1757-12-05 - Battle of Leuthen
Prelude to the Battle
After his victory at Rossbach, Frederick II hurriedly retraced his steps to stop the Austrian invasion of Silesia. However, he arrived too late to prevent the defeat of the Duke of Bevern at the Battle of Breslau (present-day Wrocław) and the surrender of the city. He then decided to confront the far superior Austrian army on the the field.
Accordingly, Sunday December 4 at 4:00 a.m., Frederick marched from Parchwitz (present-day Prochowice) straight towards the Austrian camp. The vanguard consisted of 10 battalions with 800 volunteers from the whole army at their head, all the Feldjäger zu Fuß, all the freikorps (3 bns), all the hussar regiments (to the exception of Werner Hussars), the dragoon regiments of Czettritz, Normann and Jung-Krockow, and a battery of 10 heavy 12-pdrs. The army followed in four columns by the right flank. The first column consisted of the cavalry of the first and second line of the right wing. The second column was composed of the infantry of the first and second line of the right wing. Their rearguard was formed of the three battalions of Östenreich Grenadiers, Plötz Grenadiers and I./Prinz Ferdinand, which covered the baggage. The third column consisted of the infantry of the first and second line of the left wing. The fourth column was formed of the cavalry of the first and second line of the left wing. Werner Hussars had the rearguard. The heavy artillery were divided into two brigades and moved behind the second and third columns. Frederick himself was in the vanguard, he planned to establish his quarters at Neumarkt (present-day Sroda Slaska), a little town about 22 km from Parchwitz.
The current map is a great overview map as it shows all the main parts of the battle:
- the initial Austrian positions spread over a 10 km frontage;
- the cavalry combat at Borne;
- the Prussian right turn behind the hills screening Frederick's flank attack on the Austrian Left;
- the first stage of the Prussian attack on the Austrian left;
- the Austrian centre turning to deploy around Leuthen;
- the second stage of the Prussian attack;
- Lucchesi's Cavalry counterattack being intercepted and defeated by Driesen's Cavalry.
The battlefield of Leuthen extended on both sides of the road leading from Neumarkt to Deutsch-Lissa. To the north it was delimited by a line from Bischdorf, through Nimlau and Nippern to Marschwitz; to the east by the Weistritz (aka Schweidnitzer Wasser); to the south by the Glatzbach; and to the west by a line from Krintsch and Bischdorf. The entire terrain very gently sloped down north towards the Oder and was slightly higher to the west and south-west. It was dotted with hamlets. Except for a chain of knolls to the south, the country, for many km round, had nothing that could be called a hill. It was a bare wide-waving champaign, with slight bumps on it. To the north of the road leading from Neumarkt to Deutsch-Lissa, there were many patches of scraggy fir. The country was mostly under culture, though it was of sandy quality. A few brooks flowing towards the Oder of the Weistritz traversed it but they would not impair troop movements, to the exception of the Briegswasser north of the Zettelfurt, where it flowed through a 100 m. wide fault, and west and north-west of Nippern.
On December 3 and 4, it had snowed moderately. Ground was frozen and covered with a thin layer of snow.
The Austrian position intersected the highway at right angles and had villages, swamps and woody knolls, especially on each wing. These were good defences. The Austrians were deployed in two lines, their right wing leaned on Nippern and its impassable peat-bogs, a village about 4 km north of the highway. The Austrian centre was close behind another village called Leuthen, about as far south from the highway. The length of the Austrian bivouac was about 8 km. It would reach 10 km once Nádasdy would take post on the left wing (during the night of December 4 to 5). The bivouac would extend as far as Sagschütz, southward of Leuthen. Seven Austrian battalions were in this village of Leuthen, eight in Nippern. All the villages, woods, scraggy abatis, redoubts were secured: Frobelwitz with 8 grenadier companies and several pickets, Leuthen with 7 grenadier companies and pickets, Nippern with additional pickets. All other grenadier companies along with pickets of the Reserve were deployed to the right of the cavalry in front of the wood of Nippern. Guns were numerous, though of light calibre. The right wing cavalry was at Guckerwitz and the left at Leuthen.
Description of Events
On December 5 at 5:00 a.m., the Prussian army started its advance from Neumarkt. Burgsdorf Grenadiers occupied the Castle of Neumarkt and guarded the nearby field bakery. The order of march continued the same as the day before. The vanguard formed in front of Kammendorf, the cavalry before the infantry, which were posted upon the heights. In this position they remained with ten heavy 12-pdrs (the so-called “Brummer”) in front till break of day, when the army came up. It was now pretty clear that the Austrians were drawn up upon the plain and that there probably would be a battle in the course of the day. These news caused a universal joy among the Prussian Army.
Cavalry Combat at Borne
Borne, the first village on the highway, was some 12 km distant. The air was damp and hazy preventing the Austrian army to perceive the march of the Prussians. A little way before Borne, the Prussian vanguard came on ranks of cavalry drawn across the highway, stretching right and left. What was first thought to be the Austrian army was in fact the advanced post of General Nostitz with his three Saxon regiments of chevaux-légers and two regiments of Austrian hussars. Grenzer light troops also occupied bushes on hills near Borne and Lampersdorf.
Frederick gave ordered to Major-General Karl von Bevern to take position in front of the right cavalry column of the vanguard with 6 bns (Manteuffel Grenadiers (1 bn), Wedell Grenadiers (1 bn), Ramin Grenadiers (1 bn), Bornstedt Infantry (1 bn), I./Asseburg Infantry (1 bn) and I./Itzenplitz Infantry (1 bn)) to take post before the villages of Polkendorf, Lampersdorf and Katlau, to cover his cavalry against an attack from the Grenzer light troops. Meanwhile, Frederick had also given orders to the cavalry of the vanguard to attack the Austrian positions near Borne.
Nostitz was completely taken by surprise by the hussars and dragoons of the Prussian vanguard who fell upon his corps, front and flank. Lieutenant-Colonel von Kleist at the head of the Szekely Grüne Hussars attacked his right flank. Nostitz’s Corps was rapidly broken and driven back through Borne, upon the Austrian right wing at Nippern. During this short engagement, the Prussians made 11 officers and 540 troopers prisoners and captured two Saxon standards. General Nostitz was mortally wounded (he would die in Breslau twelve days later).
The Prussian hussars pursued Nostittz’s Corps up to Gross-Heidau
Frederick then halted the vanguard until the main body arrived. He threw his 3 Freikorps bns and his Feldjäger zu Fuß into the village of Borne. Meanwhile, the Prussian columns had continued their march in perfect order.
During this time, Prince Charles had deployed his army some 1,500 paces in front of his camp. He also instructed Nádasdy to take position on the heights of Sagschütz to cover the left flank.
Frederick designs his Attack
From the captured village of Borne, Frederick rode with Prince Moritz and his staff to the Schönberg, a nearby knoll. From this point, he had the opportunity to inspect the entire positions of the Austrian army whose right was posted behind the wood of Nippern. The flank of this right wing was covered by the village of Nippern and by several small lakes and ravines. The Austrian front then extended from Nippern towards Frobelwitz, Leuthen and Sagschütz. Nádasdy's corps was deployed en potence on the left flank from Sagschütz to the ponds and marshes of Gross Gohlau. A body of Austrian cavalry was deployed on the left of Leuthen. This area had often been used by the Prussian Army for manoeuvring exercises. It was thus a very familiar position whose strong and weak points were well known by the Prussian staff. Frederick ordered some horse regiments of the vanguard to maintain this height and the range of heights running south from it. He remained there for some three hours. After surveying the Austrian positions, Frederick estimated that Nippern, with its bogs and scrags, on the Austrian right wing, was tortuous impossible ground. Therefore, he resolved to attempt their left wing at Leuthen and even at Sagschütz farther south and he issued his orders accordingly.
While the Prussian vanguard took position beyond the village of Borne, the four columns of the main body turned right as soon as the heads of the columns had passed Borne, redeploying from four to two columns. Frederick ordered these two columns to deploy in order of battle to induce the Austrians to think that his main attack would be launched against their right wing.
Around 11:00 a.m., the two Prussian columns marched southwards in the direction of Kertschütz. They would become the two lines of battle when they would reach their assigned positions well opposite Sagschütz, a march of about two hours. The right wing marched at the heads of the columns and consisted of 43 squadrons under Zieten, 10 hussar squadrons, six battalions under Prince Moritz of Anhalt-Dessau and four battalions under General Wedel. Then came the left wing under General Retzow. It consisted of 38 battalions, 40 squadrons under General Driesen, and 10 hussar squadrons. The rearguard consisted of 25 squadrons under Prince Eugene of Württemberg.
The loss of their advanced post at Borne proved more important to the Austrians than it seemed. The Schönberg, where Frederick stood, was a screen for the Prussian Army advancing southward as well as a point of observation to Frederick. In fact, a chain of knolls ran from north near Borne to south near Sagschütz. This chain of knolls blocked the view from even the highest points (wind-mills, belfries) of the Austrian position.
Prince Charles and Daun posted in a windmill at Frobelwitz could see the Prussian forces turning south and disappearing from sight near Borne. Daun thought that they were retiring and recommended to let them go. Lucchesi, commanding the Austrian right wing, was of a different opinion and feared that the Prussian vanguard now on top of the knolls near Borne was forming the left wing of the Prussian position and that he was going to be attacked at Nippern. He immediately asked for large reinforcement of cavalry to his right wing. However, his request was rejected by Prince Charles and Daun. Lucchesi sent a second message, more passionately pressing, to the like effect.
Just before noon, Prince Charles received a third message from Lucchesi, stating that: "If cavalry do not come, I will not be responsible for the issue!" Even though Daun and the French Brigadier Comte de Montazet did not agree with Prince Charles’ decision, Daun did collect the required reinforcement: all the cavalry reserve and a great many from the left wing cavalry. Daun himself conducted them to join Lucchesi, more than 5 km to right, almost 9 km from where the danger really lay.
Prussian Attack on the Austrian Left Flank
By noon, the Prussian army now flank marching in two columns, with the cavalry in front and rear and the vanguard in front and to the left, had reached the ascent between Lobetintz and Kertschütz about 1,5 km to west of Nádasdy's wing. Nádasdy could now see the heads of these columns and realised that his weakened left wing was threatened. He immediately sent messengers to Prince Charles, asking for reinforcements. Prince Charles immediately ordered Prince Esterhazy with his cavalry corps along with Generals Macquire and Angern with their infantry divisions to move in support of Nádasdy.
Frederick could observe the whole Austrian positions from the windmill at Lobetintz. He ordered the Prussian vanguard to attack the Austrian left wing formed en potence behind Sagschütz with a strong battery of 14 guns on the height to the rear where the "potence" reached his main line. As soon as they had the villages of Kertschütz and Striegwitz on their right, six battalions of the Prussian vanguard formed an angle to cover the flank of the cavalry while the remaining four battalions attacked the villages under cover of the fire of two batteries (one made of the ten super-heavy guns from Glogau, the other of ten heavy 12-pdrs).
Meanwhile, the Prussian left wing cavalry under Lieutenant-General von Driesen took position to the north of the Heideberg facing east, hidden in a hollow. Furthermore, the 25 hussar sqns, who had covered the march of the Prussian columns, took position along with the Herzog von Württemberg Dragoons behind the centre of the second line as Reserve. The heavy “Brummer” battery was planted to the left of the attacking grenadiers. From the four remaining batteries, two were established in front of the Prussian centre and one in front of each infantry wing.
For Nádasdy, it was now clear that the main Prussian effort would be made against the Austrian left flank. He repeatedly and vainly asked Prince Charles to recall the Cavalry Reserve who had been sent to reinforce the right wing.
However, the Prussian vanguard had scarcely formed into line and Zieten started his advance at an angle of forty-five degrees against Nádasdy's position when Nádasdy launched his cavalry, initially concealed behind the wood, on Zieten before the Prussian cavalry had time to charge. Zieten's cavalry, deployed on the extreme right wing, reeled back under this first shock coming downhill upon it and was thrown into some disorder. The six Prussian battalions previously deployed in support of the cavalry instantly opened fire on the Austrian cavalry and forced it to draw back. This allowed Zieten to rally his units and to counter-attack Nádasdy's cavalry and drive it back into the Rathener Wood.
During this first engagement between Zieten and Nádasdy's cavalries, the Prussian infantry to left of Zieten, had attacked the Sagschütz firwood and cleared it of the grenzer light troops occupying it.
At about 1:00 p.m., the fire of artillery and musketry became very lively. The six Prussian battalions deployed as flank guard under General Wedel and Prince Moritz attacked the Württemberger grenadiers, which were posted behind an abbatis, and, with the help of the battery of ten super-heavy “Brummer” guns, drove them from it. The Meyerinck and Itzenplitz infantry regiments advanced against the Austrian battery of 14 guns planted on the heights behind Sagschütz and took it after a short opposition. This threw the whole corps of Nádasdy into confusion and, notwithstanding that several Austrian battalions rallied behind the ditches, yet they were soon completely routed.
During the attack made by the Prussian vanguard, the rest of the army continued to advance, inclining to its right. The vanguard did the same. In spite of the fine ground, Nádasdy was now in a bad way on the extreme left of his "potence" and the situation was rapidly getting desperate in this quarter. Indeed, the Austrians were constantly outflanked and the six foremost battalions of the vanguard, forming an angle with the rest of the line, continually hung upon their rear.
Struggle for Leuthen
While the left wing was slowly crumbling to pieces, Prince Chales' scouts were trying madly to recall Daun from the right wing with his cavalry. Meanwhile, the Austrian divisions of Esterhazy, Macquire and Angern ordered to help the left wing arrived piecemeal. They were met by the crowding fugitives and the chasing Prussians. They were themselves thrown into disorder and could do no good whatever. They arrived on the ground flurried and blown. They had not the least time to take breath and order, being broken to pieces the moment they attempted to form. They drew back in great disorder upon the centre about Leuthen.
Frederick then ordered the super-heavy guns to be drawn still more to the left on the Butterberg to enfilade the Austrian lines while the Prussian troops were pressing forwards. Nádasdy did not lose head. He skilfully covered the retreat, trying to rally once and again. He repeatedly tried to form a potence at Gross Gohlau to cover the left flank.
Until then, Zieten with the right wing cavalry had been prevented to take part to the combat by difficult terrain. They were finally able to deploy near Gross Gohlau and Zieten Hussars fell upon the Bavarian and Württemberger infantry as they were retreating, killing a considerable number of them and taking whole battalions prisoners (above 2,000 men).
While the Austrian left was thus collapsing, Prince Charles had struggled to redeploy the rest of the army about Leuthen to form a new front parallel to the advancing Prussian lines. All the available Austrian artillery was brought to Leuthen, where the angle of the new position was located, and deployed upon the ascent behind the village. Leuthen itself was crammed with the troops initially occupying the position but also with the reserve which had fallen back and with the fugitives who threw themselves into the houses and the churchyard. Men were also bringing guns to the windmills and to the swelling ground on the north side of Leuthen. They dug ditches, built batteries. By the extreme of diligence, the Austrians had in some measure swung themselves into a new position round Leuthen as a centre: Lucchesi, voluntarily or by order, swinging southwards while Nádasdy swung northwards by compulsion. The new line was at an angle of 75 degrees to the old one.
|The stonewalls of the churchyard are about 2 feet (60 cm) thick, over 7 feet (215 cm) high. While defending the churchyard, the Austrian infantry posted inside the church used pews from the church to stand on and fire over the wall at the Prussians.
Photo and legend contributed by Tony Flores, Copyright Tony Flores
At about 2:30 p.m., three Prussian infantry battalions, the II./Garde, III./Garde and Grenadier Garde von Retzow, were hurled against the village of Leuthen. A dreadful and destructive contest of infantry ensued with the Austrians defending the village with extraordinary determination. Frederick was finally obliged to engage into the struggle all of his infantry left wing, which had until then stood "refused" about Radaxdorf. At length, the Garde led by Lieutenant-general Möllendorff, who at that time was their eldest captain, bravely broke in, stormed the churchyard and obliged the Austrians to abandon the village after a defence of about an hour.
By 3:30 p.m., the village of Leuthen was cleared of Austrian troops. Nevertheless, the Austrians continued to defend themselves for some time, drawing up their grenadiers and other infantry behind a number of ditches to the north of Leuthen. The Prussian left wing rushed on with bayonets on the Austrian position near the windmills. At length, the Austrian infantry fell into universal and inextricable confusion. Near a certain windmill, Austrian infantry was now packed some 30 to 100 ranks deep. The Prussian artillery seized this opportunity to pour a devastating fire upon their ranks, soon obliging the whole to take to flight.
At about 4:00 p.m., Lucchesi, with his cavalry, seeing the Prussian left flank exposed, stroke upon it. However, Driesen with the cavalry left wing was hidden in a hollow, protecting this flank. Driesen let Lucchesi gallop by, then emerged, ranked, and charged Lucchesi frontally while Bayreuth Dragoons drew off to the right and fell upon his left flank and Puttkamer Hussars attacked his rear. The Austrian cavalry was now taken between the steady fire of the Prussian infantry and the edge of sword of Driesen's cavalry. It broke in all directions. Lucchesi himself got killed. With the Austrian cavalry eliminated, Driesen wheeled his cavalry to the right and charged the Austrian infantry in rear, capturing entire battalions.
Last Stand at Saara
Stubbornly, the Austrian army tried for the third time to form a front at Saara. However, their now unprotected infantry soon fell victim of Prussian cavalry attacks on their flanks. After this last stand, the Austrian army finally fled across the bridges of Lissa and Rathen and the bridge of boats on the Weistritz River (more commonly called Schweidnitz Water) towards Breslau.
At the end of the battle, the Prussian army was deployed between Guckerwitz and Lissa. Frederick then asked his troops if any of them would follow him to Lissa, still occupied by Austrian troops. The Manteuffel (37/40) and Wedell (1/23) grenadier battalions along with Bornstedt Infantry (1 bn) immediately stood to their arms and followed the king. On approaching Lissa, a party of grenzers fired on Frederick's force but they were soon chased away. The Prussians soon occupied the town and captured Lissa bridge intact. The Prussian army made its bivouac around Lissa: a parallelogram of two lines, km long across the fields, left wing resting on Lissa, right on Guckerwitz.
The Austrian lost 6,500 killed and wounded (including 418 Saxons), and about 21,500 Austrians were taken prisoners the day of the battle and during the following days. The Prussians captured 46 colours, 9 standards and 131 guns. The Prussians lost in killed 1,175 (59 officers and 1,116 men), in wounded 5,207 (164 officers and 5,043 men) and 85 had been taken prisoners about Sagschütz and Gohlau, in the first struggle there. Prince Moritz was promoted field-marshal on the field of battle for his wonderful attack with the right wing.
The Prussian victory at Leuthen annihilated the results of the entire Austrian campaign in Silesia in 1757. By the end of the year, Breslau would be once more under Prussian control and the Austrian army back across the Bohemian border.
Order of Battle
Austrian Order of Battle
Summary: 84 battalions, 144 squadrons and 210 guns for a total of about 70,000 men
|Vanguard||First Line||Second Line||Third Line|
|Far Right Reserve under Major-general von Luzinsky assisted by the Duke von Arenberg|
|Right Wing Cavalry under General of cavalry Lucchesi|
||Lucchesi Division||Esterhazy Division|
|Right Wing Infantry under Feldzeugmeister Kheul|
|Left Wing Infantry under Feldzeugmeister Colloredo|
|Cavalry vanguard under Marshal Nostitz
(detached at Borne on the right wing)
|Left Wing Cavalry under General of cavalry Serbelloni|
|Serbelloni Division||Stampach Division|
|First Line||Second Line|
|Left Reserve under Marshal Forgách|
|Far Left Bavarian Contingent under Count d'Air|
|Extreme Left Württemberg Contingent under Marshal von Spiznass|
|Left Cavalry Reserve under Marshal O'Donell|
Prussian Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: King Frederick II
Summary: 47 1/2 battalions, 133 squadrons, 78 heavy guns (10 x 12-pdr Brummer brought from the walls of Glogau, 39 x 12-pdr field guns, 14 x 24-pdr guns, 8 howitzers, 7 mortars), and 94 battalion guns for a total of about 28,600 men
|Vanguard||First Line||Second Line|
|Right Wing Cavalry under Lieutenant-general von Zieten|
|Cavalry under Lieutenant-general Prince von Württemberg seconded by Major-general von Stechow
(initially deployed in front of Bevern's Infantry)
Infantry under Major-general Prince von Bevern
|Left Wing Cavalry under Lieutenant-general von Driesen|
N.B.: during the battle, the Grenadier Battalion 38/43 Burgsdorff, initially part of the vanguard, occupied the Castle of Neumarkt and guarded the nearby field bakery
This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 6 Leuthen, Berlin, 1904, pp. 18-41, Appendix 1
- Carlyle T.: History of Friedrich II of Prussia vol. 18, chapter 10
- Donnersmarck, Victor Amadaeus Henckel von: Militaerischer Nachlass, Karl Zabeler, 1858
- Relation de la bataille de Leuthen, Vienna, January 1758, pp. 472-477
- Relation de la bataille de Lissa, Berlin, January 1758, pp. 477-483
- Tempelhoff, Fr.: History of the Seven Years' War Vol. I pp. 190-201, 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, p. 433
Fuller J. F. C.: The Decisive Battles of the Western World, Granada Publishing Ltd, 1970, pp. 571-576
Kroener, Bernhard R.: „Nun danket alle Gott.“ Der Choral von Leuthen und Friedrich der Große als protestantischer Held. Die Produktion politischer Mythen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. In „Gott mit uns“. Nation, Religion und Gewalt im 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhundert, edited by Gerd Krumeich and Hartmut Lehmann, 105-134. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000.
Kroener, Bernhard R.: Die Geburt eines Mythos – die „schiefe Schlachtordnung“. Leuthen, 5. Dezember. In Schlachten der Weltgeschichte. Von Salamis bis Sinai, edited by Stig Förster, Markus Pöhlmann, Dierk Walter, 169-183. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2001).
Muth, Jörg: Leuthen: contra una abrumadora superioridad. Desperta Ferro: Historia Moderna 24 (2016): 48-55.
Alessandro Colaiacomo for the compilation of the Austrian order of battle
Dr. Sascha Möbius for suggesting additional books for the present section