Saturday, May 6, 2017

Prague, Heinrich, and Itzenplitz

Carl Roechling's re-imagining of Itzenplitz and Heinrich
Dear Reader,

Anniversaries matter. Today is the 260th anniversary of the Battle of Prague, one of the early battles of the Seven Years' War in Europe. Far from giving a history of the battle, this post focuses on how Prinz Heinrich (often rendered Henri or Henry) of Prussia, and the Regiment von Itzenplitz gained noteriety as a result of their role in this combat.  After the battle, both the man and the unit became household names in Prussia. This post attempts to examine why.

This map shows the Prussian plan at Prague: to outflank Austrian positions by traversing the marshy ground east of the city

Although technically a Prussian victory, the day at Prague did not go well for the Prussian army. Fighting against a competent Austrian opponent (Ulysses Maximilian von Browne) as well as the nature of the swampy terrain around Prague, the Prussian advance stuttered and stalled most of the day. The first line of Prussian infantry was shattered in the initial attack, and Feldmarschal Schwerin, probably the most experienced general in the Prussian army, was killed while attempting to rally his regiment.

The Grosser-Generalstab Map of Prague, with Heinrich's progression highlighted
Seeing the difficulty of the Prussian advance, Prinz Henri, Ferdinand of Brunswick and General Christian Hermann von Manstein began an attack on their own initiative. Mannstein noticed a lightly defended gap at the northern end of the Austrian defensive line, just north of the Kejer-Teich (Kejer Pond). Manstein himself commanded the attack on an Austrian redoubt holding this position, while Prinz Heinrich subsequently led the Itzenplitz Regiment and the Manteuffel Regiment across the Roketnitzer-Bach in order storm a battery of cannons. 

Gunter Dorn's re-imagining of this famous scene
Legend has it that the diminutive Heinrich jumped into the river, and was swallowed up by the currents. The musketeers of Itzenpltiz grabbed the prince, raised him on their shoulders, and waded across the stream. Upon crossing the stream, Heinrich led the Itzenplitz and Manteuffel regiments in an attack on a battery of Austrian cannons on the northern edge of the Tabor-Berg. Having taken the battery, and protected the crossing of Manstein and Ferdinand's troops, the Prussians turned the Austrian cannons and bombarded the Austrian positions across the valley in the direction of Prague. By the end of the day, the Prussians had trapped the Austrians within Prague, but had lost a fearful toll of their best infantry. 

Prinz Heinrich
Although Friedrich II and Heinrich had already been the closest of the various Hohenzollern brothers, Prague cemented their relationship, just as it cemented Heinrich's position within the Prussian army. Heinrich's older brother, August Wilhelm, wrote of Prague: "My brother did wonders. The officers admire him, and the common soldiers swear by him. Heaven be praised that he was preserved, it is a miracle."(Aus der zeit des siebenjährigen krieges, 297.) 

The case of Heinrich and Regiment von Itzenplitz at Prague show that the Kabinettskriege era possessed capable junior commanders who were capable of efficiently taking initiative without orders, and decisively seizing ground which could impact the outcome of battles.

1 comment:

  1. Prince Henry highly underrated. His conduct especially later in the war was outstanding.