June 4th in German History: The Battle of Hohenfreidberg

Hohenfriedeberg - Attack of Prussian Infantry - 1745.jpg
Attack of the Prussian Infantry, by Karl Rochling.

German History has no shortage of important battles. From the Battle of Sadowa to the Battle of Metz to the Battle of the Bulge, German History has often been determined by the clash of arms. One lesser-known, yet still important, battle was the Battle of Hohenfreidberg. That battle saw the Army of Frederick the Great defeat an Austrian Army, ensuring that Prussia would keep the region of Silesia and thus its status as a rising power.

A map of the battle.

The Battle of Hohenfreidberg occurred on June 4th, 1745. It was one of the last battles of the Second Silesian War, which itself was part of the War of the Austrian Succession. That war was fought over whether Maria Theresa would ascend to the throne of the Austrian Empire. The war was initiated by France and Prussia joined, hoping to gain territory from Austria. Specifically, Prussia wanted to take the resource-rich territory of Silesia, now part of Poland. After the Battle of Mollwitz, Prussia secured control over the region. However, the Austrians, commanded by Prince Charles of Lorraine, wanted to take the region back, in part because Maria Theresa demanded that it should be done. The Austrians marched a force of 62,500 500km to the town of Striegau and had a river that covered their front with the exception of the left flank north of the town. The Prussian Army of 58,500 was encamped south of Strigeu, but Frederick intended to surprise the Austrian army and so marched by night leaving burning campfires behind him. The Prussians first attacked the forces of Saxony, an Austrian ally, in their positions on the left flank north of the town and quickly routed them before they were able to deploy. The Prussians then routed a portion of the Austrian cavalry but were unable to quickly break the Austrian infantry with their own. However, the Bayreuth Dragoons were able to spot a hole in the Austrian lines and charged through it, shattering the Austrian infantry. At the cost of 94 wounded and killed, the Bayreuth Dragoons took 2,500 prisoners, but the rest of the Austrian army to flight, and captured 67 standards. Overall, the Austrians suffered 14,000 killed, wounded, and captured to Prussia’s 5,000 casualties.

The Battle of Hohenfreidberg secured Frederick the title of The Great. Frederick’s aggressive military doctrine was credited with inspiring the Bayreuth charge, and his own surprise attack on the Saxons was applauded by observers. The battle showed that Prussia could defeat a numerically equal Austrian Army, and further disgraced Charles of Lorraine. After two more battles, one against the Saxons and another against the Austrians under Charles, the peace of Dresden was signed in 1745. This peace acknowledged Prussian control of Silesia. Aside from the economic benefits derived from owning the region, Prussia was also elevated in prestige and reputation. It became acknowledged as the second most powerful German state, behind only Austria, and a rising power within Europe. Its King, now called Frederick the Great, would go on to win yet more wars for Prussia and cement his status as the greatest Prussian monarch.

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