Combat of Liebenau, 26 June 1866

The combat of Liebenau (26 June 1866) was the first significant combat during the Austro-Prussia War and saw the Prussians force the Austrians to abandon the village of Liebenau and gain their first foothold across the River Iser.

General von Moltke, the Chief of the Prussian General Staff, decided to send three armies into Bohemia. The 1st Army, under Prince Frederick Charles, was the centre of these three, and was to advance into Bohemia from the north-west. To his right (west) was the Army of the Elbe (General Karl E. Herwarth von Bittenfeld), which first had to occupy Saxony, and then entered Bohemia from the west. Further east was the Prussian 2nd Army (Crown Prince Frederick William), which was to advance into Bohemia from the Breslau area. The main Austrian force was assembling to the south of the Prussian 2nd Army, but there was also a force made up of Clam-Gallas's Austrian Corps and the Army of Saxony operating further to the west, on the Iser River.

By 25 June the Austrians and Saxons, under Count Edouard von Clam-Gallas and Crown Prince Albert of Saxony, were concentrating to the south and east of the River Iser, with their main forces around Münchengrätz. The Austrians also had outposts north of the river, made up of the Poschacher brigade and some light cavalry. These troops were stretched out along the road from Türnau, just south of the Iser, to Reichenberg, with the most advanced troops in the village of Liebenau, about half way between the two. Most of the brigade was in the hills south of the village. This brigade had fought alongside the Prussians in the Schleswig-Holstein War, only two years earlier.

The Prussian 1st Army was to their north, with its HQ at Reichenberg. The Army of the Elbe had closed up with them, and was now just to their west.

On the morning of 26 June Prince Frederick Charles ordered General August von Horn's 8th Division to send out a force of two battalions of infantry from the 72nd Regiment, one squadron of Uhlans and a battery of four pounder guns to reconnoitre the road to Türnau. This force was supported by Hann von Weyhern's 2nd Cavalry Division.

The Prussians ran into the Austrians in Liebenau. The Austrians were attempting to build a barricade in the village street, but on the appearance of the Prussians they retreated to a range of hills south of the village, where the main Austrian force was posted. This was made up of four regiments of light cavalry from the 2nd Cavalry Division (Edelsheim), two batteries of horse artillery and a limited force of infantry.

Horn's infantry almost immediately advanced up the hills south of the village, while the Prussian artillery took up a position on a second range of hills to the north. Hann's cavalry moved into the village.

Just before 9am Prince Frederick Charles arrived on the scene. At about the same time the Austrian artillery opened fire and a short artillery duel followed. The outnumbered Austrians were soon silenced, partly by the Prussian guns and partly by the advancing Prussian infantry.

After Horn's infantry successfully forced the Austrian artillery to withdraw, the Prussian cavalry advanced to the top of the hills south of the village. The Prussians attempted to pursue the Austrians across a plateau that extended south from these hills, but were unable to catch up with the retreating Austrians, and they were able to escape into more broken countryside beyond.

The Prussian successes continued for the rest of the day. Advancing troops from Fransecky's 7th Division, who had been ordered up to support Horn, reached the Iser at Turnau, and discovered that the place was undefended. The bridge over the Iser had been partly destroyed, but the Prussians were quickly able to build a pontoon bridge, and soon had a strong foothold across the Iser.

Further south the Austrians and Prussians clashed against at Podol (26-27 June 1866), where once again the Prussians were victorious, defeating an Austrian counterattack aimed at retaking Turnau.

The fighting on 26 June demonstrated the poor command structure on the Austrian side. General Benedek, the overall Austrian commander, had decided to attack Prince Frederick Charles first, and sent orders to Clam-Galas and Albert, Crown Prince of Saxony, to hold the river. Earlier the day the Crown Prince had suggested to Clam-Galas that they should defend Turnau, but had been talked out of it. As a result the line of the Iser was lost, and the Austrians and Saxons were exposed to attack at Münchengrätz (28 June 1866).

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 (9 June 2015), Combat of Liebenau, 26 June 1866 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_liebenau.html

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