Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Battle of Leuthen: December 5, 1757

Third Battalion of the Prussian Liebgarde (IR15/III) assault the Leuthen churchyard
defended by the Rot Wurzburg regiment. (from Dorn & Englemann).

Today is the 261st anniversary of the battle of Leuthen, Frederick the Great's signature victory over the Austrian army commanded by Charles of Lorraine. One of the key actions during the battle was the heroic defense of the walled churchyard by the Rot Wurzburg regiment in the Austrian army. The Wurzburgers fended off a number of attacks by the Prussian Guards before succumbing to the weight of numbers that favored the Prussians.

Our game scenario attempted to recreate the attack on Leuthen village, rather than trying to do the entire battle from start to finish. The Prussian objective was to capture the churchyard and drive the Austrians out of Leuthen.

Grand vista view of Leuthen village - picture commissioned by the local chamber of commerce.
As the scenario designer, I positioned the cream of the crop of Prussian battalions in front of the Leuthen churchyard. There were two Guards battalions and two grenadier battalions, assisted by a pair of heavy 12-pound cannon. I envisioned that the Prussians would weaken the defenders of the churchyard with a couple of turns of bombardment before going in for the churchyard assault.

The Prussian deployment in front of the Leuthen churchyard. Click to enlarge the annotations.

Well, the Prussian attack on the churchyard started out alright, with the two Guards battalions converging on the churchyard as shown in the picture below. Note the empty street on the right side of the picture and envision Prussian troops in miter hats rushing into the gap and breaking through the church's gate. Alas, that is not what was going to happen.

Two regiments of Prussian guards close in on the Leuthen churchyard.

A counting of noses or heads indicates that the Prussian Guards outnumbered the Rot Wurzburgers in the church by a wide margin. However, the Prussians made no attempt to charge into the churchyard. It appears that they decided to wear down the garrison with musket fire before attacking the walls. Eventually one of the Guard battalions drifted off over to its right to assist the attack in that vicinity, leaving just the one remaining Guard battalion in front of the church.

King Frederick must have wondered, "what is going on and why aren't my Guards inside the churchyard by now?"

The Guards brigade had been deployed (by me before the game began) with two regular grenadier battalions positioned to rush the church and soak up musket balls and wittle down the garrison. Then the two Guard battalions were to follow up and surge over the churchyard walls and on into the village. By the end of the game, I looked at the two Guards battalions and they had suffered very little in the way of casualties.

Overhead view of the Prussian infantry converging on the churchyard.

Austrians defend the east gate of the churchyard.

Heyden Grenadier Battalion attempts to enter the village, but they are repulsed
by the Austrians in the streets and in some of the houses.
The Prussian Assault on the eastern edge of Leuthen
While the mighty Guards Brigade was taking their time trying to capture the churchyard, the left wing infantry of General Hulsen advanced smartly towards the eastern half of the village and quickly engaged the Austrians in a firefight. They mauled the Austrian musketeer regiment that bravely stood out in the open. Then a reserve battalion of Austrian grenadiers strode forward to take the place of the musketeers and they too were in for rough treatment at the hands of the Prussian Prinz Ferdinand regiment.

Hulsen's Prussian brigade closes in on the Austrians deployed on the eastern edge  of the town.
First fire is about to happen.
Prussian regiment Prinz Ferdinand engages the Austrian musketeers
 in a firefight along the eastern edge of the town.
The Austrian grenadiers made a brave stand before the threat of being outflanked forced them back into the streets of the village. The Prussian Gensdarmes cuirassier regiment had an opportunity to ride down the Austrian grenadiers in the streets, but the card draw initiative favored the Austrians. Still, the IR5 Alt Braunschweig regiment arrived from the area of the cavalry action on the far left and deployed on the flank of the grenadiers, who were now faced front and flank by blue coats. This forced the Austrians to pull out of the eastern part of the village and fall back on the reserve position on Windmill Hill.

Austrian grenadiers are about to be outflanked by Prussian reinforcements from the left wing cavalry field.

As time expired on the game, both sides agreed that the Prussians had captured enough of the village, or at least threatened to with more time, to compel the Austrians to retire, albeit in good order, from the village and fall back towards Breslau. That's pretty much what happened historically.