Defeat of the German Troops at Sundewitt

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 2 June 1848


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 7, p. 34;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 3, June 3, 1848.
Collection(s): Neue Rheinische Zeitung
Keywords : Germany, Denmark, War

In this article Engels describes one of the episodes in the war between Germany and Denmark over Schleswig and Holstein.

By the decision of the Congress of Vienna (1815) the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein were incorporated into the Kingdom of Denmark in spite of the fact that Germans constituted the majority of the population in Holstein and in Southern Schleswig. Under the impact of the March revolution, the national liberation movement of the German population grew in strength and assumed a radical and democratic nature, becoming part of the struggle for the unification of Germany. Volunteers from all over the country rushed to the aid of the local population when it rose up against Danish rule arms in hand. Prussia, Hanover and other states of the German Confederation sent to the duchies federal troops, under the command of the Prussian General Wrangel, who entered Jutland on May 2. The Prussian Government, however, declined to take a firm stand on the Schleswig-Holstein issue, for it feared a popular outbreak and an intensification of the revolution. The liberal majority of the Frankfurt National Assembly also cherished secret hopes of an agreement with the Danish ruling circles, at the expense of national unity. Things were complicated by the intervention of Britain, Sweden and Russia in favour of Denmark, and their demand that federal troops be withdrawn from the duchies. (In this connection, Engels alludes to the Note of May 8, 1848, which Chancellor Nesselrode handed in to the Berlin Cabinet and in which this demand was accompanied by the threat of a break between Russia and Prussia.)

All these circumstances had a negative effect on the military operations against Denmark undertaken by the German federal troops and volunteer detachments.

The report on the defeat of the German federal troops appeared on May 30, 1848, in No. 11179 of the Börsen-Halle, and was then reprinted in most of the German papers. In English it appeared on June 3 in The Times No. 19880.

Schleswig. So the German troops have once again been beaten, once again the German-Prussian policy has suffered a brilliant defeat! This is the outcome of all those solemn promises of a strong, united Germany! — The time that could have been used to press home the initial victory they let slip by in useless negotiations which the enemy only entered into under duress in order to gain time for renewed resistance. And when Russia declared that she would intervene if Jutland were not evacuated, they still failed to recognise what lay behind the offer of an armistice, they lacked the courage to accept the impending conflict, the long-awaited and unavoidable conflict with Russia. Indeed, the proponents of a policy of force were at a loss, they gave in like cowards and during the retreat the “brave” guards were defeated by the “little” Danes! If this is not a case of open treason, then it is a manifestation of such immense incompetence that in any case the management of the whole affair must be placed in other hands. Will the National Assembly in Frankfurt at last feel compelled to do what it should have done long since, that is take over foreign policy itself? Or will it here too — “in the trust that governments perform what are the duties of their office” — proceed to the order of the day?

There follows the report of the Danish attack at Sundewitt, taken from the Schleswig-Holsteiner Zeitung.

Rendsburg, May 29. Yesterday (Sunday, the 28th) was assigned to the relief of confederate troops on outpost duty outside Alsen. This information must have reached the Danes, who are generally well served by their spies in that region. Considerably reinforced by troops that in the last few days had once more been brought over from Fünen to Alsen, they carried out a landing on this side of the river the full significance of which the Germans do not seem to have grasped, since their attention was taken up with the coming on and off guard of their own troops. Soon after the stationing of the new pickets the Germans suddenly found themselves under heavy attack beneath the Düppel Heights from a greatly superior force of Danish infantry and artillery, while at the same time the appearance of a number of ships and gunboats west of Erkensund (near Alnver and Treppe) gave the impression that a landing was also to be carried out there. Clearly this was an attempt by the Danes to split the German forces, but they achieved only a slight measure of success. On the Düppel Heights a fierce battle ensued in which both sides suffered heavy casualties, some of them fatal, as a result of cannon-fire (it is not yet possible to give figures). The Danes fought famously. Their numbers are put at 8,000 men, who took up battle-stations under cover of the deck-guns and flanked by cannon on land, while our men can scarcely have numbered 7,000. It was several hours before the battle was decided, when at last, around 7 o'clock in the evening, the German troops were forced to begin the retreat via Gravenstein northwards to Quars, while the Danes got to within an hour’s march of Gravenstein, where our rearguard had stopped.