Battle of Ölper (1809)

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Battle of Ölper
Part of the War of the Fifth Coalition
Braunschweig Brunswick Oelper 1809.jpg
Map of the battle.
Date1 August 1809
Location Ölper, now a district of the city of Braunschweig
Result Tactical draw
Black Brunswickers Kingdom of Westphalia
Commanders and leaders
Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel Jean-Jacques Reubell
c. 2,000 c. 5,000
Casualties and losses
40-90 200-500

The Battle of Ölper is a battle that took place on 1 August 1809 in Ölper, currently a district of the town of Brunswick, as part of the War of the Fifth Coalition. It pitched troops of the Kingdom of Westphalia against the Black Brunswickers under Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, but ended in a tactical draw.

Ölper Stadtteil of Braunschweig in Lower Saxony, Germany

Ölper, formerly a village, is a quarter of the city of Braunschweig in Lower Saxony, Germany. It lies to the north of the city centre on the river Oker. It is part of the Stadtbezirk Lehndorf-Watenbüttel.

Braunschweig Place in Lower Saxony, Germany

Braunschweig, also called Brunswick in English, is a city in Lower Saxony, Germany, north of the Harz mountains at the farthest navigable point of the Oker River which connects it to the North Sea via the Aller and Weser Rivers. In 2016, it had a population of 250,704.

War of the Fifth Coalition conflict

The War of the Fifth Coalition was fought in 1809 by a coalition of the Austrian Empire and the United Kingdom against Napoleon's French Empire and Bavaria. Major engagements between France and Austria, the main participants, unfolded over much of Central Europe from April to July, with very high casualty rates for both sides. Britain, already involved on the European continent in the ongoing Peninsular War, sent another expedition, the Walcheren Campaign, to the Netherlands in order to relieve the Austrians, although this effort had little impact on the outcome of the conflict. After much campaigning in Bavaria and across the Danube valley, the war ended favourably for the French after the bloody struggle at Wagram in early July.



In the Battle of Jena and Auerstedt, Duke Charles William Ferdinand of Brunswick was mortally wounded. On his deathbed he nominated his son Frederick William as his successor. Although the Duchy of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel had remained neutral in the conflict against France, Napoleon declared in 1807 that the House of Brunswick had ceased to reign, broke up the duchy and made it a part of the Kingdom of Westphalia, named the Département Oker.

Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel German general

Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg was the Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and a military leader. His titles are usually shortened to Duke of Brunswick in English-language sources.

Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel German officer

Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was a German prince and Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Oels. Nicknamed "The Black Duke", he was a military officer who led the Black Brunswickers against French domination in Germany. He briefly ruled the state of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel from 1806 to 1807 and again from 1813 to 1815.

France Republic with mainland in Europe and numerous oversea territories

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

Resisting this, Frederick William, equipped 2,000 troops at his own expense and offered them and his services to Emperor Franz I of Austria in the Convention of Vienna on 25 February 1809. Due to their black uniform these troops were called the Black Brunswickers. After the Battle of Wagram, Austria had made peace with Napoleon, Frederick William decided to pull his troops on their own through northern Germany to embark on the North Sea to England and on the side of England continue to struggle against Napoleon. After defeating a Westphalian infantry regiment at the Battle of Halberstadt on 29 July, the Black Brunswickers and their leader reached Braunschweig on 31 July. The troops were joyfully welcomed by the population, but on the morning following their arrival Frederick William received word that a 5,000-strong Westphalian division commanded by General Reubell was approaching from the north of the city.

Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor also known as Francis I, Emperor of Austria

Francis II was the last Holy Roman Emperor, ruling from 1792 until 6 August 1806, when he dissolved the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation after the decisive defeat at the hands of the First French Empire led by Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz. In 1804, he had founded the Austrian Empire and became Francis I, the first Emperor of Austria, ruling from 1804 to 1835, so later he was named the one and only Doppelkaiser in history. For the two years between 1804 and 1806, Francis used the title and style by the Grace of God elected Roman Emperor, ever Augustus, hereditary Emperor of Austria and he was called the Emperor of both the Holy Roman Empire and Austria. He was also Apostolic King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia as Francis I. He also served as the first president of the German Confederation following its establishment in 1815.

Treaty of Schönbrunn peace treaty

The Treaty of Schönbrunn, sometimes known as the Peace of Schönbrunn or Treaty of Vienna, was signed between France and Austria at Schönbrunn Palace near Vienna on 14 October 1809. The treaty ended the Fifth Coalition during the Napoleonic Wars, after Austria had been defeated at the decisive Battle of Wagram on 5-6 July.

Black Brunswickers

The Brunswick Ducal Corps, commonly known as the Black Brunswickers in English and the Schwarze Schar or Schwarze Legion in German, were a military unit in the Napoleonic Wars. The corps was raised from volunteers by German-born Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (1771–1815). The Duke was a harsh opponent of Napoleon Bonaparte's occupation of his native Germany. Formed in 1809 when war broke out between the First French Empire and the Austrian Empire, the corps initially comprised a mixed force, around 2,300 strong, of infantry, cavalry and later supporting artillery.

The battle

Duke Frederick-William and his staff at the Battle of Olper. Affaire aupres d Olper 1809.jpg
Duke Frederick-William and his staff at the Battle of Ölper.

The Blacks were outnumbered and were also threatened by an invading Dutch division from Halberstadt. In order not to fall between the two divisions, the Duke decided to face the Westphalians north of Brunswick, near the village of Ölper, to attempt to break through to the north.

At 14:00 the Black crowd moved toward Ölper, reinforced by about 200 citizens of Braunschweig, who were equipped with material looted from Halberstadt. Major Korfes destroyed the crossings over the Oker, in order to prevent flank attacks by the enemy.

An hour later, Reubell's troops appeared at Ölper; the lead Westphalian cuirassiers were immediately fired upon and retreated. The First Infantry Regiment of Westphalia now advanced on the village of Ölper. Friedrich Wilhelm left and withdrew his troops to the south and stationed artillery on a hill. From there they could counter the Westphalian infantry attack.

Now Brunswick continued with their Duke at the head of the counter-attack; Friedrich Wilhelm's horse was killed, but he himself remained unhurt. However, the Captain of Rabiell, commander of the advancing companies, fell. The Blacks progressively withdrew, without having recaptured Ölper.

A direct attack on the Westphalians that followed failed. The bold counterattack against the Hussars under Major Schrader did do damage to them and caused great confusion in the ranks of Westphalia.

An artillery battle finally destroyed one of Brunswick's guns, but further attacks never came. Although the Duke was planning a night attack, Reubell had presciently already cleared the village of Ölper.

The obelisk commemorating the 1809 Battle of Olper in the community of Braunschweig-Olper. Obelisk Oelper 02 2a.jpg
The obelisk commemorating the 1809 Battle of Ölper in the community of Braunschweig-Ölper.


The casualty figures for the numerically far superior Westphalian troops were estimated to be between 200 and 500 men. Estimates for losses of Black Brunswicker troops vary from 40 (22 dead and 18 missing) and 86 (24 dead and 62 wounded), but these are believed to be understated.

Results and consequences

Although Friedrich Wilhelm is believed to have made some tactical errors (evacuating Ölper and then attempting its recapture, having an insufficient perspective on his overall position and commanding only a small portion of his troops), the Brunswick troops fought bravely against a numerically superior enemy. This was due in part to the greater fighting experience of the Brunswick troops and their high morale (they had previously defeated a Westphalian Regiment in Halberstadt) and also to the hesitation of General Reubell. Even if at the end of the day the Westphalians took the battlefield (but they withdrew from Ölper after nightfall), they did not manage to defeat the Black crowd, nor stop their further movement to the North Sea. On 2 August the Brunswick Corps broke through and reached to about Celle, Hannover, Nienburg and Delmas, while pursued by Reubell's troops. On 7 August they reached Elsfleth, from which they were shipped to Helgoland and later to the Isle of Wight. Duke Friedrich Wilhelm joined his troops in British service, and fought from 1810 to 1814 under the command of Wellington in Portugal and Spain. General Reubell was dismissed from his post by Napoleon because of his failure, but fled to America before he could be brought to justice.

In 1824 and 1833 Duke Charles the Second and Duke William, sons of the Black Duke, donated a Cross of Honor for 1809, which they awarded to the participants.


Digby Smith is a British military historian. The son of a British career soldier, he was born in Hampshire, England, but spent several years in India and Pakistan as a child and youth. As a "boy soldier," he entered training in the British Army at the age of 16. He was later commissioned in the Royal Corps of Signals, and held several postings with the British Army of the Rhine.

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