Battle of Breslau (1757)
|Battle of Breslau|
|Part of the Seven Years' War|
|Commanders and leaders|
|August Wilhelm, Duke of Brunswick-Bevern||Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine|
|28,000 men||84,000 men|
|Casualties and losses|
|6,000 men||5,000 men|
The Battle of Breslau (also known as the Battle on the Lohe) was a battle fought on November 22, 1757 during the Seven Years' War. A Prussian army of 28,000 men fought an Austrian army of 84,000 men. The Prussians held off the Austrian attack, losing 6,000 men to the Austrians 5,000 men. But one day later the Prussians beat a retreat. Breslau's garrison surrendered on November 25, 1757.
In 1757 the Prussian king, Fredrick II, was still active in Saxony. During this time, the duke of Brunswick-Bevern was supposed to cover Silesia with a force of 32,000 troops. This soon turned out to be a difficult task as he had to face the superior Austrian forces, whose main army of 54,000 troops was led by Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine and Count Leopold Joseph von Daun. The corps of 28,000 troops under Franz Leopold von Nádasdy was also able to advance to the front. Despite their overwhelming superiority, the Austrians wanted to initially avoid a battle. The main army's role was supposed to be tying up the Prussians thereby allowing Nádasdy’s forces to take the fortress of Schweidnitz, which was a key position ensuring the flow of supplies Bohemia to Silesia.
After Nádasdy’s corps had been reinforced bringing its size up to 43,000 troops, the Austrians surrounded Schweidnitz on 14 October. The handover then took place on 13 November. Until then, Bevern had managed to keep the main Austrian army engaged in battle. However, after joining Nádasdy’s corps it had been considerably strengthened.
As a direct result of the additional reinforcements, the Austrian army command gave up their position and decided to launch an immediate attack on the Prussians; their intention was to take Breslau should before the arrival of the main Prussian forces so that they would be unable to winter in Silesia.
The Prussians had over 40 battalions and 102 squadrons at their disposal (totalling 28,400 troops). The Austrian army, however, consisted of 96 battalions, 93 grenadier companies, 141 squadrons and 228 artillery pieces (totalling 83.606 troops).
Course of battle
Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine attacked the Prussian forces on 22 November outside the gates of Breslau, between the villages of Kosel und Gräbschen, launching the battle with a cannonade. The Prussians, who had taken up fortified positions in the surrounding villages, were then attacked at three separate points. After the Austrians were able to conquer the first few villages, they manned them with howitzers and intensified their cannonade, after which the duke of Brunswick-Bevern gathered ten regiments together and began a counter-attack. A tough, bloody struggle for the villages began, in which the Prussians were able to score several decisive successes against the superior Austrian forces. It has never been established whether Bevern wanted to lead another counter-attack the next day or whether the retreat. Nevertheless, the Prussians did retreat, which seemed to have begun suddenly as if on cue, whether it had been ordered or not. The battle field was consequently abandoned to Prince Charles and the Prussians went back to Glogau via Breslau.
The battle, which had lasted almost the entire day, cost the Austrians 5,723 men and the Prussians 6,350 men.
Following the withdrawal of the Prussian army, 10 battalions under General Johann Georg von Lestwitz remained behind in the fortress of Breslau. The Austrians immediately laid siege under the direction of General Nádasdy. The Austrian minded population of Breslau made the Prussians’ defence very difficult as not only did Breslau’s citizens pressure Lestwitz to vacate the fortress but they also aided any Prussian deserters.
The Prussians’ moral was extremely low due to the defeat in the battlefield and the high proportion of conscripts serving in the army. Discipline almost collapsed. Lestwitz therefore surrendered on the night of 25 November on condition of being allowed to withdraw unhindered. Out of the 4,227 Prussian soldiers, only 599 of them began the march to Glogau. The rest fled the military service which they so despised.
Due to these events, Fredrick II. was forced to completely change his campaign plans. However, he remained determined to attack the Austrian army to tear Silesia away from them. In order to continue the war, Prussia had to rely on Silesia both financially and as a source of future recruitment of troops.
- Davies, Norman & Moorhouse, Roger. Microcosm: Portrait of a Central European City. Pimlico. London, 2003, pp. 206–208. ISBN 0-7126-9334-3 (with a map of the battle on page 513.)