Combat of Hof, 6 February 1807

The combat of Hof (6 February 1807) was a rearguard action fought between the Russian rearguard under Barclay de Tolly and the advancing French during the Russian retreat before the battle of Eylau.

In January 1807 the Russians had left their camps on the River Narew, north-east of Warsaw and had marched north in an attempt to defeat the isolated left wing of Napoleon's army, which was stretched out along the Vistula. In late January Napoleon realised what was going on and ordered the bulk of this army to move north in an attempt to get behind the Russians and inflict a major defeat on them. His plan might have succeeded if a copy of the orders hadn’t been captured by Russian Cossacks and taken to General Bennigsen, the Russian commander. Bennigsen ordered his army to retreat north-east, and just managed to escape from the French trap. Napoleon caught up with the Russians at Jonkowo (3 February 1807), but was unable to get enough men onto the battlefield. The Russians were able to continue their retreat, heading towards the town of Preussisches Eylau.

Marshal Soult
Portrait of Marshal
Jean-de-Dieu Soult

On 6 February the Russian rearguard, under Barclay de Tolly, was posted between Glandau (modern Glady) and Hof (actually Hoofe in German and Dworzno in Polish), two and a half miles to the north-east. The main Russian army was a few miles further to the north-east at Landsberg (now Gorowo Ilawecki). Barclay had four infantry regiments, three cavalry regiments, two Cossack regiments and a battery of horse artillery. One battalions of jägers and two squadrons of hussars, supported by two guns, were posted in front of the main Russian force. When the first French troops appeared on the scene Barclay sent two more squadrons of cavalry to reinforce this advance guard.

Marshal Joachim Murat
Marshal Joachim Murat

On 6 February the French were advancing in several columns. The Russian rearguard was on the route being taken by Murat's cavalry, followed by Soult's corps and Augereau's corps.  

The first of Murat's men arrived in front of the Russian lines at around 3pm and drove in the reinforced advanced guard. Barclay now deployed his main force behind a marshy stream just to the south of Hof. This stream was crossed by the bridge, and Barclay placed two infantry regiments and two regiments of hussars to guard the bridge. One jäger regiment was posted on each flank.

The first French attack, by the skirmishers, was launched against the Russian left. Barclay moved reinforcements to his left and repulsed this attack. Next came a series of cavalry attacks led by Murat. The exact sequence of events in this phase of the battle is unclear with different accounts giving different details, but it ended with the Russian cavalry defeated and the French held off by Russian infantry squares.

After this successful French cavalry action Barclay withdrew north-east through the village of Hof. He was reinforced by five new battalions, which helped him to form a new line north-east of the village. The French attacked this line but were held off until nightfall. The Russians then retreated further north-east and took up a new position along a stream that ran between Hof and Landsberg. This became the front line between the two armies on the night of 6-7 February. On the following day the Russians retreated to Eylau, where they turned and attempted to hold their ground. The rearguard followed after an hour-long fight in Landsberg early on 7 February.

Both sides suffered significant losses at Hof. The Russians lost over 2,000 men, two standards and at least five guns (Soult claimed that they had lost 8,000 men). Soult admitted to 2,000 casualties amongst his own men and Murat's cavalry must also have suffered losses in the cavalry fight.

Late on 7 February fighting broke out at Eylau, and on 8 February Napoleon finally got his major battle, but the resulting battle of Eylau was not the decisive victory that he had hoped for. After Eylau the two sides finally went into winter quarters and the fighting didn’t resume until the summer of 1807.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 September 2012), Combat of Hof, 6 February 1807 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_hof.html

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