Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Notes on Zorndorf & Kunersdorf - Duffy Tour of 2016

Battlefield marker at Zorndorf

I found the notebook that I carried with me when I was visiting Frederician battlefields in October 2016 with Christopher Duffy and a group of 20 other battlefield trekkers. I thought that some of my readers would find my notes of small interest, given that they are my own first hand account, if you will.

Moving up the Learning Curve - the Campaigns of 1757 and 1758

The source of Russian resentment towards Frederick II and Prussia lie in two things; first that Frederick had penned a number of "rude poems" about the Empress Elizabeth of Russia, which earned him the ire of the Russian Tsarina; and second that Elizabeth recognized the threat that Prussian aggrandisement would pose to Russia in the future. 

Duffy cites several factors that put the Russian army at a disadvantage to that of the Prussian army:

  1. The Russian army had not fought a modern European army in a number of years. Its familiarity was more with how to fight against the Turks.
  2. The Russians adopted clumsy tactical formations, particularly the large "army square" that was protected on all sides - front, flanks and rear - against an enemy attack.
  3. The long supply tail that the Russians had to endure. Since they lacked forward bases close to Prussia, the Russian army had to begin every campaign in Russia or eastern Poland and move men, material and supplies hundreds of miles towards the theater of war astride the Oder River. As a result, it took the Russians a long time to wind up their war machine at the start of the campaign year and it usually did not come into contact with the Russians until late Summer, thereby shortening the campaign season and giving them a small window to win the campaign.
  4. The senior Russian army commanders, Apraxin in 1757 and Fermor in 1758, were not particularly enterprising (probably for a variety of good reasons relative to the politics around the court back in St. Petersburg)

Given all of the above considerations, it really took the Russians two campaigning seasons to move up the learning curve with respect to fighting a war with the Prussians. Thus by 1759 (the third campaign of the war), the Russians were finally able to solve many of the problems that had hindered their performance over the first two years of the war.

  1. By the start of the 1759 campaign, the Russian military had become familiar with the tactics of Frederick the Great and they had begun to fashion effective counter-measures to the Oblique Order system of attack. General Willum Fermor (leader of the army at Zorndorf) had written a training manual for the Russian army, one that recognized that they could not expect to out maneuver the Prussians prior to the start of the battle.
  2. Russian counter-measures to Frederick's tactics built on their familiarity and strong suit in being able to quickly construct field works. So rather than out march the Prussians, they would dig in and wait for the inevitable Prussian attack on their flank or rear. Artillery batteries were now sited at key  points to break up the Prussian attack as it developed. The use of the Shuvulov (Secret Howitzer) Howitzer provided the Russians with effective short range infantry support that could offset the Prussian prowess in musketry.
  3. Starting in 1759, the Russians now deployed in formations of depth with adequate reserves that were ready to move to where the attack was developing.
  4. Logistics: the Russian quartermasters were now required to carry out orderly requistions of supplies from the local civilian populace, including payment for the requisitioned supplies. Forward supply depots were now set up in Poland (Thorn and Posen) as well as in East Prussia, which significantly shortened the supply tail of the Russian army, moving the supplies and the starting point of the campaign ever closer to the Prussian homeland.
  5. The Russians broke their army down into smaller, self-sufficient columns that were more flexible instead of marching towards the Oder River in one large column of march.
  6. More capable leaders were rising to the top of the Russian army by 1759 - its commander, Saltykov, was a very reliable general that got along very well with the Austrians, and more importantly, he got along well with his own generals. During the 1758 Zorndorf campaign, the Russian army commander, Fermor, did not get along very well with his own generals.

Notes on Zorndorf

Frederick marched north of Kustrin to find a place to cross the Oder River and interpose his army between Fermor's main army and the detached corps of Rumynatsev down river at Schwedt. Thus neither segment of the Russian army were in a position to help the other.

Frederick does a reconnaissance of the Russian position near Zicher and decides on his usual tactic of marching around the flank of the Russian army. He had an opportunity to destroy the Russian baggage train ("wagonburg") at Kamien and had he done so then the Russians would have had to retire back into Poland without so much as a fight. Frederick had no experience fighting the Russians and so he had no idea what it was like to fight them - in hindsight, Frederick might have done things different and focused on cutting off the Russian lines of supply and communications.

Frederick decides to attack the Russians with his left wing and refuse his right wing. He thought that he was attacking the rear of the Russian position, but the Russian army was used to being attacked from any direction as a result of having fought the Turks in the past. So it was an easy matter for Fermor to turn his army around and face the new line of attack of the Prussians.

The battle commences with the attack of Manteuffel's Advance Guard on the Russian right wing. Kanitz was to support this attack with his left wing, while Dohna's right wing became the refused wing of the army. Things quickly go astray as Kanitz's troops veer off towards the right and away from Manteuffel and the battle devolves into a frontal assault much like at Kolin.

Zorndorf: the Zabern-Grund hollow.

Zorndorf village

Zorndorf - the site where Manteuffel's Advance Guard attacked.

What made the Russian soldier such a stalwart fighter?
  1. the peasant stock of the common soldier made them readily adaptable to militiary discipline. because they were used to being beaten.
  2. peasant structure - help each other, self-sufficient characteristics.
  3. Orthodox religion - made it a battle/war of ideology to the soldiers

Seydlitz's cavalry wing is deployed on the Prussian left. He waits until he senses a weakness in the Russian line and then feeds his horses across the Zabern-Grund in small groups.

Dohna commits the refused right wing of the Prussian army and the battle now becomes a general battle that proves to be bloody and indecisive.

Fermor withdraws towards his supply routes and thus the campaign of 1758 is effectively over.

Duffy mentions that the East Prussian regiments in the army were no good for the remainder of the war because they had been through a most horrible battle.

Notes on Kunersdorf

Since this post is getting rather long, I will continue my Kunersdorf notes and information about Kunersdorf battlefield archeology in my next post.


  1. Interesting notes and insights. One of the areas I have been looking at for Zorndorf is the effect Frederick's forced march on his own army. Many of the OOB's I have seen show his regiments and nearly full strength which seems painfully optimistic for a field army conducting long marches in August. I saw no mention of the Prussians doffing their heavy coats like the Russians did. That alone would be a significant force multiplier. (fewer heat casualties on the Russian side)

  2. Very interesting notes Jim and I am always so envious of chaps like yourself who manage to organise time and finances well enough to enjoy this wonderful historical tours. To make it even better, with Mr Duffy himself! Looking forward to your next entry.