FRIEDRICH AT BAY: A CAMPAIGN REPORT
The main goal for Friedrich’s Prussia is survival. In conjunction with the Anglo-Hanoverian forces in Flanders, Friedrich must hold off counter from France, Austria, the Empire, Russia and Sweden. A totally offensive war is out of the question because Prussia’s resources will become exhausted as those of her enemies increase. A defensive strategy appears the soundest option, but this requires patience, the ability to retreat often, defend key sectors, concede minimal losses in battle, recruit fresh troops at every opportunity and hope that Prussia’s opponents will quit the war before they have achieved their strategic objectives.
For the purposes of the narrative, I have assumed each SP to be equivalent to approximately 5,000 troops.
Spring 1756 ~ Opening Moves
Prussia initially has six armies deployed in the field: Schwerin and Keith, with 35,000 men, defend Silesia; Friedrich and Winterfeldt, with a further 35,000, probe into Saxony; Seydlitz occupies Magdeburg with 20,000 troops; Lehwaldt defends East Prussia with another 30,000; Dohna has 20,000 to guard Pomerania; and Prinz Heinrich occupies Königsberg with 20,000, ready to move either in support of Dohna or against the Swedes.
To the west, Frederick’s Anglo-Hanoverian allies prepare to defend Flanders against French incursions. Ferdinand of Brunswick moves south to Achim with 30,000, while the Duke of Cumberland occupies Hameln with another 30,000.The duc de Richelieu and Chevert advance into Ravensberg with 60,000 men, while another 40,000 under Soubise invades Hesse-Kassel.
Apraxin, with 25,000 Russians, is tasked with conquering East Prussia, while Saltykove and Fermor cross Poland with 30,000 men, another 25,000 bringing up the rear under Tottleben. Meanwhile a 20,000 strong Swedish army under Ehrenvärd invades Mecklenberg.
While 30,000 Imperial troops under Hildberghausen prepare to invade Saxony from the west, the Austrians, in four corps, advance on a broad front: on the right, Laudon’s 35,000 troops marches through Moravia; on the left, Lacy’s 30,000 enters Bohemia; while Dohna takes a central position with 35,000 in reserve to support either flank. Meanwhile, the main striking force of 50,000 under Browne and Lothringen invades Saxony.
Summer 1756 ~ Austria takes the Offensive
The opposing armies continue to manoeuvre throughout the summer, Frederick reaching Dresden and Heinrich occupying Stettin. Ferdinand moves to Diepholz and Cumberland to Northeim. The French respond by concentrating their entire force (100,000) at Corbach.
The Swedes capture their first primary objective (Küstrow), while the Russians continue to advance in the east; Apraxin threatening Riesenburg; Tottleben, Neu-Stettin, Saltykov, Kustrin; and Fermor, Woldenburg.
Austria seizes claims primary objectives when Laudon takes Cosel in Silesia and Browne and Lothringen occupy Zittau.
Autumn 1756 ~ Encounter at Tetschen.
Thus far, Prussia has avoided being drawn into a major battle, preferring to observe the movements of the enemy, but as the campaign year draws to a close, Frederick notes that the Austrian armies are stretched along a wide concave arc from Cosel in the east to Lauban in the west. Without wishing to engage in an unnecessary battle, the Prussian king decides to draw Browne and Lothringen away from Silesia by threatening the Austrian supply lines and to this end invades Bohemia.
At the same time, Seydlitz is ordered to march south from Magdeburg to deal with the Imperialist army in Saxony. Seydlitz’s arrival at Halle has the desired effect of forcing Hildberghausen to withdraw to the vicinity of Jena, while Friedrich’s probe toward Tetschen prompts the Austrians to intercept.
In the first major engagement of the war, 50,000 Austrians are pitted against 35,000 Prussians. Both sides are strong in their chosen suits and while the encounter threatens to be a bloodbath, neither side wishes to exhaust its resources so early in the conflict.
Having temporarily lured the Austrians away from Silesia, Friedrich decides not to be drawn into a major confrontation and, following a minor skirmish, retreats to the west.
In the meantime, Daun and Lacy concentrate their combined 75,000 troops at Habelschwert in preparation for a thrust into Silesia against Schwerin and Keith who can muster only half that number.
The Russian armies continue to manoeuvre along the Polish-Prussian border, Tottleben pushing northward to occupy Neu-Stettin, while Saltykov and Fermor attempt to pin Dohna in Neumark. In East Prussia, Apraxin continues a cat-and-mouse game of manoeuvre with Lehwaldt, neither side seeking a decisive engagement.
Richelieu decides to split his forces once again, detaching Soubise to threaten Kassel, while marching northwest with the remainder, hoping thereby to force his opponent to separate also.
Spring 1757 ~ Prussian victories.
The opening months of the second year see numerous clashes which, while all resulting in Prussian victories, drain precious resources. Seydlitz destroys the Imperial army at Allenburg, while Friedrich counter-attacks and defeats Browne and Lothringen in a second encounter at Tetschen.
Schwerin and Keith inflict a minor defeat on Daun and Lacy at Glatz, but are then forced to retreat when the latter counter-attack. Meanwhile in East Prussia, Apraxin’s army is annihilated by Lehwaldt. Saltykov and Fermor capture neu-Stettin and attack Heinrich and Dohna at Stargard, but are repulsed. In the west there is little action as, saving Soubise’s occupation of Kassel, both sides content themselves with countering the manoeuvres of their opponents.
Summer 1757 ~ Prussia on the defensive
Prussia’s battlefield successes have not only been costly in resources but also without decisive gains. Austria’s potential remains unaffected, while Russian troops continue to haunt Neumark and Pomerania. While the threat to East Prussia has been removed, it is only a matter of time before the Russians regroup and invade again. Friedrich must curb his impetuosity and go on to the defensive.
Schwerin and Keith fall back to Breslau; Seydlitz hurries to join the king at Dresden; Lehwaldt is ordered to abandon East Prussia and distract the Russians who have captured Neu-Stettin, Colberg and Kustrin.
Ferdinand and Cumberland, meantime, remain on the defensive in Brunswick following a minor reverse at Lemgo which is followed by Soubise’s capture of Göttingen.
While the Swedish campaign continues uninterrupted with the capture of Anklam, the Austrians continue to push into Silesia, Laudon taking Lublinitz; Daun and Lacy occupying Glatz.
Autumn 1757 ~ Anglo-Hanoverians defeated
Friedrich struggles to hold his defensive lines in Silesia as Schwerin and Keith again fall back, after another reverse at Breslau, before the advancing Austrians. Browne and Lothringen capture Buzlau and Laudon takes Neisse.
The Russians continue making inroads into eastern Prussia after receiving 20,000 reinforcements. Tottleben remains in Kammin with 25,000 to deal with the approaching Lehwaldt, while Fermor joins Saltykov at Woldenburg bringing their total to 40,000. Meanwhile, Apraxin has recruited a new army of 15,000 at Warsaw and has begun his advance northward to East Prussia.
In western Germany, Friedrich’s Anglo-Hanoverian allies are unable to stem the French advance. Richelieu and Chevert win a major victory near Hanover, capturing Hameln and forcing Ferdinand and Cumberland to retreat almost as far as Hamburg.
As all sides go into winter quarters, the cause of Prussia and her allies looks bleak indeed.
Spring 1758 ~ Hanover and Brunswick captured
As the war enters its third year, the Anglo-Prussian coalition faces its sternest test as French armies continue to rampage across the western German states, the Austrian thrust deeper into Silesia and Russian armies overrun Neumark and Kammin.
Soubise captures Magdeburg and Braunschweig, while Richelieu and Chevert conquer Hanover and Minden. At a council of war in Bremen, Ferdinand of Brunswick and the Duke of Cumberland decide to offer firmer resistance and entrench in the vicinity of Syke.
In the north, Lehwaldt has reached Stolpe in time to threaten the Russian right flank, but Tottleben prepares to hold the region at Falkenburg from which location he can defend Stettin and Colberg. Meanwhile Saltykov and Fermor capture Woldenburg and Apraxin invades East Prussia.
In Saxony, Friedrich’s strategy to distract the Austrians appears to be paying dividends: Browne and Lothringen turns aside from Silesia to thrust toward Biscofswerda, but the king withdraws toward Dresden after taking minor losses. In Silesia, meanwhile, Schwerin and Keith launch a counter-attack against Daun and Lacy at Neumarkt and although inflicting only minimal losses, the check inflicted on the Austrian advance represents Prussia’s first significant success.
Having recruited 20,000 Imperial troops, Hildburghausen invades Saxony a second time, occupying Naumburg and Leipzig.
Summer 1758 ~ Mixed Fortunes
Hitherto, the Anglo-Hanoverian army has known only setbacks in its attempt to stem the tide of the French advance. If the army of the duc de Richelieu is not to sweep all before it, the allies must make a stand. Friedrich has already promised to detach Prussian troops in support – primarily to retake Magdeburg – with this promise (and the king’s exhortations), Ferdinand and Cumberland elect to take the offensive.
After bringing their forces up to full strength – 60,000 men – the allies strike at Osnabrück where, in a battle between equal forces, the Anglo-Hanoverians gain there much-needed victory, the French losing 15,000 casualties. Meanwhile, Soubise subjugates Halberstadt, the French only needing Diepholz and Wittingen to secure outright victory.
Prussian armies also enjoy success in several theatres: Lehwaldt’s 30,000 Prussians destroy Tottleben’s 25,000 Russians at Falkenburg; Schwerin and Keith, with 40,000 men, gain a double victory over the Austrians, decisively defeating Daun and Lacy’s 60,000 strong army at Strehlen, before driving Laudon’s 20,000 back from Olau.
However the coalition does not have everything its own way: Ehrenvärd’s Swedes crush Dohna’s force en route to retake Magdeburg; and Saltykov and Fermor, commanding 40,000 Russians, defeat Prinz Heinrich at Gortz, the latter escaping with only 5,000 of his original 25,000 strong force.
Browne and Lothringen again engage Friedrich, the latter typically withdrawing with insubstantial losses, but allowing the victors to capture Muskau.
Hildburghausen captures Torgau and Bitterfeld, as the three Austrian armies of Daun, Lacy and Laudon – 80,000 in all – unite at Große Strehlitz.
Autumn 1758 ~ French defeated at Diepholz
After extorting money and troops from the citizens of Leipzig, the army of Friedrich and Seydlitz reaches 55,000 men. Adhering to his - thus far – successful strategy of goading the Austrians without committing to a major battle, the Prussians once again distract Browne and Lothringen from Silesia before falling back toward Dresden. Meanwhile, Winterfeldt, with a force of 5,000 troops has been conducting a diversionary raid behind Austrian lines, recapturing Glatz and ransacking a supply train at Neurode. While Lacy is detached to deal with this threat, Daun and Laudon again try to dislodge Schwerin and Keith from Breslau but without effect.
Elswhere, Prussian fortunes enjoy a change for the better: In Mecklenburg, Heinrich destroys the Swedish supply train before being dispersed by Ehrensvärd at Furstenberg; the Russians - having disposed of Dohna and Heinrich - now face the new threat of Lehwaldt who has retaking Colberg and Neu-Stettin. In Berlin, Dohna raises 15,000 troops to march on Magdeburg.
With Russian and Austrian offensives grinding to a halt, all eyes turn to the French to deliver the coup de gras; As Soubise marches on Wittingen, Richelieu and Chevert try once again to dislodge the Anglo-Hanoverians from Diepholz but, after suffering yet another heavy reverse, retreat to Büren.
For the moment at least, the Anglo-Prussian alliance has survived but as the year ends, Friedrich does his cause no favours when the publication of anti-English poems prompt the Duke of Newcastle’s government to reduce its subsidies.
Spring 1759 ~ Austrians halted
The fourth year of the war opens with Ferdinand and Cumberland going on to the offensive to retake Minden. Soubise captures Wittingen, but then has to retrace his steps toward Magdeburg, where Dohna is fast-approaching with 30,000 troops.
Austria’s offensive in Silesia is blunted following Winterfeld’s capture of a second supply train, obliging all armies to fall back and re-establish supply lines at Tabor and Brünn. The Imperialists, meantime, continue unhindered to take Chemnitz and Rochlitz.
The Russians draw on fresh recruits as Apraxin seizes Rastenburg and Königsberg in East Prussia and Tottleben raises a new army of 20,000 in Poland. Saltykov and Fermor take Pyritz and now have to deal with Lehwaldt in Kammin.
Summer 1759 ~ Sweden makes peace
The major event of the summer is the surprise abandonment of the war by Sweden. After securing Prenzlau, Angermünde and Schwedt, the Swedish king, Adolf Frederick, decides that he has acquired sufficient territory and makes peace with the Prussians.
No such designs distract the other contending powers. In the north, three Russian armies are converging on the region of Kammin where, under severe pressure, Lehwaldt engages in a series of fighting withdrawals in an effort to save Colberg and Neu-Stettin.
Having re-established supply lines, the combine Austrian armies of Daun, Laudon and Lacy rendezvous at Reichenbach for another attempt to regain Breslau.
In the west, the Ferdinand and Cumberland continue to frustrate French efforts to capture Diepholz and Minden. However, after augmenting his army with 25,000 reinforcements, Richelieu achieves a victory at Osnabrück, finally dislodging the Anglo-Hanoverians from Diepholz and forcing them back to Syke.
Autumn 1759 ~ Russians close in
In Vienna, pressure mounts for Austrian armies to take decisive action without regard for the consequences. Accordingly, Chancellor Kaunitz orders an offensive against Breslau and the other Silesian cities, absolving the commanders in advance of responsibility for any defeat. Daun, Laudon and Lacy therefore attack the Prussians, gaining a morale-boosting victory at Breslau.
In the meantime, with the Austrians occupied in Silesia, Friedrich and Seydlitz seize the opportunity to march west and defeat the encroaching Imperial forces at Meißen; this despite the depredations of Austrian hussars who disrupt Prussian supply lines, destroying vital ammunition and provisions.
Richelieu gains another victory over the Anglo-Hanoverians at Verden and, over the winter, plans the decisive campaign to complete the conquest of Hanover.
As the Russians close in on Colberg and Neu-Stettin, only Lehwaldt stands between them and total victory. In a belated effort to distract the enemy, Friedrich orders Winterfeldt to retake the unprotected city of Küstrin, but as winter closes in, time is not on Prussia’s side.
Spring 1760 ~ Prussians crushed in Silesia
In accordance with directives from Vienna, five Austrian armies converge on Breslau; Daun, Laudon and Lacy approach from the southeast with 85,000 men, while Browne and Lothringen close in from the northwest with 65,000. Thus surrounded, Keith and Schwerin’s 35,000 Prussians are doomed. The defeat is total. The moment Austria has awaited for twenty years has arrived and Silesia stands open for reconquest.
While Friedrich’s dreams of retaining Silesia are in ruins, he is determined to stem the tide of the Russian invasion. Lehwaldt, however, cannot prevent the surrender of Colberg and only Neu-Stettin stands between Saltykov and victory. As Apraxin closes in from the north to encircle Lehwaldt, Tottelben heads for Küstrin which is being besieged by Winterfeldt.
In the west, Richelieu inflicts another defeat on the coalition at Soltau and Minden finally surrenders.
In Britain, George III has succeeded to the throne, his accession bringing a change of government. The new Prime Minister, Lord Bute, is anxious for peace and to this end, makes cuts to the Prussian subsidies.
Summer 1760 ~ Prussian defeat
Prussia recruits 35,000 troops; Winterfeldt recaptures Kustrin, but Lehwaldt is again defeated at Falkenburg.
Autumn 1760 ~ French victory
The Russians defeat Winterfeldt and capture Woldenburg and Brieg, needing only Neu-Stettin for overall victory. Austrian armies take Breslau, Oels and Liegnitz; but it is the French who snatch victory when Richelieu wins another victory over the Anglo-Hanoverians to seize Diepholz.