Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Road to Leuthen: November 30, 1757

Saxon Garde du Corps escorting a VIP (Dresden museum)

I just realized a little coincidence in the timing of this year's Leuthen Day anniversary, which falls on Monday December 5, 2016: the actual battle of Leuthen was also fought on a Monday on December 5, 1757. Make what you want of that, but since I am recreating the battle as a wargame on the same day and day of the week, it seemed significant or karmaic to me.

Historically, there does not appear to have been anything of significance happening on November 30, 1757. I would imagine that Frederick was giving his troops a much needed rest after marching over 180 miles from Saxony to Parchwitz in 15 days. Presumably, Frederick was  waiting for the rest of Zieten's forces to assemble in Glogau and march to join the army in Parchwitz, on the Katzbach.

One can imagine that the Austrians were dithering over what to do, as was their want as long as Prince Charles of Lorraine was in command of their army. Charles is an illustrative example of the foibles of allowing nepotism, rather than merit, to determine who should command the army. I wonder how events would have changed had Leopold Daun (the victor at Kolin) been in command rather than Charles. Maybe not too much of a difference as Daun had failed to grasp the importance of the Katzbach stream as a defensive position

The only piece of information that I can find for November 30th is a mention of the Austrian roster return of that day indicating that the average strength of its Cuirassier and Dragoon regiments was a feeble 377 horse and men. [Prussia's Glory, page 134]. With respect to the size of the overall army, Charles, in a letter to Maria Theresa, put the number of healthy and available troops at 50,000. As Duffy says, this figure is "astounding" as it was far less than the 65,000 to 90,000 troops that historians have traditionally attributed to the Austrian army at Leuthen.

Duffy explains that approximately 18,000 to 21,000 men were detached from the army, posted at various places including Schweidnitz (6,000), Breslau (6,000), Lignitz (3,000), Beck's corps of 3,500 posted east of the Oder River,  and Kalnocky's force of 2,000. The number of verifiable detached troops was at least 18,000. 

By comparison, Frederick's army is reliably estimated at 39,000 men and horse, comprising 29,900 infantry, 9,800 cavalry (48 battalions and 120 squadrons) and 71 heavy pieces of artillery: 10 of the 12-pound Brummers, 39 ordinary 12-pounders, 13 light 24-pounders and 8 howitzers. Thus 39,000 Prussians were attacking an Austrian army of around 50,000 or an Austrian advantage of 1.3x the Prussian army. Accordingly, the odds of Prussians versus Austrians was a lot closer than the figures usually stated in the history books. One can imagine that Prussian or German historians of the 19th Century might have inflated the size of the Austrian army so as to make Frederick's victory at Leuthen even more impressive.


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