Battle of Friedland


Battle of Friedland

Warbox
conflict=Battle of Friedland
partof=the War of the Fourth Coalition


caption="A Charge of the Russian Leib Guard on 14 June 1807", by Viktor Mazurovsky.
campaign=
date=June 14, 1807
place=Friedland, Prussia
result= Decisive French victory
combatant1=flagicon|France French Empire
combatant2=flagicon|Russia Russian Empire
commander1=flagicon|France Napoleon I
commander2=flagicon|Russia General Bennigsen
strength1=80,000
118 cannonsChandler, D. "Dictionary of the Napoleonic wars". Wordsworth editions, 1999, p. 161.]
strength2=60,000
120 cannons
casualties1=8,000 killed and wounded [David G. Chandler, "The Campaigns of Napoleon", p. 582.]
casualties2=20,000 killed and wounded [Chandler p. 582]
The Battle of Friedland (June 14, 1807) saw Napoleon's French army decisively defeat Bennigsen's Russian army about twenty-seven miles (43 km) southeast of Königsberg, effectively ending the Fourth Coalition against Napoleon. After nearly twenty-three hours of fighting, the French were in complete control of the battlefield and the Russian army was retreating chaotically over the Alle River, where many soldiers drowned while trying to escape.

Friedland effectively brought the Fourth Coalition to an end. On July 7, 1807, Russia and France signed the Treaty of Tilsit, which made the two nations allies after two years of war. France signed a separate treaty with Prussia two days later to ostracize her from the main negotiations. The public terms of Tilsit mentioned the warm feelings between Napoleon and Alexander, but the secret terms addressed more substantial issues: France permitted Russia to do as it wished with the Ottoman Empire in return for gaining the Dalmatian coast and the Ionian Islands, Russia was given a free hand in Finland, and Alexander also agreed to join the Continental System if the war with Britain did not end soon. [Chandler p. 588] In the other treaty, France ensured that Prussia was humiliated. All Prussian territory west of the Elbe River was transformed into the new Kingdom of Westphalia, whose king was to be Napoleon's own brother, Jérôme. Tilsit is traditionally regarded as the height of Napoleon's empire. [Chandler p. 585. Bourrienne, a French diplomat and formerly Napoleon's secretary, wrote, "The interview at Tilsit is one of the culminating points of modern history, and the waters of the Niemen reflected the image of Napoleon at the height of his glory."]

Prelude

Before Friedland, Europe had been embroiled in the War of the Third Coalition in 1805. Following the French victory at Austerlitz, Prussia went to war in 1806 to recover her position as the eminent power of Central Europe.

The Prussian Campaign

Franco-Prussian tensions gradually increased after Austerlitz. Napoleon insisted that Prussia should join his economic blockade against Britain. This adversely affected the German merchant class. Napoleon ordered a raid to seize a subversive, anti-Napoleonic bookseller named Palm, and made a final attempt to secure terms with Britain by offering her Hanover, which infuriated Prussia. [Frank McLynn, "Napoleon: A Biography." p. 354] The Prussians began to mobilize on August 9 and issued an ultimatum on August 26: French troops were required to be on the west bank of the Rhine by October 8 or there would be war between the two nations.McLynn p. 355]

Napoleon's strategy to win the war envisioned destroying the Prussian armies before the Russians could arrive. 180,000 French troops began to cross the Franconian forest on October 2nd, deployed in a bataillon-carré (square-battalion) system designed to meet threats from any possible direction. [McLynn p. 356] On October 14, the French won decisively at the large double-battle of Jena-Auerstadt. A famous pursuit followed, and by the end of the campaign, the Prussians lost 25,000 killed and wounded, 140,000 prisoners, and more than 2,000 cannons. [David G. Chandler, "The Campaigns of Napoleon." p. 502] A few Prussian units managed to cross the Oder into Poland, but the vast majority of the Prussian army had been lost. Russia now had to face France alone. By November 18, French forces under Davout were halfway to Warsaw, Augereau's men were near Bromberg, and Jerome's troops were approaching Kalisch. [Chandler p. 515]

Eylau

When the French arrived in Poland, they were hailed as liberators. [Todd Fisher & Gregory Fremont-Barnes, "The Napoleonic Wars: The Rise and Fall of an Empire." p. 76] Russian general Bennigsen worried that he would be cut off from Buxhowden's army, so he abandoned Warsaw and retreated to the right bank of the Vistula. On November 28, 1806, French troops under Murat entered Warsaw. The French pursued the fleeing Russians and a significant battle developed around Pultusk on December 26th. The action was indecisive, but Bennigsen wrote to the Czar that he had defeated 60,000 French troops, and as a result he was given overall command of the Russian armies in Poland. At this point, Marshal Ney began to extend his forces to procure food supplies. Bennigsen noticed a good opportunity to strike at an isolated French corps, but he abandoned his plans once he realized that Napoléon was maneuvering to trap his army.Fisher & Fremont-Barnes p. 77] The Russians withdrew towards Allenstein, and later to Eylau.

On February 7th, the Russians fought Soult's corps for possession of Eylau. Daybreak on February 8 saw 44,500 French troops on the field against 67,000 Russians. Napoleon hoped to pin Bennigsen's army long enough to allow Ney's and Davout's troops to outflank the Russians. A fierce struggle ensued, made worse by a blinding snowstorm plaguing the battlefield. The French were in dire straits until a massed cavalry charge, made by 10,700 troopers formed in 80 squadrons, [Fisher & Fremont-Barnes p. 83. 10,700 represents the paper strength of French cavalry at Eylau. It is very unlikely, however, that all of these squadrons were at full strength. The real number of cavalrymen that charged may never be known.] relieved the pressure on the center. Davout's arrival meant the attack on the Russian left could commence, but the assault was blunted when a Prussian force under Lestoq suddenly appeared on the battlefield and, with Russian help, threw the French back. Ney came too late to effect any meaningful decision, so Bennigsen retreated. Casualties at this indecisive battle were horrific, perhaps 25,000 on each side. [Fisher & Fremont-Barnes p. 84. A great deal of controversy exists about the casualties at Eylau. Some authorities (like Chandler) put the figures at 25,000 French and 15,000 Russian while others equate the two around either 15,000 or 25,000.] More importantly, however, the lack of a decisive victory by either side meant that the war would go on.

Heilsberg

The Russian army, under General Bennigsen, held strong defensive positions in the town of Heilsberg on the Alle. The French army, under Marshals Murat and Lannes, attacked on June 10th. Bennigsen repelled several attacks, resulting in huge French casualties, but had to withdraw towards Friedland the following day.

The battle

The Russian forces under General Golitsyn had driven off the French cavalry outposts from Friedland on the 13th, and Bennigsen's main body began to occupy the town at night. The army of Napoleon was set in motion for Friedland, but it was still dispersed on its various march routes, and the first stage of the engagement was a purely situational battle. The corps of Marshal Lannes engaged the Russians first in the Sortlack Wood and in front of Posthenen (2.30-3 A.M. on the 14th). Both sides now used their cavalry freely to cover the formation of lines of battle, and a race between the rival squadrons for the possession of Heinrichsdorf ended in favor of the French under Grouchy.

In the meantime Lannes was fighting hard to hold Bennigsen. Napoleon feared that the Russians meant to evade him again, but by 6 a.m. Bennigsen had nearly 50,000 men across the river and forming up west of Friedland. His infantry, organized in two lines, extended between the Heinrichsdorf-Friedland road and the upper bends of the river along with the artillery. Beyond the right of the infantry, cavalry and Cossacks extended the line to the wood northeast of Heinrichsdorf. Small bodies of Cossacks penetrated even to Schwonau. The left wing also had some cavalry and, beyond the Alle river, batteries were brought into action to cover it. A heavy and indecisive fire-fight raged in the Sortlack Wood between the Russian skirmishers and some of Lannes's troops.

The head of Mortier's (French and Polish) corps appeared at Heinrichsdorf and the Cossacks were driven out of Schwonau. Lannes held his own, and by noon Napoleon arrived with 40,000 French troops at the scene of the action. Napoleon's orders were brief: Ney's corps was to take the line between Postlienen and the Sortlack Wood, Lannes closing on his left, to form the centre, Mortier at Heinrichsdorf the left wing. I Corps under General Victor and the Imperial Guard were placed in reserve behind Posthenen. Cavalry masses were collected at Heinrichsdorf. The main attack was to be delivered against the Russian left, which Napoleon saw at once to be cramped in the narrow tongue of land between the river and the Posthenen mill-stream. Three cavalry divisions were added to the general reserve.The course of the previous operations had been such that both armies still had large detachments out towards Königsberg. The afternoon was spent by the emperor in forming up the newly arrived masses, the deployment being covered by an artillery bombardment. At 5 o'clock all was ready, and Ney, preceded by a heavy artillery fire, rapidly carried the Sortlack Wood. The attack was pushed on toward the Alle. One of Ney's divisions (Marchand) drove part of the Russian left into the river at Sortlack. A furious charge of cavalry against Marchand's left was repulsed by the dragoon division of Latour-Maubourg.

Soon the Russians were huddled together in the bends of the Alle, an easy target for the guns of Ney and of the reserve. Ney's attack indeed came eventually to a standstill; Bennigsen's reserve cavalry charged with great effect and drove him back in disorder. As at Eylau, the approach of night seemed to preclude a decisive success, but in June and on firm ground the old mobility of the French reasserted its value. The infantry division of Dupont advanced rapidly from Posthenen, the cavalry divisions drove back the Russian squadrons into the now congested masses of infantry on the river bank, and finally the artillery general Sénarmont advanced a mass of guns to case-shot range.

It was the first example of the terrible artillery preparations of modern warfare, and the Russian defence collapsed in a few minutes. Ney's exhausted infantry were able to pursue the broken regiments of Bennigsen's left into the streets of Friedland. Lannes and Mortier had all this time held the Russian centre and right on its ground, and their artillery had inflicted severe losses. When Friedland itself was seen to be on fire, the two marshals launched their infantry attack. Fresh French troops approached the battlefield. Dupont distinguished himself for the second time by fording the mill-stream and assailing the left flank of the Russian centre. This offered stubborn resistance, but the French steadily forced the line backwards, and the battle was soon over.

The losses incurred by the Russians in retreating over the river at Friedland were very heavy, many soldiers being drowned. Farther north the still unbroken troops of the right wing drew off by the Allenburg road; the French cavalry of the left wing, though ordered to pursue, remaining, for some reason, inactive. French casualties hovered around 8,000 while the Russians suffered nearly 20,000 in dead and wounded.

Results

The thorough destruction of Bennigsen's army persuaded Czar Alexander I to seek peace terms five days after the battle. The following negotiations led to the Treaty of Tilsit in July, spelling the end of the War of the Fourth Coalition.

Modern name of the town

Friedland is now in the Russian Kaliningrad Oblast and was renamed Pravdinsk in 1945.

Notes

References

* Chandler, David G. "The Campaigns of Napoleon." New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. ISBN 0-02-523660-1
* Fisher, Todd & Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. "The Napoleonic Wars: The Rise and Fall of an Empire." Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2004. ISBN 1-84176-831-6
* McLynn, Frank. "Napoleon: A Biography." New York: Arcade Publishing Inc., 1997. ISBN 1-55970-631-7
* [http://gustave.club.fr/bataille_de_friedland.htm La bataille de Friedland] selon le général baron de MARBOT (Mémoires). Plon, Nourrit et Cie - Paris 1891


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