Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mollwitz 1741

10 April 1741

1st Silesian War
War of the Austrian Succession

Prussians under Frederick II: approx. 22,000
Austrians under Wilhelm von Neipperg: approx. 19,000

Weather: Cold and sunny, but after a heavy, late-season snow that had piled up, according to Asprey, to two feet. Snow was not considered that unusual this time of year in Eastern Europe since 1741 lies in the middle of what has been called by historical climatologists "The Little Ice Age", from roughly 1350 to 1850. Average temperatures worldwide would have been as much as 2° C colder than they were before and after this five hundred year window.

Location: 50 ° 50’52” N   17° 22’ 45”  E   Southwest Poland north of the town of Nysa (then Niesse). The village of Mollwitz is currently called Malujowice. An industrial park built on an abandoned Soviet air base, unfortunately, covers most of the actual battlefield.

Sunrise: 05:09  Sunset: 18:45   End of Twilight: 19:19

Frederick II, in 1739,
two years before he was king
and his first battle.
Mollwitz was Frederick the Great's first full-scale battle since his accession to the Prussian throne. He had with him the superbly trained infantry he had inherited from his father, Frederick William. Crack troops but as yet untested in combat. His cavalry was not as well trained and proved, in this first battle, to be not worth much.

Narrative below the map

Situation at about 13:00. You can see in this deployment map the tactical mistake that the Prussians made in deploying too far left, crowding up against the Kleinerbach while leaving their right flank up in the air and vulnerable to Romer's outflanking attack.

Frederick Sneaks Up on Neipperg

Count Neipperg
In this first aggressive war that Frederick waged, he was being stalked by the Austrian Field Marshal Count Wilhelm von Neipperg. Both armies were slogging north to cross the Oder River in a blinding, late-season blizzard. In an age when commanders were only just beginning to understand the use of light cavalry to act as the feelers and intelligence gatherers of an army, neither commander knew where the other was. And the snow didn't help.

Consequently, Neipperg, thinking Frederick was several miles north, brought his 19,000 men to bivouac in and around the village of Mollwitz (modern day Malujowice in Poland), facing north-east.

Downtown Metropolitan Mollwitz (Malojuwice) where Neipperg's men spent the night. Guningen (modern Zielecice) is just a couple of kilometers straight up this street. The Prussians would be deploying about  two kilometers to the right of this picture.

Frederick, meanwhile, was camped a few miles to the south-east, waiting for the snow to let up. Around 0500 on the April 10th, he began moving his 22,000 men north, with the object of crossing the Oder River at Brieg (modern Bzreg). The going was slow because though the snow had stopped, it was deep (Asprey, in his biography of Frederick says 2 feet--see references below). It wasn't until midday that his troops reached Neudorf.

Both sides saw each other about the same time, no thanks to their almost worthless light cavalry (hussars, at the time, seemed to think their primary function was raping and looting, and not reconnaissance). Frantically, Neipperg shook out his regiments to form up for battle. Since they had been facing north-east and the enemy was now behind them, it meant that his army's normal, linear deployment order was reversed. This seemingly inconsequential detail caused no end of confusion and uneasiness among the troops and their commanders. Armies in the 18th century were almost obsessive compulsive in their insistence on the correct order of precedence.

The Prussians, in spite of their superior discipline and training, took a great deal of time getting into line of battle themselves. Most accounts say that Frederick was courteously giving Neipperg time to get himself ready. This seems implausible given Frederick's nature and his later behavior. The more likely factor in the slow deployment was the deep snow (see below).

Both armies were not ready for battle until about 13:00 (the positions shown in the map). The Austrians deployed in inverse order in an otherwise conventional double line, infantry in the center, cavalry on the flanks. But they weren't happy about it. Peering southeast across the flat, white plain, with the wind driving the fresh snow into their faces, they could not make out the Prussian infantry but undoubtedly heard the fifes and drums as they deployed.

View looking southeast from the Austrian center in front of Mollwitz village toward the center of the Prussian line, about a mile-and-a-half away. The plain would have been covered in snow and though a bright day, the glare and blowing snow would have obscured the Prussian line from that distance. The trees on the horizon of this picture, about a mile away, are around an abandoned Soviet-era air base, not there at the time of the battle (I'm assuming), which is exactly where Frederick's troops deployed.

The Prussians had miscalculated the available space for deployment on the flat plain and ended up crowding together, with a few battalions actually elbowed out of the lines and deployed between the two battle lines. They had also misread the distance to the enemy. The bright day and the blinding white snow, which was blowing in the wind, deceived them as to the range to Mollwitz. So they commenced their deployment far too early, over a mile-and-a-half (2.3 km) from the Austrians forming up in front of Mollwitz. This greatly slowed their attack once they began to march.

Frederick's Chief of Staff, Count Kurt Christoph von Schwerin formed the bulk of the Prussian infantry in an oblong, gigantic square in the center. On the Prussian right, eleven squadrons of cuirassiers and dragoons deployed. These were interspersed with two grenadier battalions (Winterfeld and Bolstern) to stiffen the shaky cavalry. Far to the left, the Prussian infantry had crowded against the banks of the Kleinerbach so their left wing cavalry, under Posadowsky, was forced to deploy unhelpfully on the other side of the brook.

The Battle Commences on the Prussian Right

While the Prussians and Austrians were forming up their infantry, the Prussian 12 and 24 pdr batteries under Lehwaldt and Dohna, unlimbered some yards in front of the main line and commenced bombarding the Austrian cavalry under General von Römer. Rather than endure this standing still, and thinking to give time for the infantry to deploy, Römer, took on his own initiative to launch a charge on the Prussian right wing.

Six regiments, comprising some 78 companies of cuirassiers and dragoons (the Austrian cavalry was not yet organized in squadrons), launched a slow-motion charge toward the Prussian right. The "charge" was executed at a trot, according to Austrian tactical doctrine, probably made even slower because of the deep snow. But gusts of wind blew up clouds of snow, which concealed the advancing Austrian horse and somewhat protected them from Lehwaldt's 12 pounders. When the 4,500 Austrian cavalry burst out of the swirling clouds, the inexperienced Prussian cavalry were taken completely by surprise. They received the charge standing still and were bowled over. Both Schulburg and Frederick (who was with the #11 Leib Carabiniers) tried to rally the fleeing troopers. Schulburg was killed for his efforts and Frederick nearly captured before he fled to the safety of the huge square in the Prussian center.

The two Prussian grenadier battalions who had been brigaded with the cavalry (Winterfeld and Bolstern) now found themselves isolated. Christopher Duffy, in his Frederick the Great: A Military Life, describes them as firing every which way, indiscriminately into both friend and foe alike. Apparently they had either formed battalion squares to protect themselves from the Austrian horse or had had their rear rank about face (something the Prussian Garde regiment had done 16 years later at Kolin). And Lehwaldt's battery of 12 pounders was apparently overrun and captured.

Count Schwerin,
Frederick's Chief of Staff
At this stage, seeing that the Austrian horse had exposed the Prussian flank and that the battle appeared to be lost, von Schwerin convinced the young king to leave the field and get to safety, which, after much convincing, he did,  grabbing some papers and some of his friends. It seemed as though the battle was about to be lost, and all agreed it was politically prudent for the Head of State to protect himself.

The Austrian Tide Begins to Ebb

Driving off the weak Prussian cavalry on the right, Römer's victorious Austrian horse now proceeded to attack the gigantic Prussian infantry square in the center. But Prussian battalion artillery, firing canister, together with  the discipline and rapid fire of the infantry, tore the slow-moving and exhausted Austrian horse to pieces. Römer's troopers tried to break into the space between the two lines, but the grenadier battalion Kleist 3/6 (not to be confused with the IR #26 Kleist) and the IR#10 Anhalt-Dessau had wheeled right to plug the end, thus forming a gigantic square and unleashing withering volleys and canister from their battalion guns. Römer himself was killed at this stage, shot through the skull, and his cavalry began to trickle away, spent.

His king sent to safety, Schwerin now took command. It was now about 16:00 and the battle had been going on for nearly three hours. A subordinate asked Schwerin if he was going to give the order to retreat and he supposedly said, famously, "Over enemy bodies."  This was the 18th century equivalent of the American General McAuliffe's famous "Nuts!" to suggestions that he surrender at the Battle of the Bulge. Whether Schwerin actually said it is not known. At least General McAuliffe had an efficient staff and press corps to document his own stubbornness.

The Prussian infantry was at last ordered to advance on the Austrian center. The deep snow, by this time churned up and tamped down by thousands of Austrian horses, may have been a little easier to move through. But almost a mile separated the opposing lines and we can only imagine that it was fairly difficult for even the well-trained Prussian infantry to keep the parade-ground formations without frequent stopping to realign its ranks.

At any rate, after a two-hour, slow advance, by about 18:00, the Prussian line reached musket range (100 yards?) and commenced to unleash its terrible 4-5 round per minute volley fire on the Austrians. The Austrian infantry, with their wooden ramrods and antique fire-by-ranks procedures were only able to deliver possibly one round for every three of the Prussians. Moreover, these troops were not nearly as trained or well-led as their Prussian counterparts. So, in short order, with their ranks decimated by bullets, the Austrian line started to melt. The terrified Hapsburg troops began to clump behind each other in packed mobs; some reports saying as deep as 30-40 ranks, making them, ironically, even more vulnerable to the 28 six-pounder battalion guns the Prussians had manhandled along with them. Within minutes all semblance of a battle line had dissolved into chaos.

View from bridge at Neudorf over the Kleinerbach ("kleiner" indeed) looking NW from behind to Prussian left toward the Austrian right wing. Not a formidable barrier by later standards, but it might have been impractical to take cavalry over it. And it was probably very cold to wade across.

The Austrian right wing cavalry under Birkenfeld attempted to save the day themselves by charging the Prussian left. But they too were ripped to shreds by the discipline volley fire and unshakable infantry lines.

Within about half-an-hour of this firefight, the entire Austrian line broke and general rout ensued. Prussian hussars (Zieten's #2 Red Hussars) gave a half-hearted chase in the twilight, but this was called off by about 19:15 as it started to get too dark to see.

View toward Austrian left from the Prussian extreme left wing (Posadarsky's cavalry brigade) in front of Pampitz village. The Prussian infantry were deployed beyond the Kleinerbach to the right in this picture. Had Berlichingen managed to cross the Kleinerbach and push back the Prussian cavalry here, as Romer had done on the other flank, he would have been able to cut off Frederick from his retreat and attack the Prussian line from the rear. But he never seriously attempted this maneuver.


The Beginning of a World War

Mollwitz was a long, tedious, and bloody battle (lasting over seven hours, interminable by 18th century standards). Each side lost approximately 4,000 casualties (KWC), the Prussians actually a little more. But the Prussians kept the field, and so, under the stilted conventions of Enlightenment warfare, won the day and the political point, saving Silesia for Prussia.

Frederick had won his first battle. And he wasn't even there to see it. It was said that he never forgave Schwerin for making him look foolish and cowardly by encouraging him to flee, and then going on to win the victory without him. But Schwerin was, after all, being prudent by protecting his sovereign. He had no assurances that the Prussian infantry was going to win the battle; well-trained as it was, it hadn't been in combat in years. They were an unknown at that point and might well have crumpled as easily as the Prussian cavalry. By the middle of the afternoon, when Schwerin urged Frederick to save himself, things had certainly looked bleak.

If Frederick was petulant, he needed to get over himself.

Mollwitz was a turning point in eighteenth century history. Besides securing the rich province of Silesia for Prussia, it also precipitated a cascade of consequences. Encouraged by it, France, under Louis XV, decided to join the war on Frederick's side (and against both Austria and Britain) to press a challenge to Maria Theresa's right to the Austrian throne and for the Elector of Bavaria's  bid to be Holy Roman Emperor. So something that started as a border skirmish quickly became a world war, fought all over Europe, in North America, and on three oceans. It became a war of survival for both the Hapsburg throne and for Frederick. And it was just too complicated for me to go on about in this little post.

So I'll quit.

War Gaming Mollwitz

In playing a war game of this debut battle of Frederick's career, some interesting considerations might be explored.


While most accounts of the battle describe the Prussian troops as moving with parade ground precision over a flat, dry landscape, it had snowed the two days before--considerably. Even illustrations and reenactments of the battle show a mere dusting of snow, at most. But Robert Asprey, in his book, Frederick the Great: The Magnificent Enigma, says that the snow was two feet deep. If this is accurate, then it would have played a significant role in slowing movement and rattling the tight order of linear formations.

If you've ever had to walk through fresh snow two feet thick, you'll have experienced how difficult it is to make way. Two feet means up past your knees for most adults, probably higher on an 18th century man. Now imagine trying to keep the formation of thousands of troops moving in perfect order. Or galloping a horse through this. Or worse, trying to push a one ton cannon through it. Any movement would have been extremely slow and utterly exhausting.

The deep snow would have explained why the pace of the battle seemed to have been in slow motion, why it took so long for each army to deploy, and why the advance of the Prussian infantry took two hours to go only a mile-and-a-half across flat ground (something that normally would have taken a half-hour on dry ground). It would also explain why the cavalry action by the Austrians, while effective in driving off the weak and inexperienced Prussian right wing cavalry, was subsequently so ineffective in charging against the Prussian infantry squares: It was floundering around in the deep snow, probably unable to go faster than a walk.

Snow would also have affected the effect of artillery fire, particularly round shot. The deep snow would, like mud, have absorbed the impact and inertia of each round, greatly reducing its range and ricochet effect. Though canister fire would have been more effective at short ranges, it's ricochet effect, too, would have been diminished. And shell fire was not, at this stage of warfare, used in field battles against troops. So the snow would have posed significant friction on artillery.

For a war game, then, rules should be adjusted to account for this deep snow effect:
Ground speed  would have been halved, at least. And close formations would be subject to disruption risk to the same degree as crossing broken ground.

Fatigue factors would also increase (probably by twice for the ease of managing the game dynamics, unless you are using a computer generated algorithm).

Artillery range, at least for roundshot, should also be halved.

Canister effect could be reduced by a factor of 1/3 (assuming 1/3 of the bullets in a discharged would plow into the snow in front of the target).

 Inverse Order of the Austrians

Another tactical factor that may have had a decisive role in the battle was the fact that the Austrian army was forced to deploy in inverse order, owing to the fact that it had to turn around and face a threat in its rear. No time, especially given the thick snow on the ground, could be taken to reverse the order to the normal, left-right sequence.

While this may not seem to be a significant factor, remembering that in this highly rigid, linear period of warfare, in which orders of seniority, precedence, and hierarchy were so important to the confidence of an army, it probably caught the officers of the various regiments on the back foot. It would have, for them, have been like suddenly having to switch hands to play tennis.

To factor in this "back foot" effect in a war game, then, you could reduce the morale factor of the Austrian units and commanders by a percentage (depending on how morale is accounted for in the game engine you are using). Should, during the game, victory come to the Austrians, morale would then be elevated in the euphoria.

Overall Combat Effectiveness

The Austrian infantry, at this early stage of the War of the Austrian Succession, was not particularly great. Most of the rank-and-file were untrained peasants. So it could probably be rated at Militia caliber. The Austrian cavalry, however, seemed to be much better trained (certainly better than the Prussian), better mounted, and in better shape, and could, for the purposes of relative combat effectiveness, be rated at Line or Veteran caliber.

The Prussian cavalry should be rated in its combat efficiency as lower than the Austrian (Militia level?). But the Prussian infantry and artillery, with decades of training and service behind them, should be rated as virtually Guard or Elite level.

My Own Wargame of Mollwitz

Mollwitz set up on my sand table a few years ago. The game was played with 5 mm figures, ground scale at 1:1500. You can see how long ago this was by all the Playmobil toys on the shelves in the background. My daughter is graduating from college this year. I can't get over how quickly the time went.

Orders of Battle

Uniform Color Key: 
First column:  The color of the uniform coat, with the type the color of the regimental facings.
Second column: The color of the uniform pants.
Strength is approximate: randomized for wargaming purposes 

Prussians Type Strength* Guns Companies
Frederick   22,063 48  
Schulenburg Right Wing 2,960 10  
DR# 1 Posadowsky

Cav 516   6
Bolstern Grenadiers Inf 491   4
CR# 10 Gensdarmes Cav 149   2
CR# 11 LiebCarabiniers Cav 324   4
Winterfeld Grenadiers 5/21 Inf 562   4
DR# 3 Schulenburg Cav 738   10
Bty Lehwaldt / 12 pdrs Art 180 10 5
Marwitz 10,031 28  
IR# 10 Anhalt-Dessau / 1 Inf 545   4
IR# 10 Anhalt-Dessau / 2 Inf 506   4
6 pdr bn guns Art 32 4 1
Kleist Grenadiers 1/25 Inf 559   4
IR# 15 Garde Inf 502   4
6 pdr bn guns Art 32 2 1
IR# 26 Kleist / 1 Inf 530   4
IR# 26 Kleist / 2 Inf 545   4
6 pdr bn guns Inf 32 4 1
IR# 19 Brandenburg / 1 Inf 571   4
IR# 19 Brandenburg / 2 Inf 547   4
6 pdr bn guns Art 32 4 1
IR# 25 Kalckstein Inf 555   4
6 pdr bn guns Art 16 2 1
IR# 13 Truchess / 1 Inf 538   4
IR# 13 Truchess / 2 Inf 591   4
6 pdr bn guns Art 32 4 1
IR# 27 Prinz Leopold / 1 Inf 590   4
IR# 27 Prinz Leopold / 2 Inf 550   4
6 pdr bn guns Art 32 4 1
IR# 24 Alt-Schwerin / 1 Inf 488   4
IR# 24 Alt-Schwerin / 2 Inf 589   4
6 pdr bn guns Art 32 4 1
Lattorf Grenadiers 13/19 Inf 573   4
Buddenbrock Grenadiers 20/22 Inf 495   4
Puttkamer Grenadiers 12/24 Inf 517   4
Prinz Leopold 6,502

IR# 22 Prinz Moritz / 1 Inf 546   4
IR# 22 Prinz Moritz / 2 Inf 532   4
IR# 1 Glasenapp / 1 Inf 499   4
IR# 1 Glasenapp / 2 Inf 503   4
IR# 40 Saxe Eisenach Fus / 1 Inf 591   4
IR# 12 Selchow / 1 Inf 559   4
IR# 12 Selchow / 2 Inf 573   4
Saldern Grenadiers 8/36 Inf 575   4
IR# 7 Braunschweig-Bevern / 1 Inf 527   4
IR# 7 Braunschweig-Bevern / 2 Inf 527   4
IR# 23 Sydow / 1 Inf 537   4
IR# 23 Sydow / 2 Inf 533   4
Posadowsky 2,570 10  
CR# 5 Prinz Freidrich Cuir Cav 797   10
DR# 5 Bayreuth Cav 734   10
DR# 1 Posadowsky / 4, 5 Cav 339   4
Liebhusaren Zieten Cav 493   10
Bty Dohna / 24 pdrs Art 207 10 5

Type Strength* Guns Companies
19,205 10  
Berlichingen, Right Wing
Batthyany Dragoons D7 Cav 756   13
Liechtenstein Dragoons D6 Cav 762   13
Cordua Cuir Regt C14 Cav 663   13
Wurttemberg Dragoons D38 Cav 681   13
Hohenzollern-Hechalingen Cuir Regt C3 Cav 748   13
Goldy, 1st Line (right - left) 6,327 10  
Lothringen #1 / 1st Bn Inf 592   5
6 pdr battalion gun Art 8 1 1
Lothringen #1 / 2nd Bn Inf 612   5
6 pdr battalion gun Art 8 1 1
Schmettau Inf 652   5
6 pdr battalion gun Art 8 1 1
Baden Baden #23 / 1st bn Inf 584   5
6 pdr battalion gun Art 8 1 1
Baden Baden #23 / 2nd Bn Inf 681   5
6 pdr battalion gun Art 8 1 1
Kollowrat #17 Inf 630   5
6 pdr battalion gun Art 8 1 1
Browne #36 Inf 686   5
6 pdr battalion gun Art 8 1 1
Botta d'Aorno #12 Inf 658   5
6 pdr battalion gun Art 8 1 1
O'Gilvy Inf 565   5
6 pdr battalion gun Art 8 1 1
Carl von Lothringen #3 Inf 587   5
6 pdr battalion gun Art 8 1 1
Harrach, 2nd Line 3,827 0  
Thungen #57 / 1st Bn Inf 670   5
Thungen #57 / 2nd Bn Inf 590   5
Grunne #26 Inf 567   5
Harrach #47 / 1st Bn Inf 638   5
Harrach #47 / 2nd Bn Inf 678   5
Daun #45 Inf 684   5

Römer, Left Flank
5,441 0  
Hohenembs Cuir Regt C4 Cav 729   13
Seherr Cuir Regt C12 Cav 701   13
Althann Dragoons D1 Cav 791   13
Birkenfeld Cuir Regt C23 Cav 685   13
Lanthieri Cuir Regt C25 Cav 684   13
Romer Dragoons D37 Cav 668   13
Ghilanyi Hussars Hiii Cav 592   12
Splenyi Hussars Hii Cav 591   12



Asprey, Robert, Frederick the Great: The Magnificent Enigma, pp 195-203. Ticknor & Fields, 1986 ISBN 0-89919-352-8

Duffy, Christopher, The Army of Frederick the Great, pp 236-238, The Emperor's Press, 1996,
ISBN 1-883476-02-X

Duffy, Christopher, The Army of Maria Theresa, pp 146-149, Terrence Wise, 1990,
ISBN 0-7153-7387-0

Duffy, Christopher, Frederick the Great: A Military Life, pp 29-33, Routlege 1985, ISBN 0-415-00276-1

Though it deals primarily with details of the later Seven Years War, this excellent site on Kronoskaf is a wonderful source for uniform, weapons, and organizational information about every unit of both the Austrian and Prussian armies.

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