Hochkirch, Saxony, 1758 Part I

Preliminaries to Battle at Hochkirch

In the interim, the king laid plans to attack Laudon and, driving him from the road in from Bautzen, to shove him back towards his allies. He had to possess this route for two reasons: (1) It would put the main army astride the road to Görlitz, and thus into Silesia; (2) Perhaps less importantly, it would open access into Zittau from Bautzen, breaking Daun’s lines-of-supply and communication with the interior of the Austrian Empire. This would bring Daun out swinging for a battle. Frederick knew that Daun would have to fight such a battle, or else retreat.

Frankly, Christoph was not at all sure of the intentions of the enemy opposite him, namely Retzow. It was decided that a reconnaissance of the area in question was in order. He galloped to Kleinröhrsdorf with a small body of men early on September 16. In a misty morning, with Prussian scouts all about, Baden-Durlach admitted he was unable to see what the enemy had in mind or even make out their strength. Without clear, certain intelligence, he was very reluctant to act. So the movement, which might have really aided the allied cause, was called off.

This whole episode is eye-opening. The timidity of some of the allied commanders in this war was often remarkable, and often quite crippling to their war effort. A strong contrast to the often head-strong men employed by Frederick in this same capacity.

The noteworthy Laudon was an exception to this rule.3 He demonstrated an uncanny ability to generally give a little better than he got in his encounters with the Prussians. Besides, Daun was not about to leave Laudon to his fate. The Prussians kept cavalry patrols out to counteract the irascible commander. Daun made sure reinforcements were prepared and sent to Laudon in case the king decided to try something.

This reinforcement was under our old friend Bülow, who had already demonstrated a knack for effectual command of a semi-independent nature. The Prussians, as was their consummate skill, chose to try one flank of Laudon’s to put in their stroke. Laudon’s left was at Fischbach, with his right at Röhrsdorf. On his far left, Laudon kept Wied with a force of Croats to cover the approaches to the Dresden road. Other forces were sent out to warn the Austrian commander in case Frederick might try something.

Just after midnight on September 16, alert scouts brought word to Török that suspicious movements were occurring near Copitz. Török strengthened his patrols towards Lohmen, and tried to keep abreast of developments. Suddenly, about 0700 hours, Retzow struck at Laudon. This initial charge was finally beaten back after great effort, but Frederick’s main body appeared then at Fischbach. Laudon shoved the Croats, led by Brentano, into an attack against the king’s advanced guard. It quickly became apparent that Frederick had too strong a force to provide a successful defense against. So he withdrew his men to Kappellendorf; here he quickly took refuge. About 1000 hours, the Prussians were cognizant of the movement, which brought Laudon closer to Daun’s main army. Laudon, for sure, had suffered a reverse, but, although the roar of Prussian batteries continued until late afternoon, the Prussian follow-up was most effectually snuffed out.

Daun was still inclined to keep to his posts, he was fully aware that Frederick was not quite strong enough to attack his main body in its present position. The play for time was actually a stand-off, but the weather was worsening by the day and it was an open question how much longer the armies could keep the fields. As for Laudon and the outlying detachments, they were still staying close to the main body as well.

The Prussians were not inclined towards timidity even before Stolpen. Retzow brought his force into Fischbach, while the king, with his goal of gaining the road to Bischofswerda temporarily on hold, returned to camp. He now awaited Daun and Daun was just stalling for time. Likely the marshal wanted to withdraw into Bohemia, but he remained cognizant of the weakness of Zweibrücken’s army. The latter would not be able to stand alone against the Prussians. This stand of Daun’s was almost unfathomable in Vienna. There the general view was that Daun, with the best army Austria had to put in the field, should be able to accomplish something of note during the campaign. All of this while some of the high command were castigating Daun for allowing the Prussian king, with smaller forces, to “harass and hem in the bigger [Allied] armies.” Additionally, the deteriorating state of the autumn weather precluded major operations for about a week and a half.

Frederick was now in a better position than he had seen for a while, but he had Daun’s big army to contend with. Prince Henry was charged off to keep track of Zweibrücken’s men. There was a wild rumor that Hadik was attempting to outflank Henry’s army, although what was actually happening was the Imperialists were trying to solve their supply difficulties. Nevertheless, Henry ordered Knobloch off with two regiments of infantry, a force of horse and Belling’s Hussars. This force almost immediately ran into, and subsequently captured, one of Zweibrücken’s supply convoys. The result was a virtual guarantee the Imperialists were going to stand pat on the defense.

The consternation of the allies worked in Daun’s favor. Among the allies, Hadik (probably the most capable of the Imperialist generals) was determined to do what he could to get a favorable return. Hadik deployed his troops to prepare for an enemy appearance. Kleefeld’s men were put down at Naundorf, other detachments took up at Freiberg (Colonel Joseph von Kamanrony) and at Burkersdorf (Ujházy). Hadik put his main force at Dittersdorf. These various positions were exposed to interference from Prince Henry. Prussian patrols gradually increased towards Freiberg. Knobloch’s forward elements crashed into Imperialist posts at Niederbobritzsch, and the direct result was tipping off the Imperialists there was a general offensive starting soon against them from Henry. Zweibrücken realized the Prussian intentions were to roll over allied posts at Freiberg. This caused Hadik to take matters into his own hands. The supply situation demanded that they act to head off the Prussian threat to their lines-of-communication.

Hadik rose and moved on Freiberg, unsure if Prince Henry were bringing back his whole army. If so, this could be a real problem for Hadik had just 600 men in his force. Meanwhile, the Belling Hussars had been unleashed to wreak havoc. In the wee hours of the morning of September 25, Kleefeld’s outposts received a nasty surprise when they were attacked by the Prussian riders. Without infantry support, however, it was clear the hussars could not stay. They fell back stubbornly to Sadisdorf. Kleefeld’s lines suffered no ill effects, and the enemy had retired. However, intelligence reports had Prussian patrols drawing close to Chemnitz. Hadik’s measured response was to strengthen patrols in that direction. Ujházy was unbuckled directly on to the town. A Prussian occupation force holding Chemnitz was present. They were loath to leave without “persuasion.” After some street fighting, the bluecoats finally retreated. However, Ujházy, with bigger fish to fry, simply left a garrison at Chemnitz and returned to his old post.

Meanwhile, Hadik was being reinforced (to about 12,000 men) with a view to conducting operations independently of the indolent marshal. With his troop strength growing, Hadik’s reconnaissance forces fanned out between the Mulde and the Saale. It was now anticipated that the Prussians would make their appearance somewhere in that general area. Simultaneously, Kleefeld’s men also moved forward. It was a most alarming state of affairs. Renewed supply problems now haunted Daun, and for the Imperialists, they had become a way of life in this campaign.

Winter was drawing close and it was becoming a concern of the allies as to where to plan for winter quarters. Daun’s strange inactivity could not help but seem to tip the balance of maneuver straight into the Prussian camp. To try to regain something of this lost opportunity, Daun was good enough to send one of his staff, the capable Major-General Johann Anton von Tillier, to discuss viable options with Zweibrücken. Daun had been busy again cooking up another plan for dealing with the situation. Baden-Durlach was to take a picked force of 8,000 men to press off for Görlitz, where he was to join up with Vehla. There they were to await the arrival of some support troops that Zweibrücken was to send to supplement the men Daun had earmarked for his new plan.

September 24, right on time, Baden-Durlach shoved off, from Nieder-Putzkau. If time was of the essence, however, this fact seems to have escaped the commander’s thinking. It took the greater part of four days for him to get to Löbau, still well short of Görlitz. Then, instead of pushing on, Baden-Durlach unaccountably called a halt at Löbau.

Things might have remained at this status quo but Frederick threw a monkey wrench into the whole works by suddenly going back on the offensive. Daun had a back-up in the form of Fermor’s Russians and had received firm promises of commitments of these troops. Once Zorndorf did not pan out to Fermor’s liking, the Russian commander and his legions more or less just faded from the scene. In the end, it may have had little to do with Zweibrücken’s decision to pull out completely from the plan. The latter had little faith in the scheme’s chances.

If that was not bad enough, the choice of leaders for this movement was not a good one. Hadik, the best man for the job, was not available to be spared. He was needed right where he was. Then, the capper, when Zweibrücken balked, Daun’s beleaguered plan was really in trouble. Zweibrücken also desired Daun to move from his side to attack Prince Henry; if the latter were rooted out, then Frederick’s position would be totally compromised. The Prussian king simply acted first.

On September 26 (1400 hours) the main Prussian force marched from Schönfeld, to form link with Retzow. Keith hitched to Arnsdorf, which Retzow had moved out from. The next day, Retzow and Frederick joined up at Rammenau. The Prussians all of a sudden had the initiative in their hands. Then, adding insult to injury, although DeVille intensified the effort against Neisse, he was making no headway. This put paid to Daun’s plan.

While Daun was anchored to his post at Stolpen, Laudon moved up on Bischofswerda. Frederick was a little surprised by this move. The king was going to make the same maneuver, except Laudon beat him to the punch. Evening of September 27, a strong Prussian recon was carried out near Schönbrunn. This really worried Daun. Enough so Daun was looking to reinforce Laudon immediately. With this view in mind, a large portion of the reserve under the Marquis d’Ayufe was pushed out to Bischofswerda. Meanwhile, some of Laudon’s men were involved in some skirmishing with Prussian detachments. This was developing the presence of the main Prussian army, which Laudon knew was very close. It was essential for the Prussians to get Laudon rooted out before they could proceed on with further business. This was clear to all concerned, including Marshal Keith, who had recovered quite nicely from his recent illness.

With this specific task in mind, early on September 28 the Prussians attacked the posts of Laudon rather forcefully. The marching troops were judiciously separated to make an attack easier to mount. Two of the columns roared against Laudon at Burka and Bischofswerda. An additional body of men railed against Laudon’s rear. In view of Laudon’s readjusted position, Daun felt it was essential to maintain communication with Laudon. Accordingly, General Baron O’Kelley von Gallagh und Tywoly, was pushed out to Drebnitz. The latter was packing enough of a force to form a link to Laudon. However, it is worth noting Daun never intended for Laudon to stay isolated at any time. As for Laudon (who finally retired to Nieder Putzkau after his clash with the king), he kept close to d’Ayufe’s men. It had been the latter’s effort, namely a fast paced move to join Laudon, that had kept his force safe when the enemy suddenly erupted. Laudon was able to extricate his men about 0400 hours with the loss of eight men captured.

Of course, the advantage was already starting to shift noticeably towards the Prussian side. This was a most disturbing state of affairs, as Daun was quick to point out in a parlous letter to Maria Theresa. Daun was so brash as to tell his Empress he dared not risk his army in any movements since the realm had no further resources at the moment. And the marshal rather surprisingly admitted although the Austrians clearly possessed the advantage of superior numbers, “he [Frederick] has many other advantages which offset this [one].” Which begs the question, “What other advantages?” Well, the Prussian standard, although much weakened by the war, remained one of the best in the world, and there was still marked reluctance to engage the bluecoats in battle on the part of some Imperial units.

Nevertheless, many in Vienna were decidedly displeased with the marshal’s “performance.” There were others who wondered aloud why the main Austrian army and the Imperialists, who had between them a great numerical superiority, could not work actively against Frederick. Kaunitz, among many, did not support the passive state of affairs that Daun encouraged.

Meanwhile, back with the Prussians, Retzow was assigned the role of advanced guard, and the rest of the army was to follow in his tracks in a few days’ time. Retzow promptly took to his duty, reaching Bautzen (October 1), driving off some of Daun’s Croat parties which had been deployed there. He punctually put in the supply wagons before advancing upon Hochkirch. Following this, the general paused with his men, and waited for the scheduled arrival of Frederick; the latter was to be up with the main body soon.

The one detail Retzow had overlooked and/or forgotten, in this confusing state of affairs, was to occupy the Stromberg. In the space of a few weeks, the “failure” of Retzow would have a big impact. Now we must clarify ourselves. Prince Henry often considered it a Frederician trait to heap the backs of others with his own shortcomings. “All his [Frederick’s] life,” wrote Henry, “he blamed his errors … [on others, i.e.] his generals.” Besides, the orders to Retzow do not appear to have been terribly specific. Still, this one oversight was to result in a severe rebuke for the Prussian king and his men. This evening, Retzow could gloat over a job well done, considering the horde of enemies hovering about. He routinely pushed over into Weissenberg and vicinity, and there his troops were when Frederick, with Daun (more or less as usual) not far behind, marched on Hochkirch in about a week.

It was the ardent desire of Vienna that Daun should stay as close to Zweibrücken’s force as possible while still tending to the other duties he had at hand. A hitch by the Imperialists back into the German Reich would be seen—and rightly so—in a very negative way. Vienna also, in this case needlessly, reminded the marshal of his obligations to the Russians. They had once required a detachment to join them, but Zorndorf had changed all of that.

Meanwhile as September lengthened into October, a short Prussian pause was required to get some supply entanglements ironed out. Scouts reported to Laudon that suspicious activities were afoot. This presaged a major offensive was imminent from the Prussians. When he was informed of this, Daun did what he usually did: rather than try to act decisively, he called a council-of-war while the army was still at Stolpen. Daun was only too aware of the continuing slack state of Swedish arms, and of the chronic tardiness of the Russians. Maria Theresa told him he would have to take the offensive himself to go to the aid of these allies, although the exact opposite situation should have ensued. Vienna would not hear of staying in camp at Stolpen in order to help cover Zweibrücken’s exposed posts near Pirna.

Indeed, Daun, hearing that Laudon by retreating had left the road to Bautzen open, quickly realized that his erstwhile impregnable camp at Stolpen would now have to be abandoned, for Frederick had but to turn south and sweep down upon Zittau, capturing the heavy baggage, magazines/provisions there in one stroke. To retire from Stolpen and move to get ahead so he could intercept the Prussians, just in case they did happen to be aiming for Zittau, had thus become Daun’s first priority. Secondly, if it could be accomplished, Daun intended to swing in front of Frederick and block his march on Silesia. Indeed, the last should have been the first priority in this business.

Even cautious Daun realized there was no other alternative; if he stayed immobile at Stolpen his already discontented soldiers would starve and there would be no ammunition for the guns and muskets. Besides, despite orders to the contrary, the marshal really wanted to be away from the Imperialists. The latter were an unfavorable influence on the whole Austrian army. Even Maria Theresa had to agree with that unfortunate summation.

Daun’s councils-of-war took time. Two such needless discussions were called, which served only to waste precious time. It was, therefore, four days after Retzow had already reached Bautzen before the Austrian army (October 5) finally pushed off. Covered by rainy, soaking weather and in pitch darkness, Daun’s discouraged men staggered along on the road through the Oberottendorf Woods to Neustadt and Löbau, south of Bautzen, and with both Frederick’s army and the Elbe to the rear. The Austrian move commenced at 1500 hours, with Laudon’s capable hands leading the van. Hours after, with the sun set, in three columns, Daun’s main army wound off, leaving their tents standing to deceive the Prussians. The Austrians were able to reach a long valley at Neukirch before dawn was breaking.

The Prussians did not bother Daun’s men beyond deploying two dragoon regiments with several infantry units, to harass the move. The Austrians of Colonel Count Merode, with little fanfare, attacked and drove off the intruders at Neider-Putzkau. In the event, “One Prussian battalion was totally destroyed.” The Austrians lost 327 men in the spirited proceeding. Before the morning was much used up, the Austrians were filing through the streets of Löbau and passing to Kittlitz, beyond which Daun carefully deployed. In one march, he had stolen some of Frederick’s thunder, not to mention that the Austrians were once again ahead of the king, between him and the route to Zittau. This time it was with the main army, not just Laudon. Daun could thus be rapid indeed when provisioning his men and keeping them supplied depended on swiftness. Speaking of Laudon, on October 7, he moved with purpose on Kleinpostwitz and Schirgiswalde. Daun posted his reserve under Baden-Durlach, meanwhile, between Reichenbach and Arnsdorf.

Within the lines that Daun now occupied, he could dispose of roughly 80,000 men: 50,000 of which were infantry; 28,000 cavalry; the balance made up of light parties and the artillery teams, the latter responsible for 340 guns. The main Austrian army, by itself, was superior in all respects numerically speaking, and, as a plus, Daun could boast the army had just won its last hurdle with Frederick, at Domstadl.

Frederick, after haggling along with his troops, sent back word to Dresden to have a second (and larger) convoy made ready for him and sent forward. He arrived at Bautzen on October 8, determined now definitely to march into Silesia, as the only viable option to Saxony. The following day, the king moved on Rodewitz. Bautzen was to be held in great force. Retzow grasped the Weissenberg locale while the getting was good, and Marshal Keith finally put in a belated appearance.16 Frederick would be compelled to wait, however, at his present location until the new supply train came in. As for the marshal, his new posts were in much better respects than the old accommodations at Stolpen. Frederick’s camp at Rodewitz and Bautzen offered him interior lines to move on the Oder, or, barring that, a retrograde movement on the Saxon capital. In the worst case scenario, the king would be able to, not only retain Dresden from the enemy, but also to drive them for the year entirely from Saxony. In the end that was precisely the result. This was a situation guaranteeing the displeasure of Maria Theresa’s allies. The French openly voiced their attitude at court, implying they would not have fought on past 1757 if not for the Austrians. King Augustus, from his locale in Warsaw, railed against what he perceived as virtual abandonment to the Prussians of his realm by an Austrian force so clearly superior in numbers. “Surely more could have been done,” thought the allies collectively.

As for Saxony itself, the war being waged over so much of its territory left little breathing space for more normal routines, such as planting/harvesting crops. All of the contending armies had drawn at least some of their supplies locally from Saxon farmers. The Prussians generally “misappropriated” what they needed, but the allies did their best to “buy” what they required. Usually, this would involve some form of paper exchange. Sometimes actual cash was given, but the usual method was to give out what amounted to an I.O.U. which could then, supposedly, be exchanged at a later time for cash or other favors. It does not take a great stretch of imagination to wonder how some farmers felt about their so-called “allies” arriving to clean out their crops. Could they trust the Austrians and Imperialists any further than their enemy, the Prussians? To his credit, Daun made a legitimate effort to curb the involuntary withdrawal of farm produce by his troops. Several guilty individuals were hanged for their parts in such deeds. Daun made sure that the executions were carried out in prominent locations, in order to help discourage such malefactors.

Whether Frederick had guessed at this stage that Daun would pull an about face and sweep ahead to block his march is unknown. In any event, he intended to remain at Bautzen and about just until the expected convoy could come forward, and then start for Silesia immediately afterwards.

The Hochkirch-Löbau road led to both Zittau, to which Daun would be only too happy to bar the way to, as well as towards Silesia. Frederick planned to use this fact to keep the enemy off balance and guessing as to where he intended to strike. Indeed, the king would find the normally cautious and slow Daun blocking the road ahead. Here the latter did pull a surprise, but Daun a week hence had an even bigger surprise up his sleeve.

Hochkirch, Saxony, 1758 Part II

The battle of Hochkirch, october 14,1758, during the Seven-Yars War between Austria and Prussia, between Empress Maria Theresia and King Friedrich II, over the possession of Silesia and Saxony. Canvas

October 10, the Prussian convoy reached Bautzen, and the Prussians at once rose and moved towards the villages and hills that Retzow was still holding in the distance. Retzow had kept his men positioned about Weissenberg since the first of the month, more than 11 miles from Bautzen to the east on the road. Frederick’s supply train made use of that road for its travel. During the march, a force of Daun’s irregulars—hovering about in substantial numbers—fell on it and the baggage just as they got past the defile at Jenkowitz, October 11.

The defenders drove off the attackers, but the harrying continued through the march; this attack was what led Frederick to suspect that a large portion of the enemy’s army, perhaps even Daun himself, lay ahead of his line-of-march now. The latter had already begun entrenching his army, spreading his men from Nostitz south-southwest to the Czernabog Heights—a position perhaps two miles long from end to end, although considerably thick. Daun put his headquarters at Kittlitz, with the usual screen of strong parties far out ahead of the army to give advance warning of the enemy’s maneuvers.

The latter pressed on, Frederick pausing at the high knoll where Hochkirch was, from there the country below out towards Zittau and Kittlitz, far and wide, was visible for miles. There, afar in the distance, and perfectly visible spread out for miles through the valleys/low terrain toward the Czernabog, in the manner stated, he discerned Daun’s large army. He was evidently intending to dispute the passage of the Prussians. Frederick was equally resolved to get the foe out of the way, so seeing what was obviously the entire Austrian field army in Saxony/Silesia present in front of his line of advance must have been an unpleasant surprise to him.

But the Prussian king could also be stubborn in his own right, and taking a rather rash course (in the light of hindsight), he ordered his army to halt right where it was and encamp. The rise of Hochkirch, which rose southward of that village, lay in a valley facing the Czernabog, up on Rodewitz and Kotitz. The army was positioned commencing at the last two places, the southern side standing refused as a wing at Meschwitz, just about a mile from Daun’s lines. This was in a precariously bad posture and quite indefensible without the Stromberg, which Retzow had forgotten to occupy.

Frederick’s adjutant, Gustav Ludwig von der Marwitz, was ordered to mark out a campsite within the position, but this gentleman must have known better than that; he made remonstrance, but in vain. At last, he refused to do so altogether, upon which he was placed under arrest. Marwitz’s only crime in this case appears to have been making use of his good sense. In his place, the king’s faithful (but dense) Koppel was appointed. Marwitz seems justified for refusing to carry out a bad order, not wishing to expose his army to the defeat that he normally did his duties without question.

Koppel made off with a party of men to the job he had been assigned by default. The enemy acknowledged his presence with wildly over aimed cannon fire. Yet, for all the responsibility that must be put upon Frederick’s shoulders for the disaster about to ensue, part of the blame must rightly be ascribed to Retzow. (As soon as the king learned of Retzow’s failure to take the Stromberg, he had him placed under arrest.) The importance of that rise is immediately evident. The sharp hill rose like a tall blade of grass out of the country between the Löbau Water and Kotitz, capped by a plateau well above the other rises around Hochkirch and its neighborhood. Frederick, realizing at once that he must have the Stromberg or his position would be indefensible, gave orders that it was to be taken at dawn the morning of October 11. Archenholtz, who was present at the battle, concurs that, without the Stromberg, the “Prussian encampment was untenable.”

During the course of the night, however, Daun sent troops to get hold of it, anticipating the Prussian maneuver. Even before darkness parties were already there, but additional men made it more secure. At dawn, a detachment of Prussians tried to carry out the king’s instructions, from General August Wilhelm von Braun and Major-General August Gottlieb von Bornstedt’s (Infantry 20th) quarters, but found the enemy (under Arenberg), too strongly posted to be dislodged. When the fog finally burned off, the light Prussian force struck about 1100 hours. The “assault,” such as it was, inevitably miscarried, and the arrival of enemy reinforcements was enough: the Bluecoats retired. Daun’s objective had been achieved. Henceforth, his army was left in indisputable possession of the rise, and the marshal promptly had strong batteries placed atop the dominating rise.

Previously, the king had believed that his foe was preparing to retreat into Bohemia/Moravia, but after the Stromberg debâcle, he decided to try other means, as Daun’s intentions of barring him from Silesia were crystal clear. Again it was an attack, engineered as usual toward a flank, in this case the Austrian right wing. The latter must be driven in, opening the Görlitz road.

The Battle of Hochkirch

Once this was accomplished, the road would again be clear all the way into Silesia. The enemy’s retention of the Stromberg meant it was quite apparent that the current position of the army was untenable. Determining not to prolong his stay under these circumstances any longer than necessary, Frederick decided to march on his new errand against Daun on October 14, and only then because a marching date sooner was impossible; due, in part, to the scattered posts of the men he could not arrange it before then.

In the Austrian sphere, Daun was having council with Laudon. That fiery subordinate told his commander that the enemy had chosen a dangerously exposed position, which, in combination with their inferior numbers (more than two-to-one against), they could not hope to hold successfully. Here, he said, was the perfect opportunity to take in flank, surround and maybe bag the whole Prussian army under its king at one masterful stroke. Daun did finally consent to take the offensive, but only under cover of night and only if the strictest secrecy were maintained so that the Prussians would not be tipped off to what was afoot.

During this period, Frederick actually helped his foe out by an uncharacteristic carelessness concerning guard posts and absolutely failed to send out reconnaissance parties in sufficient strength to detect distant enemy measures. Ironically, this was just when such precautions were much needed. General Lacy accompanied Daun, Serbelloni and a small party of Austrian officers who were out scouting the terrain surrounding the Prussian camp one night shortly afterwards when the entourage came under the fire of a Prussian outpost. Musket fire rang out, and Serbelloni got a hand severely wounded while making light of the largely inaccurate enemy fire. This incident did not prevent the Austrian marshal and his accompaniment of officers from riding out to reconnoiter the ground in front of and around Frederick’s position every evening so that very quickly the Austrians knew the lay of the land better than round their own encampment.

In the Prussian camp, the king found he needed Retzow far more back in command than under arrest, and so the “wayward” man was restored to his command. The damage already inflicted at the Stromberg could not be so readily dealt with. But Retzow again assumed charge of the Prussian left flank across at Weissenberg. The latter force, now about 11,000 strong (nine battalions), was quite out of supporting range from the remainder of the Prussian army. A glance at the maps of the battle will render this last statement to the reader all too plainly.

The ground thereabouts where a battle was about to be fought deserves an examination; in order to see just how far the combination of Retzow’s failure and the king’s rashness had taken his Prussians now. The place from which the battle received its name stood at the northern exit of the rises from the Czernabog. Here, spread out along the tip of the mountain down the northern side, lay the village. Its rise was taller than any near it except for the sharp Stromberg off to the right. From the valley below where the main Prussian army was stretched out, Hochkirch was conspicuously visible. The recently (1717) constructed village church/churchyard were at the zenith of the hill on this end near the southern exit of Hochkirch, which was on a sort of plateau there. The road to Löbau ran through the village, a detour there branched off to Reichenbach. The rolling ground was terminated to the left of Hochkirch, and separated from the Czernabog by the intervening heights; but deployed along the northwest extremity Laudon with 3,000 men (mostly Croats) lay hidden in the hollows there. Ziethen was opposite at Meschwitz, separated by the branch tributary from Laudon. Daun had pushed the latter forward, to be in as close proximity as he could get, and his force lay immobile in concealment. The Prussians were oblivious to his presence. Laudon’s Austrian command post was at Wuischke, at the lower end of the tributary. The remainder of the terrain there was cut up by numerous tributaries and overhanging rises, all leading back towards the Spree near Bautzen.

The two armies lay in the following posture from October 11 to the 13: Frederick’s, his center about Rodewitz (the headquarters), Rammuritz, on to the neighborhood of Kotitz and Laskau. In front of the latter, a battery—of 20 12-pounders and six lighter guns, so 2/3rds of heavy-caliber—had been emplaced, with guard forces of three battalions of grenadiers on both flanks, this work ending forward of the pond adjacent to Kotitz. To the west, Prussian posts were scattered from the all-important defile at Dresha on to near Hochkirch. The king’s headquarters was about two miles from Hochkirch, Dresha itself about a mile northwest of Rodewitz. The Prussian right, under Keith, was positioned from Hochkirch south and from Sornssig to the W. Two free corps, those of Colonel Angelelli (FB 4) and J. A. K. Du Verger (FB8), were about half a mile from Hochkirch. These latter were expected to act as advanced post for the Prussians in that direction, and to serve up pickets as well. However, this position was isolated and virtually valueless for viewing the thick woods.

A second, albeit, smaller battery (of a strength of about 20 guns), was in place atop Sornssig Height, which was the next beside Hochkirch’s rise to the south. The pickets and outposts of Frederick’s men were stationed in the woods only as far as the lower hills and Jauernick; the rest of the dense forests on the side of the center and right being heavily patrolled by (and under the control of) the Austrians. It goes almost without saying that the Kuppritzer-Berg, higher than the surrounding ground, was of decisive importance. The dense undergrowth of bushes and trees ran from the end of Hochkirch straightway to Brietendorf and even beyond. Within this cramped ground, the king was in ignorance of the enemy scouting parties that might be hovering about. If they appeared, he counted on the batteries taking care of them. This was a nearly fatal mistake.

The whole extent of the army in fact, excluding Retzow, still over four miles away near Weissenberg, was nearly five miles long; not including Ziethen’s cavalry or the pickets. This was far too lengthy for an army only as large as Frederick’s. Within this position, the strength of the Prussians was estimated at a bare 27,000 men; including Retzow, the army with the king was about 38,000 men all told. This army was composed of the following: 20,000 infantry (in 35 battalions); 10,000 cavalry (in 73 squadrons); light troops, and an artillery train of approximately 200 guns.

Most of the Prussian guns were positioned south and southwest of Hochkirch, in country facing Daun’s army in closest proximity. But the posts held were far too extensive for Frederick to hope to successfully hold in a battle against the larger army at Daun’s command. Daun’s headquarters were at Kittlitz, on the road facing Weissenberg, which joined just before this route crossed the branch to Retzow’s neighborhood on the other side. On the extreme right, a large battery and force lay on the Stromberg—about five miles distant from the formidable Prussian battery at Rodewitz—the line extending to the rises southeast and round in a concave to the northwest, under Arenberg, who had some 20,000 men with him. There were six regiments. He had been placed to separate the two Prussian forces: those of Frederick and of Retzow. In addition, he was to seal off the approaches to the Görlitz-Löbau road from that end, should the foe attempt to sneak through or outflank the Austrians there. On Arenberg’s left, were 40,000 men under the direct supervision of the marshal. The latter body stretched across the hollows and hills in front of Kittlitz, and constituted the big Austrian center. In elaborate and strong works that Daun had, true to his natural inclination, ordered constructed almost the moment of his arrival in that locale.

The center was positioned from the Nostitz bank of the Löbau Water, far behind Jauernick, the last considerable village before the Czernabog. The Austrian army was holding a position some seven miles long, not including Laudon. Daun’s men, when drawn together in a “proper” form, could cover (with a single line five ranks deep) a distance of more than three miles. In contrast, Frederick’s, if put in similar posture, could cover a little more than 1 1⁄2 miles. As for Laudon, he had extensive parties of Croats flung out into the thick woods just short of the Prussian posts at Hochkirch, his force being mostly horsemen. To the rear of the main army a little more than eight miles to the east on Reichenbach, Daun had taken the necessary precaution of placing a reserve consisting of 23,000 men under Baden-Durlach which had a double duty: while providing the needed reserves if necessary he was to bar the road to Görlitz should the enemy contrive to make it to his position. From Kittlitz to Löbau was a scant two miles, although some 20 from Zittau.

The distances between the opposing armies at Hochkirch were alarming. The pickets were very near, not more than ½ mile really separated them. With the enemy in such superior strength and holding better positions to boot, Frederick’s subordinates tried in vain to talk him into breaking camp and either go forward or back but not to stay immobile. Keith, for example, bluntly told the king: “If the Austrians leave us quiet in a position like this, they deserve the hangman” Frederick replied, with a confident swagger familiar to readers of his history, “It is to be hoped that the enemy fears us more than the rope.”

In the low hollow below Hochkirch the opposing pickets were only cut off by the intervening ravine. Archenholtz, for one, thought the king encamped so close as “a mark of contempt and disregard of their [Austrian] forces.” The Austrian pickets were stronger, meant to conceal the impending stroke.

Frederick had been making his plans to march. On October 12, he rode over to Weissenberg to discuss the plan he had drawn up with Retzow, under which the latter was to move on the morning of October 14, crossing over to and joining the Prussian left. Then the whole army was to move upon Baden-Durlach’s position, and get him shoved out of the way (in much the same fashion that had been used so effectively against Laudon at Bischofswerda). Following this a speedy march was to be made, with the Görlitz road now exposed, straight into Silesia. As it happened, the king planned for this maneuver to begin under cover of darkness on October 14–15, so that his men could be at Reichenbach and Schöps (a little hamlet northwest of Weissenberg) by dawn, before Marshal Daun could do anything about it.

By then the main Austrian army would not have a prayer of being able to move to aid Baden-Durlach before his lines could be compromised. Frederick, after explaining his plan to his subordinate, gave Retzow the appropriate orders then rode on to survey the ground thereabouts, after which he returned to his main camp. The maneuver was originally scheduled for the night of October 13–14, but Frederick had been forced to delay it for 24 hours in part because the wagons could not be brought forward from Bautzen in time. On this same October 12, Laudon and Daun had discussed the surprise stroke they had planned. The crux of this plan was the following (assuming the Prussians would be caught flat-footed in the early dawn): the Austrians, in their various groups, would cut off and hopefully hack to pieces the surprised Prussian army.

Just after nightfall on October 13, Daun himself—with the best troops of the army—was to push off through the woods south of Wuischke. These the Prussians could not scout properly because Laudon and his men controlled them. In any case, the marshal was to lead the men through the undergrowth until they reached the edge of the Prussian right in front of Hochkirch Height, near Sornssig, then attack the foe in the pre-dawn. The march of this main force was to steer south, then veer towards Steindörfel, Waditz and the Prussian right. Once there, the troops were to wait until the steeple clock in Hochkirch Churchyard announced 0500 hours before going forward.

Around the Prussian camp, the rest of the army was to draw out and wait until the enemy’s right had already been overrun before the Prussian posts before each section were struck. The entire army was thus to be brought to bear after all, so the plan was certainly not stretching goals. The desired end was within reach. Daun’s own contribution to the scheme is uncertain, but this was the first battle he ever precipitated. It was also, sadly for the Austrians, the only time the marshal would pull off such a slick maneuver upon Frederick. To cover his intentions from the enemy, Daun ordered large clumps of the forest cut down and new lines of abatis/entrenchments built, so giving Frederick the impression he was merely digging in all the more and thus had no plans for anything beyond pure defense. The woods had already been noticeably thinned by ceaseless activity in preparing the already formidable Austrian front. In the end, Daun was able to fool the foe completely.

Frederick appeared almost lulled into sleep. Meanwhile, the marshal’s men took to the woods with axes in hand to cut down literally hundreds of trees, in the immediate vicinity of the Prussian center and right. By the next day, October 13, all was prepared. As the short autumn day waned, the pace quickened noticeably within the Austrian lines, as if they were preparing for some maneuver or expedition. Frederick perceived this although he would not admit it, perhaps believing Daun was preparing for one of his customary retirements, perhaps on Zittau. The king had mounted patrols, pickets scattered round the edge of the thick curtain of trees nearby, but he was convinced, no doubt from past experience, that Daun would never mount an attack, especially against an army led by himself.

After darkness fell on October 13, Daun gathered his picked force of near 40,000 men and led them off through the woods on their appointed course. Behind them, the Austrians had left the campfires burning, an old ploy designed to give the impression they were still there. Officers made their presence known, shouting out orders to units that could no longer hear them. The sounds of cutting timber continued to reverberate. There were “workers [who] spent the whole night felling trees … [while they] called out to each other and sang.”

Hochkirch, Saxony, 1758 Part III

In the meantime, the main column reached its destination—the jumping off point before the Prussian camp—without interference. Laudon, over by Wuischke, was also moving into attack position. Here the marshal’s men stood in three varying columns of troops, waiting for sound of the bell announcing 0500 hours. On his end of the Austrian formation, Arenberg took his men past the Stromberg towards Laskau, where the bluecoats had their big battery on the left of Rodewitz. The muzzles were aiming into the woods, in case the Austrians should try something. Arenberg was waiting for his cue. This would be when he had evidence (either visual or otherwise) that Daun’s main body had already overwhelmed the Prussian right between Hochkirch and the battery. Plenty of such evidence would be forthcoming.

Between these bodies, with support from auxiliary forces—these to apply pressure all along the Prussian camp—there was a good chance of overwhelming the foe. The attack was calculated to hit when it was least expected, adding to its effectiveness. The auxiliary forces were meant to annoy, divert, and confuse the Prussians to keep them off balance. The design for the small columns was necessitated by the thick woods and the geographic position, which would have made utilizing the entire army as a single unit impracticable.

General O’Donnell was to lead such an auxiliary mission in the rear of the Prussian position north of Hochkirch itself; his command (like Laudon’s) consisted largely of cavalry, 20 squadrons of horse and only two regiments of infantry. O’Donnell’s command consisted of: 36th and 38th Infantry; 19th Dragoons, 4th and 33rd Cuirassiers and the old command of Luchessi, now led by Lt.-Gen. Buccow. Next in line was Laudon’s men and then Daun’s. To the right of the latter, again more to annoy than to attack, a force of 600 infantry, supported by the 1st and 38th Dragoons under Wiese, next to Field-Marshal Colloredo with the 7th, 26th, one battalion of the 57th Infantry, as well as the Mainz regiment supported by the 12th Cuirassiers, was to attack. Arenberg was next in line, and north of him stood Buccow with 37 squadrons of cavalry. He had the unique distinction of leading an all cavalry assault column in the impending action.

The main pressure had to be exerted by Daun/Laudon against the Prussian positions in and about Hochkirch. Here depended the whole success or failure of the proposal. Far to the rear, Baden-Durlach, responding to orders, was moving up to do battle with Retzow out beyond the water near Weissenberg. The army was waiting only for the jump off.

In contrast, the greater portion of the Prussian army was still in bivouac, the men little suspecting the unpleasant surprise which the enemy was preparing for them. In the thick woods amid the formidable undergrowth, the way was now sufficiently clear to provide no obstacle to the attackers. The Prussians had suspicions, but nothing more.

Before the hour of 0500 on that fateful morning, October 14, Daun’s men reached their assigned attack points. A number of Austrian “deserters” made their way to the Prussian forward posts and were admitted to the lines. When the time came, they accessed weapons and started firing at their new “friends.” These men had a tough job. The main body was to strike and roll over the Prussian posts between the big battery and Hochkirch, just where the enemy’s army was at its strongest in terms of terrain and the additional man-made obstacles. On the left, the troops of Laudon were preparing to pounce upon Ziethen’s unsuspecting cavalry (he had three battalions, 15 squadrons, holding the westernmost end of the Prussian line). As for Arenberg, he was poised before the Prussian left, anchored between Kotitz and Laskau.

In spite of the surprise which the Austrians pulled off, there was nothing that could be called a rout. This fact is directly attributable to the tough training that these soldiers of Prussia were subjected to to make them fierce in battle. The looked for thrashing might have been expected in a lesser army, but Frederick’s men, though brought out prematurely in a morning surprise, formed and fought a pitched battle, with more order than could have been expected under the circumstances. Perhaps the conditions were better than many histories of the battle have implied. Certainly there had been deserters from Daun bringing in reports that the Austrians were moving, and we have already observed the hussars had put out the alarm.

The artillery teams of the battery in front of Hochkirch had gone to post about 0300 hours that morning, waiting for the usual demonstration of enemy outparties. Generally for about a week, the enemy had been sending Croats/Pandours out to harass the bluecoats. Elsewhere in the predawn, there were still pickets, outparties, and mounted sentinels about, so that when the battle began the Prussians at first believed it was merely the usual demonstration. The horses of the Prussian cavalry stood saddled through the night, waiting for the horsemen. Seydlitz apparently “bypassed” the king’s directive by unsaddling his horses and then shortly after countermanded the order. This was a violation of Frederick’s stand down order. On the southward end of the big battery and right flank stood the duly vigilant guard forces. Under such circumstances, the Prussian army could hardly have been caught napping (if readers will pardon the pun).

Meanwhile, out in the thick woods, several men who were less than enthusiastic about the Austrian cause picked this very dark night on which to desert. As the rank-and-file soldiers were not privy to the attack scheme, these men could provide little help beyond telling the Prussians the army was on the move.

When the appointed time drew near, the king’s men thought there might not be the usual showing at all. Then some men from Angelelli’s Free Corps, catching the foe at a glimpse advancing through the woods, opened a rapid, deliberate musket fire upon them, which precipitated the opening of the battle. A confused struggle broke out then and there, and raged on in the thick brush for ½ hour or more, the Prussian outparties all the while being gradually forced to give ground under the weight of numbers from their forward positions. This fight was assumed back at camp to be nothing more than the usual, but instead of tapering off after a time, the clash became more intense and got closer.

The artillery teams stationed south of Hochkirch turned their guns towards the southern end of the outworks and fired, concluding obviously if the enemy were in strength then they would have artillery to reply with. Receiving no reply, the batteries were then swung round at the direction of the fighting. They were taken under fire and promptly overrun by Laudon’s advancing troops, who had come forward upon their rear from Meschwitz and Waditz. One of our great contemporary historians, Georg Tempelhof, present near the Great Battery, managed to get off about “fifteen rounds before I received a blow that knocked me senseless.” Daun was simultaneously sweeping in from the front. Shortly the entire section of the Prussian line there was in enemy hands, and some of the bluecoats had yet to realize that a battle was raging at all.

The Austrians now burst through the undergrowth on all sides of the camp, and a confused, mostly hand-to-hand struggle was quickly taken up. The Prussians, at last awake, made a fierce, determined resistance, but finding themselves on the southern end all but surrounded by the far more numerous Austrians, they had to pull back. This extrication was accomplished only with the use of the bayonet, and the troops paused a short distance to their rear. Ziethen, by now mounted and ready, charged the surging Austrian formations, broke some, and before they could retreat, killed a great many of the enemy. But Ziethen’s stamina could not stay, and he likewise drew back. The cavalry, to their credit, did do their best here. The earlier Prussian debâcle at Kolin, in sharp contrast, had seen the Prussian horse very ineffective.

At length, the Austrians, although they did indeed have to earn their success the hard way, aided by superior numbers, pressed the thinning Prussian line back upon the battery, which they finally took. The grenadiers of Wangen and Heyden were unable to stem the relentless Austrian advance. Heyden led grenadiers from the brave 19th and the 25th infantry, along with Wangen’s men. These two units, in direct support of the battery, fought very hard, some of it in hand-to-hand combat, before yielding to the inevitable. A counterattack drove them back out, though Daun, coming up with overwhelming reinforcements, again pressed the foe back and retook his prize. The battery changed hands many more times before the whitecoats, in irresistible mass, were finally able to push Frederick’s men beyond reach and that important post was irretrievably lost to them.

Meanwhile, Major Simon von Langen, with the 2nd battalion of the 19th Infantry (General Karl Friedrich Albrecht of Brandenburg-Schwedt), seeing the general tide of the fight edging back upon Hochkirch, flung himself and his men into the place and took post in the Church/Churchyard, strengthening it as quickly as he could combat the enemy. His arrival was fortuitous for Lieutenant von der Marwitz, originally commanding a squad at the churchyard. Marwitz, desperately wounded in the chest, continued to exercise command until Langen’s arrival. The stroke against Hochkirch had indeed been a surprise. Marwitz was captured and subsequently died in captivity.

Saldern’s 15th Infantry, on the Pommritz Heights, lost heavily in killed/wounded and prisoners. 618 men, plus 13 officers, “fell.” Other units were in deep trouble as well. A thick fog had formed and the dawn was breaking in dense darkness. Hochkirch itself was soon on fire, whether started deliberately by the Prussians or however ignited is not clear, which lit up the battle now raging about it. The attackers poured into the village, through the narrow streets, quickly overlapping the barricaded defenders. Langen’s men fired obstinately against the Austrians who charged the churchyard wall, while other Prussian forces outside recoiled and regrouped to come on again and retake Hochkirch. The enemy kept pouring in new troops, reaching a strength of seven full regiments.

The king tried to reassure his troops that the sound of the fight was a mere Croat exercise, but Captain Karl Ludwig von Troschke’s intelligence that the redoubt south of Hochkirch was already in enemy hands and their advance was pressing on relentlessly took him aback. About then, one of 23rd Infantry (Forcade’s) battalions launched an unsupported attack, but after an initial burst, it had to beat a hasty retreat when the Austrians threatened to overlap it. Langen kept his men steady and riddled those white-uniformed opponents with heavy musketry. Nevertheless, the Austrians soon had burning Hochkirch cleared of Prussians round the churchyard, then redoubled their effort to seize it as well. The converging Austrian blows naturally forced masses of Prussian troops into the narrow streets of Hochkirch. This included men outside of Langen’s command area, although, with graphic detail, the streets were said to be running in rivers of blood. The crowding was so bad that the bodies of the dead were still held in their upright postures.

Steady concentrated fire swathed the attacking line, but the intruders, nothing daunted, kept exerting pressure against Langen’s position. Langen might have done more had his ammunition been more plentiful (remember the Prussian army was not expecting the surprise attack). But with the men down to a few rounds apiece in many cases, he had no option but to order his troops to abandon their hotly contested post and cut their way through the thickly-packed ranks of Daun’s men, who had advanced, kicking and clawing for every yard, past the place. A few of the Prussians from the churchyard did indeed make it back to their own lines, clearing the way largely with the bayonet. But the greater majority were killed in a hopeless struggle with an enemy too numerous to beat, and there and then got cut down; Major Langen, a fine Prussian officer with a potential for a great future, being mortally wounded himself—going down with 11 distinct wounds.

Frederick had his suspicions, meanwhile, but so dark was the dawn and so thick the fog that even Keith, who was present on that side, was not aware of the intensity of the fight. For fully an hour, while the action escalated into a full-fledged battle, Keith and all concerned there hastened to find out what was really going on. Most of the army was by then aware that an unusually severe struggle was raging on the southern end of the camp, but just how involved was the struggle was not known. By 0600 hours, the Prussians had been forced to give up Hochkirch, but strong reinforcements from the as yet unengaged center and left were reaching the sight. These revitalized the surprised and fought out defenders, and made possible tough counterattacks which forced Daun to fall back at some points momentarily.

Retzow’s 6th Infantry lost 335 men in one of these counterattacks west of Hochkirch, with its participating neighbors, the 20th of Bornstedt and Wedell’s 26th, lost 500 men, respectively. Von Geist was mortally wounded in a counterattack trying to retake the big battery. Meyernick’s 26th Infantry was attacked by Austrian cavalry, and then launched an attack northwest of Hochkirch. The regiment had suffered severely; only 150 men survived to cut their way through the surging Austrian mass. The cavalry had its share as well. Baron Schönaich’s 6th Cuirassiers, in a devastating counterattack, hacked up the Austrian 44th Infantry, taking 500 prisoners and a standard.

Ziethen ordered Major-General Krockow to lead these horsemen into an attack against the milling Austrian mass to the south of Hochkirch. Krockow’s 2nd Dragoons stayed put north of Rodewitz. Krockow told the troopers around him that “we must show what kind of people we are.” The Schönaich unit did, as we have observed. The valiant Krockow was mortally wounded in the attack. The foe was just as hard-pressed. The Austrian 44th Infantry (Clerici) was badly used, although it did receive honor as the first Austrian regiment to overrun the battery at Hochkirch. Then Ziethen’s hussars, losing Major Seelen to a battle injury—he had to be taken from the field—were struck by a decisive cavalry charge led by Lacy. The latter, leading three companies of mounted grenadiers, pushed hard against the Prussian flank. Laudon joined in an attack against Ziethen’s faltering command, pressing his Croats from the left against a Prussian line that was beginning to fragment, opening gaps between individual formations that rendered the entire line vulnerable.

Major-General Bredow’s 9th Cuirassiers blunted the advance of O’Donnell’s surging cavalry, forcing it to fall back from the edge of Hochkirch. Pennavaire’s 11th Cuirassiers rolled over O’Donnell’s left, taking three standards. Colonel Wackenitz’s 13th Cuirassiers beat back an Austrian attempt to surround Hochkirch.

The constantly growing Austrian foe would not be denied momentum for long, and they compelled the bluecoats in their turn to retreat. In the far right, Laudon tried again and again to make his way into the Prussian rear, but Ziethen would have none of it. The action between these forces was ferocious. Elsewhere, Keith, getting the sense of what was going on at last, came hurrying forward, toward the battery under Hochkirch. By then, it was Daun’s, though not for long. Keith brought with him whatever bodies of troops could be hastily gathered. Upon awakening, Keith was already apprised of the desperate situation of the battery. He pushed the Kannacker regiment to the front and rode with it, bringing every man he could find.

He knew, whatever else, that battery would have to be retaken, and held if there was to be any hope of gaining the victory. His last words of encouragement for the king read like a story out of a novel. He had a report issued that he would hold out to the last man, and, on a more personal note, “I doubt whether we … [will meet] again.” Keith’s men shoved the enemy out of the battery, but was immediately attacked by a powerful mass of Daun’s surging troops and had to draw back a little, his men paused at that point and waited for aid from other quarters.

Keith had ordered Itzenplitz’ 6th Infantry (about 0600 hours) to retake Hochkirch, behind which he urged up General Kannacker’s 30th Infantry to its support. It would lose half of its men at Hochkirch. At length, the punishing fire from the Austrian guns forced Itzenplitz to fall back upon the supporters, while the Preussen regiment penetrated the village and even reached the churchyard, where Langen was still fighting it out at that moment. After a long wait, and not receiving any direct assistance, Keith had to draw off and leave the battery in the hands of the enemy—for good this time. The Prussian advance, though valiant, was futile. It constituted a patchwork attack rather than an orderly stroke. Keith’s hastily contrived force could hardly hope to sustain itself against an Austrian line that bathed it with concentrated, crashing volleys.

He shoved the Austrians who opposed his retreat out of the way with the bayonet, having been wounded himself twice in the right chest and surrounded by a great number of his dead and wounded men. His groom, John Tebaye, witnessed Keith receive a mortal wound. Keith fell dead right into Tebaye’s arms, who was quickly carried among the retreating mass of Prussians towards the rear. When he did manage to return later to collect Keith’s body for decent funeral, he found all of Hochkirch (even the churchyard, where Langen’s valiant resistance was done) humming with the enemy. He could not reach the site, but the Austrians themselves discovered and buried Keith with honor, General Lacy being prominent in these proceedings. “[Keith] was buried with all the honors of war.”

Meanwhile, Frederick, hearing news that Keith had been repulsed by an enemy who were advancing with unconquerable force, for the first time finally realized just how serious the situation was. He had already dispatched troops to the right to help Keith and his struggling men When word arrived that Keith had been killed, the king ordered Prince Franz of Brunswick and Moritz to take their men and move at once to support the right wing forces engaging the enemy near Hochkirch. Charles of Brandenburg-Schwedt then sped off as well, and the king himself leaped to horse and galloped off to see to the matter himself. The attention of both armies was turning that way. The Prussian infantry packed into Hochkirch’s streets were being frittered away in useless close range fighting and needed a change of direction. Frederick, being the general that he was, realized this as soon as he reached the scene.

The reinforcements from the Prussian center had just approached Hochkirch when the 26-year-old Franz, at the outskirts, had his head sheared off by a cannon shot. His men, jumped as they swept forward, were brought to a grinding halt by concentrated Austrian fire, then, hit by strong enemy formations, they were soon stalling out with heavy casualties. Now a heavy fire fight was opened between the three regiments of Prussians that the king brought forward and the Austrian defenders. In spite of his efforts to press home the attack, Frederick simply could not get the advance going again. The Austrians, forming a front line facing west against the king, more than held their own.

Prince Moritz rode almost directly into the Austrian lines, mistaking the enemy for friendly troops, due to the darkness and his myopic vision. His troops had just been repulsed badly in their attack and were falling back. Moritz, realizing his error, turned and rode off after them, but not before he received a painful wound for his trouble. He was riding a little while after on the road to Bautzen, and was picked up by enemy irregulars before he could receive medical attention.

On the field, Frederick’s hastily assembled units (mostly Wedell’s 26th Infantry), escorted by the king himself, came riding along into the thick of the fighting, with his men at double pace behind. As he steadied the faltering 26th, his horse was shot from under him, seriously enough so that he would have to mount a new charger, after which, he rode on, leaving Hochkirch to the left, but found on reaching the gap the fog clearing off, the enemy massed in huge force in front of the tributary. Laudon finally dislodged Ziethen with heavy pressure, and the Austrians now anchored solidly on Steindörfel, the Bautzen road and Waditz. An Austrian cannon shot exploded close to the king here; he and his entourage were showered with rock and dirt.

Keith’s counterattack came about 0630 hours, but the arrival of Austrian reinforcements (led by Lacy) stemmed the Prussian advance and the battery was left in Austrian hands. That battery was plastering away now at its former owners. There was no option left on this side. Frederick knew he must retire.

The Prussian right had been thoroughly driven in, Ziethen had fallen back and Laudon was now in his place. Everywhere, the king’s troops were facing superior enemy forces. Frederick turned and rode back towards the Prussian center, ordering his men to reform into a closer, more compact body to answer the Austrian blows. The 5th Infantry of Saldern, joining with fragments of additional nearby regiments, formed a patchwork rearguard. This body formed a semi-circle between the Rodewitz road and the Czernabog. Saldern was still being pelted by Austrian cannon. The capable Saldern inspired confidence with his bearing at a moment when others seemed about to lose their’s. Archenholtz says Saldern’s valiant efforts prevented the enemy from taking full advantage of the situation.

This battle position was formed between 0700–0800 hours, so in only a few hours of fighting the Prussian right had been defeated. Major Möllendorf was ordered to the Dresha Height, to occupy it before Arenberg had the opportunity to do so. The king was quick to realize that the dominating rise, above the village, stream and pass, was essential and had to be held against the foe if the position were to be maintained. Möllendorf moved as hastily as he could to the task he had been ordered, and did indeed grab the Dresha Pass before the enemy. Meanwhile, Ziethen, by now having reorganized his troopers, moved his squadrons to the mounds of ground above Kumschütz, Canitz and vicinity, with his front facing Bautzen and Jenkowitz (towards which was the only line of retreat), Kumschütz being at the other end of the rises.

Frederick sent orders to Retzow, still near Weissenberg and not yet committed to serious engagement, to march hastily to join the main body. Retzow had not been entirely ignored, for Baden-Durlach, advancing lethargically from Reichenbach, drew out against him in long lines and actually made a weak attack at about 0730 hours. This was the weakest effort of the whole battle, but even so it did seriously delay the needed reinforcements that Retzow could provide until it was finally dealt with. Even before the attack on the Prussian left, the assault against the right finally ended. None too soon!

Laudon remained dormant after mauling Ziethen—it could have been that he had orders from Daun not to proceed further. The main force of the Austrians, perceiving the crucial position at Dresha occupied by the foe, pushed out to take the key to the battle there on that side.

This assault was supposed to have been launched with cavalry, but seeing the post there well secure, the horsemen withdrew without a blow. Daylight was increasing and the whole field-of-battle becoming visible for the first time. For the rest of the battle, Daun assumed a characteristic static pose on the rises near and at the battery with Laudon opposite; both of these commanders spent the time reshuffling their forces, which had become confused in the sudden attacks. The battle there was winding down, just as the fight for the Prussian center was developing. Arenberg launched his troops in a general attack against the thoroughly awake troops of the Prussian center. His stroke was made in broad daylight, with the bluecoats waiting on him. The Austrian subordinate had been instructed to remain stationary and wait until the action near Hochkirch was over, and only then go forward.

He carried out his orders, but the result was that his attack line quickly bogged down and could go nowhere. With little success to show for heavy losses, Arenberg wisely halted his attack to await the progress of the battle elsewhere. Nearer to the main force, Lacy, Wiese and their men made attacks against the Prussian center from the road/stream in front of Laskau (here the terrain sloped downward as soon as one passed the creek).

Nowhere, though, could the Austrians make any further significant gains, and their losses were negating what progress they were making. It was 0800, and the Battle of Hochkirch was entering its third hour. Frederick’s army was holding post, in spite of heavy losses and spreading confusion. The Prussian king was preparing to retreat through the Dresha Pass, and Doberschütz, for he knew that the battle was lost. But first the enemy’s clutching advance would have to be blunted. The Prussians were now too weak numerically to sally out against the superior Austrian force and so were forced to receive the foe in the manner they chose. In short, Frederick could not, without endangering the safety of his entire army, take advantage of any mistakes the enemy might make. This factor, in combination with the larger numbers of the Austrians, were the major advantages for the Austrians on this day.

The Austrian attacks were concentrated mostly in front—against the final major battery in Prussian hands, at Rodewitz—now the key to the Prussian center. Arenberg, seeing the powerful enemy battery taken now, was preparing to renew his attack when Retzow’s advance (led by General Duke Eugene of Württemberg), four battalions and 15 full squadrons, at last made its presence felt. Retzow had finally escaped from Baden-Durlach’s pinning attack. Eugene headed at once across the brook near Weissenberg and on to the vicinity of Dresha, crossing the stream and shortly reaching Belgern (here he detached a small party to hold that end of the battery) then swung to face the enemy there. His maneuver was crucial.

The little battery formed a salient between the stream and the forces at Kotitz, near where Arenberg was positioned. The latter took the newcomers under fire, and prepared for a fight, but repented as soon as Retzow himself appeared with the main body of his troops. By the time the latter appeared, the sun was up and shining brightly, making long shadows across the battlefield. The time was about 1000 hours. Upon the arrival of his still relatively fresh left wing, Frederick, knowing that there was no sense in subjecting his beaten army to further torture, ordered an immediate withdrawal through the Dresha Pass on Doberschütz. The last Austrian strokes were weaker, indicating that Daun’s men were tiring as well. The armies had been at it for more than five hours by then, so this was certainly understandable. The Prussians disengaged, Arenberg drew back, and the rest was anticlimactic. The firing gradually ceased, and the Battle of Hochkirch was effectively over. It was just past 1015 hours.

Frederick ordered the retreat to Klein-Kammin (some 4 1⁄2 miles northwest of the field). The army made an orderly withdrawal to a position there, preferring that to a general retreat in the full sense of the word. Möllendorf and Retzow played the parts of watchdogs to guard the retreat of the rest of the army. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow for the old veterans, many of whom had never known defeat—apart from Kolin, where the army was by no means decisively beaten. Lt.-Col. Saldern had been instrumental in his efforts allowing time for the extrication. As for Retzow, his efforts at the close of the battle allowed him to be “again taken into the royal favor.” Saldern’s experience really paid off at a critical juncture. He had a mere five battalions and he skillfully maneuvered his troopers by anticipating the shelling of the Austrian guns. “By means of this expedient, Saldern accomplished his withdrawal by zig-zag movements.” Saldern knew it would take a few minutes to resight the guns.

The king himself was in a state of virtual shock. Mentally, he was haunted by the knowledge that he was largely responsible for the disaster. The regiment of Wedell, panicked by the view of Prinz Franz’s decapitation, had been personally rallied by his Majesty. Now the subaltern Bareswich approached Frederick, in company with 30 soldiers from the 26th Infantry. He presented three enemy colors to the great leader, whose sash was turned by the blood from his beloved mount. His coat tattered, the Order of the Black Eagle ripped away, and general exhausted statements to General Retzow’s son, an aide-de-camp, that he “regret the number of brave men who have died … [at Hochkirch]” leave a very human impression of a troubled man. Also, unlike the defeat at Kolin, which was more like a battle started that turned sour due to unanticipated problems, that of Hochkirch was out of control from the beginning.

Daun’s army, looking around from its positions on the hills more than 5 1⁄2 miles long, inexplicably chose not to interfere with this movement, but was a mere passive spectator to the march. Daun spent the time reforming and reorganizing his men, allowing a golden opportunity to do something really significant against the enemy. His passivity negated the victory. He allowed Frederick to sneak away, just when he had him. As the king freely admitted in his History of the war, “Daun … did not appear to have gained success.” None of this prevented the marshal from informing Vienna of his “great victory.” Daun, about 1100 hours, sent one of his adjutants, Major von Rothschütz, speeding towards the Austrian capital with the news. Indeed, a pursuit right there would either have thrown the Prussian army into a disorganized retreat or else forced it to fight under circumstances so unfavorable that the issue would be hardly in doubt. Lest we forget, another defeat must have uncovered both Silesia and Saxony to reconquest.

It was not to be. Between Kreckwitz on one side and toward Belgern and the stream on the other, Ziethen and some cavalry were shielding the line-of-retreat, the movement being brought off without a hitch. The bluecoats reached their destination easily, and particularly worthy of note was that Seydlitz, although not having had a distinguished day at the battle, at the head of his horse—108 squadrons—covered the movement on Doberschütz.

Daun stayed in camp with his army only a little longer. Shortly the force, which had fought so fiercely for the battlefield, gave it up and retired back on the lines at Kittlitz and Reichenbach. Readers will note this is the opposite of what Daun should have done. He left only a detachment to hold the tortured field.

Thus closed the narrative of the Battle of Hochkirch. It was to be the last victory of Daun over the Prussians led by their king in battle, although he would win a decisive action against General Finck at Maxen a year after. This encounter was a hard-fought battle, but Hochkirch had none of Zorndorf in it. The losses the two armies suffered were the following: Frederick lost approximately 5,381 men/119 officers (5,490 of all ranks) killed or captured; 4,060 wounded/missing; total, 9,450 men, or over ¼ of his manpower. This loss was certainly terrible, as any loss involving human life always is, but nowhere near what could have been expected under the circumstances. In material, Prussian losses were 101 guns (nearly all lost in the two batteries at Hochkirch and Rodewitz), as well as most of their tents and camp equipage.

One of the biggest, most immediate consequence to the king was the loss of Field Marshal Keith. Keith was another of the ilk of men who were like General Winterfeldt, the king’s confidant up until his death in 1757. The body of Marshal Keith was at first gathered up unrecognized among the dead of the Battle of Hochkirch, although Daun and Lacy both recognized the corpse later. Marshal Daun expressed great sorrow over the demise of Keith. The Austrian high command had him buried with full military honors. The Prussian king, on his side, grieved as much as he dared under the desperate circumstances. In 1759, at the order of Frederick, Keith’s remains were belatedly exhumed and brought back to Prussia. He was buried, again with great sorrow, in the Potsdam Garrison churchyard. The fortunes of war had been grim for both sides. The whitecoats suffered a grievous loss on their side as well. The eldest son of Marshal Browne, Colonel Joseph Browne, was killed in this Hochkirch battle. This episode helps cast light upon the large number of Irish officers who frequently served in the armies of Maria Theresa, often in high command situations. What a contrast with the Prussian service! Most of the higher-ranking bluecoat officers, with the exception of men like Keith, were German-born.

Daun’s losses were surprisingly greater. He had about 90,000 men present, and had 5,939 killed/wounded (325 officers and 5,614 rank-and-file), with about a thousand prisoners, and, most shockingly, over 2,500 deserters who left the ranks during the march through the thick woods, making for an aggregate total of 9,500 men, or ⅛ of his force. No doubt a great many of the latter made their way to the Prussian camps, where their stories of large troop movements in the woods had met a mixed reaction before the battle even broke forth.

The Battle of Tannenberg 1410 Part I


Two conflicts formed the bookends, so to say, of the fourteenth century in Prussia. The first, which began in the first decade of the century, was the order’s acquisition of West Prussia, originally known as Pomerellia. This was a vital territory in several senses: its eastern border was the Vistula River, so that any hostile power possessing Pomerellia could interrupt the vital traffic up and down stream; its people and warriors were an important resource for the Prussian economy (especially the city of Danzig) and the order’s war machine; and French, Burgundian, and German crusaders were able to travel to Prussia safely via Brandenburg, Neumark, and Pomerellia whenever the preferred route across Great Poland was closed. The Polish kings and the Polish Church, however, viewed the acquisition of Pomerellia by war and purchase as nothing less than theft. As far as they were concerned, no matter what Pomerellia’s past or ethnic composition was, it was a Polish land, as the payment of Peter’s Pence to the pope proved – no German state paid this tax, but the Polish lands did; and the patriots missed no opportunity to bemoan the loss of this province.

The second conflict, which concluded at the very end of the century, was over Samogitia. The Teutonic Knights saw this territory partly as a land bridge to Livonia that would permit year-round communication with their northern possessions, and partly as the heart of pagan resistance to conversion. Lithuanian grand princes, whose authority was seldom recognised by the Samogitians, fought hard to retain it as a part of their national patrimony.

Surprisingly, the Teutonic Knights had managed to make peace both with Poland (the Peace of Kalish, 1343) and Lithuania (the Peace of Sallinwerder, 1398). Two Lithuanians, Jagiełło of Poland and Vytautas of Lithuania, even assisted in ending Samogitian resistance to the order in return for its aid in expeditions against Moscow and the Tatars.

This era of co-operation came to an end in 1409, after an insurrection in Samogitia. The Teutonic Knights had reasons to believe that Vytautas had encouraged the rebels, and that behind Vytautas was the sly hand of Jagiełło. Their usually cautious diplomacy, however, was now in the hands of a brash new grand master, Ulrich von Jungingen, who was not only relatively young but seemed to believe that his military order had lost sight of its original purpose – to fight pagans. By that he understood Samogitians and their allies, not distant Rus’ians, Tatars, pirates, or Turks. He saw the immediate enemies right at hand: Poland and Lithuania.

The grand master’s haughty demands that the Poles and Lithuanians cease providing aid to the Samogitian rebels provoked cries for war in both nations. But it was not yet clear that hotheads in Poland would move to action the more cautious mass of nobles and clergy who remained in awe of the Teutonic Knights’ military reputation.

The Changing Balance of Power

The membership of the Teutonic Knights, and especially the grand master’s council, were confident of their ability to intimidate Polish nobles, Lithuanian boyars, and the prelates of both nations, no matter that the patriotic ire of powerful groups had been raised by Grand Master Ulrich’s actions in 1409. They believed that the Polish and Lithuanian rulers had too many distractions to make common cause against them; moreover, they believed too that Vytautas and Jagiełło mistrusted one another too much to cooperate militarily – everyone knew the story of their feud’s origin and their many subsequent reconciliations and falling-outs – and their nobles and churchmen were, like their counterparts in the West, difficult to lead. Also, since Jagiełło and Vytautas had never yet tried to bring their armies into the heart of Prussia, it seemed unlikely that they would do more than launch attacks at widely separated points, probably in Samogitia and West Prussia, perhaps Culm. The grand master could meet these attacks by using local resources defensively against the less dangerous threats and concentrating his mobile forces against the main army, which would probably invade West Prussia.

In addition, everyone was aware that Jagiełło and Vytautas had a permanent problem to their east, where Tatars were always a danger, and to the south, where Sigismund could raise levies in his Hungarian, Bohemian, and Silesian lands and invade Poland at short notice. Lastly, almost every German knight believed that Polish nobles might be willing to fight in defence of their homeland but would be reluctant to approve raising troops for offensive warfare; it was axiomatic that the Polish prelates and knights would talk bravely but nevertheless refuse to approve funds for war or to authorise calling out the feudal levy. That miscalculation was founded on a well-proven rule, that the Poles had long mistrusted Jagiełło almost as much as did Vytautas and the Teutonic Order. However, time changes all things, and Jagiełło’s relationship with his subjects had changed over the decade he had been king; they had learned to trust him more; they had become accustomed to him. He may not have produced a son yet, but there was a daughter, significantly named Jadwiga for her mother, who would inherit the throne some day. The Poles were more confident now that Jagiełło was their king, not simply a Lithuanian prince out for the main chance.

This changed attitude displayed itself in December 1409, when Nicholas Traba, a future archbishop of Gniezno, took part in the secret meeting of Jagiełło and Vytautas at Brest to make plans for war. Their subsequent diplomatic offensive won Duke Johan of Masovia as an ally, though not Duke Ziemowit IV, who remained neutral, nor the dukes of Pomerania, who became allies of the Teutonic Order. Most importantly, the people of Poland and Lithuania were prepared psychologically for the great conflict to come.

Even those few Germans who thought that Jagiełło might fight did not expect a great battle to come about as a result of the bluster, the embargo, or the grand master’s raid into Masovia and Great Poland. First of all, large battles were a rare phenomenon – the risks were too great and the financial rewards too few, especially when compared to the security of raiding lands defended only by half-armed peasants or demanding ransom from burghers. Secondly, except for sporadic conflicts such as that in 1409 there had been peace between Poland and Prussia for seven decades now, and since the Samogitian issue had been resolved in the Treaties of Sallinwerder (1398) and Racianz (1404), why should there be war with Lithuania? Few living Germans or Prussians could remember the last significant Polish or Lithuanian invasion. A border raid from Great Poland or on some less well-protected frontier area of East Prussia was likely, after which another truce would be signed. On the principal issue, Samogitia, surely the Lithuanians in 1410, like the Poles in 1409, would back down?

Similarly, it was unlikely that the grand master would invade Poland again. Once the Poles had reinforced their border fortresses the grand master could not expect another series of easy victories without considerable help from crusaders; and it was unlikely that large numbers of volunteers would come to Prussia to participate in the invasion of a Christian kingdom, though a good number of German and Bohemian mercenaries would travel east if financial incentives were added to the usual chivalric attractions. An invasion of Lithuania was completely out of the question; no grand master had ever sent a major force east unless he was certain that the Poles would refrain from raiding Prussia as soon as the garrisons rode into the wilderness – and such co-operation was very doubtful now. Lastly, the issues at stake did not seem to be of sufficient importance for any ruler to justify the risk of hazarding a pitched battle. That was the reason that, although the rival popes in Rome and Avignon and the rival emperors, Wenceslas of Bohemia and Ruprecht of the Palatinate, took some notice of the escalating tension throughout 1409 and 1410, their efforts at reconciliation were minimal; extraordinary measures did not seem merited for a distant conflict over inconsequential lands and personal vanities.

Western Europeans took little notice of Prussia because they had much more important concerns of their own to deal with – the Council of Pisa, which was supposed to end the Great Schism in the Church,31 but which seemed to be doing little more than complicate an already difficult situation; the continuing northward advance of the Turks, who were marching out of the Balkans into the Steiermark and Croatia to threaten the lands of the Cilly family (who were related by marriage to both King Jagiełło and King Sigismund of Hungary) and thus open the way across the Alpine mountain barriers into Austria and Italy; and the war between Burgundy and France, which occupied so many families that had once sent crusaders to Prussia. Yet a great battle did occur on 15 July 1410, on a field between the villages of Tannenberg and Grunwald (Grünfelde).

This battle at Tannenberg/Grunwald/Żalgris – as Germans, Poles, and Lithuanians respectively call it – has assumed a prominence that exaggerates its real significance. The history of north central Europe was not suddenly transformed by this one battle. Changes in the balance of power were well under way before the battle was fought, and those changes were so fundamental that one can hardly imagine a greatly different world today if the battle had not taken place. The kingdom of Poland was already on the rise, and the day of the military orders had passed. It is not likely that the Teutonic Knights could have maintained political or military equality with a nation as populous, creative, wealthy, and energetic as Poland; moreover, since Poland was a multi-ethnic state and this was the fifteenth century, not the twenty-first, there would have been few, if any, changes in the ethnic composition of Prussia had those lands come into the immediate possession of the Polish crown. Within a year of the great battle the Teutonic Knights were able to defend themselves again and expel the Poles and Lithuanians from their territories. Nevertheless, the battle was so costly to the order in men and material that subsequent grand masters were never again able to regain the power or prestige their predecessors had enjoyed. For the Teutonic Knights the road led downhill from that day on, until the Thirteen Years’ War (1453 – 66) brought complete disaster. Therefore, although the battle of Tannenberg may not be the decisive moment in the history of medieval Prussia, it was the start of a rapid and progressively steeper decline.

In the final analysis, Tannenberg was important because it was a highly dramatic event that lent itself to endless retelling, and, rightly or wrongly, the fortunes of entire peoples could be easily related to it.

Political Manoeuvring

Not even the participants had anticipated anything like the battle that did occur. Although there had been bad feelings between the grand masters and the Lithuanian cousins for decades, the military conflict that began in August 1409 was not beyond a compromise settlement. There was international pressure applied by the popes individually to arrange just such a compromise peace, so that Christendom could stand united in its efforts to restore unity in the Church and drive back the Turks from the borders of Austria and Hungary, or at least stem their raids to collect slaves and booty.

Foremost of the secular rulers seeking to forestall the conflict was Wenceslas of Bohemia. Though widely repudiated as Holy Roman emperor by his German subjects, he sent representatives in 1409 to mediate the quarrel. They brought Ulrich von Jungingen and King Jagiełło together on 4 October for five days of talks that resulted in a truce until St John’s Day (24 June) the following year. This sign of reconciliation made many hope that further compromises could be reached. The most important article in the truce agreement authorised Wenceslas to propose fair terms for a permanent peace settlement. His proposal was to be presented before Lent, a date that allowed additional negotiations to take place before the truce expired. The critical months, however, were those before Lent, when Ulrich von Jungingen and Jagiełło each sought to sway the notoriously fickle monarch in his own favour.

The grand master had a short history of the Samogitian crusade prepared, a document that depicted the Lithuanians as undependable turncoats who had violated their promises to the Poles in 1386 and to the Germans in 1398; moreover, it claimed that those Lithuanians who were indeed Christians were, in fact, members of the heretic Russian Orthodox faith, and that the Samogitians were complete pagans who had not allowed a single baptism in the past five years. Not relying on letters alone, the grand master sent an imposing delegation to Hungary. Those representatives signed an alliance with King Sigismund in December and agreed to pay him 40,000 Gulden for his assistance. Sigismund, in turn, honoured his guests by asking them to be godfathers to his newly born daughter, Elisabeth. From Hungary the delegates went to Bohemia to present final arguments before Wenceslas rendered his decision on 8 February 1410.

The core of the Bohemian peace proposal was to return to the status quo ante bellum. Those were hardly terms likely to please Vytautas and Jagiełło, especially since the Lithuanian complaints were ignored and the Poles were admonished to abstain from any and all aid to the Samogitian ‘non-Christians’. Wenceslas warned that he would attack whichever party refused to honour the treaty he proposed – a conventional threat without much substance to it. The Teutonic Knights had won a total victory, right down to confirmation of their right to possess West Prussia and the Neumark. In fact it was too thorough a victory, too one-sided. There was never any possibility of persuading the king of Poland to accept the mediator’s terms.

The time for the order’s celebration was short. Polish diplomats remained in Prague for a month, arguing vainly that the terms of the peace treaty were unfair, until Wenceslas finally lost his temper and threatened to make war on Poland himself. The Poles departed, certain that war with the Teutonic Knights, at least, would follow; perhaps there would be a gigantic conflict with all their western neighbours as well. Jagiełło, who read Wenceslas’ personality more accurately, was less intimidated: he rejected all proposals for further negotiations, and when Wenceslas summoned him to a conference in Breslau in May, he left the emperor and the Teutonic Knights waiting in vain for Polish representatives, who had already announced that they would not come

The Raising of Armies

The armies began to gather. When ready, Jagiełło summoned Vytautas to join him in Masovia. Until recently that had required a journey through a dense, swampy wilderness. However, thanks to the opening of the trade route along the Narew River it was now possible for Vytautas to bring his men to the desired location near Płock without undue difficulties. The bulk of the royal forces remained on the western bank of the Vistula, but Jagiełło sent Polish knights to the other bank to hold the fords for Vytautas, and more troops were coming in daily. By mid-June the king had at his disposal a force of more than 30,000 cavalry and infantry (18,000 Polish knights and squires, with a few thousand foot soldiers; some Bohemian and Moravian mercenaries; 11,000 Lithuanian, Rus’ian, and Tatar cavalry, a formidable contingent from Moldavia led by its prince, Alexander the Good, and some Samogitians).

Grand Master Ulrich had raised a huge force too, perhaps 20,000 strong. Since Jungingen had allowed the Livonian master to conclude a truce with Vytautas, however, none of those excellent knights were able to join him; in any case, the northern knights were not enthusiastic about the war, and although the Livonian master sent word to Vytautas immediately that the truce would expire at the end of the grace period, he would not send troops to Prussia or attack Lithuania’s vulnerable northern lands until that time had passed. Moreover, since Jungingen could raise only about 10,000 cavalry in Prussia the rest of his warriors were ‘pilgrims’ and mercenaries. Sigismund had sent two prominent nobles with 200 knights, and Wenceslas had allowed the grand master to hire a large number of his famed Bohemian warriors.

The numbers for both armies are very inexact, with estimates varying from half the totals given above to almost astronomical figures. In all cases, however, the proportion of troops in the armies remained about the same: three to two in favour of the Polish king and the Lithuanian grand prince. But the grand master had a compensating advantage in equipment and organisation, and especially in having nearby fortresses for supplies and refuge; and since, as far as he knew, the enemy forces had not yet joined, he believed that he could fight them one at a time. A few of Jagiełło’s and Vytautas’ commanders had served together in earlier campaigns, some against the Tatars, some against the crusaders; nevertheless, their army was composed of troops so diverse that maintaining cohesion would be difficult. Jungingen had a larger number of disciplined knights who were accustomed to fighting as units, but he also had levies of secular knights and crusaders who were prey to fits of enthusiasm and panic; he was also fighting on the defensive, better able to fall back on prepared positions and more informed about roads, tracks, and what obstacles were passable. The odds were fairly nearly equal.

An order chronicler, an anonymous contemporary continuing the earlier work by Johann von Posilge, described the preliminaries of the battle in vivid detail, thereby giving useful insights into the attitude the crusaders held toward their opponents:

[King Jagiełło] gathered the Tatars, Russians, Lithuanians, and Samogitians against Christendom . . . So the king met with the non-Christians and with Vytautas, who came through Masovia to aid him, and with the duchess . . . [T]here was so large an army that it is impossible to describe, and it crossed from Płock toward the land of Prussia. At Thorn were the important counts of Gora and Stiborzie, whom the king of Hungary had sent especially to Prussia to negotiate the issues and controversies between the order and Poland; but they could do nothing about the matter and finally departed from the king, who followed his evil and divisive will to injure Christendom. He was not satisfied with the evil men of the pagans and Poles, but he had hired many mercenaries from Bohemia, Moravia, and all kinds of knights and men-at-arms, who against all honour and goodness and honesty went with heathendom against the Christians to ravage the lands of Prussia.

One hardly expects a balanced judgement from chroniclers, but the accusations of hiring mercenaries certainly strikes the modern reader as odd, since the Teutonic Knights were doing the same thing. Men of the Middle Ages, like many today, hated passionately, often acted impulsively, and reasoned irrationally. Yet they were capable of behaving very logically too. The leaders of the armies soon gave proof that they were men of their era, acting as they did alternately with cool reason and hot temper. Reason predominated at the outset of the campaign.

The Hungarian count palatine and the voivode of Transylvania mentioned in the passage above returned south hurriedly to collect troops on the southern border of Poland. Their threat was unconvincing, however; consequently they had no effect on the campaign at all. Sigismund, as was his wont, had promised more than he was willing to deliver; he did nothing beyond allowing the grand master to hire mercenaries, though he was in northern Hungary at the time and could have raised a large force quickly.

The Battle of Tannenberg 1410 Part II

The Invasion of Prussia

The strategies of the two commanders contrasted greatly. The grand master divided his forces in the traditional manner between East and West Prussia, awaiting invasions at widely scattered points and relying on his scouts to determine the greatest threats, his intention being to concentrate his forces quickly wherever necessary to drive back the invaders. Jagiełło, however, planned to concentrate the Lithuanian and Polish armies into one huge body, an unusual tactic. Although adopted from time to time in the Hundred Years’ War, it was more common among the Mongols and Turks – enemies the Poles and Lithuanians had fought often. The Teutonic Knights did the same during their Reisen into Samogitia, but those had been much smaller armies.

In this phase of the campaign Jagiełło’s generalship was exemplary. As soon as he heard that Vytautas had crossed the Narew River he ordered his men to build a 450-metre pontoon bridge over the Vistula River. Within three days he had brought the main royal host to the east bank, then dismantled the bridge for future use. By 30 June his men had joined Vytautas. On 2 July the entire force began to move north. The king had thus far cleverly avoided the grand master’s efforts to block his way north and even kept his crossing of the Vistula a secret until the imperial peace envoys informed Jungingen. Even then the grand master failed to credit the report, so sure was he that the main attack would come on the west bank of the Vistula and be conducted by only the Polish forces.

When Jungingen obtained confirmation of the envoys’ story he hurriedly crossed the great river with his army and sought a place where he could intercept the enemy in the southern forest and lake region, before Lithuanian and Polish foragers could fan out among the rich villages of the settled areas in the river valleys. His plan was still purely defensive – to use his enemies’ numbers against them, anticipating that they would exhaust their food and fodder more swiftly than his own well-supplied forces. The foe had not yet trod Prussian ground.

The grand master had left 3,000 men under Heinrich von Plauen at Schwetz (Swiecie) on the Vistula, to protect West Prussia from a surprise invasion in case the Poles managed to elude him again and then strike downriver into the richest parts of Prussia before he could cross the river again. Plauen was a respected but minor officer, suitable for a responsible defensive post but not seen as a battlefield leader. Jungingen wanted to have his most valuable officers with him, to offer sound advice and provide examples of wisdom, courage, and chivalry. Jungingen was relatively young, and a bit hot-headed, but all his training advised him to err on the side of caution until battle was joined. Daring was a virtue in the face of the enemy, but not before.

Jagiełło, too, was a careful general. Throughout his entire career he had avoided risks. No story exists of his ever having put his life in danger or led horsemen in a wild charge against a formidable enemy. Yet neither was there the slightest hint of cowardice. Societal norms were changing. Everyone acknowledged the responsibility of the commander to remain alive; everyone accepted the fact that the commander should guide the fortunes of his army rather than seek fame in personal combat.

Consequently it was no surprise that the king’s advance toward enemy territory was slow. His caution was understandable. After all, he could not be certain that his ruse had worked; and he had great respect for Jungingen’s military skills. Without doubt, he worried that he would stumble into an ambush and give the crossbearers their greatest victory ever. He must have been half-relieved when his scouts reported that the crusaders had taken up a defensive position at a crossing of the Dzewa (Drewenz, Drweça) River. At least he knew where Jungingen was, waiting at the Masovian border. On the other hand, the news that the grand master’s position was very strong could not have been welcome.

So far each commander had moved cautiously toward the other. Jagiełło and Jungingen alike feared simple tactical errors, such as being caught by nightfall far from a suitable camping place, or having to pass through areas suitable for ambush or blockade; in addition, they had to provide protection for their transport, reserve horses, and herds of cattle. Although each commander was experienced in directing men in war, these armies were larger than either had brought into battle previously, and the larger the forces, the more danger there was of error, of misunderstanding orders, and of panic.

Judged by those criteria, both commanders deserve high marks for bringing their armies into striking distance of each other without having made serious blunders. Both armies were well-supplied, ready to fight, and confident of a good chance for victory; the officers all knew their opponents well, were familiar with the countryside and the weather, and in full command of the available technology. The resemblance of some formations to armed mobs was offset by martial traditions, individual unit drill, and widespread experience in local wars. Neither army was handicapped by dissensions in command, quarrels among units, unusual prevalence of illness, or excessive anxiety about the impending combat – these problems existed, but they were probably shared equally and were not serious enough to merit mention in contemporary accounts. In short, there were no excuses for failure.

For the Teutonic Knights, each commander, each officer, each knight was as ready for combat as could reasonably be expected. All that remained uncertain was how the battle would begin, how individuals would react, and how the affair would unfold – for those are unknowns always present in warfare. Though many individuals had participated in raids and sieges, few had personal experience in a pitched battle between large armies. Some crusaders may have gained sad experience at Nicopolis in 1396, and some of their opponents may have survived Vytautas’ 1399 disaster on the Vorskla in the Ukraine against the Tatars, but those would be the only ones who knew what to expect when tens of thousands of combatants came together for a few minutes of intense struggle. Only they knew first-hand that warfare on this scale was chaos beyond imagination, with commanders unable to contact more than a few units, with movement limited by the sheer numbers of men and animals on the field, with the senses overwhelmed by noise, smoke from fires and cannon, and dust stirred up by the horses, the body’s natural dehydration worsened by excitement-induced thirst, and exhaustion from stress and exertion. This led to an irrational eagerness for any escape from the tension – either flight or immersion in combat. Aside from that small number of experienced knights there was only the practice field and small-scale warfare in Samogitia, the campaign in Gotland, and the 1409 invasion of Poland. Those provided good military experience, but there had not been a set-piece combat between the Teutonic Knights and the Lithuanians for forty years, or between the Teutonic Knights and the Poles for almost eighty. Throughout all of Europe, in fact, there had been many campaigns, but few battles. For both veterans and neophytes there was consolation in storytelling, boasting, prayer, and drinking.

The Lithuanians were more experienced, but only in the more open warfare on the steppes and in the forests of Rus’. Riding small horses and wearing light Rus’ian armour, they were not well equipped for close combat with Western knights on large chargers, but they were equal to their enemy in pride and their confidence in their commander. Memory of Vytautas’ disaster on the Vorskla had been dimmed by subsequent victorious campaigns against Smolensk, Pskov, Novgorod, and Moscow. Between 1406 and 1408 Vytautas had led armies against his son-in-law, Basil of Moscow, three times, once reaching the Kremlin and at last forcing him to accept a peace treaty that restored the 1399 frontiers. Vytautas’ strength was in his cavalry’s ability to go across country that defensive forces might consider impassable; his weakness was that lightly-equipped horsemen could not survive a charge by heavy warhorses bearing well-armoured knights – he counted on his Tatar scouts to prevent such an event happening by surprise.

The mounted Polish forces were more numerous and better equipped for a pitched battle with the Germans, but they lacked confidence in their ability to stand up to the Teutonic Knights. The contemporary Polish historian Długosz complained about their unreliability, their lust for booty, and their tendency to panic. Most Polish knights – at least 75% – sacrificed armour for speed and endurance, but they were not as ‘oriental’ as the Lithuanians. In this they hardly differed from the majority of the order’s forces, light cavalry suitable to local conditions. Of the rest, many Polish knights wore plate armour and preferred the crossbow to the spear, just as did many of the Teutonic Knights’ heavy cavalry. The weakness lay in training and experience: many Polish knights were weekend warriors, landlords and young men; they were non-professionals who knew that they were up against the best trained and equipped troops in Christendom. Although some of them had served under the king previously, he seems to have drawn more troops from the north for this campaign than from the south; and it was the southern knights who had served with him in Galicia and Sandomir. Jagiełło could have called up more knights, but he could not have found room for them at the campsites, much less fed them. The masses of almost untrained peasant militia were much easier to manage; their noble lords could assume they would feed themselves and they could sleep outside no matter what the weather was. While the peasants’ usefulness in battle was small – at best they could divert the enemy for a short while, allowing the cavalry time to regroup or to retreat – they were good at pillaging the countryside, thereby helping feed the army, and the smoke of villages they set afire might confuse the enemy as to where the main strength of the royal host lay.

The size of Jagiełło’s and Vytautas’ armies must have created serious problems for the rear columns. By the time thousands of horses had ridden along the roads, the mud in low-lying places must have been positively liquid, making marching difficult and pulling carts almost impossible; moreover, the larger any body of men and the more exhausted they became the more likely they were to give in to inexplicable panic. Scouting reports were unreliable; there were too many woods, streams, and enemy patrols. Nevertheless, the king, no matter how exhausted, nervous, or unsure he and his military advisors might be, had to avoid giving any impression of indecisiveness or fear; he had to appear calm at all times. Jagiełło’s dour personality lent itself to this role. A non-drinker, he was sober at all times, and his demeanour was that of total self-control. His love of hunting had prepared him well for the hours on horseback and feeling at home in the deepest woods; he would have regarded the lightly inhabited forests of Dobrin and Płock as tame stuff indeed. Vytautas was the perfect foil; he was the energetic and inspirational leader who was everywhere at once, at home among warriors and disdainful of supposed hardships. No common soldier could complain that their commanders did not understand the warrior’s life or the dangers of the forest, or that they did not share the tribulations of life on the march.

This need to appear to be in command was itself a danger – any army on the march can be held up at a ford or a narrow place between lakes and swamps, even if no enemy is present. The commander has to give some order, any order, even if it’s only ‘sit down’, rather than seem to be unable to make a decision. Such circumstances, compounded by exhaustion, thirst, or anxiety, often resulted in hurriedly issued orders to attack or retreat that the men are unable to carry out effectively. In short, circumstances might limit the royal options to bad ones, and the perceived need for haste might cause the king to select the worst of those available. Jagiełło was certainly aware of all this, for he was an experienced campaigner. However, for many years his strength had lain in persuading his foes to retreat ahead of overwhelming numbers, or in besieging strongholds; his goal had always been to prepare the way for diplomacy. Now he was leading a gigantic army to a confrontation with a hitherto invincible foe, to fight, if the enemy commander so chose, a pitched battle in hostile territory.

Jagiełło seemed to have been checked at the Dzewa River before he could cross into Prussia. He was unwilling to attempt to force a crossing at the only nearby ford in the face of a strongly-entrenched enemy; he would not find it easy to move eastward and upstream – while the headwaters of the Dzewa presented no significant obstacle to his advance, the countryside there had once been thickly forested, and important remnants of the ancient wilderness still remained. Most importantly, although the Teutonic Knights had used the century of peace to establish many settlements in the rolling countryside, the roads connecting the villages were narrow and winding. There were too many hills and swamps for roads to proceed from point to point, and strangers could easily lose their sense of direction in the dense woods. The villagers were fleeing into fortified refuges or the forest. Although many of the inhabitants spoke Polish (immigrants not being subject to linguistic tests in those days), they were loyal to the Teutonic Order, and none wanted to fall into the hands of Vytautas’ flying squadrons – especially not the terrifying Tatars – which were trying to locate the defensive forces and find a way around them. Making peasants give information or serve as guides was part of warfare. Burning villages marked the progress of the scouting units. Though this could hardly have been seen easily by the two armies confronting one another at the ford, they might well have been aware of the rising columns of smoke.

However, terrorising the countryside, burning, and pillaging was a far cry from the battle tactics that the Poles had become accustomed to; the long era of peace had softened the sensibilities of these amateur warriors. Polish knights were soon complaining to Jagiełło about their allies’ behaviour – Tatars hauling women into their tents and then raping them repeatedly, killing peasants who spoke Polish, treating captives inhumanely – until the king finally ordered the prisoners released and admonished the steppe horsemen to avoid such cruel practices in the future. This restraint was not in his best interests – the king’s best hope for making Jungingen weaken his position was to wreak such destruction on nearby rural communities that the grand master would feel compelled to send troops to protect them. However, within a short time Jagiełło and Vytautas saw that Jungingen was too good a commander to disperse his forces at such a critical moment.

The king must have been frustrated, yet he was unwilling either to allow his campaign to end from empty bellies or send his men to be slaughtered on some obscure river bank. While it was not clear that he could move eastward through the woods and swamps and around the incredibly complicated system of lakes without being easily blocked by the grand master, then forced to fight at a disadvantage, that seemed his only hope. This was, after all, the grand master’s home ground, and surely the Teutonic Knights would have seen to the building of some roads. If so, however, why were they not using them now to harass the Polish rear?

Jungingen, for his part, does not seem to have worried about a Polish flanking manoeuvre. Teutonic Knights from nearby convents had hunted for recreation in these woods; hence they were familiar with every village, field, and forest; they knew well how the many long, narrow, twisting lakes would limit the options available to invading armies. Polish and Lithuanian scouts had been active for days, looking for paths through the surrounding woods, and they had yet to find one. The assurance of such local residents as had undoubtedly agreed to act as guides and scouts for the Teutonic Knights, that the roads were not suitable for the use of any large army, may have given Jungingen more confidence in his superior strategic position than was warranted.

This confidence was misplaced, however. When the Lithuanian scouts reported that they had found some roads leading toward Osterode that could be used – if the army moved before the Germans learned what was planned – the king and grand prince acted on the information quickly.

Jagiełło consulted with his inner council, then gave orders to prepare for a secret, swift march eastward and north around Jungingen’s fortified position. He assigned each unit its place in the order of march and instructed everyone to obey the two guides who knew the country. The royal trumpeter would give the signals in the morning; until then no one was to make any movement or noise that might betray his plans prematurely. Unless his army could get a start of many hours, the stratagem was hopeless. Meanwhile, he sent a herald to make another effort at a peaceful settlement of the matter. Quite likely this was a deceptive manoeuvre to persuade the grand master that the king was in a desperate situation, but it might also have been a pro forma means of persuading the peace commissioners that he was truly desirous of ending the war without further bloodshed. It is hard to imagine what terms Jungingen might have considered acceptable in this situation, but the grand master nevertheless called a meeting of his officers; with one exception, they preferred war to further negotiations.

Jagiełło’s actions may well have increased the grand master’s overconfidence in the superiority of his situation. Certainly, when Jungingen’s scouts saw the Polish camp empty, they assumed that the king was withdrawing. The Germans crossed the river on swiftly erected pontoon bridges and set out in pursuit, knowing that there is nothing easier to destroy than an army on the retreat. However, when the scouts saw that the Poles and Lithuanians were moving north-east in two columns, working their way in a wide arc around their flank, Jungingen had to reconsider his plans. If his men continued following the enemy units, they would not be able to stop Vytautas’ Tatars from torching countless villages; worse, they might find themselves trailing the enemy through deep forests or fall into an ambush at some ford with nothing but desolated lands and wilderness at their rear. Therefore the grand master changed the direction of his advance in order to get ahead of the enemy columns. In fact the speed at which Jungingen’s army moved almost caused it to overshoot the Polish and Lithuanian line of march. Meanwhile, the Polish scouts had completely lost contact with the Germans and were surprised when they found Jungingen once again blocking the roads north.

Jagiełło, in luring the German forces east, away from their strong fortresses in Culm, was moving his own army far from safe refuges, too; moreover, he had divided his forces, sending the Lithuanians east and north of the road used by the Poles. Should the grand master somehow attack his forces by surprise, especially before they could reunite, Jagiełło might suffer an irreversible disaster. Because many Poles still considered him a Lithuanian under the skin, Jagiełło was placing his crown at risk in seeking battle under such conditions. This was something that Ulrich von Jungingen surely understood – a victory over the Polish and Lithuanian armies could ruin his order’s ancient enemies now and forever.

Seven Years’ War: Swedes Launch Their Last Offensive I

Major-General Wilhelm Sebastian von Belling’s campaign Pomerania in 1761 against the Swedes.

At the Northern Front, the Campaign 1761 had been a more involved one than usual, for the most part. The Prussian posts at the start of the campaign were: at Anklam, stood Major Alexander Friedrich Knobelsdorf, with three companies; at Demmin, Lieutenant Colonel Golz was present with I. Battalion of Hordt; at Reubnitz, stood Captain Thilling with a squadron of horse. During the opening course of this campaign, a reinforcement of about 6,000 men were dispatched to join the Swedish forces already facing the bluecoats. In the last week of June, General Lantinghausen, fed up with the frustrations of field charge of the Swedish arms, threw up his command in favor of General Ehrensvard. The new formations were being assimilated meanwhile into the existing army in Swedish Pomerania. The strengthened force, gaining confidence, began to press Belling back although Henry had sent a detachment to the aid of Belling. In the latter part of the campaign, Belling and General Stutterheim were able not only to hold their own but did finally compel the intruders to retire back into their home regions in Swedish Pomerania.

At the commencement of the campaign, Belling was careful to keep his limited forces of Prussians (approximately 3,000 strong) deployed where they could do the most good. A single squadron of the Belling Hussars, led by Captain von Thilling, was put up at Reubnitz, while Knobelsdorf was at Anklam, and other forces at Demmin.

Ehrensvard forthwith ordered his forces divided into three full columns, to advance. The general himself, taking some 4,000 Swedes (including about 600 hussars), marched past Loitz, detaching in the process a roving vanguard, led by Lt.-Col. Hierta, which barged into the retreating Free Corps of Hordt over by Kleitzer-Mühle. The bluecoats could not stand firm, and they promptly fell back, leaving behind some 165 men as prisoners. Belling responded by deploying his forces to shield his two supply depots. About the same time, General Lybecker led a body of men over the Trebel, where the force joined up with Hessenstein and moved on Vurchen. An isolated charge was unleashed which rode down Lybecker’s forward most elements but was subsequently checked by the main body of the Swedish force (July 20). Meanwhile, Ehrensvard ordered a concentration at Demmin of his forces, while simultaneously he began to threaten the pivotal Prussian arsenal at Malchin. Belling reacted to the Swedish marches by almost insensibly tending towards Nauendorf. Early on July 28, with little fanfare, the bluecoats crashed into the enemy lines over by Breest and Spantekow.

Ehrensvard forthwith pulled back, while a second, separate Prussian effort was launched from Stettin over by Űecker. But the Swedes held the line, and Belling withdrew as July closed out over by Friedland. July 30, the Swedes tried to break across the Tollense River near Breest and Friedland. Although these attempts were repelled, a more successful effort affected a crossing at Klempenow, but a bluecoat force under Knobelsdorf’s direction took cover at a nearby farm and opened such a bitter fire upon the local enemy they were finally compelled to withdraw.

The next day, Belling moved through the Kavelpasse, where he immediately encountered a Swedish force of about 150 horse under Major Schwartze. An initial Swedish success led to a furious counterattack, following which Belling withdrew as was his want upon Friedland, then to Bartow (August 2). The Swedes under General Hessenstein, ensconced about Demmin, reacted to the near encroachment in short order. They pressed off, on August 5, in three distinct files, one on Sedenbollentin, under the charge of Hessenstein himself, one under Lt.-Col. Wrangle through Breest, and a small force of horse at the town of Brook. Meanwhile, General Carpelan with another body of men was kept back at Bartow.

For his part, Belling did his best to sow confusion in the rear of the main enemy force. A Prussian cavalry troop of some 200 riders rode down part of Carpelan’s encampment, but could then progress no farther. After a short but furious altercation, Belling withdrew again on to Friedland, while Hessenstein and Ehrensvard drew back on Schwanbeck in the immediate neighborhood.

Over in the Russian sphere of influence, there was no dearth of activity either. As the campaign wore on, the final drama of events on the Eastern Front were inexorably winding down towards a finish. Twice before during the course of this long war the port city of Colberg had been besieged, and now it was to be again. In mid–1761, Colberg was still in Prussian hands, but the Russian Command had ordered General Gottlob Curt Heinrich Graf von Tottleben, to take the place by siege. He was opposed by Werner (with some 5,000 men), joined by Eugene of Württemberg’s 12,000 men, while Commandant Heyde was still leading a garrison in Colberg (some 2,000 bluecoats) itself. But the attention of the bluecoats in general, and of Frederick, was centered in Silesia where the king was keeping his main force. So little was actually allowed for Colberg, although it was important, for, if the fortress should fall into Russian hands, Russian armies could then winter on the Baltic Sea coast rather than having to fall back into Poland.

Meanwhile, when Totleben’s spying was finally discovered, the command of the greencoat forces in Pomerania fell to Lt.-Gen. Peter Rumyantsev. His approach was informed to Prussian scouts when the Russians reached Cöslin on June 22, although they took great pains to proceed to their business slowly. The truce of Werner and Totleben expired on May 12, and the bluecoats immediately began earnest preparations for what was to come. Rumyantsev spent considerable time at Cöslin “consolidating” his position and it was not until August 19 that he deigned occupy Belgard—giving the Russians the control of the Persante River, and thus allowing preliminary operations for another try at Colberg.

With Belling taking up post at Friedland, the bluecoats strove to consolidate their forces in response to the enemy. Knobelsdorf, from Bartow, took a mere 48 hours or so to cover over 70 miles of hard terrain territory to arrive at Friedland. In the first of August, the Belling Hussars there were under Major von Hoendorf and Captain von Rüllman. Then, before daylight on August 6, Belling, with some 2,300 men, including 1,200 cavalry, suddenly erupted against the Swedish block force holding the river crossing at Röpenackerpasse. Belling’s Johnny-on-the-spot, Knobelsdorf, stormed forward against the Swedish lines, but an energetic counterattack mounted chiefly by the Västgöta Cuirassiers, along with two full units of infantry, loosened the Prussian stranglehold on the bridge thereabouts in very short order. Belling once again retired after this on Friedland.

Belling was not able to stand pat, for a large Swedish force launched a major effort at get at the Prussian magazine of Malchin. Leaving only a handful of men to hold all of Friedland, Belling moved as dexterously as possible to cover Malchin from the enemy’s encroachments. But the Swedes had vanished, so the bluecoat horse sped off in pursuit of the Swedish Majors Plathen and Schwartze and their Swedish force. The Swedes turned on their pursuers at Kentzlin (August 8), and promptly checked Belling’s “enthusiasm” for the whole business. Losses in this venture were two dead, ten wounded, one captured for the bluecoats, while the Swedish loss was 13 killed, 40 wounded, and 11 captured. The latter retired upon Friedland once more, and, responding to an increase in the enemy force opposed to him, proceeded to strip down, and then cart away, their two major supply depots, both at Treptow and at Malchin, in anticipation of a renewed Swedish offensive.

A resurgent Swedish force of some 16,000 men now concentrated in front of the bluecoats. Early on August 12, General Hessenstein (at the head of about 3,800 men) marched from Siedenbollentin aiming for Colpin via Neubrandenburg. Pausing thereabouts, he rested his men while Ehrensvard centralized his forces in preparation for a major offensive to be mounted against the Prussian positions.

Keeping his forces together out to Boldekau, the general unleashed Hessenstein for Woldegk, while Meijerfelt’s small force made straight for the little bluecoat force guarding Friedland. A smaller force of the light cavalry swarmed around Belling. The latter, disdaining a nearby enemy post, galloped towards Hessenstein’s men over by the Kavelpasse. The bluecoats struck hard, by Röhlau (August 14), riding down the Swedes and taking 85 captives. Hessenstein reeled back, while Belling, startled by the “speed” of the enemy advance on Finkenbrück, galloped out to intercept the new effort. The Swedish Plathen fell back on Anklam (August 17), while, on the same day, Ehrensvard marched a force which wrestled away Neubrandenburg from the foe.

The Swedish General Stackelberg assumed a central position hard about Klein-Teetzleben. Swedish outposts detected Belling’s approach, and Stackelberg fell back immediately without hesitation to a position hard by Neubrandenburg (August 21, 1761).

The situation before the Swedes continued to unfold as well. The Prussians wasted no time in going over to the offensive. August 31, 1761 Major Zülow attacked the Swedes at the Tollense River crossing at Klempenow, but was thrown back abruptly. The reinforcements allowed a new attack to be mounted by Major Stojenthy, but the foe was able to turn back this new effort also.

General Stutterheim would not be denied, and laid down an artillery covering fire opposite to the Swedish position hard-by, while Belling took a side detour, broke across the Tollense (September 2), and seized Klempenow.

The Swedes fell back on Boldekow, while Belling’s men consolidated their hold upon Breest and Klempenow. The bluecoats were destined not to remain undisturbed for long, for Ehrensvard, after a hasty preparation, tried to accost the Prussians at Klempenow, under the charge of Captain Hullessen (September 4). Crohnjelm, who was in command of the Swedish force, launched a furious, but short-lived, attack, which failed to turn the bluecoats out of their lines. Ehrensvard then withdrew as was his want, detaching General Carpelan to hold a base position beside the Tollense River.

The general progression of the Prussians was hedging back upon Stettin, but the Swedish military was mostly content to leave their foe alone at that stage. General Stutterheim, however, was not satisfied to let matters stand pat. He burst out to Bargensdorf, but, hard-by Kueblankh, was the extent of his march just then. Bevern, still keeping in Stettin, pressed off a force on Wollin, trying to sabotage the Swedish link from the island to the mainland. Early the following morning, Belling overthrew an enemy force led by Hessenstein, hard-by Jatzkhe. This blunted the Swedes from that immediate vicinity.

However, Ehrensvard was resolved to hazard holding on to Wollin as well as the links to the positions in Swedish Pomerania. The presence of Stutterheim’s Prussians over by Pasewalk and Woldegk really negated any meaningful Swedish offensive in the whole region. So Ehrensvard stayed put, but did dispatch Major-General Fredrik Vilhelm von Hessenstein with a force of some 2,100 men to join up with the Swedish force at Wollin.

Meanwhile, General Stutterheim fell back upon Stettin, which action immediately relinquished the offensive to the reenergized Swedes. A Swedish force under General Lybecker pressed off eastward, while a second assembly of Swedes under Major-General Jacob Magnus Sprengtporten also marched, bound for Ferdinandshof. This conglomerate of some 14,000 men constituted the last major Swedish offensive of the Seven Years’ War. And, we might add, one of the few of the entire war.

September 17, Lybecker’s men rolled into open country hard-by Kosabroma. Belling and his hussars, being very close at hand, did not waste time. They attacked and routed the Swedish horse which clung on the flanks and in front of Lybecker’s foot soldiers. The initial Prussian blow drove the Swedes back into nearby wooded terrain, but the emergency deployment of artillery and the subsequent shelling helped check the ardor of the bluecoats. A force of the Prussian hussars under Major Zülow struck at the Swedish flanks, but the onset of nightfall and Lybecker’s men managing to stand their ground brought the tussle to an end without clear result. The upshot was, Belling moved off during the night, and the only Prussian force left in front of Lybecker’s Swedes was a small force under Lt.-Col. Golz.

This development enabled Lybecker to advance once more, while Belling belatedly made his way over near Rothemühl. The progress of General Sprengtporten on Ferdinandshof had flushed out Knobelsdorf’s small force, which had been deployed thereabouts. The latter conducted a fighting retreat and fell away with his band to Rothemühl as well. Belling barged into Neuenzond, with the Swedes of the Skaraborgs Infantry making themselves to home between Rothemühl and Friedrichshagen.

Belling sent scouts, which judiciously felt out the enemy position over by Rothemühl and returned with word that the Swedes were in fact well prepared for action. Belling did little more at this point than to deploy his guns and start lobbing shells in the direction of the enemy. Lybecker had resumed his march, pressing Golz and trying to figure out the strength of the Prussian force just in front of him. It was indeed fortuitous that Lybecker, acting under the mistaken belief he had Belling’s whole force confronting him, instead of just a part, pulled up short and waited. The Swedes of Sprengtporten emerged from Ferdinandshof just before noon, making their way down the road through Friedrichshagen, where they encountered some light Prussian resistance.

Lybecker, for his part, had been content to engage in mere small arms’ fire with Golz, but Belling was savagely attacked by Sprengtporten before he hardly had time to react. But, the grenadiers of Ingersleben nevertheless attacked the Swedes head-on, piercing the enemy’s front and moving so rapidly forward through the Swedish ranks they outpaced their supporters, and were quickly surrounded by the foe. This was a devastating development. In heavy fighting, Ingersleben was forced finally to recoil, although the Swedish pursuit was quickly checked by the hussars of Belling.

At that stage, Belling, with Sprengtporten moving in and Lybecker behind still being “contained” by Golz, withdrew as was his want on Taschenberg. The two Swedish processions forthwith joined up near Schönhausen with very little fanfare, and retired forthwith upon Woldegk. Swedish losses at Rothemühl amounted to some 150 men, while the Prussians lost closer to 500 men of all arms.

After an interval of just a few days, the Swedes resumed their offensive. September 23, General Sprengtporten moved on Taschenberg, driving out an enemy hussar force across the Űecker on to Rollwitz and thereabouts. Knobelsdorf spun back on Űckermunde with patrols reaching over on Torgelow. This left a vacuum of sorts, into which the Swedes were only too eager to proceed.

The foe wasted no time in sending raiding parties to raise contributions from the region round about. There were no further meaningful engagements on the Northern Front until the Russians sent raiding parties of their own into the Űeckermark province and the vicinity of Stettin. The Prussians reacted by reinforcing the Duke of Brunswick-Bevern over in Stettin, while their Swedish enemy was himself being strengthened to renew once more its advance into Prussian territory—early October 1761.

Ehrensvard was building up to renew his lumbering advance into Prussian Pomerania. October 15, his Swedish force emerged from behind the Peene, while the bluecoats reacted conservatively. The two sides had a brief interlude of military inactivity, although the Swedes on water continued to maneuver about. In early November, Swedish ships brought reinforcements from Finland and from their homeland, in a desperate bid to inflict a defeat upon the enemy before the depths of winter could interfere. November 22, several Swedish vessels appeared on the Peene River and the reinforcements, meanwhile, were being assimilated into the rest of the Swedish formations.

Thus far, the weather had been comparatively mild, but this situation abruptly did an about face. In the first few weeks of December, the temperatures plunged, and the Peene tried to freeze over. This forced the Swedish ships to make for Stralsund instead. The Swedes also suddenly seemed to lose all interest in campaigning, but it did not take long at all for Belling to try to take advantage of the enemy inactivity and the poor weather conditions, like the heavy snowfall. Belling, in spite of the elements, split up his command, sending Knobelsdorf over to Tessin, while I. Battalion of Hordt was unbuckled upon Gnöien. Meanwhile, Ehrensvard pulled his forces out of Demmin, which was then promptly occupied by the Prussians, while the latter also did their best to secure Anklam as well.

The weather continued to deteriorate, but Belling moved out. On December 10, the main Prussian force reached Gnöien. There was now a concerted effort put forth to drive the Swedes back into their own territory. After dark the next day, Belling’s men accosted the Swedish position at Volksdorf astride the Peene River. The next morning, December 12, 1761 the bluecoats hitched into Neuhringen. But the province of Mecklenburg was largely evacuated by the Swedes, and so Belling pulled back from the incursion and moved off in the direction of Demmin and Meyerkrebs.

But the interlude here was very brief, for before twenty-four hours had elapsed, Belling was at it again. His Prussians pushed off, bound for Rustow and Randow, pressing the enemy in his path into precipitate retreat. But not all of the Swedes were in a defensive frame of mind. General Meijerfelt performed almost a diversionary raid upon the bluecoats ensconced in Anklam, but the foray was limited to taking only a handful of prisoners. The Prussian force, on the other hand, continued to progress in its endeavors, and, December 16, Belling’s men pressed on to Loitz, but hard by Langenfelde, the Swedish commander Carpelan was discovered and compelled to retreat, which move uncovered Jarmen. Belling at once pressed on that place. Knobelsdorf, for his part, attacked an enemy force at Gutzkow (December 20), while still other Prussians were making a camp at Remplin.

All of these moves combined to betray the vulnerability of Mecklenburg to any Prussian encroachment. Of course Prussian raiders were being sent to pilfer as much in the way of men and material as they could to help out the Prussian war effort. The upshot was, Ehrensvard sure heard “it” from a very agitated Duke of Mecklenburg, who had some trouble understanding how the recently reinforced Swedish army could allow Belling to run rough shod all over the province, while, at the same time, the Swedes themselves were snug behind the Peene—although perhaps not warm and snug. Ehrensvard had little choice but to respond to the entreaty, dispatching General Meijerfelt with a force over the Peene, putting in an appearance back in Mecklenburg, while General Sprengtporten took up the banner as well, marching on Dargun and Malchin, near where his men arrived on December 22.

The Swedes were determined to snare Malchin and worked up a rather involved assault scheme to accomplish this feat. Sprengtporten’s grenadiers thundered into action on the western end of Malchin by the Wargentiner Gate. This particular column was initially repulsed by the defenders under the charge of Golz, but the Skaraborg Infantry and the rest of the column striking against the Kahldener Gate ruptured the Prussian defenses, forcing the bluecoats to abandon Malchin forthwith. Belling sent his hussars to check General Sprengtporten’s pursuit, although the latter did venture on to Basedow. The Swedes appeared on the point of coming back to life offensively in this early winter when all was altered abruptly once more by Prince Eugene of Württemberg and the timely arrival of his force back in front of the Swedes after Colberg had capitulated to the Russians.

Seven Years’ War: Swedes Launch Their Last Offensive II

From Stettin, Eugene’s force made by Pasewalk aiming to recover Malchin. It was a decision by the bluecoats to try to regain the place before winter deepened. The sudden advent of the army of Prince Eugene, even badly used as it was by then, threw consternation into the minds of the Swedish commanders opposite to all of this. December 30, Eugene’s men arrived at Treptow, news of which was immediately communicated to Sprengtporten. The Swedish commander weighed in on the notion of actually hitching back into Swedish Pomerania, but Belling sent the ever faithful Major Zülow with a detachment of approximately 400 men galloping on to Neukahlden, which move severed the road over by Dargun and isolated the command of General Sprengtporten. Belling forthwith was instructed by Prince Eugene to bring his force over to Treptow. With the bluecoats thus linked up in the region, the scheme was hurriedly worked up to take Malchin back from the enemy and, simultaneously if at all possible, to hack Sprengtporten’s force to pieces.

In order to turn Sprengtporten’s men out of the lines round about Malchin, Prince Eugene realized he would have to split up his own force in order to approach Malchin from different directions simultaneously. Eugene assumed chief command of the main column of the bluecoats himself, while Belling would lean upon Malchin with his own independent force at about the same time.

Before the bluecoats launched their attack, Prince Eugene summoned General Sprengtporten to surrender Malchin. When this offer was snubbed outright, a Prussian attack was launched that made some progress but when darkness intervened, the enemy still held Malchin (December 31). The next morning, January 1, 1762, another charge by the Prussians inflicted losses, but failed to turn their determined enemy out of their lines. Ehrensvard, learning of the latest developments at the front, was inspired to send a reinforcement of about 3,000 men, commanded by Lt.-Col. Carnal, to proceed at once towards Malchin to join up with Sprengtporten. As for Belling, he had Major von Knobelsdorf (January 1) with 200 infantry and 150 hussars posted towards Dargun. Belling pressed over at his best pace to face Carnal’s Swedes, which had been deployed hard about Neu Kahlden. The bluecoats in the meanwhile arrived on a rise overlooking Carnal’s force, unlimbering some artillery to start shelling the Swedish positions.

Carnal unleashed his men, who promptly attacked Belling’s pressed men, forcing the Prussians to recoil from their post. The latter lost some 200 men in this altercation, while the Swedes had 31 killed and 102 wounded. Belling wasted no time in falling back towards Eugene’s force, which move left Malchin firmly in Swedish hands. The bluecoats finally proceeded to into winter quarters right after this, in the same positions they had held at the start of the campaign, while the Swedes retired behind the Peene and Trebel Rivers, by which moves they evacuated Mecklenburg, no doubt against their intentions. The operations on the Northern Front in the Seven Years’ War closed with this, for the death of Czarina Elizabeth soon after and the consequent desertion of Russia from active fighting in the war was Sweden’s signal to do the same.

Meanwhile, the operations on the Western Front had been somewhat slower paced in 1761 than in 1760. Preliminary operations to secure a firmer foothold for the French having proven unsuccessful, they resolved to redouble their efforts. Madame Pompadour now had two armies organized and set against Ferdinand. The latter could dispose of some 95,000 men for the new campaign. Broglie was still in command of the French forces in the field, but Soubise had been elevated, largely through his influence with the Pompadour, to be his Co-Commander. This may have helped soothe some hard feelings, but with Choiseul still in overall command, left much confusion about who commanded what. Nevertheless, there were 160,000 French troops ready to take to the field for Campaign 1761.

Ferdinand’s task was to guard Lippstadt from the enemy, and he would have found this enterprise far more difficult than he did had the French chosen to keep their two armies operating as separate entities. Fortunately, Soubise and Broglie moved to join up, their rendezvous being accomplished at Soest on July 6 while their opponents remained idle west of Soubise’s camp at Vellinghausen. The position that Ferdinand held there fronted eastwards to the left of that town while the center was near the Ahse River and the right hugged below it. The latter flank was shielded behind marshy patches of ground and a tributary in front, but almost exposed from certain directions. The allies had their base at Hamm, a village where the Ahse and Lippe Rivers joined. The French had determined to attack Ferdinand’s forces in his position thereabouts, but problems between Broglie and Soubise about a firm timetable for this assault caused the enterprise to be delayed several times.

But, by mid–July, French outparties were probing near the enemy camp; on July 15, Broglie at last ordered a march up to charge the allied camp. Heavy reconnaissance followed, about 1800 hours a deliberate strike was launched upon Ferdinand’s post by the French in strength. Quickly responding, the Marquis of Granby ordered his men to form up, while Broglie, lunging forward under the cover of a heavy cannonade, struck again and again in futile blows. The last of these attempts was beaten back by about 2200 hours. About 130,000 French troops had participated in this phase of the Battle of Vellinghausen, although this figure did not include the troops of Soubise (which were quite out of effective range behind the proceedings).

Although he was denied the reinforcements that might have proven decisive, Broglie was grimly determined to destroy Ferdinand’s force if the opportunity presented itself. Accordingly, renewed assaults were launched at about 0400 hours, July 16, but Prince Ferdinand had strengthened his left wing from the right of his lines (that is, the one facing Soubise) and again forced back the French in heavy fighting. And, while Broglie’s men battered themselves against a strengthened allied wall of troops, Soubise did nothing but launch a feeble attack upon the enemy left with a small party; this was quickly repulsed with the loss of 24 men. Near 1000 hours, seeing signs the enemy was faltering at last, Ferdinand’s cavalry burst forth and drove the discouraged Broglie from the field with a loss of 5,000 men (almost 50 percent of them being prisoners). The allies lost some 2,000 men in the battle.

The ensuing episode shows the inherent dangers of trying to put two generals in charge at the same time in field command. For a vigorous debate arose soon after over whom was responsible for Vellinghausen: Soubise or Broglie. The influence of the Soubise faction was greater, which eclipsed Broglie, easing him right out of the picture. The intrigue itself dated from before Vellinghausen, but the provided a catalyst to end Broglie’s command. The incident shows French military objectives, which should have been sacrosanct to the conduct of the war, played second fiddle to politics and intrigue. Soubise retired into Westphalia, marching and maneuvering weakly to threaten one allied post after another, but actually accomplishing very little for the French cause. As for Broglie, he retrieved Wolfenbüttel, but then lost it again in the course of a few days; he then retired unceremoniously into winter quarters. Then Broglie, by far the most capable French commander of this war in a long time, was replaced in sole command of the French field armies by the almost incompetent Soubise. The latter proceeded to finish out the war with equal ineptness.

In Saxony, the opponents went into winter quarters, while back in Silesia, the Prussian king, shocked by the news of the fall of Schweidnitz to Laudon, in early October moved to Strehlen, where he again took up a defensive position covering Breslau and Neisse. By this point, the winter was in full force, so Frederick (October 5) took up in Strehlen for the off-season. He then repaired to Breslau to spend the winter (December 9). Before this, however, there occurred a rather curious incident involving the Prussian monarch, a kidnaping plot and one Baron Heinrich Gottlob Freiherr von Warkotsch.

This Baron Warkotsch had been a captain years before in the Austrian army and it was clear they still had his sympathies. Nevertheless, the king appears to have regarded the baron with some favor, allowing him to visit his headquarters, “dine at the royal table” and apparently even foregoing the extraction of men and equipment from Warkotsch’s extensive holdings to support the Prussian war effort. This makes the baron’s treason all the odder.

Nor was the attempted betrayal a sudden impulse of sorts. In summer, when the king was at Schönbrunn, night of August 15, he happened to be sleeping in one of Warkotsch’s rooms. This room opened on a secret passage and hidden staircase, by which the Austrians might have nabbed, or even murdered, Frederick, which was obviously Warkotsch’s intentions at the time (as he did not hesitate to employ the ominous sounding phrase “dead or alive”). However, the last minute arrival of a body of Ziethen’s command, which had changed its accommodations at the last moment, in the vicinity gave the baron a case of fortuitous cold feet. In short, the conspirators planned to “seize the king when he should come forth unattended, and convey him to the Austrian camp.”

Forward to the late autumn. Now the fortunes of war and his many trials had led the king back to Silesia, this time to the little village of Wöischnitz (near Strehlen, the temporary headquarters of the king), where Frederick had an escort of 30 grenadiers. Warkotsch planned to carry out his dastardly conspiracy under the cover of darkness, even though a large division of bluecoats (some 6,000 men all told) was close by the headquarters.

Warkotsch conceived of a plot to set the thick woods round about Strehlen and vicinity on fire, which in the confusion of the moment should enable Colonel Wallis to accost the king and make straightway for Laudon’s headquarters. For his treacherous conduct in delivering up the royal head, the baron was supposed to receive the princely sum of 100,000 florins. As Archenholtz points out, Warkotsch, to act with such perfidious conduct, had to believe that Prussia was going to lose the war, and thus control of Silesia. The extent to which the Austrian government was involved in the plot is not precisely known, but the large size of the “reward” sure gives one pause. It was 100,000 florins (which was roughly $600,000 in equivalent U.S. dollars in 2000, according to Duffy’s rate of exchange). It is certain that Warkotsch proceeded to inform Laudon that Frederick’s temporary headquarters at Strehlen had few guards and he could be easily taken captive. Now why Laudon did not try the deed with his large army rather than work out a rather involved plot is hard to explain.

The particulars are the following. Warkotsch was in communication with a certain man named Schmidt in Siebenhuben; the pair kept in touch through the baron’s faithful servant, Matthias Kappel. An Austrian party was prepared in Heinreichau under Colonel Wallis to affect the capture of the king when the time came. Fortunately for the bluecoats, on November 30, Kappel, instead of delivering Warkotsch’s note to the little Austrian waiting party, took it instead to a local Catholic priest named Gerlach. To his credit, this poor parish priest sent Kappel to the person of the king himself to deliver the acid letter. Thus the scheme was exposed. As soon as Warkotsch heard the jig was up, he took refuge in the same room occupied formerly by the king, and when a Prussian officer entered to place him under arrest, the baron used the hidden stairway to affect his escape. Schmidt also managed to flee. Later, when the baron returned to try to claim some of his money and valuables, his “friends” in his escort helped themselves to it instead. Subsequently, Warkotsch fled to Hungary and implored Maria Theresa to send him a stipend; she eventually “rewarded” him with an annual 300 florins for his maintenance. He was even given a “new identity,” one Count Löbenstein. The upshot was, Baron Warkotsch and Schmidt were both burned in effigy and the Prussians confiscated all of their properties.

Laudon went into winter hibernation from Lusatia, although, with the fortress Schweidnitz in his hands, for him it had been a profitable campaign. None of the warring parties suspected great fundamental changes which would alter the political considerations for the new year of 1762.

England, now involved in a new war with Spain (declared January 2, 1762), was yearning to be set free from the Prussian alliance, and had cast Pitt out of office, replacing him with Lord Bute. It did not take long for big upheavals in policy.

Bute offered Frederick a subsidy only on the condition that the Prussian seek to make peace with Austria through negotiation (in fact, Bute was already haggling with the French to bring war between France and England to an end). Although it is not within our confines to examine Europe’s political climate at this time in depth, there are two developments we need to look at more closely: (1) The defection of Great Britain from the Prussian alliance, and (2) The long anticipated death of the Empress Elizabeth and the consequent defection of Russia from the Allied cause.

The first was directly related to the removal of Pitt from office. With Pitt out of the equation, Frederick’s Prussia had few friends left in high office in London and even the Prussian representatives in London joined in the crescendo for their master to make some concessions to Count Kaunitz and the allies in order to get the war over with. As for Frederick, he was still holding fast to the line, and even hoping that at least a part of Saxony might be left to him at the peace. However, with his only important ally actively negotiating with the French, the king faced dismal prospects.

Part of the reason for the English decision to try to come to terms with the French involved soaring losses by Great Britain of its merchant vessels to swarming French privateers. The total loss of English trading vessels in 1760 had been over 300, “and in 1761 at over eight hundred, three times that of the French.” Obviously, it would not be long before losses of this magnitude would become unsustainable.

By the end of 1761, the bluecoat armies no longer had possession of Saxony and held only Breslau, Neisse, and some other strips even in Silesia (the rest was by then controlled by the Austrians and Russians). The Swedes and Russians held much of Pomerania and East Prussia had been long been before sacrificed on the twin alters of necessity and reluctant acceptance. The Prussian army had been reduced to most desperate straits, thanks to the combination of the severed money subsidy from the English and reduced territory from which to draw new recruits. There would only be some 60,000 men for the new campaign: about 30,000 with the king himself, Prince Henry with 25,000 in what little remained of Saxony, and the remaining 5,000 or so confronting the Swedes and Russians in the area of Pomerania.

Frederick was on the brink of the abyss. He rightly felt that nothing short of a miracle could stave off the defeat and the next campaign must surely be the finale. Then, out of the blue, the “miracle” happened. In late 1761, the ailing Czarina Elizabeth collapsed and—on December 29—died. In the end, Elizabeth was deserted by a number of her courtiers, who looked past the dying Czarina and fixed their gaze upon the Prussophile, the man who would be Peter III. This included even Vorontsov, a childhood friend of the woman’s, who abandoned her abruptly. The upshot was, gone was one of Frederick’s most irreconcilable foes. Her nephew, Peter, became the new Czar; he, it must be remembered, was an ardent admirer of the Prussian king and all things Prussian. This Peter III at once recalled Buturlin with his army from the front and Poland and immediately informed the British representative he wished to negotiate peace with Frederick.

Peter was child-like, rather a simpleton, but at this crucial moment, he became the Prussian monarch’s best friend on the political scene. Peter cheerfully handed back to the Prussians all of the conquests that had been bought dearly with Russian blood, including Colberg and East Prussia, and immediately ordered his armies to cease and desist from fighting Prussians. This although the two countries did not actually sign a formal peace until May 15, 1762, in the Treaty of St. Petersburg. Sweden took the opportunity to close out its wholly unfortunate little war with Prussia as well; subsequently, the two powers signed a Treaty of Hamburg (May 22, 1762), which resulted in no territorial changes. The whole character of the war had changed; in one fell swoop.

The defection of the two northern powers significantly altered the coming Campaign 1762 from those that had gone before. For the first time, Frederick did not have to bother with sending troops to a Northern or Eastern Front; he was free to concentrate against the French and the Austrians, who, besides the Imperialist army, were the last of the field armies confronting the Prussians.

To operate against Frederick in Silesia, was Marshal Daun, who had, due entirely to the reductions in the field armies because of finances, only 80,000 men with him. Frederick faced the new year with the comfort that peace was on the way as both sides were exhausted and tired of the fighting. With new revenue from the reclaimed provinces swelling his treasury, the king again had a large army. Nearly 120,000 men strong, of which 70,000 would be with Frederick’s army, Prince Henry would have 40,000 more in Saxony, and a reserve of 10,000 men.

1761 Colberg I

At Colberg 1761, the Swedish and Russian enemy’s interminable delay had given the defenders time to prepare their positions. Eugene of Württemberg had erected great entrenchments between the fortress and the enemy, now distant only some eight miles from Colberg. The defenders had also constructed a second wall round the first, but, although the landward defenses were being capably handled, the approaches from the seaside had been curiously neglected to a large degree. This is rather odd, as the Swedish and Russian fleets had controlled the Baltic ever since the defeat of the little Prussian squadron in 1759. And so it went.

Lt.-Gen. Peter Rumyantsev’s Russian force encountered a small Prussian force over by Belgard under cover of the darkness of June 14–15. A short attack was met by a blistering fire from the bluecoats, who were not prone to leave their post. The Russians fell back, but the timely arrival of reinforcements caused the attackers to be unleashed a second and then a third time. Over the course of the surprisingly vigorous little skirmish, the Russian force gradually built-up to over 700 strong.

This detail finally muscled the bluecoats back, and Rumyantsev’s progress continued. The first inkling Eugene of Württemberg had of the newly arriving Russian force was at the village of Varckmin, where one of his outposts was surprised and overwhelmed by a force of Russian Cossacks.

Rumyantsev’s force gradually linked up with the established detachment of Totleben. This rendezvous immediately formed a formidable core of greencoats in Eastern Pomerania. This body most directly threatened the bluecoat hold on Colberg. Rumyantsev promptly forwarded a note to General Jacob Albrecht von Langtinghausen, with the Swedes over in Western Pomerania, which suggested that the Swedes and the Russians should work together with a united purpose. A nice concept, indeed. Nothing came out of this, though, for Langtinghausen accountably declined to lend any assistance to the greencoats. There is no doubt this was due to the various flaws under which the Swedish army during this period always operated in the field: weak provision arrangements; poor supplies; no engineering and/or bridging equipment, etc.

Rumyantsev’s position was still further complicated, almost compromised, by the treachery of Colonel Gottlob Heinrich Friedrich Totleben, which was finally betrayed to the general light of day through a courier of the latter’s, Sabatko. Totleben was ordered home, and Buturlin dispatched some reinforcements from camps at Posen to help strengthen Rumyantsev with as much brevity as possible. The newcomers totaled a little over 4,000 strong, under General Nieviadomskii. The overall quality of this latter force was only marginal for the most part, but joining all of the Russian forces in the region together did provide a potent strike force to wield in the name of the Empress, nearly 18,000 strong.

Still, Rumyantsev did not deign proceed with a siege of Colberg itself until he had the support of the naval forces. This in the form of a powerful little Russian fleet, under the charge of Admiral Polanski, hailing out of Danzig (July 11–12). The ensemble numbered 23 warships and 44 transport/support ships carrying nearly 8,000 men, 42 guns, and ample stores of provisions of all kinds. The Russians were making their best effort to seize Colberg from its Prussian garrison. This included making sure that Rumyantsev’s men had everything they required to seize Colberg from the foe.

Polanski put his cargo and passengers ashore at and about Rügenwalde at the end of July, and the section of men brought by water advanced to form a juncture with Rumyantsev’s soldiers; which had, of course, advanced themselves by land.

August 17, six Russian ships-of-war arrived off the port, three had moved in towards Colberg and shelled some of the men working outside of the fortress on the entrenchments, with no more than nil success. But one thing was clear: the seaward approaches were now open to the Allied fleets. By August 24, the two allies had an impressive 54 ships anchored offshore, 42 of these being frigates, the rest Sail-of-the-Line. That evening a bombardment was commenced against the Prussian works from the ships’ batteries and the long-range land guns of Rumyantsev. It was an awesome display of power all right (for the total number of shells spent numbered over 3,000), but in truth the damage actually inflicted was likely minimal at best, and certainly nowhere near commensurate with the effort expended. A prolonged effort did serve to keep the garrison always on the alert and thus off-balance around the clock. So there was a psychological aspect to it all.

Meanwhile, Rumyantsev began creeping closer against the enemy works. August 18, after a questionable degree of preparation, Rumyantsev’s men, divided into two separate formations to expedite movement, pressed from Nosowko and Massow towards the enemy lines over near Colberg. Colonel Drewitz and his dragoons pointed the way in this latest endeavor. Colonel Bibkoff, at the moment, rolled towards Wyganowoff, while, at the van of the second column, Colonel Gruzdavtsiev moved on Körlin. Prussian resistance to this enterprise was spotty at best, so the greencoats were able to wrestle Körlin and Belgard away from their foe by August 19. Two days after, Russian spotters made it to Degow. Prussian resistance to the intruders gradually stiffened at this point, and the Russians, while pausing for a moment or two at Stockau, now resolved to put Colberg under yet another siege.

Rumyantsev was nonplused; by September 4, he had Eugene’s entrenched encampment under siege and was starting to shell Colberg from big ordnance on his end of the line. On September 5, shelling very early in the morning commenced. A total of “236 shells were lobbed at Colberg; 62 [of which] landed and exploded there.” About September 11, word filtered through to the garrison that Bevern (from Stettin) had gathered a force to move to Colberg’s relief and that this formation was already on its way. Learning that the newcomers were scheduled to be at Treptow on September 13, preparations were put in place to meet them. The Duke of Württemberg decided to send one of his best to the rescue, Werner with his 6th Hussars—one of the largest cavalry units, boasting 1,500 men and 120 non-commissioned officers. Under cover of the night of September 11–12, Werner pressed a small force towards Treptow. The last time that Werner had been unleashed against the rear of the Russian army, during the previous year’s campaign, he had brought their siege of Colberg to utter ruin. For a time, it looked like he might be able to do a repeat performance. But only for a while this go round.

Once joined with the new arrivals, Werner planned to attack one of Rumyantsev’s entrenched works—which had been prepared on that side of the line. On September 12, his Prussians reached Treptow, but unfortunately the enemy were waiting for Werner; at dawn, his men were suddenly attacked by the Russians as they were decamping. The bluecoats made a good show of the matter, but Werner was captured while leading a charge in which his horse was shot from under him. However, with the greencoats “distracted” by Werner, the incoming convoy and reinforcements got rerouted and so successfully—and belatedly—reached Colberg. But the loss of Werner was still a serious blow to his country.

In the meantime, Swedish General Stackelberg and his force, deployed about Neubrandenburg, had outposts in close proximity to the bluecoats of Belling. Prussian scouts overran the forward posts, very early on August 22. This served to alert the Swedes of the nearness of Belling’s men. The Swedish Plathen now embarked upon a timely attack which pressed against Belling. Initially, the Prussian horse thereabouts faltered, but this actually proved to be more of a trap than anything else. In the event, a prolonged advance by the onrushing cavalry came crashing to an abrupt halt when they met a solid wall of prepared Prussian infantry, backed up by gunners with well-sited batteries. The resulting effect was immediate.

As the combined fire of the bluecoat infantry and artillery shredded the formation of the startled Swedish riders, the reformed Prussian hussars slammed into the by now wavering enemy cavalry, sending them reeling. It was over in mere minutes. For some 50 casualties, Belling had cost the enemy some 300 casualties and inflicted yet another severe check upon the Swedish designs for a prolonged offensive.

With the threat of a Swedish advance temporarily nullified, Belling withdrew on Woldekg, while Ehrensvard continued a program to slowly build up his forces on the Northern Front to make any renewed offensive effort more viable. Meanwhile, having been reinforced from Stettin, Belling descended again upon Neubrandenburg (August 28), but found it evacuated by the enemy. Next, pursuing Stackelberg, the Prussians moved on Treptow, but the Swedes were too well dug in to attack thereabouts.

Belling, with his options basically reduced to one until he could receive reinforcements, withdrew posthaste to Teetzleben (August 29), but the arrival of the new formations of Stutterheim, getting to the scene of action on September 1, fundamentally shifted the bluecoats over into launching a counteroffensive against Ehrensvard’s forces. This effectively surrendered the initiative to the Prussians for the balance of the main campaign.

The Russians, for their part, were not prepared to let up before Colberg. Encouraged by the success of his force in capturing Werner, Rumyantsev on September 19 suddenly attacked the most accessible of the Prussian works (known as the Green Redoubt) about 0200 hours. The surprise stroke was at first successful, the Russians carrying the redoubt initially, but a determined counterattack at length repelled the intruders with the loss of 3,000 men of all arms, including some 800 dead. The Prussians lost 71 dead, 281 wounded, and 187 prisoners. This repulse induced the Russians to give up trying to take Colberg by a direct assault. Events beyond Colberg impacted the proceedings. After the adventure at Gotsyn, General Platen had detached Thadden to take the captured booty and the prisoners, not to mention the wounded, back to the Prussian lines.

Platen had unbuckled the busy Ruesch Hussars to proceed as quickly as possible to Posen, under the charge of Colonel von Naczimsky, to overturn the Russian supply arrangements thereabouts as completely as possible. The enemy reaction had been low key, although a Russian force under Major-General Gustav Berg was alerted to the possible arrival of Platen’s force hard about Driesen. When that scenario failed to materialize, Russian scouts probed for and finally located Platen’s men—between Neustadt and Landsberg (September 19). Berg sent a force of some 250 men under Suvarov to Landsberg (September 21). By this time, the bluecoats of Platen had ridden to Birnhaum and had even detected the movements of the enemy force towards Czerpowa. Platen finally entered Landsberg on September 22 with little fanfare, and, after a brief altercation with Suvarov’s men, and with no practical way to wreak further havoc upon the Russian supply lines, sped off for Colberg. Berg tried to launch a pursuit, but could not catch up with the wily Platen. Platen was able to throttle the enemy pursuit before he reached Arenswalde (September 26).

So, meanwhile, the defenders of Colberg received an unexpected, but timely, reinforcement. September 27, General Platen marched to join Eugene of Württemberg, raising Prussian strength to 15,000 men; although Buturlin similarly stiffened the besiegers with reinforcements (under the command of Dolgoruki), bringing them to 40,000 men. With the campaign in Silesia having gone sour again, Buturlin brought his main force to be in closer proximity to the fortress/port.

As soon as he reached the area, Buturlin reiterated the belief that Colberg could not be taken by direct assault, even though the task may have been manageable with the large influx of Russian troops in the vicinity occasioned by Buturlin. There was just no chance from a psychological perspective. With his army low on provisions and the expedition to Silesia a snub, the Russian commander turned about and, on November 2, headed for home.

It was a decision for which Buturlin would face tough scrutiny from an upset Elizabeth, who fired off a testy communiqué to the marshal. She and her court, upon receiving word of Buturlin’s backward hitch, wrote him “that the news of your retreat has caused us more sorrow than the loss of a battle would have done.” Elizabeth followed up, not mincing words, by ordering the marshal to march towards Berlin without delay and perforce levy a large contribution to help defray the campaign costs for the Russian army in this campaign, while, at the same time, seeking out an engagement with the enemy, should they threaten to intervene. As it turned out, Buturlin did not pounce upon the Prussian capital, but continued his progression back into Poland; basically ignoring the by now dying Empress. Rumyantsev was left with his force to finish the job before Colberg. An additional force of 15,000 Russians under Fermor was left to keep the roads from Stettin to Colberg closed and to prevent a repetition of the reinforcements just sent from Bevern at Stettin.

As for Platen, he continued to operate in the area beyond Colberg, riding into and decimating a Russian detachment at Cörlin (September 30), after which the Prussian commander made for Spie and Colberg. The enemy, not oblivious to his march, made a futile effort to bar Platen from the port, but the latter, yet again, was just too fast moving to be intercepted.

Frederick, far away near Strehlen in Silesia, ordered Bevern to prepare additional troops to be sent to the relief of Colberg. Could the blocked roads be opened, though? Prussian attempts to do just that read like an exercise in futility. October 13, “Green” Kleist and his dragoons tried to break through, but got repulsed. With this situation very bleak, the bluecoats forthwith dispatched Platen to try to bring some supplies in for Colberg.

General Platen had a full 42 squadrons of horse with just eight full battalions of infantry with him. He pressed off from Prettmin (about 0700 hours on October 17), with about 4,000 men. Prettmin was right near Spie, where General Knobloch was in charge of a small detachment. Platen, as was usual with the man’s character, made quick work of a march. His men rolled into Gollnow on October 18, and by the next day they were at Schwentdehagen.

Lt.-Col. Courbière was unleashed (October 20) with his force consisting of the Free Battalion Courbière, the Grenadier Battalion 28/32 of Arnhim, the III./ Belling Hussars, along with the apparently tireless Ruesch Hussars, and six pieces of ordnance, including one 7-pounder howitzer; a total of some 1,350 men. Courbière immediately proceeded with his mission. He was instructed to probe at the enemy positions in the immediate vicinity and to do all in his power to gather badly needed supplies for the hard-pressed garrison of Colberg. His men pushed across the Wolczenica River, and immediately occupied Zarnglaff.

The greencoats were close by in strength, over by Naugard, around 5,000 strong, including about 3,500 horse, led by General Berg. This generous allotment of cavalry allowed for a number of reconnaissance parties. It did not take long for the presence of Courbière’s Prussians to be discovered, and Berg drew up a scheme to deal with the intruders.

Early the next morning, the Russians pushed off, heading for a showdown in short order with Courbière. The latter sent off word to Platen that he needed some help against the much more numerous greencoats of Berg. The warning was correct, but it was far too late to send a rescue. The Russian wave advanced and in a very short fight, lasting less than 3/4 of an hour, compelled the bluecoats to lay down their arms, except for a small force of about 400 cavalry which did manage to wiggle free from the enemy’s grasp.

Platen, moving out from Colberg again, attempted in his own right to break up enemy concentrations from his side, while Kleist and General Thadden endeavored to do the same from the opposite end. Both attempts were unsuccessful. The Russians were making an effort to bag the whole of Platen’s corps. They were simply too inadequate to corner Platen. His troopers slipped past the greencoats through the Kautrek Forest, and rolled into Gollnow, despite their foe’s best efforts. Reinforced by a detachment under our old friend Fermor, Berg attacked and wrestled Gollnow from the unpleasantly startled Prussians. The bluecoats, nothing daunted, then marched, and countermarched, up and back the country roads and lanes north and northeast of Stettin, with no real chance to break through the enemy web by now encasing Colberg. These were the last undertakings at sending in supplies and reinforcements, and they were all abject failures, in spite of every well-intentioned goal having been made in advance, Eugene rose and, moving rapidly around and through the country between his lines and Rumyantsev’s, managed to evade the Russians by a series of skillful maneuvers.

The Russians, for their part, were making progress as well. Dolgoruki came rolling across the Persante (October 20), following which, his men occupied Gammin. Meanwhile, the Prussians were also settling in. Knobloch had pulled his forces back to consolidate at the vantage point of Treptow. While this was going on, Russian scouting parties laid hold of Przecmin and Sellno; at the latter, small bluecoat patrols in the area roamed around, while more significant bodies of Prussians were present just across the Persante.

The greencoat forces of General Brandt, deployed to Sellno to provide an anchor of sorts for their arms in that vicinity, could work in conjunction with Dolgoruki. Knobloch was left at Treptow, near where an enemy force appeared just after dusk on October 21, issuing from Gammin and vicinity. Prussian scouts calmly—and promptly—informed General Knobloch about the arrival of the Russian forces, and, nearly simultaneously, of the appearance of another greencoat detachment, hailing from Gabin. Before another 24 hours had elapsed, Rumyantsev himself was standing before Treptow, preparing, if necessary, to put the place and thus Knobloch’s command under siege.