|A thousand years of the Hungarian art of war|
A DARING RAID ON BERLIN
Charles VI, emperor of the Habsburg empire (1711 - 1740) was the last male member of the House of Austria. To secure his realm for his offspring Charles enacted a family law in 1713. This fundamental law of the Habsburg family, called Pragmatic Sanction, declared that upon the death of Emperor Charles "his entire heritage was to pass, undivided in primogenitura, to his male issue, but failing such, to his female issue..."/1/
After enacting this law, Charles concentrated his diplomatic efforts on one goal: to secure the recognition of his own subjects and of foreign countries for the Pragmatic Sanction. His efforts were successful. In the years 1720-22, the Austro-German and the Czech provinces, as well as Hungary incorporated the Pragmatic Sanction in their own laws. In 1725 Spain, in 1726 Russia, in 1731 Britain and the Netherlands, in 1733 the Elector of Saxony (as pretender to the Polish throne) and in 1738 France acknowledged the Pragmatic Sanction and guaranteed the recognition of a female successor to the Habsburg throne. Thus the inheritance seemed to be saved and when Charles died in 1740, his eldest daughter, Maria Theresa, at the age of twenty-three became Empress of the Habsburg Empire (1740- 1780).
Objection to her lawful succession to the imperial throne came from the most unexpected quarters, from Frederick II, King of Prussia (1740-1786), whose father was one of the strongest supporters of the Pragmatic Sanction. Frederick was willing to give his consent to the succession of Maria Theresa only if the young empress would renounce her rights to Silesia and sell it to Frederick for a cash payment. He would then guarantee the integrity of the remaining Habsburg lands and support her husband's candidacy to the throne of the German empire. Maria Theresa rejected the offer and Frederick moved his army at once into Bohemia. With his invasion began the War of the Austrian Succession.
Pressured by this war, Maria Theresa firmly continued her father s conciliatory policy toward the largest and richest part of her empire, Hungary. Conciliatory efforts dated back to the end of the Rakoczi revolution and fight for freedom. In the Peace Treaty of Szatmar (April 30, 1711), Emperor Charles promised to preserve the rights and respect the privileges of the Hungarian and Transylvanian estates. He would call the Diet, listen to the grievances of the nobility, and then redress their complaints.
Maria Theresa's first step to establish her legal position as Queen of Hungary was her crowning with the Holy Crown of St. Stephen, the first King of Hungary. The ceremony took place on June 25, 1741. In September she called the Hungarian Diet. In an emotional speech she implored the protection of the Hungarian nobility against the invading Prussian forces. Although the nobility proc1aimed the noble insurrection with the traditional exclamation: "Vitam et sanguinem. . ." (our life and blood for our Queen Maria Theresa), in behind-the-scene negotiations it received tax exemption from the war tax and voted 30,000 additional recruits from among the serfs only, for the imperial army. This new Hungarian contingent increased the imperial army s strength to 100,000 men. The army was organized in 52 infantry, 18 cuirassier (light armored cavalry), 14 dragoon (heavy armored cavalry), and 12 hussar (light cavalry without armor) regiments./2/
The Habsburg army, like the armies of other European countries in the eighteenth century, was organized with the mercantilist idea in mind: .... since the mercantilist statesmen were everywhere concerned with raising the agricultural and industrial production to a maximum level, their problem was to create a strong army without making excessive inroads on the productive elements of society. /3/ Therefore, only the poorest members of each society usually served in the respective armies. The Habsburg army was no exception. Because a soldier s pay was ordinarily less than the wages of an apprentice, very few men volunteered. In order to fill the required contingents, many of the volunteers "had been kidnaped, forcibly dragged from taverns", swept up from the streets, or drafted straight from prisons by the recruiting officers./4/
In Hungary, recruitment was enforced just as severely as in other countries, but the procedure was more refined. Recruitment committees traveled from village to village with a gypsy band, lots of wine and girls. At the market places they stopped, the wine was free, gypsies were playing and girls with shako on their heads invited the boys to dance. If, while dancing, the girl was able to put the shako on the boy s head, he was considered a volunteer and if he objected he was carried away in chains by the recruiting soldiers.
Two instruments which forged these unruly elements and involuntary volunteers into an army were iron discipline and neverending drill. Punishment for little mistakes was cruel: beating with a stick and flogging by the officers, who usually came from the rank of nobility. Higher commanding positions were reserved for members of the higher aristocracy.
The composition of the army also influenced strategy and tactics. Afraid of mass-desertion, the generals avoided troop movements and combats by night, in dense forests, or in populated areas. Instead of permitting the soldiers to requisition food supplies from the local population, the generals built up a centralized supply system, estab1ishing magazines at every 3-5 days marching distance. This system restricted troop movements to main roads and decreased the marching distance to 8-12 miles per day.
Strategy was sti1l considered to be the art of maneuvering, forcing the enemy to give up its position, to retreat or capitulate without fighting a decisive battle which threatened the loss of manpower, weapons, guns, and equipment, difficult to replace.
Tactics prescribed the use of multiple lines of infantry supported by artillery fire, guns positioned usually in the first lines. The heavy cavalry with mounted cavalry charges against the flanks and rear of the army was regarded as the second most important branch of the army. Light cavalry was used for reconnaissance and for guarding communication and supply lines. The success of mass hussar attacks during the Rakoczi rebellion induced most monarchs to experiment with large hussar units./5/
When Maria Theresa took control of the Habsburg monarchy, she inherited an empty treasury and army in disarray. Each unit had different instructions for marching and for drill. The commands of higher officers were casually interpreted by subordinates./6/ To correct these conditions, the command structure of the army had to be centralized, but centralization efforts were hindered by the special privileges of Hungary in military affairs: although the Hungarian Diet had accepted a standing army in 1715 and conceded the command of this army to the King in 1722, control over the size of recruit-contingents, supplies, and finances remained under the jurisdiction of the Diet. There were also shortages in personnel, especially in the officer corps, because of low salaries and the low esteem in which the army was held by most of the population.
Maria Theresa in the first years of her reign had introduced farreaching reforms to revitalize the army. To increase respect for the officers and the rank and file of the army, she prohibited forced recruitment; she also outlawed corporal punishment, although it
was seldom used in Austria and Hungary, because "The socially accepted behavior of an officer was that of the "honnete homme", gentleman, who abhorred personal brutality."/7/ To improve respect for officers she ordered that all officers in uniform be admitted to her court. In the new military academy founded in 1752, sons of the lesser nobility, as well as of the bourgeoisie were accepted solely on the basis of talent and performance. After thirty years of excellent service the officers not of the nobility were awarded with noble status. Officer rank was opened to every soldier who excelled in battle with courage and leadership ability. National origin did not present a handicap and many Hungarians were promoted to the rank of general and entrusted with the command of brigades, divisions, and army corps. Most importantly, as the War of Austrian Succession persisted, experiences gained were constantly evaluated and successful Prussian strategic and tactical principles were adopted. Thus, the war which continued with short interruptions until 1748 greatly contributed to the improved quality of the Austrian army. The final Peace Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle, on October 23, 1748, guaranteed Maria Theresa her possessions, but only after she ceded Silesia to Prussia. The first round of confrontations between Frederick, King of Prussia, and Maria Theresa ended with the victory of Frederick.
During the period of peace which followed, Maria Theresa, who never accepted the loss of Silesia as a final act, attempted to centralize and strengthen her empire. She introduced a more efficient central administration and helped an intellectual revival through the exposure of young noblemen to the ideas of enlightenment in her court and in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city of Vienna. To increase her income, she initiated a large resettlement program to repopulate devastated lands in Hungary./8/
The foreign policy of the empire was in the hands of the skillful and talented state-chancellor Prince Wenzel Anton Kaunitz-Rietberg, who was determined, like his empress, to prevent Frederick from elevating Prussia to the rank of a great power equal to the Bourbon and Habsburg monarchies. Kaunitz planned to frustrate Frederick's ambitions by reorganizing the entire European alliance system and so to isolate Prussia. His efforts were successful and were recognized as a Diplomatic Revolution./9/
The realignment started in January 1756, when Frederick signed a neutrality treaty with Britain and secured British subsidies for Prussia. Kaunitz rightly understood that in the apparently innocent neutrality pact there was an anti-Habsburg tendency. He replied to Frederick's move by forging an Austrian-French alliance, thus reconciling the two traditional enemies and sharpening the alliance
against Prussia and Britain. This alliance was signed in Versailles on May 1, 1756. One month later France declared war on Britain by reason of colonial rivalry in the New World.
Austria, uninterested in co1onial matters, considered the Anglo-French armed conflict a good opportunity to regain Silesia from Frederick and teach him a hard lesson. Kaunitz calculated that because of the war with France, Britain would stop paying subsidies to Prussia and so Austria would have a good chance to defeat Frederick. Military preparations began. Frederick, as soon as he learned about the preparations, demanded an explanation from Maria Theresa. Finding her explanation insufficient he started a preventive war against Austria, defeating its forces before Austrian preparations were completed.
On August 29,1756,Frederick struck Saxony with lightening speed. Militarily the invasion was a great success, but diplomatical1y it was a blunder. Tsarina Elisabeth (1742-1762) became ruler of Russia in 1742 when the Russian gentry overthrew Tsar Ivan VI for his too strong pro-Western and pro-German policy. Thus, it was in Elisabeth s interest to undermine the authority of the German party in Russia and to prevent Prussia from becoming a great power. In December, 1756, she declared war on Frederick and Sweden followed suit shortly after. Frederick s preventive war added to the Habsburg-Bourbon alliance Russia, Sweden, and Saxony. England, Frederick's only ally as Kaunitz expected, stopped sending subsidies. Prussia s situation seemed to be hopeless. In the south the Austrian and Saxon forces were only 40 miles from Berlin, in the west the French and Imperial German troops were only l00 miles away; in the north the Swedish columns were 130 miles from Berlin and in the east the Russians were crossing Poland, approaching the Odera River and only 50 miles from the Prussian capital./10/ The combined allied forces numbered 400,000, the Prussian close to 100,000./11/ On the other hand, morale and discipline were the highest in the Prussian army, lower in the Austrian and almost nonexistent in the French and Russian forces.
As soon as winter allowed the movement of troops, Frederick crossed the Bohemian Mountains and advanced toward Prague. On May 6, 1757, he defeated the Austrian army at Lobositz. He then surrounded Prague with smaller forces and continued southward with the bulk of his army. On June 18, confronted by the Austrian army under the command of Field-marshal Count Leopold Joseph Daun, Frederick accepted battle although his troops were outnumbered by the Austrians 33,000 to 54,000. /12/ Frederick lost the battle not because of the greater size of the Austrian army, but
because of the daring cavalry attack by General Count Ferenc Nadasdy. Leading l00 hussar companies he charged the Prussian lines, broke through and occupied Frederick's camp./13/ Frederick lost 13,000 men and had to retreat from Bohemia to Saxony.
The al1ies believed that after their victory at Kolin, the time was right to destroy Frederick's forces with a concentric attack. (Plan 3). But their movements were too slow. The Russian troops, after defeating the Prussians at Gross-Jagendorf on August 30, 1757, stopped and waited for supplies. They could have marched directly on Berlin unopposed, "but as so often happened, the Russian army melted away.... /14/
While the allies were closing their ring very slowly, step by step, Frederick decided to strike against the most dangerous enemy group, the one closest to Berlin./15/ At the end of August the most dangerous enemy seemed to be the French and German-Imperial army which greatly outnumbered Frederick's forces (34,000 to 21,000).
On August 25, 1757, Frederick left his general, the Duke of Bevern, with 41,000 men to block the possible advance toward Berlin of the Austrian forces. He assembled his army in Dresden and on September l3 marched against the French, German-Imperial forces. The French withdrew hastily after losing several pitched battles. In the following weeks both Frederick and the French and German-Imperial forces maneuvered to gain better positions. As Frederick followed the retreating French, a large gap opened up between him and Berlin, as well as between him and General Bevern in Breslau. Field-marshal Prince Charles of Lorraine, commander of the Austrian forces confronting Bevern, recognized, even in September, the opportunity to march through unguarded Silesia and launch an attack on Berlin. But, instead of attacking boldly with the bulk of his forces he chose to send only a raiding party against Frederick's capital. To execute the raid he appointed General Count Andreas Hadik commander of an army corps positioned with 7,000 men (hussars for the most part) on the eastern bank of the Elbe River.
Andreas Hadik, son of a lesser noble Hungarian family, began his military career at the age of 22 when he was recruited in 1732 to serve in a hussar regiment as standard bearer./16/ During the War of Polish Succession ( l733-1735) young Hadik fought on the Rhine front and was promoted to the rank of Captain. During the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748) he became a Major and the fame of his deeds against the Prussian army at the city of Neisse reached Vienna. Maria Theresa promoted him to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and in 1744 she appointed him as Commanding Colonel of
a hussar regiment. At the end of the war in 1748 Hadik was promoted again to the rank of General and appointed commander of a cavalry brigade.
During the peace period following th War of Austrian Succession, Hadik returned to Hungary and devoted himself to his hobby: the reading of books and the editing of a mathematical-technical work based on ancient Greek and Latin sources. Besides speaking Hungarian, German and French, Hadik was familiar also with the classical languages.
The Seven Years' War found Hadik again on the battlefield. Right at the beginning of the war he prevented an Austrian disaster in the battle of Lobositz with a surprise attack by his hussars on the pursuing Prussian cavalry./17/ For this courageous act Maria Theresa promoted him to the rank of Lieutenant-General. In 1757, Hadik commanded a cavalry division in the Battle of Prague and in the Battle of Kolin he participated in the famous charge of Nadasdy, which turned the battle to a milestone of the Seven Years' War.
Upon the command by Charles of Lorraine to raid Berlin, Hadik assembled his raiding party on October 10, 1757. It was comprised of 300 infantry soldiers, 2,100 borderguardsmen, 1,000 dragoons and cuirassiers (German cavalry) and 1,100 hussars, a total of 5,100 men./18/ His artillery was represented by two 3-lb. and four 6-lb. cannons./19/
The execution of Hadik's plan depended on four factors: secrecy, knowledge of the terrain, speed and security. Secrecy prevented the Prussians from learning about the forthcoming raid. Knowledge of the terrain provided by soldiers formerly serving in Frederick s army in Berlin pointed out shortcuts to the most advantageous approaches to Berlin. Speed supplied the element of surprise. Finally, protecting the flanks of his main troops by a parallel marching column, he prevented the Prussians from thwarting his movements. The preparations took only 24 hours and Hadik's troops began to march toward Berlin on October 11, 1757 /20/ (Plan 4).
To guard his base at Elsterwerda, Hadik left 1,000 borderguardsmen, 240 heavy cavalrymen, 300 hussars, and two 6-lb. cannons. To keep contact with this base during the raid, he established a communication line of 300 hussars. To protect his main column from Prussian interference, Hadik sent out a column, 300 hussars strong, under the command of Colonel Ujhazy, to march on Berlin west of the raiding force. Thus the raiding party included only 3,160 infantrymen, 1,160 cavalry soldiers, two 4-lb. and two 6-lb. cannons. The Prussians, not counting the garrisons in the cities along the route, were 5,521 men strong in Berlin./21/
When on October 16 Hadik arrived at Berlin, the surprise was perfect and complete. A captain and a trumpeter, his envoys to the city council, demanded tribute. The council members and the garrison commander, refusing to believe that the enemy was threatening the city gates, rejected Hadik s demand. Then Hadik, with 300 hand-picked hussars, charged the city s Silesian gate. After a short hand-to-hand combat, his hussars penetrated the fortified walls. The Prussian commander assembled three full infantry regiments to counterattack Hadik's 300 hussars.
The Prussian strength seemed overwhelming. But by that time Hadik's infantry had also entered the gates. Not giving the Prussians time to take up combat formation, he led his hussars in a sweeping attack against the center of the enemy troops, while his infantry charged the right flank of the surprised Prussians. Handto-hand combat resumed and the garrison soon took flight in panic. Hadik now assembled his entire force, hussars and infantry, inside the city wall, but did not penetrate the streets of the city. Instead, he sent a new envoy to the city council, demanding 600,000 silver taler as tribute to his soldiers and officers. The council-members were now ready to negotiate and after an all-night session decided to pay 200,000 silver taler to Hadik and his officer, with an additional 15,000 for the soldiers and to present them with valuable gifts as well./22/ Hadik left Berlin on October 18.
On his way back he sent a smaller detachment to Frankfurt am Odera and collected an additional 30,000 silver taler tribute. On October 21 he arrived at Hoyerswerda and joined the army of Field-Marshal Marschall. So ended the most daring raid in modern military history. Hadik lost 88 soldiers and 57 horses. On balance, he captured 425 Prussian soldiers and collected a 245,000 silver taler tribute. His cavalry rode 50 miles daily, his infantry marched 32 miles daily for ten days./23/
Maria Theresa and the Viennese court were overjoyed by Hadik s successful raid. The Empress awarded him the highest military decoration of the Habsburg monarchy, the Grand Cross of the Order of Maria Theresa./24/
Frederick had learned about the danger threatening his capital on October l3, the day Hadik launched his raid. He at once ordered his general, Prince Maurice of Anhalt-Dessau, stationed at Leipzig to hasten to the defense of Berlin with his troops of 4 infantry, 2 dragoon and 2 hussar regiments./25/ At the same time he dispatched strong detachments to block Hadik's withdrawal from Berlin and if possible to capture him. But the Prussian troops,
unable to keep up with Hadik's marching speed, arrived everywhere 6 to 8 hours late.
Hadik's raid must be put in perspective to appreciate not only the flawless planning and execution, but also the possible general consequences for the outcome of future military operations. The year 1757 was an unlucky one for Frederick. His enemies were victorious, surrounding his forces and encircling him more and more closely. "The flow of taxes to the Prussian treasury from the Westphalian provinces, from East Prussia, Magdeburg, the best part of Pomerania and much of Silesia ceased and Frederick's resources rapidly diminished . . . even if he survived the winter he could not finance another campaign."/261/ Hadik's raid on Berlin not only added to the financia1 difficulties, but also made him look ridiculous in European eyes and greatly undermined his reputation as a general. No wonder that he was seriously thinking about suicide./27/ Ironically, the cautious, hesitant, passive strategy of Frederick's enemies came to his aid. The Austrian and French generals missed the opportunities that Hadik's raid opened for them.
Today students of the history of the 18th century seldom hear Hadik's name. They do not know about his famous raid on Berlin. Even some military history textbooks refer to the raiders as Austrian cavalry./28/ Therefore, it is necessary to raise the following questions: was Hadik's raid really so significant? Isn't it possible that Empress Maria Theresa and his own contemporaries overpraised his deeds and today only the nationalist historians of Hungarian origin remember him for obvious reasons?
After the Battle of Kolin, Prussia appeared indefensible against the closing circle of her enemies. But the allies had no centralized plan and command, and their generals followed the rules of the old maneuver strategy. Thus the weak Prussian army was not forced to fight a great decisive battle, which, considering financial and material sources, geopolitical factors, and the ovenvhelming numerical superiority of the allies, would have ended the war in 1757. Absence of a coordinated plan and slow, cautious, passive strategy made it possible for Frederick to take on his enemies separately, always challenging only one army at a time, and with small victories restore the morale of his troops. At the same time he was able to restore his own reputation too.
As we saw, by autumn of 1757 he became so daring that he left Silesia unprotected. Entrusting only the small force of General Bevern to confront the Austrian armies (32,000 against 100,000), he himself sought victory over the even greater French-Germanlmperial forces (34.000 against 131,000).
At Erfurt on September 13 (Plan 3), Frederick faced the French forces under the command of General Charles de Rohan, Prince of Soubise. Soubise, appointed to his post through the patronage of Madame de Pompadour, did not accept battle and hurriedly withdrew his troops. Frederick then bribed the commander of the other French army, General Louis Armand, Duke of Richelieu, who agreed to remain inactive in his defense positions./29/ His passivity enabled Frederick to turn again against Soubise, who in the meantime combined his forces with the German-Imperial army led by General Hildburghausen, Prince of Sachsen. At Gotha, Frederick brought them to a halt and they withdrew without a fight.
As soon as Frederick left General Bevern (August 25, 1757) to organize his fall campaign against the above-mentioned French-German-Imperial armies, the Austrian attacked Bevern and pushed his army back to Breslau, at the same time disrupting his communication lines with Frederick. But Frederick's successes in the West opened up the opportunity for the Prussians to regroup and attack in the rear of the Austrian forces opposing Bevern. The best way to prevent Frederick from coming to the aid of Bevern would have been an aggressive French attack. But, as we saw, such an attack was not forthcoming. The next best alternative was a military operation which would distract Frederick's attention from Bevern and at the same time force him to weaken his pressure on the French-German front. To achieve these goals a raid on Berlin seemed to be the best instrument. A successful raid would enable the Austrians to eliminate Bevern's army, then, move to the west and attack in the rear the Prussians confronting Soubise and Hildburghausen. This imaginative plan would have provided great success if the raid on Berlin had gone flawlessly. Thus. the successful execution of the raid would have offered not only a tactical advantage but also a chance for a great strategic victory which could have forced Frederick to sue for peace.
The raid under Hadik's courageous and thoughtful command did what it was expected to do. But the hesitant and overcautious strategy of the Austrians could not exploit the situation. Instead of following Bevern's already weakened army corps,/30/ Prince Lorraine laid siege to Schweidnitz, which operation lasted until December 12. During this period the bulk of his army was standing still, guarding the rear of the besieger army from a possible counterattack by Bevern.
Thus, the momentum created by Hadik's successful raid was lost. Frederick, upon returning from Berlin, was able to resume his operations, and on November 5, 1757 he inflicted a crushing defeat
At a time when generals considered cautious maneuvering to be the alpha and omega of the military art of war, Hadik, behind the enemy, rapidly led his raid against Frederick's capital. When the usual marching speed of European armies was a daily 8-12 miles, Hadik's footsoldiers marched 32 miles and his cavalry 50 miles daily for I 0 days. Even Frederick's well-disciplined footsoldiers became untrustworthy and deserted him when they were used in small detachments away from the watchful eyes of officers. Whereas Hadik's Hungarian hussars, Austrian heavy cavalry, and Croatian footsoldiers fed from the territory they were crossing unguarded, none deserted. While the French and Russian armies terrified the civilian population/31/ because of their plundering, raping and other atrocities, Hadik's fighters behaved like selfdisciplined soldiers and left the collection of tributes from the city councils to their generals.
Andreas Hadik was not only a brilliant organizer, a skilled and experienced strategist, but also an excellent and imaginative tactician, a good troop commander who enjoyed the loyalty and devotion of his soldiers and could make them perform unbelievable feats. His military career rose like a meteor from standard-bearer to the rank of Field Marshal, from the position of Squadron Leader to the Chairmanship of the Supreme Military Council (Hofkriegsrat) of the Habsburg monarchy. But perhaps the greatest recognition came to him from the King of Prussia, Frederick the Great, who, near the end of the Seven Years' War, still often warned his generals: ".... and watch out for Hadik." His raid on Berlin is one of the greatest masterpieces of the Hungarian art of war.
|A thousand years of the Hungarian art of war|