1758-08-25 - Battle of Zorndorf
The battle was a draw
Prelude to the Battle
The Russian invasion of East Prussia had begun as early as January 1758. By January 22, the Russians occupied Königsberg (present-day Kaliningrad). They then seized Elbing (present-day Elbląg) and Thorn (present-day Toruń). In June they crossed the Vistula and, by the end of the month, Fermor was concentrating his army at Posen (present-day Poznań).
On August 10, Fermor crossed the Warta at Landsberg (present-day Gorzów Wielkopolski) and advanced into Brandenburg. On August 15, a Russian corps laid siege to Cüstrin. A small Prussian army under the command of Dohna closely followed the movements of the various Russian corps.
On Sunday, August 20, Frederick II arrived with 15,000 men to reinforce Dohna and put a stop to the Russian invasion.
On Tuesday, August 22, Frederick made a junction with Dohna’s force at Manschnow. He was now at the head of 37,000 men. Deceiving the Russians as to his intentions by opening a heavy cannonade on one of their redoubts, as if intending to ford the river Oder there, he crossed that evening with the vanguard 19 km downstream at Alt-Gustebiese.
On August 23, the Prussian main army also crossed the Oder.
On August 24, Frederick detected the presence of the Russian Main Army south of the Mietzel River, so he pushed his advance guard over a bridge still intact near the Neudammer Muhle and ordered a few troops to cross and establish a bridgehead. He also had another wooden bridge built to assure communications between the two parts of his army. The Russian commander, General Fermor, sent away his baggage train to a small village called Kleinkammin, and planted himself on a moor, where his front was covered by quagmires and the Zabern stream.
Hearing, late at night on the evening of August 24, that Frederick was likely to be upon them the next morning, the Russian general drew out into the open ground north of Zorndorf (present-day Sarbinowo), which stands on the bare rise of Quartschen (probably present-day Krzesnica) surrounded by woods and quagmires, and formed his army into a great square, 3 km long by one broad, with his cavalry and baggage in the middle. Such a formation had been found excellent by the Russians in their Turkish wars, but was by no means well adapted to meet Frederick's methods of impetuous attack. Being ignorant as to the side upon which Frederick was likely to attack, and having decided to stand on the defensive, Fermor adopted the methods most familiar to him. Only cossacks were left outside the square. Braun, who had made a junction with Fermor's Corps in the afternoon of August 24, had deployed his corps en potence on the flank facing Quartschen. During the reorganization of the Russian positions, he was redeployed at Wilkersdorf.
Description of Events
Frederick had cut all the bridges across the rivers Warta and Oder and believed that he should, after defeating the Russians, drive them into the angle formed by the junction of these two streams, and cause them to surrender at discretion. Unfortunately, he had not heard that the Russian train had been sent to Kleinkammin. Had he done so, he could have seized it, and so have possessed himself of the Russian stores and all their munitions of war, and have forced them to surrender without a blow; for the Cossacks had wasted the country far and wide, and deprived it of all resources. But Frederick and his army were so burning with indignation, and the desire to avenge the Cossack cruelties, that they made no pause, and marched in all haste right round the Russian position, so as to drive them back towards the junction of the two rivers.
Fermor's Cossacks brought him in news of Frederick's movements, which were hidden from him by the forests; and seeing that he was to be attacked on the Zorndorf side, instead of from that on which he had expected it to come, he changed his front, and swung round the line containing his best troops to meet it.
Frederick slept for a while during the night of August 24 in a tiny room of the Neudammer Mill, but at midnight he was already up making preparations for August 25.
Prussians march around the Russian positions
Two local forestry officials who knew all the small lanes of the area arrived at the mill on Frederick's request and they both were asked to act as guides for the five Prussian columns: the advance guard, plus two columns of infantry and two of cavalry, all screened by 15 hussar squadrons that were going to march through the Zicher Woods, all around the Russian position through the villages of Wilkersdorf and Zondorf.
On August 25 at 3:00 a.m., the king mounted his horse and after having received from the scouts reports about the enemy, started off at the head of his advance guard.
At 3:30 a.m., the Prussian Main Army started its march. The infantry crossed the Mietzel on the mill bridge and the cavalry on the bridge of Kersten. Baggage and pack horses were escorted to Neudammer Mühle. After the crossing of the river, the Prussian army resumed its advance in 3 columns: the infantry formed the first and second lines and the cavalry the third. It marched towards Batzlow.
Around 5:00 a.m., the Prussian troops began to emerge from the woods near Batzlow and after a sharp turn on the right began the encircling movement, covered by the Ruesch Hussars and Malachowski Hussars. The king halted them just south of the village of Zondorf and wheeled them into line. The 8 battalions of the vanguard along with Zieten Hussars and Malachowski Hussars then formed a fourth columns to the right of the first one. The march continued on Zorndorf, constantly harassed by the Cossacks who burnt the village of Zorndorf as they retired.
Around 8:00 a.m., on arriving at Zorndorf, Frederick found that the Cossacks had already set the village on fire. This was no disadvantage to him, for the smoke of the burning houses rolled down towards the Russians, and so prevented them from making observation of the Prussian movements. The king rode up to the edge of the Zabern hollow and, finding it too deep and boggy to be crossed, determined to attack the right extremity of the Russian square at the south-west with his left and centre.
Each platoon of the Prussian army then made a quick conversion. The Prussian left wing was behind Zorndorf and the right wing extended up to 800 paces from Wilkersdorf. The gap between the right wing and this village was filled by Normann Dragoons and Ruesch Hussars detached from the second line. The rest of the Prussian cavalry deployed on the left wing with Zieten Hussars and Malachowski Hussars along with the 6 cuirassier regiments in the first line and the dragoon regiments in the second. The 8 bns of the vanguard were posted 250 paces in front of the left wing. The Prussian right wing was thrown back in a typical oblique order arrangement. Frederick also deployed his heavy artillery: in front of each wing there was a battery of 10 x 12-pdrs, while 91 guns and howitzers along with the battalion guns were distributed along the first line.
By 9:00 a.m., the Prussian army had completed its deployment. The batteries were planted on small heights in front of Zorndorf and started a lively cannonade. The twice more numerous Russian artillery soon answered but the Prussian fire proved more efficient, producing a lively agitation among the horses of the light baggage train in the centre of the square. Fermor was forced to retire his baggage from the square and to place them behind it.
Attack of the Prussian left wing
At 11:00 a.m. after two hours of artillery preparation the vanguard under Manteuffel marched forward to the attack by the west end of the flaming village under the cover of the Prussian artillery. The next division led by Kanitz, which should have been its support, marched by the east end of Zorndorf. Its road was a longer one, and there was consequently a wide gap between the two divisions. Heralded by the fire of two strong batteries which swept the south-western corner of the Russian quadrilateral, their crossfire ploughing its ranks with terrible effect, the first division fell upon the enemy. Meanwhile, the Prussian cavalry extended its first line to the left of Zorndorf under the Russian artillery fire, while the Prinz von Preußen Cuirassiers and Markgraf Friedrich Cuirassiers were sent to reinforce the right wing.
The fire of the Prussian batteries had sorely shaken the Russians and, heralding their advance with a tremendous fire of musketry, the Prussian infantry forced its way into the mass.
At 11:25 a.m., the Russian infantry running short of cartridges delivered a bayonet attack on the Prussian line but, suffering heavy casualties, was forced to fall back and at 11:35 the second line regiments of Novgorodskiy, Voronejskiy, Riazanskiy and Sankt-Peterburgskiy were brought forward to re-establish the Russian line. During the fighting, the Prussian vanguard had exposed its left flank.
Had Kanitz division been close at hand, as it should have been, the victory would already have been won; but although also engaged it was not near. So at 11:45 a.m., General Fermor decided to relieve the hard pressed infantry by sending the three heavy cavalry regiments of Gaugreben's Brigade and the regiment of Serbskiy Hussars upon Manteuffel's flank and front. Without support, and surrounded, the Prussians could do nothing, and were swept back and driven back on Zorndorf, losing 24 guns; while the Russians, with shouts of victory, pressed upon them.
Frederick immediately ordered Seydlitz with the left wing cavalry and Bieberstein with the cavalry reserve to counter-attack. Meanwhile, Fermor had ordered his right wing infantry to pursue the retiring Prussians. However, these Russian battalions soon became disordered.
At 11:50 a.m., Moritz of Anhalt Dessau at the head of General Marschall's cavalry with the Schorlemmer, Alt-Platen and Plettenberg dragoons, delivered a deadly counter attack and threw Gaugreben's Brigade back into the ranks of the Russian infantry causing disorder and confusion.
At this critical moment Seydlitz launched his cavalry. He counter-charged and overwhelmed the Russian cavalry at the head of the Zieten Hussars, Malachowski Hussars and Seydlitz Cuirassiers while, the Gens d'Armes and Garde du Corps charged over the Zubern-Grund and into the milling mass of disordered Russian infantry, casting it into irretrievable confusion. After repulsing the Russian cavalry, the Prussian hussars reformed and charged the flank and rear of these same Russian battalions slaughtering them. During this time, Frederick had sent Plettenberg Dragoons and Alt-Platen Dragoons to reinforce the right wing. However, seeing the success of his cavalry on the left wing, he instructed these 2 regiments to turn around and come back to the left wing. Prince Moritz then ordered Alt-Platen Dragoons to charge the Russian infantry while Plettenberg Dragoons supported the attacks of the Prussian cavalry.
In fifteen minutes the whole Russian army was a confused mass. The entire Russian right wing up to the Galgengrund crumbled and was driven back in the marshes near Quartschen. Fermor, with the Russian horse, fled to Kratsdorf and, had not the bridge there been burnt by Frederick, he would have made off, leaving his infantry to their fate. These should now, according to all rules, have surrendered; but they proved unconquerable save by death. Seydlitz's cavalry sabred them until fatigued by slaughter.
Taking advantage of Seydlitz's charge, the Prussian infantry had rallied, Frederick personally leading the Bülow Fusiliers, and pressed forward again. The Prussian infantry poured their volleys into the Russian mass but they stood immovable and passive, dying where they stood.
Attack of the Prussian right wing
At 1:00 p.m., the battle ceased for a moment. The Prussians had marched at 3:00 a.m. and, seeing that although half the Russian army had been destroyed, the other half had gradually arranged itself into a fresh front of battle, Frederick formed his forces again.
The Prussian cavalry rallied and reformed near Zorndorf and Frederick launched an attack on the side of the Russian quadrilateral which still stood (Russian left wing) with his still uncommited right wing.
At this point Frederick pushed forward the large battery in front of its extreme right wing supported by II./Alt-Kreytzen Fusilier Regiment, it started firing immediately and caused great casualties amongst the Russian infantry. The Prussian right wing infantry then slowly advanced. Meanwhile, the Prussian infantry of the left wing had reformed and it started its advance anew. Thus, all the Prussian infantry was advancing towards the Russian position under the cover of the Prussian artillery.
At 3:00 p.m., the Russian Observation Corps under General Browne and General Demiku light cavalry advanced to deal with the Prussian isolated battery. The Horvath Hussars attacked the battery and the II./Alt-Kreytzen Fusilier Regiment. They surrounded and captured the battery. Continuing its advance, the Russian cavalry charged the I./Prinz von Preußen in front and flank. The Prussian battalion placed one of its platoon en potence to protect its exposed left flank and fired a deadly volley into the charging cavalry, breaking its charge and driving it back.
At 3:10 p.m., Schorlemmer's Prussian right wing cavalry (Normann Dragoons, Czettritz Dragoons, Leib-Carabiniers and Ruesch Hussars) counter-charged. They drove the Russian cavalry back into the marshes. Some cossacks then set fire to Zicher but could not escape the village which had already been surrounded by the Prussian cavalry.
At 3:15 p.m., the two Prussian dragoon regiments veered north and drove off the Horvath Hussars from around the endangered battery, freeing the II./Alt-Kreytzen Fusilier Regiment. Meanwhile, towards the centre of the battlefield, the Russian brigadier Manteuffel advanced with his two regiments: Nevskiy and 2nd Grenadier, in support of Browne's Observation Corps as they resumed their advance towards Dohna’s troops.
During this cavalry engagement, the Prussian right wing infantry had continued its steady advance towards the Russian lines. The situation was quite different on the Prussian left wing where the Alt-Platen Dragoons and Plettenberg Dragoons moving to support Schorlemmer, rode past Manteuffel and Kanitz troops. Thinking they were under attack from Russian cavalry, Manteuffel's and Kanitz's men retreated in great haste towards Wilkersdorf, leaving Dohna's division to face the Russian line. Seydlitz saved the day once more. His cavalry soon filled the gap left by the routed infantry left wing, charged the Russian cavalry and pushed it back into the marshes of Quartschen.
The regiments of Dohna, perfectly clean and well accoutred but less accustomed to war than Frederick's veterans, gave way at once before the Russian onslaught and, in spite of Frederick's efforts to prevent them, fled from the field and could not be rallied until 2 km distant from it.
The veterans stood firm, however; until Seydlitz, returning from pursuit, again hurled his horsemen upon the Russian masses, broke them up, and drove their cavalry in headlong flight before him, the Russian infantry being involved in the turmoil and confusion caused by the charge of Seydlitz, and the defeat of their cavalry.
During the ensuing pursuit, Forcade Infantry and Prinz von Preußen Infantry regiments seized most of the army-chest, baggage and artillery. Meanwhile, the Prussian right wing infantry had deployed to face Quartschen to its left and the Prussian cavalry had taken position near Zorndorf to cover the battlefield against any attempt by the cossacks.
At 4:30 p.m., Lieutenant-general Dohna launched his second and final attack on the Russian Observation Corps, his troops advanced with the support of the left wing artillery but the Russian Observation Corps nevertheless fought with great determination keeping their ranks, filling up the gaps as they were formed, and returning as best they could the fire of the Prussians, held together with sullen obstinacy. By this time the ammunition on both sides was exhausted, and now the struggle became hand to hand, bayonet against bayonet, butt end of musket to butt end.
Seldom had so terrible a struggle ever been witnessed. Nightfall was approaching. Foot by foot the inert Russian mass was pushed backwards. Their right was thrown back onto Darmietzel and their left onto Quartschen and Zorndorf. All tried to gain the bridges over the Mietzel which had been cut. With no retreat possible, the Russian generals managed to reform some units. Indeed, one of their generals, Demiku, collected some 2,000 foot and 1,000 horse behind the Galgengrund while another corps rallied on the height behind the Hofbruch, between Darmietzel and Quartschen.
When Frederick saw that the Russian army was gradually rallying, he gave order to disperse them again. Forcade was ordered to attack them with two battalions, and General Rutter to bring up the Dohna's men again and take them in flank; but the latter had not recovered from their state of demoralization, and at the first cannon shot turned and ran, continuing their flight even further than before, and taking refuge in the woods. Frederick instantly dismissed Rutter from the service.
With night rapidly approaching, Frederick put an end to the attack and redeployed his army with its right wing covered by ponds and its left wing near Zorndorf. He then transferred all his grenadier battalions to his right under the command of Dohna. Meanwhile, the Russians encamped behind the small valley of Quartschen. The cossacks burnt the villages of Darmutzel, Quartschen and Wilkersdorf.
Frederick sent for his tents, and the army pitched its camp, facing the Russians; but during the night the latter, having got into a sort of order, moved away to the westward and bivouacked on Drewitz Heath, facing the battle ground.
Fermor had some 28,000 men still with him, while Frederick had 18,000. The former's loss had been 21,529 killed, wounded, or missing; of whom 8,000 were killed and 2,800 taken prisoners. That of the Prussians was 11,390, of whom 3,680 were killed and 1,500 made prisoners. Thus each side lost a third of its number in this terrible struggle. The Prussians also captured 103 guns and howitzers, 27 colours, kettle-drums, the army-chest and innumerable baggage. The Russians captured 8 infantry colours, 2 standards, 7 kettle-drums, 15 x 12-pdrs, 7 x 3-pdrs, 4 howitzers, and some ammunition wagons. They also took prisoners 1 adjutant, 6 officers, 3 NCO, 1 doctor and 174 privates. Furthermore, a certain number of Prussians deserted and presented themselves to the Russian army: 1 officer, 13 NCO, 2 corporal, 723 privates and 27 hussars.
The detailed losses of the Russian army were as follows:
|Unit||Killed or missing||Heavily wounded||Lightly wounded||Fit for service|
|Prince Fedorovitch Cuirassiers||80||97||45||389|
|Kargopolskiy Horse Grenadiers||18||16||19||319|
|1st Novoserbskiy Hussars||176||6||0||705|
|Observation Corps Grenadiers||879||632||93||1,940|
|Observation Corps 1st Musketeer||748||535||192||1,401|
|Observation Corps 3rd Musketeer||693||652||102||1,270|
|Observation Corps 4th Musketeer||1,103||639||295||740|
|Observation Corps 5th Musketeer||1,575||575||11||1,189|
|Observation Corps Field Artillery||154||115||0||207|
On August 26 at daybreak, the Russians reorganised their lines with their right towards Zorndorf and their left behind the small valley of Quartschen. Frederick then advanced his right wing towards this small valley and extended his left up to Wilkersdorf. A cannonade was for some time kept up on both sides, but the armies were beyond range of artillery. Everything then came to a standstill until 11:00 a.m.. The Russians then retired closer to the woods. After receiving its baggage, the Prussian army encamped on the battlefield. It lacked ammunition and the cavalry was too exhausted to launch another attack.
Neither party had any real thoughts of fighting. Fermor, beaten on his own ground the day before, could not dream of attacking the Prussians. The latter were worn out by the fatigues of the previous day. Moreover, on each side the musketry ammunition was used up. The hussars, pursuing the Cossacks, had in the night come upon the Russian wagon train at Kleinkammin, and carried off a good deal of portable plunder.
During the night of August 26 to 27, under cover of fog, the Russians marched towards the wagenburg previously established at Kleinkammin. At 2:00 a.m., cossacks attacked the Prussian advanced posts to screen the movement of the Russian Main Army. When Frederick realised that the Russians had left their position, he ordered his cavalry to pursue them and the rest of his army to march and to support the cavalry. The Russians planted a battery on the heights near Wildersdorf and cannonaded the Prussian cavalry. The Russians then resumed their retreat to Kleinkammin unmolested.
Order of Battle
Prussian Order of Battle
Summary: 36,000 men in 38 bns and 88 sqns, and 117 field pieces and 76 battalion guns.
|Vanguard||First Line||Second Line|
|Right Wing Cavalry under von Schorlemmer|
|Right Wing Infantry|
|Right Division under Count zu Dohna|
|Left Wing Infantry|
|Avant-garde under Lieutenant-general von Manteuffel
||Left Division under von Kanitz||Second line under Forcade de Biaix|
|Left Wing Cavalry under Seydlitz|
Reserve under Markgraf von Bieberstein
- Marschall Brigade
Russian Order of Battle
Commander-in-chief: General Villim Vilimovich Fermor assisted by Major-general Rothelier
Summary: 39,000 men in 56 bns, 50 sqns (about 4970 men including 2103 hussars), 7 Cossack regiments (about 3,200 men), a field artillery of 60 pieces and 146 regimental pieces.
N.B.: the Grosser GeneralStab works mention 84 field pieces. Some authors place the 6 converged grenadier battalions which were guarding the Wagenburg at Kleinkammin in an intermediate line between the first and second lines.
N.B.: the number preceding the name of each unit indicates its position on this map
|First Line||Intermediate Line||Second Line|
|Right Wing Cavalry|
|Saltykov Division under Lieutenant-general Piotr Semionovitch Saltykov
||Count Galytsin Division
|Observation Corps under Major-general T. Browne|
|Left Wing Cavalry under Major-general Demiku|
Detached at Kleinkammin to guard the Wagenburg
- All grenadiers of the line musketeer regiments (4,000 men):
- 1st Converged Grenadier Battalion (1 bn)
- 2nd Converged Grenadier Battalion (1 bn)
- 3rd Converged Grenadier Battalion (1 bn)
- 4th Converged Grenadier Battalion (1 bn)
- 5th Converged Grenadier Battalion (1 bn)
- 6th Converged Grenadier Battalion (1 bn)
- 1st Novoserbskiy Hussars (100 men) also known as Horvat
- Cossacks (200 men from an unidentified unit)
- Artillery (6 guns, including 2 Shuvalov secret howitzers)
Detached at Schwedt under command of Stoffeln
- Grenadiers from unidentified unit (1 bn and 1 coy for a total of 500 men)
- Sankt-Peterburgskiy Horse Grenadiers (300 men)
- Slavianoserbian Hussars (1 sqn for a total of 100 men)
- Chuguevski Cossacks (500 men)
Detached on the Oder under Chomutov
- Cossacks (500 men from an unidentified unit)
This article incorporates texts or excerpts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Jomini, Henri, Traité des grandes opérations militaires, 2ème édition, 2ème partie, Magimel, Paris: 1811, pp. 148-165
- Carlyle, T., History of Friedrich II of Prussia, Chapter XIII
Dorn, Joachim, Günter Dorn, Die Schlachten Friedrich des Großen, Nebel Verlag: 2001
Duffy, Christopher, Frederick the Great: A Military Life, Routledge, London: 1985
Großer Generalstab, Die Kriege Friedrichs des Großen, Dritter Teil: Der Siebenjährige Krieg 1756–1763. Vol. 3, Berlin 1901
Korbkov N. M.: Semiletnjaja vojna, Moscow, 1948
Millar, Simon, Zorndorf 1758: Frederick faces Holy Mother Russia, Osprey Campaign, Oxford , UK: 2003
Wisnicki, Boris and Sébastien Coels, Le projet Zorndorf, Par Toutatis: 2000
Alessandro Colaiacomo for the entire initial version of this article; and Tomasz Karpiński from Gniezno/Poznań and Jakub Wrzosekfrom from Warsaw for precisions on the Russian order of battle and sketches of the various phases of the battle