THE BATTLE OF GOLLERWITZ - 18th SEPTEMBER 1756. Part 2: Battle and Aftermath
Having served extensively in Silesia in the War of Austrian Succession, and having been quartered there with his army since the outbreak of the new round of hostilities, Schwerin was intimately familiar with the ground on which he expected to have to fight.
The Gollerwitz area had been chosen because there the roads leading to Breslau passed though something of a natural defile, a feature that would limit Browne's ability to use superior numbers to affect an envelopment. However, even with this advantage the Prussian Field Marshal simply lacked the men to hold a solid front across the two miles between the Gollerbach, and Schnabach rivers, and still leave himself with any kind of reserve. As a result, rather than deploy there, directly across Browne's path, Schwerin instead arrayed his infantry along the left bank of the Gollerbach, their left, under Hulsen, anchored upon the town itself. Any frontal attempt on this position, would force the attackers to struggle across the stream, under the deadly volleys of the Prussian battalions. Any effort to turn Schwerin's right, commanded by Platen, would get stuck in the wooded high ground there, and, at worst, allow the Prussians to slip away. If the Austrians tried to turn the other flank, they'd have to either storm Gollerwitz itself, or maneuver around the town by way of the road from Austermuhl. Here, Schwerin deployed his Cavalry Reserve under Schonlach, on the high ground atop which sat the Prohlschloss. There, the Prussian horse would be able to keep open the road to Breslau and have room to maneuver that would be denied them if kept in reserve on the heights behind the blue-coated infantry.
The Hauptarmee deployed for battle
FML Browne watches as the advance gets underway
The Austrian right wing under Berlichingen, and Solms.
Schonlach falls back from the Prohlberg...
...and the Austrian cavalry move up after him.
On the left Sprecher, and O'Donnell approached the Prussian lines, and, after some confusion caused by the march columns being bunched too close together, shook their units out into line.
Only on the Austrian right was there significant delay. There, Solms and Berlichingen resolutely refused to move for the first to hour of the battle.
O'Donnell now produced a piece of tactical trickery which, though it is by no means certain it was intentional, promised much for the Habsburg cause. His hussar brigades made as if to charge Platen's infantry to their front. They advanced right up to, and then into the stream before turning about and withdrawing. The surprised Prussians, who had been holding their fire until the last moment, watched them go. Then Platen, true to his aggressive reputation, ordered his brigades forward in pursuit disordering them as they crossed the stream. Seeing Platen's advance, Hulsen moved forward in support.
Sprecher, and O'Donnell advance towards the Prussian right.
Platen's impulsive advance (right) also draws Hulsen (left) forward in support.
It was around 10am, and the Prussian infantry was abandoning its excellent position and going over to the offensive, in some disorder, against overwhelming numbers. Withering fire from O'Donnell's infantry supported on their right by a brigade of Stolberg's Grenadiers broke one of Hulsen's brigades, and Schwerin sent frantic orders recalling his infantry before they were overwhelmed.
Disaster was averted by a prompt and disciplined Prussian withdrawal back to their original positions, and it was here that the tide turned as, as has often happened in history, what was meant to be a demonstration began to escalate wildly out of control. Seeing the Prussians withdrawing, Sprecher hurled his Saxons across the stream after them in an all-out assault. The attackers were decimated in short order, but the repulse did nothing to deter Sprecher, who promptly seemed to lose both sight of his original orders, and his senses. The Saxons were reformed, in preparation for another near suicidal attack. If Sprecher was hoping for support from O'Donnell he was to be disappointed (although this was to do nothing to deter him). The Irishman, having broken one brigade of Hulsen's command, hesitated to advance further against orders, and remained on the friendly side of the stream.
While things were suddenly getting out of control on his left wing, Browne suffered another setback in the center. As the masses of Austrian cavalry moved over the Prohlberg they came under fire from the Freikorps cavalry lurking in the Prohlholz, and were then sharply counterattacked by Schonlach's squadrons. Two brigades of dragoons broke, and a back-and-forth cavalry battle began to develop in between the Prohlholz, and the Gollerbach with Seherr, and Buccow having great trouble co-ordinating their commands to take advantage of their superior numbers.
The great cavalry battle on the eastern side of the Prohlberg.
Stolberg's grenadiers now came up and assaulted Gollerwitz, but were repelled, and by 11am the Austrian advance was stalled all along the line. Browne, after finally managing to impress upon Solms, and Berlichingen that they were sorely needed, and get them both moving up towards the Prohlschloss, rode forward to try and regain control of things, but the fighting along the Gollerbach had now drawn in O'Donnell too. Seeing a second attack by Sprecher meet the same fate as the first one, and two brigades of Saxon infantry disintegrate and stream to the rear, O'Donnell ordered his men forward in support. They met the same fate, suffering horribly as they struggled across the Gollerbach in the face of devastating Prussian volleys. The entire Austrian left wing had now become stuck in an series of highly uneven firefights and their losses mounted alarmingly.
Sprecher (foreground) launches another doomed assault across the Gollerbach against Platen.
Browne was unable to extricate them and still exercise control over the great cavalry battle in the center which wasn't going at all well either. Seherr's command was especially badly mangled though holding on barely, and Buccow's regiments had fallen back onto the Prohlberg. Schonlach's exhausted horsemen followed only to be confronted by Berlichingen's excellent Saxon cavalry coming up from reserve. Browne called up Althann's fresh infantry to advance on Berlichingen's left, and this convinced the Prussians, who had taken serious losses themselves, to begin falling back with the aim of taking up a new position behind the Gollerbach.
To follow, the Austrians would first have to clear the houses on the right bank of the stream, and around 12:30pm a second assault was made there by Stolberg. This time, the defenders, who had been worn down by hours of musketry, were overcome. Resistance collapsed and the Prussian musketeers broke and ran. To their rear a brigade of fusileers also finally broke after being subjected to five successive charges by Seherr's cavalry, but managed to inflict such losses on the enemy horsemen that no fresh squadrons remained to exploit the breakthrough.
Stolberg's grenadiers storm Unter Gollerwitz.
After nearly five hours fighting, Browne had only managed to hammer the Prussians back into an even stronger position, and his losses had been crippling. The left wing of his army, after repeated, catastrophic assaults was nearing collapse. O'Donnell, apparently deciding to attempt to outdo even Sprecher in profligate waste of lives, had thrown his hussars back across the stream, completely wrecking them in the process, and his and Sprecher's entire commands now seemed to be wavering. By 1pm the Austrian Field Marshal had, had enough. His commanders were demoralized, and if his army took any further damage he could see no hope of it surviving another battle, this time against a reinforced enemy. Browne ordered a definitive end to all attacks for the day. His army held its positions until nightfall, then began to withdraw on the morning of the 19th.
There was no question of pursuit. The Prussian cavalry, having fought for hours against greatly superior numbers was in no condition to follow too closely, as Browne's columns withdrew west, before turning south to cover Vienna, and then disperse into Winter quarters.
Thus ended the brief Austrian Fall offensive into Silesia. The defeat at Gollerwitz had cost Maria Theresa and her allies 14,200 men around a third of them Saxons (all from Sprecher's martyred command - Solms and Berlichingen hadn't gotten into action at all). Schwerin's losses amounted to 3,600, a relatively meager price to pay for such a victory.
The old field marshal had added another triumph to his laurels, and he sent word to Frederick at the end of September that all enemies had been driven from Silesian soil.