10 April 1741
1st Silesian War
War of the Austrian Succession
Prussians under Frederick II: approx. 21,000
Austrians under Wilhelm von Neipperg: approx. 19,000
Weather: Cold and sunny, but after a heavy, late-season snow that had piled up, according to Asprey, to two feet. Snow was not considered that unusual this time of year in Eastern Europe since 1741 lies in the middle of what has been called by historical climatologists "The Little Ice Age", from roughly 1350 to 1850. Average temperatures worldwide would have been as much as 2° C colder than they were before and after this five hundred year window.
Location: 50 ° 50’52” N 17° 22’ 45” E Southwest Poland north of the town of Nysa (then Niesse). The village of Mollwitz is currently called Malujowice. An industrial park built on an abandoned Soviet air base, unfortunately, covers most of the actual battlefield.
Sunrise: 05:09 Sunset: 18:45 End of Twilight: 19:19
|Frederick II, in 1739,|
two years before he was king
and his first battle.
Narrative below the map
Situation at about 13:00. You can see in this deployment map the tactical mistake that the Prussians made in deploying too far left, crowding up against the Kleinerbach while leaving their right flank up in the air and vulnerable to Romer's outflanking attack.
Consequently, Neipperg, thinking Frederick was several miles north, brought his 19,000 men to bivouac in and around the village of Mollwitz (modern day Malujowice in Poland), facing north-east, where he thought the Prussian army would be.
Frederick, meanwhile, was camped a few miles to the south-east, in almost the opposite direction, waiting for the snow to let up. Around 0500 on the April 10th, he began moving his 21,000 men north, with the object of crossing the Oder River at Brieg (modern Bzreg). The going was slow because though the snow had stopped, it was deep (Asprey, in his biography of Frederick says 2 feet--see references below). It wasn't until midday that his troops reached Neudorf.
Both sides saw each other about the same time, no thanks to their almost worthless light cavalry (hussars, at the time, seemed to think their primary function was raping and looting, and not reconnaissance). Frantically, Neipperg shook out his regiments to form up for battle. Since they had been facing north-east and the enemy was now behind them, it meant that his army's normal, linear deployment order was reversed. This seemingly inconsequential detail caused no end of confusion and uneasiness among the troops and their commanders. Armies in the 18th century were almost obsessive compulsive in their insistence on the correct order of precedence.
The Prussians, in spite of their superior discipline and training, took a great deal of time getting into line of battle themselves. Most accounts say that Frederick was courteously giving Neipperg time to get himself ready. This seems implausible given Frederick's nature and his later behavior. The more likely factor in the slow deployment was the deep snow (again, see Asprey).
Both armies were not ready for battle until about 13:00 (the positions shown in the map). The Austrians deployed in inverse order in an otherwise conventional double line, infantry in the center, cavalry on the flanks. But they weren't happy about it. Peering southeast across the flat, white plain, with the wind driving the fresh snow into their faces, they could not make out the Prussian infantry but undoubtedly heard the fifes and drums as they deployed.
The Prussians had miscalculated the available space for deployment on the flat plain and ended up crowding together, with one irritated battalion (IR #27 Leopold) actually elbowed out of the lines and deployed between the two battle lines. They had also misread the distance to the enemy. The bright day and the blinding white snow, which was blowing in the wind, deceived them as to the range to Mollwitz. So they commenced their deployment far too early, over a mile-and-a-half (2.3 km) from the Austrians forming up in front of Mollwitz. This greatly slowed their attack once they began to march because they had to constantly stop and realign in their wide formation.
Frederick's Chief of Staff, Count Kurt Christoph von Schwerin formed the bulk of the Prussian infantry in an oblong, gigantic square in the center. On the Prussian right, eleven squadrons of cuirassiers and dragoons deployed. These were interspersed with two grenadier battalions (Winterfeld and Bolstern) to stiffen the shaky cavalry. Far to the left, the Prussian infantry had crowded against the banks of the Kleinerbach (literally, "little brook", or modern Potok Pepicki) so their left wing cavalry, under Posadowsky, was forced to deploy unhelpfully on the other side of the brook.
The Battle Commences on the Prussian RightWhile the Prussians and Austrians were forming up their infantry, the Prussian 12 and 24 pounder batteries under Lehwaldt and Dohna, unlimbered some yards in front of the main line. Lehwaldt's battery commenced bombarding the Austrian cavalry under General von Römer. Rather than endure this standing still, and thinking to give time for the infantry to deploy, Römer, took on his own initiative to launch a charge on the Prussian right wing, and to capture those guns.
Six regiments, comprising some 78 companies of cuirassiers and dragoons (the Austrian cavalry was not yet organized in squadrons), launched a slow-motion charge toward the Prussian right. The "charge" was executed at a trot, according to Austrian tactical doctrine, probably made even slower because of the deep snow. But gusts of wind blew up clouds of snow, which concealed the advancing Austrian horse and somewhat protected them from Lehwaldt's 12 pounders. When the 4,200 Austrian cavalry burst out of the swirling clouds, the inexperienced Prussian cavalry were taken completely by surprise. They received the charge standing still and were bowled over. Both Schulburg and Frederick (who was with the #11 Leib Carabiniers) tried to rally the fleeing troopers. Schulburg was killed for his efforts and Frederick nearly captured before he fled to the safety of the huge infantry square in the Prussian center.
The two Prussian grenadier battalions who had been brigaded with the cavalry (Winterfeld and Bolstern) now found themselves isolated. Christopher Duffy, in his Frederick the Great: A Military Life, describes them as firing every which way, indiscriminately into both friend and foe alike. Given that both sides' cavalries were uniformed very similarly (the Austrian cuirassiers and Prussian cavalry both clad in white), both shouting in German, and given the periodic blowing snow, it is not surprising that the Prussian grenadiers fired at any horsemen swirling around them.Apparently the grenadiers had either formed battalion squares to protect themselves from the Austrian horse or had had their rear rank about face (something the Prussian Garde #15 regiment had done 16 years later at Kolin). And Lehwaldt's battery of 12 pounders was apparently overrun and captured.
Frederick's Chief of Staff
The Austrian Tide Begins to EbbDriving off the weak Prussian cavalry on the right, Römer's victorious Austrian horse now proceeded to attack the gigantic Prussian infantry square in the center. But Prussian battalion artillery, firing canister, as well as the discipline and rapid fire of the infantry, tore the slow-moving and exhausted Austrian horse to pieces. Römer's troopers tried to break into the space between the two lines, but the grenadier battalion Kleist 3/6 (not to be confused with the IR #26 Kleist) and the IR#10 Anhalt-Dessau had wheeled right to plug the end, thus forming a gigantic, impregnable fortress of bayonets. These battalions unleashed withering volleys and canister from their battalion guns. Römer himself, perhaps Neipperg's most capable general, was killed at this stage, shot through the skull. His cavalry, by now spent and leaderless, began to trickle away.
His king sent to safety, Schwerin now took command. It was now about 16:00 and the battle had been going on for nearly three hours. A subordinate asked Schwerin if he was going to give the order to retreat and he supposedly said, famously, "Over enemy bodies." This was the 18th century equivalent of the American General McAuliffe's famous "Nuts!" to suggestions that he surrender at the Battle of the Bulge. Whether Schwerin actually said it is not known. At least General McAuliffe had an efficient staff and press corps to document his own stubbornness.
The Prussian infantry was at last ordered to advance on the Austrian center. The deep snow, by this time churned up and tamped down by thousands of Austrian horses, may have been a little easier to move through. But almost a mile separated the opposing lines and we can only imagine that it was fairly difficult for even the well-trained Prussian infantry to keep the parade-ground formations without frequent stopping to realign its ranks.
At any rate, after a two-hour, slow advance, by about 18:00 the Prussian line reached musket range (100 yards?) and commenced to unleash its terrible 4-5 round per minute volley fire on the Austrians. The Austrian infantry, with their wooden ramrods and antique fire-by-ranks procedures were only able to deliver possibly one round for every three of the Prussians. Moreover, these troops were not nearly as trained or well-led as their Prussian counterparts. So, in short order, with their ranks decimated by bullets from canister and musketry, the Austrian line started to melt. The terrified Hapsburg troops began to clump behind each other in packed mobs; some reports saying as deep as 30-40 ranks, making them, ironically, even more vulnerable to the 28 six-pounder battalion guns the Prussians had manhandled along with them. Within minutes all semblance of a battle line had dissolved into chaos.
The Austrian right wing cavalry under Birkenfeld attempted to save the day themselves by charging the Prussian left. But they too were ripped to shreds by the discipline volley fire and unshakable infantry lines.
Within about half-an-hour of this firefight, the entire Austrian line broke and general rout ensued. Prussian hussars (Zieten's #2 Red Hussars) gave a half-hearted chase in the twilight, but this was called off by about 19:15 as it started to get too dark to see.
The Beginning of a World War
Mollwitz was a long, tedious, and bloody battle (lasting over seven hours, interminable by 18th century standards). Each side lost approximately 4,000 casualties (KWC), or around 20%, the Prussians actually a little more. But the Prussians kept the field, and so, under the stilted conventions of Enlightenment warfare, won the day and the political point, saving Silesia for Prussia.
Frederick had won his first battle. And he wasn't even there to see it. It was said that he never forgave Schwerin for making him look foolish and cowardly by encouraging him to flee, and then going on to win the victory without him. But Schwerin was, after all, being prudent by protecting his sovereign. He had no assurances that the Prussian infantry was going to win the battle; well-trained as it was, it hadn't been in combat in years. They were an unknown at that point and might well have crumpled as easily as the Prussian cavalry. By the middle of the afternoon, when Schwerin urged Frederick to save himself, things had certainly looked bleak.
If Frederick was petulant, he needed to get over himself.
Mollwitz was a turning point in eighteenth century history. Besides securing the rich province of Silesia for Prussia, it also precipitated a cascade of consequences. Encouraged by it, France, under Louis XV, decided to join the war on Frederick's side (and against both Austria and Britain) to press a challenge to Maria Theresa's right to the Austrian throne and for the Elector of Bavaria's bid to be Holy Roman Emperor. So something that started as a border skirmish quickly became a world war, fought all over Europe, in North America, South Asia, the Caribbean, and on three oceans. It became a war of survival for both the Hapsburg throne and for Frederick. And it was just too complicated for me to go on about in this little post.
So I'll quit.
In playing a wargame of this debut battle of Frederick's career, some interesting considerations might be explored.
While most accounts of the battle describe the Prussian troops as moving with parade ground precision over a flat, dry landscape, it had snowed the two days before--considerably. Even illustrations and reenactments of the battle show a mere dusting of snow, at most. But Robert Asprey, in his book, Frederick the Great: The Magnificent Enigma, says that the snow was two feet deep. If this is accurate, then it would have played a significant role in slowing movement and rattling the tight order of linear formations.
If you've ever had to walk through fresh snow two feet thick, you'll have experienced how difficult it is to make way. Two feet means up past your knees for most adults, probably higher on an 18th century man. Now imagine trying to keep the formation of thousands of troops moving in perfect order. Or galloping a horse through this. Or worse, trying to push a one ton cannon through it. Any movement would have been extremely slow and utterly exhausting.
The deep snow would have explained why the pace of the battle seemed to have been in slow motion, why it took so long for each army to deploy, and why the advance of the Prussian infantry took two hours to go only a mile-and-a-half across flat ground (something that normally would have taken a half-hour on dry ground). It would also explain why the cavalry action by the Austrians, while effective in driving off the weak and inexperienced Prussian right wing cavalry, was subsequently so ineffective in charging against the Prussian infantry squares: It was floundering around in the deep snow, probably unable to go faster than a walk.
Snow would also have affected the effect of artillery fire, particularly round shot. The deep snow would, like mud, have absorbed the impact and inertia of each round, greatly reducing its range and ricochet effect. Though canister fire would have been more effective at short ranges, it's ricochet effect, too, would have been diminished. And shell fire was not, at this stage of warfare, used in field battles against troops. So the snow would have posed significant friction on artillery.
For a wargame, then, rules should be adjusted to account for this deep snow effect:
Fatigue factors would also increase (probably by twice for the ease of managing the game dynamics, unless you are using a computer generated algorithm).
Artillery range, at least for roundshot, should also be halved.
Canister effect could be reduced by a factor of 2/3 (assuming 1/3 of the bullets in a discharged would plow into the snow in front of the target).
Inverse Order of the Austrians
Another tactical factor that may have had a decisive role in the battle was the fact that the Austrian army was forced to deploy in inverse order, owing to the fact that it had to turn around and face a threat in its rear. No time, especially given the thick snow on the ground, could be taken to reverse the order to the normal, left-right sequence.
While this may not seem to be a significant factor, remembering that in this highly rigid, linear period of warfare, in which orders of seniority, precedence, and hierarchy were so important to the confidence of an army, it probably caught the officers of the various regiments on the back foot. It would have, for them, have been like suddenly having to switch hands to play tennis.
To factor in this "back foot" effect in a war game, then, you could reduce the morale factor of the Austrian units and commanders by a percentage (depending on how morale is accounted for in the game engine you are using). Should, during the game, victory come to the Austrians, morale would then be elevated in the euphoria.
Overall Combat Effectiveness
The Austrian infantry, at this early stage of the War of the Austrian Succession, was not particularly great. Most of the rank-and-file were untrained peasants. So it could probably be rated at Militia caliber. The Austrian cavalry, however, seemed to be much better trained (certainly better than the Prussian), better mounted, and in better shape, and could, for the purposes of relative combat effectiveness, be rated at Line or Veteran caliber.
The Prussian cavalry should be rated in its combat efficiency as lower than the Austrian (Militia level?). Though they had been trained relentlessly by Frederick William (Frederick II's father) in parade ground maneuvers, and they looked beautiful on their big horses, they had had virtually no training in actual combat. Moreover, they were using antiquated tactics, formed in three ranks, "charging" at a slow trot, then delivering pistol fire and retiring; essentially 17th century cavalry drill. Most contemporaries rated the Prussian cavalry of 1740 as the worst in Europe.
But the Prussian infantry and artillery, with decades of training and service behind them, should be rated as virtually Guard or Elite level.
My Own Wargame of Mollwitz
Mollwitz set up on my sand table a few years ago. The game was played with 5 mm figures (1:300), ground scale at 1:1500. You can see how long ago this was by all the Playmobil toys on the shelves in the background. My daughter recently graduated from college. I can't get over how quickly the time went.
Orders of BattleBefore you jump into this OOB to build your own armies for a wargame, read this caveats.
Caveats and Key to the Table
First Column Command is the name of the command or regiment, colored in the primary uniform coat color for each regiment. Where known, this includes the regimental number it would eventually be known as Austrian regiments were still primarily known by their inhaber's (owner's) name and not be numbered in precedence until much later in the century.
Second Column Facing is the command level and type, using standard military symbology. This column is color-coded in the “facing” color of the regiment, that is, the cuffs, lapels, and sometimes turnbacks of their coats.
Third Column Flags are miniatures of the regimental flags or standards, if known. The lefthand flag/standard is the "colonel's" flag, or the "national" flag, carried by the first battalion or squadron of a regiment. The righthand flag/standard is the "company" or "ordnance" flag carried by each subsequent battalion or squadron in the regiment. If the unit didn't carry any flags (as grenadier battalions and hussar regiments didn't usually) this cell is left blank.
Fourth Column Strength is the approximate strength of each unit. For this battle, I could not find a definitive source for unit-by-unit parade states, so I took the historical strength of the total battalions and squadrons, then randomized +or- 10% around the average for the sake of variety, and applied that to each regiment. So as precise as the numbers look, take them only in the spirit of instilling wargaming variety. The total numbers are still proportionate.
Fifth Column Guns shows the number of guns supporting each unit or in each battery.
Seventh Column Ranks is the doctrinal deployment depth for each army in 1741.The Prussian cavalry, it should be noted, still lined up in three ranks; it would not adopt its standard two-rank depth until after 1757 (the Seven Years War) when Frederick started running short of horses. Officially, it was supposed to form three ranks clear until 1779.
Asprey, Robert, Frederick the Great: The Magnificent Enigma, pp 195-203. Ticknor & Fields, 1986 ISBN 0-89919-352-8
Duffy, Christopher, The Army of Frederick the Great, pp 236-238, The Emperor's Press, 1996,
Duffy, Christopher, The Army of Maria Theresa, pp 146-149, Terrence Wise, 1990,
Duffy, Christopher, Frederick the Great: A Military Life, pp 29-33, Routlege 1985, ISBN 0-415-00276-1
Haythornethwaite, Philip, The Austrian Army 1740-80: 1 Cavalry, 1994, Osprey, Men-at-Arms Series 271, ISBN 1-85532-415-6
Haythornethwaite, Philip, The Austrian Army 1740-80: 2 Infantry, 1994, Osprey, Men-at-Arms Series 276, ISBN 1-85532-418-0
Haythornethwaite, Philip, Frederick the Great's Army 1740-80: 1 Cavalry, 1991, Osprey, Men-at-Arms Series 236, ISBN 1-85532-134-3
Haythornethwaite, Philip, Frederick the Great's Army 1740-80: 2 Infantry, 1991, Osprey, Men-at-Arms Series 240, ISBN 1-85532-160-2
Nosworthy, Brent, The Anatomy of Victory, Battle Tactics 1689-1763, 1990, Hippocrene Books, ISBN 0-87052-785-1
Though it deals primarily with details of the later Seven Years War, this excellent site on Kronoskaf is a wonderful source for uniform, weapons, and organizational information about every unit of both the Austrian and Prussian armies.
Copyright 2017, The Jeffery P. Berry Trust. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced or re-posted without permission the the Jeffery P. Berry Trust. However, feel free to link to this site from other, related sites for the purposes of sharing information.