Saturday, March 30, 2013

Chotusitz 1742

War of the Austrian Succession

17 May 1742

Prussians under Frederick II  Approx: 25,000
Austrians under Prince Karl von Lothringen: approx: 26,000

Location: Chotusice, Czech Republic 49° 56′ 57″ N, 15° 23′ 39″ E

Sunrise: 04:13      Sunset:  19:46

( U.S. Naval Observatory from date and coordinates)

A Long-Awaited Rematch

This their second and last major battle of the 1st Silesian War gave both the Austrians, under Prince Charles, and the Prussians, under Frederick II, a chance to redeem mistakes from the Battle of Mollwitz the year before. For the Prussians' part, Frederick had spent more than a year retraining, remounting, and refitting his cavalry, which had embarrassed him so egregiously at Mollwitz. For the Austrians, under the new commander, Prince Charles, their infantry saw 1742 as a much better trained and disciplined force than the raw recruits had been at the beginning of the war. Each side was anxious to test themselves again.

Unfortunately for Frederick, Charles surprised him with his forces dispersed. The Prussian rear guard of some 12,000 (including most of the cavalry) under Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Dessau, was caught on the early morning of 17 May by Charles' entire army of 25,000, who were supposed to still be two days march away. Instead of providing intelligence and security, as light cavalry would later be tasked to do, the Prussians' sole hussar regiment under Bronikowsky was bedded down comfortably somewhere near Kutterberg (modern Kutna Hora) and it took a few hours to locate and rouse them for battle. So the Prussians were initially caught flat-footed in this battle, just as they had caught the Austrians at Mollwitz the year before. Frederick, with the bulk of his army's infantry, was at least three hours march away in Kutterberg. Leopold began frantically sending messenger after messenger to him beginning around 0500 to come quick, but many of these messengers were intercepted by roving Hungarian hussar patrols, who seemed to be, at least, doing their duty as light cavalry rather than spending their time preying on civilians in the countryside.

The map below shows the situation at around 0700. Leopold was scrambling to get his nine infantry battalions lined up south of Chotusitz, but there was some confusion about his orders to Jeetze, who, for some reason, split the four battalions of his brigade on either side of the Brzenka stream. Meanwhile, Buddenbrock's cavalry was deploying to the west and getting ready to charge the Austrian left wing cavalry, uphill. Waldow's Prussian cuirassiers were coming in from their camps around Sehuschitz to attack the Austrian right wing next to the Brzlenka stream. Frederick, meanwhile, with the bulk of the Prussian infantry was still marching in from Kutterberg, to begin a double line deployment in the dead ground between the Cirkwitz Pond and Chotusitz.

(narrative continues below the map and panoramas)

1 This is the view that Prussian infantry would have had looking south toward the Austrian positions Though the crops (probably wheat or barley, not corn as in this picture, which would not have been the case in 1742) would not have been this high during May. (all of the following photos used courtesy of Google Street View)

2 Buddenbrock's Prussian cuirassier squadrons would have formed up about 700 meters here toward the east, extending in a double line of about 1000 meters. The plowed, bare ground in the foreground would have been churned up into the blinding dust mentioned in descriptions of the battle. While the Prussians would have charged up the hill to the right to get to the deployed Austrian cavalry, you can see that it was not a steep hill, and entirely accessible to cavalry.

3 Batthyanyi's Austro-Hungarian cavalry, about 6000 strong, would have been deployed in two lines atop this ridge (cuirassiers in the front, dragoons to the rear). The Prussian right wing cavalry, would have probably been hidden at first by the intervening, rolling landscape. The dust of their deployment into position must have been noticed.

4 Another view from the Austrian cavalry's position on the left wing, looking NE toward Chotusitz and the Prussian infantry. The Prussians would have been deployed around the area  which is currently occupied by an air base (white buildings in the distance), which you can see is entirely hidden by the ground, as is the village of Chotusitz.

5 View from the Austrian center looking toward Leopold's infantry around Chotusitz. The elevation of the Austrians was not so great that they had a commanding view of the enemy numbers or movement. The Austrian heavy guns would have been unlimbered in the right middle distance of this view. The buildings in the distance are not Chotusitz village (hidden by trees) but a Czech Air Force base.

6  View from Liechtenstein's position on the Austrian right toward Chotusitz.

7 The reverse view, from Waldow's start point as he launched his charge against Liechtenstein's cavalry. The church spire in the distance is only two miles away, in the middle of Czaslau, Charles' line of retreat.

The Cavalry Debacle

The battle opened with the Prussian cavalry charging both wings of the Austrian line. They had been in intensive reorganization and retraining since their shameful showing at the Battle of Mollwitz the year before and were eager to get payback. However, while both Waldow and Buddenbrock's squadron's inititally drove off the Austrian first lines, the western cavalry battle devolved into a long skirmish with the Austrian second line cavalry, who eventually drove off or captured what was left of Buddenbrock's cuirassiers. Meanwhile, Buddenbrock's second line of dragoons, who should have been support, had veered off course to their left, lost in the swirling dust, to run unexpectedly into the fire of the Austrian left wing infantry, and were driven off themselves.

The eastern cavalry battle, in spite of the Prussian initial success, only resulted in the disordered Prussian squadrons chasing off to the west and never rallying to attack Charles' main line in the rear. Consequently, Liechtenstein's Austrian cavalry were able to rally, reform and attack the Prussian camps behind Chotusitz, where they themselves found themselves sucked into a fruitless loot-fest.

Therefore, through collective indiscipline, both sides lost effective use of their cavalry for the rest of the battle.

Fighting in the Center: Leopold Fights for Time.

In the meantime, Charles began a bombardment of Leopold's infantry south of Chotusitz with a concentration of  six heavy guns and four  howtizers. These were answered by a small battery of four Prussian 24 pounders on a hill about a thousand yards away. After about an hour of this, Charles launched his first line of infantry against the outnumbered Prussians. Leopold's battalions, in spite of their superior discipline and rates of fire, found themselves falling back through the village of Chotusitz, fighting a stubborn, house-to-house withdrawal. In the process of driving the Prussians, Charles' infantry managed to set fire to the thatched roofs of the village, helping no one, least of all the hapless villagers.

Frederick Counterattacks

By this stage, around 0930, the entire battlefield was obscured by the swirling dust of the ineffectual cavalry battles and the smoke of the burning Chotusitz. Under the cover of all this, and the dead ground between Cirkwitz Pond and Chotusitz, Frederick was able to deploy his fresh infantry in a great, oblong square of 24 battalions (about 12,000 infantry), each supported by two of the new 3 pounder gun, plus three batteries of heavier 12 pdr and 6 pdr cannon. 

At 1030, this huge striking force was ready. Frederick ordered it to wheel left and start firing on the left flank of the Austrian infantry, engaged in pushing back Leopold through Chotusitz. The grand tactical surprise that Charles sprung on Frederick at dawn was now returned. Completely shocked by this sudden appearance of thousands of fresh Prussian infantry on their flank, the Austrians began to fall back.

Seeing that his chance for a coup was gone, his left flank now threatened, and with the loss of any command of his cavalry from their looting and hand-to-hand fighting, Charles ordered a general retreat through Czaslau. Though he had begun the battle with an excellent chance of victory, and though his infantry had performed admirably (especially compared to their embarrassing performance at Mollwitz the year before), Charles conceded the field to Frederick, who had made the fewest tactical mistakes (barely) and ended up with the last trope. The last battalions and guns made it over the Brzlenka bridges into Czaslau about noon. The battle was over in time for a nice lunch.

A Bloody Mess

Both sides suffered heavily at Chotusitz;  the Prussians lost 4,819 (mostly cavalry) KWM, and the Austrians 6,322 (including 1,200 prisoners) and 18 guns or about 20% of both sides' forces. However, under the gentlemanly rules of 18th century warfare, Frederick technically "won" the battle since he remained on the field. This probably felt like a distinction without a difference to the thousands of horribly mangled survivors of the two armies.

While the Prussian cavalry had improved considerably in the year since Mollwitz, it still had a long way to go. It's biggest problem was not in its aggressiveness or charge discipline, but in its ability to retain control of itself following a successful charge. Horses tended to run away with the rest of the herd, in what amounted to a stampede. Frederick was going to have to work on this.

Austrian cavalry, too, was only marginally more disciplined at this stage than the Prussians. In the opening of a battle they could give a good accounting of themselves, but after a victory, they were too tempted by looting the enemy camp to retain control enough to envelope the enemy flanks. While they ultimately won the western cavalry battle, they had no reserves or reformed units to exploit the exposed Prussian infantry's flank.

One of the lessons, though, that Liechtenstein himself took from this battle was the superiority of Prussian artillery, both on the battalion close support 3 pdrs, and the superior field batteries. Austria had been woefully behind in its artillery development in the decades preceding this war. He used the costly evidence of Chotusitz to press for a wholesale reform of Habsburg artillery, both technically and organizationally. Over the years preceding the Seven Years War, Liechenstein was able to craft a long arm that was to become the model for Europe until well into the next century.

Strategically Chotusitz was decisive for Frederick in that it allowed him to negotiate a separate (if temporary) peace with Maria Theresa and extricate himself from this first of the two Wars of the Austrian Succession with possession of Silesia, an extremely rich and populous province, which added an additional million subjects to his 2.2 million Prussians. He used this two year truce and his new Silesian resources to build up his army to continue part two of the war in 1744.

Wargame Considerations


1. Cavalry Combat Efficiency

In rating the cavalry units for a war game, in whatever simulation system you use, rank both Prussian and Austrian cavalry as either Militia or Green for rallying purposes. If your system gives you flexibility to rate your units at varying levels by activity, both cavalries should also be rated at Regular or Veteran combat efficiency levels for purposes of movement and charging. Once disordered, however, their combat efficiencies should drop to the next lower level, making it harder for them to reform.

2. Austrian Infantry Rating

In the year since the disaster of Mollwitz, the Austrian infantry had much improved. Though it still had perhaps 1/3 the rate of fire of the Prussians with their iron ramrods (the Austrians used birch ramrods to load their muskets, which had a tendency to break if used in haste), and was deployed in the less efficient four rank line (vs the Prussian three ranks), it still managed to initially push back the Prussians in front of Chotusitz into that village. So, in rating the Austrian infantry vis-a-vis the Prussians, one could rank them as more or less equivalent in combat efficiency (though with a slower rate of fire).

The Austrian infantry at this date, too, did not employ cadenced marching, which meant that their movement and change of formation was more likely to disrupt their ranks. So whatever mechanism the game engine employs to simulate the risk of disruption from movement should be heightened for Austrian troops. Either that or one can simply reduce the movement rates by half for the Austrians, simulating frequent stops to dress the ranks.

3. The Timely Arrival of Frederick

One of the controversies about this battle is why it took Frederick so long to get the bulk of his army the four miles from Kutterberg in spite of Leopold's urgent messages to come quickly. One theory is that the Austrian hussar patrols were so thick that all but one of the messengers were intercepted, preventing Frederick from getting word.

Another is that even though under normal marching speed, someone could have walked the four miles in a little over an hour, this wouldn't have accounted for the much greater amount of time it would take to issue orders, assemble the troops (in some cases, find where they were camped), form them up, and get them under way. In the days before radio, all messages and orders had to be conveyed by written notes or word of mouth, and delivered by horse. Since Frederick wasn't expecting to have to counter-march, much less fight a battle, he had probably allowed his own force to become lax and dispersed.

To simulate this unknown, one an generate a randomizing element (dice, for instance) each turn after 0700 to see if the lead elements of Frederick's infantry appear on the northwestern edge of the map/board.

My sand table model of Chotusitz with 5 mm (1:300 scale) figures. Ground scale 1:1500.

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Chotusitz Orders of Battle

These orders of battle were derived from Christopher Duffy's "The Army of Frederick the Great" and his "Frederick the Great: A Military Life". Individual unit strengths are averages from the reported gross strength of each army, and are not derived from any detailed personnel reports I could find, amateur that I am.  Thus, an average Prussian battalion would have been about 500, while an average Austrian battalion about 580.

While Duffy reports that the Austrians had 29,000 in the battle, Duffy's report of 3,000 hussars seems grossly over estimated. Even at full strength, the two regiments would not have had more than 2,000. It is highly more likely that, since the hussar regiments were greatly neglected during this period, the were not nearly that strong. Moreover, most of them would have been detached elsewhere in the theater for reconnaissance, recruiting, and "small war" harassment of enemy lines of communication.  The 2,500 Pandours (Grenz, also variously called "Croats" and "Warasdiners")  are also not mentioned as participating directly in any of the researched narratives. They were probably sent forward as skirmishers to harass Prussian infantry. So the actual battle strength of Charles's army may have been equivalent to Frederick's, around 24,000.

Regimental Numbers: For the Austrian Army I have included the later numerical designation of the regiments, for further orientation. The Austrians did not start numbering their regiments until 1767 so at the time of Chotusitz, they would not have been identified by their numbers but by their latest inhabers (sponsors).  

Uniform Colors: The first column is colored in the coat color for that regiment. The second column in the facing colors (cuffs, labels, turnbacks).

Flags: You'll note also that, where I could find them, I have also included the regimental flags of each unit. Those for the Habsburgs are the ones that were in use during this first part of Maria Theresa's reign, since the familiar yellow banners with double-headed eagles were the trademarked property of the Holy Roman Emperor, who, at the time, was Charles VII of Bavaria (the first non-Habsburg emperor in 300 years). It wasn't until 1745, when MT's husband, Francis I, was elected emperor and so had the right to wear the double-headed eagle on his jersey. Most units, of course, still had old banners and guidons with that symbol from the years before 1742 when Charles VII was elected. But the whole reason for the war itself was whether Maria Theresa had the right to represent the Habsburgs in the first place, being a woman, and all.


Map Reference

A Google Maps  view of the battlefield can be found by searching for Chotusice, Czech Republic. This is one of those areas that is covered in high resolution detail. You will see, though, that while the countryside and villages look pretty much as they must have looked 270 years ago, the main battlefield is covered by a modern Czech Air Force base.