One of the advantages of having the keys to the front page is that sometimes I can unplug from politics and write about my real passion: military history of the 18th century. Today marks the anniversary of Frederick the Great’s signal victory over the Austrians at Leuthen and gives me a story to tell my kids a couple of times a year after Mass.
Frederick the Great has been described as the embodiment of “the utmost in military achievement that was possible in Europe in the conditions prevailing before the French revolution.” Of all of his battles, none shows Frederick’s military abilities more than the Battle of Leuthen (December 5, 1757). His leadership before and throughout the battle show his capabilities as a military commander. The Battle of Leuthen can truly be considered to be Frederick’s masterpiece.
The entire history for Prussia’s involvement in the Seven Years War is one of determination, will, and near disaster. The fact that Prussia survived (leave aside the fact that he started it) the war is due totally to one man: Frederick the Great.
On November 5, 1757, Frederick’s army won a significant victory over the French at Rossbach. This battle arguably marked the coming of age for the previously mediocre Prussian cavalry under the command of the brilliant (and as it turned out syphilitic) Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz.
As so often happened, a victory in one theater was offset by a defeat in another. After Rossbach, Frederick marched across Central Europe to face the Austrian offensive in Silesia and rescue the fortress of Breslau. Before Frederick could arrive, the Austrians under Marshal Daun and Prince Charles of Lorraine had taken the city (November 25). Undaunted, Frederick gathered what troops he could and moved against the superior Austrian force.
The Austrians were big fans of joint command which paired a git of the royal family with a professional soldier. This didn’t always work well. Prince Charles and Marshal Daun disagreed over whether to meet Frederick from positions inside Breslau (Daun’s position) or to advance on Frederick and engage him in the open field. Prince Charles won out and the Austrian army marched to intercept Frederick near the town of Leuthen.
On December 3, Frederick made a critical decision. Even though he knew he was outnumbered he judged that it was imperative that this threat by the Austrians be dealt with. Retreat wasn’t …read more