2nd Silesian War
War of the Austrian Succession
30 Sept 1745Prussians under Frederick II: approx. 22,000 and 42 guns
Austrians/Saxons under Prince Charles of Lorraine: approx. 44,000 and 92 guns
Location: 50 ° 30’ 44” N 15° 54’ 43” E Burkersdorf is currently called Stritezska, Trutnov, in the Czech Republic, then part of Bohemia in the Hapsburg Empire.
Sunrise: 0601 Sunset: 1739
Toward the close of the 2nd Silesian War between Austrian and Prussia, Frederick II, trying to get his army back across the Silesian border to safety, is strategically surprised by the sudden appearance of Prince Charles of Lorraine’s army on his flank, threatening his retreat. Charles had stolen a march on Frederick and, blocking his retreat with an army twice the size of the Prussian's, felt confident that he could snuff out this little upstart once and for all.
Frederick, having gone to bed in blissful ignorance, was jolted out of bed at 0500 by his staff with the unpleasant news that 44,000 Austrians had seized the high ground dominating his retreat home. His own hussars, whose one job was to be his eyes and ears of the enemy's whereabouts, had completely let him down. Fortunately, the army had already been arming, falling in and marching into battle line.
Why is Frederick surprised?
The reasons for the king’s embarrassment have been irony. While the Prussian Army had long been rated as superior in combat due to their brutal discipline and training, that very discipline worked against them when it came to battlefield security. The risk of desertion was so high that the Prussians could not afford to post pickets outside their camp. These sentries would have likely just deserted. Unlike the Austrians with their own hussars and Croats, Pandours, and Grenz, the Prussians had, as yet, no light infantry formations to fill this role. And Frederick’s army by this stage of the campaign was separated from its hussar arm, who were off raiding the countryside instead of performing reconnaissance and security.
His only cardFrederick was said to have remarked to the French ambassador after the war,“At Hohenfriedburg I was fighting for Silesia. At Soor I was fighting for my life.” He was in a pickle...or, as he remarked in his memoirs, "in the soup up to my ears." His only card was to fight his way out, and attack straight up the hill toward those Austrian heavy guns and 44,000 men.
Of course, having seized the initiative and the high ground, Charles’s evident strategy was for Frederick to do just that, wasting his forces on suicidal attacks uphill in the face of superior firepower. Perhaps he anticipated that Frederick, in the true spirit of cordial 18th century warfare and card games, will see he has been trumped and fold like a gentleman.
Frederick, while a gentleman, is now fighting for his life.
Troop positions at 0800. Each unit occupies the actual footprint it would at the map scale. Artillery symbols are scaled to represent the area occupied by a single gun and all of its crew, support vehicles and teams. Not all Prussian units have entered the map area yet but at this time are still marching from camp. The Prussian camp position is speculative.
The Prussians move into position.
Fog cloaked the lower part of the battlefield until about 0800, allowing time for the Prussians to move into position up to the left of the Austrian position in relative security. Though their flanks were theoretically exposed to enfilade gunfire from the formidable 12 pounder Austrian artillery on the Graner Kroppe, the fog protected them as they complete the dangerous maneuver in front of the enemy. By the time the mist began to lift, Frederick had his main strike force in position opposite the Austrian left. The map above shows the relative positions of the armies at this point.
1. Road north by Burkersdorf, the route Frederick's forces took to move up to the Austrian left.
The battle starts.
Frederick, holding his center and left in echelon,nodded for the the attack on the Austrian left to begin. Prussian cavalry began to move up the steep hill from the north of the Graner Kroppe. The Austrian cavalry just sat there, not believing what they were seeing. It was madness for cavalry to charge uphill. But instead of using their superior numbers and elevation to counter-charge the Prussian cavalry as they puffed up the hill, they awaited the impact inertly and delivered one, ineffective volley (in contemporary Austrian tactical doctrine) before the Prussians crashed into them. The Austrian cuirassiers, at the time considered the finest in Europe, broke and fled. A counter-attack by the supporting Austrian cavalry in the second line was thwarted by the confusion of hundreds of their comrades fleeing through their own ranks, creating a stampede into the woods. Soon, all the Austrian cavalry of Charles's left was in flight through the open trees.
The two lines of Austrian cavalry swept away, the Prussian infantry now followed the cavalry charge and began to move uphill in the teeth of the strong, canister-vomiting battery on the Graner. Decimated by the fire, the first Prussian line under Jeetze, ground to a halt. Three Austrian grenadier battalions under Col. Beneda,, counterattacked through the guns and drove the Prussians back down the hill with great loss.
The retreating Prussian infantry, unlike the enemy cavalry, did not sew panic in their own second line under Fouque, which came on and poured discipline volleys into the now disordered Austrian grenadiers. These latter, now masked the guns on the hilltop, and as they retreated, the Prussian regiments came hard on their heels and overran the guns. This, in turn, further demoralized the Austrian infantry, who started to fall back into the .King's Forest. The whole Austrian left had collapsed by 1100.
2. View from the Prussian right in front of Neu-Rognitz up the hill toward the Austrian left. Though relatively clear, it's a fairly steep climb for heavy cavalry. Evidently, Lobkowitz and Charles didn't expect Frederick to attempt it. (images courtesy of Google Street View)
3. View from Prussian center toward the Graner Koppe, a little over 460 yards (420 m) away, on top of which Lobkowitz had positioned his sixteen heavy guns. Not exactly the Matterhorn, but it still had a commanding sweep of the plain. It would have taken the Prussian infantry 5-6 minutes to reach the summit, most of which would have been under canister range.
Meanwhile, what's happening down south?
While all this disaster was happening to the north, for some reason, Charles’s right wing remained inactive during the entire battle. His right wing cavalry made a half-hearted move to advance about midday, but were immediately counter-charged by Baron von Kyau’s Prussian cavalry, who, after a brief skirmish, swept them from the field. At about noon, the entire Austrian right wing also began to fall back into the pine trees of the Königsreichwald.
As a grisly denouement, while the battle was going on, the Austrian hussars under General Nadasti and Pandours under Baron von Trenck (whom I did not include on the map or in the OOB), instead of helping by sweeping around and attacking the Prussians from the rear, spent the morning raiding the Prussian camp, robbing it of Frederick's payroll chest, his papers, his silverware and dishes, his favorite hunting dog (Biche), and anything else they could steal. They also had fun raping , torturing, and slaughtering most of the non-combatants. After the war, Trenck was made the scapegoat for Charles's defeat and put on trial for cowardice for absenting himself from the battle. He was convicted and set to be executed but Maria Teresa pardoned him. A career criminal, though, Trenck was later that same year convicted of murdering a civilian in Silesia and sent to prison for life.
In genteel Enlightenment fashion, Charles returned Biche to Frederick with apologies for the Pandours' and hussars barbaric behavior; that wasn't how gentlemen fought wars. Frederick was reputedly so moved by this kind gesture that he was said to have broken down and wept. The king loved his dogs more than his own family and Biche was his most beloved.
4. View east from the Austrian right toward the Prussian camp. Relatively flat and unobstructed, this ground was far more appropriate for a cavalry battle, but the Austrian horse, up to recently the best in Europe, was limp against the reformed Prussians.
5. The reverse view toward the Austrian right from the Prussian left wing.
A nasty surprise turns into a giftFrederick had not only saved his army by following his own maxim of audacity, but, with a few more deft maneuvers and skirmishes, had managed to conclude this 2nd Silesian War in a favorable position for negotiation.
That nicety aside, the battle has been described as proportionately one of the bloodiest during the two Silesian Wars of the 1740s (7,500 Austrian and 4,000 Prussian casualties). It proved to be the final knockout blow to the Austrian will to continue. Frederick, under the Treaty of Dresden, signed in December, was finally able to keep the rich Silesian province, which increased his Prussia's population and revenue by 150%. The treaty also recognized Maria Theresa’s claim to the Hapsburg Throne, securing, at least in terms of the eponymous War of the Austrian Succession, that monarch's political position in Europe.
But, like World War II (the War to End Wars), the end of this war merely proved an intermission and set up the conditions for a far wider, far more costly Seven Years War a decade later. During those ten years, Austria was able to completely reform its military and face its old adversary with a very much more capable army.
1. It might be interesting to see what would have happened had Charles or d’Aremburg taken more initiative on his right and moved on the weaker Prussian left. Charles complained that his staff was incompetent, which is why he explained the slowness of his deployment. A war game could test this theory by giving the wing commanders more autonomy and initiative.
2. Another variation would be to allow the Austrian cavalry, with their numerical superiority and higher position, to charge down on the Prussians from the Graner Koppe rather than receiving them halted. While this was contrary to contemporary Austrian doctrine of fire over movement, even at the time, Charles and others complained that their cavalry were using the doctrine to excuse cowardice. So an interesting war game scenario could allow the Austrians to charge.
3. Another scenario might allow the AWOL Austrian hussars and Trenck's Pandours to take a more active role in the battle itself, making an end run to attack the Prussian line from the rear.
Notes about the MapThis map was created referencing a combination of satellite images from Google Earth and maps in the works mentioned below. In order to make the formations easier to see, the ground is rendered in a homogeneous green, though it would have been more mottled and broken up into fields of various states of cultivation.
Rather than the convention of representing units as dull and imprecise blocks, the troops are represented in their actual, doctrinal formations and occupy ground that is accurate to the scale of the map. In this way one can see how wide and thin the 3 and 4 rank linear formations of the period actually were, as well as the practical limitations of 18th century linear warfare.
The size and layout of the Prussian camp is speculative and represented here in a stylized way.
To order a high resolution PDF or JPG copy of this map, contact me at email@example.com. I charge $30 for personal use. For republication usage licenses, I am negotiable. I accept PayPal and can deliver the files to you via Dropbox.
Orders of Battle
The following OOB has been revised and reformatted from the original posting of this article back in 2013. I have included, where I could find or reconstruct them, regimental flags as well as grenadier mitre colors for the Prussians.
For the overall list of participating regiments I've siphoned from George Nafziger's inexhaustible collection of OOBs, which are thanks to his generosity, now free to download from the U.S. Army's Combined Arms Research Library.
Note too that the strength listings in this OOB are approximations based on Christopher Duffy's reports on overall army strengths. I have taken those overall numbers and, using the mystic science of 7th grade algebra, found averages for each battalion, squadron, and company. So, exact as they seem, caveat emptor: don't take these returns as academic. For instance, not every battalion in the Prussian army was precisely 619 strong. I have included these averages so that war gamers can get a feel for the approximate strengths of each unit.
For miniature collectors, I have, as with other of my OOBs, coded the cells in the first and second columns to the coat color and facings (cuffs, lapels, and, in some cases turnbacks). For more detailed reference on the uniforms, flags, and information of this period, I heartily recommend Kronoskaf, the premiere site for all things Seven Years War.
As to the flags of the Austrian units; her husband having been elected Holy Roman Emperor earlier in 1745,, Maria Theresa's regiments were now authorized to break out the old yellow and black double-eagle flags, which they had not been legally allowed to during the first four years of this war when a Bavarian sat on the Imperial Throne.
Penultimately, there may be some question about the inclusion of the Saxon corps in Charles's force. Nafziger, in his list, mentions only three, unnamed "Imperial" battalions (not specifying whether they are Saxon allies or not). But in looking on Kronoskaf and in Duffy, it does seem like a number of Saxon regiments participated in the 1745 campaign, if not the battle. So I have included them here. Again, don't cite this for academic purposes.
Finally, I could not find precise information on most of the 4,000 irregular forces in Charles's army. They have been variously called "Pandours" or "Warasdiners" or "Croats", though it is not certain that they hailed from Croatia. Nor were they, at this time, organized into formal regiments; nor did they yet have official uniforms. Their participation in the battle proper was probably negligible and they did their most service prior to and after the battle, particularly in looting Frederick's camp while his men were off fighting.
All those caveats having been uttered, have fun...
Frederick the Great, The Magnificent Enigma
Robert B. Asprey, 1986 pp 333-338
The Army of Frederick the Great
Christopher Duffy, 1996 pp 243-245
Frederick the Great, A Military Life
Christopher Duffy, 1985 pp 69-71
Nafziger, George, Historical Order of Battle Collection, 1994
Kronoskaf, Project Seven Years War
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