1758 - Siege of Cüstrin
The siege lasted from August 15 to 25, 1758
Description of Events
Prelude to the Siege
By mid July 1758, General Fermor had begun the invasion of Brandenburg at the head of a large Russian army. He slowly advanced towards the Prussian Fortress of Cüstrin (present-day Kostrzyn nad Odrą).
On August 14, Lieutenant-General Dohna, who commanded the Prussian army defending Brandenburg, was informed that advanced parties of the Russian army had been seen in front of Cüstrin. In the afternoon, Dohna sent Lieutenant-General von Schorlemmer with 4 bns (Grenadier Battalion Burgsdorff, Grenadier Battalion Petersdorff and Kurssell Fusiliers), 10 sqns (5 sqns of Alt-Platen Dragoons and 5 sqns of Schorlemmer Dragoons) and 130 hussars to Cüstrin. Schorlemmer reached the place in the evening. He had been instructed to take position between the Fortress and the “Kurzen Vorstadt” and to fortify the Weinberg (present-day Winna Góra). However, for the night, his dragoons encamped west of the “Langen Vorstadt”. Meanwhile, his infantry and hussars took post in the low grounds on the eastern side of the fortress.
I - "King" bastion
II - "Queen" bastion
III - "Prince" bastion
IV - "Princess" bastion
V - "Philip" bastion
VI - "Brandenburg" bastion
BM - Oder Gate
BG - Gorzyn Gate
BM1 - Bridge Gate
BS - Zorndorf Gate
DR - Gorzyn Hornwork
FC - Chyzan Gate
FM - Mill Gate
LL - Left lunette
LP - Right lunette
LO - Oder lunette
M2 - Bridgehead
R1 - "Albrecht" ravelin
R2 - "August Wilhelm" ravelin
R3 - "Christian Ludwig" ravelin
R4 - Gorzin ravelin
N.B.: some of these fortification works were built after the siege
|The Digitales Archiv Marburg (DIGAM) proposes a few additional maps of Cüstrin:|
The Fortress of Cüstrin was located on an island at the confluence of the Oder and the Warthe (present-day Warta). Its defensive works were built “à l’italienne”. The ditch walls were made of strong brickwork. Several casemates reinforced the ramparts. A boat bridge (between 200 and 300 m. long) linked the fortress with a bridgehead on the left bank of the Oder where the “Lange Vorstadt” (long suburb) was located between the Oder and a canal. Access to this suburb was possible only on a long dam.
To the east of the fortress, the Warthe flowed for several hundreds meters through marshy low grounds. Several streams flowed into the Warthe in this area; however, during the warm season, they were often dry. The bridge leading from the fortress across the Warthe arm was continued by a long causeway interrupted by wooden bridges, linking Cüstrin to the “Kurzen Vorstadt” (short suburb). Near this suburb, the dense forest of the Drewitzer Heath extended between Alt-Drewitz (present-day Drzewice) and Warnick (present-day Warniki), some 2 km from the defensive works of the fortress. On the other side of the suburb, the terrain rose gently towards this heath, but between Warnick and the Weinberg at the southern end of the suburb, it dropped steeply towards the Warthe. From the very high eastern walls of the fortress, sight extended up to the Drewitzer Heath.
The strength of the fortress resided in its inaccessibility. Accordingly, only a small garrison (VI./Garrison Regiment VII Lange, Landbataillon III Arnim, Landbataillon II de Rège and 1 sqn of Land Hussars) ensured its defence. However, a conflagration in the cramped inner town could be fatal.
The fortress had enough guns (75 fortress guns, 36 of them being located in the 4 northern bastions named: Prince, Princess, Queen and Gorzyn) but some of their tubes were not placed on carriages until mid-August, and these were so rotten that they would soon become unusable. Furthermore, these carriages did not allow to give enough elevation to the guns to effectively cover the terrain in front of the fortress. Above all, artillerymen were so cruelly lacking that Dohna had to send a capable NCO and 6 gunners from his army to Cüstrin.
The place was initially under the command of the old Lieutenant-Colonel von Seyger who was replaced, on August 14, by Colonel Schack von Wittenau according to Dohna’s order.
On August 15 at 2:00 a.m., General-Quartermaster von Stoffeln set off from the Russian camp at Gross-Cammin (present-day Kamień Wielki), according to Fermor's orders, and marched against Cüstrin with:
- Grenadiers (20 grenadier coys for a total of approx. 4,000 men) under Brigadier Uvarov
- Chuguev Cossacks (500 men)
- Don Cossacks (10 sotnias for a total of approx. 1,000 men)
- 4 unicorns
- 2 Shuvalov “secret” howitzers
- 10 field guns.
At 4:00 a.m., the rest of the Russian army (40 bns, 25 heavy cavalry sqns, several hussar rgts and a great number of Cossacks) set off from Gross-Cammin in two columns and marched by Wilkersdorf (present-day Krześniczka), Tamsel (present-day Dąbroszyn) and Warnick.
Early the same day, Schorlemmer undertook a reconnaissance. He let Grenadier Battalion Petersdorff in the “Kurzen Vorstadt” to occupy the church and advanced with his hussars, 200 dragoons and Grenadier Battalion Burgsdorff towards the forest.
Around 5:30 a.m., Schorlemmer drove back some Cossack detachments belonging to Stoffeln’s column and occupied the Weinberg. However, Schorlemmer did not get enough time to entrench on the Weinberg. Indeed, he could see Stoffeln’s column marching from Tamsel towards Warnick.
Upon arriving near Cüstrin, a Russian trumpeter was sent forward with a summon from Fermor but he was fired upon.
Stoffeln deployed his field pieces along the western outskirt of the forest, to the south-west of Warnick, and opened against the Prussians occupying the Weinberg. Meanwhile, Stoffeln’s infantry advanced along the Warthe against the Weinberg; and Fermor rejoined Stoffeln’s Corps with his hussars and his regular cavalry. Fermor sent some light troops against the Prussian hussars deployed on the left of the suburb while the rest of them joined Stoffeln's grenadiers in the woods.
Lieutenant General von Schorlemmer had underestimated the strength of Stoffeln’s Corps, believing that it consisted exclusively of light troops. For this reason, he had not sent Kurssell Fusiliers and his dragoons forward. He was surprised when he was informed of the size of this corps.
The Russian hussars and Cossacks rallied while the Russian grenadiers came out of the wood and the artillery unlimbered its pieces. A bloody engagement took place on the Weinberg and in the cement factory. The Prussian troops then hastily evacuated the Weinberg and Grenadier Battalion Burgsdorff and the dragoons retired to the suburbs. Russian light troops occupied the northern suburb.
The Russians immediately erected redoubts and redeployed their unicorns some 700 m. from the suburbs and soon set a house afire. Initially, the Prussians answered to this cannonade but they soon withdrew from the suburbs in front of the numerous artillery and the far superior Russian infantry.
The Russian grenadiers then occupied the western outskirt of the suburbs and opened fire with their artillery on the Prussian troops who had retired behind the glacis of the Fortress of Cüstrin.
During their retreat, the Prussians managed to cut the bridge over the Warthe arm.
Stoffeln’s unicorns were rapidly moved from the Weinberg and established in the suburbs.
Between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m., bombs started to fall on Cüstrin. The third bomb set a house afire.
Fermor sent additional heavy pieces to Stoffeln and the bombardment of Cüstrin continued. Fire spread quickly into the narrow streets of the place.
The artillery of the fortress had opened against the Russians as soon as they had occupied the suburbs but without much success.
Around 6:00 p.m., the Prussian artillerymen on the ramparts could not withstand the heat caused by the conflagration anymore.
By evening, the whole town was a pile of smoking debris. The church, schoolhouse and the main guard-house were still standing albeit in a charred skeleton condition. The belongings of the inhabitants and of the refugees from the Neumark were buried under the ruins. A large number of state documents which had been transferred from Berlin to Cüstrin were also burned and all magazines destroyed. The garrison and the inhabitants were left without provisions. However, the garrison stood unharmed; and the powder magazine, the fortifications and, most importantly, the bridge over the Oder remained undamaged.
In the evening, Fermor sent engineers to reconnoitre the accesses to the fortress and established two additional batteries in the “Kurzen Vorstadt”. The Russian grenadiers entrenched themselves along the western outskirt of the suburbs up to the Weinberg.
As darkness fell, the bombardment of the fortress ceased. During this first confrontation, the Russians lost 8 killed and 36 wounded.
Meanwhile, the main body of Fermor’s Army had encamped between Alt-Drewitz and Warnick, across the Drewitz Heath. The Swedish Major von Armfelt proposed to seize the glacis in a night attack as the garrison was still under the shock of the sudden bombardment and of the conflagration. However, Fermor did not agree.
The same day, Dohna had marched from Frankfurt an der Oder towards Cüstrin while Manteuffel was retiring upon Frankfurt according to the orders that he had previously received. Dohna instructed Schorlemmer to share the bread he had brought with him with the garrison of Cüstrin, and he took measures to send additional supplies to the fortress. Meanwhile, Frederick's Corps, which was marching from Silesia to reinforce Dohna and check the Russian advance, arrived at Dalke (unidentified location).
On the night of August 15 to 16, the garrison of Cüstrin had worked diligently to complete and improve the gun positions on the walls.
On August 16 in the morning, Dohna encamped at Reitwein where he was joined by Manteuffel's detachment.
In the morning, Colonel Schack von Wittenau, commander at Cüstrin, ordered the mortars and guns on the walls to open a lively fire on the Russian positions from the bastions. The Russian artillery initially replied vigorously but soon its fire declined. Meanwhile, both sides continued to work. The artillery duel continued but the Prussians had too few guns to cause much damage despite the inadequate protection of the Russian pieces, and the Russian artillery could not harm the defenders protected by the ramparts.
Dohna’s Army was still west of the Oder, advancing against the Russians. Fermor intended to lure Dohna to cross the Oder at Cüstrin or below so that he could attack and defeat him. Fermor wanted to defend the Oder and he did not even consider attacking the left bank with his whole army.
A few days before, Dohna had instructed the administrators in Cüstrin to prepare a bridge of rafts in case he had to cross the Oder downstream at Alt-Drewitz. However, the bombardment delayed the preparation of this bridge. Therefore, Dohna asked the commander of Berlin, Lieutenant-General von Rochow, to send the pontoons which had been kept ready for his army as quickly as possible. Dohna personally reconnoitred the banks of the Oder downstream from Cüstrin and discovered that the Russians had already entrenched at Alt-Schaumburg (present-day Szumiłowo). He immediately sent 4 bns to defend the dam opposite this village and reinforced them with heavy guns to prevent the passage of the Oder by the Russians.
Meanwhile, the Russians resumed the construction of siege works. A first battery of 8 guns and one unicorn was planted on Wilczy Zakątek (Wolf Nook) and a second of 8 guns and 2 unicorns in the northern part of the cement factory. Finally, a third battery of 22 guns, unicorns and secret Shuvalov howitzer was planted on the Weinberg. The Russian artillery was under the command of General Holmer. Fermor intended to throw a bridge over the Oder near Alt-Schaumburg, about 3 km below the fortress to encircle the place and starve its garrison.
In the evening, Fermor sent all pontoons to Alt-Schaumburg. He also made himself master of an island to the north of the village and he established a battery protected by a wall and a ditch. He also wanted to send larger detachments towards Berlin or to other parts of Mark Brandenburg in order to induce the Prussians to divide their forces.
In the evening, Manteuffel’s vanguard, arriving from Reppen (present-day Rzepin) and effected a junction with Dohna’s main body at Reitwein.
During the night, the Russians opened the trenches in front of Cüstrin, they now had five batteries planted in front of the fortress. By the end of the day, the Russian artillery had fired 517 shots on Cüstrin while the Prussian artillery retaliated with 85 shots.
The same day, Frederick's Corps marched from Dalke to Deutsch-Wartenberg (present-day Otyń).
In the morning of August 17, Fermor sent a trumpeter to summon the commandant of Cüstrin to surrender, specifying that, as soon as the Russian army would have crossed the Oder, he would no longer engage in further negotiations. However, Colonel Schack von Wittenau answered that the defensive works of the fortress were in good condition and that the garrison would defend it to the last man.
Dohna took position between Manschnow and Gorgast with his army. From there, he sent 3 bns to reinforce the garrison of Cüstrin. These bns were daily relieved by fresh ones.
During the artillery duel, the Prussian defenders kept a lively fire while the Russians feebly replied with only sporadic burst of intensive bombardment, targeting mainly the defensive works of the Brücken Gate on the east side of the fortress, where there was a powder magazine, which proved to be bombproof.
The Russians sent a strong cavalry detachment to reconnoitre the Oder downstream. The battery to the north of Alt-Schaumburg was completed and pieces were placed inside. The battery was covered by 100 grenadiers. Work began on the bridge of boats but progress was slow.
Around midnight, Dohna was informed that the Russians were building a bridge of boats near Alt-Schaumburg, even though he thought that this was just a diversion, Dohna reinforced the garrison defending the nearby dam to 7 bns under Lieutenant-General von Manteuffel. He also kept the rest of his army in readiness to support Manteuffel.
The same day, Frederick's corps marched from Wartenberg to Plothe (present-day Płoty).
By the morning of August 18, the Russians had completed siege works extending from the Weinberg along the western outskirt of the suburb up to their northernmost battery. However, the swampy terrain and the watercourses made any further approach impossible.
On that day, artillery on both sides was almost silent. For the two last days, the Russian artillery had fired some 139 shots while the Prussian artillery responded with 268 shots. One double unicorn (96-pdr) and 4 single unicorns (48-pdr) arrived from Landsberg (present-day Gorzów Wielkopolski) to reinforce the Russian artillery. A sixth redoubts was completed.
Fermor could not raise the blockade of Cüstrin because, if he marched away from the fortress, he would give Count Dohna the opportunity to pass the Oder and follow him. Therefore, he resolved to resume the blockade but to look for a suitable battlefield in the neighbourhood and to begin to fortify positions there.
The same day, Frederick's Corps marched from Plothe to Crossen (present-day Krosno Odrzańskie).
By August 19, the Russians had established a new battery near the road leading from the suburb to the Fortress of Cüstrin. They had planted heavy unicorns belonging to the Observation Corps in this new battery. Their target was the part of the town which had not yet been burned down.
In the evening, the Prussian artillery kept up a very heavy fire (600 shots during the entire day) and unsuccessfully tried to burn the “Kurzen Vorstadt” suburb, hoping to interrupt the construction of siege works.
The Russians concluded that a Prussian attempt to cross the Oder at Alt-Schaumburg or Alt-Drewitz was imminent. Therefore, special security measures were taken and Fermor tried to deceive the Prussians by establishing a camp near the pontoon bridge with commandeered troops of all regiments, in order to create the appearance of an intended crossing.
The same day, Frederick's Corps marched from Crossen to Ziebingen (present-day Cybinka) where the whole corps encamped except Asseburg Infantry which remained in the village to protect the headquarters.
On Sunday August 20, Colonel Schack von Wittenau, after a renewed attempt, finally managed to set the “Kurzen Vorstadt” afire (his artillery fired 753 shots that day) because it protected the siege works of the Russians. By the evening, the suburbs had been reduced to ashes but this did not alter the dispositions of the Russians.
A Russian detachment under Brigadier Muraviev tried to cross the Oder near Cüstrin but was stopped by Manteuffel with his 4 grenadiers battalions and by the artillery of the fortress.
The same day, Frederick’s Corps (15,000 men) reached the city of Frankfurt an der Oder and the king took lodgings in the house of a clergyman widow. His infantry cantoned in the town while the cavalry encamped in front of the Lebus Gate. Frederick was eager to engage the Russians as soon as possible. He was observed to go often outdoor to listen to the noise of the Russian guns firing upon some 32 km away.
Early in the morning of August 21, leaving his corps behind at Frankfurt, Frederick, escorted by Zieten Hussars, visited Lieutenant-General Dohna at his camp at Gorgast, just outside Cüstrin. Dohna had been keeping a watch on the Russians, although unable to interfere with their proceedings. Frederick visited Dohna’s troops in their camp, reconnoitred the banks of the Oder and then rode to Cüstrin. The sight of this town in ruins and of the misery of its inhabitants moved him deeply. His reconnaissance convinced him that an attempt to cross the Oder at Cüstrin would fail. He decided to cross at Alt-Güstebiese (present-day Gozdowice).
The heavy train arrived from Landsberg at the Russian camp near Cüstrin. Supply columns also arrived from Posen (present-day Poznań) and Marienwerder (present-day Kwidzyn). Furthermore, transports were collected in the vicinity of Cüstrin. The besieging army was now sufficiently provided with food for a while.
Tuesday, August 22 at 5:00 a.m., Frederick's own corps effected a junction with Dohna's Army at Manschnow.
The same day, Prince Moritz arrived with his corps which had left Landeshut (present-day Kamienna Góra) in Silesia on August 11 and marched by Liegnitz (present-day Legnica), Crossen and Ziebingen. The Prussian army at the camp of Gorgast now counted 37,000 men. Frederick then prepared the crossing of the Oder.
Asked for his opinion, the Austrian military representative Baron St. André estimated that it was pointless to continue the ineffective bombardment against the strong walls of the Fortress of Cüstrin which only caused useless losses. He considered unnecessary to keep the Russian army immobile in front of Cüstrin while Rumyantsev’s and Browne’s Corps were too far away. For these reasons, he suggested that all forces, to the exception of some troops left behind to secure communication, should march to Schwedt to effect a junction with the Swedish army and to meet the Prussians on the left bank of the Oder.
Fermor followed the advice of St. André and Prince Karl and decided to retreat to better positions at Gross-Cammin with unhindered communication with Landsberg. He also ordered the Observation Corps to effect a junction with the main army at Gross-Cammin on the next day.
From August 22, there were few endeavours against Cüstrin.
During the night of August 22 to 23, Fermor broke his bridge near Alt-Schaumburg and put the pontoons in security. He also sent Colonel Chomutov with 500 Cossacks to reconnoitre the Oder downstream.
On August 23, Frederick's Army crossed the Oder near Güstebiese. When Fermor learned that Frederick had crossed the Oder and cut his line of communication with Rumyantsev's Cavalry Corps (12,000 men) encamped downstream at Schwedt, he decided to lift the siege of Cüstrin.
On August 24 before daybreak, the entire Russian train, including light baggage set off towards Tamsel, escorted by 4,000 grenadiers, 300 hussars and Cossacks and 4 guns; to form a “Wagenburg” on the height north-east of Klein-Cammin (present-day Kamien Maly).
After the departure of the train, the Russian army broke camp and marched westwards in the direction of Zorndorf (present-day Sarbinowo), with its left flank covered by hussars and all Cossacks.
On August 25, the Prussian and Russians engaged in the bloody and indecisive Battle at Zorndorf.
During this brief siege, 191 houses were destroyed in the town and 127 others in the suburbs. The Russian losses amounted to 11 killed and 36 wounded.
The timely arrival of Frederick and Prince Moritz and the indecisive Battle of Zorndorf put an end to the Russian enterprise against the Fortress of Cüstrin.
This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:
- Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 8 Zorndorf und Hochkirch, Berlin, 1910, pp. 76-103.
- Tielke, J. G., An Account of some of the most Remarkable Events of the War between the Prussians, Austrians and Russians from 1756 to 1763, Vol. 2, Walter, London, 1788, pp. 87-260
- Jomini, Henri, Traité des grandes opérations militaires, 2ème édition, 2ème partie, Magimel, Paris: 1811, pp. 140-167, 232, 252-253, 262-264
- Carlyle, T., History of Friedrich II of Prussia, vol. 18
- Anonymous, A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761, pp. 317-318
Duffy, Christopher, various articles on the Russian army, Seven Years War Association Journal Vol. X No. 2
Maslowski D., Russkaja armia w siedmioletnoj wojnu, vol. 2, Moscow, 1892
Piatkowski, J., Oblężenie, bombardowanie i zniszczenie Kostrzynia w sierpniu 1758 roku w: De oppido et castello.
Tomasz Karpiński (student at the Institute of History, University of Adam Mickiewicz in Poznań, Poland) for the additional information from the books of Piatkowski, Maslovskij and Gierhats.