The capture of the Prussian fortress of Kolberg on 16 December 1761 (Third Silesian War/Seven Years’ War) by Russian troops
Treptow was dotted with few real obstacles, like its low “walls” and gates, but did boast a river abutting on every side but the West. The Russian scheme was actually rather basic; this involved deploying batteries on the various banks of the Rega River in order to pound the bluecoats into finally beating la chamade. The result of this was quickly demonstrated in clear display. Afternoon of October 25, General Knobloch, having failed in the meantime to secure “free withdrawal” for his men, was left no choice but to surrender as the Russian artillery by then had nearly decimated Treptow. Their ordnance consisted on this occasion of three of Shuvalov’s 40-pound unicorn guns, and two 12-pounders of the Shuvalov unicorns. The Prussians lost 1,445 men and 65 officers, although possibly a few might have slipped away down the road to Greiffenberg—where a Russian guard force under Renekampf was standing post to prevent the bluecoats from escaping by that way. The bluecoats were now in a world of trouble, for the Duke of Brunswick-Bevern at Stettin could no longer be in direct touch with the increasingly pressed garrison of Colberg.
Simultaneously, the king sent Platen orders to proceed towards the Prussian capital via Stargard and Pyritz. At the latter, Platen was confronted by a Russian force which sought to seal him off, this while sending scouts out to probe for near-by signs of the foe. Platen, in his turn, was not idle, either. But he could only do so much with the forces at his disposal.
Meanwhile, back at Colberg, the situation and the overall prospects were growing even more dim. Provisions of all kinds were running at critically low levels, including ammunition for the defender’s weapons, as well as foodstuffs. It did not take long for Prince Eugene to determine he had to break out and, at the least, try to save his corps. In the best case scenario, he could bring in badly needed supplies for Colberg and possibly rescue the garrison under Heyde and the inhabitants. First things first.
Platen, temporarily paused at Pyritz, was joined by a reinforcement under General Schenckendorff which had been sent from the king’s army to help, consisting of approximately 4,000 infantry with a handful of cavalry to reconnoiter and clear the way. This influx raised the manpower available to Platen at nearly 10,000 once more (November 9). Before a further twenty-four hours had elapsed, the latter had moved to Arenswalde, and thereabouts took up a temporary post to prepare to move at the enemy web encasing Colberg. At the latter place, conditions were very grave; one account says the horses were receiving only half a bundle of straw per day, and, to supply the dearth of wood to heat with, several of Colberg’s houses were torn down and used as fuel for fires. And the provisions were critically short. Surely this was the chief reason why Eugene and Platen resolved to hazard all by operating beyond Colberg. The presence of their men and horses within the walls could not materially aid Colberg’s defense more than if they were operating beyond the town’s gates, besides which they would use up the limited provisions that much sooner. But the roaming Prussian detachments had delayed the Russian onslaught upon Colberg. And the delay in capturing Colberg really did the Russians little good, since by now it would be too late to send in supplies via the port for Buturlin’s army with winter coming on anyway.
Nevertheless, Prince Eugene, knowing full well he must do something immediately, hesitated no longer. Under cover of the dark of the night of November 13–14, he prepared his men to march, hopefully without tipping off the enemy as to what was occurring. Only a minimal force was to be left to hold Colberg’s defenses, including pickets to man their posts until the last minute to maintain “normalcy.” Just about daylight the next morning, Eugene’s men pressed off, moving down the road towards Colberger Deep, as covertly as possible, while Prussian engineers went ahead to put down a pontoon bridge across the Rega River. To the Prussians, getting away by boat was almost forlorn. Within Colberg, only ten fishing boats and seven 6-man craft were available, unquestionably inadequate to any break by water. Besides which the overland trip was no picnic. It took 11⁄2 days for the bluecoat column to traverse the distance to the Colberg Deep; this was directly on the Baltic coast near Camp See (west of Colberg by about 61⁄2 miles).
While this was unfolding, Platen’s forward elements rolled into Naugard (November 14), near which his bluecoats encountered and forced back the leading elements of General Berg’s command; the latter reeled back promptly upon Freienwalde with little fuss. Next day, Platen’s men overlapped Greiffenberg, probing where to link up with Prince Eugene. Platen had the first inkling of Eugene’s march from locals at Koldemanz, but the Greiffenberg post was much more advantageous. At the latter spot, the Russians had deployed a force of some 4,000 men (including nearly a thousand, well-mounted cavalry) under Jakovlev to take refuge in the nearby fortified camp. Prussian artillery raked the position all right, but Platen and Schenckendorff did not linger long enough in the vicinity, for orders arrived about the same time for General Platen—from Prince Eugene—to swing over to Plathe, where the two Prussian forces were looking to join forces.
November 16, Platen finally rendezvoused with Prince Eugene’s men, and, by the next day, the bluecoats were holding fast to Greiffenberg, while the Russians abruptly appeared with determination. Berg’s force unleashed artillery fire upon the Greiffenberg post, but did not launch a full-blown attack.
Eugene, after linking up with Platen, had some 14,500 men at his disposal, including nearly 3,000 horse. The harried commander backed away towards Stettin, reaching Falkenburg (November 18), while one of his patrols got into a losing altercation with one of Berg’s patrols. The main body of the latter by then was at Zabrowo.
But, while the drama continued to unfold in the area beyond the walls of Colberg, Rumyantsev would not allow himself to be deterred from his primary mission of wrestling the Colberg compound away from its desperate Prussian garrison. Russian flying parties nipped at the Prussian positions. Meanwhile, Prince Eugene occupied his time with trying to affect either a supply and/or a rescue of the people still stranded within Colberg. To help head off any such attempt, Russian general Brandt took up a blocking position astride the Persante River opposite to Colberg leaning over at Spie, with other greencoat forces round about, including Jakovlev now taking up post at Colberger Deep (as we have observed), and Berg taking vantage himself at Lepnin.
Other forces were deployed in a number of posts. General Olac had a force of men hard-by Poblat, while Dolgoruki himself took post at Gross Jestin, facing the enemy close by. It did not take long for the concentration of force to make its presence felt. Early on November 26, a Prussian detachment stationed at Fierhof was suddenly attacked by a Russian force under Shetniev. A bloody tussle ensued, without clear decision. Platen and Prince Eugene did all that they could to prevent the overall situation from unraveling, even as the odds against them continued to lengthen. For the Prussian forces beyond the immediate confines of Colberg itself, the priorities were different. The Russian emphasis was in taking Colberg, while that of the bluecoats was to do all they could to successfully relieve the place if at all possible. With that express purpose in mind, Eugene and Platen rolled into Neugarten, where they awaited the arrival of a long-anticipated supply convoy from Stettin.
The total of wagons was nearly a thousand in this train, but there had been the feel of utter desperation about the whole matter of the provision convoy. Prince Eugene kept the train, upon its arrival, overnight at Treptow, where scouts kept a look out for signs of the enemy. Daylight of December 11, Eugene’s men pushed off from the relative security of Treptow, hopefully bound for the relief of Colberg. The movement was to be expedited by the use of two columns, one under Prince Eugene and the second charged to General Schenckendorff. Both of the groups had a plethora of cavalry, and these were kept busy scouting for Russian block forces. The Prussians were moving forward in two separate columns.
Proceeding from Glansee, through Drenow, the first was led by Prince Eugene, with Platen’s cavalry running interference. The second procession, under the charge of General Schenckendorff, progressed by Zamow, and Zorben to pause. Platen’s cavalry screen, including both the Malachowski Hussars and the Ruesch Hussars, along with the 7th Dragoons (Plettenburg), was confronted hard about Neumühl on the Kreyerbach, where a Russian block force under General Berg, some 5,000 strong, was posted. Prussian scouts reported a sizeable enemy force at hand, but Eugene quickly decided to await the arrival of Schenckendorff’s caravan. As for Berg, he initially thought of standing fast, but then thought better of the idea when his lookouts reported on the imminent arrival of the second Prussian column, which would mean overwhelming numbers. With this development, General Berg fell back without hesitation upon Spie and Nehmer.
While the Russians resolved to stand their ground, Berg sent a courier galloping to General Rumyantsev, stating that Berg required some assistance against a body of bluecoats that had just arrived on the scene. Eugene, with his full force by then at hand, had some 12,500 infantry and about 2,600 cavalry, forthwith moved on Spie. At the latter, Eugene planned to have his rescue force of men and wagons rupture the barrier of the Spiebach.
Prussian patrols took up post on rises overlooking Prettmin, behind which Platen in particular tried to press the Prussian wagon train to Sellno to bring in much needed provisions for Colberg. Freshly falling snow would make the effort that much more difficult. Patrols were launched over towards Garin, where Prince Eugene assumed Rumyantsev and his main body of greencoats were still present thereabouts. Surveyors returned with word there was visible evidence of the main Russian army thereabouts. Eugene was, for the moment, blissfully unaware of a large Russian relief column which was about to embark on a rescue of Berg’s men. In the meanwhile, the latter were deployed in as long a line of battle as practical between Spie and Nehmer. Jakovlev was unleashed, while a large greencoat reserve was posted for good measure about Sellno.
Events opened with a prolonged artillery exchange, during which Schenckendorff’s men erupted against an enemy force ensconced hard about the Green Redoubt; at the latter, Captain Stackelberg led some 550 Russians with a modest artillery accompaniment. The initial Prussian attack against the Green Redoubt, although pressed with some degree of determination, was a failure, as the bluecoats were harshly repulsed from the equally determined Russians. Another strike, this time launched from two Prussian forces, was more furious. The 25th Infantry (Ramin) led the fierce onslaught, straight at the Green Redoubt, being led by Colonel Kalckreuth, at a charge, probably startling at least some of the Russian defenders in the process, as their lines were enveloped and surrounded by the Prussians. However, the fury of the charge was somewhat blunted by inadequate numbers; at Spie, for instance, the 10th Dragoons (Lt.-Gen. Friedrich Ludwig, Count Finck von Finckenstein) numbered a bare 200 riders or less. Nevertheless, the bluecoats pressed forward their advantage, with the 16th Infantry of Dohna unloading its fire from the left flank into the greencoats at the redoubt. Stackelberg’s men broke in a few minutes, flying from their lines straight into the Werner Hussars and the 7th Dragoons (Plettenburg) who promptly bagged the captain and 272 of his men as captives.
But the sojourn at the Green Redoubt by the bluecoats was fated to be brief indeed. Rumyantsev’s reinforcements of a full corps of Russian troops appeared almost immediately after making its way from the rises by Prettmin. The newly arriving greencoats set up their artillery, and unleashed such a fire upon Prince Eugene’s men that the latter soon recoiled from the confines of the hard-won redoubt and fell back. Russian Cossacks struck at Drenow, where the 29/31 Grenadier Battalion under Captain Krahne, was doing its best to cover the retreat of the bluecoats. Prussian reinforcements arrived, compelling the enemy to retire, leaving the way of retreat for Prince Eugene’s forces open. This ended the last serious relief effort of Colberg and its hard pressed garrison. Eugene issued orders for his relief force to retreat; his mission a failure. Prussian losses at Spie had amounted to approximately 58 killed, and 563 wounded. The Plettenburg Dragoons alone suffered the loss of one officer, 136 men, and 154 horses. Russian losses at Spie amounted to approximately 399 men.
The siege of Colberg continued unabated. By late on November 15, 1761 the greencoats holding positions before the port were apprised of the departure of Prince Eugene’s forces, which substantially reduced the total number of men available to defend Colberg. Conversely, this greatly increased the options at Rumyantsev’s disposal, as he tried his best to close out a successful siege of Colberg. The seriousness of the persecution of that endeavor was displayed by the appointment of an energetic engineer, Colonel Gerbel, who, as expected, promptly pressed matters further.
Russian ordnance was almost immediately unleashed on the Wolfsberg (November 17), while vigorous infantry assaults carried part of Colberg’s extensive redoubts. Following this, additional Russian batteries were deployed in part of those same bastions, which only put more pressure upon the hard-pressed garrison. As these latter batteries proceeded to ply their deadly trade, additional guns were sited and put to work joining the crescendo. November 19, two Prussian supply ships tried to slip into Colberg, but the greencoats intercepted what would turn out to be one of the last of the many attempts to secure at least some relief for the embattled defenders of the place. Through all of this, Rumyantsev’s heavy guns continued to pummel the defensive posts.
Under cover of darkness on November 20–21, Russians laborers set up and sited another battery, this one of five 12-pounder guns, near the Sankt Nicolaus Church overlooking the Persante River. Russian forces were now comfortably ensconced in the Münde Gate region near Colberg. November 21, Commandant Heyde dispatched a task force to demolish the nearby bridge. It may have been about this same time when a combination of a rather generous supply of French brandy (of all things) and desperate men combined to rear an opportunistic head. The garrison of Colberg had a great quantity of the precious liquid; which they did not want falling into Russian hands. So the staff were allowed to imbibe, in “moderation.” Despite the attempts to moderate its use, many of the Prussian soldiers, trying to steel their resolve against the dual edged sword of the bitter cold weather and meager rations, so indulged in the ready provision of the brandy “they swallowed every drop, quite a number drinking themselves to death [in the process].” Meanwhile, the fire from the six different batteries that the greencoats were utilizing here continued only with some periods of pause. The Prussian position grew increasingly desperate as a result.
As for the greencoats, they continued to make satisfactory progress towards finishing the affair with success. Patrols drove the bluecoats from the Laufgraben (November 22). Later that same day, Chief Engineer Gerbel received very specific instructions from Rumyantsev to seize the aforementioned church, hard by which the attackers were only too glad to erect yet another battery, consisting of three of the lighter 6-pounder guns, which were more effective here because of their vantage point.
Russian engineers, within the space of twenty-four hours, had another larger battery erected at a new redoubt facing the glacis of Colberg. This latter had two howitzers, with an additional four 12-pounder guns. Russian artillery intensified their efforts, as a fire more intense than ever was being directed at Colberg. As a result, many of the structures within the port town were either damaged or destroyed. After a most vigorous shelling, Rumyantsev, mindful of the ever growing lateness of the campaigning season, as well as possible rescue attempts, tried to secure the surrender of the city. Under a flag of truce, he sent in Captain Bockhe with an offer to parley for the purposes of securing Colberg’s fall. But Commandant Heyde turned out to be more resilient than expected. He refused to be party to any negotiations that surrendered Colberg to the Russians.
As a result, the shelling was resumed, while the greencoats stormed the Geldern, forcing the Prussians to recoil from yet another of their bastions. But time was still pressing. On December 1, Rumyantsev once more summoned Colberg’s garrison, without result. Left with little choice but to try to hasten the conclusion of the siege, the highly stressed Gerbel supervised the building of a much larger battery, this one from the glacis over to the Münde works, which took a full five days to complete. The entity housed 22 guns, all ready to go. The chief advantage of this newest battery was its close proximity to the intended target.
The bluecoats were trying their best to retain control of Colberg, principally by sending in supply ships to make a desperate try to bring in provisions. Yet again, the ever vigilant coastal patrols nabbed the supply ships, while the Prussians’ worst fears about the fate of Eugene’s enterprise were confirmed on December 12 (after the desperate affair at Spie), when locals informed the bluecoats in Colberg that there would be no relief overland either. That night, intense cold gripped the region, utterly freezing the rivers and increasing the misery for Heyde’s men. The commander and his force were nearing the end of their rope. Heyde had no choice in the end. On the next day, he sent word to the enemy he was ready to negotiate a peace. Captain Bockhe forthwith returned to Colberg along with Major von Schladen and Lieutenant von Tiez, bringing with them, in 28 separate points,31 the Russian demands.
Meanwhile, Eugene had been reduced to extremities, as Commandant Heyde’s guns were almost out of ammunition and his garrison was teetering on the brink of starvation. But immediately Rumyantsev occupied Eugene’s entrenched camp, while the latter, unfortunately, while succeeding in linking up with Platen, could no longer get through the Russian lines into Colberg.
Heyde’s men, in desperation, poured water on the walls of the fortress to make them freeze in the cold weather. The besiegers again tried to take the place by storm, but once more, the Russians failed to break the determination of the besieged. Heyde, in fact, snubbed all of Rumyantsev’s offers of surrender terms. Russian attacks continued to engage the attentions of the garrison as much as possible. In fact, these assaults were large scale affairs. In fierce fighting, just from December 11 through the 13, the bluecoats suffered the following casualties: 164 men and three officers killed; 306 men wounded; 786 captured.
Friedrich II. Eugen von Württemberg (1732-1797)
Frederick, meanwhile, had ordered Eugene to make another try at breaking through the Russian lines, not that this was impractical. December 6, Eugene marched; gliding through the thick woods, he reappeared a week later. A successful, surprise, assault carried a single redoubt, defended by a force of 500 men, but then Eugene, finding the enemy thoroughly entrenched between Colberg and his relief force, was forced to retire (December 12–13). Eugene lost 102 men from the bitter elements on this particular march. Learning to his chagrin that Eugene was departing, along with the last hope to save Colberg, Commandant Heyde, with his men out of provisions and prospects dim, surrendered Colberg to the enemy—on December 16. Heyde and his entire garrison became P.O.W.s. Total Prussian losses were: 1,221 men and 13 officers among the infantry; and 111 officers and men and 111 horses. Following this triumph, the greencoats immediately settled into their winter quarters. Greencoat forces spread out all the way from Neu Stettin, to Rügenwalde, Belgard, on over to Cöslin. This capturing of Colberg was the Russian equivalent of the Austrian storming of Schweidnitz and was by far the most important accomplishment of the Russians not only during this campaign but probably the entire war. It was also destined to be of almost no lasting value at all to the victors. For circumstances entirely beyond the scope of Colberg itself.