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Revision as of 14:12, 8 March 2015

Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Battles >> 1757-05-06 - Battle of Prague

Prussian Victory

Prelude to the Battle

Towards the end of April 1757, taking the Austrians by surprise, Frederick II had proceeded to the invasion of Bohemia. The three columns of his army made rapid progress and soon reached Prague.

Since May 1, the Austrians had been entrenching themselves on the Ziskaberg, a steep hill immediately to the east of Prague. On the Ziskaberg, the tents and batteries of the Austrians stretched for 6 km from near the crown of the hill eastward to the villages of Hlaupetin and Kyge (present-day Kyje), and their lakes. The village of Maleschitz (present-day Malesice) was in the rear of the right wing.

Prince Charles of Lorraine, the Austrian commander-in-chief, intended to remain in this strong position and to wait for the arrival of Field-Marshal Daun with a considerable corps.

Map

Map of the battle, from the collection of Obristjs Legend A. Prussian camp which was lifted on May 5 when Frederick II passed the Moldau
B. March of Frederick's Army on May 6 after its junction with Schwerin's Corps
C. Sudden deployment of the Prussian Army on the right of the Austrian Army
D. Camp of the Austrian Army prior to the battle
E. Austrian cavalry of the right wing with some battalions of the second line, and the grenadiers, who were deployed near the left of the Prussians
F. Position of the first line of the Austrians prior to the battle
G. Prussian attack
H. Austrian right wing who had driven back the Prussian attack more than 1,000 paces beyong the camp
I. Prussian column who had pushed forward up to the mountain (X.)
K. Retreat of the Austrian cavalry
L. New position of the Austrian cavalry after its retreat
M. Retreat of the Austrian cavalry along the Moldau
N. Prussian artillery hindering this retreat
O. Various positions of the Austrian infantry during its retreat into Prague
P. Prussian Corps observing the left of the Austrian Army

Ziskaberg is a steep, massive green hill. It rises steeply about 170 meters. The Moldau River, turning right just north of Prague, touches the northwest corner of the Ziskaberg and then follows the northern slope of the hill which is very steep in this area. The ascent of Ziskaberg, by roads, was steep and tedious. However, atop it spread out into a waving upland level, bare of hedges, ploughable all of it, studded with hamlets and farmsteads. A kind of plain sloping with extreme gentleness, about 8 km eastward and as far southward.

The eastern slope of the Ziskaberg was very gentle and terrain was very swampy in parts. On the eastern border of the Austrian camp, at Kyge, Hostawitz (present-day Hostavice) and beyond it southward, about Sterboholy and Michelup, there were many little lakelets and several artificial fish-ponds with their sluices, dams and apparatus. This whole lacing of ponds and lakelets were connected by a small brook running into the Moldau. Near Michelup, a little under Sterboholy, a string of fish-ponds had their sluices open at this time, the water out, and the mud bottom sown with herb-provender for the intended carps.

Description of Events

Shortly after midnight on Friday May 6, Field-Marshal Schwerin began his march, advancing over the heights of Chaber.

At 5:00 a.m., Frederick started to march towards Prosek.

At 6:00 a.m., Schwerin made his junction with Frederick near the village of Prosek, as planned. The Austrians did not try to impede their junction. At this early hour, Prince Charles was at Nussel (unidentified location), near the Moldau, about 10 km southwest of Kyge.

By 9:00 a.m., about 65,000 Austrians were deployed in three lines, facing north, on the heights of the Ziskaberg on a front of more than 6 km. Their position was protected by the steep slopes of the Ziskaberg and by the Moldau. In the intervals between the first and second lines, their tents stood scattered, in groups wide apart. Their right wing ended in strong batteries and was anchored in intricate marshes, knolls, lakelets, between Hlaupetin and Kyge. Their extreme left wing looked over the bend of the Moldau near Prague. Furthermore, several redoubts and batteries, containing 61 heavy guns, strengthened the front line and all rising grounds: Homoly Berg, Tabor Berg, etc. The infantry was supported by 112 3-pdr battalion guns. The villages and farmsteads were occupied. The cavalry was deployed on both wings. The left wing, behind the Moldau chasm, could not attack nor be attacked while the cavalry on the right wing could. Light cavalry in great numbers hung scattered on all outskirts. Prince Charles commanded the left wing and Browne the right. When he was informed of the arrival of the Prussians, Browne changed the position of the Austrian right wing, wheeling it en potence between Kyge and Maleschitz to better protect the right flank of the army. To cover the angle, some battalions were moved in front of this potence where they threw up entrenchments and a strong battery.

Schwerin and Winterfeldt inspected the Austrian positions, riding as far as Kyge to reconnoitre the ground. They found no possibility for a frontal assault. However, Frederick and Winterfeldt were of the opinion that an attack on the Austrian right flank was feasible. Schwerin would have preferred to rest his troops for a day. After all, his men had been on foot since midnight and on forced marches for days past. Frederick, fearing Daun's arrival with an estimated 30,000 men reinforcement, objected to any postponement. After some arguments, Schwerin rallied quite reluctantly to Frederick's plan. Schwerin and Winterfeldt finally identified Sterboholy as the point of attack of the infantry upon the Austrian redoubts while the cavalry would sweep still farther southward and take them in rear. The ground was judged tolerable even for cavalry but it is not sure that Schwerin and Winterfeldt noticed the intermediate lacing of lakelets and the fish-ponds with their sluices opened.

According to Frederick's plan, the Prussian troops marched from the heights of Chaber, behind Prosek. The right wing of infantry positioned itself at Prosek with the horse westward of it. The artillery went through Unter Podschernitz (present-day Dolni Pocernice) and the remaining foot and horse deployed a little on this westward side of it. The army drawn up in two lines, from Prosek to near Chwala (unidentified location). The baggage were left well behind at Gbell (unidentified location).

By 9:00 a.m., troops began arriving in the Chwala-Podschernitz area and descended diligently upon Sterboholy. The Austrians realised that Frederick intended to turn their right wing when they saw the head of the Prussian columns appearing at Unter Podschernitz. Browne rapidly reorganised his right wing. He called back his cavalry from forage, ordering it to deploy on the plain behind Unter Michelup (present-day Dolni Mecholupy). Prince Charles also ordered the cavalry of his left wing to march as fast as possible to reinforce the right wing as requested by Browne.

The entire Austrian cavalry was now deployed in three lines. In front of these lines, General Hadik and his hussars formed an angle with their right extending up to the pond of Unter Michelup. Austrian infantry units were also sent to occupy Sterboholy.

Winterfeldt, at the head of Schwerin's first line of infantry (Schwerin Infantry and some others) was striding rapidly on Sterboholy.

Around 1:00 p.m., Winterfeldt caught Sterboholy before Browne could. Large Austrian batteries were positioned nearby on the Homoly Berg. They opened fire on Winterfeldt as he rushed out double-quick on the advancing Austrians. At 400 paces from the Austrian line, the Prussian infantry came down to the charging position. However, the intense musketry of the Austrian broke Winterfeldt's attempt. His corps fled in considerable disorder behind Sterboholy to the dams of Dubetch (present-day Dubec). Winterfeldt was heavily wounded during the assault. The Austrians now firmly held Sterboholy, backed by the batteries on Homoly Berg. Schwerin had to take Sterboholy in spite of batteries and ranked Austrians.

Meanwhile, the cavalry of the left wing of Schwerin's army under Prince Schönaich had crossed the dam near Sterboholy and formed in the plain with its left to the fish pond of Unter Michelup. The Austrian cavalry, which was drawn up just behind this pond, did not oppose the crossing of the dam by the Prussian cavalry. Schönaich lost no time and attacked the Austrian cavalry. He threw the first line in confusion but he was outflanked and outnumbered and had to retire. As soon as he had rallied his units, Schönaich launched a second charge which managed to break through the Austrian line at some places but was finally beaten back. Meanwhile, Colonel Warnery, at the head of five squadrons of Puttkamer Hussars, skilfully manoeuvred and fell on Hadik's flank, dispersing several regiments and forcing others to abandon the pursuit of the defeated Prussian cavalry.

Death of count Schwerin at the head of IR24 at Prague in 1757 - Source: Richard Knötel, 1895
During this cavalry battle, a fierce engagement was taking place about Sterboholy and neighbourhood. Schwerin had restored order in his broken first line and ordered several battalions to advance from the second line into the first. Then his troops, despite their fatigue, advanced upon the Austrians. They were received by case-shot from Homoly Berg and the batteries northward of Homoly. In front of such a devastating fire, the Prussian line began to waver. Schwerin Infantry began to retire. Seeing this, Schwerin quitted his horse, seized the colours and marched ahead, along the straight dam again. The infantrymen of his regiment all turned and followed him. During his advance, Schwerin was hit by five bits of grape-shot and fell dead on his flag. Adjutant von Platen took the flag and was instantly shot, and another took it. Nevertheless, Schwerin's regiments continued their advance under the heavy artillery fire. The Prussian line then came to "fine sleek pasture-grounds, unusually green for the season" which were in fact the emptied fish-ponds. Whole regiments sank to the knee in these muddy holes while case-shot continued pouring on them. Courageously, the Prussian infantry managed to continue moving forward. Only a few regiments, in the footpath parts, could bring their guns. Prussian foot charged under storms of grape-shot poured on them from Homoly Berg. During the fight, a cannon-shot tore away Browne's foot and he had to be carried into Prague, mortally wounded. The Prussian first line commanded by Winterfeldt broke. The Austrian infantry seized this opportunity to launch a counter-attack on Sterboholy.
Prince Henri and IR13 von Itzenplitz at the battle of Prague - Source: Carl Röchling, 1895
During the heavy fighting around Sterboholy and Unter Michelup, the Austrian were manoeuvring troops on their right wing to form an angle in fear of being attacked in flank and rear. These manoeuvres opened a wide gap of more than 400 paces to the north of the Austrian line in the Kyge-Hlaupetin quarter where the Austrian right wing joined the main battle line. General Mannstein immediately seized this opportunity and rushed into this gap with Grenadier Battalion 7/30 Kanitz, Grenadier Battalion 13/26 Finck and Grenadier Battalion 1/23 Wedell. Itzenplitz Infantry and Manteuffel Infantry and a body of cavalry followed in close support. Mannstein was assisted by Prince Henri and Ferdinand of Brunswick. Henri shone especially, coming upon one of those mud-tanks with battery beyond, his men were spreading file-wise, to cross it on the dams. Prince Henri plunged through the mud-tanks right upon the battery and victoriously took possession of it. Mannstein, Henri and Ferdinand then took the Austrian right wing in flank with their own batteries.

While the cavalry units of both sides were rallying after the initial cavalry engagements, Zieten Hussars and Werner Hussars, having come from the left wing, renewed the attack. This time the entire Austrian cavalry was dispersed. Prince Charles tried to rally some cavalry units but Stechow Dragoons and Warnery's hussars attacked and broke these units, capturing the standard of Erzherzog Joseph Dragoons. The Austrian cavalry retired beyond Nussel, towards the Sazawa (present-day Sazava) Country. Prince Charles suffered from a chest pain and had to be carried into Prague.

By 1:30 p.m., now threatened on both flanks, the Austrian infantry attacking the Sterboholy orderly retired, defending one hill after another. The Prussians had finally taken Sterboholy. The whole Austrian right wing which had been put en potence was become a ruin. It hurled itself rapidly behind what redoubts and strong points it may had in those parts and then rolled pell-mell into Prague, hastily closing the doors behind it.

Once this infantry corps routed, the Prussians were able to attack the main Austrian infantry lines which were still facing northward. The Austrians rallied and redeployed their line between Maleschitz and Hrdlorzez (unidentified location). The Prussian assault on this line resulted in heavy fighting.

During this time, Frederick had rushed to Branik hoping to cut off retreat of the Austrian army by interdicting the crossing of the Moldau at this place. The king prevented another Austrian attempt to cross the Moldau at Wischerad (present-day Visehrad). However, about 16,000 Austrians fled further south towards Sazawa where they crossed the Moldau to eventually unite with Daun.

By 3:00 p.m., the Austrian army was retreating into Prague. About 40,000 Austrians got crammed into the city. Prince Charles, now recovered, attempted twice to get out of Prague and up the Moldau but the Prussians positioned on the Nussel-Branik line prevented them from escaping. They tried by another gate on the other side of the Moldau but General Keith blocked the way.

At Branik, the victorious king had one great disappointment: Prince Moritz of Dessau was late. He should had been there long hours ago with Keith's right wing (a fresh 15,000 men) to fall upon the enemy's rear. Moritz's pontoon bridge would not reach across when he tried it. It was the worst mistake Prince Moritz ever made.

On the Prussian side, there were 13,301 men killed, wounded and missing, on the Austrian: 13,324 men (including prisoners) with many flags, guns, tents...

Outcome

Even if the Prussians remained master of the battlefield, they had failed to annihilate the Austrian Army which had been allowed to take refuge into Prague. Frederick had now no choice but to lay siege to Prague, hoping to capture it before the arrival of Daun with his relief army.

Order of Battle

Austrian Order of Battle

Commander-in-Chief: Duke Charles Alexander of Lorraine assisted by Count Browne

Chief of Artillery: Baron von Feuerstein

Summary: 76,500 men in 56 regular bns, 5 grenzer bns, 62 grenadier coys, 132 sqns, with 4 x 1-pdr, 112 x 3-pdrs battalion guns and 61 heavy guns.

First Line Second Line
  N.B.: Grenadier coys of this line were grouped into a single brigade
Right Wing of Cavalry under Count Lucchesi assisted by Marquis de Spada Right Wing under Baron Bretlach assisted by Count Althann
Right Wing of Infantry under Count Königsegg assisted by Margrave von Baden-Durlach Right Wing of Infantry under Count Königsegg assisted by Duke von Arenberg
Left Wing of Infantry under Baron Kheul Left Wing of Infantry under baron Kheul
Left Wing of Cavalry under Prince Esterhazy assisted by Count O’Donell Left Wing of Cavalry under Count Stampach assisted by Prince Hohenzollern

Reserve

Garrison of Prague

Prussian Order of Battle

Commander-in-Chief: King Frederick II of Prussia assisted by Count Schwerin

Total force (excluding Keith's corps): 64,000 men in 66 bns, 113 sqns with 82 heavy guns and 128 battalion guns.

First Line Second Line
Right Wing under von Penavaire assisted by Baron Schönaich Right Wing under von Meinicke
Right Flank under von Manstein
Centre Centre
Left Flank under von Amstell
Left Wing under Prince Schönaich Left Wing

Reserve

General von Zieten

Keith's corps on the left bank of the Moldau near the Weissenberg

General Keith

N.B.: considering the detachments made, Keith had about 30,000 men.

References

Carlyle T., History of Friedrich II of Prussia vol. 18

Großer Generalstab, Die Kriege Friedrichs des Großen. Dritter Teil: Der Siebenjährige Krieg 1756–1763, Vol. 2, Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II, Berlin, 1903

Nelke, R., Preussen

Tempelhof, Fr., History of the Seven Years' War Vol. I Section 5, as translated by Colin Lindsay, Cadell, London, 1793

Vanicek, Fr.: Specialgeschichte der Militärgrenze aus Originalquellen und Quellenwerken geschöpft, Vol. II, Vienna: Kaiserlich-Königlichen Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1875, pp. 409-416

Yahoo SYW Group Message No. 1037, 3763, 4170