Winterfeldt, Hans Karl von

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Hans Karl von Winterfeldt

Prussian Major-General (1745-56), Lieutenant-General (1756-57)

born April 4, 1707, Vanselow, Pomerania

died September 8, 1757, Görlitz, Lusatia


Detail of a portrait of Hans Karl von Winterfeldt by Adolph Menzel - Source: Wikimedia Commons

Hans Karl von Winterfeldt was the son of Georg Friedrich von Winterfeldt and Christine Elisabeth von Maltzahn.

Wintefeldt's education was imperfect and in later life he always regretted his want of familiarity with the French language.

In 1723, Winterfeldt entered the cuirassier regiment of his uncle, Major-General Kaspar Dietlof von Winterfeldt.

In 1725, after two years if service, Wintefeldt was promoted cornet in the same cuirassier regiment. His stature and soldierly bearing attracted the attention of Frederick William I, who transferred him to his Giant Grenadiers Regiment as a lieutenant. Before long he became a personal aide-de-camp to the king.

In 1732, Winterfeldt was sent with a party of selected non-commissioned officers to assist in the organization of the Russian Army. While the guest of Marshal Münnich at St. Petersburg, he fell in love with and married his cousin Julie von Maltzahn, who was the marshal's stepdaughter and a maid-of-honour to the Grand-Duchess Elizabeth.

In 1734, Winterfeldt became intimate with Crown Prince Frederick whom he accompanied in the Rhine campaign. This intimacy with Frederick made his position very delicate and difficult during the period when King Frederick William and his son were estranged. Nevertheless, Winterfeldt remained Frederick's constant friend throughout this period.

In 1740, on the accession of Frederick II to the throne, Winterfeldt was promoted major and appointed aide-de-camp to the new sovereign. The same year, when the War of the Austrian Succession broke out, Winterfeldt was sent on a mission to St. Petersburg, which, however, failed.

On April 10, 1741, at the Battle of Mollwitz, Winterfeldt commanded a grenadier battalion with great distinction. On May 17, Winterfeldt won further glory in the celebrated minor combat of Rothschloss, where the Prussian hussars defeated the Austrians. On March 5 1742, Winterfeldt was made a colonel, as also was Zieten, the cavalry leader who had actually commanded at Rothschloss. After this Frederick chiefly employed Winterfeldt as a confidential staff officer to represent his views to the generals, a position in which he needed extraordinary tact and knowledge of men and affairs and, as a matter of course, made many enemies.

In the short peace before the outbreak of the Second Silesian War (the second part of the War of the Austrian Succession), Winterfeldt was constantly in attendance upon the king.

In 1744, when the Second Silesian War broke out, Frederick II employed Winterfeldt in the same capacity as before. Winterfeldt was instrumental in winning a series of successful minor engagements.

On May 23, 1745, Winterfeldt was promoted to major-general. His promotion was to date from December 1 1743. After the battle of Hohenfriedberg, which took place on June 4 1745, Frederick gave Winterfeldt the captaincy of Tatiau for his great services during this combat. On November 24, at Katholisch-Hennersdorf, where the sudden and unexpected invasion of the Austro-Saxons was checked by the vigour of Zieten, Winterfeldt arrived on the field in time to take a decisive share.

During the ten years' peace that preceded the next great war, Winterfeldt was in constant attendance upon the king, except when employed on confidential missions in the provinces or abroad.

In May 1756, Winterfeldt was appointed Chef of the former Kacke Infantry. On June 8, he was promoted to lieutenant-general and received the Order of the Black Eagle. On August 21, he was appointed governor of Colberg. During the same year, he was very active in collecting information as to the coalition that was secretly preparing to crush Prussia, and in preparing for the war. He took a leading part in the discussions which decided Frederick to strike the first blow. He took part in the Prussian invasion of Saxony. He was at Pirna with the king, and advised him against absorbing the Saxon prisoners into his own army.

In 1757, when the Prussian army proceeded to the invasion of Bohemia, Winterfeldt accompanied Schwerin in the advance on Prague. On May 6, he took part in the ferocious Battle of Prague. In June, after the defeat of Kolin, Winterfeldt, who had the confidence of Frederick, was entrusted with the conduct of the retreat. During these operations, Winterfeldt was obliged to work in close contact with the king's brother, Prince Wilhelm, the Duke of Braunschweig-Bevern, Zieten and others of his enemies. The situation degenerated into an open conflict and the Prince of Prussia retired from the army. After these events, when Frederick gave Winterfeldt renewed marks of his confidence, the general animosity reached its height. On September 7, Winterfeldt fell a victim to his own bravery in the Combat of Moys near Gorlitz. His wound, the first serious wound he had ever received, proved fatal and he died on September 8.


This article incorporates texts from the following books who are now in the public domain:

  • "Winterfeldt, Hans Karl von" in Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed. London: Cambridge University Press, 1911
  • Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 4 Groß-Jägersdorf und Breslau, Berlin, 1902, Anhang 40

Other Sources

German Wikipedia - Hans Karl von Winterfeldt