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Seven Years' War: Battle of Leuthen

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Seven Years' War: Battle of Leuthen

Frederick the Great of Prussia, 1780 by Anton Graff

Photograph Source: Public Domain

Battle of Leuthen - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Leuthen was fought December 5, 1757, during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763).

Armies & Commanders:

Prussians

  • Frederick the Great
  • 36,000 men

Austrians

  • Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine
  • 80,000 men

Battle of Leuthen - Background:

Despite winning a stunning victory over a Franco-Imperial army at Rossbach on November 5, 1757, Frederick the Great's kingdom remained in jeopardy. While the king was fighting the French, an Austrian army under Prince Charles of Lorraine and Field Marshal Count Leopold Joseph von Daun entered Silesia and succeeded in defeating a Prussian force near Breslau (Map). Retreating, Prussian forces under cavalry commander General Hans Joachim von Ziethen moved to link up with Frederick. Uniting, Frederick worked tirelessly to raise the morale of Ziethen's beaten men.

Battle of Leuthen - Moving to Battle:

Possessing around 36,000 men, Frederick knew that he was outnumbered but still advanced with the goal of expelling the Austrians from Silesia before winter. Reaching Neumarkt on December 4, he took the village and captured 800 Austrians. That night, Frederick received intelligence which showed the Austrians to be in a four-mile long defensive line stretching from Nypern south past Leuthen to Sagschutz. While Frederick made plans to attack the next day, Charles and Daun remained in position believing that the Prussians would not assault a larger force, particularly one that was on the defensive.

Battle of Leuthen - Frederick's Triumph:

Moving out on the morning of December 5, Frederick marched with Major General Heinrich von Wedell's advance guard. Arriving at Borna, two miles in front of the Austrian lines, the Prussians encountered an advance force of Austrian cavalry. Scouting the enemy position, Frederick ordered a combined cavalry-infantry attack which drove the Austrians from the field and yielded 800 prisoners. Moving up, Frederick halted his army between the villages of Heyde and Frobelwitz. From this area, the king had a full view of the main Austrian position.

While the Austrian right near Nypern was largely hidden in the wood of Lissa, the line stretched south and was anchored on a knoll near Sagshutz with the Schweidnitz River to the rear. Realizing that the knoll commanded the length of the Austrian position, Frederick began making plans for its capture. To strike at the knoll and take the Austrians in the flank, it was imperative that Charles not discover Frederick's movement to the south. This was aided by a string of hills which masked the Prussian's march. To fix the Austrian center and right in place, Frederick detached part of his army to deploy in the north (Map).

Forming for battle, this force successfully distracted the Austrians and Charles shifted reserves to his right in anticipation of a Prussian attack. Though some Prussian movements were seen to the south, Daun interpreted them as the Frederick retreating. Having successfully shifted south, Frederick formed his troops for battle with Wedell's men in the lead and Ziethen's cavalry on his right flank (Map). Surging forward, the Prussians stunned the Austrians and quickly took the knoll. While Ziethen repelled a counterattack by Austrian cavalry, Frederick quickly ordered twenty 12-pdr guns emplaced on the hill.

Opening fire, the guns helped prevent Austrian counterattacks as the Prussians pressed their assault and rolled up the enemy's line. Though taken by surprise, Charles and Daun worked to shift their front and form a new line on either side of Leuthen. This was slowed by original length of their line which delayed the arrival troops from the Austrian right. Attacking Leuthen around 3:30 PM, the Prussians succeeded in carrying the town with aid of well-placed artillery fire (Map). Falling back, the Austrians formed a new line in the hills north of the Leuthen.

From this position, they were able to initially halt the Prussian advance. With Frederick's men held, the Austrians began preparing a massive cavalry assault on the Prussian left. Seeing this, Frederick ordered Lieutenant General George Wilhem von Driesen to attack first. Striking the Austrian cavalry in the flank as it formed, Driesen's men drove it from the field. Around this time, Wedell's men on the Prussian right succeeded in turning the Austrian left flank. Under fire from three sides, Charles' army broke and began fleeing towards Lissa and the bridge over the Schweidnitz (Map).

Battle of Leuthen - Aftermath:

Pursuing the fleeing enemy, the Prussians occupied Lissa between 7:00 and 8:00 PM and secured the bridge. Holding his men on the west bank, Frederick paused and prepared to renew battle the next day. Badly defeated, Charles retreated back towards Breslau and ultimately departed Silesia. Advancing, Frederick liberated Breslau on December 20. In the fighting at Leuthen, the Prussians suffered 1,175 killed and 5,207 wounded, while the Austrians sustained around 3,000 killed, 6,000-7,000 wounded, and 10,000-12,000 captured. A brilliant battle of maneuver, Leuthen is often considered to be Frederick's masterpiece.

Selected Sources

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Conflicts & Battles
  5. Battles & Wars: 1601-1800
  6. French & Indian War
  7. Battle of Leuthen - Frederick the Great Battle of Leuthen

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