1756 - Prussian invasion of Saxony – Preparations

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1756 - Prussian invasion of Saxony >> Preparations

The campaign lasted from August to October 1756

Introduction

In September 1755, with war approaching against Prussia, Austria planned to raise 6,000 recruits in the German Hereditary Lands. However, that was insufficient to replenish the ranks of the army. It had to be completed by advertising inside and outside Austrian territories. With this additional measure, Austrian and Hungarian infantry regiments were almost brought to full strength. However, German, Netherlander and Italian regiments did not reach their recruitment targets.

At the beginning of 1756, the Austrian Army had 19 infantry regiments stationed in Bohemia, Moravia and Austrian Silesia; 9 in the German Hereditary Lands; 6 in Hungary; 10 in Lombardy and 10 in the Austrian Netherlands. From these regiments, 39 were German, 9 Hungarian; 4 Netherlander, 2 Walloon. The cavalry regiments, to the exception of 1 Netherlander dragoon regiment were all German while all hussar regiments were Hungarian. The cavalry regiments were deployed as follows: 29 regiments in Hungary; 6 in Bohemia and Moravia; 1 in Vienna; 2 in the Austrian Netherlands; and 2 in Italy (2 sqns assuming custom duty on the Austrian frontier). All Netherlander regiments were stationed in the Austrian Netherlands. However, Walloon regiments were stationed in Transylvania and in Banat to prevent desertion. Hungarian regiments were stationed in Hungary, Germany and Lombardy, only their fourth battalions remaining in Hungary. The German Artillery brigades were deployed as follows: 3 in Luxembourg, 2 in Lombardy, 3 in southern Bohemia. For its part the Netherlander Artillery was stationed in Bruxelles and Mechelen.

Prelude to the campaign

In January 1756, the Hungarian Baranyay Hussars received orders to march from Hungary to Moravia.

With his treaty with France coming to an end on June 5 1756 and the hesitations of the French Court to renew it, King Frederick II of Prussia explored the possibility of an alliance with Great Britain. This rapidly led to the Treaty of Westminster, signed on January 16 1756, establishing a defensive alliance between Great Britain and Prussia in Germany.

In February and March, the Hungarian Festetics Hussars were moved from the eastern to the western border regions.

Meanwhile, Empress Maria Theresa, who could not get over the loss of Silesia, had looked around for allies to help her regain her province. On May 1, by the First Treaty of Versailles, she formed a defensive alliance with France.

In May, contrarily to the previous years, concentration of Austrian troops in training camps was not made only for practice. In fact, it was resolved that regiments stationed in central Hungary would assemble in camps near Pest and Raab (present-day Győr) near the Austrian border.

On May 16, the Secretary of the Secret Cabinet of Maria Theresa, Baron Koch, submitted a proposal for immediate preparations for the incoming war against Prussia. According to this plan, Austria should assemble an army of more than 67,000 in Bohemia and Moravia and reinforce this army with 10,000 irregulars. However, Koch estimated that this army alone was not sufficient to launch an offensive against Prussia and that it must be supported by a Russian army. Furthermore, an army of 45,000 men should be raised among the German principalities. Maria Theresa agreed with her advisers and ordered to put this plan in place for the next year.

At the end of May, Maria Theresa also extended the coalition to Russia.

Saxony also joined this alliance but her diplomatic dealings with the other allied powers were betrayed to the Berlin Cabinet by Friedrich Wilhelm Menzel, a Saxon Cabinet member (Menzel was later arrested on September 27 1757 and held for six years in Brünn (present-day Brno); in 1763, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Fortress of Königstein, where he died in 1796, at the age of 72).

The Elector of Saxony (also King of Poland) Friedrich August II and his court received information about the concentration of Prussian troops near the border of Saxony. The elector tried to keep neutrality as long as possible and avoided any provocation against Prussia. Nevertheless, the commander-in-chief of the Saxon Army, FM Friedrich Augustus Count Rutowsky took the necessary precautions. Generals and regiment commanders received sealed envelops containing instructions to follow in case of a Prussian invasion. Rutowsky also took the necessary measures to prepare a fortified camp between the fortresses of Königstein and Sonnenstein near Pirna.

By June, despite an increase of 26,000 men in the Austrian infantry, another 10,000 men were still necessary to bring this arm to full strength:

  • 1,200 men for the regiments of the German Hereditary Lands
  • 2,200 men for Hungarian regiments
  • 4,100 men for Netherlander regiments
  • 2,500 men for Italian regiments

On June 5, Frederick went from Potsdam to Stettin to begin the annual inspection of the regiments stationed in the Province of Pomerania.

On June 8, Rutowsky wrote a letter to the Elector of Saxony, informing him of the poor condition of his army. Regiments were understrength, they had insufficient weapons and ammunition, and officers had not been paid since several months.

On June 19, Frederick returned to Berlin. A courier of the British ambassador in St. Petersburg informed him that, on his way, he had seen Russian troops on the move in the areas of Narva, Riga and Mittau (present-day Jelgava) and that Russia had concluded an alliance with Austria against Prussia. The same day, the Prussian Army was organised in three armies: the Army of the Mark, the Army of Silesia and the Army of Prussia. Officers were recalled from furlough and granted leaves were cancelled; horses were bought from neighbouring countries; and artillery distributed among the various armies. Still the same day, the Austrian War Council sent instructions to the generals who would take command in Bohemia and Moravia.

On June 21, Frederick wrote to Field-marshal Schwerin, instructing him to be in Potsdam by August 1.

On June 23, Frederick sent new instructions to Schwerin, asking him to be in Potsdam by July 10. He also recalled Prince Henri to Berlin and recalled officers, including Keith, who were on leave at Karlsbad. Frederick also instructed Lehwaldt to transfer Garrison Regiment Hülsen from Tilsitt (present-day Sovetsk) to Memel (present-day Klaipėda) to work at the improvement of the defensive works of this latter town. The same day, the Austrian War Council resolved to move the annual cavalry training camp from its intended location in Pest and Raab, closer to the border at Kittsee and Raab. These training camps had to be ready somewhere in August. Schmerzing Cuirassiers were instructed to leave Banat and to march towards Raab.

On June 24, Field-Marshal Baron Maximilian Browne informed the Austrian War Council that, with the current preparedness of the Austrian Army, he could only adopt a defensive stance and try to take position in the neighbourhood of Königgrätz (present-day Hradec Králové).

On June 25, Field-Marshal Lehwaldt informed Frederick that a Russian army of some 70,000 men was being formed in Livonia. Frederick immediately made Lehwaldt commander-in-chief on this theatre of operation, granting him a large autonomy.

On June 26, Frederick ordered to reinforce the province of Pomerania with 4 additional infantry regiments (Jung Braunschweig Fusiliers, Amstell Infantry, Duke von Württemberg Fusiliers and Erbprinz von Hessen-Darmstadt Infantry) with their grenadier coys along with the I. "Standing" Grenadier Battalion Kahlden, Seydlitz Hussars and 2 artillery coys. He also instructed to put the fortresses in a state of defence. Furthermore, grenadier companies of the Prussian Army were ordered to assemble into converged grenadier battalions.

Frederick also asked Great Britain to send a fleet in the Baltic and to stop paying subsidies to Russia. Finally, he ordered to establish a camp for 20,000 men near Hornburg on the Ilse.

On June 29, Frederick was informed that the Russian Army had, on June 12, received orders to halt.

By the end of June, Austrian cuirassier regiments raised in the Hereditary Lands were still missing 455 men and 578 horses while dragoon regiments raised in the same countries still required 162 men and 213 horses. Jung-Modena Dragoons stationed in Italy were missing 217 men and as many horses. However, the two cavalry regiments based in the Netherlands were at full strength. Therefore 1,300 recruits were raised in the Hereditary Lands to replenish the ranks of the cavalry. The delivery of the necessary horses was expected in August.

In June, the Austrian Anspach Cuirassiers had been transferred from Hungary to Bohemia. The fortresses of Prague and Eger (present-day Cheb) remained neglected while very significant resources were invested in the expansion and equipment of the Fortress of Olmütz (present-day Olomouc).

Overall, by the end of June, the Austrian Army was in no state to enter into a war. Its cavalry and hussar regiments were still on peace establishment. The timely concentration of a strong army in Bohemia seemed unlikely: no regiment was ready to march; field equipment was not yet completed; and no arrangements had been taken for artillery, ammunition and wagons. All these weakness were well know by the authorities in Vienna who believed that they still had a year to prepare for their offensive against Prussia.

From July 1 to 12, the Hereditary Prince of Hessen-Darmstadt assembled a small Prussian corps in Pomerania to support Lehwaldt.

On July 4, Frederick was informed that military preparation of the Russian forces for war on land and sea had been interrupted. He then recalled part of the troops posted in Pomerania to reinforce his own army. The same day, the Prussian commanders of the fortresses of Cosel (present-day Kędzierzyn-Koźle) and Schweidnitz (present-day Swidnica) received instructions in case of an Austrian offensive in Silesia.

On July 5, the Austrian War Council resolved to raise 4,000 additional men in the German Hereditary Lands to complete some cavalry regiments. Some German regiments were eventually able to field supernumeraries.

On July 6, Austria, worried by the news received from its ambassador in Berlin about mobilisation in Prussia, started its preparations for war.

On July 8, Lehwaldt confirmed the retreat of the Russian Army.

Mitchell, the British ambassador in Potsdam assured Frederick that George II would do his outermost efforts to send a fleet in the Baltic to protect the coasts of Prussia against any threat.

On July 11 and 12, all regiments of the Austrian Army stationed in Bohemia, Moravia, Lower-Austria and Inner-Austria received instructions to get in readiness: Hessen-Darmstadt Dragoons were to replace Erzherzog Leopold Cuirassiers in Vienna; Infant von Portugal Cuirassiers marched from the Banat to replace Schmerzing Cuirassiers on the frontier; Kálnoky Hussars were also ordered to the frontier but, their horses suffering from an epidemic, they could not march to their assigned post. Furthermore, Neipperg Infantry and Gaisruck Infantry, who were stationed in Silesia, were instructed to march to Olschan.

On July 12, Frederick sent orders to Lehwaldt to return the regiments of his army to their quarters.

On July 16, Frederick was informed that Vienna was assembling some 60,000 men in Bohemia and that a camp for 30,000 men was under construction near Königgrätz. However, the Prussian representative in Vienna was not sure if the Austrians were taking these measures for their own defences now that they knew that the Prussians were establishing four camps in Silesia.

In fact, Austria had by then only 27 infantry rgts, 1 Slavonian bn, 11 cuirassier rgts, 7 dragoon rgts and 5 hussar rgts present in Bohemia and Moravia. Each of the 11 Grenzer rgts, mobilized 1 bn of 5 coys. Each infantry rgt built two field battalions (each of 6 fusilier coys) and one garrison bn (of 4 fusilier coys) from its four peacetime bns.

On July 17, to face these concentrations of Austrian troops, Frederick ordered three infantry regiments (Hülsen Infantry, Braunschweig-Bevern Infantry and Wietersheim Fusiliers) to leave their quarters in Westphalia and to move towards Halberstadt.

Order of Battle
Detailed order of battle of the Austrian Army on July 22 1756

In a report, dated July 22, Austrian Field-Marshal Neipperg estimated that, on average, grenadier companies counted 100 men; German battalions, 780 men; Hungarian battalions, 600 men; Grenzer battalions, 1,000 men; cuirassier regiment, 800 men; dragoon regiments, 800 men; and hussar regiments, 600 men. Based on these estimates, the already assembled forces would amount to:

  • infantry (grand total of 57,320 men)
    • 44 German battalions at 780 men each for a total of 34,320 men
    • 10 Hungarian battalions at 600 men each for a total of 6,000 men
    • 54 grenadier companies at 100 men each for a total of 5,400 men
    • 11 Grenzer battalions (including 11 Grenzer grenadier companies) at 1,000 men each for a total of 11,000 men
    • 1 Slavonian battalion at 600 men
  • cavalry (grand total of 17,400 men)
    • 18 cuirassier and dragoon regiments at 800 men each for a total of 14,400 men
    • 5 hussar regiments at 600 men and 400 horses each for a total of 3,000 men

On July 24, after many delays, contracts with various suppliers were concluded to equip and supply the Austrian artillery. It would take four additional weeks before the first artillery pieces and their servants would join the field army. Furthermore, export of horses was now prohibited and 900 horses were bought in Bohemia and Moravia to supply Austrian cavalry regiments.

From July 25, the Prussian Wied Fusiliers, Knobloch Infantry and Quadt Infantry left their garrisons in Westphalia and marched towards Halberstadt.

On July 28, several Prussian Garrison regiments received orders to prepare themselves to relieve regular field infantry regiments in the places they were currently garrisoning:

At the beginning of August, the Prussian Field Artillery Regiment was mobilized. Meanwhile, the Austrians started to form invalid companies to occupy their fortresses in the Hereditary Lands (4 bns each of 4 coys of 100-125 men) and Lower Austria (7 companies, each of 150 men). The same month, Nádasdy Hussars were transferred to the frontier.

On August 2, the following Prussian regiments, stationed in Pomerania, were ordered to mobilize: Braunschweig-Bevern Infantry, Manteuffel Infantry, Blanckensee Infantry, Herzog von Württemberg Dragoons and Markgraf Friedrich von Brandenburg Cuirassiers.

Between August 3 and 12, Prussian Wied Fusiliers, Knobloch Infantry and Quadt Infantry arrived in the neighbourhood of Halberstadt. Meanwhile, Hülsen Infantry occupied Quedlinburg and the Leibregiment zu Pferde took position at Calbe.

On August 4, the Austrian Court named Field-Marshal Browne commander-in-chief of the Army of Bohemia and FZM Prince Piccolomini commander-in-chief of the Army of Moravia.

On August 6, the following Prussian regiments were ordered to mobilize: Driesen Cuirassiers, Leib-Carabiniers, Prinz von Preußen Cuirassiers, Normann Dragoons, Bayreuth Dragoons and the 5 sqns of Zieten Hussars stationed in Parchim.

By August 11, the three Prussian infantry regiments stationed in Westphalia were ready to march.

On August 14, the Prinz von Preußen Cuirassiers marched from Kyritz towards Potsdam.

On August 19, the garrison of Potsdam was mobilized.

Order of Battle
Detailed order of battle of Browne's Austrian Army at Kolin in Bohemia on August 20 1756

On August 20, the garrison of Berlin was mobilized. Around this date, Saxon troops were still distributed among their various garrison places but were ready to march towards Dresden where the Elector of Saxony planned to assemble his army. Magazines were also being formed to supply the Saxon Army. Furthermore, officers and scouts were sent to the border with Prussia to observe the movements of Prussian units.

By August 21, the Austrian camp at Kolin was almost completely formed and placed under the command of Browne. In Prussia, the Duke of Bevern stationed Bayreuth Dragoons at Pasewalk; Markgraf Friedrich von Brandenburg Cuirassiers at Garz and Schwedt; Blanckensee Infantry at Prenzlau; Herzog von Württemberg Dragoons, Braunschweig-Bevern Infantry and Manteuffel Infantry in and around Stettin.

On August 22, Oertzen Dragoons assembled at Cüstrin.

On August 22 and 23, Itzenplitz Infantry and Meyerinck Infantry left Berlin to join Ferdinand's Corps.

On August 24, the Leib-Carabiniers marched from Ratenow towards Genthin.

On August 25, the Westphalian regiments stationed at Halberstadt marched to Magdeburg; Schwerin Infantry, coming from Frankfurt an der Oder reached Müllrose. The same day, Browne suggested to transfer 6 cavalry rgts presently encamped near Kittsee and Raab, from Moravia to Bohemia and to put Austrian troops (10 infantry rgts) stationed in Italy in readiness.

On August 26, Browne left Prague to join his army encamped at Kolin. The same day, Saxon regiments were ordered to march towards the camp at Pirna, in accordance to instructions contained in the sealed envelopes distributed earlier.

Continuation

The other phases of the campaign are described in the following articles:

  • Prussian invasion of Saxony (August 26 to September 9, 1756) describing the advance of the Prussian columns into Saxony and the capture of Dresden
  • Blockade of the Saxon entrenched camp of Pirna (September 10 to September 27, 1756) describing the Prussian manoeuvres to surround and blockade the Saxon entrenched camp of Pirna and the detachment of a Prussian corps towards the border with Western Bohemia to prevent any relief by the Austrians
  • Two relief attempts by the Austrian army (September 28 to October 17, 1756) describing Browne's first attempt to advance with the Austrian main army to relieve the Saxon army blockaded in Pirna, his second attempt with a picked force, the crossing of the Elbe by the Saxon army and its surrender at Ebenheit
  • Manoeuvres to take winter-quarters (October 18 to November 14, 1756) describing the manoeuvres of Prussian army to retire from the border with Western Bohemia and take its winter-quarters around Dresden

References

This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Anonymous, A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761
  • Archenholz, J. W., The History of the Seven Years War in Germany, translated by F. A. Catty, Francfort, 1843, pp. 10-30
  • Carlyle T., History of Friedrich II of Prussia vol. 17 chapters IV, V
  • Donnersmarck, Victor Amadaeus Henckel von, Militaerischer Nachlass, Karl Zabeler, 1858
    • Tagesbuch des Feldzuges von 1756, pp. 18-130
  • Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II, Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 1 Pirna und LobositzBerlin, 1901, pp. 62-104, 142, 150-151, 174-241, 251-260, 286-316
  • Schuster, O. and F. Francke: Geschichte der Sächsischen Armee, 2. part, Leipzig 1885
  • Tempelhoff, Fr., History of the Seven Years' War Vol. I Section 4, as translated by Colin Lindsay, Cadell, London, 1793
  • Vanicek, Fr.: Specialgeschichte der Militärgrenze aus Originalquellen und Quellenwerken geschöpft, Vol. II, Vienna: Kaiserlich-Königlichen Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1875, pp. 403-408

Other sources

Grossenhain, Geschichte des koeniglische Saechs, Koenigs-Husaren-Regiments No 18, Leipzig, 1901

Salisch, M. von: Treue Deserteure – Das kursächsische Militär und der Siebenjährige Krieg, Munich, 2009

Acknowledgement

Harald Skala for information on the Saxon Army during this period