The Second Silesian War 1744-5
Recent history ought to have convinced Maria Theresa that Frederick would be content to remain within his borders only so long as the Austrians were doing badly against the French and Bavarians. The spectacular Austrian successes in Germany duly incited Old Fritz to invade Bohemia on a broad front in the summer of 1744. The Austrians were taken unawares, and Prague fell on 16 September, after the feeblest of defences.
After the reduction of Prague, on Frederick’s own admission, he committed an endless catalogue of mistakes. He spread his forces all over southern Bohemia, but in his excitement he neglected to bring up his rearward magazines or consolidate his position in the north. The veteran Austrian Field Marshal Traun proceeded to clear the countryside of people and cattle, and his well-timed flanking movements (together with Saxony’s declaration in favour of Austria), forced Frederick to begin a painful retreat from Bohemia.
The Prussians had to abandon all hope of making a stand at Prague, thanks to the eccentric behaviour of Frederick’s chief engineer, General Walrave. During the Prussian occupation this aptly nicknamed General Voleur shamelessly plundered the Gallas Palace in order to fit out his own Schloss Liliput at Magdeburg, and he wrote to Frederick for permission to take some leave ‘so that I can make arrangements to show off the beautiful furnishings from Prague to the best advantage in my own house’ (ibid., VII, 238). Having thus outraged the citizens, the least he could have done would have been to strengthen the fortifications. Instead, he ‘devoted all his efforts to constructing some impossibly ambitious outworks which demand a garrison of 20,000 men. All the fortifications are consequently useless’ (quoted in Grosser Generalstab, 1890-1914, Zweite Schlesische Krieg, I, 230). This episode began Frederick’s disenchantment with the first of his long line of engineer chiefs. Prague was evacuated on 26 November 1744.
However, Frederick was still unbeatable in the open field, and in 1745, after two defeats in battle, Maria Theresa had to sign over the whole of Silesia in perpetuity. The balance of power in Central Europe was now heavily weighted in favour of the Prussians.