The Battle of Lobositz I

Austrian- Hungarian Soldiers

Field Marshall Maximilian von Browne, the commander of the Austro-Hungarian army at the Battle of Lobositz 1st October 1756 in the Seven Years War

A thick mist lay over the plain of Lobositz from the dawn on October 1, hiding the daylight, as well as the enemy, from Frederick’s view. The veil extended up the hills and thoroughly covered the ground. Most of what would become a battlefield that day was shrouded. The Prussian king could just make out the outline of the village of Lobositz in the distance, though little else. This time it was not caused by Frederick’s well-known myopia, but the weather.

Reconnaissance parties were dispatched out, off towards the Lobosch Hill, where scattered groups of enemy light parties (some 2,000 Croats and grenadiers all told)4 could be barely discerned occupying the vineyards in front of—and on—the rise. These vineyards were intertwined with small stone walls, only a few feet high, with a limited view. But the handy structures would provide some shelter for the troops positioned there. In addition, the rocky condition of the ground provided some cover.

Browne deployed his forces to keep the backs of his men to the Homolka, where the Austrian horse was packed to the extent the marshal dared. Behind the front line, Browne had only the hussars of Lt.-Gen. Andreas Hadik Graf von Futal and the Baranyáy Hussars to help the forward troops in case Frederick’s cavalry struck.

About 0515 hours, the king, in the company of Marshal Keith, Duke of Bevern, and Prince Augustus Wilhelm, rode up closer to check on the enemy. Little could be identified even in this nearer view, although it appeared nothing was stirring in the enemy’s camp. But even while the entourage met with Lt.-Gen. Karl Christian Graf von Schmettau in the forward posts, scouts reported an undetermined number of the enemy close by. The king’s party returned to the main camp, and tried to piece together what the opposition might be up to. What was really going on beneath that mask of fog? There was some basis for believing the main Austrian force had retired during the night, and had left only a small screening force to delay the bluecoats.

About 0600 hours, Frederick took another look. Below, nearer to Lobositz, he could now make out small bodies of troops, probably hussars, through the haze.6 After that, Frederick began deploying his army to be better prepared for any eventuality on the part of Browne. Early on, the big guns of both sides apparently began to fire intermittently. Ulrich Bräker, a Swiss “volunteer” in the Prussian service, wrote of the “thunder of the cannon” from about 0600 hours on.

Artillery would play an important role in this first European battle of the biggest war the world had yet seen. Frederick could dispose of approximately 17,500 infantry in 25 battalions, 10,500 horse in 59 squadrons, a small force of about 300 hussars, and 97 guns. In the space between the Lobosch and the Homolka, in rather cramped surroundings, the Prussian van deployed, while to the right on the Homolka itself (about 1,038 feet above the valley below), in a second group, the king put part of his infantry. Among the latter were some of Schwerin’s command, Major-General August Friedrich von Itzenplitz’s 13th Infantry and Winterfeldt’s men with some 12 guns. Most of the army was deployed to the left of the Homolka along the Lobosch (which itself rose more than a quarter of a mile above the valley floor below). The first order of business here was to drive away those active enemy parties planted thereabouts.

As the Prussian scouting forces drew nearer, an intermittent fire was opened on them from the men crouched behind the wall. Frederick’s hopes for an easy victory were squashed instantly and for all. This much was clear: The enemy held the rise; it would be necessary to wrestle it from Browne as a condition to secure victory.

About 0700 hours, the army moved to the attack. The Prussian artillery of Colonel Karl Friedrich von Moller went straightway to work, a sustained effort this time, with some effect. Austrian guns, all set to go, replied with an intensity that belied the “calm” autumn morning. The reverberation of the guns was soon unnerving many a seasoned veteran. Some of the Austrian Croats promptly bolted to the rear, and even the experienced Browne could never remember hearing the like.

As the Prussian regiments marched up, each battalion moving to the leftwards before making an oblique turn, they came under a sustained, accurate fire. Bevern’s 7th and the 17thof Major-General Heinrich von Manteuffel were sucked into the vortex of the developing action that was drawn against the Croats, supported by the 27th Infantry of Lt.-Gen. Franz Ulrich von Kleist. This included the contribution from five or six cannon which had been set up before Lobositz and were shooting quite energetically the whole time. The latter found their range rather quickly.

This hammering put the Prussians at a disadvantage. The 13th Infantry of Major-General von Itzenplitz, where Bräker was in the ranks, was one of those now in harm’s way. “Big chunks of hot metal went flying over our heads, throwing up clots of earth and plucking men from the ranks.”

The response was in kind, until the head of the Lobosch was filled with Prussians and light Austrian parties (mostly Pandours) blasting away quite energetically at each other. While this was taking place, the Prussian right, bent back and placed on and near the Homolka, was yet to be in the fire. In the plain below, the Prussian cavalry formed up, and a small body of horse (including the Bayreuth Dragoons) was held in readiness to the south of the Homolka. On the left, where Manteuffel and company were springing on the Lobosch, the intensity of the fight was growing.

General Quadt had been charged off, under the direction of the Duke of Brunswick-Bevern, to strike from the Prussian right against the light hussars at the foothills in his immediate front. Quadt knew the business at hand, and he plunged right in. In the course of this struggle, the general was shot when a ricocheting round exploded nearby. The intensity of the blow knocked Quadt backwards from his horse with a mortal wound. This was among the factors limiting the Prussian success here.

Another factor was the unanticipated Austrian preparation for the fight. Browne, on his part, had a slight edge in numbers, with some 26,500 infantry in 15 regiments, plus four Croat battalions, 7,500 cavalry in 12 cavalry regiments, and 94 guns. This slight numerical superiority on the part of the Austrians was offset by the superior training of the bluecoats. And the latter, under their King Frederick, had never yet been beaten on a battlefield.

Now the general prospects among the Prussian rank-and-file for victory were good for the most part. There were exceptions. Among the latter, the Swiss soldier Ulrich Bräker, already mentioned, has left an interesting account of the battle.

Meanwhile, the battle was fully involved. After a slight scuffle, the tandem team of Manteuffel and Prince Moritz finally cleared the lower reaches to the Lobosch. The enemy, stooped behind the stone walls, could not maintain a steady fire and they were forced back towards Lobositz and the Morellen-Bach stream. Though the ground in front of the rise was secure, the Prussians could not advance farther due to the terrain’s difficulties and the possible nearness of the main Austrian army. Both of these problems were aggravated by the murky, thick fog. And, of course, the Croats still held the hill itself.

Nevertheless, the annoying fire on the Prussian left continued, when the mist momentarily thinned. The king then (about 0800 hours) perceived an enemy body of cavalry, which he took to be about ten squadrons, perhaps 1,500 riders, forward of his own center cavalry. The enemy were busy maneuvering about in what appeared to be a shaky sidled formation.

Frederick took this force, along with those driven from the Lobosch, to be Browne’s rearguard. As it turned out, this was O’Donnell’s advance guard, consisting of 12 grenadier companies and six squadrons of dragoons, which Browne was energetically pushing reinforcements up to join. The king assumed the enemy had left these forces to slow down a pursuit and shield their rear from attack while they stole a march around the bluecoats to Schandau to get the Saxons out of Pirna. Probably with the intention of forestalling such a move, Augustus Wilhelm told the king he needed to get troops into the valley right away. They simply had to figure out what the enemy were up to. So Frederick ordered forward 20 cavalry squadrons—under the bright Lt.-Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Kyau—to charge the enemy horse. Once done with that task, this force was to pursue Browne, assuming the charge was successful. By then, the Homolka and the Lobosch were basking in the sun, but that aggravating haze was still enveloping the valley, still causing hesitation.

Kyau immediately expressed a concern the fog may hold more than the king imagined, but was ordered to his business anyway. He informed Frederick he had reason to believe a sizeable enemy force was present at Sullowitz, although obey the order he did.

This force, with two guns to go ahead to shell the enemy’s position, charged downhill into the Austrian horse, routing and chasing it back into the mist just about 0830 hours. Major-General Nikolaus Andreas von Katzler’s 11th Cuirassiers got the ball rolling, slamming hard into the Austrian Cordova Cuirassiers opposite to him. This blow spread much confusion, but Katzler was temporarily lost in the bargain and his unit lost 82 men in a short firefight. Katzler went down at the very start of the action. Undoubtedly, what kept his unit going was the press of the other Prussian forces, who were advancing up fast behind it.

The Austrians should have been in desperate straits just about this point. But as soon as they alighted in the mist, the Prussian riders encountered thick masses of enemy artillery fire (to the left of the charging horsemen). These latter opened a most murderous fire, inflicting heavy losses, and compelling the Prussian horse to recoil.

Nor was the job left to the artillery alone. From the vicinity of Sullowitz, two full regiments of Austrian cavalry, under General Count Joseph Luchessi, sprang forward to outflank the new intruders. These were the 29th Cuirassiers and the 33rd Cuirassiers. This move was made possible only because the valiant Guard de Corps (13th Cuirassiers, Colonel Hans August von Blumenthal) unaccountably failed to strike at Sullowitz, bristling at that moment with Austrian bayonets. Nonetheless, the oversight was soon corrected by Colonel Blumenthal himself, at a terrible personal price.

He charged forward straight into the fray. Shortly, the colonel’s horse was set down, rather forcefully, by a nearby exploding cannon shot. This left Blumenthal in an awful predicament; he was exposed without a horse and knocked around in the midst of the enemy. Within a few moments, Blumenthal received a number of serious cuts from the enemy’s sabers. A couple of his men rescued the colonel before the enraged Austrians could finish the job; the effort proved futile, as he died of his wounds soon after.

Meanwhile, Blumenthal’s men continued their valiant effort. The focus of the 13th’s charge shifted directly to the left of the obstacle. Blumenthal’s neighbor, the 5th (Bayreuth) Dragoons, disdaining the danger, plunged headlong into the firefight. Their effort forced back the Austrian horse, saving the Prussian left.

A little to the west, two additional regiments strove to strengthen the Austrian line along the Morellen-Bach towards Lockwitz. These latter were the 29th and the 33rd Cuirassiers, heavy cavalry, led by Prince Löwenstein. Löwenstein was needed there. The Prussian horse certainly had the capacity to cause Browne’s defeat. This was a threat too great to ignore. The progress of the first attack had been blunted, but largely from the much more effective artillery fire.

Löwenstein’s horse went right to work. When the former appeared, the Prussian cavalry had already completed its business. The ride up had been long, the artillery fire devastating, and the horses themselves were suffering from a shortage of fodder. So the bluecoats were paused, taking in a well-deserved breather, when the enemy was suddenly upon them. As the progress of Löwenstein’s charge naturally carried the attack past the confines of the Morellen-Bach, the Prussians made a break for it. Some of the Prussian troopers were trapped in the marsh. The Austrian pursuit did not break off until most of the Prussian horse was “sheltering” under the Prussian batteries. Bräker, as an witness to the panorama, now saw riderless horses, some even dragging their entrails, dotting the disturbing scene. The stunned units finally got steadied again at the bottom of the Lobosch.

In this same firefight, the valiant Austrian general of horse, Lt.-Gen. Alois Count Radicati, was mortally wounded, suffering a severed leg from a cannonball. Frederick, who had been watching from above, saw the vapor clear away to reveal the whole Austrian army stretched out in the valley below, instead of just Browne’s rearguard like he originally thought. Kyau had been right all along.

Then the king saw the survivors of the first wave and the rest of the cavalry forming up to charge again, and sent off an order to hold off the second charge. Too late, the reinforced cavalry (more than 10,000 strong, with eight squadrons of cuirassiers and eight of dragoons) glided back into the thinning mist about 1130 hours, sweeping the enemy back once more. The sight must have been awe-inspiring: Europe had not seen such masses of cavalry engaged in battle like this in half a century. Unperturbed, the Austrian guns renewed their pounding. In spite of it all, the Prussian cavalry charge made steady forward progress. The Austrian 1st Dragoons (Erzherzog Joseph) received the full brunt of this new Prussian attack. It was overwhelmed. With the range narrowing, with every boom of the guns, men seemed to be torn from the ranks. Nonetheless, on the bluecoats pressed, the finest troops the age had to offer.

There was an inevitable price to pay for such heroics. The 2nd Cuirassiers of Prince Wilhelm’s cavalry was at the very front of this charge. It lost 10 officers and 127 of its men in a few furious moments of heavy, unforgiving fighting. The 5th Cuirassiers, its immediate neighbor here, lost 10 officers and 128 men, including the commander, Major-General David Hans Christoph von Lüderitz. An exploding cannon shot detonated nearby, killing that unfortunate man instantly. The tale was much the same for Lt.-Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Rochow’s 8th Cuirassiers; fully 146 men and officers were laid low in this stroke. Even Colonel Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz, the future favorite cavalry master, was involved in the sanguinary struggle.

The cavalry came upon a ditch of some ten feet, but they lunged across the obstacle and charged ever farther into the mist. Right away, however, their progress was stopped dead by a swampy brook. It was the Morellen-Bach Water. Circumstances were dire for a time. One observer wrote candidly of the Prussian host “many horses were too weak to struggle up the high bank” from the valley below. So the valiant Prussian effort disintegrated in passing the swamp, as many men were unable to make even the initial attack. The Prussians’ progress halted, the Austrians turned more cannon upon them (the battery near Lobositz), flanked on one side by the grenadiers and on the other by the 20th (Lt.-Gen. Graf Colloredo), with the 36th of Browne.

Now for the first time, many of the bluecoats realized the enemy were not the same old foe they had been used to dealing with. Moreover, even the Austrian weapons had been improved in the interim. Their soldiers now had iron ramrods. The effect was to greatly facilitate their rate of fire. Most disturbing, that vast increase in effectiveness was being abundantly demonstrated to those forces just then engaged in attacking Browne’s lines. With this, the bluecoats did an about-face, drawing back out of range.

Not all made it. A number of Prussian horsemen entered the bog in their retreat and could not free themselves. The 9th Cuirassiers of Prince Johann von Schöinach-Karolath and the 1st Hussars (Michael von Szekely) were flung, valiantly, into the path. With their horses fatigued from the two melées, some troops had to be extricated. This generally meant leaving the poor equine companion to its fate. Colonel Seydlitz, for one, had to be “fished” out of the bog. As soon as the badly shaken cavalry units returned, Frederick had them posted to the rear of the Lobosch, out of harm’s way. Their losses had been enormous. The horses themselves were bone-tired. They had been working all day although “having had neither fodder nor water for thirty hours.”

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