260 years ago, in August 1759, the Russian commander General Saltykov at Kunersdorf defeated the troops of the "invincible" Prussian king Frederick the Great. Russian soldiers completely defeated the Prussian army. Prussia was on the verge of surrender, it was saved only by the passivity of Austria, which was inactive, fearing the strengthening of Russia.
Campaign of 1759
The campaign of 1758 (Seven Years War) was favorable for Russian weapons. The Russian army under the command of Fermor occupied East Prussia without a fight, including its capital, Königsberg. The Russian army in August gave the army of Frederick of Prussia the battle at Zorndorf. The Prussian king was shocked. If at first he considered the Russians "barbarians", inept in military affairs, then Zorndorf (where he lost a third of his army) made him change his mind:
"It's easier to kill the Russians than to defeat them."
By the beginning of the 1759 campaign, the Prussian army had lost some of its combat potential. Many experienced military generals and officers, old and tried soldiers perished. They had to take everyone in their place, including prisoners, defectors and untrained recruits. Prussia was drained of blood. Unable to conduct active offensive operations, Frederick abandoned the initiative and waited for the enemy to attack in order to act based on their situation. At the same time, the Prussian king tried to slow down the offensive of the allies (Russia and Austria) with the help of cavalry raids on the rear in order to destroy stores (warehouses) with supplies. At this time, the offensive of the majority of the army depended on supplies, the destruction of stores entailed a disruption of the campaign. In February, the Prussians raided the Russian rear in Poznan. The raid was successful, but did not cause much harm to the Russian army. In April, the Prussians raided the rear of the Austrians. It was more successful, the Austrian headquarters (headquarters) was so frightened that it abandoned active operations during the spring and early summer of 1759.
Meanwhile, the Petersburg Conference (the highest political council), under the full influence of Vienna, developed a campaign plan for 1759, according to which the Russian army became auxiliary to the Austrian one. It was planned to increase the size of the army to 120 thousand people and move most of it to the aid of Austria, and leave the smaller one on the lower Vistula. At the same time, the commander-in-chief was not indicated at all where exactly to connect with the Austrians. However, the army failed to bring even half of the planned number. Due to the persistent requests of the Austrians, the army had to start moving before the arrival of the reinforcements. In May 1759, General Pyotr Saltykov was unexpectedly appointed commander-in-chief of the Russian army. Fermor received one of three divisions.
Victory at Palzig
Saltykov was instructed to connect with the Austrians. In July, 40 thousand Russian army marched west to the Oder River, in the direction of the city of Krosen, planning there to join up with the Austrian troops of Down. Frederick II, confident of Down's indecision, transferred 30 thousand soldiers from the Austrian front to the Russian, who were supposed to defeat them before the allies unite. The Prussian troops were commanded first by Manteuffel, then Don, and finally Wedel. But they also acted passively and missed an opportunity to attack the Russian army.
The Prussian king, dissatisfied with the actions of General Don, replaced him with Wedel and ordered the new commander at all costs to prevent the Russians from crossing the Oder in the Krossen area. Wedel had 30 infantry battalions, 63 cavalry squadrons, a total of over 27 thousand people (18 thousand infantry and more than 9 thousand cavalry) and 56 guns. Saltykov's troops numbered 40 thousand people with 186 guns.
The battle took place on July 12 (23), 1759 near the town of Palzig. Wedel poorly organized reconnaissance and made a mistake in the location of the Russian troops. The Prussian general planned to attack the enemy on the march on the road to Crossen. At the same time, he planned to take an advantageous position on the heights of Palzig before the Russians. However, the Russian troops got ahead of the enemy and occupied the heights at 13 o'clock. Having occupied Palzig, the Russians discovered the enemy's movement. Saltykov echeloned the troops in depth. The Russian commander pushed Fermor's division into the first line, the Observation Corps of Golitsyn and Totleben's cavalry were located on the left flank. The second line was the division of Vilboa, the cuirassiers of Eropkin, the reserve was commanded by General Demiku. Most of the artillery was located on the right flank, where they feared the main attack of the enemy. From the flanks, the position was covered with forests and the Prussians could only attack from the front.
Finding the Russians in front of him, Wedel was sure that these were only the advanced forces of the enemy and decided to attack. Generals Manteuffel and von Gülsen advanced on the right wing, Stutterheim on the left. Kanitsa's troops were sent to bypass, to the rear of the Russians, in order to capture Palzig. The offensive began without artillery preparation. The troops of Manteuffel and Gulsen immediately came under heavy artillery fire, one after another the attacks of the Prussians were repelled. Prussian troops suffered serious losses. Gulsen was able to fight his way to the center of the Russian position, where he was finally defeated in a fierce hand-to-hand combat. Manteuffel was badly wounded. On the left Prussian flank, Stutterheim was immediately defeated. Kanitsa's attempt to bypass the Russian positions was immediately stopped by Totleben's cavalry. Kanitsa's next attempt to break through was also repelled. As a result, Schorlemer's cuirassiers were able to break through to the second line of the Russian army. But here they were stopped by the troops of Yeropkin and Demiku (he fell in battle).
At 19 o'clock the battle ended with the defeat of the Prussian army. Wedel's troops lost up to 9 thousand people (7, 5 thousand killed and wounded and 1.5 thousand deserters). Russian losses - over 4, 7 thousand people. The fighting spirit of the Russian increased significantly. According to the testimony of A. the writer Bolotov (he fought in Prussia during the Seven Years War): "the troops, like defeating the enemy, were encouraged and began to rely more on the old man, already from the arrival of his soldiers fell in love." Unfortunately, Saltykov did not bring the matter to the complete destruction of the defeated and demoralized Prussian army. He did not pursue the enemy. Wedel was able to calmly withdraw the remnants of the troops to the other side of the Oder.
All this time the Austrians were inactive. The Austrian commander-in-chief Down based his plans on Russian blood. He was afraid to engage in battle with the "invincible" Frederick, despite the fact that he had a double superiority in forces. The Austrian command tried to draw the Russians to itself, deep into Silesia and expose them to the first blow of the Iron Prussians. However, the old veteran Saltykov saw through his Austrian "partners" and did not succumb to this strategy. He decided to go to Frankfurt and threaten Berlin.
This movement of the Russian army worried both the Prussians and the Austrians alike. Frederick feared for his capital, and Austrian commander-in-chief Down feared that the Russians would win without him, which could have important political consequences. The Prussian monarch rushed with an army to defend Berlin. And Down, not daring to attack the weak Prussian barrier left against him, sent Loudon's corps to Frankfurt in order to get ahead of the Russians and get a ransom from the townspeople. However, this calculation was not justified, the Russians occupied Frankfurt first - on July 20 (31). A few days later the Austrians approached. Having occupied Frankfurt, Saltykov was going to move Rumyantsev with his cavalry to Berlin, but the appearance of Frederick's army there forced him to abandon this plan.
After joining the Loudon corps, the Russian commander-in-chief had 58 thousand people (41 thousand Russians and 18, 5 thousand Austrians), 248 guns, with which he took a good position at Kunersdorf. The troops were stationed on three dominant heights (Mühlberg, Bol. Spitz, Judenberg), separated from each other by ravines and a marshy lowland, it was reinforced by trenches and artillery batteries on the tops of the hills. On the one hand, the position was convenient for defense, on the other, it was difficult to maneuver forces and reserves, to provide timely assistance to neighbors. At the same time, it is worth remembering that the Russians had 33 thousand regular troops, and 8 thousand irregulars (Cossacks and Kalmyks).
As a result, Frederick with his 50,000 army in the Berlin area was in a dangerous situation. The 58 thousand Russian-Austrian army of Saltykov was advancing from the east, it was 80 miles from Berlin. In the south, 150 versts from the metropolitan area, the 65 thousand army of Down was located, in the west, 100 versts, there were 30 thousand imperials (the Imperial Union of Germany - an alliance of small German states that fought against Prussia). The Prussian king decided with all his might to strike at the most dangerous enemy, who most advanced forward and was not used to evading battle.
The Prussian king with 48 thousand troops (35 thousand infantry and 13 thousand cavalry) and 200 guns. On July 30-31 (August 10-11), the Prussians crossed the Oder north of Frankfurt in order to strike the rear of the Russian troops, as at Zondorf. On August 1 (12), 1759, the Prussians launched an attack. However, Saltykov was not Fermor, he turned the front around. The Russian army was heavily echeloned in depth on a relatively narrow front. The Prussian troops were able to shoot down the first two lines, occupied the Mühlberg hill on the left flank, capturing up to 70 guns, but then their attack was drowned. Their attacks on Bol. Spitz were repulsed. The bloodless, weary Prussian infantry lost their shock capabilities. Saltykov strengthened the center in time, transferring reinforcements here from the right flank and the reserve. The cavalry of Seydlitz was defeated, which rushed to the still unsettled Russian infantry. Frederick threw everything he had into battle, but all attacks were repulsed. The Prussian army was upset and suffered heavy losses. Then the Russians launched a counteroffensive and knocked over the enemy with a powerful blow. Rumyantsev's cavalry finished off the fleeing Prussians.
In fact, the Prussian army ceased to exist, having lost up to 20 thousand people and almost all of the artillery. Thousands of soldiers fled from the army after the battle, deserted. Russian losses - 13, 5 thousand people, Austrian - 2, 5 thousand soldiers. Frederick of Prussia was in despair, he wrote the next day: “At this moment, I don’t even have 3 thousand left from an army of 48 thousand. Everything runs away and I no longer have power over the army … The consequences of the battle will be even worse than the battle itself: I have there are no more means and, to tell the truth, I consider everything to be lost …”Friedrich even temporarily resigned the title of commander-in-chief.
Austrians save Frederick
After the battle, Saltykov had no more than 22-23 thousand people. The Austrians of Laudon obeyed him only conditionally. Therefore, the Russian commander-in-chief was unable to complete the campaign by taking Berlin and ending the war.
Down's Austrian army could finish off the Prussians and end the war. However, the Austrians did not go on the offensive when Prussia did not have the strength to repulse. They only continued to interfere with the Russians. Meanwhile, Frederick II came to his senses after the disaster at Kunersdorf, and gathered a new 33 thousand army near Berlin. The inaction of the Austrians saved Prussia from a military disaster.
The Austrian command persuaded Saltykov to go to Silesia in order to go to Berlin together. But as soon as the Prussian hussars again walked along the Prussian rear, Down hastily retreated. The Russians were promised supplies by the Austrians, but they deceived them. An angry Saltykov decided to act independently and moved to the Glogau fortress. Friedrich's army moved parallel to Saltykov in order to forestall him. Friedrich and Saltykov had 24 thousand soldiers each, and both sides decided this time not to engage in battle. Saltykov decided not to risk it, being 500 miles from the supply and reinforcement bases. Friedrich, remembering the bloody lesson of Kunersdorf, also did not dare to fight. In September, the opponents dispersed. The Russian army went to winter quarters. Field Marshal Saltykov refused the offer of the Conference in order to please the Viennese court to spend the winter in Silesia together with the allies.
Thus, the campaign of 1759 and Kunersdorf could decide the outcome of the Seven Years' War and the fate of Prussia. Fortunately for Berlin, the Russian army fought in the interests of Vienna. The Austrians were afraid of the Russian victory. The mediocre and passive Austrian commander-in-chief Down missed or deliberately refused the opportunity to finish off Prussia and end the war in Europe.