Saturday, June 27, 2015

Zorndorf 1758

Seven Years War

25 August 1758

Prussians under Frederick II, approx. 37,000, 195 guns
Russians under Count Villim Fermor, 48,264 206 guns

Weather: Clear, hot

Location: 52° 39’ 27.4” N, 14° 40’ 31.7” E,  present day village of Sarbinowo (Zorndorf), Poland, about 5 mi (8 km) north of Kustrzyn (formerly Cüstrin).  Also, 61 miles (98 km) east of Berlin, just over the Oder River.

First Light:  04:27   Sunrise: 05:04   Sunset: 19:07  End of Twilight: 19:44
(calculated for the location and date from U.S. Naval Observatory)

Zorndorf is one of those battles that demonstrate how the perception of victory depends on who's writing the history. Both Russian and Prussian historians have claimed it as a victory for their nations. Yet, if you look at the outcome, it seems as if both sides fought to a bloody draw. Frederick and Czarina Elizabeth each used it to claim political victory, much as Lincoln chose to claim the equally drawn battle of Antietam as a political victory for the Union in the American Civil War, giving him politcal leverage with Congress to support the Emancipation Proclamation.

(NB: I have updated this post from 2015 to upgrade the Order of Battle from more recently discovered sources.)

Map of dispositions about 09:00. Footprints of the units and their relative positions are to scale based on their reported strengths. Positions of the several thousand Cossacks are not represented as they were swarming in small groups all over the area. Layouts of the villages are based on current satellite photography; they may have been slightly smaller 250 years ago. Narrative continues below the map.

The Third Year of Seven

Zorndorf came about because Russia, Austria's ally, had invaded Prussia in the third summer of the war and Frederick had to abandon his operations in Moravia (in the modern Czech Republic) to hurry north to the defense of his homeland and capital, Berlin. Fortunately for him, the Russian invasion army was moving at a glacial pace and it gave the king time to assemble a large enough force to intercept it. 

This was the first time in his career that Frederick II would face the Russian Army. The year before, a smaller force of Prussians under Count von Lehwaldt had lost at Gross-Jagersdorf to a much larger Russian army under Count Apraxin, but Frederick himself had had no part in that battle.

Having momentarily stunned Austria at Leuthen at the end of 1757, Frederick now felt he himself had to deal with Austria's slow moving ally, Russia. He had put it off for too long. Apparently, in the back of his mind, he hoped that the virulently anti-Prussian Czarina Elizabeth would die soon. She was reported to have been suffering from dropsy (nowadays called edema) since September and was supposedly near death's door at the beginning of 1758. Her death would solve so many problems for Frederick since it would leave Elizabeth's virulently pro-Prussian heir, Peter III as Czar. Such a happy event could effectively remove Russia from the war, and possibly even cause it to switch sides. But to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of Elizabeth's death had been greatly exaggerated. So Frederick had to snap out of his day-dreaming and deal with the Russian invaders at his backdoor.
Elizabeth Petrovna, Czarina of Russia 1742-62
Who could stay mad at that adorable face?
Frederick could.

As Elizabeth got better she took the opportunity to replace the aged and incompetent Apraxin (who had stolen defeat from the jaws of victory at Gross-Jagersdorf by withdrawing from Prussia at the conclusion of the 1757 campaigning season) with a reputedly more competent and aggressive officer, the German Count Villim Fermor. Foreign officers had been all the rage in Russia since Peter the Great and Vermor was one of those. Not surprisingly, most of these foreign noblemen were resented by the native Russian officers. But this was their Czarina's choice. At the end of May, having arrived at a strategic decision to commit to taking pressure off of the Austrians in Bohemia, Fermor was ordered by Elizabeth and her staff to cross the Vistula and march his army southwest into Prussia, crossing the Oder River and laying waste to Frederick's homeland and lines of communication.

But this was to be no blitzkrieg. The geographical problems of waging war across the Polish northern plain worked against the Russians in this war as they had in all armies up to World War II. The rivers, rather than being aids to logistics, ran right across the line of advance, southeast to northwest into the Baltic, which meant each one had to be crossed. From the Prussian perspective, this made strategic defense easier and gave Frederick time to deal with both fronts. As in other wars, too, the roads in Poland were barely roads at all, especially for the movement of big armies encumbered with large trains. In wet weather (as it had been in that spring) the roads were quagmires. In dry, they became dust clogged, suffocating the marching troops. So the Russians took almost three months to make it to the Oder.

By August, Count Fermor's army, about 54,000, had finally reached the Oder, the natural border to Prussia's heartland, Brandenburg. With his central force of 31,000 he set about besieging the town of Cüstrin (present-day Kostrzyn in Poland).  A detachment of about 12,000  under Rumyantsev was sent about 40 miles farther north at Schwedt on the same river. And George Browne's Observation Corps. an experimental force of 11,000 militia and gentlemen volunteers, was farther east guarding the main Russian depot at Gorzew (Landsberg an der Warthe to the Prussians). (George Browne was another Irish Wild Goose cousin of the now deceased Maximilian Browne of Lobositz and Prague fame.)  The Cossacks had also been devastating all of the Prussian towns and villages east of the river, as was their wont.
Count Villim Fermor

The one thing that Fermor didn't have with him were big siege guns. So when he set up his batteries on the eastern suburb of Cüstrin , he found himself embarrassingly out-gunned by the 2,000 man Prussian garrison. His own artillery, the largest being 12 pounder field pieces and howitzers (called "unicorns" by the Russians), were not strong enough to blast a breech in the fortress' walls. The Prussians had bigger guns and were able to out-shoot the Russians. They also had a stable and protected link to the west bank of the Oder River so as a besieged town, Cüstrin was never in real danger. Supplies and ammunition were able to come over steadily from the western bank..

An unhappy accident occurred, though, when a random Russian hot shot landed in a pile of straw, carelessly stacked in the open next to some buildings. The resulting fire quickly got out of hand and ended up burning much of the city before the defenders could put it out. This should be an object lesson to not stack straw or other flammables next to your house. But people never learn.


A Phenomenal March

As the Russians were making their way west across Poland, Frederick had been trying get something going with the Austrians in Moravia and then further west in Bohemia. But he couldn't seem to get anything done in that theater that year. His siege of the important university city of Olmutz (Olumouc) went nowhere for weeks. When he moved his operations west to provoke action from Daun in Bohemia, nothing there either. His old adversary was playing it coy and not biting at any of Frederick's bait.  So, as the news of Fermor's invasion nearing Berlin reached him, and seeing that things in Bohemia were not going to go anywhere that summer, Frederick took about 11,000 men (9 bns, 38 sdns) from their cantonments in Silesia (near Landshut, or present day Kamienna Góra in Poland) north as fast as he could. He was evidently enjoying a manic wave of his manic-depressive personality disorder and made the most of it. After ten days of phenomenal exertion through blistering summer heat, his troops marched 186 miles (300 km), an average of 18 miles (30 km) per day to arrive at Cüstrin on August 21st, where they linked up with Dohna's 25,000 men. Frederick himself rode across the bridge to the besieged town to apologize to the angry citizens for allowing their homes to be burned (like that was his fault), promising vengeance on the Russians. He was probably shedding crocodile tears, however, as Cüstrin was the place his father had imprisoned him in his youth and where he was forced to watch the execution of his childhood friend (like that was Cüstrin's fault).

Prussian IR#27 Asseburg during its forced, 186 mile march to Cüstrin
Painting by Carl Röchling 1895

Having done some necessary PR with the good citizens of Cüstrin, Frederick then hurried his sweaty troops further north to throw pontoons across the river at Alt-Gustebiese (modern Gozdowice) 28 miles (45 km) downriver from Cüstrin. His object was to get around behind Fermor, threaten his communications with Russia, cut him off from Rumyantsev downriver in Schwedt, and force a decisive battle. This move combined two classic Frederickan strategic classics, the indirect attack and the splitting maneuver. But the real heroism had to be credited to the Prussian troops who kept on going after their superhuman 186 mile trek in summer heat. But as they neared Cüstrin they got their second wind when they saw the wanton devastation of the Cossacks on their homeland. They picked up their step to get revenge. (Of course, it's always "wanton devastation" when the enemy does it to your country; doing the same to his is "military necessity.")
Frederick II,
painted by Antoine Pesne in the 1750s.
Not yet the cranky old coot beloved of
salon painters of the 19th century.

On 23 August Fermor received the gut-punching news from his Serbian Hussars that Frederick had crossed the Oder and was even now bearing down on his rear. He quickly packed up his siege of Cüstrin and hurried northwest 8 miles (13 km) to try and block Frederick from crossing the little Mietzel River at Quartschen (see map below). He also sent word to George Browne with the Observation Corps guarding the baggage near Kammin to join him. Rumyantsev, however, was cut off with Frederick between him and Schwedt, so he'd have no help from that quarter. Rumyantsev only heard about Frederick's crossing a day after it had happened, so it was too late for him to do anything about it.

Frederick, meanwhile, kept moving east until his hussars found an unprotected crossing of the Mietzel at a mill (Neudammer Muhle) another 8 miles (13 km) upstream from the defended crossing at Quartschen. A small party of Cossacks at the mill had attempted to burn the bridge there but were driven off, the fire put out, and a bridgehead established by Frederick's advance guard under Manteuffel. Another pontoon bridge was thrown over the little river to supplement the existing bridge and speed the crossing. On the 24th the king allowed his men to sleep in and catch their breath after their heroic march but by 14:00 got them up to move south toward the bridgehead, where they arrived in time for dinner.

Fermor by this time had gotten word from his Cossacks that his flank was about to be turned again and the Prussians were set to come at him from the southeast. He had originally deployed his army in a northwesterly direction, facing the Mietzel behind Quartschen, for some reason thinking that Frederick would attack him over that river and through the swampy forest. Obviously, he didn't know Frederick. But the gigantic, compact oblong deployment of the Russian army gave Fermor time to shuffle his regiments to face southward. He had, in the meantime, also been reinforced by Browne's Observation Corps marching up from the wagenburg at Kammin, so that the Russians were still in a good position and strength to resist an attack from any direction, with some 42,000 relatively fresh men.

After a good night's rest, Frederick got his men up again at 03:30 on the 25th and commenced crossing at the Neudammer Muhle. They marched in four columns through the woods, behind the guide of a couple of patriotic, local game wardens and emerged on the plain at the village of Batzlow. They noticed that the villages to the southwest of them Wilkersdorf and Zorndorf, were already on fire. Frederick could see the large Russian base at Kammin to the south, but his intent was to ignore this vulnerable and tempting prize and go for the Russian army directly. It was a game of timing and the king knew he had to strike a killing blow on the Russians immediately if he was to get back to Moravia to deal with the Austrians. He had left about 40,000 men under the command of his brother, Henry, to face the Austrians and feared he would hear of their defeat at the hands of Marshal Daun at any minute.

Realizing that the Prussians were bearing down on them from the east, Fermor's Cossacks had taken it upon themselves to set fire to the towns of Wilkersdorf and Zorndorf (see map at top). Other than the fact that this is what Cossacks do--burning and looting--it is questionable how this was thought to help, especially as the prevailing breeze blew the smoke from the burning houses northward into the faces of the Russians, masking the deployment of the Prussians. The fire also only further enraged the Prussian soldiers, eager to finally take their revenge on the Russians for their barbaric devastation of their country. They filed into their jump-off positions north of Zorndorf, avoiding bringing their ammunition wagons through the burning town. Good safety move.

Fermor now knew that the anticipated attack would come from the south, from Zorndorf, and got his battalions and batteries ready to receive it. The Russians had had almost six hours to observe the deployment of the Prussian army. While Frederick had achieved an impressive indirect maneuver, in the end it did not have the same surprise a similar strategic maneuver had at Leuthen the previous year (or "Stonewall" Jackson at Chancellorsville in 1863); the Russians were ready for it...surprise being the whole point of an indirect attack.

The Ground

By 09:00 on the 25th, the Prussian army was deployed and ready to attack just north of the burning village of Zorndorf. Their jump-off point was over a mile from the Russian positions across a fairly flat plain. The battlefield was trisected by two north-south running gullies, The western gully, called the Zabern-Grund, ran north from the village of Zorndorf to the Mietzel River and the Russians anchored their right on it as if it were an impassable obstacle--which it proved to be far from. Though its bottom was soggy and contained a number of ponds, and in the northern end where the Russians were its sides were steep, at the southern end it was more easily passable. (Refer to the detailed deployment map at the top of this article to understand how the topography worked.)

The eastern gully, called the Galgen-Grund, was somewhat deeper and swampier and cut right through the middle of the Russian position but did not extend much past its front.

To the east of this, between the two armies, lay the Stein Busch, a fairly wide but open wood that masked the Russian left (the Observation Corps) from the Prussian view. It would also serve as a kind of bastion in that any troops that moved through it to get to the Russians on the other side would emerge in disorder and be under immediate, close range canister fire from the Russian massed artillery.

Finally, to the Observation Corps' rear was a much shallower gully called the Langen-Grund. While this gully did not factor in the Prussian attack, it would later prove to be an inconvenient truth to the Russians, who could not retreat through it easily. When Fermor thought that the Prussian attack would come from the north, across the Mietzel, this gully and river were regarded as good defensive assets. Now, in the rear of the Russian army, they were turned into liabilities.

So, in summary, the ground over which the Prussian attack would have to develop was fairly uncomplicated and favored the linear tactics of the eighteenth century, there being no major hindrances across the line of advance. And the Russians, having initially hunkered down in close, broken landscape to defend, now found themselves in an embarrassing position, with their backdoor wide open, so to speak.

This view of the ground around Zorndorf shows it to be a wide, fairly flat field. This view is roughly from the position of Manteuffel's (the Prussian, not the Russian) brigade looking toward the Zabern-Grund. Seydlitz' cavalry would have been deployed on the other side of that gully in front of the distant woods to the left.


Russian Deployment and Plans

We have already mentioned in general the Russian deployment in a huge square (essentially two long lines capped on the ends). Fermor was not a tactically aggressive commander. He reasoned that the Prussians were the ones who loved to attack; so let them. He was not sure in the ability of his troops to maneuver as adroitly as the Prussians, but he was confident in their firepower and tenacity. Indeed, it was believed that the intense practice the Russians had had in fire discipline was superior (at least in rounds per minute) to the Prussians.  The Russian artillery was also strong and many infantry battalions were supplemented with the new "secret" Shuvalov howitzer, a kind of giant shotgun designed to maximize canister fire horizontally. Fermor's tactical idea was to let the Prussians come on and grind themselves up on the Russian battalions and guns. His men, too, not having spent the last month in forced marches, were well-rested.

Some historians have noted that when Fermor and his staff realized they were to be attacked from the south instead of the north, they frantically and inefficiently had to reorder all of their regiments from right to left (as the Austrians had supposedly had to do in a similar situation at Mollwitz seventeen years before) so they'd be in the correct precedence of order of battle. While the battalions had to individually invert platoons for fire control, this would probably have been done expeditiously and not in any great panic; the Russians, after all, had six hours to do this from the time they got word of Frederick's coming from the south. It is doubtful, considering that the Russians had long been used to fighting the Turks in these gigantic square formations, that having to reverse direction was anything out of the ordinary in their experience. Such possibilities were the whole point of these mass square deployments.

Other historians (some of the same ones) have also claimed that the Russians were so cramped in the close ground that they were forced to pack together in dense columns, making them vulnerable to Prussian artillery. In examining the map, the open ground on which the Russians deployed, and the actual footprint of the battalions, they seemed to have had plenty of room to spare, even deploying in their customary four rank formations and traditional double lines. Their flanks were anchored on their right by the marshy Zabern-Grund and secured on the left by the bulk of the cavalry under Demiku, lined up in front of Zicher village. It was a traditional 18th century deployment, one even used repeatedly by the Prussians--in this very battle actually.

In fact, the only real vulnerability (but a critical one) that the Russians had in their dispositions was that now their backs were to the marshy woods and the river Mietzel, the very river over which Fermor had expected Frederick to attack and the one over which he had burned his bridges. Oops. This would have impeded their line of retreat and might have affected the confidence of the men. The new Prussian threat also separated them from their main baggage train at the wagenburg at Kammin, about eight miles to the southeast. They did have their light train with them, though, containing their immediate stores, their ammunition, and the pay wagons. The important stuff.

Altogether, Fermor had some 42,000 men and 190 guns. He outnumbered Frederick by about 7,000. However, he was greatly inferior in cavalry, having only about 3,200 troopers (not including 3-4,000 Cossacks, who were not relevant in open battle) to the Prussians' 10,000.

Prussian Deployment and Plans

Though Frederick had got his men up at 03:30 to start their march through the woods and over to Zornforf, it was not until about 09:00 that his line was formed and he was ready to attack. This gave the Russians plenty of time to get ready for the blow.

While the Prussian infantry and cavalry were shuffling into line, Fredericks' chief of artillery, Col. Moller, set up his field batteries of 117 guns to the north of Zorndorf and commenced  fire about 08:00. However, it was soon discovered that they were too far from the Russian line to do any good (about 1,500 yards, well beyond the effective range of an 18th century 12 pounder), so the Prussian gunners had to spit out expletives and haul their equipment forward about 600 yards to set up again on the next low ridge. Sigh. This was an era before the introduction of militarized transport so the already tired crews had to manhandle (a bricole) their own guns across bumpy country.  As these guns weighed as much as a modern SUV (the bronze tube alone on the 12 pdr Brummer weighed 1,480 kg ), this must have been quite a task. But the civilian teamsters' contract was for them to haul the guns to the their initial positions and then remove their horses to the rear, to sit out the battle in safety. The idea that they should hang around under fire was beyond negotiation. Once unlimbered, if the guns had to be moved during the battle, the gunners (with borrowed manpower from the infantry) would have to do it themselves. Horse artillery (with organic, militarized teams) hadn't yet been introduced.

By 09:00 Frederick's line looked like this (see battle map at the top of the article): On the extreme western side of Zorndorf, beyond the Zabern-Grund, the cavalry under Seydlitz were deployed, facing northeast. Their orders were to take advantage of any precipitous attacks by the Russians. Starting on the eastern edge of the Zabern-Grund and running due east, Manteuffel's advanced guard  of IR#2 and six grenadier battalions was deployed out front. Behind them, the main infantry line under Kanitz also ran due east, linking up with Dohna's infantry. The entire main line extended almost to Wilkersdorf. Behind this line was a hyphenated, thinner line of 10 support battalions. Marschall's dragoon brigade of 20 squadrons got into position to the immediate east of Zorndorf to support the main attack on the left. And finally, Scholemer's cavalry brigade arranged itself facing northwest in front of Wilkersdorf. You can see from the map that the Prussians, though outnumbered by the more densely packed Russians, greatly overlapped their position on both flanks.

Frederick's plan was a repeat of Leuthen's oblique attack. He would have Manteuffel lead on one flank, supported by Kanitz. Dohna as to follow on this with an oblique advance of his own on the Observation Corps, around the right of the Stein Busch. The cavalry would support and be ready to exploit the break in the Russian line on either flank. It was a simple plan, thoroughly practiced. But...oh, we'll see.

Start the Battle

Both sides started banging off their artillery at each other about 08:00. As I mentioned above, the Prussians embarrassingly realized they had unlimbered too far from the target and had to manually haul their guns forward about 600 yards to the next rise on the otherwise flat plain. The artillery duel continued slowly for about three hours. Behind Moller's guns, the Prussian infantry were still waiting for Dohna to get his latecomers into line on the Prussian right. The Russian infantry evidently suffered quite a few casualties during this cannonade, arrayed as they were in four ranks. Though it is not mentioned in the narratives I found of this battle, it had been common practice in the Russian army for the infantry to be ordered to lie down under cannon fire, a very practical and tactically smart policy. So it is not unreasonable to suppose that they were doing so at Zorndorf.

On the other side the Prussians did not suffer as many collateral casualties; though some must have occurred as rolling cannon balls, even beyond their effective range, could wreak havoc on men standing in tightly packed formations. While aiming was useless beyond about 1,000 yards at this stage of technology, the trajectory and energy of the rounds could carry twice that distance, to the considerable distress of any densely packed formations directly behind the primary target. This effect is what we in later parlance would classify as "collateral damage." So the Prussian and Russian infantry suffered collateral damage in the long artillery duel.

At about 11:00 Moller sent word back that he was running out of ammunition for his guns and that the main attack should probably start pretty soon if he was to have any left to support it. So Frederick, satisfied that his line was finally ready, ordered Manteuffel to attack. Kanitz was supposed to support this by following directly behind.

The day was hot and dusty, and the Prussian infantry, up and marching since before dawn, sweating in their heavy wool coats and weighed down with musket and ammunition, finally moved forward. The main batteries were pushed before them (a bricole) and each battalion had a pair of its own lighter, close support guns (3 and 6 pounders). It would have taken about 20 minutes to cover the distance to the Russian line, during which time they would have been mercifully masked by the smoke and dust. Manteuffel had his left-most regiment, Kanitz #2, hug the precipice of the Zabern-Grund while his seven grenadier battalions dressed on their right.

The nine battalions finally caught up with and marched through Moller's field batteries and at about 40 yards from the Russian line stopped and commenced a fire-fight. This went on for several minutes as both sides shot at each other, neither giving way. The Russians were holding their own. And their own musketry and artillery ripped appalling holes in the Prussian ranks.

After a while, though, the Russians, who had not been issued as much personal ammunition, were running short and started to waver. Casualties on the Prussian side, too, were considerable and as the troops closed ranks they habitually did so to the right, which opened a vulnerable gap between the Zabern-Grund and Manteuffel's left. The plan had been for Kanitz's support line, supposedly marching a couple of hundred yards directly behind Manteuffel, to come to the advance guard's relief once the latter had knocked in the first Russian line. Now would be nice.

But Kanitz's line, in the smoke and dust, had lost sight of Manteuffel's line and had veered off to the right in the direction of the Stein Busch and the Russian center. So when they eventually emerged from the smoke they found themselves facing a largely intact and fresh force of redcoats and Russian guns. The overall attack, originally supposed to be an oblique attack (a la Leuthen) on the Russian right had spread out into a weak and unsupported frontal attack across most of the Russian line.

On the Russian right Galitzin took the initiative to move forward regiments from his own second line (Novgorod, St Petersburg, Voronezh, Ryazan) to shore up Saltykov's weakening first line. No one seems to have known where Fermor was at this point. Evidently he had suddenly remembered an urgent appointment he had with his wig powderer and had vacated the field without informing any of his subordinates (later he said that he had merely gone to the rear to have a wound dressed--still, he could have told somebody and passed on command). Saltykov now took it upon himself to assume overall command by default.

On the Prussian side Manteuffel, without reinforcements himself,  was getting desperate. Where was Kanitz? He could not make any progress forward and his line was in danger of crumbling. The Russians, while disordered, were not running away according to plan.

Frederick, seeing this (he had positioned himself on the left, behind Manteuffel), kept sending messengers over to his left wing cavalry commander, Seydlitz, to come over the Zabern gully and help. But Seydlitz, known as much for his moral as well as physical courage, kept telling the panting messengers to go back and tell the king the time was not yet right. He was waiting for the right moment. In one reply he told Frederick that he could have his head later, but for now, he was going to keep it. The king had also been sending urgent orders to the rear for Marschall to bring up his three dragoon regiments to help. But that general, probably not the sharpest tool in Frederick's box, didn't understand the orders. Ultimately it took Frederick sending his reliable friend, Prince Moritz von Anhalt-Dessau, back to take personal command of Marschall's cavalry. Marschall and the king would have a conversation later about his career and the opportunity to spend more time with his family.

It was while all of this carnage and confusion were going on that Graugreben, with his small brigade of 1,700 Russian cavalry on that flank (Novotroitsk Cuirassiers, Tobolsk Dragoons, and Kargopol Mounted Grenadiers plus the Serbian Hussars), saw the opportunity he himself had been waiting for and launched a furious charge on Manteuffel's now vulnerable left flank, which had left a gap between IR#2 and the Zabern-Grund. Not seeing the Russian cavalry as they swirled out of the smoke around the flank and rear, IR#2, unable to form square,  now broke and ran in a cascading panic from left to right. In a chain reaction, Manteuffel's entire line fell into rout. And the retreat grew contagious, not just stopping with Manteuffel's command, but spreading over to Kanitz's people as one-by-one, those regiments broke and ran, too. At this point, over on the right of Kanitz's line, a battalion of the Russian 5th Observation Regiment took the initiative to wheel right out of line and take IR#7 Bevern in flanking fire. This was the last straw for the Prussians. Kanitz's entire line fell back in disorder.

Now the Russians saw that they had apparently won the battle and the two grenadier regiments on the right (1st and 3rd), as well as the musketeer regiments to their left, fixed bayonets and charged. It was like that glorious, ultimate scene at Waterloo, 57 years later, when the Allied line all charged the French after Napoleon's Old Guard faltered (also on his left flank). This time, however, it was to prove a bit premature..
Friedrich von Seydlitz
by Richard Knotel, 1895

After Graugreben's charge, Seydlitz at last saw his own opportunity. While the Russian cavalry and infantry were all skampering in disorder after the running Prussian infantry, the Prussian cavalry commander ordered his 4,500 troopers (cuirassiers, dragoons, hussars; see OOB below) to make their way in three columns across the Zabern-Grund to attack the disordered Russians in their flank. The gully was much shallower and less of a barrier at the southern end and his regiments filtered across in columns of squadrons (one squadron in front of the next), climbing out of the draw and reforming on the right bank, from which they charged the surprised Russians, sending them in turn in panicked retreat.

Not long after this, Prince Moritz also managed to bring up Marschall's 20 dragoon squadrons from the rear to join Seydlitz in driving back the Russians.

The counterattack was a complete shock to the Russians, who now had no formed troops to face it. From what had seemed a victory, the Russians now turned and fled themselves, some to splash across the Mietzel, others to plunder their own supply wagons, but most to clump together and try to reform with their backs to the Galgen-Grund.

It was also at this time that Frederick tried to personally rally his fleeing infantry, as he had done at Kolin the year before...with the same lack of success. He reportedly grabbed one of the flags of IR#46 von Bulow and started to march in the direction of the Russians with it. Nobody followed and his staff had to persuade him to return.

Things were certainly a mess for Frederick. Fortunately Seydlitz, Prince Moritz and their cavalry had saved him at the last minute, making things a mess for the Russians, too. The entire western side of the battle had degenerated into a mob on both sides. It would have also been hard to see more than a few feet with all the dust from thousands of galloping horses and stamping feet. There was, as well, the dense smoke from musketry, artillery and burning buildings. And the noise would also have been deafening. So few people would have noticed the king holding up one of the flags, in spite of the glamorized illustrations (by people who weren't there and may have never been in a battle themselves). It was a pretty good photo-op, though, adding to the myth of Mr. The Great.

19th century rendition by salon painter Carl Röchling, highlighting a legendary moment when Frederick is supposed to have seized one of the flags of a faltering regiment (in this case, IR# 46 von Bülow) to lead it forward, as he had done at Kolin the year before. And as at Kolin, nobody followed him this time, either. Must have been embarrassing for the monarch. Note, though, that the scene would not have been nearly as clear as this. You wouldn't have been able to see more than a few feet through the smoke and dust. Of course that wouldn't have made a very stirring painting.

 A Breather

It was now about 13:00. The battle had been in progress for a couple of hours and the situation had degenerated into a bloody stalemate. Frederick, unfazed, decided to cool off and get organized for a second attempt. He left the rallying of Manteuffel's and Kanitz's infantry to those commanders, moved what was left of his left wing artillery to the right, and went to confer with Dohna and Schorlemer, whose commands were as yet uncommitted.

"Battle of Zorndorf " by Emil Hünten 1858.
Showing the moment when Seydlitz's cavalry came to the rescue of the routed Prussian infantry on the Prussian left. Notice how the Prussian cuirassiers are only wearing their cuirasses on the front, a nice accurate detail. Hunten did his homework, at least on uniforms. Fancifully here, too, Frederick attempts to rally another wavering regiment, Dohna IR#16, part of Kanitz's broken command. Nobody was paying the slightest attention to him.

On the Russian side, with Fermor who-knows-where, Saltykov and Browne took charge of their remaining troops.  Between them they still had 40 fresh battalions, 34 squadrons, and plenty of guns. They also still occupied a strong position, with the Stein Busch masking their left and front. While the wood was open enough to walk through, it would have forced any Prussians to emerge from it in disorder. This would have exposed the attackers to devastating, close-range canister fire from the Shuvalov "secret" howitzers and counter-attack from the Russian Observation Corps.  So things weren't that bleak for the redcoats. And now Frederick gave them about a three hour window in which to catch their breath and replenish their own ammunition. Even the disrupted right wing of the Russian army was rallying itself, just as the Prussians were.

Frederick's new plan was to loop around and attack the Russians from the east, something he should have done early that morning when he first emerged from the woods near Batzlow (see small map above). Dohna's 15 battalions were to march up to the east of the Stein Busch, then wheel left to attack the left flank of the Observation Corps. Meanwhile, Schorlemer's cavalry (27 squadrons of cuirassiers, dragoons and hussars) would provide flank security to Dohna's battalions and sweep away the Russian cavalry in front of Zicher. Frederick's remaining field guns (about 60 twelve pounders and howitzers and 10 big "Brummers") were to move up the right of the woods and rake the Russian lines obliquely. The Prussian gunners immediately started moving north while the Prussians got ready. For close support they took with them the 2nd battalion of the #40 Kreytzen Fusiliers.

To support Schorlemer, Frederick ordered Prince Moritz to bring 10 squadrons of Marschall's brigade, the 7th and 8th Dragoons, around to the right. Unfortunately, in the swirling dust and smoke, as these cavalry started to move east, they came close to the rally areas of Manteuffel's and Kanitz's regiments near Zorndorf village. Thinking they were Russians come to have their way with them again, these already spooked infantry were spooked again--and ran again. It was going to be awhile before they would be any use that day. 

Act Two

At about 14:30 The Prussian guns moved forward with their fusilier escort and opened fire on the Observation Corps. But the Russians weren't going to wait for Frederick to attack. Galled by the Prussian cannon fire, at about 15:00 Browne launched an attack on the Prussian battery with the entire Observation Corps, supported by Demiku's cavalry brigade. These latter quickly overran the Prussian guns and their lone fusilier battalion and kept them from harming the advancing Russian infantry. They then galloped on to attack the flanks and rear of Dohna's advancing infantry, who  formed a gigantic emergency square (with the Wedell Grenadiers 1/23 facing outward on the open flank and the second line fusilier regiments about-facing to protect the rear). The disciplined Prussian platoon fire checked the swirling Russian horsemen.

View looking west from the Russian Observation Corps' approximate position.

Schorlemer now counterattacked the Russian cavalry and drove them back toward Zicher village, where they rallied themselves.

Dohna's infantry stopped momentarily to redress their ranks and recover from the threat of Demiku's cavalry. But Browne's Observation Corps, supported by Russian line regiments, kept on coming. Russian artillery was blasting huge holes n the Prussian lines. It looked briefly like the same catastrophe that had occurred on the left was about to happen on the right now. 

But, just as it had happened on the left earlier, the same thing happened again on the right. Seydlitz, seeing his moment again, led a charge from the left with his rallied cavalry right into the flank of the advancing Russians. The redcoats, however,--even these less experienced Observation Corps soldiers--did not panic and run. They, too, formed a large square and held their ground against the Prussian cavalry, causing devastating casualties with their own fire. Their advance was stopped, but they weren't going to run.

Albrecht Adam's 1858 centennial painting of the moment at Zorndorf when Seydlitz's cavalry stopped the advance of the Russian Observation Corps. In this painting the Russians are shown in square, repulsing repeated charges with unwavering volleys. Adam has shown the Russians dressed in their green, full dress coats. They would, in all likelihood have been all in red, wearing only their light summer waistcoats.

What is it with these Russians?

Gradually, however, the Russian army was pushed back by Prussian cavalry and infantry. Some broke and ran, getting trapped in the bogs around the Mietzel. Most, however, just closed ranks and edged back and to the west until the whole line was facing northeast. But they were unbroken.

The Prussian "Death's Head Hussars" #5, worked their way around the flanks of the Russians and broke into the already looted wagon train near Quartschen, to commence looting it again themselves. In effect, while they could have made a decisive attack into the rear of the Russian army, they took themselves out of the battle to go shopping. That evening, when their commander, von Reusch, showed up to report to Frederick, the king had him arrested and marched off to Stettin Prison. He was asked to retire shortly after this.

This phase of the battle lasted until twilight, about 19:45. Both sides were spent. The Prussians couldn't muster enough strength to deliver a coup de grace. And the Russians, though exhausted and depleted themselves, still held their ground.

About this time Fermor showed up, hair freshly powdered (or wound freshly dressed), and moved what was left of the Russian army southwest on the eastern side of the Zabern-Grund and faced it about northeast again. He was actually occupying the position Manteuffel had started his attack from that morning. Technically, he was still on the field of battle and so Frederick could not claim a victory by 18th century rules of war. Frederick's army flopped down exhausted on the corpse-strewn ground previously occupied by the Observation Corps, facing southwest. Both armies had effectively just switched places, like waltzing giants.

Frederick was angry that the Russians had been so stubborn and refused to recognize defeat. But this was his first direct experience with these enemies. He had been used to Western, conventional foes like the Austrians, the French, and fellow Germans, who knew when they were beaten and retreated in gentlemanly, Enlightenment style. But he, too, was not the first or last to discover this fact about the Russians. As Napoleon said about them a generation later, "It is not enough to kill a Russian, you have to knock him over."


Zorndorf was a bloodbath almost without result. Frederick had about 13,000 casualties, with 26 guns and eight regimental colors captured, or 35% of his original force. The Russians lost 21,529, killed, wounded, and captured, or 50% . The Prussians claim to have captured 103 guns and 27 colors, though the Russians claim they had lost only 30 guns. Again, it depends on who's writing the history.

Significantly, 766 of the Prussian losses were deserters welcomed into the Russian army, which indicates that not all of the Prussians were representing the forces of liberty. This may have been a result of the brutal recruiting practices the Prussians were compelled to resort to to replenish their ranks during the war, otherwise known as kidnapping. As the war went on, more and more "Prussian" soldiers were simply POWs and impressed men from conquered lands. The previous year, virtually all of the Saxons who had been forced into Prussian regiments after they had been betrayed by their king in 1756, ended up going over to the Austrians. It would also explain why the Prussian troops were more prone to indiscipline and dissolution in this battle. They were not the Prussians of Leuthen because many were not even Prussians.

But as both sides camped on the field that night, neither could claim an outright victory by 18th century standards. Both countries did report victory, though, for political and chauvinistic reasons. 

The night of the battle Fermor had sent a diplomatic mission over to Frederick asking for a day of truce so that both sides could take care of their wounded and bury their dead. Frederick churlishly replied that it was customarily the victor who cleaned up the battlefield, another example of his pettiness. So the night was spent listening to the pitiful cries of the thousands of wounded men and horses dying in agony. And all the next day both sides just lobbed artillery shells and cannonballs at each other, causing a few dozen additional casualties, to no point.

During the night of the  26/27th there was a thunderstorm, under which Fermor packed up and snuck his army past the Prussians south of Wilkersdorf to his wagenburg at Kammin. It wasn't until first light that the Prussian hussars realized the Russian camp was empty. Frederick got everybody up and moved them over to Kammin, but the Russian base was too well manned and fortified to attempt an assault. Besides, his army was almost out of ammunition.

On the 31st, after a couple of days rest,  Fermor removed his army farther east to Landsburg where he met up with Rumyantsev, who had finally come down from Schwedt with his 12,000 men.

By September 2, Frederick took a chance that the Russians were done for the season and would not attempt another crossing of the Oder. He felt he had taught them a lesson. Moreover, he was increasingly anxious about the situation in Bohemia where he feared Daun might destroy Prince Henry at any time. So he left Dohna with 17,000 men to watch the Russians and put the rest on another forced march to meet up with his brother in Saxony. It was later that fall, after weeks of marching and counter-marching, that Frederick suffered another resounding defeat at the hands of his nemesis, Marshal Daun, at Hochkirch

The third year of the Seven Years War was not Frederick's favorite.

But Frederick's hunch about the Russians being done for that year was right. The rains were starting to come more frequently and the Polish roads were nigh-well impassable when that happened. Fermor attempted a half-hearted siege to capture Danzig (modern Gdansk) in hopes of securing a winter port to sustain his army farther west during the coming winter, but that failed. He just wasn't equipped for sieges.

So he made his way back to his start point in eastern Poland to be near his base for the winter. Bells clanged and masses were sung in St Petersburg and Moscow at the reported victory of Zorndorf, but Elizabeth and her general staff recognized that nothing strategic had been accomplished by their new General-in-Chief. He was given a medal, kissed on both cheeks, and replaced the next year by the more vigorous and responsible Saltykov (the true "winner" of Zorndorf and a true Russian). And Fermor went on to serve honorably as a divisional commander. Elizabeth was no vindictive Stalin; she didn't execute her failed generals.


Armchair Quarterbacking

Strength of the Prussian Army

The strength returns of the Russian army at Zorndorf have been documented precisely by Kronoskaf, regiment by regiment. But the relative strengths of the Prussians have only been generally estimated by the historians I consulted, averaging about 650 men per battalion of infantry and about 125 per squadron of cavalry, which would have put the Prussian infantry at 75% strength at its 1758 organization (856 per battalion) and the cavalry at 64% strength. Now this is plausible except for the fact that Frederick had just put much of his army through one of the most grueling forced marches from Silesia, at 18 miles (30 km) per day for eleven straight days, during the hottest days of the wool coats and full kit. That they would have arrived at Zorndorf missing only 25% of full compliment, and after having been campaigning in Moravia for months before that, is a little hard to swallow, especially when you consider that the caliber of the Prussian soldier in 1758 was not nearly what it was at the beginning of the war.There were a much higher percentage of conscripts, foreign deserters, prisoners-of-war, and convicts in its ranks. The large number of desertions to the Russians after Zorndorf (see above under Aftermath) also argues against what I think is an inflated strength of Frederick's forces. I can't prove it, except by logic, but I would estimate that the true strength of the Prussian army at Zorndorf may have been as low as 50% of official paper strength.

Then there are the maps. Those done by the Prussian General Staff's topographical department a hundred years later, and by Duffy and Millar in their excellent histories all show that the width of the Prussian army does not extend halfway to Wilkersdorf from Zorndorf village and is overlapped by the Russian Observation Corps. In my calculations based on the reported 650 men per battalion, this length should have extended clear to Wilkersdorf and beyond, about 33% longer. (See large map at the top of this article.) Had the true strength been the depleted 50% of my speculation, the published and historical maps, with their smaller regimental footprints, would be more accurate.

Why didn't Frederick go for Fermor's main base at Kammin?

Duffy and Millar have both wondered why Frederick didn't send a detachment over to the main Russian base at Kammin to seize it. It was seemingly just lying there defenseless. As the Prussian king emerged from the woods at Batzlow that morning, it was practically in front of him. And after the battle he was still between it and the main Russian army. Seizing it, defenseless as it supposedly was, would seemingly have forced Fermor to sue for terms. 

But that's the question; Was it defenseless? Millar has stated that the Russian infantry had detached all of their grenadier companies into ad hoc support battalions which were positioned between the two main lines. I don't doubt that these companies were detached, (as was common practice with grenadier companies) but I wonder if they weren't detached to defend the fortified base at Kammin. Fermor would not have left such a valuable prize utterly exposed. And the combined grenadiers would have numbered some 4-5,000, a formidable force to defend a fort of wagons and earthworks. Kronoskaf reports that these grenadiers were indeed sent off to guard the goods at Kammin.

Maybe the reason Frederick didn't go for the bait at Kammin was because he saw that it was too well defended, and he needed to wipe out the main force before he exposed his own flank and rear to the task of besieging the wagenburg

Why didn't Frederick just attack the eastern flank of the Observation Corps as he emerged from the woods at Batzlow?

When his leading troops started to come out of the Zicher Woods, Frederick would have seen and caught the Russian army scrambling to realign itself in front of the Langer-Grund. If he had simply faced his columns right into line, he could have attacked the Observation Corps in disorder and in the flank as early as 07:00, and across relatively unobstructed ground. 

Instead, he seemingly wasted several hours marching his entire army five miles west, in the open, across the front of the Russian army, not only giving them plenty of time to face him, but exposing his own flank to attack.This was as much of a tactical blunder as his previous attempt to make a flanking attack at Kolin the year before. In that battle, too, he wasted hours getting his army in place under the complete observation of the Austrians on the hill, who took all that time to get ready for him. So what started at Zorndorf and Kolin as classic Frederickan indirect attacks, ended as artless frontal assaults, with costly consequences for the Prussians.

The indirect attack may have been Frederick's favorite tactic, but he frequently applied it clumsily. In order for it to work, the enemy has to be taken by surprise...which wasn't the case at Zorndorf.

Where were the Cossacks during the battle?

They were around. Literally. All around. I have not positioned them on the deployment map because they were swarming in small groups all over the area. Though they played no role in face-to-face battle, they covered the flanks of the Russian army and poked their noses in everywhere. Mostly they could be relied on for occasional scouting reports, as the antenna of the army, but not for massed combat.

Among their numbers were also bands of "Kalmuk" tribesmen, Asiatic descendants of the Mongols who had conquered southern Russia hundreds of years before and armed anachronistically with the same composite bow their ancestors had used under Genghis Khan.

Nevertheless, the presence of Cossacks played no tactical part in the outcome of Zorndorf. There is an anecdote that as Frederick and his staff rode reconnaissance of the ground toward Zorndorf on the morning after the battle, it was swarming with Cossacks, who all scattered as the king and his small party approached. Cossacks did not stand up to formed cavalry or professional troops. At least in the 18th century.

Russian Uniforms: Summer Red

Most likely the Russian infantry
were wearing only their red summer
waistcoats in this battle, having
left their green overcoats back
in the depots. For exact uniform
reference, go to the Kronoskaf 7YW site.
This was August. It was hot and muggy. While most of the 19th century salon artists who depicted this battle (Röchling, Adam, Hünten , Knötel) show the Russian infantry in their full dress green uniforms, the operational reality was that they were probably all in red. The "underclothes" of the Russian uniform, a kind of lightweight tunic, or waistcoat, was red. It was lighter and more comfortable in the summer than the heavy, wool, green coats of the full dress uniform, which had probably been stored away in the regimental wagons at Kammin. 

Likewise, the Russian cavalry were also lightly dressed for the heat. Instead of their heavy, light blue, wool coats, the dragoons and mounted grenadiers probably only wore their white waistcoats. And, of course, the hussars probably only wore their dolmans, leaving their heavy pelisses back at the depot as well. Depicting the Russians in their full dress uniforms for battle, as the salon artists and figure wargamers have, would be like showing modern U.S.Marines wearing their dress blues in combat.

This practice of the Russians to let their troops be as comfortable as possible (also in the practice of lying them down in the face of artillery fire), speaks to a more humane philosophy in the Russian ranks (well, relatively humane, by 18th century standards). They were not just stubborn and courageous at Zorndorf, they were better rested, cooler, and generally more comfortable than their Prussian counterparts, who were forced to keep their heavy wool coats on and had just force-marched over 180 miles in blistering heat--another reason why there might have been so many desertions by the Prussians.

Wargame Considerations

Zorndorf would be (and has been) a fascinating battle to wargame. The armies were more or less evenly matched. There were several what-if inflection points to test. And the uniforms and serried ranks of this period are splendid to look at on a game or sand table (and plentiful in all scales of model soliders).

Relative Combat Efficiency
One of the things that was very apparent from this battle was the relatively even combat efficiency between the Prussian and Russian troops. Recent reforms in the Russian Army by Shuvalov had brought it up to, and in some cases past, the tactics and standards of Western armies, including the Prussians. Also, as I mentioned above, by this stage of the war, manpower losses had forced Frederick to accept a qualitatively inferior recruit to replenish his ranks. The Prussian soldier of 1758 was not the same as in 1756.

So, in designing a wargame pitting these two armies, it would probably be accurate to rate both sides the same in terms of combat efficiency. The morale of the Russian soldier, too, showed itself to be ferocious, even while their high command might have been lacking.

Musketry is something else that could be measured in a wargame. The Prussians were said to be able to deliver five rounds per minute in combat using their tried and tested platoon fire system (though this rate is disputed for operational situations). But after Shuvalov's reforms, the Russians boasted they could fire off six rounds per minute. One of the differences was that while the Prussians used platoon fire, in which all three ranks would fire, alternating by platoons horizontally in the line, the Russians, in their four rank lines, continued to use fire-by-ranks. However, the latter typically would only fire the first and second rank, while the third and fourth would reload and pass their muskets forward. In this way there was always a reserve of loaded muskets available and the first two ranks could increase their rate of fire since the loading was going on simultaneously behind them. For the purposes of a wargame, this would probably give the Russian infantry an equivalent firepower rate to the Prussian player.

Image protected by Digimarc watermark.

The Prussians had been using wider, thinner formations for some time. Infantry were in three ranks from 1741 and cavalry in two from 1757. (See illustration above.)

The Russian Army, however, retained the deeper four rank formations for infantry and three ranks for cavalry, as their Austrian allies still used. Later in the war, as sources of manpower waned, they would adopt the three and two rank depths for infantry and cavalry. But not at Zorndorf.

Close Support Artillery
All infantry battalions on both sides had organic guns attached for close support. For the Prussians, each battalion had two 3 pounders or two 6 pounders, which were manhandled forward to the left and ahead of each battalion by gunners and borrowed infantrymen. All Prussian artillery carriages were painted light grey blue.

The Russian battalions also had light guns attached. Regular infantry regiments like the Prussians, had two 3 pounders per battalion, and sometimes light howitzers (called "unicorns" by the Russians). Observation Corps battalions had twice as many light guns attached, including some of the supposedly "secret" Shuvalov howitzers, which were designed to maximize the horizontal spray of canister rounds from their oval bores. It was demonstrated that a single Shuvalov howitzer was the equivalent of an entire platoon firing. These proved to be not as effective in action as in the laboratory. Also, the "secret" howitzers could only fire canister, not shell, bombs, or roundshot as the round bore howitzers were capable of. All Russian artillery carriages were painted dull, brick red.

What-If Scenarios
Immediate Prussian Attack from the East
One of the alternate scenarios that would be interesting to test in a wargame would be whether or not it would have made a difference in the outcome had Frederick, upon emerging from the woods near Batzlow, turned right, formed up, and charged the shuffling left flank of the Russian position. Could the Russian Observation Corps have realigned itself in time to receive the attack. The battle, too, would have begun much earlier (around 07:00) since it would have saved that five mile march to Zorndorf village.

Russian Pre-Emptive Flank Attack
Another alternate scenario would have been on the part of the Russians. Had Fermor decided to attack Frederick first, while the king was flank-marching across the Russian front to get to Zorndorf, would this have changed the outcome?

Fermor Doesn't Burn His Bridges
Fermor had ordered that all of the bridges across the Mietzel be destroyed on the 24th to prevent Frederick from attacking across them. Events showed that the Prussians were adequately equipped with pontoon trains to bridge the narrow river (10 M across at best) and cross in strength at the Neudammer Muhle. One alternate wargame scenario would be to leave the bridges intact. This would have given the Russians an escape route across the Mietzel, but also, even over an intact bridge, an attacking force would have to break its line, thread over, and redeploy, leaving it very vulnerable to counterattack. So it is not clear that Fermor's order hurt him in the long run.

Russian Deploys Near Zorndorf
And a fourth scenario would position the Russian army on the south side of the battlefield, far from the cramped area between the Zabern-Grund and the Langer-Grund, facing north. This would put the Russian player, with his superior numbers, on wider ground and the Prussian player would, in attacking from the northern edge of the battlefield now, have to redeploy as his forces emerged from the bridgeheads and woods.

Orders of Battle

The following are tables of orders of battle for the two armies, synthesized from a number of sources (Millar, Duffy, and Kronoskaf). The Russian strength figures are precise and drawn from Kronoskaf's detailed OOB reporting exact original rosters and losses. The Prussian figures are from the same sources but are averages derived from the overall strengths reported. If, as I have speculated, the actual strengths of the Prussian units were more depleted, reduce these numbers by 33%. Thus a 650 man battalion would be 435 men, and a 125 man squadron would be 84 troopers.

Note: In the tables below, the coat color of each regiment is represented in the first column, the facing colors for each regiment (collars, cuffs) are represented in the second column. For hussar regiments, the first column represents the dolman color, and the second column is in the pelisse's color.

"Flags" (third column) are the regimental flags for each unit, including the colonel's color (usually only carried by the 1st battalion or squadron in a regiment) and the regimental color (carried by all the other companies). Where a unit did not carry a standard on campaign (for instance, hussars or combined grenadier battalions), I left this cell blank.

The "Ranks" column indicates the standard depth in men for a linear formation.

Under the last, "Notes" column, under the Prussian OOB, I have also included schematic color schemes for the mitre headgear of the grenadier companies (4, 2 from each parent regiment) in each battalion.

A note on Russian uniforms: During the summer months, the Russian Army fought in their light waistcoats. While dark green was the formal color for Russian infantry, they doffed those heavy coats to wear their red vests in summer. The cavalry, with formal coats of medium blue, wore their undervests of unbleached cotton in the summer. The coat colors below reflect that.

Strength levels are derived from Kronoskaf Russian strength and casualty returns from the article on Zorndorf.

 The following were the grenadier battalions, made up from the grenadier companies of the infantry, detached from the army to guard its depot at Klein Kammin, plus a single squadron of the Horvath Hussars. They were not included in the force strength of Fermor's army above because they didn't take part in the battle. However, I offer them here for anyone wishing to include them in their "what-if" wargame. Unit strength levels are also from Kronoskaf.


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, "Russia's Military Way to the West: Origins and Nature of Russian Military Power 1700-1800",  1981, Routledge & Kegan Paul, ISBN 0-7200-0797-3

Millar, Simon, "Zorndorf 1758, Frederick faces Holy Mother Russia", 2003 Osprey # 125,  ISBN 1-84176-696-8 

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

Konstam, Angus, "Russian Army of the Seven Years War (1)", 1996, Osprey Publishing, 1-85532-585-3

Konstam, Angus, "Russian Army of the Seven Years War (2)", 1996, Osprey Publishing, 1-85532-587-X


John's Military History  This site has some excellent panoramic photography of the battlefield, taken by John Hamill.


© Copyright 2015, Jeffery P. Berry Trust, all rights reserved. No part of this post may be used for re-publication or re-posting without documented permission from the Jeffery P. Berry Trust, which may be obtained by e-mailing However, feel free to link to this site as a resource from related sites.


  1. Thanks a lot for the great post! As usual very lively narrative and analysis with some depth.

    It seems that Thiessen is listed as commander for both observation corps brigades. Probably Fast should be the second one?

    1. Thank you so much, Alexander. I depend on my readers to help me correct errors (corrected, thanks to your sharp eye)--one nice thing about a blog post.

  2. Thanks for posting this. Zorndorf is a fascinating battle.

  3. Well, thank you, Mr. Roach, for reading it. Very courteous of you.

  4. Another good article Jeff ('post' seems too trivial a word). Zorndorf as you say has some great 'what ifs'.

    I think if Fritz had launched his attack from the East as his army emerged from the woods in the morning it would either have a piecemeal affair off the line of march (with the main cavalry columns who knows where, on their slightly wider arc through the woods), or they would have had to form up in a line facing west. The first option appears to me to be risky and the second might have allowed the Russians enough time to redeploy and the attack would have been across the Langer Grund. Would this have been much of an obstacle?

    A slight quibble. The attrition of the the forced march from Silesia would have only affected that part of Frederick's army: 30% of the total army engaged. But as you say, if the general staff maps are correct then the unit strengths were probably lower overall than the 75% figure.

  5. Excellent as usual!
    Though this time, I confess I miss a few more of your maps detailing the evolution of the armies throughout the battle.

  6. I've just been given the 'heads up' on your Blog, which is full of fascinating information. I look forward to perusing your posts at my leisure and certainly trying some of the 'what ifs?' for future wargames. Keep up the good work!

  7. I've come back to read this again. Thank you for the artillery organisations and positions. I had to make an educated guess at these when I staged Zorndorf as a war game some years ago.

    If I say so myself, it looked pretty good laid out on a large table, though I started the battle from the positions after Kanitz had already started to veer off to the right. If this doesn't happen (IMHO) the battle isn't Zorndorf. It also means that you can deploy your figures well in front of Zorndorf (off table to the rear) and concentrate on the ground in which all the action takes place (just my thoughts on wargaming this battle in 28mm). I hope you don't mid if I put a link to Zorndorf game here; the pics, if nothing else, are possibly worth a gander.

    Thanks again for an excellent appraisal and narrative of the Battle of Zorndorf.


    1. Thanks for the link, James. Simply gorgeous figures. The photos of the wargame make my mouth water. I started wargaming at this scale back when I was a teenager living in London, and still have my original 1/72nd scale armies (Hinton Hunt, Jack Scruby) on display in glass cabinets. Over the years I miniaturized, first to 15 mm and now to 5 mm. But there is something so tantalizing about 1/72nd. The craftsmanship of your painting is exquisite.

  8. A wonderfully researched piece of work. Presentation second to none.

    Thank you for posting your work to a wider audience.


  9. Love this site. If you're taking suggestion...Hastenbeck, Krefeld, and Kunersdorf.

    All the best,

  10. I think , despite the customs of the eighteenth century about keeping and forsaking the field as a mark of victory, that Frederick himself decreed the victory without any doubts; He answered to the enemy's force general that it was his task of king and commander to bury and honour the fallen comarades and foes of both sides; it was as if he stated, I am the winner you are the defeated one; also at Gettysbirg Lee kept the field but he had been defeated and he realized it; for Fermor it happened the same. He knew his defeat, he was afraid of being executed ( Davis would have never done the same to Lee, despite the forced conscription to confederate soldiers) and conveyed the false news of victory to the Russian Capital, but apparently Elizabeth was no follish ruler and didn't have herself cheated by her general's lies. But the most comical aspect is the messenger captured by Frederick and sent back to Daun; the Austrian soldier brought with himself a message with suggestions by Daun for fERMOR. The king answered at the place of Fermor declaring and feigning to be fermor but with the own handwriting; I have got beaten General Daun; so the falsehood conveyed to St Petersburg, if this legendary episode is not gainsaid, must have been denied and it must have arrived to Daun, Maria Theresia and then finally also to the Russian Empress.

    1. I have to question your conclusion, Mr. Faber. The mere earnestness of Frederick's claim of victory is not a sufficient criterion for its validity. He was, above all, a politician and it was of propaganda necessity that he represent Zorndorf as a Prussian victory. He needed to keep his allies in the fight. But it was, as the evidence shows, pretty much a draw.

      Also Fermor himself, while not the best commander, was not facing execution at home as you have said. Russia in the 18th century was an Enlightenment monarchy and Elizabeth was no Stalin. Because the Russian army had given as good as it took at Zorndorf, Elizabeth was grateful for the showing of her courageous men and officers. Her biggest disappointment with Fermor was with his lack of strategic initiative. He was not even sacked but given a lesser command under Saltykov (the real hero of Zorndorf) in subsequent campaigns. She was, if anything, a very forgiving sovereign.

      Finally, if there is to be any comparison between Zorndorf and Gettysburg, it should compare Lee's disastrous decision to attack the Union center frontally on 3 July and Frederick's decision to attack the Russians frontally. Both attacks gave way too much time for the enemy to get ready and both charges ended up in the same ruination of the attacking forces. The difference was that Lee was a far more honest commander in admitting failure than Frederick.

    2. One other response to your observations: if there is a Civil War battle that would compare with Zorndorf it should probably better be Antietam than Gettysburg. Like Fermor, Lee at Antietam was fighting with this back to a river against an enemy that came at him in a series of uncoordinated attacks.

    3. Fermor did not face the prospect of execution at all. Even if Elizabeth wanted to severely punish him--and she didn't--she swore on her coronation day that no one would be executed in her reign--an oath she famously kept.

    4. Apparently, though, her abolishing of the death penalty was secret. Few people outside of her innermost cabinet knew of it. You may be right that she would not have executed Fermor, anyway, based on what we knew of her reformist policy during her reign (and she was known as a forgiving person, in reaction to the almost homicidal tendencies of her father). But since the decree was secret, Fermor might still have quaked about his fate (which could also have been imprisonment).

      Here is an interesting article about her death-penalty policy.

  11. When can we expect the next battle? Been four months since Zorndorf, I'm eager to see your next wonderful piece of work. No pressure.

    1. I'm workin' on it! I do have a day job, too. But so glad you're hungry for more.

      It should be out shortly (though I haven't given myself a deadline). Omdurman 1898. I've done all the research, completed the OOB and the maps. All I have to do is finish the narrative.

  12. Hi Jeff, I enjoy all of your postings but the battles of the WAS/SYW the most, as our gaming group plays modified Age of Reason in 15mm in the Chicago area. I came across you site in early 2014 and told others about the site. I have been a contributor of Maps to Kronoskaf which I found in 2014 as well.

    With Zorndorf I have 2 questions with the artillery.

    1) The Prussian Arty is well documented as 116 Heavy(non battalion guns). I have seen a source breakdown as 29 Howitzers 2 as 24pdr and the remaining 85 as 12pdr. In 1758 I infer/calculate from Duffy and Die Krieg Fridrich Der Grossen (DKFDG) that 50% of the 12pdr are Lt 12pdr that they began the war with and in a rules set should be classed as a Medium gun, and the other 50% are Middle and Heavy 12pdrs with a 50/50 split between those. The Heavy being the Brummer 12pdr classed as a Heavy gun, but slower to move. The Middle being the Prussian Copy of the Austrian 12pdr and captured Austrian 12pdr, classed as a Heavy gun.

    May I ask your source for the Prussian Arty breakdown as I think the quantity of Lt 12pdr is too high and thus the Prussians are listed as deficient in Medium guns.

    2) The Russian Arty is not as well documented and I have seen 60-80 Heavy (Non-Battalion Guns) listed. I think that all of the Shuvalov Howitzers and 1/5 Pud Unicorns should be treated as Battalion Guns in a rules as their effective range is not like normal Arty.

    May I ask your source for the Russian Arty breakdown. Do you know the sizes of the Unicorns as 1/5 Pud, 1/4 Pud and 1/2 Pud?

    I recently ran a Zorndorf game using modified AOR for our group, using your website, Osprey Campaign, Duffy AOFTG, Kronoskaf and DKFDG.

    I am rerunning the game again later this month with some changes and wanted to ask you about the Arty.

    1. Thanks for you fanship, Mr Fritz.

      Sources for my OOBs and TOE are listed above under References. As I wrote this some time ago, I remember relying mostly on Duffy's works in his descriptions of the allocation and caliber of ordnance for both well as Kronoskaf. I do recall reading in at least two of these works that the equipment in the Prussian Army was anything but standardized, with units issued with a hodge-podge of tubes, some older pieces, some newer, some experimental, and many simply captured Austrian guns. To be generous, the Prussian artillery during the early years of the SYW was still in a state of flux.

    2. As for conforming your wargame algorithm to the weapons data for each type of piece, I commend your zeal for granularity. However, since weapons data for this period have been only conjectural (ballistic and statistical studies of these did not start until the end of the century)and extrapolated from what was measured from later, Napoleonic era tests (e.g as described in Hughes,for instance, albeit crude tests and not scientifically peer reviewed), I would, for the sake of gaming, use rough approximations based on "light", "medium" and "heavy" pieces.

      I can recommend some other books which cover the effectiveness of smoothbore artillery of this century which I have relied on in writing my analyses and in formulating my own wargame algorithms:

      Hughes, "Firepower" (the standard)
      Dupuy, "Numbers, Predictions & War"
      Dupuy, "The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare" (both of these are based on modern, mathematical models of TLI--Theoretical Lethality Index--vs actual lethality)
      Kiley, "Artillery of the Napoleonic Wars, 1792-1815" (slightly passed your mid-century period, but still a good feel for the performance of smoothbore artillery)
      Haythornethwaite, "Weapons & Equipment of the Napoleonic Wars"
      von Pivka, "Armies of the Napoleonic Era" (this latter, though concentrating on the Napoleonic Wars, has some really excellent descriptions of 18th century artillery capabilities and limitations).

  13. The "Clash of Arms" hex-and-counter Board Game using the wonderful Battle of the Age of Reason Series Rules has an excellent title for ZORNDORF. You can start from the point where KFII began the attack, but you can also march onto the board....and attempt the immediate attack on the "Observation Corps". I think in the model used (although with some additional rules to model Russian Defense), it's been seen that dispersing the Observation Corps first does assist the Prussian Position. Yes, it does have some potential issues.
    All in all, this article of yours is a very nice discussion.

  14. Hi Jeff, Thank you for your reply.

    We use modified AOR. In AOR, Arty is put into the Buckets of Light, Medium, Heavy, or Howitzer (we dropped Siege guns from tactical battles). Each Bucket has it’s own base dice and range breaks and special modifiers that make it unique to it’s bucket, but the individual historical gun types do not have their own stats.

    Here is an example that covers most guns of the WAS/SYW era

    Gun Type Historical Types
    Light Gun 3pdr/ 4pdr/ Lt 6pdr
    Medium Gun Hvy 6pdr/ 8pdr/ Lt 12pdr
    Heavy Gun 12pdr/ Hvy 12pdr/ Lt 24pdr
    Howitzer 7pdr How/ 1/2 Pud Unicorn

    The reason I asked about the Prussian 12pdr is that to an average person/gamer all 12pdr’s are the same, when they are not. The Prussian Lt 12pdr lacked range and hitting power, which is why starting in 1758 they used captured Austrian 12pdr’s and copied it to make their own which they referred to as the Neu 12pd, Ostereich 12pdr or Mitte 12pdr (Center). They called the Older Brummer Hvy 12pdr a Schwer 12pdr. In the Game the Lt 12pdr is classed as a Medium and the Regular Neu 12pdr and Hvy Brummer 12pdr are classed as Heavies. The Hvy 12pdr has a special rule in movement to make it slower than a regular Heavy as they were not that mobile due to the much Heavier weight. With your OOB having all Lt 12pdr it does not feel right. There is no source that I am aware of that breaks down the 85-12pdr that the Prussians had at Zorndorf in Aug 1758, But I have a Breakdown from Die Krieg Friedreich Die Grossen (DKFDG) of the Prussian Arty in May 1758 that has all 3 types of 12pdrs in the lists. I figured the Arty at Zorndorf would be in similar proportion. It has Dohna’s Arty and we know that Frederick brought 40 guns with him from Silesia. I am sure that he brought the best with him. Finally Duffy says that the Prussians started making copies of the excellent Austrian 12pdr in early 1758, so by Aug some of these are made and added to any captured at Leuthen and Breslau in Dec 1757.

    The reason I asked about the Russian Unicorns is that with there being 3 different types of Field Unicorns (the 2 Pud and 1 Pud Unicorns were for siege work) and the ½ Pud being a Howitzer, a ¼ Pud being effective like a Light Gun and a 1/5 Pud (8pdr) being effective like a 3pdr and a Shuvalow Secret Howitzer both used as Battalion Guns. I reread your OOB and you do have the 1/5 Pud Unicorn and Shuvalow listed as battalion Guns. In DKFDG the Prussians rated the ½ Pud unicorn equivalent to their 7pdr Howitzer (actually a 14pdr). They both had the same bore diameter for canister and approx. the same size shell . The ¼ Pud Howitzer if there were few of them you lump them in with the ½ Pud. If there were a lot of them you lump them together but give them a negative modifier to fire.

    In DKFDG the OOB has 84 Feldgeshutzen, but later in the notes it says Fermor only had 60 guns available. This matches the 60 Russian guns that you have. I have seen 2 other sources list 50 guns, one as 50 and the other as 60-10 (the Siege Unicorns?) = 50 Russian Guns.

    Some of the Prussian comments were that the Russians had a lot of guns, but “many of them were only Grapeshot” (Cannister). In the writings of the the day if it was not a Regimental gun it was a Field gun or Heavy gun and thus counted as such. So a 12pdr is lumped with a 3pdr and a Siege Gun and mortars etc.

    If the Prussians have more Lt 12pdr guns (Mediums) then they historically did and correspondingly less Reg and Hvy 12pdr (Heavys) and the Russians total does not back out the Siege/ Light battalion gun types, thus inflating their number of “real guns” (Howitzers), then that can change the structure of a refight of the battle materially.

    1. Interesting comments on the detail of ordnance calibers. I will leave it to your gamers to work out how they want to apportion artillery weights.

      However, keep in mind that the technical level of that arm was not decisive in the battles of the 17th and 18th centuries, not nearly so much as developed in the Napoleonic period and later. Even after the Shuvalov and Liechtenstein innovations prior to the SYW, which brought the level of the Russian and Austrian artilleries perhaps to the highest levels of efficiency to that time, that arm was still largely indecisive in the outcome of battles. Other factors besides mere caliber, like the wide variance of propellant quality (something that was to plague the Russian artillery), the windage of the tubes, the reliability of fuzing, the sophistication of the aiming mechanism, the nature of the metal of the tubes, the training and proficiency of the crews, and the mobility of the carriages, were far greater factors in how effective the guns would be. So a 12 pdr Brummer could, in practice and depending on all of these factors, be outshot by a light six pounder.

      In wargaming this period, of far more interest in this period was the system of infantry tactics, including the evolving technologies of muskets (influencing rate of fire), fire systems, and training of the infantry. I would caution against too much emphasis on artillery in a realistic simulation.

  15. Outstanding and informative post, thank you!

  16. Hello:
    Great work here, thank you. Question: Why do you include battalion guns for the Prussian grenadier battalions in this battle? I have never come across that inclusion before and I am curious as to the rationale.



    1. Thanks for the question, Mark. It has been some time since I researched and wrote this piece, so to be honest I can't remember where I drew that conclusion. I do remembering deriving the battalion artillery allocation from my sources listed (principally Duffy). Battalion artillery at this time was assigned on an ad-hoc basis prior to an engagement and did not belong organically to the regiments. Since it was standard operating procedure to support each battalion with light guns drawn from the artillery train, it would seem logical that front line grenadier battalions also enjoyed this support.

  17. Thanks for the reply Jeff. I do notice that some of your OB's give grenadiers battalions guns and others do not. And I have seen other claims that grenadiers did receive battalion guns, at least on occasion.

    So I guess we will need to rethink our assumption that musketeers have them and grenadiers do not.

    1. I too have been rethinking the assumption that grenadier battalions weren't allocated close support guns as musketeer regiments were. In my earlier OOBs, I was compiling those on those unsubstantiated assumptions.

      As I've said, this artillery doesn't seem to have been organic to the regiment's TOE but was detached from the army's artillery train to provide close support to the infantry in the line of battle. And the infantry included grenadier battalions.

      But I am open to instruction. If someone can point to a reliable primary source that indicates this wasn't the case...

  18. My guess would be that battalion guns had to be fairly tied to the regiments they were assigned to, at least over the course of a campaign. The simple reason being that the infantry regiments were providing at least half the men manning them.

    In the SYW the artillery branch was more an administrative thing covering the gunner specialists and the ordnance itself. Its not like you had integral batteries of guns to command about, attach, detach.

    Austrians did not have permanent grenadier formations; but I guess its not hard to imagine a colonel sending off some of his battalion guns with the grenadiers as might be required.

    The Prussians could well have had guns more or less permanently attached to standing grenadier formations, but it would be great to see specific information that they did.

  19. This is one of the best short articles covering a historic battle I've ever read. You seem to be very economical with your maps and arrows but the clarity of the writing more than makes up for that.