1757-06-18 - Battle of Kolin
Prelude to the Battle
By mid June 1757, Field-Marshal Daun had assembled a relief force of some 60,000 men in the area of Czaslau (present-day Čáslav) in Bohemia. He then received order from Vienna to force Frederick II to abandon the Siege of Prague and to put a stop to the Prussian invasion of Bohemia. Accordingly, Daun advanced visibly towards Prague. Bevern who had been detached with a Prussian Corps to observe his movements was forced to fall back in front of him.
On June 17 at sunset, fearing that the new position of the Prussians could allow them to turn his right flank, Daun hustled his right wing back out and wheeled his whole right wing and centre 90 degrees round, so as to reach out towards Kolin, and lie on the north slope of the Kamhajek Berg. He also placed his left wing en potence round the western end of Kamhajek, its southern extremity at Swoyschitz, its northern at Hradenin. Daun's right wing was now far east at Krzeczhorz (present-day Krechor), well beyond Chotzemitz (present-day Chocenice), whereabouts his centre and most of his horse now came to stand. Nádasdy's Corps was indeed moved from the left wing towards the rear and took post upon the heights to the right of Krzeczhorz.
This corps arrived there at daybreak on June 18 and deployed with the hussars and 3 cavalry divisions on its right while its left consisted of a unit of 1,000 Kommandierten line cavalry (converged elite troops) and of the 3 Saxon regiments of Chevaux Légers: Prinz Albrecht, Graf Brühl and Prinz Karl.
Infantry and Grenzers occupied the oak-wood and the village of Krzeczhorz. Batteries were erected nearby. Nádasdy also gave orders to General Nostitz, who commanded the Saxon cavalry, to extend his position as well as the one of the Kommandierten cavalry as far left as possible, to close the gap between the oak-wood behind Krzeczhorz and the main army. But the distance was too great and this gap was traversed by a deep ravine that could not be defended by cavalry. Lieutenant-Colonel Benkendorf represented to Nostitz that this section of the line of battle should be reinforced by infantry. Nádasdy was in turn informed of this problem and requested reinforcements to Daun.
Finally, Wied's Division taken from Daun's Reserve deployed in the gap between the main army and Nádasdy's Corps as requested. This infantry corps deployed en potence to protect the right flank of the main army while the Saxon cavalry moved closer. This redeployment created a considerable interval between the Saxon cavalry and the Kommandierten cavalry.
One km behind Krzeczhorz, was a thin little oak-wood who played an important role in the result of this battle. Radowesnitz (present-day Radovesnice), a little village, one km farther or southward of the oak-wood was beyond the extremity of Daun's position, low down on a marshy little brook which oozed through lakes and swamps towards Kolin, in the northerly direction. Most or all of these villages were on little brooks. Through times, these little brooks had hollowed out small dells in the sloping ground, making a great military obstacle. The country consisted of knolls and slopes, with swamps intermediate, it rose higher on the Planian side. Only the top of the Kamhajek Berg on the west and the now so called "Friedrichsberg" on the east deserved the name of hill. Friedrichsberg was on the north side of the highway, one km north-eastward of Slatislunz. A conical height of perhaps 45 m, rising rather suddenly from the still-sloping ground, checking the slope there.
Description of Events
At daybreak on June 18, Frederick started his advance, he marched through Planian (present-day Planany), along the Kaiserstrasse highway towards Kolin. The van (formed of Zieten's Reserve) under Hülsen marched in 2 columns and the main army in 3. The first column advanced directly on the highway while the second marched to the north of it.
Around 6:00 a.m., the head of the Prussian army appeared on the highway towards Kolin. The advance continued for about 7 km farther, nothing visible but retiring Grenzer troops. Frederick himself was with Zieten in the vanguard. They reached the "Zur goldenen Sonne" inn at Slatisluntz near Novomiesto. There, mounting to the top-story, they discovered Daun's position against the Kamhajek. Frederick called halt for three hours and more until the rearguard came up from Kaurzim. This rearguard (right flank guard in our order of battle) consisting of the grenadier battalions of Kahlden, Möllendorff and Wangenheim was then sent forward to the left wing.
By noon, Daun had deployed himself in 3 lines on the high ground about 2 km south of the Planian-Kolin Highway, over the crests of the Kamhajek Berg. From the highway, nothing was visible of the Austrian positions. Daun's line extended nearly 8 km, from east to west. His left wing extended from Planian eastward. His right wing was pretty parallel to the highway and pointed rather southward of Kolin, reaching the small hamlet of Krzeczhorz which was 3 km off Kolin. In front of his centre was a village called Chotzemitz. To right or to left of Chotzemitz were six other villages, every one of them well beset with Austrian batteries, infantry and Grenzers parties.
About noon, Frederick called his generals to give them their various orders. He considered Daun's positions impregnable on the left wing as well as in front. However, the Austrian right wing and rear on the Krzeczhorz did not look as strong as the rest of Daun's positions. Therefore, Frederick planned to march parallel along the Austrian front in due order of battle until it becomes possible to bend round and plunge in upon the Austrian right flank. The van, consisting of Zieten's Reserve cavalry and Hülsen's infantry (7 bns of the reserve and left flank guard in our order of battle), would face to right at the proper moment and thus become the left wing of the Prussian line. It would then attack Krzeczhorz. Meanwhile the other divisions would similarly advance to the same position, face to right and attack in regular succession. These successive waves of attack would thus continuously support Hülsen's advance on the Austrian right flank. During this time, the Prussian right wing would refuse itself and form a Reserve while the cavalry would form behind the left wing to support Zieten. The battle plan was typical of the "oblique order of attack".
At about 1:00 p.m. of this sunny day, Frederick gave the order to march. The Prussian army advanced steadily eastward in 3 columns which would become the first and second lines, and reserve. A column marched along the highway, the second at due distance leftward on the green ground, no hedge or other obstacle obstructing. Daun's batteries and Grenzer troops, to the south of the highway, fired at them in passing, to no purpose.
During part of the battle, Frederick stood on Friedrichsberg which commanded some view of the Krzeczhorz Heights and of part of the Austrian positions.
Zieten at the very head of the van found Nádasdy with his cavalry corps drawn in 2 lines across the highway near Krzeczhorz. Zieten with 80 sqns dashed on Nádasdy's Corps, tumbled it and cleared the road and the Krzeczhorz neighbourhood. Nádasdy rallied into the hollow of Radowesnitz where he stood inactive for the rest of the day.
At about 2:00 p.m., Hülsen had reached the level of Krzeczhorz. He halted and faced to right with his three grenadier battalions (Finck, Waldow and Nimschöfsky) in the first line and [[Schultze Infantry and Münchow Fusiliers in the second, and Stechow Dragoons in the third. Meanwhile, Zieten formed his cavalry to cover Hülsen's left flank. The latter then stiffly pressed up upon Krzeczhorz while the Austrian artillery opened fire. Despite of the violent defensive fire, Hülsen seized Krzeczhorz. Count Wied's Austrian infantry and Sincère's Division had to yield, and the 2 batteries on the Krzeczhorz height fell. Hülsen then rearranged his lines for the assault on the oak-wood.
Meanwhile on the right wing, a few km westward, Mannstein's troops were continuously harassed by Grenzer musketry fire at them during their advance on the highway. Mannstein ordered II./Bornstedt Infantry to face right and attack these Grenzer light troops who fled at once but came back with reinforcements. These skirmishes fatally delayed Bornstedt and proved ruinous. For now Bornstedt Infantry blocked the way to those following him who successively fell on to support Mannstein. Now, the whole right wing from Bornstedt Infantry westward was engaged in fighting against the Austrians precisely at a place that Frederick had considered too strong a position to be attacked frontally.
At 4:00 p.m., the Prussian victory appeared almost certain. However, at this moment, Zieten's cavalry which had pursued part of Nádasdy's units towards Radowesnitz was taken in flank with artillery and musket fire. Indeed, Daun had put batteries and Grenzer parties in the oak-wood. Normann Dragoons then attacked the Austrians occupying the oak-wood. The dragoons captured 7 colours and then engaged into a cavalry combat with the Saxon Karabiniergarde and routed them.
Hülsen, now advancing towards the little oak-wood beyond Krzeczhorz, was surprised to discover, not the wood alone, but a strong Austrian cavalry and infantry force deployed behind it. Seeing this and considering that no new battalion had yet arrived to support him, Hülsen paused. To avoid being outflanked, he was obliged to extend his line by incorporating the 4 battalions of his second line into the first one. He then merely cannonaded from the distance, till new battalions would arrive.
At about the same time, Prince Moritz von Dessau was advancing at the head of the centre. intending to wheel and turn hillwards once he would reach the level of Krzeczhorz. However, Frederick dashed from Friedrichsberg and ordered Prince Moritz to face to right immediately and attack in support of Hülsen. Moritz considered that it was too soon to launch the attack because he was still facing very strong Austrian positions. Moritz was of the opinion that he should resume his advance until he came to the level of Krzeczhorz. However, Frederick insisted and Moritz finally obeyed. There was now no Prussian reserve force anywhere to be applied to in emergency.
Frederick then withdraw to Friedrichsberg. When he saw that Moritz was advancing directly on the Austrian positions in front of him, he realized that his orders had not been clear enough. In fact, Frederick wanted Moritz to face and advance diagonally towards Krzeczhorz. In haste, Frederick sent new orders to Moritz. When he received these new orders, Moritz immediately steered half-left but he now arrived above Krzeczhorz, stroke the Austrian line frontally to the west of Krzeczhorz, disjoined from Hülsen.
Mannstein's unplanned attack and Moritz misinterpretation of Frederick's orders totally compromised the initial plan. With his right and centre thus engaged, Frederick had no units available to support Hülsen to the east of Krzeczhorz as planned. Therefore, Hülsen was left unsupported, only receiving inadequate reinforcements. Nevertheless, he managed to take the oak-wood but soon lost it. He was unable to do more than keep his ground in and about Krzeczhorz.
The entire Prussian line was now engaged across several km. Frederick was everywhere in the hottest of the fight.
Till 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., the issue of the battle remained uncertain. Daun feared that, if the Austrians were pushed back down the Kamhajek Berg into the impassable swamps, he would have to surrender at discretion. Accordingly, he ordered to retreat southward to Suchdol where he had magazines. Daun's aide-de-camp was galloping everywhere with that important order and generals were preparing for retreat. Hülsen even saw an Austrian general on the right wing taking his guns out of battery and under way rearwards. But Daun's aide-de-camp could not find Nostitz, the Saxon cavalry commander in that quarter. He rather found a Saxon Lieutenant-Colonel Benkendorf and asked him to transmit the order to General Nostitz. Benkendorf considered the order premature and persuaded Nostitz to attack instead. He even argued that the retreating guns were merely shifting their battery. He then organised a new assault on Hülsen.
General Hülsen now seeing some regiment advancing, set his troops again in motion, advanced upon the oak-wood and chased the Austrian infantry and light troops occupying it. However, an Austrian counter-attack drove back the left of Hülsen's Corps. The ensuing firefight lasted for nearly two hours. When he received a reinforcement of 2 battalions, Hülsen advanced once more, broke the Ausrian Corps left wing and was on the verge of capturing another battery. Some regiments of Tresckow's Division (among which Braunschweig-Bevern, Hülsen and Prinz Heinrich von Preußen) had now come in support of Hülsen in the same area. The Austrian Salm Infantry now quit its line in great disorder.
At this very moment, willing to support their wavering infantry, the Saxon Chevaux-légers along with Saint-Ignon Dragoons and the Kommandierten cavalry fell of the right flank on the exposed Prussian corps. The assault on Tresckow's and Hülsen's position was furious and finally proved irresistible to Hülsen's cavalry which was hurled back, could not be rallied and fled, throwing confusion among Hülsen's infantry. Once Wied's infantry division had rallied, the Austrian cavalry attacked again. In turn, Hülsen's infantry was broken but it instantly formed squares and stood fiercely on the defensive. Hülsen was driven away and forced to retreat downhill. After a short fight, the Austrians captured 14 Prussian battalions along with all their guns.
This sad example spread westwards like a powder-train, till all the Prussian Army was in full retreat northward, towards Nimburg (present-day Nymburk). Meanwhile, Manstein's infantry was pushed back in disorder towards Chotzemitz. Frederick made vehement effort to rally his troops, but to no purpose. Seeing the battle irretrievably lost, Frederick called Bevern and Moritz to him and gave them charge of the retreat, ordering them to cross the Elbe at Nimburg. Frederick then himself rode off, escorted by his Garde-du-Corps.
Daun gave no chase anywhere. On his extreme left he had, perhaps as preparation for chasing, ordered out General Stampach and the cavalry from the centre with guns, infantry and appliances, to clear away the wrecks of Mannstein and what still stood to right of him on the Planian Highway. But Stampach was stopped by the I./Leibgarde Battalion and 2 others. In front of such resistance, Stampach finally withdrew. Meanwhile, Daun strictly prohibited his infantry to stir from their position.
Zieten with all his squadrons and Hülsen with most of his battalions marched away as rear-guard. Daun thus allowed the Prussian cavalry, which had beaten Nádasdy, to stand quiet on the field till 10:00 p.m.. Daun did not send any light cavalry in chase of the infantry. He stood all night under arms and next day returned to his old camp.
In the joy of victory, a bonfire was made, using ammunition, on the Austrian right wing. Some of Daun's escorts were wounded by the exploding ammunition.
The Austrian force in the field this day was 60,000 men. Their losses in killed, wounded and missing were some 8,114 men. The Saxon cavalry alone lost 53 men dead and 116 wounded; 177 horses dead and 85 wounded. The Prussians, who began 34,000 men in strength, lost 13,773 men; of whom 5,380 prisoners (including all the wounded). Their baggage was not meddled with but they lost 45 guns and 22 colours. Mannstein was badly wounded during this battle.
Kolin was Frederick's first defeat in battle. It forced him to raise the siege of Prague, to abandon Bohemia and to retire to Saxony. For the description of the Prussian retreat, see see 1757 - Prussian invasion of Bohemia.
After this battle, the Saxon Major-General von Nostitz sent his adjutant, Lieutenant Freund, to Friedrich August II in Warsaw with the message about this great victory. The King of Poland promoted Major-General von Nostitz to lieutenant-general; Colonel von Gösnitz to major-general; Lieutenant-Colonel von Benkendorff to colonel; and Captain Kraft to Major.
Order of Battle
Austrian Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: Count Leopold Josef Daun
Summary: 51 bns, 43 grenadier coys, 171 sqns, 60 heavy guns for a total of approximately 54,000 men.
|First Line||Second Line||Reserve|
|Extreme Right Wing
|Right Wing Cavalry under Count Serbelloni assisted by Benedikt Daun|
|Centre under Baron Marschall assisted by von Colloredo|
|Reserve under Count Colloredo
|Left Wing Cavalry under Count von Stampach assisted by Kolowrat|
|Left Flank Guard
Three batteries of heavy Artillery
Prussian Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: King Frederick II of Prussia
Summary: 32 bns, 116 sqns, 28 heavy guns, for a total of approximately 33,000 men.
N.B.: units are listed from right to left but since the Prussian army was advancing by its left, the left wing was at the head of the columns.
|First Line||Second Line||Reserve under|
G.d.C. Von Zieten
|Cavalry Right Wing under Lieutenant-General von Penavaire|
|Major-General Baron Schönaich||Major-General von Meinicke||Major-General von Katte|
|Infantry Centre under General of Infantry Moritz Prince von Anhalt-Dessau|
|Right Wing Infantry under Lieutenant-General Duke von Braunschweig-Bevern|
Major-General von Manstein
|Major-General von Puttkamer||Major-General von Hülsen|
|Left Wing Infantry under Lieutenant-General von Tresckow|
|Major-General von Pannwitz
Major-General Prince Franz von Braunschweig
|Major-General von Ingersleben|
|Cavalry Left Wing under Lieutenant-General von Penavaire|
|Major-General von Krockow
Major-General von Krosigk
|Major-General von Normann||Major-General von Katte|
Two batteries of heavy Artillery
Note: Grenadier Battalion Manteuffel is excluded from the order of battle because, on June 17, it had been left behind at Kaurzim (present-day Kouřim) to guard the baggage of the army.
This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Carlyle, T.: History of Friedrich II of Prussia, vol. 18
- Tempelhoff, Fr.: History of the Seven Years' War, Vol. pp. 85-116, 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. 422-425
Nelke, R.: Preussen
Purky, Jim: Following In The Footsteps of Alte Fritz, Seven Years War Association Journal Vol. VIII No. 1
Rogge, Christian: Bataille de Collin, le 18 juin 1757, Frankfurt
Skala, H.: Österreichische Militärgeschichte
Salisch, M. von: Treue Deserteure – Das kursächsische Militär und der Siebenjährige Krieg, Munich, 2009
Schuster, O. and F. Francke: Geschichte der Sächsischen Armee, 2. part, Leipzig 1885
Harald Skala for information on the Saxon Army during this period