Thursday, August 20, 2020

260th Anniversary of the Battle of Strehla (Gefecht bei Oschatz)


View from the Dürrenberg to the southeast, where the vast majority of the
Reichsarmee remained as a fixing force.

Today is the 260th anniversary of the Battle of Strehla (Gefect bei Oschatz), during the Seven Years War in German Central Europe. A small battle by the standards of the European Seven Years War, with perhaps just under 40,000 men on the battlefield, it is larger than any of the battles of the American War of Independence. Fought in the electorate of Saxony, allied forces attempted to use their large numerical superiority to force the occupying Prussian army to abandon a good defensive position on the river Elbe. I had the good fortune to be able to walk this battlefield in 2018, in the summer just a few weeks before the battle's anniversary.

A (not breath-takingly accuarte) period map of Strehla
In this battle, the 67 year-old Prussian Lt. General, Johann Dietrich von Hülsen was attacked by an Austrian and Reichsarmee force under the command of Karl Friedrich Graf von Pfalz Zweibrücken-Birkenfeld.[1] At this battle, the allied Austrians and Reichsarmee numbered between 25,000 to 30,000 men, and faced a Prussian Army of 10,000 to 12,000 men.[2]

Hülsen deployed his soldiers on two sets of rising ground near the small town of Strehla, with his main army in a defensive camp by the town, and a detached force of grenadiers and artillery further west from the river on the high ground north of the village of Clanzschwitz. In this battle, the Austrians would ignore Hülsen's main camp, and focus their efforts on the relatively isolated grenadiers.

The view from Prussian positions at the Dürrenberg, towards Gausco's Austrian
Grenadiers. The village of Clanzschwitz is in shadow

Attempting an attack by multiple columns, the allies surrounded Hülsen's isolated advanced post at the Dürrenberg, where Major General Braun stood with 4-5 battalions of Prussian Grenadiers. Tying up the Austrian Grenadiers from the south with an artillery duel, Braun shifted his forces move towards a large hill with a windmill to the west, just as FML. Kleefeld's detachment of five battalions broke out of woods directly to Braun's north. Shifting his battalions to meet this more immediate threat, Braun benefited from the relative inactivity of Austrian forces to his west and south, who continued to engage his forces in an artillery duel, but did not launch heavy attacks. FML Kreefeld's force engaged the Prussian grenadiers in a close range firefight.

Looking north from the Dürrenberg, to where the Austrians under Kleefeld would
have emerged. 
At this point, Hülsen, realizing the danger, immediately moved the Schorlemer Dragoons across the battlefield, riding between the dueling Austrian and Prussian artillery, to attack the flank of Kleefeld's corps. Eventually, these troops were bailed out by Austrian cuirassier, but not before the dragoons had broken up the attack, with the support of the grenadiers already engaged. The battle ended with a cavalry fight on the north end of the battlefield above the village of Laas, where Colonel Kleist, having redeployed to face a large body of allied cavalry, pushed these forces back, ending the battle. 


A view of the northern cavalry battlefield on the flat ground northwest of the
village of Laas
In a sharp fight lasting only two hours, the Prussians had defeated an enemy force that outnumbered them over two to one. The Prussians suffered approximately 1,000 killed and wounded, the allies suffered 1,800 killed and wounded, and 1,200 prisoners lost to the Prussians.[3] Realizing that discretion was the better part of valor, Hülsen withdrew to the stronger defensive position at Torgau the same day, delaying the allied advance for a month from that position.

The battle shows fighting typical of the middle stages of the Seven Years War. The Austrians, impressed by their success at Hochkirch, continue to employ the  method of moving independent columns to partially surround the enemy before attacking. Likewise, Austrian and higher quality Reichsarmee troops are used for actual combat operations, while the majority of the Reichsarmee is used to fix the enemy in place. In the actual battle, the difficulties in coordinating simultaneous independent assaults because evident, as the Prussians manage to fix enemy columns in place with long-range artillery duels. All in all, Hülsen, Braun, and Kleist performed quite well in the face of superior enemy forces.

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Thanks for Reading, 



Alex Burns

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[1] As a complete aside, Friedrich Wilhelm, Freiherr de Steuben (Baron Steuben), likely fought at this battle as a member of Hülsen's staff. Palmer, General von Steuben, 38.
[2] Christopher Duffy, By Force of Arms, 273.
[3] German General Staff, Die Kriege Friedrichs des Großen. Theil 3, Der Siebenjährige Krieg, 1756-1763 Bd. 13, pg. 178.

4 comments:

  1. A very interesting account! Cool photos too. I was actually reading up on this particular battle online a week or so ago. One source called it a 'combat' rather than a battle though. What's the different between the two? Presumably, the former is more limited in scope?

    Best Regards,

    Stokes

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Always learn something new from you Alex. Good read.

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  2. Lovely photos of a lesser-known battlefield of the period.

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