Battle of Großbeeren

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Battle of Großbeeren
Part of the War of the Sixth Coalition
Knotel-Battle of Grossbeeren.jpg
Rain having rendered small arms fire impossible, Saxon infantry (left) use musket butts and bayonets to defend the churchyard at Großbeeren against a Prussian onslaught.
Date23 August 1813
Location
South of Berlin
Result Coalition victory
Belligerents
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg  France
State flag of Saxony before 1815.svg Saxony
Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg  Prussia
Flag of Russia.svg  Russia
Flag of Sweden.svg  Sweden
Commanders and leaders
Flag of France.svg Nicolas Oudinot Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1803-1892).svg Friedrich von Bülow
Flag of Sweden.svg Crown Prince Charles John
Strength
60,000
32+ guns
80,000
Casualties and losses
3,000 killed or wounded
1,500 captured
13 guns lost
1,000 killed or wounded

In the Battles of Großbeeren and neighboring Blankenfelde and Sputendorf (23 August 1813) an allied Prussian-Swedish army under Crown Prince Charles John – formerly Marshal of France Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte – defeated the French under Marshal Oudinot. Napoleon had hoped to drive the Prussians out of the Sixth Coalition by capturing their capital, but the swamps south of Berlin combined with rain and the Marshal's ill health all contributed to the French defeat.

Blankenfelde-Mahlow Place in Brandenburg, Germany

Blankenfelde-Mahlow is a municipality in the Teltow-Fläming district of Brandenburg, Germany. It is situated approximately 3 kilometres south of Berlin.

Prussia state in Central Europe between 1525–1947

Prussia was a historically prominent German state that originated in 1525 with a duchy centred on the region of Prussia on the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea. It was de facto dissolved by an emergency decree transferring powers of the Prussian government to German Chancellor Franz von Papen in 1932 and de jure by an Allied decree in 1947. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organised and effective army. Prussia, with its capital in Königsberg and from 1701 in Berlin, decisively shaped the history of Germany.

Sweden constitutional monarchy in Northern Europe

Sweden, formal name: the Kingdom of Sweden, is a Scandinavian Nordic country in Northern Europe. It borders Norway to the west and north and Finland to the east, and is connected to Denmark in the southwest by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund, a strait at the Swedish-Danish border. At 450,295 square kilometres (173,860 sq mi), Sweden is the largest country in Northern Europe, the third-largest country in the European Union and the fifth largest country in Europe by area. Sweden has a total population of 10.2 million of which 2.5 million have a foreign background. It has a low population density of 22 inhabitants per square kilometre (57/sq mi). The highest concentration is in the southern half of the country.

Contents

Prelude

Following the Battle of Bautzen, in May 1813, during the War of the Sixth Coalition, both sides agreed to a seven-week truce to plan and better prepare. When the campaign resumed, in August, Napoleon ordered an offensive drive to take the Prussian capital of Berlin. With its capture, he hoped to knock the Prussians out of the war. Meanwhile, he kept the bulk of his army on the strategic defensive, to deal with any potential moves by the large Austrian army, which had now gathered in southeastern Germany. For this task, he chose one of his bravest and best commanders, Marshal Nicolas Oudinot, to lead the offensive. Oudinot tried to turn down this honor due to his poor health. He had been wounded on several occasions during the previous year's disastrous campaign in Russia, and had not yet fully recovered. But the emperor insisted, so Oudinot with three corps of about 60,000 men advanced on Berlin.

Battle of Bautzen battle

In the Battle of Bautzen a combined Russian–Prussian army, that was massively outnumbered, was pushed back by Napoleon I of France but escaped destruction, some sources claiming that Michel Ney failed to block their retreat. The Prussians under Count Gebhard von Blücher and Russians under Prince Peter Wittgenstein, retreating after their defeat at Lützen were attacked by French forces under Napoleon.

War of the Sixth Coalition Part of the Napoleonic Wars

In the War of the Sixth Coalition, sometimes known in Germany as the War of Liberation, a coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and a number of German States defeated France and drove Napoleon into exile on Elba. After the disastrous French invasion of Russia of 1812, the continental powers joined Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal and the rebels in Spain who were already at war with France.

Napoleon 19th century French military leader and politician

Napoléon Bonaparte was a French statesman and military leader of Italian descent who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. He was Emperor of the French as Napoleon I from 1804 until 1814 and again briefly in 1815 during the Hundred Days. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over much of continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. He is considered one of the greatest commanders in history, and his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Napoleon's political and cultural legacy has endured as one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history.

Unknown to both Napoleon and Oudinot at the time, this strategy played right into the Coalition's hands. In accordance with their Trachenberg Plan (formulated during the truce) they would avoid any large, main engagement with Napoleon himself until after they had gathered overwhelming strength and weakened the emperor by defeating his marshals in separate, smaller battles.

Trachenberg Plan

The Trachenberg Plan was a campaign plan created by Allied commanders in the 1813 German Campaign during the War of the Sixth Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars, and named for the conference held at the palace of Trachenberg. The plan advocated avoiding direct engagement with the French emperor, Napoleon I. This resulted from fear of the Emperor's now legendary prowess in battle. Consequently, the Allies planned to engage and defeat the French Marshals and Generals separately, and thus weaken his army while they built up an overwhelming force even he could not defeat. It was decided upon after a series of defeats and near disasters by the Coalition at Napoleon's hands at the battles of Lützen, Bautzen and Dresden. The plan was successful, and at the Battle of Leipzig, where the Allies had a considerable numerical advantage, the Emperor was soundly defeated and driven out of Germany, across the Rhine back into France itself. The plan was an amalgam of two prior works: The Trachenberg Protocol and the Reichenbach Plan, authored by the Austrian chief of staff of the allied coalition, Radetzky and the Swedish Crown Prince Charles John whose experience with the tactics and methods of the French Army, as well as personal insight on the mind of Napoleon, proved invaluable. The combined, modified version of the two prior plans became known as the Trachenberg Plan.

Battle

Memorial tower in Grossbeeren Grossbeeren Turm.jpg
Memorial tower in Großbeeren
Medal for the opening on 23 August 1913 of the memorial tower at Grossbeeren, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the battle, obverse Napoleonic War Medal Battle of Grossbeeren 1813, obverse.jpg
Medal for the opening on 23 August 1913 of the memorial tower at Großbeeren, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the battle, obverse
Medal for the opening on 23 August 1913 of the memorial tower at Grossbeeren, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the battle, reverse. Napoleonic War Medal Battle of Grossbeeren 1813, reverse.jpg
Medal for the opening on 23 August 1913 of the memorial tower at Großbeeren, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the battle, reverse.

From its start the offensive was plagued by misfortune. On the same day as the advance began, the 19 August, heavy rain storms broke out turning the roads into muddy quagmires and making it nearly impossible to move the artillery. Further hindering the advance, the area south of Berlin was crisscrossed with small lakes and swamps. In the best of weather there were only a couple of roads by which to approach the city from the south. But rain turned many of the Prussian defensive positions into fortified islands. Oudinot was forced to advance his Corps along three separate roads, with little communication between them.

Artillery class of weapons which fires munitions beyond the range and power of personal weapons

Artillery is a class of heavy military ranged weapons built to launch munitions far beyond the range and power of infantry's small arms. Early artillery development focused on the ability to breach defensive walls and fortifications during sieges, and led to heavy, fairly immobile siege engines. As technology improved, lighter, more mobile field artillery cannons developed for battlefield use. This development continues today; modern self-propelled artillery vehicles are highly mobile weapons of great versatility providing the large share of an army's total firepower.

General Bertrand's 4th Corps of 13,000 and 32 cannons to the right, on the left General Guilleminot's 12th Corps of 20,000, mainly inexperienced recent recruits, (nicknamed Marie-Louises). In the centre was the main column of General Jean Reynier's 7th Corps of 27,000 largely French allied Saxon troops. Oudinot did not expect any serious opposition and a lack of cavalry kept him unaware of the position of the enemy.

Henri Gatien Bertrand French general

Henri-Gratien, comte Bertrand, was a French general.

Armand Charles Guilleminot French general during the Napoleonic wars

Armand Charles, Count Guilleminot, was a French general during the Napoleonic wars.

Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma Empress of France

Marie Louise was an Austrian archduchess who reigned as Duchess of Parma from 1814 until her death. She was Napoleon's second wife and, as such, Empress of the French from 1810 to 1814.

Berlin was defended by the Army of the North, commanded by Crown Prince Charles John of Sweden, formerly French Marshal Bernadotte. When Reynier's corps reached Großbeeren, he encountered the bulk of Prince Charles' army drawn up for battle. Acting without orders or support, he attacked Friedrich von Bülow's corps, which had just been reinforced by the Swedes to 38,000 strong, and was repulsed with heavy casualties. Oudinot, unable to concentrate his army, arrived late in the day just as Reynier's Saxons had begun to waver after that general failed to rally them for another assault.

Charles XIV John of Sweden King of Sweden and Norway between 1818-1844. Prince of Ponte Corvo 1806-1810 and French field marshal

Charles XIV John or Carl John, from 1818 until his death was King of Sweden and King of Norway and served as de facto regent and head of state from 1810 to 1818. He was also the sovereign Prince of Pontecorvo, in south-central Italy, from 1806 until 1810.

Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow Prussian general of the Napoleonic Wars

Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow, Graf von Dennewitz was a Prussian general of the Napoleonic Wars.

Aftermath

Realising the advance had been checked, and believing his army was in an exposed position, Oudinot ordered the retreat to Jüterbog after sustaining heavy losses. Reynier alone lost over 3,000 killed or wounded, 1,500 captured and 13 guns lost.

The defeat at Großbeeren, combined with continued ill health, had shaken Oudinot's confidence, and he continued the general retreat to Wittenberg. Napoleon was furious with Oudinot, not so much for his defeat, but for his withdrawal to Wittenberg instead of back to Luckau. He fumed, "It is truly difficult to have fewer brains than the duke of Reggio!". Napoleon then appointed Marshal Michel Ney to lead a second drive on Berlin with the same three, now reduced and demoralized, corps and the ailing Oudinot as Ney's subordinate. The result would be the Battle of Dennewitz.

Literary reference

In 1833 Theodor Fontane – then a fourteen-year-old boy – visited the site of the Battle of Großbeeren and was deeply impressed, later writing a school essay about this battle – the first work known to have been penned by a man who would become a major German writer. Fontane recounted this reminiscence in a much later essay, written in his old age (1894). He mentioned also that his mother – at the time a young Berlin woman – had in the aftermath of the battle tended wounded soldiers, both German and French. Being of a Huguenot family who still spoke French among themselves, she was able to speak to dying French soldiers in their own language. [1]

Notes

  1. Theodor Fonatane, "Mein Erstling: Das Schlachtfeld von Gross-Beeren", in Kurt Schreinert and Jutta Neuendorf-Fürstenau (eds.) Meine Kinderjahre (=Sämtliche Werke, vol.XIV), pp. 189–191; quoted in Christopher Clarke, The Iron Kingdom, pp. 681–682)

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References

Coordinates: 52°21′00″N13°18′00″E / 52.35000001°N 13.30000001°E / 52.35000001; 13.30000001