Notes on Prussian Commanders
The matter of choosing and promoting his officers was another area in which Frederick the Great took a great interest when developing the Prussian Army. When he came to the throne in 1740 only Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Dessau was in a position to exercise independent command of an army. Frederick himself said that there were more men with courage than with intelligence amongst his generals. The shortcomings in the quality of the officers available were apparent in the early years of his reign, and he sought to remedy them by various means. He showed great favour to officers from his former regiment and from the Garde, gave the officers of the I. Bataillon Leibgarde a higher status and seniority over the other officers of the army, and created a body of young adjutants. He also attracted a number of officers with established reputations to the Prussian service- Finck, Keith, Fouqué, Rothenburg, the Schmettaus, Wied, Nassau, Kleist, Manstein, and others of lesser reputation. This was a period when officers still moved freely from one army to another; often an officer might serve in several during his career. Motives were mixed, but with the new King in Prussia many were attracted by the promise of glory or personal advancement. As an example, Oberst von Nassau of the Saxon Army came to the King in 1740 with an offer to set up a dragoon regiment; the King specified the compostition of the regiment, height required for the men etc. and set a six-month time limit for its establishment; von Nassau met the deadline, and the regiment became the Dragoner Regiment von Nassau (D11) (although it seems to have been only five squadrons strong from the start). Von Nassau was promoted to Generalmajor on entry to Prussian service, and Oberstlieutenant von Kyau came with him from the Saxon service, and was promoted to Oberst and made commander of the new regiment.
Frederick wrote in his Politisches Testament of 1752 that during the wars of the 1740s he had attempted to create a feeling among his Prussian officers that they were all Prussians, united in a corps of officers- un corps ensemblé, as he put it- regardless of which province they were from, whether Pomerania, Brandenburg, etc. This served to create a united body loyal to the sovereign.
At the time of the first two Silesian Wars seven Schwerins were generals, as were seven Bredows. At this time the Prussian Army had 10 Feldmarschalle- the elder Prince von Anhalt (Der Alte Dessauer, Schwerin, Duke of Holstein, Glasenapp, Schmettau, Prince von Anhalt-Zerbst, Hereditary Prince (Erbprinz) Leopold Max von Dessau, Flanss, and Dossow. When Lehwaldt was promoted to Feldmarschall in 1751, one of the Hohenzollern princes, Markgraf Karl, who had gained a good reputation during the wars in the 1740s, complained to the King that he had been overlooked. In the matter of the Hohenzollern princes not being promoted to Feldmarschall the reason seems to have been that this had never been done in the past, and Prince Henry, the King`s brother, who rendered great service as a commander, remained the senior General der Infanterie for nearly forty years. The King showed some consideration for him by never placing any generals before him, and by not naming any new Feldmarschalle after 1760. The last officers to be appointed Feldmarschall were Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick on 8th December 1758, and the Landgraf von Hessen-Kassel on 9th March 1760.
The Generals Markgraf Karl, Buddenbrock, Schwerin, Rothenburg, Ziethen, du Moulin, Fouqué, Lehwaldt, Winterfeldt, Gessler, Nassau, Hautcharmoy, Marwitz and particularly the Princes of Anhalt came out of the first two Silesian Wars with glory, and had made a real name for themselves. Prince Leopold Max and Winterfeldt in particular had displayed real military talent.During the years of peace after 1745 the King showed great favour to Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick, the Duke of Bevern, and (after 1747) Keith.
The Seven Years War saw many officers achieve rapid promotion. In just a few years men advanced from Capitän or Major as far as Generallieutenant. This shows both the effects of the heavy losses suffered by the Prussians at a time when officers very much led from the front, and the emergence of many talented officers. The fact that so many capable men were available was also a result of the years of training before 1756. Some examples:
Ziethen, in 1756 Generalmajor, in 1760 at the age of 62 General der Cavalerie;
Seydlitz, 1757 Oberst (Colonel), in 1757 at 35 years Generallieutenant;
Prince Eugen von Württemberg, in 1756 Oberst, in 1757 at 25, Generallieutenant;
v. Winterfeldt, 1741 at 32 OberstGenerallieutenant;
v. Finck, 1756 Oberst, in 1760 at 50 Generallieutenant;
v. Tauentzien, 1756 Capitän, in 1760 at 50 Generallieutenant;
v. Czettritz, 1756 Oberstlieutenant, in 1761 at 33 Generallieutenant;
v. Stutterheim, 1756 Capitän and Flügeladjutant (Wing Adjutant), in 1759 at 44 Generalmajor;
v. Stutterheim, 1756 Capitän and Flügeladjutant, in 1759 at 41 Generalmajor;
v. Grant, 1756 Major and Fluuml;geladjutant, in 1759 Generalmajor;
v. Arnim, 1756 Capitän, in 1759 Generalmajor;
v. Platen, 1756 Capitän, in 1759 Generalmajor;
v. Schenkendorf, 1756 Capitän, in 1759 at 59 Generalmajor;
v. Krusemark, 1756 Major, in 1760 at 40 Generalmajor;
v. Thiele, 1756 Major, in 1759 at 50 Generalmajor;
Wunsch, in 1757 Capitän, in 1759 at 42 Generalmajor;
v. Zeuner, 1756 Major, in 1760 at 57 Generalmajor;
v. Syburg, 1756 Major, in 1760 at 51 Generallieutenant;
v. Tettenborn, 1756 Oberstlieutenant, in 1760 at 52 Generalmajor;
v. Leckow, 1756 Major, in 1760 at 57 Generalmajor;
v. Linden, 1756
v. Thadden, 1756 Major, in 1761 at 49 Generalmajor;
v. Möllendorf, 1758 Capitän, in 1761 at 40 Generalmajor;
v. Bülow, in 1756 Rittmeister, in 1760 at 52 Generalmajor;
Graf (Count) Borcke, 1756 Oberstlieutenant, in 1761 at 46 Generalmajor;
Graf Lottum, 1756 Capitän, in 1762 at 46 Generalmajor;
Werner, 1758 Oberst, in 1761 at 54 Generallieutenant;
v. Wobersnow, 1756 Oberstlieutenant, in 1757 at 49 Generalmajor;
v. Wedell, 1756 Oberstlieutenant, in 1757 at 45 Generalmajor, 1759 Generallieutenant.
Other officers despite extensive service were promoted more slowly, for example "Green Kleist" was Major in 1756, in 1758 Oberstlieutenant, Oberst in 1759 and Generalmajor only in 1762, despite constant service.
Some other wartime promotions were: the Duke of Bevern was made General der Infanterie on 28th February 1759, Fouqué on 1st March 1759. Ziethen was made General der Cavalerie after the Battle of Liegnitz in 1760.
The numbers of promotions decreased considerably after 1760, partly for reasons of economy. However, after the war had ended the King created a further 184 general, mostly men who had served since or shortly beofre 1740, and had were therefore true products of his school.
A number of officers disappeared from the scene after unsuccessful actions even if they had had successful careers up until then, eg. Finck after Maxen in 1759 (along with eight other generals, all were held prisoner by the Austrians until 1763, after they returned Finck and two others were court-martialled for their role at Maxen), Schmettau after he surrendered Dresden, Zastrow after Schweidnitz, Dohna after his failure in Poland in 1759.
Events surrounding the Battle of Breslau and the subsequent capitulation of the city to the Austrians in November 1757 give a good example of the effects of battle and of royal displeasure. A number of generals were killed or died of wounds received during the battle- Generallieutenant von Pennavaire, who was nearly seventy years of age, was severely wounded while personally leading an attack by a brigade of cuirassiers on an Austrian grenadier battalion; he died in Berlin in January 1759. The Generalmajore von Schulze and von Ingersleben died of wounds received, and von Kleist was killed. Two days later the commander of the army, the Duke of Bevern, rode into an Austrian outpost while on a nighttime reconnaissance ride and was captured (he was released by the Austrians in the spring of 1758, and Frederick appointed him Gouverneur of Stettin, in which post he played a major role in organisding the defence of Pomerania; he returned to field command later and commanded the Prussians at Reichenbach in 1762). After the capture of Bevern the Prussian army command fell into some confusion over how to deal with the situation. The senior general, Generallieutenant von Kyau, at once decided to retreat to Glogau with the field army (it was only when he arrived there that orders from the King that Breslau was to be held reached him); Generallieutenant von Lestwitz was appointed by the King as Gouverneur of Breslau in place of Generallieutenant von Katte, and he surrendered the city to the Austrians and saw the garrison disintegrate as the great majority of troops deserted. All three were put in front of a Kriegsgericht (court martial) by the King. All had served well for many years, but Kyau was sentenced to six months fortress arrest, Katte to one years` fortress arrest, and Lestwitz (who had fought well and been wounded at the Battle of Breslau) to two years fortress arrest and infame cassation (cashiering), although the King reduced the punishment to one years arrest and the general was never cashiered.
The huges changes in the higher ranks resulting from the war can be seen in the following list of Generalfeldmarschalle, Generale and Generallieutenants in active service at the end of the war. There were no officers holding the rank of Generallieutenant in 1756 remaining in that rank in 1763, Ferdinand of Brunswick, Bevern, Fouqué and Ziethen had all been promoted during the war, the others had been killed or removed for other reasons. A Generallieutenenat would normally command all or part of the infantry or cavalry of a Treffen, one of the (usually two) lines in the ordre de bataille, or would often be given command of a detachment.
The officers are listed in order of seniority, with the the year of appointment.
|1). v. Lehwaldt||1751|
|2). Ferdinand von Braunschweig||1758|
|1). Prinz Heinrich||1758|
|2). Herzog von Bevern||1759|
|3). Baron de la Motte-Fouqué||1759|
|4). v. Ziethen||1760|
|1). v. Forcade||1757|
|2). v. Sedydlitz||1757|
|3). Prince Ferdinand von Preussen||1757|
|4). Prinz Eugen von Württemberg||1757|
|5). v. Canitz||1758|
|6). v. Hülsen||1758|
|7). Graf zu Wied||1758|
|8). v. Manteuffel||1758|
|9). v. Platen||1759|
|10). v. Bülow||1760|
|11). Graf von Finckenstein||1760|
|12). v. Tauentzien||1760|
|13). v. Werner||1761|
|14). v. Krockow||1761|
|Prinz Friedrich von Braunschweig||1762|
(v. Tauentzien also held the rank of Major in the I. Bataillon Garde.)
At the beginning of the war in 1756 the King had six Generaladjutanten, during the war only one, first Wobersnow and later Krusemark. But there were more Flügeladjutanten and more officers à la suite to the King. There were clear examples of some of these officers being favoured for promotion over the others.
The artillery was under a Generalinspecteur. Until his death in 1755 this post was held by General der Artillerie Christian von Linger. During his period in command the King had brought the Imperial Feldmarschall von Schmettau into the Prussian service in 1741 and given him the title Grand maître d`a rtillerie, without him actually having anything to do with the artillery. After von Linger died the King then promoted Major von Dieskau to Oberstlieutenant and made him Generalinspecteur (Inspecteur der Artilleriemagazine, Inspecteur der Oeconomie and Inspecteur der Ecole d`Artillerie). He was at some point later in the war promoted to Oberst. For most of the Seven Years War the Prussian artillery was under a Lieutenant-Colonel or Colonel, until von Dieskau was promoted to Generalmajor in 1762.
The Prussian Army underwent a great improvement and development under Frederick II. in the years after 1745. The fact that even with the losses of officers in battle after 1756 (between 1756 and 1759 a total of thirty three Prussian generals died in battle or from wounds), and the loss of other high-ranking officers due to retirement, lack of success etc. it was able to survive the battle against huge odds during the Seven Years War is a testimony to the quality of the army and its officers and the leadership of the King.<>
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©Martin Tomczak 2003