The death of the Chevalier de Belle-Isle, Battle of Assietta.
In October 1740, Emperor Charles VI died. In his youth he had held title as the Archduke Charles, claimant to the Spanish crown and for whom the Habsburgs waged the War for the Spanish Succession. He left a single heir, his daughter the Archduchess Maria Theresa.
The Holy Roman Empire was an elective monarchy. Charles VI, however, negotiated with the ruling houses of Europe and the magnates of his monarchy to accept Maria Theresa as his legitimate and rightful heir and the next empress. Having secured domestic recognition of his daughter’s right to succeed him, he also acquired international recognition embodied in the document, the Pragmatic Sanction. It did not work. As soon as he died, the Bavarian and Saxon electors competed for the crown; and King Frederick II of Prussia, newly ascended to the throne, rejected Maria Theresa’s legitimacy and invaded Silesia, wealthiest of the Habsburg territories. France did not enter the war, but a French auxiliary corps was dispatched to central Germany in accordance with the Treaty of Westphalia, “to defend German liberties.”
The Spanish royal family decided the war offered an opportunity to reclaim Milan. Prince Philip of Bourbon, the youngest son of Philip V and Elizabeth Farnese, needed a crown; and Milan, along with Parma, suited him. A Spanish army landed in Tuscany-a neutral-and marched north to the Padana Plain. Then, Philip V asked his son Charles VII of Naples to return the army he lent him in 1733 to the Neapolitan and Sicilian thrones. Neapolitan troops marched north to join the Spanish army.
France too required allies. They requested Piedmontese permission to cross the Alps and march on Milan, but Charles Emmanuel III did not want to involve his state in this conflict. He realized that, in case of a French and Spanish victory, Piedmont would be caught between the Bourbons. It meant the end of any autonomous policy and of any possible dream of expanding his power in Italy. Moreover, he threatened the approaching Spanish army that if it entered the Padana Plain, his army would its his route to Milan.
At the same time, Britain perceived the precarious situation as a threat to the Balance of Power. Piedmont and Austria were alone against much of Europe, save Russia. London therefore committed its resources to the Habsburg cause. Charles Emmanuel received a £250,000 annual subsidy to keep his army on a war footing. Then, a British squadron entered the Mediterranean under Admiral Matthews, ordered to act in support of Charles Emmanuel. The British ships entered Naples harbor with some five thousand marines. Charles VII knew it. He had no fleet and very few men to defend the city because his army had marched north. So, when Matthews presented an ultimatum: recall all his regiments with the Spanish army, or the city would be shelled and the marines landed, Charles VII had little recourse but to accept the terms.
The defection of Naples eased Charles Emmanuel’s army action against the Spanish in the Padana Plain. Not wanting to face isolation, the Spanish withdrew through the Papal States along the Adriatic coast. Soon after, Charles Emmanuel countermarched rapidly to meet a second Spanish army entering Savoy via France. He won the campaign, but it was clear that the war was becoming harder to manage.
In 1743 the Spanish threatened Piedmont with two armies. Charles Emmanuel possessed no more than 42,000 men and could use only half against each Spanish army. Nonetheless, he crushed Prince Philip’s army, marching from France, at Casteldelfino. Simultaneously, the Piedmontese with their Habsburg allies fought and defeated the second army under de Gages at Camposanto, on the other side of Italy and pressed it to the Neapolitan-Papal States border on the Adriatic coast, where it sought refuge from the Neapolitan king.
In the autumn of 1743, Britain joined Piedmont and Austria in a formal league. The treaty signed in Wörms widened the scope of the conflict from Europe to Asia, Africa, and America, where it was known as King George’s War.
The 1744 campaign was hard fought. Unfortunately, Maria Theresa wanted Naples because, according to the Peace of Utrecht, it should have remained in Habsburg hands, yet the War of Polish Succession had reversed that agreement.
Charles Emmanuel warned the Austrian ruler that this would only increase the strategic dilemma. Why expand the conflict when victory was not in sight? Regardless of the free advice, she ordered her army to destroy de Gages’s Spanish army still waiting on the Neapolitan frontier. Charles VII of Naples, aware of the Austrian menace, declared war and once again united his troops with his father’s army.
An Austrian army marched south, passing through the Papal States from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian coast. Charles VII gathered the Spanish and Neapolitan army and encamped near Velletri, south of Rome. The Austrians attacked in August and were repulsed with great loss.
The defeat forced the Habsburgs to abandon central Italy in November. The Neapolitan-Spanish army followed on their heels, arriving in northern Italy. What a present for Charles Emmanuel, who had his own troubles.
In fact, France officially entered the war in that same year. A French army united with Prince Philip’s army passed the Alps, defeated the local Piedmontese resistance, and besieged Cuneo. Charles Emmanuel tried to relieve the city, but failed. He then directed the militia against the enemy’s ordnance and supply lines and, thanks to these guerrilla tactics and to Cuneo’s resistance, the Bourbon armies raised the siege and withdrew to France to take winter quarters.
In the early days of 1745, Genoa entered the conflict. The Most Serene Republic sought neutrality, just as Venice had done for the third time in forty-five years. Unfortunately, while Venice could defend its neutrality with 40,000 men, Genoa could not; and, moreover, Britain and Austria promised to give Charles Emmanuel the Marquisate of Finale, a little imperial fief in Liguria owned by the republic as a feudatory of the empire. Charles Emmanuel desired it as a port, an additional window to the Mediterranean.
In order to protect its territory, Genoa signed a treaty in Aranjuez and joined the Bourbon alliance. It was a disaster for Charles Emmanuel. The Genoese accession to the League provided the Spanish-French army with an opened route from France through Genoese territory, and now they could mass the army from France with the army from Naples via Velletri, adding to it 10,000 Genoese troops. This was the real disaster as it increased the powerful Bourbon army to 90,000 men.
As the war in Flanders continued, Charles Emmanuel received no support from Austria.
He had a mere 43,000 men. Maneuvering them well to avoid battle, he lost many fortresses but preserved his army. Despite this, he was compelled to accept an armistice in December 1745. Fortunately, Prussia accepted peace terms offered by Austria, allowing Vienna to send 12,000 men to Italy. It was not an impressive army, but enough to permit Charles Emmanuel to take the field upon the expiration of the armistice. In the spring 1746 he attacked and the Bourbons were defeated. Milan was reconquered, Piedmont liberated, and Genoa overrun by the Austrians. The Piedmontese army occupied western Liguria and the French and Spanish fled, abandoning the republic.
While Charles Emmanuel prepared an invasion of southern France, he sent a regiment to support the Corsican revolution against Genoese rule.
Genoa found itself under occupation and threatened with destruction if it did not pay 3 million scudi to Austria. Subsequently the city revolted, and the Austrian garrison was ejected. Charles Emmanuel halted his operations against France and marched to support Austrian operations against the city. The Genoese fleet, supported by coastal defenses, prevented the British fleet from shelling Genoa, but the Austrian and Piedmontese armies cut the city off from the outside world by land, while the French supplied its ally with men and material by sea.
In the spring of 1747, a new French army marched along the Mediterranean coast. Charles Emmanuel ordered his troops to hold Nice, but soon he knew that another French expeditionary force was approaching the Alps from the west. If they crossed the Alps, they could effectively threaten Turin.
Charles Emmanuel had no troops to stem the invasion. He scraped together what troops he could find. On July 19, 1747, at Assietta Hill, 30,000 French with artillery attacked 5,400 Piedmontese and 2,000 Austrians. At sunset, the French had lost 5,800 men and left more than 600 wounded to the victorious defenders. General Count Bricherasio lost only 192 Piedmontese and 27 Austrians; it was clearly a triumph.
Assietta Hill was the last battle of the war on the Italian front. A peace was signed on October 30, 1748, at Aix-la-Chapelle. Everything remained as it was before the war, except that Prince Philip of Spain obtained the duchy of Parma and Charles Emmanuel received from Maria Theresa two West Lombardy provinces, Vigevano, and Anghiera County, and a part of the territory of Pavia, setting the Milanese-Piedmontese border along the Ticino River.
A major battle between French and Austro-Russian armies near the town of Novi in the Italian Piedmont. As the Allies liberated Lombardy and Piedmont, the French Directory made a new effort to turn the tide of the war by appointing a new commander in chief, the young and energetic General Barthélemy Joubert, to the Armée d’Italie. The French advanced in early August from Genoa, and by 15 August they approached the Allied position at Novi. Joubert was surprised to find that he faced superior Allied forces, as Field Marshal Alexander Suvorov massed more than 50,000 men on the battlefield against 35,000 French and enjoyed a great superiority in cavalry. The French command spent the night vacillating, and, as a result, the French troops had no clear orders for the coming battle. On the Allied side, Suvorov was impatient to attack. At 8:00 P. M. on 14 August, he ordered Austrian Feldzeugmeister Paul Kray Freiherr von Krajova to begin movement during the night so that the troops could attack at dawn.
The Austrians (27,000 men) launched an assault on the French left flank at 5:00 A. M. Hearing the exchange of small arms fire, Joubert rode to observe the action and was instantly killed by a musket ball. His death was kept secret from the army, and General Jean Moreau assumed command in his place. An experienced commander, Moreau realized the dangers and kept his troops on the defensive. Meanwhile, as Kray continued his attack on the French left, generals Peter Bagration and Mikhail Miloradovich attacked the French positions in the center. For the next several hours, the Russians launched desperate charges on the town of Novi, where the French had established strong positions and expertly arranged their batteries on three levels. After seven hours of fighting, the Allies failed to break through the French positions but, around 3:00 P. M., Suvorov launched a flanking attack with General der Kavallerie Michael Freiherr von Melas’s troops, while Bagration attacked Novi and Kray assaulted the left flank.
Despite their stubborn defense, the French right flank was swept away, allowing Bagration to capture Novi and pierce the central positions of the French. The Allies now threatened to encircle the French left wing, which hurriedly withdrew toward Pasturano. The retreating French packed the narrow streets of the village, while Allied troops opened fire on them from the nearby heights. Moreau’s men fled in confusion, leaving their artillery and supplies. Generals Emmanuel, marquis de Grouchy and Catherine Dominique Pérignon tried to organize some sort of resistance, but both were wounded and captured. Feldmarschalleutnant Michael Freiherr von Colli was surrounded and forced to surrender with 2,000 men and 21 guns. Only General Laurent Gouvion St. Cyr’s troops retreated in good order and covered the rest of the army. The exhausted Allied troops did not pursue the French and bivouacked on the battlefield.
The next morning, Suvorov intended to resume the pursuit, but his troops were still exhausted and could not move. Moreau exploited the Allied inactivity and successfully extricated the remaining troops to the Riviera. The Battle at Novi was a decisive Allied victory. The French army was shattered, having lost almost 6,500 killed and wounded, 4,600 captured, including 4 generals, 84 officers, 4 flags, and most of the artillery. The Russians lost 1,900 killed and wounded, while Austrian casualties amounted to 5,800 men.
References and further reading Clausewitz, Karl von. 1833. Die Feldzuge von 1799 in Italien und der Schweiz. Berlin: N. p. Duffy, Christopher. 1999. Eagles over the Alps: Suvorov in Italy and Switzerland, 1799. Chicago: Emperor’s. Gachot, Edouard. 1903. Les campagnes de 1799: Souvarow en Italie. Paris: Perrin. Longworth, Philip. 1965. The Art of Victory: The Life and Achievements of Generalissimo Suvorov, 1729-1800. London: Constable. Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky, Alexander, and Dmitri Miliutin. 1852-1853. Istoriia voini Rossii s Frantsiei v 1799 godu. St. Petersburg: Tip. Shtaba voenno-uchebnykh zavedenii. Orlov, Nikolay. 1895. Suvorov na Trebbii v 1799 g. [Suvorov on Trebbia in 1799]. St. Petersburg: N. p.—,ed. 1898. Pokhod Suvorova v 1799 g.: Po zapiskam Gryazeva [Suvorov’s Campaign of 1799: Gryazev’s Notes]. St. Petersburg: N. p.
Chief of the general staff of the Austrian armies against Napoleon and commanding general of Austrian forces during the revolution of 1848 in Italy. In his youth, Radetzky proved his bravery as a soldier; he was wounded numerous times, and he was noted for his intelligence and initiative. As a commander, he demonstrated concern for his soldiers and proposed innovations such as officer training schools, peacetime army maneuvers, and the use of militia (Landwehr). He hated bureaucracy and battled the rigid regulations and stagnation of the Habsburg imperial court. His strategic sense, however, led to the victories in 1813 and 1848-1849 that saved the faltering Habsburg Empire.
Radetzky was born on 2 November 1766 at Trebnice, south of Prague, on the holdings of his father, Peter Graf Euseb. He enlisted in a cuirassier regiment in 1784 and saw his first action in the war against Turkey in 1788-1789. During the French Revolutionary Wars, he led a cavalry charge at Fleurus (26 June 1794) and was promoted to captain. In 1796, he was a member of Jean de Beaulieu’s staff facing Bonaparte’s French army in northern Italy. During the War of the Second Coalition, he attained the rank of colonel and served at the Trebbia, Novi, Marengo, and Hohenlinden. In 1805, he was a Generalmajor under Archduke Charles in Italy. After assisting the archduke in reform efforts for the Austrian Army, in 1809 he commanded Feldmarschalleutnant Johann von Hiller’s rear guard. For service at and after the Battle of Wagram (5-6 July 1809), he was promoted to Feldmarschalleutnant. As chief of the general staff, he tried again to reorganize and modernize the Austrian Army, but he faced an impossible task in the face of conservative opposition in Vienna.
Before Austria joined the Sixth Coalition in 1813, the forty-six-year-old Radetzky helped to assemble and organize an army of over 200,000 men under Feldmarschall Karl Fürst zu Schwarzenberg. He authored the Trachenberg Plan (12 July 1813), which guided Allied strategy during the autumn campaign in Germany. While Allied commanders were instructed to avoid battles in which Napoleon himself commanded, they were to seize the offensive against the French emperor’s line of communications and any detached corps. This method led to Napoleon’s expulsion from Germany after the Battle of Leipzig (16-19 October).
Radetzky urged Emperor Francis I to have Schwarzenberg’s army lead the invasion of France in 1814, but Austria’s chancellor, Klemens Fürst Metternich, for political reasons, did not endorse this strategy. Radetzky was not allowed to contribute further to the overall Austrian planning. Thus, Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher’s Prussians led the Allied advance toward Paris, prompting Napoleon’s abdication in April, while Schwarzenberg’s army crept securely along the Aube and Seine rivers.
After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and his second abdication in 1815, Radetzky held minor posts in the Austrian Empire while the Habsburg army was allowed to deteriorate. However, as a result of nationalistic revolts in Italy in 1830, he was sent to quell the unrest as commanding general of Lombardy-Venetia.
He was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army of Upper Italy in 1831, and promoted to Field Marshal in 1836, when he was 70. Tough and vigorous despite his age, Radetzky introduced the modern concept of peacetime maneuvers so his army would always be combat-ready; his soldiers were reputedly the best-trained in Europe. His preparedness paid off in 1848 when revolution broke out throughout Italy. Radetzky crushed the uprisings with two major battles, at Custoza (1848) and Novara (1849), in both cases using brilliant tactics to defeat greatly superior numbers. He also commanded during the year-long siege of Venice and negotiated the city’s surrender in August 1849. To safeguard these victories he was appointed Governor-General of Upper Italy that same year. Radetzky’s skills as a fighter and administrator reasserted Austrian dominance of the region and set back the cause of Italian reunification by ten years. Emperor Franz Joseph finally forced him to retire at age 90 in 1857. He died in Milan a few months later and was buried at Austria’s warrior pantheon in Heldenberg. The Italians, aided by the French, made quick capital of Radetzky’s departure: in 1859 they defeated his former army and reclaimed most of the Austrian-held territories. A united Kingdom of Italy was finally established under Victor Emmanuel II in 1861. Beyond his role in military history, Radetzky is remembered for a piece of light music. To celebrate the Battle of Custoza, Johann Strauss, Sr. composed the famous “Radetzky March” (1848) in his honor. At its first performance in Vienna army officers spontaneously began to clap and stamp their feet to the chorus, and audiences since then have made this part of the work’s tradition. The “Radetzky March” is played as the customary finale to the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s concerts.
References and further reading Rothenberg, Gunther E. 1982. Napoleon’s Great Adversary: Archduke Charles and the Austrian Army, 1792-1814. London: Batsford. Sked, Alan. 1979. The Survival of the Habsburg Empire: Radetsky, the Imperial Army, and the Class War of 1848. New York: Longman.
Austria’s decision for war against Serbia was not a product of fatalism, fecklessness, or incompetence. Whether to preempt any possibility of a solution to the south Slavic question within Habsburg borders, or from murkier motives with domestic roots, Serbia, by not repudiating the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, had offered the Dual Monarchy a mortal challenge. Serbia had also overplayed its military hand. The state was still assimilating the territories acquired in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, while the army was recovering from the costs and losses of those conflicts. The Austrians even had the advantage of tactical surprise, putting elements of two armies across the Sava and the Danube Rivers on August 12 and compelling the evacuation of Belgrade without a fight.
At the outbreak of hostilities Serbia’s chief of staff, Radomir Putnik, was taking the waters at an Austrian spa, and had taken with him the keys to the safe containing Serbia’s war plans. Briefly interned, he was released – policy in 1914 was still implemented by gentlemen – and returned to find his subordinates had blown open the safe and begun mobilization without him. All the advantages, moral and military, seemed to lie with Austria. But Putnik was a shrewd planner and a ruthless fighting man. Willing to sacrifice territory for the sake of position, he drew the invaders deep into a Serbia whose broken terrain and undeveloped road network played havoc with Habsburg logistics and coordination. The Serbs held, then counterattacked, driving the Austrians back to the frontier and reoccupying Belgrade in a week of fighting as heavy as anything experienced in the Balkan Wars.
Conrad’s decision to allow the use of his reserve in Serbia only until August 20, when it began disengaging for transportation to Russia, compounded the initial tactical misjudgments of Austrian theater commander Oskar Potiorek. Those in turn were balanced by Putnik’s decision to invade Bosnia in the hopes of inspiring revolt among the province’s Slavic elements. The revolt failed to materialize, and Potiorek slowly forced the now overextended Serbs back into their central mountains. On both sides disease and privation took a heavy toll of regiments already reduced by casualties as the onset of winter added to the difficulties of supply, maneuver, and combat. Belgrade fell to the Austrians on December 2. The next day Putnik, his army partly re-supplied by France and Britain, counterattacked an enemy trapped by its own advances on the wrong side of the flooded Kolubra River. It took almost two weeks for the Austrians to fight their way out and the Serbs to reoccupy their capital.
Both armies, exhausted, established winter quarters in a countryside so devastated that its recovery arguably required the rest of the twentieth century. On both sides ethnic, cultural, and religious differences were stoked into mutual hatred by the horrors of high-tech battlefields and the privations of devastated rear areas. Combat zones were constantly shifting: civilians could neither run nor hide, nor establish stable relationships with military occupiers. Material damage – burned houses, slaughtered farm animals, devastated fields – was only the tip of the resulting iceberg. A growing climate of “no quarter” on the battlefields spread to an indiscriminate use of firing squads behind the lines. Local infrastructures collapsed as labor forces disappeared and family systems disintegrated. Random violence and brutality became ways of life in an environment of everyone for themselves that had no pity on the weak and the helpless. By 1918, such conditions would encompass most of the Balkans.
Conrad’s initial commitment of his reserve against Serbia had no effect on his decision to order a general advance into Russian Poland. The war plan of March 1914, which formed the basis of Habsburg operational planning five months later, provided for an immediate attack northwards from Galicia, aimed at overrunning and destroying a substantial part of the Russian forces in that area before they could complete their concentration. Without a simultaneous German attack across the Narew River toward Warsaw, however, Conrad’s initiative invited dismissal as a voyage to nowhere in particular. Habsburg apologists have made much of Germany’s alleged failure to mount that attack, even though its general staff had urged an Austrian offensive as recently as May. In fact the initial balance of forces in the Austro-Russian sector made offensive operations imperative by the standards of 1914, no matter what the Germans did. To sacrifice the initiative, to allow Russia to complete its concentration and choose its lines of advance was, according to conventional wisdom, to create a risk approaching certainty of being overrun in the field, trapped in the fortresses of Lemberg and Przemysl, or hammered back against the Carpathian Mountains.
Austria enjoyed an initial marginal superiority in men, and only a slight inferiority in guns. To the officer corps, decisive action seemed the best way to confirm allegiance in a multiethnic, polyglot empire. Colonel Alexander Brosch, commanding a regiment of the elite Tiroler Kaiserjaeger, hyperbolically praised the “iron calm, energy, and consequence” with which Austria had gone to war. “Bismarck and Moltke together” could not have managed the affair better: “all at once one could be really proud of his fatherland and its leaders.” “Indolence, carelessness, and cowardice” had been banished; Austria had replaced America as “the land of limitless possibilities.”
On August 16 four Habsburg armies, almost 800,000 strong, began moving forward – including Colonel Brosch, whose own appointment in Samarra awaited him on September 7. To meet them the Russian high command initially deployed two armies north of Galicia and two more on the southeastern Russo-Austrian frontier, a total of around 700,000 men. As Habsburg forces advanced deeper into Galicia, the Russians sought to counter by driving forward, enveloping their flanks, and threatening or severing their lines of retreat. With cavalry and air reconnaissance providing little useful information to either side, the result was a series of brutal encounter battles. On the Austrian left, the First Army drove the Russians in front of it 20 miles back toward Lublin. The neighboring Fourth Army hammered the Russian Fifth Army at the battle of Komarow.
Determined to exploit these victories, Conrad pressed forward, ignoring his right, where the Third Army was caught in the open and crushed by 20 divisions of the Russian Third and Eighth Armies. The Second Army, Conrad’s strategic reserve, was still detraining far from the front lines. Nevertheless Conrad responded by taking the fight to the Russians. Like Adolf Hitler in 1941, he believed any retreat would turn into a rout. Better to go for the throat and hope for the best. As the armies grappled with each other the front was characterized everywhere by mutually vulnerable flanks. Victory, Conrad insisted, would go to the side first able to impose its will on events. But his tool broke in his hands. After three weeks the Austrian soldiers were exhausted and their officers bewildered. Close-order assault tactics had cost thousands of lives. There were too many Russians in too many places. By September 1, his army on the verge of dissolution, even Conrad accepted retreat as the only alternative to annihilation.
Austria’s correspondingly desperate appeals to Germany brought the Hindenburg/ Ludendorff team south. Using the superb German railway network, they deployed four corps from Prussia into Poznan, then attacked into the Russian rear, toward Warsaw, on September 28. The Germans were confident that they could easily replicate their earlier victories on a larger scale. This time, however, the Russians traded space for position, retreating, concentrating, and counterattacking as rain, then snow and bitter cold immobilized guns and supply wagons on both sides. A surrounded German corps cut its way back to its own lines, bringing out most of its wounded and 16,000 prisoners. After two months of vicious see-saw fighting the front stabilized, with the Russians holding Warsaw and most of Poland, devastated by mutual policies of scorched earth that left more than 9,000 villages destroyed and over 200,000 homeless.
For a while Austria seemed on the threshold of disaster, despite German intervention. The fortress of Lemberg surrendered without a fight. Przemyśl was left to stand a siege, with enough supplies to last until spring. But Conrad was able to match the German initiative with an offensive of his own. Mounted with what remained of the army’s prewar resources, it briefly relieved Przemyśl, sputtered, and then collapsed as a Russian counterattack drove deep into the Carpathians before outrunning its supplies. As the year ended, the combatants paused – but only to regroup. In Galicia too, a civilian economy barely above subsistence level in peacetime was devastated – and not only by the presence and the demands of the armies.
In Austrian Galicia, Russian occupying authorities sought to Russify the province by an early form of ethnic cleansing. Germans, Ukrainians, and Jews were murdered, imprisoned, driven into Russia by hundreds and thousands, their property destroyed, confiscated, or simply allowed to fall into ruin.
At the end of 1913, with the winds of war starting to blow through Europe, the Daimler Motoren AG Company, who were a subsidiary of Skodawerke AG, applied to the council in Wiener-Neustadt to build an aircraft factory. Daimler’s interest in aviation went back some years to when their technical director, Ferdinand Porsche, had designed a lightweight engine for the Etrich Taube aircraft in 1909. Permission was granted and construction of the buildings began at the beginning of 1915. The main investors of the company, Dr Karl Freiherr von Skoda, Ferdinand Porsche and the Austrian Creditbank, with backing from the Government, took control of the company on 3 March 1915. The company was known as the Oesterreichische Flugzeugfabrik AG (Oeffag).
Brought in to manage the new works was Ingenieur Leo Portsch from the Skoda Works; the technical director was Ingenieur Karl Ockermüller, who had been involved in the designs of the early Luft-Fahrzeug-Gesellschaft (Roland) aircraft. The first of the aircraft from the new company, the Oeffag C.I, appeared in March 1915. The designs for the aircraft had been completed in January 1915 and included experimental triple ‘I’ struts with the staggered, sweptback wings in place of the conventional ones. There were problems with this strut design right from the start and so the wing struts reverted back to the conventional design.
The prototype of the production models was delivered on 15 June 1915, powered by a 160-hp Daimler engine. The three-bay biplane was evaluated by LFT and on 17 July 1915, a total of twenty-four were ordered. The first of the production aircraft were assigned to Fliks 25 and 27, the remainder to Fliks 9, 11 and 18. At the end of 1916, the C.I was replaced and twenty-two of the surviving aircraft were turned into trainers.
At the beginning of 1916, the prototype for the Oeffag C.II appeared. This was slightly smaller than the C.I and had a two-bay, shortened wingspan that had no sweepback or stagger. The LFT evaluated the aircraft and informed Oeffag that it failed to meet the performance requirements laid down. Despite this, Oeffag signed a production contract for thirty-two C.II reconnaissance biplanes, but it wasn’t until October 1916 that the first nine of the aircraft were accepted and assigned to the Fliks operating on the Russian Front.
Reports coming back from the various Fliks complained that the observer’s cockpit was far too small to take the kind of equipment required by the observers when they went on a mission, including ammunition, bombs, cameras, map cases, machine guns and flare pistols. The controls were sluggish, visibility was limited, manoeuvrability was not good and the speed too slow. A second order was received at the beginning of December 1916 for a further thirty-two of the second series of Oeffag C.II biplanes, and these too were sent to Fliks on the Russian Front. Within weeks the reports coming back were almost identical to those on the first series of aircraft.
The success of the Oeffag-designed and -constructed aircraft was not the success that had been hoped for, and, in the autumn of 1916, the company obtained the rights to build the German Albatros D.III fighter. There were a number of reasons why Oeffag were able to obtain the rights: the war was by now well under way and the demand for good fighter aircraft was at a premium. The Albatros Company was unable to keep up with demand, so other companies were sought that could build Albatros aircraft under licence. One of these, the Albatros Company (Phönix), belonged to Camilio Castaglioni’s Brandenburg-Phönix-UFAG cartel that was starting to monopolise the aviation market. The War Ministry wanted to put a stop to this and awarded the contract to Oeffag.
This decision turned out to be the saving grace for the Oeffag Company because the Albatros D.III (Oef) that they produced turned out to be the Austro-Hungarian Air Force’s most successful fighter.
The original Albatros D.II appeared at a time when the Brandenburg D.I fighter, which it was to replace, was giving serious cause for concern regarding its stability and manoeuvrability. A contract signed by Oeffag on 4 December 1916 called for fifty aircraft to be built: twenty Albatros D.IIs (only sixteen of which were actually built) and thirty D.IIIs.
The Oeffag-built Albatros D.II was fitted with a 185-hp Daimler engine and the wing chord increased. There were some other minor alterations to the fuselage, and they were fitted with two Bernatzik synchronised machine guns. The completed D.IIs were assigned to Fliks on both the Russian and Italian Fronts. There were very few criticisms to come back from the Fronts, which was a pleasant surprise for Oeffag, who by this time had become used to scathing reports about their aircraft. Because of the relative inactivity on both the Fronts at the time, the Albatros D.II (Oef) was relegated to training duties as it was slowly replaced by the D.III (Oef)
The Albatros D.III (Oef) shared the same fuselage, undercarriage and tail section as the D.II (Oef). Because of reports coming back from the Western Front of wing failure on the Albatros D.II, the wings and airframe were strengthened considerably from the original German design, making it capable of taking increasingly bigger and more powerful engines. The result was the appearance of one of the toughest fighter aircraft of the First World War. The first reports coming back from the LFT vindicated the Oeffag engineers, who had been criticised for not adhering to the original design. The reports stated that Oeffag engineers and designers had made significant improvements, culminating in one of the best fighters of the time.
Production of the aircraft increased rapidly, but once again the problem of obtaining parts not manufactured by Oeffag, like the synchronisation machine gun mechanisms, slowed deliveries down. In an attempt to solve the problem, the company decided to manufacture some of the more precision parts themselves. The first of the Albatros D.III (Oef) arrived at the Russian Front at the beginning of June 1917. The pilots were delighted; they now had an aircraft that could be flown comfortably by any competent pilot and was superior in every way to the Brandenburg D.Is they were currently flying. A number of minor problems were found: poor quality cowling fasteners and a weak tailskid, both of which were quickly resolved without affecting the Fliks’ operational status.
The reputation of the Oeffag Company was further enhanced when the Austro-Hungarian Navy requested that they build the Hansa-Brandenburg W.13 flying boat. Designed by Ernst Heinkel, this single-engine flying boat carried a crew of two and was used for reconnaissance and bombing missions. It was also built under licence by Ufag, but it was the Oeffag-built model that was preferred by the crews. The fuselage was of a simple wooden and fabric construction with a single-step hull. Powered by a 350-hp Daimler pusher engine, cut-outs in the trailing edges of the upper wing provided the clearance for the tips of the propeller. The two-crew positions were in a side-by-side configuration. It is not know how many were built.
The production of the first series of Albatros D.III (Oef) ended in July 1917 and immediately production of the next series, which was powered by a 200-hp Daimler engine, began. This new, more powerful model was fitted without a spinner, because German wind tunnel tests had shown that the spinner was liable to fly off and could damage the airframe. The report from Flars praised the new model, stating that the 200-hp D.III was the first of the fighter aircraft capable of engaging the French Hanriot and the British Sopwith Camel as an equal. A total of 201 Albatros D.III (Oef) of the second series were produced, all of which were assigned to various Fliks on both the Russian and Italian Fronts.
The next series of D.IIIs to appear came from a contract for 230 of the aircraft on 18 May 1918. These were to be powered by the latest 225-hp Daimler engine, all to be delivered by the end of December 1918. The first units to receive the new aircraft were Fliks 61/J and 63/J, whose pilots rated the aircraft the finest they had ever flown. There was virtually nothing to complain about: the aircraft did everything asked of it and never caused them a moment of problem. In July 1918, two of the Albatros D.III (Oef) aircraft from the second series took part in the Fighter Evaluation Trials at Aspern. Of the twenty-four participants in the competition, only three were production models: the two Albatros D.IIIs (Oef) and the Aviatik D.I. The performance of the two Albatros aircraft delighted the War Ministry as the aircraft out-flew all the other participants in every category.
The production lines turned the aircraft out, and by the end of October all but twenty-nine of those ordered had been delivered. The end of the war saw the end of production, but not the sales of the aircraft already built. Poland bought thirty-eight of the aircraft and extolled their virtues in a letter of commendation to the company the following year.
There was even talk of the company building the Friedrichshafen G.IIIa bomber under licence but this came to nothing. The Oeffag Company, from such a relatively disastrous start, produced some of the finest fighter aircraft of the First World War, but was unable to survive the post-war depression that followed.
Frederick, once he had decided to march to the Oder, was swift about it. August 3, 1959 admitting he had failed to intercept Laudon, he pushed on towards Müllrose (within 12 miles of Frankfurt). Here he gave Wedell instructions to move what remained of his army to that village. Wedell made a genuine effort to comply with these orders, all right, and the result was all of the Prussians in the immediate vicinity were soon concentrated thereabouts. The army which Soltikov had brought from the other end of Poland was very strong in infantry, but the cavalry was weak; Laudon’s arrival helped change that.
The Russians were also busy. July 29 was a notable day for Frankfurt-on-Oder. For some time, there had been rumors of the impending advent of the Russians upon the city, and on that particular morning word spread through the place that the enemy was finally coming over from Crossen. Within Frankfurt, the defenses were insignificant. There was no regular garrison and the only defense force was a local body of some 400 militiamen raised rather hastily from the outskirts of the city under the command of Major Friedrich Wilhelm von Arnhim. As best it might, Frankfurt prepared itself. On the morning of July 30, a large force of Russians made their appearance on the eastern side of the Oder near the Oder-Damm. The grreencoats at once sent word to lower the city’s drawbridge, which led across to the western side and which Arnhim had pulled up on their arrival, and surrender. Arnhim was quick to realize that while Frankfurt’s walls protected it on the western, northern, and southern sides—also topped by heights—only the eastern side was really defensible.
He was stubborn, estimating the enemy force at about a thousand men, though they were in fact six times as numerous, and answered with a defiant “No!” to the Russian demand. Near 1100 hours, the Russians loosened a firebomb to show they were in earnest. At some point, the Prussian must have also realized the strength of the Russians present thereabouts. Arnhim now ordered his men to prepare to depart, as any resistance to the enemy, in addition to the futility, would entail risking heavy damage to the place.
Simultaneously, Arnhim ordered two field pieces under his control to go to the far northern gate in case the foe should move while Arnhim was preparing to leave. The Prussian commander was heading for Cüstrin, if the Russians allowed him to go that far. Some time later a second summons to surrender arrived, with the same reply as before. Then a third summons was likewise refused. Seeing their efforts to bully the garrison were in vain, the Russians sent word that another refusal would leave no option but shower Frankfurt from a prepared battery with incendiary shells. This time, the city fathers agreed to accept the enemy’s terms, but stubborn Arnhim (a valiant Prussian officer to the end) would not permit the drawbridge to be lowered nor any sign of surrender to take place.
The Russian guns then let off a single incendiary shell which landed near the churchyard, but Arnhim would not yield yet. The latter did offer to remove his garrison if the greencoats offered Free Withdrawal. But the Russians, in their turn, refused to do this. At this rude reply, and with his preparations complete, Arnhim pulled up his command and made off towards Lebus, taking the precaution of delaying the entrance of the Russians into Frankfurt. The enemy set off in pursuit of Arnhim, and caught up with him about halfway to Cüstrin. Arnhim drew out his men and fought hard, but at length resistance was overcome and he and his men were returned to Frankfurt in chains, Arnhim himself having suffered a serious wound.
Within a few days, Laudon and his force arrived, marching through the streets of the city and ordering up provisions for his tired men. Hadik had indeed turned back with his provision wagons, and Laudon’s men were virtually starving. Soltikov, who had been rather expecting the Austrians to bring supplies, summarily ordered Laudon to retire to Guben with his men. No real junction between the armies had, in fact, taken place.
Soltikov’s army, after the fall of Frankfurt, had been deployed on rises westward of the Oder, opposite the Jüdenberg Hill mainly, momentarily anticipating the advent of Frederick’s army. The Russians, in spite of superior numbers, were aware that they were no mean match for the great Prussian king. Fermor and possibly even Soltikov must have feared the results of such a confrontation. Fermor remembered Zorndorf all too well, and the news that Laudon’s men brought of Frederick’s attempts to intercept their march meant that he could be expected shortly.
The Russians promptly began entrenching, building high palisades/works complimented by strong batteries. The allies aimed to move out of Frankfurt, leaving just a small garrison, and come near the Oder to take post on the sandhills of the Kunersdorf Heights, eastwards from the Oder-Damm. For the moment, the allies kept to Frankfurt.
Wedell, meanwhile, had reached Müllrose about August 5, after which Frederick marched his forces to Frankfurt, finally arriving near there on August 7. Between Wulkow and Lebus, he made his army an encampment. Early on the following morning, the Prussian monarch pushed out a body of hussars towards Frankfurt to feel out the position of the enemy. Apparently the arrival of the king had not been noted by the allies. A surprising revelation. Indeed, a party of Austrian and Russian officers were just sitting down to dinner at the Fischer’s Mühle—on the western facing side of the Frankfurt bridges—when a local boy working at the millwork scrambled in with news that Prussian hussars, (led, in fact, by the king, although this was not suspected), were approaching.
The startled officers leaped to horse, and rode off at full gallop towards Frankfurt, where they flashed the news. The following day, August 9, Frederick received word that a great victory had been won by Ferdinand over the French at Minden, effectively ending the French threat for the rest of the campaign. His local reconnaissance of the enemy’s lines revealed that they were then encamped with the Oder at their backs and a ready retreat available by three pontoon bridges across the river (not to mention the main Frankfurt Town Bridge) in case of defeat. The king also noted a disparity in numbers of the contending antagonists: even with Wedell, he had no more than 40,000 men, while the allies totaled some 90,000 between them.
Plainly, an attack with those long odds was tantamount to disaster. So Frederick now ordered Finck with his 10,000 men or so to join him. This left Berlin to its own defenses and Saxony would practically have no Prussian forces present. With this juncture, the monarch was determined to get on with the necessary preliminary of crossing the Oder. He had decided not to cross at Lebus, as had originally been planned, but at Reitwein (some ten miles away) and proceed with the business at hand. Finck’s arrival was expected within a few days, and in the interim Frederick pressed preparations for the move, discreetly so as not to alarm the enemy.
Soltikov anticipated that the king would strike from the west side of the Oder, so he made his preparations with that view in mind. The Russians, along with Laudon, recrossed the Oder, leaving only a small garrison in Frankfurt. Soltikov took post on the rises near Kunersdorf, as planned, while Laudon was deployed nearer to the Oder behind him. The greencoats had put their heavy baggage on an island in the Oder—which was connected by pontoon bridges to the mainland where Soltikov was hastily readying to meet the Prussian whirlwind. In case of defeat, the Russians were not going to take any chances of being cut off from home. Soltikov, fearing for the safety of his baggage, detailed a force to cover it.
August 10, right on time, Finck reached Reitwein, while earlier in the day Frederick had arrived nearby. The bluecoats were even then erecting some bridges to cross the river. This work had of necessity been low-key, but the night after the junction the bridges were finished, and the army promptly began crossing in two columns, the foot soldiers/artillery there and the cavalry a short way off. By 0400 hours on August 11, the entire army was over, and the enemy still did not know of it. Soltikov unaccountably allowed the Prussians to break the barrier of the Oder River.
The Prussians now were near Göritz. Here Wunsch was left with skeleton forces to hold the bridges and the baggage train safe. The rest of the army moved southward, aiming at Bischof-Sëe and Leissow (which were within two miles of Kunersdorf itself). The morning sun rose up bright, there was little or no wind blowing across the sand dunes, and forced marches soon brought the men to the verge of exhaustion. To make matters worse, there had been no time for food that morning nor for sleep the last few nights. By 1300 hours, Frederick’s men reached their destination, by which time the troops were so weary that it was an open question if they could continue the trek. So the decision was made to encamp on the spot for the rest of the day and to move against the enemy’s camp on the morrow. Finck, with the vanguard, was ordered to bivouac where he was, his left leaning on a small pond thereabouts; the remainder of the army camped in two lines, the right on Leissow—with the cavalry posted to the rear in a patch of forest thereabouts.
Soon after his men were in place, the king took the opportunity to reconnoiter the enemy’s position. Ahead of him, straight facing the road to Kunersdorf, lay the village and Trettin Hill, which he rode out towards. Reaching there, Frederick mounted the rise and looked southward. Stretched out between Jüdenberg and Mühlberg, he noticed the whole Russian army, some 70,000 strong, with the front facing north. Off behind it, the king discerned Laudon encamped in a position that appeared to be wholly isolated from Soltikov, but might be capable of rendering support if necessary. The terrain there, he judged, at best to be marshy and not sure footed by any means. Cavalry was of little use, and neither were the big guns likely to be of tangible use in this ground. These considerations were important, for it had largely been through the efforts of Seydlitz and his cavalry (who was also present here) that had in the past gained the victory for the Prussians just when defeat appeared to be certain. If the artillery could not be brought into play at short range, it followed they could not blast at the entrenchments that the enemy had prepared to face the Prussian attack.
In front of the allied camp, intersecting between it and the Prussians, ran a small tributary of the Oder, the meandering Hühner-Fleiss. Running across this stream was the Trettin road leading to Kühgraben, a branch road from which led directly through Kunersdorf and on to Reppen. A little to the east of this road was the Walkberg; on the right looking north was the Klosterberg, to the southwest not quite a mile was the Kleiner-Spitzberg, which effectively dominated the approaches to Kunersdorf. Mühlberg lay at the extreme end of the Kunersdorf position and the Oder-Damm. The whole allied camp was about four miles in extent, but it was far too narrow—only about a mile wide—to allow much maneuvering room in which to shift their forces as the Prussians attacked. The ground was largely bushy and oozy bogs. To the east, but most especially to the south, a thick clump of woods arose, through which visibility could not have been good. But the ground was generally flat and level, except what was made up of the mounds thereabouts, largely sand dunes to the east and liable to be blown about by the wind.
Frederick, on viewing the allied camp, observed that Laudon was deployed then in a position which seemed to be isolated from the Russians. The Austrians were encamped in the west of the great marsh which protected the allied left flank, behind a scrubby post which to all appearances, from the Prussian lines at least, to be sufficiently cut off from Soltikov as to give no cause for worry. A local peasant who had brought the king water on that hot summer afternoon, and who knew the terrain in question, thought so, as did one of Frederick’s own officers (Major Linden), who was supposed to be familiar with the area. But the actual event turned out to be much otherwise, as we shall see.
Shortly after his reconnaissance was completed, Frederick rode back to his encampment, and spent the evening hours working out his plan-of-battle. The crux of his plan relied upon one of two alternatives he believed the enemy could take: (1) That of the allies remaining quiet where they were and await a battle; (2) That of the enemy attempting to retire upon Reppen. With numbers and position so clearly in their favor, the second possibility was really unlikely.
Late in the night (August 11–12), however, there was some smoke and flame visible on the southern horizon, which turned out to be the village of Kunersdorf on fire, having been deliberately set by the Russians. There was much speculation about the meaning of this event in the Prussian camp.
The allies, knowing that the foe had passed Göritz and Bischof-Sëe, made preparations for an attack. With no blow coming from the direction of Reppen, the front was reversed (as at Zorndorf, but this time with far more thoroughness); so the Russian left was now anchored on the Mühlberg, the army now past burnt Kunersdorf. Why was it burned? As a structure it would have proven a sizeable military obstacle to Frederick’s men, being in front of the Kuh-grund and all. Now only the stone churchyard and church remained. This could have been a distinct barrier to the bluecoats. Nevertheless, as best they might, the allies made ready to receive the stroke they knew was inevitable on the morrow. As for Soltikov’s most pressing worry, he did not wish to be cut off from his main communication center at Frankfurt, barely four miles to the southwest.
By 0300 hours on August 12, the Prussian army was aroused and standing in marching order. The march order was given and the men lurched off; the heads of their two columns pointed eastward, towards Reppen, and the woods there. At the lead was Seydlitz with his cavalry, his command was included in the column to be brought into battle as the left flank, while Eugene of Württemberg followed with the second to act as right wing in conjunction with Finck. The latter had been ordered to keep his bivouac posture near the Hühner-Fleiss, and decoy the enemy while the rest of the army made the swing for battle.
The king betook himself to the woods to encourage the troops with some more of that earthy, unassuming attitude he was well noted for. When his very tired men marched past him in the thick forest paths, he saluted them with a morning greeting, then is reputed to have said, “A good plate of beans would be nice just now, wouldn’t it?” What other high-born European monarch of the day would have done the same?
Finck could dispose of some 12,000 men for his task, with three infantry regiments (the 37th, the 38th, and the 55th Infantry) supported by strong batteries. He was ordered by Frederick to maintain the illusion that the main attack was to fall upon the Russians from the north. (A move which the king thought was impractical. It would have been better to attack from the north). This since the Russian lines were the strongest just where the attack was planned. The king discovered as much when it was already too late. Nevertheless, he was to go out as soon as it was daylight to scout the enemy’s lines but not to get involved in any serious fighting until the rest of the army could be brought into action. Wunsch was simultaneously ordered to move from Göritz to recapture Frankfurt.
While Finck and his peers were carrying out instructions, an enemy battery opened up on them. But the shots fell wide of the mark, and the Prussian generals ignored the fire. The Cossacks, as usual, were very active. They set fire to the little hamlets of Reipzig and Schwetigg (the latter about a mile south of the Russian baggage), but that was the extent of their effectiveness. The main Prussian columns in passing through the thick woods and over unstable, oozy ground—no doubt this made the lugging of the big guns difficult—were very slow with their advance. It was only after unanticipated delays that Frederick finally reached the Hühner-Fleiss and deployed his army on the Klosterberg, and Walkberg (opposite to the Mühlberg), setting up his batteries on the mounds to act as a counter to the Russian guns. By then it was nearly 0800 hours, and a large proportion of the attack force had taken the wrong turn in the woods and thick underbrush; they were still marching up. Thanks, in part, to the king’s miscalculation, the horsed teams lugging the big Prussian guns and the heads of the columns had to reshuffle in the woods. The bluecoats were just not ready.
By that time, Seydlitz and the first column were on the spot but Eugene was a little behind time. The Russians, scanning the front of their position, shortly before this noticed the movements in the thick woods and sped off the inevitable Cossack scouts. This produced a round or two from Finck’s guns, or perhaps from Frederick’s, but the gunners were quickly silenced by the king. The Russians still discerned Finck as the only plainly visible enemy, and believed him to be the main attack force. The men in the woods were thought to be scouting parties. That was until the main Prussian army appeared so unexpectedly out of the woods.
The composition of this force was the following: 13,000 cavalry in 95 squadrons; 36,900 infantry in 53 battalions; and a large quantity of ordnance, including 160 heavy guns and 126 battalion guns. A total force of roughly 50,000 men of all ranks. The Russian force consisted of 68 battalions of infantry (about 42,000 men); 36 cavalry squadrons (about 7,000 of the Cossacks and hussars, more than 4,600 line cavalry); and 200 guns, a total of approximately 61,000 men, when we factor in the gunners, engineers, and the staff; the Austrians had 18 battalions of infantry; 35 squadrons of cavalry; and 48 guns; a total of approximately 18,523 men. About 80,000 allied troops were involved in the battle. They were superior in number to their foe, in infantry and artillery, although there was near parity in cavalry between the two sides. But the Prussian squadrons were not the same vaunted troopers as they had been the year before at Zorndorf, and not nearly as well trained or equipped.
The Russian right was led on this day by General Demikow, while Fermor and Major-General Nikita Petrovich Villebois were to his side. Rumyantsev was commanding the all-important Russian center. The left was under Lt.-Gen. Prince Aleksandr Mikhailovich Golitsyn.
A little more than an hour after their appearance from the thick woods, the Prussian main body stood ranked for battle and had the batteries set up. Finck had been waiting for the signal to attack since first light, and his gunners were waiting with their pieces. At about 1130 hours, the Prussians opened up from the guns on the Walkberg. The Russian batteries on the Mühlberg, which contained some 72 guns, replied as quickly as they could. The Battle of Kunersdorf had begun. Finck’s ordnance from the northward started a bombardment of the Muhlberg from that end.
Frederick’s batteries on the Walkberg held only about 60 guns,4 but they diligently kept up a steady shelling of the enemy from the southern side. The Prussian batteries were actually strung out in three batteries, about which more later. Although the bombardment and counter-bombardment was steady and methodical, the range precluded any major damage to either side. But the Prussians were helped out by an enemy blunder.
The Russian batteries had been built facing the field below and beyond to the shoulder of the hillocks, instead of towards the view of the great hollow they were supposed to defend. As for the opposite wing, the Russian left, as Soltikov’s chief side, boasted a 100 gun complement, almost an embarrassment of riches.
At about 1200 hours, Frederick sent the advanced force of the nine battalions (some 4,300 men) on the Walkberg forward to storm the Mühlberg. The latter was manned by the First Grenadiers, flanked by the Third Musketeers and the Fifth Musketeers. The bluecoats advanced into the hollow. The fire of the enemy batteries intensified as the Prussians came in closer, but the Prussian officers tried to steady their men in the “shelter” of the hollow before the blow fell. This shelling was far too inaccurate to hinder the move. The attackers were largely shielded by the terrain, until they reached the clearing.
The bluecoats reached the edge of the Mühlberg—within 110 feet of the Russian guns on the slope—before they were greeted by a withering enemy fire. The Prussians did not falter, in fact they pressed ever forward. The four lead battalions slashed forward, in an advanced formation. At point-blank range, the bluecoats loosed a crashing volley of musketry straight into the Russian artillerists and their supporting troops. These men were already shaken by heavy bombardment. The latter were swept back here, the greencoats abandoning their guns and works. Prussian cavalry were hit now. In a few minutes of heavy fighting, the 2nd Cuirassiers (Prince Henry) lost 206 men.
In the event, there were new reinforcements of Russians coming forward. Belosersk was disordered by the press of the first line and forced back, carrying the Nizhegorodv Grenadiers. By 1215 hours, the Prussians had nevertheless laid hold of the Mühlberg, the retreating Russians (of the observation corps of Golitsyn) falling back upon Kunersdorf itself—confusion now spreading through Soltikov’s army. Had the mass of the Prussian horse not been “trapped” behind the Prussian left, it might have been far worse for the greencoats. As it was, many of the Russians did not offer organized resistance and were slaughtered by the scores. Five large regiments were decimated. By 1300 hours, the left had been defeated and driven back on Kunersdorf, only small, mostly disorganized groups of Russians remained where the front had once stood, now broken and separated, capable of only token resistance. There was a bright spot. Soltikov, taking control of the faltering situation, sped 12 crack companies (led by General Campitelli) of Austrian grenadiers to Rumyantsev’s support.
Once more the crack unit of Baden-Baden appears in these annals. This solid unit stood firm despite Lt-Colonel Waldegg’s wound and even the unpleasantness of some of the Russians mistaking Waldegg’s men for the Prussians and taking them under fire. Horace St. Paul reports the unit had 64 officers wounded, although no mention is made of total casualties. Nevertheless, Baden-Baden helped bring the Prussian progress to a standstill. In addition, a timely force of Austrian grenadiers led by Major Joseph De Vins, struck at the enemy force now trying to stabilize its hold on the Mühlberg.
It was precisely at this moment that Frederick had determined to launch a pincer attack on the allied lines. The rearmost forces, under Eugene, were supposed to have advanced at this time straight against the Russians from the south, while the right wing did the same from the north, to stiffen Finck’s effort at the west. Together, they were to snuff out the foe. The right van, which had just stormed the Mühlberg, was where it was intended, but the left, which had just entered the fray and was in the process of driving the enemy from the walls of the Kunersdorf churchyard, was critically behind schedule. At the present, it had no troops capable of helping the other pincer arms, except for a couple of formations from the van. Finck, from his side, was also experiencing problems as his attack was held up by the intricacies of the terrain not to mention a couple of narrow bridges crossing the Hühner-Fleiss, hard going for the artillery teams.
The Prussians did their best. Krockow’s 2nd Dragoons smashed against Trettin Hill and the Jewish churchyard. The attacks were costly. Fully two-thirds of the unit were wiped out. 484 men, 51officers. The 6th Dragoons (of Schorlemer) lost 234 men and 18 officers in this bid.
The Kleist Hussars, normally a solid, reliable cadre, along with the 8th Dragoons, crashed straight into a mass of milling Russian horse. The Prussian effort was repelled, but when the massed allied cavalry tried to take advantage of the moment by following up, they were shredded by the timely squadrons of Seydlitz. This was accomplished in spite of the intricacies of the ground, cut up by numerous ponds and swamps. Seydlitz led an enthusiastic attack by hussars. In fact, the indomitable officer was over enthusiastic, for his charge insensibly tended into the fire of some Russian infantry. The bluecoats now recoiled. Nor were the cavalry units alone that suffered. Dohna’s 16th Infantry lost 550 men and 16 officers. Hülsen’s 21st in attacking the Kühgrund lost 783 men and 25 of its officers.
These factors seriously delayed the crucial timetable attack plan. Nevertheless, the left struggled to offer aid quickly as possible, but was impeded by the heavy woods about Kunersdorf. Heinrich’s 43rd Infantry led the left round the Klosterburg against the Backergrund. When at last the Prussians reached the clearing to the southeast of Kunersdorf, they found what had been little suspected. The ground in front there was bisected by great marshes, pools, and little lakelets, stagnant most if not all of them. Two morasses were even running within the confines of Kunersdorf village itself. The only way across these bodies of water were small tracts on either side, which necessitated breaking the order of march and then reforming once past the obstacles. This threw the left wing into a critical delay between the approach and the actual support. The artillery blasted away at the bluecoats, inflicting heavy losses. The 43rd overthrew the Russians on the Mühlberg, but the advance stalled out at the Kühgrund. In this one regiment, “550 men were lost.” It was not alone, by any means. A neighboring unit, Ferdinand’s 5th Infantry, advancing right beside it, was pounded before the Kühgrund, losing 91 dead and 244 wounded in a few minutes. Even the hard-used 7th Infantry could not escape further damage. Its grenadiers reportedly had 200 wounded and 117 killed of their number. The local terrain also fragmented the Prussian line, so Frederick compensated by choosing to attack what was now obviously the enemy’s right.
At the moment, the confusion spreading through the Russian army was widespread, but enemy guns which had been taken could not be used because there was no ammunition for them. This was important. From the Mühlberg, a few well-placed hits might have inflicted enormous casualties and confusion in the serried ranks of the Russian left. Instead, Frederick ordered up four of the light Prussian guns to the Mühlberg—from where they plastered the foe as best they could, while the 12-horse artillery teams struggled to lug the 60 heavy guns to their support. For more than a mile there, Soltikov’s army might have been decimated, but the delays of the teams getting forward the big artillery proved to be fatal to the king’s plan.
Frederick, meanwhile, had sent off a courier with premature news of “victory” to an anxious Berlin, although the enterprise was now slipping from his grasp. Soltikov had his army formed for a pitched battle, this side facing eastwards, while the king renewed his stroke upon the front of the enemy’s mass. There was now still greater pressure on the Russians as Finck, at last emerging from the difficult geography of the Hühner-Fleiss, attacked uphill (with eight full battalions) against the new Russian left, about 1535 hours. At length, the Russian lines were broken again, and the disordered men fell back upon the Jüdenberg, losing Kunersdorf and the Küh-grund in the process. A second courier was soon on his way to the capital, with more encouraging word of the progress of the battle. In the second attack, the bluecoats had captured 108 more guns and had inflicted terrible losses upon the foe. But their army was taking heavy losses as well. And they were handicapped by a narrow front over which to operate. In fact, the whole space for battle this day was quite narrow.
A little before this time—about 1500 hours or so—Laudon had extricated his men from the “isolated” peninsula to the side of the Russian position and ranked them quickly on Soltikov’s flank, though they had yet to be engaged. How had Laudon accomplished this? Well, Frederick’s assumption the Austrians were in a post from which they could not readily leave failed to take into account a causeway that had been constructed to connect Laudon and Soltikov. Through this route lay easy access. Here again was a classic example of a major blunder on the part of the Prussian reconnaissance. We have observed errors before; at Prague, at Kolin, and at Hochkirch, but they pale by comparison with that of Kunersdorf.
Laudon had 18,000 men, fresh and as yet uncommitted, while Frederick’s men were all but exhausted by the almost herculean task they had taken on. But the Russians had been dealt a major blow. Now Finck, Seydlitz and the generals protested to the king that the army should disengage, since the enemy had clearly been defeated. They would almost certainly withdraw during the night, and, besides, the army needed rest. Moreover “Wunsch … [reported] that the enemy were actually beginning to cross the river.” Failing a retreat by the battered enemy, the battle could always be renewed next morning with refreshed men. This was wise and appropriate counsel, and should in retrospect have been heeded. Sadly, impatient Frederick did not listen, and insisted on continuing the battle to whip the enemy, now. He called for the left, and ordered it forward upon the Russian battery on the Grosser-Spitzberg—which happened to be one of the strongest posts in the enemy’s front—the high battery to the south and some distance ahead of Soltikov’s right. It was under the command of Rumyantsev, with the Vologdskii Infantry regiment right on the spot, along with 16 more large Russian regiments in close support behind. Rumyantsev’s guns opened a terrible fire upon the Prussians as they emerged from behind the ponds in front of Kunersdorf and were forming up to attack.
Prussian artillery was hastily put together in a cluster behind the village of Kunersdorf, which was flanked by two batteries, at the Blanken-Sëe and the Dorf-Sëe, although the king was not prepared to put all of his eggs in one artillery basket. Nevertheless, the Prussian batteries went to work trying to overpower the allied batteries on the Grosser Spitzberg.
When at last the latter were ready, the bluecoats moved up to attack. They were pounded by the searing artillery fire and, unable to complete their task, they stalled out. The 47th Infantry (Major-General Christoph Heinrich von Grabow) had 600 losses. This stroke did knock the Russian Apcheronski Infantry for a loop, and the Rostovoski Infantry were likewise sucked into the vortex of the Prussian attack and badly used. Apcheronski was later honored because it continued to hold back the enemy “while standing, ‘knee deep in blood.’” Frederick now ordered forward the artillery, but the crews could not get the big guns up past the mud and the wagons sank up to their axles when this was tried. Worse, Seydlitz was wounded at that critical moment by a shot which tore away part of his right hand. The Prussians were thus deprived of the services of one of their best cavalry officers at a crucial stage. Seydlitz had to relinquish command to Platen and was taken off the field to have his wound tended to.
Frederick lost his head and commanded that the cavalry itself charge the foe’s battery on the Grosser-Spitzberg. Platen contested the order, in vain. He jumped to horse at last and galloped with his cavalry around the southern side of Kunersdorf. The charging, storming troopers made a hopeless effort. After a fine beginning, they were cut to ribbons by the merciless fire. The 5th Cuirassiers (Friedrich Wilhelm Prince of Prussia und Markgraf of Brandenburg-Schwedt) lost 170 men here. Kyau’s 12th Cuirassiers lost 260 more. Whole squadrons seemed to fall, and the rest were cut into little groups, not able to move forward. The leading unit, the 6th Dragoons of Schorlemer, was hit so savagely it was virtually wiped out on the spot. Even worse, this splendid effort had carried the bulk of the horsed formations past the west side of the ponds, and this exposed their flank to thousands of as yet unengaged enemy cavalry. Soon the magnificent squadrons had been shattered, falling back beyond the pools at Kunersdorf. Here they got steadied and were ranked again.
Following this repulse, which incidentally proved to be the turning point of the battle, the Prussian infantry, reforming again and again, attacked the enemy’s position on the Grosser-Spitzberg repeatedly, but again futilely. The 37th Infantry (Lt.-Gen. August Wilhelm von Braun) was utterly annihilated in the effort; 992 men and 16 officers went down here. The king himself dashed out to lead two attacks by the 35th Infantry, in which he had two horses shot dead under him and was in the process of mounting a third when a stray shot struck the poor animal in the neck and it fell to the ground, nearly on top of Frederick. He was snatched up by two of his adjutants. A bullet had smashed a snuff box in his heavy coat, saving Frederick’s life. Still, he reportedly grabbed a flag and uttered “I must do my duty here like any other!” Pragmatically, the 35th would, in the end, be the last Prussian unit off the field.
Although their leader was safe, the Prussians could make no further gains, holding instead tenaciously to the captured works in their hands, too exhausted to even retreat it would appear. This is not surprising.
The Allies were in similar shape. Their cavalry was truly heterogeneous, as the main thrust of the cavalry units were the 6th Dragoons and the Löwenstein riders of the 31st Austrian. Two units which were truly magnificent units, fully equal to the magnificent squadrons of Seydlitz. They were even stiffened by stubborn Russian cavalry, of inferior quality, but eager to demonstrate their worthiness as well. This mounted attack helped out the greencoats, who were being hard pressed. As for the valiant Apcheronski regiment and its neighbors, two fine Russian units—the Pskov and the Vologda Infantry—they lent their aid and momentarily helped check the stubborn Prussian advance. Then, near 1700 hours, the valiant king finally drove in his part of the front, temporarily. Soltikov responded the only way he knew how: with more reinforcements. Again, the newcomers (Kozen and Vyborg, joined by Pfern) contrived to move from the Russian right. This new body blunted the Prussian advance.
The fresh Austrian infantry/cavalry swooped down upon the recoiling Prussians, forcing them to gang together to form a defense. All of this, it must be remembered, took place along a relatively narrow front, allowing precious little room for maneuvering. The reformed Russians now joined the fray; together the allies drove the enemy mass before them, back to the Küh-grund, from Kunersdorf, back the way they had come. As it worked out, the Küh-grund and vicinity was to prove a strong “trap.” The Prussian cavalry were ridden down by the surging allied cavalry. Frederick rallied his men, trying to reverse the tide of battle. Finck was still attacking from the Hühner-Fleiss, to no avail, now the king ordered the horsemen to disengage and ride around to the Mühlberg to aid Finck there. Eugene led some support forces to the scene, to the eastern end then west before they finally turned to face south directly at the enemy. The bluecoats here intended a decisive stroke to roll up Soltikov, but the men had scattered when they marched off, quickly dispersing.
Eugene was badly wounded trying to extricate himself from the carnage. When he returned, Frederick ordered Puttkammer and his hussars to the task. But that commander was killed and his stroke ended much the same as the first. After this latest assault had miscarried, the Russian infantry, now directly before the Küh-grund, struck forward and retook the line. They remanned the batteries at once, while Frederick reacted by sending orders to retake those guns. A large force of bluecoats advanced then to within some 50 yards of the Russian lines and halted there, exchanging volleys of musketry with the latter for about ¼ of an hour. It was past 1730 hours. A few Prussians even made it to the crest of the nearby hillocks, but unfortunately they lacked either the physical or numerical stamina to recapture the Küh-grund and the disputed vicinity. Kanitz’ 2nd Infantry, pounded so fiercely by these same Russians at Zorndorf, suffered more. Some 472 men and nine officers fell all told on this day.
Seeing the Prussian attack stalled, Laudon took the chance to launch his still largely intact forces from behind the Grosser-Spitzberg to complete the overthrow of the Prussian army. By then it was about 1800 hours, and the sun was dipping low in the western sky. As soon as the bluecoats got a view of the surging Austrian force, they were suddenly gripped by panic. The army dissolved into a mass of running men in a matter of minutes, the troops forsaking their weapons and equipment as they did so. However, not all of the men fled. One small force planted itself on the Walkberg to guard the retreat. Elsewhere, isolated groups still put up a bold front. Lestwitz’s 31st lost 431 men on this retreat. But, for the most part, the army had been converted into a confused, milling mass of fugitives with only one thought pressing in mind: to retire to the rear and away from the enemy as fast as they could. Indeed, seldom in military history has a battle been so completely lost by an organized army in such a short space of time.
The press of the Prussian retreat was towards the north to the shelter of the ground beyond. The remnants of Schorlemer’s command strove to cover the retreat, but were forthwith driven into the swamps nearby. This exposed the retreating mass, which were ridden down and bagged by the thousands in their flight towards Zolow and the Hühner-Fleiss at Faulen-Bräcke and Stroh-Bräcke. Still, a great number of the bluecoats managed to take refuge in the churchyard at Trettin, where they briefly thought about rallying. Any such thoughts were put to bed by the impetuous Austrian cavalry of Kalnolky’s Hussars, aided by the nearby 11th Hussars. A vigorous attack, led by the dismounted horsemen, drove the already shaken Prussians from the village. This left them no choice but to abandon what artillery they had managed to drag to a sunken road forward of Trettin. Even by foot rescue was difficult, for the final tally was some 650 bluecoats taken. This really put paid to the matter of providing any meaningful resistance to the allied pursuit. In the event, “he [Frederick] demanded more of his men than they could bear.”
The king himself was in the midst of the rout. He seemed to be stupefied by what he saw. Frederick galloped about, shouting, “Children, don’t forsake your King, don’t leave me in this pinch!” and “will none of these blasted balls hit me, then!?!” However, his attempts to rally his men were as useless as they were brave. A panicked army must be like an angry mob, not really aware of what is happening about and deaf to the voice of reason. Frederick was on the point of being surrounded by the enemy troopers when he shouted out “Prittwitz, I am lost!” The latter dashed up, along with an adjutant. The adjutant grabbed his horse’s bridle, and led the king and his horse off at a gallop from the field, while Prittwitz with his command battled the pursuing Cossacks to a standstill.
That evening, the agitated Prussian king took shelter at Reitwein while Wunsch, who had been left at the bridge to prevent the escape of the enemy, waited until most of the scattered fugitives had gathered at Öetscher and Goritz before he closed up the bridge. Both to anticipate the enemy from moving across the Oder and to prevent a possible wholesale desertion of the demoralized men. Wunsch had earlier marched to Frankfurt in the afternoon; he attacked and seized the town bridges. Then the understanding man blew them up.
The firing on the battlefield gradually died down and the tortured Battle of Kunersdorf ended. Thus was the curtain brought down upon the drama of the worst defeat that Frederick would ever suffer on a field of battle. His men, during the course of the night, were slowly reassembled. Wunsch was summoned by the victors to surrender; the request was refused, of course, though on the morning of August 13 Wunsch withdrew, destroying the crossing points behind him, with no interference. The night before the king had written a letter to his old tutor, von Finckenstein, in Berlin, explaining the defeat: “I attacked the enemy today at 11. Pushed them back to the Jewish churchyard near Frankfort. All the troops were engaged, and did wonders, but the cemetery cost us a prodigious number. Our troops were thrown into confusion, I rallied them thrice; at length I thought myself about to be taken captive, and had to abandon the field of battle. My clothes were riddled by balls, I had two horses shot from under me; it is my misfortune that I am still alive. Our loss is very considerable; of an army of 48,000 men, I have not 3,000. At this moment, all are in flight and I am no longer master of my troops. You in Berlin will do well to think of your safety.” As a postscript, he added, “I have no more resources left, and I will tell you no lies: I think that we are lost! I shall not survive the downfall of my country, Farewell, Frederic.”
There, sitting in a peasant hut amidst the wounded and the dying, the melancholic Frederick decided to turn over the command of his army, or what remained of it, to Finck. He told the latter this was only because of illness, when he had recovered he would resume command. Reluctantly, the king wrote out the order:
“The General [Finck] gets a hard commission. The luckless army such as this I hand him is no longer in a condition to fight the Russians, Hadek [Hadik] will probably press on to Berlin, Laudon perhaps, too, if the general [Finck] goes after they both, Soltikov [read the Russians] will take him in the rear, if he stops on the Oder, he will get Hadek this side. But I think that if Laudon tri for Berlin he could attack and beat him on the way, this iffit go well, would put a good face on misfortune and hold things. Time gained is very much in these desperate circumstances. The news from Torgau and Dresden, Coller my secretary will send him; he must keep my brother, Prince Henry, whom I appoint Generalissimo, informed of everything; to make good the misfortune completely is impossible, but my brother’s orders must be obeyed; the army must swear allegiance to my nephew [Prince Frederick Wilhelm]. This is all the advice, in these unhappy circumstances, I am in a condition to give. Had I still had resources left, I would have stayed by them. Frederic.”
Next day, August 13, the king felt a little cheerier, now that the army had some 23,000 men, but Finck was in “active” command of this force (a duty it appears he never actually assumed). Frederick sent off a letter to the commandant in Dresden, our old friend Schmettau, to surrender if good terms were offered to him were he to be besieged by the enemy. After a few days’ further rest, August 15, Frederick departed from Reitwein, hearing the encouraging news that the Russians were encamping to the south of Kunersdorf. Not a single one of Soltikov’s men had dared to recross the Oder to the western bank after the battle. The king had again taken heart, resuming command of the reorganizing army (August 16). He promptly sent for Kleist and his hussars to join him from Pomerania. This move left the Swedes free to march into Prussian Pomerania, which they did in a rather lethargic manner.
In the middle of January 1762, Prince Henry experienced a bout of illness, which caused him to enquire whether he could be replaced, at least temporarily, by another officer, preferably Seydlitz or General Forcade, but the king advised that his brother should be able to recover in time to assume field command in the spring, thus rendering a successor in that event unnecessary. In the end, Henry was confined to his bed at his headquarters for more than a month’s time, but when the new campaign opened, he was indeed able to exercise field command in Saxony. The fact was, the ailing prince had been given charge in Saxony, more or less to hold it, while his royal brother sought to conclude the war in Silesia all while recovering a secure hold on the province. Prince Henry was quick to chastise his sibling for Frederick’s plan to take away Platen’s corps for his own use at the start of the new campaign, although the king had promised him he would have control of Eugene of Württemberg’s men as a consolation.
Prince Henry had just cause for his complaint. The enemy opposed to him and his men (some 25,000 strong) consisted of some 19,000 Imperialist troops, along with about 44,500 Austrians, all under the overall command of Serbelloni, from March 29, 1762. Daun’s appointment of command of the Austrian forces in Silesia, and the retention of both Laudon and Lacy for the movements of the army in the province of Silesia, had left a vacuum for Saxony. It was clear as it could be in 1762 that the war would be finally won or irrevocably lost in Silesia. Saxony was very much of a side theater by this point. Moreover, both sides knew it. The upshot was, Daun was not going to send one of his “good” commanders to Saxony, feuding with each other or not. Vis-a-vis, Laudon and Lacy. As a result, Serbelloni it would be. Serbelloni’s men were deployed over the winter of 1761–1762 entirely within the province of Saxony, but Prince Henry’s goal from the beginning of the campaign was to try to reclaim the territory around Döebeln, the very same position that Daun had been able to wrestle from him late in the campaign of 1761. General Luzinsky was occupying Pegau, while other Allied forces of General Kleefeld were deployed all the way to Zeitz.
Over on the Prussian side, the overall situation was hardly better. One of Prince Henry’s pet peeves involved the treatment of the Saxons and of their homeland. He wanted this to be as humane as was possible under the circumstances. More gifted with a sense of fair play than his older brother, probably because the latter wore the crown and thus had to be less egalitarian, the prince would much rather work in conjunction with the Saxons than against them. In effect, Henry had rather more sympathy with the occupied province than his sibling, not the least because the king’s last appreciable memory of Saxony was in the wake of the terrible Battle of Torgau in 1760. Not that Prince Henry was entirely free of difficulties in this respect either.
Among the seemingly myriads of difficulties for Prince Henry, one involved the “Free Corps.” These often despised units had really been formed to extract as much gain as they could from their environment. They existed much more for themselves, in the narrow sense, than for any measure of military gain or renown they could achieve in the broader sense. Prince Henry made no secret of the fact he did not like these units, and had scant use for them as a general rule. In a similar situation, the prince also had scant use for Frederick’s new favorite, the thoroughly odious Major von Anhalt. This was in spite of his reluctance to admit open resentment over the new aide’s rise. Still, Henry seems to have made a concerted effort to restrict his dealings with this particular individual to as few as possible, and, in fact, during the 1762 campaign, Henry had arranged for the major to be whisked away to Leipzig as soon as was possible in one of their few dealings.
The occasion of this particular exchange was in Anhalt being dispatched by the king as a sort of ad hoc administrator of the territory occupied by the prince’s army in Saxony.
This latest development had been prompted by the rather usual desire of the Prussian monarch to pick Saxony as clean as was possible of its resources, financial and otherwise. It was patently obvious by this stage of the war that Prince Henry had neither the desire, nor the actual intention, of doing so. Frederick had to be cognizant of that fact. Thus the sending forth of the detested Anhalt to do what Prince Henry would not. Interestingly, one of the many men who would run afoul of Anhalt in his duties was the famous Baron Friedrich von Steuben. Steuben had been a staff officer previous to this and had spent some time earlier in the war with the Free Battalion Mayr. Later, after the end of the war, Steuben would make his way, by and by, to America, where he was recommended, through the auspices of the American patriot Benjamin Franklin no less, as a Prussian Lt-General under Frederick the Great, which, of course, he had never been. It was a lie that Steuben himself actively promoted. Still, ‘General’ Steuben would be instrumental, as it worked out, in helping reform the American Continental Army under George Washington in the American Revolution, utilizing the Prussian close order drill, among other things, along the way. This effort would play no small rôle in the ultimate American victory in the war over the British George III. The very same George III who had taken the throne in the twilight of the Seven Years’ War.
Meanwhile, back to the events in Saxony in 1762. It was an Austrian move opposite to him that first caused Henry to go over to the offensive in the first place. The enemy were fearful of possible Russian intrusion into their homeland, as we have observed, and so transferred some troop formations from the Saxon front to stiffen the Austrian position in Silesia to confront the Prussians and the Russians. This weakened the Austro-Imperialist position in Saxony, however, and thus allowed Henry the opportunity to strike.
The enemy opposed to Prince Henry had been in motion in the meanwhile. Stolberg’s forward elements occupied Penig and Chemnitz in early May, while Prince Henry occupied the region all the way up to Oschatz (May 5), looking for signs of the enemy close-by. The Allied left flank, led by Major-General Johann Franz von Zedtwitz, was composed of about 4,000 men in all. Zedtwitz neglected, however, the most basic of defensive measures, including leaving unmanned guard posts open during daylight hours. Such carelessness would not go unpunished.
In the event, Henry was resolved to carry out his enterprise here, if at all possible. Late on May 11, the Prussians moved in preparing to strike at the Allies in the area. An Austrian guard post over by Nieder-Striegis was overrun by Prince Henry’s men during the twilight hours, and, before 0700 hours next day, May 12, the main bluecoat forces, summarily divided into four separate columns for the occasion, swept forward against the unsuspecting foe over by Döebeln.8 General Kanitz and his men pushed on to Gadewitz, while Seydlitz, with a second column (this one composed of some 37 squadrons of fine Prussian cavalry and some infantry), struck from near Mockritz leaning over at Zschornewitz. Kleist on the far left rolled forward between Knobelsdorf and Nauβlitz. Finally, the Prussians of General Alt-Stutterheim made their way at Stormitz. All but Kleist were scheduled to make a frontal charge against the Allies, but before the others could even approach, the advanced guard of Kleist’s men crossed the Mulde River suddenly and bagged an entire battalion of Austrians as prisoners (approximately 43 officers and 1,536 rank-and-file). The particulars follow.
The beginning of the fray is debatable. Apparently in the confusion of the moment, Kleist’s gunners accidently fired off a shot. This precipitated the attack. Seydlitz felt this action was intentional, and apparently with the avowed aim of seeking glory for Kleist. Of course, this charge was vehemently denied. Nevertheless, Döebeln turned out to be a pleasant interlude for the bluecoats. Moreover, what a surprise when one of the captives turned out to be General Zedtwitz himself, captured over near Littdorf while leading his cavalry in a hopeless counterattack to stem the enemy’s progress. A short, but involved effort followed, compelling the Allies to retreat, leaving behind nearly 50 percent of their men as prisoners, along with five pieces of artillery. The survivors scurried to safety at and about Dippoldiswalde. Bluecoat casualties on this occasion amounted to some 60 men.
One of the backlashes of this fight was the feud that grew out of the altercation between the persons of Generals Kleist and Seydlitz. Both men resented the actions of the other on this occasion. Perhaps both men, seeing the end of hostilities coming and wanting more opportunities for glory, were a tad shortsighted on this occasion. In the final analysis, the Prussian effort was indeed a success, but one which did not lend itself to an easy follow up by the victors, especially as Prince Henry’s army lacked any means at all to secure reinforcements.
Serbelloni, for his part, was visibly shaken by the reverse. The Allies held posts west of the Elbe, which included a number constituting a stranglehold on the Saxon capital; they were thus able to hold interior lines from Dresden extending over towards Dippoldiswalde.
Meanwhile, this stroke allowed Prince Henry to separate the Austrians and Imperialists, and prevented their reuniting for a time. But Henry did not stop there. Not satisfied with the status quo, Prince Henry now strove to eliminate the Austrian left flank forces altogether. On May 15, Freiberg fell to him, and two days later, Prussian troopers seized the rises near Pretzschendorf (giving Prussian artillery enough range to hammer the enemy’s post at Dippoldiswalde). From Freiberg, Henry sent off a light detachment of 500 hard-riding cavalry under Lt. Friedrich Wilhelm von Roeder through Öderan to check out the Imperialists.
Henry began to run short of men for this new offensive, as he had been forced to make heavy detachments to contain the Imperialists of Prince Stolberg to the west of Chemnitz in order to protect his rear while the whitecoats were being squeezed out of Freiberg. All Stolberg wanted at this stage was to fall back on Zwickau. By now Serbelloni (in charge of the disunited armies) was pleading for reinforcements from Daun over in Silesia, all in vain. The reverse was occurring.
Reports had been filtering in to Prussian headquarters for some time now that the Austrians were either in the process of, or were about to, transfer some of their formations from the Saxon theater of war to boost their troop total in Silesia in order to fulfill their campaign requirements thererabouts. The consequences for the Allies could have been severe. But Prince Henry’s request for new troops also fell on deaf ears, snubbed by the king outright; the latter taking a hard line here because he felt the decisive actions were yet to be in Silesia (which, of course, they were). Now Prince Henry, for his part, did feel that he could hold his present line, while slowly building up strength for yet another offensive. At this stage, though, one of Henry’s officers, Colonel Christian Friedrich von Bandemer, tried to get hold of Chemnitz. Stolberg was not inclined to leave, and his force on the spot, led by General Luzinsky, drove the surprised bluecoats back all the way to Öderan with heavy losses in men and ordnance (including some 500 men and 15 officers), all of this due to a roving Imperialist force (May 21).
The particulars follow. Bandemer had pressed towards the vicinity of Chemnitz on May 19. Luzinsky’s vanguard, led by General Kleefeld, rolled through Lichtenstein, while Vecsey moved with a couple of Austrian hussar regiments through Glauchau. The bluecoats thereabouts were obviously overextended, and were thus at the disadvantage in any contest of arms, even with the generally inferior Imperialists as foes. About 0300 hours, on May 21, Luzinsky struck, with Kleefeld and Vecsey alike providing the impetus to push the foe back. Bandemer had 300 men (from Lehwaldt’s 14th Infantry) with one cannon placed in Chemnitz to provide a buffer against the Imperials. Luzinsky’s charge against Chemnitz was developed at this point in three distinct columns, with the Austrian hussar regiments overthrowing Major-General Johann Ernst von Schmettau’s 4th Prussian Cuirassier Regiment, losing “ten officers and 317 men in its advance post at Chemnitz.” The Prussians were forced, after a brief tussle, to recoil, leaving behind some 800 men and seven guns (four 12-pounders, two light 6-pounders, and one 7-pounder howitzer) in the hands of the Imperialists. Imperial losses amounted to one officer and 35 men.
This was both one of the best (and, sadly for them, the very last) largely Imperialist successes of the whole war, and the benefit of laudatory congratulations were promptly bestowed upon Serbelloni by Vienna, although the commander had been no where near the field of action. It is worth noting, for much of the campaign, Serbelloni did his best to run his command almost by proxy from Dresden, an unworkable situation any way one looked at it. The biggest problem was in the strung out amount of time that Serbelloni required to get things done. What with messages coming and going from Dresden and all. There was a nearly fatal flaw. Unfortunately, with an enemy of the caliber of Prince Henry, the Allies needed to strike while the iron was hot. Additionally, Stolberg, lacking direct instructions, unaccountably failed to follow up his success, and Henry, taking advantage of the enemy’s reluctance to deploy troops, simply sent new troops under “Green” Kleist and Seydlitz to the scene. It was likely that at least part of the Allied reasons for not promptly following up their victory had to do with the Imperialist lack of reliable light forces, while the Austrians had just culled their light troops due to the aforementioned budget cuts. The effort to regain light formations in the Austrian service was underway, of course, but would not bear fruit for a while yet. The upshot was, Stolberg was left in an exposed, very vulnerable condition. Even worse, there was very little he could do about it.
Under the circumstances, it was Stolberg’s turn to retreat; he abandoned Chemnitz and fell back forthwith on Baireuth. The incident had produced reprecussions over in the Prussian camp. Bandemer had been relieved and Kanitz sent to take his place. Coming along for the journey, so to speak, was Major von Anhalt, sent forth to join Kanitz’ command under the guise of an adviser. The situation was apparently under control, although Henry wrote to Frederick (from Pretzchendorf) on May 20 that he had less than 30,000 men with him now. Moreover, the enemy were not going into hibernation. Colonel Török rudely beat up a Prussian force, including three full squadrons of Prussian cavalry and some 300 infantry, over by Freiberg (May 26). The bluecoats fled, leaving a large baggage train and 80 prisoners in Török’s hands. After a week or so of general inactivity, Austrian troops, under General Kleefeld, counterattacked under cover of night (May 31–June 1), crashing into Colonel Dingelstedt’s command, forcing the outnumbered bluecoats back from Dippoldiswalde’s outskirts on to Waldheim, even taking some 189 prisoners in the process. Kleefeld had 46 casaulties. However, the effort had only limited success elsewhere. Prince Henry was thus enabled to hold up his foe’s designs.
He now received reinforcements, although not from Silesia at all. The withdrawal of the Swedes from the north had released troops for use elsewhere; part of this force—Colonel Belling’s cadre of excellent troops—had made its way, by and by, down to strengthen Prince Henry’s forces in Saxony. Unfortunately, Austrian reinforcements also began to arrive, but Daun had no intention of diverting large numbers of troops to the Saxon theater at this stage when Cherneyshev’s Russian force was known to be nearing Silesia. Henry did maintain heavy cavalry patrols operating around his right to keep the enemy on that side at bay, and to prevent the Austrians and Imperialists from linking up. Kleist’s and Seydlitz’ troopers often ranged into northwest Bohemia in isolated raiding parties to keep the enemy as much off balance as possible. This strategy, although effective, wore heavily on the cavalry horses (to complicate matters in this respect, Frederick refused to supply Henry with additional mounts, as the king wished to husband them for the high-priority Silesian campaign). Because of this factor, as well as the increasing numbers of troops opposed to him under Marshal Daun, Prince Henry became reluctant to press the cavalry horses more than necessary.
Moreover, requests from the prince directed to the person of the king were met by equally terse replies from Frederick to the effect he was already deeply indebted to some horse dealers in Berlin and vicinity and that Henry and his men, after all, must learn to subsist on less. Over on the Allied side, meanwhile, Stampatch came forward in late June with 15,000 more men to stiffen Serbelloni, giving him more than 60,000 troops. As a result of this new strength of the foe, Prince Henry was unable to mount a major offensive for much of this period.
That soon changed. In the end of June, Seydlitz and Belling were dispatched to shove the Imperialists further westward. Stolberg then fell back before them, and Seydlitz obviously lacked the speed, due to his composite cavalry-infantry force, to catch up. The bluecoats reached Zwickau, and there Stolberg tried to turn the tables upon his tormentors. Prince Henry discerned at once what he was up to, and Kleist’s hussars drove off the enemy. Stolberg was thereby foiled.
But Stolberg was not the only Allied commander in motion. Serbelloni had tried to take advantage of the absence of Seydlitz and Kleist by attacking the Prussian lines at his front in two geographic places: Wilsdruf and Frauenstein. General Hülsen held the latter, while Wilsdruf’s defenders were bolstered by Henry himself. Defenders at both spots, under these circumstances, repelled Serbelloni’s blows. Nothing much further happened until mid–July, when Stolberg made an attempt to link up with Serbelloni just south of Dresden, but Seydlitz and Belling smashed his left and rear. Almost as a postscript, “Green” Kleist, who was returning from Bohemia after a raid, rolled up the right.
This was enough! Stolberg withdrew, his army now in pieces. He made his way to Nuremberg and did not bother Henry again for quite a while. Prince Henry was interested in retaking Dresden, which might have been feasible with more men, but more sensible aspirations prevailed. Under the radar, operations instead assumed a static pose for a time. Again, in late July, Seydlitz and Kleist moved into Bohemia, going after the vital enemy bases at Lobositz and Leitmeritz. Seydlitz was leading a cavalry force of 18 full squadrons, endeavoring all the while to link up with “Green” Kleist. The two bodies of men successfully rendezvoused at Johnsdorf (August 1). The total force the duo could muster was 36 squadrons of horse and six battalions, approximately 8,500 men in all. The mission of this combined force was to go range into Bohemia, creating confusion for the Austrians in their own backyard. There was more to the tale than that.