1757 - Surrender of Breslau

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The surrender of the city took place on November 25 1757

Description of Events

Retreat of Bevern's army

Just before midnight on November 22 1757, after its defeat in the battle of Breslau (present-day Wrocław) in Silesia, the Prussian army under the Prince of Braunschweig-Bevern retreated. Indeed Bevern was obliged to abandon Breslau to its fate and he retreated under the cover of night, leaving 11 battalions to defend the city. Bevern then went further and encamped near Protsch (present-day Wroclaw-Widawa/PL).

In the morning of November 24 around 3:00 a.m., Bevern reconnoitred the advanced posts of his army accompanied by only one servant. In the foggy morning he stumbled into a party of Grenzer light troops and was captured. A few hours later, Bevern's staff was informed of his capture. It became necessary to choose a new commander for the army. The eldest officers, Lieutenant-General Friedrich Wilhelm von Kyau and Lieutenant-General Johann Georg von Lestwitz assumed command of the army. Meanwhile, the command of Breslau was entrusted to Lieutenant-General Johann Friedrich von Katte.

Later in the morning of November 24, Katte sent Captain von Ahlfeld to Kyau and Lestwitz to receive instructions as to how to react to the repeated summons of the Austrians. Later, Lestwitz dictated to Major-General von der Goltz terms to propose for the capitulation of Breslau. In Lestwitz's opinion, Breslau was not in a position to withstand a siege. One of the articles specified, that the Austrians should allow a period of 10 to 14 days to receive the acceptance of Frederick II. He then handed this proposal to Captain Ahlfeld who brought it to Lieutenant-General Katte.

A few minutes after the departure of Captain Ahlfeld from the camp of Protsch, a courier arrived with a letter from Frederick, dated November 21, instructing Lieutenant-General Lestwitz to take command in Breslau. Lestwitz (at that time, a 70 years old man suffering from fresh wounds received in the Battle of Breslau) went to Breslau and Lieutenant-General Kyau marched with the remains of the army (approx. 18,000 completely frustrated and demotivated men) to Schleditz according to a previous order issued by Bevern before his capture.

Capitulation of Breslau

Lestwitz found Breslau in a total chaos. The mob had plundered the magazines; the citizens, fearing bombardments, asked for immediate surrender. The morale of the garrison, consisting mainly of Silesian and Saxon troops, was very bad. The outposts on the Ohlau and Ziegel gates had already been deserted. Furthermore, there was no suitable artillery unit and improper ammunition for the 98 guns. Only 18 artillerymen were fit for duty.

Lestwitz took the command at 3:00 p.m. on November 24. As early as 4:00 p.m., an Austrian negotiator, Colonel Walther von Waldenau asked to meet Lestwitz.

In the evening, Lestwitz accepted the terms of capitulation offered and surrendered without firing a gun. The garrison (4,000 men) was allowed to freely withdraw with military honour.

In the morning of November 25, the first Austrian troops entered into the city. By 6:00 p.m., the last Prussians troops left. However, this garrison was mostly composed of Silesian recruits who deserted the Prussian cause. Thus from a garrison which originally consisted of 11 battalions (4 regiments, each of 2 battalions, and 3 other battalions) for a total of 132 staff officers, 358 NCOs and 3,629 men; only 20 staff officers, 151 NCOs, 12 drummers and 316 men withdrew from Breslau with poor Lestwitz. A battalion of Jung-Braunschweig-Bevern Fusiliers (a former Saxon regiment) who still counted 21 staff officers, 50 NCOs, 16 drummers and 660 privates massively deserted. Only 9 officers, 1 NCO, 1 drummer and 2 privates remained loyal to Prussia. According to other sources, 2 lieutenants and 1 engineer-lieutenant carried the colours of that battalion because only 1 NCO was still with the battalion. Soldiers of this battalion who had their post on the main market did not wait, abandoned their muskets and fled. The children played with muskets and regimental drums afterwards. The Prussian garrison had abandoned 98 guns and endless magazines and stores of war in Breslau.

The same day, the Austrian Army received a reinforcement of 10,000 men.

Exchange of letters

On November 25 at Naumburg an der Queis, Frederick, who was on the march to come to the relief of Bevern's army, was informed of the defeat of Breslau (but not of the capture of Bevern). He immediately sent two letters to Bevern. Kyau received the first one on November 26 at 7:30 p.m., the second at 10:00 p.m. the same day. In both letters, Frederick stressed the importance of Breslau, forbidding to surrender the city under all circumstances...

For his part, Kyau had already sent a letter to the king on November 24 to inform him of the capture of Bevern and of the march of the army to Schlebitz and further to Glogau (present-day Glogow) due to previous order issued by Bevern before his capture.

On November 27 at 5:00 p.m., Kyau sent another letter to Frederick to inform him of the reason of his march to Glogau, insisting that this was an order given by Bevern. Kyau also stressed the necessity to feed his troops which were starving. Finally, Kyau mentioned that many soldiers were deserting and that his rearguard was constantly skirmishing with FML Beck's troops.

On November 28, upon his arrival at Guhrau (present-day Gora), Kyau received a new message from the king informing him that he and the other generals would be arrested and court-martialed. Lieutenant-General von Zieten replaced Kyau as commander of the army.

Court-martial and sentences

On February 9 1758, Kyau, Lestwitz and Katte were court-martialed. Field Marshal Moritz von Anhalt was appointed president of the court-martial. Among the members of the court were Lieutenant-General Forcade, Prince Ferdinand of Prussia, Prince Eugen of Württemberg, Major-General von Geist. The court sentenced Katte to one year of prison, Lestwitz to two years and Kyau to 6 months. On March 11 1758, Frederick approved the judgement.

Kyau was imprisoned at Schweidnitz. On December 27 1758, he had a stroke. Frederick transmitted his wishes of speedy recovery through the commander of Schweidnitz, Major-General von Zastrow and personally visited Kyau afterwards. Kyau died at Schweidnitz on March 30 1759.

References

Kyaw, Rudolf v.: Chronik des adeligen und freiherrlichen Geschlechtes von Kyaw, Leipzig, 1870 pp. 385-399

Acknowledgments

Harald Skala for the initial version of this article