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Battle of Kunersdorf

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Battle of Kunersdorf
Part of the Seven Years' War
Painting by Alexander Kotzebue, 1848
Date 12 August 1759
Location Kunersdorf, Neumark
Margraviate of Brandenburg
Result Russo-Austrian victory
Kingdom of Prussia Prussia Russia Russia
Austria Austria
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Prussia Frederick the Great Russia Pyotr Saltykov
Austria Ernst Gideon von Laudon
230 guns


  • Russian: 41,000 soldiers, including 5,200 cavalry
  • Austrian: 18,523, including 248 guns
Casualties and losses
~6,000 killed
27 banners
2 standards
172 guns
Russian: 13,477–14,000
Austrian: 2,300–4,300
Total: c. 15,500

At the Battle of Kunersdorf, in the Seven Years' War on 12 August 1759, near Kunersdorf (Kunowice), immediately east of Frankfurt an der Oder, more than 100,000 men clashed in a decisive battle. An Allied army commanded by Pyotr Saltykov and Ernst Gideon von Laudon included 41,000 Russians and 18,523 Austrians[1] defeated Frederick the Great's army of 50,900 Prussians.

The terrain complicated battle tactics for both sides, but the Russians and the Austrians, having arrived in the area first, were able to overcome many of its difficulties by strengthening a causeway between two small ponds. They had also devised a solution to Frederick's deadly modus operandi, the oblique order. Although Frederick's troops initially gained the upper hand in the battle, the sheer number of Allied troops gave the Russians and Austrians an advantage. By afternoon, when the combatants were exhausted, fresh Austrian troops thrown into the fray made the difference.

This is the only time in the Seven Years' War that the Prussian Army, under Frederick, disintegrated into a completely undisciplined mass. With this loss, Frankfurt and, subsequently Berlin, were open to assault by the Russians and Austrians, although, surprisingly, Saltykov and Laudon did not follow up on the victory. Only 3,000 soldiers from Frederick's original 50,000 remained with him after the battle, although many more had simply scattered and rejoined the army within a couple of days. This represented the penultimate success of the Russian Empire under Elizabeth of Russia and arguably was Frederick's worst defeat.

Seven Years' War[edit]

Although the Seven Years' War was a global conflict, it took a specific intensity in the European theater based on the recently concluded War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748). The 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle gave Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great, the prosperous province of Silesia. Empress Maria Theresa of Austria had signed the treaty to gain time to rebuild her military forces and forge new alliances; she was intent upon regaining ascendancy in the Holy Roman Empire as well as reacquiring the Silesian province.[2] In 1754, escalating tensions between Britain and France in North America offered France an opportunity to break the British dominance of Atlantic trade. Recognizing the opportunity to regain her lost territories and to limit Prussia's growing power, the Empress put aside the old rivalry with France to form a new coalition. Faced with this turn of events, Britain aligned herself with the Kingdom of Prussia; this alliance drew in not only the British king's territories held in personal union, including Hanover, but also those of his relatives in the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg and the Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel. This series of political maneuvers became known as the Diplomatic Revolution.[3][4][5]

At the outset of the war, Frederick had one of the finest armies in Europe: his troops—any company—could fire at least four volleys a minute, and some of them could fire five.[6] By the end of 1757, the course of the war had gone well for Prussia, and poorly for Austria. Prussia had achieve spectacular victories at Rossbach and Leuthen and reconquered parts of Silesia that had fallen back to Austria.[7] The Prussians then pressed south into Austrian Moravia. In April 1758, Prussia and Britain concluded the Anglo-Prussian Convention in which the British committed to pay him an annual subsidy of £670,000. Britain also dispatched 7,000–9,000 troops[Note 1] to reinforce Frederick's brother-in-law, the Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel's army. Ferdinand evicted the French from Hanover and Westphalia and re-captured the port of Emden in March 1758; he crossed the Rhine with his own forces, causing general alarm in France. Despite Ferdinand's victory over the French at the Battle of Krefeld and the brief occupation of Düsseldorf, successful maneuvering of larger French forces required him to withdraw across the Rhine.[8][9]

While Ferdinand kept the French occupied, Prussia had to contend with Sweden, Russia, and Austria, all of which wanted to carve a piece of Prussia for themselves. Prussia could lose Silesia to Austria, Pomerania to Sweden, Magdeburg to Saxony, and East Prussia to Poland or Russia: an entirely nightmarish scenario.[10] By 1758, Frederick was increasingly concerned by the Russian advance from the east and marched to counter it. Just east of the Oder river in Brandenburg-Neumark, at the Battle of Zorndorf, on 25 August 1758 a Prussian army of 35,000 men fought a Russian army of 43,000.[11] Both sides suffered heavy casualties but the Russians withdrew, and Frederick claimed victory.[12] At the Battle of Tornow a month later, a Swedish army repulsed the Prussian army, but did not move on Berlin.[13] By late summer, fighting had reached a draw. None of Prussia's enemies seemed willing to take the decisive steps to pursue Frederick into Prussia's heartland.[14] Lieutenant Field Marshal Leopold Josef Graf Daun could have ended the war in October at Hochkirch, but he failed to follow up on his victory with a determined pursuit of Frederick's retreating army. This allowed Frederick time to recruit a new army over the winter.[15]

Situation in 1759[edit]

By 1759, Prussia had reached a strategic defensive position; Russian and Austrian troops surrounded Prussia, although not quite at the borders of Brandenburg. Upon leaving winter quarters in April 1759, Frederick assembled his army in Lower Silesia; this forced the main Habsburg army to remain in its staging army in Bohemia. The Russians, however, shifted their forces into western Poland, a move that threatened the Prussian heartland, potentially Berlin itself. Frederick countered by sending Friedrich August von Finck's army corps to contain the Russians. Finck's corps was defeated at the Battle of Kay, on 23 July. Subsequently, Pyotr Saltykov and the Russian forces advanced 110 kilometers (68 mi) west to occupy Frankfurt an der Oder, Prussia's second largest city, on 31 July. There he ordered entrenchment of their camp to the east, near Kunersdorf. To make matters worse for the Prussians, an Austrian corps of 19,200 soldiers, commanded by Ernst Gideon von Laudon, joined them on 5 August. King Frederick rushed from Saxony, took over the remnants of Lieutenant General Carl Heinrich von Wedel's contingent at Müllrose and moved across the Oder River. By the time he had marched the 37 km (23 mi) to Kunersdorf, his forces had been enhanced by Finck's defeated corps, and another corps moving to the Lausitz region: by 9 August, he had 49,000–50,000 troops.[16]


Frederick failed to reconnoiter his enemy's positions.

The terrain surrounding Kunersdorf suited itself better to defense than offense. A stream, the Hühner Fliess, flowed in a depression beyond these hills northwesterly toward the Oder. Two other depressions intersected the ridge, creating three distinct promontories. The western portion was a 3 km (2 mi) stretch from the Judenberge in the southwest to the highest ground in the area, the Grosser Spitzberg and its outcropping in the northeast. A narrow depression, known as the Kuhgrund, lay beyond that. After the Kuhgrund, the ground rose again into another hill, called Mühlberge. Beyond this lay a second depression known as Bäckergrund (also called on maps Beckerlin), then a slight rise known as the Walkberge. There was additional high ground to the east of Kunersdorf, called the Kleiner Spitzberg.[17]

Saltykov crossed the Oder on the same day as Frederick, and knew of Frederick's movements. He established his troops on a strong position from which to receive the Prussian attack, concentrating his force in the center, which he calculated was the best way to counter-act any attempt by Frederick to deploy his deadly oblique order.[18] Saltykov entrenched himself in a position running from the Judenberge through the Grosser Spitzberg to the Mühlberge, creating a bristling line of fortifications,[19] and faced his troops to the south east. He and the Austrian troops were stretched along a ridge of small hills that ran north-easterly from the outskirts of Frankfurt to just north of the village of Kunersdorf. He had little concern about the northwestern face of the ridge, which was steep and fronted by a swampy ground called the Elsbruch, but a few of the Austrian contingents to his right faced northwest as a precaution.[17] He knew that the Frederick had crossed the Oder south of Frankfurt and probably would attack from the southeast.[20]

The Prussians reached the area north of the Hühner Fliess on 11 August. Frederick conducted a perfunctory reconnaissance of his enemy's position, accompanied by two local men, a forest ranger and an officer who had previously been stationed in Frankfurt.[21] He did not send scouts to reconnoiter the land or question locals about the ground; instead, he decided that all the Allies were facing northwest. He planned to leave a diversionary force, commanded by Finck, at the Hühner Fliess, to demonstrate in front of what he believed to be the main Austrian line.[20] Through his telescope, he saw some wooded hills, and he believed he could use them to screen his advance, much like he had at Leuthen. He would march with his main army to the south, then east to the south east. This way, he thought, he would surprise his enemy, forcing the Allied army to reverse fronts, which is a complicated maneuver for even the best trained troops. Frederick could then employ his much feared oblique battle order, feigning with his left flank as he did so. Ideally, this would allow him to roll up the Allied line from the Muhlberge.[20][21]


Map #2: The Allied troops were entrenched in the highest ground around Kundersdorf.

It began at 2:00 am on 12 August with an 8-hour Prussian march around the Russian and Austrian positions.[22] This constituted Frederick's first blunder: the King exhausted his already tired men on a forced march to face the enemy where it was strongest.[23] Early in the march, Frederick realized that he was actually facing his enemy, instead of approaching behind them. Furthermore, a row of ponds forced him to break his line into three narrow columns, exposing it to full Russian fire power.[24] Frederick changed his dispositions; the Prussian right vanguard would concentrate east of the ponds of Kunersdorf and make an assault on the Mühlberge. Frederick calculated that he could turn the Austrian-Russian flank. His redeployment took time, and the apparent hesitation in the assault confirmed to Saltykov what Frederick planned.[20] Consequently, poor reconnaissance at the start required Frederick to rethink his battle plan: instead of rolling up the Allied flank, the Prussians would deploy a oblique order pincer movement and squeeze the Allied lines.[25]

Turning the Russian flank[edit]

As the Prussians approached, their own artillery batteries created an arc of fire on the Russian sector by the Walkberge and the Kleiner Spitzberg; the infantry could safely move under this arc. The Prussian batteries, in place since dawn, opened their fire at 11:30 am; another set of Prussian batteries started bombardment from the Walkberge on the northern end of the Russian position. In error, the Russian artillery had faced their batteries to the field, and the hills beyond it, not the ravine, and had to be reset. For 30 minutes, the two sides bombarded each other, but the range was too great to cause much damage.[26]

At about noon, Frederick sent his first wave of soldiers toward the Russian position on the Mühlberge. They advanced into the crevasse between the two hills (marked on Map #2 as Beckerlin); when they came within 34 m (112 ft) of the Russian guns, they charged at point-blank range. Shuvalov's Observation Corps, stationed on the Mühberge summit, took substantial losses—perhaps 10 percent—before the Prussian grenadiers overwhelmed them.[24] Prussian losses were also high. Frederick sent 4,300 men into this assault, immediately losing 206 of his brother's, Prince Henry's, cuirassiers. Although Saltykov sent grenadiers to shore up the Russian defense, the Prussians carried the Mühlberge, capturing between 80 and 100 enemy cannons, which they immediately deployed against the Russians. For the moment, the Prussians held the position.[24][26]

After capturing the cannons, the Prussians raked the retreating Russians with fire from their own pieces. The Russians were slaughtered by the score, losing most of five large regiments to injury and death. By 1:00 pm, the Russian left flank had been defeated and driven back on Kunersdorf itself, leaving behind small, disorganized groups capable of only token resistance. In panic, some of the Russians even fired on the troops sent by the Margrave of Baden-Baden, which also wore blue coats (although of a lighter blue), mistaking them for Prussians. Saltykov fed in more units, including a force of Austrian grenadiers led by Major Joseph De Vins, and gradually the situation stabilized.[25]

To complete Frederick's battle plan, the Prussians would have to descend from the Mühlberge to the lower Kuhgrund, cross the spongy field, and then assault a well-defended higher ground.[20] This is where Saltykov had concentrated his men, making the Grosser Spitzburg nearly impregnable. At this point in his plan, Frederick intended to have the second half of a pincer movement ready to squeeze the Russian left. The rearmost forces were supposed to have advanced straight against the Russians from the south, while the right wing did the same from the north. The right was where it was supposed to be, with the exception of one of the support formations for the right wing was held up by mis-information about the ground: a couple of bridges that crossed the Huhner Fleiss were too narrow for the artillery teams. The left was still out of position.[25]

Attack stalled[edit]

The Prussian left had been held up by a variety of problems, mostly relating to the inadequately-scouted terrain. Two small ponds and several streams trisected the ground between the Prussian front and the Russians. This required the Prussian line to break into small columns that could march along narrow passages between the water and marshy ground, diminishing the legendary fire-power of the Prussian line of attack. Outside the shtetl, the Prussians tried to break through the Russian line; they got as far as the Jewish cemetery (JudenKfh on Map #2), but losing two thirds of Krockow's 2nd Dragoons in the process: 484 men and 51 officers. The 6th Dragoons lost another 234 men and 18 officers as well.[25] Other regiments battling through the Russians and the terrain had comparable losses. Despite these problems, they continued to slog through the Russian positions, advancing toward the Kuhgrund outside Kunersdorf's western wall.[27]

The Prussian position, despite this success, was not substantially better than it had been a few hours earlier, but it was, at least, defensible. The King's brother and several other generals encouraged Frederick to stop there. The Prussians could defend Frankfurt from their vantage point on the Mühlberge. To descend into the valley, cross the Kuhgrund and ascend Spitzberge against frightful fire was foolhardy, they argued. Furthermore, the weather was blistering hot and the troops had endured forced marches to reach the theater and the battlefield. The men had not had a hot meal in several days, having bivouacked the night before without fires. Despite these arguments, Frederick wanted to press his initial success. He had won half the battle and wanted the whole victory. He decided to continue the fight.[28] He transferred his artillery to the Mühlberge, and ordered Finck's battalions to assault the Allied salient from the north-west, while his main strike would cross the Kuhgrund. This was his second blunder.[20][24][29]

Anticipating Frederick's plan, Saltykov had reinforced the salient with reserves from the west and southwest; these reserves included most of Loudon's fresh infantry.[28] Finck made no progress at the salient and the Prussia attack at the Kuhgrund was thwarted with murderous fire along their very narrow front.[24] Watching from the luxury of the Kleiner Spitzberg immediately east of the village, Saltykov judiciously fed in reinforcements from other sectors, and awaited results. Once, in the fierce fighting, it looked like the Prussians might break through, but gradually the Allied superiority of 423 artillery pieces could be brought to bear on the Prussians as they struggled up the hill. The Allied grenadiers held their lines.[28]

Cavalry attack[edit]

The battle culminated in the early evening hours with a massive Prussian cavalry charge, led by General Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz, upon the Russian center and artillery positions. The Prussian cavalry suffered heavy losses from cannon fire and retreated in complete disorder. Seydlitz himself was badly wounded and, in his absence, Lieutenant General Dubislav Friedrich von Platen assumed command. Under Frederick's orders,[30] Platen organized a last-ditch effort. His scouts had discovered a suitable crossing past the chain of ponds south of Kunersdorf, but would have to deal with the artillery batteries on the Grosser Spitzberg. Seydlitz, still following the action, noted that it was foolish to charge a fortified position with cavalry. His assessment was correct,[28] but Frederick had apparently lost his head.[30] The units sent against the position shattered; before any further action could take place, Loudon himself led the Austrian cavalry's counter-attack and routed Platen's cavalry. The fleeing men and horses trampled their own infantry around the Mühlberge. General panic ensued.[28]

The cavalry attack against fortified positions had failed.[24] Prussian infantry had been on its feet for 16 hours, half of that in a forced march over muddy and uneven terrain, and the other half in slogging battle against formidable odds, in hot weather.[31] Despite the apparent futility, the Prussian infantry repeatedly attacked the Spitzberg, each time with greater losses; the 37th Infantry lost 992 men and 16 officers, more than 90 percent of its force. The King himself led two attacks of the 35th Infantry, and lost two of his horses in the effort. He was mounting a third when the animal was shot in the neck and fell to the ground, nearly crushing the King. Two of Frederick's adjutants pulled him from under the horse as it fell. A bullet smashed the gold snuff box in his coat, and this box, plus his heavy coat,[32] probably saved his life.[30]

Evening action[edit]

By 5:00 pm, neither side could make any gains; the Prussians held tenaciously to the captured artillery works, too tired to even retreat: they had pushed the Russians from the Muhlberge, the village, and the Kuhgrund, but no further. The Allies were in similar state, except they had more cavalry in reserve and some fresh Austrian infantry. This part of Laudon's forces, late arrivals to the scene and largely unused, came into action at about 7:00 pm. To the exhausted Prussians holding the Kuhgrund, the swarm of fresh Austrian reserves was the final stroke. Although such isolated groups as Lestwitz's 31st put up a bold front, these groups lost heavily and their stubborn defense could not stop the chaos of the Prussian retreat. Soldiers threw their weapons and gear aside and ran for their lives.[33]

Prittwitz saves the King at Kunersdorf

The battle was lost for Frederick—it had actually been lost for the Prussians for a couple of hours—but he had not accepted this fact. Despite his fleeing army, Frederick rode among them, snatched a regimental flag,[34] trying to rally his men: Children, my children, come to me. Avec moi, Avec moi! They did not hear him, or if they did, they choose not to obey.[30] Watching the chaos and seeking the coup de grâce, Saltykov threw his own Cossacks and Kalmyks (cavalry) into the fray. The Chuggavieski Cossacks surrounded Frederick on a small hill, where he stood with the remnants of his body-guard—the Leib Cuirassiers—determined to either hold the line or to die trying. With a 100-strong hussar squadron, Rittmeister (cavalry captain) Joachim Bernhard von Prittwitz-Graffron cut his way through the Cossacks and dragged the King to safety. Much of his squadron died in the effort. As the hussars dragged Frederick from the battlefield, he passed the bodies of his men, lying on their faces with their backs slashed open by Laudon's cavalry. A dry thunderstorm created a surreal effect.[31][35][36]


Frederick's letter in French to his old tutor.

That evening in nearby Reitwein, Frederick sat in a peasant hut and wrote a despairing letter to his old tutor, Count Karl-Wilhelm Finck von Finckenstein:

This morning at 11 o'clock I have attacked the enemy. ... All my troops have worked wonders, but at a cost of innumerable losses. Our men got into confusion. I assembled them three times. In the end I was in danger of getting captured and had to retreat. My coat is perforated by bullets, two horses of mine have been shot dead. My misfortune is that I am still living ... Our defeat is very considerable: To me remains 3,000 men from an army of 48,000 men. At the moment in which I report all this, everyone is on the run; I am no more master of my troops. Thinking of the safety of anybody in Berlin is a good activity ... It is a cruel failure that I will not survive. The consequences of the battle will be worse than the battle itself. I do not have any more resources, and—frankly confessed—I believe that everything is lost. I will not survive the doom of my fatherland. Farewell forever![32]

Frederick also decided to turn over command of the army to Finck. He told this unlucky general he was sick. He named his brother as generalissimo and insisted his generals swear allegiance to his nephew, the 14-year-old Frederick William.[37]


Before the battle, both armies had been reinforced by smaller units; by the time of the battle, the Allied forces had about 60,000 men, with another 5,000 holding Frankfurt, and the Prussians had almost 51,000. The Russians and Austrians lost about 15,000 men (approx. 5,000 killed), although some sources suggest a slightly higher number, perhaps 15,600 or 15,700, about 26 percent.[38][39] Of Russian losses, half were killed. Sources differ on Prussian losses. Duffy maintains 6,000 killed and 13,000 wounded, a casualty rate of more than 37 percent.[40] Gaston Bodart represents losses at 39 percent,[38] and that two thirds (12,000)[41] of the 19,000 casualties were deaths.[1] Following the battle, the victorious Cossack troops plundered corpses and slit the throats of the wounded; this no doubt contributed to the death rate.[42]

The Prussians lost their entire horse artillery, an amalgam of cavalry and artillery in which the crews rode horses into battle, dragging their cannons behind them, one of Frederick's notable inventions.[Note 2] The Prussians also lost 60 percent of their cavalry, killed or wounded, animals and men. The Prussians lost 172 of their own cannons plus the 105 that they had captured from the Russians in the late morning on the Mühlberge. They also lost 27 flags and two standards.[42][43][Note 3]

Staff losses were significant. Frederick lost eight regimental colonels.[42] Of his senior command, Seydlitz was wounded and had to relinquish command to Platen, no where near his equal in energy and nerve; Carl Heinrich von Wedel was wounded so badly that he never fought again; Georg Ludwig von Puttkamer, commander of the Puttkamer Hussars, lay among the dead.[44][45] Among the dying lay Major Ewald Christian von Kleist, the famous poet of the Prussian army.[46] Lieutenant General August Friedrich von Itzenplitz died of his wounds on 5 September, as did Prince Charles Anton August von Holstein-Beck on 12 September, and Finck's brigadier, Major General v. Klitzing, on 28 October in Stettin.[45] Prussia was at its last gasp and Frederick despaired of preserving much of his remaining kingdom for his heir.[37]

This picture is sometimes attributed as the death of Ewald Christian von Kleist, who actually did not die until 24 August, and sometimes to Cossacks pillaging the dead.

Impact on Russo-Austro alliance[edit]

Although still wary of one another, the Russians and Austrians were satisfied with the result of their cooperation. They had outfought Frederick's army in a test of nerve, courage and military skills. Elizabeth of Russia promoted Saltykov to field marshal and awarded a special medal to everyone involved. She also sent a sword of honor to Laudon. The price of this rout, though, was high: 26 percent Austrian and Russian losses would not usually qualify as a victory. The storming of field works typically resulted in a disproportionate number of killed over wounded. The conclusion of the battle in hand-to-hand struggle also increased casualties on both sides. Finally, subsequent cavalry charges and the stampeding flight of men and horses had caused many more injuries. Regardless of the losses, though, Saltykov and Loudon remained on the field with intact armies, and with extant communications between one another.[47][48]

The Prussian defeat remained without consequences when the victors did not capitalize on the opportunity to march against Berlin, but retired to Saxony instead. Frederick wrote to his brother of this Miracle of the House of Brandenburg. Approximately 26,000 men—most of the survivors—were scattered over the territory between Kunersdorf and Berlin. Four days after the battle, though, most of the 26,000 scattered men turned up at the headquarters on the Oder River or in Berlin, and Frederick's army recovered to a strength of 32,000 men and 50 cannon.[40]

The Russian army did not fight another major battle, allowing the Prussians to focus on the Austrians.[40] Elizabeth of Russia continued her policy of providing support to Austria, considering it vital to Russian interests, but with decreasing effectiveness. Distance constrained the Russian supply lines and, despite Austrian headquarters' agreement to supply the Russian troops through their own lines, Russian troops took little part in the remaining battles of 1759 and 1760. The Russians did manage to capture the fortress at Kolberg in 1761, their sole success. In 1762, the death of Elizabeth, and the ascension of her nephew, Peter, an admirer of Frederick's, saved the Prussian Kingdom.[49] Peter immediately withdrew Russia from hostilities against Prussia.[50]


Most military historians agree that Kunersdorf was Friedrich's greatest, and most catastrophic, loss. They attribute it variously to his indifference to the Russian practices of the "art of war", to his lack of information about the ground, and his inability to realize that the Russians had surmounted the obstacles of location. Frederick had made limited efforts to assess the terrain and there was no operational reason for him not to have sent some of his cavalry to scout the area, except, perhaps, that his hussars, previously often used in reconnaissance, were being converted by Seydlitz into heavy cavalry.[21] The Russians and the Austrians had discovered, and reinforced, a causeway between the lakes and the marshland that allowed them to present Frederick with a united front. This effectively cancelled any advantage of the oblique battle order employed so successfully at Rossbach and Leuthen. Furthermore, the Russians utilized several naturally defensive positions that forced the Prussians to employ clumsy tactics. Despite the murderous fire, Frederick's troops eventually turned the Russian left, but to little benefit since the terrain allowed the Russians and Austrians to form a compact front shielded by the hills and marshes.[48]

Frederick's most egregious mistake was his refusal to consider the recommendations of his trusted staff. Prince Henry reasonably suggested to halt the battle at mid-day, after the Prussians had secured the first height. From this vantage point, they would be unassailable, and eventually, the Austro-Russian force would have to withdraw.[20] Instead of holding his secure position, though, Frederick forced his tired troops to descend the hill, cross the low ground, and ascend the next hill, in the face of heavy fire. The subsequent Prussian cavalry effort was badly coordinated and, despite an initial success that drove back the Russian and Austrian squadrons, the fierce cannon and musketry fire from the united Allied front inflicted staggering losses on Frederick's much-vaunted cavalry. Furthermore, he committed perhaps the gravest of errors in sending his cavalry into battle piecemeal and against entrenched positions.[48]

Not for the first time had Frederick complicated his own fate by violating every principle of war he had espoused in his own writing, although he had matured considerably since the disaster at Mollwitz in 1741. Frederick assumed he could use his trade-mark oblique order attack, but his reconnaissance had been incomplete and he was forced to act on ground of his enemy's choosing, not his own. On the basis of meager information and almost no understanding of the ground, he had thrown his infantry into the teeth of gun fire; he compounded this folly by committing his cavalry piecemeal in pointless charges across soft, spongy ground that was divided by streams, requiring them to attack in long, drawn out lines, rather then en masse. He violated his own rules of strategy and tactics because he faced an enemy he despised, and this brought out the worst of his generalship.[51] In this way, the loss at Kunersdorf was similar to that of the Battle of Hochkirch. At Hochkirch, though, Frederick demonstrated good leadership by rallying his troops against the surprise attack. After Hochkirch, he had no one to blame but himself. The British envoy who was with the Prussian Army at Hochkirch attributed Frederick's loss to the contempt he had for his enemy and his unwillingness to give credit to intelligence that did not agree with his imagination,[52] and certainly this was a part of his loss at Kunersdorf.[33]

It was actually more than that. As Redman (2015) notes, "...[S]eldom in military history has a battle been so completely lost by an organized army in such a short space of time."[33] The loss was not only due to Frederick's unwillingness to accept that the Russians, whom he despised, and the Austrians, whom he despised only slightly less, had any military acumen. The Prussian army at Kundersdorf was not the same army that fought at Hochkirch. Over the winter Frederick had cobbled together a new army, and it was not as well-trained, well-disciplined, and well-drilled as his old one. At Hochkirch, Prussian discipline and the bonds of regimental cohesion had prevailed; at Kunersdorf, his army panicked and disintegrated before his eyes, in the last hour of the battle. The few regiments that held together, such as that of Lestwitz, were the exception. Frederick had demanded more of his men than they could bear.[37]



  1. ^ Anderson (2007, p. 301) places the total at 7,000; Szabo (2013, pp. 179–82) mentions 9,000.
  2. ^ Frederick reorganized these mobile batteries later in the year and they participated in the Battle of Maxen, another Prussian loss (Hedberg 1987, pp. 11–13).
  3. ^ As an example of the cavalry losses, the Zeiten regiment reported: "Dead are Major von Heinicke, Rittmeister von Frankenberg, Lieutenant von Möllendorf, Kornet Offenius. Badly wounded, Rittmeister von Reitzenstein, Lieutenants von Schenk, Korshagen, von Gröben, von Bohlse, and von Schulz, and the Kornet von Schulz. Lightly wounded are nine others; 21 officers are out of action. Of the non commissioned officers and hussars are 140 dead or wounded. 109 horses dead, 65 wounded, 20 missing." Geschichte, p. 133.


  1. ^ a b Duffy 1996, p. 235.
  2. ^ Wilson 2016, pp. 478–479.
  3. ^ Horn 1957, pp. 440–464.
  4. ^ Black 1990, pp. 301–323.
  5. ^ Berenger 2014, pp. 80–89.
  6. ^ Anderson 2007, p. 302.
  7. ^ Asprey 1986, p. 43.
  8. ^ Szabo 2013, pp. 179–82.
  9. ^ Anderson 2007, p. 301.
  10. ^ Simms 2013, p. 99.
  11. ^ Asprey 1986, p. 494–499.
  12. ^ Szabo 2013, pp. 162–69.
  13. ^ Asprey 1986, p. 500..
  14. ^ Szabo 2013, pp. 195–202.
  15. ^ Blanning 2016, p. 253.
  16. ^ Rink 2014, pp. 727–728.
  17. ^ a b Szabo 2013, p. 236.
  18. ^ Weigley 2004, pp. 190–191.
  19. ^ Showalter 2012, p. 244.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g Szabo 2013, p. 237.
  21. ^ a b c Showalter 2012, p. 243.
  22. ^ Stephenson n.d., p. 13.
  23. ^ Duffy 2015a, pp. 50–56.
  24. ^ a b c d e f Holmes & Pimlott 1999, p. 124–26.
  25. ^ a b c d Redman 2015, p. 291.
  26. ^ a b Redman 2015, p. 290.
  27. ^ Redman 2015, p. 292.
  28. ^ a b c d e Szabo 2013, p. 238.
  29. ^ Showalter 2012, pp. 245–246.
  30. ^ a b c d Redman 2015, p. 293.
  31. ^ a b Duffy 2015b.
  32. ^ a b Petersdorff 1911, pp. 400 ff.
  33. ^ a b c Redman 2015, p. 294.
  34. ^ Showalter 2012, p. 247.
  35. ^ Showalter 2012, p. 2448-250.
  36. ^ Killy 2005, p. 80.
  37. ^ a b c Redman 2015, p. 295.
  38. ^ a b Bodart & Kellogg 1916, p. 72.
  39. ^ Weigley 2004, p. 191.
  40. ^ a b c Wanke 2005, p. 5.
  41. ^ Bodart & Kellogg 1916, p. 20.
  42. ^ a b c Showalter 2012, p. 249.
  43. ^ Eberhardt 1903, p. 31.
  44. ^ Poten 1888, pp. 777–779.
  45. ^ a b Laubert 1900, p. 93.
  46. ^ Duffy 2015a, p. 52.
  47. ^ Showalter 2012, p. 250.
  48. ^ a b c Langer & Pois 2004, pp. 18–19.
  49. ^ Fraser 2001, p. 420.
  50. ^ Weigley 2004, pp. 192–193.
  51. ^ Langer & Pois 2004, pp. 22–24.
  52. ^ Blanning 2016, p. 252.


Additional reading[edit]

Coordinates: 52°21′11″N 14°36′46″E / 52.35306°N 14.61278°E / 52.35306; 14.61278