A wargame exploring the Battle of Leuthen is described below.
The schematic of the battlefield above have been scaled down to fit our beloved bit of 5′ by 4′ for the wargame recreation. The scale used is board 1mm = battlefield 2 m; each move represents 5 minutes, and each figure represents 100-120 men using 25mm figures. Thus our 5′ by 4′ board rescales to 3 by 2.4 km on the battlefields. The rules used in the games are here.
The number of troops need to be reduced accordingly to keep the troop density equivalent. The Battle of Leuthen had 66,000 Imperialist troops (mostly Austrians, with some Bavarians and Württembergers) facing 39,000 Prussians. Reducing the scale down by a factor of approximately 2 gives an order of battle for Leuthen thus.
In these battles, we use the principle of Sauve qui peut to define the level of losses (in terms of base units of 2 figures) sustained by each side before mass panic sets in. The levels are shown below for the battle.
For both sides, once the threshold of base unit losses exceed the following total percentages at the specified time on the battlefield, a random number is created (by the linked excel spreadsheet, or a scientific calculator) to ascertain if mass panic has set in, and the rules of Sauve qui peut apply to mass panic.
The generals refighting the battle use suspension of disbelief, so that if enemy troops are bearing down unseen upon your own because of the restriction in visibility due to dead ground and hills, you cannot react until they would emerge… as happened during the original battle.
The account of the wargames is given at quarter hour intervals across the battle; the high view shared by our Olympians who reflect on the action below.
“In War, the skin of a fox is at times as necessary as that of the lion, for cunning may succeed when force fails. Since, therefore, force may at one time be repelled by force, and at another be obliged to yield to stratagem, we ought to be well acquainted with the use of both, that we may on occasion adopt either.”
Of the Tricks and Stratagems of War, Military Instructions, Frederick the Great.
The Prussians led by their cunning fox and lion, Frederick the Great, have moved forward to engage the Austrians and sundry Imperialists in an attempt to destroy their army and drive them from Silesia. the same territory he stole from his antagonists some ten years earlier. With the great victory of Rossbach barely a month ago, morale is high in the Prussian army.
The Austrians led by Charles of Lorraine, and his subordinate general Count von Daun are confident that the ridge they have chosen to occupy across the village of Leuthen can be defended against this impulsive foe. The Battle of Kolin in June was proof enough of this, surely?
“Much more from MINERVA the chief requires,
Wisdom should guide his breast while courage fires,
There valor cool with temperate ardor lies,
Swift without rashness, without weakness wise,
His prudent care should o’er his troops preside,
And ‘midst the battles rage their efforts guide…”
So rare, a Captain of the field, who even thinks this, let alone commits it to epic verse. Through the long river of history, the last such she recalled was Caesar and his commentaries, some eighteen centuries earlier. And now by a coincidence of fate, he faces the army of the daughter of Caesar.
Fortuna Belli favours the bold, provided they are successful. Although blindfolded, so her favours and frowns are scattered impartially across the field of battle, she also heard her name called in Frederick‘s poem.
“Always attack so shall BELLONA kind,
Smile on your banners waving in the wind,
And favoring fortune aid the daring arms,
Whose rapid charge the expecting foe alarms…”
Again, so wise in a mortal.
Mars will revel in the fight regardless of who will win, and he looks on favourably towards Frederick’s willingness to raise the sword and use it.
Bridled by an exhortation to one supreme effort, his officers know the stakes before them in this battle.
Fate has been kind to the Prussians. Unbeknownst to Prince Charles of Lorraine and the Austrians, they have chosen to occupy a ridge used by the Prussians for their annual war game exercises. Frederick and his men know this land like the back of their hand. Rather than engage in a suicidal advance from Borne to the ridge, and obligingly attacking the Austrians head on whilst outnumbered 1:2, Frederick leads the bulk of his men due south in three columns, whilst a small advance guard cautiously advances beyond the village of Borne. Bewitched by this maneuver, Prince Charles moves some reserves from his left flank to his centre to counter this apparent threat from Borne, whilst watching the bulk of the Prussians march away, in apparent retreat.
But this is no retreat, or exercise. Under the watchful eye of Frederick, the Prussians swing south under the cover of low hills, then with a discipline that comes from constant unthinking practice, the vast whole swings back North, wheeling from column to line, into an attack by oblique order. Frederick has his men where he wants them, in the desired formation.
All this time the Austrian high command is oblivious to the storm about to strike them. At the extreme left of the Austrian line are Bavarians and Württembergers. These men fight for the Holy Roman Empire and her Empress Maria Theresa, but they are not the same quality of men as the Austrian army that they owe allegiance too. They too have seen the Prussians march South, then disappear. But later, much later, a deadly apparition appears before them. The Prussians have returned in full battle array, and are steadily marching towards them in deadly earnest. They have enough time to swing their portion of the line round from the village of Leuthen to face square on to the coming onslaught.
He gives one last exhortation to the strike force of hand picked regiments.
‘Boys, you see the whitecoats there. You’ve got to drive them out the redoubt. All you’ve got to do is go for them with the bayonet and run them out. I’ll support you with five grenadier battalions and the whole army. It’s win or die! In front of you you have the enemy and behind you you have the whole army, so you can’t find a room forward or back except as victors.
The men nod, knowing their task.
In the distance, the Bavarians and Württembergers know this afternoons peace will soon be shattered. But they stand firm for now.
The Prussian cannonade sings out, and their deadly balls plow through the Imperialists. The Prussian line engages them in a series of volleys. It is too much for the Imperialists; they break and flee past the village of Sagschutz without occupying it. Frederick urges his men onwards.
The nearest senior Austrian to this mayhem, General Nádasdy looks on in horror at what is unfolding before him. The cannons roar, the musket volleys fire, sounding like waves breaking on a distant pebble beach. He swings his own cavalry reserve around to face the sounds, and urges the infantry between Sagshutz and Leuthen to do the same. But by then the Imperialist infantry is falling back in disarray, disrupting these troops, adding to the mayhem and fear and some break as the Prussian cannonade straddles them. He sends a messenger to Prince Charles and von Daun to break the news to them. They have heard the sounds to their left, and can guess at what it means. But they cannot see anything yet, so the Austrian main line remains in place, facing a threat from the village of Borne that remains elusive.
The Bavarians and Württembergers try to wheel a new line of defence round to face the Prussian infantry who continue to sweep forwards. General Nádasdy leads his troopers forwards to stem this tide, but his first line is thrown into confusion by fleeing troops and cannon balls from the Prussian guns..
Behind the Prussian infantry, Count von Zieten leads the Prussian cavalry reserve forwards to counter the emerging threat from the Austrian cavalry.
The Prussians pour out of Sagschutz, still in perfect oblique order. The Bavarians and Württembergers nervously await this storm, hoping for support.
General Nádasdy withdraws his troopers, waiting for the right moment to strike. Meantime, Count von Zieten and the Prussian cavalry reserve still ride forward to meet them, wheeling his troopers round the woods by the side of the Prussian infantry.
So far, Fortuna Belli has smiled on the Prussians.
The Bavarians and Württemberger line crumples in disorder from the fire by the Prussian Grenadiers. Behind the firing line, the Prussian oblique order marches onwards.
The cavalry continue to sweep towards each other, with the Austrians under a steady cannonade from the Prussian guns on the hill.
The Austrian guns along their main line fire out at the distant Prussian cavalry before them. Despite the range, the Prussians are unnerved by the fire and they retire in confusion.
Prince Charles and von Daun finally receive confirmation of what their ears have been telling them. The old fox has outflanked them, and disaster stares them in the face, unless they can wheel their army around to face the onslaught. Orders are issued, short prayers are said. Fortuna Belli continues to smile on the Prussians, but can the Austrians save themselves?
The Württemberger line breaks, but the Bavarians hold the line in some disorder against the Prussian Grenadiers. The Oblique order of Berliner Blau continues marching onwards.
Prince Charles and von Daun issue their orders and mutter short prayers. They will swing their rear line round first to march on Leuthen and hold the Prussians there. A rider sets out to carry the news down the line.
The cavalry have nearly reached each other. Unseen, Mars rides with the Prussians and draws his sword.
The Bavarians have also fallen back, and chaos reigns in the Imperialist infantry before Leuthen. von Zieten’s Prussian troopers crash into Nádasdy’s Austrian cavalry, who in turn are thrown back, in part by infantry fire from the squares of Prussians on their flank. As Mars revels in the action, Minerva smiles. and sees that Frederick may accomplish another Battle of Zama.
The Prussian flood continues, but the white Austrian columns are working their way to form a new white line across Leuthen. Who will get their first and secure a foothold? Fortuna Belli continues to favour the Prussians so far, as the retreating Imperialist infantry disrupt their comrades advance.
Nádasdy’s Austrian cavalry fall back before von Zieten’s troopers, but to their rear, Luchasse’s Austrian troopers begin to swing round to plug the gap.
The next fifteen minutes will be crucial, but events are happening so fast across the battle line that no general can control events. They can only hope the streams of fire they have unleashed will be successful once their effects have been felt.
The Prussians drive onwards and the line of fire now runs along the village of Leuthen. The Austrian troops fall out of the village and join the fleeing Bavarians and Württembergers in throwing the approaching Austrians into chaos. Only along the western flank of Leuthen do the Austrian infantry stand firm. But their flank is unsecured. Spotting their chance, the Prussian cavalry between Heidau and Radaxdorf ride forwards.
The line of Austrian white columns advance towards their colleagues who run into them, through them, in panic. The battle is as good as lost, and yet there is no order to retire, so the good are propelled towards the bad and become disorganized themselves. Mars rides with the Prussian cavalry, and they hunt down the fleeing Austrian infantry as they run for their life. Minerva knows that Frederick has his Zama, but Fortuna Belli will not signal to Victory yet.
In the centre, the Prussian cavalry ride down the fleeing Austrian infantry; Mars is resplendent. To the west of the battlefield, the remnants of Nádasdy’s troopers try their art once more against Count von Zieten’s men. They may buy time for their hard pressed comrades in the infantry, but the tide cannot be turned now. Even Prince Charles , and von Daun are riding to the rear. The Prussian artillery limber up, and follow their comrades as the battle moves out of range for their guns. This is hard work, but no-one is firing back at them. One by one, the Austrian batteries are falling to the Prussians.
Relief for the Austrians has appeared in the form of cavalry, which shields the retreat of their infantry. Facing a new threat, the Prussian cavalry before Frobelwitz backs away. Between Leuthen and Frobelwitz, a lone Austrian infantry square holds firm; the sole point of order. Meanwhile the flood of retreating Austrian infantry has reached the point of chaos; no troops could be reformed to fight today in good order; unit after unit has merged into one mass. Prince Charles knows the battle is lost. What can he salvage from this moment?
The Prussian tide sweeps on as the Austrians retreat. All, except reinforcements to the west of Gluckerwitz, which form up in good order; the better to help their comrades retreat.
The Prussian artillery have reached a small hillock, ready to unlimber and pour fire onto the Austrians.
Austrian resistance is now centered between the villages of Frobelwitz and Gluckerwitz. A lone artillery battery spits defiance against the Prussians, who in turn mark it for capture when their flood allows it. In the distant rear, Prussian artillery fire out over their comrades heads. Their cannon balls strike the fleeing Austrian infantry, adding to their chaos.
Only a small pocket of Austrian resistance remains. The Prussian infantry forms out of battle array and into a column of pursuit. Austrian infantry are still falling to the swords of the Prussian cavalry. All for them is lost.
One last Austrian infantry square offers resistance, surrounded by Prussian infantry. They will soon fall. The rest of their army has fled.
Prince Charles and von Daun flee with their men. They are at a loss to explain how their certitude dissolved in little over an hour, and against such a small army! They have been outgeneralled, and they know it. Their Empress will know of it shortly. She will remove Prince Charles from command and entrust all to the victor of Kolin.
Frederick has little time to celebrate his famous victory. He must organise and lead the pursuit against the Austrians. A moments effort now will gain much repose later. ‘Vorwärts’! he demands, and his men obey.
Fortuna Belli nods to Victory that the day belongs to Frederick and his men; something that Minerva has known for sometime. Lesser men than Frederick have been given the epithet ‘the Great’, but she knows that in the space of one month, he has destroyed two armies in the field at odds of 2:1 against his men. This is unprecedented for the modern age; perhaps for all ages. He deserves his title, and unwillingly to become the servant of his people in many more battles for another six years of war.
Perhaps this is the cause of his poem he leaves to his heir.
ILLUSTRIOUS Prince to whom ’tis given by fate,
To bear the burthen, and the pomp of state,
To reign of spacious realms the future lord,
To lift the balance, and to wield the sword,
0 hear a Soldier train’d to War’s alarms,
Inur’d to danger, and grown old in arms,
With voice experienc’d shew the thorny road
Which leads thro’ scenes of blood to fame’s abode.
Here’s an animated gif for each move in the battle.
The Generals fighting this battle were
Frederick the Great.