The Prussian military system had been thoroughly reformed after Napoleon had crushed it at Jena in 1806. The crucial development was the growth of a Great General Staff, embodied in law in 1814. Bright officers were selected to what was effectively a military brotherhood, charged with continuous study of the art of war and the drawing up and review of plans. Essentially a managerial system, in the long run it proved brilliantly suited to control large complex armies. Because it was successful in the wars of 1866 and 1870–1 the General Staff developed enormous prestige and decisive influence in military affairs. General Staff officers formed specialised groups, such as that dealing with railways, and were skilful at spotting ways in which new technology could be adapted for military use. Ultimately every general in command of an army had a chief of staff who had a right of appeal if he did not like his superior’s plans. To prevent these officers losing touch with military reality they were rotated through regular periods of service in line regiments. The Prussian General Staff presided over an army of 300,000 raised by a highly selective form of conscription. These were backed up by 800,000 reserves, each of whom at the age of 32 passed into the militia or Landwehr which would only be called up in emergency. In 1859 Prussia had tried to move to support Austria against France, but mobilisation had been a fiasco. As a result the General Staff paid careful attention to the use of railways to get troops quickly to the front. At the same time reserve and regular battalions were firmly attached to local military districts so each got to know the other.
In 1866 the tensions between Prussia and Austria over the leadership of Germany led to war. Prussia had only half the population of its adversary and the Austrians had a long-service conscript army of 400,000 which, in theory, could strike first into enemy territory. But the Austrian army could not concentrate quickly because its units were used for internal security, scattered in such a way that the men were always strangers to the people whom they garrisoned. Prussia thus had time to summon its reserves and to take the initiative under Helmuth von Moltke. Moreover, the Austrian advantage in numbers was partially nullified because Prussia allied with Italy, forcing Austria to dispatch an army there. In Italy in 1859 Austrian forces had failed to implement firepower tactics, and had been overwhelmed by direct (and very costly) French attacks. They were now armed with a good muzzle-loading Lorenz rifle, but thought that they should hold their troops together in large units that were trained to deliver bayonet charges. Also, aware of the inadequacy of their cannon in Italy, the Austrians had bought excellent rifled breech-loading artillery.
Moltke sent three armies along five railways to attack Austria through Bohemia, with the intention of concentrating them against the enemy’s main force. In the event, two of these armies confronted the Austrians in their strong and partly fortified position at Königgrätz/Sadowa/ on 3 July 1866. Each side had about 220,000 men. Fighting was ferocious but the Prussians held on until their third army arrived to bring victory. Prussian infantry tactics were the revelation of Königgrätz. In 1846 the Prussian army had adopted a breech-loading rifle, the Dreyse needle-gun. This had a potential firing rate of about five shots per minute and it could be loaded and fired from the prone position. The Dreyse was scorned by other armies: it lacked range because the gas seal on the breech was inadequate and it was feared that such a high rate of fire would encourage soldiers to waste their ammunition before charging the enemy, so overburdening supply lines.
At Königgrätz the Austrian artillery did much damage, but the rapid fire of the Dreyse at close range cut down the Austrians whose forces were gathered in large close-order units highly vulnerable to this kind of firestorm. The British Colonel G.F.R. Henderson commented that the Prussians did not charge with the bayonet until the enemy had been destroyed by musketry: ‘The Germans relied on fire, and on fire alone, to beat down the enemy’s resistance: the final charge was a secondary consideration altogether.‘
Important as the Dreyse was, the real key to victory was tactical and organisational. Moltke, like Clausewitz, understood the fluidity of battle and the problem of control:
Diverse are the situations under which an officer has to act on the basis of his own view of the situation. It would be wrong if he had to wait for orders at times when no orders can be given. But most productive are his actions when he acts within the framework of his senior commander’s intent.
He developed what would later be called the doctrine of mission tactics (Auftragstaktik), under which subordinate officers, even down to platoon level, were instructed in the intentions of the overall commander, but left to find their own way of achieving this end. At Königgrätz the Prussians made their infantry firepower count by closing with the enemy in forest land where the strong Austrian artillery could not bear upon them. This enabled them to shoot into the packed Austrian ranks as their junior officers led them around the enemy flanks. Fire and movement was the solution to the conundrum so ably propounded by du Picq.
This was possible because junior officers in the Prussian army were thoroughly trained, and understood the need to accept responsibility for the progress of their soldiers, and staff officers rotated through the fighting units communicated what senior commanders wanted. In addition, at the core of the Prussian army was an excellent corps of long-term NCOs well able to support their officers. At Königgrätz the Austrians suffered 6,000 dead, over 8,000 wounded and about the same number missing, and conceded 22,000 prisoners. The Prussians lost 2,000 dead and 6,000 wounded. Austria made peace almost immediately and Prussia took over all the north German states, enormously enhancing her military capability. The obvious lesson of Königgrätz was firepower. The Austrian Field Marshal Hess articulated another very clearly: ‘Prussia has conclusively demonstrated that the strength of an armed force derives from its readiness. Wars now happen so quickly that what is not ready at the outset will not be made ready in time … and a ready army is twice as powerful as a half-ready one.‘ Strike first would become an article of faith amongst the general staffs of Europe in the years down to 1914.
The victory of Sadowa made General von Moltke a celebrity, though an unlikely one. Intellectual, thin, clean-shaven, crisp and dry in speech and writing, he had the air more of an ascetic than a warrior. Although a gifted translator, he was so taciturn that the joke went that he could be silent in seven different languages. In 1867 he accompanied the king to the Paris Exhibition, was presented with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, and had conversations with French marshals Niel and Canrobert. The social niceties over, he returned to his office in Berlin to devote his thought to the problems of waging war against France. As professional military men, both he and Niel privately believed that a war between France and the North German Confederation was inevitable. As Niel once put it, the two countries were not so much at peace as in a state of armistice.
It was Moltke’s job, as it was Niel’s, to ensure that his country was ready when the test came, and he went about his task diligently. As a conservative Prussian, he saw France as the principal source of the dangerous infections of democracy, radicalism and anarchy. As a German, he shared the nationalist belief that Germany could become secure only by neutralizing the French threat once and for all.
Following the war of 1866, the Prussian army became the core of the Army of the North German Confederation. Under War Minister Roon’s direction, integration of the contingents of the annexed states into the Prussian military system proceeded without delay. As Prussian units were regionally based, other states’ forces were readily accommodated into the order of battle while respecting state loyalties. Thus troops from Schleswig-Holstein became IX Corps of the Confederation Army, those of Hanover X Corps, those of Hesse, Nassau and Frankfurt XI Corps and the forces of Saxony XII Corps. In addition to the manpower provided by this regional expansion, the new army could call upon the enlarged pool of trained reserves produced by Roon’s earlier reforms. While maintaining an active army of 312,000 men in 1867, the Confederation could call on 500,000 more fully trained reservists on mobilization, plus the Landwehr for home defence. Once the southern states’ forces were included following the signing of military alliances, the numbers available swelled still further. By 1870 Germany would be able to mobilize over a million men.
The world had hardly seen such a large and well-disciplined force. Its backbone was the Prussian army, combat-hardened and commanded by experienced leaders, which had won the 1866 campaign. The post-war period allowed time to make promotions, weed out unsuitable commanders, and learn lessons of what could have been done better. The time was well used.
For instance, Prussian artillery had not performed as effectively as hoped against the Austrians for several reasons: faulty deployment, lack of coordination with other arms, technical failures, and want of tactical experience in handling a mixture of muzzle-loading smoothbores and the new breech-loading steel rifled cannons. All these deficiencies were addressed. At the king’s insistence, Krupp’s steel breech-loaders became standard, this time with Krupp’s own more reliable breech blocks. From 1867 General von Hindersin required gunners to train hard at a practice range in Berlin until firing rapidly and accurately at distant targets became second nature. Batteries also practised rushing forward together in mass, even ahead of their infantry, to bring enemy infantry quickly under converging fire. Time and again, this would prove a devastating tactic. If the Battle of Waterloo proverbially was won on the playing fields of Eton, it is small exaggeration to say that Sedan was won on Germany’s artillery ranges. The proficiency of German gunnery was to astound the French in 1870.
Less spectacular but equally important in conserving the lives of German troops were improvements to the medical service. The huge numbers of wounded after Königgrätz had swamped the medical services. Disease and infection had spread rapidly in overcrowded field hospitals. In 1867 the best civilian and military doctors were called to Berlin, and their recommendations for reform were implemented over the next two years. The medical service was put in charge of a Surgeon General and army doctors were given enhanced authority and rank. Sanitary arrangements for the health of troops in the field were revised and their enforcement became part of the regular duties of troop commanders, who were also issued with pamphlets explaining their responsibilities under the 1864 Geneva Convention. Troops were issued with individual field-dressings to staunch bleeding. Medical units were created and all their personnel issued with Red Cross armbands. The units included stretcher-bearers trained in first aid who would be responsible for evacuating the wounded from the front to field hospitals. From there evacuation to base hospitals would be by rail using specially fitted out hospital trains. Once back in Germany, where the new Red Cross movement was taken very seriously, the wounded would be cared for with the help of civilian doctors assisted by volunteer nurses recruited and trained under the active patronage of Queen Augusta. Yet there would be no conflict of authorities in wartime, nor any room for civilian volunteers wandering about the combat zone under their own devices. The work of civilian doctors and nurses would be directed by a central military authority in Berlin. Like the artillery, the medical service was transformed between 1866 and 1870 by a systematic approach to overcoming the problems experienced in modern war.
This approach was epitomized by the General Staff itself under Moltke’s direction. In 1866 the General Staff had established itself as the controlling brain of the army and had won confidence by its success. It recruited only the very best graduates from the Army War College, and had expanded to over one hundred officers, who were assigned either to specialist sections or to field commands. Its task was to ensure that the army in wartime operated like a well-oiled machine to a common plan. It worked effectively because it was well integrated with the command chain and avoided unnecessary centralization. Army corps were responsible for carrying out their part of the plan. The commander of every major unit had a chief of staff who was in effect Moltke’s representative. Many senior commanders had themselves done staff duties, just as General Staff officers were required periodically to move to operational duties so that they understood the problems of field commanders. Germany’s 15,000 officers were expected to show initiative in achieving objectives laid out in a general plan, and to understand their duty to support other units in pursuit of it. Moltke organized regular staff rides and war games to provide his officers with experience in solving command problems, together with related skills like map reading in the field. Intelligence on French forces and plans was continuously gathered and updated.
In autumn 1683, shortly after the relief of Vienna, the allied forces advanced into Ottoman Hungary. Following a clear victory at Párkány in early October, Gran was captured late in the same month and Thököly pushed back in Upper Hungary. In December 1683, the Sultan had the luckless grand vizier Kara Mustapha executed at Belgrade, while, on the Christian side, the Polish auxiliary troops returned home.
1684 saw a new ‘Holy League’ created under the auspices of the Pope. The Emperor, Poland and Venice signed an alliance (5 March 1684), while Russia joined the anti-Turkish coalition two years later. Though a coordinated strategy was beyond the new allies, the opening of additional theatres of war prevented the Turks from concentrating their forces on one target. Venice was now fighting the Porte at sea, in Dalmatia, Bosnia and on the Greek mainland, while Poland tried to reconquer Podolia (lost in 1676) and repeatedly invaded Moldavia, albeit with no lasting success. In order to be able to focus its efforts on the war against the Sultan, Vienna accepted that, for the time being, it could do nothing effective to resist Louis XIV’s annexations along the Rhine.
Nevertheless, the main thrust of the Imperial army’s three-stage campaign plan for 1684 met with no success. The main army with its 43,000 men under Charles of Lorraine was to take Ofen (Buda), with a small corps of some 11,000 advancing along the Drava against Esseg. Finally, a third corps (7,000 men) was to keep in check Thököly in Upper Hungary. While in June 1684 the main army managed to conquer Pest, the siege of Buda, started in mid-July, had to be abandoned in early November after heavy casualties.
Plans for 1685 again provided for a three-part offensive, with troops simultaneously advancing along the Drava, the Danube and in Upper Hungary. In August 1685 Neuhäusel was stormed, with Szolnok following in October. Significant progress could be made against Thököly in Upper Hungary, where the most important fortresses were now again in the hands of the Imperial forces. This marked the end of Thököly’s short reign. The Kuruc movement crumbled within a short time. Most of the Kuruc army and its leaders had deserted to the Imperial camp and were now fighting the Turks. Munkács, Thököly’s eyrie, alone held out until the beginning of 1688.
It was only in 1686 that the Hungarian theatre of war witnessed a real breakthrough. While the Polish troops had left the ranks of the Imperial auxiliary forces in the winter of 1683, Brandenburg rejoined the Imperial camp after a prolonged phase of pro-French orientation. Two treaties were concluded in January and March 1686, laying down that the elector was to send auxiliary troops of more than 8,000 men to Hungary in return for substantial subsidies and the cession of Schwiebus, a Silesian exclave on Brandenburg territory. After months of siege the Christian armies, mustering all their strength, finally succeeded in capturing Buda, the capital of Turkish Hungary (2 September 1686), with Hatvan, Fünfkirchen, Siklos and Szegedin following in October.
In return for putting auxiliary troops at the Emperor’s disposal, German rulers not only expected the stipulated subsidies but also a major command. In 1686 and again in 1687, the Bavarian elector thus created considerable problems and even operational confusion. In July 1687 the Christian main army was heading south along the Danube to capture Esseg. On 12 August 1687, at Harsány near Mohács, Charles of Lorraine defeated a Turkish army which had come to the rescue of Esseg and the nearby bridge over the river Sava, one of the most important Turkish supply points. After the victory, a smaller Christian corps managed to cross the Drava and occupied Esseg and Central Slavonia; in December 1687, far in the north, the Turkish stronghold of Erlau (Eger) capitulated.
Ever since 1685 Vienna had been trying to get Transylvania to join the ‘Holy League’ as a first step to re-integrate the principality smoothly into the Habsburg realm. Although Imperial protection, religious freedom, independence as well as recognition of Michael Apafy (1632–1690) as reigning prince of Transylvania and of his son and presumptive heir had already been granted by treaty (June 1686), Apafy’s position remained ambiguous. Jan Sobieski was also trying to turn Transylvania into a Polish protectorate and the Turks kept a watchful eye on their satellite as well. In October 1687 Charles of Lorraine invaded Transylvania, which was now forced by treaty to provide winter quarters – both provisions and cash – for sections of the Imperial army. In May 1688, Imperial diplomacy eventually succeeded in persuading Transylvania to break with the Porte, following which the Prince and the three ‘nations’ recognized the supremacy of the King of Hungary. In return, Michael Apafy retained his princely status and religious pluralism was guaranteed. Vienna had intended a similar approach for the Turkish tributary principality of Walachia, yet the corresponding treaty of January 1689 never came into force.
In 1688 the Christian armies’ central operational target was the major fortress of Belgrade commanding the confluence of the rivers Danube and Sava. The capture of Stuhlweißenburg in May 1688 seemed an excellent omen. With the Duke of Lorraine fallen ill, the main army, rallying at Esseg, was at last under the supreme command of Max Emanuel of Bavaria. After the capture of Titel in late July 1688, Belgrade was besieged from mid-August; it fell on 6 September 1688. Meanwhile, field marshal Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden, nephew of Hermann von Baden, president of the Aulic War Council, captured Kostajnica on the river Una before marching along the Una and Sava to occupy Gradisca and Brod (August 1688). Subsequently, he advanced up the Drina to Zvornik, which could be taken in mid-September 1688. In March 1689 the totally isolated fortress of Szigetvár finally surrendered to the Imperial troops.
Setbacks and stagnation 1689–1696
The success of 1686–88 encouraged inflated hopes of territorial gains in Vienna. Serbia, Walachia, Moldavia, and even Bulgaria, Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia and Thessalia conquered permanently or occupied until redeemed for enormous reparations – such was the heady prospect entertained by Austrian observers.
Reality, however, was quite different: in the summer of 1688, the Turks had sent a peace mission to Vienna, where it was stalled for several months. In view of France’s aggressive posture (p. 169), the Emperor’s council was more than ever divided into ‘easterners’ and ‘westerners’, with the two other leading Catholic courts, Spain and the Papacy, fighting on different fronts: Spain wanted Imperial support against France in the west, while papal diplomacy sought concerted action against the Turks and so sponsored a durable peace between Louis XIV and the Emperor. In spite of the dawning conflict with France – which naturally promoted Turkish hopes for relief – Vienna was ultimately unwilling to agree to Turkish demands. These were stiff given the Turkish defeats: Transylvania and Belgrade were to be handed back to the Turks, with all other Turkish-held fortresses in Hungary remaining in the hands of the Sultan. Vienna in turn made demands reaching far beyond the uti possidetis, and discussions broke down. In 1689 the Emperor embarked on a risky two-front war, hoping to wear down the Porte by further victories while simultaneously fighting Louis XIV. As 1690 showed only too clearly, this commitment on two fronts was too much for the resources of the Habsburg Monarchy and its small military establishment.
For a short time, the war in the west turned Hungary into a secondary theatre of war. Charles of Lorraine and Max Emanuel were fighting on the Rhine, and so Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden was nominated new commander-in-chief in Hungary, but now had no more than 24,000 men at his disposal, with another 6,000 being deployed in Transylvania. Numerous Imperial regiments as well as auxiliary forces sent by the Franconian and Swabian Circles left the Hungarian theatre to join the struggle against France.
Despite severe supply problems, Baden achieved a succès d’estime in the campaign of 1689. In August, he pushed through the Morava valley as far as Niš, where he crushed the Turks on 24 September and drove them back into Bulgaria. Baden then reached the Danube and in mid-October 1689 took Vidin by storm before occupying Kladovo. The Imperial forces intended to winter in Walachia – to spare exhausted Hungary, but also to underline Vienna’s claim to a ‘Greater Hungary’ including the neighbouring Turkish tributaries such as Moldavia and Walachia. Although agreement had been reached in a treaty imposed upon Walachia, the Emperor’s troops were not provided for when they entered the territory in late 1689. Even the punitive occupation of Bucharest could not alleviate the dismal supply situation, and early in 1690 the much reduced Imperial corps had to withdraw to Transylvania. This debacle was the first of a series of failures.
While marching towards the Danube, Baden had left behind a detachment of 8,000 men to hold Niš and to protect his flank. This Imperial corps, however, preferred to push expansion further south as far as Skopje and Prizren forcing the weak Turkish forces at first to retreat. In early January 1690, however, the latter annihilated a sizeable Imperial unit at Kacanik, forcing the Imperial troops in turn to retreat back to the Niš area. Only then did the situation stabilize, with retaliatory raids now leading the Imperial forces deep into Bosnia and Bulgaria. Not surprisingly, the successful Imperial advance into the Balkans encouraged the Roman Catholic Emperor to regard himself as patron of the region’s Orthodox Christians. Leopold was in direct competition with the Tsar in Moscow, to whom Orthodox Balkan Christians had been turning for protection since the late 1680s. In April 1690 Leopold issued a manifesto to the Christian peoples in the Balkans encouraging them to take up arms against the Turks. Yet the Imperial defeat and retreat in 1690 had changed the situation, exposing as it did the Slav population to Turkish revenge. Large-scale emigration from Serbia, Macedonia and the area around Novi Pazar had to be organized by the region’s Orthodox patriarch. Beginning in the summer of 1690, a maximum of 60,000–70,000 people – Serbs, but also Bulgarians, Macedonians and Albanians – were moved to the southern parts of Hungary but also as far north as Szeged and Arad, and even further north to Buda. In return for religious freedom, ecclesiastical autonomy and special Imperial protection – in other words the exemption from the Hungarian feudal system – the ‘Serbs’ were expected to reinforce the Emperor’s military forces. New sections of the Military Border established early in the eighteenth century were frequently manned by these Slav refugees of 1690. The migration also had significant long-term consequences: while the Slav element in the southern parts of Hungary was considerably strengthened, the Serbian heartland was resettled by Albanians – migratory movements whose repercussions were still being felt in the late-twentieth century!
The setbacks early in 1690 persuaded Baden to establish a defensive perimeter along the rivers Sava and Danube, particularly since the main army in 1690 numbered no more than 11,000 men (excluding borderers)! Transylvania, Upper Hungary’s glacis, had to be particularly protected, but it was too late: the major offensive launched by the Turks in the summer of 1690 resulted in a colossal military disaster for the Christian cause. While the grand vizier himself reconquered the Danube area, Imre Thököly, whom the Turks had appointed prince of Transylvania after Apafy’s death, invaded his new territory in August 1690 forcing the Transylvanian Estates to pay homage to him in September. Baden now counter-attacked vigorously, reasserting Imperial control over Transylvania by the end of December 1690. Further west, however, a series of disasters had occurred. In August/September the Turks had captured Vidin and Niš and then the undermanned stronghold of Belgrade on 8 October 1690. A Turkish advance on Esseg could be warded off, but the Turks in turn managed to relieve those fortresses north of the Danube which they still controlled: Temesvár, Gyula and Grosswardein. The fall of Kanizsa in March 1690 was thus but poor consolation for the Christian side.
Though Thököly’s invasion of Transylvania was a one-off, it had clearly demonstrated the instability of the situation in the region. In 1690 and again in 1691 the Emperor confirmed the Transylvanian liberties and constitution, in return for which Transylvania agreed to contribute a handsome annual sum to the Imperial treasury. In reality, the country’s period of semi-independence was over. Upon his death Apafy had left behind a minor son, Michael II (1676–1713), whose formal recognition as prince the Transylvanians could never obtain. In 1697, young Apafy renounced the Transylvanian throne and the principality became a firm part of the Habsburg realm. Regardless of Transylvanian privileges particularly in religious matters, the de facto occupation by Imperial troops resulted in Counter-Reformation measures. It was in vain that, with the help of the Maritime Powers, the Transylvanians tried to preserve a special status.
As for the campaign of 1691, it was clear that the emphasis had now to be put on the Hungarian theatre of war again, even if England and the Dutch Republic, the Emperor’s allies against France, were strongly pressing for peace in the east in order to free Austria’s resources for war against the Sun King in the west. By hiring auxiliary troops, increased recruiting and transferring units from the western theatre of war to Hungary the imbalance was to be set right, with an aim of raising the number of Christian soldiers deployed in Hungary and Transylvania to 75,000 men (excluding Hungarian irregulars and border guards), while a mere 8,700 and 14,500 remained for the Reich and Piedmont respectively. On 19 August 1691, the margrave of Baden, fittingly nicknamed ‘Türkenlouis’ for his victories over the Turks, crushed the grand vizier Mustapha Köprülü and his troops – far outnumbering the Imperial forces – in the battle of Slankamen near the confluence of the rivers Tisza and Danube. The grand vizier himself died in battle, but the Christian army also suffered heavy losses: 7,200 dead and wounded, almost a quarter of the field army’s strength; an advance on Belgrade was thus out of the question. Baden therefore turned against the Turkish-occupied fortress of Grosswardein, which capitulated only after many months of blockade early in June 1692. Otherwise the year witnessed few events worth reporting, apart from the fortification of Peterwardein on the Danube whose task it was to neutralize the fortress of Belgrade as far as possible; as early as 1694 it proved itself withstanding a major Turkish attack.
Slankamen was the last of Christian victories for some time to come; defensive warfare now became the order of the day. For the duration of the war in the west, French diplomacy did its utmost to keep the Turks fighting the Emperor. After the death of Pope Innocent XI, who had supported Leopold I’s Turkish war in all possible ways, financial help from Rome gradually petered out in 1689. Of paramount importance remained the support which the Emperor received from the Reich (the Diet voted 2.75 million fl. in 1686). After 1692 – following in the train of Bavaria, Saxony and Brandenburg – the newly created electorate of Hanover also decided to send a sizeable auxiliary corps of 6,000 men to the Turkish front. Each year of the war, between 20,000 and 40,000 men from the Reich reinforced the Christian troops in Hungary, before the outbreak of war with France in 1688–89 resulted in a dramatic, if temporary, cutback.
In 1693 the Emperor finally lost his ablest general to the Rhine front, where Baden took over command. Even so, attempts were made by the Imperial forces in Hungary in August and September 1693 to reconquer Belgrade, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Tartar forces invaded Hungary and devastated the tracts along the Tisza as far as Debrecen. As early as spring Christian forces had captured the Turkish enclave of Jenö north-east of Arad. After the fall of the fortress of Gyula (December 1694), Temesvár was the only place on Hungarian soil still in Turkish hands.
The campaigns of 1695 and 1696 were overshadowed by the blunders of the 25-year-old elector Friedrich August of Saxony as luckless commander-in-chief. In return for an auxiliary corps of 8,000 men he received not only 200,000 fi., but also the supreme command in Hungary. The Christian main army of some 50,000 men at first planned to besiege the isolated fortress of Temesvár, but the Turks seized the initiative. At the end of August 1695 they crossed the Danube at Pancsova, re-captured Titel and, near Lugos, wiped out an Imperial corps sent from Transylvania which had been unable to join forces with the main army.
In 1696 the Saxon elector again took command after increasing his auxiliary corps to 12,000; yet the siege of Temesvár, started back in August, failed once more. On the Black Sea, however, troops, albeit Russian ones, were favoured with greater fortune. After two unsuccessful campaigns against the Crimea in 1687 and 1689, Moscow had practically withdrawn from the war against the Porte. It was not until 1695 that Tsar Peter resumed operations, and in 1696 Azov could be captured. In February 1697, Russia, Venice and the Emperor entered into an alliance committing themselves to concerted action against the Sultan.
Unexpected triumph 1697–1699
After Jan Sobieski’s death in June 1696, the Saxon elector’s Polish ambitions pleased the Emperor not only because this prevented the French candidate from being elected; what was even more important was the fact that Friedrich August’s election to the Polish throne also freed Vienna from having to entrust an incompetent with the supreme command once more; the latter now passed to Prince Eugene of Savoy, previously commander of the Imperial forces in Piedmont. Descending from a collateral line of the dukes of Savoy and brought up at the French court, he was the son of Prince Maurice de Savoie-Carignan and Olympia Mancini, Cardinal Mazarin’s niece, as well as cousin to margrave Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden. In 1683, he entered Imperial service just in time for the relief of Vienna and soon made a career for himself, commanding a cavalry regiment by the end of the year and becoming general in 1685; as early as 1693, at the age of only 30, he was promoted field marshal.
Succeeding the Saxon elector as commander-in-chief in Hungary, Eugene was to be responsible for the crowning achievement in the Turkish war, which had been so unsuccessful in recent campaigns. Now that war in the west had ended new energy and resources could go to the Turkish front. On 11 September 1697 Eugene of Savoy and his 50,000 men caught the Turks on their way north at Zenta, while they were crossing the river Tisza; in the ensuing battle, the Ottoman army was annihilated. 25,000 Turks are said to have lost their lives, including the grand vizier. Sultan Mustapha II (1695–1703) escaped to Temesvár; by early 1698, he was already seeking English mediation to end the war. In early October 1697, Eugene, with a hand-picked army of 7,000 plus strong border units, embarked on a daring raid which took him up the Bosna as far as Sarajevo. The campaign of 1698 was as uneventful as its predecessors until the year of Zenta. Temesvár could still not be captured.
Early in October 1698, peace negotiations between the members of the Holy League and Constantinople opened at Karlowitz south-east of Peterwardein under English and Dutch mediation. Despite her military failures, Poland regained Podolia, while Venice was granted the Peloponnesus (Morea), additions to the Ionian Islands and frontier rectifications in Bosnia and Dalmatia. Russia and the Porte concluded an armistice in January 1699, followed by a definitive peace only in 1700, with Moscow at least temporarily gaining access to the Black Sea via Azov and Taganrog; by 1711–13, this had been lost again after a disastrous campaign against the Turks. Russia’s interest in access to the Black Sea reassured Vienna, which wanted to see the Tsar occupied as far away as possible. As early as 1698 Austria had advised Russia not to attack Moldavia and Walachia, considering these Turkish satellites to lie within her own sphere of influence. In the wake of the Polish election in 1697, Russia’s drive towards the west had become tangible, and during the Karlowitz negotiations the Tsar posed dangerously as protector of the Balkan Christians.
Imperialists and Turks signed their peace treaty on 26 January 1699. The whole of Hungary (with the exception of the Banat of Temesvár), Croatia and Slavonia (excluding a small tip of Syrmia near Belgrade) passed to Leopold I. Karlowitz was the first peace agreement where the weakened Ottoman Empire had to accept western mediation and also suffered considerable territorial losses. Hungary remained the focus of the Emperor’s armed forces. With peace-time strength reached after radical disarmament, more than 75 per cent of the armed forces were still quartered in the kingdom.
Austrian Chancellor Prince Anton Wenzel Kaunitz had already seen the possibilities and his presence earlier in Paris gave him the opportunity to soften up the French court further, not least through contact with the influential mistress of the French King, Madame de Pompadour. Here Kaunitz deployed flattery, opening a correspondence between the French Marchioness and his own Empress which so indulged the Frenchwoman that she became the most ardent supporter of an Austro-French alliance. From the beginning Maria Theresa fully supported Kaunitz’s vision of a dramatic ‘Renversement des alliances’.
Recalled to Vienna, Kaunitz pursued his policy with vigour. He worked hard to lull London into believing the ancient alliance was solid while inflaming tensions wherever possible between Prussia and England. Gradually London began to suspect Austrian intentions but Kaunitz still managed to temporise. In order to secure France, Kaunitz had to break with England but he dare not do this without having assured himself of France’s support. The negotiations on troop numbers in the Netherlands proved fertile ground for spinning things out. As the Duke of Newcastle had pointed out, the Austrian Netherlands was ‘a kind of common country’ shared by Austria, Britain and the Dutch. It was also London’s commercial door to the Continent.
In 1755 matters came to a head and the Empress listed her grievances against the English court and the maritime powers, noting that she ‘has never had the satisfaction of seeing her allies do justice to her principles’. Further, she responded to London’s claims that England had spent so much blood and treasure to support the House of Austria by pointing out: ‘to those efforts England owes its present greatness, riches and liberty’.
London’s statesmen began to realise something was moving and peremptorily demanded a guarantee of military aid to Hanover in the event of French aggression, to ‘display the real intentions of the court of Vienna’. Kaunitz simply referred them to the Empress’s note, knowing full well that this would provoke the King of England to turn to Prussia and thus assist further the rupture between Berlin and Paris.
The nurturing of an alliance with France was only the keystone of Kaunitz’s new diplomatic architecture. He intended to secure more allies to destroy the King in Prussia. To this end his negotiations with Russia promised parts of Prussia and Pomerania to the Empress Elizabeth in return for a Russian army descending on Frederick. In another set of negotiations, part of Pomerania was vouchsafed to Sweden in return for a Swedish army crossing the Prussian frontier. Saxony, the arch-enemy of Prussia, would also join in the war.
Kaunitz at this stage could not know if this deadly constellation would prove fatal for Prussia or even guarantee the return of Silesia but if this remarkable diplomatic revolution could be achieved he realised that the war which would follow from it would annihilate Frederick’s armies and, if not utterly destroy his country of barely five million, it would almost certainly prevent Prussia from menacing Austria and indeed Europe for a hundred years. From his sleepy baroque castle in Moravia, from which avenues lined with fruit trees spread out for miles in the direction of Vienna, Kaunitz polished and worked on his plan.
These negotiations were conducted with great secrecy. At a suitable moment, and with the Empress’s backing, Kaunitz summoned the Council of State to announce his plans to the ministers and the Emperor. Maria Theresa feigned ignorance of the entire stratagem, aware that Kaunitz’s proposal was not only brilliantly unorthodox but likely to incur considerable disapproval. Once again Maria Theresa was supporting wholeheartedly a gifted man whose intellectual vision was infinitely greater than her own. Her judgement of character as in the case of Van Swieten was, however, faultless: Kaunitz was the diplomatic genius of the age.
When the day came for Kaunitz to propose his plan, he had barely announced his intentions when the Emperor, Maria Theresa’s husband Francis Stephen, rising up with great emotion brought his fist firmly down on the table and exclaimed, ‘Such an unnatural alliance is impracticable and shall never take place.’ The monarch instantly left the room. This was not a promising beginning but Maria Theresa was nothing if not mistress in her own house and she encouraged Kaunitz to proceed with the details in Francis’s absence. After affecting much interest, the Empress resolved to bring her husband round and spoke with such enthusiasm for Kaunitz’s plans that no minister dared to contradict them.
In the event London panicked and signed a treaty with Prussia in January affording Maria Theresa the moral high ground of accusing England of ‘abandoning the old system’ first with this new Convention of Westminster. On 13 May 1756 she expressed her disappointment with England to the British envoy. Not by one breath did she admit that two weeks earlier at Versailles Austria and France had signed their own treaty whereby Austria promised to defend French dominions in Europe (though maintaining neutrality towards England), while France was to aid Austria without any exception. France and Austria, enemies for three hundred years now found themselves, to their own astonishment, placed in close proximity and all the rules of political calculation hitherto held as immutable were at one stroke demolished. In modern parlance Kaunitz and Maria Theresa had really thought ‘outside the box’.
Not that it should be imagined Prussia was to be an innocent victim in all this. Frederick had already admitted ‘I very much should like to tear Bohemia away from her’ and he envisaged a renewal of hostilities that would destroy Habsburg hegemony once and for all. Prussia would take Bohemia, Bavaria would revive her claims to Upper Austria and Tyrol, France would dismember the Netherlands and Sardinia would absorb Lombardy.
Fortunately for Austria, Frederick, whatever his talents, possessed none of the gifts of Kaunitz. The King in Prussia soon realised that the Convention of Westminster was a fatal diplomatic blunder that had bought him neither time nor a credible ally on the mainland of Europe. England could not help Prussia against the deadly alliance that was threatening to encircle Frederick. There was no naval dimension to renewed campaigning in Silesia and not even any British troops to create a distraction.
Only a preventative war launched with rapidity could possibly stave off the fatal constellation gathering around his country and thus Frederick, like Germany in 1914, was to launch a quick assault on a neighbour, in this case Saxony, in the hope of seizing the initiative in a multi-front war. Frederick saw that Austria had not completed her preparations and so determined to fight a limited campaign to knock out his most implacable foe. With Vienna humbled, the coalition against him would fall apart. Demanding an unambivalent statement of Habsburg intentions, he received as he expected an utterly unsatisfactory response. Maria Theresa simply replied: ‘In the present crisis I deem it necessary to take measures for the security of myself and my allies which tend to the prejudice of no one.’ Austria had no intention of violating any treaty but neither would she bind herself by any promise which might prevent her acting ‘as circumstances required’.
This was all Frederick needed. The Prussian Canton system of conscription efficiently and rapidly brought Frederick’s army up to about 150,000 men. Speed and aggression were the watchwords of this force and its supreme commander. Meticulous planning was another quality. The destruction of Saxony was to be accompanied by a merciless but premeditated pillaging of its resources to support the Prussian war effort. Of the country’s 6 million thaler annual revenue 5 million were to be sequestered for the Prussian military machine. This annual ‘tribute’ alone would secure the survival of the Prussian economy and represented a third of the total of the Prussian war effort. The Prussian army moved swiftly at the end of August 1756 to occupy Dresden and bottle up the Saxon army in the fortress of Pirna. In a matter of days the Kingdom of Saxony was looted and systematically stripped of her wealth.
Frederick’s personal responsibility for the destruction and exploitation that followed was immense. His vindictiveness was unlimited towards those who had crossed him and he appears to have taken great delight in ordering the Prussian Freikorps’ detonation of the Saxon statesman, Count Brühl’s schloss, with the proviso of course that it should appear that he knew nothing of the pillage. Even the British representative at Frederick’s court commented after the wanton sacking of Hubertsburg castle that these actions demonstrated ‘a meanness that I am really ashamed to narrate’.
The Prussian irruption into Saxony was the price Maria Theresa appeared willing to pay to maintain the moral high ground and show up Frederick as an unambiguous aggressor and breaker of treaties. But Frederick, who had published his own manifestos of half-truths and dubious history, was uninterested in such niceties. He pushed on into Bohemia hoping to compel the Saxons in Pirna to give up any hope of relief, capturing Teschen and Aussig an der Elbe (Dečin and Usti nad Labem in modern Czech) along the north-western Bohemian frontier. To counter this audacious move was an Austrian army of 32,465 troops supported by a corps of some 22,000 under Piccolomini, all of them under the newly promoted Field Marshal Maximilian Ulysses Browne.
Browne’s task was initially to relieve Pirna but Frederick’s blitzkrieg made the defence of Bohemia his first priority. A plan was devised to check and hold the Prussians in an engagement while relief to the Saxons was organised through the difficult but picturesque terrain of the mountains of ‘Saxon Switzerland’ via a ‘flying column’. On 1 October 1756, Browne skilfully deployed a force of Croatian irregulars on the tangled slopes of the volcanic Lobosch hill. Behind this was the right flank of his army but most of his troops were cunningly concealed behind the marshy banks of the Morellen stream. The Prussian King fell for the trap. Believing the Croats were simply the rearguard of an army moving away from him he ordered the Duke of Bevern to clear the hill and thus enable the rest of the Austrian army to be attacked in the flank.
The Battle of Lobositz that ensued was to remain a bitter memory for Frederick for the rest of his life. As Bevern advanced to drive the Croats from their positions, he was met by a murderous rapid fire from skirmishers in concealed positions, which brought his infantry to a standstill. If this was not enough to do more than irritate Frederick, he was suddenly given a vivid example of the progress made with Liechtenstein’s artillery reforms. As Frederick ordered his cavalry to chase what he thought was a retreating Austrian cavalry division, the Austrian horsemen led their Prussian pursuers directly on to the guns of the Habsburg batteries drawn up behind the Morellen stream. These opened fire with case at 300 paces with devastating effect. The Prussian horse was cut down in a matter of seconds and soon fled in utter disorder. It could not be rallied, even when Frederick ordered his own infantry to fire at them to prevent them throwing his entire centre into disarray.
A second cavalry charge fared little better and as the fog cleared around midday Frederick became demoralised. He was aware that his heavy cavalry had ceased to exist as an effective fighting arm so he promptly removed himself from the battlefield, leaving Field Marshal Keith to save what could be saved. The Croats were now being supported by regular Austrian units under Lacy and the Prussian infantry attack stalled and began to waver. But at this moment, as so often in warfare, the fate of individuals decided the day. Lacy was wounded and carried from the battle, with a dispiriting effect on his troops. Keith seeing the Austrian offensive falter organised a vigorous counter-attack and began rolling up the Austrian infantry. Browne seeing his advance guard in difficulties ordered them to withdraw, covering it with the main part of his force, which effectively halted any attempt by the Prussians at pursuit and brought the battle to an end. Prussian casualties were noticeably higher than the Austrian losses, which were computed at 2,873. Keith had saved the day for Frederick and his army was in undisputed possession of the battlefield once Bevern had driven out the remaining Croats, but it had been at a terrible cost.
As an officer attached to Frederick noted:
On this occasion Frederick did not come up against the same kind of Austrians he had beaten in four battles in a row. He was not dealing with people like Neipperg or the blustering Prince Charles of Lorraine. He faced Browne who had grown grey in the service and whose talent and experience had raised him to one of the heroes of his time. He faced an artillery which Prince Liechtenstein had brought to perfection at his own expense. He faced an army which during ten years of peace had attained a greater mastery of the arts of war.
Meanwhile Browne stole away with 9,000 men through the wooded hills on the left bank of the Elbe and in a series of impressive forced marches, unheard of in an Austrian army of five years earlier, arrived opposite the Saxon troops. But these were too demoralised to provide any opportunities to rally and they consistently failed to communicate with Browne, forcing him to return to Bohemia. Shortly after this the Saxons surrendered to the Prussians, giving Austro-Saxon cooperation a very poor name.
Frederick had hoped to establish his winter quarters but the Battle of Lobositz despite the Frederician propaganda had in fact been a draw. Browne now commanded the country around Frederick’s forces and used his irregular troops to harry and plunder Prussian lines of communication so that the King in Prussia had little choice but to withdraw his army back to Saxony for the winter. The Austrian army had certainly not failed its first test.
The Saxon army on the other hand met a fate which was considered highly innovative for the time. It was simply incorporated into the Prussian army. Only the officers were allowed the ‘choice’ between swearing loyalty to Prussia and incarceration. This step, heartless, bold and cynical, caused protests even in Prussia. Frederick saw them off with the comment: ‘I take pride in being original.’ In fact, from a practical point of view, it would turn out to be a grave error. The Saxons proved notoriously unreliable in battle fighting for their Prussian masters. More than two-thirds deserted while the incorporation of a nation’s entire fighting force into new uniforms, oaths and drills under Prussian command was rightly and widely seen at the time as sinister proof of Prussian expansionary tendencies.
Moreover, in France any lingering sympathy for Frederick was strongly dissipated by his behaviour in Saxony. The Dauphin after all was married to the daughter of the Elector. But Frederick was like many cruel cynics utterly oblivious to the effects of his behaviour. Nowhere was this to have more devastating consequences for him than with regard to Russia. Lulled by the wildly over-optimistic reports of the incompetent and boorish British envoy Charles Hanbury Williams, Frederick was encouraged to think that bribing the Russian minister Bestuzhev would secure Russian neutrality. On Hanbury’s advice he ordered the transfer of the payment and even denuded his units in East Prussia, so convinced was he by the Englishman’s dispatches. On Christmas Day the news, an unwelcome Christmas present, arrived. The payment notwithstanding, Russia was preparing to put an army of 100,000 into the field against Prussia the following spring.
Frederick invades Bohemia again
Again Frederick was persuaded that Bohemia was the key to his strategy. He had to seize the initiative and commit his entire army to nothing less than a four-pronged invasion of Bohemia to deliver, in his words, the ‘Grand Coup’. On 18 April 1757 this formidable invasion force crossed the frontier at four points, causing panic and consternation throughout Bohemia. The ‘final reckoning’ between the two pre-eminent dynasties of the German speaking lands was at hand.
After some debate, one Austrian army under Charles of Lorraine fell back on Prague to await the arrival of another, under Daun. So concerned was Kaunitz at the turn of events and disagreements between Lorraine and his brilliant subordinate Ulysses Browne that he set off with his personal physician from Vienna to Prague to instil some sense of coherence into Austrian strategy, which seemed to be crumbling before Prussia’s blitzkrieg. But Kaunitz left too late. On 6 May two Prussian armies effected their conjunction and now were marching on Prague to face an outnumbered foe.
Lorraine and Browne would have to fight alone without Daun. They drew up their troops east of Prague where today the heavily built up suburb of ŽiŽkov runs along raised ground. Frederick ordered his infantry to shoulder muskets to speed up their march and outflank the two Austrian lines but Browne immediately spotted the movement and deployed his second line in a 90-degree shift to confront the Prussians, opening fire on the massed Prussian infantry still in the act of deployment. Several Prussian regiments were completely overwhelmed and the Saxon regiments broke and fled. As Field Marshal Schwerin attempted to rally his infantry he fell in a hail of musket balls from the Austrian line which, in parade ground drill, was advancing and halting to fire a volley every fifty seconds. The Austrian artillery meanwhile had come into action and was rapidly depleting the Prussian infantry who were bogged down in soft wet ground.
At this point it looked as if the Prussians would be thrown back. Frederick once again fled the battlefield, blaming stomach cramps and fearing the worst, but Browne fell from his horse wounded by a cannonball and the Austrian attack faltered. The Prussian cavalry led by Ziethen’s ‘new’ Hussars showed that there was not much difference in quality between the imitation and the real thing. Striking the Austrian cavalry in the flank, the Prussians scattered their opponents and opened a gap in the angle between the Austrian infantry’s original and new lines. The crisis of the battle had arrived and Charles of Lorraine fainted at this moment with chest pains and had to be carried from the field. The Austrian attack ground to a halt and by mid-afternoon, faced with a weakening front, the regimental commanders chose to conduct a fighting withdrawal into the city, covered by cavalry. Thanks to the near-suicidal rearguard action of the Austrian cavalry somehow the army avoided annihilation and retreated successfully behind the walls of the city. Once again the Prussians had won but their casualties were higher than the Austrians’ (14,400 compared to the Austrians’ 13,400, of whom nearly 5,000 were prisoners).
Frederick, recovering from his brief panic, was confident that the Siege of Prague would be completed before any Austrian reinforcements could arrive and he interpreted the news of Kaunitz leaving Vienna as a sure sign that the Austrian Chancellor was coming to negotiate personally with him. Despite his extravagant powers of self-deception, Frederick was not utterly negligent, and he dispatched a screen of 25,000 men under Bevern to watch for any Austrian relief force.
On 7 May the relief force and its commander Daun were greeted by a fanfare announcing Kaunitz’s arrival. The two men had great confidence in each other and agreed a strategy to relieve Lorraine in Prague by retreating first to Kolín where forces could be gathered to give Daun the capacity to engage the Prussians on his own terms. Kaunitz would return to Vienna immediately to organise the reinforcements. Both men were critical of the sluggish concentration of Lorraine’s early movements and realised that the next weeks could decide the fate of their monarchy.
Kaunitz arrived back in Vienna on the morning of 11 May and went straight in his muddied boots to the Empress, brushing past the near-apoplectic protests of the Court Chamberlain, Khevenhueller who was, like so many of his family, unimpressed by any departure from official protocol. The Konferenz ‘in mixtis‘ of privy councillors and War Cabinet members cooled their heels while Kaunitz spent two hours with Maria Theresa apprising her of the details of the reverse at Prague and the urgent need to reinforce Daun.
The Chancellor drew up an 18-point plan to reinforce Daun, which was rapidly endorsed by the Empress and thus implemented without further delay. Within two weeks Daun’s force numbered more than 50,000 men and 156 guns. By the end of the first week of June he could even risk taking the offensive, and orders to this effect were dispatched from Vienna.
In March 1918, a United States navy memorandum characterized the Adriatic Sea as “practically an Austrian lake, in which no Allied naval operations of importance are undertaken.” The assessment came just four weeks after the Austro-Hungarian navy suffered its worst mutiny of the First World War, foreshadowing the complete collapse of the Dual Monarchy’s armed forces, and the empire itself, a mere eight months later. The domination of the Adriatic by Austria-Hungary, right up to the eve of the Armistice, remains one of the more remarkable, and overlooked, dimensions of the conflict of 1914-1918. Indeed, the Dual Monarchy hardly rated as a strong candidate to assert local naval power effectively, even during the long prewar period of peace. Compared to Europe’s other five great powers at the turn of the century, only Russia was less urbanized, only Russia and Italy less industrialized, and none had a less extensive coastline. None, too, was so dominated by another great power, as Austria-Hungary depended on its German ally not just for support and protection in the military and diplomatic sense, but also for nearly half of its foreign trade. Worst of all, Austria-Hungary was a multinational anomaly in a Europe dominated by great power nation states, and its own leaders – the House of Habsburg and the ministers serving it – had a long history of lacking either the imagination or the resolve to make the changes needed to ensure the long-term viability of the empire. In the one great attempt at political reform, the Compromise of 1867, the traditionally dominant German Austrian minority agreed to share power with the most recalcitrant of the host of nationalities they ruled, the Hungarians, but at the expense of all the others, thus saddling the empire with a constitutional structure that doomed it to failure. In the face of such obstacles, it appears all the more remarkable that Austria-Hungary was able to articulate maritime interests, develop overseas trade with partners as distant as China and Japan, and build a navy strong enough to safeguard the empire’s Adriatic littoral as well as show the flag overseas. Indeed, the unique coalition of special interests that supported Austro-Hungarian sea power – interests that reached far inland, and united a number of otherwise-hostile national groups – serves as an intriguing example of the sort of cooperation the multinational empire needed to counter the centrifugal forces of nationalism, the forces that ultimately caused its demise.
Background, to 1866
Austria acquired its first seaport, Trieste, in 1382, but its foothold on the Adriatic remained insignificant until the Napoleonic wars. In 1797 the demise of the Venetian Republic added Venetia, Istria, and Dalmatia to the Habsburg empire, an inheritance confirmed after the defeat of Napoleon in 1814. From then until 1848, Venice served as base for the imperial navy, a modest force dominated by Venetians, with Italian as its language of command. While its focus remained on the Adriatic, the navy’s frigates and smaller sailing warships defended Austrian interests throughout the Mediterranean, bombarding a Moroccan pirate port in 1829 and supporting the British navy in the Near Eastern Crisis of 1840. Widespread desertions during the Venetian revolution of 1848-49 facilitated the navy’s rebirth as a multinational force based at Pola (Pula) on the Istrian peninsula, with German Austrians providing most of the officers and Croatians a plurality of the manpower. Venice remained Austrian until 1866 but its eclipse was well underway long before then. Trieste’s status as a free port (1719-1891) attracted Greek, Armenian, and Jewish merchants whose Eastern Mediterranean connections brought lasting benefits to the city. In 1836 Trieste became home to the empire’s first steamship company, the Austrian Lloyd, and in 1857 the completion of a railway across the Alps linked Trieste with Vienna and the nascent rail network of central Europe.
While Emperor Franz Joseph (reigned 1830-1916) had little appreciation for sea power, the empire’s maritime interests benefited from the patronage of his younger brother, Archduke Ferdinand Max, and later of his nephew, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Ferdinand Max, better known to history as Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, entered naval service in 1851 and became commanding admiral just three years later. The archduke accelerated the navy’s transition from sail to steam power but kept Austria out of the European naval race of the 1850s, in which Britain and France built dozens of steam-powered wooden ships of the line. His wisdom paid dividends at the end of the decade, when the leading navies started to build armor-plated steam frigates as their capital ships, rendering all wooden battleships obsolete. Austria built just one steam ship of the line, the Kaiser (1858), which was eventually converted to an ironclad.
France’s victory over Austria in the War of 1859 opened the way for Sardinia-Piedmont to become the catalyst for a united Italy, proclaimed two years later. The Austrian navy spent the brief war blockaded by a superior French force, a humiliation that gave Ferdinand Max the justification he needed to add armored warships to the fleet. After the Sardinians ordered two ironclads from a French shipyard late in 1860, the archduke placed orders for the first pair of Austrian ironclads. Over the next six years Italy commissioned twelve ironclads, eleven of them built in foreign shipyards, while Austria struggled to respond with seven, all built in Trieste. But before the two rivals met in battle in the Adriatic, the Austrian navy received a call to action from an unexpected quarter. In 1864, when Austria joined Prussia and the smaller German states in a war against Denmark over the Schleswig-Holstein question, the Danes blockaded the north German ports. Denmark’s overwhelming naval superiority over Prussia left Austria holding the key to victory at sea for the German allies. The war’s decisive naval battle occurred on 9 May, when a small unarmored squadron under Captain Wilhelm von Tegetthoff, in the steam frigate Schwarzenberg, engaged Danish forces off Helgoland. The Danes subsequently withdrew to the Skagerrak, ending their blockade. The Austrian ironclads saw no action, but two of them were included in a larger force that followed Tegetthoff’s squadron to the North Sea, ensuring the Danes would not reimpose the blockade. The navy’s baptism of fire in 1864 also marked the emergence of Tegetthoff, elevated to rear admiral, as the leading figure within the Austrian navy, filling the void left when Ferdinand Max had departed for Mexico earlier that year.
The war of 1866 and its aftermath
After the War of 1864, the Austro-Prussian relationship deteriorated over a proposed reform of the German Confederation, and the two countries began to prepare for war. Prussia concluded an alliance with Italy and, as the price of securing French neutrality, Austria accepted Emperor Napoleon III’s demand that it cede Venetia to Italy after the war. The Austrians believed the cession would ensure Italian neutrality too, but Italy declared war anyway, hoping to acquire more than just Venetia. In the ensuing War of 1866, the Austrian army thus had to fight separate campaigns in the north (which it lost) and the south (which it won), while the naval action was limited to the Adriatic. The Italian ironclad fleet included just three armor-plated wooden ships along with nine ships of iron construction, and carried the latest imported ordnance; in contrast, Tegetthoff’s flagship, the 5,100-ton Erzherzog Ferdinand Max, and the six other Austrian ironclads were armor-plated wooden ships armed with guns from the ImperialRoyal Foundry at Mariazell. After the Prussians crushed the Austrian northern army at Königgrätz (3 July 1866), then marched to the outskirts of Vienna, the Austrians had to redeploy their victorious southern army to defend the imperial capital. The Italian army then occupied Venetia unopposed, and Italian leaders planned landings in Istria and Dalmatia, now claimed for Italy because they had once been part of the Venetian Republic. To clear the way for the landings, the Italians first planned to “take possession of an important station in the Adriatic,” the island of Lissa. They were on the verge of putting troops ashore when Tegetthoff arrived off the island with the Austrian fleet on 20 July. In the melee that followed, inferior Austrian guns and incompetent Italian gunners ensured that neither side would inflict serious damage on the other. Tegetthoff used ramming tactics to compensate for his weaker artillery, and at the climax of the four-hour engagement, his Erzherzog Ferdinand Max rammed and sank the Italian flagship Re d’Italia. A second Italian ironclad, the Palestro, caught fire and exploded as the Italian fleet withdrew. “The whole thing was chaos,” Tegetthoff confided afterward to a friend. “It is a miracle that we did not lose a ship.” The peace settlement that autumn awarded the Italians only Venetia, which they would have received without going to war at all.
The stunning victory earned Tegetthoff a promotion to vice admiral, but it was his role leading the mission to bring Maximilian’s body back from Mexico the following year that earned him the undying gratitude of Franz Joseph. In 1868 the emperor confirmed Tegetthoff as commander of the navy and lent his support to a fleet plan including fifteen ironclads. Tegetthoff’s premature death in 1871 left it unrealized, and also ushered in a long period of less effective naval leadership. His legacy included the widespread emulation of his ramming tactics, reflected in warship designs that continued to include exaggerated ram bows long after the increasing range of naval artillery rendered fanciful any notion of one warship ramming another in battle. More important for Austria-Hungary, the memory of Tegetthoff’s decisive victory against a superior Italian foe heartened the Habsburg fleet, and haunted the Italian navy, right down to 1918.
Meanwhile, amid the post-Tegetthoff malaise, the navy grew weaker than its Italian rival. It registered few accomplishments aside from being the first to adopt the self-propelled torpedo, invented by Johann Luppis, an Austrian captain, and developed by British expatriate Robert Whitehead at a factory at Fiume (Rijeka), Hungary’s leading port after the subdivision of the empire in 1867. The new torpedo technology laid the foundation for the Jeune École, the French navy’s “Young School,” which by the 1880s promoted a strategy of cruiser and torpedo warfare as the key to challenging British naval power worldwide. During that decade the Jeune École had a near-universal impact, as most of the great powers built many more cruisers and torpedo boats, and fewer battleships. Austria-Hungary embraced the new strategy after the conclusion of the Triple Alliance (1882), which united the Dual Monarchy with Germany and Italy, eliminating the navy’s anti-Italian raison d’etre. While Italy, thereafter, dreamed of becoming a Mediterranean power on a par with France, Austria-Hungary hedged its bets by developing a torpedo deterrent in the Adriatic to defend itself in case Italy changed its foreign policy. Between 1876 and 1893, the navy commissioned just two battleships. Otherwise, its largest new units were the 4,000-ton “ram cruisers” Kaiser Franz Joseph I (1890) and Kaiserin Elisabeth (1892), protected cruisers intended for service as flotilla leaders for torpedo boats. By the early 1890s Austria-Hungary had the weakest navy, by far, of any of the six great powers of Europe.
In the first years after Austria-Hungary resumed its battleship program in 1893, the buildup was justified not by a deterioration of relations with Italy but by the goal of putting the Triple Alliance in a better position to counter the new Franco-Russian alliance in the Mediterranean. Over the next thirteen years Austria-Hungary ordered twelve battleships: three each of the 5,600-ton Monarch class, the 8,300-ton Habsburg class, the 10,600-ton Erzherzog class, and the 14,500-ton Radetzky class. The navy also commissioned three armored cruisers. Aside from one battleship and one armored cruiser laid down in the Pola arsenal, all were built in Trieste by the Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino. Starting with the armored cruiser Maria Theresia (1895), the navy ordered all of its armor plate from Witkowitz of Moravia, and from 1901 it ordered its guns from Bohemia’s Skoda works rather than Germany’s Krupp. In 1901 the navy leadership won over traditionally anti-navy Hungarian leaders by promising Hungarian firms a share of naval spending equal to the Hungarian contribution to the joint budget of the Dual Monarchy. Thus, in a divided domestic political landscape a broad pro-navy coalition evolved which represented the interests of nationalities far from the Adriatic.
During the same years, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Habsburg throne, became the empire’s leading naval enthusiast after travelling to Japan in 1892-93 aboard the cruiser Kaiserin Elisabeth. The archduke’s patronage of the navy became more significant as Franz Joseph grew older and allowed his heir to assert more influence, especially over the armed forces. While Franz Ferdinand never openly opposed Austria-Hungary’s alignment with Germany, the degree of dependence troubled him more than it did most of the empire’s leaders. As a result, he viewed the development of overseas trade, and of the naval forces to support it, as crucial to the Dual Monarchy’s future as an autonomous great power. In the years after the completion of the Suez Canal (1869), the Austrian Lloyd had extended its service to the Far East, enabling Trieste to establish itself as a leading point of entry for European imports from Asia. Amid the ensuing prosperity, Trieste grew to become continental Europe’s fifth-busiest port (after Hamburg, Rotterdam, Marseilles, and Genoa). By 1913, the overall value of the city’s trade with Asia far surpassed the figure for the Asian trade of all ports of the kingdom of Italy combined. While the Lloyd eventually opened a line to Brazil it did not add service to North America, leaving a void that was filled after 1895 by the Austro-Americana, which ultimately handled over half of Trieste’s emigrant traffic with the United States. The Lloyd also never served the Western Mediterranean and Western European ports, leaving that trade to a Hungarian company, the Adria Line, established in 1882 at Fiume. The growth of Fiume, modest compared to Trieste, nevertheless sufficed to make it continental Europe’s seventh-busiest port by 1913.
Bombarding of Ancona by August von Ramberg, depicting Austro-Hungarian battleships shelling the Italian coastline in May 1915
At the turn of the century, Germany’s decision to challenge Britain’s hegemony at sea transformed the Triple Alliance into an anti-British bloc no longer attractive to Italy. The program outlined in Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz’s navy laws of 1898 and 1900 made the German fleet the world’s second-strongest as of 1905; by then, Britain had resolved its differences with France (1904) and would soon achieve a rapprochement with Russia (1907), creating the Triple Entente. A visit to Toulon by the Italian fleet in 1901 provided the first sign of a warming of Franco-Italian relations; Italian navy leaders soon considered Austria-Hungary, not France, to be their most likely future rival. Thus, for more than a decade before the outbreak of the First World War, Europe’s greatest naval race outside of the North Sea occurred in the Adriatic, where the nominal allies renewed their old rivalry. Counting all battleships laid down in the past twenty-five years, by 1905 Austria-Hungary had just twelve to Italy’s eighteen. As the navy scrambled to catch up, it continued to benefit from the patronage of Franz Ferdinand and the support of a broad domestic political coalition. The web of connections linking Skoda, Witkowitz, and the Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino coalesced into a first-rate naval-industrial complex, enabling Austria-Hungary to build larger warships much faster than Italy, indeed, faster than any country other than Britain and Germany.
In December 1906, the commissioning of Britain’s 18,110-ton Dreadnought – the largest, fastest, and most heavily armed warship yet built – rendered all existing battleships obsolete. The resulting clean slate gave fresh hope to inferior naval powers willing to pay the price to catch up with superior rivals, but Austria-Hungary decided to proceed with the construction of the three 14,500-ton Radetzky class pre-dreadnoughts, just funded in the autumn of 1906, before considering dreadnoughts of its own. Italy laid down its first dreadnought in June 1909, after learning that the Dual Monarchy was considering a fleet plan including four 20,000-ton dreadnoughts. A constitutional crisis in Hungary delayed the implementation of this plan, and Austria-Hungary finally laid down its first dreadnought, the Viribus Unitis, in July 1910, followed two months later by the Tegetthoff, for which the class of warships was named. Meanwhile, in the summer of 1910, the Italians laid down three more dreadnoughts, prompting Austro-Hungarian legislators to approve a second pair in March 1911, to give both navies four. Like the older battleships of the fleet, the Austro-Hungarian dreadnoughts were built entirely from domestic resources, at an exorbitant cost ultimately covered only by giving the navy one quarter of the entire defense outlay in the last fiscal year before the First World War. Work began on the third and fourth dreadnoughts in January 1912, the Prinz Eugen at Trieste and the Szent Istvan at Fiume’s Danubius shipyard, the first firm in the empire’s Hungarian half to receive a major warship contract. Italy responded later that winter with its fifth and sixth dreadnoughts. Thanks to its more efficient shipyards, in October 1912 the Dual Monarchy became the third European power to have a dreadnought in commission, when the Viribus Unitis entered service after a building time of just twenty-seven months. Italy’s first dreadnought, completed in forty-three months, finally entered service in January 1913.
Each navy would have three dreadnoughts in service by the time the war began in July 1914, but before then their rivalry took an unexpected turn. After the Italo-Turkish War (1911-12) temporarily strained Italy’s relations with the Triple Entente, the Italians, in December 1912, agreed to an extension of the Triple Alliance, then, in June 1913, to a Triple Alliance naval convention. War plans called for Admiral Anton Haus, the Austro-Hungarian naval commander, to head a battle fleet including the newest units of the Austro-Hungarian and Italian navies, joined by any German warships that happened to be in the Mediterranean, with the mission of engaging the French fleet and blocking the transport of colonial troops from North Africa to France. The convention became moot on 31 July 1914, when Italy condemned Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia as an act of aggression. Over the months that followed, Italy pursued a policy of neutrality that was increasingly hostile to the Dual Monarchy, before finally joining the Entente under the terms of the Treaty of London (26 April 1915).
The First World War
A week after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary secured the support of Germany for a war against Serbia, assuming that the threat of German intervention would suffice to keep Russia out of the conflict. Russia’s decision to stand behind the Serbs gave Germany the continental war it wanted and left Austria-Hungary fighting for German war aims under German direction. While the British navy, concentrated in the North Sea, imposed a blockade on Germany, the French blockaded the mouth of the Adriatic. The access to overseas trade that had been such an important corrective to the empire’s economic dependence on Germany thus ended, leaving Austria-Hungary even more at the mercy of its ally. Haus kept the fleet at Pola throughout the initial phase of the war, explaining to a subordinate that “so long as the possibility exists that Italy will declare war against us, I consider it my first duty to keep the fleet intact.” The French initially deployed dreadnoughts and pre-dreadnoughts in the lower Adriatic but grew less aggressive after Haus transferred his small submarine force from Pola to Cattaro (Kotor), the Austro-Hungarian base at the southern tip of Dalmatia. Following the torpedoing and near loss of the dreadnought Jean Bart in December 1914, the French navy sent no capital ships into the Adriatic. After a U-boat torpedoed and sank the armored cruiser Léon Gambetta off the southeastern tip of Italy on 27 April 1915, the French no longer deployed any warship larger than a destroyer north of a line approximately three hundred miles (480km) south of Cattaro.
The prudence of Haus in the face of a vastly superior foe left his fleet intact to take on the Italian navy. On the evening of 23 May 1915, within hours of Italy’s declaration of war against Austria-Hungary, he steamed out of Pola with the three dreadnoughts then in commission, backed by nine pre-dreadnoughts and a host of smaller warships, for a punitive bombardment of the Italian coastline. The Italians entered the war supremely confident but within two months assumed the same cautious posture as the French, after they lost the armored cruisers Amalfi and Garibaldi to submarine attacks within a span of eleven days in July. That autumn the Italians learned that their warships were not necessarily safe even in port, when Austrian saboteurs, on the night of 27 September, blew up the pre-dreadnought Benedetto Brin at Brindisi. During 1916 the Italians moved their dreadnoughts to Taranto, well out of harm’s way, and repeatedly pleaded for more help to contain the Austro-Hungarian threat. The French and British appeased them by sending more warships to the mouth of the Adriatic, enabling the Dual Monarchy’s “fleet in being” to tie down an ever-greater number of Allied warships that could have been put to better use elsewhere. Further Italian losses during 1916 only reinforced their timidity, most notably the dreadnought Leonardo da Vinci, sunk on 2 August at Taranto by Austrian saboteurs, and the pre-dreadnought Regina Margherita, which on 11 December fell victim to a minefield off Valona, Albania. By then, confirming that they had conceded the Adriatic to the Austrians, the Allies attempted to close the mouth of the sea by deploying the Otranto Barrage, anti-submarine nets dragged by trawlers and drifters commandeered from fishing fleets, backed by minefields, on the model of the Dover Barrage, deployed by the British to block German access to the English Channel from the North Sea.
After making Pola and Cattaro available to German U-boats during the first round of unrestricted submarine warfare in 1915, Austria-Hungary again supported the Germans after their fateful decision to resume the campaign early in 1917, despite the American intervention it was likely to provoke. The Austro-Hungarian navy agreed to send its own submarines out of the Adriatic to attack Allied convoys in the central Mediterranean, and to assign more personnel to support the German U-boats operating out of Cattaro. To weaken the antisubmarine barrage at the mouth of the Adriatic, the navy launched a series of ever-larger and more aggressive attacks, culminating in the Battle of the Otranto Straits (15 May 1917), a successful cruiser raid led by Captain Miklos Horthy that opened the straits to German and Austro-Hungarian submarines for the following six weeks. But for the Central Powers, the shift away from large-unit surface operations idled most of the sailors of their fleets and increased the likelihood of unrest aboard those ships. In July 1917 the first demonstrations swept the Austro-Hungarian fleet at Pola. Then, during January 1918, sailors of the fleet joined in a strike by workers in the Pola arsenal. Finally, on 1-3 February 1918, a serious mutiny temporarily paralyzed the naval forces at Cattaro. The uprising included sailors of all nationalities of the empire, reflecting the predominant influence of war weariness encouraged by socialist politics, which gave it more in common with the mutinies that swept the Russian and German navies in 1917 and 1918 than with the concurrent unrest in the Austro-Hungarian army and home front. Following the suppression of the Cattaro mutiny, four of its leaders were executed and almost four hundred others imprisoned. Afterward, a radical reorganization of the naval hierarchy left Horthy as fleet commander in place of the ineffective Admiral Maximilian Njegovan, who had succeeded Haus upon his death twelve months earlier. The Hungarian captain’s extraordinary promotion to rear admiral forced the twenty-eight senior officers who outranked him either to retire or to accept posts on land.
In the war’s last year, Horthy’s one bold stroke met with disaster on 10 June 1918, when the dreadnought Szent Istvan was torpedoed and sunk by an Italian torpedo boat while making its way down the Dalmatian coast from Pola, along with the other three dreadnoughts of the Tegetthoff class, for an attack on the Otranto Barrage. Horthy hoped the attack would force Italian and French dreadnoughts out of Taranto for a battle at the mouth of the Adriatic, but the sinking of the Szent Istvan – the only major warship lost by Austria-Hungary in the entire war – forced the cancellation of the operation. Afterward Austro-Hungarian morale plummeted, dashing Horthy’s hopes for a revitalizing victory. He continued to vouch for the battle-readiness of the fleet, at least through the summer months, but it never sortied again. In the autumn of 1918, while Germany made peace overtures to the Allies, the Dual Monarchy began to disintegrate internally as Emperor Charles (who had succeeded Franz Joseph in 1916) tried in vain to salvage the situation. On 30 October, one week after the Austro-Hungarian army crumbled in the face of the final Allied offensive on the Italian front, Charles ordered Horthy to turn over the navy to the Yugoslav national council, whose members by that time included some of the leading Slovenian and Croatian officers serving under him. The transfer ceremonies occurred at Pola the following day. The Allies ultimately did not allow postwar Yugoslavia, an amalgamation of Serbia with the former South Slav lands of Austria-Hungary, to keep the ships, which first were distributed among the victorious Allies as reparations, then, in most cases, scrapped. During the interwar years, Italy, in possession of Trieste, Fiume, and Pola, finally enjoyed the hegemony over the Adriatic that had been denied to it by the Habsburg empire’s effective development of local naval power.
While the demise of Austria-Hungary brought the dismantling of the naval industrial complex that had enabled it to build a great-power navy on domestic resources, the introduction of new international borders, tariffs, and currencies disrupted the trade networks that had linked the central European interior to Trieste and Fiume. Fatefully, a region already economically dependent on Germany in the days of the Dual Monarchy became even more so after being subdivided into a collection of smaller, weaker states. Most historians consider the demise of Austria-Hungary to have been inevitable; indeed, a number of contemporary observers felt the same way. But lost in the debate over the measures that could have been taken to prolong its history or remedy its problems is the question of whether measures that were taken, such as the development of maritime interests and naval power, actually enabled Austria-Hungary to last longer than it otherwise would have. It would not be unreasonable to conclude that if the Habsburg empire had not turned to the sea in the 19th century, it would not have survived into the 20th.
Bibliography Babudieri F., Industrie, commerci e navigazione a Trieste e nella regione Giulia (Milan, 1982). Casali A. and Cattaruzza M., Sotto i mari del mondo: La Whitehead, 1875-1990 (Rome, 1990). Cattaruzza M., `Population Dynamics and Economic Change in Trieste and its Hinterland, 1850-1914′, in Population and Society in Western European Port-Cities, c. 1650-1939, ed. R. Lawton and R. Lee (Liverpool, 2002), pp. 176-211. Gardiner R., ed., Steam, Steel, and Shellfire: The Steam Warship, 1815-1905 (London, 1992). Halpern P., The Naval War in the Mediterranean, 1914-1918 (Annapolis, MD, 1987). Halpern P., The Battle of the Otranto Straits (Bloomington, IN, 2004). Lambert A., Battleships in Transition (Annapolis, MD, 1984). Mayer H. and Winkler D., In allen Häfen war Österreich: Die österreichischeungarische Handelsmarine (Vienna, 1987). Sondhaus L., The Habsburg Empire and the Sea: Austrian Naval Policy, 1797-1866 (West Lafayette, IN, 1989). Sondhaus L., `Strategy, tactics, and the politics of penury: Austria-Hungary and the Jeune École’, Journal of Military History 56 (1992), 587-602. Sondhaus L., The Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary: Navalism, Industrial Development, and the Politics of Dualism, 1867-1918 (West Lafayette, IN, 1994). Sondhaus L., The Great War at Sea: A Naval History of the First World War (Cambridge, 2014).
In the interim, the king laid plans to attack Laudon and, driving him from the road in from Bautzen, to shove him back towards his allies. He had to possess this route for two reasons: (1) It would put the main army astride the road to Görlitz, and thus into Silesia; (2) Perhaps less importantly, it would open access into Zittau from Bautzen, breaking Daun’s lines-of-supply and communication with the interior of the Austrian Empire. This would bring Daun out swinging for a battle. Frederick knew that Daun would have to fight such a battle, or else retreat.
Frankly, Christoph was not at all sure of the intentions of the enemy opposite him, namely Retzow. It was decided that a reconnaissance of the area in question was in order. He galloped to Kleinröhrsdorf with a small body of men early on September 16. In a misty morning, with Prussian scouts all about, Baden-Durlach admitted he was unable to see what the enemy had in mind or even make out their strength. Without clear, certain intelligence, he was very reluctant to act. So the movement, which might have really aided the allied cause, was called off.
This whole episode is eye-opening. The timidity of some of the allied commanders in this war was often remarkable, and often quite crippling to their war effort. A strong contrast to the often head-strong men employed by Frederick in this same capacity.
The noteworthy Laudon was an exception to this rule.3 He demonstrated an uncanny ability to generally give a little better than he got in his encounters with the Prussians. Besides, Daun was not about to leave Laudon to his fate. The Prussians kept cavalry patrols out to counteract the irascible commander. Daun made sure reinforcements were prepared and sent to Laudon in case the king decided to try something.
This reinforcement was under our old friend Bülow, who had already demonstrated a knack for effectual command of a semi-independent nature. The Prussians, as was their consummate skill, chose to try one flank of Laudon’s to put in their stroke. Laudon’s left was at Fischbach, with his right at Röhrsdorf. On his far left, Laudon kept Wied with a force of Croats to cover the approaches to the Dresden road. Other forces were sent out to warn the Austrian commander in case Frederick might try something.
Just after midnight on September 16, alert scouts brought word to Török that suspicious movements were occurring near Copitz. Török strengthened his patrols towards Lohmen, and tried to keep abreast of developments. Suddenly, about 0700 hours, Retzow struck at Laudon. This initial charge was finally beaten back after great effort, but Frederick’s main body appeared then at Fischbach. Laudon shoved the Croats, led by Brentano, into an attack against the king’s advanced guard. It quickly became apparent that Frederick had too strong a force to provide a successful defense against. So he withdrew his men to Kappellendorf; here he quickly took refuge. About 1000 hours, the Prussians were cognizant of the movement, which brought Laudon closer to Daun’s main army. Laudon, for sure, had suffered a reverse, but, although the roar of Prussian batteries continued until late afternoon, the Prussian follow-up was most effectually snuffed out.
Daun was still inclined to keep to his posts, he was fully aware that Frederick was not quite strong enough to attack his main body in its present position. The play for time was actually a stand-off, but the weather was worsening by the day and it was an open question how much longer the armies could keep the fields. As for Laudon and the outlying detachments, they were still staying close to the main body as well.
The Prussians were not inclined towards timidity even before Stolpen. Retzow brought his force into Fischbach, while the king, with his goal of gaining the road to Bischofswerda temporarily on hold, returned to camp. He now awaited Daun and Daun was just stalling for time. Likely the marshal wanted to withdraw into Bohemia, but he remained cognizant of the weakness of Zweibrücken’s army. The latter would not be able to stand alone against the Prussians. This stand of Daun’s was almost unfathomable in Vienna. There the general view was that Daun, with the best army Austria had to put in the field, should be able to accomplish something of note during the campaign. All of this while some of the high command were castigating Daun for allowing the Prussian king, with smaller forces, to “harass and hem in the bigger [Allied] armies.” Additionally, the deteriorating state of the autumn weather precluded major operations for about a week and a half.
Frederick was now in a better position than he had seen for a while, but he had Daun’s big army to contend with. Prince Henry was charged off to keep track of Zweibrücken’s men. There was a wild rumor that Hadik was attempting to outflank Henry’s army, although what was actually happening was the Imperialists were trying to solve their supply difficulties. Nevertheless, Henry ordered Knobloch off with two regiments of infantry, a force of horse and Belling’s Hussars. This force almost immediately ran into, and subsequently captured, one of Zweibrücken’s supply convoys. The result was a virtual guarantee the Imperialists were going to stand pat on the defense.
The consternation of the allies worked in Daun’s favor. Among the allies, Hadik (probably the most capable of the Imperialist generals) was determined to do what he could to get a favorable return. Hadik deployed his troops to prepare for an enemy appearance. Kleefeld’s men were put down at Naundorf, other detachments took up at Freiberg (Colonel Joseph von Kamanrony) and at Burkersdorf (Ujházy). Hadik put his main force at Dittersdorf. These various positions were exposed to interference from Prince Henry. Prussian patrols gradually increased towards Freiberg. Knobloch’s forward elements crashed into Imperialist posts at Niederbobritzsch, and the direct result was tipping off the Imperialists there was a general offensive starting soon against them from Henry. Zweibrücken realized the Prussian intentions were to roll over allied posts at Freiberg. This caused Hadik to take matters into his own hands. The supply situation demanded that they act to head off the Prussian threat to their lines-of-communication.
Hadik rose and moved on Freiberg, unsure if Prince Henry were bringing back his whole army. If so, this could be a real problem for Hadik had just 600 men in his force. Meanwhile, the Belling Hussars had been unleashed to wreak havoc. In the wee hours of the morning of September 25, Kleefeld’s outposts received a nasty surprise when they were attacked by the Prussian riders. Without infantry support, however, it was clear the hussars could not stay. They fell back stubbornly to Sadisdorf. Kleefeld’s lines suffered no ill effects, and the enemy had retired. However, intelligence reports had Prussian patrols drawing close to Chemnitz. Hadik’s measured response was to strengthen patrols in that direction. Ujházy was unbuckled directly on to the town. A Prussian occupation force holding Chemnitz was present. They were loath to leave without “persuasion.” After some street fighting, the bluecoats finally retreated. However, Ujházy, with bigger fish to fry, simply left a garrison at Chemnitz and returned to his old post.
Meanwhile, Hadik was being reinforced (to about 12,000 men) with a view to conducting operations independently of the indolent marshal. With his troop strength growing, Hadik’s reconnaissance forces fanned out between the Mulde and the Saale. It was now anticipated that the Prussians would make their appearance somewhere in that general area. Simultaneously, Kleefeld’s men also moved forward. It was a most alarming state of affairs. Renewed supply problems now haunted Daun, and for the Imperialists, they had become a way of life in this campaign.
Winter was drawing close and it was becoming a concern of the allies as to where to plan for winter quarters. Daun’s strange inactivity could not help but seem to tip the balance of maneuver straight into the Prussian camp. To try to regain something of this lost opportunity, Daun was good enough to send one of his staff, the capable Major-General Johann Anton von Tillier, to discuss viable options with Zweibrücken. Daun had been busy again cooking up another plan for dealing with the situation. Baden-Durlach was to take a picked force of 8,000 men to press off for Görlitz, where he was to join up with Vehla. There they were to await the arrival of some support troops that Zweibrücken was to send to supplement the men Daun had earmarked for his new plan.
September 24, right on time, Baden-Durlach shoved off, from Nieder-Putzkau. If time was of the essence, however, this fact seems to have escaped the commander’s thinking. It took the greater part of four days for him to get to Löbau, still well short of Görlitz. Then, instead of pushing on, Baden-Durlach unaccountably called a halt at Löbau.
Things might have remained at this status quo but Frederick threw a monkey wrench into the whole works by suddenly going back on the offensive. Daun had a back-up in the form of Fermor’s Russians and had received firm promises of commitments of these troops. Once Zorndorf did not pan out to Fermor’s liking, the Russian commander and his legions more or less just faded from the scene. In the end, it may have had little to do with Zweibrücken’s decision to pull out completely from the plan. The latter had little faith in the scheme’s chances.
If that was not bad enough, the choice of leaders for this movement was not a good one. Hadik, the best man for the job, was not available to be spared. He was needed right where he was. Then, the capper, when Zweibrücken balked, Daun’s beleaguered plan was really in trouble. Zweibrücken also desired Daun to move from his side to attack Prince Henry; if the latter were rooted out, then Frederick’s position would be totally compromised. The Prussian king simply acted first.
On September 26 (1400 hours) the main Prussian force marched from Schönfeld, to form link with Retzow. Keith hitched to Arnsdorf, which Retzow had moved out from. The next day, Retzow and Frederick joined up at Rammenau. The Prussians all of a sudden had the initiative in their hands. Then, adding insult to injury, although DeVille intensified the effort against Neisse, he was making no headway. This put paid to Daun’s plan.
While Daun was anchored to his post at Stolpen, Laudon moved up on Bischofswerda. Frederick was a little surprised by this move. The king was going to make the same maneuver, except Laudon beat him to the punch. Evening of September 27, a strong Prussian recon was carried out near Schönbrunn. This really worried Daun. Enough so Daun was looking to reinforce Laudon immediately. With this view in mind, a large portion of the reserve under the Marquis d’Ayufe was pushed out to Bischofswerda. Meanwhile, some of Laudon’s men were involved in some skirmishing with Prussian detachments. This was developing the presence of the main Prussian army, which Laudon knew was very close. It was essential for the Prussians to get Laudon rooted out before they could proceed on with further business. This was clear to all concerned, including Marshal Keith, who had recovered quite nicely from his recent illness.
With this specific task in mind, early on September 28 the Prussians attacked the posts of Laudon rather forcefully. The marching troops were judiciously separated to make an attack easier to mount. Two of the columns roared against Laudon at Burka and Bischofswerda. An additional body of men railed against Laudon’s rear. In view of Laudon’s readjusted position, Daun felt it was essential to maintain communication with Laudon. Accordingly, General Baron O’Kelley von Gallagh und Tywoly, was pushed out to Drebnitz. The latter was packing enough of a force to form a link to Laudon. However, it is worth noting Daun never intended for Laudon to stay isolated at any time. As for Laudon (who finally retired to Nieder Putzkau after his clash with the king), he kept close to d’Ayufe’s men. It had been the latter’s effort, namely a fast paced move to join Laudon, that had kept his force safe when the enemy suddenly erupted. Laudon was able to extricate his men about 0400 hours with the loss of eight men captured.
Of course, the advantage was already starting to shift noticeably towards the Prussian side. This was a most disturbing state of affairs, as Daun was quick to point out in a parlous letter to Maria Theresa. Daun was so brash as to tell his Empress he dared not risk his army in any movements since the realm had no further resources at the moment. And the marshal rather surprisingly admitted although the Austrians clearly possessed the advantage of superior numbers, “he [Frederick] has many other advantages which offset this [one].” Which begs the question, “What other advantages?” Well, the Prussian standard, although much weakened by the war, remained one of the best in the world, and there was still marked reluctance to engage the bluecoats in battle on the part of some Imperial units.
Nevertheless, many in Vienna were decidedly displeased with the marshal’s “performance.” There were others who wondered aloud why the main Austrian army and the Imperialists, who had between them a great numerical superiority, could not work actively against Frederick. Kaunitz, among many, did not support the passive state of affairs that Daun encouraged.
Meanwhile, back with the Prussians, Retzow was assigned the role of advanced guard, and the rest of the army was to follow in his tracks in a few days’ time. Retzow promptly took to his duty, reaching Bautzen (October 1), driving off some of Daun’s Croat parties which had been deployed there. He punctually put in the supply wagons before advancing upon Hochkirch. Following this, the general paused with his men, and waited for the scheduled arrival of Frederick; the latter was to be up with the main body soon.
The one detail Retzow had overlooked and/or forgotten, in this confusing state of affairs, was to occupy the Stromberg. In the space of a few weeks, the “failure” of Retzow would have a big impact. Now we must clarify ourselves. Prince Henry often considered it a Frederician trait to heap the backs of others with his own shortcomings. “All his [Frederick’s] life,” wrote Henry, “he blamed his errors … [on others, i.e.] his generals.” Besides, the orders to Retzow do not appear to have been terribly specific. Still, this one oversight was to result in a severe rebuke for the Prussian king and his men. This evening, Retzow could gloat over a job well done, considering the horde of enemies hovering about. He routinely pushed over into Weissenberg and vicinity, and there his troops were when Frederick, with Daun (more or less as usual) not far behind, marched on Hochkirch in about a week.
It was the ardent desire of Vienna that Daun should stay as close to Zweibrücken’s force as possible while still tending to the other duties he had at hand. A hitch by the Imperialists back into the German Reich would be seen—and rightly so—in a very negative way. Vienna also, in this case needlessly, reminded the marshal of his obligations to the Russians. They had once required a detachment to join them, but Zorndorf had changed all of that.
Meanwhile as September lengthened into October, a short Prussian pause was required to get some supply entanglements ironed out. Scouts reported to Laudon that suspicious activities were afoot. This presaged a major offensive was imminent from the Prussians. When he was informed of this, Daun did what he usually did: rather than try to act decisively, he called a council-of-war while the army was still at Stolpen. Daun was only too aware of the continuing slack state of Swedish arms, and of the chronic tardiness of the Russians. Maria Theresa told him he would have to take the offensive himself to go to the aid of these allies, although the exact opposite situation should have ensued. Vienna would not hear of staying in camp at Stolpen in order to help cover Zweibrücken’s exposed posts near Pirna.
Indeed, Daun, hearing that Laudon by retreating had left the road to Bautzen open, quickly realized that his erstwhile impregnable camp at Stolpen would now have to be abandoned, for Frederick had but to turn south and sweep down upon Zittau, capturing the heavy baggage, magazines/provisions there in one stroke. To retire from Stolpen and move to get ahead so he could intercept the Prussians, just in case they did happen to be aiming for Zittau, had thus become Daun’s first priority. Secondly, if it could be accomplished, Daun intended to swing in front of Frederick and block his march on Silesia. Indeed, the last should have been the first priority in this business.
Even cautious Daun realized there was no other alternative; if he stayed immobile at Stolpen his already discontented soldiers would starve and there would be no ammunition for the guns and muskets. Besides, despite orders to the contrary, the marshal really wanted to be away from the Imperialists. The latter were an unfavorable influence on the whole Austrian army. Even Maria Theresa had to agree with that unfortunate summation.
Daun’s councils-of-war took time. Two such needless discussions were called, which served only to waste precious time. It was, therefore, four days after Retzow had already reached Bautzen before the Austrian army (October 5) finally pushed off. Covered by rainy, soaking weather and in pitch darkness, Daun’s discouraged men staggered along on the road through the Oberottendorf Woods to Neustadt and Löbau, south of Bautzen, and with both Frederick’s army and the Elbe to the rear. The Austrian move commenced at 1500 hours, with Laudon’s capable hands leading the van. Hours after, with the sun set, in three columns, Daun’s main army wound off, leaving their tents standing to deceive the Prussians. The Austrians were able to reach a long valley at Neukirch before dawn was breaking.
The Prussians did not bother Daun’s men beyond deploying two dragoon regiments with several infantry units, to harass the move. The Austrians of Colonel Count Merode, with little fanfare, attacked and drove off the intruders at Neider-Putzkau. In the event, “One Prussian battalion was totally destroyed.” The Austrians lost 327 men in the spirited proceeding. Before the morning was much used up, the Austrians were filing through the streets of Löbau and passing to Kittlitz, beyond which Daun carefully deployed. In one march, he had stolen some of Frederick’s thunder, not to mention that the Austrians were once again ahead of the king, between him and the route to Zittau. This time it was with the main army, not just Laudon. Daun could thus be rapid indeed when provisioning his men and keeping them supplied depended on swiftness. Speaking of Laudon, on October 7, he moved with purpose on Kleinpostwitz and Schirgiswalde. Daun posted his reserve under Baden-Durlach, meanwhile, between Reichenbach and Arnsdorf.
Within the lines that Daun now occupied, he could dispose of roughly 80,000 men: 50,000 of which were infantry; 28,000 cavalry; the balance made up of light parties and the artillery teams, the latter responsible for 340 guns. The main Austrian army, by itself, was superior in all respects numerically speaking, and, as a plus, Daun could boast the army had just won its last hurdle with Frederick, at Domstadl.
Frederick, after haggling along with his troops, sent back word to Dresden to have a second (and larger) convoy made ready for him and sent forward. He arrived at Bautzen on October 8, determined now definitely to march into Silesia, as the only viable option to Saxony. The following day, the king moved on Rodewitz. Bautzen was to be held in great force. Retzow grasped the Weissenberg locale while the getting was good, and Marshal Keith finally put in a belated appearance.16 Frederick would be compelled to wait, however, at his present location until the new supply train came in. As for the marshal, his new posts were in much better respects than the old accommodations at Stolpen. Frederick’s camp at Rodewitz and Bautzen offered him interior lines to move on the Oder, or, barring that, a retrograde movement on the Saxon capital. In the worst case scenario, the king would be able to, not only retain Dresden from the enemy, but also to drive them for the year entirely from Saxony. In the end that was precisely the result. This was a situation guaranteeing the displeasure of Maria Theresa’s allies. The French openly voiced their attitude at court, implying they would not have fought on past 1757 if not for the Austrians. King Augustus, from his locale in Warsaw, railed against what he perceived as virtual abandonment to the Prussians of his realm by an Austrian force so clearly superior in numbers. “Surely more could have been done,” thought the allies collectively.
As for Saxony itself, the war being waged over so much of its territory left little breathing space for more normal routines, such as planting/harvesting crops. All of the contending armies had drawn at least some of their supplies locally from Saxon farmers. The Prussians generally “misappropriated” what they needed, but the allies did their best to “buy” what they required. Usually, this would involve some form of paper exchange. Sometimes actual cash was given, but the usual method was to give out what amounted to an I.O.U. which could then, supposedly, be exchanged at a later time for cash or other favors. It does not take a great stretch of imagination to wonder how some farmers felt about their so-called “allies” arriving to clean out their crops. Could they trust the Austrians and Imperialists any further than their enemy, the Prussians? To his credit, Daun made a legitimate effort to curb the involuntary withdrawal of farm produce by his troops. Several guilty individuals were hanged for their parts in such deeds. Daun made sure that the executions were carried out in prominent locations, in order to help discourage such malefactors.
Whether Frederick had guessed at this stage that Daun would pull an about face and sweep ahead to block his march is unknown. In any event, he intended to remain at Bautzen and about just until the expected convoy could come forward, and then start for Silesia immediately afterwards.
The Hochkirch-Löbau road led to both Zittau, to which Daun would be only too happy to bar the way to, as well as towards Silesia. Frederick planned to use this fact to keep the enemy off balance and guessing as to where he intended to strike. Indeed, the king would find the normally cautious and slow Daun blocking the road ahead. Here the latter did pull a surprise, but Daun a week hence had an even bigger surprise up his sleeve.
October 10, the Prussian convoy reached Bautzen, and the Prussians at once rose and moved towards the villages and hills that Retzow was still holding in the distance. Retzow had kept his men positioned about Weissenberg since the first of the month, more than 11 miles from Bautzen to the east on the road. Frederick’s supply train made use of that road for its travel. During the march, a force of Daun’s irregulars—hovering about in substantial numbers—fell on it and the baggage just as they got past the defile at Jenkowitz, October 11.
The defenders drove off the attackers, but the harrying continued through the march; this attack was what led Frederick to suspect that a large portion of the enemy’s army, perhaps even Daun himself, lay ahead of his line-of-march now. The latter had already begun entrenching his army, spreading his men from Nostitz south-southwest to the Czernabog Heights—a position perhaps two miles long from end to end, although considerably thick. Daun put his headquarters at Kittlitz, with the usual screen of strong parties far out ahead of the army to give advance warning of the enemy’s maneuvers.
The latter pressed on, Frederick pausing at the high knoll where Hochkirch was, from there the country below out towards Zittau and Kittlitz, far and wide, was visible for miles. There, afar in the distance, and perfectly visible spread out for miles through the valleys/low terrain toward the Czernabog, in the manner stated, he discerned Daun’s large army. He was evidently intending to dispute the passage of the Prussians. Frederick was equally resolved to get the foe out of the way, so seeing what was obviously the entire Austrian field army in Saxony/Silesia present in front of his line of advance must have been an unpleasant surprise to him.
But the Prussian king could also be stubborn in his own right, and taking a rather rash course (in the light of hindsight), he ordered his army to halt right where it was and encamp. The rise of Hochkirch, which rose southward of that village, lay in a valley facing the Czernabog, up on Rodewitz and Kotitz. The army was positioned commencing at the last two places, the southern side standing refused as a wing at Meschwitz, just about a mile from Daun’s lines. This was in a precariously bad posture and quite indefensible without the Stromberg, which Retzow had forgotten to occupy.
Frederick’s adjutant, Gustav Ludwig von der Marwitz, was ordered to mark out a campsite within the position, but this gentleman must have known better than that; he made remonstrance, but in vain. At last, he refused to do so altogether, upon which he was placed under arrest. Marwitz’s only crime in this case appears to have been making use of his good sense. In his place, the king’s faithful (but dense) Koppel was appointed. Marwitz seems justified for refusing to carry out a bad order, not wishing to expose his army to the defeat that he normally did his duties without question.
Koppel made off with a party of men to the job he had been assigned by default. The enemy acknowledged his presence with wildly over aimed cannon fire. Yet, for all the responsibility that must be put upon Frederick’s shoulders for the disaster about to ensue, part of the blame must rightly be ascribed to Retzow. (As soon as the king learned of Retzow’s failure to take the Stromberg, he had him placed under arrest.) The importance of that rise is immediately evident. The sharp hill rose like a tall blade of grass out of the country between the Löbau Water and Kotitz, capped by a plateau well above the other rises around Hochkirch and its neighborhood. Frederick, realizing at once that he must have the Stromberg or his position would be indefensible, gave orders that it was to be taken at dawn the morning of October 11. Archenholtz, who was present at the battle, concurs that, without the Stromberg, the “Prussian encampment was untenable.”
During the course of the night, however, Daun sent troops to get hold of it, anticipating the Prussian maneuver. Even before darkness parties were already there, but additional men made it more secure. At dawn, a detachment of Prussians tried to carry out the king’s instructions, from General August Wilhelm von Braun and Major-General August Gottlieb von Bornstedt’s (Infantry 20th) quarters, but found the enemy (under Arenberg), too strongly posted to be dislodged. When the fog finally burned off, the light Prussian force struck about 1100 hours. The “assault,” such as it was, inevitably miscarried, and the arrival of enemy reinforcements was enough: the Bluecoats retired. Daun’s objective had been achieved. Henceforth, his army was left in indisputable possession of the rise, and the marshal promptly had strong batteries placed atop the dominating rise.
Previously, the king had believed that his foe was preparing to retreat into Bohemia/Moravia, but after the Stromberg debâcle, he decided to try other means, as Daun’s intentions of barring him from Silesia were crystal clear. Again it was an attack, engineered as usual toward a flank, in this case the Austrian right wing. The latter must be driven in, opening the Görlitz road.
The Battle of Hochkirch
Once this was accomplished, the road would again be clear all the way into Silesia. The enemy’s retention of the Stromberg meant it was quite apparent that the current position of the army was untenable. Determining not to prolong his stay under these circumstances any longer than necessary, Frederick decided to march on his new errand against Daun on October 14, and only then because a marching date sooner was impossible; due, in part, to the scattered posts of the men he could not arrange it before then.
In the Austrian sphere, Daun was having council with Laudon. That fiery subordinate told his commander that the enemy had chosen a dangerously exposed position, which, in combination with their inferior numbers (more than two-to-one against), they could not hope to hold successfully. Here, he said, was the perfect opportunity to take in flank, surround and maybe bag the whole Prussian army under its king at one masterful stroke. Daun did finally consent to take the offensive, but only under cover of night and only if the strictest secrecy were maintained so that the Prussians would not be tipped off to what was afoot.
During this period, Frederick actually helped his foe out by an uncharacteristic carelessness concerning guard posts and absolutely failed to send out reconnaissance parties in sufficient strength to detect distant enemy measures. Ironically, this was just when such precautions were much needed. General Lacy accompanied Daun, Serbelloni and a small party of Austrian officers who were out scouting the terrain surrounding the Prussian camp one night shortly afterwards when the entourage came under the fire of a Prussian outpost. Musket fire rang out, and Serbelloni got a hand severely wounded while making light of the largely inaccurate enemy fire. This incident did not prevent the Austrian marshal and his accompaniment of officers from riding out to reconnoiter the ground in front of and around Frederick’s position every evening so that very quickly the Austrians knew the lay of the land better than round their own encampment.
In the Prussian camp, the king found he needed Retzow far more back in command than under arrest, and so the “wayward” man was restored to his command. The damage already inflicted at the Stromberg could not be so readily dealt with. But Retzow again assumed charge of the Prussian left flank across at Weissenberg. The latter force, now about 11,000 strong (nine battalions), was quite out of supporting range from the remainder of the Prussian army. A glance at the maps of the battle will render this last statement to the reader all too plainly.
The ground thereabouts where a battle was about to be fought deserves an examination; in order to see just how far the combination of Retzow’s failure and the king’s rashness had taken his Prussians now. The place from which the battle received its name stood at the northern exit of the rises from the Czernabog. Here, spread out along the tip of the mountain down the northern side, lay the village. Its rise was taller than any near it except for the sharp Stromberg off to the right. From the valley below where the main Prussian army was stretched out, Hochkirch was conspicuously visible. The recently (1717) constructed village church/churchyard were at the zenith of the hill on this end near the southern exit of Hochkirch, which was on a sort of plateau there. The road to Löbau ran through the village, a detour there branched off to Reichenbach. The rolling ground was terminated to the left of Hochkirch, and separated from the Czernabog by the intervening heights; but deployed along the northwest extremity Laudon with 3,000 men (mostly Croats) lay hidden in the hollows there. Ziethen was opposite at Meschwitz, separated by the branch tributary from Laudon. Daun had pushed the latter forward, to be in as close proximity as he could get, and his force lay immobile in concealment. The Prussians were oblivious to his presence. Laudon’s Austrian command post was at Wuischke, at the lower end of the tributary. The remainder of the terrain there was cut up by numerous tributaries and overhanging rises, all leading back towards the Spree near Bautzen.
The two armies lay in the following posture from October 11 to the 13: Frederick’s, his center about Rodewitz (the headquarters), Rammuritz, on to the neighborhood of Kotitz and Laskau. In front of the latter, a battery—of 20 12-pounders and six lighter guns, so 2/3rds of heavy-caliber—had been emplaced, with guard forces of three battalions of grenadiers on both flanks, this work ending forward of the pond adjacent to Kotitz. To the west, Prussian posts were scattered from the all-important defile at Dresha on to near Hochkirch. The king’s headquarters was about two miles from Hochkirch, Dresha itself about a mile northwest of Rodewitz. The Prussian right, under Keith, was positioned from Hochkirch south and from Sornssig to the W. Two free corps, those of Colonel Angelelli (FB 4) and J. A. K. Du Verger (FB8), were about half a mile from Hochkirch. These latter were expected to act as advanced post for the Prussians in that direction, and to serve up pickets as well. However, this position was isolated and virtually valueless for viewing the thick woods.
A second, albeit, smaller battery (of a strength of about 20 guns), was in place atop Sornssig Height, which was the next beside Hochkirch’s rise to the south. The pickets and outposts of Frederick’s men were stationed in the woods only as far as the lower hills and Jauernick; the rest of the dense forests on the side of the center and right being heavily patrolled by (and under the control of) the Austrians. It goes almost without saying that the Kuppritzer-Berg, higher than the surrounding ground, was of decisive importance. The dense undergrowth of bushes and trees ran from the end of Hochkirch straightway to Brietendorf and even beyond. Within this cramped ground, the king was in ignorance of the enemy scouting parties that might be hovering about. If they appeared, he counted on the batteries taking care of them. This was a nearly fatal mistake.
The whole extent of the army in fact, excluding Retzow, still over four miles away near Weissenberg, was nearly five miles long; not including Ziethen’s cavalry or the pickets. This was far too lengthy for an army only as large as Frederick’s. Within this position, the strength of the Prussians was estimated at a bare 27,000 men; including Retzow, the army with the king was about 38,000 men all told. This army was composed of the following: 20,000 infantry (in 35 battalions); 10,000 cavalry (in 73 squadrons); light troops, and an artillery train of approximately 200 guns.
Most of the Prussian guns were positioned south and southwest of Hochkirch, in country facing Daun’s army in closest proximity. But the posts held were far too extensive for Frederick to hope to successfully hold in a battle against the larger army at Daun’s command. Daun’s headquarters were at Kittlitz, on the road facing Weissenberg, which joined just before this route crossed the branch to Retzow’s neighborhood on the other side. On the extreme right, a large battery and force lay on the Stromberg—about five miles distant from the formidable Prussian battery at Rodewitz—the line extending to the rises southeast and round in a concave to the northwest, under Arenberg, who had some 20,000 men with him. There were six regiments. He had been placed to separate the two Prussian forces: those of Frederick and of Retzow. In addition, he was to seal off the approaches to the Görlitz-Löbau road from that end, should the foe attempt to sneak through or outflank the Austrians there. On Arenberg’s left, were 40,000 men under the direct supervision of the marshal. The latter body stretched across the hollows and hills in front of Kittlitz, and constituted the big Austrian center. In elaborate and strong works that Daun had, true to his natural inclination, ordered constructed almost the moment of his arrival in that locale.
The center was positioned from the Nostitz bank of the Löbau Water, far behind Jauernick, the last considerable village before the Czernabog. The Austrian army was holding a position some seven miles long, not including Laudon. Daun’s men, when drawn together in a “proper” form, could cover (with a single line five ranks deep) a distance of more than three miles. In contrast, Frederick’s, if put in similar posture, could cover a little more than 1 1⁄2 miles. As for Laudon, he had extensive parties of Croats flung out into the thick woods just short of the Prussian posts at Hochkirch, his force being mostly horsemen. To the rear of the main army a little more than eight miles to the east on Reichenbach, Daun had taken the necessary precaution of placing a reserve consisting of 23,000 men under Baden-Durlach which had a double duty: while providing the needed reserves if necessary he was to bar the road to Görlitz should the enemy contrive to make it to his position. From Kittlitz to Löbau was a scant two miles, although some 20 from Zittau.
The distances between the opposing armies at Hochkirch were alarming. The pickets were very near, not more than ½ mile really separated them. With the enemy in such superior strength and holding better positions to boot, Frederick’s subordinates tried in vain to talk him into breaking camp and either go forward or back but not to stay immobile. Keith, for example, bluntly told the king: “If the Austrians leave us quiet in a position like this, they deserve the hangman” Frederick replied, with a confident swagger familiar to readers of his history, “It is to be hoped that the enemy fears us more than the rope.”
In the low hollow below Hochkirch the opposing pickets were only cut off by the intervening ravine. Archenholtz, for one, thought the king encamped so close as “a mark of contempt and disregard of their [Austrian] forces.” The Austrian pickets were stronger, meant to conceal the impending stroke.
Frederick had been making his plans to march. On October 12, he rode over to Weissenberg to discuss the plan he had drawn up with Retzow, under which the latter was to move on the morning of October 14, crossing over to and joining the Prussian left. Then the whole army was to move upon Baden-Durlach’s position, and get him shoved out of the way (in much the same fashion that had been used so effectively against Laudon at Bischofswerda). Following this a speedy march was to be made, with the Görlitz road now exposed, straight into Silesia. As it happened, the king planned for this maneuver to begin under cover of darkness on October 14–15, so that his men could be at Reichenbach and Schöps (a little hamlet northwest of Weissenberg) by dawn, before Marshal Daun could do anything about it.
By then the main Austrian army would not have a prayer of being able to move to aid Baden-Durlach before his lines could be compromised. Frederick, after explaining his plan to his subordinate, gave Retzow the appropriate orders then rode on to survey the ground thereabouts, after which he returned to his main camp. The maneuver was originally scheduled for the night of October 13–14, but Frederick had been forced to delay it for 24 hours in part because the wagons could not be brought forward from Bautzen in time. On this same October 12, Laudon and Daun had discussed the surprise stroke they had planned. The crux of this plan was the following (assuming the Prussians would be caught flat-footed in the early dawn): the Austrians, in their various groups, would cut off and hopefully hack to pieces the surprised Prussian army.
Just after nightfall on October 13, Daun himself—with the best troops of the army—was to push off through the woods south of Wuischke. These the Prussians could not scout properly because Laudon and his men controlled them. In any case, the marshal was to lead the men through the undergrowth until they reached the edge of the Prussian right in front of Hochkirch Height, near Sornssig, then attack the foe in the pre-dawn. The march of this main force was to steer south, then veer towards Steindörfel, Waditz and the Prussian right. Once there, the troops were to wait until the steeple clock in Hochkirch Churchyard announced 0500 hours before going forward.
Around the Prussian camp, the rest of the army was to draw out and wait until the enemy’s right had already been overrun before the Prussian posts before each section were struck. The entire army was thus to be brought to bear after all, so the plan was certainly not stretching goals. The desired end was within reach. Daun’s own contribution to the scheme is uncertain, but this was the first battle he ever precipitated. It was also, sadly for the Austrians, the only time the marshal would pull off such a slick maneuver upon Frederick. To cover his intentions from the enemy, Daun ordered large clumps of the forest cut down and new lines of abatis/entrenchments built, so giving Frederick the impression he was merely digging in all the more and thus had no plans for anything beyond pure defense. The woods had already been noticeably thinned by ceaseless activity in preparing the already formidable Austrian front. In the end, Daun was able to fool the foe completely.
Frederick appeared almost lulled into sleep. Meanwhile, the marshal’s men took to the woods with axes in hand to cut down literally hundreds of trees, in the immediate vicinity of the Prussian center and right. By the next day, October 13, all was prepared. As the short autumn day waned, the pace quickened noticeably within the Austrian lines, as if they were preparing for some maneuver or expedition. Frederick perceived this although he would not admit it, perhaps believing Daun was preparing for one of his customary retirements, perhaps on Zittau. The king had mounted patrols, pickets scattered round the edge of the thick curtain of trees nearby, but he was convinced, no doubt from past experience, that Daun would never mount an attack, especially against an army led by himself.
After darkness fell on October 13, Daun gathered his picked force of near 40,000 men and led them off through the woods on their appointed course. Behind them, the Austrians had left the campfires burning, an old ploy designed to give the impression they were still there. Officers made their presence known, shouting out orders to units that could no longer hear them. The sounds of cutting timber continued to reverberate. There were “workers [who] spent the whole night felling trees … [while they] called out to each other and sang.”
In the meantime, the main column reached its destination—the jumping off point before the Prussian camp—without interference. Laudon, over by Wuischke, was also moving into attack position. Here the marshal’s men stood in three varying columns of troops, waiting for sound of the bell announcing 0500 hours. On his end of the Austrian formation, Arenberg took his men past the Stromberg towards Laskau, where the bluecoats had their big battery on the left of Rodewitz. The muzzles were aiming into the woods, in case the Austrians should try something. Arenberg was waiting for his cue. This would be when he had evidence (either visual or otherwise) that Daun’s main body had already overwhelmed the Prussian right between Hochkirch and the battery. Plenty of such evidence would be forthcoming.
Between these bodies, with support from auxiliary forces—these to apply pressure all along the Prussian camp—there was a good chance of overwhelming the foe. The attack was calculated to hit when it was least expected, adding to its effectiveness. The auxiliary forces were meant to annoy, divert, and confuse the Prussians to keep them off balance. The design for the small columns was necessitated by the thick woods and the geographic position, which would have made utilizing the entire army as a single unit impracticable.
General O’Donnell was to lead such an auxiliary mission in the rear of the Prussian position north of Hochkirch itself; his command (like Laudon’s) consisted largely of cavalry, 20 squadrons of horse and only two regiments of infantry. O’Donnell’s command consisted of: 36th and 38th Infantry; 19th Dragoons, 4th and 33rd Cuirassiers and the old command of Luchessi, now led by Lt.-Gen. Buccow. Next in line was Laudon’s men and then Daun’s. To the right of the latter, again more to annoy than to attack, a force of 600 infantry, supported by the 1st and 38th Dragoons under Wiese, next to Field-Marshal Colloredo with the 7th, 26th, one battalion of the 57th Infantry, as well as the Mainz regiment supported by the 12th Cuirassiers, was to attack. Arenberg was next in line, and north of him stood Buccow with 37 squadrons of cavalry. He had the unique distinction of leading an all cavalry assault column in the impending action.
The main pressure had to be exerted by Daun/Laudon against the Prussian positions in and about Hochkirch. Here depended the whole success or failure of the proposal. Far to the rear, Baden-Durlach, responding to orders, was moving up to do battle with Retzow out beyond the water near Weissenberg. The army was waiting only for the jump off.
In contrast, the greater portion of the Prussian army was still in bivouac, the men little suspecting the unpleasant surprise which the enemy was preparing for them. In the thick woods amid the formidable undergrowth, the way was now sufficiently clear to provide no obstacle to the attackers. The Prussians had suspicions, but nothing more.
Before the hour of 0500 on that fateful morning, October 14, Daun’s men reached their assigned attack points. A number of Austrian “deserters” made their way to the Prussian forward posts and were admitted to the lines. When the time came, they accessed weapons and started firing at their new “friends.” These men had a tough job. The main body was to strike and roll over the Prussian posts between the big battery and Hochkirch, just where the enemy’s army was at its strongest in terms of terrain and the additional man-made obstacles. On the left, the troops of Laudon were preparing to pounce upon Ziethen’s unsuspecting cavalry (he had three battalions, 15 squadrons, holding the westernmost end of the Prussian line). As for Arenberg, he was poised before the Prussian left, anchored between Kotitz and Laskau.
In spite of the surprise which the Austrians pulled off, there was nothing that could be called a rout. This fact is directly attributable to the tough training that these soldiers of Prussia were subjected to to make them fierce in battle. The looked for thrashing might have been expected in a lesser army, but Frederick’s men, though brought out prematurely in a morning surprise, formed and fought a pitched battle, with more order than could have been expected under the circumstances. Perhaps the conditions were better than many histories of the battle have implied. Certainly there had been deserters from Daun bringing in reports that the Austrians were moving, and we have already observed the hussars had put out the alarm.
The artillery teams of the battery in front of Hochkirch had gone to post about 0300 hours that morning, waiting for the usual demonstration of enemy outparties. Generally for about a week, the enemy had been sending Croats/Pandours out to harass the bluecoats. Elsewhere in the predawn, there were still pickets, outparties, and mounted sentinels about, so that when the battle began the Prussians at first believed it was merely the usual demonstration. The horses of the Prussian cavalry stood saddled through the night, waiting for the horsemen. Seydlitz apparently “bypassed” the king’s directive by unsaddling his horses and then shortly after countermanded the order. This was a violation of Frederick’s stand down order. On the southward end of the big battery and right flank stood the duly vigilant guard forces. Under such circumstances, the Prussian army could hardly have been caught napping (if readers will pardon the pun).
Meanwhile, out in the thick woods, several men who were less than enthusiastic about the Austrian cause picked this very dark night on which to desert. As the rank-and-file soldiers were not privy to the attack scheme, these men could provide little help beyond telling the Prussians the army was on the move.
When the appointed time drew near, the king’s men thought there might not be the usual showing at all. Then some men from Angelelli’s Free Corps, catching the foe at a glimpse advancing through the woods, opened a rapid, deliberate musket fire upon them, which precipitated the opening of the battle. A confused struggle broke out then and there, and raged on in the thick brush for ½ hour or more, the Prussian outparties all the while being gradually forced to give ground under the weight of numbers from their forward positions. This fight was assumed back at camp to be nothing more than the usual, but instead of tapering off after a time, the clash became more intense and got closer.
The artillery teams stationed south of Hochkirch turned their guns towards the southern end of the outworks and fired, concluding obviously if the enemy were in strength then they would have artillery to reply with. Receiving no reply, the batteries were then swung round at the direction of the fighting. They were taken under fire and promptly overrun by Laudon’s advancing troops, who had come forward upon their rear from Meschwitz and Waditz. One of our great contemporary historians, Georg Tempelhof, present near the Great Battery, managed to get off about “fifteen rounds before I received a blow that knocked me senseless.” Daun was simultaneously sweeping in from the front. Shortly the entire section of the Prussian line there was in enemy hands, and some of the bluecoats had yet to realize that a battle was raging at all.
The Austrians now burst through the undergrowth on all sides of the camp, and a confused, mostly hand-to-hand struggle was quickly taken up. The Prussians, at last awake, made a fierce, determined resistance, but finding themselves on the southern end all but surrounded by the far more numerous Austrians, they had to pull back. This extrication was accomplished only with the use of the bayonet, and the troops paused a short distance to their rear. Ziethen, by now mounted and ready, charged the surging Austrian formations, broke some, and before they could retreat, killed a great many of the enemy. But Ziethen’s stamina could not stay, and he likewise drew back. The cavalry, to their credit, did do their best here. The earlier Prussian debâcle at Kolin, in sharp contrast, had seen the Prussian horse very ineffective.
At length, the Austrians, although they did indeed have to earn their success the hard way, aided by superior numbers, pressed the thinning Prussian line back upon the battery, which they finally took. The grenadiers of Wangen and Heyden were unable to stem the relentless Austrian advance. Heyden led grenadiers from the brave 19th and the 25th infantry, along with Wangen’s men. These two units, in direct support of the battery, fought very hard, some of it in hand-to-hand combat, before yielding to the inevitable. A counterattack drove them back out, though Daun, coming up with overwhelming reinforcements, again pressed the foe back and retook his prize. The battery changed hands many more times before the whitecoats, in irresistible mass, were finally able to push Frederick’s men beyond reach and that important post was irretrievably lost to them.
Meanwhile, Major Simon von Langen, with the 2nd battalion of the 19th Infantry (General Karl Friedrich Albrecht of Brandenburg-Schwedt), seeing the general tide of the fight edging back upon Hochkirch, flung himself and his men into the place and took post in the Church/Churchyard, strengthening it as quickly as he could combat the enemy. His arrival was fortuitous for Lieutenant von der Marwitz, originally commanding a squad at the churchyard. Marwitz, desperately wounded in the chest, continued to exercise command until Langen’s arrival. The stroke against Hochkirch had indeed been a surprise. Marwitz was captured and subsequently died in captivity.
Saldern’s 15th Infantry, on the Pommritz Heights, lost heavily in killed/wounded and prisoners. 618 men, plus 13 officers, “fell.” Other units were in deep trouble as well. A thick fog had formed and the dawn was breaking in dense darkness. Hochkirch itself was soon on fire, whether started deliberately by the Prussians or however ignited is not clear, which lit up the battle now raging about it. The attackers poured into the village, through the narrow streets, quickly overlapping the barricaded defenders. Langen’s men fired obstinately against the Austrians who charged the churchyard wall, while other Prussian forces outside recoiled and regrouped to come on again and retake Hochkirch. The enemy kept pouring in new troops, reaching a strength of seven full regiments.
The king tried to reassure his troops that the sound of the fight was a mere Croat exercise, but Captain Karl Ludwig von Troschke’s intelligence that the redoubt south of Hochkirch was already in enemy hands and their advance was pressing on relentlessly took him aback. About then, one of 23rd Infantry (Forcade’s) battalions launched an unsupported attack, but after an initial burst, it had to beat a hasty retreat when the Austrians threatened to overlap it. Langen kept his men steady and riddled those white-uniformed opponents with heavy musketry. Nevertheless, the Austrians soon had burning Hochkirch cleared of Prussians round the churchyard, then redoubled their effort to seize it as well. The converging Austrian blows naturally forced masses of Prussian troops into the narrow streets of Hochkirch. This included men outside of Langen’s command area, although, with graphic detail, the streets were said to be running in rivers of blood. The crowding was so bad that the bodies of the dead were still held in their upright postures.
Steady concentrated fire swathed the attacking line, but the intruders, nothing daunted, kept exerting pressure against Langen’s position. Langen might have done more had his ammunition been more plentiful (remember the Prussian army was not expecting the surprise attack). But with the men down to a few rounds apiece in many cases, he had no option but to order his troops to abandon their hotly contested post and cut their way through the thickly-packed ranks of Daun’s men, who had advanced, kicking and clawing for every yard, past the place. A few of the Prussians from the churchyard did indeed make it back to their own lines, clearing the way largely with the bayonet. But the greater majority were killed in a hopeless struggle with an enemy too numerous to beat, and there and then got cut down; Major Langen, a fine Prussian officer with a potential for a great future, being mortally wounded himself—going down with 11 distinct wounds.
Frederick had his suspicions, meanwhile, but so dark was the dawn and so thick the fog that even Keith, who was present on that side, was not aware of the intensity of the fight. For fully an hour, while the action escalated into a full-fledged battle, Keith and all concerned there hastened to find out what was really going on. Most of the army was by then aware that an unusually severe struggle was raging on the southern end of the camp, but just how involved was the struggle was not known. By 0600 hours, the Prussians had been forced to give up Hochkirch, but strong reinforcements from the as yet unengaged center and left were reaching the sight. These revitalized the surprised and fought out defenders, and made possible tough counterattacks which forced Daun to fall back at some points momentarily.
Retzow’s 6th Infantry lost 335 men in one of these counterattacks west of Hochkirch, with its participating neighbors, the 20th of Bornstedt and Wedell’s 26th, lost 500 men, respectively. Von Geist was mortally wounded in a counterattack trying to retake the big battery. Meyernick’s 26th Infantry was attacked by Austrian cavalry, and then launched an attack northwest of Hochkirch. The regiment had suffered severely; only 150 men survived to cut their way through the surging Austrian mass. The cavalry had its share as well. Baron Schönaich’s 6th Cuirassiers, in a devastating counterattack, hacked up the Austrian 44th Infantry, taking 500 prisoners and a standard.
Ziethen ordered Major-General Krockow to lead these horsemen into an attack against the milling Austrian mass to the south of Hochkirch. Krockow’s 2nd Dragoons stayed put north of Rodewitz. Krockow told the troopers around him that “we must show what kind of people we are.” The Schönaich unit did, as we have observed. The valiant Krockow was mortally wounded in the attack. The foe was just as hard-pressed. The Austrian 44th Infantry (Clerici) was badly used, although it did receive honor as the first Austrian regiment to overrun the battery at Hochkirch. Then Ziethen’s hussars, losing Major Seelen to a battle injury—he had to be taken from the field—were struck by a decisive cavalry charge led by Lacy. The latter, leading three companies of mounted grenadiers, pushed hard against the Prussian flank. Laudon joined in an attack against Ziethen’s faltering command, pressing his Croats from the left against a Prussian line that was beginning to fragment, opening gaps between individual formations that rendered the entire line vulnerable.
Major-General Bredow’s 9th Cuirassiers blunted the advance of O’Donnell’s surging cavalry, forcing it to fall back from the edge of Hochkirch. Pennavaire’s 11th Cuirassiers rolled over O’Donnell’s left, taking three standards. Colonel Wackenitz’s 13th Cuirassiers beat back an Austrian attempt to surround Hochkirch.
The constantly growing Austrian foe would not be denied momentum for long, and they compelled the bluecoats in their turn to retreat. In the far right, Laudon tried again and again to make his way into the Prussian rear, but Ziethen would have none of it. The action between these forces was ferocious. Elsewhere, Keith, getting the sense of what was going on at last, came hurrying forward, toward the battery under Hochkirch. By then, it was Daun’s, though not for long. Keith brought with him whatever bodies of troops could be hastily gathered. Upon awakening, Keith was already apprised of the desperate situation of the battery. He pushed the Kannacker regiment to the front and rode with it, bringing every man he could find.
He knew, whatever else, that battery would have to be retaken, and held if there was to be any hope of gaining the victory. His last words of encouragement for the king read like a story out of a novel. He had a report issued that he would hold out to the last man, and, on a more personal note, “I doubt whether we … [will meet] again.” Keith’s men shoved the enemy out of the battery, but was immediately attacked by a powerful mass of Daun’s surging troops and had to draw back a little, his men paused at that point and waited for aid from other quarters.
Keith had ordered Itzenplitz’ 6th Infantry (about 0600 hours) to retake Hochkirch, behind which he urged up General Kannacker’s 30th Infantry to its support. It would lose half of its men at Hochkirch. At length, the punishing fire from the Austrian guns forced Itzenplitz to fall back upon the supporters, while the Preussen regiment penetrated the village and even reached the churchyard, where Langen was still fighting it out at that moment. After a long wait, and not receiving any direct assistance, Keith had to draw off and leave the battery in the hands of the enemy—for good this time. The Prussian advance, though valiant, was futile. It constituted a patchwork attack rather than an orderly stroke. Keith’s hastily contrived force could hardly hope to sustain itself against an Austrian line that bathed it with concentrated, crashing volleys.
He shoved the Austrians who opposed his retreat out of the way with the bayonet, having been wounded himself twice in the right chest and surrounded by a great number of his dead and wounded men. His groom, John Tebaye, witnessed Keith receive a mortal wound. Keith fell dead right into Tebaye’s arms, who was quickly carried among the retreating mass of Prussians towards the rear. When he did manage to return later to collect Keith’s body for decent funeral, he found all of Hochkirch (even the churchyard, where Langen’s valiant resistance was done) humming with the enemy. He could not reach the site, but the Austrians themselves discovered and buried Keith with honor, General Lacy being prominent in these proceedings. “[Keith] was buried with all the honors of war.”
Meanwhile, Frederick, hearing news that Keith had been repulsed by an enemy who were advancing with unconquerable force, for the first time finally realized just how serious the situation was. He had already dispatched troops to the right to help Keith and his struggling men When word arrived that Keith had been killed, the king ordered Prince Franz of Brunswick and Moritz to take their men and move at once to support the right wing forces engaging the enemy near Hochkirch. Charles of Brandenburg-Schwedt then sped off as well, and the king himself leaped to horse and galloped off to see to the matter himself. The attention of both armies was turning that way. The Prussian infantry packed into Hochkirch’s streets were being frittered away in useless close range fighting and needed a change of direction. Frederick, being the general that he was, realized this as soon as he reached the scene.
The reinforcements from the Prussian center had just approached Hochkirch when the 26-year-old Franz, at the outskirts, had his head sheared off by a cannon shot. His men, jumped as they swept forward, were brought to a grinding halt by concentrated Austrian fire, then, hit by strong enemy formations, they were soon stalling out with heavy casualties. Now a heavy fire fight was opened between the three regiments of Prussians that the king brought forward and the Austrian defenders. In spite of his efforts to press home the attack, Frederick simply could not get the advance going again. The Austrians, forming a front line facing west against the king, more than held their own.
Prince Moritz rode almost directly into the Austrian lines, mistaking the enemy for friendly troops, due to the darkness and his myopic vision. His troops had just been repulsed badly in their attack and were falling back. Moritz, realizing his error, turned and rode off after them, but not before he received a painful wound for his trouble. He was riding a little while after on the road to Bautzen, and was picked up by enemy irregulars before he could receive medical attention.
On the field, Frederick’s hastily assembled units (mostly Wedell’s 26th Infantry), escorted by the king himself, came riding along into the thick of the fighting, with his men at double pace behind. As he steadied the faltering 26th, his horse was shot from under him, seriously enough so that he would have to mount a new charger, after which, he rode on, leaving Hochkirch to the left, but found on reaching the gap the fog clearing off, the enemy massed in huge force in front of the tributary. Laudon finally dislodged Ziethen with heavy pressure, and the Austrians now anchored solidly on Steindörfel, the Bautzen road and Waditz. An Austrian cannon shot exploded close to the king here; he and his entourage were showered with rock and dirt.
Keith’s counterattack came about 0630 hours, but the arrival of Austrian reinforcements (led by Lacy) stemmed the Prussian advance and the battery was left in Austrian hands. That battery was plastering away now at its former owners. There was no option left on this side. Frederick knew he must retire.
The Prussian right had been thoroughly driven in, Ziethen had fallen back and Laudon was now in his place. Everywhere, the king’s troops were facing superior enemy forces. Frederick turned and rode back towards the Prussian center, ordering his men to reform into a closer, more compact body to answer the Austrian blows. The 5th Infantry of Saldern, joining with fragments of additional nearby regiments, formed a patchwork rearguard. This body formed a semi-circle between the Rodewitz road and the Czernabog. Saldern was still being pelted by Austrian cannon. The capable Saldern inspired confidence with his bearing at a moment when others seemed about to lose their’s. Archenholtz says Saldern’s valiant efforts prevented the enemy from taking full advantage of the situation.
This battle position was formed between 0700–0800 hours, so in only a few hours of fighting the Prussian right had been defeated. Major Möllendorf was ordered to the Dresha Height, to occupy it before Arenberg had the opportunity to do so. The king was quick to realize that the dominating rise, above the village, stream and pass, was essential and had to be held against the foe if the position were to be maintained. Möllendorf moved as hastily as he could to the task he had been ordered, and did indeed grab the Dresha Pass before the enemy. Meanwhile, Ziethen, by now having reorganized his troopers, moved his squadrons to the mounds of ground above Kumschütz, Canitz and vicinity, with his front facing Bautzen and Jenkowitz (towards which was the only line of retreat), Kumschütz being at the other end of the rises.
Frederick sent orders to Retzow, still near Weissenberg and not yet committed to serious engagement, to march hastily to join the main body. Retzow had not been entirely ignored, for Baden-Durlach, advancing lethargically from Reichenbach, drew out against him in long lines and actually made a weak attack at about 0730 hours. This was the weakest effort of the whole battle, but even so it did seriously delay the needed reinforcements that Retzow could provide until it was finally dealt with. Even before the attack on the Prussian left, the assault against the right finally ended. None too soon!
Laudon remained dormant after mauling Ziethen—it could have been that he had orders from Daun not to proceed further. The main force of the Austrians, perceiving the crucial position at Dresha occupied by the foe, pushed out to take the key to the battle there on that side.
This assault was supposed to have been launched with cavalry, but seeing the post there well secure, the horsemen withdrew without a blow. Daylight was increasing and the whole field-of-battle becoming visible for the first time. For the rest of the battle, Daun assumed a characteristic static pose on the rises near and at the battery with Laudon opposite; both of these commanders spent the time reshuffling their forces, which had become confused in the sudden attacks. The battle there was winding down, just as the fight for the Prussian center was developing. Arenberg launched his troops in a general attack against the thoroughly awake troops of the Prussian center. His stroke was made in broad daylight, with the bluecoats waiting on him. The Austrian subordinate had been instructed to remain stationary and wait until the action near Hochkirch was over, and only then go forward.
He carried out his orders, but the result was that his attack line quickly bogged down and could go nowhere. With little success to show for heavy losses, Arenberg wisely halted his attack to await the progress of the battle elsewhere. Nearer to the main force, Lacy, Wiese and their men made attacks against the Prussian center from the road/stream in front of Laskau (here the terrain sloped downward as soon as one passed the creek).
Nowhere, though, could the Austrians make any further significant gains, and their losses were negating what progress they were making. It was 0800, and the Battle of Hochkirch was entering its third hour. Frederick’s army was holding post, in spite of heavy losses and spreading confusion. The Prussian king was preparing to retreat through the Dresha Pass, and Doberschütz, for he knew that the battle was lost. But first the enemy’s clutching advance would have to be blunted. The Prussians were now too weak numerically to sally out against the superior Austrian force and so were forced to receive the foe in the manner they chose. In short, Frederick could not, without endangering the safety of his entire army, take advantage of any mistakes the enemy might make. This factor, in combination with the larger numbers of the Austrians, were the major advantages for the Austrians on this day.
The Austrian attacks were concentrated mostly in front—against the final major battery in Prussian hands, at Rodewitz—now the key to the Prussian center. Arenberg, seeing the powerful enemy battery taken now, was preparing to renew his attack when Retzow’s advance (led by General Duke Eugene of Württemberg), four battalions and 15 full squadrons, at last made its presence felt. Retzow had finally escaped from Baden-Durlach’s pinning attack. Eugene headed at once across the brook near Weissenberg and on to the vicinity of Dresha, crossing the stream and shortly reaching Belgern (here he detached a small party to hold that end of the battery) then swung to face the enemy there. His maneuver was crucial.
The little battery formed a salient between the stream and the forces at Kotitz, near where Arenberg was positioned. The latter took the newcomers under fire, and prepared for a fight, but repented as soon as Retzow himself appeared with the main body of his troops. By the time the latter appeared, the sun was up and shining brightly, making long shadows across the battlefield. The time was about 1000 hours. Upon the arrival of his still relatively fresh left wing, Frederick, knowing that there was no sense in subjecting his beaten army to further torture, ordered an immediate withdrawal through the Dresha Pass on Doberschütz. The last Austrian strokes were weaker, indicating that Daun’s men were tiring as well. The armies had been at it for more than five hours by then, so this was certainly understandable. The Prussians disengaged, Arenberg drew back, and the rest was anticlimactic. The firing gradually ceased, and the Battle of Hochkirch was effectively over. It was just past 1015 hours.
Frederick ordered the retreat to Klein-Kammin (some 4 1⁄2 miles northwest of the field). The army made an orderly withdrawal to a position there, preferring that to a general retreat in the full sense of the word. Möllendorf and Retzow played the parts of watchdogs to guard the retreat of the rest of the army. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow for the old veterans, many of whom had never known defeat—apart from Kolin, where the army was by no means decisively beaten. Lt.-Col. Saldern had been instrumental in his efforts allowing time for the extrication. As for Retzow, his efforts at the close of the battle allowed him to be “again taken into the royal favor.” Saldern’s experience really paid off at a critical juncture. He had a mere five battalions and he skillfully maneuvered his troopers by anticipating the shelling of the Austrian guns. “By means of this expedient, Saldern accomplished his withdrawal by zig-zag movements.” Saldern knew it would take a few minutes to resight the guns.
The king himself was in a state of virtual shock. Mentally, he was haunted by the knowledge that he was largely responsible for the disaster. The regiment of Wedell, panicked by the view of Prinz Franz’s decapitation, had been personally rallied by his Majesty. Now the subaltern Bareswich approached Frederick, in company with 30 soldiers from the 26th Infantry. He presented three enemy colors to the great leader, whose sash was turned by the blood from his beloved mount. His coat tattered, the Order of the Black Eagle ripped away, and general exhausted statements to General Retzow’s son, an aide-de-camp, that he “regret the number of brave men who have died … [at Hochkirch]” leave a very human impression of a troubled man. Also, unlike the defeat at Kolin, which was more like a battle started that turned sour due to unanticipated problems, that of Hochkirch was out of control from the beginning.
Daun’s army, looking around from its positions on the hills more than 5 1⁄2 miles long, inexplicably chose not to interfere with this movement, but was a mere passive spectator to the march. Daun spent the time reforming and reorganizing his men, allowing a golden opportunity to do something really significant against the enemy. His passivity negated the victory. He allowed Frederick to sneak away, just when he had him. As the king freely admitted in his History of the war, “Daun … did not appear to have gained success.” None of this prevented the marshal from informing Vienna of his “great victory.” Daun, about 1100 hours, sent one of his adjutants, Major von Rothschütz, speeding towards the Austrian capital with the news. Indeed, a pursuit right there would either have thrown the Prussian army into a disorganized retreat or else forced it to fight under circumstances so unfavorable that the issue would be hardly in doubt. Lest we forget, another defeat must have uncovered both Silesia and Saxony to reconquest.
It was not to be. Between Kreckwitz on one side and toward Belgern and the stream on the other, Ziethen and some cavalry were shielding the line-of-retreat, the movement being brought off without a hitch. The bluecoats reached their destination easily, and particularly worthy of note was that Seydlitz, although not having had a distinguished day at the battle, at the head of his horse—108 squadrons—covered the movement on Doberschütz.
Daun stayed in camp with his army only a little longer. Shortly the force, which had fought so fiercely for the battlefield, gave it up and retired back on the lines at Kittlitz and Reichenbach. Readers will note this is the opposite of what Daun should have done. He left only a detachment to hold the tortured field.
Thus closed the narrative of the Battle of Hochkirch. It was to be the last victory of Daun over the Prussians led by their king in battle, although he would win a decisive action against General Finck at Maxen a year after. This encounter was a hard-fought battle, but Hochkirch had none of Zorndorf in it. The losses the two armies suffered were the following: Frederick lost approximately 5,381 men/119 officers (5,490 of all ranks) killed or captured; 4,060 wounded/missing; total, 9,450 men, or over ¼ of his manpower. This loss was certainly terrible, as any loss involving human life always is, but nowhere near what could have been expected under the circumstances. In material, Prussian losses were 101 guns (nearly all lost in the two batteries at Hochkirch and Rodewitz), as well as most of their tents and camp equipage.
One of the biggest, most immediate consequence to the king was the loss of Field Marshal Keith. Keith was another of the ilk of men who were like General Winterfeldt, the king’s confidant up until his death in 1757. The body of Marshal Keith was at first gathered up unrecognized among the dead of the Battle of Hochkirch, although Daun and Lacy both recognized the corpse later. Marshal Daun expressed great sorrow over the demise of Keith. The Austrian high command had him buried with full military honors. The Prussian king, on his side, grieved as much as he dared under the desperate circumstances. In 1759, at the order of Frederick, Keith’s remains were belatedly exhumed and brought back to Prussia. He was buried, again with great sorrow, in the Potsdam Garrison churchyard. The fortunes of war had been grim for both sides. The whitecoats suffered a grievous loss on their side as well. The eldest son of Marshal Browne, Colonel Joseph Browne, was killed in this Hochkirch battle. This episode helps cast light upon the large number of Irish officers who frequently served in the armies of Maria Theresa, often in high command situations. What a contrast with the Prussian service! Most of the higher-ranking bluecoat officers, with the exception of men like Keith, were German-born.
Daun’s losses were surprisingly greater. He had about 90,000 men present, and had 5,939 killed/wounded (325 officers and 5,614 rank-and-file), with about a thousand prisoners, and, most shockingly, over 2,500 deserters who left the ranks during the march through the thick woods, making for an aggregate total of 9,500 men, or ⅛ of his force. No doubt a great many of the latter made their way to the Prussian camps, where their stories of large troop movements in the woods had met a mixed reaction before the battle even broke forth.