The Prussian Field Artillery
Battle of Leuthen
5th December 1757
The map is taken from an article I had published in the September 1987 issue of "Wargames Illustrated" magazine entitled "Notes on the Prussian Army in the Seven Years War- Part 1, The Artillery", and is reproduced here with the permission of the Editor, Mr Duncan Macfarlane.
The Prussian victory over the Austrians at Leuthen in 1757 is regarded as one of the greatest victories of the Eighteenth Century. It came at the end of a rapid Prussian march to Silesia from Saxony, where Frederick the Great had gained a crushing victory over the French and the Reichsarmee at Rossbach on November 5th. In Silesia strong Austrian forces were threatening Breslau, which was covered by a Prussian army under the Duke of Bevern. Frederick hoped to reach the area in time to relieve it. The army under Bevern was defeated outside Breslau on November 24th, and the city surrendered to the Austrians shortly after, and Frederick decided to attack the Austrians wherever he found them in an effort to secure Silesia for the winter. Having gathered his forces at Parchwitz he advanced towards Breslau.
The Austrians advanced westwards from their secure defensive position outside Breslau in the belief that the Prussians would remain behind the Katzbach. The result was that when they found Frederick was approaching they hastily took up a defensive position in a north-south line centred on the village of Leuthen. After deceiving themselves into believing that the Prussian main effort would be made against their right wing, they waited for the attack to come. The Prussians, who knew the terrain well from peacetime manoeuvres, were able to fully exploit their ability in manoeuvre and Frederick successfully mounted an attack on the southern flank of the Austrian position. The Prussian advance rolled the Austrians up from south to north, and Austrian efforts to bring troops from the northern wing were unsuccessful due to the speed of the Prussian advance and the effect of the Prussian field artillery, which at various stages of the battle provided very effective support to the advance indeed.
The map below shows the location of the Prussian batteries that provided this support.
(Map ©"Wargames Illustrated")
1.A battery on the Glanz-Berg supported the initial attack on the Kiefern-Berg and the continued advance towards the Kirch-Berg.
2.A battery on the the Juden-Berg (apparently the Brummer) caused great confusion in the Austrian line 800 paces away, which, combined with the threat to their rear from the Prussian infantry, forced them to withdraw northwards in confusion.
3.Shortly after the Kirch-Berg was stormed against an improvised Austrian defence, heavy guns were dragged forwards from the Glanz-Berg (they were joined later by some guns from the Juden-Berg) and supported the advance on Leuthen.
4.Guns on the northern slope of the Juden-Berg fired towards Leuthen as the infantry advance continued (it appears that these were the Brummer switched to a new target.
5. A battery on the Butterberg enfiladed the deeply-ranked Austrian line either side of Leuthen to great effect, and remained there as the advance to the north continued.
6. This battery engaged the Austrians on the Windmühlenhöhe after Leuthen was taken, in particular a battery which was causing problems for the Prussian infantry.
7. From a slight rise south-east of Leuthen, a battery supported the Prussian right wing during the final stages of the battle.
-Terrain detail taken from Rehtwisch and Fiedler (vol.1), tactical information from a number of sources.
The battle is noted for the way that the Prussian field artillery supported the advance. Ziethen had taken command of the forces at Glogau (the troops which had been under Bevern and had fought at Breslau), and when he marched to join the King he brought with him 10 heavy 12-pounders (each weighing 3,480 pounds, and difficult to move and fire) from the fortress. These heavy guns became famous as the Brummer ("Growlers") after a comment made by the King during the battle. Ziethen also brought 4 or 7 (depending on the source) 50-pound mortars from Glogau.
The opening Prussian infantry attack towards the Kiefernberg and Sagschütz was supported by a battery of 10 heavy guns on the Glanzberg. They afterwards fired effectively on the enemy attempting to withdraw towards the Kirchberg and form a new line to its south. When the Kirchberg had been stormed they were brought forward and deployed on the hill and opened a very effective fire on the line the Austrians were attempting to establish along the Gohlauer Graben to the north. This was broken also and the struggle moved on to the village of Leuthen, which was taken in heavy fighting.The Prussians brought a total of 63 field guns and 8 howitzers into the battle (the mortars from Glogau appear to have been left in the rear). The sources are a little vague about which guns fired from where, but it is clear that they advanced with the attack and supported it to great effect. The Brummer made a great impact on the Austrians, firing with effect at great range, such that (according to one source) they suggested that their use on the battlefield was against international law.
The book on Leuthen by Rehtwisch, published in 1911, has a number of photographs of the battlefield taken at the time. The area was virtually unchanged from 1757 (only some trees had been cut down and others planted), and the "Berge" (hills) are higher areas in an undulating terrain. But they clearly provided enough extra visibility over the battlefield too make them effective artillery positions.
The use of dismounted cavalryment as gun crew at Leuthen illustrates what was a recurring problem for the Prussians during the Seven Years War. This was the problem posed by the constant increase during the war of the number of guns fielded and the heavy losses among the gunners, namely how were the guns to be manned (official correspondence throughout the war was filled with complaints about the permanent shortage of artillerymen; ). The use of recruits or cavalrymen cannot have helped efficiency, even though a fairly short period of training would suffice to enable new men to carry out some of the duties competently.
Attempts were made to use prisoners of war. The Saxon gunners pressed into Prussian service in 1756 seem to have been a success, and an attempt was made to similarly pressc captured Swedish gunners in 1758.
The Prussian artillery had long had a high percentage of native Prussians in its ranks; all those joining it, native or foreign, had to be Protestant, no Catholics (not even natives), were permitted. Fortresses were often stripped almost bare of artillerymen for the field armies (for example Colberg withstood its first siege, in 1758, with 1 Unteroffizier and 14 Kanoniere, and 60 Handlanger from the Landmiliz (these were men who carried out the unskilled jobs such as fetching and carrying charges, positioning the gun etc.).
The Zimmerleute (literally "artificers", the equivalent of Napoleonic Sapeurs) were trained in peacetime to fire their regiments battalion guns, and were used as battalion gun crew in wartime.
The use of cavalrymen with the Brummer at Leuthen was probably in response to the need for crew to be found at short notice (one source suggests that they were used only for lifting the gun off the limber and for positioning the gun during the battle)- the guns had been brought from the fortress of Glogau not long before the battle, and as such all the necessary horses, wagons, drivers, equipment, crews etc. that were needed to use them in the field would have had to be organised at short notice. It is not clear if the Brummer were brought forward using manpower alone on the battlefield, in view of their great weight. It is perhaps surprising that they performed as well as they did in the battle!
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