Battle of Skalitz, 28 June 1866

The battle of Skalitz (28 June 1866) was the second of two victories in two days won by the Prussian V Corps, and helped secure the Prussian position in Bohemia (Austria-Prussian War of 1866)

The Prussians invaded Bohemia in two main bodies. In the west the Army of the Elbe and Prussian 1st Army attacked from Saxony towards the River Iser. In the east Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia had the more difficult task of crossing the mountains between Silesia and Bohemia and moving west to meet up with the western armies. His task was more dangerous than Von Moltke, chief of the Prussian General Staff, had realised, as the Austrians decided to concentrate their army around Josephstadt on the Elbe, close to the passes that the Crown Prince would have to use.

Battles of the Austro-Prussian War 1866: Bohemian Front
Battles of the
Austro-Prussian War 1866:
Bohemian Front

The Austrians failed to defend the mountain barrier around Bohemia. The Crown Prince's army advanced across the mountains in three columns. The left hand column, closest to the Austrian concentration, was led by General Steinmetz's V Corps. On 26 June his leading troops reached Nachod, on the Austrian side of the mountains, without running into any serious opposition. On 27 June the Austrians attempted to retake some of the lost ground, but General Ramming's 6th Corps suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of V Corps and was forced to retreat west to Skalitz.

Ramming was so concerned about the state of his corps that he asked to be relieved by the 8th Corps (Archduke Leopold). General Benedek, the Austrian commander-in-chief in Bohemia, agreed to the switch, and 8th Corps took up a new defensive position around Skalitz.

At around 10.30am Field Marshal Benedek visited Skalitz, where he was greeted enthusiastically, in the belief that he was about to order an offensive. Instead he informed the Archduke that he was still planning to concentrate against the western Prussian armies on the Iser. The Archduke was thus to avoid any serious fighting. Benedek decided that the Prussians were unlikely to attack Skalitz, and ordered the Archduke to retreat if the Prussians had attacked in force by 2pm.

The battle was fought in the area to the east and north-east of Skalitz. The town sits on the south bank of the River Aupa, which flows south into the town, and south-west away from it. A main road ran west from Nachod to Skalitz. A railway that curved around from the north-east to the south-west in this area ran east-west just to the north for the road in the stretch nearest to Skalitz, turning away to the south just east of the town. The road and railway were flanked by woods to the north and south, making it a poor area for cavalry.

On the Prussian side General Steinmetz expected to be supported by the 2nd Guard's Division, but this unit had to move north after the Prussian defeat at Trautenau on the previous day. Steinmetz didn’t know this, and so sent a detachment north to find the guards. His advance guard, under Colonel von Voights-Rhetz, was sent towards Starkoc, north of the railway, a movement that may have encouraged Benedek's belief that the Prussians intended to move away to the north-west. The advance guard was followed by Löwenfeldt's 9th Division. Finally the main Prussian body, made up of Kirchback's 10th Division, moved out at 8am.

The Austrians were lined up with Schindlöcker's Heavy Cavalry Brigade to the north. Fragnern's Brigade was on some higher ground north of Skalitz. Schulz's Brigade was on the Austrian right, south of Skalitz. Kreyssern's Brigade was in the centre, on the main road through the town.

Steinmetz decided to occupy the woods north of the railway and east of Skalitz. The leading brigade of Löwenfeldt's division was ordered to attack the woods from the north-east. The initial attack was carried out by the 37th and 58th Prussian Regiments. The Austrian force in the woods was pushed back, but the Archduke refused to obey his orders to avoid a major battle and launched a series of counterattacks. First Kreyssern's Brigade attacked along the road south of the railway. General Kreyssern was killed during the attack, which failed.

The Prussians were then reinforced by the 46th and 52nd Regiments from the 10th Division. These troops attacked the Austrian left and reinforced the hard-pressed Prussian troops in the centre. The Austrians responded with another attack, this time by Schulz's Brigade, but once again this attack was repulsed.

The Prussian offensive now began to push the Austrians out of the town. The 47th Regiment attacked the town from the east, and became engaged in some heavy fighting within the town, in particular around the strongly built railway station. General Fragnern was killed during this part of the battle. The Prussians were also able to cross the River Aupa north of the town, and attacked the Austrian positions west of the river from the north and the east. The Austrians were now forced into a full scale retreat, with the defeated survivors from the 6th and 8th Corps moving west across the Elbe, while the untested 4th Corps occupied Königinhof on the Elbe and Schweinschadel, a little to the east.

Further north the Austrians suffered another defeat at Soor/ Burkersdorf, where the victorious troops from Trautenau were defeated by the Prussian Guards Corps. The two victories on 28 June helped secure the Prussian position west of the mountains. On the following day they fought two more engagements. The Guards Corps captured Königinhof, and with it a crossing point over the Elbe, while V Corps defeated the rest of the Austrian 4th Corps at Schweinschadel.

The Prussians lost 1,365 killed, wounded and missing at the battle, made up of 62 officers and 1,290 men killed and wounded and 13 missing.

The Austrians lost 184 officers and 3,106 men killed or wounded and 21 officers and 2,266 men prisoners. Fragnern's brigade lost 824 dead and 620 wounded, and Kreyssern's brigade 352 dead and 639 wounded.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (10 July 2015), Battle of Skalitz, 28 June 1866 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_skalitz.html

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