Friday, 5 December 2014

The forgotten battlefield at Leuthen...

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Leuthen.  Heard of it?  Maybe you have..  If you have attended a Military Staff College, the chances are you will have heard of it, as it is a tactically very significant battle, but you probably don't know where it is.  Allow me to elaborate...

The Battle of Leuthen was in 1757 - during the Seven Years War - and it saw King Frederick the Great of Prussia rout a much superior Austrian force, thereby driving the Austrians from the province of Silesia and securing it for Prussia.

The battle is significant in a number of ways.  For one thing, Silesia is a highly fertile province - in contrast to Prussia's sandy Brandenburg heartland - possession of which certainly aided Prussia. Securing Silesia - as Frederick did at Leuthen - was an essential step in Prussia's rise to political prominence.

The Prussians advance at Leuthen
Secondly, the battle is highly significant tactically.  Leuthen is one of the best examples in history of the successful use of the 'oblique order' - attacking an enemy's flank to deny the advantage of superior numbers.  At Leuthen, Frederick used the lie of the land to hide his advance and so was able to engage an Austrian force over twice as large as his own, flank-first, thereby nullifying the Austrian numerical advantage.  In less than three hours the battle was decided, with around 5,000 dead (mostly Austrian) and the Austrian commander, Charles of Lorraine, could not believe that his men had succumbed.  This is why Leuthen - and the tactics employed there - is still taught at Staff Colleges and Military Academies across the world.

According to legend, it was after the battle of Leuthen that Frederick's troops spontaneously started signing the hymn "Nun danket alle Gott" - 'Now Thank We All Our God' - and, it was said, the tune was taken up by the entire Prussian army, some 25,000 men.  For that time on, the hymn has been known as the Leuthen Chorale.

Lastly, Leuthen is significant simply because it was one of the most famous victories of one of the most successful military tacticians in history - Frederick the Great.  We all like to think of Napoleon as the supreme military thinker of the modern age, but it is worth remembering that when the diminutive Corsican visited Frederick's tomb (he died in 1786) in Potsdam, he is reported to have said to his aides - "Gentlemen, if this man were still alive, I would not be here."

'Look upon my works ye mighty, and despair'
Today - the battlefield at Leuthen is a rather forlorn place.  Those generations of military men who know of Frederician tactics and the oblique order might recognise the name, but they probably couldn't find it on a map.  It is now in Poland - Leuthen is now Lutynia - about 10km west of the beautiful city of Wroclaw (the former Breslau).  The memorial that was erected in the mid 19th century - a 20-metre victory column made from grey granite, topped with an angel - was dynamited after World War Two, when the province of Silesia fell to Poland and national antagonisms were still (understandably) running high.  The remains of that monument are still there - a graffiti-covered granite pediment, standing alone in a farmer's field; the message of the German inscription long since forgotten.

Given the significance of Leuthen - would it not be appropriate to erect a new memorial at the site?  I appreciate, of course, that the Prussian/German history of Silesia can still be a controversial subject for its modern Polish inhabitants - but it is now 2014, the Cold War has long ended and Poland is a fellow member of the European Union.  Surely it is now time to put these old hatreds out of their misery and embrace the common history that sites such as this represent.

On this matter, indeed, it should be added that the city of Wroclaw has been in the vanguard of seeking to constructively confront these issues, actively working on reconciliation and a localised Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung... The best example of this admirable approach has been the old Hala Stulecia in Wroclaw - once the German Jahrhunderthalle - which, though it embodied a far more sensitive history than Leuthen, was nonetheless lovingly restored recently in a multi-million pound project.  If the Hala Stulecia can be embraced by modern Wroclawians - why not Leuthen...?

Time will tell, of course, but it is nice to imagine that a new memorial, and an information board, might adorn this site in years to come.  Perhaps it could even be in place by the time of the 260th anniversary of the battle in 2017?  Here's hoping.

5 comments:

Keir said...

Am reading Clark's Iron Kingdom now and watched a documentary about the battle only last night...
Fascinating about the memorial in a forlorn corner of a farmer's field. I felt distinctly underwhelmed when I made the pilgrimage to Wolfe's memorial at Quebec.

Wojciech Palczewski said...

Fryderyk Not greit is son of bitch. He stole lands forged money, abduct people to his army. Cynic

Ai Ferlansia said...

Welll, what can I say... He is a bitch. Calling him a son of a bitch is insulting his mother, who is innocent.

He is a bitch.

Ai Ferlansia said...

Although, he did loved his country very much. So much he cannot see it being thrown around like that by neighbouring empires. It came at a cost though that he would do whatever to keep it that way.

Though he may have mellowed during his last years... I suppose the victories came at a harsh price...

Ai Ferlansia said...

Although, he did loved his country very much. So much he cannot see it being thrown around like that by neighbouring empires. It came at a cost though that he would do whatever to keep it that way.

Though he may have mellowed during his last years... I suppose the victories came at a harsh price...