Sunday, 4 April 2010

Visit to Leuthen, 5th December 2009 (with photos)

With my temporary contract at work coming to an end, and with holidays still needing to be used at a time when nobody else would be free, I decided on a whim to visit the battlefields of Austerlitz and Leuthen on their respective anniversaries which, thanks to Ryanair and Easyjet, turned out to be relatively cheap. My visit to Leuthen proved to be the more rewarding of the two by far (Austerlitz ended in farce to be honest, but I didn’t really research before I went so I got what I deserved). Leuthen was the first battlefield I have properly visited, let alone written about, so you’ll have to excuse me if the following post reads like the ramblings of an idiot interrupted now and again with poorly-taken photographs.

Leuthen (now called Lutynia) was the site of what is arguably Frederick the Great’s most important and most famous victory. The first half of the year 1757 went poorly for the Prussian army, who had been forced out of Bohemia and had lost the important fortress city of Breslau (now Wroclaw). Frederick had gained a decisive victory over a combined French and Imperial army at Rossbach and had now turned his attention to defeating the main Austrian army in the vicinity of Breslau. Time was of the essence to Frederick who needed to defeat this Austrian army before the end of the campaigning season. Frederick came upon the Austrian army stretched out along a wide frontage in the vicinity of the village of Leuthen, with its right flank anchored on Frobelwitz and its left on Sagshutz. After over-running the Saxon cavalry outposts in the vicinity of Borna, Frederick fooled the Austrians into thinking his attack would fall on their right in the vicinity of Frobelwitz. Distracted by this feint, and fatally moving their mobile reserve to the right, the Austrians were destroyed when the Prussian main force shattered their left and moved up through the village of Leuthen.

When visiting the battlefield today, it is important to remember that all of the place names have changed (the Polish-German border shifted westwards in 1945). In this post I have (where I remembered) put the Polish name in brackets after the first time I use the version that is familiar to us from the history books. My plan was to follow the route of the Prussian flanking force around the battlefield on foot.

Frobelwitz: blink and you'll miss it

I travelled there by public transport which was not too bad a journey in itself. The area, while close to Breslau (Wroclaw) itself, is rural and the journeys are short but infrequent. On asking for buses to Leuthen (Lutynia) at the Tourist Information office in the town square of Breslau I was told there was only one bus and 5.30am to Leuthen itself. This is not the case, their computer search was done on services from the main bus station but there is a service that runs throughout the day from outside the ‘Teatr Polski Scena na Świebodzkim’. I caught a bus that goes from the main bus station and goes to Frobelwitz (Wroblowice). I can’t remember the number and I accidentally deleted it from my phone but the tourist information office will be able to tell you if you do go there. The bus itself doesn’t actually go through it, just whizzing past the end of the village, so if you don’t tell the driver you want to get off there you’ll probably miss it. The driver was extremely friendly and helpful and dropped me off at Frobelwitz as I had wanted even though, speaking no Polish, I had to mimick him telling me to get off at Frobelwitz at the start of the journey so he understood what I needed. Carrying on along the road the bus had been heading down for about half a mile I could see a black square on the top of a low rise to my left. This rise is the Schonberg, where Frederick observed the Austrian army on the morning of 5th December and the square was the monument erected by the German army during the 1930’s. The monument is easily reached by a concrete track (there is a ‘storage ditch’ next to it) but it is in a sorry state when you reach it. It seems, from the smashed glass, to be used nowadays as a drinking spot for kids and is covered with the usual graffiti one would expect in such a place (the Polish equivalent of ‘Fitzy wuz ere 09’ etc). The crucifix monument to the dead of Leuthen (as opposed to this one which celebrates Frederick’s victory itself) is kept in very good condition next to the village’s famous church.

The victory monument

Frederick's view of Leuthen from the Schonberg

From the Schonberg I moved south towards Radaxdorf (Radacowice) but began to turn in too early as there is a group of buildings that is not marked on the map but is located on the Butterberg. It was at this point I experienced a moment of panic when a herd of wild deer began to move in my direction. Caught out in the open and filled with town-boy-ignorance I was worried that they would stampede over me. They cut across my path far ahead of me but that didn’t fill me with confidence as I could see how fast they were moving (and how high they were leaping!). Looking back now I realise they were probably more scared of me than I was of them but it really was quite surprising to see deer as you don’t really see any wild mammals round my way, except a rabbit or hedgehog if you’re lucky. I also saw some sort of huge birds that looked like vultures but I couldn’t get close enough to see what they actually were.


Old buildings in Radaxdorf

Radaxdorf is the group of buildings that has a the construction made from girders sticking up from its profile. I walked down to Radaxdorf across the fields and was surprised to see how little would have changed from the 18th century. The vast majority of the buildings are constructed in the tradition Silesian style (whitewashed with red tile roofs) and a good number would have been standing at the time of the battle. It is important to remember that this is a rural area which isn’t on the tourist trail, so if you start taking photos you’ll probably be asked what you’re doing in a curious rather than confrontational manner. When you let them know you’re a tourist, which I easily did by pointing at the pictures in the Osprey Campaign book on Leuthen the locals would immediately smile, relax and wave you on your way. From Radaxdorf I began to move on past Lobetinz (Lowocice) to the south of which is where I came upon the first major change to the battlefield in the form of a huge holes carved out of the side of a hill for sand. I just hope that there aren’t many more changes to the area as it is phenomenal just how free you are to move across the original battlefield at the moment. I walked for miles and miles but didn’t have to climb a single fence, something which would be impossible in England, and something that gives you a real sense of just why cavalry was so much more important in Eastern European warfare throughout history. The other thing that I noticed while walking round the fields was how important it was that the ground had frozen before the battle. After a couple of hours my feet were covered in a thick layer of clay that I found hard to remove and which made me feel like I was wearing deep sea diver’s boots.

Lobotinz, from the view of the Prussians who cut across the front of it

From Lobotinz I cut across the fields toward Sagschutz (Zakryce) where I had to go north to get past what seems to be a home for dogs. Seemingly dozens ran up to the fence as I walked past, doing their best to make me feel unwelcome. When I got round the other side of the building there were two dogs who were the scariest-looking dogs I’ve ever seen, even more so than the Police dogs I ran into when I unwittingly decided to walk down Piccadilly at the same time as the UAF and the English Defence League. From there I walked down a conifer-lined lane to Sagschutz where some daredevil children were climbing up the trees higher than my friends and I would have dared at their age. Sagschutz is beautiful in that it seems not to have changed much at all since 1757, though some of the buildings were in rather a run down condition. Walking through the middle of the village I was greeted by yet more vicious dogs who were probably graduates from the evil dog academy I had passed earlier. At this point, disorientated from my wandering through fields (following a disastrous attempt at a short cut), I asked a villager if this was Sagshutz. He confirmed that it was with a puzzled expression that was easily read as saying ‘why the bloody hell would he want to come to Sagshutz?’ I turned right down the side of the row of houses to get a view of where Prussian forces clashed with the Wurttemburgers who formed the extreme left of the Austrian line. Here I was challenged by a old woman, quite rightly when you consider I was taking photos of her back garden. Once again, she relaxed when she saw I was an English tourist and it would seem, from my experience at least, that South-Western Poland is one of the few places in the world that welcomes an ignorant Englishman with absolutely no knowledge of the local language. She waved me off as she went back into her house, though her German Shepherd did its best to make sure that I knew that I wasn’t welcome as far as it was concerned.

The Wurttemburgers were deployed in a line in front of these buildings

The view looking out from the Wurttemburgers position

From Sagschutz I walked north to Leuthen itself where I walked round the churchyard complete with its distinctive walls. While at other parts of the battlefield it was relatively easy to picture the Prussian lines moving forward here it was hard to reconcile the real location with the historical picture created in my mind. The churchyard itself is much smaller than shown in the famous paintings of the Rot-Wurzburg regiment’s valiant defence and, while the area surrounding the church would have been more open, it was hard to imagine and sobering to consider that so great a bloodshed could take place in so small an area. From Leuthen I caught the bus back to Breslau though not without making the mistake of trying to stop the bus from the left-hand side of the road. Luckily somebody had been stood on the other side though my stupidity in this regard is highlighted by the fact that at the time I thought ‘what is she standing over there for, the burke?’ Thank goodness she was as I would have had to wait another 2 hours for the infrequent rural bus service!

The famous church with one of the corner turrets

The churchyard gate that featured in the Rochling painting

If I was going to give any advice to someone visiting the battlefield it would be the following:

Visit in winter, as you won’t be able to move freely when the field are full of crops

Take food as the only shop is in Leuthen itself which might not be open depending on when you go

Take a half decent map and have a look at satellite view on google earth (which will throw up any new things in the area like the buildings on the Butterberg and the giant sand pit)

Make sure you know the Polish place names in case you need to ask for help

Make sure the bus driver knows to let you off at Wroblowice or Blonie or you’ll miss them

Ensure you know the times of the buses back to Wroclaw as you may have to wait a couple of hours (the buses are infrequent).
Also, if you ever do visit Leuthen make sure you make the time to visit the Raclawice Panorama in Wroclow which is simply astounding. The battle of Raclawice was a Polish victory during the Koschiusko Uprising in 1794 and the panorama is one of the few 19th century battle panoramas to be given the prominence it deserves. If you visit there is an entrance fee and a photo fee. Don’t bother with the photo fee as they’ll charge you about £5 but at the gift shop they sell full-colour hardback books which have a close up of every single section of the painting for only £10. It was hard to believe that you could get such a beautiful book for such a small sum. Also, don’t forget (like I did) to go into the small room at the side of the panorama which has a model of the battlefield and beautiful models that show all of the uniforms of the late 18th century Polish and Russian armies.


  1. Excellent tour guide to Leuthen. I was there in 1998 and it looks like things have not changed very much. Interesting that there was no snow on the ground on December 5th of your visit.

    Nice first blog posting too!

  2. Thanks for your nice comment, Alte Fritz!

    I was a little gutted that there was no snow there. The people I spoke to in Wroclaw said it was unusually warm for that time of year so it was probably due to the messed up winter a lot of us had. A week or so after I got back I saw more bloody snow than I've ever seen in my life, so I'd best be careful what I wish for in future.

  3. Have you any other pictures of Leuthen and the
    battle area?

  4. Yes, I'll be putting some more up soon, John.