Battle of Leuthen


Battle of Leuthen

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Leuthen
colour_scheme=background:#cccccc


caption=Frederick's forces march around the hills to attack the Austrian flank.
partof=the Seven Years' War
place= Leuthen, Prussian Silesia, present-day Poland
date=5 December 1757
result=Decisive Prussian Victory
combatant1=flagicon|Prussia|1750 Prussia
combatant2=flagicon|Holy Roman Empire Austria
commander1=Frederick the Great
commander2=Charles of Lorraine
strength1=36,000
167 guns
strength2=80,000
210 guns
casualties1=1,141 dead
5118 wounded
85 captured
casualties2=3,000 dead
7,000 wounded 12,000 captured
51 flags
116 cannons|

In the Battle of Leuthen fought on 5 December 1757 Frederick the Great's Prussian army used maneuver and terrain to decisively defeat a much larger Austrian army under Charles of Lorraine, thus ensuring Prussian control of Silesia during the Seven Years' War.

Background

While Frederick the Great was campaigning out in central Germany defeating a combined Franco-Imperial army at the Battle of Rossbach, the Austrians had managed to slowly retake Silesia. Frederick had arrived on November 28 to find that the primary city in Silesia, Breslau (Wrocław), had just fallen to the Austrians. He arrived near Leuthen (Lutynia) to find an army that was twice his size. He hoped to win a great victory rather than suffer a horrible defeat. The commanders in charge of the Austrian army had earlier argued about whether to march out of Breslau to face Frederick, and the commander had won the argument. The weather was foggy and the entire area had once been a training ground for the Prussian army, and so Frederick the Great knew the terrain intimately.

Diversion

Frederick marched directly toward the Austrian army with its center at Leuthen, its front stretching an amazing 4 miles. The Austrian army was stretched out to such an incredible length in order to prevent it from being flanked by Frederick, as it was his favorite tactic to apply, but this would ultimately be a massive mistake. Frederick had his cavalry launch an assault on Borna as a feint and then face the Austrian right flank, appearing as though it would act as a spearhead for a right flank attack. Screening his army with his cavalry, Frederick moved his well-disciplined infantry toward the Austrian left in columns.

Maneuver

The infantry marched to the south, out of sight of the Austrians, behind a line of low hills. Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine, although in the tower of the church at Leuthen, could see nothing and responded by moving his reserve to his right flank instead of the soon-to-be imperilled left. The Prussian army had seemed to simply vanish, appearing to the Austrians as nothing but a mere retreat, and Prince Charles of Lorraine was heard to say "The good fellows are leaving, let's let them go." But when the heads of the two superbly drilled Prussian columns, the distances between the marching platoons remaining exactly the width of each platoon's front, had passed the Austrian left flank, the columns veered left toward the enemy and continued their march until the heads of the two columns had passed beyond the left Austrian flank. Then, on command, the platoons of the columns turned left at Lobetinz, and the whole Prussian army lay in line of battle at nearly a right angle to the left flank of the Austrian position. The Prussians had carried out with their whole army a maneuver analogous to that used by the Spartans to attack their enemy in flank. In the age of Linear Warfare however, such a flanking maneuver is truly lethal to the victim. The weakest soldiers of the Austrian army had been put on the left flank in a position protected by the hills as their fighting ability was doubted.

Austrian collapse

The Prussian infantry, arrayed in the conventional two lines of battle, then advanced and rolled up the Austrian flank. Frederick was superbly lucky that day; not only had Prince Charles moved the cavalry from his army's left to the right, but the infantry on the left were Protestant Wurttemberg troops sympathetic to the also Protestant Prussians. After firing a few half-hearted volleys, they broke ranks in front of the advancing Prussian line. The other Austrian infantry on their left, when beset with murderous 12 pounder Prussian artillery and devastating volleys from the advancing Prussians, quickly broke ranks as well. Prince Charles rushed troops from his right to his left, forming a hastily-made line along the town of Leuthen (formerly the Austrian center). The Austrians desperately attempted to realign themselves, but since their line of battle was so long, it took soldiers from the right flank one and a half hours to get into place. The long Prussian line did not halt their amazing advance for a second, assaulting Leuthen with artillery support. The determined Prussians, in forty minutes of hell, took the village while both armies' artillery pounded away at each other. Now the Austrian cavalry, seeing the exposed Prussian line, hurried to take them in the flank and win the battle. Unfortunately for them, the Prussian cavalry intercepted them in a devastating charge. The cavalry melee soon swirled into the Austrian line behind Leuthen, causing widespread confusion and havoc. The Austrian line then broke; the battle lasted a little more than three hours. After seeing his army defeated, Prince Charles of Lorraine was heard to have said "I can't believe it!"

Aftermath

The key to victory in this battle was the pre-battle operational maneuvers. Frederick the Great was able to hide his intentions, achieve complete surprise, and strike a massive blow on the enemy's weakest point, a tactic reminiscent of Bewegungskrieg, or more commonly known as Blitzkrieg. The Austrians fell back into Bohemia; saving Silesia for the Prussian state. It was Frederick the Great's greatest victory ever, and again showed the world of the superiority of Prussian infantry at the time. Soon after, Maria Theresa demanded the resignation of Prince Charles, her inept double brother-in-law.

References

* Citino, Robert M.. "The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years War to the Third Reich". University Press of Kansas. Lawrence, KS, 2005. ISBN 0-7006-1410-9
* Jon Latimer, "Deception in War", London: John Murray, 2001, ISBN 0-7195-5605-8 pp.19-20.

External links

* [http://the-art-of-battle.350.com/The_Battles.htm Battle of Leuthen animated battle map] by Jonathan Webb


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