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Battle of Rathenow

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Battle of Rathenow
Part of Swedish-Brandenburg War
Date15 June 1675
Location
Rathenow in Brandenburg
Result Brandenburgian victory
Belligerents
Naval Ensign of Sweden.svg Swedish Empire Flagge Brandenburg 17.GIF Brandenburg-Prussia
Commanders and leaders
Colonel Wangelin Field Marshal Georg von Derfflinger
General von Götze
Strength
500, of which 70 men sick[1] 8,000[2] of which 1,500–2,000 engaged[1]
Casualties and losses
200 killed[1]
270 captured
100 killed and mortally wounded[1]

The Battle of Rathenow (German: Schlacht um Rathenow or Überfall von Rathenow) was the first engagement between the forces of Brandenburg-Prussia and Sweden in the Swedish-Brandenburg War (also called the Scanian War).

The battle took place on 15 June [O.S. 25 June] 1675 and ended with the capture of the town of Rathenow, the front of which had been occupied by Sweden, by the Brandenburg troops.

The Swedes, led by Colonel Wangelin, had about 500 men; the Brandenburg force, commanded by Field Marshal Georg von Derfflinger and General von Götze had some 1,500–2,000 men in the battle.

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German language

German language

German, or more precisely High German, is a West Germanic language mainly spoken in Western Europe and Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and the Italian province of South Tyrol. It is also a co-official language of Luxembourg and Belgium, as well as a recognized national language in Namibia. Outside Germany, it is also spoken by German communities in France (Bas-Rhin), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary (Sopron).

Brandenburg-Prussia

Brandenburg-Prussia

Brandenburg-Prussia is the historiographic denomination for the early modern realm of the Brandenburgian Hohenzollerns between 1618 and 1701. Based in the Electorate of Brandenburg, the main branch of the Hohenzollern intermarried with the branch ruling the Duchy of Prussia, and secured succession upon the latter's extinction in the male line in 1618. Another consequence of the intermarriage was the incorporation of the lower Rhenish principalities of Cleves, Mark and Ravensberg after the Treaty of Xanten in 1614.

Sweden

Sweden

Sweden, formally the Kingdom of Sweden, is a Nordic country located on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. It borders Norway to the west and north, Finland to the east, and is connected to Denmark in the southwest by a bridge–tunnel across the Öresund. At 447,425 square kilometres (172,752 sq mi), Sweden is the largest Nordic country, the third-largest country in the European Union, and the fifth-largest country in Europe. The capital and largest city is Stockholm. Sweden has a total population of 10.5 million, and a low population density of 25.5 inhabitants per square kilometre (66/sq mi), with around 87% of Swedes residing in urban areas, which cover 1.5% of the entire land area, in the central and southern half of the country.

Old Style and New Style dates

Old Style and New Style dates

Old Style (O.S.) and New Style (N.S.) indicate dating systems before and after a calendar change, respectively. Usually, this is the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar as enacted in various European countries between 1582 and 1923.

Rathenow

Rathenow

Rathenow is a town in the district of Havelland in Brandenburg, Germany, with a population of 26,433 (2007).

Georg von Derfflinger

Georg von Derfflinger

Georg von Derfflinger was a field marshal in the army of Brandenburg-Prussia during and after the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648).

Background

In 1674, Brandenburg entered the Franco-Dutch War against France and dispatched an army to Alsace. As a result, France persuaded Sweden to attack the undefended Electorate of Brandenburg. In late 1674, Swedish troops advanced from Swedish Pomerania well into the Electorate, thanks to the absence of any significant contingents of Brandenburg troops. Meanwhile, the main Brandenburg Army was fighting the French in Bavaria. So the Swedes, who had entered the war, surprisingly, on the French side and were under the command of Field Marshal Wrangel, were able to penetrate far into the state and occupy the city of Brandenburg without meeting any real resistance. The town of Rathenow was also occupied by Swedish troops, because Wrangel wanted to launch a crossing of the River Elbe at Havelberg from Rathenow and join forces with Hanoverian troops. His objective was the capture of the important Brandenburg fortress of Magdeburg. To that end the Swedish advance party under Colonel Wangelin occupied Rathenow (and Havelberg), initially to secure the Havel crossings and then push forward to Magdeburg.

On the other hand, the Elector of Brandenburg, Frederick William, wanted to halt the advance of the Swedes, attack the rear of the Swedish troops, and unite with those units of his own forces manning the fortress of Magdeburg.

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Franco-Dutch War

Franco-Dutch War

The Franco-Dutch War, also known as the Dutch War, was fought between France and the Dutch Republic, supported by its allies the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Brandenburg-Prussia and Denmark-Norway. In its early stages, France was allied with Münster and Cologne, as well as England. The 1672 to 1674 Third Anglo-Dutch War and 1675 to 1679 Scanian War are considered related conflicts.

Alsace

Alsace

Alsace is a cultural region and a territorial collectivity in eastern France, on the west bank of the upper Rhine next to Germany and Switzerland. In January 2023, it had a population of 1,921,014. Alsatian culture is characterized by a blend of Germanic and French influences.

Swedish Pomerania

Swedish Pomerania

Swedish Pomerania was a dominion under the Swedish Crown from 1630 to 1815 on what is now the Baltic coast of Germany and Poland. Following the Polish War and the Thirty Years' War, Sweden held extensive control over the lands on the southern Baltic coast, including Pomerania and parts of Livonia and Prussia.

Rathenow

Rathenow

Rathenow is a town in the district of Havelland in Brandenburg, Germany, with a population of 26,433 (2007).

Havelberg

Havelberg

Havelberg is a town in the district of Stendal, in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It is situated on the Havel, and part of the town is built on an island in the centre of the river. The two parts were incorporated as a town in 1875. It has a population of 6,436 (2020).

Magdeburg

Magdeburg

Magdeburg is the capital of the German state Saxony-Anhalt. The city is situated at the Elbe river.

Ambush of Rathenow on 15 June 1675

View of the town of Rathenow in 1633
View of the town of Rathenow in 1633

The town of Rathenow was located on the eastern bank of the River Havel, protected to the west by a wide area of marsh between the main branches of the Havel, and was also surrounded by a moat. Of its medieval fortifications, only elements had survived, but these still offered adequate protection against an army not set on a long siege. So the gates were fortified and equipped with drawbridges.

The Brandenburg plan was to assault the town through its western gate, known as the Havel Gate (Haveltor). Their troops advanced under Field Marshal Georg von Derfflinger just before 2 clock over the Havel bridge. Derfflinger, who had been in Swedish service for a long time during the Thirty Years' War, rode at the head of the army accompanied by only a few dragoons and persuaded the guard to lower the drawbridge by speaking to them in fluent Swedish and asserting that: "he was a Swedish lieutenant of Bulow's Regiment from the garrison at Brandenburg and was on the run from the Brandenburg troops". This enabled the dragoons to break into the town. According to other reports, Derfflinger had ridden up to the gate alone, and only after it had been opened, did his dragoons rush to help in order to infiltrate into the town in a coup de main.

The letter from Frederick II of Hesse-Homburg of 15 June 1675 to his wife
The letter from Frederick II of Hesse-Homburg of 15 June 1675 to his wife

Meanwhile, the Elector had Major General von Götze and 600 musketeers advance along the mill embankment to the Mill Gate (Mühlentor). Here fighting broke out, the Swedes proving able to hold their ground for the time being, aided by the town's fortifications. Another unit that attempted to enter the south side of the town from the Havel in boats, was also initially repulsed. Not until the second attack did the Brandenburgers succeed in entering the town. The assault on the Mill Gate also prevailed and General von Götze succeeded in capturing it. After vigorous fighting, the Swedish garrison was defeated and their commander, Swedish Colonel Wangelin, surrendered.

"My dearest, this morning we have taken the base of Ratenau by storm; they did indeed defend valiantly and, as they were fighting at their best, Adjutant Canolski entered by the side unobserved with 300 men. Wangelin and his comrades are taken prisoner, as well as the lieutenant colonel and major, 2 captains and some lieutenants, and about 100 men. They had 600 in all, the rest were all killed. We have lost the honorable Lt. Col. Ückermann and an ensign, together with 40 to 50 other ranks, it is the best operation in the world to capture such an important place in front of all the enemy armada. If God had wanted us to do more, had we had our infantry with us, we would have beaten the enemy soundly, in the end God wanted some to survive. Adieu, I can write no more. I die your faithful husband and your servant."

— Frederick L. z. Hesse, letter to his wife

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Havel

Havel

The Havel is a river in northeastern Germany, flowing through the states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Berlin and Saxony-Anhalt. It is a right tributary of the Elbe and 325 kilometres (202 mi) long. However, the direct distance from its source to its mouth is only 94 kilometres (58 mi). For much of its length, the Havel is navigable; it provides an important link in the waterway connections between the east and west of Germany, as well as beyond.

Drawbridge

Drawbridge

A drawbridge or draw-bridge is a type of moveable bridge typically at the entrance to a castle or tower surrounded by a moat. In some forms of English, including American English, the word drawbridge commonly refers to all types of moveable bridges, such as bascule bridges, vertical-lift bridges and swing bridges, but this article concerns the narrower historical definition of the term where the bridge is used in a defensive structure.

Georg von Derfflinger

Georg von Derfflinger

Georg von Derfflinger was a field marshal in the army of Brandenburg-Prussia during and after the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648).

Thirty Years' War

Thirty Years' War

The Thirty Years' War was one of the longest and most destructive conflicts in European history, lasting from 1618 to 1648. Fought primarily in Central Europe, an estimated 4.5 to 8 million soldiers and civilians died as a result of battle, famine, and disease, while some areas of what is now modern Germany experienced population declines of over 50%. Related conflicts include the Eighty Years' War, the War of the Mantuan Succession, the Franco-Spanish War, and the Portuguese Restoration War.

Dragoon

Dragoon

Dragoons were originally a class of mounted infantry, who used horses for mobility, but dismounted to fight on foot. From the early 17th century onward, dragoons were increasingly also employed as conventional cavalry and trained for combat with swords and firearms from horseback. While their use goes back to the late 16th century, dragoon regiments were established in most European armies during the 17th and early 18th centuries; they provided greater mobility than regular infantry but were far less expensive than cavalry.

Coup de main

Coup de main

A coup de main is a swift attack that relies on speed and surprise to accomplish its objectives in a single blow.

Musketeer

Musketeer

A musketeer was a type of soldier equipped with a musket. Musketeers were an important part of early modern warfare particularly in Europe as they normally comprised the majority of their infantry. The musketeer was a precursor to the rifleman. Muskets were replaced by rifles as the almost universal firearm for modern armies during the period 1850 to 1860. The traditional designation of "musketeer" for an infantry private survived in the Imperial German Army until World War I.

Outcome and aftermath of the battle

General Field Marshal of the Brandenburg forces in the battle: Georg von Derfflinger
General Field Marshal of the Brandenburg forces in the battle: Georg von Derfflinger

The fight cost Sweden 200 dead and 270 prisoners. The Brandenburg troops lost only 100 men killed or mortally wounded.[1] They also captured 500 to 600 horses from the Swedes.

The Swedes, hitherto perceived as invincible, had suffered their first defeat. As a consequence of this setback, the Swedes had to abandon their plan to cross the Elbe at Havelberg in the vicinity of Rathenow, in order to attack the key Brandenburg fortress of Magdeburg. Instead, the Swedish army, which was completely unsighted as to the strength and dispositions of their opponents, were forced to pull back to the north as quickly as possible in order to secure their now threatened supply lines.

Over the next few days, as a result of the pursuit launched by the Brandenburg army, this withdrawal became a thoroughly disorderly rout, that finally ended after 3 days on 28 June in the decisive defeat of the Swedes at the Battle of Fehrbellin.

Source: "Battle of Rathenow", Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, (2023, March 9th), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Rathenow.

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Notes
  1. ^ a b c d e Silfverstolpe, Carl. Historiskt Bibliotek (1875–1880), tredje delen. pp. 284–288. "Wangelin had 500 men, whereof 60 men sick. Derfflinger had 900–1,400 infantry (Götze 600–800 men, Canolski 300–600 men) and 8 companies of dragoons (about 600 men under Ückerman). Wangelin lost more than 28 officers and 162 privates in killed. Derfflinger lost Colonel Ückerman, 4 officers and about 100 men killed or mortally wounded."
  2. ^ Christopher C. Clark. Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006. p. 45
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