1757 - Prussian invasion of Bohemia – Retreat

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1757 - Prussian invasion of Bohemia >> Prussian retreat

The campaign lasted from April to June 1757

Introduction

The general context of the campaign, winter operations and the preparations of Austria and Prussia for the incoming conflict are described in our article Context and preparations (January 1 to April 17, 1757).

The advance of the Prussian columns into Bohemia and their manoeuvres around Prague are described in our article Prussian invasion of Bohemia till the Battle of Prague (April 17 to May 6, 1757).

The siege of Prague, the Austrian relief attempt and the Battle of Kolin are described in our article Siege of Prague till the Battle of Kolin (May 7 to June 29, 1757).

Description

After his defeat in the Battle of Kolin, with his lines of communication threatened, King Frederick II could not maintain the Siege of Prague.

While returning to Prague escorted by 1 sqn of his Garde du Corps and 30 Ordonnance-Hussars, Frederick followed side roads towards Nimburg (present-day Nymburk), the “Kaiserstrasse” not being secure any more. He sent forward Major Grant with orders to raise the siege of the city.

Frederick took some rest at Nimburg and resumed his march towards Brandeis (present-day Brandýs nad Labem-Stará Boleslav) where he left his sqn of Garde du Corps. He then set off for Prague with a small escort.

Conventions to follow the intricate manoeuvres of the three Prussian corps operating in Bohemia
In the first part of this article, we have to follow three distinct Prussian corps manoeuvring simultaneously in Bohemia. To make things easier, we will designate these corps as follows
  • Moritz's Corps which is in fact the army who took part in the Battle of Kolin under Frederick's command and who had been confided to Prince Moritz when the king precipitously left for Prague
  • Keith's Corps which formed part of the Prussian army besieging Prague, being initially deployed on the left bank of the Moldau River (present-day Vltava River)
  • Frederick's Corps which formed part of the Prussian army besieging Prague, being initially deployed on the right bank of the Moldau River

Each of these corps, because of the grand tactical situation, had initially to adopt a different line of retreat.

Frederick abandons the siege of Prague

On Sunday June 19 at 2:00 a.m.

  • Prussians
    • Major Grant arrived at Prague and went to Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, interim commander on the Ziskaberg, with order to raise siege.
    • Before daybreak, the Prussians had started to evacuate the right bank of the Moldau. On both hills, the guns were removed (across the Moldau for those on the Ziskaberg), batteries destroyed, siege-gear neatly gathered up, to go in wagons to Leitmeritz (present-day Litoměřice), then by boat to Dresden.
    • Baggage of Frederick's Corps posted on the right bank of the Moldau were sent to Brandeis, escorted by Fouqué Fusiliers.
    • Keith, posted on the left bank of the Moldau sent his baggage to Welwarn (present-day Velvary), a difficult task since the transportable wounded and the siege artillery were also transported on the same roads. Furthermore, Colonel von Dieskau had to cover the retreat of the pontoon train. Keith was compelled to let his pontoon-bridge at Podbaba (present-day Podbabská) drift downstream once the last battalion posted at Troja had reached the left bank of the Moldau, hoping to recover it further downstream and to re-establish it at Melnik (present-day Mělník). The bridge at Branik was dismantled the same day and its pontoons charged on wagons.
  • Austrians
    • Grenzer light troops immediately occupied the Ziskaberg.
    • Grenzer light troops posted at Holleschowitz (present-day Holešovice) passed the Elbe on barges and made themselves master of the 44 pontoons drifting on the Moldau.

On Monday June 20

  • Moritz's Corps had reached Nimburg. The wounded of this corps were transported from Nimburg to Neu-Lysa (probably Lysá nad Labem), escorted by Grenadier Battalion Finck and 150 hussars. Moritz also sent 20 hussar sqns (10 sqns Zieten, 5 sqns Seydlitz and 5 sqns von Szekely) forward in preparation for the junction with Keih's Corps on the left bank of the Elbe.
  • Before sunrise, the siege was raised.
  • At 4:00 a.m., Frederick's Corps set off from his camp in three columns with drums beating and colours flying:
    • the right column (22 sqns, 13 bns) marched from Michle towards Jenstein (present-day Jenštejn) by Maleschitz (present-day Malešice), Kej (present-day Kyje) and Satalitz (present-day Satalice).
    • the middle column (21 bns and the heavy artillery) marched from Prague towards Brandeis
    • the left column (10 bns) marched from the Ziskaberg by Wysoczan (unidentified location)
    • the rearguard (Frei-Infanterie le Noble, Feldjäger zu Fuß and 5 sqns of Seydlitz Hussars) under Prince Heinrich
  • Austrian light troops advanced up to Michle but did not seriously harass Frederick's Corps who passed the Elbe at Brandeis and encamped with its right wing at Alt-Bunzlau (present-day Stará Boleslav) and its front covered by the Iser where a pontoon bridge had been thrown at Sojowitz (present-day Sojovice) to establish contact with Prince Moritz's Corps. Brandeis was occupied by the grenadier battalions Wedel, Kremzow, Burgsdorff and Unruh. The rearguard remained on the other bank of the Elbe at Wrab (unidentified location). Frederick established his headquarters at Alt-Bunzlau.
  • Early in the day, Keith had received orders to immediately send the heavy artillery towards Welwarn and to set off with his corps at 4:00 p.m. for the same destination. The loss of the pontoon-bridge of Podbaba forced him to replan his march to pass the Elbe at Leitmeritz instead of Melnik.
  • At 1:00 p.m., the rest of Keith's baggage and the heavy artillery set off for Welwarn, escorted by Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm von Preußen Fusiliers.
  • At 3:00 p.m., Keith's left wing (9 bns, 5 sqns) under the command of the Prince of Prussia marched by Weleslawin (present-day Veleslavín) and Wokowitz (present-day Vokovice). Meanwhile, Keith's right wing (10 bns, 5 sqns) under Winterfeldt marched by Motol. Schmettau with 6 grenadier bns and Frei-Infanterie de Angelelli, 8 sqns and two 12-pdrs formed the rearguard of the two columns. These columns should effect a junction at Rufyn (present-day Ruzyně).
  • Prince Charles sent Colonel Inkey de Pallin from Prague at the head of 300 hussars and 300 Grenzer light troops against Keith's Corps. The latter's rearguard under Schmettau was attacked by these Austrian light troops. In this action Schmettau lost some 400 men, 1 artillery piece and 2 ammunition carts.
  • Furthermore, Loudon was instructed to sally from the Aujezder Tower with 4 grenadier coys, 2,000 Grenzer light troops and 600 hussars and to harass the right flank and rear of the retiring Keith's Corps.
  • At 3:00 p.m., Prince Charles of Lorraine sent out from Prague 2,880 Grenzer light troops, 24,000 foot and 3,000 horse under FZM Kheul to dislodge Keith from the left bank of the Moldau. Lieutenant-Colonel Karl Baron von Amadei asked FML Maquire for the privilege to lead the attack. The Austrians poured out of the Karl Gate. Amadei then sent Captain Riß with some troops through a little valley in the flank of the Prussians, he himself launched an attack on the Prussian redoubts and entrenchments under heavy artillery fire, getting over wolf pits and chevaux-de-frise. The Prussians resisted stubbornly but the Austrian fusiliers stormed the parapet and the Prussians were forced to abandon their positions which were soon occupied by Austrian grenadiers and Grenzer light troops. However, the Prussians had rallied at the Castle of Stern on the Weisse Berg where they held their ground. With the arrival of the Duke of Arenberg with additional Austrian troops, the Prussians gave way again and retreated to Rufyn.
  • FM Keith deployed Prinz Ferdinand Infantry and Grenadier Battalion Schenckendorff on the heights to the north of Rufyn to cover the approach of Winterfeldt's column and Schmettau's rearguard.
  • Around 7:00 p.m., once the junction effected, Keith deployed his army in two lines. During the retreat to Rufyn, Schmettau's rearguard had lost 500 men and each of the two columns, 200 men. Colonel von Bülow, who commanded a grenadier bn was mortally wounded.
  • During all these manoeuvres, Daun was still standing among the heights and swamps of Planjan (present-day Plaňany) and did not try to hinder the retreat of the Prussian army.
  • Nádasdy's Corps took position at Braditz (unidentified location) on the “Kaiserstrasse”.

The Prussians retire towards Leitmeritz

Retreat of the Prussian armies
 
Source: Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, volume III by the German Grosser Generalstab

In the night of June 20 to 21, Keith's Corps marched towards Minkowitz (other sources mention Schlan (present-day Slaný) which makes more sense).

On Tuesday June 21

  • Prussians
    • Around 9:00 a.m., Keith's Corps reached Minkowitz (or more probably Schlan) where it was joined by I./Rohr Fusiliers who had set off from Dresden on June 15.
    • Keith's baggage and heavy artillery reached Welwarn.
    • Reports of Loudon's activity on his right flank and of Austrian hussar patrols between Welwarn and Budin (present-day Budyně nad Ohří) convinced Keith to immediately send his heavy artillery from Welwarn to Budin, escorted by I./Prinz Ferdinand Infantry.
    • Frederick marched to Alt-Lissa (present-day Lysá nad Labem) to shorten the distance between his corps and Moritz's Corps which was coming up that way. Frederick's Corps passed the Iser and encamped at Neu-Lysa where Frederick established his headquarters. He intended to take post there and to do his best in those parts, with Zittau magazines and Lusatia to his rear. That night, Frederick's headquarters were in Lissa or neighbourhood. The headquarters remained at this location until Friday June 24.
    • The I.Leibgarde Bataillon was sent from Nimburg to join Frederick's Corps.
    • The Markgraf Friedrich von Brandenburg Cuirassiers marched to Leitmeritz by Melnik.
  • Austrians
    • Most of the Austrian army had remained under the walls of Prague
    • Loudon's and Inkey de Pallin's forces (hussars, a few grenadier companies and Grenzer light troops) had followed Keith's Corps, advancing along its flank.
    • Loudon managed to isolate a Prussian detachment led by Major von Seelhorst near Zizitz (present-day Žižice) to the south-west of Welwarn and to capture it after a fierce defence. After the combat, Loudon took the direction of Libochowitz (present-day Libochovice).

On Thursday June 22

  • Prussians
  • Austrians
    • Austrian troops to the south of Brandeis remained in their positions.
    • Near Wellemin (present-day Velemín), Loudon advanced from Libochowitz and attacked the escort (100 men of the I./Prinz Friedrich Fusiliers, a former Saxon rgt) of 27 officers who had been wounded at Kolin. The escort opposed only a feeble resistance but Major-General Christof Hermann von Manstein fell while trying to defend the convoy. All Prussian officers were taken prisoners.
    • Daun's main body marched to Schwarz-Kosteletz (present-day Cerny Kostelec).

On June 23

  • Prussians
  • Austrians
    • Daun personally went to Prague to discuss with Charles de Lorraine
    • Daun's main body marched to Skworez (present-day Škvorec) where it encamped along the Elbe.
    • Nádasdy marched on the “Kaiserstrasse” to Böhmisch-Brod (present-day Český Brod) and established outposts between Podiebrad (present-day (present-day Poděbrady) and Brandeis, close to the Prussian forces.
Order of Battle
Order of battle of Bevern's Prussian Corps on June 24

Order of battle of Moritz's Prussian Corps on June 24

On Friday June 24

  • Prussians
    • Prince Moritz personally went from Nimburg area to Frederick's camp at Lissa.
    • In the afternoon, Frederick accompanied by Prince Heinrich marched at the head of 13 bns ( I.Leibgarde Bataillon, Markgraf Carl Infantry, Meyerinck Infantry, Hagen Infantry, Kleist Infantry, Itzenplitz Infantry, Kannacher Infantry) and 3 sqns (Garde du Corps) previously encamped at Neu-Lysa to reinforce Keith's Corps at Budin. That night, Frederick formed his camp upon the heights of Dirnowa (unidentified location).
    • Prince Moritz then assumed command of the corps at Neu-Lysa (that we formerly designated as Frederick's Corps)
    • The Duke von Bevern assumed command of the corps (31 bns reorganised in only 14 bns after Kolin, and 60 sqns) still posted at Nimburg (that we formerly designated as Moritz's Corps).
    • Frederick also informed the Prince of Prussia that he intended to entrust him with the command of the Prussian army stationed on the right bank of the Elbe.
    • Lieutenant-General von Brandes arrived at Liebau (present-day Lubawka) from Landeshut (present-day Kamenia Gora) in Silesia with a large supply convoy of 3,500 wagons destined to the Prussian army in Bohemia. The convoy was escorted by I./Sers Fusiliers, some recruits for the Silesian rgts and 140 hussars. Frederick instructed him to resume his advance to Zittau in Lusatia.
    • I./Darmstadt Infantry marched to Aussig.
  • Austrians
    • The army Charles de Lorraine, reinforced with some units from Daun's Army, came out of Prague and encamped with its left wing at Unter-Poczernitz (present-day Dolní Počernice).

On Saturday June 25

  • Prussians
    • Frederick reached Melnik with his reinforcements. There he learned that the French had passed the Weser. He realised that he would have difficulties to resume the conquest of Bohemia and that he would probably have to return to Saxony and Silesia.
    • Keith's Corps marched from Budin to Leitmeritz where it encamped to south of the town with the Elbe at is back. Keith also sent 7 bns to clear the Paskopole Highway from Austrian light troops to avoid another raid similar to the recent one on Wellemin.
    • Lieutenant-General von Brandes' convoy resumed its march and reached Schmiedeberg (present-day Kowary). In the following days Brandes subdivided his convoy in two divisions and continued his march through Hirschberg (present-day Jelenia Góra), Greiffenberg (present-day Gryfów Śląski), Lauban (present-day Luban) and Radmeritz (present-day Radomierzyce) towards Zittau with the second division following the first at one-day march.
    • Grenadier Battalion Finck returned from Neu-Lysa to Nimburg.

On Sunday June 26

  • Prussians
    • The 35 sqns sent to Keith as reinforcement reached his camp at Leitmeritz.
    • Frederick marched from Melnik to Gastorf (present-day Hoštka) with his own reinforcements.
    • Bevern informed Prinz Moritz that he feared an attack against his corps at Nimburg. Moritz ordered him to destroy the bridge at Nimburg and personally went there to bring back Bevern's Corp to Neu-Lysa where it would join his own corps.
    • Grenadier Battalion Kremzow marched from Melnik to Brandeis while Grenadier Battalion Wedel joined Frederick's Corps.
  • Austrians
    • Daun's Army marched from Skworez to Kolodeg (present-day Koloděje) some 6 km to the east of Prague and Prince Charles de Lorraine united the two armies under his own command, leaving 6 bns in Prague (III./Jung-Wolfenbüttel, III./Pallavicini, III./Mercy-Argenteau, 2 bns of Mainz and 1 bn of Starhemberg).
    • Nádasdy's Corps passed the Elbe, occupied Podiebrad and advanced to Czelakowitz (present-day (present-day Čelákovice) near Brandeis, sending 2,800 Grenzer light troops and 1,200 hussars under FML Morocz opposite Nimburg.

On Sunday June 27

  • Prussians
    • Keith sent Major-General Asseburg forward with 6 bns to secure his line of communication ( Grape Garrison Regiment was already stationed at Pirna):
    • Frederick, at the head of 13 bns and 3 cuirassier sqns, finally reached Leitmeritz. He lodged in the Cathedral Close, in sight of Keith, who was on the opposite side of Elbe. The town had a bridge over the Elbe. Frederick then assumed command of Keith's Corps
    • Prince Moritz marched from Nimburg with Bevern's Corps, joined his own corps at Neu-Lysa and with these combined corps advanced and encamped between Strachnow (present-day Strašnov) and Luschtenitz (present-day Luštěnice).
  • Austrians
    • After the departure of the Prussians from Brandeis, Nádasdy's troops occupied the town.
Reshuffling of Prussian commands
After the reshuffling of command of the Prussian army in Bohemia, we still have to follow two distinct Prussian corps. To make things easier, we will designate these corps as follows
  • Frederick's Corps (formerly Keith's Corps) encamped at Leitmeriz
  • Moritz's Corps (combining the former Frederick's Corps and Moritz's Corps) encamped at Lysa
Order of Battle
Order of battle of Frederick's Prussian Army on June 28

On Tuesday June 28

  • Prussians
    • Frederick made his junction with Keith. The bridge was rightly secured with party of dragoons and foot left on the right bank of the Elbe to occupy a height which covered Leitmeritz.
    • Frederick, worried by Loudon's manoeuvres, sent Frei-Infanterie de Angelelli, Zieten Hussars and Seydlitz Hussars to reinforce Asseburg's detachment on the Paskopole. He also sent Hagen Infantry, Kleist Infantry and Bayreuth Dragoons under Major-General Bülow to occupy Trnowan (present-day Trnovany). Finally, 5 sqns of Szekely Hussars remained on the right bank of the Elbe to secure the flank.
    • Moritz's Corps (now including Bevern's Corps) continued its retreat, marching from Luschtenitz to Jung-Bunzlau across the Iser and encamped between Bokowna (present-day Bukovno) and the river.
  • Austrians
    • 2 bns of Slavonisch-Gradiskaner Grenzer and 500 hussars were sent from Brandeis to harass Moritz's Corps during its march towards Jung-Bunzlau
    • Morocz followed Moritz's Corps corps along the left bank of the Iser.
    • Nádasdy marched to Alt-Benatek (probably Benátky nad Jizerou).
    • Loudon remained on the left bank of the Elbe with 6 Grenzer bns and Hadik Hussars, occupying the Paskopole, ready to harass Frederick's Corps during its retreat.

On Wednesday June 29

The retreat from Prague to Leitmeritz had been a perfectly executed delicate set of operations, thanks to Frederick rapidity and also to Daun cautiousness.

This closed the Prussian campaign in Bohemia. Frederick was now on the defensive waiting to see where the brunt of the Austrian assault would bear: Saxony or Silesia. Finally, the Austrians opted for the invasion of Silesia.

By the end of June, Saxon deserters, who had gradually assembled at the various collecting points established for them, set off from Austria under the command of Major-General Galbert and marched to Hungary where they were initially used as garrisons.

By October, Saxon troops, who had escaped from the Prussian service and marched to Hungary, already counted 7,331 men. However, illness spread due to unhealthy accommodations and their financial situation worsened.

In November, Major-General Galbert was replaced by Major-General Rochow (former commander of the Fortress of Sonnenstein) at the head of the Saxon contingent.

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, pp. 205-216
  • Archenholz, J. W.: The History of the Seven Years War in Germany, translated by F. A. Catty, Francfort, 1843, pp. 32-64, 88-89
  • Carlyle, T., History of Friedrich II of Prussia, vol. 18
  • Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763
    • Vol. 2 Prag, Berlin, 1901, pp. 4-120, App. 3
    • Vol. 3 Kolin, Berlin, 1901, pp. 94-115, Anhang 28, 30, 34
  • Tempelhoff, Fr.: History of the Seven Years' War Vol. I pp. 18-120, 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. 409-426

Other sources:

Pajol, Charles P. V.: Les Guerres sous Louis XV, vol. IV, Paris, 1891, pp. 40-42

Skala, Harald: Rückzug des preussischen Heeres nach der Schlacht bei Kolin 1757, der Fall von Gabel und Zittau

Skala, Harald: Österreichische Militärgeschichte

Acknowledgement

Harald Skala for information on the Saxon Army during this period