1757 - Siege of Prague
The siege lasted from May to June 1757
The Old Town and the New Town of Prague, both on the right bank of the Moldau, were protected by bastioned fortifications and partially surrounded by wet ditches. On a hill to the south of the New Town, lay the old Castle of Wischehrad (present-day Vyšehrad), forming an enclosed fort with five bastions and a hornwork. Another quarter of the city, the so-called “Kleinseite”, lay on the left bank of the Moldau linked with it by a stone bridge. It was protected with bastions and a dry ditch. On the Schützeninsel there was a earthwork. The parts of the city along the river were unfortified. Most of the defensive works had been much neglected and were in a poor state. There was not enough artillery and powder to effectively defend the 12 km long perimeter of the city.
On the left bank there was the Mansfeld Garden, a few patches of woods, and a series of small villages. The plateau on that bank was interspersed with ravines but the ridge, which entered the city at the Lorenzbastion, was well protected. Despite some deficiencies of its defensive works, the city offered a secured refuge to the Austrian army. Nevertheless, the city would have easily succumbed to an attack if only an ordinary garrison had defended it.
On May 6 and during the following day, the Prussians had rapidly surrounded Prague, established their control on all roads leaving the town and positioned batteries.
The line of siege-works, or intermittent series of batteries, was some 20 km long: from Branik southward to beyond the Belvedere northward, on both sides of the Moldau. Frederick's Camp was on the Ziskaberg while Keith's camp was on the Lorenzberg, embracing and commanding the Weissenberg.
On the right bank of the Moldau, the lines went from the mouth of the Roketziner Stream by Lieben (present-day Libeň), between Alt-Straschnitz (present-day Strašnice) and Wrschowitz (unidentified location) to Michle and then to Dworetz (present-day Dvorce) on the Moldau. The bridge at Branik was covered by 1 bn. On the left bank, the lines went from Slichow (probably Smíchov) by Botowitz (unidentified location) along the eastern slope of the Weissenberg to Podbaba (present-day Podbabská). The bridge at Podbaba was protected by 2 bns while a third bn occupied the village of Troja on the opposite bank. There was another bridge for communication at Branik.
On the right bank, the Prussians established their artillery on the Ziskaberg up to the heights of Michle, located within effective range of the city. The slopes of these heights on the side of the city were covered with gardens and vineyards.
On May 7, the Austrians held a council of war in Prague where Baron Kheul was charged to control the distribution of provisions. Furthermore, 1,000 Grenzer light troops with 2 guns under the command of Major-General Drašković were sent to occupy part of the Ziskaberg. The Austrian force encircled in Prague counted 70 bns and 65 grenadier coys for a total of 39,000 foot; 4,000 cavalrymen and hussars, 2,300 artillerymen and 600 men of the supply train; altogether 46,000 men. From this force, 27,000 foot (52 bns and 47 grenadier coys) under FZM Count Königsegg and FZM Baron Kheul were assigned to the defence of the walls on the right bank of the Moldau. The “Kleinseite” and the Hradschin Castle (present-day Hradčany) were occupied by a force of 12,000 men (18 bns, 18 grenadier coys) under FML Count Thürheim and FML Baron Wetzel that had been thrown into Prague to serve as garrison on May 6.
On May 8, the Prussian bridge of boats was moved upstream to Podbaba. Furthermore, 5 sqns of Katte Dragoons and 5 sqns of Seydlitz Hussars were transferred from the right bank to the left to reinforce Prince Moritz.
On May 9, a battery of 8 x 12-pdr guns and another of 6 x 25-pdr mortars were completed and cannonading began. Then, 200 Prussians volunteers and 800 picked foot drove the Grenzer light troops off the Ziskaberg. In this action, the Prussians lost 3 officers (including Colonel von Strantz from Prinz von Preußen Infantry killed in action) and 40 men. The height was then occupied by 150 men with two 12-pdr guns while Prinz von Preussen Infantry and Kannacher Infantry encamped nearby. In the evening, the Prussians drove back 400 Austrians who had tried to reoccupy the Ziskaberg.
By May 11, the entrenchments of the circumvallation were almost completed. Le Noble Freibataillon and the Feldjäger zu Fuß were transferred from Keith's to Frederick's Corps and took position in the vineyards.
By mid-May the Prussian positions around Prague were as follows:
- on the right bank of the Moldau under the command of Frederick II
- on the right wing from the bridge at Podbaba by Lieben to the road leading to Wolschan (present-day Olšany): 24 bns under Lieutenant-General Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick
- from the road to Wolschan between the Moldau and the Roketnitzer Stream: 2 bns at Podbaba, 1 bn in Troja and 1 bn opposite Holleschowitz (present-day Holešovice)
- in the centre up to the Boticz Stream: 18 bns and 13 sqns under Lieutenant-General von Lestwitz
- on the left wing up to Dworez on the Moldau: under Prince Heinrich von Preussen: 17 bns, 30 sqns and the foot jägers
- on the left bank of the Moldau under the command of Keith
- on the right wing from the Moldau by Slichow to the Motol Stream: 11 bns and 16 sqns under Prince Moritz von Anhalt-Dessau
- on the left wing: 16 bns and 22 sqns under Keith's direct command
On May 14, Frederick was informed that a new treaty had been signed between France and Austria and that a French army of some 115,000 would soon be assembled in the Austrian Netherlands. However, Frederick was confident that within a month he would have conquered Prague and that he would be able to send 30,000 men towards the Main River to join Cumberland's Allied army.
On May 20, the Prussians started to work on four batteries.
In the night of May 20 to 21, Keith sent 200 grenadiers (100 from Jung-Billerbeck Grenadier Battalion and 100 from Kleist Battalion) to attack and destroy the Angelka, an Austrian observation post. They managed to set fire to the Angelka but lost 2 men killed and 2 wounded.
On May 22, Major-General Prince Franz von Braunschweig and von Norman escorted by 100 hussars left the Prussian camp near Prague to join Bevern's Corps.
In the night of May 23-24, between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m., a picked force of 10,000 Austrians (4,600 regular foot, grenadiers, a converged detachment of Grenzers and 2 Hungarian battalions) under generals von Buttler and von Materni tried a sally against Keith's quarter on the left bank of the Moldau. Just before daybreak, they sallied from the Reich and Karl Gates and attacked a Prussian battery located in the Mansfeld Garden. Work on this battery was covered by I./Alt-Braunschweig Infantry and I./Prinz Ferdinand Infantry. The Austrians, having neglected to provide themselves with ladders, were soon stopped by the walls of the garden. Similarly they had no carpenter or axman to break the gate of the garden.
Meanwhile, the whole Austrian army, stood ranked on the walls and would have followed if things had gone well and stormed through, across the Moldau River by Podoli Bridge. Some grenzers led by Loudon finally managed to climb the wall of the Mansfeld Garden and plunged boldly in the midst of Prussian troops occupying it. However, the latter were already alerted and ready to receive them. The two Prussian bns covering work on the battery were soon supported by a picket of the Garde Regiment under Captain von Rohdich. Furthermore, FM Keith sent Pannewitz Infantry to support the defenders and sent the Garde Regiment as well as the Retzow Grenadier Battalion south towards Dejwitz (present-day Dejvice, part of Prague); the I./Garde east towards Weleslawin (present-day Veleslavín).
Meanwhile, the leader of the Austrian grenadiers still immobilized outside the garden gave orders to launch a hail of grenades into it, killing by mistake a great number of grenzers. The grenzers were finally driven out of the garden and ran in the utmost confusion towards the Austrian grenadiers who mistakenly identified the blue clad Banal-Grenzinfanterieregiment nr. 1 as Prussian and opened fire on them.
During this time, Keith had advanced on Angelka with Kleist Grenadier Battalion, Grumbkow Grenadier Battalion and Jung-Billerbeck Grenadier Battalion. Around 5:00 a.m., the sally was finally repulsed and the Austrians retired into Prague. In this affair, the Austrians lost 656 men (including 4 officers killed and 17 wounded); and the Prussians, 14 officers and 363 men.
After this action, 4 bns from Moritz's Corps were transferred to the left wing while he received a reinforcement of 2 bns from Frederick's left wing. Frederick now feared that the Austrian army encircled in Prague would find a way to break the encirclement and to escape.
On May 26 and 27, the siege artillery gradually arrived at the Prussian camp near Prague. Work started on two additional batteries on the left bank of the Moldau.
From May 27, the Austrian garrison of Prague had no more meat provisions and was forced to eat horsemeat.
By May 29, six Prussian batteries (4 on the right bank, 2 on the left) were ready to open on Prague. About sunset there came a furious downburst of rain mixed with hail. It lasted hour on hour and the Moldau flooded breaking half of the bridge at Branik. The low parts of Prague were all under water, unfortunate individuals getting drowned in the cellars. A great deal of Austrian meal was also spoiled.
On the night of May 29 to 30, to prevent an Austrian sally, all Prussian batteries opened on Prague. A deluge of bombs and red-hot balls was hurled on the city as soon as rain ceased. The city was set on fire in various parts. The fire lasted for six hours.
On June 1, the Prussians re-established their bridge at Podbaba.
On June 2, the Austrians transferred 3 additional bns to the “Kleinseite” in preparation for a sortie. The same day, the Prussians re-established their bridge at Branik with pontoons taken from Schwerin's bridge at Brandeis (present-day Brandýs nad Labem).
At midnight on the night of June 2 to 3, Colonel Count Browne with 6 grenadier coys, 200 volunteers and 200 Grenzer light troops attacked the Prussian flèche opposite the Angelka on the left bank of the Moldau. The 120 picked Prussian grenadiers defending the flèche were surprised. However, the neighbouring pickets and the bns encamped nearby managed to drive back the attack. Nevertheless, the Austrians had captured three 12-pdr guns and two ammunition wagons, which they brought back into Prague. In this action, the Prussians lost 1 officer and 19 men; and the Austrians 2 officers and 23 men.
On June 5, 12,000 poor people of Prague were pushed out of the city. But, after loitering about all day, they had to be admitted in again, under threat of being shot.
On June 7, Ramin Grenadier Battalion rejoined the Prussian forces surrounding Prague. The same day, an explosion in a Prussian artillery workshop at Weleslawin killed 20 artillerymen.
On June 8, the city looked black and ruinous, with the whole of the New Town in ashes, and few houses left in the Jewish Town, while the fire raged on in the Old Town.
On June 9, fire broke out in the “Kleinseite”.
Charles of Lorraine informed Daun that he was ready to try an escape from Prague by (present-day Beroun) if a relief force would be available on the right bank of the Moldau.
By June 10, ammunition for the Prussian siege batteries around Prague was running low. The bombardment abated and never rose to briskness again. About that time, Bevern reported that Daun was actually coming on, far too strong for his resisting.
On June 10, a red-hot cannon ball set the city on fire near the Moldau. Fire raged for five hours.
On June 12, Frederick finally decided that he would personally lead reinforcements for Bevern's Corps and offer battle to Daun. He confided command of the army surrounding Prague on the right bank of the Moldau to Prince Moritz von Anhalt. He also replaced Keith as commander on the left bank by Lieutenant-General Winterfeldt who had now recovered from his wound at the Battle of Prague.
On Monday June 13, King Frederick set forth in all speed to reinforce Bevern. He left only a small force of 10,000 men to resume the siege and 4,000 more that would follow in two days under Prince Moritz.
On June 15, a few bombs kindled the city in three places.
On June 18, the encounter against Daun's relief force took place at Kolin. After a long struggle, the Prussians were finally defeated. After the battle, Major Grant hurried towards the camp near Prague with Frederick's instructions to raise the siege of the city. The situation at Prague had not changed since the departures of Frederick and Prince Moritz. Bombardment had continued from the batteries located on the right bank of the Moldau. The generals commanding at Prague were without news from Frederick since June 15. Furthermore, FM Keith had been informed that Austrian light troops had entered into Beraun. He had sent a small detachment (200 men from Bayreuth Dragoons and 180 foot) under Major von Seelhorst from Bayreuth Dragoons. In the evening, hussar patrols came back to the Prussian camp spreading the rumour of a successful attack of Frederick's Army againt Nádasdy's Corps. The same evening, Charles of Lorraine was informed of Daun's victory at Kolin. He immediately ordered that the infantry be in readiness on the walls and that his light troops should harass the Prussian besiegers during the night.
In the night of June 18 to 19, the Austrians attacked a detachment of Frei-Bataillon Angelelli on the left bank of the Moldau, capturing 1 officer and 30 men.
On Sunday June 19 around 1:00 a.m., Grant arrived at the Prussian camp and went to Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, interim Prussian Commander on the Ziskaberg, informed him of the Prussian defeat at Kolin and transmitted Frederick's orders to raise the siege. Ferdinand immediately went to meet Prince Heinrich and the latter informed Winterfeldt, commanding on the left bank of the Moldau. These commanders then began to take measures for the raising of the siege.
During the afternoon of June 19, the Prussian generals (Keith, the Prince of Prussia, Prince Heinrich, Prince Ferdinand of Prussia, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, Prinz Schönaich, Count Schmettau, von Winterfeldt, von der Golz and von Retzow) met on the pontoon bridge established at Branik and Prince Heinrich explained his plan. He considered that the Prussian corps posted on the right bank of the Moldau was the most seriously threatened by Daun's Army and that it should retreat towards Brandeis with its left wing marching first. Baggage should be sent forward as soon as possible. The siege artillery would be removed from the batteries during the afternoon and the barrels would be loaded on wagons and transferred to the left bank by the Podbaba bridge; most carriages would have to be broken up. At 3:00 p.m., Frederick arrived at the camp and went directly to his former headquarters at Michle. He was exhausted and let Prince Heinrich supervise the preparations for the retreat of the corps posted on the right bank. On both hills, cannon were removed, batteries destroyed, siege-gear neatly gathered up, to go in wagons to Melnik (present-day Mělník), then by boat to Dresden. The baggage of the corps posted on the right bank were sent to Brandeis, escorted by Fouqué Fusiliers.
The same day (June 19), Keith sent his baggage to Welwarn (present-day Velvary), a difficult task since the transportable wounded and the siege artillery were also transported on the same roads. Furthermore, Colonel von Dieskau had to cover the retreat of the pontoon train. Keith was compelled to let his boat-bridge at Podbaba go downstream once the last battalion posted at Troja had reached the left bank of the Moldau, hoping to recover it further downstream and to re-establish it at Melnik. However, Grenzer light troops posted at Holleschowitz passed the Elbe on barges and made themselves master of the 44 pontoons drifting on the Moldau. The loss of this pontoon bridge forced Keith to redirect his march to pass the Elbe at Leitmeritz (present-day Litoměřice) instead of Melnik. The bridge at Branik was dismantled the same day and its pontoons charged on wagons.
On Monday June 20, the Prussians undertook their retreat with due rapidity. At 2:00 p.m., Prince Charles ordered 24,000 foot, 2,800 Grenzer light troops and 3,000 horse to make a sortie from the Karl Gate and the Reich Tower and to attack Keith's retiring corps. Furthermore, Loudon was instructed to sally from the Aujezder Tower with 4 grenadier coys, 2,000 Grenzer light troops and 600 hussars and to harass Keith's right flank and rear.
The Austrian troops deployed under the walls of the “Kleinseite.” Soon, Grenzer light troops occupied Keith's abandoned camp and their guns opened on the rearguard. Furthermore, an Austrian battery of 20 guns planted on the Angelka fired on the column of the Prince of Prussia. Winterfeldt's column also came under the fire of Grenzer light troops posted in the Tiergarten Stern and was attacked by Loudon's light troops, suffering some losses.
FM Keith deployed Prinz Ferdinand Infantry and Grenadier Battalion Schenckendorff on the heights to the north of Rufyn (present-day Ruzyně) to cover the approach of Winterfeldt's column and Schmettau's rearguard. Once the junction had been effected, around 7:00 p.m., Keith deployed his army in two lines. During the retreat to Rufyn, Schmettau's rearguard had lost 500 men and each of the two columns, 200 men. Colonel von Bülow, who commanded a grenadier bn was mortally wounded.
For the description of the Prussian retreat, see 1757 - Prussian invasion of Bohemia.
This article incorporates texts from the following books, which are now in the public domain:
- Anonymous: A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 205-216
- Carlyle, Thomas: History of Friedrich II of Prussia vol. 18.
- Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763
- Vol. 3 Kolin, pp. 1-53, 94-99
- Vanicek, Fr.: Specialgeschichte der Militärgrenze aus Originalquellen und Quellenwerken geschöpft, Vol. II, Vienna: Kaiserlich-Königlichen Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1875, pp. 418