Habsburg Eastern Strategies

Prince Eugene of Savoy by Jacob van Schuppen

A meeting of the Privy Conference in 1711 concluded that “if the tsar is victorious he could throw himself into Turkish territory as far as the Danube and possibly force his way to Constantinople, an outcome much more menacing in its long-term consequences for Austria than even the most far-reaching Turkish victory.” From the early eighteenth century onward, the Habsburgs would debate three broad options for how to deal with this problem: unilateral extension of Habsburg power; cooperation with Russia to eject and supplant the Turks, and comanage the remnants of their rule; and support for the status quo and resistance to Russian encroachments. Over the century that followed, all three alternatives would be attempted in different forms and combinations. The viability of each option at given moments in time would be a function of Austria’s power position relative to that of its two eastern neighbors, and how they judged developments on this frontier to rank alongside priorities on the monarchy’s frontiers in the west and north.

The Era of Mobile Field Armies: 1690s–1730s

In the opening decades of the eighteenth century, local conditions favored the first option: seeking to militarily shape the southeastern security environment to Austria’s advantage. At this early stage, Ottoman weakness, as demonstrated by the scale of Habsburg territorial gains in the previous war and recent Turkish defeats at the hands of the Russians, presented an opportunity to consolidate the monarchy’s enlarged position in the southeast. The prospects of gain seemed to outweigh the risks, either from the Ottoman military itself or Russian interference, which was foreseen but still on the horizon, and mainly restricted to the Sea of Azov and Dniester.

The strategy that evolved in response to this environment was shaped primarily by the desire to exploit areas of military advantage that Austria possessed as a result of the previous Turkish war along with its recent contests with Spain and France. Experiences in combat had revealed a considerable Habsburg tactical-technological edge over Turkish forces, rooted in the development of modern Austrian armies using Western equipment and fighting methods. As recently as 1697, Prince Eugene had demonstrated the decisive results that such forces could have against traditionally deployed Ottoman armies by inflicting a crushing defeat on the Turks at the Battle of Zenta that resulted in more than thirty thousand Ottoman casualties.

The early decades of the eighteenth century offered opportunities to repeat this victory. Ottoman forces of this period were equipped in similar fashion to their European rivals; indeed, Ottoman muskets and artillery were in some cases qualitatively superior to those found on the Habsburg side. The Habsburg edge lay in the quantity of such weapons and how they were employed tactically. The first was a by-product of advantages in the Austrian system for procuring military technology. Traditionally, the Ottoman Empire had financed its wars through plunder—a system that required continual conquest to support the growth of the military establishment. While possessing the core of a standing army, the system supporting it was unstable and contingent on victory. The development of munitions in the Ottoman Empire was tightly controlled by government, and depended on a combination of arsenals and networks of skilled artisans, the latter of which were organized by guild and dominated by the Janissary corps, an elite but conservative military body that frequently opposed innovation.

In Austria, by contrast, procurement was tied more heavily to military contractors, who had at their disposal a larger reservoir of artisanal talent, and access to the techniques and resources not only of the Erblände but also neighboring Bohemia and Italy. To this must be added the advantage of greater resources for war in Habsburg lands, which while deficient alongside many western rivals, compared favorably with the Turks. Efforts at bureaucratic centralization, and from 1714 onward, by the monarchy’s acquisition of the Italian and Dutch lands, enabled a larger tax base and more powerful standing army. By the early 1700s, Habsburg revenue was already at least double that of the Ottoman Empire, where an astonishing 80 percent of revenues collected failed to ever reach the Treasury as a result of corruption and rent seeking. Of those Ottoman funds raised for defense, a large portion went to the navy, while in Austria virtually all could be concentrated on the upgrading and upkeep of the army.

One result of these financial disparities was that while the quality of Turkish weapons may have been comparable or occasionally superior, Habsburg forces tended to go to war with both more numerous and higher-quality weapons. By the time of the Turkish wars of the early eighteenth century, Habsburg units had transitioned to the flintlock musket (Flinte), which fired faster and more reliably than previous matchlock and wheel lock pieces. The newer muskets also allowed for the widespread use of bayonets, which would not be widely used in Turkish armies for many decades. By contrast, Ottoman armies were equipped with a mixture of European and traditional weapons. The total proportion of their armies equipped with modern firearms—the Janissaries, sipahis cavalry regiments, and artillery corps—typically made up only a third of the forces available for a campaign. The bulk of the army would consist of private troops raised by the local governor and volunteer forces—both of which bore arms of varied make and quality. Although reforms in the late eighteenth century would raise these proportions and standardize weaponry, for most of this period Habsburg forces were proportionally stronger in regular troops, with Janissaries still making up less than a third of the Ottoman Army at Peterwardein in 1716. Those Turkish units that did carry muskets were equipped with an array of different types. “Their weapons,” an Austrian military memo noted, “lack a uniform caliber, causing balls to often get stuck in the breach; as a result, their supply is slow and their fire never lively.”

Another Austrian advantage was tactical, in how their weapons were used on the battlefield. Individually, Ottoman troops tended to be formidable fighters. As Archduke Charles wrote, “The Turk has a strongly constituted body: he is courageous and bold, and possesses a particular ability in the handling of his own arms. The horses of the Turkish cavalry are good; they possess a particular agility and rapidity.” Numerically, they tended to field larger armies than the Habsburgs, composed of different troop types from across the Ottoman Empire, and including everything from stock Anatolians to Persians, Egyptians, and Tatars. Their favored method of war was offensive, forming dense masses that charged headlong with Islamic banners waving and screaming, as Eugene put it, “their cursed yells of Allah! Allah! Allah!” Austrian eyewitnesses frequently commented on the unnerving effects that such chants, coming from tens of thousands of advancing Ottoman soldiers, could have on their opponents.

Despite such ferocity, Turkish armies suffered from a lack of discipline, which in turn undermined tactical handling and fire control. Ottoman attacks, though large, tended to be pell-mell and poorly coordinated. As Eugene said of the chaos in Turkish formations, “The second line [is] in the intervals of the first, and others in the third line [are] in the intervals of the second, and then, also, reserves [are thrown in] and their saphis on the wings.” A later Austrian source characterized these assaults as proceeding “without rule or order” (ohne Regel, ohne Ordnung), comparing them to the “pigs-head” (Schweinskopf) formations described in antiquity, in which the bravest fighters inevitably push to the forefront while the mass lingered behind them. In a similar vein, Archduke Charles wrote that the Turks “attack in mixed groups of all types of troops, and each isolated man abandons himself to the sentiment of his force.”

By contrast, by the early eighteenth century, Habsburg armies were drilled to fight based on the western European model, in synchronized fashion by unit. From long experience on European battlefields, the infantry was trained to deliver controlled volleys on command. The resulting discipline translated into a tactical advantage that allowed Austrian armies, if well handled, to sustain rates of fire capable of repelling or even massacring massed charges of the kind favored by the Turks. “As the effort of several Turks acts neither to the same end, nor in the same manner,” Charles noted, “they always fall against an enemy who opposes against them a unified mass acting cohesively. They rout with the same disorder and the same rapidity as they came up.”

The question of how to maximize these advantages against the Turks was intensely studied by Habsburg military men. In Sulle Battaglie, Montecuccoli advised Austrian commanders to abandon the defensive methods used on western battlefields and adopt an aggressive, tactically offensive mind-set. “If one had to do battle with the Turk,” he wrote,

  1. Pike battalions have to be extended frontally, more than has ever been the case before, so that the enemy cannot easily enclose them with his half-moon order.
  2. Cavalry is intermingled with the infantry behind and opposite the intervals so that the foe … would be exposed on both sides to the salvoes of the musketry.
  3. One should advance directly against the Turk with one’s line of battle, and one should not expect him to attack because, not being well-furnished with short-rage, defensive weapons, he does not readily involve himself in a melee or willingly collide with his adversary…. Using the wings of his half-moon formation, it is also easy for him to approach and retire laterally….
  4. Squadrons are constituted more massively than is ordinarily the case.
  5. One stations a certain number of battalions and squadrons along the flanks of the battle line in order to guarantee security.

Prince Eugene would adopt and expand on this template in later years, systematizing fire control, introducing uniform regimental drill, placing greater emphasis on the speed of deployment for plains warfare, and adopting defensive formations to allow small units greater flexibility in movement across broken terrain.

The overarching goal of Austrian tactics in the south was to bring their greater firepower to bear while making provisions for the safety of flanks, which Turkish cavalry were expert at attacking. To account for Ottoman speed, Austrian commanders were to form their units in square formations not unlike those later used by colonial European forces against indigenous armies in Africa. As Charles observed,

The suppleness and rapidity of their horses permit their cavalry to profit from all openings in front or in flank and penetrate there. To give them no chance of doing it, one should thus form the infantry in square … and not to put into lines anything save the cavalry which is equally rapid as their cavalry…. [Commanders should] form several squares, each one of two or three battalions strength at most. These squares constitute lines of battle as much in march as in position. One forms in the end some of these squares in checkerboard fashion, and from it one derives the great benefit of being able to mutually defend and support each other.

So great was the risk of Turkish cavalry penetrating the flanks of these squares that Austrian units were to “camp and march always in squares,” and when possible, protect these formations with chevaux-de-frises or so-called Spanish Riders—lances several yards long fitted with boar spears—to provide a thick hedge and keep irregular cavalry at bay while reloading. As a further precaution, Austrian forces in the south were typically given a higher complement of cavalry (at times approaching 50 percent of field armies).


It was with these techniques that Habsburg forces took the field against the Turks in 1716. Leading them was the fifty-two-year-old Prince Eugene of Savoy. Raised among the French nobility and court of Louis XIV, Eugene had been rejected from the French Army and forced to leave Paris after a romantic controversy involving his mother and the king. Small in stature, he was a tenacious, creative, and offensive-minded general whose motto in war was “seize who can.” A veteran of the Turkish wars, Eugene’s first combat experience had been as a twenty-year-old volunteer pursuing the Turks alongside the Polish hussars at the siege of Vienna in 1683, for which Leopold I had awarded him a regiment of dragoons. By the time of the 1716 war, Eugene was a seasoned senior field commander who had successfully led the armies of Austria and the Holy Roman Empire in three wars and more than a dozen major battles.

The immediate cause of the war was a conflict between the Ottoman Empire and Venice, the latter of which was bound by defensive alliance to Austria. Strategically, however, the incident offered a rare opportunity to strengthen Habsburg security in the southeast at a moment when Austria’s armies were not tied up in fighting in western theaters. Eugene’s war aims, as outlined by the Privy Conference, were twofold. First, he was to secure Habsburg control of the Danube down to Vidin, thus closing the Banat salient and restricting the Turks to a second line of fortresses at Giugiu-Babadag-Ismail, and by doing so, impose a diplomatic settlement making Wallachia and Moldavia de facto buffer states. As the emperor communicated to him, it was critical to establish these provinces as client states (unser tributär erhalten).

While tactically offensive, Eugene’s overarching strategic objective was defensive: to round off and buy breathing room for the territories acquired in the previous war. This was particularly important with regard to the final, as-yet-unconquered part of Hungary, the Banat, without which strategic communications between Habsburg possessions in Croatia and Transylvania were severed. In the ensuing campaign, Eugene inflicted crushing defeats on the Turks. Going into the war less than two years after the conclusion of the Spanish succession struggle, he was able to draw on a large reservoir of seasoned veterans from campaigns in Italy and Germany. Using the Danube as a supply artery, he bypassed Belgrade, a major Ottoman fortress holding the key to southeastern lines of communication, and instead chose to seek out and destroy the main Ottoman army. This he intercepted in late summer at Peterwardein under the personal command of the grand vizier, and despite possessing numerically inferior forces, inflicted a decisive defeat from which barely a third of the Turkish Army escaped. In the months that followed, he consolidated this victory by taking Ottoman fortresses at Timisoara, in the Banat, and most notably, in Belgrade.

Eugene’s military victories would not have been possible without prior Habs burg diplomacy. The key to his victories was the ability to concentrate Austria’s limited military forces, which had only occurred because Austria did not have to worry about maintaining large troop concentrations on other frontiers while fighting in the south. This was made possible by preparatory diplomacy, which had begun years before the war, when Habsburg diplomats worked to ensure that a war in this theater would not occur until the timing was militarily favorable to the monarchy.

The foundation to this diplomacy had been efforts to prevent the breakout of conflict too early—most notably, at the high point of the Spanish succession war, when Charles XII invaded Saxony with forty thousand troops, raising the threat of intervention to support Silesian Protestants or even alongside Protestant Hungarian rebels against Vienna. With the Erblände naked to attack from this quarter, Joseph I used what amounted to preemptive appeasement at Altranstädt to buy peace with Charles by recognizing Sweden’s candidate to the Polish throne, ceding German land and even making concessions to the Protestants in Silesia in exchange for avoiding Austrian entanglement in the Great Northern War. The following year a similar problem loomed in the south, when tensions with the Porte threatened to open a new front in the war after several Ottoman merchants were killed in a border incident at Kecskemet. Faced with the prospect of a Turkish declaration of war at a moment when Habsburg forces were pinned down on the Po and Rhine, Joseph I used a combination of bribery at the sultan’s court and compensation for Turkish damages to buy peace. Again in 1709, the passage of Sweden’s Charles XII into Ottoman protection following his defeat by the Russians threatened to bring the Turks into the war. This time Austria responded by rallying its western allies against the Swedes, issuing a war threat to Turkey and creating a new northern corps under Eugene to deter attack. In both instances, the Habsburgs were able to avoid war with the Ottomans at an inconvenient moment for their broader strategic interests.

A similar mixture of accommodation and force had been used to ensure that Eugene would not have to worry during his campaigns about problems from the Hungarians. From 1703 to 1711, Magyar kuruc raiders under the rebel prince Rákóczi had waged a relentless irregular war against Austrian positions in Hungary, momentarily even threatening the Habsburg capital.39 In order to concentrate force in the western theater, Austrian diplomats in 1706 brokered a temporary armistice that allowed Eugene to focus attention on his operations in Italy, without granting the scale of constitutional concessions sought by the rebels. After achieving victory in the west, the Habsburgs were able to use a “surge” of cavalry into Hungary to defeat the rebels and force a favorable peace. The resulting Treaty of Szatmar (1711) was a showpiece of Habsburg diplomacy, mixing threats (as Joseph I said when threatened by a resumption of kuruc raids, “tell them bluntly that we ‘could do even worse’ ”) and magnanimity with pardons for rebel leaders and a guarantee of Hungary’s historic liberties. This peace proved durable. As a result, by the time Eugene began preparing for military operations four years later, he was not troubled by the prospect of Hungarian uprisings along his lines of communication and was even able to employ former kuruc rebels in his army.

These earlier preparations helped make possible a sharp, successful war. Charles VI had explicitly requested that the campaign be short, instructing Eugene to achieve a “quick and glorious peace”—partly to avoid creating an opening for crises (groβe Unruhen) on other frontiers, and partly to ensure that any lands won could be secured rapidly and without foreign interference (ohne Mediation). The need for a speedy outcome was heightened by growing signs of conflict in Italy, where Spain’s Philip V sought to take advantage of Austria’s distraction in the Balkans to launch an attack on Sicily. As the Turkish war drew to a close, the Spanish challenge was forcing Eugene to siphon off regiments from the Balkans, leading him to lament that “two wars cannot be waged with one army.” While Eugene used the opening of negotiations with the Turks at Passarowitz to consolidate Austria’s new gains in the southeast and free up military resources for the west, Charles struck an agreement with Britain and France renouncing his claims to the Spanish throne in exchange for military cooperation against Philip. These measures helped to avoid a protracted two-front emergency. As negotiations wrapped up with the Ottomans, Charles rejoiced to Eugene that “our hands are now free to deal with those who want to chew on us [elsewhere].”

The physical scale of Eugene’s victory over the Turks was immense. In the concluding Peace of Passarowitz, Austria absorbed, uti possidetis, all the ground that its armies held at the time that hostilities ceased, or a total of some thirty thousand square miles of new territory. The addition of these large spaces bolstered Habsburg security in the southeast. Per Eugene’s advice to “expand following the lay of the land,” Austria absorbed the Banat, closing the gap between its defenses in Croatia-Slavonia and Transylvania. The war also enhanced the size and status of the monarchy’s regional buffers, placing northern Serbia and Little Wallachia under Habsburg rule, while designating Wallachia, Moldavia, and Poland under Article I as intermediary bodies: “Distinguished and separated as anciently by the Mountains, in such manner that the Limits of the ancient Confines may be unchangeably observed on all sides.”

Passarowitz was a high-water mark for Habsburg power in the Balkans. But it would not last. In the years that followed, Austria’s ability to shape the southern frontier through unilateral military action evaporated as a result of two changes—one military in nature, the other geopolitical.

First, Eugene died. The extent to which Austria’s spectacular battlefield victories had been the result of the prince’s talents became dramatically apparent when the next Austro-Turkish war broke out in 1737–39. The parallels with the 1716–18 war are striking. As before, Habsburg officials favored the timing for military action because of the recent end of a conflict in the west (the Polish succession war) and thus recent relative quiescence on other fronts.

As their predecessors had done prior to 1716, Habsburg diplomats successfully labored to create the conditions for an exclusive focus on the Balkan frontier before going to war. Also like the previous war, Habsburg forces set out to win a short war using mobile field armies. Echoing its earlier instructions to Eugene, the Privy Conference insisted that “the war last but one campaigning season.” And as before, the strategic goal was largely defensive: to consolidate and round off Austria’s holdings along the central Danube axis while expanding Austrian influence in the buffer territories of Wallachia and Moldavia.

Battle of Belgrade

Without Eugene at the helm, though, Austria quickly found that it was no longer able to rely on rapid strikes to secure its security objectives in the southeast. Poorly led and suffering from the years of neglected military spending that Eugene had so often predicted would lead to catastrophe, Habsburg forces suffered defeats at Banja Luka and Belgrade. In the ensuing Treaty of Belgrade (1739), Austria was forced to disgorge most of its gains from Passarowitz. While using many of the same tactics as in the previous war, Habsburg generalship was weaker, the army had lost its fighting edge, and the Ottomans themselves had incorporated lessons from past wars, adopting improved technology in both small arms and artillery with the help of foreign military advisers.

The second, far-larger change to conditions in the southeast, however, came as a result of geopolitical developments elsewhere. In the year after the war ended, Austria was invaded from the north by the armies of Frederick II of Prussia, setting off what would become an almost forty-year life-or-death struggle for the Habsburg Monarchy.


Ulm 1805

The Capitulation of Ulm by Charles Thévenin.


The Emperor has discovered a new way of waging war; he makes use of our legs instead of our bayonets.…

Anonymous French soldier, 1805

Having dispatched his troops, Napoleon set out for Malmaison on 2 September 1805. In Paris there were some distractingly aggravating domestic problems to be dealt with; a disappointing harvest had made bread prices soar and finances were in a mess. The budget showed an immense deficit, and, as it was against all Napoleon’s principles either to borrow or to print paper money, a heavy increase in taxation was his only recourse. Rumours that he was reaching down into the bottom of the national coffers in order to pay for the new war were spreading financial panic. This, plus a call-up of 80,000 to provide him with a contingency reserve, did not enhance his popularity in the capital. On 23 September when he explained to the Senate the causes of the new war, laying the blame squarely on the Allies, the Senators evinced little more than token enthusiasm. During his return to the Tuileries, he was vexed by the unwonted lack of warmth shown by the populace. Disagreeably aware that civilian morale was not of the same high order as that of the Grande Armée, Napoleon left Paris for Strasbourg knowing how imperative it was for him to win a swift and decisive victory, if for no other reason than that the country might otherwise face bankruptcy.

At Strasbourg, the gloom was intensified by Talleyrand, the venal ex-Bishop of Autun turned Minister of Foreign Affairs, who for both national and personal reasons disapproved of the new war. With his club-foot and love of comfort, he dreaded the pain that resulted from the long marches trailing behind his master. The rest of his entourage was also suffering from presentiments that, like Turenne or Charles XII, the irreplaceable leader might possibly be struck down by a stray ball. The Empress herself, so Thiers alleged with just a touch of cynicism, ‘was the more strongly attached to him the more fear she felt about the duration of her union with him’. Having got over his latest transient infatuation with twenty-year-old, musical Madame Duchatel that spring, Napoleon displayed a renewal of his passion for Josephine and there was an emotional (and public) farewell scene. Napoleon wept and vomited, and according to Talleyrand suffered something like a convulsion – news which was warmly received in London as signifying that the arch-enemy had been laid low with an epileptic fit. ‘It really is painful to leave two people one most loves,’ grieved the Emperor, embracing them both and then setting forth, on 1 October, on one of his rare campaigns without a woman.

Once on the other side of the Rhine, things immediately looked brighter. Only a short time behind the schedule laid down by Napoleon, on 26 August the Grande Armée was concentrated perfectly in conformity with his plans and was marching superbly. It was probably one of the first times in warfare that roads were to be used so extensively for transportation of an army on a large scale. The infantry strode forth in two parallel files at the side of the dusty roads, leaving the centre free for the cavalry and heavy wagons, each division spread out over three miles in precise march discipline. With straws between their teeth so as to keep their mouths closed, the troops would begin their march at between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. and bivouac before midday. Every hour there was a five-minute halt when the music – clarinets, flute and horn – played, and when the men showed signs of sleepiness on the march the drums began to beat. Anything to keep them on the move.

Among the Guard, even though they carried heavier packs than the Line, discipline was of course superb; at Ettlingen they rendered honours in immaculate full dress when the Emperor was received by the Grand Duke of Baden. Desertions were minimal; out of Marmont’s 20,000-strong II Corps, only nine men were missing when it reached Würzburg. ‘The Emperor has discovered a new way of waging war,’ grumbled the infantry, ‘he makes use of our legs instead of our bayonets.…’ As previously noted, the speed of Napoleon’s forces on the march was legendary. Advancing into the German states, the Grande Armée, travelling light, was preceded by the quartermasters, who arranged billeting and requisitioning. Fortunately, at any rate in the early stages, food was readily available in rich Württemberg and Bavaria. ‘It was the height of the potato season,’ Corporal Jean-Pierre Blaise wrote to his parents from Germany. ‘How many times did we blight the hopes of a villager! We plundered him of the fruits of a whole year’s work. However we were, as you might say, forced to do so.…’ The unhappy German peasants tried to bury their food supplies, but the French foragers soon ferreted them out.

Then bad weather struck and in the sodden bivouacs morale slumped. François-Joseph Joskin wrote, ‘Oh mother, what a great misfortune has befallen me to become a conscript! What an unhappy life it is to be a soldier!’ Food supplies were uncertain, boots were holed and the horses were beginning to break down. Davout was asking permission to shoot hungry marauders. Something of that Boulogne euphoria began to dissolve under the icy rain. But Napoleon was in no way dejected; to Josephine he wrote exuberantly on 2 October, ‘Our grand manoeuvres are in full swing. The armies of Württemberg and Baden are joining mine. I am in good health, and I love you.…’ By 7 October, Murat’s cavalry had crossed the Danube downstream from Ulm. The Grande Armée’s front concentrated from 125 down to 50 miles.

In contrast to his own performance, Napoleon noted (on 2 October) how ‘the enemy is marching and counter-marching and appears to be embarrassed’. Though nominally under Archduke Ferdinand, the Austrian expeditionary force on the Danube was in effect commanded by his quartermaster-general, General Karl Mack. Aged forty-three at this time, Mack had been born in Bavaria of a lower-middle-class Protestant family and had worked his way up through the ranks. In 1799 he had been defeated by Napoleon in Italy and captured, escaping the following year. He had not handled that campaign with particular distinction, and Nelson – with whom he had collaborated in Naples – went so far as to declare him ‘a rascal, a scoundrel and a coward!’ This was unduly harsh, and Mack seems to have been a courageous soldier at least as competent as most of the leaders thrown up either previously or subsequently by a nation whose greatest talent never lay in the art of warfare. As Generalquartiermeister, Mack had done his best to modernize the Austrian Army, but his efforts had been resisted as too ‘revolutionary’ by Vienna’s hidebound military establishment.

Basically, the Austrian Army of 1805 remained that of Maria Theresa and Joseph II. Its bible was still the Generals-Reglement of 1769, which stressed drill and rigidly linear tactics and a cautious strategy based on secure communications, coupled with a traditional Austrian proclivity for fortified bases. The Commissariat was regarded as too socially inferior to be administered by officers-and-gentlemen; hence it was rotten with corruption, and barely functioned. Between 1801 and 1804 the national military budget had been cut by more than half. Most of the Austrian infantry still carried the 1754 musket, and had very little practice with it. Artillery was sprinkled about in penny-packets among the infantry, much as the French were to use their tanks in 1940. Baggage trains were huge, partly due to the requirements of officers’ personal kit.

Greatly impressed by the mobility of Napoleon’s army, Mack had undertaken a series of reforms in the spring of 1805; but it had been too late, and Mack himself seems to have been somewhat carried away by optimism at what he had already achieved. More realistically, the best Austrian commander, Archduke Charles, had unsuccessfully resisted involvement in a new war on the ground that the army was simply not ready for it. He was overruled by the ‘hawks’; thus, when war came, the Austrian Army was caught in the middle of change and reform, its organization still antiquated and its movements ponderous. The High Command was in the hands of the slow-witted and argumentative Aulic Council. Its deliberations with the Russian leaders were sadly shown up by Napoleon’s axiom that, ‘nothing is so important in war as an undivided command. For this reason, when war is carried on against a single power, there should be only one army, acting upon one base, and conducted by one chief.’ Moreover, within the Ulm camp, there was already a fundamental clash of personalities between the aristocratic, overbearing Catholic Archduke Ferdinand (given titular command not least to keep it out of the hands of the mistrusted Russian ally) and the despised Lutheran ex-ranker, Mack, who was to bear the shame and responsibility of the coming disaster.

Under the impulse of Ferdinand and the Aulic Council, Mack had committed the fatal error of crossing the River Inn into Bavaria on 8 September, without waiting for the Russians, who were still east of Vienna. This was exactly what Napoleon had foreseen (aided no doubt by the presence at Mack’s headquarters of the double-agent Schulmeister). Equally Mack and Ferdinand had perfectly swallowed Napoleon’s deception plan, expecting the main French offensive to be delivered in northern Italy, as in 1796 and again in 1800; they were also distracted by such carefully planted rumours as that the British had landed in Boulogne and that a coup had been launched in France against Napoleon. Refusing to believe that he would risk breaching Prussian neutrality by marching through Ansbach, they had their eyes riveted to their west, on the Black Forest where Murat’s cavalry had been ostentatiously swarming about. A series of contradictory intelligence reports were reaching Mack. As a result he continued to sit paralysed at Ulm, ordering up reinforcements from the Tyrol – only to increase Napoleon’s eventual bag of prisoners. When Marshal Soult’s corps crossed the Danube at Donauwörth on 8 October, the officers of a reconnaissance force despatched by Mack were taken by surprise in the middle of their dinner. The surprise was universal. As Thiers remarks:

Never was astonishment equal to that which filled all Europe on the unexpected arrival of this army. It was supposed to be on the shores of the ocean, and, in twenty days, that is to say the time required for the report of its march to begin to spread, it appeared on the Rhine, and inundated South Germany.

Although, with the arrival of the Grande Armée on the Danube, the curtain was now rent asunder, Mack could still not be sure of precisely what Napoleon was planning to do. He seems to have nursed a wishful belief that, since Napoleon had crossed the Danube and then swung westward again, he might be heading back to Paris to cope with the domestic crises that Mack too had heard about. Consequently he went on wavering, adopting scheme after scheme and then abandoning them. In turn his irresolution made it the more difficult for Napoleon to form an appreciation of how his enemy would react once the jaws of the trap closed behind Ulm. There were basically three options open to Mack. He could stay in Ulm and sit it out until the Russians arrived, a contingency for which he had neither the strength nor the provisions. He could try to break out of the trap and retreat on Vienna along the north bank of the Danube; but this route lay across the main line of march of Napoleon’s forces and he would be sacrificing his own communications with the Tyrol. Or he could withdraw southwards up the River Iller, to withdraw on Vienna through the Tyrol, linking up on the way with Archdukes John and Charles.

This last seemed to Napoleon the most logical contingency, and upon this judgement he went on to commit his first major error of the campaign, which, had the Austrians been less ineffectual, might easily have led to catastrophe. To prevent Mack breaking out southwards, he despatched the main weight of his army – Lannes, Soult, Davout, Marmont and the Guard – across the Danube, concentrating on Augsburg. Bernadotte was sent eastwards, as a covering force against the Russians, leaving only Murat, with Ney under his command, to control the Danube River itself on both sides.

With their vaunting pride, rivalry and ambition, one of the chief faults of Napoleon’s marshals was that they seldom took well to being subordinated to one another. Murat, the thirty-eight-year-old innkeeper’s son, who became commander-in-chief of the newly formed Guard in 1799 and Napoleon’s brother-in-law the following year, was the most over-weaningly ambitious of them all. Tall, vain, handsome and a brilliant horseman with a passion for fine horses and extravagant uniforms, Murat was renowned in the army for his rash courage (even though he was bullied by his wife Caroline). General Savary remarked acidly that ‘it would be better if he was endowed with rather less courage and rather more common sense’, and his mixture of impetuousness and self-interest was to lead Napoleon to the brink of disaster on more than one occasion during the Austerlitz campaign. He was the most resented of Napoleon’s marshals, and Ney, the thirty-six-year-old cooper’s son, immediately chafed at being placed under his command. Red-headed Ney was also courageous to a fault; of only moderate intelligence he could show initiative, but often at the wrong time, and his front-line style of leadership tended to lead him to ignore units not immediately within his sight.

Relations between the two marshals were thus immediately strained. On 11 October, when (in interpretation of Napoleon’s instructions) Murat ordered Ney to move his whole corps across to the south bank of the Danube, there was a violent row in front of many witnesses which nearly ended in a duel between the two commanders. Finally only General Dupont’s division of 6,000 men was left on the north bank of the Danube, muddled by conflicting orders that resulted from the marshals’ altercation. Murat – and certainly Napoleon – was unaware of just how weak the French forces now were that side of the river.

Meanwhile, Mack had captured orders revealing Ney’s dispositions and realized that an escape route north was open. Suddenly the unfortunate General Dupont found himself confronted by 60,000 Austrians ‘in an imposing attitude’, some twenty miles north-east of Ulm. Typically of the spirit of the Grande Armée, however, Dupont hurled forward two regiments in a savage bayonet attack. The Austrian front line recoiled, leaving behind 1,500 prisoners. For the next five hours there was violent fighting in and around the village of Haslach, between Dupont and 25,000 Austrians. Dupont’s division was cut to pieces, and possibly only saved from being overrun by the fact that Mack himself had been wounded in the battle. But Dupont held; if he had not, the Austrians – says Thiers – ‘would have fled into Bohemia, and one of Napoleon’s most splendid combinations would have been completely frustrated…’. Certainly there would have been no Austerlitz.

Opinions differ over who was to blame for this near-disaster; Thiers says it was Murat, Ségur blames Napoleon. Wherever the fault lay, Napoleon on hearing of Dupont’s plight immediately took over the reins himself, ordering Ney to push vigorously across the Danube upstream from Dupont. On 14 October, Ney, enraged by this decimation of one of his divisions and Murat’s overbearing manner, seized Murat’s arm and shook him violently in front of the Emperor, exclaiming angrily, ‘Come, prince, come along with me and make your plans in face of the enemy.’ He then galloped off, in full uniform and decorations, to supervise the relief operation ‘amid a shower of balls and grape, having the water up to his horse’s belly.’

Dupont’s valour, however, had provoked fatal dissension in the Austrian camp. On 12 October, Archduke Ferdinand wrote bitterly to his kinsman, the Emperor, ‘General Mack has already projected and put into execution today three absolutely different plans.’ Although the French error had opened an escape route out of the Ulm trap, Ferdinand had thrown it away by pressing the attack on Dupont so half-heartedly; yet he now urged Mack to agree to his escaping from Ulm in that same direction with at least a part of the army. Mack protested that, left with only 30,000 men until the Russians should arrive, this would abandon him completely to the mercy of Bonaparte, while Ferdinand’s force would just be chopped up piecemeal by the French cavalry. But, with true Habsburg arrogance, the Archduke challenged him: ‘Confine me in the fortress if you wish to prevent me. Does your power extend to that!’

Ulm, and the Austrian army there, was doomed. On 12 October Napoleon wrote triumphantly to Josephine, ‘The enemy are beaten and don’t know what they are about. It all looks like the most successful, the shortest and the most brilliant campaign ever fought.…’ The following day he issued a proclamation to the army, declaring, ‘Soldiers! It is only one month since we were encamped on the Ocean, facing England.… Soldiers! Tomorrow will be a hundred times more famous than the day of Marengo; I have placed the enemy in the same position.’

By the night of 15 October, Ney had retrieved the situation on the left bank of the Danube by winning a brilliant victory at Elchingen (which was later to earn him the title of Duke of Elchingen), and had established himself on the Michaelsberg heights overlooking the city from the north-west. That day the Emperor, while gazing down on Ulm, came under heavy fire himself when a concealed Austrian battery poured grape-shot into the Imperial group, and Lannes had to seize the reins of his horse to lead him hastily out of danger. (At another time, on the River Lech, the Emperor had also narrowly escaped death or serious injury when his horse, stumbling, had fallen on top of him. The episode had been kept a strict secret from the rest of the army.)

The citadel of Ulm was now held in a vice on three sides, with Soult moving up on the fourth from the south-west. Napoleon called on Mack to surrender; Mack refused. He was like ‘a tethered goat in an Indian village awaiting the visit of a tiger’. On 16 October, Napoleon ordered Ulm to be bombarded with a few warning shells. Conditions in the city, largely as a result of the Austrians’ chaotic Commissariat, were already appalling: ‘Many thousands of men made their quarters on the open streets, where they cooked and slept.… The whole city was a latrine, permeated with a pestilential stench.…’ Meanwhile, as threatened, Ferdinand had pulled out with 20,000 men, abandoning Mack altogether. Equally, just as Mack had predicted, the Horse Guards pursued them, putting the unhappy fugitives to the sword at every turn; the Bavarian peasants plundered them as well, cutting the traces of the artillery to steal the horses. Finally, only 2,000 men struggled into Prague.

Blindfolded, Napoleon’s aide, the Comte de Ségur, was led into Mack’s citadel to renew cease-fire negotiations. Until that moment the unfortunate Mack had still no idea that he was encircled by 100,000 enemy troops, plus another 60,000 between him and the Russians. With his own army now divided in half, his position was clearly hopeless but still he refused to surrender. Finally, on 19 October he gave in and on the following day Napoleon, mounted on a white horse, watched as the army that was to have taken Strasbourg and Paris passed into captivity. The incessant rain of the previous weeks had suddenly turned to glorious sunshine. A conversation took place between Mack and Napoleon, whom a captured Austrian officer described in his moment of glory as dressed ‘in the uniform of a common soldier, with a grey coat singed* on the elbows and tails, a slouch hat without any badge of distinction on his head, his arms crossed behind his back, and warming himself at a camp-fire’. To Mack, a ‘powdered old man in a splendid uniform of blue and white’, Napoleon remarked, ‘I don’t know why we are fighting each other.… I did not wish it; I did not intend to fight any but the English, when your master came along and provoked me,’ adding (prophetically, as far as his own was concerned), ‘All empires come to an end.’

Napoleon was never to win an easier success. Mack disappeared into ignominy. While Archduke Ferdinand was to become the darling of Vienna for his flight from Ulm, the plebeian Mack was made scapegoat for the defeat; he was court-martialled, broken from service, and thrown into a dungeon for several years.

On 21 October, Napoleon issued his victorious proclamation:

Soldiers of the Grande Armée:

In a fortnight we have made a campaign; we have accomplished what we intended. We have driven the troops of the house of Austria out of Bavaria.… The Army, which, with equal ostentation and imprudence, came and placed itself on our frontiers, is annihilated.…

Of the hundred thousand men who composed that army, sixty thousand are prisoners; they shall go and replace our conscripts in the labours of our fields.… Soldiers, this success is owing to your unbounded confidence in your Emperor, to your patience in enduring fatigues and privations of every kind.… But we shall not stop there; you are impatient to commence a second campaign. That Russian army, which the gold of England has brought from the extremities of the earth, shall share the same fate.…

It was a classic victory, and was won with an extraordinary economy in casualties on the French side; however, Austrian losses (including those inflicted in the ensuing sweeping-up operations) are reckoned to have totalled almost 60,000 men. Including those lamed by the long march, Napoleon lost no more than 2,000 men hors de combat, most of them from the single, battered division of General Dupont.

News of Ulm, when it reached England, was greeted with a mixture of shock and outrage. Lord Auckland declared that a captain of the London Volunteers would have done better than Mack. Lady Bessborough wrote, ‘I am so terrified, so shocked with the news I scarcely know what to wish. This man moves like a torrent…’, while Lord Grenville was incredulous: ‘An army of 100,000 men, reckoned the best troops in Europe, totally destroyed in three weeks.… Yet even this, I am afraid, is only the beginning of our misfortunes.

Marlborough’s March to the Danube

Marlborough and Cadogan at the Battle of Blenheim by Pieter van Bloemen

The affairs of the Grand Alliance failed to prosper elsewhere as Philip V proved to be popular in much of Spain, and Maximilien-Emmanuel Wittelsbach the Elector of Bavaria, having combined forces with the French, moved on to threaten Vienna. If this threat became reality, and Vienna should be occupied, even for a short time, then the Grand Alliance would almost certainly fall apart.

Early in 1704, Queen Anne gave her consent to a plan hatched by Marlborough and the Austrian ambassador, Count Wratislaw, to go to the aid of the emperor. In effect, Marlborough would take those troops in the queen’s pay up the course of the river Rhine to combine with the Imperial troops in southern Germany and confront the elector to remove the threat to Vienna. For Marlborough, this offered the chance to be free of the constraints imposed on him by the Dutch, while countering one of Louis XIV’s main strategic initiatives, that of driving Austria out of the war. The southern frontier of Holland would be exposed by such a movement, but the Dutch troops in Marlborough’s army would remain on guard there, under the reliable command of Veldt-Marshal Overkirk. The duke could see, and managed to persuade his Dutch colleagues of the fact, that if he marched south, the French would be unable to ignore the strategic re-balancing that was being made in the Allies’ war effort and would have to follow, so that the immediate threat to Holland would subside.

Speed was of the essence in order that the French should remain off-balance. The remarkable march of Marlborough’s army in the early summer of 1704, from the Low Counties up the course of the Rhine and then across the passes of the Swabian Jura mountains, is well known, a major switch in the emphasis of the efforts of the Grand Alliance from northern to southern Europe. The dramatic change went virtually unchallenged while it was in progress; Louis XIV was taken by surprise at such an audacious move, and his army in Bavaria, under the command of the recently promoted Marshal Ferdinand Marsin was soon under threat. The countermove by the king was to hurriedly send a fresh French army, commanded by Marshal Tallard, through the Black Forest passes to go to the support of Marsin and the Elector of Bavaria. In the meantime, dictating the pace of the campaign and always one step ahead, Marlborough had joined Prince Eugene of Savoy, the president of the Imperial War Council, and the Margrave of Baden, the Imperial field commander, and agreed with them a joint strategy to deal with the threat to Vienna. In short, Eugene would go to hold the upper Rhine secure, while Marlborough and Baden combined forces to engage Marsin and the elector on the Danube.

First of all, Marlborough had to get his army across the river Danube and interpose it between Vienna and the French and Bavarian forces. This he did in emphatic style on 2 July 1704, by seizing the partly fortified Schellenberg hill above the small town of Donauwörth at the junction of the Wornitz River with the Danube, and he destroyed Count d’Arco’s Franco-Bavarian force there in the process. Marlborough now had a secure crossing to the southern bank of the Danube. Having placed his army between Vienna and the French and Bavarians, his principal objective in the campaign, he could operate almost at will in the region. On the other hand, of course, Marsin and the elector might come out of their defences to fight, although news of the approach of a fresh French army under Tallard was soon received in the Allied camp, and it seemed almost certain that nothing would be attempted until Tallard’s arrival in Bavaria. Meanwhile, in an effort to prise the elector away from the French, the duke embarked on a ruthless campaign of destruction in Bavaria, but the elector was not to be moved from his own set course and clung to his alliance with Louis XIV, despite the urging of his wife. By late summer there was something of a stalemate in southern Germany; Marlborough could not winter his army south of the Danube, at least partly because the region had been devastated by his own cavalry and dragoons. The alternative was to withdraw along his own newly established supply lines towards Nuremburg in central Germany, but this would be a tacit admission of failure, and whether the campaign in the south could be renewed in 1705, with the Dutch growing more anxious at the duke’s continued absence, was very much in doubt. Also in doubt would be Marlborough’s reputation as a commanding general who could deliver real success, particularly as many politicians in London were far from convinced that their troops should be so far away at all, on what might prove to be a fool’s errand.

An English grenadier with a captured French colour at the Battle of Blenheim.

On 13 August 1704 all such misgivings were set to rest. Marlborough had joined forces with Prince Eugene and attacked and defeated the French and Bavarian armies on the plain of Höchstädt, in the battle that became known as Blenheim (from the nearby village of Blindheim, into which Marshal Tallard’s French infantry were pointlessly packed and then herded away as prisoners of war). ‘We took them all prisoners,’ Donald McBane, serving with Orkney’s Regiment, wrote, ‘they laid down their arms and marched a mile to the right of our army, we took a great many of their head officers, with the standards, tents, and their whole Train and ammunition.’ In the aftermath of utter defeat, Marshal Marsin and the elector conducted a withdrawal to the Rhine with their own battered forces, and the closing months of the year saw a series of hard-fought rearguard actions and sieges of such places as Landau in Alsace and Trarbach on the Moselle. This dogged resistance, conducted in part by François de Neufville, Marshal Villeroi, a close friend of Louis XIV, slowed the Allied progress and prevented Marlborough from making the most of his astonishingly successful campaign that summer. Despite this, the French king had lost the ability to win the war on that terrible day in August; the complete destruction of one of his main field armies was a blow that could not easily be set right. ‘The loss of France could not be measured by men or fortresses. A hundred victories since Rocroi had taught the world to regard the French army as invincible, when Blenheim, and the surrender of the flower of French soldiery, broke the spell.’ All this might be so, but Louis XIV had not yet lost the war – it remained to be seen whether the Grand Alliance could make the most of this turn of events and prudently achieve an advantageous peace for themselves.

The victory at Blenheim, so unexpected and so complete, was greeted with relief and jubilation across the Alliance. Marlborough was the hero of the hour, seen to be clearly one of the great captains of all time, a true ‘master of the field’. Honours flowed to him and his commanders. Eugene had his share of glory, of course, although the Margrave of Baden had gone to lay siege to the Bavarian-held fortress of Ingolstadt early in August and had not, to his regret, been present on the day of victory. Making the most of this success, however, was not that simple, and the duke found that he was unavoidably drawn back into the Low Countries to campaign in 1705. His overall plan for the year, almost certainly too ambitious and optimistic, was to take his troops to combine with the Imperial army under Baden to sweep through the Moselle valley into the heart of northern France, while Veldt-Marshal Overkirk held the line with a Dutch corps in the Southern Netherlands. Nothing went well – the weather was bad, the Margrave was delayed (partly due to still convalescing from a wound to his foot suffered at the Schellenberg). The duke, Captain Robert Parker wrote, ‘was greatly chagrined at the disappointment, as he had conceived great hopes of penetrating France that way . . . had the prince [Baden] joined him according to their agreement, the French must have drawn from the Netherlands a good part of their troops.’ It would, though, not have been quite so simple as the good captain suggests, for the formidable Marshal Villars, always a sound tactician, held strong defensive positions along the line of the Moselle. In addition, Emperor Leopold had died in Vienna that May, adding uncertainty to the Alliance. To complicate all this, the contractor who was supposed to be gathering stores in Trier embezzled the funds and defected to the French instead. Marlborough’s troops were out of position and short of supplies: ‘We camped on a hill called Hungry Hill,’ Donald McBane remembered ruefully.

Matters turned worse on 10 June, when Marshal Villeroi seized the town of Huy on the Meuse River, and Overkirk, thoroughly alarmed at the sudden French move, urgently sent word for Marlborough to return as soon as he could. The duke had little option but to abandon his already faltering Moselle campaign and force march his troops back to the Low Countries, where Huy was soon recovered and Villeroi forced back behind his defences. These works, known as the Lines of Brabant, stretched in a huge arc some 60 miles long, from Antwerp in the north down to Namur on the Meuse, and shielded the French field army as it manoeuvred to counter whatever Marlborough and Overkirk might attempt. On 17 July 1705 Marlborough forced his way through the lines at Elixheim on the Gheete stream and drove off the French and Bavarian detachment he met there with heavy losses. Villeroi fell back behind the shelter of the Lys River to cover Louvain, but a move by the duke to confront him there was frustrated by Dutch reluctance to move quickly enough once an initial crossing of the river had been accomplished. A month later, in mid-August, an attempt by the duke to overwhelm a French force under the Marquis de Grimaldi on the Yssche River to the south of Brussels failed because the Dutch generals and their field deputies were unwilling to undertake what they, quite understandably in fact, foresaw would be an expensive engagement. The duke might invite his allies to come to a ball, but he could not, yet, be sure that they would dance.

For his part, Marlborough declared that he would no longer work under such restrictions. The States-General, tacitly acknowledging that the campaign had stalled at least in part due to the restrictions under which he had to operate, quietly transferred elsewhere the more obstinate and short-sighted of their generals and field deputies and assured the duke of full cooperation in future. ‘If he would continue at the head of the army on their frontier . . . they would readily comply withal.’ To a large degree, they proved to be as good as their word in the years that followed. Difficulties did persist, however, over the precise terms of service and prompt payments of subsidies with some of the Protestant leaders who provided such excellent troops for the Alliance, a number of whom, welcome and gifted with military expertise or otherwise, wished to take the field in person.

Albrecht Friedrich Rudolf Dominik, Archduke of Austria (1817–1895) and the Battle of Custozza

Austrian field marshal, victor over the Italians in 1866, and leading military figure of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Albrecht Friedrich Rudolf Dominik, second Duke of Teschen, was born in Vienna on August 3, 1817. He was the eldest son of Archduke Charles of Austria, the only Austrian general to defeat Napoleon, in the Battle of Aspern-Essling (May 21–22, 1809). Charles encouraged his son’s inclination toward the military. Although Albrecht suffered from a mild form of epilepsy, it did not adversely affect his military career.

At age 13, Albrecht was commissioned a colonel in the Austrian 44th Infantry Regiment. Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky was his chief military adviser. Albrecht was named Generalmajor in 1840, Feldmarschall-leutnant in 1843, and General der Kavallerie in 1845. As commander of forces in Upper Austria, Lower Austria, and Salzburg, he had charge of troops in Vienna at the onset of the Revolution of 1848. On March 13, his men fired on the crowds in an effort to restore order. Although his troops were able to secure the city center, they failed to win control of the outer districts. Albrecht was himself wounded in the fighting. Following the resignation of Austrian chancellor and foreign minister Klemens von Metternich and the formation of an armed student guard, Albrecht ordered his troops to their barracks.

Albrecht took part in the subsequent effort to suppress revolutionary outbreaks against Austrian rule in northern Italy. Commanding a division under Radetzky, Albrecht played a key role in the victory over Italian forces led by King Charles Albert of Sardinia in the Battle of Novara (March 23, 1849). During 1851– 1860 Albrecht was governor of Hungary. The Italian War of 1859 passed him by as he was then in Berlin, engaged in a fruitless effort to secure an alliance with Prussia.

With war with Prussia looming, in mid-April 1866 Albrecht was appointed to command the South Army rather than the forces against Prussia. Here he faced onerous odds: 75,000 Austrian troops with 168 guns against 200,000 Italians with 370 guns. Yet Albrecht won a decisive victory over the Italians led by General Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora in the Battle of Custozza (June 24, 1866).

The charge of the 13th Regiment of Austrian Uhlans.

Battle of Custozza (June 24, 1866)

The Southern Army of the Habsburgs was made up of many fine regiments. The Archduke commanded barely 75,000 troops against a foe of 200,000 equipped with more than twice the amount of artillery he could muster. As his orders to his army upon declaration of war noted, this disparity in numbers was not at all intimidating: `Soldiers!’ he exhorted them. `Never forget how often this enemy has run away from you!’

Ably advised by his chief of staff, General John, the Archduke Albrecht waited for Marmora’s army to cross the Mincio. Albrecht hoped to disrupt Marmora’s army so as to render it incapable of uniting with another Italian army advancing from the south under Cialdini. To keep Marmora in check while holding Cialdini under observation required some forced marches across the northern Italian plains in scorching heat. Neck scarves and a proliferation of sun- protective materials punctuated the white tunics of Albrecht’s infantry, while his cavalry abandoned their heavy costume and headdress to adopt lighter blouses and, in the case of his lancers, soft caps. By the time the morning of the 24th dawned, the Imperial Royal Army had divested itself of all its Alpine kit and had come to resemble increasingly a lightly armed skirmishing force which, but for the absence of the colour of khaki, might have been recognisable on the North West Frontier a generation later.

Risking serious disruption had he been faced by a more energetic opponent, the Archduke wheeled his forces west to occupy the high ground around Villafranca. His V corps under Rodichad conducted the most punishing night march to Sona but neither Italian skirmishers nor cavalry patrols disturbed their deployment on the hills around Custozza. To the surprise of the Austrians, these hills had not been seized by the Italians. Only around the high ground east of Vallegio did the Italians blunder into the Austrians at 6 a. m. As Marmora rode up to the small eminence of Monte Croce shortly after dawn, he was staggered to see an entire Austrian corps (Hartung IX) moving towards him in three columns less than two miles away. The Italians were about to be swept back to their Mincio crossings in great style. With improvisation, Marmora hastily assembled a defence, ordering two divisions to march up to Villafranca where Albert’s wing was lightly defended by an Austrian division under Ludwig Pulz. As this deployment began, the quixotic opportunities which war affords the alert and energetic mind came into play.

Pulz was under strict orders to `maintain only contact’ with the Italian III Corps under Della Rocca. He was therefore mildly surprised to see four squadrons of his lancers, mostly Poles from Galicia under their colonel Rodakowski, line up in formation, lower their lances as their colonel drew his sword and gallop towards the Italian infantry in the early morning light. Pulz had expected the horsemen to be on a reconnaissance. With the feathers in their caps catching the sun and the pennants of their lances fluttering in the wind, the lancers’ charge threw up a huge cloud of dust.

As Rodakowski galloped forward, he was joined by seven more squadrons of lancers, which had been assigned to watch the Verona road. This breakdown in discipline was at first interpreted as a sophisticated feint. Pulz explained to a puzzled staff officer watching the scene unfold that, despite Edelsheim’s heroic charge at Solferino, there was no real precedent in the Austrian army for the charge of a single light cavalry brigade towards two infantry divisions supported by artillery and twenty squadrons of heavy cavalry.

Pulz, looking on, heard artillery and infantry volley fire open up in response to Rodakowski’s charge and felt compelled to support his horsemen, so he advanced with what was left of his cavalry. 2 Another 300 horsemen thundered off. As an impetuous cavalry commander, Rodakowski had engaged the Italian infantry at their weakest point, the gap between the two divisions, and had succeeded in disrupting some of the Italians. But the majority of the Italian infantry had seen the threat in good time and had formed square. With withering volley fire they had easily repulsed the attack, which cost Rodakowski half his command. As the lancers wheeled around it looked as if they were facing the same fate that had overtaken Edelsheim at Solferino and Lord Cardigan at Balaclava, twelve years earlier.

Some, perhaps no more than a troop, of Rodakowski’s lancers had penetrated beyond the infantry. Their appearance, however brief, had a stupendous effect on the excitable Italian troops milling around the supply wagons to the rear of Della Rocca’s troops. The Italians, promptly fearing being ridden down by enemy horse, excitedly took to their heels. The panic gathered momentum and infected even the Italian reinforcements marching up to support Della Rocca. Suddenly a horde of riderless horses and fleeing Italian infantry began to charge back towards the Mincio, where they imagined safety awaited them. By 9 a. m., the bridge at Goito was a mass of fugitives screaming that the `Tedeschi’ (Germans) were coming to slaughter them.

The front line of Della Rocca’s troops held firm but the Polish charge had a demoralising effect on them and they dared not advance for fear of an Austrian counter- attack, even though this sector of the Austrian line was thinly held and could not have withstood a vigorous push by the two Italian divisions.

Rodakowski’s charge, as brilliant (and indeed more effective) as that of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, was a poor start to the battle for the Italians. Albert’s rather thin left wing was the Achilles heel of the Austrian deployment that day and could have proved the beginning of severe problems for the Austrians had it been correctly evaluated and exploited by the Italians, something Rodakowski’s 500 men had rendered impossible.

Elsewhere the battle, though less dramatic, was also not developing as the Italians had planned. On the Austrian right, an Italian division under Cerale was caught in the flank by an Austrian infantry brigade under Eugen Piret containing several `crack’ grenadier battalions and some skirmishing Croats well concealed in the woods on the Italians’ other flank. Within minutes the Italians were fleeing again back to the Mincio, offering only stubborn resistance at the village of Oliosi where repeated attacks by the Austrian grenadiers were repulsed with heavy loss for nearly an hour.

The Austrian Stosstaktik, so disastrous in the Swiepwald two weeks later, proved more successful against the Italians, though almost as costly. Sirtori’s division fell back under the pressure of the Austrian bayonet charges but inflicted heavy casualties on Bauer’s brigade (660 of Bauer’s men fell in less than fifteen minutes as they advanced).

Nowhere this day did the Austrian frontal attacks prove as expensive as at Monte Croce, where two Austrian brigades from IX Corps (Hartung) were virtually annihilated as they attempted to dislodge well dug- in Italian infantry under Brignone. More than 2,500 Austrians were lost in these poorly executed and coordinated attacks, which fizzled out owing to lack of reinforcements.

By 10 a. m. the crisis of the battle had arrived for the Austrians. Everywhere along their line they had failed to seize any strategically important ground and their numbers were dwindling. A concerted push by the Italians, who were fighting well, would unmask the deficiencies of the Archduke’s command and his weakness in numbers, with potentially catastrophic results for the Habsburg army.

After nearly three and a half hours of intense fighting, the Austrians had shown aggressive spirit and it was this which finally demoralised the Italians. Despite their strong defence of Monte Croce, Brignone’s troops began to panic because the Austrians simply kept re- forming into new lines, advancing again: white- coated troops with bands playing and bayonets lowered. Riding `to safety’, on Marmora’s advice, the Italian King instantly saw his troops’ weakness and tried to reinforce them, but to no avail. The Brignone line broke after the fourth assault by the Austrians and the sight of the tall Hungarian grenadiers advancing put even their rearmost lines to flight.

As Marmora rode to try to rally Brignone’s men, he noticed that the nearby heights of Custozza also appeared to be occupied by white- coated troops. These were the soldiers of Böck’s brigade, Romanians, often decried as unreliable but advancing in good discipline. The Italian reinforcements came up, and an Austrian brigade under Scudier, which had advanced up the heights of Custozza, panicked and withdrew rapidly (an act for which their commanding officer Anton Scudier would be court- martialled after the war).

Scudier’s precipitate withdrawal opened a small but dangerous gap in the Austrian centre, which could have been exploited with serious consequences had not Rodic’s corps stormed the Monte Vento and Santa Lucia heights. There, the Austrians discovered evidence of Italian atrocities committed against some captured Jaeger troops, two of whom had been stripped naked and beaten to death before being hanged with leather from their uniforms.

Rodic’s men, notably Piret’s brigade supported later by Moering, neutralised the effects of Scudier’s withdrawal. Custozza became a fragile point d’appui for the Italians. Flanked on either side by Austrians, they withdrew at around 3 p. m. Panic, the greatest enemy of the Italian army that day, took hold across Marmora’s front. Sensing his moment, the Archduke now ordered a grand envelopment but, as Pulz rode towards Villafranca, he found thousands of Italians laying down their arms without a fight as Della Rocca began withdrawing. Everywhere the Italians were breaking, with the exception of the few brave men who had filled the gap vacated by Scudier – and they were about to be ejected by three Austrian brigades. Only the valiant Granatieri di Sardegna saved Italian honour that day, withdrawing in perfect order around 5 p. m. The battle ended after the Austrians brought up a couple of batteries to blow to bits any remaining Italian defenders of Custozza who lingered.

As the Archduke Albert surveyed the scene from the heights he saw a vast shattered Italian army in headlong retreat. Later historians and some of his own officers have severely censured him for not ordering an aggressive pursuit but this was not the Habsburg tradition, as we have seen. Albert, like his father before him, knew that the dynasty could never afford to take the risk. Those who criticise Albert for `timidity’ miss the point. This was not how the Habsburgs waged war, especially, in Albert’s phrase a `defensive war’.

Victory was really concerned with honour and could only be tactical because Venetia had already been surrendered to all intents and purposes. Moreover, to effect a crushing pursuit Albert would have needed fresh troops. The Austrian casualties were high. Nearly 9,000 Austrian dead and wounded, including some 400 officers, lay scattered around the battlefield.

Many of the survivors had been in action without interruption for more than 18 hours. Without exception they had fought bravely against an opponent who enjoyed significant numerical superiority. (In the event the absence of the Italian Cialdini’s corps somewhat evened the numbers out.) In the blistering heat of those June days on the north Italian plain, many of Albert’s troops were utterly exhausted. Some had died of heatstroke; many others were dehydrated and ill. V Corps under Rodic was the only force capable of conducting a pursuit, but to what end? One Italian army was crushed; it did not need to be destroyed. Moreover, like his father, Albert had a realistic view of his strategic gifts and knew that he was no Napoleon.

Any advantage that might have accrued to Austria by this victory and that of Count Wilhelm Friedrich von Tegetthoff over the Italians in the naval Battle of Lissa (July 19–20) was more than offset by the Austrian defeat in Bohemia in the Battle of Königgrätz (July 3). Although Albrecht was named Oberkommandeur (commander in chief) on July 10, 1866, Feldzeugmeister Ludwig von Benedek’s crushing defeat at Königgrätz prevented further military action against Prussia, and Austria was forced to conclude peace with both Prussia and Italy. Albrecht’s victory remained the one bright spot for Austria in the land war and was accorded an eminence that it did not perhaps deserve.

Albrecht continued as Oberkommandeur until 1869, when Emperor Franz Josef I assumed that position. Albrecht then became Generalinspekteur (inspector general), holding that post until his death and carrying out an extensive reform of the Austro-Hungarian military establishment based on the Prussian model. In 1869 Albrecht published Über die Verantwortlichkeit im Kriege (On Responsibility in War).

Extremely conservative in his political views, Albrecht also advocated preventive war against Italy and, following the 1878 Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, urged military action to secure additional Balkan territory to include Salonika. Albrecht was advanced to Feldmarschall in March 1888. He was also made Generalfeldmarschall in the German Army in 1893.

Albrecht continued in his posts until his death at Schloss Arco in the Tirol on February 18, 1895. There is an equestrian statue of him in Vienna near the entrance to the Albertina museum (his former city residence of the Palais Erzherzog Albrecht, which houses Albrecht’s extensive art collection). A conservative and even reactionary figure in many ways, Archduke Albrecht was primarily a bureaucrat rather than a field general but nonetheless carried out important reforms in the Austro-Hungarian Army that helped prepare it for its great test in World War I.

Further Reading

Kann, Robert A. A History of the Habsburg Empire, 1526–1918. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.

Marek, George R. The Eagles Die: Franz Joseph, Elisabeth, and Their Austria. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.

Palmer, Alan. Twilight of the Habsburgs: The Life and Times of the Emperor Francis Joseph. New York: Grove, 1994.

Rothenburg, Gunther E. The Army of Francis Joseph. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1976.

Josef Kiss: An Officer and a Gentleman

At the beginning of the twentieth century the class system of many European countries prevented a great number of talented people from developing their full potential in life. In the vastly changed circumstances of a world war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire – the Dual Monachy – still sought to perpetuate its strict peacetime social system, particularly prevalent in the rigid ‘closed shop’ of the professional military caste, which prevented the entry of any ‘outsider’ into its enclave.

Hungarian Josef Kiss was a victim of this repressive regime. Born in January 1896 in Pozsony, now Bratislava, Kiss was the son of a gardener working in the grounds of the military cadet school in Pozsony, and at the outbreak of war he immediately left school and enlisted in the military. Under the strict regulations of the Austro-Hungarian Army, his lack of matriculation in formal education automatically precluded any question of him becoming an officer, and in October 1916, his military training completed, he was serving in the infantry on the Carpathian sector of the Eastern front with Infanterieregiment Nr72 when he was seriously wounded. While recovering, Kiss applied to the Kaiserliche und Königliche Luftfahrtruppen (Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops, usually abbreviated to k.u.k. LFT) to train as a pilot. At this stage of the war, the LFT considered a pilot as merely a chaffeur, a role unfit for an officer, and as a non-commissioned officer, Kiss’ application was granted.

At the end of April 1916, having completed his training, Kiss was posted to Flik 24, newly-formed and under the command of Hauptmann Gustav Studeny. Equipped with two-seater Hansa-Brandenburg C.I aircraft, the Flik was based at Pergine, on the southern part of the Tyrol front, to provide reconnaissance, fighting and bombing support for the 11th Army. Kiss soon proved to be a capable and aggressive pilot. On 20 June 1916, flying with Oberleutnant Georg Kenzian as his observer, Kiss attacked an Italian Farman on reconnaissance behind the Italian lines on Monte Cimone, forcing it to land. It was his first aerial victory.

Just over two months went by before Kiss scored again. On 25 August, flying a Hansa-Brandenburg C.I, with Leutnant Kurt Fiedler in the rear seat, he attacked a Caproni threeengined bomber. The Italian gunners put up a spirited defence, hitting the Hansa-Brandenburg more than 70 times, but Kiss pressed home his attacks, finally forcing the bomber to crash land near Pergine aerodrome. On 17 September, Kiss repeated this success. Flying with Oberleutnant Karl Keizar as his observer, he attacked another Caproni and forced it to land.

His skill and potential qualities as a fighter pilot having now been recognised, Kiss was allocated a Hansa-Brandenburg D.I single-seater fighter, but it was nine months before he gained his fourth victory. On 10 June he shot down a Nieuport scout over Asiago, but he quickly followed this four days later, attacking and forcing down a SAML reconnaissance aeroplane of the 113a Squadriglia close by Roana. On 13 July, again flying his D.I, Kiss forced down a Savoia-Pomilio two-seater, and on 11 September he scored his seventh victory, his last while serving with Flik 24, shooting down a SAML over Asiago.

During November 1917, Kiss moved across the aerodrome at Pergine to join Flik 55J, commanded by Hauptmann Josef von Maier. Maier, who was to end the war with seven victories, took Kiss into his own flight, along with another noncommissioned officer, Julius Arigi, who had scored his thirteenth victory on 15 September by shooting down an Italian Spad. Over the next few months this formidable triumvirate would earn Flik 55J the sobriquet of the Kaiser Staffel – Emperor’s Squadron. On 15 November, just after Kiss’ posting, the trio attacked and shot down three Caproni bombers near Asiago, following this triple victory with a double two days later, shooting down a Savoia-Pomilio and a SAML south of Asiago.

In this new fighter environment, and flying an Oeffag-built Albatros D.III fighter, Kiss found ample opportunities to add to his score. The day following his victory on 17 November, Kiss shot down two Italian aircraft over Monte Summano, and, again flying his Albatros, another pair over near Asiago on 7 December. Still flying his Albatros D.III, Kiss shot down another SAML on 16 December.

Kiss started the new year of 1918 on 12 January. Flying with Oberleutnant Georg Kenzian and Zugsführer Alexander Kasza, he forced an RE8 of 42 Squadron RAF to land on Pergine aerodrome. The crew, Lieutenants G Goldie and J Barnes, were both taken prisoner. On 26 January, Kiss scored his nineteenth and final victory, shooting down a SAML two-seater of 115a Squadriglia to crash behind the Italian lines. This victory made Kiss the highest scoring Austro-Hungarian pilot.

On 27 January, a single hostile aeroplane was sighted over the airfield at Pergine. Kiss took off to intercept the intruder, but was attacked by three Sopwith Camels of 45 Squadron, led by Captain Matthew ‘Bunty’ Frew, an ace with 20 victories. Kiss fought the RFC pilots for nearly ten minutes, flying magnificently, but was finally wounded in the abdomen by Frew’s fire. Kiss broke off the action and force landed on Pergine aerodrome.

After recovery from his wound, Kiss returned to combat flying. Some sources suggest that he returned too soon, that he was still in a weakened state, but there appears to be no documentary evidence to support this. Kiss was now one of the Dual Monarchy’s most successful and highly decorated pilots – he had been awarded three gold and four silver medals for bravery – but he was still only an Offizierstellvetreter, a non-commissioned officer.

On the morning of 24 May, Flik 55J received orders to intercept a strong force of Italian Caproni bombers reported to have crossed the front lines and heading towards Feltre and Belluno. At 10.00 am, Kiss, took off from Pergine with his two wingmen, Feldwebel Stephan Kirjak and Stabsfeldwebel Kasza, all flying Albatros D.IIIs. Climbing over the airfield to gain their height, the trio then flew to join up with a flight commanded by Linke-Crawford of Flik 60J, based at Feltre aerodrome, possibly the target of the Italian bombers.

On the other side of the lines, three Sopwith Camels of 66 Squadron had taken off from their aerodrome at San Pietro-in- Gu on a No.14 Offensive Patrol. Led by Captain William Barker, Lieutenants Gerald Birks and Gordon Apps climbed to their operational height of 17,000 feet and made for the eastern sector of their patrol area. These were a formidable trio of fighter pilots: at this time, Barker had twenty-nine victories, the Canadian Birks had nine and Apps, four.

At 10.40 am the Camel pilots sighted a formation of two Albatros D.IIIs and one Hansa-Brandenburg D type over Grigno. The enemy aircraft, almost certainly the flight from Flik 60J, were at the same height as the Camels, and the allied pilots chased them, catching them and attacking just over the valley at the southern foot of Mount Coppolo.

The known facts of the subsequent fighting during the morning are confused and often contradictory, exacerbated by the faulty aircraft recognition of both the Austro-Hungarian and British pilots involved, but it seems that during this first combat between Link-Crawford’s flight and the Camel pilots, Barker attacked the rearmost hostile aircraft in the formation, which spun down away from his fire. Gerald Birks attacked the lone Hansa-Brandenburg and after a short fight shot its wings off. Birks and Apps then dived into the valley after the remaining enemy aircraft. At this point in the fight, Barker, who had kept his height, saw three Albatros D.IIIs diving after Birks and Apps: Josef Kiss, Kirjak and Kasza.

Kiss and his wingmen had previously agreed upon a tactic to fight the British Camel squadrons in Italy. Kiss and Kirjak would dive away, as if refusing to fight, while Kasza would follow them, but in a shallow dive, offering himself as a target for the pursuing enemy pilots. While the enemy pilots were attempting to shoot down Kasza, their attentions fully occupied, Kiss and Kirjak, taking advantage of the more powerful 200hp inline engines of their Oeffag-built Albatros D.IIIs, which gave them a superior zoom to that of the Camels, would zoom up, stall turn and attack the Camels from the rear. There was little risk in this tactic: Kasza was an exceptional acrobatic pilot, fully capable of outmanoeuvring his opponents while his Flik comrades got into a favourable attacking position.

The Austro-Hungarian pilots followed their planned tactic, Kasza staying to fight Birks and Apps, but giving them no opportunity of getting into an effective firing position. After losing 1,600 feet in height, Kasza saw that Kiss and Kirjak had zoomed and had taken up their positions, and he climbed back into the fighting. Kiss was behind a Camel marked ‘Y’, flown by Birks, and firing into it, but behind Kiss was another Camel, marked with a large letter ‘Z’. This was flown by Barker, who had brought his favourite Camel with him when he had transferred to 66 Squadron, and he was now shooting into Kiss’ Albatros at close range. Birks in ‘Y’ went down, with Kiss following but flying with uneven movements as if wounded by Barker’s fire. Kasza was now within range of Barker’s Camel and fired into it, but Barker spun away and Kasza came under attack from the rear by Gordon Apps. Kasza zoomed away in a climbing turn, but Apps’ fire hit the Albatros behind the cockpit and Kasza threw his machine into an evasive spin. Recovering lower down, Kasza was again attacked by Apps, who fired a long burst before breaking off the combat. This parting burst seriously damaged the rudder and ailerons of Kasza’s Albatros, but his elevators were intact, and by skilful flying he managed to land on Feltre airfield.

Kiss and Kasha having both gone down, left only Kirjak. He was attacked by Birks, but Kirjak was also an exceptionally skilled pilot and he more than held his own, fighting Birks for a considerable amount of time. Apps then joined in the fight, but Kirjak still frustrated their efforts to bring him down. Finally, Captain Barker joined the fight, fired a short burst at the elusive Albatros, and Kirjak went down out of control.

The British pilots later claimed that Kirjak was seen to crash, but he had regained control at low height and returned to Pergine aerodrome. Anxiously questioned by von Maier, Kirjak could give no news as to the fate of either Kiss or Kasza, but a report was later received by an army unit that one of their aircraft had crashed into tree on a hillside near Fonzaso, six miles west of Feltre. The dead pilot’s head had been so badly mutilated by the engine in the crash that he could not be identified, but a list of the decorations on his tunic confirmed that it was Josef Kiss.

Within 24 hours of his death, Kiss was posthumously promoted to Leutnant der Reserve, the officer rank he had so coveted in his short life. He was buried as an officer on 26 May 1918.

A Canadian from Montreal, Lieutenant Gerald Alfred Birks joined the RFC in 1917 and was posted to Italy and 66 Squadron in March 1918. He survived the war with twelve victories, one of which was the five-victory Austro-Hungarian ace, Oberleutnant Patzelt. Birks was awarded an MC and Bar.

Englishman Lieutenant Gordon Frank Mason Apps was a native of Lenham in Kent. He was commissioned in the RFC in August in 1917 and served in Italy with 66 squadron. Apps also survived the war, scoring ten victories, and was awarded a DFC, gazetted in September 1918.

Flying the Fokker Eindecker

‘Unfortunately, I have not yet received the Fokker aircraft that I selected on Thursday. The Fokker is very well suited for the artillery missions that we fly almost exclusively due to its great speed, rate of climb and manoeuvrability. A new machine has been ordered for me from the factory, but there is no way of knowing when and if I will receive it.’

Those words of praise for the new Fokker Eindecker (monoplane) were penned in a letter of 30 November 1914 by Oswald Boelcke, then a junior officer with Feldflieger-Abteilung IT in France. Although he went on to score a number of his initial aerial victories in Fokker Eindeckers, at that early point in the war Boelcke was interested only in the superior flight characteristics of the then-unarmed monoplanes.

Oswald Boelcke notes his preference for the Eindecker, which he compares to the Taube mono¬ planes produced by Rumpler and others, in his letter of 9 December 1914. He wrote: “Yesterday I picked up my Fokker, which had meanwhile arrived. It is a small Eindecker. with a forward-mounted French-built rotary engine, [the aeroplane is] about halt as big as a Taube. It is the most modern machine. I have not yet been able to fly it. Until now I have flown the same types that we have in Germany. The Fokker was my greatest Christmas present.

`Now I have two aircraft: a big biplane for long flights and the small Fokker for artillery flights. The thing goes wonderfully well in the air and is very easy to handle. Now both of my “children” rest peacefully inside one tent hangar, the small one somewhat hidden, with its tail under the wings of the big one.’

During the early phase of World War I the Germans showed a clear lack of planning the best deployment of their military aircraft. For example, they virtually ignored the German patent granted in 1913 that proposed a very workable system to allow rounds from a forward-firing machine gun to pass through a propeller arc. Instead, unarmed aircraft were sent up to perform visual reconnaissance and other non-combatant assignments.

The perils of the early unarmed reconnaissance flights can be seen in the experiences of Gustav Tweer, an Offizierstellvertreter (warrant officer) who was a pilot with Feldflieger-Abteilung 15 during the early campaign in Russia. A noted pre-World War 1 stunt pilot and exhibition flier, Tweer earned German pilot’s license No 180 on 18 April 1912. His early experiences in a Bleriot monoplane including one of the first public displays of an outside loop-gave Tweer valuable experience in an aircraft with wing-warp controls. That experience was of particular value in flying the Eindecker.

`It is a beautiful bird’, he wrote to an aviator friend, `very solidly built and able to. take much stress. That is important because in our daily flights over the enemy the Russkis fire madly at us. I always try to stay at several hundred metres altitude, but that is not always possible when one needs to go down to see what Ivan is doing. That is when the tremendous power of the engine is my saviour, as I skim along the treetops and swerve regularly to avoid being hit by rifle and small arms fire from the ground

`Many times I have come back to our airfield and have been greeted in astonishment by the ground crewmen, who cannot believe that I have taken 15 or 20 hits during a single sortie and was still able to fly the aircraft. Quite simply, it is a very sturdy machine and the inferior Russki bullets cannot penetrate and break the steel tubing the way they would smash into the wooden frame of other aircraft. To be sure, the bullets have their effect and my comrades and I have suffered some structural damage-dents in the steel frame and an occasional break-but they are not as disastrous as they would be in other aircraft.’

Although aerial combat had been introduced on the Western Front as early as 5 October 1914 when Sergent Joseph Frantz and Caporal Quenault in a French Voisin biplane used a rifle to shoot down a German Aviatik-aerial combat was slow to come to the Eastern Front. While supporting ground units of the XX Armee-Korps in its rapid drive through Poland in the early summer of 1915. Gustav Tweer had an unusual encounter with a Russian aircraft. He wrote: ‘Often the only time we see the enemy is when long columns of his troops are marching back to Russia. Only rarely do we see the enemy’s aircraft . . .

`The first time I saw such a machine approaching our lines, the pilot simply waved to me and veered away to head back to his own lines. It is like the spirit we experienced during air meets before the war. He waves to you and you wave to him and that is the end of it. But lately the Russkis have got very desperate. Our army is pushing them back at every turn and they know that our aeroplanes are reporting their movements and directing our heavy artillery. Hence, they are determined to bring us down at any cost.

`Not long ago, when the rear portion of my seat was occupied by my observer, Freiherr von Schorlemer, we saw just how desperate they are. We had completed our reconnaissance of Bialystock and were following the railway tracks back to Warsaw when von Schorlemer drew my attention to another aeroplane approaching us from the south-east. At first I thought it was another Fokker, because it was a monoplane like ours. But as the other aeroplane got closer to us, I could see the differences in its appearance. I was also suspicious of the dark colour, but I had one last thought that it might have come from the Austrian army to the south.

`Then von Schorlemer became quite excited and yelled into my ear that it was an enemy aeroplane. In approaching us, it had dipped one wing and my observer saw on it the red-blue-white cockade of the enemy. I told von Schorlemer that it would be all right and that the Russki probably just wanted to take a look at us, just as we had flown near some enemy birds to look at them.

‘Yet I was suspicious of the way this Russki devil continued to close on us. What was his intent? He continued to change his approach, first dipping one black wing and then the other, as if he could not decide what to do. Meanwhile, I kept an eye on the railway tracks to make sure we did not become lost and von Schorlemer watched the Russki.

`Some minutes passed and our opponent drew closer and closer. Then, when he was perhaps 50 metres away, he dipped one wing and started to turn in to us, heading straight for our tail. I thought it was a bluff to throw us off course and foolishly pulled up, which caused me to slow down and allowed the Russki to close in faster.

`I suddenly discerned what he wanted to do. He was heading for our tail because he wanted to chew it up with his propeller! This crazy fool was going to risk his own neck just to bring us down; for, unless he had a metal propeller, he would smash his own propeller and have to crash. More important to us, if he smashed our rudder or other control surfaces, we would flutter to the ground like a crumpled leaf.

‘I pushed the stick forward and dived for speed to get away from this madman. He barely missed us and made a wide swinging turn above us. Now of course he had the advantage of altitude and could swoop right down on us and there would be no way to stop him. I had no gun-not even a service revolver or a flare pistol-so we were at the mercy of this suicidal fool.

`He made several further attempts to strike us and each time I barely escaped him. The added weight of my observer made it more difficult than usual quickly to manoeuvre my Fokker away from him. Worst of all, with each evasive manoeuvre, I lost altitude and was in great danger of striking a chimney or some other large object protruding from the ground. ‘Then, thank. heaven, some of our ground troops must have realised my difficulty and assisted me by opening fire on him. By this time we were low enough for our national insignia to be recognised. We had just turned back to the railway tracks when a fatal shot found its mark on our adversary. Freiherr von Schorlemer and I watched in horror as the Russki bucked up, then dropped nose first into the roadway alongside the railway tracks. The wreckage burst into flames.’

Gustav Tweer’s encounter with the would-be aircraft destroyer was only one example of the desperate measures taken by some military pilots to bring down their adversaries. Another Russian pilot, Staff-Captain Alexander Kazakov, tied a grappling hook to his Morane-Saulnier monoplane and ripped apart the wings of German aircraft that he was able to fly over.

In France the pre-war stunt pilot Roland Garros had metal plates fitted to the propeller blades of the Morane so that he could direct a forward-firing machine gun through the propeller arc without destroying the propeller. Shots that did not pass freely through the arc would be deflected by the plates. Through this crude but effective method Garros shot down five German aircraft within a three-week period. His unequalled threat to the Germans came to an end on 19 April 1915 when Garros’ Morane-Saulnier Type L was brought down by ground fire near Courtrai.

Garros was taken prisoner and the undestroyed wreckage of his parasol fighter was closely studied by the Germans. Anthony Fokker was given the challenge of replicating the device. Garros’ deflector equipment was in turn handed over to Heinrich Lübbe and Fritz Heber, two Fokker engineers who were quite familiar with the interruptor gear patented in 1913 by Franz Schneider, technical director of the Luftverkehrsgesellschaft (LVG) factory. Inspired by Garros’ audacity and the feasibility of the Schneider patent, the Fokker engineers successfully married the concept of an interruptor gear to an M5K Eindecker. Thus was born the first of the Fokker fighters, the E I type.

Among the air units to receive the improved Eindeckers was Flieger-Abteilung 62, which subsequently produced the two early fighter aces Oswald Boelcke and Max Immelmann. Although the encounter did not result in an aerial victory, Boelcke described a fight that took place in September 1915 in which he used elements of his famed dicta, or code of air fighting. In telling his interception of a flight of French aircraft that bombed a nearby city, Boelcke wrote: `After they dropped their bombs, they flew homeward. I gradually reached the altitude of the enemy aircraft and closed in on them. Then I saw one of their big aeroplanes, which appeared to be the escort for the others, start to attack me. It is very difficult if not impossible to fire upwards. [Therefore] I exchanged a few shots with my opponent and then pulled away. That move satisfied the Frenchman and he flew away with the others.

‘I hung along behind the enemy squadron and, since I had the faster aircraft, I soon succeeded in getting close enough to the rearmost aircraft to open fire. But I did not open fire straight away, so as not to draw the attention of the other aircraft too soon. It was not until I was 100 metres away that I began firing. My opponent became frightened and tried to get away. My trouble then was with the others, who had heard my shots and came to help their comrade. Therefore I had to hurry.

‘I noticed that I was successful, as the Frenchman went into a steep dive to escape from me. Eventually, we both went down from 2,500 to 1,200 meters. I fired at his rear as well as I could. But meanwhile two of his comrades came down and sent me friendly greetings’, the future ace noted as a lighthearted way of offering an excuse for breaking off the engagement and returning to his own airfield.

The Fokker E I was admittedly rushed into service to provide German air units with an aggressive weapon. The E II which soon followed it showed a sense of further development, fitted with a 100- horsepower engine and a slightly increased wingspan. The E III was introduced soon thereafter and for a time in 1915 all three Eindeckers-E I, E II and E III – were in service.

The improvements in the Eindecker series, which led to their being called `the Fokker scourge” by their opponents, gave German fighter pilots great advantages. These advantages held true even under the most trying conditions, as noted by Leutnant Gustav Leffers, a pilot with FliegerAbteilung 32 who subsequently won the coveted Pour le Merite, the highest Prussian bravery award.

In describing the first of his nine aerial victories, Leffers noted that on the afternoon of 5 December 1915 he took off from the airfield at Vélu in a Fokker E II on an air defence mission. `At almost 3 o’clock’, he continued, `I found myself over Bapaume and puffs of smoke from our artillery drew my attention to an enemy aeroplane almost over Martinpuich at about 1,500 metres, flying northward. I immediately took up the chase. Between Grevillers and Aichet-la-Grand. I came down to 600 metres and opened fire, which was immediately returned.

`I found myself 200 metres higher than the enemy aeroplane and went into a long dive, firing my machine gun until I was an aeroplane’s length away Now I noticed that the pilot was hit and the aero¬ plane began to flutter. In an instant I was firing furiously with my machine gun at my opponent.

`I was suddenly caught in a strong blast of wind from the strong propwash of the enemy aeroplane and my own aeroplane was thrown into a side-slip for about 150 metres. However, I immediately started after him again to cut off my opponent’s escape to the front lines. But he went into a steep dive and from an altitude of 300 metres plunged straight down and smashed into the ground. Both crewmen were immediately killed.’

Leffers’ victim was most probably one of two BE2c aircraft from No 13 Squadron RFC, that were lost due to enemy action that day. The slow BE, with the observer’s field of fire severely limited by his front seat location, was no match for the fast and nimble Fokker Eindecker. The point is driven home by the ease with which Leffers scored his second victory, a BE2c of No 8 Squadron RFC, on 29 December 1915.

The entry for that day in The Royal Flying Corps War Diary notes that Lieutenants Douglas and Child in one BE2c were escorting Second Lieutenant Glen and Sergeant Jones in a similar No 8 Squadron machine when `about three miles west of Cambrai. Lt Glen and Sgt Jones, flying at about 6,400feet, were attacked by two Fokkers. Almost immediately the BE2c descended in a very steep spiral to 2,000feet and then flattened out. The BE2c was seen to land and then the machine was smashed. The impression which Lt Douglas received was that Lt Glen was wounded with the first burst, and on landing intentionally smashed his machine.’ Douglas and Child were then attacked by three Eindeckers, one of which they hit and forced out of the fight. They fought a running gun battle with the remaining Fokkers and managed to reach the safety of their own lines.

The tenacity of the No 8 Squadron crews was described by Leflers: ‘At 12 noon I was informed by telephone that three enemy aircraft were heading for the airfield at Velu. I immediately took off in my Fokker. Shortly thereafter I saw that two British BE biplanes were being fired at by the guns protecting the observation balloons at Bertincourt. The enemy aircraft flew toward Cambrai. I pursued them and caught up with them near Marquain, along the road from Cambrai to Arras.

`Both aircraft, which flew close together, fired at me with (a combination of) four machine guns. When I got within 400 metres 1 likewise opened fire with my single machine gun on one of the enemy aircraft, while the other came at me from the side with both machine guns firing. When I was just a short distance away, my gun suddenly jammed. But my last shots had hit so well that at the last moment the enemy aeroplane went down in a steep spiral and from an altitude of 300 metres plunged straight down. The second aeroplane immediately turned away and soon thereafter disappeared from my field of vision as I followed the other until just before it hit the ground.’

Although the advent of the machine gun-equipped Fokkers led to the development of specialised fighter units called Kampfeinsitzer-Kommandos, the Eindeckers themselves soon lost their superior edge. New Allied aircraft-such as the de Havilland DH2 `pusher’ fighter and the Nieuport 11 provided the same armament advantage. Even the special three-gun Fokker E IV furnished to Max Immelmann did not regain that advantage. Indeed, when Immelmann himself was killed in an Eindecker on 12 January 1916, many questions were raised about the Fokker Eindecker’s effectiveness.

But it was Oswalde Boelcke, one of the first admirers of the Fokker Eindeckers, who aided in nudging them aside as the premier front line fighter. His 24 March 1916 evaluation of the improved E IV concluded that earlier aircraft in the Eindecker series were better in many respects than the 160-horsepower E IV monoplane. The Eindeckers were soon retired in favour of the new Albatros biplane fighters and the vaunted Fokker fighter ‘scourge’ went into an eclipse that did not end until nearly a year later, when the Fokker Dr I triplane emerged.

The Battle of Torgau I

Frederick’s victories at Leuthen and Rossbach early in the Seven Years War established his reputation as one of the greatest military commanders of his era.

Field Marshal Leopold Joseph Count von Daun and Lt. Gen. Franz Moritz Count von Lacy

We left Daun and Frederick facing each other at Torgau. An explanation of the camp and lines that Daun occupied there is needed at this stage before the narrative is related of the ensuing battle. Torgau then stood on the high western side of the Elbe River, connected to the opposite bank by a strong, town bridge. Not one to be undercautious, however, Daun had had constructed three more bridges over which his army might retreat if attacked and beaten by the enemy.

The main Austrian camp went north then northwest of Torgau, with the crux of the post at Zinna, Grosswig, and Welsau. At the southern-most side, the lines were fronted and in rough parallel to the Röhrgraben. The latter was bisected by a high stubby knoll which rose up about a mile from where the Elbe and the Röhrgraben joined. It ascended in thin layers, on top of each other, until it formed a height, which dropped down to various small ponds and pools. These dominated the western and southern approaches to Torgau to the opposite end. The rise was blunt-backed, dotted (indeed nearly filled) with vineyards composing a total square area of, say, five miles.

It was low on the western end, north, and east as well, but grew a larger knoll on the southern side. This rise, called by name the Septitz Height, was the basis of Daun’s position around and about Torgau. Within the entrenchments created on the crown of the Septitz and beyond, the strength was formidable. This part of the line was a supplement to the works which Prince Henry had built while there. The marshal had arranged and rearranged his men to prepare for the imminent attack. Daun at first stood with his army fronting southward, to directly oppose Frederick at Schilda, while the latter wrestled with the problem of how to carry out an assault upon the Austrian entrenched camp with any hope of success. One big advantage in favor of the Prussians, which under other circumstances would have been much otherwise, was the massed number of Daun’s men.

There were some 65,000 Austrians within the works, which did not even reckon the men with Zweibrücken; the palisaded-lines of Torgau were not sufficiently large to accommodate all of these troops with any degree of comfort. The position was thus cramped, so Frederick moved to come up with a plan of action that would take advantage of that fact. ‘Desperate situations call for desperate solutions,’ so says an old expression. The plan that the Prussian king finally did decide upon was, indeed, desperate. Yet he kept the outline of the scheme to himself, daring to reveal it to no one, not even his staff officers, until he had it worked out.

In the face of an enemy who already outnumbered him, Frederick’s scheme called for a simultaneous attack to be launched upon opposite sides of the enemy position, carried out with the Prussian army divided into two sections. The king himself was to lead one part of the men through the woods to attack Daun’s rear, while the other was to strike Daun’s works at his front. The thing was possible, if the timing could be worked out, and if Daun did not interfere with deployment of the attackers.

Thus resolved upon his gamble, Frederick called his commanders together that very night (November 2–3) and informed them of the greater part of the program, although he kept the all-important frontal attack portion secret. Historians still dispute the purpose of the Ziethen column as well as Ziethen’s part in the scheme. Frederick said that there was “a most favorable circumstance [regarding the Austrian camp] … [by which by] attacking their center from the front and rear it would be subjected to crossfire.” Whether this was to be an integral cog of a movement designed to force Daun against the Elbe working in conjunction with the king’s forces or merely a red herring to lure Daun’s attention from the main stroke is a matter of conjecture. It goes without saying that the Prussian king had been in desperate straits in the matter of commanders, not only with regard to Ziethen, but also Hülsen and Holstein.

The independent-minded military commanders were a very rare commodity during the later periods of the Seven Years’ War. None of the three named subordinates were gifted sufficiently to carry out semi-independent operations without specific instructions. These would need to be detailed in the extreme for the most part. An additional factor was the prolongation of the war, which had only served to take away most of those few commanders that were qualified. For instance, there was more at stake than fraternal attachment in the king’s desire to retain the services of Prince Henry for the army; good commanders were becoming very scarce by 1760 in the kingdom.

Earlier, Ziethen himself had ridden out on November 2, on a potentially decisive purpose: the intention of probing the enemy’s post. There was never any doubt that a battle would be required to close out the campaign. Frederick was taking no chances. On this particular occasion, the valiant hussar got himself surrounded by an Austrian squad. Without hesitation, he drew his sword (the only recorded time while the war was going on he drew it in earnest anger), and cut his way through the enemy troopers to safety. Ziethen apparently was so “enthusiastic” in the use of his sword that his aide, Captain Fahrenholz, had real trouble cleaning up the weapon. It is most surprising to report that the valiant hussar had no other occasion to use his sword in battle during the long war (which, of course, was also a measure of the methods of war at that time).

As for the king’s speech, he pulled no punches. He said he was tired of the fighting, his generals probably were to, so ending the war the next day could be accomplished by “smashing Daun’s army and throwing the pieces into the Elbe River.” At this council-of-war, little was discussed beyond the outline of the plan. Frederick did not ask for the opinions of his subordinates; he merely told them what was to be done, and how.

The underlying weakness of the calculation lay in the fact that it required the close cooperation of two widely separated bodies of troops. Insofar as the columns had to make two dangerous maneuvers across the front and flanks of the enemy in order to be in a position to launch their blows. In that era, there were no radios, or signal corps to expedite communication, and, since the Austrians and allies held the highest ground around in that region, there was no point of vantage from which Frederick could direct the two-pronged attack from. The thickly wooded Dommitscher Forest would have precluded such a view anyhow. Under these troubling conditions, no concrete “zero” hour was set, although the part of the army striking the allied front was to be pinning down Daun’s attention from about noon. Frederick’s force was then to go into action on the opposite end of Daun’s camp.

There was another problem. Who was to lead the men entrusted to the frontal attack column? Frederick looked over the available commanders and finally selected Ziethen, the youngest of the Prussian major generals, but who had commanded a wing at Liegnitz as we have seen with great success. Nonetheless, Ziethen was wholly a cavalry officer who knew very little of the infantry, its form of march and attack, and thoroughly even less than that. The second column, to which Ziethen (almost by default it would appear) had been given command, would inevitably have to include both horse and foot soldiers, some 7,000 of the former and approximately 11,000 of the latter.

The old hussar had commanded flank forces at Breslau, and, of course, at Liegnitz, but he had never before been entrusted with an independent command before this experience. There were bound to be repercussions to the king’s decision on this point. Really, though, he had little choice at this late stage of the war.

Daun, for his part, must have been confident that the high-walls of Torgau fortress, supplemented by some of the best artillery in the Austrian Empire, could do the job. The ordnance was led by Lt.-Gen. Franz Ulrich, a most competent officer. Ulrich’s batteries could prove crucial in their fire efficiency. This might serve to arrest even the bold Prussian monarch and his designs upon Saxony. The marshal was grimly resolved to hang on to Torgau, and in fact as stated he had been ordered to keep it, even at cost of battle. Even Vienna was adamant on this point. October 26, Maria Theresa’s instructions reached Daun; he was to retreat no further categorically short of a major defeat.

The Austrian army was formidable in its deployment. Lacy’s men, who numbered 20,000 men, were posted to the rear of the great Torgau Pond, and held the left of the main army; O’Donnell led three regiments of cavalry on his right between Zinna and the pond. This was the south end of the army. On the all-important Septitz, Daun had the 21st Infantry of Arenberg and the 5th Infantry. This spot was without a doubt the key to the whole battlefield, and the Austrian command knew it.

The forces of Lt.-Gen. Johann Jacob Herberstein held the center of the camp, with Lt.-Gen. Wied on the extreme right. At the front of the whole army, General Löwenstein on the left deployed opposite to Wied; with Sincère and Buccow holding on to the main portion just north of Zinna. The Austrian posts were all well-chosen, and entrenched. Such was the situation with regard to the main Austrian army with Daun. With the dawn on November 3, would come the contest for arms.

Frederick’s forces were on the march at about 0615 hours. The king’s own forces were to swing well northward of their current position in three main (and one auxiliary) columns. Each one had its own designated route to take, in order to traverse the thick woods. Ideally, all three formations were planned to arrive before the marshal’s rear nearly simultaneously. The auxiliary column had the sole task of safeguarding the Prussian baggage on the march, although irregular cavalry raids were looked for. Colonel Christian von Möhring, with 25 squadrons of horse and one battalion (from the 2nd Infantry of Kanitz), had this duty. Enemy scouts were bound to be around.

The entire Prussian army, which included Ziethen’s men, was at first kept together, but at the point where the road split from Torgau to Eilenburg/Doberschütz, the army was systematically broken up into two distinct bodies. The men drew apart near Langen-Reithenbach and Probsthayn; Ziethen moved his men up the road to Aldenhain, bypassing that place instead and gaining the Mockrchora road into Torgau. As the men marched out, Frederick then—and only then—took Ziethen with him and rode out in a carriage towards the battle posts. There he finally revealed the whole plan to the valiant hussar, especially stressing the all-important role that Ziethen was to play and how to execute it. The king’s instructions were likely clear and to the point.

The “instructions” are given in Carlyle, but remain a matter of conjecture. Ziethen’s orders can be ascertained to a certain extent by his actions of the coming evening, but it is plain that the intimate details of the march and its function, having been oral only, are long lost. One source has stated, “we know nothing for certain about the nature of Ziethen’s task.” He evidently told Ziethen to veer to the right, until he reached Klitschen. At that point, apparently, he was to move up the Butter-Strasse to Schäferei, near the northwest end of the Septitz, and go in from that side upon the enemy works dotting the height.

Had Ziethen heeded the counsel his leader, he possibly would have avoided a lot of the trouble that was in store for the bluecoats. We will soon see his actual response. It is worth adding that Ziethen was largely ignorant of the country through which he would be passing. However, some of the very same units that had helped defend Torgau earlier in the year from Daun in Prince Henry’s command were to now attack portions of the entrenched works prepared originally by Prince Henry’s men.

Frederick’s force punctually sub-divided into the three columns: under Hülsen; Holstein, and Markgraf Karl, although the king himself quickly, decisively, assumed charge of the third column. The last had the majority of the men. This caravan drove past Mockrchora towards Weidendam, crashing through the thick Dommitscher Forest close to the Austrian position. The hike was about 12 miles in extent, or nearly twice the distance that Ziethen’s men would be covering in their march. Beyond Weidendam, Frederick intended to swerve to the east and then south near Neiden. There he was to cross the Striebach River and begin attacking Daun’s right beyond the Septitz as soon as he should hear the sounds of firing to indicate that Ziethen was striking at the front of Daun’s array on the rises. The king’s column consisted of Kleist’s hussars and infantry support. Some 25 battalions and 50 twelve-pounder cannon, plus 10 squadrons of Ziethen, 1,000 of Kleist, in all, about 16,500 men. Kessel says 15,700 infantry and 1,000 cavalry.

The day had already started off badly. At the first crack of dawn, heavy clouds began spilling their contents upon the Prussians, making the ground in some spots almost slushy and turning the ground white, but the prevailing cool temperatures prevented the ground from turning to mud. Still, the rate of march under the circumstances was hardly two miles per hour. It was also very windy, and some hail and sleet, mixed with snow, was seen as the morning wore on. The 2nd and the 3rd columns were under the command of Hülsen and Holstein, respectively. Hülsen marched his procession past Mockrchora, past Wildenhain, roughly on a parallel course with the king’s column. Hülsen had some 6,300 men with him, composed of 24 battalions of infantry with 20 field guns. He broke off at about Wildschütz and Nieder Oberaunheim, with every intention of arriving before the enemy position about the same time as Frederick, although there was no direct contact between the two columns because of the thick forest.

At Weidenhain, the king’s inquiry of a local directed him, not towards Neiden, but a far more circuitous route to Elsnig, over by Drögnitz. In the thick woods, Frederick’s and Hülsen’s men actually crossed each other, creating some confusion. In the event, Hülsen had to shift his troops to an unoccupied route. Ironically, an engineer officer from the latter “who knew every road and bypass” was with the king’s procession. Apparently, this officer was not consulted about proper routes to take.

As for Holstein, his column was composed almost entirely of cavalry (38 squadrons—some 5,500 men—and 2,000 infantry from four battalions and ten guns), so he marched the farthest away from Daun, as his men were nearly all mounted. Starting late from Schönma, he swept up towards Doberschütz, crossing the road there and veering past the little place of Roitzach near Elsnig. Once there, he turned south for his stroke. Holstein, too, was instructed to time his appearance forward of Daun’s rear lines so as to arrive with Frederick’s and Hülsen’s men. That, at any event, was the plan.

The march of these three formations would take them well to the north of the Septitz, leaving it miles on their right, then, of course, the turning movement before beginning the attack. As stated, there had been no previously arranged time for the battle to actually commence on that side. The wind would bring the report of Ziethen’s effort on the opposite end of the Austrian mass. As for the Prussian baggage train, it was to halt near Roitzach under guard (from Möhring’s force, as we have observed) and await the end of the battle in relative security.

Meanwhile, Marshal Daun, early that morning, knew that an attack was impending. Looking out towards the southeast, the Austrian’s field glasses had been scanning. They espied a large force of bluecoats—actually Ziethen’s men—moving into attack position. The marshal promptly ordered off Lacy to keep his eye on developments in front there. A handful of detachments had been thrown out into the thick Dommitscher Forest to watch the woods and keep the Austrian command posted of any Prussian movements therein. Two hit “pay dirt,” so to speak. One, under General Ried, consisted of the 32nd Hussars, the Dragoons of the Austrian Staff, and the 66th (Croat) Infantry. This force was out probing in the undergrowth just ahead of Frederick’s column north of Mockrehna when the latter was sighted (about 1145 hours). Ried unlimbered his guns, and fired at the Prussians, but ordered a withdrawal upon Torgau before the Prussian king could get close or the engagement had become general. Ried’s efforts saved the 12 companies of Major-General d’Ayasasa’s heavy cavalry, which were in the undergrowth nearby and forthwith retreated to Grosswig. D’Ayasasa’s precipitate retreat alerted the field marshal that Frederick was moving in a different direction than the South. The second detachment was not to be nearly as fortunate on this occasion.

General St. Ignon had his 31st Dragoons out deeper in the undergrowth north of Wildenhain towards Düben. He got into a rather spirited struggle with 800 of Kleist’s hussars, which he nearly battled to a draw. Unfortunately for him, his post was between Frederick’s and Hülsen’s columns, and so him and his command were sandwiched in by the enemy. After a hopeless attempt to extricate his command, in the face of heavy attacks by Ziethen’s 2nd Hussars (Major Hans Christoph Zedmar, leading the 2nd Hussars in the fight, fell in the struggle), St. Ignon was compelled to lay down his arms. A few of his men may indeed have escaped the trap, but most (some 400 men and 20 officers) were nabbed by the Prussians. A small body of the St. Ignon force actually did break out and rejoin the main Austrian army.

A nearby body of men under Colonel Ferrari, with the Bathanay Dragoons and some grenadiers on the northwest end of Elsnig facing Vogelgesang, discovered quite by accident that the bluecoats were at hand and promptly prepared to retreat. Deploying his guns, the valiant Italian had just enough time to lob a few shells at the enemy before pulling back on Neiden. This move was most certainly in response to the sudden appearance of the enemy, who had indeed emerged where not anticipated. Cogniazzo spoke of the firm Austrian belief that Neiden was beyond Frederick’s grasp.

Ried, according to the king’s History, apparently failed to inform St. Ignon that the bluecoats were so close-by and advancing. Ried was nearly five miles to the south-southwest from the latter, about two miles from Grösswig, in deep undergrowth. In retrospect, it is little wonder that St. Ignon was taken by surprise.