Miracle of the House of Brandenburg

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This Prussian snuff-box was made in 1762 to celebrate the Treaty of Saint Petersburg. Frederick II is shown shaking hands with Peter III of Russia and Adolf Frederick, King of Sweden

The Miracle of the House of Brandenburg is the name given by Frederick II of Prussia to the failure of Russia and Austria to follow up their victory over him at the Battle of Kunersdorf on 12 August 1759.[1]

Miracle of the House of Brandenburg[edit]

After the Battle of Kunersdorf, Frederick thought Prussia faced certain defeat. He wrote that it was "a cruel reverse! I shall not survive it. I think everything is lost. Adieu pour jamais".[2] Prussia had lost 19,000 soldiers and was left with 18,000. On 16 August he wrote that if the Russians crossed the Oder and marched on the Prussian capital, Berlin, "We'll fight them – more in order to die beneath the walls of our own city than through any hope of beating them".[3] That day the Russian Field Marshal Saltykov and his army crossed the Oder and the day before the Austrian Field Marshal Laudon and his army had done the same. Field Marshal Daun was marching the rest of the Austrian army north from Saxony. All three forces aimed to march on Berlin.

Frederick massed 33,000 men to defend Berlin against enemy forces which he estimated totalled 90,000. However now came what Frederick called "the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg". The Austrians and the Russians proved reluctant to follow through their victory by occupying Berlin, and in September began withdrawing their forces. The Austrians and Russians had lost 20,000 men at Kunersdorf and both armies had concerns that their lines of communication were being stretched to the limit by marching so far. Also, one of Frederick's generals, his brother Prince Henry, was not involved in Kunersdorf and still posed a threat to the Austrians and Russians. Frederick regained confidence.[4]

Second Miracle of the House of Brandenburg[edit]

By December 1761, after five years of war, the strategic situation for Prussia was bleak, as Frederick wrote on 10 December:

The Austrians are masters of Schweidnitz and the mountains, the Russians are behind the length of the Warthe from Kolberg to Posen...my every bale of hay, sack of money or batch of recruits only arriving by courtesy of the enemy or from his negligence. Austrians controlling the hills in Saxony, the Imperials the same in Thuringia, all our fortresses vulnerable in Silesia, in Pomerania, Stettin, Kustrin, even Berlin, at the mercy of the Russians.[5]

During the war the Prussians had lost 120 generals, 1,500 officers (out of 5,500) and over 100,000 men. Most Prussians now supported peace and Frederick was trying to bring the Ottoman Empire into the war but his efforts met no success. Then, in January 1762, Frederick received the news that the Empress Elizabeth of Russia had died on 5 January: "The Messalina of the North is dead. Morta la Bestia", wrote Frederick on 22 January.[6] Her nephew Peter succeeded her and was a strong admirer of Frederick the Great. He therefore reversed Elizabeth's anti-Prussian policy and negotiated peace with Prussia, with an armistice in March and a treaty of peace and friendship signed on 15 May.[7]

Second World War[edit]

Near the end of World War II in April 1945, Berlin was again encircled by Russian armies. The German Minister of Finance, Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, recorded in his diary how in early April in the Führerbunker, Joseph Goebbels read out loud to Adolf Hitler Thomas Carlyle's biography of Frederick the Great, the chapter being about

...how the great king himself no longer saw any way out of his difficulties, no longer had any plan; how all his generals and ministers were convinced that his downfall was at hand; how the enemy was already counting Prussia as destroyed; how the future hung dark before him, and in his last letter to his minister, Count Finckenstein, he gave himself one last respite: if there was no change by 15 February, he would give it up and take poison. “Brave king!” says Carlyle, “wait ye a little while, and the days of your good fortune stands behind the clouds, and soon will rise upon you.” On 12 February the Czarina died; the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg had come to pass.[8]

After reading this to Hitler, "tears stood in the Führer's eyes". However Krosigk misquotes Carlyle for the minister was the Count d'Argenson rather than Finckenstein.[9]

Later that month came the news that the United States President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had died. Krosigk wrote that "We felt the wings of the Angel of History rustle through the room. Could this be the long-desired change of fortune?"[10] Krosigk records Goebbels as saying that:

...for reasons of Historical Necessity and Justice, a change of fortune was inevitable, like the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg in the Seven Years War. One of the staff officers had somewhat sceptically and ironically asked, What Czarina will die this time? That, Goebbels had replied, he could not say; but Fate still held many possibilities in her hand. Then he had driven home, and had heard the news of Roosevelt's death. Immediately, he had telephoned to Buse, and said, “The Czarina is dead.” Buse had told him that this made a great impression on his soldiers; now they saw another chance.[11]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ David Fraser, Frederick the Great. King of Prussia (London: Allen Lane, 2000), p. 420.
  2. ^ Fraser, p. 419.
  3. ^ Fraser, p. 419.
  4. ^ Fraser, p. 421.
  5. ^ Fraser, p. 456.
  6. ^ Fraser, p. 457.
  7. ^ Fraser, p. 459.
  8. ^ Hugh Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler. Seventh Edition (London: Papermac, 1995), p. 87.
  9. ^ Trevor-Roper, p. 87.
  10. ^ Trevor-Roper, p. 88.
  11. ^ Trevor-Roper, pp. 88–89.

References[edit]

  • David Fraser, Frederick the Great. King of Prussia (London: Allen Lane, 2000).
  • Chapter on "The Miracle of the House of Brandenburg" in: Russell Frank Weigley. The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo. Indiana University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-253-21707-5.