1757 - Siege of Memel

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The siege lasted from June 28 to July 5 1757

Description of Events

Prelude to the Siege

In 1757, a large Russian army had proceeded to the invasion of East Prussia.

On June 1, the Russian army reached Pianica (unidentified location).

On June 13, Saltykov's Brigade was in Durbin country (unidentified location).

Saltykov's Brigade was transported by sea from Reval (present-day Tallinn/Estonia) to Libau (present-day Liepāja/Latvia). However, its horses and train had to march to destination.

On June 20, the Russian army was at Oberartou and Ruzau (two unidentified locations).

On June 21, the Russian siege park had reached Grobin (present-day Grobiņa/Latvia) country.

On June 23, the Russian vanguard had Budendingshof (present-day Būtingė/Lithuania).

Map

Map of the siege of Memel in 1757 - Source: unknown
Fortress of Memel in 1740 - Source: Mariusz Wojciechowski

The town of Memel (present-day Klaipeda/Lithuania) was surrounded by a ditch with 5 bastions. Three of these bastions were not completely enclosed. The square shaped citadel was located to the west along the Kurisches Haff (present-day Curonian Lagoon), its four corers were defended by bastions. The curtain walls had a 25 m. wide moat. The fortifications were in very poor conditions. Furthermore, the suburbs consisting of wooden buildings, it was difficult to observe or to fire on the enemy.

The fortress was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Rummel, seconded by Captain von Winterfeldt. He had not enough time to improve the defensive works of the entire fortress but had managed to put the citadel in state of defence. The garrison consisted of 800 men from Land Regiment 2 Polentz commanded by 16 officers of which 3 were more than 90 years old and 4 could not get out of bed. Furthermore, there were 800 peasants who had been driven out of the surrounding country. Since there were only 24 gunners to serve the 80 pieces of the fortress, they had to be assisted by infantrymen.

The Siege

On June 28, a Russian squadron (4 bomb-ketches and 2 gunboats under the command of Captain Valrunt) appeared in front of the Fortress of Memel located at the mouth of the Kurisches Haff.

On June 29, Rummel ordered to remove the buoys and marks but he could not block the entry of the harbour of Memel.

On June 30 at 6:00 a.m., after summoning Memel to surrender, Valrunt's bomb-ketches opened on the Fortress of Memel and a regular siege was undertaken. These were the first shots exchanged between the Russians and Prussians during this war.

The same day (June 30), Fermor's Corps marched by Budendingshof and Polangen (present-day Palanga/Lithuania). The 1st and 2nd brigades crossed the Dange River to the north-east of Memel and established themselves to the south of the river near the Fortress of Memel. The 3rd Brigade (Treyden) remained on the north bank of the Dange to cover the artillery and the park. The 4 rgts of Don Cossacks advanced southwards. Krasnoczekov sent small detachment (500 cossacks and 200 hussars) under Romanius to Polagen across the Niemen, to protect the left flank of the siege corps.

In the night of June 30 to July 1, under the light of the burning suburbs who had been set afire by the Prussians, Fermor sent 1,000 workers, under the protection of grenadier detachments, to establish infantry positions and batteries some 1,300 m. from the “Preussen” Bastion. The Russians planted 3 x 5-pdr mortars and 4 howitzers in the first parallel.

On July 1 at 6:00 a.m., Fermor's howitzers and mortars opened fire. For 24 hours, the Russian batteries maintained a steady bombardment of the Fortress of Memel. By the evening, 136 bombs had already fallen on Memel. Around 8:00 p.m., the 4 Russian bomb-ketches (Jelefant, Dondier, Dziki Byk, Jupiter) opened fire from a distance on the town. Some 144 bombs fell on the town proper and 140 others on the fortress.

On July 2, Fermor threw bridges on the Dange near Memel. He also opened the second parallel. New batteries opened on the fortress. By the end of the day, the Russian land and naval artillery had fired 982 bombs on the fortress.

From July 3 to 4, the 1st Brigade under Saltykov, deployed on the left bank of the Dange River near Remelshof, was reinforced with 2 regiments from the 2nd brigade. The Russian right wing stood opposite to the fortress.

On July 4, the Russian troops made preparations to storm the fortifications of Memel. Rummel asked Fermor for the authorisation to send a courier to Field-Marshall Lehwaldt, the Prussian commander-in-chief in East Prussia. Meanwhile, the Russian artillery intensified the bombardment. By 4:00 p.m., about 2,405 bombs had fallen on Memel since the beginning of the siege.

On July 5 at 2:00 a.m., the Russian artillery intensified the bombardment. At 4:00 a.m., Rummel hoisted the white flag. The burghers and the garrison, even though they had suffered very little losses, could not bear the constant bombardment anymore. After long negotiations, the garrison finally obtained free withdrawal with arms and provisions for five days. The inhabitants had to take an oath of allegiance to Empress Elizabeth. Brigadier Treyden was appointed governor of Memel. He immediately started to repair and improve defensive works. Permskiy Infantry remained in Memel as garrison while Kegsgolmskiy Infantry was charged to assist in landing operations.

Outcome

During the siege, the Russians lost 25 men killed or wounded. Prussian losses are not known.

The Prussian army was not prepared to defend Memel. There was not enough men and supplies to sustain any fight. The Russians concentrated large forces to take this fortress. However, Fermor operated very carefully and progressed slowly.

The capture of Memel solved an important logistical problem for the Russians. They now had a strong fortress which they could transform into a convenient place of arms well supplied by their fleet. They were now able to use the Memel to supply Apraxin's Army. Fermor's Corps could also effect a junction with the main army.

On July 22, Fermor quitted Memel and marched towards Tilsit (present-day Sovetsk in the Kaliningrad Oblast), leaving 3 rgts from Rezanov's brigade at Memel to occupy the town.

On July 29, Fermor arrived at Tilsit.

Order of Battle

Prussian Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Hans Albrecht von Polenz (replaced during the siege by Major Rummel)

Russian Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Count Villim Vilimovich Fermor

Summary: some 16,000 men, excluding marines and artillery troops

N.B.: the 7 regiments of the 1st and 2nd brigades totaled some 8,281 men and 32 officers

all infantry regiments counted only 2 battalions, the third battalion having been disbanded to reinforce the two remaining battalions.

Russian Fleet taking part to the siege under Valrunt

Russian Fleet blockading Memel under Admiral Miszykov

References

Wojciech, Stanisław Mikuła: Rola fortyfikacji Prus Wschodnich w wojnie siedmioletniej [w:] Komunikaty Mazursko-Warmińskie 1997, nr.2

Masslowski, D. F.: Des Siebenjährige Krieges nach Russischer Darstellung, T. 1, trans by A. Drygalski, Berlin 1888.

Gieraths: Die Kampfhandlungen der Brandenburgische-preussischen Armee, Berlin 1964.

Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 4 Groß-Jägersdorf und Breslau, Berlin, 1902, pp. 68-69

Jany, K.: Geschichte der Königlisch Preussischen Armee bis zum Jahre 1807, t. 2, Berlin 1929.

Wrzosek, M.: Kampania 1757 roku w Prusach Wschodnich [w:] Studia i Materiały do Historii Wojskowości, t. V 1960.

Tempelhof, G. F.: Geschichte des siebenjahrige Krieges in Deutschland, Berlin 1783

Geschichte des siebenjahrige Krieges in einer Reihe von Vorlesungen, Preussiche grossen Generlastbs, t. 1, Berlin 1824.

Acknowledgments

Tomasz Karpiński (student at the Institute of History, University of Adam Mickiewicz in Poznań, Poland) for the initial version of this article