Podol, 26 – 27 June 1866.
This article is the first in a series which describes the engagements that took place in Bohemia prior to the main battle during the campaign of the Austro – Prussian War of 1866, Königgrátz, which saw the defeat of Austria and the effective end to her hegemony over other German states, being replaced by Prussia, thus completing, to a large extent, what Frederick the Great had started over one hundred years before by his own efforts to make Prussia one of the main players in the affairs of Europe.
Full details of the events leading up to the outbreak of hostilities in 1866 can be found on this site. The reader will be greatly assisted when reading the separate accounts of each encounter given herewith by Dr Bob’s fine panoramic views of each battlefield, taken when we visited the Czech Republic in 2014 and 2015.
On the 26th June the Prussian 1st Army, under the command of Prince Frederick Charles, was gathered around the town of Reichenberg, north of the River Iser. Two well bridged crossing points on the river were at Podol and Turnau but the Austrian commander of the I Corps, Count Clam – Gallas, had not bothered to occupy either of the of these important points, with only a scanty two company bridge guard at Podol. In fact, owing to the lack of clear instructions coming from Austrian headquarters, coupled with Clam’s corps being temporarily combined with the Crown Prince of Saxony’s army, and the prince himself taking command of both units, inertia seems to have set – in at all levels as to just what should be done.
There was, however, one enterprising Austrian general officer who took it upon himself to take a swipe at the advancing Prussian Juggernaut, General Baron von Edlesheim commanding the First Light Austrian Cavalry Division. On the morning of the 26th June General Heinrich Fredrich von Horn’s 8th Prussian Division was advancing south on the road to Turnau when, at the village of Sichrow, Edlesheim put in a well timed and coordinated attack using his cavalry and artillery to such good effect that Horn was forced to engage his whole division in an attempt to clear them out of the way. This was finally achieved but only with the aid of units from the Prussian 7th Division giving assistance, Edlesheim retiring his forces in excellent order and with minimal loss.
The Prussian Crown Prince now ordered a rapid advance to secure the bridgeheads at Turnau and Podel, Lieutenant – General Eduard Friedrich von Fransecky’s 7th Division taking the town of Turnau which, although the bridge there had been destroyed, was found unoccupied, allowing the unhindered construction of a pontoon over the Iser River.
The indecisiveness of Clam – Gallas and the Saxon Crown Prince was suddenly kicked into touch when orders were received from Austrian headquarters to hold the Iser line around Turnau and Münchengrätz at all costs. The lack of a commander at the front who could make positive and effective decisions, regardless of the muddled and contradictory orders coming (or not) from the befuddled Feldzeugmiester Ludwig August von Benedek, proved one of the main factors in Austria’s defeat in 1866. Clam and the Saxon’s now had the unenviable task of having to try and recapture positions which they had abandoned and allowed the enemy to take unopposed. It was therefore decided to attempt to regain Turnau that same evening (26th June) and also to push on and take the high ground on the west bank of the Iser beyond Podol. Unfortunately, since elements of Horn’s 8th Prussian Division were well ensconced in that village, the Austrians were in for a nasty shock.
At 8.30 p.m. in the evening Major General Ferdinand Poschacher von Poschach’s Austrian brigade, commanded by Colonel von Bergon, Poschacher himself being at Clam’s headquarters, led the main body of the brigade in a direct attack on Podol, while two detached battalions and the brigade artillery crossed the river on their left towards Lankow where, for reasons never fully understood, they remained, taking no part in the fighting. A fire fight had already taken place an hour before around Podol when a company of Austrian infantry placed their as a bridge guard were forced to quit the place after Horn’s Magdeburg Jäger battalion had waded across the river at the shallows threatening to cut off their retreat.
Forming his troops in storm columns Colonel von Bergon now came in hard against Podol, and after a two hour see – saw struggle the Prussians were finally pushed back, but the Austrians suffered heavy casualties when they attempted to drive the enemy from the high ground beyond the town. Shortly after 11.00 p.m. the Prussians received reinforcements and, after some hard fighting, involving bayonet and rifle butt, the Austrians were forced to give up the stone bridge. A series of uncoordinated counter attacks followed as Clam arrived on the field, sending in Poschacher’s, chewed up brigade once again only to be cut down by the intense fire of the Prussian needle gun. At 1.00 a.m. on the morning of the 27th June the combat finally petered out. The Austrians sustained 111 men killed and 432 wounded many seriously, plus 500 prisoners. The Prussian losses were far less, which would prove to be the case after each engagement of the war, at 32 killed, 81 wounded and 17 missing. The combat at Podol coupled with the occupation of Turnau by the Prussians made holding the Iser River untenable. During the 27th June the Saxon Crown Prince, who had established his headquarters at Münchenträtz, received a telegram from Benedek stating that the main body of the Austrian army now at Josephstadt would be moving forward for a concentration at Gitschin by 30th June, therefore Crown Prince Albert was left with no alternative but to conform with this move, abandoning the river line, sending out orders to his subordinate commanders to make preparations for a withdrawal to Gitschin on the 28th June. Luckily for Clam – Gallas and the Saxon Crown Prince the Prussian commander of their 1st Army, Prince Frederick Charles spent too much time planning a complex plan of attack which allowed the Austrians and Saxons to escape before being cut off and destroyed.
Opposing Forces at Podol.
- I Corps. General Commanding: General of Cavalry Count Clam – Gallas.
- Assistant: General Count Gondrecourt.
- Chief of Staff : Colonel von Litzelhofen.
- 1st Brigade: Major General Poschacher.
- 18th Field Jäger Battalion.
- 30th Infantry Regiment (Martin).
- 34th Infantry Regiment (King William of Prussia)
The Austrian Official History states that Poschacher’s Brigade advanced in two columns. The one under Colonel Schwertfuhrer consisting of 2 battalions (1st and 2nd) of Regiment No 34 (King William of Prussia) and the brigade artillery, these not seeing action, as noted above. The other column under Colonel Bergou consisted of whole 2nd Battalion, Regiment No 30 (Martini) and the 4th, 5th and 6th companies 1st Battalion and with the 14th, 15th, and 16th companies of the 3rd Battalion, Regiment No 30 (Martini) together with 4th, 5th, and 6th companies of the 1st Battalion Regiment No 30 (Martini). There were also three companies of the 3rd Battalion Regiment No 34 (King William of Prussia), three companies of the 18th Jäger Battalion and a company of Regiment No 30 (Martini) as bridge guard.
- 8th Infantry Division: Lieutenant – General von Horn.
- Elements from: 4th Magdeburg Jäger Battalion.
- 15th Infantry Brigade: Major General von Bose
Prussian General Staff History states that their forces at Podol consisted of the 2nd and 4th companies of the 4th Jäger Battalion; Fusilier Battalion of the 72nd Infantry Regiment; 2nd and Fusilier Battalions of the 31 Infantry Regiment; 2nd and Fusilier Battalions of the 71st Infantry Regiment.
Podol (now Svijany), is still a small country village, albeit loomed large over by the Svijany Brewery, which was founded in 1564 as part of a Cistercian Monastery and is one of the oldest in the Czech Republic – really good beer!
Some photographs by Miloslav Rejha.