1760-09-17 - Combat of Hochgiersdorf

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Prussian victory

Introduction

At the end of August 1760, King Frederick II had relieved the Fortress of Schweidnitz (present-day Swidnica) which was blockaded by the Austrian armies. However, he had not managed to engage the Austrians. He was still in a very difficult situation and hoped to engage the Austrian army or at least to outmanoeuvre Field Marshal Daun and force him to withdraw from Silesia to Bohemia.

By September 12, after vainly trying to turn the Austrian right wing, Frederick was once more in a critical situation. Austrian corps were deployed in a half-circle around his positions. In this difficult terrain, he first had to find out more about their exact positions before making any new decisions. Accordingly, he remained in his naturally strong positions and fortified them.

On September 15, Frederick decided to make a last attempt to drive the Austrians out of Silesia and then to leave for Saxony where General von Hülsen was in a desperate situation.

On September 16, to ease the retreat of his army, Frederick relocated all the cavalry encamped north of Ober-Baumgarten (present-day Sady Górne) and the train behind his left wing, opposite Hohen-Petersdorf (present-day Pietrzyków).

Frederick, seeing that his attempt to reach Landeshut was made impossible by the new positions taken by the Austrians, made a new attempt to turn the Austrian positions, this time on their right wing and escape towards Schweidnitz.

Map

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Description of Events

Prelude to the Battle

On September 17 around 4:30 a.m., Frederick's Army silently broke camp and marched to the left in three columns under cover of a strong vanguard. The baggage and the train, along with the sick and wounded, formed the fourth and fifth columns under the escort of the brigade of Major-General von Tettenborn, the Dingelstedt Hussars and 3 sqns of Ruesch Hussars.

General of Cavalry Zieten commanded the rearguard, which consisted of 5 bns of the first and second columns, and the Krockow Dragoons and Czettritz Dragoons of the third column. The Normann Dragoons and Möhring Hussars, who did not belong to any specific column, closed the march.

To hide his departure for as long as possible, so as not to be attacked during his retreat in the difficult mountainous terrain between Baumgarten and Hohenfriedeberg (present-day Dobromierz), Frederick maintained the cavalry guarding his camp (Normann Dragoons and Möhring Hussars) in position until 4:45 a.m., and the campfire remained alight.

The three columns of Frederick's Army had to march through and north of Hohen-Petersdorf and Hohenfriedeberg, then through Simsdorf (present-day Szymanów) and Ullersdorf (present-day Modlęcin) and then, by way of Zirlau (present-day Ciernie), towards Kunzendorf (present-day Mokrzeszów), while the baggage and train would march from Nieder-Baumgarten to Kauder (present-day Kłaczyna), by way of Neu-Ullersdorf (present-day Wólka), Ölse (present-day Olszany), around the Nonnenbusch towards Schönbrunn (present-day Słotwina) (see order of battle for details). The army had to pass dangerously close to the Austrian right wing.

Early in the morning, a thick fog lay on the mountains and in the valleys, preventing the Austrians from noticing the departure of Frederick's Army.

Frederick's vanguard reached Hohenfriedeberg unmolested where the Zieten Hussars came to contact with cavalry outposts of Beck's Corps, driving them back and taking one major, two officers and 21 dragoons prisoners. However, the Austrian cavalry detachment escaped and informed the general-in-chief, Field Marshal Daun of the Prussian advance. At first Daun believed that Frederick only intended to return to his old camp at Jauernick (present-day Jaworów), or that he was only carrying out this march to lure him out of his position, then quickly turn back and cut the Austrian from Landeshut (present-day Kamienna Góra). For these reasons, Daun left his army in its current positions.

However, despite the thick fog, Beck opened a lively artillery fire from the heights north of Möhnersdorf (present-day Jaskulin) in the general direction where he thought that Frederick's columns were located. His artillery had no effect because it could not aim precisely on the Prussians columns covered by the fog.

Cavalry engagement near Kunzendorf

The fog finally lifted and from the heights of Möhnersdorf and Freiburg (present-day Świebodzice), the Austrians saw that the Prussian columns had already marched through Simsdorf and were advancing in the direction of Zirlau. A strong body of cavalry was rushing ahead of these columns at full trot in an attempt to seize the high ground east of Kunzendorf. Prince Löwenstein, who commanded the Austrian right wing since September 12, concluded that Frederick planned to reach the mountains with his army while this cavalry corps would cover his march. Accordingly, Löwenstein detached Major-General d'Ayasasa with about 27 sqns of elite cavalry to occupy these heights before the Prussian cavalry. Tillier Infantry and Bayreuth Infantry force marched to support d'Ayasasa's cavalry.

The Zieten Hussars, who formed part of the Prussian vanguard, spotted d'Ayasasa's cavalry. They galloped and reached the hill just north of the road leading from Kunzendorf to Schweidnitz before d'Ayasasa had reached Kunzendorf. The Zieten Hussars were closely followed by the Bayreuth Dragoons and Normann Dragoons.

Grenzer troops were deployed in the village of Kunzendorf to cover the arrival of d'Ayasasa's cavalry which deployed near the village under their protection.

The Bayreuth Dragoons and Normann Dragoons attacked these Grenzer light troops and drove them back, while the Zieten Hussars attacked d'Ayasasa's cavalry, which gave ground. Combats were still going on when General Bibow appeared with Tillier Infantry and Bayreuth Infantry, forcing the Prussian cavalry to retire northwards to Arnsdorf (present-day Milikowice).

Tillier Infantry and Bayreuth Infantry then occupied the fiercely disputed heights, while d'Ayasasa rallied his cavalry and advanced in the direction of Bögendorf (present-day Witoszów). D'Ayasasa then noticed that the Prussian columns were redirecting their march towards Arnsdorf.

Advance of the Austrian Main Army towards Bögendorf

During this cavalry combat, Daun had personally gone to the height east of Fröhlichsdorf (present-day Cieszów) from were he could observe Frederick's march. As soon as he realised that Frederick was advancing towards Kunzendorf, he ordered his main army to march towards Freiburg. Simultaneously, he established heavy artillery pieces on the heights between Freiburg and Fröhlichsdorf to fire on the Prussian columns as they marched by way of Simsdorf towards Zirlau, forcing them to turn left in the direction of Niederhof (unidentified location).

Now that Frederick's intention to move around the Austrian right wing had become clear, Daun ordered Loudon's Army to advance to Freiburg. Daun then marched towards Bögendorf with the right wing of his army and instructed Loudon to occupy a position between Freiburg and Fröhlichsdorf. While these movements were taking place, the left wing of Daun's Army halted near Freiburg. It then followed the right wing to Bögendorf. The cavalry of the left wing advanced on the plain and made a junction with the cavalry of the Reserve Corps, which had been deployed to the west of Zirlau to protect a battery.

During this time, Frederick's Army had continued its march, but had made only slow progress, delayed by the difficulties of the terrain. As the head of the Prussian columns emerged at the north-eastern corner of Zirlau, Frederick realised that advanced elements of Daun's Army were approaching Ober-Kunzendorf and that infantry and heavy artillery were already occupying the heights west of the village. Seeing that he had no chance to force his way through these positions without suffering heavy losses, Frederick decided to redirect his march by way of Ober-Arnsdorf towards Nieder-Bögendorf and then to reach the mountains by way of Hoch-Giersdorf (present-day Modliszów).

Engagement against Ried's Corps

The small Austrian corps of Major-General von Ried (3,290 men) had already been occupying the heights east of Ober-Arnsdorf, facing towards Schweidnitz. In the morning, Ried had received orders from Daun instructing him to occupy the heights of Zedlitz present-day Pasieczna) between Stanowitz (present-day Stanowice) and Jauernick, since Frederick was apparently marching back to his old camp between Striegau (present-day Strzegom) and Bunzelwitz (present-day Bolesławice). Meanwhile, Löwenstein's Reserve Corps, reinforced by Wied's troops, would march alongside the Prussian columns and Daun would follow them with his main army.

Ried had barely began his march, when the Prussian vanguard appeared a few hundred meters from the rear of his column. Ried immediately redirected his infantry by way of Cammerau (present-day Komorów) towards the heights south of Ober-Bögendorf and sent the Szechényi Hussars and Stabsdragoner to delay the Zieten Hussars. These troops bought enough time for Ried's infantry to reach the heights south of Bögendorf.

The only open road to the hill south of Bögendorf was between Hoch-Giersdorf and Burkersdorf (present-day Burkatów), so Frederick decided to advance his army into this direction. With the advance of the Prussian columns, Ried's Corps was forced to retire to Hoch-Giersdorf.

D'Ayasasa's attacks the Main Body of the Prussians

Frederick's Army had continued its march through Arnsdorf and south of the village, then north around Cammerau to Nieder-Bögendorf. Its vanguard had already crossed the latter village and was advancing towards Hoch-Giersdorf.

However, d'Ayasasa's cavalry was also advancing from Kunzendorf, and had reached a position west of the road leading from Bögendorf to Cammerau, and deployed with its right wing near Bögendorf, facing eastwards. Gradually, the cavalry rgts of Daun's right wing were also joining d'Ayasasa there.

With a strong corps of Austrian cavalry assembling on his right flank, Frederick ordered Major-General von Bandemer, who was marching in the third column with 3 cuirassiers rgts (Seydlitz, Prinz Heinrich, Leib-Carabiniers) to stand ready between Schönbrunn and Nieder-Bögendorf until the infantry of the first and second columns had passed the village. In their haste to make themselves masters of the heights, the leading Prussia brigades quickened their step and soon large gaps appeared between them and the following units.

The Prince of Anhalt-Bernburg, who was marching in the middle of the second column with his brigade of infantry, realised the danger that the Austrian cavalry assembled near Bögendorf represented. He decided to close the gap between Ramin's and Gabelentz's brigades with his own brigade. Anhalt-Bernburg managed to close this dangerous gap, but soon a new gap appeared behind the two foremost bns of Anhalt-Bernburg's own brigade as it approached Nieder-Bögendorf.

The opportunity for a rapid break into the Prussian infantry was too tempting for a spirited cavalry commander, and d'Ayasasa took advantage of it. He quickly informed Daun's cavalry rgts following his detachment of his intention and asked for their support. D'Ayasasa then charged the I./Anhalt-Bernburg Infantry at the head of his mounted grenadiers and carabiniers. The Prussian battalion found enough time to turn to the flank and open an effective fire, but the Austrians still managed to break into their ranks, capturing the heavy artillery of the Anhalt-Bernburg Brigade.

However, Daun's own cavalry remained idle near Bögendorf and did not come to d'Ayasasa's support and the I./Anhalt-Bernburg Infantry fought back desperately, even attacking the Austrian cavalrymen at the point of the bayonet. The other battalions of the regiment also joined the fight and fired at d'Ayasasa's elite cavalry, while the Seydlitz Cuirassiers and Prinz Heinrich Cuirassiers of Bandemer's Brigade joined the combat.

D'Ayasasa's squadrons finally broke and retired under the fire of a battery belonging to Ramin's Brigade, which had rapidly deployed on the slopes south of Bögendorf.

In this combat, d'Ayasasa had lost 100 men killed or wounded and 4 officers and 112 troopers taken prisoners. For their part, the Prussians had lost less than 100 men (the I./Anhalt-Bernburg Infantry alone had lost 42 men killed or wounded and 1 battalion gun). The heavy guns initially captured by the Austrians had been recaptured during the fight.

With a large Austrian cavalry force deployed near Bögendorf, the Prussian cuirrasiers did not pursue d'Ayasasa's sqns very far, and the Prussians were unable to capture the Austrian battery which had been pounding on their positions.

In the meantime, however, Austrian infantry with a few cannons had also taken position in the walled churchyard of Bögendorf and were harassing the Prussian columns on their march. However, the Prussian heavy artillery soon forced them to retire from this position.

Frederick's Rearguard joins the Main Body

During these combats, G.d.C. von Zieten had been following from height to height with the rearguard of Frederick's Army. This rearguard was closely followed by the corps of General von Nauendorf, which was advancing from Giesmannsdorf (present-day Gostków).

Zieten reached Zirlau unmolested with the rearguard after crossing many streams. However, west of Zirlau, there still was an Austrian battery well protected by cavalry, and Zieten considered that he could not march through the northern part of Zirlau without preparations. He deployed the rearguard with its left wing leaning against Zirlau and opened on the Austrian cavalry with his heavy artillery.

Schwerin's cuirassier brigade, which formed the rear of the third column of Frederick's main body, was ordered to take position between Zirlau and Nieder-Kunzendorf, to cover the advance of the rearguard.

At Nieder-Kunzendorf, Zieten was joined by the I./Prinz von Preussen Infantry, which had been detached from Frederick's first column with a few heavy artillery pieces to support the rearguard. Zieten with the rearguard had managed to make a junction with the main body of the army. Nauendorf's Corps had ceased to follow Zieten and the rearguard at Möhnersdorf.

The Prussians attack the heights of Hoch-Giersdorf

At 4:00 p.m., Frederick's vanguard finally reached the main road leading from Schweidnitz to Waldenburg (present-day Wałbrzych) across the mountains. However, this road as well as all important paths had previously been blocked with abatis by the Austrians to counter any enterprise of the Prussian garrison of Schweidnitz, these abatis further delayed the advance of Frederick's Army.

Frederick already knew that the infantry of Ried's Corps infantry and part of the main army were already heading for the heights of Hoch-Giersdorf. Therefore, he ordered Lieutenant-General Wied, who was just arriving with the leading brigades of the second line, to march with Wangenheim's Brigade (Jung Braunschweig Fusiliers, Diericke Fusiliers, [[II./Garrison Regiment Jung-Sydow) from the vanguard and Queis's Brigade (Prinz Heinrich Fusiliers, Kleist Infantry, II./Thile Infantry) from the second column, to make himself master of the heights of Hoch-Giersdorf. During this time, the rest of the vanguard would dismantle the abatis to allow the main body to advance.

Wied advanced into the mountains on narrow bad roads with Wangenheim's Brigade on the right and Queis's Brigade on the left. Soon, the bns had to laboriously make their own way through the forest, because they came across numerous abatis laid out one after the other. Then a Prussian hussar patrol found a practicable path that led to the right flank of the Austrians standing on the heights north-east of Hoch-Giersdorf.

Count Wied sent the II./Prinz Heinrich Fusiliers forward along this path. However, Ried retired in time to new positions on the heights between Dittmannsdorf (present-day Dziećmorowice) and Neukraussendorf (present-day Rusinowa) to prevent the Prussians from advancing towards Waldenburg.

From the midst of the forest, Wied was still ignoring that Ried's Corps had retired from the height of Hoch-Giersdorf, but he knew that troops of Daun's main army were on the march towards these heights. Therefore, he hastened his march.

The II./Prinz Heinrich Fusiliers reached the edge of the forest some 1,000 meters east of the road leading from Hoch-Giersdorf to Schweidnitz. It was soon followed by the Jung Braunschweig Fusiliers and the I./Prinz Heinrich Fusiliers.

As he debouched from the forest, Count Wied saw enemy hussars and Grenzer light troops, belonging to Ried's corps, in front of him on the left near the south-east exit of Hoch-Giersdorf. However, he also saw regular Austrian infantry on the hill dominating the open country north of the village. Fearing that these regulars would soon be reinforced, Count Wied decided to attack immediately.

The Jung Braunschweig Fusiliers, supported by the II./Prinz Heinrich Fusiliers, were ordered to drive back the hussars and Grenzer light troops and to then advance along the village against the right flank of the Austrian regulars while the Prinz Heinrich Fusiliers would attack them frontally. The other bns of Wied's force would follow the advance of the two leading rgts to support their attacks.

Indeed, caution was advised, since it was not known where Ried's troops were and what kind of reinforcements were following the Austrians occupying the heights.

Daun had meanwhile continued his march along the mountain slope, accompanying the movements of Frederick's Army, and had reached Ober-Bögendorf. When he learned that Prussian troops were advancing through the forest towards Hoch-Giersdorf, he hurriedly sent Jung-Colloredo Infantry and soon afterwards Colonel Ferrari with 3 grenadier bns and heavy artillery (15 guns and 2 howitzers) to support Ried at Hoch-Giersdorf.

However, as Jung-Colloredo Infantry was reaching the height north of Hoch-Giersdorf, Ried had already retreated to Dittmannsdorf. Nevertheless, Jung-Colloredo Infantry occupied the height, knowing that Ferrari was following. Indeed, Ferrari was advancing with his grenadiers by the shortest way across the forest to Hoch-Giersdorf.

During his advance, Ferrari was informed of Ried's retreat. He also received orders from Daun to gain and hold the heights of Hoch-Giersdorf at all cost. Ferrari reached the edge of the woods to the north-east of this height and deployed to the right to establish contact with Jung-Colloredo Infantry.

In front of him, Ferrari saw the Prinz Heinrich Fusiliers advancing from the east in open country towards the heights. Ferrari sent 2 grenadier coys through the forest to attack the flank of Prinz Heinrich Fusiliers. He soon sent 1 grenadier bn to support these 2 coys.

Once his troops had formed line, Ferrari advanced towards the Prussian to gain the ridge. He attacked the Prinz Heinrich Fusiliers frontally and on their right flank. During its rapid march in the forest, the Prussian rgt had left its battalion guns behind and had difficulty to stand its ground against the enveloping attack of the Austrians, who were supported by numerous guns. Despite the most stubborn resistance, it finally had to give way after a while. But at that very moment help appeared.

The Jung Braunschweig Fusiliers had quickly driven back the Grenzer light troops and the hussars posted at the south-east exit of Hoch-Giersdorf and were now advancing along the south-west slope of the height to turn the right wing of Jung-Colloredo Infantry, which did not wait for hand-to-hand combat and retired. In doing so, however, it exposed Ferrari's right flank to the attack of the Jung-Braunschweig Fusiliers.

During these combats, the II./Kleist Infantry had debouched from the woods. It formed a second line behind the two Prussian rgts already engaged. Count Wied immediately led this bn forward to support the shaken Prinz Heinrich Fusiliers. At this moment, 4 pieces of the Prussian Horse Artillery arrived and opened against the Austrian grenadiers.

Ferrari's right wing broke first and the rest of his grenadiers soon followed, taking refuge in the forest and leaving all of his 17 artillery pieces in the hands of the Prussians.

In this affair, the Austrians had lost 215 men killed and 3 officers and 200 men taken prisoners. The Prussians had lost 11 officers and 482 men killed or wounded.

Gradually the other bns of Wangenheim's and Queis's brigades also arrived and, together with Wied's detachment, occupied the heights of Hoch-Giersdorf.

During the contest for the heights of Hoch-Giersdorf, the main body of the Prussian army and the rearguard under Zieten had deployed in three lines between Nieder-Bögendorf and the mountains. The baggage were still at Schönbrunn with their escort. The sick and wounded had been transported to Schweidnitz aboard the empty bread wagons.

The Prussian vanguard under Forcade worked diligently to remove the abatis blocking the roads leading into the mountains south of Bögendorf.

Outcome

For the entire battle, Tempelhoff estimates the Prussian losses to 18 officers and 964 men killed, wounded and missing. Austrians losses are unknown but the Tagenbuch Thielow gives 215 men killed and 3 officers and 200 men captured.

After the combat, the Prussians remained on the battlefield:

Daun took positions between Seitendorf and Kunzendorf; Loudon was in Wallenburg Reusendorf (present-day Rusinowa); Lacy marched to Langenwaltersdorf (present-day Unisław Śląski); and Brentano to Tannhausen (present-day Jedlinka).

Despite his tactical victory, Frederick had been unable to open communication with Schweidnitz.

Order of Battle

Austrian Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Fieldmarshal Count Leopold Daun

Corps under Major-General Ried at Ober Arnsdorf, in front of Schweidnitz (3,290 men)

Corps under Count Franz Moritz Lacy (11,850 foot, 6,300 horse)

Main Army under Fieldmarshal Count Leopold Daun (some 26,750 men)

Reserve Corps (come 7,150 men) under General of cavalry Fürst Löwenstein

Corps (6,770 men) under Feldmarschalllieutnant Baron von Beck

Corps (24,450 foot, 8,200 horse) under Feldzugmeister Baron von Loudon

Detached from Loudon's corps:

Corps (2,400 foot, 300 horse) under Major-general Jahnus

Corps (850 foot and 750 horse under Major-general von Bethlen

In Glatz (5,390 men) under Feldmarschalllieutnant Count Draskowitz

Prussian Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Frederick II

Avant-garde under Lieutenant-General von Forcade

The four columns

Main Column Second Column Third Column Fourth Column
under General of Infantry Margrave Karl under Lieutenant-General Graf zu Wied under Lieutenant-General Prinz von Holstein under Major-General von Tettenborn

Arrière-garde under General of Cavalry Zieten

under Major-General von Meinicke under Major-General von Alt Stutterheim under Major-General von Syburg

DR1 Normann (5 sqns)
HR3 Möhring (10 sqns)

References

Großer Generalstab, Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II (Publisher). Die Kriege Friedrichs des Großen. Dritter Teil: Der Siebenjährige Krieg 1756–1763. ("Neues Generalstabswerk"),Vol. 13 Torgau, Berlin 1914, pp. 70-82, Appendix 5

Grosser Generalstab, Geschichte des siebenjährigen Krieges: In einer Reihe von Vorlesungen, mit Benutzung authentischer Quellen, bearbeitet von den Offizieren des Großen Generalstabs. ("Altes Generalstabswerk") Vol. 4 Der Feldzug von 1760, Berlin 1834.

Jany, Curt: Geschichte der Königlich Preußischen Armee bis zum Jahre 1807

Tempelhof, Georg Friedrich von, Geschichte des siebenjährigen Krieges in Deutschland zwischen dem Könige von Preussen und der Kaiserin Königin mit ihren Alliirten als eine Fortsetzung der Geschichte Lloyd, J. F. Unger, Berlin, 1783-1801, Part 4 (1760).

Acknowledgments

Tomasz Karpiński from Gniezno/Poznań for the initial version of this article

Richard Couture for the translation and integration of the work of the Grosser Generalstab