Prussian Bakers in Revolt
1757, 1758 and 1760

Frederick the Great wrote that the foundation of an army is the stomach; as such the most important requirement if the army was to operate effectively in the field was to keep the stomachs of men and horses filled such that the men could carry on marching and fighting and the horses could pull the guns and wagons and carry the cavalrymen into battle. The most important materials involved were flour for bread for the men, and fodder for the horses. This meant that a regular supply of flour was one of the most vital aspects of all when the army was in the field, and Frederick had a corresponding organisation in place to ensure that it was available in magazines before a campaign began, and subsequently could be brought to the army in the field such that the supply was regular and sufficient. The carrying capacity of wagons could be measured exactly and this meant that exact calculations could be made of how much flour an army would need over a certain period, and arrangements could be made to transport it accordingly.

Once the flour reached the army it would be converted into bread by the bakers with the army. These were civilians, with a staff of Bäckergesellen (Journeyman Bakers) working under Oberbäcker (literally "Higher Bakers") and Bäckermeister (Master Bakers) and as such subject to their own rules regarding discipline, and on three occasions during the Seven Years War the fact that they were civilians working within their structure of Guilds caused the outbreak of revolts that threatened the army with possible starvation.

Jung-Bunzlau, Bohemia 1757

During the Siege of Prague in 1757 the bakeries were operating at Jung-Bunzlau in Bohemia. When the army under Feldmarschall von Schwerin continued its march to Prague they were left there with the whole Feldkriegscommissariat (the organisation responsible for organising supply for the army) under the command of Generalmajor von Brandeis and two regiments of infantry. The bakery at Jung-Bunzlau had to supply the army on one side of Prague during the siege, and also the army under the Duke of Bevern at Czaslau and Kuttenberg, with both forces having to collect the bread and transport it in their Regimentsproviantwagen ("regimental provisions wagons"). At one point during the process of collection several officers felt that the bread was being supplied too slowly and it came to a disagreement with the Bäckermeister, which resulted in the officers beating them with sticks. The Bäckergesellen were so angry at this maltreatment of their masters that they beat the officers up, so severely that they had to be carried into the town from the bakery, which was in the suburbs.

Generalmajor von Brandeis sent a detail to the bakery to arrest the bakers; they all resisted and the soldiers arrested some of them and took them away as prisoners. This caused a greater uproar, and two companies of troops with fixed bayonets dispersed the bakers. The rumour now spread that von Brandeis intended to punish all the bakers with Spiessruthenlaufen ("running the gauntlet"), so during the night they all marched away with their belongings.

This revolt, caused by the actions of a few hotheaded officers, put the army and the Kriegscommissariat into great difficulties. It was essential that 100,000 loaves of bread were baked every three days, instead the bakery had now stood idle for three days and two nights. The need became critical, and von Brandeis was obliged, however much he may have disliked doing so, to free the few bakers under arrest and to urge the Bäckermeister (who it had been established were not responsible for the delays which caused the original dispute) to use all their influence to get the Bäckergesellen, who by now were dispersing in all directions, back to work. As a result of the promise that the whole matter would be forgotten they succeeded in getting the bakery back to work, and the bakers made great efforts to catch up on the missed baking.

Hirschberg, Silesia 1758

A second revolt occurred at Hirschberg in Silesia during winter quarters, when several Bäckergesellen went for a ride to Warmebrunn and returned late after drinking too long in an inn. It was decided they were to suffer military punishment. The other journeymen regarded this as an insult to their Corporation and promised the Obercommissar the stiffest punishment of the wrongdoers by the Bäckermeister. The Obercommissar persuaded the military authorites to do this and the wrongdoers were each given a number of blows with sticks by the Bäckermeister in his presence. As a result the bakery got back to normal.

Königswalde, Neumark 1760

The third revolt, which resulted from the pride in their trade of the guilds, occurred in 1760 when the two corps under Prince Henry and Generallieutenantvon der Goltz combined in the Neumark. The Feldkriegscommissariat ordered that the bakeries of both corps be combined at Königswalde. The Silesian bakers of the von der Goltz corps, who were white bread bakers, refused to work with the Prussian bakers of Prince Henry`s corps, on the grounds that they were only black bread bakers, and were therefore beneath them. The Silesian bakers considered the order from the Feldkriegscommissariat so insulting to their pride as bakers, and the bitterness between the two groups was such, that the only solution was to keep the two groups separate, and there were duly two bakeries outside the town, on opposite sides of it.


During the later years of the Seven Years War the officer responsible for overseeing the bakeries, Hauptmann von Fuhrmann, was very keen to organise the bakers along military lines. This proved impossible, because it was incompatible with the spirit of Corporation among the bakers, who were civilians in their guilds; they had no objection at all to being punished by the higher ranking bakers by being beaten with sticks, but any attempt to bring them to the guardroom under military arrest would have led to very bloody rebellions.

This is another example of how the generally highly organised armies of the period were still not fully militarised in some aspects of their structure. A regular supply of bread was one of the most essential requirements of all for an army in the field, and huge stocks of flour would be built up and maintained in specially-built magazines in peacetime. Then during wartime the supply of bread depended on civilians with their own organisation. Another example of civilians in the military organisation is with the Prussian artillery, where horses and drivers (who were all civilians) would be assembled on the outbreak of war, or at the beginning of a campaign; on a battlefield they were among the first to flee if things went against the Prussians, and this was one reason why the Prussians lost large numbers of guns in their defeats (the Prussians did not have a fully military Train until one was established during the army reforms after 1806).


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©Martin Tomczak 2003