Battle of Leuthen
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|Battle of Leuthen|
|Part of the Seven Years' War|
Frederick's forces march around the hills to attack the Austrian flank.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Frederick the Great||Charles of Lorraine|
|Casualties and losses|
In the Battle of Leuthen or Lissa, fought on 5 December 1757, Frederick II used maneuver and terrain to decisively defeat a much bigger Austrian army under Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine, thus ensuring Prussian control of Silesia during the Seven Years' War.
While Frederick II was campaigning in central Germany, routing a combined Franco-Imperial army at the Battle of Rossbach, the Austrians had managed to slowly retake Silesia. Frederick had arrived on 28 November 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 the size of his. The commanders in charge of the Austrian army had earlier argued about whether to march out of Breslau to face Frederick, Prince Charles had won the argument. The weather was foggy, but the entire area had once been a training ground for the Prussian army, so Frederick the Great knew the terrain intimately.
Frederick marched directly toward the Austrian army with its center at Leuthen, its front stretching four miles, significantly larger than the average front of the time. Until the Napoleonic Wars the European armies were quite small for a number of reasons: disease, the quality of food and medicine and the levée en masse (mass conscription) had not yet been introduced. The Austrian army was stretched out to such an incredible length in order to prevent it from being out-flanked by Frederick, as was his favorite tactic. 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 infantry toward the Austrian left in columns.
The infantry marched to the south, out of sight of the Austrians, behind a line of low hills. Prince Charles, although in the tower of the church at Leuthen, failed to note the maneuver and responded by moving his reserve to his right flank instead of the threatened left. The Prussian army had seemed to simply vanish, appearing to the Austrians as a retreat; Prince Charles was heard to say "The good fellows are leaving, let's let them go." But when the heads of the two 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 Austrian left flank. Then, on command, the platoons of the columns turned left at Lobetinz, 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 to attack their enemy in the flank. This is often compared with the tactic used by Epaminondas against the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, although there the flank attack was accomplished through force disposition more than through movement.
In the age of linear tactics, as in the days of Epaminondas, such a flanking maneuver can be lethal to the victim. The least-regarded 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.
The Prussian infantry, arrayed in the conventional two lines of battle, then advanced and rolled up the Austrian flank. Frederick was fortunate in that not only had Prince Charles moved the cavalry from his army's left to the right, but the infantry on the Austrian left were Protestant Württemberg troops sympathetic to the similarly 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 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 advance, assaulting Leuthen with artillery support. The Prussians 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, but the Prussian cavalry intercepted them. 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 was heard to have said "I can't believe it!"
The key to victory in this battle was the pre-battle operational maneuvers. Frederick was able to hide his intentions, achieve complete surprise and strike a massive blow at the enemy's weakest point, a tactic reminiscent of 'Bewegungskrieg', more commonly known as Blitzkrieg. The Austrians fell back into Bohemia, saving Silesia for the Prussian state. It was one of Frederick the Great's greatest victories, and again showed the world the superiority of Prussian infantry at the time. Soon after, Maria Theresa demanded the resignation of Prince Charles, her double brother-in-law.
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