Why the Prussian army of Frederick the Great failed to turn the Russian “iron people” into flight
“These are iron people! They can be killed, but it’s impossible to break! ”- with these words, the Prussian king Frederick II summed up one of the bloodiest battles of the 18th century. In the battle of Zorndorf - a small village in East Prussia - the Russians and the Prussians lost a total of about 30 thousand people.
The battle was one of the symbols of the resilience of Russian soldiers, which was appreciated by both their opponents and bystanders. Moreover, the soldiers showed resilience not on orders from above, but on their own initiative. In fact, almost the entire battle the Russian army was forced to fight without any control from above, since the commander-in-chief, after the first strikes of the Prussian cavalry, fled to the rear and returned only at dusk.
And in general, the Seven Years' War, one of the episodes of which was the battle of Zorndorf, became an example of how the army finds itself hostage to politics. And - at the same time - an example of how courage becomes an insuperable force at the moment when there is no worthy commander. “Iron people” at such moments themselves decide to stand to the death, thereby turning the actual defeat into a real moral victory.
"The general is fussy and indecisive"
As is often the case with the wars that the country is waging, not because it defends its independence or repulses the aggressor, but because its foreign policy allies force it, the Seven Years War did not bring Russia any fame. And this is despite the fact that it was in its course that the Russian army won three loud victories. The first was a victory at Gross-Egersdorf: on August 19, the Russian corps under the command of Field Marshal Stepan Apraksin managed to defeat the Prussians, commanded by Field Marshal Johann von Levald. The second is the very battle of Zorndorf. And the third, costing the Prussian king Frederick II almost the entire army, was a victory at Kunesdorf. There, the Russian troops under the command of General-in-Chief Peter Saltykov managed to literally trample the Prussians, so that immediately after the battle, Friedrich had no more than three thousand combat-ready soldiers.
Russia was forced into joining the anti-Prussian coalition by the alliance treaty concluded with 1746 with Austria, as well as the defensive Austro-French treaty that St. Petersburg joined in 1756. Russian troops accounted for more than a third of the total number of all the armed forces of the coalition: Vienna and Paris found, on whose shoulders to shift the brunt of the battles. It is not surprising that under such conditions the Russian commanders were forced to try to take into account all the nuances of the political processes in St. Petersburg and the capitals of the European powers. This, in particular, killed Stepan Apraksin. After Groshegersdorf Victoria, he received news that Empress Elizaveta Petrovna was seriously ill and heir Pyotr Fyodorovich, an ardent admirer of Prussia and her king, was preparing to take the throne. Field Marshal, realizing that with Peter's accession, the foreign policy course was changed, a retreat played, and was mistaken. The Empress recovered, and he ended up under investigation and trial on charges of treason. This had a negative impact on the course of the war: after Gross-Egersdorf, the Russian army and its Austrian allies had a chance to finish off the Prussian troops, but it was lost. But Frederick, having learned that the commander had changed in the Russian army, which means that other changes are inevitable, which temporarily reduce the enemy’s combat capability, did not hesitate to seize the opportunity.
Replaced Apraksin, who was misguided, was General-in-Chief Willim Fermor, the son of Scottish nobleman Major-General Willim Fermor who had once entered the Russian military service. An eminent Russian military historian Anton Kersnovsky spoke about Fermor Jr., “General Fermor is an excellent administrator, a caring boss (Suvorov recalled him as a“ second father ”), but at the same time he was fussy and indecisive.”
Indeed, in the role of one of the senior officers, who is trying to accomplish the task assigned to him by the commander-in-chief, Fermor was in his place during the Crimean campaigns of Minich, and in the battle of Stavuchana, and in the Swedish campaign 1741 of the year. Even at the beginning of his participation in the Seven Years' War, General-in-Chief Fermor also made a good showing of himself - both in the Großegersdorf battle, and by organizing the capture of Koenigsberg and all of East Prussia. Still, the general was primarily concerned about the welfare and safety of people. What is not bad for a military leader as long as this circumstance does not conflict with the rigid need to sacrifice both subordinates and myself for the sake of victory. It was precisely this decisiveness, this courage to send people to certain death, General-in-Chief Fermor, apparently did not have enough in the battle of Zorndorf. And instead of him the decision was made by his subordinates.
The consummate general Willim Fermor. Artist Alexey Antropov. wikipedia.org
"Prussian is coming!"
Frederick, on the eve of the Seven Years War, who considered the Russian army one of the weakest in Europe, if he did not change this opinion after Gross-Egersdorf, then at least he began to take the Russians seriously enough.
Assessing all the advantages of the position on the bank of the Oder, which Fermor chose for the decisive battle, the king immediately saw what the Russian Scot had missed. Alas, the flawless position of the Russians had one, but a critical flaw: it cost the enemy to attack not head-on, but from the rear, as the ideal position turned into an ideal trap. Friedrich, whom no one else had called the Great, but who had repeatedly demonstrated his military genius, could not miss such a chance.
“Fermor received true news about the king’s approach and his intention to cross the Oder,” writes one of the direct participants of the Zorndorf battle, Lutheran pastor, Prussian Christian Tegre, who accompanied the Russian army on the march, in his memoirs. - Lieutenant-General Kumatov was immediately discharged to meet him with an observation corps. But this did not prevent Frederick from crossing the Oder safely; Kumatov looked over the king, whose fault I do not know. ”
The attack on the Russian positions, whose weakness became apparent at that moment both to Fermor and his headquarters, Friedrich appointed on August 14 1758 of the year early morning. This is how Tege describes the beginning of the battle: “Our soldiers woke me with shouts:“ Prussak is coming! ” The sun was already shining brightly; we jumped on our horses, and from the height of the hill I saw the Prussian army approaching us; His eyes shone in the sun; it was a terrible sight ... a terrible battle of Prussian drums came to us, but the music was not heard. When the Prussians came closer, we heard the sounds of oboes playing the famous hymn Ich bin ja, Herr, in deiner Macht (“Lord, I am in Your power”) ... While the enemy was approaching noisy and solemn, the Russians stood so still and quiet, that there seemed to be no living soul between them. "
“It was not a battle, but rather a massacre to the death”
The first blow took over the non-shot observational corps: Frederick knew very well who should be hit first. But, to his greatest surprise, the recruits not only did not rush to their heels, but did not even begin to move back strongly, having met the attackers, first with dense rifle fire, and then with bayonets. And with such surprises for the Prussian army, this battle abounded from the first to the last minute!
Map of the battle of Zorndorf. wikipedia.org
This is how the Russian historian Baron Alexander Weidemeier described the course of the battle in the book The Reign of Elizabeth Petrovna: “The advanced Prussian army under the command of Major General Manteuffel launched an attack; but, not having been supported by the left wing, as it was appointed, this army moved too far forward and, through that, exposed the Russians to its left flank, which had no backwaters. General Fermor, noticing this mistake, sent the cavalry, which so quickly struck the Prussians, that they were forced to retreat to Zorndorf. Seeing the success of this attack, General Fermor ordered the infantry of the right-wing Russian wing, deploying Carré, to pursue the enemy; but the Prussian general Zeidlits, having rushed with his squadrons to the Russian cavalry, overturned it and forced the infantry of the right Russian wing to retreat with a lot of damage to it. At noon on the same day, a rest followed on both sides; for both armies were weary ... "
When the troops had a little rest, the battle boiled with a new force. “The Russian cavalry rushed to the right wing, but the Prussians' cannon fire forced it to retreat; “The enemy cavalry pursued it, causing great damage to it and taking the battery back,” Weidemeyer writes. “... The widespread horror spread among the Prussians, whom neither the requests nor the threats of the officers could not be kept, and they left the battlefield with shameful flight; even in the center, many shelves became a mess. But Seidlits with the cavalry ... and then he adjusted the position of the Prussian troops ... Meanwhile, the infantry of the right Prussian wing broke through the left Russian and betrayed him to the defeat of the cavalry. On both sides they fought with the utmost bitterness; finally entered hand-to-hand combat; both nasty armies were in great disarray, but the Prussians, accustomed to fast turns, soon entered into lines and, despite the stubborn resistance of the Russians, overthrew them. Ours, retreating, rushed to the river Mitsel, to go to the opposite ... shore; but the bridges ... were destroyed beforehand by order of Frederick, in order to cut off the retreat to the Russians; however, this means used by the king to exterminate our army saved her. The Russians, having come to Mitsel and not finding bridges, saw that they could either defend themselves or perish in the river. Little by little they began to come in order and made up various detachments that served as points for connecting the whole army. ”
In the monograph "History Frederick the Great "Russian historian Fyodor Kony said about it like this:" The Russians fought like lions. Their whole ranks lay in place; others immediately came forward, challenging every step among the Prussians. Not a single soldier surrendered and fought until the dead fell to the ground. Finally, all shots are spent: they began to fight cold weapons. The stubbornness of the Russians further inflamed the anger of the Prussians: they chopped and stabbed everyone without mercy. Many soldiers, throwing away weapons, gnawed at each other's teeth. Frederick did not order to give pardon before the start of the battle. “We stand up for ourselves, brothers!” Shouted the Russians. “We won’t give pardon to the German, and we won’t take it from him: we’ll better sacrifice all of Russia and Mother Queen!” There has never been an example of such a battle in history. It was not a battle, but rather a massacre to the death, where there was no mercy for the unarmed. ”
In the battle of Zorndorf, the Russian army lost half of its personnel, the Prussian - a third. In absolute terms, it looks like this. Kony’s monograph says: “In the Zorndorf case, the Prussians had 31 000 people, Russians — up to 50 000; the damage of the former extended to the dead and prisoners up to 13 000, the latter up to 19 000 people. The Prussians seized 85 cannons, 11 flags and most of our convoy. The Russians defeated 26 guns, 8 banners and two standards. ” According to later calculations of historians, the Prussians lost 11 000 people in battle, Russians - 16 000. But even lower numbers make it possible to attribute the battle of Zorndorf to the number of the bloodiest in the XVIII – XIX centuries.
"The Russian army did this impossible ..."
The outcome of the battle was interpreted by the parties in their favor. Frederick, who managed to stop the Russian forces that were torn deep into Prussia, rightly believed that it was he who won the upper hand. At the same time, Fermor, reporting to Elizabeth about the results, wrote: “In a word, the Most Gracious Empress, the enemy is defeated and cannot boast anything!”
Historians who do not need to take into account the political and palace interests of the contemporaries of Frederick and Fermor, give the battle to the Solomon's assessment: they say, in fact, the victory remained for the Prussians, legally - for the Russians, who retained the battlefield. But the main victory, which is rarely remembered even by specialists in military history, still belongs to the Russians. The historian Fyodor Nesterov wrote about it very accurately in the book “The Connection of Times”: “The discipline in this (Prussian. - Auth. Ed.) Army was brutal, but discipline alone can provide only an average force of the army and cannot move it to" impossible ", exceeding the norm. The Russian army under Zorndorf just did this “impossible”, because it fought under conditions of unthinkable, not provided for by any statutes ... The officers in the confusion let their soldiers out of control, but give orders to the first to come, and they carry them out. Soldiers obey the orders of officers unfamiliar to them, not because they are afraid of disciplinary action: now they are not afraid of anything. But because they feel confidence in them, they need leadership, organization in the midst of chaos in order to better fulfill their duty. But now the enemy has been dropped ... and everyone hurries to the banner of his regiment. An evening roll call is made, a memorial service is served - and again a harmonious formidable fighting force arises before Friedrich's eyes, standing firmly in its place, as if it was not his, Friedrich, a skillful maneuver, there were no crushing volleys of all his artillery, there was no rapid attack of his cavalry and measured and methodical onslaught of his infantry. "
That is why the battle of Zorndorf can rightly be considered among the worthy victories of Russian weapons. With time, political winds begin to blow in a different direction, the assessments of contemporaries give way to the weighted conclusions of historians, and only soldierly courage and officer prowess remain the invariable guarantee of any Victoria.