Frederick the Great
Frederick II, also known as Frederick the Great, was born in Berlin on 24 January 1712.When his father Frederick William ascended to throne in 1713, that made little Frederick the crown prince and next successor in line. Contrary to his father’s ambition of raising Frederick in a militaristic manner, while growing up, Frederick grew interest in arts,philosophy and French culture.These contradictions between the father and son caused an abusive relationship.
Frederick was frequently beaten and humiliated by his father in his early years.Frederick did not seem to have an ambition of becoming a king, since he occasionally tried renouncing the succession.In the War of Polish Succession (1733-1735) , he was appointed as a Colonel and studied under the army, making noteworthy observations, which later helped him during his reign.After the war, his father, in order to reconcile with his heir, allowed Frederick to take over Rheinsberg Palace.
Frederick spent his time there by performing various arts and reading until 1740.In 1740, Frederick left the palace to get crowned as King in Prussia, when his father died.Even though he didn’t have a happy relationship with his father, he later admitted that everything he accomplished during his reign was through his father’s efforts.
Frederick II, right after his coronation, led his armies to Silesia and occupied the province, starting the First Silesian War (1740-1742) against Austria.Frederick saw his first battle as a ruler in the Battle of Mollwitz (April 1741), in which he fled the battlefield to avoid capture, thinking his army had been defeated although in reality Prussians came out victorious.
In spite of this shaky start, he continued the campaign with a series of successful skirmishes.Lastly, in the Battle of Chotusitz, he managed to defeat the advancing Austrian army, which allowed him to secure his position in the lands he occupied.After this battle, two sides signed the Treaty of Breslau (1742).In the treaty, Austria ceded almost entirety of Silesia to Kingdom of Prussia.
With the treaty, the First Silesian War came to an end.During the war, Frederick organized a series of changes in the army.He reorganized the cavalry, whose performance he was dissapointed with, by getting rid of heavy horses and lightening the cavalry to increase their maneuverability.He also expanded the size of cavalry regiments.
However, the peace did not last long as Frederick, thinking Austrians would attack Prussia in an attempt to reclaim Silesia, swiftly advanced his armies into Bohemia and besieged numerous Austrian cities in 1744, thus starting the Second Silesian War (1744-1745).
Prague fell to the Prussians on 16 September.First major battle of the war took place on 4 June 1475, in which numerically superior Austrian army got defeated by Frederick’s army.Frederick’s newly organized cavalry made a distinctive difference in this battle.Frederick kept his occupation of Bohemia ongoing, as Austrian-Saxon armies came back at the end of September.
Two armies engaged in the Battle of Soor (1745).In the battle, Frederick led a Hussar assault on the right wing of the Austrian army, which had double the size of Prussians.The assault was a massive success as it caused the right wing of Austrians to collapse and forced the rest of the army to flee.As the last and decisive battle of the war, Prussian army led by Leopold I crushed Austrian-Saxon armies in the Battle of Kesselsdorf (1745).
Right after the battle, the Treaty of Dresden was signed by the two sides.According to the treaty, Austrians recognized Prussian control over Silesia and in return, Frederick recognized Francis I of Austria as the Emperor.Prussia also recieved war reperations from Saxony as a part of the treaty.
The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763)
1756 was the year of radical changes in diplomatic relations in Europe.Austria and France, two historical rivals, started developing a closer relationship out of fear from Prussia’s expansion.As a response to that, Prussia signed the Westminster Convention with Great Britain, securing an alliance with them.Towards the spring of 1756, Europe was split into two alliances.
The alliance led by Great Britain, which also included Prussia,Portugal and Hanover and against them was the Franco-Austrian alliance, which included Russia,Spain,Sweden and smaller principalities within the Holy Roman Empire.Rising conflicts between these 2 alliances led to the eruption of the Seven Years’ War in 1756.
The war continued for seven years and was fought on five continents.Prussia’s involvement however, was limited to continental Europe, where it fought against Austrian,French,Austrian and other smaller German states’ armies.
At the beginning of war, Prussian army had around 145.000 men and was the most competent army in linear combat formation in Europe..As soon as the war started, Frederick led his troops to an invasion of Saxony and quickly surrendered them by October 1756.
He then marched his army to Bohemia in the spring of 1757 and won a costly battle in the Battle of Prague (1757) and forced the enemy to retreat inside the walls of Prague.Even after heavy casualties his army took in the battle, Frederick laid a siege on the city.This was one of Frederick’s biggest military mistake in his life, not only the siege turned out to be unsuccessful, but after the siege he was engaged by fresh Austrian reinforcements in the Battle of Kolin (1757).
Frederick saw his first defeat in this battle, and the Prussian army took heavy casualties again, which made Frederick retreat from Bohemia entirely with his army and kept a defensive stance within his borders.
Towards the end of 1557, Frederick won two great victories against Franco-Austrian forces in the Battle of Rossbach and the Battle of Leuthen.In early 1758, Frederick attempted another invasion of Austrian-held territory, which proved unsuccessful.This was the last major assault by Frederick on Austrian territory.
Also in early 1758, Russians occupied East Prussia without facing much of a resistance.Although the province wasn’t of big value to Frederick, as Russia got closer to Berlin, he was urged to take action.In the Battle of Zorndorf (1758), he managed to slow down Russian advance at the cost of heavy casualties.
A year later, however, Russo-Austrian armies won a decisive victory against Prussian army in the Battle of Kunersdorf (1759).This battle is even to day considered the most catastrophic loss of Frederick the Great’s military career.
The road to Berlin was cleared and it would take some time for Prussian army to reorganize but Russian forces did not take this opportunity as their supply lines were stretched to the limit.After the battle Russians retreated eastwards and did not attempt another major assault near Brandenburg.
Through the years of 1760-1761, Prussia was getting more and more devastated as casualties exhausted its army and its economy was in ruins.Numerous parts of Prussia got invaded, as Frederick desperately tried to liberate them.Prussia seemed to be on the verge of collapse when in 1762, after the unexpected death of Empress Elizabeth of Russia, Russia exit the war.
Frederick referred to this event as the “Miracle of House of Brandenburg” as it gave another chance to Prussia to revive from the dire situation.
With a secure eastern border after the Russian exit from the war, Frederick was able to focus his full military strength on liberating his territories that were occupied by Austria.
Finally on 15 February 1763, Austria and Prussia signed the Treaty of Hubertsburg.The treaty returned the borders between these two states as they were before the Seven Years’ War.
Frederick the Great’s Military Legacy
By the end of his reign in 1786, Frederick had grown the size of his army to 200.000 men.He had reduced the size of the musket of the infantry and lightened the artillery and cavalry forces to make his swift maneouvres possible.
Frederick’s military capability, which enabled him to recover his country from the most dire situation during the Seven years war, and his tactical intelligence, which are clearly visible in the examples of Rossbach and Leuthen, brought him major fame around all of Europe.Along with his diplomatic and adminstrative skills, Frederick is considered one of the greatest military minds of history.
His unique style in warfare and the military innovations he made, enabled his army, the Prussian army, to build a legacy.The legacy of Prussian army impacted the history of warfare and gained them the nickname “the army with a state”.