Napoleonic Era: Austrian Army Reform I


A triumphant Archduke Charles of Austria-Teschen led the Austrians to victory at the Battle of Aspern-Essling.


The army had fought well but it had been out-generalled. After Ulm and Austerlitz, it was clear to the dynasty that two things were needed to offer the chance of success in any future struggle against Napoleon. First the Archduke Charles must be put in charge; and then the army had to be given time to train to adapt to modern warfare.

The Peace of Pressburg signed on Boxing Day 1805 did not impose a Carthaginian settlement on Vienna – that was almost to come in four years’ time – but the conditions were certainly onerous. As usual the Emperor Francis coolly summed it up in a letter to Tsar Alexander. The treaty, he wrote, ‘turned out to be capitulation before an enemy who pressed home his advantages to the full’.1 With that detachment and low-key logic which marked so many of Francis’s utterances, the Kaiser dispassionately concluded: ‘I have been forced to abandon part of my provinces so that I may preserve the rest.’ Amputation always signified life for the dynasty.

The ‘part’ that had to be sacrificed was significant: Venetia, Friuli, Dalmatia and Istria were all either rich agricultural lands or strategically important, although none of them formed part of the hereditary crown lands. The ceding of the Tyrol to Bavaria was another matter. The proud and tough men (and women) of the Tyrolean valleys spoke their own dialect and were fiercely contemptuous of outsiders. They only needed to hear a Bavarian accent for their hackles to rise. Heavy-handed Bavarian rule fuelled the embers of national revolt. The surrender of Lindau and the surviving Habsburg possessions close to Breisgau confirmed the anti-Habsburg arrangements in Germany.

These arrangements meant establishing the tapestry of German mini-states as dependencies of France. Baden and Württemberg had already been rewarded for their support of the Napoleonic cause. On 16 July 1806, the Napoleonic protectorate of the ‘Rheinbund’ confirmed the allegiance of sixteen princes of southern and western Germany who were now obliged, in the event of hostilities, to supply 65,000 soldiers to serve France. Amid great celebrations these little German princes, mediatised and much reduced, declared their wish to be forever separated from the German Empire. The Holy Roman Empire, which had been a Habsburg prerogative, had become an empty shell; its prestige diminished, its utility dismantled. Faced with the choice of the crown of Charlemagne or the guns of Napoleon, the leaders of these Lilliputian states had embraced collaboration.

Five days later, Emperor Francis laid aside the sacred regalia of the Holy Roman Empire and the magnificent crown of Charlemagne and never wore them again. Two years earlier, prompted by the defection of the German princes, the Emperor had been crowned Emperor of Austria. From now on the old Austrian crown lands were to be the engine of Habsburg power and, because many of the inhabitants were German-speaking, the dynasty saw clearly the need to ignite the flames of German nationhood, to ‘fight fire with fire’.

With the tenacity of purpose which characterised Austria throughout this period, the Emperor supported this policy with a new programme of military reform. The keystone of this reform was, at last, the elevation of the Archduke Charles. Putting aside the petty intrigues and jealousies of the court, Francis appointed his brother ‘Generalissimus’, supreme commander, as well as President of the Aulic Council.

With his usual energy, Charles immersed himself in turning the Austrian army into a modern force, capable of holding its own against the French. This was no easy task. After Austerlitz, Napoleon stood at the zenith of his powers. He was a warlord who seemingly had never known defeat. Charles worked away at his reforms: new units of reserves, new tactics and drills, new formations and more cost-effective uniforms. Napoleon continued to wage war. A year after Austerlitz, the Prussians were wiped out in a single afternoon on the fields of Jena and Auerstädt. For once Napoleon was not exaggerating when, in his dispatch of 16 November 1806, he noted: ‘Of the Saxon-Prussian army we have found nothing left. All of 145,000 men have been either killed or wounded or taken prisoner. The King, Queen, General Kalkreuth and 10 or 12 officers are all that have escaped.’

The Archdukes create a Landwehr and a Reserve

The experience of the Napoleonic Levée en masse and the scale of the armies now waging war had left the Archduke Charles in no doubt that the Imperial forces needed to be recalibrated to incorporate a flexible and reliable reserve drawn from a wider base. The creation of the Landwehr (militia) and Reserveanstalt (reserve depot) went a long way to achieving this, providing a source of manpower that could release regular soldiers for the front line once hostilities broke out. Charles did not expect too much of the Landwehr at first, convinced as he was that Napoleon’s army could only be defeated by highly trained regular troops. It was left to his brother the Archduke John, whose travels around Alpine Austria had left him impressed by the calibre and patriotism of the local population, to pursue the Landwehr idea to its logical conclusion. A shattered Prussia and a demoralised mediatised constellation of princes created a vacuum that could only be filled by Austria. The Archduke John knew well how to exploit this and Charles was happy to let his brother get to work on the new It helped that the news of Prussia’s annihilation at Jena encouraged many German writers to place their hopes for liberation not in Berlin but in Vienna. Thus the great Prussian writer Heinrich Kleist (1777–1811) turned his creative talents to praising the Archduke Charles while his Austrian contemporary Heinrich Collin (1771–1811), whose Coriolan inspired Beethoven, composed a poem with a refrain that became the hymn of the newly established Landwehr:

Auf, ihr Völker, bildet Heere!

An die Grenzen fort zur Wehre!

(Awake you peoples: form your armies!

To the frontiers: grab your weaponry!)

To Collin’s cries were added those of the younger Ludwig Uhland: ‘Awake powerful Austria!’ and Ernst Moritz Arndt: ‘Awake Friends! Franz is our Emperor not Bonaparte!’ and finally, striking a note of almost Prussian vengefulness, Max von Schenkendorf: ‘German Kaiser! German Kaiser! Come to Avenge! Come to Save!’ (‘Komm zu rächen! komm zu retten!’). These sentiments were not entirely welcome to Emperor Francis, who was always suspicious of populism. When told that someone at his court was a patriot, he waspishly and famously enquired: ‘But is he a patriot for me?’ a phrase later transposed and immortalised by John Osborne’s 1966 play of the same name.

Napoleonic Era: Austrian Army Reform II


The Archduke John was so engaged with the Landwehr that he devoted most of the winter of 1808 to the organisation of the force and its training. Typical of the Archduke John’s devotion to the new unit was his insistence that orders and training were inescapably bound up with the idea of a ‘comprehensive defence of the land’ (umfassenden Landesverteidigung). Uniforms and weapons had to reflect local traditions. John fought many battles with the rigid Austrian military hierarchy to ensure that the militia were not forced to adopt weapons that were alien to them or drill that was adapted for more formal manoeuvres.

As John noted: ‘The utter concept of this method of waging war rests on movement and speed, cunning and courage, calm in critical moments: this is what we must encourage.’ The officers were urged to speak frequently with their men and involve themselves even with their domestic issues (häuslichen Angelegenheiten). At all times the officers of the Landwehr must demonstrate their ‘support and paternal comfort’. To help encourage these instincts of solidarity among the other inhabitants of the crown lands, the songs of Collin were translated into Polish, Czech, Slovene and Hungarian.

While John worked ceaselessly on perfecting the Landwehr into a credible force, instilled with a Befreiungshoffnungsrausch (the intoxicating hope of liberty), Charles worked away at the regular forces in an attempt to raise not only morale and discipline but initiative and prestige.

The period of service in the regular army was reformed. Instead of a lifelong commitment to ‘the colours’, service was now limited to men between the ages of 18 and 40. Fourteen years was the envisaged length of service in the artillery arm; twelve years in the cavalry and ten years in the infantry. Recruitment was by ballot and the prescribed term of service could, on expiry, be extended for a further six years through agreeing a ‘Kapitulation’. (This automatically offered a bonus and the right to marry while in service.)

A newly organised regular Reserve consisted of those who were eligible for military service but were superfluous to standing military requirements. Members of the Reserve were required to train each year but they retained their jobs and were not required to change location. During their annual training they would be paid for their military service as if they were regulars.

In addition to its permanent establishment, each Austrian line regiment came to have two Reserve battalions, members of which had to train for four weeks in their first year of service and three weeks in their second. By 1808, this ‘sedentary army’ had reached a strength of 60,000 men.

To ensure that the manpower once available to the Habsburgs in the German provinces of the Holy Roman Empire was not entirely lost through the supineness of their rulers, ‘Confinenwerbung’ (Frontier recruitment) replaced the old ‘Reichswerbung’ (Imperial recruitment). This enabled German volunteers to join the Austrian service.

The Archduke John’s Landwehr complemented this Reserve perfectly. Charged with the defence of the ‘Habsburg soil’ and including in its remit all men capable of bearing arms, not just those between 18 and 45, it drew on the experiences of the American War of Independence. For the first time in Habsburg history, the Landwehr developed the concept of a nation in arms. Uniforms were to be worn over civilian clothes and the individual companies that made up the Landwehr were divided between localities. The Landwehr enjoyed a strong local flavour not dissimilar to the Yeomanry regiments of the British Army, which had been raised a few years earlier (without the particular social structures of the English rural population which were perhaps only echoed by the feudal arrangements of the Hungarian lands).

Four Landwehr companies comprised a Landwehr battalion, which usually trained every Sunday. Each month, training in larger formations took place. In the event of one of the Imperial frontiers being threatened, the Landwehr would muster and take an oath of loyalty in front of the local commanding general of the area. As the Landwehr recruited locally, many middle-class professionals were automatically drawn to its commissioned and non-commissioned officer ranks. Those who had never wished to bear arms – teachers, professors, doctors and lawyers – were turned by the Archduke John into patriotic and well-drilled defenders of the dynasty. Only in Galicia and the Bukowina was the Landwehr not introduced, because the local population was still considered politically unreliable, due to the painful partition of Poland some fifteen years earlier. Elsewhere, the Landwehr slowly became a regular feature of the Imperial military landscape and would rise to the occasion in 1809 with singular heroism, bearing out John’s faith in the middle class he so greatly preferred to the aristocracy, whom he viewed as lethargic and gripped by a ‘longing for distraction’ (Zerstreuungssucht).

The creation of the Landwehr and its elevation to a well-trained force was an ambitious project which could not easily be perfected in the few years of peace between Austerlitz and the next round of hostilities. John was given the rank of Landwehrinspektor for Inner Austria (Styria, Carinthia and Carniola). He immediately set about imbuing the troops there with his ideals of a democratic defence of the regions along Spanish lines. From the summer of 1808, the uprisings of the Spanish militia and their successes had illuminated the Austrian military horizon like flashes of inspired lightning. But discipline in these newly formed units was still far from rock solid at home by the time hostilities began. Petrie notes how some units of the Landwehr had staged bayonet attacks against their officers and how two regiments refused to march at all.

As the news of these formations spread, Napoleon began to realise that Austria planned to challenge him yet again. In 1808 he had accepted assurances from Vienna that the Landwehr was not an aggressive force but in January 1809, while at Valladolid, he decided to leave Marshal Soult to pursue the defeated British from Corunna. By returning to Paris Napoleon hoped to discover in more detail the significance of the disquieting rumours reaching him from Vienna.

As the fateful year of 1809 began, war became increasingly certain. In March, the Archduke Charles hastily ordered the establishment of volunteer battalions. Thousands flocked to the Habsburg colours. In Bohemia alone, 6,000 men rushed to join the newly formed Legion Erzherzog Karl. In Vienna, six battalions of volunteers were recruited, mostly from among middle-class professionals. They would put up a formidable fight against some of Napoleon’s best troops.

Perhaps most important of all, the Archduke adopted a ‘corps’ system of army organisation which would be a key factor in the improved Austrian performance in the campaigns of 1809.

Mobility increased: The new Jaeger Corps and artillery reform

These developments were complemented by a strengthening of the Empire’s light infantry capabilities. In 1804 a ‘Jaegerregiment’ had been established from the different light infantry formations that had fought since the First Coalition War. This had been increased to become a ‘Jaeger Korps’, inspiring the Archduke Charles to establish eight full battalions of Jaeger by 1808. Crack elite troops drawn from the Alpine valleys and forests, these were soldiers noted for their strong mental and physical qualities, but their elevation reflected other political considerations.

The proven quality of Austrian Alpine troops had led to the Tyrolean ‘Landmiliz’ being established from the remnants of the century-old Tyrolean ‘Verteidigungsmiliz’ or defence militia. Though Tyrol was now nominally part of Bavaria, the Tyroleans secretly organised themselves with little encouragement into a formidable irregular force of some 20,000 insurgents ready to strike as soon as Vienna gave the word. The incorporation of all these Alpine units into the coming campaign imparted something new to the army the Archduke Charles was creating: these forces would be the Habsburgs’ first ever Volksheer (People’s army).

These developments were only part of the process of bringing the Imperial forces into the new century. They were accompanied by equally significant reforms in drill and tactics. Artillery was reorganised into a distinct and wholly independent tactical unit. The Archduke abolished the old reliance on tactical lines of batteries supporting infantry in favour of more mobile formations, drawing on the experience of Napoleon’s more inventive use of artillery. The brigade artillery was divided into batteries of eight guns while horse-artillery batteries would comprise smaller, more agile units of four guns and two howitzers, The so-called static artillery (Positionsbatterien) would be made up of four heavy guns and four howitzers. Garrison artillery was divided into fourteen districts to reduce the century-old exclusive dependence on Bohemia.

The Archduke John was appointed commandant of engineers and, in the short time available, he established a strong line of defensive forts along the French model. One of these, Komorn on the Danube, was fortified under Chasteler and would serve Austria well in the coming campaign.

Similar reforms awaited the infantry. Although the grenadier battalions were still denied regimental status, they were now formally grouped on a permanent basis into a ‘Grenadier Korps’, which was to serve as a tactical reserve directly under the command of the FZM or FM of any campaign (Feldzeugmeister or Feldmarschall).

In addition to the Grenadier Korps, the infantry now comprised 63 line regiments, one Jaeger regiment of eight battalions and 17 Grenz regiments (including the Czaikistenbattalion: boat crews on the Banat Military Frontier). Each regiment comprised five battalions, each of these made up of four companies. Cavalry was divided into eight Cuirassier, six Dragoon, six Chevauxleger, 12 Hussar and three Lancer regiments, each of eight squadrons. This gave a slight preponderance to light over heavy shock cavalry and again emphasised the need for greater mobility in the arm.

The new ‘Generalgeniedirektor’, the Archduke John, reorganised the structure of the Engineer corps, which was commanded by 145 officers, of whom nine were of general rank to reflect the corp’s importance. A Mineurkorps and Pontonier battalion (sappers) of six companies were also placed under Archduke John’s control.

Overhaul of staff and the Hofkriegsrat: New tactics: the Mass

After the fiasco of Weyrother’s staff work at Austerlitz, the Archduke Charles ordered a total overhaul of the Austrian staff system. The Generalquartiermeisterstab (General Quartermaster Staff) was organised into a logistics staff comprising one general, 24 staff and 36 senior officers. Military transport was divided into divisions based on the regional capitals.

No less important was the overhaul of the venerable Aulic Council or Hofkriegsrat whose lack of support Charles had so often experienced in the previous five years. This institution was now split into four subdivisions with responsibility for: (1) military affairs; (2) political-economic issues; (3) artillery and engineering issues; and (4) judicial and legal matters. (Subdivisions 1 and 2 were the critical parts of the Council because they dealt with the issues of uniforms, training, recruitment and equipment.)

Charles was formally placed above the Council so that the chain of command was entirely unambiguous. At the same time the forces of the Empire were divided into corps formations which, in 1808, were assigned to the individual crown lands. Each corps had its own internal organisational structure, General Staff, artillery commander and quartermaster so that in the event of hostilities it could operate completely independently of any other military unit.

Changes were introduced to enable weapons drill to become simpler. On 1 September 1807, the new Reglement for infantry was introduced. Besides simplifying certain parts of musket drill, it reinforced marksmanship skills significantly. Every infantryman in the Austrian army now had to hit a certain number of targets, shooting from a distance of 300 paces, if he was to continue to serve. Fire discipline and formation drill were also strongly emphasised in training. A new quick-pace drill (120 paces a minute) was introduced to speed up movement and reactions. At the same time more complicated drills such as firing while marching in oblique formation, a relic of the Frederician wars, were dropped.

In their place came some of the Archduke’s own ideas of tactical formation, which his military theorising had evolved after careful study of Napoleonic techniques. Notable among these was the ‘Mass’, a formation that drew infantry into flexible lines, capable of withstanding (even in theory on occasions charging!) cavalry and column attack. The ‘Mass’ in its novel use of company front and support lines became a hallmark of the 1809 Austrian infantry tactics and generally served them well.

The 1806–7 regulations also humanised discipline: ‘All forms of maltreatment and heavy-handedness in the drilling of a soldier are firmly forbidden. Brutality is usually the evidence of some lack of knowledge and destroys that self-respect which must be at the very heart of a soldier.’

To save money, the expensive classical helmet that virtually every unit of the Austrian army wore was to be replaced by a cheaper black felt shako. By 1809, not all of the Hungarian infantry regiments had been equipped with these, so Austria went to war against Napoleon more or less attired as she had been at Austerlitz, though with an army which had digested many useful lessons in the art of war.

In the whirlwind of reforms, the Archduke Charles left no stone unturned: new cadet companies were established in Olmütz and Graz while the Wiener Neustadt Academy was reorganised to lengthen the time of study to eight years. Everywhere the Archduke did his utmost to ensure that, when it came to the next measuring of swords with Napoleon, the Austrians would be in better shape. It was a desperate race against time.

Another two years, perhaps even another eighteen months, and most of these reforms would certainly have borne fruit. However, fate dictated that Austria would wage war once again against the Archduke’s wishes and before she was ready. But that the campaign of 1809 was fought with such glory for Austrian arms is entirely due to the Archduke Charles. Europe stood at Napoleon’s feet; only the insurgency in parts of Spain and the refusal of London to treat prevented him dominating the entire Continent. With Prussia vanquished and Russia pacified, Austria was under no illusions that she stood alone. Neither England nor Spain could offer her a single soldier or gun. Prussia, broken and dismembered, with her armies ruined, could barely offer moral support, and when some officers urged support for the Austrians, their spineless and weak King would have none of it. England, her treasury at a low ebb, offered diversions but none of these came to pass until long after the campaign on the Danube was over.

Frederick the Great and War I


When Friedrich II, later called the Great, came to the throne of Prussia in 1740, he inherited a realm both physically and in population a little larger than Portugal, but sprawled all across northeast Germany in little packages, and without any natural barriers to serve as points d’appui for fortresses. An unfortunate heritage of the Thirty Years’ War was the fact that the armies of both sides had marched very much where they pleased, regardless of neutralities, except in those few cases where the neutral had an armed force of his own big enough to insure respect. Johann Georg of Saxony was such a neutral until the Emperor Ferdinand forced him to choose sides; Georg Wilhelm of Brandenburg tried to be such a neutral and found he lacked the means. The lesson was not lost on the strong and imperious Hohenzollerns who followed him and turned the Electorate of Brandenburg into the Kingdom of Prussia, and most especially not on Friedrich II’s father, Friedrich Wilhelm I, not the least strong or imperious of that remarkable line. In addition, Friedrich Wilhelm was a kind of military connoisseur. In his younger days he had personally fought under Marlborough and Eugene at Malplaquet, and had fully accepted the opinion that one of the leading concerns of a royal personage was war.

There were no wars any more, but Friedrich Wilhelm behaved as though he expected one tomorrow morning. A series of financial and administrative economies, including the maintenance of his own court on a scale hardly more elaborate than that of a country gentleman, gave him one of the fattest treasuries of Europe from one of its poorest countries. He used the money to equip an army of 80,000, almost as large as the imperial forces, and equal to 4 per cent of Prussia’s population. In spite of a conscription system and the duty laid on males of noble families to serve in the officer corps from childhood up, little Prussia simply could not furnish that many men. Friedrich Wilhelm’s recruiting agents cruised through the whole of Europe in search of what they wanted, and when the candidates did not come willingly, they were kidnaped. This was especially true of very tall men; in one of those evolutionary specializations that made the head of triceratops almost too heavy to carry, the king devoted vast effort to assembling a regiment of giants for his personal guard. His people even sandbagged and carried off an exceptionally tall Italian priest while he was saying Mass.

The armies of the age of the balance of power were the product of a sharply stratified society, seeking everywhere to improve its productive mechanism. Even in soldier-hungry Prussia the fact that a man was an artisan or a trader exempted him from military service. It was the business of the middle class to pay taxes to support the armies, and the men who made them up were drawn from the lower levels–peasants, vagabonds, the tradeless. As a result, discipline everywhere was of the severest sort; but this severity was carried further under Friedrich Wilhelm than anywhere else in Europe. Flogging through the line was the usual punishment for talking back to an officer; a man who struck his superior was simply shot out of hand without trial. With this discipline went unceasing drill in the Prussian army, day in and day out, till the men moved like machines, on reflex and without even thinking.

Also there went with it a reduction in the number of movements required to load and fire a musket, and a new type of iron ramrod, introduced by Friedrich Wilhelm’s friend and officer, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau. In other armies the ramrods were wood.

The rest of Europe regarded these antics with amusement; the regiment of giants was funny, and an army that drilled all the time but never did any fighting was an agreeable royal idiosyncrasy, like a collection of cameos, and about as useful. Indeed, an official report to the Holy Roman emperor said that the Prussian soldiers had been flogged so much that they would infallibly desert at the first fire.

But on October 20, 1740, the Holy Roman emperor died.


King Friedrich II was twenty-seven at the time of his accession, known for his liberalizing tendencies, his addiction to the arts and sciences, and what was generally considered to be a levity of temper. He abolished torture, proclaimed the freedom of the press and absolute religious toleration, and began writing all over Europe to tempt Voltaire, Maupertuis, anyone with a reputation, to come to Berlin and help set up an academy. He discontinued the regiment of giants, gave orders that in view of a prospective poor harvest the army magazines should be opened and grain sold at low rates. European editorial opinion was that he would reduce the army and maintain one of those German courts shining with reflected French cultural glitter.

All this was before the death of the emperor, Charles VI. He had produced only daughters, but before his death he spent a great deal of time and effort hurrying about Europe to get everybody to sign a document called the Pragmatic Sanction, guaranteeing the Hapsburg succession to the eldest girl, Maria Theresa, who was married to Francis, titular Duke of Lorraine. Everybody did sign, probably most of them with mental reservations, for there were two women with better hereditary claims, the daughters of Charles’ elder brother, Joseph. One was the wife of Charles Albert, Elector of Bavaria, and the Wittelsbach house had never abandoned its hope of becoming imperial; the other was the wife of Augustus, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, who did not want the whole heritage, but only a part of it. Spain and Sardinia also had claims of a vague sort; and in the background there was always France, ready to promote anything that would keep the empire weak and divided.

These complications added up to the fact that the Hapsburg empire, made up of a collection of possessions under varying rules of inheritance, was surrounded by expanding states, which saw an opportunity to chip off pieces. But the balance of power and the futility of war to attain decisions had become so well established that nobody did anything practical about it until December 16, two months after Charles VI’s death.

On that date Friedrich marched across the border of the duchy of Silesia at the head of 30,000 men, claiming it as his own.

Legally the claim was of the flimsiest sort. It was rested on a document of 1537, in which the Duke of Liegnitz and the then Markgraf of Brandenburg mutually agreed that if the male heirs of either line ran out the other should inherit. Actually, as everyone recognized at the time, it was a straight case of expanding state, and, moreover, expansion by war. The effect was a transvaluation of values, not instantaneously, but as soon as Friedrich had demonstrated that something important could be accomplished by such means.


The demonstration was furnished at Mollwitz on 10 April, 1741, on a field blanketed with snow. Friedrich had been masking and besieging fortresses throughout Silesia and his strategy left a great deal to be desired, but he managed to get some 20,000 men to Mollwitz to oppose an approximately equal number of Austrians under Marshal Neipperg. There were several peculiarities about that battle. Although the total forces were nearly equal, the Austrian cavalry outnumbered the Prussian slightly more than two to one, which meant that Austria was similarly deficient in infantry; and the Prussians had sixty field guns against eighteen. King Friedrich, in imitation of Gustavus, took his station with the cavalry of the right wing. In the deployment there was not quite enough room for all the infantry on that wing, so that some of it had to be drawn back at an angle, en potence; and the ground was such that this wing was much forward, nearer the enemy.

The battle was opened by the guns; they galled the horse of the Austrian left so sore that these charged without orders and carried the Prussian cavalry right away–including the king, who took no further part in the proceedings that day. But when the Austrians tried to finish things by turning in on the infantary flank, they found themselves up against something much tougher than they could have imagined. Friedrich Wilhelm’s foot, drilled to the likeness of machines, did not break, but stood in their ranks and shot the horsemen down. Five times Austria tried against that angle of the Prussian right wing, five times the cavalry went back; at the last charge broken, just as the infantry lines came into contact. The battalions en potence swung forward, they overlapped the Austrian left, and with the mechanical Prussians firing five shots with their iron ramrods for every two of their opponents, with the overplus of Prussian artillery cutting holes in the Austrian front, Neipperg’s men could not stand it. They melted away into a wintry twilight, their line collapsing from left to right.

Mollwitz decided Silesia for the time being, and also made in Europe a noise almost as loud as Breitenfeld, for it was the defeat of a mighty empire by a power almost as little regarded as Sicily. The required demonstration was furnished; namely, that the military strength of a state is not necessarily proportionate to its size, and that it was still possible to accomplish something by military means. Forthwith, Charles Albert of Bavaria claimed the whole imperial heritage, Augustus of Saxony-Poland claimed part of it, and their alliance was backed by France with force of arms. This made it practically obligatory for England, already locked with France in a struggle for overseas dominion, to support Austria, and the War of the Austrian Succession began.

But these were only the publicly, immediately decisive events that flowed from Mollwitz. The privately decisive matters, which became the more important in the long run, were that Friedrich, who deserves to rank as a great man, if only because he learned something from every blunder and accident with humility unequaled in history, meditated long and hard over what happened in battle. His infantry had withstood the best cavalry in Europe; very well, infantry trained in the school of Friedrich Wilhelm could turn back any cavalry. His Marshal Schwerin had urged him to leave the field after the first cavalry charge, and then won the battle; very well, he would never leave a battlefield again and Schwerin was in disfavor. Most important of all was the train of accidents that resulted in a heavily weighted Prussian right wing striking the Austrian left at an oblique angle. Friedrich studied military history very hard and had the memory of an elephant; it reminded him of Epaminondas of Thebes, and he never forgot it.


Frederick the Great and War II

If you had spoken to an expanding-state dignitary about anything like consent of the governed or plebiscites, he would have thought you out of your mind; but the million or more Silesians conquered by Friedrich at Mollwitz or in the sieges were well content to be Prussian. They were predominantly Protestant, and the Austrian Catholic officials, while not actually oppressing them, made things difficult. Moreover, Prussian administration was more efficient than Austrian; more precise, with a better sense of essential justice. Friedrich had not only made a conquest, he had secured the reconciliation of the conquered.

But there was one person who would never be reconciled to Prussia in Silesia, and that was Maria Theresa, empress and queen. She regarded Friedrich as the most wicked and dangerous man in Europe, and she said so; a reaction not merely of personal pique, but of an underlying sense that his success threatened the whole system of which she formed a part. This opinion was implemented through a long series of diplomatic and military maneuvers. In 1742, at the urging of her British friends, Maria Theresa signed a peace which turned out to be an armistice. It gave Friedrich his Silesia and allowed her to turn on the Bavarians and French. In 1743 the French were disastrously defeated in Bohemia and on the Rhine; Bavaria fell entirely into Austrian hands and Friedrich re-entered the war as the ally of France, more or less to keep the revived Hapsburg power from being turned on him alone. In 1744 he invaded Bohemia and captured Prague, but got himself maneuvered out by attacks on his communications. In 1745 the Austrians, now with Saxony as an ally, counterinvaded Silesia and were well beaten at Hohenfriedberg and Sohr, so that the peace finally signed only confirmed the verdict of Mollwitz.

In every series of campaigns certain features establish themselves on a semi-permanent basis as part of the frame of reference. In the War of the Austrian Succession one of these features was the operations of the Hungarian irregular light cavalry, pandours, who hung in clouds across the front and flanks of every Austrian army. They were barbarians who used to bum towns, raid camps, and cut the wounded to pieces when they found them, but they made communications a problem for every army opposing the Austrian, and they forced the king to fight for his intelligence of enemy movements. As a result he developed his own cavalry service on lines parallel to those given the infantry by Friedrich Wilhelm–careful training, perfect co-ordination, precision of movement–and reared up a group of remarkable cavalry officers, Ziethen, Seydlitz, Rothenbourg. This was not so much a true light cavalry, like the pandours, but an instrument for combat intelligence and battle purposes, and it was the first of its kind.

The infantry did not need improving, only an intensification of its previous status. Friedrich had discovered that his foot could not only fire twice as fast as its opponents, but also that it could maneuver much faster, and on this he based a new system of minor tactics. The infantry was to fire a platoon volley, advance four paces behind the smoke while reloading for the next volley and, when close enough to the bullet-racked enemy line, fall on with the bayonet.

In major tactics every one of his big battles of the war–Chotusitz, Hohenfriedberg, Sohr–was a deliberate repetition of the accident of Mollwitz. In each Friedrich pushed forward a heavily loaded right wing, took the enemy at the oblique, and rolled up his line. There were variations in the individual case, but this was the basic pattern, and it was noted beyond the borders of Prussia.


This was the military background for the next act. Part of the political background was furnished by the fact that, having obtained what he wanted, Friedrich was opposed to war. “We must get rid of it as a doctor does of a fever.” But there was now on the imperial side Wenzel Anton, Graf von Kaunitz, counselor to Maria Theresa. She had been rather reluctantly willing to accept Bavaria in compensation for the loss of Silesia, but the peace that ended the general war gave her neither, and though her husband secured election as emperor, there remained in her an inextinguishable fund of bitterness against the robber who had taken her province.

Wenzel Anton (who exercised by riding in a hall to avoid fresh air and kept dozens of kittens, which he gave away as soon as they became cats) exploited this bitterness, and he exploited it in the name of the balance of power. He argued that the presence of a new great power in north Germany–and with her army and accession of territory, no one could doubt that Prussia had become one–had deprived Austria of her proper place in Europe and freedom of action. If she was ever to recover either, if the French influence which had become so predominant in Europe through Friedrich was ever to be allayed, Prussia must be destroyed. Austria’s traditional alliance was with the sea powers, England and Holland; but it was hopeless to expect these Protestant nations to support an enterprise against Protestant Prussia. The true line of Austrian policy was therefore in forming an alliance with France and Russia, the former of whom could be repaid in the Netherlands and Italy, and the latter in East Prussia, none of which lands were really part of the empire.

Thus Kaunitz to the empress. It was not hard to talk Russia into the combination, for Russia was perpetually ambitious and, for quite personal reasons, the Russian Empress Elizabeth had conceived a deep dislike for Friedrich. France and some of the lesser states–Sweden, Saxony–came harder, but Kaunitz was a diplomat of almost uncanny skill, who had a goodie for everybody. Also he was aided by the underlying feeling he used with the empress, more a sensation than a statable idea, that the balance of power had been overthrown by the expanding Prussian state, and there was no security for anyone unless this tendency was ruthlessly punished. France signed; and England promptly allied herself with Friedrich–the sea power to furnish money, the Prussians troops for the protection of King George’s Hannover.

These were the roots of the Seven Years’ War, the first of the true world wars, itself decisive in more than one way, but whose importance is often hidden beneath the overlays of later struggles.

The actual fighting began in August 1756, when Friedrich invaded Saxony without a declaration of war, occupied Dresden, and shut up the Saxon army in an entrenched camp at Pirna. His espionage service was exceptionally good; he had a man named Menzel in the Saxon chancellery who, incidentally, was discovered and spent the remaining eighteen years of his life in irons in prison growing a fine crop of hair. Friedrich published the documents Menzel furnished as a justification for his aggression against Saxony. Not that it did much good, since the adroit Kaunitz instantly summoned the Diet of the empire and persuaded all the smaller states to send contingents to an imperial army, which made part of the half million men who began to flow in for the demolition of Prussia.

Friedrich’s aggression succeeded in its first object. Saxony was knocked out, and what was left of its enlisted troops was offered the choice of serving under Friedrich henceforth or going to prison. Friedrich invaded Bohemia for a second time, won a battle under the walls of Prague, threw a blockade around the town and pressed southward until he encountered an army twice the size of his own under Marshal Leopold Josef Daun at Kolin on June 18, 1757.

This officer was probably the best commander Friedrich ever faced. His plan was the same as that of the usual Austrian leader–draw up and await attack, since he lacked the mobility to compete with the Prussians in maneuver. But he chose his position very well, the left on a high wooded ridge, center running across little knolls and swampy pools, and right resting on another hill, with an oakwood on it and a marshy stream running past. Daun was in three lines instead of the usual two; all across the front, in reeds, woods, and tall grass, he scattered quantities of Croat irregular sharpshooters. Friedrich judged the Austrian left unassailable and angled to his own left to make an oblique attack on that wing, with each of what we would call his brigades to follow on in turn, swinging rightward when they reached position to sweep out Daun’s line. The leading formation, Hülsen’s, did break through the extreme flank and drove back the first two Austrian lines; but those that followed had to cross Daun’s front, with the fire from the Croats coming into their flank. One group halted and faced round to drive off these tormentors by firing a few volleys, and the brigade immediately behind, believing that the battle plan had been changed, also faced round and went into action.

That is, they had begun too soon, and in somewhat the wrong place. This should not have been fatal, for Friedrich had a strong column under Prince Moritz of Dessau coming up to form the link between Hülsen and the groups prematurely engaged. But Friedrich chose this moment to lose his temper and order Moritz in at once, using a form of words that caused him also to make contact too soon. The consequence was that Hülsen was isolated. The Austrians counter attacked him, completely broke up his formation, turned in on the flank of the remainder of the Prussian line, and drove Friedrich from the field with 13,000 lost out of 33,000 men.

The allies now thought they had him and began to shoot columns at him from all directions. The Prince of Hildburghausen with the army of the empire, and Marshal Soubise with the French, together 63,000 strong, drove toward Saxony; 17,000 Swedes landed in Pomerania; 80,000 Russians moved in from their side, and Charles of Lorraine, with his own and Daun’s troops, over 100,000, marched on Silesia from the south.

That summer there was fighting all around the circle, with Prussia slowly going down. The Swedes were incompetently led, accomplished nothing against the detachment that faced them, but they still forced Friedrich to make that detachment. The Russians beat a third of their number of Prussians in a battle, but their supply organization broke down, the machine ground to a halt just when it might have taken Berlin, and a large part of the army melted away in desertions. The Austrians, as might be expected, made a war of sieges, but it took 41,000 men to keep them from overrunning everything, and Friedrich could gather barely 22,000 men to meet the incursion of Soubise and Hildburghausen into Saxony.

There was some maneuvering west of the Saale before the two armies faced each other at Rossbach, Friedrich’s at the western terminus of a sausage-shaped complex of low eminences, with the Janus and Polzen hills at his rear. The Austrians were moving in Friedrich’s strategic rear, and however slowly they advanced, he was required to do something. He was proposing to attack the enemy camp, a rather desperate undertaking in a completely open plain dotted with villages, when on November 5 they saved him the trouble.


Soubise and Hildburghausen had been reading, and from their documents they learned that the King of Prussia won battles by throwing his full strength against the enemy’s left flank. Now they decided to outdo him by hurling their whole army quite around his left and rear to take the hills there and cut his communications. They formed with their cavalry in the vanguard, the infantry in three columns behind, and began a wide sweep around the Prussian left through the village of Pettstädt, with their trumpets blowing.

There were only three defects in this plan. One was that the plain was completely open, and Friedrich had an officer on the roof of the highest building in Rossbach who could observe every move; the second was that the tracks were both sandy and muddy, and the march slow; and the third was that the moving column, in some witless idea of gaining surprise, threw out no scouts or cavalry screen. When word was brought to the king that the enemy had swung through Pettstädt, he calmly finished his dinner, then at the double-quick took up an entirely new disposition. Seydlitz, with all the cavalry, was posted out of sight behind the Polzen hill, with a couple of hussars as pickets atop; the artillery on the reverse slope of Janus, only the muzzles projecting; the infantry behind the guns, most of them rightward. The beginning of the movement and the apparent disappearance of the Prussian force were observed from the allied army; they assumed that Friedrich was retreating, and ordered hurry to catch him.


As they sped up, at three-thirty in the afternoon, Seydlitz came over Polzen Hill with 4,000 cavalry, “compact as a wall and with incredible speed.” He hit the allied horse vanguard in flank and undeployed; rode right through them, overturned them utterly, and drove what was left from the field. Seydlitz followed till the rout was complete; then sounded a recall and formed in a dip of ground at Tagweben, behind the enemy right rear. The moment their field of fire was cleared the Prussian guns opened on the hapless allied columns, tearing down whole ranks, and as they strove to deploy, Friedrich’s infantry came over Janus Hill, all in line and firing like clockwork. As the writhing columns tried to fall back, tried to get their rear battalions in formation, Seydlitz came out of his hollow and charged them from the rear. It was one of the briefest great battles of record; by four-thirty the allied army was a panic-stricken mob, having lost 3,000 killed and wounded, 5,000 prisoners, and sixty-seven guns. The Prussian losses were 541.

Worst of all for the allies, what was left of their army was so broken that it could never be assembled again. Rossbach was decisive in the sense that it took France out of the war against Friedrich; he had no more fighting to do against the French except by deputy in Hannover. He had cracked the circle of enemies; and he had also achieved a focus for German nationalism and assured the support of England. After the battle Parliament increased his subsidy almost tenfold.

But there was still almost too much for any one man and any one army to do. While Friedrich was eliminating the imperial and French armies from the war, Austria had slowly rolled up all of southern Silesia, beaten the Prussian forces there in battle, and taken Breslau and Schweidnitz, with their huge, carefully assembled magazines. Friedrich turned over command of the beaten army to Ziethen, a thick-lipped ugly little man; picked up his forces at Parchwitz, and hurried forward to offer the Austrians battle.

He now had 36,000 men and 167 guns, of which one big battery was superheavy pieces brought from the fortress of Glogau. Prince Charles and Daun had nearly 80,000. The latter had expected winter quarters, but the news of Friedrich’s approach drew him out of Breslau into a position in double line. The right was under General Lucchesi, resting on the village of Nippern, behind a wood and some bogs, the center at Leuthen village, the left on Sagschütz. The tips of both wings were somewhat drawn back, and General Nadasti, who commanded the left, covered his position with abbates. Forward in the village of Borne was a cavalry detachment under the Saxon General Nostitz, but most of the cavalry were in reserve behind the center.

It may have been that Friedrich had some doubts about the morale of the beaten army Ziethen now commanded; if so, they were dispelled on the freezing dark night of December 4, when he rode through the camp and all the soldiers hailed him with, “Good night, Fritz.” He assembled his generals and told them that what he intended to do was against all the rules of war, but he was going to beat the enemy “or perish before his batteries,” then gave orders for an advance at dawn.


It struck Nostitz and his detachment through a light mist. Ziethen charged the Saxons furiously, front and flank, made most of the men prisoners, and drove the rest in on Lucchesi’s wing. There was a halt while the mist burned away and Friedrich surveyed the hostile line. He knew the area well, having maneuvered there frequently; rightward from Borne there was a fold of ground that would conceal movement, and he immediately planned to do what the allies had attempted on him at Rossbach–throw his entire army on the enemy left wing. As a preliminary, the cavalry of the vanguard were put in to follow up the Nostitz wreck in the opposite direction. This feint worked; Lucchesi, who like Soubise and Hildburghausen, knew of Friedrich’s penchant for flank attacks, imagined he was about to receive a heavy one and appealed for reinforcement. Prince Charles sent him the reserve cavalry from the center and some of that from the left.

But the storm died down there, and to Charles and Daun, standing near the center, it seemed that this must have been a flurry to cover the retreat of inferior force, for Friedrich’s army had passed out of sight. “The Prussians are packing off,” remarked Daun. “Don’t disturb them!” There is no record of his further conversation down to the moment a little after noon, when Friedrich’s head of column poked its nose from behind the fold of ground and the whole array of horse, foot, and artillery did a left wheel and came rolling down on Nadasti’s flank at an angle of maybe 75 degrees.


Nadasti, a reasonably good battle captain, charged in at once with what cavalry he had, and succeeded in throwing Ziethen back, but came up against infantry behind, and was badly broken. One can picture the hurry, confusion, and shouting as his whole wing, taken in enfilade by the Prussian volleys, went to pieces. But there were so many of these Austrians that they began to build up a defense around the mills and ditches of Leuthen, and especially its churchyard, which had stone walls. Prince Charles fed in battalions as fast as he could draw them from any point whatever; in places the Austrians were twenty ranks deep, and the fighting was very furious. The new line was almost at right angles to the old and badly bunched at the center, but still a line, heavily manned and pretty solid.

Friedrich had to put in his last infantry reserves, and even so was held. But he got his superheavy guns onto the rise that had concealed his first movement, they enfiladed the new Austrian right wing and it began to go. At this juncture Lucchesi reached the spot from his former station. He saw that the Prussian infantry left was bare and ordered a charge. But Friedrich had foreseen exactly this. The cavalry of his own left wing, under General Driesen, was concealed behind the heavy battery, and as Lucchesi came forward at the trot, he was charged front, flank, and rear, all at once. It was like Seydlitz’s charge at Rossbach; Lucchesi himself was killed and his men scattered as though by some kind of human explosion, while Driesen wheeled in on the Austrian infantry flank and rear around Leuthen. Under the December twilight what was left of them were running.

Frederick the Great and War III

Leuthen was the extremest example of Friedrich’s oblique-order attack and also his most destructive victory. He lost 6,000 men, but the Austrians lost 10,000 in killed and wounded, besides 21,000 prisoners, and two weeks later Breslau surrendered, with 17,000 more. The effect was crushing, but it was not decisive, except locally and in a temporary manner, as to who should hold Silesia until the next campaign.

Austria was unable to get another army into the field until late in the following summer, but in the meanwhile the Russians, who had thus far been trying to assure themselves of the possession of East Prussia, pushed a column into the home counties as far as Frankfurt an der Oder, and Friedrich had to go fight it. He beat it at Zorndorf in a slaughtering battle in August, but by October the Austrians were on foot again, now under Daun, and at Hochkirch they beat the king.

They beat him in the way one would have least expected against so acute a commander, by leaving their watch fires burning while they made a night march and surprised him at dawn. That is, they caught him being careless. And in the following summer, 1759, a combined Austro-Russian army inflicted a paralyzing defeat on Friedrich at Kunersdorf, one in which he lost over 20,000 men–again through his own fault, for he sent his troops into action after two days without sleep, up a steep hill in broiling sun. “Will not some curst bullet strike me?” he cried afterward, and, “I believe everything is lost,” he wrote.

But he had done better than he thought and everything was not lost; neither after Hochkirch nor Kunersdorf did his enemies make any follow-up. They could not; they were too disorganized in terms of lost officers, mingling of regiments, breakdown of supply. They had no such solid basis as the Prussian army; when any of them lost a battle, that particular campaign was over, when they won, it merely went on.

A realization that their sole real asset was numerical penetrated allied minds in 1761, and they adopted a plan of campaign to make numbers count. There were to be three columns, one operating through Saxony under Daun, one through Silesia under the Austrian General Loudon, and a Russian column through Poland. Each was to deplete Friedrich’s resources by eating up the towns. He could maintain only one army large enough to deal with any of the three; whenever he turned against one, the others would keep moving stolidly toward Berlin.

This plan was modified by events. The Russians came slowly through northern Silesia. Daun also was slow, and when Friedrich turned against Loudon, the Austrian marshal thought he saw an opportunity to repeat the surprise of Hochkirch. He swung around toward the northwest of Friedrich’s position at Liegnitz while Loudon marched by a circuit to close him in from the northeast, with the Russians under General Czernicheff pushing up from behind.

But Daun did some careful scouting from the heights above Liegnitz, which not only slowed his march, but attracted Friedrich’s attention. On the night of August 14, 1761, the king turned the Austrians’ trick right around on them, leaving a group of campfires burning and making a fast march along the road Loudon was to occupy. Loudon reached it cross country in the morning; was received by musketry fire, and being already too deeply committed to get out without battle, fought one that cost him 10,000 men and eighty-one guns. Daun reached Friedrich’s former camp only just in time to see the column of smoke rising over the defeat to the north; his pursuit was not a success.

As for the Russians, Friedrich supplied a peasant with a message addressed to his brother, Prince Henri, who was facing them: “Austrians totally defeated today, now for the Russians. Do what we agreed upon.” The peasant was to let himself be taken by Czernicheff and give up the paper to save his own life. There is something peculiarly pleasing about these devices of Friedrich the king; they are so firmly rooted in understanding of the men he was dealing with and so unexpected. This one worked precisely according to prescription. Czernicheff, beset by nameless terrors, marched right away from the area of action and the Russians were next heard of besieging Kolberg on the Baltic coast, which would be more use to them than another victory over Friedrich, anyway.

Two of the three attacking columns were thus eliminated, for Loudon had been so badly knocked about as to be out of it. Friedrich spent some weeks maneuvering in Silesia, but was recalled by the news that Berlin had been taken. He rushed north with his army; it turned out not to be a serious occupation, but a handful of Cossack raiders and a wing of Austrian light cavalry, who dispersed at once. But it was now evident that something would have to be done about the Daun column, which had taken nearly all Saxony and established itself at Torgau, 64,000 strong. By whittling down garrisons Friedrich managed to assemble 45,000 men, and approached the place at the end of October.


It was not Daun’s intention to fight, except as he had done at Kolin, long ago, on terms that would force the king to attack under every disadvantage. He chose his position very well for the purpose, along a certain Siptitz Hill that runs roughly westward from Torgau. Its southern edge was covered by a deep, wide, muddy brook, the Röhrgraben, a good military obstacle; all around the height were sparse forests of pine, growing out of sand. The lines were so good that Prince Henri had previously held them against this same Daun with much inferior forces, and the Austrians now had no less than 400 guns.

Friedrich moved up toward the installation from the south. It struck him at once that the place was unduly cramped for as many men as Austria had and offered poor opportunities for mounting a counterattack, and he determined to assault it from front and rear simultaneously. Ziethen, with nearly half the army, would take the southern side, across the brook; Friedrich himself would swing by a circuit through the woods in three columns, the outermost one of cavalry.


The king marched fairly early; it was nearly two in the afternoon when Friedrich, leading the innermost column, reached the edge of the woods, just in time to hear the boom-boom of guns from the southward. To him this meant that Ziethen was already engaged; there was no sign yet of his second column or his third, but he immediately hurled 6,000 grenadiers straight at the Austrian position.

The trouble with any converging-column arrangement is that it is impossible for the commander of one wing to know precisely what is happening to the other. Ziethen’s engagement, in fact, was with some outposts of light troops, who had a few guns south of the Röhrgraben. These retired slowly eastward, in the Torgau direction, drawing the Prussians out of their true line of advance during hours, which caused Friedrich later to rate Ziethen roundly for his stupidity. But this was no help at the moment to the 6,000 grenadiers, who were met by the fire of nearly all the 400 Austrian cannon. Friedrich himself said he never saw anything like it; the Prussian artillery was smashed before it had a chance to load, the grenadiers were cut to pieces. Enough of them survived to reach the Austrian line for some deadly close work, but Daun brought up infantry, drove them out, and even tried a counterattack, which came to considerable grief in a heavy shower of rain. At the end of it not 600 of the 6,000 were left; it was three o’clock and the attack had failed.

Shortly later Friedrich’s second column arrived; there was a pause for reorganization, and at about three-thirty it and the remnants of the first attack went forward again. This was the hardest fighting of the day, along the northwest portion of Daun’s line; the Prussian infantry got in among the guns, and there was hot hand-to-hand work on Siptitz Hill, but Daun summoned his reserves from every quarter and after a long struggle drove the Prussians back again, the king himself wounded.

Not until four-thirty, with the sun down, was the coming of the cavalry, which had gone astray in the woods. Friedrich dauntlessly organized a third attack through gathering dark and smoke, cavalry and infantry together. This storm was at least a partial success: four whole regiments of Austrians were taken, with many of the guns; Daun’s whole left wing was reduced to a jelly-like consistency, and there was confusion all through his lines, but the thing could not be carried forward. Friedrich gave orders to bivouac on the field and try again next day if possible; Daun, himself wounded, sent off a courier of victory that caused all the windows of Vienna to be illuminated.

But at six, under a night grown wet and very cold, there was a sudden glare of red in the sky southward. It was Ziethen, free at last of his preoccupation with the Austrian light forces, trying to close the sound of the king’s guns, and he had taken the village of Siptitz, south of the Röhrgraben, and set the place afire. His men could not cross the stream through the blazing village, but an intelligent officer named Möllendorf found a bridge beyond it, and Ziethen poured through, up a saddle at the southwest angle of the ridge and down on the Austrians, his drums beating the Prussian march, muskets all in line blazing across the dark.


There is a famous picture of Friedrich, wrapped in his cloak, chin on chest and stick across his knees, waiting in deepest discouragement for the dawn at Torgau. The dawn came before the day, it is said, in the person of Ziethen himself, to tell the king he had won after all, the Austrians were driven through Torgau with a loss of 10,000 men and most of their guns. Daun’s army was a wreck and the allied campaign with it.


There was some bickering and some maneuvering the next year, with Friedrich on the defensive and neither Austrians nor Russians daring to besiege or attack; and early in 1762 the Tsarina Elizabeth died and Tsar Peter, her successor, made peace with Friedrich and sent a Russian corps to his help, while France could no longer pay subsidies to Austria, and Maria Theresa had to reduce her army to 20,000 men.

It may be put that Torgau ended it. It did not decide the war–probably the one battle that went furthest in that direction was Rossbach–but it decided that Austria could not carry the war to a successful conclusion. And in so doing it established in north Germany a new state and a new type of state, with a standing army, a centralized administration, officials who looked to the building of dams, canals, roads, bridges, internal communications, and who promoted agriculture and internal colonization. Before Friedrich the Great’s death he had settled 200,000 people on previously unoccupied lands; and the efficiency of his administration was such that the other nations of Europe were forced to imitate him if they wished to remain level in the complex game of the balance of power. “It appears,” he said once, “that God has created me, pack horses, Doric columns, and us kings generally to carry the burdens of the world in order that others may enjoy its fruits.” His ideal of peace was to have the government help every citizen; his ideal of war was not to have the civil population know that a war was going on. His seizure of Silesia was doubtless anything but moral; but when he made it stick on the field of battle, he forced the rest of Europe into a new sense of the responsibility of government.

Battle of Lodi, ( 10 May 1796 )


General Bonaparte gives his orders, in The Battle of Lodi, by Louis-François, Baron Lejeune


A relatively minor engagement against the Austrian rear guard defending the bridge over the Adda River in the Italian village of Lodi, this battle was nevertheless instrumental in the development of Bonaparte’s self-perception and of his public image as a great commander.

After defeating the Piedmontese in his first Italian campaign, Bonaparte turned his attention to the pursuit of the Austrians under Feldzeugmeister Johann Peter Freiherr von Beaulieu. It was necessary to cross the river Adda on a 170-yard-long wooden bridge at Lodi, in defense of which Beaulieu had left a rear guard of some 12,000 men and 14 cannon.

Bonaparte decided to storm the bridge, even though the Austrian guns completely dominated it. He sent a cavalry contingent up the river to cross and then sweep down on the Austrian right flank. He formed his grenadiers into columns in the shelter of the city walls and gave them an inspirational speech. Then, to the cries of “Vive la République,” they stormed the bridge. This attack faltered, but generals André Masséna and Louis- Alexandre Berthier soon led another attack across the bridge. In light of the heavy Austrian fusillade on the bridge, many French troops jumped off and opened fire from the shallow part of the river. A counterattack by the Austrians was foiled as French cavalry arrived just as more French infantry attacked the bridge. The cavalry sabered the enemy gun crews and routed the Austrian forces, which left behind their artillery, several hundred dead, and almost 2,000 prisoners.

Bonaparte was a whirlwind of action. Observing from close range and from a church tower, he took personal charge of every detail. He even positioned the can- non along the river, earning for himself the sobriquet “the little corporal” for doing work normally assigned to a soldier of that rank. Bonaparte’s strength lay not just in his military skills but in emotional leadership, something that had not been particularly necessary in his previous engagements. He had inspired his men to undertake the rather daunting task of running across a bridge into concentrated Austrian fire.

The Austrian retreat from Lodi opened the road to Milan and gave the French troops new confidence. Lodi was far more important than simply a battle that opened the way to Milan. Beyond its somewhat limited military significance, the battle created a change in Bonaparte’s attitude toward his future: He now knew he was a leader. In exile at St. Helena he wrote that it was at Lodi that he first saw himself as able to achieve great things.

Lodi also had an important effect on Bonaparte’s troops. It was there that they first observed him in action and finally gained complete confidence in him. It was the beginning of the special relationship between Bonaparte and his men; indeed, Lodi marked the beginning of their personal devotion to him that would last some twenty years.

References and further reading

Boycott-Brown, Martin. 2001. The Road to Rivoli: Napoleon’s First Campaign. London: Cassell. Chandler, David G. 1995. The Campaigns of Napoleon. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Wilkinson, Spenser. 1930. The Rise of General Bonaparte. Oxford: Clarendon.

Przemyśl, Austria’s Bulwark in the East



In 1914, Festung Przemyśl was among the strongest and most modern of the Austrian fortresses and played a key role in the defence of Galicia. Austria’s first attempt to fortify the city took place early in the Crimean War even though it remained neutral despite efforts to draw it into the war. The old Turkish threat had receded for decades as Russia had advanced towards the Danube. In 1853, Turkish forces fell back and the Russian forces occupied Walachia and Moldavia in 1854 and started driving into Bulgaria. The Austrian Army took up positions in Transylvania, threatening the Russians, considering the Turks to be a buffer rather than a threat. The Turks finally pushed the Russians back and the Austrians administered a neutral Walachia and Moldavia from 1854 until early 1857. During this period of rising tensions, the Austrians had to protect their relatively open frontier with Russia in Galicia. The process began with the construction of seven-sided artillery earthen positions of the FS type. By 1855, a total of nineteen of these positions were completed before construction was interrupted due to improved relations with Russia. With the passing of years, these works deteriorated and no further effort at fortification was undertaken until 1878 except for the construction of an enceinte in 1873, which dragged out into the 1880s. During the 1877 Russo-Turkish War, a number of octagonal FS type positions were placed several kilometres from the city to create a fortified camp.

In 1877, Russia again went to war with the Turks. Austria had agreed to remain neutral in exchange for being allowed to move into Bosnia-Herzegovina. At the end of the war, the Turks lost control over additional territory in the Balkans and Austria-Hungary formalized its right to occupy Bosnia-Herzegovina. Even though the Imperial Fortifications Committee had decided to fortify Przemyśl in 1868, nothing was built there until Russia threatened Galicia once more and Vienna authorized new construction. Construction of an enceinte began in 1873. Building began on nine detached earthen forts in June 1878 and most neared completion by the end of September 1878. After 1880 the army began new work that included rebuilding some of these forts as permanent structures. If a new fort built nearby replaced the old one, the old one became an earthen artillery position. These 1878 forts were on the southern fronts (southeast and southwest front) and on the northern fronts – Fort X ‘Orzechowce’ in the northwest and XIII ‘San Rideau’ in the northeast. Wooden palisades in the moat functioned as obstacles rather than Carnot Walls.

Fort VIII ‘Łętownia’ begun in 1881 was the first permanent artillery fort at Przemyśl. It was built on an old seven-sided FS-type fort from 1854 located on the western front. ‘Łętownia’ was a single-rampart artillery fort with five sides, two caponiers covering the two side ditches, and a double caponier covering the two frontal ditches. A brick wall without embrasures, not a Carnot Wall, stood at the base of the scarp to serve only as an obstacle. Late in the 1880s, Carnot Walls were no longer built. The earth-covered concrete caserne was part of the gorge wall, which also included embrasures for defensive weapons. The central courtyard was occupied by a large shelter built like the barracks and used as the main magazine. The six traverses included munitions and troop shelters adjacent to the ramps that led to the artillery positions between them. There were 120mm M-61 cannons in the open position facing the front, and 90mm M-75 guns on the flanks. Access to the caponiers was by posterns that went through the rampart. Not all of the forts followed this precise design, so each was unique in its own way.

In 1882, construction began on additional single-rampart forts, but it was not completed until 1886. The additional forts included V ‘Grochowce’, VII ‘Pralkowce’, and XII ‘Werner’. They were similar to Fort VIII, but larger. Fort V and VII were on the southwest front and XII on the northeast front. Exact details on all the forts are still being researched since some of their components were very likely incomplete, but the destruction of the forts during the war makes it difficult to know for sure.

The army planned to build several forts into the enceinte, but lack of funding prevented the realization of the project until about 1887. The forts that were eventually built were of a temporary nature, intended to deter enemy cavalry raids, and most had no caserne. During the 1880s, the wooden barracks of the forts and those of the enceinte were covered with a concrete layer. However, these positions were removed during the next decade. In 1887, the shelters used in the forts and other positions were of the Wellbach style in which curved iron sheets formed the interior leaving two open ends like a tunnel that were closed with brick walls. The larger forts included the three double-rampart forts of X ‘Orzechowce’, XI ‘Duńkowiczki’ and XIV ‘Hurko’, and the unusual Fort I ‘Salis-Soglio’ of a non-standard design created by its namesake. This large and unique fort was never outfitted with armoured turrets and had only open positions for its artillery on the ramparts. It had been intended to be the first Panzerwerk in the fortress and was to mount two large Grüson turrets with 120mm guns. However, the armour was cancelled because the War Ministry deemed it too expensive. Most of the forts built in the 1880s became Einheitsforts and became Panzerwerke when armour was added to them in the 1890s. After 1880, concrete roofs were built on all new, renovated, or rebuilt forts.

General von Brunner, Salis-Soglio’s director of fortifications at Przemyśl between 1889 and 1893, was responsible for the construction of the northwest part of the girdle of detached forts between 1892 and 1894. Most of his forts included casernes for about 300 men and some comprised traditors (flanking casemates). The gun batteries consisted of an 80mm gun with a Minimalschartenlafetten (a minimal embrasure mount) that allowed for minimum exposure of the gun, which was placed behind an armoured shield. Thus, Brunner’s Fort IX ‘Brunner’ and XIII ‘San Rideau’, built between 1892 and 1896, became the first Panzerwerke at Przemyśl. Other Panzerwerke with armoured turrets and observation cloches began to appear after these two forts. Fort XIII ‘San Rideau’ was a good example. It included a line of turrets above the caserne with an observation cloche on each end and an artillery observation cloche in the centre with three turrets for 150mm howitzers and mortars on each side of it. The ditch was protected by counterscarp casemates and there was a caponier attached to the caserne in the gorge.

On the rampart, the Panzerwerke generally included a rifle gallery with embrasures for rifles that were covered with armoured plates and sandbags between embrasures for added protection. This gallery was not a covered position although wooden planks were added for overhead protection during combat. In addition to artillery, these forts included machine-gun positions. By the turn of the century, the Austrians began adding iron fences in the gorge and in the ditch in front of caponiers and counterscarp casemates for additional protection. However, at Przemyśl, unlike some forts on the Italian Front, the fences did not cover the entire ditch where once wooden palisades had been used.

In the 1890s, infantry positions called Nahkampfort (close defence forts) were built to fill gaps between the artillery forts. In addition, nine small Panzerwerke armed with either two or four 80mm gun turrets were added. They included I/1 Łysiczka, I/2 Byków, I/5 Popowice, and I/6 Dziewieczyce in the southeast in front of Fort I. The entire complex formed the Siedlisko Group. Forts XIa and I-2, built late in the decade, are laid out according to Brunner’s designs with semicircular shape and a ‘V’-shaped ditch instead of a flat bottom. The gorge was covered by a semicircular earthwork, a centrally located two-level caserne with a combat position and a line of four 80mm gun turrets on its roof, and an observation cloche behind them. The rifle gallery was behind the turrets. Fort I-5 was similar but it had two gun turrets on each side of the block.

The larger Panzerwerke built between 1892 and 1900 included Fort IV ‘Optyń’ with four 80mm gun turrets, Fort IX ‘Brunner’, and Fort XIII ‘San Rideau’ each with three 150mm howitzers and three (four at Fort IX) 150mm mortar turrets. The double-rampart artillery forts were modernized as Panzerwerke in the last few years of the century when X Orzechowce and XI Duńkowiczki were outfitted with four 80mm gun turrets each. These two forts were the only ones at Przemyśl to receive armoured batteries and traditors. Fort IV, the last of the large forts built in 1897–1900 in the fortress girdle, had a lunette shape and included a large two-level caserne in the gorge and a gorge caponier. The barracks accommodated the 450-man garrison (including about 200 artillerymen, 230 infantrymen, and specialists and officers). A large two-level shelter and hangar for the artillery in the centre of the fort connected to the barracks. There were six positions for 150mm guns on the rampart, between the traverses. The fort had traditors – each mounting four 120mm guns – on each side of the rampart. They were located behind the rampart and peeked out of a large embrasure cut into the wall. On the two front corners of the rampart, adjacent to the traditors, there were two turrets with 80mm guns. An observation cloche stood between the turrets and the traditors. The counterscarp casemates at the two front corners mounted machine guns. Additional smaller forts were added after Fort IV.

The roofs of buildings in the last generation of forts were made of concrete poured over steel ‘I’ beams that resulted in flat ceilings rather than the arched ones made with bricks or concrete only. The infantry positions on the ramparts also included two to four positions for light field guns. In the 1900s, the army converted some of the old FS positions and older forts such as at Fort III and VI into infantry positions, some artillery emplacements. In some cases, the ramparts were strengthened with the addition of stone. In 1910, specific instructions were issued to create field fortifications to fill the gaps in the ring and link them with a continuous line of trenches. However, only two infantry strongpoints were built before the war and several after the war began. These strongpoints included wooden lined trenches and shelters designed to house forces ranging from half an infantry company to two companies.

Construction on the existing forts continued into the early twentieth century. Forts II, III, and VI were among the last to be rebuilt and modernized. By 1914, the Przemyśl was, if not the largest, at least one of the most important and modern fortresses in the Empire.