? Oh yeah, we have one of those, back in Le France! Hon hon hon

  11. 4:44 largely protestant Hungarian Transylvania
    We did have a major impact earlier, in 1619 in the 30 years war with Bethlen Gábor (who ruled over the golden age of Transylvania 1619-1629) and is represented for this on the wall of reformers in Geneva. In 1643 Rákóczi tried to get involved but the Ottomans opposed these plans and he had to contend with a peace treaty with the Habsburgs.

  12. This war seems to have had a lot of Hannibal like figures like Gustavus Adolphus and Turenne who could win incredible victories but didn’t know how to use them.

  13. How…do you have a meeting engagement while attacking a fortified line? Watching the French stumble repeatedly into the Imperial firezone in dribs and drabs was painful. And I thought American Civil War unit coordination was bad….These should have been experienced troops, right?

  14. Conde quintessentially defines French concept of warfare in medieval and early modern era based more on valour and muscle than strategy. This is what caused defeats of Armies led by of french knights in various crusades against Arabs and Turks.

  15. Man, that was a slugging match. After that, neither army was in any shape to pursue if the other had broken. They were tired and bloody and needed to rest. To push a pursuit would have been to destroy what was left of the army. IMHO

  16. Conde was the age old example of incompetence and arrogance epitomized demonstrated innumerable times throughout history. Stooges in charge with an ego 100 times bigger than their tactical understanding.

  17. I didn't very much like the camera spin at 20:15. It almost made me puke (for real), and it messed up the letters too. If I may suggest, don't do this in your future videos. Otherwise, great video! Cheers

  18. 220 years later:
    Gen. Longstreet: “hmm the enemy seems to have the defensive advantage, maybe we should move to cut their supply—“
    Gen. Bobby Lee: “GLORIOUS CHARGE”
    Turenne: “….”

  19. Interesting how Conde's aggressive strategies, which achieved victory for France at Rocroi, were countered in this battle.

    However, I've read in the comments that his strategy was eventually successful at wearing down the imperial armies (even if costly in French lives), so we shall see how things turn out.

  20. You highlighted really well the difference in military doctrine of Condé and Turenne.
    Condé was above all a tactician. His focus was to agressivly dislodge the ennemy from his bases, then rough him up enough so that he disbands. It worked wonders at Rocroi, Lens and Valenciennes, but it was a risky move who could backfire badly if the opponent was solidly entranched in, and it often led to high casualties. Still, when it worked, it destroyed the ennemy's army completely.
    Turenne always had the whole campaign in mind. His goal was not to crush the ennemy, but to force him to give up crucial places in order to ensure long term victories. Even when taking bad defeats, he just regrouped and kept acting according to plan. His wars were unglorious, slow series of complex manoeuvers, but his ability of mixing strategy and tactic made him a very successful general, wich is why Napoleon respected him so much. His masterworks are the conclusion of the Franco-Spanish war at Arras and the Dunes, and his winter campaign of 1674.
    Both were amazing generals, but with very different styles.

  21. Brilliant and clear description of this rather confusing but decisive battle of the Thirty Years' war. Once more, this video is of great help for clarifying the course of events of this very complex and multi-dimensional conflict. Looking forward to discovering the next episode !

  22. please do a video on the SIKH EMPIRE (india) as very less quality content is available (i am also a sikh) . i stumbled upon your channel and surely saw some good quality in animation as well as history .Hope you read this comment

  23. I have one suggestion for all videos: can you please place a distance measurement reference on the screen to get a sense of the scale of travel & battle distances. (I end up going on Google maps all the time to understand)

    Also, Battle Verdun WWI would be epic!

  24. Sun Tzu would be utterly disgusted with Conde's performance in this battle. He attacked an infantry heavy army head-on, he sent his flank through a narrow well-guarded pass, he attacked a heavily fortified position, he failed to use open-ground despite his mobility advantage, and he never varied his tactics. I don't even know if incompetent is a strong enough word to describe his generalship.

  25. You can see the difference in Western European wars of this period in comparison to other place. The idea wasn't to wipe people out but win and then get some huge economic advantage. People often look at the size of empires to see the greatness of it but I would wager the dutch republic had a higher GDP than the entire Balkan peninsula at the time.

  26. yeah, again french had to deal with such idiot commanders …! French army: using the same old good tactic since Crécy 1346^^

  27. Are divisions of Christian religion had indirectly effective rolls for flames war between two enemies? Too nice nice video

  28. Portugal was not under Spanish rule in 1642, like the map suggests. It was between 1580 and 1640. Anyway, great video as always!

  29. Will you guys cover the reign of Louis the 14th? It barely has any coverage on YouTube and well who wouldve guessed its actually incredebly interesting and important
    Especially it is the period where huge european war became a tradition to do every couple of years

  30. Excellent production. This conflict has been so often neglected. It deeply, subconsciously traumatized the German nation, well into the 20th century. More than a third of German populace perished between 1618-1648. Like with all traumas, it worked delayed, after the soon cultural resurrection in late 17th and early 18th century. From personal contact with Germans, I dare to say that only generations born in 1970-es are finally free from that collective trauma.

  31. Turenne: look, sieges are complicated and take time, we should focus on weakening the enemy’s position and gaining what advantages we—
    Conde: GET ‘EEEEEEM!

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