The Battle of Jankau

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Battle of Jankau 5th March 1645

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The first image above is the view of Chapel Hill looking over the battlefield on the day before the battle. As we can see both the Swedish and Imperial armies kindly burnt down a number of the local villages during their respective marches, and the Swedes are alleged to have pillaged and burnt down the rest after the battle.

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The second picture shows the closing stages of the battle as the Swedes pushed through the Hartmany wood. It actually captures a number of phases at the end, including the final unexpected Swedish attack as the light was falling, the capture of Hatzfeld and the rout of the Imperial army.

Denmark’s defeat and the destruction of Gallas’s army prompted Elector Maximilian to open new talks with France. With his position crumbling, the emperor summoned his closest advisers for their candid opinion at New Year.24 None thought victory was possible or believed in the Prague strategy of uniting the Empire to expel the foreigners. However, they were not yet prepared to relinquish the gains from 1635 and had little faith in achieving a satisfactory peace in Westphalia. They recommended renewed military effort to compel Sweden to agree more favourable terms, while remaining unrealistically hopeful that the election of Pope Innocent X in 1644 would assist a separate settlement with France.

The Austrian Estates had already been summoned and voted increased taxes and food supplies. The emperor sold part of the crown jewels and, following his example, the churches surrendered their silver, while nobles advanced loans. Ferdinand rejoined the army as part of a strategy to rally popular and divine support that culminated in his leading a religious procession in Vienna on 29 March. Here he announced his intention to build a monumental column dedicated to the Virgin like the one completed in Munich seven years earlier to commemorate White Mountain. Actual command was entrusted to Hatzfeldt who had spent most of 1644 in charge of the reserve army in Bohemia and Franconia. Maximilian was persuaded to despatch Werth with 5,000 Bavarian veterans despite the critical situation on the Upper Rhine, while Johann Georg sent 1,500 Saxon cavalry. This gave a combined field force of 11,000 cavalry, over 500 dragoons, 5,000 infantry and 26 guns that collected at Pilsen in January.

The Swedes were determined to exploit the unexpected bonus of the disintegration of Gallas’s army. They had 43,000 men in Germany at this point. Some were with Königsmarck completing the conquest of Bremen and Verden, while others garrisoned the Baltic bridgehead and positions in Silesia and Moravia. The main strike force under Torstensson numbered 9,000 horse, 6,500 foot and 60 cannon and was in western Saxony where it had arrived in pursuit of Gallas. Torstensson was already on the march by 19 January to deny the Imperialists time to recover. Hatzfeldt guessed correctly he was heading for Olmütz, but did not know whether he would go north or south of Prague to get there. Operations were disrupted by a February thaw that turned the roads to mud. Torstensson dodged south of Prague as it turned cold again and crossed the frozen Moldau. Hatzfeldt recovered quickly, and moved east to block him in the hills by Jankau (Jankov) on 6 March.

The imperial right was protected by steep, rising ground and thick woods. The left was more exposed, but the entire front was covered by the freezing waters of the Jankova stream and a network of ponds south of Jankau itself. Torstensson decided to feint against the enemy right, while going round their left to outflank them in a move that resembled Frederick the Great’s tactics at Leuthen in 1757. The Swedes set off at 6 a.m., around ninety minutes before dawn, heading for Chapel Hill, a small rise they had to secure to get safely past the ponds. Hatzfeldt had gone to reconnoitre, leaving Count Götz vague instructions to hold the hill. For reasons that remain unclear, Götz moved the entire left wing south into the valley leading to the hill. This move was constricted by thick woods either side of his route and Hatzfeldt returned to find the soldiers struggling across the very obstacles he intended to disrupt the enemís advance. It was too late to turn back.

The frozen ground gave the Swedes a firm footing and they were able to drag their heavy guns onto Chapel Hill, whereas the imperial artillery got stuck in the woods. Hatzfeldt moved his centre and right southwards in support as a fierce fight developed to prevent the Swedes advancing beyond the ponds. Werth and the Bavarian and Saxon cavalry overran two Swedish infantry brigades, before being compelled by artillery fire to retire. The Swedes then pushed east, gaining the high ground on the imperial flank and forcing Hatzfeldt to retire northwards. After an hour of musketry, Hatzfeldt disengaged and withdrew further across his original position towards Skrysov village, where he redeployed facing south with his right on the Jankova and left on Hrin. Torstensson followed, taking up position between Jankau and Radmeritz. He had expected Hatzfeldt to continue his retreat, but noticed imperial musketeers entrenching on a small wooded hill in front of Skrysov. Hatzfeldt intended this as an outpost while he waited until nightfall to slip away. Once the Swedes had dislodged the musketeers he grew concerned and launched a counter-attack, renewing the battle around 1 p.m.

Werth, now on the left, led another successful charge, this time routing the best Swedish cavalry that had deployed opposite him at Radmeritz. However, his comrades in the centre and right were dispirited after the defeat that morning and cracked under the strain of renewed fighting. The Bavarian cavalry had dispersed to plunder, capturing the Swedish armís loot and women, including Torstensson’s wife. The Swedes rallied and drove them off, rescuing the women. As the imperial horse on the right had also given way, the infantry in the centre were abandoned like the Spanish at Rocroi and their own comrades at both battles of Breitenfeld. They fought on till dark. Some escaped into the woods to the rear, but 4,500 were captured. Götz, along with several other senior officers, was killed, as were around 4,000 men, many during the pursuit. Hatzfeldt was caught because his horse was exhausted and, having been robbed, he was handed over to Torstensson.

The battle was clearly a disaster for the emperor. A muster of 36 regiments outside Prague a week later revealed that only 2,697 officers and men remained. Another 2,000 fugitives were left stranded by the rapid Swedish advance through Moravia and lived as marauders in a running conflict with local peasants. The veteran Bavarian cavalry had been virtually destroyed, while the loss of so many senior officers left the army leaderless. It is a sign of Ferdinand’s desperation that he even recalled Gallas to help reorganize the army. However, comparisons with Rocroi or White Mountain are exaggerated, as the battle was not followed by military or political collapse.

Torstensson claimed he lost only 600 men, but the later Swedish General Staff history puts the casualties at a more realistic 3–4,000. The victory allowed him to widen his objectives beyond merely resupplying Olmütz. He swept on through southern Moravia and over the frontier hills into Lower Austria to arrive outside Vienna with 16,000 men on 9 April. The advance renewed the possibility that Transylvania might intervene for another combined siege of the imperial capital.

1 thought on “The Battle of Jankau

  1. Pingback: Lennart Torstensson | Weapons and Warfare

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