Battle of Tobitschau, 16 July 1866

The battle of Tobitschau (16 July 1866) saw the Prussians attack the Austrians as they attempted to retreat south in the aftermath of their defeat at Königgrätz, forcing the Austrians to abandon their original line of retreat and instead move east across the Carpathian Mountains (Austria-Prussian War of 1866).

At the start of the war both the Prussian and Austrian armies had concentrated in Bohemia. The Prussians had the best of the early clashes around the edges of Bohemia, and the Austrians were forced to retreat south from their original point of concentration at Josephstadt to a new defensive position between Königgrätz on the Elbe and Sadowa further to the west. On 3 July the Prussians attacked the new Austrian position, and although the attack didn't go entirely as Moltke had planned the Austrians still suffered a massive defeat. If Moltke's plan had come off then the Austrians would have been trapped west of the Elbe and the entire army forced to surrender. However the Prussians were unable to cut the road back to Königgrätz and the Austrians were able to escape east across the river.

The rest of the campaign was dominated by two river lines and the limited Austrian railway network. In the immediate aftermath of Königgrätz the two armies were separated by the Elbe. This river flows south from Josephstadt to Pardubitz, then turns west to flow across the middle of Bohemia, before eventually turning north-west to flow into Germany. The Austrians still held the two fortresses of Königgrätz and Josephstadt, on the east bank of the river, but the key railway towards the Danube ran along the west bank and so fell into Prussian hands.

The second important river was the Danube, which flowed from west to east along the southern edge of the campaign area. The Austrian capital of Vienna was on the south bank of the Danube, and the Prussian military became somewhat obsessed with the idea of crossing the Danube.

The second key feature was the railways. One line ran south along the west bank of the Elbe, before crossing the river just after it turned to flow west. This line then joined a line running east from Prague. The combined line then ran east to Bohm Trubau where it split. One branch headed south towards Brünn, the other east/ south-east to Olmütz. Both lines then ran south before joining up again at Lundenburg. The combined line then ran south-west to the Danube at Vienna.

This whole area was bordered to the east by the Carpathian Mountains, while ran from north to south towards the Danube. At the southern end of the mountains was the city of Pressburg.

The retreating Austrians had three choices of route - march south cross-country towards Vienna, use the Brünn line or use the Olmütz line. Benedek chose the third option, in the hope that he could reorganise his army at Olmütz. Vienna wasn't entirely undefended, and reinforcements were arriving from Italy.

Moltke's first task was to find the retreating Austrians. He sent his armies out in a fan. The Army of the Elbe was on the right, with orders to cross the road furthest west and then head south towards Iglau. The First Army was sent to Prelouc, a short distance west of the bend in the Elbe, and then head south-east towards Chrudim. The Second Army was on the left, and was sent to Pardubitz, at the bend in the Elbe. The Prussians reached the Elbe on the evening of 5 July, and were quickly across the river. Moltke then decided to concentrate on the advance on Vienna. The Second Army was to pursue the defeated Austrians, heading east along the railway. The First Army was to continue south-east towards the River Schwarza and Brünn. The Army of the Elbe was to continue south toward Iglau. Other detachments were sent to occupy Prague.

By 11 July the Austrians had completed the move to Olmütz, but it was now clear that they couldn't stay there. The Prussian First Army was close to Brünn, from where they could easily move east to cut the line south from Olmütz. Reluctantly Benedek ordered all but one of his corps to prepare to move south. That evening the Austrian 3rd Corps set off.

On the morning of 12 July the Prussian Second Army was ordered to take up a blocking position south of Olmütz, somewhere on the stretch of railway between Prerau, south of Olmütz, and Lundenburg, where the two main lines joined. Later that day the Prussian First Army occupied an undefended Brünn. Once again the Austrians had moved too slowly, and the Prussian net was closing around them. However the First Army now needed a rest to recover from several days of constant marching.

Early on 14 July the leading troops from Hartmann's Reserve Cavarly, part of the 2nd Army, saw signs that the Austrians were moving south in large numbers. Hartmann decided to advance east to Tobitschau and then on to Prerou. The nearest corps commander, General Steinmetz of V Corps, approved this decision, but also realised that he didn't have enough infantry to support the move. He sent a message to the Crown Prince's HQ asking for troops from I Corps (Bonin) to be provided. The Crown Prince ordered Bonin to send an infantry brigade to Tobitschau to support Hartmann.

When the news reached Moltke he abandoned his immediate plans for a move on Vienna. Early on 15 July the Army of the Elbe was ordered to send out patrols towards Vienna, while the First Army was ordered to move south-east to Lundenburg and prepare to attack the Austrians if they escaped to the south.

The upcoming battle would be fought in the valley of the River March. The railway ran along the eastern side of this river, while the main road ran along the western side. The railway had to move away a little to the east to cross a tributary of the March at Prerau. The village of Tobitschau was on the main road on the western side of the river. The Austrians were using both routes to move south.

The first significant action came late on 14 July at the village of Kralitz, west of Tobitschau. The Prussian cavalry had begun to move west at 4pm on 14 July, and the leading force of Cuirassiers found an Austrian infantry square in the village. The Prussians attacked the square and managed to break it in two, but then ran into Austrian artillery and was forced to retreat west to Prossnitz.

The Austrian retreat had only just got underway. 4th Corps was already heading past the Prussian trap, and 2nd Corps would be south of Tobitschau when the attack began. The Austrian 8th Corps was north of the village.

Von Malotki's Brigade of I Corps began its march towards Tobitschau at 4am on 15 July, approaching from the west. As this Prussian brigade approached Prossnitz, Rothkirch's Brigade from the Austrian 8th Corps was approaching Tobitschau from the north. General Malotki ordered an immediate attack to block the Austrian's route, and General Bonin ordered the rest of his corps to come up and support the attack.

The attacking Prussians had to cross the River Blatta, a tributary of the March which flowed parallel to the main river at this point.  The main Prussia attack, led by the 44th and 4th Regiments, advanced along the road from Prossnitz to Tobitschau and quickly crossed the river. The Austrians took up a new position on the road north of Tobitschau, with their guns posted further north.

The Prussians now launched a two-pronged attack. The 44th Regiment attacked north and forced the Austrians to retreat north towards the village of Wirowan. At about the same time the Prussian cavalry found an unguarded bridge over the Blatta close to Wirowan, crossed it, and attacked the Austrian guns from the west. The Prussian cavalry captured 18 guns and 170 prisoners, and almost captured Benedek himself, who happened to be approaching from the north when their attack began. Malotki's infantry continued to press north and forced the Austrians to retreat further north from Wirowan to Dub.

At about the same time Hartmann's cavalry advanced east and pushed part of the Austrian 71st Regiment out of Tobitschau. This attack carried the Prussians across the March and the Beczwa (the tributary at Prerou), and they were soon in Traubeck, on the eastern side of the Beczwa.

The Prussians had now advanced into the middle of the Austrian army, and were soon under attack from the north. By 1.30 the Austrian artillery at Dub, north of Wirowan, had been reinforced, and the strong batteries opened fire. This was the preliminary to an attack by Austrian infantry, but this was repulsed at Rakodau, between Wirowan and Dub. The retreating Austrians were pursued back to Dub, but the fighting west of the March then came to an end.

East of the March the Prussian cavalry moved north-east and then crossed to the north bank of the Beczwa west of Prerou (the river flowed west through Prerou then turned south, to flow into the March south of the battlefield). On the northern side of the Beczwa the Prussian cavalry ran into part of the Austrian 1st Corps, and also found Benedek's staff. The Prussian cavalry inflicted some serious damage on the Austrian columns before a strong force of Austrian Hussars arrived. The Prussians pulled up the railway outside Prerou then retreated back across the Beczwa.

This ended the fighting for the day. The Prussian cavalry ended the day west of Tobitschau. Malotki spent the rest of the day in place north of the village before also withdrawing a short distance. On the Austrian side Benedek was able to spend the night in Prerou, guarded by 1st Corps and 8th Corps. During the day the Prussians had lost 247 men, the Austrians over 2,000, although that did include a large number of prisoners.

The fight at Tobitschau had been a great embarssement for the Austrians, but large parts of their army had already slipped past the Prussian trap, and the route south from Prerou was still open. However this wasn't the only Prussian column. Other elements of the Second Army had been sent south, and they cut the railway at Göding, 45 miles south of Olmütz. Some Austrian troops had already passed through the town, but a small party from the Prussian 8th Division had managed to cut the line north of the town. The rest of the division occupied the town early on 16 July.

The Prussian victory at Tobitschau meant that the Austrians were no longer able to use the railway south from Olmütz to reach the Danube. Benedek decided that his only hope of escaping was to move east across the Carpathians and then rush south to reach Pressburg from the north-east. The Austrians managed to cross the mountains successfully, and began the march south. On the way Benedek was recalled. In the end neither army reached Pressburg. The leading troops from Benedek's former army were close to the city when the war ended. The Prussians were closer, and won one final battle at Blumenau (22 July 1866), north-west of Pressburg. On the same day an armistice ended the short seven week's war.

The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro-Prussian War 1866, Quintin Barry . Looks at the events of the war that saw Prussia become the dominant power in northern Germany, a key step on the road to German unification. Focuses on the military campaigns, the role of von Moltke in the war, the Austrian reaction and the clashes between the Prussian military and political establishments. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 October 2015), Battle of Tobitschau, 16 July 1866 ,

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