1759-09-08 - Combat of Zinna

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Battles >> 1759-09-08 - Combat of Zinna

Prussian victory (the combat is also known as the first battle of Torgau)

Prelude to the Battle

In August 1759, taking advantage of the departure of most Prussian troops for Brandenburg to contain a Russian invasion, an Austro-Imperial army had proceeded to the invasion of Saxony, besieging and capturing Dresden (September 4).

Meanwhile, on August 21, Frederick II had sent a force (about 8,000 men) under the command of Wunsch and Wolfersdorf to relieve Dresden. Arriving at Dresden on September 5, Wunsch finally realized that the town had already surrendered. When he received a message from his commandant at Torgau, advising him that Kleefeld's Austrian Corps (14,000 men) was upon him and that he could not hold out very long, Wunsch took the road again towards Torgau.

On September 7 in the afternoon, after 2 marches of 32 km each, Wunsch arrived in front of Torgau and took post in the ruins of the north suburb. Realizing that he had to fight Kleefeld, he refreshed his men and requested Wolfersdorf, with the rearguard, to join him at Torgau the following day by 10:00 a.m.

Map

Map of the combat of Zinna on September 8 1759.
 
Source: Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, volume III by the German Grosser Generalstab

The Austro-Imperial army was encamped near Torgau. Saint-André had posted his Grenzer light troops and his grenadiers in gardens and ditches on the Ratsweinberg.

Description of Events

Initial manoeuvres

On September 8, Wolfersdorf started at 4:00 a.m. and was at Torgau by 10:00 a.m.

Saint-André summoned Wunsch who refused to surrender. The latter immediately prepared his troop for an attack. All Prussian units marched to the north suburbs of Torgau and organized into two wings.

The combat

Wunsch deployed his troops with his left against the Grosser Teich, a large pond, and his left in front of the village of Zinna. The right of Saint-André was protected by the Röhr Stream. However, this stream was also an obstacle for his right if he wanted to support his left.

Wunsch resolved to attack the Austrian left wing because the right was anchored on the Wildenhainsche wood and could not be turned. During his attack on the Austrian left, Wunsch planned to pin down their centre and left wing with heavy artillery fire.

About 2:00 p.m., both Prussian columns issued from the suburb and formed line in front of the Ratsweinberg. The I./Wunsch Freibatallion along with Grenadier Battalion Willemey stormed the hill at the point of the bayonet, driving back the Grenzer light troops and the Austro-Imperial grenadiers from the gardens they occupied on the Ratsweinberg. The Prussian hussars then pursued the fleeing enemies

The Prussians arranged their line in oblique order with their right wing forward. The Prussian dragoons doubled the depth of their line from 2 to 4 ranks on the right wing, and from 3 to 6 ranks on the left wing.

Meanwhile, Saint-André formed his corps in 2 lines.

Now that the Austro-Imperial vanguard had been chased from the Ratsweinberg, Wunsch planted his artillery on this hill and ordered it to open on the Austro-Imperial cavalry.

Saint-André's right wing cavalry (15 sqns in 4 rgts) tried to outflank the Prussian left wing. The Prussian Major Pogrell at the head of 3 sqns of Plettenberg Dragoons charged their first line and broke it. Mass of routing cuirassiers disorganized the second line of the Austro-Imperial cavalry, preventing it from launching a counter-attack.

The effectiveness of the Prussian artillery fire combined with repeated charges of their cavalry transformed the retreat of the Austro-Imperial cavalry right wing into a rout. In turn, these routing horse affected the morale of the Austro-Imperial infantry. Pogrell then charged the Austrian infantry.

Meanwhile on Saint-André's left wing, Prussians hussars and dragoons managed to turn the flank and appeared in the rear of the two lines of infantry.

Even before the general attack of the Prussian infantry, the demoralised Austro-Imperial army started to retreat in disorder into the nearby forest, covered only by the Hessen-Darmstadt battalion.

The Prussians did not pursue but went back to their camp between Ratsweinberg and the Grosser Teich.

Throughout the combat, the Austrian Szechényi Hussars, posted on a wooded hill to cover the right flank, remained idle.

Outcome

During this combat, the Prussians lost 35 killed and 163 wounded men. Plettenberg Dragoons alone lost 2 officers, 4 NCOs, 82 private and 160 horses.

Austrian losses are unknown but they certainly amounted to more than 200 men. Furthermore, 11 officers and 595 men had been made prisoners by the Prussians and almost half of them entered into the Prussian service after the combat.

The Prussian dragoons captured 8 guns during this fight.

Wunsch, even though he could not save Dresden, had now recaptured the northern regions again. Only Leipzig was still in enemy's hand.

Order of Battle

Austro-Imperial Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Feldzeugmeister Saint-André

Summary: about 12,000 men in 12 bns, 9 grenadier coys, more than 2,000 Grenzers, 19 cavalry sqns, 720 hussars and 18 regimental guns (no field artillery)

N.B.: Tempelhoff mentions only 10 bns and 6 cavalry regiments (4 cuirassiers and 2 dragoons)

Vanguard:

  • unidentified Grenzer infantry (2 bns)
  • Converged grenadiers (9 coys)
First Line Second Line
Cavalry right wing
 
 
Infantry centre
 
 
Cavalry left wing
 
 

Other detachments:

  • Szechényi Hussars (720 men) and unidentified Grenzer infantry (2 bns) posted on a hill to cover the Austrian right flank

Prussian Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: General Wunsch

Summary: about 5,000 men and 10 x 12-pdr field guns

Right wing

Left Wing

Artillery

  • 10 field guns planted on the Ratsweinberg during the combat

References

Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, herausgegeben vom Grossen Generalstabe, vol. 11

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

Jomini, baron de, Traité des grandes opérations militaires, Vol. 3, 2nd ed., Magimel, Paris, 1811

Tempelhoff G. F., Geschichte des siebenjahrige Krieges in Deutschland, vol. 3

Other sources

Geschichte des siebenjährigen Krieges in einer Reihe von Vorlesungen, Prussia Armee Grosser Generalstab

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

Acknowledgments

Tomasz Karpiński from Gniezno/Poznań for the initial version of this article and many subsequent improvements