Seven Years’ War: Swedes Launch Their Last Offensive II

From Stettin, Eugene’s force made by Pasewalk aiming to recover Malchin. It was a decision by the bluecoats to try to regain the place before winter deepened. The sudden advent of the army of Prince Eugene, even badly used as it was by then, threw consternation into the minds of the Swedish commanders opposite to all of this. December 30, Eugene’s men arrived at Treptow, news of which was immediately communicated to Sprengtporten. The Swedish commander weighed in on the notion of actually hitching back into Swedish Pomerania, but Belling sent the ever faithful Major Zülow with a detachment of approximately 400 men galloping on to Neukahlden, which move severed the road over by Dargun and isolated the command of General Sprengtporten. Belling forthwith was instructed by Prince Eugene to bring his force over to Treptow. With the bluecoats thus linked up in the region, the scheme was hurriedly worked up to take Malchin back from the enemy and, simultaneously if at all possible, to hack Sprengtporten’s force to pieces.

In order to turn Sprengtporten’s men out of the lines round about Malchin, Prince Eugene realized he would have to split up his own force in order to approach Malchin from different directions simultaneously. Eugene assumed chief command of the main column of the bluecoats himself, while Belling would lean upon Malchin with his own independent force at about the same time.

Before the bluecoats launched their attack, Prince Eugene summoned General Sprengtporten to surrender Malchin. When this offer was snubbed outright, a Prussian attack was launched that made some progress but when darkness intervened, the enemy still held Malchin (December 31). The next morning, January 1, 1762, another charge by the Prussians inflicted losses, but failed to turn their determined enemy out of their lines. Ehrensvard, learning of the latest developments at the front, was inspired to send a reinforcement of about 3,000 men, commanded by Lt.-Col. Carnal, to proceed at once towards Malchin to join up with Sprengtporten. As for Belling, he had Major von Knobelsdorf (January 1) with 200 infantry and 150 hussars posted towards Dargun. Belling pressed over at his best pace to face Carnal’s Swedes, which had been deployed hard about Neu Kahlden. The bluecoats in the meanwhile arrived on a rise overlooking Carnal’s force, unlimbering some artillery to start shelling the Swedish positions.

Carnal unleashed his men, who promptly attacked Belling’s pressed men, forcing the Prussians to recoil from their post. The latter lost some 200 men in this altercation, while the Swedes had 31 killed and 102 wounded. Belling wasted no time in falling back towards Eugene’s force, which move left Malchin firmly in Swedish hands. The bluecoats finally proceeded to into winter quarters right after this, in the same positions they had held at the start of the campaign, while the Swedes retired behind the Peene and Trebel Rivers, by which moves they evacuated Mecklenburg, no doubt against their intentions. The operations on the Northern Front in the Seven Years’ War closed with this, for the death of Czarina Elizabeth soon after and the consequent desertion of Russia from active fighting in the war was Sweden’s signal to do the same.

Meanwhile, the operations on the Western Front had been somewhat slower paced in 1761 than in 1760. Preliminary operations to secure a firmer foothold for the French having proven unsuccessful, they resolved to redouble their efforts. Madame Pompadour now had two armies organized and set against Ferdinand. The latter could dispose of some 95,000 men for the new campaign. Broglie was still in command of the French forces in the field, but Soubise had been elevated, largely through his influence with the Pompadour, to be his Co-Commander. This may have helped soothe some hard feelings, but with Choiseul still in overall command, left much confusion about who commanded what. Nevertheless, there were 160,000 French troops ready to take to the field for Campaign 1761.

Ferdinand’s task was to guard Lippstadt from the enemy, and he would have found this enterprise far more difficult than he did had the French chosen to keep their two armies operating as separate entities. Fortunately, Soubise and Broglie moved to join up, their rendezvous being accomplished at Soest on July 6 while their opponents remained idle west of Soubise’s camp at Vellinghausen. The position that Ferdinand held there fronted eastwards to the left of that town while the center was near the Ahse River and the right hugged below it. The latter flank was shielded behind marshy patches of ground and a tributary in front, but almost exposed from certain directions. The allies had their base at Hamm, a village where the Ahse and Lippe Rivers joined. The French had determined to attack Ferdinand’s forces in his position thereabouts, but problems between Broglie and Soubise about a firm timetable for this assault caused the enterprise to be delayed several times.

But, by mid–July, French outparties were probing near the enemy camp; on July 15, Broglie at last ordered a march up to charge the allied camp. Heavy reconnaissance followed, about 1800 hours a deliberate strike was launched upon Ferdinand’s post by the French in strength. Quickly responding, the Marquis of Granby ordered his men to form up, while Broglie, lunging forward under the cover of a heavy cannonade, struck again and again in futile blows. The last of these attempts was beaten back by about 2200 hours. About 130,000 French troops had participated in this phase of the Battle of Vellinghausen, although this figure did not include the troops of Soubise (which were quite out of effective range behind the proceedings).

Although he was denied the reinforcements that might have proven decisive, Broglie was grimly determined to destroy Ferdinand’s force if the opportunity presented itself. Accordingly, renewed assaults were launched at about 0400 hours, July 16, but Prince Ferdinand had strengthened his left wing from the right of his lines (that is, the one facing Soubise) and again forced back the French in heavy fighting. And, while Broglie’s men battered themselves against a strengthened allied wall of troops, Soubise did nothing but launch a feeble attack upon the enemy left with a small party; this was quickly repulsed with the loss of 24 men. Near 1000 hours, seeing signs the enemy was faltering at last, Ferdinand’s cavalry burst forth and drove the discouraged Broglie from the field with a loss of 5,000 men (almost 50 percent of them being prisoners). The allies lost some 2,000 men in the battle.

The ensuing episode shows the inherent dangers of trying to put two generals in charge at the same time in field command. For a vigorous debate arose soon after over whom was responsible for Vellinghausen: Soubise or Broglie. The influence of the Soubise faction was greater, which eclipsed Broglie, easing him right out of the picture. The intrigue itself dated from before Vellinghausen, but the provided a catalyst to end Broglie’s command. The incident shows French military objectives, which should have been sacrosanct to the conduct of the war, played second fiddle to politics and intrigue. Soubise retired into Westphalia, marching and maneuvering weakly to threaten one allied post after another, but actually accomplishing very little for the French cause. As for Broglie, he retrieved Wolfenbüttel, but then lost it again in the course of a few days; he then retired unceremoniously into winter quarters. Then Broglie, by far the most capable French commander of this war in a long time, was replaced in sole command of the French field armies by the almost incompetent Soubise. The latter proceeded to finish out the war with equal ineptness.

In Saxony, the opponents went into winter quarters, while back in Silesia, the Prussian king, shocked by the news of the fall of Schweidnitz to Laudon, in early October moved to Strehlen, where he again took up a defensive position covering Breslau and Neisse. By this point, the winter was in full force, so Frederick (October 5) took up in Strehlen for the off-season. He then repaired to Breslau to spend the winter (December 9). Before this, however, there occurred a rather curious incident involving the Prussian monarch, a kidnaping plot and one Baron Heinrich Gottlob Freiherr von Warkotsch.

This Baron Warkotsch had been a captain years before in the Austrian army and it was clear they still had his sympathies. Nevertheless, the king appears to have regarded the baron with some favor, allowing him to visit his headquarters, “dine at the royal table” and apparently even foregoing the extraction of men and equipment from Warkotsch’s extensive holdings to support the Prussian war effort. This makes the baron’s treason all the odder.

Nor was the attempted betrayal a sudden impulse of sorts. In summer, when the king was at Schönbrunn, night of August 15, he happened to be sleeping in one of Warkotsch’s rooms. This room opened on a secret passage and hidden staircase, by which the Austrians might have nabbed, or even murdered, Frederick, which was obviously Warkotsch’s intentions at the time (as he did not hesitate to employ the ominous sounding phrase “dead or alive”). However, the last minute arrival of a body of Ziethen’s command, which had changed its accommodations at the last moment, in the vicinity gave the baron a case of fortuitous cold feet. In short, the conspirators planned to “seize the king when he should come forth unattended, and convey him to the Austrian camp.”

Forward to the late autumn. Now the fortunes of war and his many trials had led the king back to Silesia, this time to the little village of Wöischnitz (near Strehlen, the temporary headquarters of the king), where Frederick had an escort of 30 grenadiers. Warkotsch planned to carry out his dastardly conspiracy under the cover of darkness, even though a large division of bluecoats (some 6,000 men all told) was close by the headquarters.

Warkotsch conceived of a plot to set the thick woods round about Strehlen and vicinity on fire, which in the confusion of the moment should enable Colonel Wallis to accost the king and make straightway for Laudon’s headquarters. For his treacherous conduct in delivering up the royal head, the baron was supposed to receive the princely sum of 100,000 florins. As Archenholtz points out, Warkotsch, to act with such perfidious conduct, had to believe that Prussia was going to lose the war, and thus control of Silesia. The extent to which the Austrian government was involved in the plot is not precisely known, but the large size of the “reward” sure gives one pause. It was 100,000 florins (which was roughly $600,000 in equivalent U.S. dollars in 2000, according to Duffy’s rate of exchange). It is certain that Warkotsch proceeded to inform Laudon that Frederick’s temporary headquarters at Strehlen had few guards and he could be easily taken captive. Now why Laudon did not try the deed with his large army rather than work out a rather involved plot is hard to explain.

The particulars are the following. Warkotsch was in communication with a certain man named Schmidt in Siebenhuben; the pair kept in touch through the baron’s faithful servant, Matthias Kappel. An Austrian party was prepared in Heinreichau under Colonel Wallis to affect the capture of the king when the time came. Fortunately for the bluecoats, on November 30, Kappel, instead of delivering Warkotsch’s note to the little Austrian waiting party, took it instead to a local Catholic priest named Gerlach. To his credit, this poor parish priest sent Kappel to the person of the king himself to deliver the acid letter. Thus the scheme was exposed. As soon as Warkotsch heard the jig was up, he took refuge in the same room occupied formerly by the king, and when a Prussian officer entered to place him under arrest, the baron used the hidden stairway to affect his escape. Schmidt also managed to flee. Later, when the baron returned to try to claim some of his money and valuables, his “friends” in his escort helped themselves to it instead. Subsequently, Warkotsch fled to Hungary and implored Maria Theresa to send him a stipend; she eventually “rewarded” him with an annual 300 florins for his maintenance. He was even given a “new identity,” one Count Löbenstein. The upshot was, Baron Warkotsch and Schmidt were both burned in effigy and the Prussians confiscated all of their properties.

Laudon went into winter hibernation from Lusatia, although, with the fortress Schweidnitz in his hands, for him it had been a profitable campaign. None of the warring parties suspected great fundamental changes which would alter the political considerations for the new year of 1762.

England, now involved in a new war with Spain (declared January 2, 1762), was yearning to be set free from the Prussian alliance, and had cast Pitt out of office, replacing him with Lord Bute. It did not take long for big upheavals in policy.

Bute offered Frederick a subsidy only on the condition that the Prussian seek to make peace with Austria through negotiation (in fact, Bute was already haggling with the French to bring war between France and England to an end). Although it is not within our confines to examine Europe’s political climate at this time in depth, there are two developments we need to look at more closely: (1) The defection of Great Britain from the Prussian alliance, and (2) The long anticipated death of the Empress Elizabeth and the consequent defection of Russia from the Allied cause.

The first was directly related to the removal of Pitt from office. With Pitt out of the equation, Frederick’s Prussia had few friends left in high office in London and even the Prussian representatives in London joined in the crescendo for their master to make some concessions to Count Kaunitz and the allies in order to get the war over with. As for Frederick, he was still holding fast to the line, and even hoping that at least a part of Saxony might be left to him at the peace. However, with his only important ally actively negotiating with the French, the king faced dismal prospects.

Part of the reason for the English decision to try to come to terms with the French involved soaring losses by Great Britain of its merchant vessels to swarming French privateers. The total loss of English trading vessels in 1760 had been over 300, “and in 1761 at over eight hundred, three times that of the French.” Obviously, it would not be long before losses of this magnitude would become unsustainable.

By the end of 1761, the bluecoat armies no longer had possession of Saxony and held only Breslau, Neisse, and some other strips even in Silesia (the rest was by then controlled by the Austrians and Russians). The Swedes and Russians held much of Pomerania and East Prussia had been long been before sacrificed on the twin alters of necessity and reluctant acceptance. The Prussian army had been reduced to most desperate straits, thanks to the combination of the severed money subsidy from the English and reduced territory from which to draw new recruits. There would only be some 60,000 men for the new campaign: about 30,000 with the king himself, Prince Henry with 25,000 in what little remained of Saxony, and the remaining 5,000 or so confronting the Swedes and Russians in the area of Pomerania.

Frederick was on the brink of the abyss. He rightly felt that nothing short of a miracle could stave off the defeat and the next campaign must surely be the finale. Then, out of the blue, the “miracle” happened. In late 1761, the ailing Czarina Elizabeth collapsed and—on December 29—died. In the end, Elizabeth was deserted by a number of her courtiers, who looked past the dying Czarina and fixed their gaze upon the Prussophile, the man who would be Peter III. This included even Vorontsov, a childhood friend of the woman’s, who abandoned her abruptly. The upshot was, gone was one of Frederick’s most irreconcilable foes. Her nephew, Peter, became the new Czar; he, it must be remembered, was an ardent admirer of the Prussian king and all things Prussian. This Peter III at once recalled Buturlin with his army from the front and Poland and immediately informed the British representative he wished to negotiate peace with Frederick.

Peter was child-like, rather a simpleton, but at this crucial moment, he became the Prussian monarch’s best friend on the political scene. Peter cheerfully handed back to the Prussians all of the conquests that had been bought dearly with Russian blood, including Colberg and East Prussia, and immediately ordered his armies to cease and desist from fighting Prussians. This although the two countries did not actually sign a formal peace until May 15, 1762, in the Treaty of St. Petersburg. Sweden took the opportunity to close out its wholly unfortunate little war with Prussia as well; subsequently, the two powers signed a Treaty of Hamburg (May 22, 1762), which resulted in no territorial changes. The whole character of the war had changed; in one fell swoop.

The defection of the two northern powers significantly altered the coming Campaign 1762 from those that had gone before. For the first time, Frederick did not have to bother with sending troops to a Northern or Eastern Front; he was free to concentrate against the French and the Austrians, who, besides the Imperialist army, were the last of the field armies confronting the Prussians.

To operate against Frederick in Silesia, was Marshal Daun, who had, due entirely to the reductions in the field armies because of finances, only 80,000 men with him. Frederick faced the new year with the comfort that peace was on the way as both sides were exhausted and tired of the fighting. With new revenue from the reclaimed provinces swelling his treasury, the king again had a large army. Nearly 120,000 men strong, of which 70,000 would be with Frederick’s army, Prince Henry would have 40,000 more in Saxony, and a reserve of 10,000 men.

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