This Day in History - May 5, 1757
The Battle of Prague – A Prussian army fights an Austrian army in Prague during the Seven Years’ War.
Frederick the Great’s 67,000 Prussians forced 60,000 Austrians to retreat, but having lost 14,300 men, decided he was not strong enough to attack Prague.
After Frederick had forced the surrender of Saxony in the 1756 campaign, he spent the winter devising new plans for a defence of his small kingdom. It was not in his nature, nor in his military strategy, simply to sit back and defend. He began drawing up plans for another bold stroke against Austria.
In early spring the Prussian army marched in four columns over the mountain passes separating Saxony and Silesia from Bohemia. The four corps would unite at the Bohemian capital of Prague. Though risky, because it exposed the Prussian army to a defeat in detail, the plan succeeded. After Frederick’s corps united with a corps under Prince Moritz, and General Bevern joined up with Schwerin, both armies converged near Prague.
Meanwhile the Austrians had not been idle. Though initially surprised by the early Prussian attack, the able Austrian Field Marshal Maximilian Ulysses Count Browne had been retreating skillfully and concentrating his armed forces towards Prague. Here he established a fortified position to the east of the town, and an additional army under Prince Charles of Lorraine arrived swelling the Austrian numbers to 60,000. The prince now took command.
The Austrian army under von Browne had taken up a near invincible position on the Ziska- and the Tabor mountains. The town was on their left flank, with a steep gorge to the north, and to the west by a marshy slope with a brook at the bottom. The two Austrian commanders were in disagreement about the course of action: von Browne wanted to attack, but Charles decided to wait for Konigseck, who was defeated at the Battle of Reichenberg but was known to be retreating towards Prague, and possibly even for the arrival of Daun.
On the 6th of May, around 5 a.m., the Prussian army assembled to the north on the Prosek heights, 115,000 men strong, and Frederick sent Keith with 30,000 to the west of the town to cut off any Austrian retreat. The Austrians drew up for battle facing north and east.
In the end, the Austrians had lost 12,000 men and 4,500 prisoners. Having suffered over 14,000 casualties in his own army, losses hard to replace for the small Prussia, Frederick decided not to assault the city walls of Prague. He calculated that 40,000 soldiers in addition to 75,000 inhabitants would soon consume the city stores.
His calculation, however, did not take into account the relief army Austria managed to field against him at the Battle of Kolin.
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