Monday, June 27, 2011

Gideon Ernst von Laudon (1717-1790), one of the most successful commanders of the 18th century

Portrait Ernst Gideon Freiherr von Laudon in 1780

Baron Ernst Gideon von Laudon, mezzotint engraving by Kieninger

Ernst Gideon von Laudon at Kunersdorf

Ernst Gideon von Laudon, Austrian general. Marble bust, Heeresgeschichtliches Museum Wien

Cenotaph of Austrian field marshal Ernst Gideon von Laudon (1791) in Hadersdorf, Vienna

Baron Ernst Gideon von Laudon (German: Ernst Gideon Freiherr von Laudon (originally Laudohn or Loudon) (February 2, 1717 in Tootzen, now Latvia – July 14, 1790 in Nový Jičín, now Czech Republic) was an Austrian field marshal, one of the most successful commanders of the 18th century, allegedly lauded by Suvorov as his teacher. He served the position of military governorship of the Kingdom of Serbia from his capture of Belgrade in 1789 until his death, cooperating with the resistance fighters of Koča Anđelković.

Family of Laudohn, of mixed German, Latgallian and Scottish origin, had been settled in estate of Tootzen, near Ļaudona in Eastern Latvia, before 1432. His father Otto Gerhard von Laudohn was a lieutenant-colonel, retired on a meagre pension from the Swedish service, and the boy was sent in 1732 into the Russian army as a cadet. He took part in Field Marshal Munnich's siege of Gdańsk in 1734, in the march of a Russian corps to the Rhine in 1735 and in the Turkish campaign.

Dissatisfied with his prospects he resigned in 1741 and sought military employment elsewhere. He applied first to Frederick the Great, who declined his services. At Vienna he had better fortune, being made a captain in Trenck's free corps. He took part in its forays and marches, though not in its atrocities, until wounded and taken prisoner in Alsace. He was shortly released by the advance of the main Austrian army.

His next active service, still under Trenck, was in the Silesian mountains in 1745, in which campaign he greatly distinguished himself as a leader of light troops. He was present also at Soor. He retired shortly afterwards, owing to his distaste for the lawless habits of his comrades in the irregulars, and after long waiting in poverty for a regular commission he was at last made a captain in one of the frontier regiments, spending the next ten years in half-military, half-administrative work in the Karlovac district. At Bunić, where he was stationed, he built a church and planted an oak forest now called by his name. He had reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel when the outbreak of the Seven Years' War called him again into the field. From this point began his fame as a soldier. Soon promoted colonel, he distinguished himself repeatedly and was in 1757 made a Generalfeldwachtmeister (major-general of cavalry) and a knight of the newly founded Maria Theresia Order.

In the campaign of 1758 came his first opportunity for fighting an action as a commander-in-chief, and he used it so well that Frederick the Great was obliged to give up the siege of Olomouc and retire into Bohemia (Battle of Domašov, June 30). He was rewarded with the grade of lieutenant-field-marshal and having again shown himself an active and daring commander in the campaign of Hochkirch, he was created a Freiherr in the Austrian nobility by Maria Theresa and in the peerage of the Holy Roman Empire by her husband the emperor Francis. Maria Theresa gave him, further, the grand cross of the order she had founded and an estate near Kutná Hora in Bohemia.

He was placed in command of the Austrian contingent sent to join the Russians on the Oder, and participated in Kunersdorf under Pyotr Saltykov where a joint Russo-Austrian contingent won a great victory. As a result Laudon was promoted Feldzeugmeister and made commander-in-chief in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. In 1760 he destroyed a whole corps of Frederick's army under Fouqué at Landshut and stormed the important fortress of Glatz. In 1760 he sustained a reverse at Frederick's hands in the battle of Liegnitz (August 15, 1760), which action led to bitter controversy with Daun and Lacy, the commanders of the main army, who, Laudon claimed, had left his corps unsupported. In 1761 he operated, as usual, in Silesia, but he found his Russian allies as timid as they had been after Kunersdorf, and all attempts against Frederick's entrenched camp of Bunzelwitz failed. He brilliantly seized his one fleeting opportunity, however, and stormed Schweidnitz on the night of September 30/October 1, 1761. His tireless activity continued to the end of the war, in conspicuous contrast with the temporizing strategy of Daun and Lacy. The student of the later campaigns of the Seven Years' War will probably admit that there was need of more aggressiveness than Daun displayed, and of more caution than suited Laudon's genius. But neither recognized this, and the last three years of the war are marked by an ever-increasing friction between the "Fabius" and the "Marcellus," as they were called, of the Austrian army.

After the peace, therefore, when Daun became the virtual commander-in-chief of the army, Laudon fell into the background. Offers were made, by Frederick the Great amongst others, to induce Laudon to transfer his services elsewhere. Laudon did not entertain these proposals, although negotiations went on for some years, and on Lacy succeeding Daun as president of the council of war Laudon was made inspector-general of infantry. Dissensions, however, continued between Laudon and Lacy, and on the accession of Joseph II, who was intimate with his rival, Laudon retired to his estate near Kutná Hora.

Maria Theresa and Kaunitz caused him, however, to be made commander-in-chief in Bohemia and Moravia in 1769. This post he held for three years, and at the end of this time, contemplating retirement from the service, he settled again on his estate. Maria Theresa once more persuaded him to remain in the army, and, as his estate had diminished in value owing to agrarian troubles in Bohemia, she repurchased it from him, in 1776, on generous terms. Laudon then settled at Hadersdorf near Vienna, and shortly afterwards was made a field-marshal. Of this Carlyle (Frederick the Great) records that when Frederick the Great met Laudon in 1776 he deliberately addressed him in the emperor's presence as "Herr Feldmarschall", but the hint was not taken until February 1778.

In 1778 came the War of the Bavarian Succession. Joseph and Lacy were now reconciled to Laudon and Laudon and Lacy commanded the two armies in the field. On this occasion, however, Laudon seems to have in a measure fallen below his reputation, while Lacy, who was opposed to Frederick's own army, earned new laurels.

For two years after this Laudon lived quietly at Hadersdorf. A new war, with Turkey, broke out in 1787 (see Austro-Turkish War (1787-1791) The generals charged with prosecuting this war did badly, and Laudon was thus called for the last time into the field. Though old and broken in health, he was commander-in-chief in fact as well as in name, and in 1789 he won a last brilliant success by capturing Belgrade in three weeks.

He died within the year, at Nový Jičín (Neu-Titschein) in Moravia, still on duty. His last appointment was that of commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Austria, which had been created for him by the new emperor Leopold. Laudon was buried in the grounds of Hadersdorf. Eight years before his death the emperor Joseph had caused a marble bust of this great soldier to be placed in the chamber of the council of war.

His son Johann Ludwig Alexius Freiherr von Laudon (1762–1822) fought in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars with credit, and rose to the rank of lieutenant-field-marshal.

The first battleship of the Ersatz Monarch class of the Austro-Hungarian Navy (officially known as Schiff VIII) was to be named Laudon. The ship was never completed due to the outbreak of World War One which interrupted all major warship construction in Austria-Hungary.
The phrase fix Laudon is a light curse sometimes used in Austria. It is said that it was first uttered by Maria Theresa upon her hearing of the loss of Silesia to Frederick the Great.

Regarding personal names: Freiherr is a title, translated as Baron, not a first or middle name. The female forms are Freifrau and Freiin.

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