Battle of Mollwitz
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|Battle of Mollwitz|
|Part of the War of the Austrian Succession|
Prussian infantry during battle of Mollwitz 1741
|Commanders and leaders|
|Field Marshal Wilhelm Reinhard von Neipperg|
|Casualties and losses|
|3,900 dead or wounded
|2,500 dead or wounded
The Battle of Mollwitz was fought by Prussia and Austria on 10 April 1741, during the early stages of the War of the Austrian Succession. It was the first battle of the new Prussian King Frederick II, in which both sides made numerous military blunders but Frederick the Great still managed to attain victory. This battle cemented his authority over the newly conquered territory of Silesia and gave him valuable military experience.
After the ascension of Maria Theresa of Austria to the Kingdom of Bohemia (Czech) and Kingdom of Hungary, Frederick II saw an opportunity to quickly invade and annex the province of Silesia (then part of the Czech Crown), which would have added much needed land and population to his kingdom. He took it by storm and nearly had the entire province occupied. His troops settled down into winter quarters and were expecting an easy land-grab when Maria Theresa sent an army of about 20,000 men led by Wilhelm Reinhard von Neipperg to take back the province and assert herself as a strong monarch.
The march north 
This army led by Neipperg caught Frederick II completely off-guard as he lingered in the province, and Neipperg's forces surged northwards past Frederick and his army in order to relieve the city of Neisse, which was being besieged by a small Prussian force and had not yet fallen. Both Neipperg and Frederick raced northwards in a rush to reach the city first, in parallel columns. The weather was atrocious for both sides but von Neipperg reached Neisse first and set up camp there. Frederick II and his entire army were now caught behind enemy lines with a large Austrian force lying between him and the rest of his kingdom and his supply and communication lines cut off. Both sides knew that battle was now inevitable.
Prussian preparations 
Information from captured Austrian soldiers allowed Frederick to determine the exact location of Neipperg's forces and position at Mollwitz, while the morning fog and snow allowed Frederick's army to advance undetected all the way to within 2000 paces of Neipperg's army camp. Most commanders would have then given the order to charge the camp and rout the Austrian army, but since Frederick had never fought a campaign or a battle before, he instead decided to deploy his army in a battle line. There was very heavy snow on the ground which caused snow-blindness and so Frederick miscalculated the distance between the river on his right. He deployed several of his units behind a bend in the river where they would be unable to take part in the battle, and several more units were deployed perpendicular to his two battle lines on the right side. It is said that Schwerin commented early on that Frederick made a mistake in his calculation of the distance but was ignored.
Austrian preparations 
Neipperg was in just as bad a situation as he had discovered Frederick's entire army at his doorstep by simply looking out of his window and not only were most of his soldiers still sleeping, his entire army was facing to the Northwest, away from the Prussians. The Austrian army was waking up, desperately rushing from its camp and trying to form into a cohesive fighting force. Eventually around 1:00 PM, both sides had formed up lines of battle and were now ready to engage each other.
The Prussian forces advanced on the Austrian line in two sections, but 6 regiments of Austrian cavalry numbering 4,500 to 5,000 men and horses crashed into the cavalry of the right wing of the Prussian Army and shattered it. This left the Prussian flank open to attack and the Austrian cavalry then turned on the unprotected infantry. Schwerin, the Prussian military commander under Frederick, now advised Frederick II to leave the battlefield because it looked as though the Prussian army was about to be defeated, and the king heeded this warning. Abandoning the field, he was nearly caught and almost shot. Many historians believe that Schwerin advised Frederick to leave so that Schwerin could take command of the troops himself since he was a veteran general who had served in other armies. The scene was very chaotic because the perpendicular infantry units deployed in between the two Prussian lines were fleeing or firing on other Prussian troops as the Austrian cavalry drove into their flank, but at some point the Prussian infantry, drilled and trained to perfection under Frederick William I, began spontaneously turning right and firing volley after volley at the Austrian cavalry, causing tremendous losses. The leader of the Austrian cavalry General Römer received a fatal head shot from a Prussian musket ball and with both leaders of the wings dead, an officer asked Schwerin where they should retreat to. Schwerin famously replied "We'll retreat over the bodies of our enemies" and soon restored the situation on the Prussian right wing. A second Austrian cavalry attack on the left side was beaten back and Schwerin ordered a general advance of all Prussian forces. The Prussian infantry soon engaged the Austrian battle line and since they were some of the most well-drilled infantry of the period, were able to fire 4-5 shots a minute with their flintlock muskets, seriously outgunning their opponents. Soon the Austrians were routed off the field and Frederick the Great stood victorious.
The victory was actually the responsibility of Field Marshal Schwerin. The Prussian king had fled from the battlefield when the Austrians seemed to be winning. Later Frederick the Great swore never again to leave his troops behind in battle and adhered to this promise faithfully until his death in the late 18th century. He annexed the province of Silesia from Austria and learned a number of valuable lessons from Mollwitz. He is quoted as saying "Mollwitz was my school". Frederick had made several mistakes but his army still managed to win the battle due to the superior training of his soldiers. From now on he was committed to aggressiveness, and geared his entire army towards an aggressive approach. He gave a standing order that his cavalry commanders would never receive a cavalry charge while standing still. He greatly increased the use of light cavalry, Hussars, who would act as skirmishers and scouts. Afterwards he is quoted as saying "The Prussian army always attacks."
- 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, entry National Flags: "The Austrian imperial standard has, on a yellow ground, the black double-headed eagle, on the breast and wings of which are imposed shields bearing the arms of the provinces of the empire . The flag is bordered all round, the border being composed of equal-sided triangles with their apices alternately inwards and outwards, those with their apices pointing inwards being alternately yellow and white, the others alternately scarlet and black ." Also, Whitney Smith, Flags through the ages and across the world, McGraw-Hill, England, 1975 ISBN 0-07-059093-1, pp.114 - 119, "The imperial banner was a golden yellow cloth...bearing a black eagle...The double-headed eagle was finally established by Sigismund as regent...".
- Chandler: The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough, p.306: All statistics taken from Chandler
- Chandler, David (1990), The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough, Spellmount Limited, ISBN 0-946771-42-1.
- Citino, Robert M. (2005), The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years War to the Third Reich, Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, ISBN 0-7006-1410-9.
- Duffy, Christopher: "The Army of Frederick the Great" pp 236-238, The Emperor's Press (1996), ISBN 1-883476-02-X
- Asprey, Robert B.: "Frederick the Great: The Magnificent Enigma" pp 195-203 Ticknor & Fields (1986) ISBN 0-89919-352-8