1759-08-12 - Battle of Kunersdorf
Prelude to the Battle
After his victory at Paltzig on July 23, 1759, General Piotr Semionovitch Saltykov resumed his plan for the invasion of Brandenburg, marching his troops towards Frankfurt an der Oder, he reached the town on July 30. Meanwhile, two Austrian corps had left Silesia under Andreas Hadik and the Baron Ernst Gideon Loudon to make their junction with Saltykov's Russian army. These manoeuvres forced Frederick II to rush towards Brandenburg in a desperate attempt to prevent the junction of these three corps.
Loudon managed to join Saltykov on August 8, while Hadik had drawn the Prussians away from Loudon's column. By August 9, Frederick had assembled an army of some 49,000 men. During the night of August 10, the Prussian army crossed the Oder at Göritz (present-day Gorzyca).
On August 11 around 2:30 p.m., soon after the arrival of his army in the camp near Bischofsee (present-day Stare Biskupice), Frederick went to the Trettiner Spitzberg to reconnoitre the Russian positions. The Mühl-Berg was just in front of him, only a short distance away, and the Juden-Berg stood out clearly against the horizon behind the Mühl-Berg in the southwest. However, most of the terrain between these two heights remained hidden from sight. Frederick could easily observe the defensive positions that the Russians had erected on and around the Mühl-Berg. The abatis established across the dry ravin of the Bäcker-Grund could also be seen as well as the cavalry deployed near the suburb of Damm. Since it was impossible to determine in which direction the main Russian line was facing, Frederick stuck to his previous opinion that it was facing northwestwards in the direction of the Oder Valley and, consequently, that the troops on the Mühl-Berg constituted the right wing of these positions. Since the Oder Valley was too marshy to allow an attack, Frederick resolved to attack the Russian wing deployed on the Mühl-Berg and what he considered as the rear of the Russian positions.
In the evening, after his return to the camp of Bischofsee, Frederick gave his orders to his generals. He did not change the order of battle, which had been established at the camp near Wulkow for his infantry, but he changed the dispositions of his cavalry.
Finck’s Reserve Corps (8 bns) was charged to make a demonstration from the Trettiner Height to fix the Russians. Then it had to attack the Mühl-Berg. Finck would be supported by the 40 sqns of Schorlemmer’s Cavalry Division. To draw the attention of the Russians, Finck was instructed to beat the “Reveille” around 3:30 a.m. in his camp near Bischofsee and to make as much noise as possible. At dawn, Finck had to launch conspicuous reconnaissance and to hold discussions with the generals of his corps and their staffs on the heights south of Trettin and southwest of Bischofsee for about an hour, in full view of the Russians. Around 5:00 a.m., Finck would then occupy these heights with troops and artillery to give the impression that an attack would soon be launched from there. Around 6:00 a.m., Finck had to gradually advance his troops and his artillery on the slopes north of the “Gross-Mühl” and “Bäcker-Mühle,” while avoiding to launch a premature attack against the Russian positions on the Mühl-Berg. Finck should only attack once the main army would engage in a firefight, or when the Russians would start to revert their front (which according to Frederick was currently facing to the northwest), or if the Russians initiated a decisive movement. Schorlemmer’s Cavalry Division had to actively support Finck’s infantry and to immediately intervene if ever Russian troops tried to cross the Hühnerfliess.
Between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., the main body of Frederick’s Army would silently march out of its camp in two columns. At the head of the right column (which would form the first line), Lieutenant-General von Seydlitz would lead the cavalry of the left wing, while Lieutenant-General Prince Eugen von Württemberg would lead the cavalry right wing, posted at the end of the right column. The left column (second line) would march parallel to the right one. The main body would thus march unseen around the Russian positions through heavily wooded areas. The idea was to emerge in the open in front of the southeastern side of the Russian position and make good use of the element of surprise.
Once the main body would have reached the forest south of Kunersdorf, its cavalry would take position behind the wings of the second line. During the attack against the Russian positions, the left wing would be refused. Frederick intended his right wing to bear the brunt of the assault, which would be conducted simultaneous with Finck’s own attack.
Map and initial deployment
Near Frankfurt an der Oder, the western edge of the Oder Valley comes close to the river. However, the valley widens to a completely flat meadow to the east and north of the suburb of Damm. Then at Göritz, the eastern edge of the hilly valley falls steeply to the banks of the Oder again. The valley floor was crossed by numerous streams and covered with meadows, knolls and swamps as well as with extensive bushes and shrubs, which almost always had a moist subsoil. These bushes and shrubs grew at the foot of the slopes of the valley edges. They could hardly be entered after heavy rain, but after prolonged drought, as was the case at the time of the battle, they were passable by infantry and even cavalry.
The high ground dominating the valley floor, which rose up to 15 and 20 m from the plain, was divided into two unequal parts by the course of the Hühnerfliess, which flowed to the southeast in a swamp and a chain of ponds. The heavily covered terrain north of this section also provided good cover for large corps. The Hühnerfliess as such was not a very wide stream but it constituted an important obstacle to movement due to its muddy banks. For this reason, the existing passages at the Gross-Mühl, the Bäcker-Mühle and the Rätsch-Mühl, which apparently consisted of dams with wooden bridges, were all the more valuable; as were the bridge on the road leading from Kunersdorf to Zohlow and the bridges on the Faule and the Stroh.
To the south of this section, there were extensive forests which left only a narrow strip of land free east of Frankfurt in the vicinity of Kunersdorf where most of the sanguinary battle would take place. These lowlands were closed with an elongated ridge several hundred meters wide, which clearly stood out against the horizon. The most noticeable parts of this ridge were the Juden-Berg, opposite Frankfurt, and the Mühl-Berg by the Hühnerfliess. The forested around the Juden-Berg constituted excellent landmarks for orientation.
In the east, a narrow ridge with steep slopes formed a wedge between the Hühnerfliess and the unforested Mühl-Berg, separated by the deep hollow of the Bäcker-Grund. This ridge was also covered with forests at that time, but in places they must have been very light or cut down, or maybe only consisted of low-lying young woods. The roads in this area were in good condition.
The extensive forest adjoining the Walk-Berg, which surrounded the vicinity of Kunersdorf in a wide semicircle, was separated in its eastern half by the path leading from the Faule bridge southwestwards into the forest of Frankfurt and the Neuendorf Heath. The forests consisted mainly of softwood. In places, especially to the west of the chain of swamp and ponds stretching south from Kunersdorf, there were areas with oak and undergrowth. In general, the forest was passable for the infantry and cavalry outside the numerous paths. However, the artillery and ammunition wagons had to follow these paths, which were mainly used for wood transportation and were therefore very narrow and unkempt. The deep sandy subsoil made it difficult for the guns and vehicles to progress.
The chain of ponds and marshes in the area of Kunersdorf separated the open terrain between the forests and the Oder Valley into two unequal parts, although these peculiarities could not be seen from afar. This chain of ponds and marshes formed an important obstacle for movements. It was passable only in two places. Otherwise, a large detour southwards was necessary to avoid this obstacle. One of these passages was located in the space between the Dorf-See and the Blanken-See, which was partially traversed by a deep ditch, so that only a narrow passage was left. The second passage was located in the forest and led to a wooden bridge. The ponds to the south of Kunersdorf were so deep that they could not be crossed even by cavalry. They formed a deep winding hollow where the passages between ponds were hidden from sight.
The houses of Kunersdorf, located on a little saddle on the north shore of the Dorf-See, formed the beginning of the Kuh-Grund, to the edges of which the slopes gradually descended from the Mühl-Berg and the Juden-Berg. From the western exit of Kunersdorf, the 20 m wide bottom of the Kuh-Grund rapidly sloped down in gentle bends towards the valley. Its slopes were particularly steep near Kunersdorf where they could only be climbed with difficulty. In the middle of the Kuh-Grund, the depression measured between 7 and 8 m deep and its depth increased considerably as the terrain sloped down to the valley. Shortly before the Elsbush, the edges of the Kuh-Grund receded on both sides and terrain started to slope more gently.
The Kuh-Grund thus formed an important depression, which could easily be defended against an attack coming from the east, especially since the glacis-like western slopes of the Mühl-Berg laid under the fire of any artillery posted on the knoll located further to the west or on the Gross Spitzberg. The weakest point of the Kuh-Grund was located at its southern end, near the village of Kunersdorf where it was slightly flatter. Nevertheless, even this part of the Kuh-Grund laid in the field of fire of artillery established on the Great Spitzberg, which was all the more important since the deployment of the attackers would be heavily hindered by the chain of ponds.
The western outskirts of the village of Kunersdof laid on the slopes of the shores of the Dorf-See under the fire of the defenders, while its northern part was situated on the gently rising slopes of the Mühl-Berg. Since the Russians had burned down the village, the ruins of the houses could hardly block the field of fire of the artillery. As a result, however, the artillery of the Prussians was also able to fire from the small elevations east of Kunersdorf across the town to the heights west of the Kuh-Grund. Such an artillery support was also possible for the Prussians from the edge of the Mühl-Berg.
Not far to the east of the Kuh-Grund, between it and the wide ridge of the Mühl-Berg, a large hollow offered good cover against artillery posted to the west of the Kuh-Grund. It was separated from the Kuh-Grund by a small knoll known as the “Kuh-Berg.”
Some 250 m west from the northern débouché of the Kuh-Grund, a similar but less steep hollow known as the “Tief-Weg” penetrated into the ridge on a length of about 300 to 400 m. It ran diagonally to the Kuh-Grund in the direction of the western exit of Kunersdorf. Some 500 m northwest of Kunersdorf, it gradually merged with the flat ridge.
To the west of the “Tief-Weg,” the terrain rose gently to a broad 55 m high hilltop. Another steep hollow, the “Hohle-Grund” was cut into the ridge of Kunersdorf. It was flanked on both sides by the Juden-Berg and the Falkenstein-Berg which dominated the entire terrain to the east.
While the ridge of Kunersdorf was delimited to the east, north and west with rather steep slopes, to the south it gradually merged, almost imperceptibly, with the neighbouring terrain. To the east of the chain of ponds, this southern edge of the ridge of Kunersdorf consisted of elongated terrain waves, individual knolls, and broad, deep hollows; while, to the west of the ponds an almost uniform plain stretched out, which gradually rose to the south.
The entire battlefield was bordered by the forest of Reppen.
|Several authors mention that the Austro-Russian army was initially facing northwestwards and had been forced to precipitously redeploy to face southeastwards in reaction to Frederick’s flanking manoeuvre.
The work of the German Grosser Generalstab specifically mention that this is an error stemming from a misinterpretation of some documents in Masslowskij’s work.
Considering that the terrain to the northwest of the Austro-Russian positions was too marshy to allow a massive attack, that the Russians had only a few defensive works erected on this side, and that they had extensive entrenchments and abatis facing southeastwards, we have decided to adhere to the interpretation of the Grosser Generalstab.
The Austro-Russian positions had been carefully chosen, they were situated 5 km from Frankfurt, on the right bank of the Oder. The Austro-Russian army had taken strong entrenched positions on the ridge of Kunersdorf, facing southeast. The right wing occupied the slopes of the Oder valley to the south-east of Frankfurt and the positions extended from there through the Falkenstein-Berg, the Gross Spitzberg and along the northwestern slope of the ridge of Kunersdorf, up to the Mühl-Berg. An attack by the Prussians across the swampy Oder valley, which lacked any artillery position, was impossible.
On the right wing, up to the Falkenstein-Berg, stood the 5 infantry rgts of Lieutenant-General Villebois. Then came Fermor’s Division, extending to the Gross Spitzberg; and Rumyantsev’s Division, extending up to the Kuh-Grund. The most important elevations on that wing were the Falkenstein-Berg and the Gross Spitzberg. From the Falkenstein-Berg, the field of fire was hindered by woods. The heavy artillery established on this height was pointing eastwards on the open meadows between the chain of ponds and the hollows. It was supported by a strong battery established on the Gross Spitzberg. These small hills, barely noticeable among their surroundings, formed the most important point of support of the entire Russian positions, for the artillery deployed there dominated the entire surrounding area from the Falkenstein-Berg to the Mühl-Berg.
The Observation Corps (14 bns) of Prince Golitsyn and a strong battery occupied the Mühl-Berg, facing southeastwards, northeastwards and northwestwards, because the part of the Oder Valley located upstream did not prevent an advance of the Prussian infantry.
The second line was roughly deployed at a constant distance from the first line. It was well covered against artillery fire coming from the south. The right wing of this line reached the Juden-Berg.
Five Russian cavalry rgts (15 sqns) were deployed at the foot of the ridge of Kunersdorf and extended to the Elsbusch where they linked with the left wing. The rest of the Russian and Austrian cavalry had taken position in an around the Hohle-Grund, next the right wing of the first and second lines of infantry, deployed on the Juden-Berg.
The 7 Austrian infantry rgts of Loudon’s Corps formed a third and a fourth lines kept in reserve behind the right wing of the Russians. They were deployed on the slopes of the Juden-Berg, facing northwards and westwards.
Totleben’s light troops observed the Prussian camp near Bischofsee. They occupied the destroyed passages across the Hühnerfliess near the mills established on this stream (Gross-Mühl, Bäcker-Mühl and Rätsch-Mühl) as well as the bridge on the road leading from Kunersdorf to Zohlow. Detachments were also posted on the heights to the southeast of Kunersdorf and along the chain of ponds. The main body of Totleben’s light corps (Don Cossacks, the Gruzinskiy Hussars, 5 sqns of the 1st Novoserbskiy Hussars and 2 sqns of the Zholtiy (Yellow) Hussars) was posted at the edge of the forest near the Falkenstein-Berg, on the road leading from Frankfurt to the bridge on the Faule River.
Furthermore, 10 Austrian hussar sqns and the Russian Serbskiy Hussars had taken position in outworks near Weissen, north of the Damm suburb, to observe the movements of the Prussians and prevent any advance from Lebus along the banks of the Oder or from Trettin across the valley.
Since the Russians had started to fortify their positions soon after their arrival before Frankfurt, they had build an unusually strong continuous line of entrenchments, extending from a farm near the Mühl-Berg to the northwest débouché of the Kuh-Grund. These entrenchments included a number of flèches and redoubts linked together by one meter deep trenches. Here and there, there were very narrow passages allowing soldiers to go fetch water. A wider entrance had been left open between the Sieben Ruthen-Berg and the Gross Spitzberg for supply wagons. However, all these passages were blocked by barriers.
To reinforce their left flank, the Russians had also erected an abatis in front of their lines, which were facing north and east near the Mühl-Berg. However, this abatis was so badly located that it was out of the field of fire of the main defensive lines. A second abatis had been erected in the Bäcker-Grund at the foot of the Walk-Berg to slow down the approach of the Prussians if they debouched from the forest of the Walk-Berg. Since there was still enough time, Saltykov also ordered to dig a ditch in front of the entrenchments of the Mühl-Berg. However, this ditch was not yet completed and still quite shallow by the time of the battle. There were also wolf pits dug in front of the Gross Spitzberg. Finally, a line of abatis extended from the Falkenstein-Berg to the Oder Valley. Since the village of Kunersdorf greatly impaired the field of fire and the line of sight to the front of the Russian positions and could also offer the Prussians a good base to launch their attack, Saltykov, on Loudon's advice, had it burned down on August 11. The entrenchments protecting the northwestern front of the Mühl-Berg, which consisted only of a few flèches in their western part, were the only defensive works erected behind the main line of entrenchments. The access to the Kuh-Grund and to the “Tief-Weg” was blocked by abatis.
The artillery was distributed along the entire positions. The artillery of the Observation Corps (some 56 pieces) was concentrated in the entrenchments of the Mühl-Berg; while the field artillery of the army was mostly deployed in the redoubts of the Gross Spitzberg and Falkenstein-Berg. Therefore, the entire front of the Russian lines could be taken between devastating flanking fires. The regimental artillery pieces accompanied their respective units.
To ease communication with the bridge on the Oder, a 300 m long corduroy road (log road) had been built from the Klein-Mühl to the dam near the Juden-Berg. This road was so strong and wide that three men could ride side by side over it. Four infantry bns and some Grenzers were guarding the bridges across the Oder in front of Frankfurt .
The only weak point of these very strong positions was on their left flank where an enemy coming from the north-east could turn the lines. For this reason, the Russians had erected additional entrenchments in the area of the Mühl-Berg. However, the neighbouring height allowed an attacker to concentrate its artillery fire on the Mühl-Berg.
Description of Events
The Austro-Russian army had spent the night of August 11 to 12 in order of battle in anticipation of the battle.
On Sunday August 12 between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., Frederick’s Army came out of its camp in the order of march established by the king on the previous day. It marched in the darkness along two almost parallel paths leading to the two planned crossing points over the Hühnerfliess at the bridges of Faule and Stroh. Meanwhile, Finck’s Corps and Schorlemmer's cavalry remained in their camps.
When they reached the Hühnerfliess, the vanguard and the right column crossed the stream on the bridge of Faule, while the left column used the bridge of Stroh. Most of the cavalry also crossed on the bridge of Stroh, probably because the left column was shorter than the right column combined with the vanguard.
At daybreak, Saltykov received a message from Totleben’s outposts, informing him that the Prussian army had marched out of its camp of Bischofsee during the night and was advancing through the Frankfurter Forest towards the Russian right wing.
At daybreak, according to his instructions, Lieutenant-General Finck rode to the Trettiner Height with his staff as if to reconnoitre the Russian positions. However a thick fog prevented the Russians from noticing his presence and made this diversion useless.
Around 6:00 a.m., Finck ordered his corps to march out of his camp near Bischofsee and to advance to the heights south of Trettin. He established two batteries, one on the Trettiner Spitzberg and another on a knoll east of the Kranich-Bruch.
After crossing the Hühnerfliess, the vanguard of Frederick’s army advanced to the Walk-Berg and halted there to cover the passage of the main body. The two columns of the main body continued their advance southwestwards along the so-called “Grenz-Weg.” During this time, Frederick, escorted by the Kleist Hussars, reconnoitred the Russian positions from the edge of the forest to the southeast of Kunersdorf. He was accompanied by a mounted man belonging to Goltz Infantry, who came from this region. Frederick realised what a fatal error he had made when he thought that the Russians were facing northwestwards. Instead of marching against the rear of their positions, he was directly advancing against their strongly entrenched front line. He also noticed the chain of ponds and marshes which ran from Kunersdorf southwards and reached the Frankfurter Forest and which could only be crossed at two places: between Kunersdorf and the “Blanken” pond and on a bridge in the forest.
Frederick realised that he would have to separate his army in two parts, each marching to one of these crossing points. He could then reunite his army only in the burned down village of Kunersdorf, very close to the Russian positions. By doing so, he would lose contact with Finck’s Corps. Accordingly, he changed his plan, but precious time had been wasted. Instead of advancing on both sides of Kunersdorf, he decided to concentrate his attack to the east of the chain of ponds and marshes with his left wing, while his right wing, with the vanguard marching ahead, would advance along the Hühnerfliess and, in conjunction with Finck’s Corps, enveloped the Russian left wing posted on the Mühl-Berg. His right wing and Finck’s Corps would then roll westwards over the Russians position. Apparently, Frederick still ignored that the Russian positions were split in several sections by hollows separating the heights on which the Russian were posted.
Meanwhile, the fog had lifted and Finck realised that his two batteries were too distant from the Russian positions to be of any assistance. He moved them forward and ordered his troops to follow.
Around 8:00 a.m., when the fog lifted, Saltykov could see Finck’s Corps slowly advancing in order of battle towards the Mühl-Berg and two batteries established on the slopes near the Gross-Mühl and the Bäcker-Mühl. A small Prussian detachment had also taken position in the vale of the Hühnerfliess under the protection of these batteries. The Russian outposts retired in front of this detachment.
Soon afterwards, a few cannonballs were fired from these batteries against Russian hussar reconnaissance parties. The artillery of the Observation Corps replied with a few howitzer-grenades.
When Finck’s Corps halted on the northern slope of the Hühnerfliess, the Russian generals rightly deducted that this corps was waiting to synchronize its attack with the main army, which was reportedly marching through the Frankfurter Forest.
Around 9:00 a.m., a Prussian cavalry detachment could be seen at the edge of the forest to the southeast of the Klein Spitzberg. It might have been Frederick with his escort. The Russian artillery fired a few shot and the Prussians retired into the forest.
Totleben’s light troops gradually retired in front of the advancing Prussians. Saltykov could not yet figure the exact manoeuvres undertaken by Frederick. Accordingly, he did not make any change to his deployment.
During this time, the Prussian columns had been approaching the chain of ponds and marshes. They received new orders instructing them to halt and to deploy. This manoeuvres were difficult because the heavy artillery had been intermingled with each column. For this reason, the army began to deploy in order of battle only around 9:00 a.m.
In front of the Prussian right wing, the vanguard was deployed in two lines of 4 bns each. With the exception of the 2 bns of the Bredow Fusiliers, the vanguard consisted exclusively of grenadier bns. It was charged to storm the entrenchments and batteries of the Mühl-Berg.
The two lines of the Prussian right wing followed the vanguard. The cavalry, with the exception of a few dragoon sqns, marched behind the left wing of the infantry in two lines.
Frederick’s Army then advanced towards the edge of the forest.
Around 10:00 a.m., Saltykov gave orders to Totleben to burn the two wooden bridges which allowed passage through the chain of ponds and marches in the forest south of Kunersdorf.
Around 10:00 a.m., Frederick’s Army reached the edge of the forest, where it halted. The vanguard continued its advance along the Hühnerfliess towards the Walk-Berg to cover the deployment of the heavy artillery.
When Saltykov saw Frederick’s Army appearing at the edge of the forest southeast of Kunersdorf, the situation became clear.
Around 10:45 a.m., the right wing of the vanguard reached the Rätsch-Mühl. Meanwhile, Frederick had ordered to deploy the heavy artillery. Colonel von Moller established a large battery on the Walk-Berg and another one on the Kloster-Berg without being spotted by the Russians. A third battery was established shortly afterwards on the Klein Spitzberg. Frederick had now three batteries deployed in a half-circle which could concentrate their fire against the Russian left wing from a distance between 700 to 1,400 m.
Around 11:15 a.m., the Prussian battery on the Walk-Berg fired a few shots against Cossack reconnaissance parties, revealing to Saltykov that this height was occupied by a strong artillery force. Saltykov was now convinced that the Prussians planned an all out assault against his left wing on the Mühl-Berg. The Russian light troops were recalled and took a new position on the right wing near the Falkenstein-Berg, close to the main body of Saltykov’s Army.
Around 11:30 a.m., the battery established on the Walk-Berg finally gave the signal to the rest of the Prussian artillery to open fire. The artillery of Finck’s Corps, established on a hill near the Gross-Mühl, as well as the pieces located on the Kloster-Berg also opened fire. Soon afterwards, the battery established on the Klein Spitzberg imitated them. With the addition of this battery, there were now 60 Prussian field guns, including some new “Austrian-style” 12-pdrs, hitting the Russian positions on the Mühl-Berg with a violent concentric fire. However, two of the Prussian batteries were too distant from the Russian lines to be effective. The battery on the Walk-Berg was better positioned and enfiladed the entire Russian line up to Kunersdorf, causing them heavy losses.
On their left alone, the Russians had some 100 field pieces among which a large number of howitzers. They vastly outnumbered the Prussian artillery. This Russian artillery immediately replied, although only the big battery on the Gross Spitzberg seems to have come into operation. Part of the Russian artillery directed its fire against the Prussian infantry and cavalry, which could be seen advancing, to hinder their progress, but had initially little effect at that distance. Other artillery pieces belonging to the Observation Corps tried, with some success, to set fire to the abatis erected in front of the lines to prevent the Prussians from crossing this obstacle.
The artillery duel raged for about an hour, the Observation Corps suffering heavy losses in its exposed entrenchments on the Mühl-Berg.
Frederick, who was observing the situation from the Walk-Berg, then gave orders to his vanguard to storm the Mühl-Berg. By that time, the vanguard had wheeled to face towards the Mühl-Berg and taken position under cover of the ridge of the Walk-Berg behind the Prussian battery, which had been established there.
However, Saltykov had already realised the menace threatening his left flank and had ordered some of his troops to be in readiness to intervene quickly in this area. The 2 bns of the Grün Loudon Grenadiers, the 2 bns of Baden-Baden Infantry and 2 bns (12 coys) of converged Austrian grenadiers marched from their initial positions on the north slope of the Juden-Berg to a new position between the two Russian lines with their right wing near the Sieben Ruten-Berg, well protected from the fire of the Prussian artillery and ready to attack.
Attack of the Prussian vanguard
The heat was becoming unbearable for both the Prussians and the Austro-Russians. Then around 12:30 p.m., Frederick ordered his vanguard to storm the Mühl-Berg. The 4 bns of the first line of the vanguard, under Major-General von Jung-Schenckendorff set off from their position on the slopes of the Walk-Berg and advanced in the direction of the Bäcker-Grund. They were closely followed by the 4 bns of their second line under Major-General von Lindstedt. The two lines crossed the open ground in relative safety since the bns of the Russian Observation Corps were still stunned by the bombardment, and reached the Bäcker-Grund, a fold in the ground where they could not be harmed by enemy fire. They then managed to cross the two abatis and, still under cover, to reorganise their lines before resuming their advance.
Meanwhile the artillery duel continued.
As the Prussian vanguard climbed the slopes of the Mühl-Berg, the Prussian artillery ceased fire in this area to avoid endangering its own troops and redirected its fire against targets further away.
The Prussian vanguard finally emerged in the open only 100 paces from the Russian line. Until then, the Prussian vanguard had not suffered significant losses, the Russian artillery being ill positioned to fire at them. However, now that it was advancing in the open, it received deadly salvoes of grapeshots and musketry. Not paying attention to losses, the Prussians continued their advance in perfect order. Their first line fired a few well-aimed volleys that spread panic among the Russian gunners and musketeers. Then the first line of the Prussian vanguard, led by Schenckendorff, fixed bayonets and stormed the entrenchments, followed by the second line led by Lindstedt. After a brief melee, the Observation Corps Grenadiers gave way, bringing in its wake the Observation Corps 3rd Musketeer and the Observation Corps 5th Musketeer. In 10 minutes, the Prussians had captured 70 artillery pieces and forced the enemy to run away in disorder abandoning the Mühl-Berg.
If Prussian cavalry had been available at this moment, victory might have been complete. Unfortunately, all the Prussian horse regiments had been deployed on the left wing. It was also impossible to exploit in full the advantage obtained by the enemy rout because the captured Russian guns were not immediately available and it took too long to drag some Prussian light guns on the Muhlberg.
Lindstedt’s second line then extended the right wing of Schenckendorff’s first line. The vanguard was soon joined by the I./Markgraf Carl Infantry that Frederick had previously detached from the first line of his extreme right wing to protect the battery on the Walk-Berg. There were now 9 Prussian bns on the Mühl-Berg but the crampedness of the position only allowed advance on a narrow front. Accordingly, the vanguard reformed in two lines of 5 and 4 bns.
When Frederick saw that his vanguard had made itself master of the Mühl-Berg, he immediately despatched four of his new “Austrian-style” 12-pdrs to take position on this height.
While the Prussian vanguard was waiting for some of its battalion pieces to catch up, Lieutenant-General Prince Golitsyn managed to rally the 3rd Musketeer and the 5th Musketeer of the Observation Corps, and to establish a new line of defence. However, these troops had already heavily suffered from deadly artillery fire and from the attack of the Prussian grenadiers. So, when Schenckendorff and Lindstedt resumed their attack, they soon routed. Similarly, the 4th Musketeer and the 1st Musketeer, that Golitsyn had redeployed some 200 m. east of the Kuh-Grund on his threatened flank, also gave way. The disordered debris of the first two lines of the Observation Corps were then rapidly driven back. The terrain between the Mühl-Berg and Kunersdorf was now covered with isolated and disorganised Russian troops assembling into platoons.
When Saltykov saw the units of the Observation Corps shaken, he ordered the 12 coys of converged Austrian grenadiers under Colonel von Norman to set off from their position in the middle of the Russian lines and to march towards the Kuh-Grund where they would be joined by the Russian 2nd Grenadier, which was currently deployed in the second line of Saltykov’s left wing, to give support to the Observation Corps.
Much had been achieved. With a loss of some 200 men, the 9 Prussian bns had made themselves masters of the terrain previously occupied by the Russian left wing (approx. 12,500 men in 14 bns with 56 field artillery pieces and 30 regimental pieces). The Prussian commanders were astounded by the feeble resistance of the Observation Corps. This did not correspond to the reputation of extraordinary bravery that the Russian troops had acquired at the Battle of Zorndorf. The routing Russian troops took refuge along the slopes near the Kuh-Grund, particularly in the Elsbusch.
The four “Austrian-style” 12-pdrs sent by Frederick deployed on the Mühl-Berg and directed their fire against the routing Russian troops, increasing confusion among their ranks.
The 12 coys of converged Austrian grenadiers and the Russian 2nd Grenadier moved across the Kuh-Grund towards the positions of the Prussian vanguard. After a brief and fierce engagement with the Prussian vanguard, these elite units were also driven back. The Nizhegorodskiy Infantry and Belozerskiy Infantry, which had been sent to their support from the second line and were just climbing the slopes of the Kuh-Grund were also drawn in the general retreat. Troops tried to find cover to protect themselves from the deadly fire of the Prussian batteries posted on the Klein Spitzberg and Mühl-Berg. Part of them fled down the slopes of the Kuh-Grund in the direction of the Klein-Mühl, where they came in the field of fire of Finck’s battery posted north of the Gross-Mühl. The fire of this battery had already forced the Russian horse grenadiers and dragoons, posted at the great Elsbusch near the Kuh-Grund, to withdraw. The 2 dragoon rgts had retired to the vicinity of the Gross Spitzberg, where they took position behind a height, facing towards the Kuh-Grund. The horse grenadiers had retreated to the Klein-Mühl. These cavalry units were therefore cruelly missing just at the moment where they could have counterattacked the Prussian vanguard.
Schenckendorff’s grenadiers and Lindstedt’s bns pressed on, entered the Kuh-Grund and prepared to climb the opposite slope.
The Sankt-Peterburgskiy Infantry and Novgorodskiy Infantry had been hurriedly transferred from the second line and deployed to the right of the Grün Loudon Grenadiers. They were followed by the Austrian Baden-Baden Infantry to form a new line on the slope facing the Prussian vanguard.
The Prussian vanguard repeatedly tried to storm the Russian positions at the top of the steep western slope of the Kuh-Grund, but all efforts were in vain. The exhausted vanguard finally retired to the Kuh-Berg.
Advance of the main body of the Prussians
As soon as the Prussian vanguard had set off from the Walk-Berg and advanced against the Russian left wing, Frederick had given orders to the two lines of his main body to advance from the edge of the forest to the southeast of Kunersdorf. These two lines initially advanced straight ahead, with their right wing anchored on the Hühnerfliess. As the left wing got close to the Klein Spitzberg, both lines began to swing sharply to the left.
While the Prussian infantry right wing advanced towards the Mühl-Berg to support the vanguard, and to exploit its initial success, the two lines of the left wing, under Lieutenant-General Wedel and Lieutenant-General Kanitz, halted in a hollow running from the eastern slope of the Klein Spitzberg to the Walk-Berg, facing towards Kunersdorf.
Most of the Prussian cavalry remained behind the infantry left wing. Lieutenant-General von Seydlitz posted the cavalry first line in a covered position to the east of the Klein Spitzberg, while the cavalry of the Prince of Württemberg remained behind at the edge of the forest. Only 16 sqns (1 dragoon rgt and the Kleist Hussars) followed the infantry right wing and drove the scattered remnants of the Observation Corps out of the southern slopes of the Mühl-Berg as far as Kunersdorf.
Advance of the Prussian right wing
The Prussian infantry right wing followed the same direction that the vanguard had previously taken. It reached the abatis on the Bäcker-Grund at about the moment when the vanguard was driving back the recently rallied units of the Observation Corps and was advancing towards the Kuh-Grund. In their haste to join the vanguard, the units of the right wing rapidly crossed the abatis and did not take enough time to reorganise its ranks before rushing to the attack. Frederick had wanted this wing to advance in echelons, gradually shifting rightwards, and to direct its efforts against the left wing of the newly formed lines of the Russians. Instead, all battalions were hurrying forward in a tight formation without considering that the ridge was gradually narrowing between the Bäcker-Grund and the Kuh-Grund. In an attempt to turn the Russian positions, Thile’s Brigade was soon completely pushed down from the ridge and ended up in the Elsbusch where it wandered in its attempt to get out of this swampy area. This brigade finally came to contact with Finck’s Corps, which was advancing toward the Kuh-Grund, and joined it.
Meanwhile, the other regiments of Prussian right wing had become even more crammed as they advanced within the Russian entrenchments. The lines were soon disorganised. The shells of the Russian battery located on the Gross Spitzberg began to hit this dense human mass. The distant Prussian batteries were unable to threaten this deadly battery. In these exposed positions, the losses of the Prussian infantry rapidly grew. It had to halt under this artillery fire to restore a semblance of order in its ranks, although time was of the essence since the vanguard was suffering devastating losses on the Kuh-Grund.
Advance of Finck’s Corps
During these combats, the corps of Lieutenant-General Finck had descended from the slopes north of the Hühnerfliess and crossed the marshy valley of this stream near the demolished passages at the Gross-Mühl and Bäcker-Mühl. Its cavalry probably crossed the stream on the road leading from Kunersdorf to Zohlow.
Finck’s Corps then marched across the flats to the northwest of the Mühl-Berg, in the direction of the Kuh-Grund, to contribute to the attack of the Prussian right wing. However the passage through the marshland of the Hühnerfliess without usable crossings and the subsequent march took a lot of time. So it was already 2:00 p.m. when the corps was finally able to start its advance towards the Kuh-Grund.
Since most of Finck’s infantry had to wade through the marshy Elsbusch, it only advanced very slowly. For its part, Finck’s cavalry could only use a strip of land between the Elsbush and the slopes of the ridge. It could not make a quick advance to relieve the vanguard, which was struggling hard on the Kuh-Grund.
Attack of the Prussian right wing on the Kuh-Grund
The battle had already been raging for more than two hours but most of the main body of the Russian army and most of Loudon’s Corps had not yet been engaged. After his previous experience at Zorndorf, Frederick expected a stubborn resistance.
In addition, the continuous fire of the Russian artillery was tearing large gaps in the Prussian ranks, and the formation of the right wing had already loosened considerably. However, the largest part of Frederick’s Army had not yet been engaged and the king had a long summer afternoon at his disposal.
Frederick re-established order in the hitherto confused mass of his infantry right wing. He then advanced at the head of these troops to support his disorganised vanguard, which had taken position at the northern edge of the Kuh-Grund and maintained but a feeble fire. Frederick left the Diericke Fusiliers behind to guard the artillery park located in the forest.
The shots of some Prussian light guns firing from the Muhlberg were soon spent and the Russians had time to reorganize their ranks, bringing forward fresh troops and artillery from unthreatened sectors of their line. Furthermore, the Prussian batteries of the Sptizberg were reoriented to the left. Saltykov had organized a new defence line with infantry and artillery en potence from the Klein-Mühl up to Kunersdorf. The Kuh-Grund provided a natural obstacle to the assaults of the Prussians.
On the opposite side of the deep Kuh-Grund, Russian and Austrian troops, effectively supported by their artillery on the Gross Spitzberg, firmly awaited a new attack of the Prussians. As the Prussian bns got within range, the Russian artillery opened against them with grapeshots. Soon afterwards, the Russian and Austrian infantry started to fire volleys at the advancing Prussian first line, which continued to advance, resolutely hurrying down the slope of the Kuh-Grund. But this new attack was driven back too.
The attack of second line of the Prussians met with the same fate.
In the meantime, some units have rallied in the hollow east of the Kuh-Berg. Individual battalions or entire regiments repeatedly rushed forward in vain attempts to push the defenders back. The enemy also launched many counterattacks but was driven back. Gradually, the combat degenerated in a bloody struggle for the possession of the Kuh-Grund. Both sides suffering heavy casualties.
Throughout the attacks of their infantry right wing across the Kuh-Grund, the Prussians suffered from a total lack of support from their heavy artillery. Gradually, they managed to transfer some heavy pieces from the slopes of the Walk-Berg to the Kuh-Berg where they were within range of the enemy infantry lines.
The Russian and Austrian regiments posted on the right wing of the entrenched line facing the Kuh-Grund soon began to suffer from the fire of the Prussian artillery established on the Kuh-Berg. Apsheronskiy Infantry and Rostovskiy Infantry incurred heavy losses but continued to hold their positions. As ammunition became sparse and casualties increased the Grün Loudon Grenadiers finally retired, but Baden-Baden Infantry, which was behind it in the second line, immediately took their place.
By 1:00 p.m., the Prussians had been unable to synchronize a final assault because the units that were supposed to take part had either already launched uncoordinated attacks that were easily repulsed or had been delayed, slowed down by their heavy artillery pieces or struggling in the waterlogged fields.
Cavalry combat on the Kuh-Grund
The fire of the Prussian battery on the Kuh-Berg gradually became unbearable because the Russian artillery on the Gross Sptizberg did not succeed to silence it. The defenders of the entrenched lines soon began to waver. However, the infantry of the Prussian right wing was still too shaken to take advantage of the situation, while the infantry of the left wing was too far away. Accordingly, Frederick gave orders to the 16 sqns of dragoons and hussars, which were following the right wing since the beginning of its advance, to attack.
This cavalry had taken position under cover of the Mühl-Berg. It rushed forward along the northwestern slopes of the Mühl-Berg and, past the battery on the Kuh-Berg, they swung in towards the crest just west of the Kuh-Grund and charged the enemy. The Austro-Russian infantry broke and retired in the direction of the Tief-Weg, followed by the Prussian sqns.
The 2 Russian dragoon rgts, which had previously sought refuge in the vicinity of the Gross Spitzberg to escape the fire of the Prussian artillery, had recently been reinforced with the Austrian Kolowrat-Krakowski Dragoons sent from the Hohle-Grund. When the resistance of the Austrian and Russian infantry defending the slope of the Kuh-Grund began to weaken, at Rumyantsev’s and Loudon’s requests, these 11 sqns moved closer to the fight. They then hurled themselves against the now disordered Prussian cavalry and drove them back after a brief melee. They continued their advance around the Kuh-Grund and attacked the exhausted Prussian infantry, which had already suffered heavy losses and was out of ammunition. The Prussian infantry received the charging Austro-Russian cavalry at the point of the bayonet.
Seeing his infantry beginning to waver, Frederick sent a messenger to Seydlitz, who was posted near the Klein Spitzberg with his cavalry, instructing him to launch an attack in the direction of the Mühl-Berg.
The already shaken Prussian infantry soon fell in disorder, broke and fled. As a few Austrian sqns got close to the Kuh-Berg, where Frederick stood, Seydlitz launched his attack.
Recognizing the danger that threatened Frederick, Seydlitz hurried to the remnants of the Bredow Fusiliers, which were a little further back. What was left of this regiment advanced. Frederick also threw the units, which were still maintaining a semblance of order, against the enemy cavalry and managed to drive it back.
Now the 5 sqns of the Belling Hussars from the cavalry of Lieutenant-General von Seydlitz arrived, the squadron of Kleist Frei-Husaren was also nearby. With these hastily assembled forces, Seydlitz hurried along the northwestern slope to catch up with the Austro-Russian cavalry close to a knoll, just west of the Kuh-Grund.
Seydlitz had noticed that this previously hotly contested and extremely important knoll was not occupied at the time, and decided to keep it free until the infantry of the right wing could renew its attack.
Meanwhile, the broken bns of the Prussian right wing had managed to rally. They were reorganized and received ammunition in preparation for a renewed attack across the Kuh-Grund.
During the same time, the Austro-Russian infantry had rallied too. They had also been reinforced with the Russian 1st Grenadier, 1 bn of the Azovskiy Infantry and 1 bn of the 2nd Moskovskiy Infantry which Saltykov had timely sent forward from the Juden-Berg and the Falkenstein-Berg. These units had formed a strong defensive line along the Tief-Weg.
When Seydlitz’s cavalry caught up with the retreating Austro-Russian cavalry and quickly broke it, it suddenly came under such a fierce musket fire and a hail of grapeshots coming from the knolls on the other side of the Tief-Weg and from the Gross Spitzberg, that it was forced to turn back.
With artillery pieces transferred from their right wing, the Russians also established several batteries on a wide ridge north of the Gross Spitzberg, within range of the Prussian battery of the Kuh-Berg, which had caused such havoc during the previous Prussian attack.
The Prussian infantry was not yet ready to launch its attack, and the Russians seized the opportunity and reoccupied the western edge of the Kuh-Grund.
Around 3:30 p.m., the Prussian bns appeared in good order at the eastern edge of the Kuh-Grund. Another bloody engagement ensued for the possession of this hollow. The new Russian batteries inflicted very heavy losses to the Prussian attackers. Nevertheless, the situation now seemed to be very favourable for the Prussians.
Soon, Frederick sent orders to Finck to support the attack of the right wing against the Kuh-Grund with an advance against the left wing of the Russian defensive lines at the edge of the Kuh-Grund. Similarly, Frederick gave orders to his left wing, which had hitherto been kept in reserve in a hollow east of the Klein Spitzberg to encircle the right wing of the Russian position on the Kuh-Grund. With an attack on three fronts against the entrenched lines at the western edge of the Kuh-Grund, Frederick hoped to finally conquer the position.
Finck’s artillery was still posted on the heights to the north and northeast of the Gross-Mühl. It had not been possible to move it across the marshy Hühnerfliess on the new makeshift bridges. The distance from the Kuh-Grund was too great for this artillery to play a significant role in Finck’s attack.
Because of the difficult terrain, Finck’s cavalry had difficulties to get ready for a timely attack. During this time, Finck’s infantry, along with Thile’s Brigade had labouriously made their way through the swampy Elsbusch.
Around 3:30 p.m., Finck’s infantry and Thile’s Brigade finally launched an attack in the Kuh-Grund. Finck’s extreme left wing (probably the Thile’s Brigade) advanced along the northwestern slope of Kuh-Berg towards the Kuh-Grund; while the rest of Finck’s infantry hit the left flank of the Russian and Austrian troops defending the Kuh-Grund. After a brief engagement, the left wing of the Austro-Russians retired behind the Tief-Weg.
However, the Russians had timely recognized the threat posed by Finck's Corps and had already taken countermeasures. They had a large quantity of units nearby, awaiting to be used. The Nizovskiy Infantry and Sibirskiy Infantry had been brought forward from the Hohle-Grund. They were closely followed by a second line formed of Uglitskiy Infantry and Kievskiy Infantry. Major-General Berg arrived just in time with these 4 rgts to take position on the northern slope of a knoll near the Kuh-Grund and to deploy some Shuvalov howitzers and his regimental artillery, consisting partly of light unicorns, in front of his infantry.
Berg’s timely arrival allowed the Russian left wing, which was retreating from the heights, to rally and to establish a new line on the western slopes of the Tief-Weg.
As Finck’s infantry approached these new positions, it was struck by the devastating fire of the Russians, who were very effectively supported by the flanking fire of an Austrian battery posted on the slopes west of the Hohle-Grund.
All of Finck's attacks were driven back by this furious fire.
Attack of the Prussian infantry left wing
At 3:00 p.m., many Prussian generals, Seydlitz among them, realizing that the troops were utterly exhausted, advised Frederick to either call for a pause in the fighting and wait the next day to renew it, or consider the possibility of a withdrawal. Frederick would not listen.
During Finck’s repeated assault against the enemy troops posted along the Tief-Weg, the infantry of the Prussian left wing had advanced and engaged the right wing of the Austro-Russian “potence” defending the Kuh-Grund near Kunersdorf.
Even though, Finck’s attack had pushed back the left wing of the defenders of the Kuh-Grund, their right wing was still occupying the slopes west of Kunersdorf.
From the hollow south of Kunersdorf, a path gradually climbed the slope towards the western exit of Kunersdorf, up to the ridge of the plateau some 400 m. northwest of the village where it met the southeast exit of the Kuh-Grund. This path roughly delimited the Russian-Austrian positions, which then continued at a sharp angle in a line of entrenchments leading to the Gross Spitzberg. This protruding angle was precisely the most vulnerable point of the defenders, since it could be enveloped from the Kuh-Grund and Kunersdorf. On the other hand, the strong Russian battery on the Gross Spitzberg could cover the entire front of the entrenchments up to the village of Kunersdorf with a devastating fire. In addition, there were field guns and regimental guns in the fortified Russian lines, which benefited from an excellent field of fire across the terrain that the Prussians had to move through. The line of entrenchments facing southeastwards were exceptionally strong.
For its part the infantry of the Prussian left wing would have to deploy in cramped positions between Kunersdorf and the chain of ponds and marshes.
Before advancing, the infantry of the Prussian left wing had to rearrange its positions which initially extended too far to the right. As they reached Kunersdorf, the leftmost bns of the brigades forming the right of the two Prussian lines inclined right to move around the Dorf-See. By doing so, they piled up with the units which had already reached the village of Kunersdorf. All these troops came out of Kunersdorf in great disorder.
As soon as the Prussians debouched from Kunersdorf, a hail of cannonballs tore into their cramped ranks. The battalions at the rear were still pushing forward, and soon several disorganised groups broke out from the edge of the village to attack the Russian positions. They did not go very far. Under the terrible fire from the neighbouring heights and from the Gross Spitzberg, these troops broke and fled towards Kunersdorf.
However, new Prussian bns replaced them and advanced towards the Russian positions, which were hidden by a dense cloud of smoke. They met with the same fate as their comrades and were repeatedly driven back.
When combat started on his left wing, Frederick rode from the Kuh-Berg to join his troops there. He tried to rally his left wing and sent orders to the batteries established on the Kloster-Berg and the Klein Spitzberg to advance to new positions to better support the attack. He then rode back to the Kuh-Berg where he would remain until the end of the battle.
The three battery positions that Frederick had ordered to occupy were respectively located just east of Kunersdorf, at the south end of the Dorf-See and along the Blanken-See. From these new locations, the Prussian heavy artillery could take under its fire the Russian battery on the Gross Spitzberg, the line of entrenchments extending from there to Kunersdorf and above all the angle of the enemy defensive position on Kuh-Grund, just west of the village.
While the Prussian artillery was moving to these new positions, the infantry continued to exhaust itself in futile attacks.
As the Prussian batteries opened on the Russian positions, the exhausted infantry of the left wing found new energy.
With the greatest tenacity, the Russians and Austrians posted on the small ridge to the west of Kunersdorf withstood artillery and musket fire. However, as the Prussian batteries east of Kunersdorf tore gaping holes in their ranks, despite all their determination and contempt for death, their resolution began to weaken.
The battalions of the Prussian left wing, which were moving around Kunersdorf to the north, had suffered less from the Russian artillery fire and were therefore in better order when they attacked. Nevertheless, their assaults were repeatedly driven back as the all the previous ones.
Around 4:30 p.m., confronted with ceaseless attacks, the Russian and Austrian defenders of the ridge west of Kunersdorf began to waver, and finally gave way.
The Prussian left wing pursued the retiring defenders. Rostovskiy Infantry and the troops standing to its left were shattered. Apsheronskiy Infantry wheeled to cover the threatened flank but was virtually annihilated.
The Prussian left wing continued to push forward but it soon came to contact with fresh enemy forces. These were the Vologodskiy Infantry and Pskovskiy Infantry, which had been transferred from their former position on the Gross Spitzberg when Saltykov had realised that his line of defence near Kunersdorf was on the verge of breaking. These fresh regiments stopped the Prussians about 200 m from the Kuh-Grund (some indications from recent diggings conducted by Dr Podruczny show that in some points the Prussians probably advanced from 500 to 700 m past the Kuh-Grund).
Capture of Frankfurt an der Oder by Wunsch
Major-General von Wunsch had been charged with his detachment (3 free bns, 7 sqns of the Malachowski Hussars) to prevent the Russians from crossing to the west bank of the Oder during the battle. He had been joined by 6 sqns of the Ruesch Hussars returning from Cüstrin. Between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m., his mission accomplished, Wunsch marched on Frankfurt, but found the gates closed. Wunsch forced a gate and entered into the city where he took 6 Russian officers and 260 men prisoners. He also captured a number of wounded officers, who had been sent there during the battle, and part of Loudon’s baggage.
Withdrawal of Finck’s Corps
Meanwhile, Finck’s Corps, despite its unsuccessful initial assault, had repeatedly renewed its attack from the lowlands against the northern slopes of the height facing it, with tenacious determination.
After two hours spent under the deadly fire of the enemy artillery, the remnants of Finck’s battalions finally retreated into the Elsbusch. They were not pursued by the Russians.
Intervention of the Prussian cavalry
With Finck’s withdrawal, Saltykov’s left wing could now concentrate all its efforts against the main body of the Prussian infantry, and Frederick had no additional infantry units to throw into the struggle. He could only depend on his cavalry. Despite the unfavorable terrain in the area of the Tief-Weg, Frederick decided to hurl his cavalry against the enemy positions, to give a respite to his exhausted infantry. However, Seydlitz, who was standing by the king, was wounded at the left hand by a musket ball and forced to leave the field.
Frederick had also recalled the Prince of Württemberg and his 2 rgts (Horn Cuirassiers and Prinz Heinrich Cuirassiers) from the left wing, where they had been posted at the edge of the forest, south of the Klein Spitzberg. These two regiments joined the numerous cavalry already assembled on the Mühl-Berg.
Frederick then ordered the Prince of Württemberg, who had assumed command of the entire cavalry of the right wing, to support his shaken infantry. The task was quite difficult, because the only way to get there was along the northwestern slopes of the ridge on the left flank of the Russians. Furthermore, the cavalry had to advance through a narrow space, directly under the fire of the enemy's artillery. Seeing this, the prince tried to advance with the Meinicke Dragoons along the steep slope to a location from where he could reach the ridge.
The infantry rgts of the Russian Berg’s Brigade, which, after the retreat of Finck's Corps, was busy reforming ranks on the northern slopes of knoll, did not notice that the Prince of Württemberg was advancing from the Mühl-Berg at a fast pace with a regiment along the foot of this steep slope. The prince managed to reach a flat some 400 m east of the Klein-Mühl and to climb to the ridge.
The Berg’s Brigade finally noticed the detachment of the Prince of Württemberg and opened a lively fire with its regimental pieces, forcing the Meinicke Dragoons to retire and to seek cover behind the Mühl-Berg. The prince was wounded at a foot and had to be carried away from the battlefield.
During this time, Major-General von Puttkamer had deployed the Puttkamer Hussars in a hollow on the western slope of the Mühl-Berg. When the dragoons of the Prince of Württemberg routed, Puttkamer decided to launch an attack to support the Prussian infantry which was in a very perilous situation. His hussars charged the Russian left wing in the area of the Tief-Weg, but they were soon forced to turn back by the devastating fire of the defenders. Major-General von Puttkamer was killed during this aborted attack.
Frederick realised that, as Seydlitz had already mentioned before, the cavalry of his right wing could not revert the situation. However, since help was urgently needed, he sent Adjutant von Goetzen to the left wing with orders for the rest of the cavalry posted on the Klein Spitzberg to attack. As Goetzen rode past Kunersdorf, he noticed the Wied Fusiliers, which were fighting at the extreme left of the infantry left wing, and had just rallied to advance once more against the right wing of the Austro-Russian units posted west of Kunersdorf. But this attack too, like so many others before it, was broken by the fire of the defenders and the regiment retired. Part of the Russian troops, who had gradually gained confidence, advanced in the open, in front of their line of entrenchments.
Goetzen considered that the timing would be good for a cavalry attack. He rode to Colonel von Massow, who commanded the Markgraf Friedrich von Brandenburg Cuirassiers, and transmitted him Frederick’s orders to attack.
Massow crossed the narrow marsh between the Dorf-See and the Blanken-See, but instead of launching his squadrons against the disorganised enemy detachments following the retiring Prussian infantry, he took cover behind the slope west of the Blanken-See to reform before advancing against the line of entrenchments. During this delay, the pursuing enemy, realising the danger that threatened them, had quickly retreated to their entrenchments.
Now that it was too late, Massow advanced against the enemy entrenchments north of the Gross Spitzberg. His attack was broken by a hail of grapeshots and musketry before he reached the line. During his attack, 2 Russian sqns and 2 Austrian sqns had moved closer. They attacked the retiring Prussian cuirassiers and pushed them back to the other side of the Dorf-See and Blanken-See.
During these various cavalry attacks, the infantry combat at the Tief-Weg and west of Kunersdorf had continued to rage, but it had gradually taken the form of a static firefight.
Saltykov had concentrated all his forces near the Gross Spitzberg. The Russian infantry was packed on 4 or 5 lines on this narrow terrain.
After Massow’s attack, almost all of the Russian and Austrian cavalry deployed between the Falkenstein-Berg and the Gross Spitzberg, in preparation to intervene in the battle. Furthermore, with Finck’s withdrawal and the recent arrival of fresh troops, the Austro-Russian infantry could now gradually push forward against the Prussians.
Meanwhile, after the failure of their attack, the main body of the Prussian cavalry had rallied on the Mühl-Berg where it had been joined by the rgts of Lieutenant-General von Platen, belonging to Finck’s Corps. Together, under the command of Platen, they had moved towards the left wing in the vicinity of the Klein Spitzberg, which they reached immediately after Massow's unsuccessful attack.
Lieutenant-General von Platen knew the dangerous situation in which the Prussian infantry, which was still fighting west of the Kuh-Grund, was, so he decided to intervene and began to move his cavalry across the narrow isthmus between the Dorf-See and the Blanken-See and advanced to a well covered hollow, southwest of the Blanken-See, in preparation to march to the support of the Prussian infantry.
Around 5:30 p.m., the exhausted Prussian infantry could no more withstand the pressure of the advancing enemy and it gradually retired to the Kuh-Grund where it tried to make a stand. Frederick immediately sent orders to the Diericke Fusiliers, who had been left behind in the forest to guard the artillery park, to join his infantry on the Kuh-Grund.
When Lieutenant-General von Platen saw the Prussian infantry retiring to the Kuh-Grund, he sent 5 sqns of the Schorlemmer Dragoons forward in the direction of the Gross-Spitzberg from where a large Russian batteries was pounding the positions of the Prussian infantry. However, their charge was soon broken by the deadly fire of the Russian batteries.
Austrian and Russian cavalry sqns then appeared on the field, coming from the Falkenstein-Berg. The parts of Platen's cavalry, which had already crossed to the western side of the chain of ponds, turned against them. A contested cavalry combat ensued, actively supported by the artillery of both sides.
While the cavalry combat was raging near the Blanken-See, Frederick had rallied troops in second line in a hollow east of the Kuh-Berg and east of Kunersdorf and he now led them forward. He had two horses shot under him, and Adjutant-Captain von Wendessen and Captain von Bocceji, who stood beside him, were severely wounded. Frederick himself nearly lost his life when a bullet aimed at his chest was miraculously stopped by a gold case he carried in his waist pocket. His escort tried in vain to convince him to stay away from combat.
Now all depended on the capture of the 400 paces long and 60 paces wide hollow of the Kuh-Grund. The Prussian infantry poured into the hollow and tried to climb the opposite slope. The Russians defended themselves courageously, but even their incredible stubbornness could not stop the desperate attack of the Prussians. Vologodskiy Infantry and Pskovskiy Infantry were driven back. The wings of the Russian line were pushed back and soon the centre began to waver.
At this moment, new reinforcements rushed down the slopes of a nearby knoll and hurled themselves against the Prussians. Vyborgskiy Infantry, Kazanskiy Infantry and Permskiy Infantry arrived one after another, dragging along with them the retiring defenders and attacking the now completely exhausted Prussian troops. Slowly the Prussian left wing retired to Kunersdorf, recrossing the line of entrenchments. Prussian casualties were appalling.
Around 6:00 p.m., the Prussian cavalry began to gave way, broke and routed. Suddenly, to the west of Kunersdorf, disorganised cavalry detachments emerged from the thick veil of smoke and rushed in wild haste straight towards the struggling left wing of the Prussian infantry. Those were elements of the defeated Prussian cavalry trying to get to safety around Kunersdorf. They soon draw the infantry in their rout.
Retreat of the Prussians
Soon after 6:00 p.m., all Prussian troops fighting on the Kuh-Grund and the Mühl-Berg began to withdraw towards the Hühnerfliess. The battle was lost.
A stream of fugitives crossed the southern part of the narrow Bäcker-Grund, but there the way was blocked by their own artillery. Nevertheless, the riders tried to get through the train and gathered in large groups.
The artillerymen abandoned their heavy pieces in the various batteries on the Mühl-Berg, the Kuh-Berg and near Kunersdorf. A total of 165 artillery pieces were abandoned on the battlefield.
Soon afterwards, Finck's heavy artillery, which was still standing on the slopes north of the Gross-Mühl, and which had hitherto only been able to take part in the battle imperfectly, came into operation again.
Frederick vainly tried to rally part of the Prinz Heinrich von Preußen Fusiliers.
Lieutenant-General Villebois closely followed the retiring Prussians with the Narvskiy Infantry, Vyborgskiy Infantry and Voronezhskiy Infantry; while Major-General Berg advanced across the lowlands at the foot of the Mühl-Berg with the Arkhangelogorodskiy Infantry and 2nd Moskovskiy Infantry, to fall into their flank and to break any attempt at renewed resistance.
Some Austro-Russian cavalry rgts soon overtook Berg’s troops. The Austrian Herzog Württemberg Dragoons and the Russian Kargopolskiy Horse Grenadiers and Sankt-Peterburgskiy Horse Grenadiers sprang up and rushed out of the lowland, surprising the retiring Prussian infantry. The confusion became indescribable and the initially slow retreat soon turned into a rout in the direction of the Gross-Mühl, Bäcker-Mühl and Walk-Berg.
When the Diericke Fusiliers finally received the orders to join the rest of their infantry on the Kuh-Grund, the Prussian army was already in full retreat. Accordingly, the regiment marched along the edge of the forest in the direction of the Bäcker-Grund.
Frederick finally managed to gather some 600 men on the eastern ridge of the Mühl-Berg under the protection of a nearby battery. He then tried to put a stop to the pursuit of the enemy, in order to facilitate the withdrawal of the remnants of his army across the Hühnerfliess. However, his small force was soon outflanked and forced to retire before a superior enemy, abandoning the battery.
When the Diericke Fusiliers reached the Bäcker-Grund, it began to climb the Mühl-Berg but soon came to contact with the enemy cavalry and immediately formed a square. After a short resistance, the regiment was forced to surrender. Only a few of its officers and men managed to escape and to rejoin the remnants of the army.
The Austro-Russian regular cavalry then halted and Totleben continued the pursuit with his Cossacks and hussars.
The Prussians began to cross the Hühnerfliess at the Gross-Mühl, Bäcker-Mühl and Rätsch-Mühl. A bridge broke under the weight of artillery pieces.
Finck’s Corps retired towards the Gross-Mühl.
Frederick tried once more to bring orders in his broken army. He finally sent 2 sqns of his Leibregiment under Lieutenant-Colonel von Biedersee to attack and delay the 2nd Moskovskiy Infantry and Narvskiy Infantry. However, the cuirassiers had barely begun their advance when the Chuguev Cossacks suddenly attacked them and, despite the bravest resistance, captured their leader and one of their standard.
Immediately afterwards Loudon arrived from the right with a number of Austrian dragoon sqns, followed by a Russian cavalry regiment under Brigadier Stojanov. Their target was the remnants of Schorlemmer's cavalry still posted on the northern slopes of the Mühl-Berg. Loudon pushed them back into the marshes of the Hühnerfliess.
The defeated Prussian army, now only 3,000 strong, reached the Oder bridges. Frederick, who had been among the last to leave the battlefield, arrived soon after.
The disordered remnants of the Prussian army spent the night on the heights of Oetscher and assembled near the bridges over the Oder. Frederick reorganised his army during the night.
Loudon sent Lieutenant-Colonel Count von Kinsky, of the Löwenstein Chevaulegers, to Vienna with the news of the victory.
In the night of August 12 to 13, when Saltykov threatened to bombard the place, Wunsch surrendered. He was authorised to retire towards Lebus and Reitwein with his prisoners and the baggage which he had captured.
The battle had lasted for 6 hours. Frederick had lost 100 officers and 6,072 men killed; 424 officers and 10,675 men wounded; and 40 officers and 1,316 men taken prisoners or missing, for a total of 569 officers and 18,400 men. Furthermore, 26 colours, 2 standards, 172 artillery pieces and 110 ammunition wagons had been captured by the enemy. This battle was one of Frederick's worst defeat. General Puttkamer was among the dead while Seydlitz, Wedel, Finck, Hülsen and Itzenplitz had all been wounded.
The Russians lost 71 officers and 2,543 men killed; 12 officers and 686 men missing; and 483 officers and 10,386 men wounded, for a total of 566 officers and 13,615 men. They had 1 colour captured by the enemy.
The Austrians lost 15 officers and 425 men killed; 93 officers and 1,343 wounded; and 8 officers and 447 men missing, for a total of 116 officers and 2,215 men.
On the morning of August 13, the retreating Prussian units joined forces with Wunsch and his detachment (a few bns) which had been sent the previous day to blockade and eventually capture Frankfurt an der Oder in order to cut Saltykov's retreat.
Frederick was utterly depressed and at least for a while thought about abdicating and abandoning his command. However, the Austro-Russians were too weak and too divided to exploit their victory and eventually the chronic lack of supplies, forced the Russians to abandon the campaign.
Order of Battle
Austro-Russian Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: General Count Piotr Semionovitch Saltykov
Austrian Contingent: FML Baron Ernst Gideon Loudon, assisted by FML Joseph Cavalieri di Campitelli, GFWM Joseph Adam Count Bethlen, GFWM Karl Count Caramelli di Castiglione-Fallet, GFWM Nikolaus Franz Baron von Weichs
Summary: 84 bns, 60 grenadier coys, 98 sqns, 3 horse grenadier coys, about 5,180 Grenzers, 50 sotnias of Cossacks, 211 field guns, 212 regimental guns (16 belonging to the cavalry) for a total of approx. 52,250 foot, 12,000 horse, 4,600 Cossacks, 5,180 Austrain light troops, 4,950 artillerymen and engineers; and a grand total of approx. 76,000 men.
|Vanguard||First Line||Second Line||Reserve|
|Right Wing||Austrian Cavalry under FML Loudon|
|Centre 2nd Division under Lieutenant-General Villebois|
|Centre 1st Division under Lieutenant-General Count Villim Fermor||Austrian Infantry under FML Loudon|
|Centre 3rd Division under Lieutenant-General Count Rumyantsev||Austrian Infantry under FML Loudon|
|Left Wing||Austrian Cavalry under FML Loudon|
||Lieutenant-General Fürst Golitsyn Observation Corps||Lieutenant-General Fürst Golitsyn Observation Corps
N.B.: Loudon's Corps probably included a detachment or the entire regiment of Birkenfeld Cuirassiers. In his history of this regiment, Wrede mentions its participation in this battle, and Lieutenant-Colonel Caraffa, who commanded the elite companies of Loudon's cavalry, belonged to this unit.
Prussian Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: King Frederick II of Prussia
Summary: 63 bns and 110 sqns (including detachments), 160 heavy artillery (including 6 pieces belonging to the horse artillery) pieces and 126 battalion pieces for a total of 35,900 foot, 13,000 horse and 1,000 artillerymen; and a grand total of approx. 49,900 men.
|Advance Guard||First Line||Second Line||Reserve|
|Lieutenant-General von Schorlemmer Division||Major-General von Platen Division||Major-General von Meinicke Division|
|Lieutenant-General Hülsen Division||Lieutenant-General Itzenplitz Division|
|Lieutenant-General von Wedel Division||Lieutenant-General Kanitz Division||Lieutenant-General von Finck Division|
|Lieutenant-General Eugene von Württemberg Division||Lieutenant-General Platen Division|
Detachment protecting the bridges near Goritz
- Graf Flemming Brigade
- Wunsch Brigade
Detachment on the left bank of the river Oder near Lebus
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. 10 Kunersdorf, Berlin, 1912, pp. 225-287, 308-309
- Anonymous, A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 374-378
- Carlyle, T., History of Friedrich II of Prussia vol. 19
- Jomini, Baron de, Traité des grandes opérations militaires, Vol. 3 – Campagne de 1759, chap. XVII, pp. 119-136
- Janko, W. Edlen von: Loudons Leben, Vienna, 1869, pp. 91-105
Duffy, Christopher, Frederick the Great: A Military Life, Routledge: 1988
Stephenson, Lt.-Col. Scott, Old Fritz stumbles : Frederick the Great at Kunersdorf, 1759, US military college
Alessandro Colaiacomo for the entire initial version of this article
Richard Couture for the translation and integration of information extracted from the work of the Grosser Generalstab