Seven Years War
October 1, 1756
Prussians under Frederick II, 29,016 and 94 guns
Austrian Forces under Maximilian Ulysses Browne 32,134 and 92 guns
Weather: Fog until about 11:00, then clear until about 19:00 when it started to rain.
First Light: 05:37 Sunrise: 06:09 Sunset: 17:43 End of Twilight: 18:15
(Calculated from U.S.Naval Observatory for this date and location)
Lobositz was Frederick the Great's first battle of the Seven Years War. This battle was a small one, and relatively obscure to those not steeped in that war, or in Frederickana. It has been generally awarded as a Prussian victory by historian scorekeepers, but, as I hope to show in my endearing, iconoclastic way, it was actually a tie and even a strategic check to Frederick. The Prussian king publicized it as a victory for his own political purposes, and subsequent Prussophiles have listed it as such. But Austriophiles (Hapsburgophiles?) might beg to differ. Lobositz actually demonstrated a brilliant performance by both the Austrian commander, Browne, and the new, reformed Austrian army. And, like Frederick's first battle of Mollwitz, the Prussian king, being the manic-depressive that he was, gave up early and went off to sulk while his troops fought on.
If you happen to like your history served out on the neat plate already cut up for you; and you happen to be a Prussophile yourself (nothing wrong with that), then you probably should stop reading this right now and go on to more comforting subjects. But if you like your history showing you a different side to the way things might actually have been--a more obscure take--or if you just like to be mad--read on.
Situation about 0800 on 1 October 1756. (Map protected by Digimarc watermark against unauthorized copying.)
The long awaited Seven Years War startsFirst some background questions:. Why was there a Seven Years War in the first place? And did they call it the Seven Years War when it started? How long was it?
To answer those questions in order: Nobody knows. No. Eight years.
Many historians have analogized the Seven Years War to World War II. It came about ten years after the end, in 1745, of the largely unresolved War of the Austrian Succession, just as WWII came about twenty years after the unresolved WWI. And both the Seven Years and Austrian Succession Wars were both World Wars, inasmuch as they were fought all over the world by the same-great powers (except for Japan). The sides in this particular war were, on the one side, Great Britain and Prussia and on the other, Austria, France, Russia, Sweden and practically every other little German and European principality and archbishopric who wanted a piece of the action. For a playbill, may I recommend the excellent website devoted exclusively to the Seven Years War, Kronoskaf/SYW.
In August 1756, Frederick, who had been mobilized for months, was itching to get fighting. But he was unable to get a provocation out of uncooperative Austria, whose government kept emphatically insisting they didn't want war (the duplicitous bastards!). So Frederick decided to get the ball rolling by invading his southern neighbor, Saxony.
Saxony, like Belgium in WWI and WWII, wanted to stay out of it, but was inconveniently in Frederick's way to Bohemia, It also had a rich treasury and tax base, which Frederick needed to finance his war (there is some circular reasoning here). So, under the pretext of launching a pre-emptive defensive war (where have we heard that pretext in modern times? Hm.), he quickly overran Saxony, expecting its immediate surrender. He also expected to find incriminating documents of a plot against him in the state archives of its capital, Dresden, to ex post facto justify his invasion. These latter were his WMDs and, like a more recent government looking for their own WMDs, proved just as elusive. Or illusive.
But the Saxons, vexingly, did not surrender right away. Instead, their King August, their government under Count Bruhl, and their small army of 17,000 fled south to their impregnable, pre-fortified camp on the River Elbe at Pirna. There they sent urgent messages begging help from Austria-Hungary while the Prussians surrounded them and proceeded to loot their country. This is all so familiar. And tedious.
The Irish to the rescue.The Austrian government under Maria-Theresa and her prime minister, Kaunitz, did respond. They were not immediately prepared, though, since, unlike Frederick, they hadn't been mobilized, and, in truth, had been sincere in their hopes for peace. So it took them a few weeks to get together an army large enough to confront the Prussian aggression in Bohemia and organize a rescue mission for the Saxon army and government. Maria-Theresa, on hearing that her newly forming army had not received its guns yet, donated her own stable of luxury horses to haul the guns north, and exhorted her nobility to do the same to show their patriotic devotion.The Austrians were moving as fast as they could...or at least as their bureaucracy would let them.
|Field Marshal Browne|
Browne performed organizational miracles and, with the support of his queen, Maria-Theresa and her minister, Kauntiz, brought the Austrian army up to a strength of about 32,000 by mid September at the traditional Austrian training camp at Kolin, just east of Prague.
During these sleepless weeks, the Irish field marshal had conceived of a strategic rescue mission in which, moving north to the town of Lobositz on the Elbe at the southern exit from the Bohemian mountain range known as the Mittel-Gebirge, he would block any attempt by Frederick to invade the rich Bohemian plain. Then with about 8,000 men, he'd lead a reconnaissance-in-force up the rugged right bank of the Elbe north to a landing opposite Pirna, where his men could help the Saxons as they crossed the river and escort them down to Prague and safety. It was a good plan, worked out under secret communication with the Saxon commander Rutowsky, the messages carried under hair-raising adventure by Browne's courageous secret agents.
This was where things stood in early September. Kaunitz and Maria-Theresa approved and gave Browne the go-ahead.
The two move toward each other.
From 14-20 September, Browne moved his 32,000 men and 92 guns 62 miles from Kolin to Budin (modern Budyne), an easily defensible position just 13 miles south of Lobositz, while he rode ahead and personally reconnoitered the ground ahead. He also sent his friend and fellow Wild Goose, Moritz Lacy, with some 4,000 Croat light infantry and hussars north of Lobositz to secure the left bank river road along the Elbe.
Meanwhile, Frederick, frustrated by the lack of zeal on the part of the ungrateful Saxons to surrender and hand over their army and treasury, took 26,000 troops of his own army south, leaving a force of observation to keep the Saxons bottled up in their fort. His army was pretty much eating up the countryside in their unexpected siege and he had to keep it moving to feed it.
|Kostal, a typical volcanic cone of the Mittel-Gebirge.|
Photo by David Hruska
He picked his way down through the weird landscape of the Mittel-Gebirge, around the innumerable extinct volcanoes (they aren't really innumerable; I just didn't want to count them). His goal was to invade the flat part of Bohemia, where the rich farms were, and find comfy winter quarters for his men at Austrian (or, more precisely, Bohemian) expense.
Through his own intelligence Frederick was aware that the Austrians had put together a small army near Prague, but he wasn't worried about it. Since his unbroken string of victories over the Austrians in the last war, he had contempt for anything the Habsburgs might throw at him. And his new army, which he had spent 10 years sharpening, was his best yet.
These aren't the Austrians you're looking for.
You would have thought, however, that Frederick, whose intelligence service was good, would have paid attention to all the military reforms taking place in Austria-Hungary since the '41-'45 war. Defeat of a smart people can be a wise school for them. And the Austro-Hungarians had been very smart, profiting from their bitter lessons of the last war to completely reform their artillery, their infantry and even their cavalry.
The reforms under Prince Liechtenstein to the artillery were probably the most dramatic. Not only was the equipment revolutionized to make it some of the lightest, hardest hitting and most efficient in the world to that date, Liechtenstein had honed the organization, tactics and logistics for that arm to make it the coming model for all artilleries in the 18th century, until the Napoleonic wars. Indeed, all of the famous artillery reforms made by the French under Gribeauval toward the end of the century had been made in emulation of Liechtenstein's artillery.
The Austrians had not neglected their infantry, either. Learning from their former enemies, they'd adopted iron ramrods, cadenced marching, platoon fire systems (see my post under Blenheim 1704 of how platoon fire vs fire by ranks works), and all the advanced formations and evolutions of their enemies. Frederick had tried to keep much of his army's tactics a state secret, but in those days it was hard to keep things done out in the open on a battlefield a secret. Thousands of eyes across Europe had watched the Prussians and took notes.
In cavalry, the Austrians didn't have that much to improve since that was the one arm during the previous war that had more than held its own. However, they did adopt the new squadron organization and tactics (over the previous 13 company structure) and had kept their horses in top condition. Their officers, too, were motivated to maneuver and take initiative; and as we'll see in this battle, this renewed professionalism stood them good against the Prussian cavalry, who had let themselves get sloppy since 1745.
In the area of light infantry, though, the Austrians (or, to give credit where it's due, their subjects the Croats and Hungarians) still held dominance in Europe. As in the last war, these irregulars would make life hell for the rigid Prussians; shooting from behind rocks, trees, and walls; raiding lines of communications; gathering intelligence; and refusing to stand up in straight lines and fight like men...or at least like Prussians. Frederick had utmost contempt for these people, whom he regarded as mere gypsies, tramps, and thieves. In fact, during this very campaign, a lurking Croat spied Frederick relieving himself outside his carriage and took aim and pulled the trigger. Had it not been raining and the Croat's powder not been soaked, history would have dramatically changed at the very outset of the war. The Prussians had had some success at developing their own hussars, but light infantry took some time. You had to grow up in the mountains fighting Turks and vendettas against each other to breed a class of bush fighters.
All of these improvements and work would return on their investment in the next few days--to the nasty surprise of Frederick.
The Austrians occupy Lobositz
On September 28 Browne, finally receiving the welcome news from Count Bruhl that the Saxons had enthusiastically accepted his offer to come up to Pirna and rescue them, had his army break their rest at Budin and move the 13 miles down the Elbe to Lobositz. The idea was to make a demonstration with his main army on the left bank of the Elbe and keep Frederick on this side, so as not to interfere with a smaller corps secretly marching up the right bank toward Pirna.
The ground around Lobositz, the main exit from the Mittel-Gebirge Frederick was likely to take, had some advantageous features for defense. To the northwest was an extinct volcano, the Lobosch (modern Lovos in Czech), a steep 1866 ft cone flanked by terraced vineyards and woods, and capped by a black plug of basalt. The vineyards, enclosed themselves by ditches and lava rock walls, made an ideal fighting ground for Browne's Pandour infantry. Frederick coming down the main road toward Lobositz could not leave this dangerous position on his flank. So Browne entrusted this ground to the 2,000 Pandours (Banal and Karlstadt regiments) under Gen. Draskowitz, backed by five regiments of infantry under his young Irish friend Count Lacy (see deployment map above).
To the immediate west of the town was a gently sloping saddle between the Lobosch to the north and another old volcano, the Ovcin, to the south. This saddle was dominated on the southwest side by a thumb-shaped spur coming out of the Ovcin called the Homolka. While this little hill dominated the middle of the battleground, Browne saw that he could not afford to occupy it since it was indefensible from the rear, the directions the Prussians would have been coming. So he left it as s welcome gift to Frederick.
To protect his center, and offer bait for Frederick to attack, Browne placed a force of all the elite companies of his cavalry, two regiments of hussars, and the Erzherzog Joseph Regiment of Dragoons (D1) on the flat plain below the Homolka under another of his most reliable officers, Radicati. These were supported on their right by two battalions of converged grenadiers and a strong battery of six 12 pdr guns and six 7 pdr howitzers commanded by the aptly named Gen. Feuerstein. Behind his "bait", a deep, sunken road connected Lobositz to the marshy Morellenbach, a natural defensive trench. Into this he placed some companies of Pandours, and two more battalions of converged grenadiers. And behind these, two strong regiments of cuirassiers, Stambach (C10) and Cordua (C14).
View west from the Austrian heavy battery position, looking toward the Prussian advance. On the right is the steep Lobosch hill, to the left is the Homolka Berg, on which the Prussians would place their biggest guns and from which Frederick watched the first part of the battle. Photo: Google Maps
The south side of the battlefield was bordered by a wide bog of the Morellenbach, crossed by bridges and causeways, as well as the village of Sullowitz, and a walled, wooded park (a Tiergarten--or game park). Browne concealed the bulk of his army behind this, about 11,000 infantry and almost 5,000 more cavalry. He had all of his infantry lie down in the tall grass to hide themselves and the cavalry stationed behind the thick woods of the Tiergarten, where they couldn't be detected even from the height of the Homolka.
All of this clever deployment was intended to make it look like Lobositz was held by only a thin, rear guard. This was aided further by the fact that at this time of year, a thick mist hung around the wet ground around the Elbe until late morning.
Frederick stumbles in.
About 6:30 on the morning of 1 October, the Prussians, having been marching all night, started to arrive in the notch between Lobosch and Ovcin hills. Frederick was told the town of Lobositz seemed to be held by a few cavalry and some of those detestable Croats. Peering from the high ground on the Homolka into the ground mist and blinded by the rising sun, it was hard for the king to make out anything definite. There looked like some small bodies of cavalry moving about on the plain. He could also hear the popcorn rattle of musketry and small 3 pounder guns wafting down from the vineyards on the Lobosch to his left. For all intents it looked like the reports of his Green Hussars had been right, there were just some rear guard cavalry; the rest of Browne's army seems to have retreated.
Frederick told Bevern to take seven battalions of the first arriving infantry (Kleist #27, Bevern #7, Manteuffel #17, and a battalion of grenadiers) and sweep the pesky Croats out of the flanking vineyards on the mountain. Easier said than done. The broken, steeply sloping ground made by the vineyards broke up the linear formations of the Prussian infantry, who were forced to scramble in many small groups from vinerow to vinerow, while the hundreds of elusive Croats fired at them from walls, ditches and the brush higher up the mountain. This close battle was to go on for several hours in a see-saw manner. The Prussians were exasperated because they could not see their enemy, in spite of their bright red coats. During this long fight, whenever Bevern seemed to get the upper hand and start to push the Croats back, Lacy would send in another battalion or two of regulars to reinforce them. Both sides, regulars and irregulars, were fighting light infantry style, but this was the kind of fight the Croats were born for. The Prussian infantry had not yet been trained in light infantry tactics and presumably made it up as they went along.
While this bloody combat was going on on the Lobosch, the main body of Prussian infantry under the Prince von Pruessen, was marching down the road from Bilinka and deploying across the saddle in front of and around the village with the unpronounceable name of Wchinitz (Vchynice in modern Czech--not any better--can we not send some vowels to those deserving people?). The ground was tight and the battalions were forced to pack in one behind another, making them juicy targets for the Austrian 12 pdrs and howitzers in front of Lobositz.
This was something I discovered while preparing the battle map for this article. While typical maps of this battle (even the usually meticulous maps in Duffy's histories) blithely show neat little blocks representing regiments of 14-1600 men, each smartly lined up across the white paper in straight rows, the regiments in my maps show the actual footprints of these formations (the Prussian infantry in three ranks, two feet per front per man, the Prussian cavalry still deploying in 3 ranks by this early stage of the war, at 1.3 yard per trooper). Something doesn't add up, geometrically, that is. Given the reported muster strengths of the Prussians, it would have been a really tight fit (see map). Most of the published maps of this battle that I found showed lots of shoulder room around the Prussian formations, but if the documented strengths were accurate, they would have been crowding each other. The narrative of the battle also describe the Prussian infantry as deploying in two lines (not to be confused with two ranks), which the maps I used as reference did not reflect, but which I have done in my map.
Another feature that made itself felt in the Prussian deployment was an inconvenient stream, the Graben, that bisected the position down the middle. It was probably fordable by infantry, but broke up the ground for the cavalry, which were forced to deploy straddling this ditch.Contemporary memoires claim that the horses were so tired after their all-night march that they couldn't manage to climb the opposite bank.
The Prussian deployment in this crowded valley went on all morning. Not elegantly.
This view south looks across the Prussian center toward the Homolka. The village of Wchinitz is on the right. The main body of Prussian infantry would have lined up from here straight toward the Homolka and then wrapped around the south end of the village. Photo by permission: David Hruska
Another excellent photograph below by David Hruska, taken coincidentally on 1 October on the 250th anniversary of the battle, shows what the foliage would have looked like. This view is north looking toward the Lobosch (Lovos) peak from the slopes of the Ovcin.. Vineyards would have covered the lower shoulders of the mountain.Ten thousand Prussian cavalry would have filled up the valley in the middle distance, facing right.
Frederick's talented artillery chief, Colonel von Moller, expertly set up batteries on either side of the main road to answer the Austrian heavy battery in front of Lobositz. He also set up his big 24 pdrs and heavy howtizers on the commanding dome of the Homolka to fire at the cavalry in the plain. These latter wouldn't stay still, though. They kept changing their formations, moving forward and backward, left and right, and generally frustrating the aim of Moller's gunners. Generals Radacati and Hadik and their cavalry knew their business.
Frederick's view from the forward slope of the Homolka toward the plain in front of Lobositz where Browne's "bait" was planted. On the morning of the battle, this would have been veiled in mist and not so clear. Moller's battery would have been unlimbered roughly about here. The main Austrian force was lying down in and behind the village of Sullowitz to the right and would not have been visible..
Frederick launches his cavalry.
By 11:00 the fog had not yet lifted completely, but Frederick was still convinced that he was only facing the rear guard of Browne's retreating army. He was seconded in this opinion by all the yes-men on his staff, including his little brother, Augustus Wilhelm, who said, "This won't cause much trouble. It's just a rearguard action." The prince then advised his brother to send in some cavalry to brush what he assumed were just a few hussars aside. Frederick agreed and ordered Gen. Kyau to take Pennavaire's cuirassier brigade (5 squadrons of Gensdarmes #10, 1 of the Gardes du Corps #13, and 2 of the yellow jacketed Prinz von Preussen #2, as well as 8 squadrons of the Bayreuth Dragoons #5) and brush the presumptuous Austrian cavalry from the field.
Kyau filtered his squadrons around the south of the Prussian infantry on the Homolka and went right at Radicati's cavalry, who weren't so easily brushed aside. The cavalry battle clang-clanged back and forth for about a quarter of an hour, with the Prussians gradually pushing the Austrians back. But as they started to chase them across the sunken road between Lobositz and the Mollerenbach, they fell into the ambush laid by Browne. First they were raked right and left by the hidden grenadiers and Croats in the sunken road, then in enfilade by the battery in front of Lobositz and a lot of 6 pounders hidden across the Morellenbach. Finally, when their disordered squadrons made it across the sunken road they were met by another unpleasant surprise, Lobkowitz's two fresh cuirassier regiments (Cordua C14 and Stampach C10) who threw all the Prussians back in confusion toward their start line. To add insult to injury, these were harried by the two hussar regiments of Hadik and Baranyay, the very presumptuous ones Kyau had meant to brush from the field.
But failure loves reinvestment. It had been a standing order in the Prussian cavalry, originated by Frederick himself, that when they see the first line in trouble, they are not to wait for orders but are to charge. This is what the overall Prussian cavalry commander, Gen. Gessler, now did...with all 10,000 troopers. Apparently Frederick had recently insulted Gessler about his lack of audacity in battle. Still stinging from that rebuke, the cavalry general decided to show Frederick the audacity he was always clamoring for. While Frederick, in horror, looked on from Homolka, Gessler filtered all of his squadrons through the intervals between the Prussian battalions in front of Wchinitz. When they were all lined up, he ordered a general charge all along the line.
Frederick, incredulous, was supposed to have said, "My God! What is my cavalry doing? They're attacking a second time and nobody gave the order!" I imagine no one on Frederick's staff had the suicidal urge to point out that Frederick himself had given that very standing order years before, when he was reorganizing his cavalry. And now, ironically, they were doing just what he told them they must always do; act without waiting for orders.
It must have been a magnificent sight to see 10,000 cuirassiers and dragoons thundering down the valley. But as Pierre Bosquet, an eyewitness to another famous and doomed cavalry charge a century later in the Crimea, said "Magnificent. But it is not war." ("C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre.")
This second attack, much bigger though it was than the first, suffered the same fate. Now, even aware of the murderous crossfire from Lobositz and Sullowitz, and that this was no "rear guard" they were facing but the entire Austrian army, Gessler led his 10,000 into the same meat grinder. Now all the Austrian infantry south of the Morellenbach swamp stood up and poured devastating volleys into the flanks of the charging horsemen. But the Prussian squadrons, already coming apart, kept moving forward.
Browne summoned Lucchesi to send fresh squadrons from his cavalry reserve (from Anspach and Bretlach Cuirassiers) to reinforce the Stampach and Cordua Cuirassiers and Joseph Dragoons in the center. The Prussian cavalry were already exhausted after having marched all night, and the Austrians were well-fed and rested. It wasn't an even contest. Some Prussians tried to urge their horses across the Morellenbach swamp to get at the Austrian infantry, but were hopelessly mired down and shot down in the mud from above, like fish in a barrel. A Prussian infantryman watching the spectacle from the heights of the Homolka said the whole battle lasted less than a quarter of an hour before clumps of cavalry and lone horses came limping back, some dragging their mangled riders by the stirrups.
At some point, Gessler and individual regimental commanders realized it was hopeless and called the retreat, rallying their beaten troopers in front of the Prussian infantry for a third charge. But Frederick, disgusted with the performance of what was supposed to be the finest cavalry of Europe, the victors of Hohenfriedberg and Soor, ordered them back behind Wchinitz. They were done for the day.
Frederick quits.Now, about noon, even Frederick realized he was not facing any "rear guard." but the whole Austrian army. It looked to him like another "first" battle, Mollwitz, all over again. This time, though, he had no Schwerin to persuade him to leave the field for the sake of the kingdom: he came to that conclusion on his own. He was convinced he had lost this battle, one he hadn't expected, and turned his horse around and made for the safety of Wchinitz village. One of the last orders he gave that day was for Bevern to clear the slopes of the Lobosch of Austrians, to at least secure the flank of the army before they retreated the next day. Something Bevern had been trying to do all morning, thank you for noticing.
Bevern, now imbued with this new authority, began to appropriate other regiments from the Prussian center to throw them against the Croats and Austrians in the vineyards. In trying to rally the jumble of Prussian infantry already fighting, they complained that they had shot away all their ammunition. To this he is supposed to have memorably said, "Well, you have bayonets, don't you? Skewer the dogs!" Supposedly this was the moment when the Prussians heroically leapt up and surged forward, skewering, poking, clubbing, bashing and driving the enemy off the hill and down toward Lobositz town. But the relatively fresh reinforcements of second battalions of IRs Itzenplitz #13, Hulsen #21, and Munchow #36 and the Kleist and Billerbeck grenadier battalions probably helped, too. And the fact that the Croats and Austrians were themselves running low on ammunition and pretty exhausted by the early afternoon themselves also helped. General Lacy, commanding the Austrian center and right, felt that they had done their job. Retreat was the better part of valor.
Lacy ordered a slow fallback toward Lobositz, covering the retreating men with the remaining seven of his intact battalions. It was not a rout; it was an orderly withdrawal. As the Austrians slowly backed off the hill and into the town, fighting every foot of the way, the Prussian howitzers with the three batteries began raining hot shells on Lobowitz and Sullowitz, setting those hapless villages on fire and burning alive the wounded that had been brought into them (even some Prussian cavalry wounded). That was the last resort of a scoundrel: when all else failed burn private property. It was mostly just spiteful.
By this time Browne, having accomplished his strategic goal of stopping the Prussians, and not wishing to risk the integrity of his army, ordered a general evacuation of the town, taking as many of his and the Prussian wounded as possible and calling forward three regiments of his infantry reserve to cross the Morellenbach and set up a covering defense, which they did professionally.
It was about 15:00 now. And Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, whom Frederick had left in charge while he went to hide behind the lines, called off the pursuit, which was costing the Prussians as much as the Austrians anyway. The battle was over. A rain storm was coming in and by sunset a downpour mercifully put out the fires in Lobositz and Sullowitz. Both sides stopped firing.
Now it's done.
Browne's army camped on the field in the rain, below the safety of the swelling Morrelenbach. Frederick's men camped where they were, in Wchinitz and the soggy ashes of Lobositz. It was not until reports came in much later that night that Frederick was convinced by his officers that he hadn't lost the battle. The Austrians had apparently retreated. But the king was a nervous wreck.
The next morning, Browne ordered a general withdrawal of the entire army to its original defensive line at Budin. To commence the move he ordered a single round from a 12 pounder to be fired as a start signal. The fact that the signal happened to include a live round that bounded through the Prussian camp only added insult to injury. Many on that side thought, with sickening awareness, that another day of battle was starting.
But Frederick and his staff could see that Browne was actually withdrawing. The enemy's army was still a potent fighting force, but Frederick pulled a "technical" and by the rules of 18th century warfare sent back dispatches to Berlin of a glorious Prussian victory. After all, he stayed on the field of battle which the enemy abandoned (even though it was the next day and with all his guns and his army intact. Still...) So a great Prussian victory is how Lobositz has been officially viewed ever since.
Tactically, this first battle of the Seven Years War was actually a draw. Both sides had lost about 2,900 (a slightly harsher loss to the smaller Prussian army). But Browne had achieved his immediate strategic objective in stopping the forward momentum of Frederick into the Bohemian plain and buying time for his ultimate scheme of rescuing the Saxon army. He had never meant to hold Lobositz but had always seen it as a great place for an ambush, which he pulled off beautifully. In fact, in moving his army forward on the 28th, he only brought enough provisions for two days, never meaning to stay. So even with Frederick claiming he had won the ground, he didn't gain the usual fruits of such a victory in terms of captured enemy stores. There were none. The Prussians were tired and hungry, camping on a soggy battlefield covered with thousands of dead and dying men and horses, amid smouldering ruins. In the rain.
Privately, Frederick knew the truth. And both he and his men recognized to each other that these were not the Austrians they had grown accustomed to beating in the last war. He wrote to his old friend, Marshal Schwerin, "They have more tricks at their disposal than ever before; believe me, unless we can bring a mass of cannon against them it will cost us a great number of men to beat them down." And, he might have added, eight more long years more of fighting.
Now Browne can do what he set out to do in the first place.
With upper Bohemia now safe, Browne could now execute on his strategic plan of moving unhindered down the right bank of the Elbe toward Pirna to help the Saxon army make its escape across the river. Taking only 7,459 troops (including regulars, Croats, hussars and dragoons), while leaving his main army defending Budin, Browne crossed the river at Raudnitz (modern Roudnice) and started making his way up toward the bank opposite Konigstein castle, the easternmost fortress of the Saxon defensive positions at Pirna. He did this all without detection, hard marching with his men through mountains and forests in the rain for more than sixty miles in four days, all the while coughing up blood himself. That a healthy man could do this, and lead thousands of men without losing one, was amazing. That an old man with TB could do it was heroic.
However, when Browne got to his destination and sent word across the river that he was here and ready, the Saxons weren't. Their prime minister, Count Bruhl and King August, were prevaricating. First they said they couldn't find their pontoons to build a bridge. Then they said there was sickness in the camp. Then, day after day they said they needed one more day. While Browne waited, his own provisions were running out and it was getting harder and harder to conceal his presence from the Prussians, who themselves managed to cross the river and block him from the proposed crossing site for the Saxons at Konigstein.
What was really going on was that Bruhl, King August, the Saxon commander, Rutowsky, and the Saxon court were all bargaining with the Prussians to get as much as they could for themselves personally out of a surrender. Which they did on 19 October. So Bruhl had double-crossed Browne and his erstwhile allies (in true 18th century style). The king and nobility were given safe passage out of Saxony into August's other kingdom, Poland. And all of the Saxon troops were "sold" as soldier-slaves to their new Prussian masters.
Frederick, thinking he had just recruited 17,000 new troops on the cheap, unwisely just made all the Saxon regiments Prussian regiments by making them put on blue coats, renumbering them and making them all swear personal oaths to their new king, Frederick. He let them stay in their original Saxon regiments, but he assigned contemptuous Prussian officers to run them. Not a wise management decision.
But you get what you pay for, and within a year, all but three of these "new" regiments had deserted to the enemy, sometimes en masse. Not being able to trust the remaining three, he relegated them to rear, garrison duties. I have no idea what Frederick was thinking. But he probably had trouble putting himself in the place of an ordinary Saxon soldier, not imagining that he might have resented his country being sold out from under him, himself turned into a slave, working for brutal foreign officers who were all too quick with a whip, and forcibly pressed into an army that had contempt for all Saxons. Who wouldn't have leapt at that new job?
Browne, for his part, simply had to withdraw the way he had come. Fortunately he did so without losing anyone. But historians have unfairly tended to describe this rescue mission--the real object of his giving battle at Lobositz--as a strategic failure. A Wikipedia article on the Lobositz battle claims he "arrived too late" to help the Saxons. But he had got there right when he said he would, in four days of heroic, hard marching. It was the Saxon Count Bruhl and King August who held things up. The plan would have worked had the Saxon king and his government not gone "Vichy" on their own people and basely surrendered to the Prussians, making Browne cool his heals "in the lobby" while they double-dealt with the enemy. Browne held up his end of the bargain. He was ready and waiting, where and when he said he would be, engine running and the car door open.
The battle at Lobositz itself was to do its job and stop Frederick in his invasion of Bohemia. He never went farther south that year but retreated back to Saxony to regroup. So, strategically, Browne should have been given the victory. I give it to him, anyway, for all it's worth from me, two-and-a-half centuries later.
The Lessons of Lobositz
I always like to take some time to analyze what made one of these Obscure Battles interesting. What were some of the things we should pay attention to, at least from an historical and military perspective. And this battle is fat with lessons, starting with one that shows up again and again in the history of war:
1. Don't be cocky
Frederick charged down on Bohemia, having swept through Saxony like crap through a goose (as General Patton liked to say), fully expecting to have his way with Austria, too. He was thinking of the old Austrians--before they had reformed their faults of the last war. But he faced, instead, a very different enemy; infantry better trained, equipped and led; cavalry which had not only held its professionalism but had evolved tactically and organizationally as well; and an artillery arm that was completely refitted and revolutionary. In the previous war, too, the Prussians had only had to face a series of really bad Austrian commanders, usually Prince Charles of Lorraine, Maria-Theresa's criminally incompetent brother-in-law who never fought a battle he didn't expect to lose. This time, they faced one of the best military leaders in Europe, Maximilian Ulysses Browne. The Prussians tripped carelessly into Lobositz thinking this would be a brush over, and got their hats handed to them.
2. The importance of light infantry
While Frederick may have held the Austrian's Croatian irregular infantry in contempt, these "gypsies" had again turned out to be the enemy's trump card. In fact, Lobositz was distinct in that, aside from the short cavalry battle on the plain, it was largely a battle of troops fighting in broken country in small groups, using improvised "light infantry" tactics. This was a lesson that the British army was to learn the hard way in North America during this same war as they fought Indians ("The French and Indian War," as the Seven Years War was known in America), and later fighting colonists during the American Revolution. But the Prussians also learned it as they gradually developed their own specialist light infantry, the Frei Companies and jagers.
The lesson here is that, even in the era of geometric, Enlightenment warfare, a commander could not always fight on flat, open terrain. Battlefields weren't usually parade grounds. Frederick was delighted to be able to fight on his own parade ground the next year at his "masterpiece" Leuthen. But at Lobositz there was barely room to line up his infantry in the narrow valley. And the rugged hills on his flanks was completely unsuited for linear warfare. Lobositz was a battle of jungle fighting and ambushes.
3. Frederick wasn't the only military genius
At Lobositz Frederick had met his match as a leader. While the Prussian king was idolized by his officers and men, in Browne he had an adversary who was also worshiped by his men. The Austro-Irish field marshal was both a shrewd tactician and strategic planner. At Lobositz he outfoxed Frederick, carefully concealing his strength, husbanding his resources until the right moment to strike. He also had an integrated team of sub-commanders he had hand-hand picked for their military prowess (not their court connections); aggressive and smart generals like Hadik, Lucchesi, Lacy, and Macquire.
Browne had not only stopped the Prussian juggernaut cold at Lobositz, he was strategic enough to let Frederick enjoy a hollow, public relations victory. Making this small sacrifice he gained the time he needed to pull back and make an end run around the Prussians, aggressively racing toward the main prize in this campaign, the rescue of the Saxon army (only foiled by diplomatic betrayal on the part of the Saxon prime minister, Bruhl--see above).
Marshal Browne was quick, smart, and decisive. He didn't hold ineffectual, self-defeating "war councils" that were the bane of 18th century armies (and would eventually lead to the Austrian disaster at Leuthen next year). He led by personal example and courage, and by trusting his commanders and men, who, in turn, earned his trust by performing miracles.
I can only imagine that had Browne not died in 1757 (not, as you might expect, from TB, but from wounds he sustained at Prague), and had continued to lead the Austrian army, the Seven Years War might have been known as the Two Years War.
Instead, Maria-Theresa, in some ways her own worst enemy, again felt compelled to appoint her grossly incompetent brother-in-law, Charles of Lorraine, to lead her main field army. Otherwise, Austria had a very good chance of knocking out Prussia early in that war.
4. On Formations
The Austrian infantry had been undergoing considerable modernization during the decade prior to the Seven Years War. It had, as I mentioned, adopted iron ramrods (over the previous beechwood ones that tended to become brittle and break in the heat of combat) increasing the rate of fire to a theoretical five shots per minute. It had also adopted the methods of its Prussian enemy in fire systems (using faster platoon fire methods vs fire-by-ranks) and drill (adopting cadence marching and reloading).
However, by 1756 the Austrian infantry was still forming up in four ranks, as they had for generations. There had been considerable experimentation with the thinner, three rank formation used by the British, the Dutch, and the Prussians since the War of the Spanish Succession. It was generally accepted that, in a firefight, the fourth rank was pretty much useless. But there were conservatives in the Austrian Army who believed that the fourth rank kept a reserve bank account of loaded muskets in case of emergencies. Other die-hards believed that the deeper formation gave the men higher morale. By late 1757, those antique arguments fell to the reality of manpower shortages; traditional four-rank battalions couldn't maintain a required frontage with fewer men. So the standard formation was permanently established as three ranks. But at Lobositz we can assume that the Austrian infantry still formed up in four.
A comparative size of an average Austrian infantry division (or company) in four ranks and a Prussian division in three ranks. Note that according to regulations, the Austrian infantry separated their ranks by three paces (or 6') while the Prussians packed theirs in by 2'2". (Image protected by Digimarc watermark against unauthorized copying.)
(Image protected by Digimarc watermark against unauthorized copying.)
The cavalry of both sides, however, were still forming in three ranks in 1756, mostly under the belief that the third rank "furnished the charge", i.e gave more weight to the shock--sort of like a rugby scrum.While horse shortages compelled both armies to thin their ranks to two as the war progressed (in order to preserve the same frontage of a squadron), it wasn't until later in the war that cavalry commanders (at least the Prussian officers) realized that the third rank wasn't needed in shock after all, as two-rank squadrons, well handled and in tight, knee-to-knee formation, could overthrow an enemy just as handily. This was something, ironically, that the British and Dutch had demonstrated decades before during the War of the Spanish Succession, but which other armies, including the Prussians, who had fought alongside the British in that war, failed to pick up. While the Prussians would adopt the two-rank cavalry formation later in this war, the Austrians (unless compelled by horse shortages) would keep three ranks until well into the Napoleonic Wars. Beliefs die hard.
A Prussian squadron in three ranks. Until late 1757 regulations had Prussian cavalry deploying on three ranks, just like their Austrian counterparts. But as the war progressed, horse shortages compelled a reduction to two ranks to maintain the standard squadron frontage of around 50 yards.
5. Ammunition Supply
The fighting on the north side of the battlefield, in the vineyards on the Lobosch, lasted so long that troops began to run out of ammunition. The Prussians supposedly went into combat with an average of 90 rounds per man (30 in their pouches and another 60 in wagons to the rear). But by mid-afternoon even this supply had been shot away. We can assume the same supply problem existed on the Austrian side, though Lacy fed in reinforcements (with full cartouches) slowly. Men on both sides were said to be scrounging among the dead and wounded for ammunition.
This problem turned out to be so vexing, particularly in long battles, that Frederick, for his part, was obsessed with making sure his troops had enough ammunition before going into battle, increasing the allotment to 120 rounds per man by Leuthen in the next year. Each regiment would have been followed by wagonloads of small rounds, the regimental quartermasters feeding ammunition to the troops as they advanced.
Ammunition was also a factor when troops fought on their own, in light infantry fashion, as even the regulars were doing on Lobosch hill that day. The officers, unable to control the rate of fire (and expenditure of rounds), would helplessly watch their men shoot away all their supply as fast as they could (probably averaging two rounds per minute). The other incentive for individual soldiers to fire away all their ammunition was that, if they ran out, they had an excuse to go to the rear for some needed rest and relaxation; their job done that day.
So to keep units supplied with ammunition in a firefight was a vital goal.
Wargame ConsiderationsMy purpose in this section of each article is not to design specific rules or systems for wargaming. It is, rather, to propose concepts to consider when designing a game, especially one that fits the unique features of this particular battle. There are endless varieties of game systems out there, both commercial and personal. And I'm sure there are specific rules that could be applied to reflect the following considerations.
1. Equal Combat Effectiveness
Because the Austrian military had accomplished so much in bringing its arms up to the professional level of the Prussians by 1756, I would treat the units of each side in a wargame of Lobositz (or any SYW game involving Austrians and Prussians) as essentially equivalent in combat effectiveness and morale. This had not been the case during the previous war (The Austrian Succession, 1741-45). At Lobositz, and throughout the Seven Years War, Austrian infantry could stand up in a toe-to-toe firefight with even the best of Prussian infantry, and frequently beat them.
2. Rate of Fire
Likewise, because the Austrian infantry had, during the previous ten years, mastered the intricacies of platoon fire systems, and had adopted both the efficient cadenced loading procedures and iron ramrods of the Prussians, I would give them the same firepower in a wargame. Because they were lining up in four ranks at Lobositz, however, in which the fourth rank could not fire, you could reduce the firepower of a battalion by 1/4, but subsequently increase the morale by a fraction (not necessarily as much as 25%) to account for the purported psychological bonus of having a deeper formation.
3. Fatigue of Prussians
The Prussians had been marching all night through the Mittel-Gebrige mountains to get to Lobositz. They had expected to relax in the comfort of the town and its surrounding villages when they got there at first light, perhaps sampling the fine wines of the region later in the day, They had not expected to fight a major battle. So, by the morning of the 1st we can assume they were tired and cranky. The Austrians, by contrast, had been well rested, well fed, and were ready for the Prussians. In a wargame of Lobositz, I'd let the Prussians start off with a reduced energy level, however your game system calibrates it. (IF it calibrates it. Some games seem to operate as if the units are composed of supermen, with inexhaustible reserves of energy and ammunition.) This may have been the biggest factor in the abysmal performance of their otherwise excellent cavalry that morning; the horses and men were just exhausted.
Another notable feature of this battle was the ability of Browne to conceal his strength and intentions. Unlike the Prussian infantry, for instance, the Austrian infantry was made to lie down while waiting, not only hiding them more effectively, but shielding them from Prussian long range artillery fire. A wargame of Lobositz that made some rule providing for Austrian concealment would be instructive. The old AH Midway system of off-map concealment and reconnaissance might work as a game mechanic here (with cavalry units acting in the same role as air search in that classic naval game). Or, the even older concept of Battleship.
5. Defense Against Artillery.
In the same vein, the fact that the Austrian infantry were made to lie down, greatly minimizing their exposure to artillery fire, could be incorporated into a wargame rule, allowing for the Austrian player to avoid bombardment on his infantry. This simple trick was, apparently, beneath the "manliness" of the Prussian infantry, however. An experimental wargame allowing the Prussian player to lie his infantry down (in contravention to practice) might reduce its exposure to the cannonading they received in the center.
Lying down would have been harder for the cavalry, of course, but the Austrians also employed a technique where they would constantly move and change the formations of their cavalry squadrons to throw off the aim of the Prussian gunners. So a rule detracting from the fire effectiveness of artillery on a target that was in a new location would compel the player to move his cavalry around to keep the opponent from "zeroing in". The game system I have developed for my own wargames distinguishes between new targets and ones that have been homed in aftera few rounds, which means that units which are in motion receive fewer hits than static ones.
It is common among simpler wargames to assume that the markers or figures representing troops have unlimited ammunition; so no rule is made for running out. But a more sophisticated and realistic game would have ammunition supply be a factor. In games with 30 minute turns, it could be assumed that an infantry unit would shoot away all its immediate ammunition in that turn, and so be unable to fire until resupplied by an "ammunition wagon" marker, which the player would "spend" (take off the board) when used. In games with shorter turns, some other bookkeeping method could be used. My own system is computer-based so each unit's ammunition supply is accounted for automatically, round for round. I'm sure there are a number of different systems out there, both commercial and custom-designed. But the point is that Lobositz was one of those battles where ammunition supply proved to be a critical factor.
Orders of Battle
These orders of battle were derived from Christopher Duffy's latest and exhaustive study of the Austrian Army during the Seven Years War, By Force of Arms. Anyone who has looked carefully at other OOBs will notice that this one is at variance with those, and even with some of Duffy's earlier OOBs of this battle (particularly on the Prussian side) . The reason I have gone with this one is that A) it is the most recent, 2008; B) Duffy, in my view, is probably the most authoritative scholar on the Seven Years War there is (certainly the most prolific); and C) he must have had a reason to change his Prussian OOB for Lobositz from his earlier, Frederick the Great, A Military Life, 1985. His primary sources are copious and impressive, from both Berlin and Vienna.
However, strength figures for each regiment and battalion are derived from the highly detailed OOB on Kronoskaf. Austrian returns are approximate averages, while Prussian parade states were more precise.
My deployment map, at the top of this article, is based on Duffy's OOB. Another detailed deployment map and detailed OOB may be found at the Kronoskaf site, the page on Lobositz. But that one is apparently based on a German General Staff history from 1901, and not the sources that Duffy used from the Austrian Army Museum. Since I am not a professional historian (but I was a military intelligence officer in my earlier life), I tend to go with the source that seems the most credible to me. But it's always good to read from a balance.
Austrian regiments were not numbered until after this war, but I have included the eventual numbers of the regiments as they are referenced in Duffy's OOBs and battle maps. As the names of the regiments changed with the inhabers, doing this helps give a point of reference for those interested in tracking regimental histories and uniform details.
ReferencesI have relied on all of the following references in building this article on Lobositz, but the most detailed and revealing have been the books and links marked with a *.
Asprey, Robert, "Frederick the Great: A Magnificent Enigma", Ticknor & Fields, ISBN 0-89919-352-8
*Duffy, Christopher, "By Force of Arms: Vol 2 of The Austrian Army in the Seven Years War", Emperor's Press, ISBN 1-883476-39-4
Duffy, Christopher, "The Army of Frederick the Great", Emperor Press, ISBN 1-883476-02-X
Duffy, Christopher, "Frederick the Great: A Military Life", Routledge, ISBN 0-415-00276-1
Duffy, Christopher, "The Army of Maria Theresa", Terence Wise, ISBN 0-7153-7387-0
Duffy, Christopher, "Instrument of War: The Austrian Army in the Seven Years War", Emperor's Press, ISBN 1-883476-19-4
Duffy, Christopher, "Military Experience in the Age of Reason," Atheneum, 1987, ISBN 0-689-11993-3
Frederick the Great, "The Art of War", Da Capo Press, 1999, ISBN 0-306-80908-7
Haythornethwaite, Philip, "Frederick the Great's Army 1 Cavalry", Osprey Publishing, ISBN 1-85532-134-3
Haythornethwaite, Philip, "Frederick the Great's Army 2 Infantry", Osprey Publishing, ISBN 1-85532-160-2
Haythornethwaite, Philip, "Frederick the Great's Army 3 Specialist Troops", Osprey Publishing, ISBN 1-85532-225-0
Haythornethwaite, Philip, "The Austrian Army 1740-80: 1 Cavalry", Osprey Publishing, ISBN 1-85532-415-6
Haythornethwaite, Philip, "The Austrian Army 1740-80: 2 Infantry", Osprey Publishing, ISBN 1-85532-418-0
Haythornethwaite, Philip, "The Austrian Army 1740-80: 3 Specialist Troops", Osprey Publishing, ISBN 1-85532-4180
*Millar, Simon "Rossbach andLeuthen 1757: Prussia's Eagle resurgent", Osprey Publishing, ISBN 1-84176-509-0
*Nosworthy, Brent, "The Anatomy of Victory: Battle Tactics 1689-1763" Hippocrene, ISBN0-87052-785-1
Kronoskaf is, without doubt, the best source online for information about the Seven Years War. Virtually every regiment of every country, every battle, every major personality is covered. And the references are impeccable. However, my own OOB, as I've said, varies with the one on Kronoskaf for Lobositz in that it is derived from Duffy's latest book, By Force of Arms.
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