June 10, 1807


Four days before the decisive battle of Friedland, the Russian and French armies clashed around the East Prussian town of Heilsberg.

An initial push by Russia's General Bennigsen was forced back by Napoleon Bonaparte and so 90,000 Russians withdrew into strong defensive positions within the town.

Marshal Murat was the first French commander on the scene and he launched his cavalry at the outlying Russian positions in the village of Launau. Murat's attacks were successful, but his pursuit was halted at Bevernick by perfectly sited artillery.

These guns pinned the cavalry down and it wasn't until Marshal Soult's infantry and cannons arrived that the Duke of Berg was able to extricate himself. A mistake by the flambouyant Murat led to his horsemen being routed by huge numbers of Russian cavalry and only the intervention by General Anne Jean Marie Savary with artillery and infantry saved him.

The attack by the Russian cavalry had, however, opened up their army's right flank and Soult was quick to try to take advantage of the error.

Unfortunately, for the French, the Russians quickly recovered and massed artillery batteries plugged the hole.

The battle for Heilsberg then turned into a bloody attritional fight in which the French refused to withdraw despite the increasing evidence the Russians were too well positioned in redoubts and defensive lines along the River Alle.

A night attack by a too-eager Marshal Lannes also proved a costly failure with almost 2300 men falling as casualties.

The next day there was an unofficial truce in which both armies recovered their wounded and tried to bury the dead.

After that a Russian bombardment began, but with strong French forces finally manouevring around him Bennigsen withdrew his forces towards Friedland.

Napoleon had received a bloody check and lost some 11,000 casualites, while the Russians around 8000. Friedland, however, would be a different story.



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