Frederick Invades Austria a Second Time; Siege of Olmütz II

Laudon, on May 2, 1758 rose from his post and hustled forward upon Reichenau. Behind him, Daun prepped the main army for a similar move. The marshal’s men marched to Wodierold, on May 3. With that still unsatisfactory, Daun bolted through Choitzen (May 4), and, next day, finally reached his magazine. The post there was much more suitable to keeping the enemy observed. Laudon, still following his rôle as vanguard, made Landscron his post. Laudon was a very opinionated man, and he found himself frequently at loggerheads with Marshal Daun over the best choices to make for military operations. Had he served with Frederick, he might not have been so eager to talk, for the Prussian king was not fond of obstinate subordinates. In short, the Prussian military was far more regimented and orderly compared to its Austrian counterpart at this stage. The major decisions all rested solely with the person of the king. Especially those calls involving basic military planning.

Frederick, meanwhile, was preparing to put Olmütz under blockade. One problem was the relative remoteness of Olmütz from nearby Prussian magazines. A week was devoted to preliminary reconnaissance and study of the approaches to the city as well as its defenses. Frederick had 48 battalions and 103 squadrons spread out with his command, including 26 battalions and 33 squadrons in the main force. It was not until May 12, that the Prussians were set for the serious work ahead.39 Next day, the Prussian king rode out to look at Olmütz with his own eyes. He had visited Olmütz before, but the state of defensive posts now were much stronger than on his previous visit.

The monarch was really like a fish out of water. Frederick was an excellent planner on campaigns and battles, but insofar as the cumbersome mechanics of his time necessary for a siege, he was out of his element. Nevertheless, within a few weeks the king expected Olmütz to fall, which could then allow him to start on the final leg of the plan: the march on Vienna. If he ever seriously believed that, he was doomed to disappointment.

Meanwhile, with Hadik pulling back, Laudon felt compelled to move into the vacuum left at Höhenstadt (May 6). Here Laudon was so close to the wily Prussians he pushed out light detachments to Müglitz and Ausse to observe them. Our old friend General Jahnus kept in close contact with Laudon, and pressed patrols through Schönberg and Gronberg to keep the bluecoats under close scrutiny. General DeVille had fallen back on Olmütz; he sent his infantry to join the garrison directly, but kept his cavalry near, but outside, the city. The various Austrian efforts were much more vigorous against the Prussian invaders of Moravia than they ever were during the invasion of Bohemia in 1757. This activity even briefly threatened Frederick’s designs upon Olmütz. The king was relieved to see the pressure ease off.

Frederick would have liked nothing better than an all-out battle with Daun, but the marshal, with the Austrian army still doing its best to recover from the Leuthen Campaign, did not feel so inclined. However, as soon as the rumor of the approach of Laudon proved accurate, the Prussian leader made immediate efforts to oppose his advance. Meanwhile, Frederick busied himself in his spare moments with writing verse and recounting the exploits of Charles XII of Sweden at Narva to his reader, Henri de Catt (who had recently been very ill). At Aschmeritz, the bluecoats congregated a large force—23 battalions and 13 squadrons—fronting Littau. They were ensconced about Sternberg, while Lacy crept up to Prossnitz to check their designs. Frederick intended to stay at Littau for a while, which he converted into a supply and ammunition depot.

The king was certain the key to defeating the Austrians lay not so much in mauling the various detachments that were about, but in knocking off Daun’s main force. Even so, Laudon made an especial nuisance out of himself. So, just before midnight on May 21–22, Frederick set off with a detail to throw some consternation into Laudon. The Prussian force, ten battalions of infantry and 17 squadrons of horse, was divided into three columns, and tried to approach stealthily. The men struck near dawn Laudon’s scattered line hard about Namiest—about 22 miles west of Olmütz. That attack was really a rather heavy artillery bombardment with many rounds being fired in the process. But Laudon was tipped off by friendly peasants, and the artillery exchange was carried on until about 1800 hours. The indomitable Austrian commander then preempted the Prussian ground attack with one of his own first. The Prussian front was driven in, and there were a number of casualties. This enabled Laudon to pull back his scattered forces on to Konitz. The king pursued only up to the place. He said of Laudon’s losses “we captured 3 officers and 43 men.” This did demonstrate, in no uncertain terms, that the Austrians would fight if left no choice.

Indeed Olmütz proved to be a far tougher nut to crack than Frederick had first calculated. She was protected by a garrison of 8,500 men under our old friend, General Marschall, backed up with 324 guns. This total included 110 12-pounder (or heavier) guns, and 91 mortars. As for the general, he was a valiant, skilled man whose rough appearance belied the capable leader that inspired confidence in his men by steady direction. Before the siege, Marschall had ordered all unnecessary individuals out of the city. Convalescent soldiers sheltering there were evacuated to points further in the interior, while the city suburbs of Novė Sady, Selena Ulice, Powel, and Stredni Ulice were torn down to keep the enemy from sheltering in them. It was a rough, but probably a necessary precaution. A garrison was put at Kloster Hradisch, as well as Rebscheine, Pablowitz, and other outlying villages, which Marschall considered essential to the safety of Olmütz. Daun (who lay idle at Leutomischl until May 23) did nothing to interfere with the Prussians as they closed up on the fortifications. He finally marched through Zwittau and, reaching the road to Olmütz, took encampment at Gewitsch—31 miles north-northwest of Olmütz. This in spite of the efforts of Vienna to get him moving.

Daun’s right wing took in the ground from Gewitsch fronting Kornitz, while the horsemen, of the left, were deployed close to the grenadier battalions. The latter took cover on a rise between Jauermeritz and Biskupitz. Daun was doing all he could to take advantage of the natural features of the ground. While he was so occupied, General Harsch moved on Mährisch-Tribau, beyond this point the irregulars of Laudon & Co. were busy harassing the bluecoats as much as possible. The Prussian supply trains had to come from Troppau (which was distant about 40 miles), but for the most part little happened. Good thing; it was said the Prussians needed 400 wagons a day during the siege just to maintain themselves. May 28, one of the roving Austrian bands lit up the country at Heidenpiltsch. The bluecoat force did its best, but some 300 wagons and a number of horses were taken. Another Prussian post, at Laskau under Major-General Christian von Möhring, became the victim of Laudon’s energetic adventures. Möhring was caught nearly by surprise, and, after a short fight, was driven from the field (night of June 7–8).

Nor were these the only operations undertaken by the two sides. The Prussian light force of Major-General Puttkammer, leading a force of 800 men, was suddenly jumped and routed by the Austrian Lt.-Col. Carl Graf Lanjus von Wellenburg (night of May 16–17) while on escort duty near Moravsky Beroun. The Prussians lost about 150 killed or wounded. The escort force lost half its number captive, while the train was dispersed, Franz von LeNoble received a wound and Puttkammer got away with less than 200 of his men.

And, during the night of June 4–5, the garrison launched its first major sortie. Under Major-General Simbschen, this force was about 550 men strong; the action inflicted some heavy damage on one section of the besieging lines, inflicting a loss of about 150 men, 50 of whom were captured. Further, on the night of June 13–14, an Austrian force of some 700 men under General Draskovitch, divided into four smaller formations, struck at the Prussian left side batteries, while an additional 300 men under Captain Rierra attacked the right wing batteries. Although this attack was finally and savagely repulsed, Frederick reported heavy damage, including seven guns spiked.

Meanwhile, Marshal Daun was preparing to march. June 15, some cavalry under General St. Ignon rode towards Prerau, which was an intention to screen the intermediate country there from the irruptions of Prussian raiders, as a prelude to the next move of the main Austrian army. The army rose from Gewitsch, and, under terrible sheets of rain, advanced on Prodivanow (June 16). Daun was determined to stay close enough to Olmütz that he could reinforce the fortress. On June 17, under better conditions, the march was resumed to a new site mapped out between Prödlitz and Evanowitz. Henry Lloyd makes out all of this was done without the Prussians even becoming suspicious. Keith was said to have a force (approximately 6,141 infantry) before Olmütz about then, along with seven squadrons of horse.

With Daun having reached a post from where he could better react, his cohorts used the time wisely. General St. Ignon (June 18), with his best effort, erupted against a Prussian force ensconced at Hollitz. The enemy, five squadrons of the Bayreuth and Puttkammer Dragoons, were abruptly forced to beat a retreat. The allied left, under Count Stainville, had things all its own way. Prussian losses of 200 killed and 150 taken prisoners were reported by General Lloyd, and Stainville also sacked the village of Wisternitz. The Prussian force thereabouts, seven squadrons of cavalry, along with a full battalion of infantry and “two pieces of cannon” were under General Mayr. This bold stroke appeared to take the bluecoats by surprise.

The bluecoat force, which boasted a band of infantry and two cannon at its back, was decimated in a short fight. Minus some 800 killed/wounded, they had to beat a retreat. Mayr himself was badly wounded and taken from the field. This represented a serious demonstration of the enemy’s prowess, and the king was obliged to pull back his outer posts. The Prussian army was reordered near Prossnitz and Czetcowitz.

That accomplished, Frederick earmarked June 20 for a powerful reconnaissance in force. He took some 12,000 men and moved on Prödlitz, scouts being sent to check out Daun’s preparations. This was the extent of Frederick’s reconnaissance, and the Prussians returned to Prossnitz. Next day, Daun detached new General Baron Bülow with 12,000 men; the latter was to make for Prerau and a reinforcement of the force in Olmütz.

Meanwhile, the news that the Prussians were sweeping virtually unchecked through her dominions proved to be most disturbing to Maria Theresa. There were actually preparations made to depart should the Prussian king take the notion of marching suddenly on the capital. This intelligence was not encouraging for the Austrians. There was an additional snag to offering an effective defense to the invaders: were all the available troops shifted to Moravia to defend Olmütz and block the road to Vienna from that side, what was to keep Prince Henry from moving against Prague in Bohemia? This was a legitimate concern of the Imperialists as well. If the Austrians vacated Bohemia, that would open the states of the Reich to the vengeful Prussians, and the only available defense then would be the largely ineffective Imperialist Army. This force had yet to recover from the hammering of Rossbach.

The siege of Olmütz had in the interim finally opened. Four days after Daun marched to Gewitsch, the Prussian engineers, led by Colonel Giuseppe Federico Balbi, completed the first parallel. A miscalculation caused the line to be dug about 800 yards short of where it should have been. So the bombardment that was opened immediately afterwards could do little because the range was too great. A second parallel had to be completed (June 2), wasting precious time. The garrison commenced to sortie against the Prussian lines. The effort on the night of June 4–5 was so successful, the next night another effort was made. This one was squashed, most effectively. The early shelling wasted, in addition, some 1,220 rounds of shot for negligible results on the first day. This second line was largely on the west side of the Morawa, as the opposite side was swampy and under water at many points.

June 9, the king took an inspection tour of Balbi’s works—most especially the main entrenchments (which had been erected on top of the Täperberg). The monarch enquired when these works were expected to be put to full use. Balbi’s brazen reply when the enemy had been beaten down could not have pleased the impatient Frederick. At the western side of the river stood Keith, commanding a detachment of 8,000 men with 71 guns. He was making a great effort of his own, but so were the defenders, whose artillery was capably directed by Lt.-Col. Adolph Nicolaus von Alfson. The latter maintained a superiority in artillery performance throughout the siege and gave the bluecoats much distress with their enterprise.

The latter lay in four distinct camps during the course of the siege. The first was at Littau, a post which extended over the Morawa and covered the road from Olmütz on that side. A second was at Neustadt, on the far side of the Morawa. The third was at Prossnitz, where the king had his headquarters; it kept the Austrians penned in from relief to the south. The fourth camp, that of Keith, encamped round Olmütz itself. From Olmütz, Littau was a good 15 miles to the northwest, Prossnitz to the south, Neustadt about 20 miles to the north from the fortress. About 20 miles west of Littau Daun was encamped, with Laudon making efforts against the scattered Prussian detachments. There is reason to believe the Austrian commander thought Frederick’s true intentions were still towards Bohemia, which meant the maneuver against Olmütz was a mere ruse.

Prince Henry, meanwhile, had been occupied with the Imperialists. He planned for Mayr to be set against them, preceding a major move. The latter had spent the winter trying to rebuild their army. Hildburghausen having resigned, the command of the still shaky force, after some haggling, was entrusted to Field Marshal Prince Friedrich Michael von Pfalz-Zweibrücken. The latter arrived at Nurnburg on March 31, and immediately set about rectifying some of his army’s most pressing concerns. The cautious Imperialist circles immediately went into council of war meetings. A reluctant decision was made at council to move from lower Saxony into a position closer to Bohemia. About the same time as the Imperialist change of order, Serbelloni resumed his career as a soldier by taking command of the Austrian forces in western Bohemia on April 16. Brabant puts the effective Imperialist strength by the end of April at “26,264 men and 3275 horses.” The allies, especially the Austrians, had been wrestling with the idea of whether or not the motley Reich forces would be any better than in 1757. Serbelloni’s presence was to provide a prop to the Imperialist effort, such as it was.

This concentration of the Imperialist Army in the defense of Saxony and Bohemia was of scant comfort to the Saxon minister Brühl, who hinted he feared the Reich army “almost as much as the enemy.” The condemnation may seem justified in view of that force’s dismal performance at Rossbach and other military actions. Zweibrücken just now could dispose of about “35,000” men near Saatz, while Daun had been decent enough to earmark 15,000 Austrians to join this force. This made for a total, more or less, of 50,000 men; far superior in numbers to the force with Henry. Mayr had been engaged in burning the magazines and harassing the troops of Zweibrücken’s command. The latter lacked light troops, so there was little effective resistance. Prince Henry’s winter march, already alluded to, had opened the drama in Saxony.

General Hülsen was left at Freibergsdorf with about 11,000 troops. His task was to guard Saxony while Henry was absent. Now there was a new offensive. Henry moved succinctly upon Taltitz on May 23, ready to go. Lt.-Gen. Georg Wilhelm von Driesen was to be the vanguard of the force. Mayr fanned out ahead, reaching Hof on the same day. Simultaneously, the Imperialist leader at this site, Major-General Michael Gottfried von Rosenfeld, moved troops to Liechtenfels. Then he finally hitched towards Regnitz, there to take up a position hard by.

Driesen came sweeping down upon the circle, “advising” town leaders like those at Hollfeld, and Marienweiler—among others—that a series of Prussian requests needed prompt attention. Driesen forthwith occupied Bayreuth, and boldly announced to the residents that he needed their cooperation by not taking action against his Prussians. In exchange, Driesen would do his best to leave the local population alone as far as possible. Even Nurnburg was threatened with Prussian fury, but Driesen’s bark, like the proverbial canine, was worse than his bite. Mayr glided through Hollfeld, intending to put Bamberg to its mettle. May 31, Prussians suddenly appeared on the outskirts of Bamberg, and a few hussars even forced their way into the streets of the city.

In response, Rosenfeld rushed reinforcements towards the stricken post, which initially repulsed the enemy’s efforts, but, about 1400 hours, an impressive force of bluecoats appeared, complete with an artillery complement. Soon shelling reduced more than three dozen buildings to ruin and the city fathers had to sue for peace. Prussian losses had been 70, against Imperialist casualties of 23; Rosenfeld promptly withdrew on Bürgebrach. Bamberg itself was ravaged by the infuriated Prussians during the night, although dawn brought restored order. Contributions were levied, however. The city appeared on the point of giving in to what amounted to extortion when suddenly news arrived of Lt.-Gen. Karl Franz Dombâle’s approach with a relief force. Prussian demands were for some two million thalers (or talers). And even extended to demanding outright neutrality of the city for the rest of the war.

Dombâle, with about 10,000 men—over 3,000 of whom were new recruits—reached Möerfeldon on May 31, deviating through Donauworth and Walldürn, rather straggling along. He finally reached Würzberg with his main body to join Rosenfeld on June 9.60 Dombâle’s chief concern for the moment, though, was not how to relieve Bamberg from its troubles, but how to keep Würzberg. That being acknowledged, Dombâle seriously questioned the capability of the town’s walls to withstand a serious enemy effort.

Fortunately, that would not be a problem. By then, Driesen was preparing for nothing more than a managed, orderly withdrawal from his exposed forward position. During the night of June 9–10, Driesen abandoned his comfortable quarters at Bamberg and retired on Bayreuth, pausing first at Hollfeld. Prince Henry moved forward on Hof, so as to screen Driesen from any follow-up pursuit by the enemy. Driesen reached Hof on June 14, thereby reuniting with Henry’s main body. On June 5, the Prussian irregulars at Sebastienberg were turned out of their posts by Major-General Ujházy. This move caused reinforcements, from both sides, to gravitate towards that place. Prince Henry had Generals Wunsch and Ziethen before Sebastienberg, but hoped this did not presage a major enemy effort. Henry was not too disappointed; he had wrestled the forward posts from Croats only a few hours earlier.