Today in History, October 1st
The Battle of Lobositz or Lovosice on 1 October 1756 was the opening land battle of the Seven Years' War. Frederick the Great's 29,000 Prussians prevented Field Marshal Maximilian Ulysses Count Browne 34,500 Austrians from relieving their besieged Saxon allies, who surrendered two weeks later.
Being a believer in the pre-emptive strike, on 29 August 1756 Frederick invaded Saxony with the bulk of the Prussian army, against the advice of his British allies. Neither the Saxon nor the Austrian army was ready for war. The Saxon army took up a strong defensive position near Pirna, and Frederick had no option but to isolate and starve them.
An Austrian army raced to the aid of Saxony, but was intercepted by Frederick's forces near the town of Lobositz (Czech Lovosice), along the Elbe river, in present-day Czech Republic. Von Browne, the Austrian general, had ordered a small force on the opposite bank of the Elbe to move to the beleaguered Saxon army at Pirna, but recalled it when he heard the news of Frederick's advance.
The Austrian army took up a defensive stance on a hill, the Lobosch (Lovoš), along the Elbe River (opposite another mountain, the Homolka), straddling a small brook, the Morellenbach (Modla). Although this was not deep, and could be forded by infantry, crossing it would break up formations.
In heavy fog, Frederick's Prussians approached. A detachment of Croats opened fire on them and Frederick, believing he was up against a small rearguard of the Austrian army, ordered a few infantry battalions to advance.
The infantry cleared the lower slopes of the Homolka, while the Prussian artillery was brought forward into position. From a terrace they had a good field of fire over the valley and the Austrian cavalry.
As the mist slowly lifted, infantry in the Prussian centre were targeted by the Austrian main battery. Frederick soon realised that the force he faced was not the Austrian rearguard, but a full field army. In order to find out more, he ordered his cavalry to advance and reconnoitre.
As they neared Sullowitz, they came under fire and veered leftwards. This provoked an Austrian cavalry charge from the left. In an attempt to outflank the Austrians, Colonel Hans von Blumenthal led his Garde du Corps, who were closest to Sullowitz, in a counter-charge which brought them back into musket-range from the village. Von Blumenthal had his horse shot down and received a crippling sabre-blow in the neck.
Twice Prussian cavalry assaulted the Austrian position, but in vain. Already believing the battle to be lost, Frederick wanted to leave the battlefield, saying "These are no longer the same Austrians".
But the Duke of Brunswick-Bevern, in command of the Prussian left wing, then succeeded in storming the Austrian right flank with infantry. The Prussians charged at bayonet-point, many having run out of ammunition. Bevern's men chased the Austrians through the burning town of Lobositz. The Austrian army retreated, leaving the Prussians in command of the battlefield.
The Prussians and the Austrians lost about 2,900 men each. The Austrian army retreated intact, and von Browne even managed to slip a force around the Prussians towards the besieged Saxons, but it was too little too late. The Saxon army at Pirna surrendered on 14 October before the relief force arrived, and Saxony surrendered the next day. Both Prussian and Austrian armies then retreated into their winter quarters.