Flying the Fokker Eindecker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Battle of Torgau I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Battle of Torgau II

Frederick the Great greets General Zieten after the Battle of Torgau.

Frederick’s first attempt to take the high ground at Torgau failed, but the arrival of General von Zieten’s troops ultimately enabled the Prussians to capture Suptitzer Heights.

In the meanwhile, the march of the three Prussian columns northward was going about as well as could be expected. In spite of the horsed-teams and men were having difficulty dragging the bigger ordnance over the slushy terrain and even the foot soldiers were finding it rough going. Holstein, who by then had reached his turn near Roitzach, inadvertently turned off onto the wrong lane, with the result that he was soon misdirected in the thick woods and lost. The king’s unorthodox scheme was already in trouble!

As for Daun, he had learned from his scattered detachments, including the survivors of St. Ignon’s command, just what was really going on out in the Dommitscher. An additional Austrian body of ten grenadier battalions, which were independent of Ried or St. Ignon, were at Weidenhain; Frederick was in the process of forming a battle line to charge them when St. Ignon’s command was located nearby. The force at Weidenhain needed only brief cannon fire to “persuade” them to march. The reason for deployment of these cavalry forces is touched upon from a modern perspective. The Austrian leader “respected Frederick’s mastery of tactical flanking movements through rough country” well enough that these horsemen constituted a substantial portion of the Austrian cavalry. Daun knew that for the Prussians to turn him out of the strong position he then held they would have to make massive assaults at close quarters. In that event, the superior tenacity of the Prussian troops might be counterbalanced by the sheer weight of numbers of the Austrians. Anyhow, the sounds of the Ried-St. Ignon incidents had alerted the marshal to the proximity of the enemy.

Daun knew from his scouts. Words to the effect: “the woods full of Prussians, thousands upon thousands heading northward.” By then, it must have been clear to the marshal just what Frederick really had in mind. Daun’s response was immediate. The crafty old man was at his very best in a purely defensive battle, and at Torgau he would have it no other way. First he ordered the army to make a full swing around from south to north, this maneuver placing 12 battalions fronting north and a half a dozen more formed facing west. This was in order to confront the Prussians coming from that direction. Whatever may have been his shortcomings as an offensive general, and they were many, Daun was right at home in entrenchments. Armed to the teeth, waiting for an enemy to attack him.

Lacy was now ordered from Losswig to draw out north-northwest to keep the new rear of the Austrian main army safe from whatever force might choose to strike at that side—namely, Ziethen. So what had been the Austrian advanced guard, Lacy and his formation, was now the new rearguard. Most importantly, the Austrians had to bring up every available gun to face to the north, for the old marshal was now certain that the main Prussian effort would erupt against that side of his works. The sum total of this artillery was some 275 pieces, directed by Major-General Ignaz Walther von Waldenau, including 50 6-pounder guns.

Frederick’s arsenal was no less impressive. He had 250 guns of some size, of which no fewer than “180 were twelve pounders and heavy howitzers.” Increasingly, Austrian prowess was proving equal to the task set before it. But at Torgau, the Austrian heavy guns faced a three-to-one inferiority in numbers (Daun had 58 such pieces). And all of this despite latter-day claims of “400 Austrian guns”; a dubious claim at best. Still, this was, all in all, one of the biggest concentrations of ordnance yet seen on any continent of any war up to that day.

Daun’s confidence in being able to turn back Frederick from his designs nevertheless did not prevent him from making advance preparations in case he should be defeated. The baggage train was ordered across the Elbe to stand under strong cavalry escort to wait out the battle and the bridges leading from the fortress over the Elbe were all kept securely guarded. The marshal had never been one to leave himself without an escape route in spite of a formidable position. Lookouts kept track of the thick wilderness watching for the Prussians to appear.

The latter had been delayed by the foul weather, so Frederick’s column did not clear the woods about Neiden until about 1300 hours. This was an hour later than planned. As usual, the Prussian infantry were having an easier time of it than the artillery. The delay was largely the result of a combination of inclement weather and narrow, sandy “roads” holding up the guns. Finally, an agitated Prussian king pushed ahead with his foot soldiers, leaving the ordnance to follow. Holstein encountered these problems, and proceeded at a surprisingly slow pace. His command was mounted after all, it must be remembered.

Kleist had arrived at Neiden at about 1200 hours, but after Frederick’s column emerged from the woods, there was no sign of either Hülsen or Holstein with their men. An additional Austrian force of dragoons and four battalions under General Carl Joseph Count Batthyáni had abandoned Elsnig and retired on Neiden when Kleist began to appear. Ironically, the position at Elsnig, if held, could have outflanked any Prussian move to attack Torgau Daun’s lines there. Frederick himself freely admitted in his History had the enemy “taken advantage of its ground[,] there certainly would have been no battle.”

Even at this stage there were no sounds which might indicate a battle raging on the southern side of the Austrian position, although from about noon, there had been some musketry audible from that direction. The Prussian king spoke in his History of what he called the “essential[ness] … that I and Ziethen should pierce the center of the hostile army at the same time.” He indicated that this needed to be done at the Septitz.

If the other two columns did not come up soon, he would soon have to launch an attack upon the enemy formations in front of him (which was now, although he had no way of knowing, Daun’s new front). Most of the Austrians were fully alert with their full attention centered upon Frederick’s lone formation of 8,000 men. Reports arrived from reconnaissance parties that the enemy’s baggage train had already been detected crossing the Elbe. Was Daun trying to withdraw from the field without a battle? Shortly the Prussian king came to the somber conclusion that he would have to attack, whether with one column or three. The intervening time had amounted to nearly an hour. So it was about 1400 hours when the bluecoats of Frederick’s single group began forming up for an assault.

About then, the king rode out to probe for a weak spot in the Austrian line where success appeared at least possible. The Austrian lines in front of him there curved at and about Zinna. It was precisely at this spot where Frederick had originally intended to go forward with his grenadiers. A large Austrian force of cavalry was clearly visible near Zinna. This force would be bound to interfere with the Prussian deployment, and there were only a few horse available with the king’s main column. However, the ground in that vicinity proved more difficult than had been thought. This in spite of the fact that a large portion of officers who had been with Prince Henry knew the terrain thereabouts quite well. The stagnant pools and ponds there were breaking up the ground and creating stumbling blocks over which the attackers would have a hard way to go, especially in the face of determined opposition. The difficulty of lugging the artillery pieces over this terrain was equally unenticing. That was just as well, for that end of Daun’s works was the new Austrian right, and well shielded by the army’s bigger guns. Frederick rode back, and led his men back into the woods. In the process, he passed them over the Röhrgraben Pond, then deployed the troops on the opposite side to face the Austrian left. The latter was drawn out behind a line of strong, prepared works, attackable only on the northern side there, with its front facing the woods through which Hülsen and Holstein would have to appear with their columns.

That aforementioned weak point lay on the northwest corner of Daun’s high walled encampment, fronting on Torgau and its supporting works. Here, Frederick decided, was to be the point where he put his blows in. The cannonade from the south was now growing ever louder, this factor only increased the king’s anxiety to launch his attack. Frederick decided to wait a little while longer on his subordinates, to see if they might possibly come up in time. He sent back adjutants to find and set them on the right course. Hülsen did not need help, he was merely held up by the combination of the foul weather and the rugged forest lands. But Holstein was definitely lost and needed found.

Nothing daunted, Frederick decided he could wait no longer. The grenadiers (seven battalions) were put into the first line, while Major-General Friedrich Ehrentreich von Ramin (25th Infantry) was in the second, and Kleist to act as auxiliary. This accomplished, he led his men out from behind the Röhrgraben across the Striebach past little brooks using bridges which the enemy had constructed to facilitate passage through the area. The Austrian guard forces at these bridges were obliged to flee when the bluecoats appeared suddenly before them in overwhelming number. The marching Prussian line now turned rightwards facing the Dommitscher, until that point having moved parallel with the front of Daun’s entrenchments. Once in the woods again, Frederick halted his men, forming the troops and the still struggling horsed-artillery teams for the imminent blow.

Daun’s artillery had been belching from the time the Prussians appeared about Neiden, and the deafening noise of crashing trees and intense shelling vibrated through the woods. Archenholtz relates that the cannonfire smashing down the big trees of the Dommitscher, the booming of the big guns, and the shrill of the wind, all combined with the screams of the wounded, was “like Doomsday.” He quoted the king as saying, “what an infernal Fire! Have you ever heard anything [like this.]” Such was the background against which the Prussians prepared to march against the entrenched, well-prepared main army. The wind was gusting through the Dommitscher, and prevailing ground conditions were wet and miserable. Undeterred, the Prussian line lurched forward against the waiting enemy and their powerful guns. It was about 1415 hours.

Frederick rode on horseback with his entourage between the first line and Ramin’s. Kleist’s hussars had galloped off left—eastwards of the front—and paused there, facing thousands of Austrian cavalry ranged before them. As for the lead grenadiers, they actually got to within about 800 yards of the enemy works before the deadly struggle really commenced. The three-pounder horsed-artillery came tearing across the Striebach and prepared to form on the left of the infantry. However, before the Prussian pieces could be fired or even readied they were blown away by the entrenched enemy guns, their attendants either killed or wounded. The weak artillery support for the king’s initial assault was thus crippled.

The Battle of Torgau had begun in deadly earnest. The grenadiers plunged forward into the heavy Austrian fire, whole groups at a time being mowed down by the merciless barrage. In the event, Austrian gunners changed to cannister shot to be more effective against infantry. Finally two lines reached the Austrian works and began butchering the whitecoats with such abandon that Daun was forced to pour a steady stream of reinforcements into the fray. The price for their charge had been heavy indeed. Of some 6,000 infantry, only about 1/3rd actually reached the enemy’s lines; the rest had been killed or wounded in the carnage.

An interesting human side to the king presented itself now. Two of the Old Dessauer’s grandsons were present at the battle. One by Frederick’s side, and the other leading in the first attack. The latter, Count Wilhelm Reichsgraf von Anhalt, fell killed while moving up; the king broke the news to his brother with unquestioned sincerity, “All is misfortune … your brother is killed.” For perhaps 45 minutes, the valiant Prussians faced and fought to a standstill an enemy who overwhelmingly outnumbered them, but the weight of numbers at last pressed them back and they retired to the rear, chased by the Austrian guns.

The Austrians regrouped, and part of Arenberg’s men rushed out to counterattack, thinking impetuously the battle was won. Wied’s and Puebla’s men now descended from the rise, and these men drove the wavering Prussians back into the woods. Kollowrat’s riders also joined the fray, but a bluecoat force of infantry plowed into the 21st Infantry of Baden-Durlach, forcing it to fall back. But Frederick had Ramin and his 1,200 men held back for just such a contingency; they flung back the overconfident foe and followed him back for a renewed attack upon the entrenchments. After a fierce struggle, Ramin was finally ejected as well. Under cover of his workings, however, the survivors of the first line (barely 600 men unwounded) managed to find shelter as well as a timely breathing spell in the Dommitscher. Nine of ten in the first wave had been killed or wounded, which gives the reader an idea of how fiercely the struggle had opened.

As for Daun, his lines had been bloodied but not broken by this first Prussian effort of the day, the army and artillery were still intact, and, as we shall discern, occupied with nothing except Frederick and his men. With the counterattack by Arenberg, Frederick knew Daun would not allow him to break off the struggle without an active pursuit. That “comforting” knowledge no doubt spurred him on to continue the attacks.

It had turned very unfavorable again, and a full snowstorm was raging. The heads of the second column of Hülsen appeared out of the woods about 1500 hours, followed by Lt.-Gen. Bülow (who was to be captured in this battle) with the main body of his men. With these relatively fresh reinforcements, stiffened by the survivors of the first stroke, Frederick renewed his attack for a second time in the same spot against a still thoroughly intact enemy, occupied as yet with nothing except Frederick and his dealings. Only about 9,000 men were attacking 60,000. This second assault was launched at about 1530 hours, the storm abating a bit by that point.

Supported by the few cavalry at the king’s disposal, namely Kleist’s, the Prussian infantry scrambled back upon the enemy works. The 30th Infantry, of Major-General Joachim Friedrich von Stutterheim, led the new stroke. It suffered very heavy losses in the process, and was hit on two sides by four regiments of Austrian cuirassiers. In fact, “almost all of the officers were wounded.” The 20th Infantry (Major-General Otto Ludwig von Stutterheim), suffered grievous losses as well. In this attack, and subsequent repulse, this valiant body lost 600 men. To the left, the 24th Infantry of General Goltz, had an even harder time of it. Daun’s reserves hit it full in the front, breaking momentum built up as the regiment broke in upon the Austrian lines. This forced the 24th back the way it had come; leaving 699 men and ten officers among the casualties. Just about the time all of this was developing, the Austrian marshal uttered his famous remark about Frederick, “throwing so many men away … [as] it will do him no good.” The new stroke silenced the Austrian cannon, and surmounted Daun’s lines, sending the whitecoats reeling back upon their inner works. For a time, the Prussians had possession of a portion of the Austrian works, and had captured a great many enemy guns. At once, crews began to spike the weapons so they could be of no further use. Now at last hopeful, Frederick thought that his victory had been attained; had Ziethen been attacking the other side of Daun’s massive works like he was supposed to do, that might have been the case.

Alas, Ziethen was not doing anything of the kind. Daun, thus unoccupied, called forward the reserve. This was held back at Grösswig (under the remnants of Ried); which, along with Sincère and his hastily-changed flank formations, at once went against the bluecoats with an overwhelming force. This new hammering forced the Prussians out of the Austrian works back the way they had earlier advanced from. Worse, Frederick had been wounded in the chest during the counterattack, but not seriously, and he was mounting his fourth horse since the start of the battle.

Frederick’s adjutant, von Berenhorst, remarked bitterly on the failure of the king to acknowledge the deed whereby he carried the fallen leader, knocked cold by a bullet, to safety in the midst of battle. The Austrian lines had been mauled, but Prussian casualties were very heavy, including 20 heavy guns knocked out of action. Berenhorst was reportedly repaid for his gallantry by a stinging renunciation from the reviving Prussian monarch to the affect, “Go do some real work, round up stragglers!”

The marshal, who had dashed up to the scene, had likewise been wounded in that last attack. A musket ball had torn off part of the skin of his left foot and penetrated. But the Austrian commander chose to conceal the wound with his army in such a lurch, showing him to be personally brave. He even managed to keep the wound a secret “until the blood was dripping from his boot.”

The second Prussian attack having been repelled, one must now wonder: What had Ziethen been up to all this time? All day long? Earlier that morning, as his men reached Klitschen—no enemy of note even troubling him—Ziethen turned his men on to the Butter-Strasse (or Butterstraβe) road. The turning movement was hardly complete when, on the edge of a small wooded area (place called the Röthe-Fuhrt) just ahead of him, the fiery hussar found a small Austrian party. Over two full battalions of the Warasdiner Croats, the 2nd Kaiser Hussars, and some light troops. This force had been put out in the woods to probe for Prussian movements on that side. Ziethen at once drove against the little force. The latter turned their ordnance (all two of them) upon the bluecoats, firing off some rounds and engaged the Prussians in their task for about an hour. Then the party beat a retreat. The Prussian commander then came to the unfortunate conclusion the enemy were before him in substantial number and unmasked his own guns, fired two whole salvoes and promptly ordered his surprised men into battle formation, pressing this insignificant body back upon Lacy’s lines.

By that point, Ziethen had forgotten all about the attack schedule and probably the plans laid out before him that morning. Instead of following up on these plans, the stubborn hussar merely drew his main body out facing Lacy’s formations across the Röhrgraben, and stood there for hours contesting his patience in exchanging gun salvoes with Lacy.

One disturbing incident occurred just about as soon as the Prussians emerged from the woods. One of the first Austrian rounds landed among Ziethen’s retinue, beheading a member of his staff. A horrified junior officer pointed this out; Ziethen’s curt response was, “He never knew; many more will go the same way before this day is done.” The hussar could casually remark on the cuirassier’s “easy” death. It happened that this incident took place about 1200 hours. About this time, the indomitable hussar apparently received some communication from the king, to which he could only reply: “Has he lost his senses?” Blumenthal, his biographer, more or less explains Ziethen’s odd behavior on the field of Torgau by not explaining it. Blumenthal tries to argue the direct march on Grosswig likely ordered by Frederick would have exposed his flank to Lacy’s attack and he thus took a “circuitous way.” This biographer, however, does not explain why it took Ziethen so long to actually make his attack.

Of course, it is always possible that the timing of the Ziethen stroke could have been moved.33 And, in all fairness, Lacy’s position extended the Austrian front facing Ziethen much farther than originally thought. However, there can be no denying that the hussar leader took the time to patiently form his men, the horse to the right beside a pond and the foot soldiers, in double lines, to the left under the Septitz. He rode around unconcerned before his prepared army, while the king was fighting hard off to his side.

Blumenthal explains Ziethen’s sluggishness by saying the old hussar encountered “several obstacles on the road.” Further, Ziethen’s “circuitous” route was explained by saying he did not wish to be “outflanked by Lacy.” This is unquestionably a mask to conceal his really poor performance at Torgau.

It had really been the sounds of this minor fight there that had led Frederick to launch his attack upon Daun with his own single column in the first place. Now, after two separate charges, the bluecoats of Frederick and Hülsen had fallen back once more. Their losses had been severe. The 8th Infantry, of Major-General Julius Dietrich von Queiss, for instance, had taken heavy losses. Of its complement of 1,300 men before Torgau, only 300 were left in the ranks afterwards. The second column had ended its stroke by 1620 hours. The results were much the same as at the first. The Austrian army of Daun had also suffered severe losses, and his battle lines had been somewhat disordered by the last stroke. But the latter still had the advantage on the battlefield, and the potent power of Frederick’s assault columns appeared to be all but broken. For the moment.

At about 1630 hours, Holstein finally arrived on the scene before the Austrian front. His van emerged on the near side of Zinna about ½ mile to the north of where Frederick and his battered men were. Instead of facing southward and moving in to join their comrades, the newcomers continued on to the east, towards Zinna and the Austrian works there. The Prussian commanders to the south took this to mean that Holstein was still following the original attack plan and apparently disregarding what had been—and was still—going on as something not of his concern. His men were on course towards the Elbe, and it did not appear he would stop them. Frederick, perceiving how things were going now, sent a rider to Holstein to halt his march, form into line, and, apparently, forgetting the now invalidated assault scheme, to go in against Daun’s right near Welsau and Zinna while the “remains” (the use of that word here being all too appropriate) of the king’s and Hülsen’s forces smashed their way into the Austrian center.

The Battle of Torgau III

Prussian cuirassiers in white uniforms charge the Austrian right flank late in the day.


The heavy fighting throughout the day had set parts of Suptitz on fire, but the inferno did not deter Frederick’s infantry from storming the village to help win the day. Painting by Gunter Dorn.

As Frederick said of Holstein, “with his usual phlegm, [he] had loitered behind on the march … [depriving the Prussians] for the first hour of the battle.” Of the 6,500 cavalry the king had among his three columns (minus Ziethen), Holstein was carrying all but 1,000 horse. The 5th Infantry of Ferdinand led this final attack by Hülsen against the faltering Austrian line. A portion of Holstein’s rearguard, the 8th Dragoons of Platen and Colonel Georg Ludwig von Dalwigg’s 12th Cuirassiers, broke off and charged, horses galloping, at the enemy crouching at Zinna. The latter hammered away at these units as well. It lost a standard, but took a flag and two cannon from the Austrians. The 1st Austrian of Kaiser and the 7th of Neipperg, were almost annihilated, either killed, wounded, or prisoners. All of the staff officers of the 12th Cuirassiers received the Pour-le-Merite and 500 thalers, along with the king’s gratitude. However, such valor had a heavy price! The unit “had lost more than half of its trained troopers.”

The 4th Cuirassiers of Schmettau attacked the 7th Dragoons of Batthyáni, smashing them, and, by joining up with the 5th Dragoons (of Lt.-Gen. Friedrich, hereditary Prince of Bayreuth), along with the 11th Dragoons (Lt.-Gen. Leopold Johann von Platen), as well as elements of the 12th Dragoons, moved towards the right. This latest stroke was aptly led by Lt.-Gen. Friedrich Ludwig, Count Finck von Finckenstein. This attack smashed into Arenberg’s men, hammering the 27th Austrian Infantry, which held the westernmost end of Daun’s line facing north. The 1st battalion of the Bayreuth Dragoons (Colonel Christoph Karl von Bülow) was at the front of a decisive charge against four Austrian regiments. Ten flags, and whole battalions, were taken. The remainder scattered, but the attackers could not stay.

A severe flank fire commenced from “fresh” Austrian units nearby, and Kollowrat battled the Prussians while reinforcements from General Löwenstein’s reserves pushed forward and gradually forced back this attack, although taking heavy losses in the process. After the battle, Frederick awarded the Bayreuth Dragoons with a grand total of eight Pour-le-Merites. Platen’s men took a standard and many prisoners, while also inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. It has been contented, probably correctly, that the horse would have done better still if it had pressed ahead with the pursuit instead of pausing to take prisoners and guns. In the event, most of the trapped Austrians were bagged, the rest probably slipping away only because of the enclosing darkness.

The 5th Cuirassiers (Lt.-Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt), smashed into the 26th Austrian of Puebla and the 28th of Wied—these units being an integral part of Arenberg’s command before the lines near the undefended causeway—sending them reeling. In the process, the attackers took five guns and three flags. The king forwarded two Pour-le-Merites as well.

In front of Zinna, stood Buccow with his regiment. This Prussian attack broke through the weakened enemy line. The remainder of Daun’s men in this sector were sent scurrying to the rear, while the Austrian horsemen present there, coming up behind to the rescue so to speak, were put off balance for the moment. However, there was Austrian cavalry massed eastwards of the Prussian advance. They did not budge for the moment. This assemblage was under O’Donnell, about which more later. This allowed the Prussians to extricate themselves from the face of furious counterattacks mounted by Daun’s stiffening army, as we have observed.

On their flanks, the Austrian infantry were taken under fire and hammered by Holstein’s left, and the struggle there dissolved into intermittent skirmishing. Meanwhile, the third and final main assault had commenced. The 5th Dragoons crashed head-on into the Austrian center, with the foot soldiers coming on again as well. The whitecoats were able once more to mount a sustained fierce fire, but this time the grimly determined bluecoats were not to be stymied, and, surmounting the Austrian entrenched works, advanced straight into Daun’s camp. As the light of a short autumn day waned, there ensued a confused grisly struggle for possession of the field. This occurred just as those four Austrian regiments were enveloped.

The Austrians caught behind the line attempted to relieve some of the pressure on their front-line comrades, but they were unsuccessful. Frederick and Hülsen’s men had the western side of the Austrian works well in hand, but on the north Holstein had been held up by the boggy, sodden ground and had virtually been halted. He was just then exchanging fire with the enemy opposite. His part of the attack scheme as amended by the king had been ruined by the efforts of General Carl O’Donnell, who led a “counterattack” just then composed of the 4th and 25th Cuirassiers and the 19th Dragoons.

The situation could easily have been worse. O’Donnell had 80 squadrons of riders deployed between Zinna and the Elbe. He had a great numerical advantage, but only a limited effort resulted. Frederick, in his History, stated the reason that O’Donnell failed to launch a major attack was because of an 18-inch wide ditch separating him from the Prussians. This was, apparently, a major obstacle. At least, in the minds of the Austrian commanders. As it was, General Bülow, 50 officers and 2,000 men were taken captive by the Austrians. The king realized what it could have been. He even wrote “the battle would have been lost without recourse” had O’Donnell launched a full-scale effort. As it was, the Prussians were close to a major catastrophe. Most of Daun’s cavalry happened to be concentrated in this area, near the Zeitschken-Graben. The Austrian stroke drove off the Prussian horse on that end of the field.

Nevertheless, the mass of the whitecoats had had enough and were falling back in large numbers, although isolated pockets (which had been formed when the last Prussian assault outflanked some defenders) were still present even at the western end of the works. The Austrians thus trapped were still engaged with the bluecoats and striving, of course, to cut their way out of the thickening enemy web around them. More and more, the Prussian commanders were compelled to turn additional men to deal with those isolated pockets, virtually negating any attempt at pursuit of the reeling main body. The latter thus were enabled to pull back out of harm’s way, in much better shape than it may have under different circumstances. Still the Prussians knew that there was fight left in the Austrian mass and their own army was not yet in complete possession of the contested ground. And the call yet went out: “Where is Ziethen?”

Ziethen, by then at least, had realized belatedly his error. His subordinates, Saldern and Möllendorf, called on him to “do something” on the enemy. At the least, to move to the westward, where they knew they would be in closer proximity to the king’s men, to find out what was happening thereabouts. The Austrians had a major battery, not to mention a considerable body of men in support, on the Septitz. Part of this force consisted of the 50th Infantry (Harsch), and one battalion of Arenberg’s 21st Infantry. This was on the southern side of the Röhrgraben, but nevertheless geographically was seen to dominate a view of the battle, as well as being a key to the battlefield. Saldern and Möllendorf urged Ziethen not to squander their opportunity, but to march and attack the enemy there while some daylight yet remained.

Ziethen remained adamant, and so while the Prussians on the other side of Daun’s fortress expended themselves in costly (and largely unsuccessful) assaults all afternoon, the bluecoats on this side stood by futilely exchanging shots with the now much weakened Austrian force across the Röhrgraben. The sounds of the raging battle were quite distinct during most of this time, indicating that Frederick was making a hard effort to overcome the stubborn marshal in his high-walled fortress.

Ziethen must have known this, and yet, incredibly, he did nothing to aid his master until it was nearly too late to do so. By 1600 hours, darkness coming on, the sounds of the battle were abating, indicating the action was winding down. The wily old hussar, no rookie to the job of soldering, had exhibited a curious lack of concern and command of his men during this period. But now, with enveloping night upon him, he must have realized the battle was all but done. Like so many other details regarding Ziethen’s men on that strange day, historians are unsure what caused this sudden change of heart. It is not likely a pre-arranged time to strike, when it was evening. It is certainly possible that Ziethen decided to intervene on his own; but the likeliest explanation was that a communication of some sort had been received from the king. Perhaps the earlier intelligence alluded to by Blumenthal.

What an end to the battle. Thanks to Ziethen’s failure to intervene, what an end it probably was! He may now have come to his senses. At about 1600 hours, the old hussar shook part of his men into motion, veering towards the Septitz by the line of the river. He then detached Saldern to go with some 6,000 men (the 6th, 23rd, 15th, and 18th Infantry) to go strike at the enemy upon the Septitz. There flashes lighting up the gathering darkness were still to be viewed, sounds of firing were still audible. Ziethen deduced that Prussian forces were still engaged near there.

He hoped Saldern would ascertain what had happened. Behind Saldern, Tetternborn’s men waded the stream close by, coming to his support. General Grumkow’s Brigade (19th Infantry, 49th, Garrison 2nd, and 21st Infantry) sped across the causeway. But the Austrians were not entirely unprepared. The 47th Infantry (Harrach), Daun’s 59th and Sincère’s 54th fought a stubborn effort to turn back the newcomers. The upshot was, this initial blow failed to dislodge the Austrians. Ziethen’s men fell back momentarily and regrouped. The bluecoats then went back to the offensive. This stroke was successful, and, moreover, the enemy no longer had the means to launch a counterattack and no tangible forces (short of pulling men away from the vicinity of the king’s Prussians) to do so. Major-General Carl Christoph von Zeüner’s brigade, consisting of his own 1st Infantry, Syburg’s 13th, and the 18th Infantry of Friedrich Wilhelm, was close by. In the midst of this new blow, General Herberstein fell, mortally wounded.

Meanwhile, Frederick had left Hülsen in charge of getting the units still at hand into bivouac for the night and departed from the field for Elsnig. Here the Prussian leader, exhausted and thoroughly discouraged by the hours of carnage, intended to spend the night. He was of a mind to renew the battle on the morrow if the enemy did not draw back across the Elbe during the night. As for Daun, he had gone to Torgau to have his wound dressed and taken care of (about 1830 hours). He had probably left the scene about the same time as the Prussian king, if not before. He left Buccow in charge of the Austrian forces while he was absent.

At about 1800 hours, Saldern’s own 6th Infantry swept through the undefended causeway, and “between the sheep ponds.” Forcade’s 23rd Infantry sure had a time of it now. The commander on the spot, Colonel von Butzke, was lost, along with 365 men and 22 officers in what turned out to be the decisive stroke of the day. Major-General Möllendorf led his 15th Infantry to the causeway; his Third Battalion suffered severe losses, but also received a total of seven Pour-le-Merites. (The 18th Infantry alone received five more). It was, at least, a new lease on life for the Prussian effort to overthrow Marshal Daun at Torgau.

But the earliest stroke was anything but decisive. Tetternborn (about 1600 hours) coming up behind Saldern with his command (the 21st Infantry, 41st Infantry and 31st Infantry) pressed with difficulty into Septitz and got only as far as the Röhrgraben. Syburg’s 13th Infantry, was at the front of Zeüner’s men. It took heavy losses attacking the Austrians before it. Hülsen’s 21st Infantry promptly lent support. The 31st Infantry of Major-General Lestwitz covered Septitz from Austrian attempts to outflank it; a deed that caused it much grief and 200 casualties. Even General Neuwied’s 41st Infantry was savaged before the Septitz.

As for Saldern, he had attacked on Tetternborn’s left, striking and breaking across the Austrian positions near the Röhrgraben. Prussian casualties were severe enough doing this deed, but it would get worse. As the final shades of daylight flickered across the evening sky, Lacy brought his cannister spitting cannon to bear on the bluecoats. Daun, although no longer present on the field, sent word to Lacy to rush reinforcements to the Septitz to head off the new Prussian effort. The 20th Infantry (Alt-Colloredo), joined by the nearby 45th Infantry of Daun, was linked up with three grenadier battalions of Colonel Ferrari. DeLigne’s 38th Infantry was ordered forward on the double, all in an effort to stem the new Prussian effort. This brought Saldern and Tetternborn to a grinding halt. The Prussian line was soon all but riddled by the swathing Austrian force, and summarily forced back. General Wied, under the most fortunate circumstances near at hand, rallied the 47th and the 59th Infantry, and immediately attacked the enemy forces to the east of the Septitz. This initial stroke drove the Prussians from before them, but, after a spirited advance, Wied suddenly found himself and his men wedged in between Prussian forces. Not for long; a quick volley or two crashing into the Austrian line sent Wied reeling back.

Saldern’s stroke, nonetheless, smashed the Austrian fortifications on the Septitz, taking the Austrians “sheltered” there by surprise. After this desperate struggle, he compelled them to abandon their guns and retreat. The price was heavy. The 6th Infantry lost 338 men and eight officers. The wooden portion of the works was soon afire, and the now ejected occupants sped off to apparent safety. Their action in demolishing the works there did prevent Saldern (for a time) from shoving on across the Septitz to link up with Hülsen’s tired men. But Ziethen was not to be delayed for long now.

Ironically, at this stage of the battle, an errant Prussian artillery gunner fired a round which surely should have killed the indomitable old hussar. The aim was purely accidental, and Ziethen escaped serious injury when his horse bucked on the event. Ziethen was incensed; but “was satisfied with a severe reprimand [for the gunner].”

To the west of the Septitz, went the now familiar Butter-Strasse through the aforementioned pass between the Schäferai Height and the Septitz on its way to the little village of Schäferai. The pass continued on across the Röhrgraben by a solid bridge between two ponds—over which Ziethen should have probably moved that morning on his part of the attack scheme. As for Möllendorf, he had probed ahead with his men, and shortly returned with important intelligence that the bridge not only still existed but that it was crossable. It is likely that intelligence from Frederick, to the effect that a stronger “statement” needed to be made by Ziethen’s men, had reached the scene. Within a few moments, the bluecoats were hurrying along for the pass and its bridge, which had most curiously been neglected by the enemy. Now, however, the Austrians hastened to seal off this gap in their stance and so prevent the Prussians on the southern end of their camp from linking up with the decimated northern half. The 2nd Infantry (Erzerhzog Carl) and the 8th (Hildburghausen), led a hodgepodge of reinforcements that moved up to support the efforts of d’Ayasasa and Sincère.

But Möllendorf got there first, and when the enemy forces did appear, the Prussians were already across the bridge and forming a front on the far side. Now, once more, the firing became regular and quickly became general. The bridge, in question, was apparently very narrow. Blumenthal stated only three men abreast could move through it. The leading company of Major Lehmann had the “honor” of being the first through the passage. Two Austrian cannon were blocking the way and seemed about to dispute passage. Suddenly, a valiant Prussian, named Gulle, took matters into his own hands. He charged the Austrian gunners, killed one man and badly wounded another before he was overcome himself. Thus inspired, however, Lehmann’s men pushed forward, sending the faltering foe backwards. Gulle survived the war, despite being seriously wounded, and, at Blumenthal’s writing (circa 1797), was still among the living.

In the larger picture, Ziethen hastened to support Möllendorf, and a fierce contest raged for control of the now crucial bridgehead. Finally, the whitecoats, outnumbered and beaten, withdrew their tattered remnants. Meanwhile their comrades, both Austrian and Prussian, heard the sounds of the renewed engagement. This noise reached Hülsen; now that it was pitch-dark. He had been engaged beforehand in his duties of organizing the army for the night camp. He had ordered back the cavalry, some of which had pressed far to the east in their rapid, exciting pursuit of the fleeing Austrian mass, and called up the infantry. The bivouac was facing northeast, with the infantry on the southwest end under General Lestwitz. It was in this posture that the king’s army was deployed when the noise of the engagement announcing Ziethen’s presence reached them. At once Captain Gaudi, familiar to us since the Battle of Rossbach, sped to Hülsen to try to bring to the attention of the ranking officer of the need to prepare a renewed assault upon the enemy before him, this time tending towards the Septitz.

Hülsen’s inborn resistance to independent command has already been alluded to. Most of the regiments that had attacked Daun’s north works that day were shot up and disorganized by that point. But Lestwitz had rounded up roughly 1,000 fighting men; they could be called upon. Dohna’s 16th Infantry and the 9th Infantry (General Schenckendorff) were the least injured. Lestwitz, in a rare burst of enthusiasm by Hülsen, was ordered to march to the sounds of the renewed fight.

General Hülsen’s men, seeing the red conflagration raging on the southern horizon—which was, of course, the works on the Septitz on fire—and hearing loud cannonade and musketry from the same direction, moved out, Lestwitz leading the way with his scattered formations already referred to.

Reaching that rise, the newcomers battered at the enemy on the front of that line, and as they surged forward, they came up with the left wing of Ziethen and in contact with Möllendorf. Off to the left front of Möllendorf, on the overhang opposite to the Septitz, lay the key to the whole battlefield—the southwest corner of that rise. This was the most elevated point on the rise. If the Prussian cannon could be erected there, the Austrians might yet be swept back all the way to the walls of Torgau fortress itself. The height overhang the Röhrgraben on that side, where the struggle had begun for the pass, but on the western side it could be ascended easily enough, while its northern edge protruded into the spine of the Dommitscher; from the east to the west, and was the direction of the final scenes of the battle.

The Austrians were not about to give up without a struggle. Mercy’s 56th and the 12th of Botta-Botta had the unenviable task thrust upon them of confronting bluecoats appearing from two directions; Ziethen from the southeast and Hülsen from the northwest. The commander on the spot, General O’Kelly, continued to fall back to do battle with the force of General Hülsen, which appeared to be the most dangerous. O’Kelly crossed paths with a small Prussian battery, and, through the gathering mist, was having trouble making out a large body of riders. Unsure whether the newcomers were friendly or hostile, General O’Kelly pressed out a detachment which discovered the horsemen were the 14th Cuirassiers of O’Donnell. The Austrians charged forward, but a deafening roar from behind them told this body of men that the enemy was now directly in their rear. O’Donnell’s cuirassiers gradually gave way, allowing the Prussians the opportunity to occupy the greater part of the Septitz.

The Austrian army was certainly worn thin, many of their muskets warped from damage and the ammo about gone. The fire of the Austrian artillery sputtered out, largely for the same reason. It was entirely exhausted; guns and crews alike.

The Prussians themselves were not in much better shape. Their men were drained as well, company identity fuzzy at best, officers separated from their regiments and trying to find them. The Austrian 2nd Infantry, cut off from the remainder of the Austrian forces when Hülsen and Ziethen finally connected, was captured almost to a man, and other Austrian forces were nabbed.

During the course of the renewed action, however late it was, the Austrian chain-of-command had been upset, yet again. Buccow had been wounded early in the struggle (which did not prove fatal, but did end his service in the field, as it turned out), and O’Donnell took charge of the whitecoats. As for Hülsen, he at last arrived on the field. His led horses had all been shot, so the old man was forced to hitch a ride to the scene on the back of one of the horsed-artillery teams. “He planted himself on a cannon … [and was] dragged into the enemy fire.” O’Donnell, spurred on by the excited urgings of the wounded Marshal Daun at Torgau, scraped reinforcements together and shook them into motion on the way to the struggle at the Septitz.

But in the prevailing confusion, the much-needed reinforcements halted in the valley below the rise and stood there while the Septitz was irretrievably lost to the advancing Prussians. By then it was about 2000 hours, and the Austrian line had been ruptured beyond repair. For about an hour more, the Austrians were still making a shored up effort on the field. Then, from about 2100 hours, O’Donnell reluctantly began withdrawing the army on the orders of Daun. The latter had ordered the move in view of the deteriorating situation, and the marshal only ordered a halt in Torgau just long enough to prepare to march away across the Elbe as soon as it was feasible. The Battle of Torgau was over by then, although there was still some scattered firing on the field until past 2200 hours.

The Austrian army, at least that portion of it that was still in some semblance of order, fell out into a semi-circular formation just west of the walls of the Torgau fortress. This while the Prussian pursuers, pressing hard upon their heels, drew out in a similar posture. As the bluecoats positioned themselves, their foes—as quickly as was possible—were preparing to fly off to Dresden.

Daun had sent off Colonel Georg Sigmund Rothschütz to Vienna earlier touting the “victory,” and now a second was sent on the way with the news of a victory turned to defeat and a withdrawal upon Dresden. The marshal had left the field with the fortifications at least largely still in the hands of his army. O’Donnell and Lacy appeared bearing the bad news that the Prussians had overcome the position at long last. He had earlier discerned the news of the renewed fighting on the battlefield, so this could not have been a surprise. And, of course, he had given the orders to withdraw.

Austrian and Hungarian Warships on the Danube

The Habsburg Monarchy had never been a maritime power to be taken seriously – despite its Adriatic ports, its rule in the Southern Netherlands and two decades of control over Naples and Sicily. For centuries, the Venetians had successfully prevented any Austrian shipping in the Adriatic, and the Maritime Powers in their turn now made sure that the Austrian Netherlands would not endanger their supremacy at sea. Until the acquisition of Venice in 1797 Austria effectively remained a landlocked power, lacking a real navy or merchant fleet. During the Turkish wars the Habsburgs, however, adopted the Hungarian tradition of a respectable Danube flotilla made up of fast and lightly armed rowing boats with auxiliary sails called Nassaden (from the Hungarian word for ‘boat’) or Tschaiken (reflecting the Turkish term for ‘river’). As early as the fifteenth century Vienna had had a naval arsenal, but in 1529 the first Danube flotilla had to be scuttled when the Turks advanced to besiege the city for the first time.

During the 1680s plans were considered for a small Imperial fleet operating jointly with ships of other Christian states against the Turks in the Adriatic. Yet the Danube continued to be the most likely focus of Habsburg maritime activities. The early 1690s saw the creation of a superficially impressive flotilla containing even relatively large ‘battleships’. The initiative did not at first have a happy outcome. Officers and sailors were recruited in Holland, foreign adventurers took command … all at horrendous expense. It became even more painful when, in 1696, three ships had to be blown up near the confluence of the Danube and the Tisza to prevent them from falling into Turkish hands.

The battleships of the second generation built in the late 1690s were much smaller and had fewer guns. At the same time, the traditional Tschaiken continued to be used as well; much more easily manoeuvrable, they were now built slightly bigger and more strongly armed, which made them more expensive. In 1701, there were still 14 large ships, 2 frigates, 2 brigantines and 35 Tschaiken, but the fleet had been sorely neglected after the peace of Karlowitz, ships even being broken up to recover timber. For the Turkish War of 1716–18 both new battleships – whose sailors were this time recruited in north Germany – and Tschaiken had to be built and equipped anew. This took time, and only a few of them were actually used, chiefly to cover land operations such as the celebrated Danube crossing near Belgrade in 1717. After the peace treaty the warships were broken up … and sold as firewood.

The acquisition of Naples (1714) and Sicily (1720) eventually necessitated a permanent fleet to maintain communications with the new Mediterranean territories. Otherwise Vienna would constantly have to rely on the goodwill of the Maritime Powers, particularly the British. When the Spanish had abandoned Naples in 1707, they had taken their ships with them. It was high time for the creation of a small Habsburg-Neapolitan navy, a project well in keeping with Charles VI’s dream of a strong potenza marittima. In the late 1720s a winter harbour was set up in Baia while, on the Austrian Adriatic coast opposite, Trieste and particularly Porto Rè (Kraljevica) were turned into naval arsenals and shipyards. Yet this initiative was not sustained: after the loss of the south Italian possessions in 1734 interest and activities naturally petered out. In 1733–34 four ships of the line and four galleys were at Charles VI’s disposal. Supreme command was exercised by the Genoese aristocrat Count Gian Luca Pallavicini (1697–1773), later Austrian governor-general in Milan. When the Spanish fleet arrived off Naples in April 1734, the galleys managed to break through and escape to Trieste to join what was left of the Neapolitan navy, only to rot gradually or be sold off to Venice. At all events, the Neapolitan fleet had managed little more than convoying troop transports across the Adriatic. Now as before, it was impossible to defend southern Italy without the support of the Maritime Powers, while even Austria’s Adriatic coastline was attacked and bombarded during the Polish Succession conflict. Needless to say, among the nobilities of the Monarchy service in the navy had less tradition than even joining the army; the idea of bringing Austrian noblemen to serve as naval officers by having them trained in sea warfare by the Knights of Malta, as was common practice among French nobles, never got of the drawing board.

In 1736 the Neapolitan regiment of Marines was disbanded, the remaining personnel and material being used to establish a new Danube flotilla for the Turkish War with British and Dutch naval officers. Yet its fate was as disastrous as that of the Emperor’s land forces. In the first campaign two battleships had to be scuttled to avoid capture, while in August 1739, three further ships which the Turks had caught up with while advancing on Belgrade had to be blown up by their crews at the confluence of the Danube and the Temeş. After the Turkish War the remaining Neapolitan officers and sailors were dismissed, and only a small gunboat flotilla survived with bases at Raab, Komorn and Gran. It was to prove itself in the War of the Austrian Succession, particularly in the Bavarian theatre of operations.

Beginning in 1764 a contiguous zone along the Danube in the Banat was ‘militarized’. It was to be settled by Serbs who had moved there from the dissolved Tisza-Máros Border, but also by veteran soldiers unfit for regular service. Together with a unit of Rumanian settlers established in 1769, the Serbian colonists formed the Illyrian Banat Border Regiment (raised in 1775), which covered the eastern Banat (with headquarters at Weisskirchen); the German Banat Regiment, on the other hand, consisted of ‘German’ invalids and colonists and stood guard along the western Danube border with headquarters at Pancsova. The official strength of the Banat Border amounted to some 7,700 men.

Efforts to establish a military border in Transylvania in 1764–66 met with great difficulties. It was planned to include only two groups of the country’s population: the Széklers in the south-east and the predominantly Orthodox Rumanians in the south and north-east. After open rebellion in 1764, the Széklers, though originally a warrior nation, had to be forcibly included in the border organization. By contrast, the Rumanians hoped that ‘militarization’ would improve their critical situation and proved more cooperative. Unsurprisingly, a territorially compact border could not be artificially created in a comparatively densely populated area. Still the Transylvanian Border mustered a combined paper strength of more than 14,000 men. Small river naval units had been part of the old Hungarian national militia (pp. 87–8) dissolved in the 1740s. Traditionally based in the north-west of Hungary, they were fundamentally unsuitable for guarding the Turkish border, by then much further south. After several futile attempts a battalion of military boatmen (Tschaikistenbataillon) was finally set up in 1763–64 in the Danube-Tisza area with Titel as its headquarters. These boatmen, too, were military peasants, who received land instead of pay and used the traditional boats or Tschaiken as gunboats (hence the name). The batallion first went into action during the War of the Bavarian Succession (1778–79), when it had to support the regular army’s pioneers and pontooneers in Moravia and Bohemia. For the Turkish War of 1788–90 the Danube flotilla was considerably reinforced by four larger sloops and an older frigate.


In October 1707, Association, commanded by Captain Edmund Loades and with Admiral Shovell on board, was returning from the Mediterranean after the Toulon campaign. She was lost in 1707 by grounding on the Isles of Scilly in the greatest maritime disaster of the age.

This was a highly successful combined operation against Toulon with the total elimination of France’s Mediterranean fleet thanks to an Anglo-Dutch naval bombardment which was combined with a siege by Austrian and Piedmontese forces. The siege was stopped when it appeared clear that the city would not fall speedily and, instead, could resist until the arrival of overwhelming French forces. During the siege, the Anglo-Dutch fleet played a key role in supporting the siege, providing cannon, supplies and medical care. The Toulon campaign indicated both the growing importance of amphibious operations and the extent to which the key issue was not the seizure of territory, but the achievement of particular strategic goals in the shape of destroying the fleet.

In 1707 the Duke of Marlborough during the War of the Spanish Succession, proposed an assault from north and south. In the north he could depend on Belgian bases, but in the south Toulon had to be seized and made into a depot for an advance up the Rhone. There were delays before the Emperor could be coerced into any operation. Eugene advanced along the Provençal coast aided by Shovell’s fleet. The land operations against Toulon failed (July-Aug. 1707) but Shovell destroyed the naval base with the French fleet in it. The threat was enough to bring the French back from Germany and Spain, but the failure was an expensive strategic defeat.

Marlborough’s year of victory was followed by a year of disappointment. Louis XIV tried to open peace negotiations, but the triumphant Allies were having none of it, unless the French abandoned all dynastic claims to Spain. During 1706 the Imperialists had won a victory at Turin, which effectively cleared the French from much of Northern Italy. Plans were laid to build on this success in 1707 by staging an invasion of Provence, supported by an Anglo-Dutch fleet. Prince Eugene was sent to Italy to lead the offensive, and consequently Marlborough was starved of the German troops he needed to campaign effectively in Flanders. In the end Eugene advanced as far as Toulon, where a combination of disease and French reinforcements caused him to lift the siege and withdraw to Italy.

Toulon in 1707 was a well-fortified town with a modern earth wall with 7 bastions. They were well-armed with cannons from disarmed ships of Toulon squadron. There were two gates, one (St. Lazare) between Minims & St. Bernard bastions, & the other (New) between Royal & Arsenal bastions.  

Toulon fortifications (see above):

A – Mimins bastion

B – St. Bernard bastion

C – St. Ursule bastion

D – De la Fonderie (Foundry) bastion

E – Royal bastion

F – Arsenal bastion

G – Du Marais a Gauche

H – batteries at New Dock

I – batteries at Old Dock

J – Ponche-Rimade bastion

K – earth redoubt at Minims bastion

L – entrenched field camp

The War at Sea, 1701-1714

Opposing navies had resumed their familiar game on the high seas as soon as war broke out. The French resumed the guerre de course their Navy had practiced during the second half of the Nine Years’ War, prosecuting it to great effect. The privateers of Dunkirk alone brought in nearly 1,000 Allied or neutral prizes. The French effort was so effective Parliament passed the “Cruisers and Convoys Act” in 1708, specifically assigning additional warship escorts to convoy duty along the Western Approaches and off major British ports. This forced French cruisers and privateers to hunt in the West Indies, off the coast of Africa, and in other less well-defended waters. The Allies also practiced cruiser warfare and privateering against French convoys and individual merchantman. This forced the French to use some warships to escort Spanish convoys across the Atlantic and led to squadron-on-squadron fighting in the Caribbean in August 1702. Unlike the French, who cleaved to a strategy of guerre de course throughout the war, the Allies also sought to utilize their clear advantage in battlefleets to outflank the French operationally and strategically. The Allies suffered early failures at sea, however, notably their inability to take Cadiz through amphibious assault during August-September 1702. The troops were put ashore too far from the city, the officers were inept and lost control, and most of the expedition got drunk and began looting and desecrating Catholic churches (perhaps consciously recalling the tradition of Francis Drake). On the return journey, English escorts surprised the Spanish silver fleet and their French escorts at Vigo Bay (October 12/23, 1702). The Allies missed most of the silver, but captured or destroyed 12 rated French warships and 19 Spanish vessels. The outcome of the fight and the prospect of more amphibious assaults into Iberia helped persuade Portugal to switch to the Grand Alliance. The next year, England formally detached Portugal from its French alliance, signed the Methuen Treaties, and secured at Lisbon a base of operations for the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean.

An Anglo-Dutch amphibious operation failed to take Barcelona in June 1704. On its return journey, it took Gibraltar instead. That led to the only fleet action of the war, off Velez-Malaga (August 13/24, 1704). Although the French won a tactical victory, operationally the battle blocked them from retaking Gibraltar, thereby inflicting a major wound. Afterward, the French Navy and privateers cleaved to an effective and lucrative guerre de course: in the last decade of the war, the French took over 4,500 Allied prizes on the high seas, and sank or burned hundreds more Allied or neutral ships. French squadrons, usually under War of the Spanish Succession private loan if not privateer command, also raided and extorted various overseas outposts from West Africa to the Caribbean (and later, against Rio de Janeiro in 1711). An English squadron attacked a Spanish treasure fleet in the West Indies in 1708, intercepting or sinking the equivalent of £15 million of bullion.

Meanwhile, the Allies moved troops by sea into the Mediterranean from the north, as dominance at sea enabled them to sustain armies fighting in Spain. In 1704 an Anglo-Dutch fleet escorted 8,000 Redcoats and 4,000 Dutch to Spain, where they joined 30,000 Portuguese fighting Philip V ostensibly for the Grand Alliance. An Anglo-Dutch fleet parked off Barcelona for two years after an amphibious operation finally captured that city on September 28/October 9, 1705. The French Mediterranean squadron and fortified city of Toulon was bombarded, burned, and besieged from July 28-August 22, 1707. The French sank or burned 15 of their ships-of-the-line at anchor rather than see them captured or burned by Allied bombardment. However, the blockade had the principal effect of provoking an even large French commitment in Iberia. By 1708 Parliament authorized, and the Royal Navy transported, 29,395 men to campaign in Spain. That did not prevent a decisive defeat of the British at Almanza in April 1707. Sardinia fell to Allied marines in August, providing a potential naval base in the western Mediterranean close to France. Minorca was taken shortly thereafter, along with its superb harbor at Mahon. Once the Allied naval blockade of Barcelona was lifted at British behest, the end came into sight for Archduke Charles in Spain. Among the last significant actions involving sea power was a failed British expedition to take Québec mounted in 1711. It was a poorly planned disaster.

SHOVELL, Sir Cloudesley or Clowdisley (1650-1707), seaman, cut out the corsairs at Tripoli (1676) and cruised against the Barbary pirates until 1686. He was Rear Admiral in the Irish Sea in 1690 and 2-in-C at Barfleur (1692), where he broke the French line. He was C-in-C in the Channel in 1686-7, became M. P. for Rochester from 1698 and was Comptroller of Victualling as well as C-in-C in the Channel from 1699 to 1704 when, with Rooke, he captured Gibraltar and fought the B. of Malaga. Next he co-operated with Peterborough at Barcelona (1705) and with the Austrians and Savoyards before Toulon (1707), where he destroyed the French Mediterranean Fleet. His brilliant career ended abruptly in a shipwreck on the Scillies when he reached the beach exhausted and a woman murdered him for his ring.

Germany – 1813

Russian, Austrian, and Prussian troops in Leipzig.
Painting by Alexander Sauerweid.

The Treaty of Reichenbach between Austria, Russia and Prussia signed on 27 June set out the four minimal Austrian conditions and guaranteed that Austria would enter the war unless Napoleon had accepted them by the expiry of the armistice on 20 July. The allies made it clear to Metternich, however, that although they would enter negotiations on this basis they would only sign a peace if it included other terms which would end Napoleon’s domination of Germany and guarantee Prussian security. Relations between Austria and the allies reached their lowest ebb when Metternich returned from discussions with Napoleon in Dresden and imposed an extension of the armistice until 10 August. Some of the loudest denunciations of this extension came from Baron Stein. In his case the normal allied view that Austrian peace terms were inadequate was enhanced by fierce disagreement with Metternich about the war’s ultimate goals. Stein wanted a reborn and more united German confederation with a constitution guaranteeing civil and political rights. He appealed to German nationalist feeling to achieve this. Since April 1813, however, Stein’s influence with Alexander had been in decline as Germany failed to revolt against Napoleon and the allies’ need for Austrian assistance became more pressing. Now he attempted to strike back, claiming that Metternich was pulling the wool over allied eyes and that with half a million Russians, Prussians and Swedes ready to take the field against 360,000 enemy troops Austrian help was probably unnecessary anyway. Previously he had supported Nesselrode because the latter shared Stein’s view that Russia should commit herself wholeheartedly to the liberation of Germany from Napoleon. Now, however, he called Nesselrode Metternich’s dupe, a well-meaning but empty weakling.

In reality Nesselrode was right and Stein was wrong. The allies could not have driven Napoleon out of Germany without Austrian help. At the very moment when Stein was writing these denunciations Metternich was moving quietly to swing Austria towards the allied camp. With peace negotiations now in the offing, Metternich wrote to Francis II that it was essential that he and the emperor were in complete agreement as to future policy. The peace negotiations might have three outcomes. The two sides might agree terms, in which case Austria need only rejoice. Metternich did not need to spell out to Francis how unlikely this outcome was, since the Austrians were well aware how far apart the opposing sides were as regards acceptable peace terms. A second and somewhat likelier possibility was that Napoleon would accept the Austrian minimal terms and the allies would reject them. Metternich wrote that Austria could not determine in advance what to do in this event since to some extent it would depend on contexts and circumstances. Under no circumstances could it side with France, however, and the defeat or dissolution of the allied coalition would be a great threat to Austrian security. Armed neutrality might be a short-term option but it would be very difficult to sustain for any length of time and the only other alternative would be to join the allies.

Metternich’s memorandum concentrated, however, on the third and likeliest possibility, which was that Napoleon would reject the Austrian terms. In that case Metternich’s unequivocal advice was that Austria must declare war. He concluded his memorandum with a question: ‘Can I count on Your Majesty’s firmness in the event that Napoleon does not accept Austria’s conditions for peace? Is Your Majesty resolutely determined in that case to entrust a just cause to the decision of arms – both those of Austria and of the whole of the rest of united Europe?’

Francis responded that any decent man must desire stable and lasting peace and that this was all the more true for a sovereign like himself who bore responsibility for the well-being of ‘his good subjects’ and their ‘beautiful lands’. No greed for territory or other advantages could justify war. But he trusted Metternich’s judgement: ‘To a great extent I have you to thank for the present excellent political situation of my monarchy.’ Therefore he agreed with his foreign minister’s conclusions. In the event that Napoleon accepted Austria’s terms and the allies rejected them he would await Metternich’s advice. If Napoleon rejected the Austrian terms then the monarchy would declare war on France.

In the end therefore everything depended on Napoleon and he played into the allies’ hands. The French representatives at the Prague peace conference arrived late and without powers to negotiate terms. Nothing could have done more to confirm Austrian suspicions that Napoleon was merely playing for time and had no interest in peace. Not until two days before the armistice was due to expire did Napoleon make a serious diplomatic move. On 8 August Caulaincourt, one of the two French delegates to the peace conference, visited Metternich’s quarters to inquire what price Austria required to stay neutral or join the French camp. Not until the day after the armistice expired did the French provide Metternich with a response to the four minimal peace conditions set out by Austria. Napoleon agreed to abandon the Poles and hand over much of Illyria to Austria. He conceded nothing as regards the north German ports, rejected Prussian annexation of Danzig, and required compensation for the King of Saxony to make up for the fact that he had lost his position as Duke of Warsaw. These conditions would never have satisfied Metternich and by now it was in any case too late. Austria had closed the peace conference and now declared war on France.

Ever since August 1813 most historians, French ones included, have condemned Napoleon’s ineptitude in failing to use diplomacy to divide the allies and keep Austria neutral. Even the inadequate concessions presented to Metternich on 11 August might have made an impact on Francis II if put forward as a first move at the beginning of the peace conference. There was room to exploit differences in Austrian and Russo-Prussian war aims, as regards both German and Polish territories. If the peace conference could be extended to include Britain, Napoleon’s chances of sowing dissension must improve further. All the continental powers resented the fact that, while their territories had been occupied and ravaged, the United Kingdom had remained inviolate and become seemingly ever richer. They hoped to achieve territorial concessions by Napoleon in Europe in return for British willingness to hand back French colonies.

Nevertheless, even if Napoleon erred in not using diplomacy more skilfully to explore potential splits among his enemies, it is possible to understand his point of view in the summer of 1813. Refusal seriously to explore peace terms was much less obvious a blunder than his initial agreement to the armistice. The French monarch feared that once he began making concessions the allies would raise their demands. He was correct: the Russians and Prussians intended to do just this. The concessions he was being urged to make in north Germany might conceivably be acceptable in the context of a general peace which would include the return of French colonies, but Napoleon could hardly be expected to concede these territories in a continental peace and thereby find himself naked when he had to bargain later with the British.

A fundamental issue underlay all these peace negotiations. The allies, and indeed Austria, wanted to restore something approaching a balance of power in continental Europe. Napoleon was committed to French empire or at least hegemony. His defenders might plausibly assert that unless he preserved some version of French dominion on the continent he had lost his war with Britain and the vastly powerful maritime empire which it had created. Napoleon’s basic problem was that although the continental powers resented the British version of empire, the French version was a much more direct threat to their interests. No amount of clever diplomacy could alter this. The only way in which Napoleon could get the continental powers to accept his empire was by re-creating their terror of French military power, which the disaster of 1812 had undermined. This was not an impossible task in August 1813. Napoleon had good reason to believe that he could defeat the Russians, Prussians and Austrians because the chances were very evenly matched. This adds to the drama of the autumn 1813 campaign.

In numerical terms Napoleon’s forces were inferior to the allies but not greatly so. The Russian and Prussian official histories put allied numbers in Germany at the beginning of the autumn campaign at just over half a million. Napoleon himself reckoned in early August that he could put 400,000 men in the field, not counting Davout’s corps at Hamburg, which was subsequently able to detach 28,000 men from garrison duties for an offensive against Berlin. On 6 August his chief of staff reported 418,000 men in the ranks. Exact numbers available for action on the battlefield are impossible to calculate for either side: roughly speaking, however, in the first two months of the campaign Napoleon could put rather more than four men in the field to every five allies. It was fortunate for the allies that 57,000 French troops were facing Wellington in the Pyrenees and another small corps under Marshal Suchet was still attempting to hold Catalonia.

After two months the odds would shift somewhat towards the allies. The only reinforcements Napoleon could expect were Augereau’s small corps which was forming in Bavaria. There were dangers in moving Augereau forward, since this made it easier for Bavaria to switch sides, which is what happened in October. To some extent the Russians faced a similar dilemma in the Duchy of Warsaw, where Bennigsen’s Army of Poland was both a strategic reserve and an occupation force. In the Russian case, however, it was possible to move Lobanov-Rostovsky’s Reserve Army into the Duchy to replace Bennigsen’s 60,000 troops when they set off for Saxony. A steady flow of Austrian recruits also joined Schwarzenberg’s army in September and October. In addition, once one began looking beyond the 1813 campaign it was clear that Austria and Russia had greater reserves of untapped manpower than Napoleon, especially if he was forced to rely just on France’s own population. Napoleon’s best chance of defeating the allies would therefore come in the first two months of the autumn campaign. This thought is unlikely to have worried the French emperor. After all, most of his great victories had been won in less time than this.

They had been won by better soldiers than he commanded in August 1813, however. Above all, Napoleon remained very inferior to the allies in cavalry. His mounted arm had improved considerably during the armistice, chiefly in terms of numbers. Some good cavalry regiments subsequently arrived from Spain. The Guards cavalry was mostly competent, as were the Polish and some of the German regiments. But the bulk of Napoleon’s French cavalry was still well inferior to the Russian reserves formed by Kologrivov, not to speak of the veteran Russian cavalrymen. In addition, all sources agree that the cavalry was the best arm of the Austrian army. The situation as regards artillery was if anything the opposite. French equipment was much less cumbersome than Austrian guns and caissons. The Prussian artillery was so weak that the Russians had to second some of their own batteries to a number of Prussian divisions in order to give them sufficient firepower. The Prussian general staff history concluded that French artillery officers were usually more skilful than their allied counterparts. The main allied advantage as regards artillery was numerical. If they could concentrate their three field armies and Bennigsen’s Army of Poland on a single battlefield, the weight of their firepower should be overwhelming.

The majority of both the allied and the Napoleonic infantry were recruits, most of whom had never seen action before August 1813. The French conscripts were younger than their allied peers, but on the other hand many of them had experienced the spring campaign, which was true neither of the Austrians nor of the Prussian Landwehr. The Russian reserves were also going into action for the first time but at least in their case they had enjoyed plenty of time to train and were usually very tough and resilient. Above all, however, the Russian infantry contained more veterans than its French counterpart. This meant not just the men who had served throughout the 1812 and spring 1813 campaigns, but also many thousands of veterans who returned to their regiments during the armistice from hospitals and detached duties. Not surprisingly, the Guards contained exceptionally large number of veterans. The Guards regiments had not seen action in the spring 1813 campaign, and many of them had received drafts of veteran troops from regiments of the line.

Though his army was inferior to the allies in both numbers and quality, in other respects Napoleon enjoyed key advantages. As he himself pointed out to Count Bubna, Metternich’s envoy, interior lines combined with a clear chain of command and his own undisputed leadership were very valuable in themselves. When opposed to a coalition made up of equal great powers with diverse interests, and with armies deployed in a huge semicircle from Berlin in the north to Silesia in the east and Bohemia in the south, these advantages ought to be decisive. In his memoirs, Eugen of Württemberg wrote that in August 1813 he had been optimistic about allied victory but having discovered after the war how disunited and conflict-ridden the allied leadership had been he was now very surprised by ultimate allied success.

The allied commander-in-chief was the Austrian field-marshal, Prince Karl von Schwarzenberg. Before 1813 Schwarzenberg had shown himself to be a skilful ambassador and a competent and courageous commander of a division. His record of commanding larger units had been less impressive. Nothing in his personality or career suggested that he was a match for Napoleon as the commander of a huge army. Schwarzenberg was a patient, tactful, kind and honourable man. He believed in the allied cause and served it unselfishly and to the best of his ability. A grand seigneur, he had the manners and the lack of personal ambition appropriate to his status. In the manner of an Eisenhower, he could absorb and defuse conflicts between the many ambitious and aggressive personalities over whom he exercised command. Of course, the aristocratic Schwarzenberg was fluent in French, the lingua franca of the allied high command. As commander-in-chief, however, he was hampered by his lack of confidence in his own military ability, his awe of Napoleon, and the immense difficulty of commanding a coalition army of equal great powers, two of whose sovereigns insisted on travelling with his headquarters and second-guessing his decisions. Though he often found Alexander very difficult to handle, Schwarzenberg on the whole liked him. He echoed the consensus that the Russian monarch was ‘good but weak’. Frederick William III on the contrary was ‘a coarse, churlish and insensitive person whom I dislike as much as I value the poor, valiant Prussians’.

For all his inadequacies, Schwarzenberg was the best man available for the post of commander-in-chief. The supreme commander had to be an Austrian, not a Russian. This reflected allied dependence on Austria in August 1813 as well as the fact that the largest allied army was deployed on Austrian territory. Even if the Austrians had been willing – which was far from the case – Alexander himself would never have accepted the job. Had he wished to be the supreme military commander, the position was his for the asking after Kutuzov’s death in April 1813. Some of his generals urged him to take personal command then but Alexander was far too lacking in confidence in his military abilities to agree. Instead he preferred to operate from behind the shoulder of the actual commander-in-chief, to the latter’s acute discomfort.

The emperor treated Schwarzenberg with more respect than he had Wittgenstein. At the beginning of the autumn campaign, for example, one even finds him telling Wittgenstein to obey Schwarzenberg’s orders when they conflicted with Alexander’s own commands. Quite soon, however, confidence in the supreme commander began to fade and old habits to some extent returned. Schwarzenberg quickly learned that the only way to guarantee that Russian commanders would actually execute his orders was to consult in advance the emperor’s representative at allied headquarters, Karl von Toll, and on any major matters to get Alexander’s own approval. Inevitably this delayed and blurred decision-making to a degree which could have proved fatal.

Consulting Alexander and Frederick William entailed listening to the opinions of their military advisers. In Alexander’s case this meant above all Barclay de Tolly, Diebitsch and Toll. Always inclined to trust foreign ‘military professors’, Alexander now found a partial substitute for Pfühl in Major-General Antoine de Jomini, one of the most respected military writers of the time, who had deserted from Napoleon’s army during the armistice. Alexander put even more trust in Napoleon’s old rival General Moreau, who had defeated the Austrians at Hohenlinden in 1800 and whom he had invited into his entourage from American exile. For Schwarzenberg and his Austrian staff officers it was bad enough having to listen to the allied monarchs and their Russian and Prussian generals. Having to defer to Moreau and Jomini was the final straw. The commander-in-chief wrote to his wife about the frustrations of being ‘surrounded by weaklings, fops of every sort, creators of eccentric schemes, intriguers, idiots, chatterers and fault-finders’. Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky commented in his diary that allied decision-making was sometimes akin to the deliberations of a popular assembly, quite unlike the clear-cut system of command which had existed – in his rather idealized memory – at Kutuzov’s headquarters in 1812.

If Schwarzenberg’s power over the main army – the so-called Army of Bohemia – was conditional, it was almost non-existent as regards the two other allied armies. The Army of the North was commanded by Bernadotte and was deployed around Berlin. As the de facto sovereign of a large, independent country Bernadotte had to be given command of one of the armies and would be very difficult for any commander-in-chief to control. In so far as anyone at the main army headquarters could influence Bernadotte’s actions, it was Alexander to whom the Swedish crown prince to some extent deferred. In any case, the whole area between Schwarzenberg’s and Bernadotte’s armies was held by Napoleon, so messengers between the two headquarters generally made a huge detour to the east and took many days to shuttle back and forth. Even Schwarzenberg’s attempts to control General Blücher, the commander of the Army of Silesia, bore little fruit. By delay and by appealing to Alexander and Frederick William the Prussian general successfully resisted all the commander-in-chief’s many efforts to draw the Army of Silesia into Bohemia in order to cover the main army’s right flank. At least in the Army of Bohemia Schwarzenberg could give direct orders to the 120,000 men who formed its Austrian contingent. In the Army of Silesia and the Army of the North, however, there were no Austrian troops.