1757-11-22 - Battle of Breslau

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Battles and Encounters >> 1757-11-22 - Battle of Breslau

Austrian Victory

Prelude to the Battle

When Frederick II was forced to intervene to stop the Franco-Imperial invasion of Saxony, Prince Charles seized the opportunity to proceed to the invasion of Silesia. By November 14, Nádasdy had successfully completed the siege and capture of Schweidnitz (present-day Swidnica). He then made a junction with the Austrian Main Army, under the command of Prince Charles, in front of Breslau (present-day Wroclaw)

Map

Map of the battle of Breslau fought on November 22 1757
Source: Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, volume III by the German Grosser Generalstab

Bevern was entrenched with a Prussian Army on the southern side of Breslau. His right extended to Kosel (present-day Kozanow) and his left to the village of Klein-Mochbern (present-day Muchobor Maly). The river Lohe (present-day Ślęza) and the villages of Pilsnitz (present-day Pilczyce), Schmiedefeld (present-day Kuzniki) and Maria-Höfchen (present-day Nowy Dwor) were in his front. From Klein-Mochbern, the Prussian line was drawn en potence and extended to Saint-Nicholas, one of the suburbs of Breslau. An abatis on the right flank reached from Pilsnitz to the Oder. This abatis was defended by the jägers and six grenadier battalions. Bevern's first line, consisting of 10 regiments was posted between Kosel and Klein-Mochbern. Three regiments were posted behind parapets and ditches in the villages of Pilsnitz, Schmiedefeld and Maria-Höfchen. Two grenadier battalions and five musketeer battalions were posted on the left flank. The second line was formed of 40 squadrons of cuirassiers drawn up between Kosel and Klein-Mochbern. Thus, Bevern had the marshy Lohe in front and the broad Oder to rear, with Breslau and its supply to his left. The whole camp was entrenched. There were four redoubts between Pilsnitz and Schmiedefeld and two between the latter and Maria-Höfchen. Before the village of Schmiedefeld there was a connected line of entrenchments and there was a redoubt between Maria-Höfchen and Klein-Mochbern.

On the other side of the Oder, Prussian infantry also occupied the villages of Protsch, Waida, Hunnern and Rosenthal (present-day Rozanka) while some cavalry units were deployed between these villages.

The Austrian Army was posted on the opposite side of the Lohe, between Strachwitz and Gross Masselwitz (present-day Maslice Wielki) with a reserve between Goldschmieden (present-day Zlotniki) and Stabelwitz (present-day Stablowice). An infantry flank guard protected the left wing between Gross Masselwitz and Klein Masselwitz. The grenadier corps was deployed between Strachwitz and Gross Mochbern (present-day Mochobor Wielki). The village of Neukirch (present-day Zerniki) was to their front and was surrounded by strong entrenchments. Nádasdy, who had recently formed a junction with Prince Charles, was deployed on the right wing between Bethlern (present-day Bielany) and Opperau (present-day Oporow). Some light units (hussars and grenzers) even crossed the Lohe upstream and established an advanced post near Krietern (present-day Krzyki).

The Austrian grenadier corps was then redeployed further to the right between Gross Mochbern and Opperau to cover the gap between the main army and Nádasdy's Corps.

When Bevern realised that the Austrians were extending their right wing upstream, he ordered Zieten to advance the left wing from its Klein-Mochbern – Saint-Nicholas position to the heights between Krietern and Kleinburg (present-day Borek).

Description of Events

Tuesday November 22 at 3:00 a.m., Prince Charles ordered four batteries (about 56 heavy guns) to open fire on Bevern's positions at Pilsnitz, Schmiedefeld, Maria-Höfchen and Gräbschen to protect the operation of throwing bridges across the Lohe and to cover the passage of two columns in this area.

Diversionary attack by Nádasdy

Nádasdy at the head of the troops who had previously besieged Schweidnitz had just been reinforced by four cavalry regiments under Prince Esterházy.

According to the battle plan, Nádasdy deployed his corps into three columns. Grenadier companies were at the head of each of these columns.

At dawn, the columns under General Nádasdy passed the river at Hartlieb (present-day Partynice) under the protection of a number of batteries of heavy artillery. After the crossing, these units deployed under the fire of the Prussian artillery. The Austrian right was anchored on the village of Oltaschin (present-day Oltaszyn) and the left extended up to Krietern where the artillery of the Reserve was planted.

Bevern immediately reinforced Zieten's Corps with two more battalions and a regiment of cuirassiers. Then Zieten marched with his corps to oppose Nádasdy. Zieten began a cannonade as soon as he approached, and formed an attack upon the head of Nádasdy's column with his hussars and dragoons. Zieten's cavalry successfully broke through the Grenzer, Hungarian and Württemberger infantry units at the head of the column, pushing them back to the Lohe. Above 100 were taken prisoners.

In the mean time, the Austrian Major-general Wolffersdorf attacked the village of Kleinburg with 16 grenadier companies. The Prussian Frei-Infanterie de Angelelli defended the village for a considerable time. They were at length obliged to yield it, having first set fire to it. They did not retreat far but drew up behind a ditch where they maintained their ground till the Prince of Bevern, a brother of the Duke, advanced with a battalion to their support. A most obstinate contest ensued between the infantry and, General Zieten having ordered the Schenkendorff and Kahlden grenadier battalions along with the Werner and Zieten hussars to advance, the four Austrian grenadier companies occupying the village were almost totally cut to pieces. The Austrians were consequently obliged to abandon the village of Kleinburg with the loss of 13 guns. After this rebuttal, Nádasdy did not make any additional attempt and Zieten maintained his position on the battlefield for the rest of the day.

Preparation for the attacks of the main Austrian army

Meanwhile, under the cover of the fog, the Austrian Main Army deployed in three columns, each consisting of a first line of infantry supported by a second line of cavalry.

The cannonade lasted till well past noon when the fog started to lift. Then, in less than 45 minutes, the Austrians threw seven pontoons over the Lohe.

With all their dispositions taken, Prince Charles and Marshal Daun ordered the general attack by setting fire to three large pines at Opperau, Gross Mochbern and Neukirch.

First Austrian attack at Klein Mochbern

Main Austrian attacks.
 
Source: Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, by the German Grosser Generalstab
 
Courtesy: Tony Flores

Immediately, the grenadier corps (35 coys) under Lieutenant-general Sprecher, supported by twelve coys of carabiniers and horse grenadiers under Major-general prince von Löwenstein, crossed the bridge thrown in front of Gross Mochbern. The Prussians had scarcely any artillery to oppose to them and the column effected the crossing to Klein-Mochbern. However, as soon as a few Austrian battalions had crossed, General Pennavaire attacked them with two cavalry regiments. Their charge was received with heavy fire of musketry and grape-shot and lost its impetus in the marshy banks of the Lohe. The Prussian cavalry was forced to retreat.

The grenadier corps was immediately followed by the infantry of the first line under Lieutenant-general Andlau. The reserve under Lieutenant-generals Wied and Esterhazy also crossed. The position was further reinforced by the infantry of the right wing of the second line under Lieutenant-general Stahrenberg. Meanwhile, the right wing cavalry under General Lucchesi also crossed the Lohe and deployed in two lines despite the continuous Prussian artillery fire. It then advanced upon the Prussian infantry and cavalry which were also moving to contact.

At 1:00 p.m., orderly musketry fire began on both sides. This lasted for about half an hour. Then, Prinz von Preußen Infantry and Prinz Ferdinand Infantry advanced under the command of Lieutenant-general Schultz. The Austrians defended their position with much determination, fearing to be pushed back into the Lohe. They sustained the attack with great courage. The attacking Prussian battalions suffered much from their grape-shot and musketry and were thrown into some disorder. Prince Ferdinand of Prussia, upon this, seized hold of a colour, rallied the men, and led them on again to the attack. Meanwhile, Colonel Lindstädt, who commanded Schultze Infantry, ordered the two battalions of this regiment to advance from Gräbschen (present-day Grabiszyn), attack the Austrian units filing across the bridge at Klein Mochbern, and support Prinz von Preußen Infantry and Prinz Ferdinand Infantry. The major commanding about 100 Prussians defending the redoubt in front of Gräbschen misinterpreted this order and abandoned the redoubt, withdrawing with his men and artillery. Finally, the renewed attack of Prinz von Preußen Infantry and Prinz Ferdinand Infantry was beaten back once more. When the young recruits forming most of Schultze Infantry saw these two regiments retiring, they fled back to the village where Lindstädt managed to rally them. However, the Austrians had taken possession of the abandoned redoubt and established guns and howitzers in it, with which they enfiladed the whole line. They also chased Schultze Infantry out of Gräbschen and took possession of the village.

After this initial success, Austrian troops advanced towards the entrenchments of Klein Mochbern. The combat in this area was a close contest with the Prussians repeatedly driven off but sternly coming back to the assault.

Second Austrian attack from Neukirch

At 3:00 p.m., Lieutenant-general Arberg launched the second attack across the Lohe from Neukirch towards Schmiedefeld and Maria-Höfchen. He was supported by Lieutenant-general Maguire's infantry corps and by the cavalry corps of Lieutenant-generals Stampach and L. Stahrenberg.

Once on the other side of the Lohe, Arberg and Maguire attacked the redoubts of Schmiedefeld. The Manteuffel Grenadiers posted there bravely defended the position until all ammunition was expended.

Meanwhile, part of the Austrian Reserve under Wied attacked the strong entrenchments in front of Maria-Höfche defended by Prinz Heinrich von Preußen Fusiliers. This regiment stood its ground until its commander realised that the Austrians had gained its left flank by capturing Gräbschen and Klein-Mochbern. The Prussian regiment had now no choice but to retire abandoning the village and a nearby redoubt to Wied's Corps.

Third Austrian attack against Pilsnitz

Launched when the signal for the general advance was given, the Austrian attack against Pilsnitz on the Prussian right flank met with a stronger resistance. The terrain in this area was very uneven and the banks of the Lohe quite steep. Furthermore, the village of Pilsnitz was protected by redoubts at both ends. This Austrian attack was led by General Kheul assisted by Lieutenant-generals Puebla, Clerici, Angern and Haller commanding the infantry left wing. The Austrian infantry was supported by the cavalry of General Serbelloni. Thrice, did Kheul attack the village of Pilsnitz and thrice was he repulsed.

While Kheul was attacking Pilsnitz, General Brentano was charged with 1,000 grenzers of the assault on the line of abatis extending from Kosel to Pilsnitz. After an initial success, Brentano was driven back and General Brandeis defended these abatis during the whole day, not allowing the Austrians to gain any ground.

At 5:30 p.m., as it began to grow dark, Kheul launched a fourth assault on Pilsnitz. The Prussians finally abandoned the village of Pilsnitz and its bridge. The Austrians immediately followed up but the Prussian redoubt planted behind the village opened fire. Then, the retiring Prussian infantry formed line at the height of this redoubt and fired at the advancing Austrians. The Prussian Leib-Carabiniers also advanced, planning to charge, but they were stopped by a number of broad ditches. After a fight of about 30 minutes, the Prussian right wing finally gave way, abandoning the redoubt and drawing off its artillery. Darkness was now so complete that the Austrians did not follow the retiring Prussians.

Prussian counter-attack near Klein Mochbern

By 5:00 p.m., Bevern had managed to regroup and reorganise ten infantry regiments which were supported by some regiments of cuirassiers.

At 6:00 p.m., these regiments advanced and drove back the Austrians from the villages of Schmiedefeld, Maria-Höfchen and Klein-Mochbern, threatening the flank of Erzherzog Joseph Dragoons and of Erzherzog Karl cavalry (unidentified unit, maybe Herzog Württemberg Dragoons). These Austrian cavalry units opposed a fierce resistance and were soon supported by the counter-attack of six grenadier companies upon the entrenchments occupied by the Prussians. Finally, the arrival of reinforcements (Carl Lothringen Infantry under colonel Vogelsang along with the Lucchesi Cuirassiers forced the Prussians to retire towards the suburbs of Saint-Nicholas, fearing to be cut from their base.

During this counter-attack, Bevern had gone to the post of General Zieten to plan for a night attack that should be launched around midnight. On his return, he was quite astonished to find his ten regiments at Saint-Nicholas.

After a fight of some 15 hours over a front of about 11 km, the huge superiority of the Austrian artillery had finally won the day.

The battle ended at 9:00 p.m. with Austrians victorious in four of their attacks. They were masters of the Lohe and of most of the Prussian villages and posts in front of the Prussian centre and right wing. However, the Prussians had managed to hold in the south-east on their left wing under Zieten's command.

Other actions

Early in the morning, Major-general Beck had passed the Oder by the bridge near Sandberg (present-day Nowa Karczma) with 4,000 men to force the Prussian detachments on that side of the Oder to retire towards Breslau. After the crossing, Beck detached 1,000 men (grenzers and line infantry) towards Oswitz (present-day Osobowice). He also detached 1,500 foot and 200 horse against two redoubts on the Weinberg, 200 grenzers and 100 horse on Leipa. Furthermore, he launched a diversionary attack upon Protzetz with two grenadier companies, 500 grenzers and 50 hussars led by Lieutenant-colonel Riese. All Prussian detachments were forced to retire into the entrenchments near Breslau.

Now master of the right bank of the Oder in this area, Beck secured Oswitz with 500 grenzers and two battalion of German infantry under colonel Lamberg.

Outcome

Bevern summoned a council of war that evening where it was decided to retreat. The Prussian army marched in the dark hours through the silent streets of Breslau. It withdrew across the Oder, leaving 80 guns and 5,000 killed, wounded and prisoners behind it. Generals Kleist and Schönaich were killed during the battle. Furthermore, some 3,800 men deserted the Prussian army.

While reconnoitring the country, Bevern rode into an Austrian outpost guarded by a party of Warasdiner-Creutzer Grenzer under Captain Katinčiċ and was made prisoner (intentionally thought many, including Frederick). Bevern was carried to Vienna, but being a near cousin of the late Empress-Mother, was sent home again without ransom. On his return, Frederick ordered him

"To Stettin, I say, your official post in time of peace! Command me the invalid Garrison there; you are fit for nothing better!"

The Austrians reported the loss of 5,705 killed, wounded or missing and of 368. Major-general Würben was killed during the battle. The Austrians captured five colours, 22 officers and 600 troopers.

Breslau, the main Silesian city, was now in the hands of the Austrians.

Order of Battle

Austrian Order of Battle

Main Austrian Army

Commander-in-chief: Prince Charles of Lorraine assisted by count Leopold Daun

Summary: 56 battalions, 67 grenadier companies, 103 squadrons, 220 artillery pieces (14 x 12-pdrs guns, 32 x 6-pdrs guns, 14 x 7-pdrs howitzers, 160 x 3-pdrs battalion guns) for a total of 38,276 foot and 8,292 horse (excluding Nádasdy's Corps listed in another section)

First Line Second Line
Right Wing Cavalry
General of cavalry Count Lucchesi assisted by Marquis de Spada Prince Esterházy
Infantry Centre under General Baron Kheul
 
 
Left Wing Cavalry
General of Cavalry Count Serbelloni General of Cavalry Count Stampach
Extreme Left Wing Infantry under Count Puebla
 
 

Reserve Corps

Grenadiers and Carabiniers Corps under Baron Sprecher

  • Prince Löwenstein Brigade
    • Converged Horse Grenadiers (4 coys)
    • Converged Carabiniers (8 coys)
  • Baron Reichlin Brigade
    • Converged Grenadiers (35 coys)

Nádasdy's Corps

Commander-in-chief: Count Nádasdy

Summary: 40 battalions, 26 grenadier companies, 38 squadrons for a total of 24,205 foot and 4,198 horse (to these figures, we must add 8,729 grenzers and 2,696 hussars)

First Line Second Line
Right Wing Cavalry
 
 
Infantry Centre
 
 
Left Wing Cavalry
Saxon Cavalry Saxon Cavalry

Light Troops

N.B.: about 4,800 light troops were with Jahnus in the Landeshut area (among which Kaiser Franz I Hussars and Kálnoky Hussars)

Prussian Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Duke of Brunswick-Bevern

Summary: 40 battalions, 102 squadrons for a total of about 25,000 men

First Line Flank Guard Second Line
Right Wing
Infantry under Lieutenant-general von Brandes Right Flank Guard under Major-general von Rohr deployed en potence

and from right to left:

Cavalry under Lieutenant-general Baron von Kyau
Infantry Centre
 
  Cavalry under Lieutenant-general von Penavaire
Left Wing under Lieutenant-general von Zieten
 
   

Detachments on the Right Bank of the Oder under Krockow

References

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

  • Carlyle T., History of Friedrich II of Prussia vol. 18, chapter 8
  • Donnersmarck, Victor Amadaeus Henckel von, Militaerischer Nachlass, Karl Zabeler, 1858, pp. 463-471
    • "Relation préliminaire de la bataille de Breslau", Vienna: December 1757
    • "Bataille de Breslau donnée le 22 novembre 1757", Vienna: January 1758
  • Tempelhoff, Fr., History of the Seven Years' War Vol. I pp. 176-184, 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, p. 433

Other sources

Grosser Gerneralstab, Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen III. 1756-1763, Berlin: 1902