Siege of Danzig, 24 January-29 November 1813

The second siege of Danzig (24 January-29 November 1813) saw General Rapp defend the city against the Russians for most of 1813, but without any genuine hope of being rescued (War of Liberation).

General Rapp had been made governor of Danzig in 1807, after it had been taken from Prussia and officially made into a free city. He joined the main army for the campaign of 1809 against Austria, and performed well at Aspern-Essling, before returning to his post. In 1812 he remained at Danzig at first, but joined the Grande Armée at Smolensk, and was wounded at Borodino. During the retreat he was almost captured by Cossacks, and fought with Ney in the rearguard. At the end of the retreat he returned to Danzig and prepared to defend the city.

During the brief period in which Marshal Murat commanded the retreating army he was forced to abandon any attempt to hold the line of the Vistula. Rapp was given 30,000 men to defend Danzig, made up of the survivors from Marshal Macdonald's corps, formed into a mixed division, and a 'division de marche' under General Heudelet that had been advancing east across East Prussia to join the army.

Communications between Danzig and the main French armies, by then under Prince Eugène de Beauharnais, were cut on 14 January, and the place was blockaded from 21 January. At first most of the blockading troops were Cossacks.

On 29 January Rapp sent out a reconnaissance force under General Grandjean to scout out the Allied forces at Striesen. Grandjean's attack, carried out by four battalions, one platoon of cavalry and two guns was fairly successful. A second sortie on 4 February, this time by four battalions of Neapolitan infantry commanded by General d'Estrées, was repulsed by Cossacks after leaving Langefurth, and a force sent out from Stolzenberg lost 22 officers and 243 men without achieving anything. A third sortie, on 6 February, did capture Stolzenberg.

On 5 February the besiegers were reinforced by six infantry regiments and two Cossack regiments. The Russians used these troops to attack the outlying posts at Langenfurth, Stolzenberg, Schidlitz and Ohra. The attack on Langenfurth was repulsed by four infantry battalions, but they made some progress at Stolzenberg and Ohra. General d'Estrées' Neapolitans managed to stop their advance, and General Bachelu hit them in the flanks. Rapp then sent four battalions, 150 cavalry and a light artillery battery, under General Bachelu, to attack the Russians at Ohra and forced them to retreat. The Russians lost 1,500 men killed and wounded in this attack, the French 200 men killed and 500 wounded.

When the Russians moved west from Prussia they left 36,000 men and 313 guns to watch Thorn, Danzig and Kustrin.

On 24 March Rapp launched a sortie to gather supplies. Bachelu forced the Russians out of Matschkau and Borgfeld, while Gault captured St. Albrecht where he found a Russian hospital.

In the last two weeks of March an epidemic broke out in the city. At its worst 200 men were dying each day, and it didn't die out until mid April. Amongst the dead was General Gault, who died on 6 April.

Despite the epidemic Rapp ordered another sortie on 15 April. This time two Polish battalions forced the Russians out of the village of Brentau.

On 27 April Rapp sent an expedition into the Nehrung Peninsula to try and find supplies. General Bachelu, with 1,200 of the best troops, led the way, and captured the village of Neubude. The attack was supported by a Polish light artillery battery and a French foot artillery battery. A second force of infantry also followed close behind, to clear out some woods on the peninsula. These two forces emerged around Heubude at about the same time and forced the Russians back to Bohnsack. There they attempted to make a stand with 2,600 infantry and 900 cavalry, but the French forced them to retreat in disorder. The French captured Tasevalck, eight miles outside Danzig, and were able to seize a significant amount of supplies. The French occupied this area for four days and captured 900 cattle, straw, hay and oats.  

In May the besiegers received reinforcements which made up for their losses, and brought their strength up to 30,000.

Under the terms of the Armistice of Pleischwitz (2 June 1813), which ended the Spring campaign of 1813, Danzig remained under siege, but the Allies agreed to provide supplies to the garrison every five days.

This news took some time to reach Danzig. On 9 June Rapp carried out a large scale sortie, once again to gather supplies. This involved Grandjean, Devilliers, Heudelet and d'Estrée's divisions. Fighting began at about noon, with an unsuccessful Russian attack on the French. After a second failed attack the Russians had to retreat from their camp at Pitzkendorf, allowing the French to capture a large amount of green rye. The French didn't retreat back into Danzig until 7pm.

News of the Armistice reached Danzig on 10 June, carried by an aide-de-camp from General Drouot. Rapp and the Duke of Württemberg, then commanding the besieging forces, appointed commissioners and agreed on how the supplies would be delivered.

During the armistice the Prussians had 8,000 men around Danzig (10 battalions, 6 squadrons, 8 guns) and the Russians had 29,100 (58 infantry battalions, 12 cavalry squadrons and 11 guns).

On 6 August Würtemberg announced that the armistice would end on 24 August. Rapp used the next eighteen days to improve the fortifications, work that wouldn't have been allowed during the Armistice.

On 28 August the Allies attempted to capture Ohra, but were repulsed after a bayonet fight.

On 29 August four Russian infantry battalions and a regiment of Cossacks, organised into two columns, attacked the Langenfurth gate. This attack also failed, and the attackers were then pushed back off their new position on the heights above Langenfurth. The French captured this position, but were then forced to abandon it. Rapp lead a counterattack on this front, but at the same time the Allies attacked elsewhere. This triggered a serious fight at Ohra, but the French position was restored by General Husson.

Until October the Allies hadn't been strong enough to conduct a regular siege, but reinforcements then arrived. The loose blockade was replaced by a regular siege. By 8 October the Allies had their siege batteries in place, and a bombardment began. Amongst the weapons in use was a battery of Congreve Rockets, of which ten managed to land in the inner city.

The Allies main target at this stage was the suburb of Schottenhause, defended by three redoubts. After several unsuccessful attacks, the Allies managed to capture the redoubts. On 17 October new gun positions were ready, and the Allies began to fire into the city itself. This bombardment continued to 20 October, and set fire to a large part of the city, although the French food stores were saved.

On 20 October a large number of the unfortunate inhabitants of Danzig pleaded with General Rapp to allow them to make an appeal to the Duke of Würtemberg, presumably to stop the bombardment. Rapp refused to allow this, but did allow the Senate of Danzig to ask the Duke to let anyone who wanted to leave the city. Unsurprisingly Würtemberg wasn't going to agree to anything that made Rapp's job easier.

On the night of 1-2 November fires broke out in the centre of the city, destroying the cloths stores, several barracks and hospitals, and most crucially a large part of the food supply.

On 5 November a small force created by Captain Chambure carried out a night attack on the village of Bohnsack, in something that rather resembled a later commando attack.

On 3 November the Allies finally began work on the first parallel of regular siege works. These works were soon completed, and the exterior works were soon captured by the Allies.

After Napoleon retreated from Germany in the aftermath of his defeat at Leipzig (16-19 October 1813), it was clear that there was no point of continuing. Supplies were running out, many of Rapp's men had died of disease, and there was no chance of rescue. On 29 November 1813 Rapp and his men surrendered on terms, and went into captivity around Kiev. They remained there until Napoleon's first abdication in the spring of 1814, when the survivors were allowed to go home.

The fate of the garrison of Danzig played a part in Napoleon's plans during the Spring Campaign of 1813. After Murat left the army, Prince Eugène de Beauharnais was given the task of defending Warsaw and Posen, and lifting the siege of Danzig. None of these tasks were at all realistic, and he was soon forced to retreat much further west (eventually ending up behind the Elbe and the Saale in central Germany).

At the start of the Spring Campaign Napoleon's original plan was for a sweeping advance across the Elbe, to Berlin and then on to Danzig. He expected that this move would throw the Russian and Prussian advance into chaos, and force them to retreat, but in the end he decided that his new army wasn't strong enough to risk the move, and Danzig was left to fend for itself. 

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (2 February 2017), Siege of Danzig, 24 January-29 November 1813 ,

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