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The Colonial Era and Asia Discussion of European Empires in India, Africa, South America, and other places as well as military history of the Far East!

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Old 23 Aug 11, 08:22
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Alcibiades Alcibiades is offline
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Frederick the Great-Military Career

This is an essay of mine I wrote for fun.I very much like military history,and Frederick II is one of favourite characters.Hope you will enjoy it.


Frederick William I

When Frederick II, later called the Great, came to the throne of Prussia in 1740, he inherited a realm both territorially and in population a little larger than Portugal, but sprawled all across northeast Germany in little peaces, and without any natural barriers to serve as pointsfor fortresses. An unfortunate heritage of the Thirty Years’ War was the fact that the armies of both sides had marched pretty much wherever they wanted, regardless of neutralities, except in those few cases where the neutral party had an armed force of his own big enough to ensure respect. This fact was not lost on Frederick William I, Frederick II’s father.

In addition to this insight, this interesting man was something of a military connoisseur. In his youth, he fought under the command of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy. At this period(1720s,1730s) there were no wars in Europe, but you could not tell that by observing Prussia under this monarch. Through a series of administrative and economic reforms and policies, he gained one of the deepest treasuries in Europe, from one it’s otherwise poorest countries. He used the money to equip an army of 80,000, almost as large as the imperial Austrian forces, and equal to approximately 4 percent of Prussia’s population.

At this period, it was the business of the middle class to pay taxes to support the armies, and the men who made them up were drawn from the lower levels—peasants and the like. As a result of this, discipline everywhere was extremely rigid and severe. However, this was carried even further in Prussia. With this discipline went unceasing drill in the Prussian army, all day long, till the men moved like machines, on reflex and without even thinking. Additionally there was a reduction in the number of movements required to load and fire a musket, and a new type of iron ramrod(in other countries ramrod was out of wood).

Frederick’s accession and early reign

King Frederick II was twenty-seven at the time of his accession. He was known for his liberalizing tendencies, love for arts and sciences. He abolished torture, proclaimed the freedom of the press and absolute religious toleration. He also began writing all over Europe to tempt Voltaire and other famous intellectuals to come to Berlin and help set up an academy. Opinion on European courts was that he would reduce the army and maintain one of those German courts that were modeled on French culture.

All this was before the death of the emperor, Charles VI. Hapsburg empire, made up of a collection of possessions and lands under very different rules of inheritance, was surrounded by expanding states, who all wanted to chip off pieces for themselves. This was what Frederick did, 2 months after Charles’s death, marching on Silesia at the head of 30.000 troops, claiming it for himself. He was besieging fortresses throughout Silesia, until, with some 20.000 men, he managed to draw the enemy, with approximately the same numbers(under Marshal Neipperg )to a battlefield at Mollwitz in April,1741.He won this battle, thanks to the steadfastness of his drilled infantry and the speed of their firing rounds. King, who posted himself on the right wing with his cavalry(which fled the field of battle due to superior enemy cavalry, both in quality and quantity), learned many valuable lessons in this battle, which he will put to use latter on in his career.

It is also worth mentioning that Mollwitz decided Silesia for the time being, and made in Europe a noise almost as loud as Breitenfeld, for it was the defeat of a mighty empire by a power almost as little regarded as Sicily .It was also demonstrated that the military strength of a state is not necessarily proportional to its size, and that it was still possible to accomplish something by military means.

In reaction to Hungarian irregular cavalry, pandours, who were always posted on the flanks of Austrian armies, and who were used to burn towns, raid camps, and cut the wounded enemy soldiers to pieces when they found them(and because of whom, king was forced to fight for his intelligence of enemy movements), he developed his own cavalry service on similar lines to those given the infantry by Frederick William—careful training, perfect coordination, precision of movement—and produced up a group of remarkable cavalry officers, Ziethen, Seydlitz, and Rotherbourg.

Seven Years War

However ,there was one person who would never be reconciled to Prussia in Silesia, and that was Empress Maria Theresa. During the course of the period between 1741-1755, she lost both Silesia and Bavaria. As a result of that, she nurtured a resentment and bitterness toward this ”bandit king” from a relatively small country. And now she had a counselor who supported her resentment and, through a series of diplomatic maneuvers, formed a coalition of Austria, France, Sweden, Russia and Saxony against Frederick: Wenzel Anton, Graf von Kaunitz. Naturally, as a result of this, England promptly allied herself with Prussia(even though she was a traditional ally of Austria).Thus began a Seven Years War.

The actual fighting began in August 1756, when Friedrich invaded Saxony without a declaration of war, occupied Dresden, and shut up the Saxon army in an entrenched camp at Pirna. His aggression succeeded. Saxony was knocked out, and what was left of its enlisted troops was offered the choice of serving under Frederick or go to prison. Frederick invaded Bohemia for a second time, won a battle under the walls of Prague, threw a blockade around the town and pressed southward until he encountered an army twice the size of his own under Marshal Leopold Josef Daun at Kolin on June 18, 1757.

Daun’s plan was the same as that of the usual Austrian leader—draw up and await attack, since he lacked the mobility to compete with the Prussians in maneuver. He was in three lines instead of the usual two; all across the front he scattered quantities of Croat irregular sharpshooters. Frederick angled to his left to make an oblique attack on Austrian right wing. The leading formation, Hulsen’s, did break through the extreme flank and drove back the first two Austrian lines; but those that followed had to cross Daun’s front, with the fire from the Croats coming into their flanks. One group stopped and faced round to drive off these tormentors by firing a few volleys, and the brigade immediately behind, believing that the battle plan had been changed, also faced round and went into action. This, coupled with the fact that Frederick lost his temper and changed battle plans in mid-attack, costed him the battle and 13.000 of his men(out of army of 33.000).

The allies now thought they had him and began to throw armies at him from all directions. The Prince of Hildburghausen with the army of the empire, and Marshal Soubise with the French drove toward Saxony; 17,000 Swedes landed in Pomerania; 80,000 Russians moved in from their side, and Charles of Lorraine, with his own and Daun’s troops, over 100,000, marched on Silesia from the south.

The Swedes were incompetently led, accomplished nothing against the detachment that faced them, but they still forced Friedrich to make that detachment. The Russians beat a third of their number of Prussians in a battle, but their supply organization broke down just when it might have taken Berlin. The Austrians made a war of sieges, but it took 41,000 men to keep them from overrunning everything, and Friedrich could gather barely 22,000 men to meet the invasion of Soubise and Hildburghausen into Saxony.

Two armies faced each other at Rossbach. The Austrians were moving in Friedrich’s strategic rear, and however slowly they advanced, he was required to do something. Soubise and Hildburghausen had been studying Frederick, and they learned that that the King of Prussia won battles by throwing his full strength against the enemy’s left flank. Now they decided to outdo him by throwing their whole army around his left and rear to take the hills there and cut his communications.

There were 3 mistakes in this plan:

1) plain was completely open, and Friedrich had an officer on the roof of the highest building in Rossbach who could observe every move
2) the tracks were both sandy and muddy, and the march slow
3) moving column, in a desire of gaining surprise, send out no scouts or cavalry screen
When King was informed of this he made a new dispositions: Seydlitz, with all the cavalry, was posted out of sight behind the Polzen hill, while the artillery was posted on the reverse slope of Janus and finally the infantry behind the guns, with a little to the right.

Seydlitz came over Polzen Hill with 4,000 cavalry, hit the allied horse vanguard in flank and undeployed, rode right through them, overturned them and drove what was left from the field. He then sounded a recall and formed behind the enemy right rear. The moment their field of fire was cleared the Prussian guns opened on the allied columns, tearing down whole ranks, and as they strove to deploy, Friedrich’s infantry came over Janus Hill, all in line and firing. As columns tried to fall back, Seydlitz came out of his hollow and charged them from the rear. Battle was decisively won. Allies have lost 3,000 killed and wounded, 5,000 prisoners, and sixty-seven guns. The Prussian losses were 541.

Rossbach was decisive in the sense that it took France out of the war against Frederick; he had no more fighting to do against the French except through Hannover. He had cracked the circle of enemies; and he had also achieved a focus for German nationalism and assured the support of England. After the battle Parliament increased his subsidy almost ten times.


Even after the decisive victory at Rossbach,which put France out of direct war with Frederick,there was still almost too much for any one man and any one army to do.While Frederick was eliminating the imperial and French armies from the war,Austria had slowly rolled up all of southern Silesia,beaten the Prussian forces there in battle,and taken Breslau and Schweidnitz, with their huge magazines.Frederick turned over command of the beaten army to Ziethen, picked up his forces at Parchwitz, and hurried forward to offer the Austrians battle.

He now had 36,000 men and 167 guns,Prince Charles and Daun had nearly 80,000. Daun had expected to winter,but the news of Frederick’s approach drew him out of Breslau into a position in double line.The right was under General Lucchesi,resting on the village of Nippern,the center at Leuthen village,the left on Sagschutz.General Nadasti,who commanded the left,covered his position with abbates. In the village of Borne,there was a cavalry detachment under the Saxon General Nostitz,but most of the cavalry were in reserve behind the center.

On the morning of 4th of Decembar,Prussians struck detachment under Nostitz under the cover of mist.Ziethen charged the Saxons furiously,made most of the men prisoners,and drove the rest in on Lucchesi’s wing.After that there was a short rest while both sides waited for a mist to clear.Frederick knew the terrain well(what with using it for drill and exercise of his army),so he knew that,to the right from village of Borne,there was a ground which could conceal movement of troops.He therefore decided to do what the allies had tried to do to him at Rossbach - throw his entire army on the enemy left wing.As a preliminary,the cavalry of the vanguard were put in to follow up the Nostitz in the opposite direction.This deception worked;Lucchesi,who like Soubise and Hildburghausen knew of Frederick’s habit for flank attacks,thought he was about to receive a heavy one and asked for reinforcement.Prince Charles sent him the reserve cavalry from the center and some of that from the left.

But nothing further happened there.To Charles and Daun,in the center,it seemed that this meant Prussians were retreating.Then,all of a sudden,Frederick’s column appeared behind the fold of ground on allies’s left flank,and cavalry,infantry and artillery did a left wheel and came down at Nadasti’s forces at an angle.

Nadasti,a relatively good officer,charged in at once with what cavalry he had,and succeeded in throwing Ziethen back,but came up against infantry behind,and was badly broken.But there were so many of these Austrians that they beganto build up a defense around the mills and ditches of Leuthen.Prince Charles sent in battalions as fast as he could,deployed from wherever he could.In some places,the Austrians were twenty ranks deep,and the fighting was very furious.Frederick had to put in his last infantry reserves, and even so they barely held.

But then he sent his superheavy guns to the piece of ground which had previosly concealed his movement,and began to pound the Austrians,who started to break.At this time,Lucchesi reached the front from his former position.He saw that the Prussian infantry left was bare and ordered a charge.But Frederick had foreseen this.The cavalry of his own left wing, under General Driesen,was concealed behind the heavy battery,and as Lucchesi came forward he was charged front,flank,and rear,all at once.It was like Seydlitz’s charge at Rossbach;Lucchesi himself was killed and his men scattered,while Driesen wheeled in on the Austrian infantry flank and rear around Leuthen.That was the end for the allies.

Leuthen was the most extreme example of Frederick’s oblique-order attack and also his most briliant victory.He lost 6,000 men,but the Austrians lost 10,000 in killed and wounded,besides 21,000 prisoners,and two weeks later Breslau(main city of Silesia) surrendered,with 17,000 more.The effect was crushing,but it was not all-decisive.It “merely”decided who will hold Silesia for the time being.

Campaigns of 1758,1759

Next June,Frederick invaded Moravia and put a city of Olomouc to siege.His plan was to either by this action invite the major Austrian field-army and then to defeat it,or,there be no attempt of relieving the city,take it and use it as a stronghold for protecting Silesia from further invasions,as well as put additional pressure on Vienna.

But he depended on a convoy-supplied material to continue the siege.Daun,who was comanding the Austrians,and who was reluctant to offer open battle with Prussians,decided to take advantage of this by attacking the convoy.He did so,managing to destroy it,and thus forcing Frederick to lift the siege and retreat to Bohemia.

In the meanwhile,the Russians pushed from their side all the way to only 100 miles from Berlin.Frederick decided to intercept them before they could link with Daun’s forces,and so he offered them battle in August at Zorndorf.It was a tactical stalemate,with both sides losing more than 1/3 of their forces,and both sides claiming victory.Nevertheless,Frederick’s main strategoc goal was fulfilled.

By October,Austrians were back on the foot,and they defeated the King at Hochkirch.And they did so in a way one would have least expected against so capable a commander,by leaving their watch fires burning while they made a night march and surprised him at dawn.That is,they caught him being careless.And in the following summer,1759,a combined Austro-Russian army inflicted a paralyzing defeat on Frederick at Kunersdorf,one in which he lost over 20,000 men(his worst defeat ever),again through his own fault, for he sent his troops into action after two days without sleep,up a steep hill under the burning sun.Frederick was desperate and lost all hope in the following few months.

But he had done better than he thought and everything was not lost;neither after Hochkirch nor Kunersdorf did his enemies make any follow-up.They could not; they were too disorganized in terms of lost officers,mingling of regiments,breakdown of supply.They had no such solid basis as the Prussian army;when any of them lost a battle,that particular campaign was over when it won,it merely went on.

1760,Liegnitz and Torgau

A realization that their only real asset was numerical penetrated allied minds in 1760,and they adopted a plan of campaign to make numbers count.There were to be three columns:[INDENT]1)one operating through Saxony under Daun
2)one through Silesia under the Austrian General Loudon
3)and a Russian column through Poland[?INDENT]

Each was to deplete Frederick’s resources by eating up the towns.He could maintain only one army large enough to deal with any of the three;whenever he turned against one,the others would keep moving steadily toward Berlin.

Plan was modified by events.The Russians came slowly through northern Silesia.Daun was also slow,and when Frederick turned against Loudon,the Austrian marshal thought he saw an opportunity to repeat the surprise of Hochkirch.He swung around toward the northwest of Friedrich’s position at Liegnitz while Loudon marched by a circuit to close him in from the northeast, with the Russians under General Czernicheff pushing up from behind.

But Daun paradoxically made a mistake in conducting too thorough scouting from the heights above Leignitz,which not only slowed him,but also attracted the attention of Prussians.On the night of August 14 1761,the king turned the Austrians’ trick right around on them,leaving a group of campfires burning and making a fast march along the road Loudon was to occupy.Loudon reached it cross country in the morning;was received by musketry fire,and being already too deeply committed to get out without battle,fought one that cost him 10,000 men and eighty-one guns.

As for the Russian column,Frederick devised a briliant trick,which reminds one of Themistocles and Salamis.Frederick gave a letter to a peasent,which was adressed to his brother,Prince Henri,and read as following:”Austrians totally defeated today, now for the Russians. Do what we agreed upon.".The peasant was to let himself be taken by Czernicheff and give up the paper to save his own life.It worked exactly as Frederick wanted it.Czernicheff,no doubt frightened out of his pants,got the hell out of there,and went to besiege Kolberg on the Baltic coast,which would,admittedly,be more of a use to them then another field victory over Frederick.

Two of the three attacking columns were thus eliminated.Next,Frederick was recalled by the news that Berlin had been taken.He rushed north with his army but ti turned out to be nothing serious.Only some Cossack raiders and a wing of Austrian light cavalry.However,it was obvious by now that something had to be done about the Daun column,which had taken nearly all Saxony and established itself at Torgau,64,000 strong.By whittling down garrisons Frederick managed to assemble 45,000 men,and approached the place at the end of October.

It was not Daun’s intention to fight,except as he had done at Kolin,long ago,on terms that would force the king to attack under every disadvantage.He chose his position very well for the purpose,along a Siptitz Hill that runs roughly to the west from Torgau. Its southern edge was covered by a deep, wide, muddy brook, the Rohrgraben, a good military obstacle.

Frederick moved up from the south.He realised at once that the place was too small for so many Austrians,and thus offered poor chances of a counter-attack,so he determined to attack it from front and rear simultaneously.Ziethen, with nearly half the army,would take the southern side,across the brook;Frederick himself would swing by a circuit through the woods in three columns,the outermost one of cavalry.

It was 2 p.m. when Frederick,leading the innermost column reached the edge of the woods,just in time to hear the bombing from the south.He thought this meant that Zeithen was already engaged,so he immediately threw 6.000 grenadiers to straight at the Austrian positions.

In fact,Ziethen’s engagement was with some outposts of light troops,who had a few guns south of the Rohrgraben.These retired slowly eastward, in the Torgau direction, drawing the Prussians out of their true line of advance.This meant that the 6.000 grenadiers were met with a full force of 400 cannons.By the end of this first attack,not 600 of them returned to Frederick’s positions.It was three o’clock.

Shortly later Frederick’s second column arrived;there was a pause for reorganization,and at about three-thirty it and the remnants of the first attack went forward again.This was the hardest fighting of the day,along the northwest portion of Daun’s line;the Prussian infantry got in among the guns,and there was hand-to-hand fighting on Siptitz Hill,but Daun summoned his reserves from every quarter and after a long struggle drove the Prussians back again,with the king himself wounded.

The cavalry,which had gone astray in the woods,arrived at four-thirty.Frederick organized a third attack,with both cavalry and infantry.This one was at least a partial success;entire four regiments were taken prisoners,along with most of their guns;Daun;s entire left wing was in disorder and confusion reigned everywhere,but still,the attack could not be carried further.Frederick gave orders to bivouac on the field and try again next day if possible;Daun,himself wounded,sent off a courier of victory that caused a a wide celebrations in Vienna.

But at six,Ziethen,free at last of his preoccupation with the Austrian light forces,tried to close to the sounds of King’s guns.He took the village of Siptitz,south of the Rohrgraben,and set the place on fire.His men could not cross the stream through the blazing village,but an intelligent officer named Mollendorf found a bridge beyond it,and Ziethen poured through it and down on the Austrians.They were driven through Torgau with a loss of more than 10.000 men and almost all of their guns.Daun’s army was a wreck and the allied campaign with it.

End of War

There was some bickering and some maneuvering the next year,with Frederick on the defensive and neither Austrians nor Russians daring to besiege or attack.Early in 1762 the key event happened.Tsarina Elizabeth died and Tsar Peter,her successor,a huge admirer of Frederick,made peace with Frederick.Not only that,but he actually sent him a Russian corps to his help.Losses in the other fronts of the Seven Years War(particularly North America)made sure that France could no longer pay subsidies to Austria,which forced Maria Theresa to reduce her standing army to 20,000 men.That was basically the end.

Now,it could be said that no single battle decided the European Front of the Seven Years War – probably the battle that went furthest in that direction was Rossbach – but it could also be said that Torgau decided that Austria could not bring the war to the successful conclusion.


Let me know what you think.
Nothing is impossible to him who will try- Alexander the Great
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