Was all the military success due to Fredrick II's strategic ability or was it due to his commanders During his reign 1740-1786

  • Is this an objective question or an opinion related question?
    – MCW
    Jun 4, 2016 at 20:08
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    @MarkC.Wallace: I doubt we will see this OP again - Appeared once; asked a single question; and has not been seen or heard anywhere on SE since. Jun 4, 2016 at 22:48
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    True; it is an opportunity to experiment with ways to ask for improvements while being less rude. Exploring the zone between a closeable question and an improvable question.
    – MCW
    Jun 5, 2016 at 1:03

4 Answers 4


Frederick was at least as capable a battlefield commander as Napoleon, who was himself probably only the sixth best French battlefield commander of his generation, after Davout, Desaix, Lannes, Massena, and Soult.

Aside: Napoleon never truly mastered the battlefield use of any arm besides artillery, and in battles personally directed by himself over relied upon it. It is impossible to imagine Napoleon personally winning a battle such as Auerstadt, and the tactical abilities of Soult and Davout stand out as the cornerstone of Austerlitz. Contrast this with his overwhelming mastery of Grand Tactics, exemplified by his nearly bloodless destruction of an Austrian army at Ulm.

However there is far more to being a great commander than simple battlefield prowess. Frederick and Napoleon were both exceptional at recognizing and promoting talent; and at commanding the loyalty of subordinates. A commander simply cannot win battles without capable subordinates, and so the recognition and selection of those is vital for an officer at every level. The notion that a commander's abilities should be deprecated because of his subordinates' skill is backwards - the skill of one's subordinates should be recognized as a positive indicator of a commander's ability. One might argue that for an army commander battlefield skill might actually be a contra-indicator, - tempting him to interfere in the operations of more capable subordinates.

Frederick and Napoleon also both possessed an exceptional "*coup de l'oeil", or eye for terrain, and the "moral courage" to make difficult decisions, in a timely fashion, live with their consequences, and carry them to a successful conclusion. Berthier for one lacked the latter by 1809 and nearly lost the opening campaign of that year in consequence.

Additionally, both Frederick and Napoleon introduced significant changes to how the warfare of their generation was practiced: Frederick through his re-discovery of the oblique order of battle and introduction of the quick bayonet charge following a small number of opening salvos; and Napoleon through the Corps d'Armee and the staff system reporting to Berthier.

Note the important distinctions through the very intentional use of the terms "battlefield commander" and "battlefield use". While tactical skill and personal courage on the battlefield are vital characteristics of a junior or regimental officer, being a successful commander of large armies requires talent in many more areas, which I have only hinted at above.

Douglas MacArthur is twice (Bataan and Korea) ruined by his complete disdain for logistics, as exemplified by his personal disdain for Eisenhower (his emphasis): "The best clerk I ever had." Lee is ruined at Gettysburg by his lack of imagination and slavery to doctrine, becoming so predictable that Meade can reposition artillery overnight to Cemetery Ridge in complete confidence that the next day's assault will come there.


There were a few early battles where Frederick left the field before the end of the day but the remaining officers managed to pull off a victory despite that. Some anti-Frederick histories report more of these based of dubious sources.

But the drive that led to spectacular battlefield victories and costly defeats, and at times brought Prussia to the edge of ruin and back was all from Frederick the Great.

  • It is also worth noting that a sovereign with able subordinates has many more priorities than micro-managing the end-game of every battle; everything from planning the pursuit, subsequent over-night camp and (especially for an army built around its exceptional march speed) following days march, to correspondence with allies and management of the realm. Somehow these distractions are never brought up in discussions on Napoleon or Temujin, for example. Jun 4, 2016 at 18:18

Frederick the Great was well regarded by slightly later military leaders such as Napoleon, and also the writer von Clausewitz, who admired both Frederick and Napoleon (the latter said of Frederick, "Gentlemen, if this man were still alive I would not be here.")

Frederick was a personally brave commander who personally directed troops in battle and was known for the (in)famous line, "Churl, do you want to live forever?" While the battle of Rossbach, for instance, was won against numerical odds of 2 to 1 by a brilliant cavalry maneuver, Frederick personally directed the frontal "holding" attack that made the cavalry charge possible. Likewise at the battle of Leuthen, also fought against 2- to-1 odds, Frederick revived the oblique tactics first used by the Greek Thebans at Leuctra, against Sparta.


Napoleon apparently was quoted as saying after annihilating the Prussians at Austerlitz then taking Berlin "If Frederick the Great had been in charge this never would have happened."

Not an expert but Frederick the Great loved everything French and hated almost everything German...which his Army Commanders loved since there would be many dead Germans under their Command.

The Histories I have read ratehim at 4-4 in Wars but very good at diplomacy expanding the Prussian State tremendously in both wealth and prestige.

Would appear more than battlefield success is needed for "Greatness."

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    Perhaps a review of the 1805 campaign would be advised. Napoleon defeated the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz in December 1805, subsequent to taking Vienna. (Note Davout's forced march to the field from Vienna the night before the battle, to apply the coup de grace on the field.) Napoleon and Davout defeated the Prussians at Jena-Auerstadt in 1806, and then chased the defeated Prussians past Berlin. Jun 16, 2016 at 4:59

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