Thursday, August 2, 2007

So who was Tauentzien?

Unlike my earlier research into Kienmayer, Tauntzien presented a greater challenge. I could not find an online biography in either English or German and felt a bit stuck. I did manage to piece together a few facts.


Along with the myth that the Prussian army of 1806 was robotic, inflexible and had not really changed since the death of Frederick, ran the notion that all the senior officers were befuddled septuagenarians inhibited by caution. Like all good myths both of them had elements of truth: certainly the Prussian army laid great emphasis on linear tactics and firepower, but they had a very good light infantry doctrine and their flexibility within that framework was considerable. The army was also inculcated with a very aggressive spirit, almost certainly inherited from Frederick’s offensive approach to battle. I had been very keen to bombard the Liphook group with these opinions and worried lest the ‘Chandleresque’ approach prevailed. The fact that at Jena Tauentzien, Grawert and finally Ruchel all launch attacks as their first response to the situation underlines how deeply this belief was held.

The man himself

Then I turned my attention to Tauentzien. Clearly this was a figure with at least some confidence or contacts, having survived the 1806 debacle and the reform period to emerge as commander of Prussian IV Corps in 1813. Born in 1760 and the son of one of Frederick’s officers, he entered the Prussian Army in 1775 and by 1801 was a Major General, a rise possibly attributed to his family’s closeness to the Hohenzollerns. In the 1806 campaign he was only 46 and commanded the Advance Guard of Prince Hohenlohe’s Prusso-Saxon army. He was the first to fight the French in a serious way, being defeated at Schleiz by Marshal Soult, and moved back to rejoin Hohenlohe around Jena.

At Jena he was in command of the front line formation and showed a very aggressive, some might even say perceptive, instinct to attack. This was not only in line with Prussian army doctrine, but Lannes had been tasked with creating space above Jena and as such had to push Tauentzien’s command out of the way. Tauentzien attacking may have enabled him to continue restricting French deployment, but commentators have argued that it was Hohenloe’s fault for not supporting him quickly enough that led to the destruction of his command. Whether it was rashness, a desire to constrain Lannes above Jena or just simply following the rule book, Tauentzien attacked despite a growing numerical inferiority and his own wounds inflicted as the battle progressed.

A good view of him in the battle around Jena comes from the commander of the Saxon Howitzer battery, Kapitan Thullman, who requested permission to withdraw because of heavy losses. “Tauentzien responded by placing his pistol to the captains head and ordering that he continue the action.” In fact Tauentzien continued to fight a delaying action against the advancing French all the way to the heights above Vierzehnheiligen, although by this time much of his command had disintegrated.

After 1806 he was one of the few Prussian generals to remain with the army, some 141 were dismissed, and indeed was promoted to Generalleutnant. He quickly joined the process of reform and in 1813 became Military Governor of Weichsel and prosecuted the siege of Stettin. After the armistice he was given command of Prussian IV Corps. Predominantly Landwehr it was part of the Army of the North and its key task was to cover Berlin. In this role Tauentzien led it in the victories of Gross Beeren and Dennewitz and, after Leipzig, was given the task of reducing the fortresses of Wittenberg and Magdeburg. In 1815 he was assigned to command Prussian VI Corps, but the Hundred Days was over before he got onto French soil. He died as Commandant of Berlin in 1824.


So what to make of this character and how to play him? Well, he sort of struck me as a rather stubborn and bloodyminded fellow, steeped in the Prussian military tradition. The incident with Thullman I found particularly illuminating, clearly the approach of ‘the French might kill you if you stay, I will certainly kill you if you try and leave’ worked. Thullman did not call his bluff. I am not sure I bought the ‘constricting Lannes’ argument. He did not come across as cerebral enough (unlike Yorck, for example) and I saw him as more of a fighting soldier rather than a thinker.

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