1757 - Siege of Zittau

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Sieges >> 1757 - Siege of Zittau

The siege lasted from July 18 to July 23, 1757

Introduction

After his defeat in the Battle of Kolin in June 1757, Frederick II of Prussia had given up on the invasion of Bohemia and lifted the Siege of Prague. He had then gradually retired into Northern Bohemia where he planned to "eat the country" until mid or end of August before continuing his retreat to Lusatia or Silesia.

On June 24, Frederick splitted his army in two corps: one corps under Prince Moritz marched northward while Frederick remained Alt-Lissa (present-day Lysá nad Labem/CZ) in Bohemia with another.

On June 28, Prince Moritz reached Jung-Bunzlau (present-day Mladá Boleslav/CZ), some 50 km north of Alt-Lissa, at the confluence of the Iser and Elbe rivers. He asked Frederick if he should retreat to Zittau in Southern Saxony because of the numerous Austrian light troops harassing his camp. Upon receipt of this request, Frederick immediately recalled Moritz and appointed the Prince of Prussia to go and take command.

On July 1, the Prince of Prussia arrived at Jung-Bunzlau where he took command of Moritz's former corps (about 30,000 men).

When the Austrians moved against his army, the Prince of Prussian retreated towards Lusatia, constantly harassed by Austrian troops.

On July 17, the Austrian main army, under Prince Charles and Daun, reached Niemes, not above 6,5 km from the eastern outpost of the Prince of Prussia. Maquire marched to Eichgraben (now part of Zittau), 5 km south of Zittau. Meanwhile, Kheul advanced in two columns to Gabel with the second line of the right wing of main Austrian army.

Since the fall of Gabel, Colonel von Diericke from Sers Fusiliers, who commanded at Zittau, was daily expecting an Austrian attack. Diericke posted his light guns at the best positions and cleared their line of fire. Zittau was a very important Prussian magazine which, including 900 four-horse wagons kept inside the town, could supply 40,000 men for a period of three weeks.

Map

Map of the siege of Zittau in July 1757.
 
Copyright: Dinos Antoniadis

Zittau - The Rich, the surname was reminiscent of old times when Zittau was a rich trading town due to its location on important commercial roads. In 1346, Zittau was among the Lusatian towns which formed the "Six Towns League". This league had enough funds to pay mercenaries to secure their trade.

The city heavily depended on the heavily frequented route from the Adriatic Sea by way of the Balkans, Bohemia and further towards the Baltic Sea for its prosperity because it was advantageously located at the easiest crossing over the mountain ridge of the "Sudeten", which separates Germany from Bohemia.

After the Peace of Prague, Zittau lost massively in importance due to the new border.

Description of Events

On July 18

  • Prussians
    • Early in the morning, Lieutenant-General von Winterfeldt set off from Ober-Liebich with 6 bns and 10 sqns and reached Kunnersdorf (present-day Kunratice).
    • The main body of the Prince of Prussia, which was hampered by wagons and vehicles of the bakery, barely managed to reach the camp to the north of Böhmisch-Kamnitz.
    • Schmettau managed to come out of the mountains unmolested and to reach Schönborn (present-day Studánka/CZ).
  • Austrians
    • Maquire's Corps arrived in front of Zittau and Maquire immediately summoned the place which refused to surrender.
    • Some Austrian troops had occupied the pass and defile near Böhmisch-Kamnitz and awaited the approaching Prussians.
    • FZM Kheul, commanding a corps of the Austrian right wing and Arenberg's vanguard posted at Gabel, received orders to march on Zittau. Major-General Lucchesi should follow with another corps. The Austrians wanted to reach Zittau before the Prince of Prussia, but their reacted too slowly.

On July 19

  • Prussians
    • The army of the Prince of Prussia was still struggling to come out of the mountain raods.
    • Schmettau's detachment (9 bns, 10 sqns) arrived near Zittau from Rumburg. When Schmettau saw the large Austrian force already posted around Zittau, he did not dare to take position on the Eckartsberg as initially planned but rather took refuge in Zittau with his troops and the heavy artillery that he escorted.
  • Austrians
    • In the afternoon, Kheul's, Arenberg's and Maquire's corps effected a junction near Zittau. FZM Kheul assumed command of the Austrian forces blockading Zittau. He cut off the place from water supply and started to surround it. Maquire posted his troops on both sides of Olbersdorf. Arenberg prepared to cross the Neisse and to take position on the Eckartsberg.
    • Maquire's guns opened on Zittau and the newly arrived heavy guns answered with a strong fire.
    • Kheul moved Maquire's and Arenberg's troops to the right bank of the Neisse, guarding the bridge at Klein-Schönau (present-day Sieniawka).
Siege of Zittau
Source: Museum of Zittau, Germany
Photo: H. Skala

On July 20

  • Prussians
    • Schmettau sent his 10 sqns under the command of Major-General von Seydlitz to Seifhennersdorf because there was insufficient forage in Zittau to feed horses. Schmettau also ordered to unload several ammunition wagon and reload them with bread destined to the army of the Prince of Prussia.
  • Austrians
    • Lucchesi's Corps arrived at the camp between Klein-Schönau and Grottau near Zittau.
    • Daun and Prince Charles personally went to Zittau. Prince Charles sent Kheul's cavalry across the Neisse to the Eckartsberg to observe the place.
    • Lucchesi set off from Gabel and marched in the direction of Zittau.

On July 21

  • Prussians
    • Winterfeldt let his exhausted troops rest at Rumburg. The Prince of Prussia sent him the rearguard as reinforcement.
    • The Prince of Prussia, still encamped at Schönlinde, received messages from Schmettau and Winterfeldt informing him of the situation at Zittau which was surrounded by a force estimated at approx. 15,000 men. Around noon, the Prince of Prussia set off from Schönlinde and marched in two columns by Schönborn to Seifhennersdorf. Winterfeldt reinforced Seydlitz's rearguard with the Herzog von Württemberg Dragoons and sent it to Warnsdorf (present-day Varnsdorf) to cover Morocz's and Beck's movements in the area of Groß-Schönau since a large number of Austrian hussar detachments continuously harassed his avant-garde while he was taking position on the heights north of Seifhennersdorf with his infantry and 5 sqns of Werner Hussars to cover the march of the main body.
  • Austrians
    • At Zittau, Colonel Walter von Waldenau of the Austrian artillery unsuccessfully summoned Lieutenant-General Schmettau, commanding the place, to capitulate.
Map illustrating positions of the armies around Zittau
Source: Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen by the German Grosser Generalstab

In the night of July 21 to 22, the Prince of Prussia received a message from Schmettau informing his that the situation in Zittau was rapidly deteriorating: most of the main Austrian army had now reached the place and was encamped behind the Neisse. A summon to surrender by Prince Charles had been rejected.

The situation of the army of the Prince of Prussia was now critical. Since two days, it lacked the most basic provisions and the Austrians had taken position between it and the Prussian magazines at Zittau. During the retreat, some 2,500 men had deserted.

On Friday July 22

  • Prussians
    • The Prince of Prussia left Seifhennersdorf at 9:00 a.m. and marched in two columns. At 11:00 a.m., Winterfeldt came into sight of Zittau with the advance guard. When they saw Winterfeldt's force appear on the plain of Herwigsdorf, the Austrians immediately took possession of the heights near Eckartsberg (present-day part of Mittelherwigsdorf) commanding Zittau and blocking the prince's line of supply from this place.
    • To avoid marching through the difficult terrain in the area of Herwigsdorf with the Austrians so close, the Prince of Prussia turned left at Nieder-Oderwitz towards the Hutberg (a small hill about 1 km east of Nieder-Oderwitz). He then assembled his generals to determine how they should proceed to bring bread from Zittau to the army. Winterfeldt suggested to take position east of Herwigsdorf with the right wing extending towards Zittau to face the low ground between Ober-Seifersdorf and the Eckartsberg. However, other generals argued that additional Austrian troops might be massed behind the Eckartsberg. Finally, the Prince of Prussia decided to march his army to the north-west of Herwigsdorf and to encamp with his right wing at the Landberg and his left at the Huthberg. That night, the troops of the Prince of Prussia did not pitch tents but lay upon their arms.
    • Lieutenant-General von Winterfeldt with the 9 bns of the avant-garde and 25 sqns (Normann Dragoons, Puttkamer Hussars, Werner Hussars) then undertook a task considered as too dangerous for the entire army. He tried to establish communication with Schmettau's troops in Zittau and to bring a convoy of bread to the army. As Winterfeldt's cavalry advanced, the Austrians retreated partly through Ober-Seifersdorf, partly near Pethau on the right bank of the Mandau. The Austrian troops posted on the Eckartsberg took arms and their guns opened, quite ineffectually, on Winterfeldt's infantry advancing on Herwigsdorf. Schmettau then came out of Zittau with 8 bns and a provision of bread for 36 hours. Winterfeldt's and Schmettau's troops then took position on the right wing. Furthermore, Herwigsdorf received a garrison of 6 bns. Zittau was now occupied by only 5 depleted bns (2 bns of Kurssell Fusiliers, 2 bns of Sers Fusiliers and the grenadiers of Markgraf von Brandenburg Fusiliers) under Colonel von Diericke. Its artillery was left outside the town because it could not be effectively planted on the walls.
  • Austrians
    • In the morning, the two lines of the Austrian right wing passed the Neisse and took position between the Schanzberg and the Eckartsberg. Troops left behind at the Pass and Gabel were recalled to the army.
    • The Austrian main army was now encamped impregnable on both sides of the Neisse River with its left extending to Grottau and its right to the wood of Reichenau (present-day Bogatynia/PL). A large force was also posted on the Eckartsberg, and hussar parties roamed the vicinities of Ober-Seifersdorf, Herwigsdorf and Hornitz, observing the movements of the Prussians.
    • The Austrian artillery, which was not yet fully deployed, opened a quite ineffective bombardment of the town. In the afternoon, batteries were established batteries in front of Zittau. In the evening, these batteries (32 heavy guns and 10 howitzers) opened on Zittau to destroy the Prussian magazines. With his weak garrison (5 bns) Colonel von Diericke was unable to prevent the Austrians from taking position in the suburbs and in the churchyard.

In the night of July 22 to 23, the bombardment of Zittau was interrupted.

The bombardment of Zittau on July 23, 1757 - Source: Supraport over a door inside the Castle of Betliar in Slovakia, photo made available by H. Skala

On Saturday July 23, it rained heavily. At about 11:00 a.m., from his fully established batteries (12 x 6- or 3-pdr guns, 6 x 12-pdr howitzers, 6 x 6-pdr howitzers, 4 x 3-pdr howitzers) on the Eckartsberg (mainly in the churchyard of the"Zur Lieben Frau"), Colonel Waldenau fired red-hot balls upon Zittau. By noon, half the town was in flames. The Prince of Prussia then sent a detachment (Major-General Rebentisch with 3 bns) to get some food from the magazine at Zittau, but it arrived too late and came back empty handed. Colonel von Diericke, commanding what was left of the garrison, was withdrawing to join the Prussian army when he was ordered to defend Zittau to the last man. Accordingly, he re-entered the town. Prince Charles summoned the place once more. Diericke asked for more time to consult the Prince of Prussia and sent him an adjutant. After waiting for an hour, the Austrians resumed the bombardment of the place. Bombardment ceased around 5:00 p.m. But the town was now completely afire. It was impossible for the homeless inhabitants to remain in the streets, so they tried to take refuge in the already damaged Frauentor. Those who tried to flee from the burning town were intercepted by patrols of Austrian cuirassiers, dragoons and hussars who robbed them of their belongings. Prussian soldiers also started to desert. Major-General Ludwig Baron von Buttler at the head of 1,000 converged grenadiers was preparing to storm the town but this became unnecessary. Finally, around 4:00 p.m., Colonel Diericke learned that most of Grenadier Battalion Bähr (a former Saxon unit) had mutinied and surrendered. Soon afterwards, he hoisted the white flag and capitulated with his garrison. Colonel Diericke, Major-General Kleist, 10 officers and 240 men of I./Markgraf von Brandenburg Fusiliers and Sers Fusiliers (which lost five colours) became prisoners of war (several soldiers had however managed to escape before the capitulation). By sunset, Zittau was but a cinder-heap, its 10,000 inhabitants homeless. However, the magazines were not yet hurt. The Austrians then sent 2 infantry regiments (Carl Lothringen and Harsch) under Major-General Buttler to bring the blaze under control. Nevertheless, fire still raged all night and destroyed two third of the houses.

Outcome

With Zittau gone, the doors of Saxony and Silesia were wide open. Daun had only to choose.

According to an article published in the "Erlanger Zeitung" (August 13, 1757), on July 23 between 11:00 a.m. and 5 p.m., the Austrian artillery fired around 4,000 cannonballs or shells on the town. Overall , 547 small houses and 104 patrician houses burned down, both churches were destroyed as well as all towers. Furthermore, the town hall with its entire archives was razed. From the inhabitants, 90 died in the cellars, 50 more in the streets. After this disaster, people from all countries of the monarchy contributed money to rebuild the town. Maria Theresa granted 30,000 fl. for the same purpose.

On Sunday July 24, the Austrians sent detachments from 15 regiments, (each of 1 officer and 40 men) into Zittau to extinguish fires and maintain order. They managed to save large quantities of flour and powder.

Today, as a result of the near-complete destruction of the city, the only signs of the past prosperity of Zittau are a few exceptional buildings.

Order of Battle

Austrian Order of Battle

On July 19, Kheul's, Arenberg's and Maquire's corps effected a junction near Zittau. FZM Kheul assumed command of the Austrian forces blockading Zittau.

Prussian Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Colonel von Diericke from Sers Fusiliers

Garrison (6 weak bns)

On July 19, Lieutenant-General Count Schmettau entered Zittau with 9 additional bns:

References

This article is mostly based on Kronoskaf relation of the 1757 - Austrian invasion of Silesia from which texts related to this siege have been transferred to the present article.

Other sources

Geschichte-zu-Fuß – Stadtgeschichte von Zittau: Grenzgänge im Zittauer Gebirge

Wikipedia – Zittau

Acknowledgements

Dinos Antoniadis for the research, map and initial version of the article