Despite the much much fawning over the greatness of Frederick The Great this is one of those battles where the greatness is not so evident.
In brief, the campaigning season of 1756 kicked off with Frederick crossing into Saxony with the intention of knocking said state out of the alliance of states ranged against him. At the same time an Austrian army under Field Marshal von Browne was marching through Bohemia with the intent of keeping the Saxons on side. On October 1st the Prussian advance guard caught sight of what they thought was the Austrian rear guard deployed around the town of Lobositz and the Prussian main army hurried forward.
In fact the Austrian rear guard was the main army which von Browne had deployed in and around the town making good use of the terrain which created a funnel through which the Prussians must advance. On the Austrian right the slopes of the Lobosch Hill were defended by a strong force of Croats and regular musketeers under Lacy, the centre comprised the town, defended by more musketeers and a sunken road in which were hidden a line of more Croats and Grenadiers supported by cavalry, the left was the main army hidden behind the marshy stream known as the Morellen Bach; out in front on the valley floor was a brigade of cavalry screening the Austrian deployments from the Prussians. As best we can tell from the sources, von Browne’s plan was to fight a holding action that would give him time to march the main army across the River Elbe behind Lobositz and join up with the Saxons.
The Prussian plan, such as it was, seems to have been to arrogantly power on forward and drive the Austrians from the town!
The battle, in brief, consisted of an early morning artillery duel which inflicted some serious losses on the static Prussian infantry and some losses on the Austrian cavalry manoeuvring on the plain. Battle proper started with the Prussian left wing infantry under Bevern ascending the Lobosch and engaging in what turned out to be a day long musketry duel with Lacy which finally turned in favour of the Prussians. On the valley floor Kyau’s cavalry brigade, which included the Garde du Corps and the Gendarmes, galloped confidently forward and got their arses handed to them by the hidden guns and muskets. The remnants joined the main cavalry body and the whole lot then attacked without orders! half of them got into the sunken road but where seen off by a counter attack by Austrian cuirassiers and the other half ended up stuck in the Morellen Bach where they were easily shot down. After the cavalry debacle Frederick left the battle (again!) leaving Ferdinand of Brunswick to direct the main infantry attack which eventually convinced the Austrians to relinquish the now burning town in the late afternoon. Frederick claimed victory by dint of the fact that he was master of the field (even though he personally wasn’t there!) although von Browne had in fact achieved his aim, the main army marched successfully behind Lobositz and across the Elbe. Losses were about even.
For our refight we mainly relied on Christopher Duffy’s ‘Frederick The Great. A Military Life.’ plus a couple of articles of refights from ‘Battle’ (Charles Grant on matters military) and ‘Practical Wargamer’ (Paul Stevenson’s ‘A Bohemian Rhapsody In Fifteen’). Using Duffy’s map we had enough battalions and regiments to match the numbers although not necessarily the specific units – we didn’t have the Garde du Corps or Gendarmes for example and we reckoned that as long as we had enough Austrian units to line the Morellen Bach that would be enough as most of the main Austrian body took no part in the battle. Regarding the terrain we had a large ridge section that stood in for the Lobosch rather well, the marshy stream was no problem nor was the town itself and the nearby villages of Wellhotta and Sullowitz; the sunken road we created using our TYW siege line pieces.
Recreating the ad hoc affair of the battle was more of a challenge and after some thought we opted for everything to be deployed as was and put narrative proscriptions on the players, so, Kyau’s cavalry had to attack straight forward, Bevern had to attack up the Lobosch, the Prussian main body couldn’t advance until Kyau’s cavalry retreated or broke, and all the Austrian commands had to hold unless a personal message was received from von Browne. this asked a lot of the players but actually worked rather well. We also overrode the rules regarding artillery arcs and firing overhead for the Austrian guns so that the effect of the opening cannonade could be felt.
Playing the game was a long one (but we had all day 😀) and at the end we were tired but pleased.
In the opening turns, Bevern slogged his way up the Lobosch while the artillery duel took place – in typical wargamers fashion both sides ignored counter battery and tried instead to wear down opposition units; the Austrian guns were better at this 😏.
The first real action took place on the valley floor where the Prussian cavalry did better, at first, than their historical counter parts, seeing off a dragoon regiment in the first clash of swords and then having a series of swirling melees, retreats and reforming with the Austrian hussars who proved remarkably resilient – helped no doubt by the support fire of the entrenched Croats.
Despite overrunning the Austrian battery the Prussian cavalry were eventually seen off with serious losses – all three were at 50% by the end of the action when the Austrian cuirassiers joined the fight, but this was the signal for the main Prussian body to advance.
Over on the Lobosch it had taken Bevern some time to get there but when he did we had some spectacular musketry which rolled on for several turns and was really quite tense!
The wargames version of the Bevern/Lacy fight however went somewhat differently to the history; Bevern consistently outshot Lacy and punched several holes in his line which he was able to exploit by advancing into and turning onto the flanks of now exposed battalions. Eventually Lacy’s brigade gave up the fight and retreated for the Elbe.
The retreat of Lacy now exposed Lobositz itself and Bevern was ultimately able to drive some of the defenders out. Well done Bevern.
Back on the valley floor the Prussian juggernaut ground forward and this time the infantry line led the way and the cavalry followed filing out from its regimental column into line of battle behind the steady infantry.
This solid wide line, supported by cavalry, meant that the reserve Austrian cavalry and the remnants of the first line had no means of turning the Prussians and so came front on and in a swift volley all along the line were sent packing in a distinct change to the history.
Having seen how things were likely to play out the Austrian player had sent a message to the brigade behind the Morellen Bach to advance but it was going to be too late, the going was slow and by the time the brigade started out the cavalry had already been shot up.
A crucial point was now reached. Lacy was in retreat and the Lobositz defenders were starting to be winkled out of the town – although no fires were started despite the best efforts of the Prussian howitzers! The Austrian cavalry were done and although the Croats were very comfortable behind the sunken road they weren’t going to trade shots very evenly with the Prussian foot and committing the Austrians from behind the Morellen Bach wasn’t going to have much of an effect.
So, we took stock of where we were. The key factor was that elements of Bevern’s command were now behind Lobositz so, from an historical standpoint, could dispute the crossing of the Elbe. Measuring up how long it would take the Austrian main body brigade to get across the marsh compared to the Prussian line getting into range of the Croats it was clear the Prussians were going to be shooting up (🙄) the Croats before the Austrians could mount a saving attack, even if they could fight their way through the main body of Prussian cavalry.
It was over for the Austrians, von Browne would have to retreat rather than cross the Elbe and join the Saxons – historical note, the perfidious Saxon elites took the money and capitulated to the Prussians anyway 😮.
So, a more decisive Prussian victory than history (and Frederick didn’t leave the field 😀) and a very enjoyable game. The rules played well and although it was long we enjoyed ourselves all day and that I guess is what it’s all about 😊
See you next time. Until then, enjoy your gaming.