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BATTLE OF ZORNDORF (1758): Карта положение медь между Город б. ландсберхомъ. [Map of the position between the city of Landsberg…]


An exquisitely rendered Russian manuscript map of the Battle of Zorndorf (August 25, 1758), a critical showdown of the Seven Years’ War, and one of the most ferocious altercations of the entire conflict, during which Frederick the Great’s forces narrowly prevented the Russians from marching upon Berlin; in beautiful bright hues of watercolour and wash, and with all text in cursive Russian Cyrillic, the map depicts the crucial Landsberg-Küstrin corridor, noting major bastions and the Prussian and Russian battle lines, with a key labelling 19 sites; it was made by Russian military engineers/draftsmen to serve as an official memorial of the battle, one of only very few surviving original maps to portray the contest from the Russian perspective.


Manuscript, pen and ink and watercolour and wash on fine laid paper bearing a watermark of fleur-de-lys within a shield surmounted by a crown (Excellent condition, clean and bright, with lovely colours), 37 x 53 cm.


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While the Seven Years’ War (1756 – 1763) immortalized Frederick the Great as one of history’s greatest military leaders and battle tacticians, the lengthy conflict produced many potentially cataclysmic ‘close calls’ for Prussia.  Prussia had the unenviable task of fighting a war on two fronts; on the Western Front it had to battle France, while on the Eastern Front it faced Austria and Russia.


In January 1758, Frederick mounted an (ultimately unsuccessful) invasion of Austrian Moravia, which distracted him from the Russian threat.


Sensing an opportunity, Empress Elizabeth ordered an invasion of Prussia.  This was spearheaded by a massive army of 70,000 men under Count Villim Vilimovich Fermor (1704 – 1771), which effortlessly swept into East Prussia, which had been left only very lightly defended.  Violating Poland’s neutrality, the Russian army advanced westwards, while Frederick paid little heed, concentrating upon Moravia, as he believed that he could knock Austria out of the war altogether (this proved to be a severe miscalculation).


At the beginning of July, Fermor, using Posen (Poznań) as a base, descended the Warta River, invading Brandenburg-Neumark (eastern Brandenburg), whereupon the small Prussian forces in the region retreated in their advance.  In early August 1785, the Russians made Landsberg an der Warthe (today Powiat Gorzowski, Poland) their forward base.


The Russians were now uncomfortably close (only about 30 km away) from Küstrin

(Kostrzyn nad Odrą), on the Oder, the fortified town that was the gateway to the Prussian heartland.  It was at this pout that Frederick became startlingly aware of the existential threat the Russians posed to his kingdom.  He proceeded to Neumark to lead his army in what was to be a critical showdown.


At the Battle of Zorndorf (August 25, 1758), Frederick’y army of 36,000 men met Fermor’s 43,000 troops near the village of Zorndorf (Sarbinowo, Poland), which was only a few kms from the Oder River.  Stakes were high, especially for Frederick, as Berlin lay only 100 km away; if his lines were to brake, the Prussian capital would be in grave danger.


The battle was described as one of the most vicious and bloody of the entire war.  The event is famous for Frederick rallying his troops by grabbing the Prussian standard and racing right to the front of the battle lines.  While Frederick’s men initially had success in breaking the weaker Russian right flank, which was composed of poorly trained conscripts, they were unable to made headway against the Russian right flank, experienced spirited resistance.   Eventually, both sides ran low on gunpowder, resorting to brutal hand-to-hand combat.  It was not long before both sides became totally exhausted and withdrew from the engagement. The Russians had lost 16,000 men, while the Prussians had suffered 13,000 casualties – shocking by any metric.

In the aftermath, a Prussian officer grimly observed that the “bodies of Russians covered the field row by row; they kissed their cannons while their bodies were cut to pieces by our sabres, but still they would not retreat”.  Frederick notably recalled that “it’s easier to kill the Russians than to win over them”.


While the Battle of Zorndorf was technically considered to be a draw, it was a strategic Prussian victory, as the Russians were so badly mauled that they were compelled to retreat eastwards into Neumark, abandoning any hope of marching on Berlin (at least for the foreseeable future).  While the Prussian force had likewise suffered terribly, their supply lines remained intact, and they were relieved to have escaped a total disaster.  Moreover, Frederick the Great learned valuable lessons that would make him a stronger commander going forward.


However, the Russians would return to briefly take Berlin in 1760, before almost inexplicably relinquishing the city.  They would continue to occupy East Prussia until 1762.


The Present Manuscript Map in Focus


While numerous Prussian maps of the Russian invasion of Brandenburg of 1758 and the Battle of Zorndorf survive in various archives, very few Russian maps from the same campaign are known.  While the Russians employed highly skilled mapmakers, their engineering-drafting corps was nowhere near as large as that of the Prussians, such that they made far fewer maps.  Moreover, the internal turmoil within Russia in the succeeding generation ensured that only a handful of such maps survive.


Present map is an exquisitely drafted Russian manuscript map of the Warta-Oder corridor where most of the action of the Russian invasion of Brandenburg occurred, with an emphasis upon the action of the Battle of Zorndorf itself.  Employing attractive hues of watercolour and wash, with text entirely in cursive Russian Cyrillic, the map adheres to the highest standards of European contemporary military draftsmanship.  It carefully outlines the defensive works enveloping the key towns, the delineation of roads, the locations of villages and hamlets, and contours of the rivers and swamps, while elevation is expressed by hachures, and forested lands are shown pictorially.

The fortified town of Landsberg (Powiat Gorzowski) appears in the upper right, with the Warta flowing down towards the southwest, where Küstrin (Kostrzyn nad Odrą) is located at its confluence with the Oder, which flows northwards.


Further details on the map, especially the military action, are explained in the legend, lower right, which employs a lettered key locating 19 sites.  The lines of the combatants as they stood in the immediate advance of the Battle of Zorndorf are shown, with the Russian lines coloured in Green and Pink, while the Prussian lines are coloured in light blue.


The map shows the arrangement of the Russians (placed to the north) and Prussian forces (placed to the south) at the Battle of Zorndorf, located just northeast of Küstrin, by the eponymous village.  Meanwhile, further Russian detachments are shown to the east of Küstrin, with a Prussian-Russian standoff occurring just up the Warta, while further east, they control the river up to Landsberg.


The map shows that the Prussians occupied a highly vulnerable position, as if their lines were to be broken at Zorndorf, Berlin would be a sitting duck for the Russians.  The battle was thus hugely consequential to the course of the Seven Years’ War and the epic of Frederick the Great, who won great acclaim for his bravery in leading his men on the front lines. 


The map was clearly made by Russian army engineers-draftsmen to serve as record, or memorial, of the battle, as opposed to being a strategic aid, even though its depiction of the topography and was sufficiently detailed to inform operational planning.


References: N/A – Map seemingly unrecorded.

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