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Frederick the Great versus Joseph von Saxe-Hilburghausen and Charles de Rohan, Prince de Soubise: A Franco Austrian army under Saxe-Hilburghausen and Soubise execute a bold maneuver to outflank a Prussian army under Frederick. How will the Prussian genius counter this aggressive maneuver?
Frederick eventually won (or avoided losing) the Seven Years’ War through the good fortune of the death of Russian Empress Elizabeth, which allowed for the accession and brief rule of Peter III, an admirer of Frederick who switched Russia’s allegiances to be pro-Prussian. However, it is likely only due to the victory at Rossbach that Frederick survived the first few years of the war. On the ground, Rossbach, allowed Frederick to march east to win the Battle of Leuthen, which combined to decisively halt two of the four allied axes of advance before winter halted the campaigning season. The Prussian victory at Rossbach dramatically changed perceptions on the continent as “all European nations were suddenly brought to realize that the French army was rotten to the core; that its invincibility was a myth and its grandeur – tinsel,” causing observers to laugh at the commanders of the combined Franco-Imperial armies, “and they laughed still more heartily when shortly after his defeat Soubise was made a Marshal of France by Louis XV” (Fuller, 1955: 207). Nowhere is the change in perception more evident than Britain. Whereas the British Parliament approved £167,000 of financial support to Frederick in 1757, this increased to £1,200,000 in 1758, “which in terms of money is evidence of what the English thought” (Fuller, 1955: 207). The significance of a battle is almost always well beyond the simple loss of personnel and materiel.
How did this battle go so poorly for Saxe-Hilburghausen and Soubise when Frederick used virtually the exact same flanking maneuver to win the Battle of Leuthen a month later? The most obvious, and indeed very accurate, answer is the differences in reconnaissance. At Leuthen, Charles of Lorraine, commanding the opposing Austrian army, expected a Prussian attack following the initial demonstration in the north by Prussian cavalry, and did not send out sufficient if any reconnaissance parties to verify this or detect the Prussian flanking march in the south. At Rossbach, Frederick did not believe the initial demonstration by Franco-Austrian troops near Schortau indicated an imminent attack, but he had sensors deployed to detect if there was. In this case, the Prussian sensor that alerted Frederick to the Franco-Austrian outflanking march was a young staff officer sitting in an attic with bricks removed from the wall with a clear view of the situation (Millar, 2002: 28). After detecting the Franco-Austrian maneuver, Frederick was able to react quickly without the Prussian redeployment being detected. Frederick thus operated well within the decision cycle of Saxe-Hilburghausen and Soubise and decisively defeated an army undertaking one his favourite maneuvers that would help him win at Leuthen a month later. One observer with the Franco-Austrian army remarked during the march that “No general will permit himself to be taken in flank with his eyes open; and the King of Prussia is the unlikeliest you could try it with!” (Millar, 2002: 28). Of course, in warfare, keeping one’s eyes open is not to be taken for granted when so many sensors make up one’s “eyes” and there is so much to observe.
This was probably the most requested battle I never animated, until now of course. Apologies for the delay. I have plans to animate at least one more Frederick the Great battle, most likely one of his costly draws against the Russians such as Kunsersdorf or Zorndorf to illustrate the Prussian genius’ weaknesses.
I feel the way I animated the outflanking maneuver in Rossbach to be much better in terms of accurately visualizing drill formations than the Leuthen animation (infantry formations changing from line to column).
If you are looking for a concise, focused book on Frederick the Great’s wars and battles, check out Christopher Duffy’s The Military Life of Frederick the Great. If you can get your hands on it of course, I was not able to after all.
Fraser, David. Frederick the Great: King of Prussia. London: Penguin, 2000.
Fuller, J.F.C. The Decisive Battles of the Western World Vol. 2. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1955.
Jorgensen, Christer, Michael F. Pavkovic, Rob S. Rice, Frederick C Schneid, and Chris L. Scott. Fighting Techniques of the Early Modern World AD 1500 – AD 1763: Equipment, Combat Skills and Tactics. Staplehurst:, Amber, 2005.
Millar, Simon. Rossbach and Leuthen 1757: Prussia’s Eagle Resurgent. Oxford: Osprey, 2002.
Showalter, Dennis E. The Wars of Frederick the Great. London: Longman, 1996.
Austrian artillery: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20483/20483-h/20483-h.htm
Austrian cavalry: http://www.themodelcatalogue.com/cgi-bin/sh000001.pl?REFPAGE=http%3a%2f%2fwww%2ethemodelcatalogue%2ecom%2facatalog%2fRevell_Military_Figures_1_72%2ehtml&WD=prussian&SHOP=%20&PN=Revell_Military_Figures_1_72%2ehtml%23arev02589#arev02589
Austrian infantry: http://www.hobbies-plus.co.uk/acatalog/Revell___Figures___Combination_Sets.html
Charles de Rohan, Prince de Soubise: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles,_Prince_of_Soubise
Frederick the Great: http://ualr.edu/sbhunziker/Germany1/Lectures/Lecture18.html
Joseph von Saxe-Hilburghausen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Joseph_of_Saxe-Hildburghausen
Map of Europe: http://maxushistory.weebly.com/seven-years-war.html
Map of the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_map_projections
Prussian artillery: http://napoleonistyka.atspace.com/Prussian_artillery_Napoleon.htm
Prussian cavalry: http://napoleonistyka.atspace.com/Heilsberg_battle.htm
Prussian infantry: http://napoleonistyka.atspace.com/Prussian_army.htm
If you enjoyed the Battle of Rossbach 1757 battle animation, you may also enjoy these other battle animations:
Battle of Leuthen 1757, another battle fought by Frederick the Great against an invading army during the Seven Years’ War:
Battle of the Bulge 1944, another desperate battle fought by a German leader to gain time against an overwhelming coalition of enemies:
Battle of Ilipa 206 BC, another battle featuring a sudden, decisive redeployment of troops:
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I would love if there were a way to simulate our own battles. Match armies up against each other. Thanks!