June 18, 1757

With his Prussian army, Frederick invaded and conquered Saxony in 1756 in a pre-emptive strike against the array of enemies that he would eventually face - Russia, France, Sweden, Austria and the Holy Roman Empire.  Frederick crossed into the Habsburg territory of Bohemia as he surrounded the Saxon Army near Pirna and Castle Konigstein and clashed with the Austrian Army at Lobositz.  The 1756 campaign season ended with the surrender of the Saxons as October was too late in the year for Frederick to invade Bohemia.

After a cozy stay in winter quarters, Frederick unleashed his 1757 campaign with an innovative multi-pronged invasion of Bohemia.  Defeating an Austrian army outside Prague on May 6, 1757, Frederick besieged the defeated Austrian force in the city.  With a Prussian army weak in siege expertise and weaponry, Frederick hoped that starvation would doom the besieged Austrian army.  Although the Austrians had suffered a great defeat at the battle of Prague, around 16,000 men had escaped, and these men, combined with other troops, formed a relief force under Marshal Daun - a force of between 50,000 and 60,000 men.  Receiving word that the Austrians in Prague had only eleven days of rations remaining, Daun marched to the area east of Prague near Kolin, maneuvering against a Prussian force under Bevern.  Pondering his next move, on June 14th Daun took up a defensive position on heights behind Beczvarka Stream.  Always seeking to maintain the initiative, Frederick joined Bevern with reinforcements, bringing the Prussian force up to 34,000 men.  Frederick was unhappy with his defensive position and thought that Daun's position was too strong to attack directly.  

Frederick could see that the Austrian position was on gentle slopes with a good fields of fire overlooking a creek.  Rather than attacking this position directly, Frederick approaching along this road, then called the Kaiserstrasse, crossing the creek to move around the Austrian right flank.  Once across the creek, Frederick would deploy and attack the Austrian right flank en echelon, starting with the lead brigade followed by the next brigade, which reinforced the success of the first -  followed by the next, and so forth.  It was to be an oblique attack of the kind that he would make famous.  

Beginning the move on the afternoon of June 17th, Frederick's men were visible to the Austrians on higher ground.  Seeing the threat, at 7pm Daun started to shift his men, leaving Wied's division facing east while the rest of the army faced north by 5am on June 18th.

Kaiserstrasse Looking West Across the Beczvarka Valley Toward the Austrian Position

A) Near Novi Mesto Inn

Croats hiding in the tall grain slowed Frederick's march along the Kaiserstrasse, which was led by Zieten's cavalry.  At Planian Frederick climbed the church tower, but moisture in the air hindered visibility.  Continuing roughly a mile, Frederick reached Novi Mesto Inn.  There, at 10:30am, Frederick stopped his column and sent the men 300 paces to the right into the fields.  Climbing to the upper floor of the inn, Frederick and his generals surveyed the situation.  Frederick could see that the Austrians had shifted their position and were now in a defensive position on Przerovsky Hill.  There were no Austrian troops visible on Krzeczor Hill.   Although his generals were less enthused, Frederick saw an opportunity and ordered his army forward on the Kaiserstrasse an additional two miles.  Then his advance guard would move on Krzeczor Hill and take the Austrians in their flank.  A few Austrian troops were already in the villages of Krzeczor and Kutlire.  On the reverse slope, Daun was shifting more troops to Krzeczor Hill.


Zieten's advance guard cavalry moved off the Kaiserstrasse and into the fields east of the road to Krzeczor, which passed through Kutlire.  Facing Nadasty's Austrian cavalry, the Prussian
cavalry covered the left flank of Frederick's infantry - the infantry component of Zieten's advance guard under Major General Hulsen - four battalions which were supported by five squadrons of cavalry to their rear.



It was 2pm before Frederick's assault began.  Protected on their left by Zieten's cavalry, four battalions of infantry under Hulsen advanced from the Kaiserstrasse with their left set to pass through Krzeczor.  Extending the line west was the infantry wing of Lt Gen von Tresckow with 4 bns under MG Ingersleben followed by 4 more bns under MG Braunschweig-Luneberg (Wolfenbuttel).  Ingersleben advanced over the ground between Krzeczor and Bristvi - the area now occupied by the battle monument.  To his right, and to the right of Bristvi, Braunschweig-Luneberg advanced toward Krzeczor Hill.

Frederick's army, now deployed to attack, extended to beyond Novi Mesto.  When the time was right, these troops would join the attack and move on Przerovsky Hill.

E) "Swedish" Earthworks

Constructed during the Thirty Years War, these earthworks just outside Krzeczor, as well as the Krzeczor churchyard, were briefly defended by Banalist Croats against Hulsen's infantry advancing up the slope from the Kaiserstrasse.  Few in number, the Croats could only hope to harass the enemy.  They delayed the Prussians by perhaps half an hour, which was long enough to effect the course of the battle.

F) Oak Wood

Pushed back from Krzeczor, the Banalist Croats needed to cross the open ground south of the village to reach the safety of Oak Wood.  Zieten's cavalry had kept pace with Hulsen's advance and now threatened the Croats as they moved across open country.  To protect them, Nadasty launched a counter-charge.  This checked the Prussian cavalry, and the opposing mounted forces on this flank continued to spar indecisively throughout the battle. 

Having seen the beginning of the Prussian attack, Daun declared that Frederick would lose the battle, no trifling statement considering the Prussian King's skill.  Daun had already ordered Weid to shift from his original position to behind Przerovsky Hill.  Daun had extended his line near Krzeczor Hill with artillery and Fiorenza's grenadiers, and now he ordered Weid to continue east and further extend the army's right flank, forming the first line of infantry along the ridge south of Krzeczor.  


Perhaps seeing a cloud of dust behind the Austrian position, Frederick decided to send more men into battle.  Frederick's second in command, Prince Moritz of Anhalt-Dessau, was unhappy with the decision, seeing that instead of reinforcing a successful attack into the Austrian flank, the Prussian army was being drawn into a frontal attack against a numerically superior foe.  Advancing from the Kaiserstrasse, Tresckow's nine infantry battalions ascended the ridge line, passing over the site of the battle monument and reaching this road.  In line along the axis of this road, the Tresckow's infantry (in two lines) advanced on the Austrian infantry and artillery on the higher ground to their front, high ground that reached its peak at Krzeczor Hill.  


Advancing through the tall grain, Tresckow's two lines became one.  Meeting heavy canister fire, the Prussians faced Sincere's Austrians, who had just arrived.  A fierce firefight ensued, with both side suffering.  The Austrians, however, were able to move up more troops and hold the line, which by around 4:15 extended along both Krzeczor and Przerovsky Hills.  Starhemberg formed the Austrian second line with cavalry forming a third line in support to the rear.  


Several attacks by Tresckow's men were repulsed, with the men regrouping along the Krzeczor-Bristvi Road.  With Frederick's attack bogged down, the battle was going well for Daun.  Moreover, the Austrians vastly outnumbered the Prussians, so an attritional battle would inevitably lead to Prussian defeat.


A couple of Hulsen's battalions had been able to enter Oak Wood, but they were ultimately repulsed.  Launching a counterattack toward Krzeczor, the Austrian right flank abandoned the safety of the Oak Wood.  The Prussian cavalry supporting Hulsen's infantry attacked the Austrian flank, smashing regiment after regiment, aided by confusion among the Austrians about which side the attacking cavalry fought for.  Tresckow's infantry joined the attack, and Weid's Austrian line was smashed.  Austrian cavalry passed through Starhemberg's line to enter the fray, and Zieten's Prussian cavalry joined in.  In the confused fight the Austrians were losing regiment after regiment, and someone gave the order to retreat.


The Botta Regiment was next in line for the Prussians to attack, but the Austrian infantrymen pivoted to face the Prussians, and they stood firm, charging the Prussians after their ammunition was expended.  Reinforced by rallied Austrian regiments, Botta held the line, and the mistaken order to retreat was countermanded.


Advancing from the Kaiserstrasse in the valley below on the right side of the panorama, Manstein ejected the Croats from the village of  Chotzemitz.  Following the Croats, the Prussians continued along the axis of this road, attacking the Austrians on Przerovsky Hill.  The Prussians were repeatedly repulsed, and for a while Frederick himself entered the fray, trying in vain to lead his men forward.  After Austrian artillery fire routed his small band, Frederick was persuaded to withdraw.  Frederick is reputed to have said to his men, "Dogs, do you want to live forever?"  Judging from behavior, they likely did.

Around 5pm, Daun ordered Stumpach's cavalry on his left flank to attack the Prussian right, but this attack was repulsed.  Toward the center of the armies, however, another cavalry action was looming.

The afternoon fighting would be fierce and confused - difficult to understand without a map and a brief overview .  After the Austrian and Saxon cavalry mistakenly withdrew, Prussian cavalry under Pennavaire attacked into the flank of the Austrian infantry.  More Prussian cavalry under Krosigk joined in, but the attacks failed.  The Austrian and Saxon cavalry that had mistakenly withdrawn now attacked with great success and nearly reached the Kaiserstrasse.  Returning a different way, the Allied cavalry smashed into the rear of Tresckow's infantry with Krosigk's repulsed horsemen were returning having been thrown back by Starhemberg.    


Although the Prussian attack on Krzecor Hill had been stopped around 5:30pm, the Austrian line was still ragged.  At around 5:45, four Prussian cavalry regiments under Pennaviare, with two regiments in the first line supported by two regiments in a second line, advanced from the Prussian rear.  Passing along the axis of this road in the fields on the right side of the panorama, the Prussian cavalry regiments advanced toward three Austrian regiments sent toward them.  At about 150 yards, the Austrians withdrew to one side after mistakenly being ordered to do so.  


Pennaviare's Prussian cavalry now decided to wheel left and attack the Austrian infantry line.  Rather than push home with shock action, the Prussian cavalry instead exchanged pistol shots for musketry volleys at 20 paces - a losing proposition if there ever was one.  Now, the Austrian cavalry returned, smashing into the right flank of the stationary Prussian cavalry.  Meanwhile, more Austrian cavalry under Starhemberg attacked the left flank of Pennaviare's cavalry.  (not shown on the panorama)  It was more than the Prussians could take, and not even Frederick himself could rally them.  A little later, more Prussian cavalry under Krosigk made its way through Tresckow's infantry to attack the Austrian line near here.  They, too, were repulsed by musketry and canister, and in confusion they headed back to their own lines of infantry.

M) Allied Cavalry Attack

Earlier in the battle, Tresckow's Prussian infantry had advanced through this area on their way toward Krzeczor Hill with Pennavaire's cavalry in support to their rear.  After 5:30pm, Pennavaire attacked and was repulsed.

Having repulsed Pannaviare's Prussian cavalry, the Austrian/Saxon cavalry pursued them - well into the Prussian rear.  Crossing the road shown here in the panorama, the Austrian horsemen continued, nearly reaching Braditz near the Kaiserstrasse before they returned.  Not content to return the same way, the Austrian horsemen circled around Bristvi toward the rear of the Prussian infantry of Tresckow!


Tresckow's weary infantry were in the fields on the right half of the panorama.  Previously, they had let Krosigk's cavalry pass through their lines.  Now the Prussian cavalry came crashing back toward them.  Meanwhile, the mass of Austrian and Saxon cavalry that had pursued well into the Prussian rear were returning to their lines through Tresckow's Prussian infantry.  In the ensuing confusion, at least three Prussian infantry battalions were smashed, and a wounded Tresckow was captured.

N) Final Attack

It had been a confused and bloody day, and the armies had shifted positions through the day.  It was now evening - around 7pm - and Frederick ordered a final attack from his reorganized army.  Between Przerovsky Hill and Krzeczor Hill, the Prussians advanced on Sincere's division.  Austrian cavalry attacked the left flank of this Prussian attack - then its rear.  Attacked now on both sides, the attacking Prussians were forced back.  On Krzeczor Hill, the Prussian infantry pushed back the Austrians for time, but by 9pm the Prussian infantry had to fall back all the way to the Kaiserstrasse.

Frederick was defeated, and like times past, he left his army, in this case to raise the siege of Vienna and prepare for his army's retreat from Bohemia.  It was late in the evening and Daun's army was exhausted.  He sent his Croats in pursuit but not his six unused cavalry regiments.  Casualties had been horrific on both sides, but the seemingly invincible Frederick had been defeated and humbled.

Frederick's hopes of conquering Bohemia and threatening Vienna were ended, and he was fortunate to escape with his army to Bautzen.  In late August, Frederick's brother Henry talked him out of a desperate attack on Daun's army in a formidable hilltop position.  Although fall was approaching, the year's campaign was not yet over.  Now Frederick also had to consider a combined French and Holy Roman Empire Army approaching from the west.  With luck, he might move quickly against that army then move back east to face Daun.  It was his only hope.  At Rossbach, Frederick would meet the new foe in a battle that would decide the fate of his kingdom.

Copyright 2012-14 by John Hamill

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