1762-08-16 - Battle of Reichenbach
Prelude to the Battle
During the siege of Schweidnitz (present-day Swidnica) in 1762, to break the encirclement of the fortress, Marshal Daun ordered to attack the contravallation line drawn around it and defending the Prussian camp against an assault by the Austrian relief army. The point chosen for the attack was Reichenbach on the heights of Kesselberg and Stein-Seifersdorf.
Description of Events
On Monday August 16 at daybreak, Lacy and Brentano marched towards the heights of Kleitsch to make a junction with Beck's Corps.
At 10:00 a.m., Lacy and Brentano appeared in great force on the western side of the Fischerberg and deployed within cannon-shot of Bevern about the three villages of Peilau (Ober Peilau, Nieder Peilau and Mittel Peilau), to the south of Reichenbach. Daun lay with most of his army in the gorges of the mountains behind Lacy's positions. Daun planned to push through upon Koltschen as soon as Lacy had cleared the Fischerberg.
Lacy, after reconnoitring a little, spread his tents at Lang-Bielau and his troops proceeded to cooking their dinner to induce the Prussians to believe that they would not endeavour any action. Frederick II then considered that the Austrian would not attack till the next day.
Then, at 3:00 p.m., the Austrian generals started to deploy their respective corps:
- Brentano's Corps and O'Donell's Cavalry in front of Nieder Peilau
- Lacy moved through Mittel Peilau with a few battalions and established a strong battery in front of this village and two others behind it
- Beck's Corps advanced in two columns against Bevern's left wing, moving through Ober Peilau and deploying in two lines between Ober Peilau and Girlsdorf.
By 5:00 p.m., Lacy had deployed in a long strong line before the villages of Peilau, on the western side of the Fischerberg. Meanwhile, Beck pushed round by woods to take the Fischerberg on the eastern side.
Map and initial deployment
The Austrians approached the Prussian trenches in 3 columns.
As soon as O'Donell's Cavalry debouched from Mittel Peilau, the Prussian General Lentulus moved through the wood behind the infantry with 18 squadrons to attack him.
At 6:00 p.m., the Prussian cavalry stationed at Peterswaldau arrived at the gallop on the battlefield. It was accompanied by Lieutenant von Anhalt's battery of Horse Artillery. Hussars and Bosniaken in the van, the duke's cavalry traversed Ernsdorf, advancing towards Reichenbach. The horse artillery left the column, heading to the East of the village of Reichenbach, in front of the houses along the Chaussée. The lively fire of the Austrians initially repulsed these 25 squadrons, forcing them to leave their position and to take refuge behind their own infantry.
Meanwhile the six 6-pdrs of the Prussian battery of Horse Artillery had been detached from their carriage and the ammunition wagons disposed close at hand. Very soon, the battery opened a lively and precise fire on the Austrian cavalry which was deployed to the north of Nieder Peilau.
The infantry of Lacy and Brentano and the first line of Beck's infantry remained idle during the terrible artillery duel. Meanwhile, Beck at the head of his second line moved through the bushes of Girlsdorf and took possession of the neighbouring heights. He then placed a battalion on these heights with guns to cannonade the Fischersberg and sent his grenadiers ahead to attack the Fischerberg.
On the Prussian right wing, the Austrian cavalry, visible on the horizon, constituted a wonderful target for the Prussian artillerymen who quickly adjusted their guns, aiming them on the enemy squadrons and killing entire groups of men and horses. Under the cover of the Horse Artillery battery, Colonel von Lossow deployed his light cavalry in line between Reichenbach and the outworks at Herrn:
- First line: Lossow Hussars (5 sqns), Werner Hussars (10 sqns) and Bosniaken (10 sqns)
- Second line: Czettritz Dragoons and Cuirassiers
At 6:30 p.m., Lossow's Division forded the Huhn Bach and fell on the left flank of the Austrian cavalry and routed them after capturing 5 standards (Archenholz mentions that 1,500 Austrians were captured during this action but the figure appears quite high compared to the reported losses). The Austrian cavalry retired to the outskirts of Nieder Peilau which was occupied by swarms of Grenzer light troops. They galloped in and around the village while other Austrian cuirasssier units poured in.
Another attack was launched from the Fischerberg by Dingelstedt Hussars (3 sqns), Herzog von Württemberg Dragoons and Flanß Dragoons on the right flank of the Austrian cavalry. While the two extremities of the Austrian line were thus mauled, the bulk of the Prussian heavy cavalry was rushing at full pace towards Reichenbach, King Frederick himself followed them with 9 battalions.
While the cavalry battle raged, the trenches of the contravallation continued to be under attack by Beck's Austrian infantry. Beck's grenadiers marched through a marshy ground and were repulsed by the Prussian artillery.
By 7:00 p.m., Beck had managed to disentangle his corps from the woods and to enter the plain behind the Prussians. When Beck appeared in the plain, all other Austrian corps advanced.
The Duke von Bevern at the head of 2 battalions attacked the heads of the columns debouching from the marshy woods, pushing them back.
Because of the large extension of this contravallation, Austrian troops managed to penetrate it at several places: some redoubt were surrounded, especially those held by the Grenadier Battalion 28/32 Schätzel who maintained its position, engaging in a duel of musketry in front and back. They resisted until the attackers were ordered to retire.
Indeed shortly after 7:00 p.m., Marshal Daun, who had reluctantly initiated the action, had suspended the attack and ordered his troops to retire when he had heard of the arrival of Prussian reinforcements. Indeed, 15 Prussian squadrons detached by Frederick to support Bevern had arrived on the left and attacked and broke the Austrian cavalry near Nieder Peilau. The Austrian cavalry managed to rally but was immediately charged by another Prussian cavalry corps under Lentulus who pushed it back on the Austrian infantry at Nieder Peilau.
Finally, after sunset, General Mollendorf appeared with 6 Prussian battalions. The Austrian generals realising that their attempt had failed retired to their camp at Habendorf.
The Grenadier Battalions 37/40 Kleist and Grenadier Battalion 28/32 Schätzel were the most heavily involved units of the Prussian infantry along with II./Markgraf von Brandenburg Fusiliers who suffered so severely that it was virtually annihilated. Losses of the Grenadier Battalion 17/22 Rothenburg were also high.
The night of the battle, the Prussian cavalry bivouacked to the East of Reichenbach.
The tardy involvement of Lacy's and Brentano's Corps cannot be excused. It exposed Beck's Corps to the danger of total capture or annihilation.
The Austrian main corps and Beck's Corps lost 921 men and 645 horses.
|Erzherzog Joseph Dragoons||0||29
|Erzherzog Leopold Cuirassiers||0||21
Artillery: 3 men wounded
Staff: Captain Michler, adjutant of General Beck wounded
During the night of August 18, the Austrian relief army retreated to the Silberberg and the Wartha, abandoning the garrison to its fate.
The Battle of Reichenbach remains a wonderful example of what can accomplish a well led force of cavalry, even if it is not too numerous, against superior forces if supported appropriately by horse artillery. The larger Austrian cavalry was charged on both flanks while advancing and was not able to make a conversion to face the attacks. However, the Prussian cavalry was an elite force which had been much less depleted by losses over the years. Its recruits consisted of the best available elements and were rapidly trained by occupying outposts and reconnoitring enemy positions.
Order of Battle
Austrian Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: count Franz Moritz Lacy
Summary: 33 battalions, 9 regiments of cavalry, 3 regiments of hussars:
- Beck: 14 bns, 18 grenadier coys, 5 cavalry rgts, 1 hussar rgt
- Left column Infantry under Simbschen
- Left column cavalry under Saint Ignon
- Brentano: 8 bns, 2 dragoon rgts, 2 hussar rgts
- Lacy: 10 bns (conjectural)
- O'Donell: 5 cavalry rgts
Other Austrian units present at Reichenbach but not yet associated to the corps to which they belonged
- Deutsche Feldartillerie
- circa 100 guns
Prussian Order of Battle
- Infantry defending the entrenchments (11 bns and 3 free bns)
- Grenadier Battalion 17/22 Rothenburg (1 bn), on the right wing in front of Mittel Peilau on the Kuhberge
- Grenadier Battalion Ingersleben (1 bn), consisting of Hüllessem and Koller Freigrenadier companies for a total of 400 privates, 24 NCOs and officers
- IR2 Kanitz (2 bns)
- IR41 Graf von Wied Fusiliers (2 bns)
- IR42 Markgraf von Brandenburg Fusiliers (2 bns) between Spitzberg and Fischeberg
- IR45 Erbprinz von Hessen-Kassel Fusiliers (2 bns) on the Fischerberg
- Grenadier Battalion 28/32 Schätzel (1 bn) on the left wing
- Grenadier Battalions 37/40 Kleist (1 bn)
- F2 Frei-Infanterie Courbière (1 bn)
- F9 Frei-Infanterie von Hordt (2 bns)
- Cavalry under Lentulus
- D3 Flanss Dragoons (5 sqns), on the left wing, sent after the beginning of the battle
- D12 Herzog von Württemberg Dragoons (5 sqns)
- D8 Alt Platen Dragoons (5 sqns), detached on on the right wing under Colonel Ostwein
- H3 Möhring Hussars (10 sqns), 5 sqns detached on on the right wing under Colonel Ostwein
- Reinforcement under Frederick II
- Infantry (9 bns) (only 2 bns saw action: Mosch Grenadiers and II./IR28)
- First Line Cavalry under Colonel Lossow
- Second Line Cavalry
- Artillery (62 pieces)
- von Anhalt battery of Horse Artillery (10 x 6-pdrs)
- 10 x 12-pdrs
- 10 x 7-pdrs howitzers
- 18 x heavy guns
N.B.: for a general overview of the Prussian forces present around Schweidnitz the day of the battle, please see the order of battle of October 14 in the article 1762 - Siege of Schweidnitz.
A few paragraphs are excerpts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Carlyle T., History of Friedrich II of Prussia vol. 20
- Jany, K., Geschichte des Koniglische Preussische Armee, t. 2, Berlin 18??
- Jomini, Henri; Traité des grandes opérations militaires, 2ème édition, 4ème partie, Magimel, Paris: 1811, pp. 220-223
- Tempelhoff, G. F., Geschichte des Siebenjahrige Krieges in Deutschland, t. VI, Berlin 1801, pp. 140-155
Archenholz, J. W. von, Geschichte des Siebenjahrigen Krieges in Deutschland, Berlin: 1828
Duffy, Christopher, Fire and Stone: The Science of Fortress Warfare (1660-1860), David & Charles, London: 1975
Duffy, Christopher, By the Force of Arms, Vol. II of "The Austrian Army in the Seven Years War", The Emperor Press, Chicago 2008.
Fiedler, Geschichte des grenadieres Friedrichs des grossen
Grosser Generalstab, Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Hiller, Berlin, 1830-1913
Carlo Bessolo for the initial version of this article
Tomasz Karpiński from Poznań in Poland for all maps, battle losses and for additional information about this battle