Monday, 16 April 2012

Battle of Schleswig

Following the Battle of Bov the Prussians were 'invited' by the Diet to enforce the Diet's recognition of Schleswig and General Wrangel organised an advance to the north. It was now the Danish forces who were outnumbered and to buy time they fought a delaying action. General Wrangel's plan was to outflank the Danes as the Schleswig troops had been at Bov, but poor staff work and a 'gung ho' attitude resulted in a poorly co-ordinated frontal assault.

A general view of the Danish position. The main line of defence was the old boundary 'wall', (actually an earthen bank but here represented but stone) with reserves held on the low hills to the rear. The lake on the Danish left was too shallow for naval vessels, but the line of retreat lay along its northern shore.

Wrangel's plan was to pin the Danish in place and then his flanking force would roll up the line; what could go wrong? On the first move Wrangel received a dispatch from the flanking force commander indicating that the going was very difficult and the maps supplied were inadequate. Further he was unable to say when he would be in a position to attack. In light of this Wrangel made a new plan, advancing on his right to cut the Danish line of retreat. The attack would be led by the Prussian troops, supported by other Imperial troops whilst the Schleswig brigade would pin the Danish right.

As the Prussians advanced the danish general pushed forward a jaeger battalion to harass their flank. This moved through the fields began to fire on the right hand battalion of the Prussian attack. A battalion of Prussian jaeger were sent to deal with this irritation. Exceeding his orders to contain the enemy skirmishers, the Prussian jaeger officer charged his opponent. The Danes had the benefit of cover and position and easily repulsed the Prussians who fell back in disorder and had to be rallied by Wrangel himself. Emboldened, the Danish jaeger pushed forward to take the small village on the Prussian right and began to fire at the supporting artillery. Wrangel had to take one of the battalions from the attack on the main line to tackle the jaegers. Forming column, they moved forward, fired a volley and charged. Only to find that the Danes had decided to fall back of their own accord, (actually they failed a morale test).

Meanwhile, the 3 remaining Prussian battalions were not doing too well. First one was forced back by artillery fire and then a second. This left only the 1st battalion of Kaiser Franz gallantly advancing.

In the centre the Imperial troops were making slow progress, cautious that the Danish cavalry may move out and attack them. On the Prussian left the Schleswig troops were also cautious. Their jaeger were sniping away at Danish jaeger and the cavalry had already suffered casualties from the Danish artillery.

The Danish commander was receiving regular reports on the progress (or lack of it) of the Prussian flank attack because his right wing cavalry were shadowing the enemy. On the other side of the field Wrangel had had no further communication from his flanking force and was in the dark as to their progress. However, he had more than enough to do. After rallying the jaegers he had to rally the line battalions falling back from the Danish artillery fire. He managed to find time to send an aide to order the Imperial troops to attack in the centre. This they did, and, as expected, the Danish cavalry attacked. The infantry fired ineffectual volleys and routed.

Their blood up, the cavalry charged the second line of infantry. One unit stood firm and fired a volley which shattered the danish charge. A second unit did not stand and only the intervention of the Oldenburg Dragoons prevented total collapse.

One crumb of comfort for Wrangel was that Kaiser Franz had reached the boundary bank and crossed it. They were fortunate that the troops holding it were understrength, but it was a success and it needed to be supported. The rallied Prussian battalions were sent forward again as Danish reinforcements moved to attack Kaiser Franz. A prolonged struggle began with the odds stacked against the Prussians.

Over on the Danish right troops began to move towards the centre. The Schleswig infantry attacked, only to be met with concentrated artillery fire and forced back. Their cavalry fared no better. The Imperial forces in the centre took time to recover from the cavalry attack and could not intervene. A courier had arrived to deliver a message to the Danish commander that the Prussian flanking force was now in a position to affect the battle and he took the decision to pull his troops back while he could.

Unfortunately for Wrangel his flank attack was on the Prussian side of the earthen bank and was no real threat to the Danes. He could only watch as his enemy pulled away. His Prussian infantry reached the bank where the battered remnants of Kaiser Franz greeted them with taunts about only arriving when the job was done.

The day belonged to the Danes. They had inflicted heavy casualties on their opponents and pulled back relatively unscathed; a textbook delaying action.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad I found your blog. I'm a long time vet, too (50 years--ouch!). It's interesting (almost spooky) that we share so many of the same interests--GNW, Jacobites, 30YW, Schleswig...

    Regarding Schleswig, what figures do you think I could use for early (shako) Danes? These days 20mm plastics are about all I can afford, and the bell-top shako has me stumped. I guess I could go to a smaller scale...

    Best regards,
    Chris Johnson