How Bülow's Prussians defeated Rainier's Saxons and saved Berlin

How Bülow's Prussians defeated Rainier's Saxons and saved Berlin
Battle of Grosberen. German artist Karl Rechling

Opponent forces

The Russian army was significantly strengthened during the armistice. If at the beginning of June 1813 it numbered about 90 thousand people, then at the end of the truce it was increased to 175 thousand people with 648 guns. Also near Danzig there was a 30th corps with 59 guns, and in Poland, Bennigsen formed a reserve army - 70 people with 200 guns.

Prussia fielded 235 thousand soldiers with 376 guns, part of the troops were Landwehr (a type of militia). The Austrian Empire fielded an army of 110 with 270 guns. After the outbreak of hostilities, the Austrian army quickly replenished and grew in number. Austria also sent an army to the Italian front. 28 thousand Swedes and 13 thousand Germans, representing other state entities of Germany, fought against the French (Germany at that time was fragmented into a number of states).

The allied forces fielded three large armies.

The northern army under the command of the former French commander and heir to the Swedish throne Bernadotte - about 150 thousand people with 369 guns (most of them are Russians and Prussians). It was located in Prussia between the lower Elbe and Berlin.

The Silesian army under the command of the Prussian general Gebhard Blucher - about 100 thousand people (61 thousand Russian soldiers and 38 thousand Prussians with 340 guns). The army was located in the Schweidnitz area.

Bohemian (Southern) Army under the command of the Austrian Field Marshal Karl Schwarzenberg - more than 230 thousand bayonets and sabers with 672 guns (110 thousand Austrians, 82 thousand Russians, 42 thousand Prussians). The Bohemian army was stationed in the Budin area. The formal commander-in-chief was Field Marshal Schwarzenberg. But the supreme power was held by the allied “General Staff” - the Headquarters of the Three Monarchs.

For political reasons, Tsar Alexander I did not insist on the appointment of a Russian commander as commander-in-chief or commander of one of the armies. In addition, the commanders of the national corps retained significant independence in decision-making.

Russian troops were considered the most combat-ready, as they had successful experience in fighting Napoleon's Grand Army. Therefore, the Russian corps were divided between all three armies. Wittgenstein's army and several reserve corps under the overall command of Barclay de Tolly were part of the Bohemian Army. The corps of generals Sacken and Langeron were included in the Silesian army. General Wintzingerode's corps was part of the Northern Army.

The French army numbered about 420 thousand people, taking into account individual detachments, the number of troops increased to 440 thousand people with 1 guns. There were also separate garrisons on the Elbe and in the besieged fortresses along the Vistula and Oder. In Saxony there was a 180-strong group under the command of Bonaparte himself - the guard, the 120st, 1nd, 2th, 8th infantry and 14th cavalry corps.

In Silesia there are over 100 thousand troops under the command of Jacques Macdonald - the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 11th infantry and 1st cavalry corps. In Prussia, a 70-strong group under the command of Oudinot - the 4th, 7th, 12th infantry and 2nd cavalry corps - was supposed to advance in the Berlin direction. In Bavaria, the 9th Infantry Corps of Marshal Augereau was formed. Danzig was defended by the 10th Infantry Corps under the leadership of Rapp. The 13th Infantry Corps and Danish troops under the command of Davout were stationed in Hamburg.

Napoleon, relying on a chain of fortresses along the Elbe, planned to continue the offensive, defeat the main forces of the enemy, occupy Berlin and force the enemy to negotiate.

The beginning of hostilities

After the failure of negotiations (“If you want war, well, we will fight!”) and the announcement of the end of the truce, a moratorium on crossing the demarcation line and the start of hostilities was to be observed for six days. However, General Blucher declared that it was time to end these political games, and on August 3 (15), 1813, the Silesian army went on the offensive. The Prussian commander wanted to seize the harvest collected by the peasants so that it would not go to the enemy.

The movement of Blucher's army distracted the French from Barclay's Russian-Prussian troops, who were marching to Bohemia to join the Austrians. Napoleon decided that the main forces of the Allies had begun the offensive, and he moved the army towards Blucher. The Prussian commander withdrew his troops back to the Katzbach River.

At this time, the Allied Southern Army, unexpectedly for the enemy, moved towards Dresden through the Ore Mountains. This Allied maneuver threatened the rear of the main French forces. Dresden was covered only by the forces of Marshal Saint-Cyr's corps. Napoleon was forced to lead his troops back from Silesia. Against Blucher, he left a strong screen under the leadership of MacDonald.

Berlin direction

Simultaneously with the movement of Napoleon's army, the 70th Army under the command of Marshal Oudinot was sent to Berlin. Oudinot was supposed to reinforce the French garrisons from Magdeburg and Hamburg. Bonaparte, after the end of the truce, was obsessed with the idea of ​​punishing Prussia and wanted to take Berlin. He believed that after the capture of the Prussian capital, Prussia would be forced to begin negotiations.

Under the command of Nicolas Charles Oudinot there were three corps: Bertrand's 4th Corps (13–20 thousand soldiers, the unit was made up of Germans and Italians; Rainier's 7th Corps (20–27 thousand, the corps consisted of a French division and Saxon units ); 12th Corps of Oudinot himself (20–24 thousand). The group also included cavalry under the command of Jean-Thomas Arrighi de Casanova (9 thousand) and artillery, numbering 216 guns.

The total number of the group, according to various sources, ranged from 70 thousand to 80 thousand people. Oudinot was to be supported by Marshal Davout from Hamburg (30–35 thousand French and Danes) and General Girard from Magdeburg on the Elbe (about 10 thousand soldiers).

In Oudinot's army there were many untrained soldiers, recruits, Germans and Italians who had little motivation for war. However, Bonaparte, after the crushing defeat of Prussia in 1806, treated the Prussians with contempt. And the Prussian army was reformed using French experience and thirsted for revenge.

Oudinot himself was an experienced and brave commander. So, in the battle of Berezina he covered the retreat of the remnants of the Great Army and there he was wounded for the 20th time! But during the attack on Berlin, he did not show his usual determination. The heterogeneous and weak composition of the troops raised doubts among the marshal. There was no trust in the command staff either. Rainier was offended that his peers received the marshal's baton, and showed obstinacy and self-will. Bertrand was better known for his engineering skills than his military exploits.

Oudinot launched an attack on the Prussian capital, moving from Dame through Trebin and Mitenwalde. The troops of Davout and Girard could go to the rear of Bernadotte's Northern Army and intercept the retreat route to Berlin. According to Napoleon's plan, all three groups of troops were supposed to unite into one army, occupy Berlin, lift the siege of the fortresses along the Oder, and defeat the Northern Army.

Position of the Northern Army

The northern army under the command of Bernadotte was also diverse in national composition, like Oudinot’s troops. It included Prussian, Russian, Swedish troops, small contingents of small German states and even an English detachment.

The most powerful contingent was represented by the Prussians: two Prussian corps - the 3rd Corps under the command of Lieutenant General Friedrich von Bülow (41 thousand soldiers with 102 guns) and the 4th Corps under the command of Lieutenant General Boguslav Tauentsin Count von Wittenberg (39 thousand). people, 56 guns). The Prussian corps were reinforced by Russian Cossack regiments.

The Russian corps under Wintzingerode had about 30 thousand people and 96 guns. The corps consisted of experienced soldiers. The Swedish corps under the command of Steding consisted of 20–24 thousand people with 62 guns. The Swedes, compared to the Russians and Prussians, had poor combat training and equipment. The remaining troops were part of a consolidated corps under the command of Lieutenant General Ludwig von Walmoden-Gimborn (was in Russian service). In the consolidated corps there were 22 thousand soldiers with 53 guns.

In total, under the command of Bernadotte there were about 150 thousand people with 369 guns. But part of the forces were in separate detachments and garrisons scattered throughout Prussia. Therefore, the Allies did not have a decisive advantage.

The question was who could concentrate more troops on the battlefield. In this the Allies had an advantage. The main forces of the Northern Army (94 thousand soldiers with 272 guns) defended the Berlin area. In the center near Generalsdorf was located the 3rd Corps of Bülow, on the left flank near Blankefeld - the 4th Corps of Tauentsin von Wittenberg, on the right flank, near Ruhlsdorf and Gütergorz - Swedish troops.

Bernadotte, as a former comrade-in-arms of Bonaparte, enjoyed great authority among the Allied forces. But his army was heterogeneous in composition. Bernadotte had to defend Berlin, monitor the enemy garrisons in the rear on the Oder River (Stettin, Glogatsu and Küstrin), in Hamburg and Lübeck, and at the same time launch an offensive. Therefore, Bernadotte considered the offensive dangerous.

The commander did not have complete power over the Prussian generals, who were eager to attack, to advance on Saxony in order to avoid the depletion of the Brandenburg lands (the army's post). The Prussians also believed that the commander was taking care of the Swedes and giving preference to the Russians over the Prussians.

Prussian General Friedrich Wilhelm von Bülow


Heavy rains washed out the roads, and the French marshal divided his army. All three corps took different roads. The 7th Corps (Saxon) and cavalry marched in the center towards Gross Beeren. On the left wing the 12th Corps moved towards Arensdorf, on the right - the 4th Corps towards Blankenfeld.

On August 10 (22), 1813, the French came into contact with the Prussians. The Prussian troops, without accepting the battle, retreated north towards Berlin and took up more advantageous positions. Bülow's 3rd Corps blocked the road to Berlin beyond the village of Gross-Beeren (18 km south of the center of the Prussian capital), and Tauentsin's 4th Corps closed the road near the village of Blankenfeld. The Wintzingerode corps stood at Gütergotz, the Swedes at Ruhlsdorf.

Bernadotte convened a council of war. He feared the appearance of Napoleon's main forces. The troops were heterogeneous, there were many unfired Prussian militias. The commander proposed leaving Berlin and withdrawing the army beyond the Spree. Then Bülow expressed the general opinion of the Prussian generals that Berlin could not be ceded under any circumstances, that the Prussians would most likely all fall from weapons in their hands rather than retreat beyond the capital.

On August 11 (23), 1813, Oudinot attacked Prussian positions with the forces of the 4th and 7th corps. The 12th Corps did not participate in the battle; it covered the left flank. The French commander believed that other enemy forces would appear from this side. Oudinot also thought that on this day things would not come to a decisive battle.

The Prussians of Tauentzin entered into a firefight with the enemy at 10 o'clock. The fighting near the village of Blankenfeld was limited to this. Tauentsin's corps of regular troops had only the 5th reserve regiment; all the rest of the infantry and cavalry were made up of Landwehr. But at Blankenfeld the corps' position was located between a swamp and a lake, which made defense easier.

Rainier's 7th Corps was more active. The Saxons entered the battle at 16:12 and immediately stormed the village of Gross-Beeren, knocking out the Prussian battalion from there. But the Saxons did not go further, heavy rain began to fall, and they considered that the battle that day was over. Rainier did not know that the main forces of the Prussians were located at a distance of less than two miles from him. The Saxon corps was in a strong position: on the left flank there should have been the XNUMXth Corps and Arrighi's cavalry, on the right - a swampy lowland and a ditch.

Bülow did not believe that the battle was over. He knew that the enemy corps was attacking Tauentsin, and wanted to take advantage of the disunity of the enemy forces. Bülow decided to destroy the enemy center, forcing the flanks to retreat. He moved the 3rd and 6th brigades of the Prince of Hesse-Homburg and Kraft to Gross-Beeren, reinforcing them with the 4th brigade of Tyumen. At the same time, Borstel's brigade moved around the enemy's right flank.

Having fired at the enemy camp, the Prussians launched a counteroffensive. For the Saxons, this attack came as a surprise. Kraft's brigade was the first to break into the village. The Saxons repulsed the first attack. With a repeated bayonet attack, the Prussian infantry drove the enemy out of Gross-Beeren. Many Saxons were exterminated with bayonets and rifle butts, and drowned. The Saxon division of Zara was overturned. Zar himself, trying to defend the artillery, rushed with two battalions towards the Prussian troops, but was defeated. The commander was almost captured and received several wounds.

The Prussian cavalry began to pursue the fleeing Saxons. The Saxon lancers tried to protect their infantry, but were overwhelmed by the Pomeranian cavalry regiment. Renier tried to rectify the situation with the help of Durutte's French division, which was in the second line, but it was already involved in a general retreat.

Later, the Saxons blamed the French division for the defeat, whose soldiers fled without taking part in the battle, hiding in the forest. The Saxons also expressed distrust of Oudinot, who was in no hurry to send the forces of the 12th Corps to their aid. At 8 pm the battle ended. Rainier's corps was defeated and retreating.

The Saxon corps was saved from complete destruction by the infantry division of General Guillemino and the cavalry division of General Fournier, sent by Oudinot. Bertrand, having learned about the defeat of the Saxons, withdrew his troops from Blankenfeld. At this time in the evening, the Russian and Swedish corps under the command of Bernadotte reached the left flank of Oudinot’s group.

Oudinot did not accept the general battle and withdrew his troops. The Swedish crown prince began to develop the offensive. On August 24, the troops rested; they set out only the next day and moved in small transitions. Therefore, Oudinot withdrew his troops relatively calmly.


Other French troops were unable to assist Oudinot. Girard's detachment suffered a defeat at Belzig on August 27 from the Prussian Landwehr and a Russian detachment under the command of Chernyshev. The French lost 3,5 thousand people and 8 guns. Davout, having learned of the defeat of other forces, retreated to Hamburg, from where he never appeared again.

Oudinot's troops in the battle of Grosberen lost 4 thousand people (2,2 thousand killed and wounded, 1,8 thousand prisoners) and 26 guns. The losses of the Prussian troops amounted to about 2 thousand people. A significant amount of captured weapons were captured and abandoned during the flight. This made it possible to replenish the weapons of the Prussian militia units.

The main losses fell on the Saxon units of Rainier's corps. This increased the irritation of the Saxon officers, who had already wanted to go over to the side of Napoleon’s opponents. Saxony was exhausted from feeding Bonaparte's huge army.

The French accused the Saxons of not being brave enough in battle. Napoleon, dissatisfied with Oudinot's actions, replaced him with Ney.
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