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Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars  1793-1815

Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815: Zieten, Hans Joachim von

Zieten, Hans Joachim von

Prussian General of Cavalry.

Born on May 24 1699 in Wustrau near Ruppin in Brandenburg, the son of a landowner; died January 27, 1786, in Berlin.  In 1715, Zieten began his military career as a volunteer in the infantry regiment von Schwendy Nr 24. He served for ten years without promotion and thought that his height (1,6m) was working against him, so he resigned in 1724. In 1726, he obtained a commission as a lieutenant in the Prussian dragoon regiment von Wuthenau Nr 6, but soon fell out with his squadron-commander, whom he challenged to a duel. For this, Zieten was sentenced to fortress imprisonment for one year. As soon as he was released, he promptly challenged his superior officer to another duel and was as promptly cashiered.

In 1730, Zieten tried his military luck again and managed to be reinstated as an officer in the newly formed hussar regiment von Beneckendorff Nr 2. His talents as a light cavalry officer soon shone through. In 1735, during the War of the Polish Succession, he served as EskChef under the Austrian General von Baronay (?) on the Rhine, against France. This gave him the opportunity to learn light cavalry work from the only army who really mastered it during this period.

In 1736, he was promoted to Maj. In 1741, Zieten was promoted Obstlt at the outbreak of the 1st Silesian War. On 17 May he met his old mentor-turned enemy von Baronay, in a clash near the castel of Roth, near Mollwitz (now Malojuwice, southwest of Brieg (now Brzeg) in Poland. Zieten charged 1,400 Austrian cavalrymen at the head of 600 hussars, broke and scattered them. Some days later, Baronay (?) sent him a complimentary letter. General von Winterfeld, who commanded at Roth, reported well upon Zieten's conduct and for this action he was awarded the PLM. In that same year, he was promoted to Obst and became Chef of his HusR Nr 2. In February 1742, Zieten led a reconnaissance through Moravia and up to within 4 km of Vienna, bringing back considerable booty and intelligence. During the retreat to Silesia in that year, Zieten and his regiment were part of the rearguard. In the short peace between the 1st and 2nd Silesian Wars, Prussian light cavalry regiments were tactically re-trained, to become recognized as the best in Europe, combining discipline with dash, daring and elan. In 1744, at the outbreak of the Second Silesian War, Zieten was promoted to GM (?). Soon after, he fought the brilliant action of Moldaustein (?).

In 1745, Zieten, at the head of 500 hussars, led the now legendary Zietenritt, a 22-hours long ride behind enemy lines with the object of delivering the king's order to General Markgraf von Schwedt at Jägerndorf (?) in Upper-Silesia. Falling in behind a regiment of Austrian dragoons on the way, Zieten pretended to be an Austrian unit. By the time that the truth was discovered, they were able to slip away to the Prussian force in Jägerndorf, losing only very light casualties. Following the orders brought in by von Zieten, von Schwedt`s force was able to join the king in time for the victorious battle of Hohenfriedberg (now Dobromierz) on 4 June 1745. Zieten distinguish himself in this action, at Striegau, on the eastern flank of the field. He was again distinguished at the clash of Katholisch-Hennersdorf (now Hennikow-Lubanski in SW Poland), on 23 November 1745.   

Following the end of the war, Frederick the Great tasked von Zieten and von Winterfeld with training the hussar regiments to be capable of being used as battlefield cavalry, fighting in close order. In August 1756, von Zieten was promoted to GL. Next year, he played vital roles during the battles of Reichenberg and Prague. On June 18 at Kolin, Zieten led the left wing of cavalry; in this disastrous Prussian defeat, his wing was the only part of the army to hold its own. On 5 December at Leuthen (now Lutyinia, west of Breslau (Wroclau), in southwest Poland. Zieten's cavalry opened the action and ended the battle with its decisive charges on the Austrians`open flank. At the battle of Liegnitz (now Legnica, west of Breslau (Wroclau)  in Poland) on 15 August 1760, Zieten contained the main body of the Austrian army. On 3 November, at the battle of Torgau, he committed perhaps the only tactical error of his career, when he misdirected a frontal assault on the Austrian positions. He redeemed himself later that same day by his dashing charge on the Siptitz heights, which turned the action in Prussia`s favour. In 1763, after the peace of Hubertusburg ended the Seven Years War, Zieten went into retirement in Wustrau, outside Berlin. His health did not allow him to assume active service during the campaign of 1778; he died in 1786.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2013


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