Königgrätz, Battle of


Königgrätz, Battle of
(1866)
   Also known as the Battle of Sadowa, Königgrätz was the main battle of the Austro‑Prussian War. The three-pronged Prussian advance into Bohemia in late June exposed a number of weaknesses in the Austrian North Army and the competence of its senior officers. First, the Prussian army’s needle gun had proven vastly superior to Austrian muskets, producing a casualty rate of four Austrians for each Prussian. Second, the Austrian army was not making use of field telegraphs to coordinate army movements. Most important, the Austrian commander, General Ludwig Benedek, never communicated to his subordinates what his plan of campaign was. On July 1, Benedek inexplicably halted the army north of the Austrian fortress system along the Elbe River, northwest of the town of Königgrätz, far enough away that the fortresses offered no protection. Worse still, the Austrian lines were placed poorly, forming a V-shape that made both left and right wings vulnerable, and the Austrians had their backs to the Elbe, limiting opportunities for retreat or reinforcement. Meanwhile, two Prussian armies were advancing cautiously toward the Austrian fortress system. The First Army, commanded by Prince Frederick Charles, marched roughly east along the Elbe; the Second Army, under the Crown Prince Frederick, was coming south on the other bank of the Elbe. The Prussians learned of the Austrian halt thanks to a single cavalry patrol on the evening of July 2. Frederick Charles received the news and drafted a plan of attack for the First Army alone for the next morning. When Chief of the Prussian General Staff Helmuth von Moltke was advised of the impending battle, he amended Frederick Charles’s plan by ordering the Second Army to make all due haste to meet outside Königgrätz, and thus have both armies attack the Austrians at the same time. No one was quite sure where the Second Army was, however, and whether it would arrive in time to engage the enemy. The initial stages of the battle did not go well for the Prussians; superior Austrian artillery fire kept the Prussian attackers at bay. The battle soon began to revolve around possession of the Swiepwald, a dense forest on the Prussian left. The Austrians eventually drove the Prussians out of the forest, but at the cost of thousands of casualties from deadly Prussian rifle fire. This and other assaults kept Benedek’s attention focused on the center of his lines, ignoring the increasing peril he faced on the right and left.
   Meanwhile, the Crown Prince drove his army toward the sound of the guns, hoping to arrive in time to make a difference. Although the Austrian artillery again proved its superiority over the Prussian artillery, Prussian infantry continued to make steady gains. Eventually, the Austrians had to pull their guns back or abandon them. The entire Austrian North Army was in danger of being enveloped on both sides, by Frederick Charles on their left and by the Crown Prince on the right. It took determined resistance by rearguard elements to buy time for the Austrians to retreat over the Elbe, but the Austrian North Army was in no condition to resume hostilities.
   The battle of Königgrätz is considered a classic example of Napoleonic strategy: have several forces march separately but concentrate at the field of battle. Even though Moltke was not certain that the Crown Prince’s army would arrive in time, he made sure the day’s battle plans took the availability of both armies into account. Without Austrian determination, the double-envelopment would have succeeded and the entire Austrian North Army would have been lost. Nevertheless, the Austrians were incapable of opposing the Prussians, and the road to Vienna lay open to Prussian Advance.
   See also <>; <>; <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Craig, Gordon A. The Battle of Königgrätz: Prussia ’ s Victory over Austria. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997;
    Showalter, Dennis. The Wars of German Unification. London: Arnold, 2004;
    Wawro, Geoffrey. The Austro-Prussian War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
   DAVID H. OLIVIER

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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