Russia: fighting in Syria?

Su-34 Taking off From Khmeimim Airbase in Syria

Map of the Syrian Civil War

Moscow managed to preserve the Syrian regime but it has failed to achieve all its goals in Syria.

Their original objectives were before we mention what they actually achieved.

Firstly, the Russian Federation was requested to intervene by President Bashar Assad- a point that particularly undermines any NATO or ‘Western Coalition’ reasons as they worked along the United Nations framework for military intervention in sovereign states; Russia is the only legitimate foreign agent in Syria.

Secondly, Russia’s main claim was that there were at least 20,000, (in 2015 at least) Islamic State affiliates who were of Russian or former- Soviet origin. And following any demobilisation, would potentially return and commit acts of terrorism on home soil. Therefore Russia acted in an extension of its own foreign policy to safeguard against these individuals. Therefore Russia they had to tackle Islamic State and eradicate its forces before their return to Russian lands.

The return of battle- hardened Islamic extremists complete with battlefield skills to areas of Russia such as Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan- areas with previous Islamic ambitions in the 1990s that effectively border the Middle East is something that would threaten to sow seeds of discord in Russian affairs and could not be tolerated.

The third objective for Russia in Syria is most probably twofold; to preserve the most strategic foreign outpost- in this case the port of Tartus and now Kmeimim airbase- and also to showcase/test-drive recent additions to the Russian military’s inventory.

Following the demise of the USSR the Russians have no large global bases apart from Tartus and a port leased from Vietnam since the Cold War; Crimea is now itself a part of Russia so Sevastopol is a domestic base. Their Cuban bases are often touted as candidates for reopening but financial restraints prevent this. The threat of losing Tartus- which effectively allows a Russian presence in the Mediterranean and helps to prevent a blockade of the Black Sea in the event of a war is a huge problem that would allow NATO to ‘contain’ Russian naval forces and overall force projection. The German navy during WW2 was a brutal force, but once contained within the Baltic was effectively suppressed.

Russia has now brokered a deal that gives them an almost endless lease of Tartus, with a view to retrofitting it to host its larger ships for a much, much longer duration. They have also now secured Kmeimim airbase for a similar vague length of time, which now gives them an effective landing strip in the Middle East with which to operate any number of fighters or reconnaissance aircraft into once exclusive NATO airspace.

Following the modernisation process of the Russian armed forces after 2008- a long overdue drive to replace outdated Soviet hardware and doctrine- the Russians have amassed an array of shiny new toys, that unlike NATO don’t have too many conflicts in which to be tested. Syria proved to be a perfect testbed for this purpose.

Precision munitions, submarine and air- launched cruise missiles, new aircraft- (Su30, Su34, Su35, MiG31) and old (Su25, Tu95, Tu22M3, Tu160), and unique systems such as the T90 tank, BMPT2 “Terminator”, S-400 Triumf and Pantsir AA systems to name but a few. Islamic State operatives also prove to be an opponent that few have sympathy for, unlike Afghanistan or Chechnya etc.

These systems have received intense battle experience, in a hostile environment and in unforgiving terrain and so far have proved their worth. This sort of testing is worth its weight and for Russia to have effectively most of Syria in which to test it in has reinforced confidence in their armed forces but has also worked to showcase their capabilities to NATO- who since 1991 has approached Russian borders.

The media hysteria surrounding Russia’s arrival into Syria has worked to make NATO tread lightly in E. Europe, but has also led to the notion of a Russian “Resurgence” or attempt to regain Soviet glory. Russia has effectively hemmed in American efforts to destabilise Syria and together with Turkey and Iran have effectively shut them out from any political dialogue.

With Russia also sending half of its forces home in 2016, and steadily demobilising its forces from Syria it allows them to A) save money, B) show a level of military and political restraint and C) draws focus upon America’s vastly extended and bloated military campaign in Afghanistan. Russia has sent a limited military force into a foreign land, defeated the enemy and united political factions to a successful degree, and then also withdrawn.

This has seen Russia blow away comparisons with the Soviet Union, and enter a much more legitimate period of political maturity that the United States has forlorn under Trump. A political coup on the international stage, it has seen weapons exports increase to new client states who have witnessed their Syrian exploits. A ‘modern Russia’ has emerged; the Soviets are not becoming “resurgent”.


On September 30, 2015, the Russian Federation formally entered the Syrian civil war as President Bashar al-Assad’s rule was increasingly under threat.

Since 2011, intense fighting and mass desertion had weakened the Syrian Arab Army. Even the support of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the deployment of Iranian militias and Russian mercenaries, and regular shipments of Russian weaponry had not been enough to stop the advance of the opposition and radical armed groups.

In March 2015, the Syrian government lost a second provincial capital, Idlib, when Jeish al-Fattah, a loose coalition of various armed groups, led a successful offensive on the city in the country’s northwest.

The provincial capital of Raqqa, with its strategic oil and water resources, had been captured the previous year and had become the main stronghold of the rising Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

In addition, the Syrian government had lost control of large swathes of several provinces – Idlib, Aleppo, Raqqa, Deir Az Zor, Hassakeh, Deraa and Quneitra – and was struggling to control Hama, Homs and the Damascus countryside.

The Russian intervention stopped the advance of the opposition, which was backed by the West, Turkey and the Gulf, and effectively preserved the Baathist regime in Damascus. This paved the way for a more assertive Russian presence in the Middle East, leading some observers to talk about “Russian resurgence” or even to make parallels with Cold War-era regional dynamics.

So after five years of the war effort in Syria, where does Russia stand today? Has the Kremlin achieved its goals and has it challenged the US dominance of the region?

Why did Russia intervene?

Some observers have attributed the Russian decision to intervene formally in Syria to a July 2015 visit to Moscow by General Qassem Soleimani, the late commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC, who was assassinated by the United States in Baghdad in early January this year. The Iranian general supposedly convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin to send Russian troops and save the Syrian government.

However, it does not seem like the Kremlin needed convincing. The fall of al-Assad would have threatened Russia’s interests and eliminated another regional ally. This would have been a major blow to Moscow, particularly after the Western-backed toppling of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, which Putin, then a prime minister, personally opposed and criticised then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for enabling.

The decision to intervene in Syria also reflected the Kremlin’s fear of the so-called “colour revolutions” and their potential success sparking a major anti-government uprising in Russia itself. A year earlier, the pro-West Maidan revolution in Ukraine provoked a sharp reaction in Moscow, which led to the annexation of Crimea and Russian military intervention in the Donbas region. This, in turn, triggered Western sanctions, which hurt the Russian economy, particularly business circles close to the Kremlin.

Tense relations with the West also motivated Moscow to put troops on the ground in Syria. Given the deadlock on the Ukrainian crisis, an intervention in the Syrian conflict, which Western powers had been heavily involved in, presented the Russian government with another front where it could pressure the West into negotiations.

The rise of ISIL provided an opportunity to wrap the intervention in anti-terror rhetoric, ensuring domestic support, while the Obama administration’s reluctance to get involved more heavily in the Syrian conflict – to avoid an “Iraq repeat” – and the conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal reassured Moscow that there would be no direct clash with the US.

What has Russia achieved politically in Syria?

Russia’s superior military power managed to shift the dynamics on the ground in Syria relatively quickly. Although the declared goal of its operation was to fight “terrorist” groups, the Russian army, along with its Syrian allies, first targeted groups of the moderate opposition backed by the West, who at that time were already suffering from internal divisions and having to fight on two fronts – against Damascus and ISIL.

Less than a year later, Russian troops, along with Iranian-backed militias and Syrian government forces, laid siege on East Aleppo, and by November, forced opposition armed groups to surrender and leave the city. This was a turning point in the conflict, as it marked the steady retreat of opposition forces and ushered in a new axis between Russia, Iran and Turkey, seeking to resolve the Syrian crisis while excluding the West and Arab powers.

In January 2017, the Astana (now Nur-Sultan) format was launched which brought together the Syrian opposition, including armed groups formerly supported by the West but by then largely abandoned, and the Syrian government, along with Russia, Iran and Turkey. Later that year, under this format, Russia managed to establish four de-escalation zones where all sides committed to pause military activities. This removed the burden of fighting on multiple fronts and allowed Syrian government forces, along with their Russian and Iranian allies, to take over one opposition-held area after the other. Parts of Idlib province now form the last de-escalation zone remaining in opposition control.

In the span of five years, Russia not only managed to preserve the Syrian government but also largely eliminated and marginalised the moderate opposition – the main challenger to al-Assad’s legitimacy and the only other political-military force whose participation in government would have been acceptable to the West.

Russia’s leading role in Syria also gave it regional leverage beyond the Syrian borders. It forced Turkey to re-engage, following a crisis in relations caused by the downing of a Russian fighter jet by Turkish forces, in 2015. The failed coup attempt against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in 2016, accelerated the process.

Russia’s perceived success in Syria also encouraged other countries in the Middle East to seek improved relations with Moscow amid the US pivot out of the region. The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Sudan, and Israel have all paid visits to Moscow in recent years. This allowed Russia to enter into the Libyan fray, albeit late, and seek a say in the future of the country by backing the offensive of renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar on the capital Tripoli.

Despite the increased diplomatic engagement in the region and the prestige on the international scene that has come with it, Russia has not really achieved the same level of influence the US has had.

“It’s clear for everybody now that [Russia] is a superpower now and [it is] playing a crucial role in the Middle East. But at the same time, there are limits to its economic and political resources,” Leonid Isaev, senior lecturer at the Higher School of Economics, said.

Moscow has also failed to leverage its position in the Syrian conflict to jump-start dialogue with the West on sanctions or even get Western Europe to commit to funding the reconstruction of war-ravaged Syria.

At the same time, Russia is not in full control of Damascus. Despite Putin’s repeated gestures of disparagement towards al-Assad, who he is said to personally dislike, he is not the only decision-maker in Syria.

“There is mutual understanding between Iran and Russia in Syria and there is a division of spheres of influence and competencies,” Kirill Semenov, a Moscow-based Middle East analyst, said. “It is difficult to say which one can influence Assad more. The regime is quite independent and is able to use both Moscow and Tehran to ensure its survival.”

In addition, the continued Turkish and American military presence in resource-rich northern Syria also guarantees Ankara and Washington a say in the future of Syria. It also prevents the advance of Syrian government forces and their Iranian and Russian allies to re-establish Damascus’s full territorial control.

What has Russia gained economically?

Russia entered the Syrian war amid an economic crisis due to slumping oil prices and the fallout of the Ukrainian crisis. This initially caused domestic concern about the cost of the war.

According to the government, the first six months of the operation cost $464m, which compared with the US spending in Iraq (nearly $2 trillion in 16 years or about $125bn per year), was a relatively modest number.

Two years after the start of the intervention, Russia’s defence budget dropped from 5.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) ($79bn) in 2016 to 3.7 percent ($61.4bn) in 2018, alleviating fears of overspending on the military.

At the same time, the Russian government has presented the operation in Syria as an opportunity to test and promote Russian weaponry (something other large arms exporters, like the US and Israel, have also done in the region). In 2017, the defence ministry said some 600 new weapons had been tested in military action in Syria.

The Syrian war has also boosted the mercenary business in Russia, particularly the Wagner group associated with Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman nicknamed “Putin’s chef” for catering at events attended by the Russian president. In recent years, there have been reports of Wagner mercenaries being employed in Venezuela, Mozambique, Madagascar, the Central African Republic, Libya and elsewhere.

Prigozhin, along with another Russian businessman considered close to the Kremlin, Gennady Timchenko, has won some lucrative contracts in Syria.

“Putin’s chef” has been linked to oil and gas deals with Damascus, while Timchenko has acquired the right to mine phosphates and operate the port of Tartous, where a $500m Russian investment has been announced.

But apart from these two investors and some smaller Russian companies, there have been no significant economic and trade opportunities for Russian business in Syria, whose oil and gas reserves are much more modest than Iraq’s.

“Apart from Timchenko and Prigozhin, Russian businesses do not want to work in Syria. This has much to do with the impact of sanctions,” said Semenov.

The European Union and the US are major trade partners of Russia and both have imposed heavy sanctions on Syria, which Russian businesses would rather avoid.

This has also complicated the reconstruction process in areas badly damaged by fighting where the Syrian government has regained control. Russia itself has not committed any significant funding for reconstruction and has failed to convince the EU or Gulf countries to do so.

The situation has further been exacerbated by Syria’s deepening economic troubles, including its currency collapse, which was deepened by the crisis in Lebanon. The financial lifeline, which Tehran was able to extend since the beginning of the war, has also dried up due to US sanctions on the Iranian economy.

While economic opportunities have not been that significant for the Russian economy, the political leverage that Russia acquired with its intervention in Syria opened the door to increased economic cooperation with other countries in the region.

“[Russia] has some political assets which it tries to sell to the Gulf countries … In return, [it is] looking for stronger economic and investment cooperation with the Gulf,” Isaev said.

In recent years, Russia has signed investment pledges and deals worth billions of dollars with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. Russian companies have also acquired lucrative energy contracts in Egypt, Lebanon, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Turkey.

How has the conflict affected domestic politics?

Apart from concerns about the financial cost, there was no major domestic opposition to the intervention at its outset. The Russian public, including most of the political opposition, largely embraced the Russian government’s narrative that it was going to fight “terrorists” in Syria.

Subsequent reports of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces, the targeting of hospitals by the Russian air force and a high death toll among civilians have not swayed public opinion.

However, there have been some fears, especially among the older population, of a possible repeat of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, which resulted in the death of more than 15,000 Soviet troops and a humiliating withdrawal.

Russian authorities have been sensitive to these concerns and have allegedly underreported casualties among troops and failed to acknowledge losses among mercenaries. Still, the actual death toll is believed to be in hundreds – much lower than in the Afghan war. In March 2019, the Russian defence ministry officially claimed that 116 soldiers had died in Syria since 2015.

The Kremlin has been eager to declare victory in Syria and create the impression that the conflict is nearing its conclusion. Putin himself announced the withdrawal of Russian troops twice – in 2016 and 2017, although Russian servicemen continue to be deployed on the ground. In August, a roadside bomb killed a Russian major general near the city of Deir Az Zor.

Despite the absence of an active anti-war movement in Russia and concern about the fate of the Syrian people, the Russian public is growing tired of the conflict. An April 2019 survey by the independent pollster Levada Center showed that some 55 percent of respondents said Russia should end its military operation in Syria, up from 49 percent in 2017.

This sentiment seems to be linked to the growing perception that the Russian government has major domestic problems to resolve and cannot waste its energy on a foreign conflict.

“Russia now has a lot of internal problems … like the economic impact of the COVID lockdown, the aftermath of the referendum on the constitution, the parliamentary elections next year,” said Isaev. “Now, I’m not sure we are so interested in the Syrian conflict.”

According to him, Russia’s current foreign policy priorities include the political crisis in Belarus and the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. This has pushed to the background the Syrian war, wherein the Russian government is mainly interested in preserving the status quo and maintaining a frozen conflict.


The Bombardment of Sveborg, 9 August (1855)

The Battle of Suomenlinna (also known as the Battle of Viapori or the Bombardment of Sweaborg) was fought on 9–11 August 1855 between Russian defenders and a joint British/French fleet during the Åland War. It was a part of the Crimean War.

Gunboat Operations During the Crimean War, 1854–5

In 1853 Tsar Nicholas I of Russia used the excuse of a brawl between Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox monks in Bethlehem to proclaim himself the guardian of the Ottoman Empire’s fourteen million Orthodox Christians. What he really wanted was Russian access to the Mediterranean through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, and he was quite prepared to set about the virtual dismemberment of Turkey to achieve this. In his new-found capacity as religious champion, therefore, he demanded a number of concessions from the Sultan, knowing full well that their nature was such that no self-respecting sovereign could possibly grant them. Having, as anticipated, been rebuffed, in July he sent his troops to occupy Turkish provinces in Romania.

Unfortunately, he encountered unexpected opposition. France, now ruled by Napoleon III, regarded herself as the traditional protector of Roman Catholic interests in the Holy Land and was not prepared to have these ridden over by Russia. Simultaneously, Great Britain disliked the idea of the naval balance in the Mediterranean being disturbed by the intrusion of a Russian fleet. The despatch of British and French warships to Constantinople stiffened the Sultan’s resolve and on 4 November he declared war on Russia.

On land, the Turks did unexpectedly well, but on 30 November the Russian fleet destroyed a Turkish squadron in Sinope harbour. In January 1854 the Anglo-French fleet entered the Black Sea to protect the Turkish coastline and on 28 March the Allies declared war on Russia. At this juncture the Tsar’s adventure turned sour, for the following month Austria, with Prussian support, threatened to intervene unless he withdrew his troops from the Balkans. Reluctantly, he complied, but wrecked the ensuing peace talks by insisting on his right to pursue his bullying quarrel with Turkey. The Allies therefore decided to land an expeditionary force in the Crimea with the object of capturing and destroying the heavily fortified Russian naval base of Sevastopol.

The mismanagement of the British part of the land campaign, the blunderings of elderly or incompetent generals, the superlative courage of the troops and their terrible sufferings during the first winter of the war have all been so thoroughly covered elsewhere that there is no need to enlarge upon them here. Suffice it to say that while siege works were opened against the city and naval facilities of Sevastopol, lying on the southern side of a deep inlet, the term siege was not entirely appropriate as the inlet’s northern shore remained in Russian hands. Consequently, reinforcements and supplies continued to pour across the harbour by a bridge of boats while, to make matters yet more difficult for the Allies, a large Russian field army hovered in the Crimea’s hinterland.

The naval operations of what became known as the Crimean War were conducted in the Black Sea and the Baltic, with peripheral operations in the White Sea and the Far East. In some respects the Royal Navy was unprepared for a major war. Some of the admirals were as elderly and infirm of purpose as the generals, and so low were manning levels that ships of the Baltic Fleet were unable to complete their crews months after the war had begun. In the Black Sea, naval bombardment of Sevastopol’s coastal forts produced inconclusive results. In the Baltic the Russians declined to come out and fight, and ice put an early end to operations. Thus, beyond imposing a blockade on an essentially self-sufficient land power and disrupting such seaborne trade as it possessed, the naval operations of 1854 ended on a thoroughly unsatisfactory note.

The nub of the problem was that the line-of-battle ships, inhibited by large areas of shallow water in both the Black Sea and the Baltic, simply could not get close enough to do the enemy any real damage. What was needed were small, shallow-draught steam-propelled vessels with enough hitting power to hurt. As luck would have it, the Admiralty had already initiated a modest construction programme, intending to replace its sailing gun-brigs, the smallest ocean-going warships, with little screw steamers, and six such vessels, the Arrow class, were already in service. Recognising that these would be able to get within effective range of the Russian defences, the Admiralty also agreed that large numbers of such craft would be less vulnerable to return fire than larger ships. It was therefore decided to build four classes of what were called Crimean gunboats. The government, stung into action by press criticism of its handling of the war, willingly consented to a large construction programme; in fact, no less than 156 warships of this type were ordered, although some were completed too late to take part in the war and others, built hastily from green wood, were allowed to rot in an unfinished state.

The Crimean gunboats had a flat-bottomed hull and were powered by 20, 40 or 60 hp steam engines driving a single screw, giving a speed of between six and eight knots. The three gaff-rigged masts were stepped in tabernacles on the upper deck, through which protruded a tall, thin funnel. Armament consisted of two or three 68-pounder guns on slides, centrally mounted so that they could be moved over iron traversing rings to fire over either side. Later classes were armed with 32-pounder guns, also on slides, and 24-pounder howitzers on conventional trucks. Below decks, two-thirds of the available space was taken up by the engine, boiler, coal bunkers, water tanks, ration lockers and magazines. Fortunately, because of the simple sail plan and limited armament, only 35 men were required to handle the vessel. The men lived forward of the engine room and the two officers in a small space aft. Usually, a gunboat was a lieutenant’s command but such was the rate of expansion during the war that some were commanded by masters, i.e. senior warrant officers.

The Baltic Fleet which returned to its station under Rear Admiral the Hon. Richard Dundas in May 1855 was very different from that which had gone out the previous year in that it consisted entirely of steam-driven vessels and contained numerous small craft suited to operations in cramped or shallow waters. These included seventeen mortar vessels and the gunboats Gleaner, Pelter, Pincher, Ruby, Badger, Snapper, Biter, Dapper, Jackdaw, Magpie, Redwing, Skylark, Snap, Starling, Stork, Swinger, Thistle, Weazel and Lark. The nature of their operations, however, continued much as before. The Russian Navy remained safe behind its massive defences in Kronstadt harbour, which, it was discovered, had been further protected with moored contact mines. In other respects, the Allied effort produced only the occupation of several islands, the elimination of a few batteries and the capture of some small vessels which had risked the blockade. Dundas and his French colleague, Rear Admiral Penaud, both came under pressure from home to produce more tangible results, but as an attack on Kronstadt was out of the question, their difficulty lay in choosing a suitable objective. Some officers were for bombarding the prosperous city of Helsingfors (Helsinki), the destruction of which would have a profound effect on public opinion in Russia. This idea was rejected in favour of a bombardment of the neighbouring fortress of Sveaborg, which was built on several interconnected islands including Vargon, Gustafsvaard, East Svarto, West Svarto and Lilla Svarto.The fortifications were of modern design, were fully manned and mounted over 800 guns. Channels to the north and south of the islands were blocked by two ships of the line, moored broadside on.

On the morning of 9 August the British and French mortar vessels formed a line approximately 3300 yards from the fortifications, opening fire at 07:00. The gunboats Stork and Snapper, armed with the new Lancaster guns, circling to the right of the line, concentrated their fire on the Russian warship blocking the southern channel. To their left Starling, Thistle, Pelter, Biter and Badger circled as they fired at the western batteries, while to their left the rest of the defences were engaged by circles containing Vulture, Snap, Gleaner, Dapper and Redwing. To the north, two more gunboats, Magpie and Weazel, exchanged fire with a detached battery on the island of Stora Rantan, covering the channel in which the second Russian warship was moored. The course of the action is described by Admiral Dundas in his despatch.

A rapid fire of shot and shells was kept up from the fortress for the first few hours upon the gunboats, and the ranges of the heavy batteries extended completely beyond the mortar vessels; but the continued motion of the gunboats, and the able manner in which they were conducted by the officers who commanded them, enabled them to return the fire with great spirit, and almost with impunity throughout the day. About ten o’clock in the forenoon fires began first to be observed in the different buildings, and a heavy explosion took place on the island of Vargon, which was followed by a second about an hour afterwards on the island of Gustafsvaard, inflicting much damage upon the defences of the enemy, and tending greatly to slacken the fire from that direction. The advantage of the rapidity with which the fire from the mortars had been directed was apparent in the continued fresh conflagrations which spread extensively on the island of Vargon.

When the gunboats were recalled at sunset the fleet’s boats took over, firing rockets which spread the blaze from Vargon to East Svarto. Dundas continues:

At daylight on the morning of the 10th, the position of several mortar vessels had been advanced within easier range, and the gunboats were again directed to engage. The three-decked ship which had been moored by the enemy to block and defend the channel between Gustafsvaard and Bakholmen, had been withdrawn during the night to a more secure position; but the fire from the batteries was increased, and the engagement was renewed with activity on both sides. Fires continued to burn without intermission within the fortress, and about noon a column of smoke, heavier and darker than any which had yet been observed, gave signs that the shells had reached combustible materials in the direction of the arsenal.

The bombardment continued for much of the night. A spy later reported that the dockyard had been wrecked, all government stores destroyed, the powder magazines blown up, 23 vessels burned and a further 18 seriously damaged, and 2000 men killed. This may well be an exaggeration of the true position although it was clear that extensive damage had been done. It is possible that the attack would have continued, but by the morning of the 11th the British mortars had been shot out to the extent that some had even split. As replacements would not reach the Baltic before the onset of winter, the mortar vessels were therefore sent home a month before the rest of the fleet. The gunboats, on the other hand, had proved themselves equal to the task for which they had been built, to the extent that Allied casualties amounted to just one man killed and several wounded. Nevertheless, it was to be with the Black Sea Fleet that their true potential was demonstrated.

The Black Sea Fleet, commanded by Vice Admiral James Dundas, was less troubled by winter than that commanded by his namesake in the Baltic, and in view of the stand-off at Sevastopol consideration had been given to ejecting the enemy by means of an indirect approach rather than head-on attack. Russian roads were primitive, difficult to use in winter and almost impossible during the rasputitsa, the spring thaw which turned them into mud wallows. Consequently, it was much easier for the Russians to supply their troops in the Crimea by means of water transport, using rivers and the Sea of Azov.

Disrupting this traffic had not been possible the previous year because the Allied navies lacked suitable warships capable of penetrating the shallow waters of the Azov. By the spring of 1855, however, this defect had been remedied, although before operations against the Russian supply line could commence it was necessary to secure control of the Straits of Kerch, which provided the only entrance to this otherwise landlocked sea. This was accomplished on 24 May by an Allied amphibious operation involving heavy and light squadrons plus landing forces consisting of 7000 French, 5000 Turkish and 3500 British troops as well as a Sardinian contingent. On both sides of the straits the enemy abandoned their positions with barely a token resistance, blew up their fortifications, abandoned about 100 guns, destroyed stores, provisions and ammunition, and burned such warships as were unable to make good their escape. In simply handing the Allies the keys of the Sea of Azov the Russians made their most critical mistake of the war.

The British light squadron, commanded by Captain Edmund Lyons, included several paddle-driven warships and the new screw gunboats Wrangler, Viper, Lynx, Arrow, Snake and Beagle. Even while operations were in progress to secure the straits, Lieutenant Henry McKillop, commanding the Snake, spotted a Russian warship of comparable size attempting to escape northwards. Ignoring the enemy fortifications, he promptly gave chase. No sooner had the two ships begun exchanging shots than two more Russian warships emerged to support their comrade, leaving Snake simultaneously engaged with three opponents. The gunboat, however, was extremely handy, and the Russians, no doubt expecting her to engage with conventionally mounted broadside guns, found themselves receiving fire from unexpected directions as the centrally mounted armament was heaved round to bear on each of them in turn. Several of their shots passed clean through Snake, fortunately without causing casualties or touching a vital area. On the other hand, taking a hit from one of the gunboat’s 68-pounder shells was a serious matter for a small warship, leaving the Russians horrified that their apparently puny opponent could hit quite so hard. They had probably had enough by the time the six-gun paddler Recruit, followed by others, came thrashing her way towards the engagement, for they deliberately ran themselves aground and later set fire to their ships. The action took place within view of the Allied fleet, the French in particular being generous with their praise. McKillop was promoted commander as soon as he had completed his necessary period of sea time, with seniority from the date of his exploit.


Having been reinforced with several French ships, Lyons took his light squadron into the Sea of Azov the following day. As one contemporary observer, Hamilton Williams, wrote:

It was like bursting into a vast treasure house, crammed with wealth of inestimable value. For miles along its shores stretched the countless storehouses packed with the accumulated harvests of the great corn provinces of Russia. From them the Russian armies in the field were fed; from them the beleaguered population of Sevastopol looked for preservation from the famine which already pressed hard upon them.

Furthermore, on the Kerch Straits themselves, the towns of Kerch and Yenikale contained coal stocks amounting to 12,000 tons, which would keep the Allied fleet going for a considerable period without recourse to its own colliers.

Lyons’s ships proceeded to raise hell across the widest possible area. One was sent to cruise off the mouth of the Don, while two more were detached to Genichesk at the entrance to the Swash or Putrid Sea, a stretch of water separating the north-eastern coast of the Crimea from the Sea of Azov proper by a thin 70-mile-long spit of land known as the Tongue of Arabat. On 28 May the rest of the squadron bombarded Fort Arabat, situated at the mainland end of the Tongue. The engagement lasted some 90 minutes, at the end of which the defence works were wrecked by an internal explosion. Next day the squadron moved to Genichesk, where a landing party under Lieutenant Campbell Mackenzie set fire to storehouses and numerous ships in the harbour. A sudden change of wind direction would have reduced the amount of damage caused had not two officers, Lieutenants Cecil Buckley and Hugh Burgoyne, and Gunner John Roberts, returned ashore and started fresh fires where they would do most good, despite the presence of enemy troops and being beyond the gunfire support of their ships; all three were awarded the Victoria Cross.

Many Russian ships had fled from the Black Sea to the imagined security of the Azov as soon as the war had begun, and consequently the harbours of the latter were crowded. Just four days into his mission, Lyons was able to report that the enemy’s losses thus far amounted to four naval steamers, no less than 246 merchant vessels of various types, plus supplies of corn and flour sufficient to feed 100,000 men for twelve weeks.

At the beginning of June the light squadron, reinforced with twelve launches armed with 24-pounder howitzers and rockets, began operating in the Gulf of Taganrog. When, on 3 June, the governor of Taganrog itself declined to surrender, some of the town’s storehouses were set ablaze by fire from the boats. As this did not produce quite the desired result, Lieutenant Cecil Buckley and Boatswain Henry Cooper braved the fire of the 3500-strong Russian garrison to make repeated landings from a four-oared gig and start fresh blazes. By 15:00 the storehouses and most of the town were burning fiercely and the force withdrew. Boatswain Cooper received the Victoria Cross for his part in the action. On the 5th it was the turn of Mariupol and on the 6th Yeysk, all government stores in both places being destroyed. The situation now was that sea power was not simply disrupting the supplies of the Russian forces in the Crimea, but also those of the army fighting the Turks in the Caucasus as well. Having completed the first phase of its operations, the light squadron returned to Kerch where Lyons handed over to Commander Sherard Osborn. Sadly, on 17 June, Lyons received a mortal wound while taking part in a further bombardment of Sevastopol’s sea forts.

Having replenished, the light squadron returned to its work of destruction. On 27 June a landing party destroyed a convoy of wagons near Genichesk, which was also the scene of a lively action on 3 July. On the latter occasion the gunboat Beagle, commanded by Lieutenant William Hewitt, attacked the floating bridge connecting the town with the northern extremity of the Tongue of Arabat, which provided a major supply route into the Crimea. While the gunboat gave covering fire, Hewitt sent two boats to cut the bridge’s hawsers. With the Russians lining the beach only 80 yards distant, as well as shooting from nearby houses, this was a desperate business. Despite this, although the boats were riddled, only two men were wounded. The hawsers were cut under heavy fire by Seaman Joseph Trewavas, who received a minor wound while hacking at them. Trewavas was awarded the Victoria Cross. Simultaneously, the last remaining floating bridge between the Tongue of Arabat and the Crimea was burned by the paddle gunboat Curlew.

It was now apparent that the light squadron, and the new gunboats in particular, could go wherever they wanted and the Russians were powerless to stop them. Some extracts from Osborn’s despatches convey the daily nature of operations.

Delayed by the weather, we did not reach Berdyansk until July 15th. I hoisted a flag of truce in order, if possible, to get the women and children removed from the town; but, as we met with no reply, and the surf rendered landing extremely hazardous, I hauled it down and the squadron commenced to fire over the town at the forage and corn-stacks behind it; and I soon had the satisfaction of seeing a fire break out exactly where it was wanted. It became necessary to move into deeper water for the night; and, from our distant anchorage, the fires were seen burning throughout the night.

On the 16th the Allied squadron proceeded to Fort Petrovski, between Berdyansk and Mariupol. At 9.30 a.m., all arrangements having been made, the squadron took up their positions, the light-draught gunboats taking up stations east and west of the fort, and enfilading the works front and rear, whilst the heavier vessels formed a semicircle round the fort. The heavy nature of our ordnance soon not only forced the garrison to retire from the trenches, but also kept at a respectable distance the reserve force, consisting of three strong battalions of infantry and two squadrons of cavalry. We then commenced to fire with carcasses (i.e. incendiary shells) but, although partially successful, I was obliged to send the light boats of the squadron to complete the destruction of the fort and batteries, a duty I entrusted to Lieutenant Hubert Campion. Although the enemy, from an earthwork to the rear, opened a sharp fire on our men, Lieutenant Campion completed this service in the most able manner. Leaving the Swallow to check any attempt of the enemy to reoccupy the fort, the rest of the squadron proceeded to destroy great quantities of forage, and some of the most extensive fisheries, situated upon the White House Spit.

On July 17th, in consequence of information received of extensive depots of corn and forage existing at a town called Glafirovka upon the Asiatic coast, near Yeysk, I proceeded there with the squadron. The Vesuvius and Swallow were obliged to anchor some distance offshore. I therefore sent Commander Rowley Lambert (Curlew) with the gunboats Fancy, Grinder, Boxer, Cracker, Jasper, Wrangler and the boats of Vesuvius and Swallow. He found Glafirovka and its neighbourhood swarming with cavalry and therefore very properly confined his operations to destroying some very extensive corn and fish stores.

I next proceeded to the Crooked Spit in the Gulf of Azov (Taganrog) on the 18th; and I immediately ordered Commander Craufurd, in the Swallow, supported by the gunboats Grinder, Boxer and Cracker, and the boats of Vesuvius, Fancy and Curlew, to clear the spit and destroy the great fishing establishments situated upon it. While this service was being executed, I reconnoitred the mouth of the river Mius, 15.miles west of Taganrog, in HMS Jasper. The shallow nature of the coast would not allow us to approach within a mile and three-quarters of Fort Temenos. I returned to the same place, accompanied by the boats of HMS Vesuvius and Curlew, and HM gunboats Cracker, Boxer and Jasper. When we got to Fort Temenos and the usual Cossack picket had been driven off, I and Commander Lambert proceeded at once with the light boats up the river. When immediately under Fort Temenos, which stands upon a steep escarp of 80 feet, we found ourselves looked down upon by a large body of both horse and foot, lining the ditch and parapet of the work. Landing on the opposite bank, at good rifle-shot distance, one boat’s crew under Lieutenant Rowley was sent to destroy a collection of launches and a fishery, whilst a careful and steady fire of Minie rifles kept the Russians from advancing on us. We returned to the vessels, passing within pistol-shot of the Russian ambuscade.

On July 19th I reconnoitred Taganrog in the Jasper gunboat. A new battery was being constructed on the heights near the hospital, but, although two shots were thrown into it, it did not reply. To put a stop to all traffic and to harass the enemy in this neighbourhood, I ordered Commander Craufurd to remain in the Gulf with two gunboats.

A few days later the light squadron sustained its only serious loss of the campaign. The Jasper, commanded by Lieutenant Joseph Hudson, had silenced a Russian field battery. In an excess of enthusiasm, Hudson took the captured guns aboard as trophies, forgetting that the additional weight would result in the gunboat drawing more water. The ship ran aground and, although the guns were thrown over the side, she could not be got off. She was, therefore, abandoned and blown up – prematurely, some thought, in view of the small threat presented by the supine Russians. Despite this, during the weeks that followed, the light squadron continued to raid at will, to the point that repetition would become tedious. No sooner had the Russians brought forward fresh stores than they were destroyed long before they could reach the Crimea, either by gunfire or landing parties. In this way Genichesk, Beryansk, Taganrog, Mariupol, Arabat and other places on the Azov coast were all attacked regularly, in spite of strenuous Russian attempts to strengthen their defences.

Although the Russians were having much the worst of things in the Azov, their defence of Sevastopol was conducted with characteristic stubbornness. On 17-18 June Allied attempts to storm the Malakoff and the Redan, the garrison’s two principal defence works, were repulsed with heavy loss. Nevertheless, the cutting of the Crimean supply route began to affect both Sevastopol’s defenders and the Russian field army. On 16 August the latter made one last desperate attempt to dislodge the besiegers but were decisively defeated by the French and Sardinians on Traktir Ridge. As the fortress was now clearly doomed, the Russians began burning their remaining warships and made preparations to withdraw the garrison across the harbour. These were hastened when the French stormed the Malakoff on 8 September. That night the garrison withdrew after blowing up the rest of its fortifications, and the following morning the Allies occupied the city.

The fall of Sevastopol did not mean that the little ships’ work had ended. On the eastern side of the Kerch Straits the enemy had begun assembling a small army at Taman and Fanagorinsk and it was thought that when the winter ice closed the straits, this might be used to cross it and recapture Kerch. On 24 September an Allied force including the gunboats Lynx, Arrow and Snake, plus eight French gunboats, ferried nine infantry companies to Taman and provided covering fire while the troops disembarked. Taman was hastily abandoned, as was Fanogorinsk, where the fort and barracks were occupied and 62 guns rendered unserviceable. While this was taking place some 600 Cossacks appeared, only to be dispersed by the gunboats’ fire. The force then burned the buildings and retired to Kerch with a quantity of useful stores.

In the Sea of Azov the light squadron continued its depredations. On 4 November it was the turn of Glafirovka, the defences of which had been considerably strengthened since the last visit in July. Recruit, Grinder, Boxer and Cracker first engaged the enemy trenches with shrapnel while Clinker was towing in the boats of the landing party, then set the corn stores ablaze with carcasses. The fight ended with a charge by Marines and cutlass-wielding seamen, led by Lieutenants Day and Campion, which drove the Russians out of their positions. Simultaneously, other ships raided Yeysk so that the day’s operations left a two-mile stretch of coastline in flames. The last foray carried out by the gunboats and their landing parties penetrated the river Liman on 6 November, destroying stores piled along a four-mile frontage.

In the Caucasus, the Russians captured the Turkish fortress of Kars on 26 November, enabling the ministers of the new Tsar, Alexander II, to request peace negotiations with one success to their credit. The war had cost each side about a quarter of a million deaths, the majority caused by disease. Its results included the preservation of the Ottoman Empire’s integrity and the Tsar’s loss of his role as protector of the Sultan’s Orthodox Christian subjects.

It would be simplistic to suggest that the light squadron’s operations in the Sea of Azov were entirely responsible for the fall of Sevastopol. They did, however, make a considerable contribution to that end, and as far as resources and manpower were concerned, the light squadron was the most profit-bearing formation the Allies possessed. As Osborn commented in his despatch to his Commander-in-Chief:

I despair of being able to convey to you any idea of the extraordinary quantity of corn, rye, hay, wood and other supplies so necessary for the existence of the Russian armies, both in the Caucasus and the Crimea. During these proceedings we never had more than 200 men engaged.

Furthermore, at a trivial cost to itself, the squadron tied down tens of thousands of Russian troops across a wide area in an ineffective defence when they could have been more profitably employed elsewhere. In the subsequent honours and promotions Osborn became a Companion of the Bath and was promoted to captain; the rest of the squadron’s commanders also received promotion to captain, and the majority of its lieutenants became commanders. Eight Victoria Crosses were awarded during the Kerch/Sea of Azov operations. To our eyes, used to the strict application of the modern regulations governing the supreme award for valour, this may seem a surprisingly high number. It must, however, be remembered that at the time the newly instituted Victoria Cross was the only medal that could be awarded to officers and men of both British armed services for acts of exceptional gallantry; again, few would be so mean-spirited as to argue that the instances quoted above were unworthy of recognition.

The operations in the Sea of Azov also convinced the Royal Navy that, with the bulk of the Fleet retained in home waters for the defence of the United Kingdom, the so-called Crimean gunboats provided an ideal and inexpensive means of policing the often troubled waters of a global empire that was still expanding.

Kunersdorf 1759 Part I


Frederick, once he had decided to march to the Oder, was swift about it. August 3, 1959 admitting he had failed to intercept Laudon, he pushed on towards Müllrose (within 12 miles of Frankfurt). Here he gave Wedell instructions to move what remained of his army to that village. Wedell made a genuine effort to comply with these orders, all right, and the result was all of the Prussians in the immediate vicinity were soon concentrated thereabouts. The army which Soltikov had brought from the other end of Poland was very strong in infantry, but the cavalry was weak; Laudon’s arrival helped change that.

The Russians were also busy. July 29 was a notable day for Frankfurt-on-Oder. For some time, there had been rumors of the impending advent of the Russians upon the city, and on that particular morning word spread through the place that the enemy was finally coming over from Crossen. Within Frankfurt, the defenses were insignificant. There was no regular garrison and the only defense force was a local body of some 400 militiamen raised rather hastily from the outskirts of the city under the command of Major Friedrich Wilhelm von Arnhim. As best it might, Frankfurt prepared itself. On the morning of July 30, a large force of Russians made their appearance on the eastern side of the Oder near the Oder-Damm. The grreencoats at once sent word to lower the city’s drawbridge, which led across to the western side and which Arnhim had pulled up on their arrival, and surrender. Arnhim was quick to realize that while Frankfurt’s walls protected it on the western, northern, and southern sides—also topped by heights—only the eastern side was really defensible.

He was stubborn, estimating the enemy force at about a thousand men, though they were in fact six times as numerous, and answered with a defiant “No!” to the Russian demand. Near 1100 hours, the Russians loosened a firebomb to show they were in earnest. At some point, the Prussian must have also realized the strength of the Russians present thereabouts. Arnhim now ordered his men to prepare to depart, as any resistance to the enemy, in addition to the futility, would entail risking heavy damage to the place.

Simultaneously, Arnhim ordered two field pieces under his control to go to the far northern gate in case the foe should move while Arnhim was preparing to leave. The Prussian commander was heading for Cüstrin, if the Russians allowed him to go that far. Some time later a second summons to surrender arrived, with the same reply as before. Then a third summons was likewise refused. Seeing their efforts to bully the garrison were in vain, the Russians sent word that another refusal would leave no option but shower Frankfurt from a prepared battery with incendiary shells. This time, the city fathers agreed to accept the enemy’s terms, but stubborn Arnhim (a valiant Prussian officer to the end) would not permit the drawbridge to be lowered nor any sign of surrender to take place.

The Russian guns then let off a single incendiary shell which landed near the churchyard, but Arnhim would not yield yet. The latter did offer to remove his garrison if the greencoats offered Free Withdrawal. But the Russians, in their turn, refused to do this. At this rude reply, and with his preparations complete, Arnhim pulled up his command and made off towards Lebus, taking the precaution of delaying the entrance of the Russians into Frankfurt. The enemy set off in pursuit of Arnhim, and caught up with him about halfway to Cüstrin. Arnhim drew out his men and fought hard, but at length resistance was overcome and he and his men were returned to Frankfurt in chains, Arnhim himself having suffered a serious wound.

Within a few days, Laudon and his force arrived, marching through the streets of the city and ordering up provisions for his tired men. Hadik had indeed turned back with his provision wagons, and Laudon’s men were virtually starving. Soltikov, who had been rather expecting the Austrians to bring supplies, summarily ordered Laudon to retire to Guben with his men. No real junction between the armies had, in fact, taken place.

Soltikov’s army, after the fall of Frankfurt, had been deployed on rises westward of the Oder, opposite the Jüdenberg Hill mainly, momentarily anticipating the advent of Frederick’s army. The Russians, in spite of superior numbers, were aware that they were no mean match for the great Prussian king. Fermor and possibly even Soltikov must have feared the results of such a confrontation. Fermor remembered Zorndorf all too well, and the news that Laudon’s men brought of Frederick’s attempts to intercept their march meant that he could be expected shortly.

The Russians promptly began entrenching, building high palisades/works complimented by strong batteries. The allies aimed to move out of Frankfurt, leaving just a small garrison, and come near the Oder to take post on the sandhills of the Kunersdorf Heights, eastwards from the Oder-Damm. For the moment, the allies kept to Frankfurt.

Wedell, meanwhile, had reached Müllrose about August 5, after which Frederick marched his forces to Frankfurt, finally arriving near there on August 7. Between Wulkow and Lebus, he made his army an encampment. Early on the following morning, the Prussian monarch pushed out a body of hussars towards Frankfurt to feel out the position of the enemy. Apparently the arrival of the king had not been noted by the allies. A surprising revelation. Indeed, a party of Austrian and Russian officers were just sitting down to dinner at the Fischer’s Mühle—on the western facing side of the Frankfurt bridges—when a local boy working at the millwork scrambled in with news that Prussian hussars, (led, in fact, by the king, although this was not suspected), were approaching.

The startled officers leaped to horse, and rode off at full gallop towards Frankfurt, where they flashed the news. The following day, August 9, Frederick received word that a great victory had been won by Ferdinand over the French at Minden, effectively ending the French threat for the rest of the campaign. His local reconnaissance of the enemy’s lines revealed that they were then encamped with the Oder at their backs and a ready retreat available by three pontoon bridges across the river (not to mention the main Frankfurt Town Bridge) in case of defeat. The king also noted a disparity in numbers of the contending antagonists: even with Wedell, he had no more than 40,000 men, while the allies totaled some 90,000 between them.

Plainly, an attack with those long odds was tantamount to disaster. So Frederick now ordered Finck with his 10,000 men or so to join him. This left Berlin to its own defenses and Saxony would practically have no Prussian forces present. With this juncture, the monarch was determined to get on with the necessary preliminary of crossing the Oder. He had decided not to cross at Lebus, as had originally been planned, but at Reitwein (some ten miles away) and proceed with the business at hand. Finck’s arrival was expected within a few days, and in the interim Frederick pressed preparations for the move, discreetly so as not to alarm the enemy.

Soltikov anticipated that the king would strike from the west side of the Oder, so he made his preparations with that view in mind. The Russians, along with Laudon, recrossed the Oder, leaving only a small garrison in Frankfurt. Soltikov took post on the rises near Kunersdorf, as planned, while Laudon was deployed nearer to the Oder behind him. The greencoats had put their heavy baggage on an island in the Oder—which was connected by pontoon bridges to the mainland where Soltikov was hastily readying to meet the Prussian whirlwind. In case of defeat, the Russians were not going to take any chances of being cut off from home. Soltikov, fearing for the safety of his baggage, detailed a force to cover it.

August 10, right on time, Finck reached Reitwein, while earlier in the day Frederick had arrived nearby. The bluecoats were even then erecting some bridges to cross the river. This work had of necessity been low-key, but the night after the junction the bridges were finished, and the army promptly began crossing in two columns, the foot soldiers/artillery there and the cavalry a short way off. By 0400 hours on August 11, the entire army was over, and the enemy still did not know of it. Soltikov unaccountably allowed the Prussians to break the barrier of the Oder River.

The Prussians now were near Göritz. Here Wunsch was left with skeleton forces to hold the bridges and the baggage train safe. The rest of the army moved southward, aiming at Bischof-Sëe and Leissow (which were within two miles of Kunersdorf itself). The morning sun rose up bright, there was little or no wind blowing across the sand dunes, and forced marches soon brought the men to the verge of exhaustion. To make matters worse, there had been no time for food that morning nor for sleep the last few nights. By 1300 hours, Frederick’s men reached their destination, by which time the troops were so weary that it was an open question if they could continue the trek. So the decision was made to encamp on the spot for the rest of the day and to move against the enemy’s camp on the morrow. Finck, with the vanguard, was ordered to bivouac where he was, his left leaning on a small pond thereabouts; the remainder of the army camped in two lines, the right on Leissow—with the cavalry posted to the rear in a patch of forest thereabouts.

Soon after his men were in place, the king took the opportunity to reconnoiter the enemy’s position. Ahead of him, straight facing the road to Kunersdorf, lay the village and Trettin Hill, which he rode out towards. Reaching there, Frederick mounted the rise and looked southward. Stretched out between Jüdenberg and Mühlberg, he noticed the whole Russian army, some 70,000 strong, with the front facing north. Off behind it, the king discerned Laudon encamped in a position that appeared to be wholly isolated from Soltikov, but might be capable of rendering support if necessary. The terrain there, he judged, at best to be marshy and not sure footed by any means. Cavalry was of little use, and neither were the big guns likely to be of tangible use in this ground. These considerations were important, for it had largely been through the efforts of Seydlitz and his cavalry (who was also present here) that had in the past gained the victory for the Prussians just when defeat appeared to be certain. If the artillery could not be brought into play at short range, it followed they could not blast at the entrenchments that the enemy had prepared to face the Prussian attack.

In front of the allied camp, intersecting between it and the Prussians, ran a small tributary of the Oder, the meandering Hühner-Fleiss. Running across this stream was the Trettin road leading to Kühgraben, a branch road from which led directly through Kunersdorf and on to Reppen. A little to the east of this road was the Walkberg; on the right looking north was the Klosterberg, to the southwest not quite a mile was the Kleiner-Spitzberg, which effectively dominated the approaches to Kunersdorf. Mühlberg lay at the extreme end of the Kunersdorf position and the Oder-Damm. The whole allied camp was about four miles in extent, but it was far too narrow—only about a mile wide—to allow much maneuvering room in which to shift their forces as the Prussians attacked. The ground was largely bushy and oozy bogs. To the east, but most especially to the south, a thick clump of woods arose, through which visibility could not have been good. But the ground was generally flat and level, except what was made up of the mounds thereabouts, largely sand dunes to the east and liable to be blown about by the wind.

Frederick, on viewing the allied camp, observed that Laudon was deployed then in a position which seemed to be isolated from the Russians. The Austrians were encamped in the west of the great marsh which protected the allied left flank, behind a scrubby post which to all appearances, from the Prussian lines at least, to be sufficiently cut off from Soltikov as to give no cause for worry. A local peasant who had brought the king water on that hot summer afternoon, and who knew the terrain in question, thought so, as did one of Frederick’s own officers (Major Linden), who was supposed to be familiar with the area. But the actual event turned out to be much otherwise, as we shall see.

Shortly after his reconnaissance was completed, Frederick rode back to his encampment, and spent the evening hours working out his plan-of-battle. The crux of his plan relied upon one of two alternatives he believed the enemy could take: (1) That of the allies remaining quiet where they were and await a battle; (2) That of the enemy attempting to retire upon Reppen. With numbers and position so clearly in their favor, the second possibility was really unlikely.

Late in the night (August 11–12), however, there was some smoke and flame visible on the southern horizon, which turned out to be the village of Kunersdorf on fire, having been deliberately set by the Russians. There was much speculation about the meaning of this event in the Prussian camp.

The allies, knowing that the foe had passed Göritz and Bischof-Sëe, made preparations for an attack. With no blow coming from the direction of Reppen, the front was reversed (as at Zorndorf, but this time with far more thoroughness); so the Russian left was now anchored on the Mühlberg, the army now past burnt Kunersdorf. Why was it burned? As a structure it would have proven a sizeable military obstacle to Frederick’s men, being in front of the Kuh-grund and all. Now only the stone churchyard and church remained. This could have been a distinct barrier to the bluecoats. Nevertheless, as best they might, the allies made ready to receive the stroke they knew was inevitable on the morrow. As for Soltikov’s most pressing worry, he did not wish to be cut off from his main communication center at Frankfurt, barely four miles to the southwest.

By 0300 hours on August 12, the Prussian army was aroused and standing in marching order. The march order was given and the men lurched off; the heads of their two columns pointed eastward, towards Reppen, and the woods there. At the lead was Seydlitz with his cavalry, his command was included in the column to be brought into battle as the left flank, while Eugene of Württemberg followed with the second to act as right wing in conjunction with Finck. The latter had been ordered to keep his bivouac posture near the Hühner-Fleiss, and decoy the enemy while the rest of the army made the swing for battle.

The king betook himself to the woods to encourage the troops with some more of that earthy, unassuming attitude he was well noted for. When his very tired men marched past him in the thick forest paths, he saluted them with a morning greeting, then is reputed to have said, “A good plate of beans would be nice just now, wouldn’t it?” What other high-born European monarch of the day would have done the same?

Finck could dispose of some 12,000 men for his task, with three infantry regiments (the 37th, the 38th, and the 55th Infantry) supported by strong batteries. He was ordered by Frederick to maintain the illusion that the main attack was to fall upon the Russians from the north. (A move which the king thought was impractical. It would have been better to attack from the north). This since the Russian lines were the strongest just where the attack was planned. The king discovered as much when it was already too late. Nevertheless, he was to go out as soon as it was daylight to scout the enemy’s lines but not to get involved in any serious fighting until the rest of the army could be brought into action. Wunsch was simultaneously ordered to move from Göritz to recapture Frankfurt.

While Finck and his peers were carrying out instructions, an enemy battery opened up on them. But the shots fell wide of the mark, and the Prussian generals ignored the fire. The Cossacks, as usual, were very active. They set fire to the little hamlets of Reipzig and Schwetigg (the latter about a mile south of the Russian baggage), but that was the extent of their effectiveness. The main Prussian columns in passing through the thick woods and over unstable, oozy ground—no doubt this made the lugging of the big guns difficult—were very slow with their advance. It was only after unanticipated delays that Frederick finally reached the Hühner-Fleiss and deployed his army on the Klosterberg, and Walkberg (opposite to the Mühlberg), setting up his batteries on the mounds to act as a counter to the Russian guns. By then it was nearly 0800 hours, and a large proportion of the attack force had taken the wrong turn in the woods and thick underbrush; they were still marching up. Thanks, in part, to the king’s miscalculation, the horsed teams lugging the big Prussian guns and the heads of the columns had to reshuffle in the woods. The bluecoats were just not ready.

By that time, Seydlitz and the first column were on the spot but Eugene was a little behind time. The Russians, scanning the front of their position, shortly before this noticed the movements in the thick woods and sped off the inevitable Cossack scouts. This produced a round or two from Finck’s guns, or perhaps from Frederick’s, but the gunners were quickly silenced by the king. The Russians still discerned Finck as the only plainly visible enemy, and believed him to be the main attack force. The men in the woods were thought to be scouting parties. That was until the main Prussian army appeared so unexpectedly out of the woods.

The composition of this force was the following: 13,000 cavalry in 95 squadrons; 36,900 infantry in 53 battalions; and a large quantity of ordnance, including 160 heavy guns and 126 battalion guns. A total force of roughly 50,000 men of all ranks. The Russian force consisted of 68 battalions of infantry (about 42,000 men); 36 cavalry squadrons (about 7,000 of the Cossacks and hussars, more than 4,600 line cavalry); and 200 guns, a total of approximately 61,000 men, when we factor in the gunners, engineers, and the staff; the Austrians had 18 battalions of infantry; 35 squadrons of cavalry; and 48 guns; a total of approximately 18,523 men. About 80,000 allied troops were involved in the battle. They were superior in number to their foe, in infantry and artillery, although there was near parity in cavalry between the two sides. But the Prussian squadrons were not the same vaunted troopers as they had been the year before at Zorndorf, and not nearly as well trained or equipped.

The Russian right was led on this day by General Demikow, while Fermor and Major-General Nikita Petrovich Villebois were to his side. Rumyantsev was commanding the all-important Russian center. The left was under Lt.-Gen. Prince Aleksandr Mikhailovich Golitsyn.

1759-08-12 – Battle of Kunersdorf

Kunersdorf 1759 Part II

Battle of Kunersdorf, Alexander Kotzebue

The Battle

A little more than an hour after their appearance from the thick woods, the Prussian main body stood ranked for battle and had the batteries set up. Finck had been waiting for the signal to attack since first light, and his gunners were waiting with their pieces. At about 1130 hours, the Prussians opened up from the guns on the Walkberg. The Russian batteries on the Mühlberg, which contained some 72 guns, replied as quickly as they could. The Battle of Kunersdorf had begun. Finck’s ordnance from the northward started a bombardment of the Muhlberg from that end.

Frederick’s batteries on the Walkberg held only about 60 guns,4 but they diligently kept up a steady shelling of the enemy from the southern side. The Prussian batteries were actually strung out in three batteries, about which more later. Although the bombardment and counter-bombardment was steady and methodical, the range precluded any major damage to either side. But the Prussians were helped out by an enemy blunder.

The Russian batteries had been built facing the field below and beyond to the shoulder of the hillocks, instead of towards the view of the great hollow they were supposed to defend. As for the opposite wing, the Russian left, as Soltikov’s chief side, boasted a 100 gun complement, almost an embarrassment of riches.

At about 1200 hours, Frederick sent the advanced force of the nine battalions (some 4,300 men) on the Walkberg forward to storm the Mühlberg. The latter was manned by the First Grenadiers, flanked by the Third Musketeers and the Fifth Musketeers. The bluecoats advanced into the hollow. The fire of the enemy batteries intensified as the Prussians came in closer, but the Prussian officers tried to steady their men in the “shelter” of the hollow before the blow fell. This shelling was far too inaccurate to hinder the move. The attackers were largely shielded by the terrain, until they reached the clearing.

The bluecoats reached the edge of the Mühlberg—within 110 feet of the Russian guns on the slope—before they were greeted by a withering enemy fire. The Prussians did not falter, in fact they pressed ever forward. The four lead battalions slashed forward, in an advanced formation. At point-blank range, the bluecoats loosed a crashing volley of musketry straight into the Russian artillerists and their supporting troops. These men were already shaken by heavy bombardment. The latter were swept back here, the greencoats abandoning their guns and works. Prussian cavalry were hit now. In a few minutes of heavy fighting, the 2nd Cuirassiers (Prince Henry) lost 206 men.

In the event, there were new reinforcements of Russians coming forward. Belosersk was disordered by the press of the first line and forced back, carrying the Nizhegorodv Grenadiers. By 1215 hours, the Prussians had nevertheless laid hold of the Mühlberg, the retreating Russians (of the observation corps of Golitsyn) falling back upon Kunersdorf itself—confusion now spreading through Soltikov’s army. Had the mass of the Prussian horse not been “trapped” behind the Prussian left, it might have been far worse for the greencoats. As it was, many of the Russians did not offer organized resistance and were slaughtered by the scores. Five large regiments were decimated. By 1300 hours, the left had been defeated and driven back on Kunersdorf, only small, mostly disorganized groups of Russians remained where the front had once stood, now broken and separated, capable of only token resistance. There was a bright spot. Soltikov, taking control of the faltering situation, sped 12 crack companies (led by General Campitelli) of Austrian grenadiers to Rumyantsev’s support.

Once more the crack unit of Baden-Baden appears in these annals. This solid unit stood firm despite Lt-Colonel Waldegg’s wound and even the unpleasantness of some of the Russians mistaking Waldegg’s men for the Prussians and taking them under fire. Horace St. Paul reports the unit had 64 officers wounded, although no mention is made of total casualties. Nevertheless, Baden-Baden helped bring the Prussian progress to a standstill. In addition, a timely force of Austrian grenadiers led by Major Joseph De Vins, struck at the enemy force now trying to stabilize its hold on the Mühlberg.

It was precisely at this moment that Frederick had determined to launch a pincer attack on the allied lines. The rearmost forces, under Eugene, were supposed to have advanced at this time straight against the Russians from the south, while the right wing did the same from the north, to stiffen Finck’s effort at the west. Together, they were to snuff out the foe. The right van, which had just stormed the Mühlberg, was where it was intended, but the left, which had just entered the fray and was in the process of driving the enemy from the walls of the Kunersdorf churchyard, was critically behind schedule. At the present, it had no troops capable of helping the other pincer arms, except for a couple of formations from the van. Finck, from his side, was also experiencing problems as his attack was held up by the intricacies of the terrain not to mention a couple of narrow bridges crossing the Hühner-Fleiss, hard going for the artillery teams.

The Prussians did their best. Krockow’s 2nd Dragoons smashed against Trettin Hill and the Jewish churchyard. The attacks were costly. Fully two-thirds of the unit were wiped out. 484 men, 51officers. The 6th Dragoons (of Schorlemer) lost 234 men and 18 officers in this bid.

The Kleist Hussars, normally a solid, reliable cadre, along with the 8th Dragoons, crashed straight into a mass of milling Russian horse. The Prussian effort was repelled, but when the massed allied cavalry tried to take advantage of the moment by following up, they were shredded by the timely squadrons of Seydlitz. This was accomplished in spite of the intricacies of the ground, cut up by numerous ponds and swamps. Seydlitz led an enthusiastic attack by hussars. In fact, the indomitable officer was over enthusiastic, for his charge insensibly tended into the fire of some Russian infantry. The bluecoats now recoiled. Nor were the cavalry units alone that suffered. Dohna’s 16th Infantry lost 550 men and 16 officers. Hülsen’s 21st in attacking the Kühgrund lost 783 men and 25 of its officers.

These factors seriously delayed the crucial timetable attack plan. Nevertheless, the left struggled to offer aid quickly as possible, but was impeded by the heavy woods about Kunersdorf. Heinrich’s 43rd Infantry led the left round the Klosterburg against the Backergrund. When at last the Prussians reached the clearing to the southeast of Kunersdorf, they found what had been little suspected. The ground in front there was bisected by great marshes, pools, and little lakelets, stagnant most if not all of them. Two morasses were even running within the confines of Kunersdorf village itself. The only way across these bodies of water were small tracts on either side, which necessitated breaking the order of march and then reforming once past the obstacles. This threw the left wing into a critical delay between the approach and the actual support. The artillery blasted away at the bluecoats, inflicting heavy losses. The 43rd overthrew the Russians on the Mühlberg, but the advance stalled out at the Kühgrund. In this one regiment, “550 men were lost.” It was not alone, by any means. A neighboring unit, Ferdinand’s 5th Infantry, advancing right beside it, was pounded before the Kühgrund, losing 91 dead and 244 wounded in a few minutes. Even the hard-used 7th Infantry could not escape further damage. Its grenadiers reportedly had 200 wounded and 117 killed of their number. The local terrain also fragmented the Prussian line, so Frederick compensated by choosing to attack what was now obviously the enemy’s right.

At the moment, the confusion spreading through the Russian army was widespread, but enemy guns which had been taken could not be used because there was no ammunition for them. This was important. From the Mühlberg, a few well-placed hits might have inflicted enormous casualties and confusion in the serried ranks of the Russian left. Instead, Frederick ordered up four of the light Prussian guns to the Mühlberg—from where they plastered the foe as best they could, while the 12-horse artillery teams struggled to lug the 60 heavy guns to their support. For more than a mile there, Soltikov’s army might have been decimated, but the delays of the teams getting forward the big artillery proved to be fatal to the king’s plan.

Frederick, meanwhile, had sent off a courier with premature news of “victory” to an anxious Berlin, although the enterprise was now slipping from his grasp. Soltikov had his army formed for a pitched battle, this side facing eastwards, while the king renewed his stroke upon the front of the enemy’s mass. There was now still greater pressure on the Russians as Finck, at last emerging from the difficult geography of the Hühner-Fleiss, attacked uphill (with eight full battalions) against the new Russian left, about 1535 hours. At length, the Russian lines were broken again, and the disordered men fell back upon the Jüdenberg, losing Kunersdorf and the Küh-grund in the process. A second courier was soon on his way to the capital, with more encouraging word of the progress of the battle. In the second attack, the bluecoats had captured 108 more guns and had inflicted terrible losses upon the foe. But their army was taking heavy losses as well. And they were handicapped by a narrow front over which to operate. In fact, the whole space for battle this day was quite narrow.

A little before this time—about 1500 hours or so—Laudon had extricated his men from the “isolated” peninsula to the side of the Russian position and ranked them quickly on Soltikov’s flank, though they had yet to be engaged. How had Laudon accomplished this? Well, Frederick’s assumption the Austrians were in a post from which they could not readily leave failed to take into account a causeway that had been constructed to connect Laudon and Soltikov. Through this route lay easy access. Here again was a classic example of a major blunder on the part of the Prussian reconnaissance. We have observed errors before; at Prague, at Kolin, and at Hochkirch, but they pale by comparison with that of Kunersdorf.

Laudon had 18,000 men, fresh and as yet uncommitted, while Frederick’s men were all but exhausted by the almost herculean task they had taken on. But the Russians had been dealt a major blow. Now Finck, Seydlitz and the generals protested to the king that the army should disengage, since the enemy had clearly been defeated. They would almost certainly withdraw during the night, and, besides, the army needed rest. Moreover “Wunsch … [reported] that the enemy were actually beginning to cross the river.” Failing a retreat by the battered enemy, the battle could always be renewed next morning with refreshed men. This was wise and appropriate counsel, and should in retrospect have been heeded. Sadly, impatient Frederick did not listen, and insisted on continuing the battle to whip the enemy, now. He called for the left, and ordered it forward upon the Russian battery on the Grosser-Spitzberg—which happened to be one of the strongest posts in the enemy’s front—the high battery to the south and some distance ahead of Soltikov’s right. It was under the command of Rumyantsev, with the Vologdskii Infantry regiment right on the spot, along with 16 more large Russian regiments in close support behind. Rumyantsev’s guns opened a terrible fire upon the Prussians as they emerged from behind the ponds in front of Kunersdorf and were forming up to attack.

Prussian artillery was hastily put together in a cluster behind the village of Kunersdorf, which was flanked by two batteries, at the Blanken-Sëe and the Dorf-Sëe, although the king was not prepared to put all of his eggs in one artillery basket. Nevertheless, the Prussian batteries went to work trying to overpower the allied batteries on the Grosser Spitzberg.

When at last the latter were ready, the bluecoats moved up to attack. They were pounded by the searing artillery fire and, unable to complete their task, they stalled out. The 47th Infantry (Major-General Christoph Heinrich von Grabow) had 600 losses. This stroke did knock the Russian Apcheronski Infantry for a loop, and the Rostovoski Infantry were likewise sucked into the vortex of the Prussian attack and badly used. Apcheronski was later honored because it continued to hold back the enemy “while standing, ‘knee deep in blood.’” Frederick now ordered forward the artillery, but the crews could not get the big guns up past the mud and the wagons sank up to their axles when this was tried. Worse, Seydlitz was wounded at that critical moment by a shot which tore away part of his right hand. The Prussians were thus deprived of the services of one of their best cavalry officers at a crucial stage. Seydlitz had to relinquish command to Platen and was taken off the field to have his wound tended to.

Frederick lost his head and commanded that the cavalry itself charge the foe’s battery on the Grosser-Spitzberg. Platen contested the order, in vain. He jumped to horse at last and galloped with his cavalry around the southern side of Kunersdorf. The charging, storming troopers made a hopeless effort. After a fine beginning, they were cut to ribbons by the merciless fire. The 5th Cuirassiers (Friedrich Wilhelm Prince of Prussia und Markgraf of Brandenburg-Schwedt) lost 170 men here. Kyau’s 12th Cuirassiers lost 260 more. Whole squadrons seemed to fall, and the rest were cut into little groups, not able to move forward. The leading unit, the 6th Dragoons of Schorlemer, was hit so savagely it was virtually wiped out on the spot. Even worse, this splendid effort had carried the bulk of the horsed formations past the west side of the ponds, and this exposed their flank to thousands of as yet unengaged enemy cavalry. Soon the magnificent squadrons had been shattered, falling back beyond the pools at Kunersdorf. Here they got steadied and were ranked again.

Following this repulse, which incidentally proved to be the turning point of the battle, the Prussian infantry, reforming again and again, attacked the enemy’s position on the Grosser-Spitzberg repeatedly, but again futilely. The 37th Infantry (Lt.-Gen. August Wilhelm von Braun) was utterly annihilated in the effort; 992 men and 16 officers went down here. The king himself dashed out to lead two attacks by the 35th Infantry, in which he had two horses shot dead under him and was in the process of mounting a third when a stray shot struck the poor animal in the neck and it fell to the ground, nearly on top of Frederick. He was snatched up by two of his adjutants. A bullet had smashed a snuff box in his heavy coat, saving Frederick’s life. Still, he reportedly grabbed a flag and uttered “I must do my duty here like any other!” Pragmatically, the 35th would, in the end, be the last Prussian unit off the field.

Although their leader was safe, the Prussians could make no further gains, holding instead tenaciously to the captured works in their hands, too exhausted to even retreat it would appear. This is not surprising.

The Allies were in similar shape. Their cavalry was truly heterogeneous, as the main thrust of the cavalry units were the 6th Dragoons and the Löwenstein riders of the 31st Austrian. Two units which were truly magnificent units, fully equal to the magnificent squadrons of Seydlitz. They were even stiffened by stubborn Russian cavalry, of inferior quality, but eager to demonstrate their worthiness as well. This mounted attack helped out the greencoats, who were being hard pressed. As for the valiant Apcheronski regiment and its neighbors, two fine Russian units—the Pskov and the Vologda Infantry—they lent their aid and momentarily helped check the stubborn Prussian advance. Then, near 1700 hours, the valiant king finally drove in his part of the front, temporarily. Soltikov responded the only way he knew how: with more reinforcements. Again, the newcomers (Kozen and Vyborg, joined by Pfern) contrived to move from the Russian right. This new body blunted the Prussian advance.

The fresh Austrian infantry/cavalry swooped down upon the recoiling Prussians, forcing them to gang together to form a defense. All of this, it must be remembered, took place along a relatively narrow front, allowing precious little room for maneuvering. The reformed Russians now joined the fray; together the allies drove the enemy mass before them, back to the Küh-grund, from Kunersdorf, back the way they had come. As it worked out, the Küh-grund and vicinity was to prove a strong “trap.” The Prussian cavalry were ridden down by the surging allied cavalry. Frederick rallied his men, trying to reverse the tide of battle. Finck was still attacking from the Hühner-Fleiss, to no avail, now the king ordered the horsemen to disengage and ride around to the Mühlberg to aid Finck there. Eugene led some support forces to the scene, to the eastern end then west before they finally turned to face south directly at the enemy. The bluecoats here intended a decisive stroke to roll up Soltikov, but the men had scattered when they marched off, quickly dispersing.

Eugene was badly wounded trying to extricate himself from the carnage. When he returned, Frederick ordered Puttkammer and his hussars to the task. But that commander was killed and his stroke ended much the same as the first. After this latest assault had miscarried, the Russian infantry, now directly before the Küh-grund, struck forward and retook the line. They remanned the batteries at once, while Frederick reacted by sending orders to retake those guns. A large force of bluecoats advanced then to within some 50 yards of the Russian lines and halted there, exchanging volleys of musketry with the latter for about ¼ of an hour. It was past 1730 hours. A few Prussians even made it to the crest of the nearby hillocks, but unfortunately they lacked either the physical or numerical stamina to recapture the Küh-grund and the disputed vicinity. Kanitz’ 2nd Infantry, pounded so fiercely by these same Russians at Zorndorf, suffered more. Some 472 men and nine officers fell all told on this day.

Seeing the Prussian attack stalled, Laudon took the chance to launch his still largely intact forces from behind the Grosser-Spitzberg to complete the overthrow of the Prussian army. By then it was about 1800 hours, and the sun was dipping low in the western sky. As soon as the bluecoats got a view of the surging Austrian force, they were suddenly gripped by panic. The army dissolved into a mass of running men in a matter of minutes, the troops forsaking their weapons and equipment as they did so. However, not all of the men fled. One small force planted itself on the Walkberg to guard the retreat. Elsewhere, isolated groups still put up a bold front. Lestwitz’s 31st lost 431 men on this retreat. But, for the most part, the army had been converted into a confused, milling mass of fugitives with only one thought pressing in mind: to retire to the rear and away from the enemy as fast as they could. Indeed, seldom in military history has a battle been so completely lost by an organized army in such a short space of time.

The press of the Prussian retreat was towards the north to the shelter of the ground beyond. The remnants of Schorlemer’s command strove to cover the retreat, but were forthwith driven into the swamps nearby. This exposed the retreating mass, which were ridden down and bagged by the thousands in their flight towards Zolow and the Hühner-Fleiss at Faulen-Bräcke and Stroh-Bräcke. Still, a great number of the bluecoats managed to take refuge in the churchyard at Trettin, where they briefly thought about rallying. Any such thoughts were put to bed by the impetuous Austrian cavalry of Kalnolky’s Hussars, aided by the nearby 11th Hussars. A vigorous attack, led by the dismounted horsemen, drove the already shaken Prussians from the village. This left them no choice but to abandon what artillery they had managed to drag to a sunken road forward of Trettin. Even by foot rescue was difficult, for the final tally was some 650 bluecoats taken. This really put paid to the matter of providing any meaningful resistance to the allied pursuit. In the event, “he [Frederick] demanded more of his men than they could bear.”

The king himself was in the midst of the rout. He seemed to be stupefied by what he saw. Frederick galloped about, shouting, “Children, don’t forsake your King, don’t leave me in this pinch!” and “will none of these blasted balls hit me, then!?!” However, his attempts to rally his men were as useless as they were brave. A panicked army must be like an angry mob, not really aware of what is happening about and deaf to the voice of reason. Frederick was on the point of being surrounded by the enemy troopers when he shouted out “Prittwitz, I am lost!” The latter dashed up, along with an adjutant. The adjutant grabbed his horse’s bridle, and led the king and his horse off at a gallop from the field, while Prittwitz with his command battled the pursuing Cossacks to a standstill.

That evening, the agitated Prussian king took shelter at Reitwein while Wunsch, who had been left at the bridge to prevent the escape of the enemy, waited until most of the scattered fugitives had gathered at Öetscher and Goritz before he closed up the bridge. Both to anticipate the enemy from moving across the Oder and to prevent a possible wholesale desertion of the demoralized men. Wunsch had earlier marched to Frankfurt in the afternoon; he attacked and seized the town bridges. Then the understanding man blew them up.

The firing on the battlefield gradually died down and the tortured Battle of Kunersdorf ended. Thus was the curtain brought down upon the drama of the worst defeat that Frederick would ever suffer on a field of battle. His men, during the course of the night, were slowly reassembled. Wunsch was summoned by the victors to surrender; the request was refused, of course, though on the morning of August 13 Wunsch withdrew, destroying the crossing points behind him, with no interference. The night before the king had written a letter to his old tutor, von Finckenstein, in Berlin, explaining the defeat: “I attacked the enemy today at 11. Pushed them back to the Jewish churchyard near Frankfort. All the troops were engaged, and did wonders, but the cemetery cost us a prodigious number. Our troops were thrown into confusion, I rallied them thrice; at length I thought myself about to be taken captive, and had to abandon the field of battle. My clothes were riddled by balls, I had two horses shot from under me; it is my misfortune that I am still alive. Our loss is very considerable; of an army of 48,000 men, I have not 3,000. At this moment, all are in flight and I am no longer master of my troops. You in Berlin will do well to think of your safety.” As a postscript, he added, “I have no more resources left, and I will tell you no lies: I think that we are lost! I shall not survive the downfall of my country, Farewell, Frederic.”

There, sitting in a peasant hut amidst the wounded and the dying, the melancholic Frederick decided to turn over the command of his army, or what remained of it, to Finck. He told the latter this was only because of illness, when he had recovered he would resume command. Reluctantly, the king wrote out the order:

“The General [Finck] gets a hard commission. The luckless army such as this I hand him is no longer in a condition to fight the Russians, Hadek [Hadik] will probably press on to Berlin, Laudon perhaps, too, if the general [Finck] goes after they both, Soltikov [read the Russians] will take him in the rear, if he stops on the Oder, he will get Hadek this side. But I think that if Laudon tri for Berlin he could attack and beat him on the way, this iffit go well, would put a good face on misfortune and hold things. Time gained is very much in these desperate circumstances. The news from Torgau and Dresden, Coller my secretary will send him; he must keep my brother, Prince Henry, whom I appoint Generalissimo, informed of everything; to make good the misfortune completely is impossible, but my brother’s orders must be obeyed; the army must swear allegiance to my nephew [Prince Frederick Wilhelm]. This is all the advice, in these unhappy circumstances, I am in a condition to give. Had I still had resources left, I would have stayed by them. Frederic.”

Next day, August 13, the king felt a little cheerier, now that the army had some 23,000 men, but Finck was in “active” command of this force (a duty it appears he never actually assumed). Frederick sent off a letter to the commandant in Dresden, our old friend Schmettau, to surrender if good terms were offered to him were he to be besieged by the enemy. After a few days’ further rest, August 15, Frederick departed from Reitwein, hearing the encouraging news that the Russians were encamping to the south of Kunersdorf. Not a single one of Soltikov’s men had dared to recross the Oder to the western bank after the battle. The king had again taken heart, resuming command of the reorganizing army (August 16). He promptly sent for Kleist and his hussars to join him from Pomerania. This move left the Swedes free to march into Prussian Pomerania, which they did in a rather lethargic manner.

played with: The Seven Years War 1756-1763

The Battle of Zorndorf I

Cossacks burn Zorndorf

On August 20, the king’s Prussians arrived at the gates of Frankfurt-on-Oder; Fermor was out by Cüstrin with his army. The bluecoats initially moved to Tschicherzig. Frederick reached it on August 16, but Dohna was still out of the vicinity busy in his dealings with the Russians. The grueling pace under the hot summer sun had cost the army many heat-stricken deaths, and the rest of the troops were worn out from the fast pace. They needed a little rest and the king received intelligence that there were no Russians south of the Warta. There was no way to link up with Dohna at Tschicherzig, so the royal force sent intelligence that the junction could be made at Gorgast. Dohna had marched from Frankfurt-on-Oder in August 13. A timely force of four battalions, along with 16 squadrons of cavalry, all under General Schorlemer, bound for Cüstrin. It was considered essential for the new troops to get there as soon as possible.

Frederick lodged for the night of August 20–21 in a suburb house—in Lebus—close to the Russian array across the river. Dohna had kept to the western bank of the Oder (at Gorgast, where he arrived on August 16). Until the coming of the king, Dohna, plus of course the garrison of Cüstrin (under Commandant Colonel Christoph Ernst Schack von Wittenau), plus the dark, murky waters of the wide Oder River had been the only cover for the Prussian capital against the Russians. The danger to Berlin now seemed to lessen.

On August 21, Frederick rode out to Gorgast so as to discern what the enemy were up to. The king made off early (about 0200 hours) with only a few staff officers and escorts in attendance, leaving his army to follow at slower step. Had the Prussian waited a while, there might not have been need for a battle.

The threat of action should have been enough, but that required time. And time was really the one commodity in the shortest supply. Every day counted. Besides, Frederick’s opinion of the fighting skills of the Russians was low, and he must have expected a rather easy time of the whole matter. Frederick was determined to do battle with Fermor to get the threat to Brandenburg neutralized from the direction of the east for that year. August 21 was spent in bringing the army up towards Gorgast, so that by the early morning on August 22 about 36,000 Prussians were encamped in and about Manschnow.

Frederick commented on the neat condition of the latter’s men (who had been largely dormant for a while) in comparing them to his own troops, ragged and dusty from very recent adventures, who were shabby by comparison. The Prussians who had been concentrated there were the sum total of nearly every available fighting man between Berlin and the Oder. The composition of that force was the following: 38 battalions of infantry (25,000 men); 83 squadrons of cavalry (10,500 men); and 194 artillery pieces, of which a high percentage (117) were classified as heavy ordnance. To head his horsemen, the king again had the services of Seydlitz, who had returned at the start of the campaign recovered from his wound sustained at Rossbach. But Frederick’s favored cavalry leader had been whoring with loose women and had contracted syphilis, which made his wounds heal slowly.

At Frederick’s command (and with urgency) a particular Russian redoubt—at the village of Schaumberg, a couple of miles downstream—was shelled so ferociously as to destroy it. Simultaneously, he ordered that boats be collected above Cüstrin so that the army might cross the Oder there. The king had already ordered Lt-General Kanitz with two regiments of infantry and the pontoon train forward there to construct a pontoon bridge there. Kanitz received some greatly appreciated assistance from local peasants.

The bombardment of Fermor’s works was meant to give him the impression that it was at Schaumberg where Frederick intended to cross the river. It was at the village of Alt-Güstibiese where the king really planned to break the barrier of the Oder. The marked redoubt was accordingly plastered, and Fermor at once concentrated his army close-by, while the Prussians, under cover of darkness (night of August 22–23) rose and moved on Alt-Güstibiese, where Kanitz had been busy. The march of not quite 20 miles was accomplished without a hitch, and about 1230 hours on August 23, as the Russians stood waiting near Schaumberg, the Prussian van—with the king himself at the head—crossed the Oder by pontoons and filed through the streets of Alt-Güstibiese, followed quickly by the remainder of the army. All except for the Prussian baggage train, which was left on the eastern bank, to be placed under Hordt and his Free Battalion #9.

Frederick, directly upon crossing the Oder, made for the knoll of Alt-Güstibiese and was there greeted by the poor populace of the place, who kissed his hands and even the lining of his coat. He was so moved when he perceived the pitiful sight he wept. After the Prussians marched from Alt-Güstibiese, they moved some ten miles to the east on Gross-Kammin. At the hamlet of Klossow, halt to rest and set up an encampment was called, and Frederick’s army paused there. The troops were spread out in their tents towards Neu-Damm, where they were to make for on the morrow. Once there, the king intended to send his army across the bridge there over the Mutzel and prepare to sweep the enemy’s army into the very water barrier it counted upon for its defense.

Fermor was unaware of any of these proceedings. At the very time that Frederick’s men began crossing the Oder, Fermor was waiting near Cüstrin, expecting the appearance of the Prussians near there.

Meanwhile, the Siege of Cüstrin had been brief. About 0200 hours on August 15, Stoffelne’s detachment, some 5,000 strong, moved forward upon the fortress; from Gross-Kammin, the Russians reached the walls of Cüstrin through the thick woods intersecting the Landsberg road. There was no hint of resistance until the village of Tamsel. As the green-clad Russians neared the latter, Prussian outposts under General Ruesch (which had been put out to probe for the enemy) opened fire upon the advancing Russians, believing them apparently to be nothing more than Cossacks. The Cossacks were sneaking around to outflank the defenders. The Prussians were speedily disillusioned by these measures.

Stoffelne easily overwhelmed the outposts almost before they knew what hit them. The main Prussian line was anchored on two local cemeteries; reasonably strong obstacles. Stoffelne silenced a Prussian battery in front and drove the bluecoats back from the cemeteries. He then veered his advance towards the right, and very shortly reached the Oder at the northern side of Cüstrin. Here batteries (made up of his 20 guns), were set to prepare to bombard the fortress, while the garrison made ready to defend it. At about 2100 hours on August 15, the shelling of Cüstrin commenced, Stoffelne’s artillery started belching exploding howitzer shells and incendiary bombs towards both the fortress and the town. After three well-placed incendiary rounds, one shot landed in a magazine with straw surrounding it and caught fire. The garrison made a useless attempt to save the place, handicapped by a lack of skilled firefighters not to mention the Russians to worry about, but soon the town was blazing out of control. Even some of the garrison, many of whom were deserters or prisoners-of-war, took the opportunity to break into the town and loot. The whole incident was most unfortunate for all concerned, and especially so for the poor souls who had sought their refuge and stored their worldly goods in Cüstrin “when the Russians entered the Prussian territories and … [were thus] reduced from opulent fortunes, to beggary.” Stored powder in the magazines exploded with a violent fury, burying many who had sought refuge in the numerous caverns under the town.

Cüstrin was ruined, “excepting the school, the garrison, church, and the main guardhouse.” In the pre-dawn hours of June 16, the garrison of the fortress of Cüstrin hastily constructed two redoubts to help bolster the barrier to the Russians. Nevertheless, Manteuffel took up a position near Neu-Damm, which prevented the enemy from crossing the Oder. Early on the morning of August 16, Cüstrin’s guns opened upon the besiegers. The Russian response was really only half-hearted. August 17, Stoffelne summoned the fortress to surrender. The garrison commander replied he would defend Cüstrin “to the last man.”

The Russians were hampered by their lack of siege guns, and Shuvalov’s unicorns proved really ineffective against the walls of the fortress. Worse, the solid shells of the field guns were in short supply. They would be needed for battle, and could be used only sparingly against Cüstrin. Nevertheless, Stoffelne’s move caused Dohna to move to Reitwein to join up with Manteuffel. On August 20, Cüstrin’s garrison, which realized the little suburb was actually shielding the enemy’s siege lines, took the disturbing decision to burn down this suburb, called the Kutze Vorstadt.

The populace fled across the Oder to Gorgast, leaving the town a burning wreck. Much material was lost and a small baby was killed. The bridge over the river caught on fire and burned up. Indeed, Fermor was not even aware of where the Prussians had vanished to, although the Cossacks were out trying to find out. Late on August 23, the Russian commander got the first real intelligence of where the enemy were. The irregulars brought in word the king and his men had already breached the Oder and were racing towards the Mutzel. It was plain Frederick was advancing straight on the Russian army to force a battle. Fermor, as soon as he realized what was afoot, took immediate measures to prepare his army for the trial that was coming. Stoffelne had returned to the main army, abandoning the Siege of Cüstrin.

The Russian army was pushed into bivouac posture in the thick woods near the Mutzel (the Drewitz Woods of the Zaberngrund); this being the most readily defensible spot in the region now occupied by the Russians. The army completed this maneuver late on August 24. Beyond precautions like these, Fermor, unsure of just what the Prussian strength he was opposing, remained almost in a self-induced “fog.” “The generals were left in ignorance of his intentions.” The heavy baggage had already been put out of harm’s way, as we have seen. Fermor had brought the kitchen paraphernalia and the army paymaster part of the train to be with his main force.

At the same time, Frederick was busy himself. His army was on the road towards the Mutzel, specifically, the hamlets of Quartzchen and Darmutzel. He did not intend to make passage at the places ahead, but to merely destroy the wooden bridges thereabouts so Fermor would not be able to escape across them. The work was quickly accomplished. The sun was stifling and wearing on the Prussians. Having rendered the lower Mutzel bridgeless, the king turned his marching troops towards Neu-Damm, the real crossing point, and the one infantry bridge in the region. Evening of August 24, the bluecoats reached their destination, and the bridge at the mill there. They were five good miles from Fermor’s Russians.

A prompt advance was made by the advanced guard to prevent the enemy from taking effective countermeasures. The army, once the initial crossing was secured, would make transit throughout the night. The Prussians now took a brief pause, lasting only until 0300 hours on August 25. Frederick took the opportunity to grab some sleep. He napped in a little room at the Neu-Damm, and was awakened about midnight on August 24–25 by his faithful attendants. When the over optimistic king saw his generals that fateful morning, he is reputed to have said, “My congratulations, [Gentlemen!] We have won the battle!”10 About 0300, the crossing commenced. The infantry, artillery teams and cavalry were able to pass the Mutzel without difficulty. With the crossing wrapped up, the bridge was torn down behind them. The king was guided through the thick woods by a local forestry official named Zollnar. He then donned his sword and made ready for what would be a long day for himself and his army. Fermor’s scouts had finally informed him that Frederick’s army had seized the Neu-Damm Bridge and were rolling across the last water barrier between it and the Russians. He knew that Frederick could be looked for on the morrow and the Russian army was shifted into a new position to compensate as much as possible for the changed situation. A deserter from the Prussian army told Fermor the king intended to attack from the direction of Batzlow and Wilkersdorf. Fermor, unfortunately, did not heed the information. He still seemed to expect a Prussian attack from the north, and, to compound the error, Fermor dispatched forces to make sure the Mutzel was bridgeless.

The Prussians had been astride Fermor’s lines-of-communication ever since they had penetrated the Oder and there was really little choice left to the foe but to fight it out. Fermor’s men were short of provisions, Frederick holding the Oder meant no supplies could be expected from that direction and no hope of reinforcements was on the horizon. At Fermor’s back, loomed the vast expanses of Poland, much of it barren.

Fermor, minus the detachment in Pomerania, had an army of about 52,000 men with him. The composition of this force was the following: 55 battalions of infantry (approximately 36,308 men); 21 squadrons of cavalry (3,382 men); the irregulars and an artillery train of 136 guns. The numerical superiority of Fermor’s army to Frederick’s was about as pronounced as, say Prince Charles’ superior numbers over the Prussians at Leuthen. Frederick had the considerable advantage of well-trained and prepared troops well suited for the heavy fighting that was about to occur. In contrast, the Russians, despite their dogged determination and a stubborn, unbending will, simply were not skilled enough to hope to overcome the finest soldiers in the world at the time and led by the arguably greatest tactician of modern history.

The battle was more than half-won by the bluecoats before the first shots were ever fired. But if Frederick found this enemy to be less capable in genuine military skill, the Russians were by far the most determined foes that the king would ever meet on a field of battle. As for Fermor, once he perceived the Prussians had outflanked the position, he realized there were two alternatives: (1) Either march out and fight it out with Frederick in the open; (2) Stay put in the back country where he was and be forced out by starvation to either surrender or else flee like whipped pups towards Poland, if the Prussians allowed that.

Some explanation of the country there in which the battle was about to be fought is needed at this point. Zorndorf was the most important village in the vicinity; the place from which the battle received its name was about four miles on the northward side of Cüstrin, some 30 miles from Landsberg and about nine from Klein-Kammin. Zorndorf lay about the center of the tract of ground between the Warta River and the Mutzel, the nature of the countryside there being covered in some spots with thick woods and morasses but was elsewhere sufficiently fertile to grow crops on. The scene was a clearing near-by, perhaps three miles long by five miles wide. About Tamsel, the woods became thicker, specifically between Drewitz-Heath and Klein-Kammin. Zorndorf sat on a knoll perhaps 100 feet above the Oder; from there to all directions, the ground fell away to lower reaches near the swamps. There was no other significant higher ground in the region, and here Fermor finally chose to put his army on.

Away to the western end of the region, the nature of the country changed from wet swamps and great woods to three stagnant, murky pools, each branching towards the Mutzel. The ground inside of each pool rose a large hollow of ground, well-worn by the waters. That closest to the river was known as the Zaberngrund, the second as the Galgen Hollow; both would play important roles in the battle.

Generally, the lower, more western, ground consisted largely of swamps, the eastern country was of a drier nature, more suited to human habitation. The battle, almost naturally, would be fought in the latter tracts. Fermor decided that it would be better to fight it out with Frederick in the open. So he marched from the thick woods into the cleared country near Zorndorf, where he intended to draw out his men for battle. This was against the advice of Prince Charles of Saxony, who rather wisely suggested that the army should post itself in the elevated country near Gross-Kammin. Fermor seems to have been receptive to the idea of putting his post thereabouts, however in the event, he “merely deposited the main baggage [close-by] … [putting] the army into a potentially disastrous position.” This was a major mistake. A post on higher ground would have raised the already difficult task confronting Frederick to almost superhuman proportions. Fortunately, for the Prussians, there was no attempt to do so.

The Russians were arranged in three great—but irregular—squares which, because of the generally broken condition and uneven ground, were really out of range and almost incapable of rendering support to each other. Fermor’s western (right) flank was deployed on the Zaberngrund, the center lay about Quartzchen, with the narrow left anchored about the hamlet of Zicher. His whole army, except as usual for the Cossacks, thus was drawn out on the squares. Rumyantsev, still blissfully unaware of what had been transpiring, was now cut off from the main body of the army.

Frederick’s men had succeeded in capturing a few Cossacks, just before crossing the Mutzel, which made him even more confident of success in battle with the Russians. He was convinced that these eastern peoples lacked the ingredients to be good soldiers, an opinion not shared by Marshal Keith, who did his best to convince the king Fermor’s army would give a good account of itself.

The Prussian infantry had crossed the Mutzel near Damschue Mühle, the cavalry passing by a log bridge at Kersten in the vicinity of Neu Damm. From there, the range to the nearest hostile troops was about three miles near Zicher. But the king had no intention of striking Fermor on that side in any case, and his actual plan was to attack and roll up the enemy’s right on Zaberngrund, applying the entire effort on that point. Once an assault was opened upon the opposite side of their lines, the enemy, if defeated, would be forced back upon the nearly impassable Mutzel. This would trap him between that river and Frederick’s army; Fermor must then have surrendered or else faced annihilation. On the other side of the coin, if Frederick’s men were beaten, they could easily retreat to Cüstrin fortress, just a short distance to the south. As one author observed about the Russians, they had to have their baggage/supply train as they consumed “far more provisions than one [fighting army] more than twice as strong.”

No battle was required, for the Russian baggage at Klein-Kammin was vulnerable. A Prussian stroke upon that train would have compelled Fermor to retreat without battle. Inexplicably, the king did nothing about the enemy’s baggage, and the guard force was left undisturbed. Surprisingly enough, Frederick disdained a thorough reconnaissance by cavalry just before his troops moved out. A recon was considered a given before a major battle. By a military leader of the caliber of Frederick the Great it might be a gross mistake not to do one. On the other hand, the king argues in his History of the Seven Years’ War he had no other choice than to seek a battle as soon as possible as he had other irons in the fire.

The Battle of Zorndorf II

Hemmed in by the Meitzel River at its back, the Russian Army had no way to retreat if the battle went badly. Meanwhile, the Prussians mounted an attack on the Russian right.

At about 0300 hours, the Prussians rose and pressed off moving westward—the cavalry closest to the enemy array, while the infantry followed in parallel marching lines. The direction of this maneuver made it appear as if Frederick was heading for Tamsel, but, just short of that place, the troops turned and headed directly towards the enemy. No doubt it was a beautiful formation.

Fermor had been busy observing the bluecoats since they had emerged from the woods, needless to say with intense interest. The Russian commander until then had been unaware of where his foe intended for. The Russian front originally had been facing north, as the Prussian stroke was expected from that direction. By then it was approximately 0600 hours, long past dawn. But seeing the Prussians sweeping on by without motion that might indicate an assault, Fermor finally discerned his enemy’s aim. He made measures to accommodate the changed circumstances, and swung round to face the south. This took a while to accomplish, while the Prussians continued to prepare. Time by that point was about 0730 hours.

Fermor had spun round and was in the process of deploying his men into the great squares. His whole force was in this gigantic posture; the army stretched from one end to the other some two miles in length, by about one mile in width. This would be the Russians’ first test with Frederick himself, although Gross-Jägersdorf had been fought with the Prussians the previous year.

The Prussians approached behind the hamlets thereabouts: by Wilkersdorf, Zorndorf, and Gross-Kammin. About 0800 hours Frederick’s army was standing in the clearing in front of Fermor’s men. Hussar parties, peeling off from the main body, rode out to deal with any units of Cossacks on the loose; this group headed towards the right of the Prussian army to hold a position from that end. In spite of the Prussian measures, the Cossacks were indeed active. Brave individual Cossacks even dared to ride up and taunt the Prussian soldiers with carbine fire, then made off. But there was to be no firing from the Prussians anyway; Frederick had ordered the soldiers to withhold their fire so as to not alert the Russians to their position.

This was a bleak period in the history of mankind. The Russian irregulars, on the approach of the king’s army, committed a number of atrocities, which have really blackened the history of this war. At Gross Kammin and at Blumberg, wayward irregulars sacked and burned the towns, and killed a great number of civilians. The victims included women with children, and the nefarious deeds were not confined to the living. Graves were violated, and the vagabonds “stript [sic] the bodies of General Schladerndorf [sic] and General Ruitz.”

The hussar screen, some 15 squadrons strong, was making things difficult for the Cossacks. The latter made no appreciable progress against the foe, and they quickly lost heart and decided to get away while the getting was good. As a send-off, they set fire to Zorndorf before they made off. Ironically, the smoke from that burning village (the wind, although blowing only slightly, carried right into Fermor’s face) served to conceal the mobile Prussians from the sight of the enemy. It was said Zorndorf was burned so the Prussian king “might not cover his motions.” However, Frederick’s men held off on driving the Prussian ammunition carts through the streets of Zorndorf. This was obviously for the possible detrimental effects. Still, this no doubt upset Fermor’s thinking, and contributed to the outcome of the battle.

Frederick at the same time rode forward from the main army, to see what state the Zaberngrund was in. Accompanied by staff officers, the king only got as far as Batzlow—at the edge of the woods. A plethora of Cossack activity precluded his further journey, and Frederick returned to the army for the critical maneuvers. He found the ravine too deep, rendering it impractical to attack the western square of Fermor’s army over this ground. The muddy and marshy condition of the terrain precluded passage of any body of organized troops but cavalry. Finally, at about Wilkersdorf, the king found his vantage point. At this spot, not quite a mile from the Russian mass, he studied the enemy and the ground thoroughly to see how to bring about its ruin.

After a brief investigation of the ground forward of the Russians, the king finally chose the enemy’s right as the most favorable of the great squares to strike, on the southwest end of the position. The monarch then passed back to the army and ordered the men to form rank for battle. He anchored (for the moment) his left behind the still burning village of Zorndorf. On this flank, his troops were to commence the battle with an infantry assault upon Fermor’s right. For this task, the infantry was halted and formed into attack order, while Seydlitz galloped off to the left rear to take up behind the foot soldiers with his squadrons. General Dohna had charge of the Prussian right; between the Stein-Busch and the far end of Zorndorf, he deployed Infantry Regiments 14th, 27th, 18th, 25th, 23rd, 40th, and 49th. The left, under General Kanitz, consisted of Infantry 11th, 7th, 22nd, 46th, 16th, 37th, one battalion each of 2nd/4th, supported by Dragoon regiments 6th, 7th, and 8th. This wing was placed to the left of Zorndorf, and at the end of the Zaberngrund; in the second line stood the center—which was to act in concert with the left by attacking the Russian positions facing Landsberg—while the right held a front at Wilkersdorf.

After his regrouping and countermarching, Fermor placed his troops as follows: the main army was newly designated as the Russian right, made up most of the strength of the Russian army; Browne’s Observation Corps became the Russian left, reaching to Zicher. Towards the Zicherer Heide beyond Zicher, General Demikow led a group of horsemen, including the Horvat Hussars, and the Cossacks, that would eventually take a prominent role in the proceedings.

The Prussian plan of attack was to hammer the Russian right square with heavy artillery fire to soften up the resistance, and then launch a sudden blow against it. This stroke was to be carried out by Manteuffel (at the head of the advanced guard) using the best troops of the Prussian army. The right was to do nothing during this assault, merely stand and draw the enemy’s attention, as well as feed in more troops as they were required further down the line. Colonel Moller’s heavy Prussian artillery (of 18- and 24-pounders) was pushed to high ground just north of Zorndorf (20 pieces northwest of Zorndorf, another battery of 40 just north of the ruined place). About 0900 hours, the batteries opened. Initial range was too far. The shot could not inflict much damage, so the guns were moved 600 paces closer. The batteries then started to belch grapeshot at close range into close packed Russian formations. The results were devastating.

A. T. Bolotov related that one particular cannon shot killed or wounded 48 Russian grenadiers. This pummeling inflicted major casualties before the actual man-to-man fighting started, but the Russian nerve kept men in the open formation when dispersal to cover, such as it was, would have been better. Russian artillery response was less effective, in part because of the greater dispersal of the Prussian army. For two hours, the exchange continued. The less trained Russian gun crews also had to fire uphill, against an enemy who certainly knew how to wage a successful artillery duel. The Russians had much less success in this respect than on the day of Gross-Jägersdorf in 1757.

Some of the Russians really had a desire to “see the show.” “The cannon shot were screaming ceaselessly through the air … [and] many of our soldiers climbed the trees to get a better view of the action.” Seydlitz, for his part, had 36 squadrons of cavalry in position at the end of the left, on the west end of the Zaberngrund, while Colonel Wackenitz was holding a second group of 20 squadrons as a reserve behind Kanitz.

After the initial deployment had ended, the Prussians (eight battalions, six of them grenadier units) of Manteuffel at the left of the front started forward just past the western end of Zorndorf (at about 1100 hours) towards the Russians, each battalion following the first marched forward a little to their right rear in the oblique order. They passed the still smoldering village on the opposite— right—side. Eyewitness accounts of the Prussian advance give keen insight into the fact that war, is, indeed, waged by men of flesh and blood on both sides. Pastor Täge, a recent arrival in Fermor’s ranks, described the imminent attack of the Prussians “their weapons flashed in the sun, and the spectacle was frightening. Never since in the course of my long life have I heard that tune (Ich bin ja, Heer, in deiner Macht!; [“Now Lord, I am in thy keeping!”] without [recourse to] … the utmost emotion.” When the Prussians made their appearance, one of the regimental bands was marching right along, playing that hymnal with all the enthusiasm of a parade ground. Frederick himself seemed momentarily enthralled by the music and audibly repeated it to those nearby and to himself. It is a pity that such a tranquil tune and mood would be forever associated with one of the most bitterly contested battles of the 18th century.

In the event, the thick smoke from the bombardments and the fire at Zorndorf hung thickly about the ground. The front separated, and a gap was created in the Prussian front as it drew upon Fermor’s square. This would have proven disastrous for Frederick had it not been for Seydlitz. The Russians seeing (or, more likely, hearing) the progress of the enemy’s advance, opened up a terrific fire upon them at the distance of some 40 paces. The Battle of Zorndorf had commenced. Now, as a backdrop of battle, some of the Russian supply wagons, their supply of powder responding to intense heat, were blowing up, adding further noise to a roar that reverberated in the windows of buildings all over the area.

The mobile horse-artillery and guns were rushed forward, and two, which had taken up position at opposite ends of the Zaberngrund beforehand, opened a heavy fire. This was pointed to strike the extreme southwest corner of Fermor’s lines, the target of the infantry assault. The Russian batteries, it just so happened, had been massed at this spot, but their operators did not reply with like determination. They lacked the accuracy and skill of their opponents. The Prussian batteries quickly gained the upper hand.

In the meanwhile, the advancing troops had drawn within range, and a most sanguinary struggle was at once taken up. Prussian losses were immediately telling, at least one in three were killed or wounded in this early going. Unfortunately for the king’s men, the attack was in danger of being turned back due to the ever widening rift developing among the bluecoats.

The interior of the Russian army was already a whirl of confusion: the thickly packed ranks of infantry were being swathed by the accurate Prussian cannister fire—casualties were particularly heavy among the Russian 1st and 3rd Grenadiers—but the soldiers still offered a strong front to the attackers. The horses of the supply wagons and lighter baggage, tied up on the outmost edge of the square, had been frightened by the increasingly noisier sounds of battle and were threatening to bolt, while from the outside of the formations, Prussian infantry poured steady, swift and deliberate volleys of musketry fire right into the ranks of the Russians at closer range. Had Fermor’s men been Austrians, Frederick might reasonably have expected preparations to retire from the enemy. But the dogged determination of the Russians, in spite of their shortcomings as military material, more than provided capable resistance to the best army in the world at the time. Not to suggest the Russian soldiers were less than brave. But the soldiers could only be as proficient as their officers, very few of whom during this period were capable. Frederick was certainly impressed and realized that Keith’s analysis of Russian determination was indeed correct.

Manteuffel went marching at the enemy unsupported, for the troops following his, Kanitz’s left, had lost sight of the advanced guard in the prevailing clouds of smoke and dust. They had instead entered a struggle farther down the line; Kanitz’s men, crashing through the Stein Busch, had been become disordered in passing it. By 1115 hours, Kanitz was already out of direct support of Manteuffel. Moreover, as his men had stretched out to cover as much front as possible, this meant no troops were available to support Manteuffel’s effort.

Not all the blame for this incident can be put on Kanitz’s shoulders. The king’s directives to him appear to have been vague, as suggested by the fact that he allowed the forces of Manteuffel to get so far ahead. Kanitz himself was apparently more concerned with keeping touch with Dohna than in following Manteuffel. The carpeting of the Russian lines by Prussian artillery had unaccountably ignored the forces in front of Kanitz. These forces, Butyrskii’s, Suzdalskii’s, and Kegsggolmskii Infantry units, quickly made their presence known. Manteuffel was having a hard way to go from a bitter bayonet charge at close range from the 3rd and 1st Russian Grenadiers. It was about this point when Frederick apparently ordered Seydlitz to charge the Russians to break their momentum. Seydlitz ignored the order, forestalling until he felt the moment was right. When another order arrived from an exasperated Frederick telling Seydlitz to charge or it would be his head, the indomitable cavalryman replied through an ADC, “Tell the king that my head shall be at his service after the action, if he will only allow me to make use of it meantime in his interest.”

The gap was yawning ever wider. Worse still, Kanitz’s 2nd Infantry failed to keep abreast of the Zaberngrund and gave the Russian horse the opportunity to form a charge front. Being without reinforcements, Manteuffel, after a heavy fight with the far more numerous Russians, pulled back “hastily” from before Fermor’s men, his forward line wavering in the midst of the battle under a counterattack from 14 squadrons of Russian horse. Tobolskii’s Dragoons, supported by Novotroitskii’s Cuirassiers, plus Kargopolskii’s Mounted Grenadiers, led the blow on horseback. The 2nd Prussian Infantry of Kanitz was savaged; it lost some 844 men and 20 officers during the course of the battle. The Russians continued to pour it on until the charge of Seydlitz shortly afterwards. Manteuffel’s “withdrawal” soon became a hasty retreat and threatened to become a rout.

While this was taking place, the Prussian left was in the fire along most of the front. It looked like a repeat of the attack at Kolin. The horrified sight of his shattered left wing streaming past him awakened in the king a sense of urgency. He jumped from his horse and, grabbing the colors of the 46th Infantry, tried to rally it. But the panic was too great and the king was finally left with just one battalion (1150 hours) between him and the surging Russian horse. Frederick was probably saved by the timely arrival of Marschall’s horsemen, three full Dragoon regiments, led by the myopic-sighted Prince Moritz of Anhalt-Dessau.

The Prussian horse rode through the ranks of their fleeing comrades and crashed straight into the advancing enemy. The Russian horse, stunned by this new development, reeled back upon their supporting cast of infantry. Thus was thwarted an attack that could have been devastating to the Prussians. Moreover, the stroke by Anhalt-Dessau made the Russians insensible to Seydlitz’s nearby cavalry, which was still uncommitted.

Fermor’s commanders, the smoke having largely dissipated, sighted the hole in the Prussian front, and came barreling out in great strength, plunging into the rift using both cavalry, which we have already looked at, and the infantry. This attack seems to have taken place more or less spontaneously. On the Russian right the men of the Shlyushelburgskii, Chernigovskii, and Rostovskii Infantry regiments suddenly erupted on the faltering Prussians before them (1145 hours). With no military order to attack (apparently), the rear line of Fermor’s right unaccountably took the forces in attack formation as hostile and opened fire right into their backs. Even worse, the hasty advance had gone no more than 300 paces when the Prussian horse countercharged. Already unsteady from having their own comrades shoot at them, the Russian foot soldiers now had to face the vaunted Prussian cavalry.

Along other parts of the front local Russian counterattacks drove towards the Prussian formations. The forces which had driven into and broken through the gap turned and outflanked the Prussians, forcing them to fall back. As they surged forward, Fermor’s men overran a Prussian battery at the Fuchsberg, capturing 26 guns. In the meantime, the quick-witted Seydlitz, seeing the debâcle taking place, took matters to his own—with the echoes of repeated orders—and, decided that he had to do something to remedy the crisis facing the Prussian infantry. He took his entire cavalry, some 5,000 horsemen, and threaded his way over the Zaberngrund towards the Russian right flank.

Frederick, seeing Manteuffel falling back and the attack line being hard-pressed, sent instructions to Seydlitz to charge Fermor’s advancing troops on his right. The Prussian cavalry charge, with Seydlitz leading the first wave and Wackenitz the second, went crashing head-on into the surging enemy mass and threw the greencoated Russians back into their square, the Prussians following hot on their heels (1155 hours).

A confused fight proceeded on that side of Fermor’s front; the Prussian horsemen hacking up the Russians without mercy. (Quarter was neither given nor asked for in this particular fight.) Johann Archenholtz, among others, said the king, in his thirst for revenge “gave orders for no quarter.” This does not seem likely. Frederick was an eighteenth-century “humanist” at heart; to give such deliberate instructions just does not fit the image. Ziethen’s 2nd Hussars particularly distinguished themselves here; they smashed through Gaugraven’s faltering horse. Any cohesion the Russians on this side had left immediately dissolved, as Seydlitz’s full weight made itself felt.

The valiant Prussian horse did not break off pursuit until they reached fresh enemy formations at the Galgen-Grund. As one source offered, “The enemy being much more numerous, it [i.e., the Russian horse] was obliged to give way.” That was putting it lightly! To make matters worse, some of the panicked Russians fled to the safety of the Zicher Woods, while still others took full advantage of the overall confusion to break into liquor cases from the supply train. The Russian army always seemed to keep plenty of spirits on hand, even during campaign. With a desperate battle in full engagement, almost whole units proceeded to drink themselves into a drunken stupor. Officers who thought they could rally such troops were speedily disillusioned. Some of the unfortunates who had the temerity to order their men to do their duty were instead shot dead by the swine. While this was taking place, the Prussian infantry took the opportunity to reform and reorganize. Shortly, scattered infantry units pushed back into the action. The Russian right was in ruins, Fermor had been wounded and was taken from the field, either before or just after this charge. At this stage, the remnants of the army’s cavalry were sheltered at Kutzdorf, where the horsemen attempted to ford the Mutzel. They could not get across as the river’s current was far too swift and no bridge was to be had near at hand. Meanwhile, the slaughter on the right continued unabated.

The Battle of Zorndorf III

Clutching the colors of the 46th Infantry Regiment, Frederick rallies his men in a last-ditch stand on the Prussian left. Seydlitz’s cavalry would save the day.

The Russian right was no longer capable of organized resistance, but an incredibly bloody and desperate struggle was kept up there until about 1300 hours when the Prussians finally became exhausted. Kanitz’ attack had smashed through three solid lines of Fermor’s deep front and the momentum there was definitely in Prussian hands. Seydlitz drew back his cavalry to reform them in case of additional need. The Russian line there having been driven in, the center and left were reformed, taking up a second line in front and to side of the Galgen Grund. Browne’s observation corps, the largest remaining intact Russian formation, swung itself in to become the new Russian left, while the rest of the survivors of the morning debâcle became the new Russian right wing. What part Fermor had to play in any of these proceedings is unclear, before his wound. Russian generals would later complain of the lack of orders they received during the battle from their “commander.” They could not move well or dexterously in their thickly crowded formations. But neither could their foes of the Prussian left, who had been heavily involved in the battle and were tiring by then. Frederick, seeing Kanitz’s men faltering, ordered the right wing, which was still relatively fresh, into action.

Earlier the king had ridden across to the latter command to see why Dohna was making no attempt to aid Kanitz, even when it became apparent he was in dire need of reinforcements. In point of fact, the right had been withdrawing slowly further and further from the scene of action, just when its support was most needed. Responding to orders, Dohna shoved his men into an assault on the southern side of the great enemy center square. The latter was to use his anchor on the Langen-Grund to prop up his men, while units of Schorlemer’s and Marschall’s cavalry would keep the enemy horse at bay. In the meanwhile, the remaining units of the Prussian center and right, those formations still capable of fighting, were shifted eastwards to the ground in front of the Russian center. By mid-afternoon, Frederick’s main attack pressure was facing north. The bluecoats deployed into battle lines again, while the big 40-gun battery was moved—about 1300 hours—from the Zaberngrund to the Galgen Grund, under the escort of the 40th Infantry. It then opened a steady and deliberate fire against the massed Russian army. About 1330 hours, the firing again became general, as the reformed Prussian infantry, this time from the left, prepared to advance against the new enemy position.

General Browne’s men were taking a horrific punishment from the Prussian battery. For two full hours, the shelling and sparring continued. Then, about 1500 hours, the Russians struck. Browne’s sole aim was to silence that infernal battery. His Horvat Hussars galloped over the intervening country and quickly took the Prussian guns, and simultaneously nabbed Kreutz’s infantry battalion. This was the signal for a general attack by the whole of Demikow’s cavalry. Their stroke was initially successful, but the iron discipline of the bluecoats as their infantry formed to repulse the intruders was in the end decisive—1515 hours. Then Schorlemer’s surging horsemen rode them down and drove the Russian riders into the near-by Zicher Woods for shelter.

This effort raised manifold clouds of smoke. The Prussians of Manteuffel’s still unsteady command momentarily panicked in the mistaken belief the intruders were enemy cavalry. They insensibly tended towards Wilkersdorf before the error could be discovered. Demikow’s effort had one other result. Dohna’s men were still cognizant of the Russian horse, but the retreat of the Horvat Hussars allowed the freed battery to resume pounding Browne’s men. Browne had been reinforced by four battalions from the Russian Major-General Manteuffel. Browne launched a renewed counterattack, at about the same time as Demikow’s effort. This was one determined stroke.

Just past the batteries (which were by then blasting away far out in front of the main army) the Russian cavalry surged forward to come to grips with Frederick’s foot soldiers out beyond the confines of their lines. Simultaneously or nearly so, the long lines of Russian infantry ran out to support their comrades on horseback. The main rush of Fermor’s troops was straight into the battalions in position at the Prussian center, rather than against the flank forces, which were nevertheless driven in against the center. The Russians came on like men possessed, capturing another battery and an entire Prussian battalion. So from about 1430 hours, the battle here largely degenerated into a confused slaughter.

The Prussian center, hit by the enemy in this fierce assault, rolled back, the units showing an unsteadiness unusual for Prussian troops. They fell back forthwith and not until they reached Wilkersdorf, more than a mile from the scene, were they finally rallied by their officers. Their brethren on the flanks, fortunately for the Prussian cause, were better able to withstand the enemy’s stroke. For the most part, the latter managed to hold their ground against Fermor’s strong counterattack. Seydlitz, in the midst of this mess, came on once more (about 1530 hours): he had rested and reassembled his troopers, bringing up the reserves (giving him a grand total of 61 squadrons ready for orders), now once again the indomitable cavalry leader prepared again to take matters to his own. Seydlitz swept forward into the milling Russian mass from front and rear, rode down the enemy and drove them back upon the Mutzel and Quartzchen beyond.

Now, once again, Dohna was making his presence felt. His troops, plus the survivors of Kanitz, some 900 strong, reinvigorated by the sight of Seydlitz’s magnificent cavalry assault, surged forward (about 1530 hours) with bayonets at the ready into the tumbling, utterly decimated enemy lines. But Dohna’s first stroke hit the packed Russian line a glancing blow, and his men momentarily wavered. This was a period of vulnerability. Fortunately, Schorlemer’s horsemen were able to keep rank for the more than 3/4 of an hour necessary to recover. Precious time to get matters straight. Prussian guns, brought forward on the run, opened a savage fire and, at approximately 1635 hours, the bluecoats went back to the attack. This stroke, better supported and prepared, proved the finish. Browne’s men held rank for a time, and then lost all cohesion. By 1715 hours, the Russian guns were silenced as they were overrun, their operators killed or captured in the process. Now was the time Dohna looked for, the Prussian cavalry “should” have launched a decisive attack. But Seydlitz’s men were done in, and Schorlemer’s horse was shaken by its previous efforts. No cavalry stroke came. The situation was still bad enough for the Russians. Georg Browne fell severely wounded in this final showdown; he and “Colonel Soltikow [Soltikov] were taken prisoners by some hussars.”

The Russians were slaughtered like pigs in a pen, but they did not run. They stood to their duty, and were often cut down where they were. By a little past 1600 hours, organized resistance virtually ceased, as the slow destruction of the Russian army started. I will spare the reader the details; suffice it to say that more blood was spilled that day than on any European battlefield in half a century. At Zorndorf, the Prussians discovered the Russian pay chest, valued by Lloyd at £160,000 in 1780 money.

After the battle, and with a misguided sense of justice, St. Petersburg blamed their own army for the sacking of the pay chest, when this nefarious deed was committed by Prussian cavalry alone. The details of this whole business are very disturbing. Russian soldiers were even individually frisked for the missing coins, and a communiqué from home accused the whole army of drinking on the job, even of “wanton cowardice” in the face of the dreaded Prussian king and his legions.

At the event, the Russians could not flee. Indeed, how could they have gotten away? Many of them “attempted” to cross the flowing waters of the Mutzel, by now running red with blood, but could not make it and were swallowed, man and beast alike, in the oozy marshes near the river. Meanwhile, the Prussians were drawing back again and again to rest, while their foes, packed often like sardines in a can, had not even the luxury of freeness of movement. A lone body of Fermor’s men, gathered up from among the remnants of the units, were put under Demikow. This force managed to move back into the hollows where their army had stood. Fermor, apparently patched up, was back by then. He assembled what formations could still offer an organized front—on the Galgen Grund. These hardy units included the famous Smolensk and Kazan Musketeers. There, surrounded by a dreadful number of dead and wounded countrymen and Prussians, Demikow made preparations to defend the withdrawal of the army, as soon as it was possible. He reached his destination just as dusk was falling, the main knoll now the key to the battlefield. Nearby, the broken remains of the badly used Russian formations could offer little tangible support to Demikow.

As for the Cossacks, organized they could have proven invaluable at this stage of the battle. Instead, they were busy rummaging through the paraphernalia they found on the battlefield, from both friend and foe. Lost in the joy of plunder, the Cossacks were useless for salvaging the lost battle.

Frederick, noticing the small organized enemy force forming up in its hollow just when Russian resistance was supposed to be largely at an end, instantly—about 1900 hours—ordered Forcade with the 23rd Infantry, which had performed commendably during the battle, to march to attack Demikow’s force from the front. General Samuel Carl von Rautter’s 4th Infantry and the rest of the Prussian center (shaken though it was), was to move round and encircle the flanks. The Russians with Demikow responded to the Prussian advance with some artillery shelling, which threw panic into Rautter’s men, who flew wildly to the rear and were not rallied again that day. In fairness, it must be admitted the 4th Infantry suffered heavily at Zorndorf. The tally was 28 killed, 206 wounded, and 176 “missing or captured.” The 11th Infantry of Lt.-Gen. Below was another of those battered units. Its tally at Zorndorf was 707 men and 19 officers. Forcade, from the distance, opened up with his guns in reply (perhaps it had been one of his salvoes that had panicked Rautter’s troops in the first place), but did not attack, as he now had no support. The enemy replied with their guns, but Demikow did not withdraw.

Forcade kept his cool; he ordered his troops to deploy while the gunners kept up the involved work of hammering the Russian lines. However, there was to be no further developing of the attack, as the king soon sent a courier to Forcade to leave Demikow alone. The Prussians withdrew towards the main army. For the shameful conduct of his men, Rautter was relieved of his command after the battle and replaced by General Georg Friedrich von Kleist. The main mass of the Russians fell back but slowly, Fermor finally regained control of his army, but far too late. He could now do nothing to reform it and even some of the battlefield was fully in the hands of the Prussians. Frederick’s men dealt with the roving bands of the Cossacks in a heartless—but effective—way, getting in a bit of revenge for the atrocities of the Russians. In one incident, the hussars surrounded one barn near Zichar and burned it down, killing 420 Cossacks that were trapped inside. Archenholtz mentions the deed, and even says the number “was near a thousand.”

In the meantime, the coming of night and the end of the battle (which was effectively over by about 1700 hours) brought about preparations for encampment. Frederick ordered his men to pitch their tents and put into bivouac for the night in two lines of rank. This was north to south, with his tent placed in the first row, while guards were posted and parties pushed out to probe the woods and scout out Fermor’s new position, now beyond the roads off in the distance. The sheer exhaustion of the Prussians had allowed Fermor to disengage his army from the battle. The latter, during the course of the night of August 25–26, gradually reassembled his army in some order. The men, now ranked in a loose marching order, then moved towards the southwest far to the west of the Zaberngrund into the Drewitz Heath (still on that side of the Oder); there, hidden among the dense patches of forests, which offered cover from the preying eyes of the enemy’s hussars and providing protection from a surprise Prussian attack, Fermor’s thoroughly worn out troops finally found time for sleep.

Within the gloomy, dejected atmosphere of defeat prevailing in the Russian camp that night, there were fewer than 29,000 fit men after the bloody battle. These men were scattered around the countryside in the thick woods of the region. This was not exactly the way Fermor anticipated his invasion of Brandenburg would turn out. His men had been weakened by the many hours of heavy fighting, some units had been almost totally wiped out, others were scattered and often their very own officers, if they were still in a position to care, did not know where they were. Frederick, who had brought a somewhat smaller force to the battle, had about 18,000 fit men in the ranks that night.

He had attacked, and with great effort, overcome the very formidable Russian army, but he had had to pay a big price for that “privilege.” Reports that the enemy had marched off were received throughout the night by the Prussians. They, too, however, were waiting for the dawn. General Peter Ivanovitch Panin was bold enough to say, although the Russian array had indeed retained largely the field of battle, “it was either dead, wounded or drunk.”

Early the following morning, August 26, Fermor rose from his encampment and marched back beyond the Zaberngrund, where he halted and formed his men into line-of-battle. The Russian commander sent a request to the Prussian commander opposite to him (Dohna) for a three-day truce. He wanted to utilize the time to bury the dead and help the wounded. Among the latter was General Browne, who was in desperate need of medical attention. But Dohna rejected the request on the premise that it was customary in military history for the victor of a battle to ask for a truce and he certainly did not want to give Fermor the impression Zorndorf was a Russian victory.

Dohna was quick to mention the misdeeds committed against innocents. Nevertheless, he did acknowledge Browne’s need for assistance and offered an accommodation. It was all academic, though, for before a reply could be definitely received (raising the possibility this was a mere ruse), Fermor drew out his front with his army facing the battlefield to the east. Unlimbering his guns, the Russian commander commenced a cannonade across the field upon the Prussians. The range was too great to accomplish anything direct except to show the foe the Russian army still had fight left in it. As proof, the king rode out early that morning to scout Fermor’s latest movements. The trip was uneventful until he reached the village of Zorndorf. Then an enemy of unknown strength fired at him, nearly taking out Frederick. Both sides opened up with their guns, possibly leading to the renewal of the fighting.

The Prussian response was swift, the king’s men drew out in front of their bivouac and forming into battle order replied with their big guns, giving an appropriate answer. Men on both sides urged attack on their leaders, but exhaustion from the heavy fighting of the previous day as well as a critical shortage of ammunition stifled any chance of attack by either side. At about 1130 hours, the Prussians, seeing nothing coming from Fermor’s quarter, marched back to their tents, leaving the artillery to keep up the exchange with the enemy.

Late the previous night, Prussian hussars had ridden straight into Fermor’s heavy baggage train at Klein-Kammin. The hussars took their time and plundered the train. Now, in the daylight, with Frederick at Zorndorf and thus between Fermor and his train, it would have been advisable for the king to march and stomp this train before Fermor could lift a finger to rescue it. This would have been decisive, for with his baggage gone, the Russian commander would have been in a big hurry to return to Poland. Inexplicably, nothing of the kind was forthcoming. Perhaps Frederick did not consider it important enough. He may have felt that Fermor was already beaten, so the thing was not worth the effort. Whatever the cause, the Russian baggage was left without further disturbance.

Back at the field, the Russian bombardment gradually calmed down, and darkness fell upon the tortured field. About 2300 hours, the Russian army started to move through the woods leading to Tamsel and the road to Klein-Kammin. As he drew away, Fermor ordered a renewed shelling laid down to conceal his retreat. One of these latter rounds blew up a carriage parked outside the king’s tent. The smoke of the cannonading combined with a thick fog arising from the Oder served to conceal the Russian withdrawal.

The Prussians were unaware of what was happening until the enemy had already gotten clean away to Klein-Kammin and were preparing for breakfast. Finally Frederick’s reconnaissance parties detected the Russian maneuver, and he at once set off in pursuit. When the king’s men reached the vicinity of the enemy’s encampment, Fermor was already secure behind his redoubts and had his artillery train parked with unlit fuses set. Frederick chose not to attack the Russian position, which was probably a very wise move, and settled for a peaceful withdrawal back to his own camp. So confident was Fermor in the capabilities of his post that, beaten at Zorndorf though he may have been, it was not until August 31 that he abandoned Klein-Kammin and started back towards Landsberg.

Frederick, one among many on the Prussian side, was glad to see the Russians go, and did not consider a long-range pursuit using the main Prussian army. The Russians had proven themselves to be worthy opponents. Worthy opponents indeed. In fact, “[The Russians] sustained a slaughter that would have confounded and dispersed the compleatest [sic] veterans.” Three days after Fermor’s final retreat (September 2) the Prussian king gathered his troops and marched towards Saxony to see to the situation in that province. He did see good to detach Dohna with a large detachment—21 battalions and 35 squadrons, some 17,000 men—to go into Fermor’s rear and help see him go. Dohna at once took up his job.

Thus closed the story of the Battle of Zorndorf, the hardest fought battle of the Seven Years’ War, and one of the worst of the entire eighteenth century. The casualties reflected that singular fact: Fermor lost 7,990 killed/13,539 wounded and missing; a total of 21,529, nearly half of the army he had dragged to Zorndorf. The beaten side also lost 103 guns and 27 standards, meaningless compared to the human suffering. Frederick’s army suffered as well, although not as severely. Prussian losses were 3,680 killed, above a thousand men missing from the ranks (presumed dead /deserted/captured); along with the wounded, approximately 11,390 men from all causes. Thus nearly four in ten of the Prussians present at Zorndorf were casualties.