1757 - Russian campaign in East Prussia

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The campaign lasted from August to September 1757

Description

When King Frederick II of Prussia heard of the accession of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna to the Treaty of Versailles, he ordered General Lehwaldt, with about 30,000 men, to march to the frontiers of Prussia and to oppose the march of the Russian army. Indeed, early in 1757, a Russian army of 60,000 men under Field-Marshal Apraxin had assembled on the border while a strong Russian fleet was being equipped in the Baltic to cooperate with the army.

Frederick vainly requested the Republic of Poland to supply 4,000 men guaranteed by the Treaty of Wehlau for the protection of Brandenburg and not to allow Russian troops to march through Poland.

Prussia and Russia prepare for the Onslaught

Field Marshal Apraxin hesitated to execute the order given to him by Empress Elizabeth to invade East Prussia. An Austrian envoy, FML von St. André, joined Apraxin at his headquarters in Riga while another Austrian representative, FML Baron von Buccow, was sent to St. Petersburg to try to induce the Russians to act. The fluctuating health of Empress Elizabeth combined with the known Prussian sympathy of her potential successor paralysed Apraxin. He argued that his army was not yet ready to undertake an expedition so far from its bases.

Learning that the Russian army had brought no forage and intended to resupply in their march through Poland, Frederick bought up all corn and forage in the regions through which the Russians would march.

In May, the Russian army broke up and advanced in four columns through Lithuania and Poland, heading for East-Prussia. This army consisted of 31 infantry rgts, 14 cavalry rgts, 5 hussar rgts and about 16,000 Tatars, Kalmuks and Cossacks. It amounted in the whole to 62,000 foot, 19,000 horse and 16,000 light cavalrymen. The fact that most forage along the way had already been bought by the Prussians considerably hindered and delayed the advance of the Russian army.

Accordingly, Lehwaldt assembled his army in June and advanced to Insterburg (present-day Tschernjachowsk in Russia), with a corps farther on towards Memel (present-day Klaipeda in Lithuania) to observe the movements of the Russian army.

Russian Army enters East Prussia

Three of the Russian column advanced through Poland while the fourth column passed through Samogitia, a province of Lithuania, heading for Memel. The latter column was commanded by General Fermor who intended to besiege Memel.

To facilitate the siege of Memel, a considerable Russian fleet sailed to Reval (present-day Tallin in Estonia) under the command of Admiral Lewes, an Englishman in the Russian service. This fleet transported about 9,000 men who would land and attack Memel on the sea side while Fermor would do the same on the land side.

By June 6, the fourth column of the Russian army was at Wilna (present-day Vilnius in Lithuania), on its way to Kovno (present-day Kaunas in Lithuania) the general rendezvous. Meanwhile, Russian warships were blockading the ports of Königsberg (present-day Kaliningrad in Russia) and Memel.

By mid June the columns of Apraxin and Rumyantsev formed a junction on the right bank of the Viliya River opposite Kovno. These columns were gradually ferried to Kovno by two boats. Lieven's column finally joined Apraxin at Kovno.

At the end of June, the Russian naval and land forces arrived before Memel which was defended by only 700 men. The Siege of Memel lasted from June 28 to July 5.

On July 5, Memel capitulated. The capture of this town allowed the Russians to transform it into a convenient place of arms well supplied by their fleet.

On July 14, Lehwaldt quit his camp at Insterburg and encamped in the neighbourhood of Wehlau (present-day Znamensk in Russia) to cover Königsberg. Meanwhile, several Russian detachments were sent out to scour the neighbouring country.

On August 1, the Russian army finally crossed the border of East Prussia. Many inhabitants sought refuge in Danzig (present-day Gdańsk). During the month, the whole army united on the Russ River under the command of Apraxin. From the Russ River, the Russian army advanced towards the Pregel River (present-day Pregolya in Russia).

From August 25 to 27, Apraxin crossed the Pregel, this movement forced Lehwaldt to quit his camp at Insterburg, to cross the Pregel in his turn and to retire towards Wehlau where he remained until August 29, screening the town of Königsberg.

Battle of Gross-Jägersdorf

Map of the positions and outposts of both army on the eve of the battle of Gross-Jägersdorf.
 
Source: Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, volume III by the German Grosser Generalstab, Courtesy of Tony Flores

On August 29, Lehwaldt left his camp at Wehlau with about 25,000 men and advanced to attack the Russian army (about 80,000 men). He encamped at Gross-Jägesdorf not far from the Russian camp. Lehwaldt tried to reconnoitre the Russian positions but obtained flawed intelligence which led him to attack the Russian centre when he thought that he was advancing against their left wing.

On August 30, Lehwaldt boldly attacked the Russians in the Battle of Gross-Jägersdorf but was defeated and forced to retreat to his camp at Wehlau. A few days later, Lehwaldt lifted camp and moved to Paterswalde (present-day Bolshaya Polyana in Russia).

Apraxin Retreats

Map of the manoeuvres during the month of September as Apraxin retreated towards Lithuania.
 
Source: Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, volume III by the German Grosser Generalstab, Courtesy of Tony Flores

After his victory at Gross-Jägersdorf, Apraxin advanced to Allenburg (present-day Druzhba in Russia). East Prussia now lay wide open to a Russian invasion. Inexplicably, Apraxin did not take advantage of this opportunity and did not advance on Königsberg. (Archenholz pretends that Apraxin had been ordered to fall back by Chancellor Bestuzhev-Ryumin who had been bought by British gold)

On September 13, the Russians, who had remained idle for a while, began their retreat from East Prussia heading for Russia through Lithuania. However, a garrison of 10,000 Russian troops was left to occupy Memel. The small Prussian army under Lehwaldt prudently followed the retreating Russians from a distance until they returned to Poland. During their withdrawal, the Russians left 15,000 wounded and sick and 80 guns behind. The Russian army marched in 2 columns and burned the villages through which they passed. Apraxin's retreat allowed Lehwaldt to turn his attention to the Pomeranian theatre of operation where the Swedes were making steady progress.

Indeed, on October 6, Lehwaldt was ordered by Frederick II to redirect his efforts against the Swedes in Pomerania.

On October 28, Apraxin was removed from command. He died shortly afterwards during his trial in front of a military tribunal.

The Russian army took its winter-quarters in Courland and Samogitia.

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. 206, 221, 224
  • Archenholz, J. W.: The History of the Seven Years War in Germany, translated by F. A. Catty, Francfort, 1843, pp. 42, 91-95
  • 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. 18-19
  • Tempelhoff, Fr.: History of the Seven Years' War Vol. I pp. 206-214, as translated by Colin Lindsay, Cadell, London, 1793

Other sources:

Dorn and Engelmann: Die Schlacten Friedrichs des Grossen, Podzun Pallas, Hanau, 1986

Duffy, Christopher: Introduction to Battle of Gross Jagersdorf - August 30, 1757, Seven Years War Association Journal,Vol. X No. 2

Konstam A. & B. Younghusband: Russian Army of the Seven Years War, Osprey, London, 1996

Meuser, Denise: Battle of Gross Jagersdorf - Battle Description - August 30, 1757, Seven Years War Association Journal,Vol. X No. 2