The siege of the Dybbøl stronghold
In 1862-63 the Danish engineering troops constructed 10
redoubts at Dybbøl west of the city Sønderborg, in a semicircle
from Vemmingbund to Als Sund.
The redoubts were, because of savings, with heavy wooden houses as shelter
for the crew, instead og concrete buildings.
Only the ammunition magazines were built of concrete. Later this would
cost a lot of lives.
On February 7´th 1864 arrived the Danish army after having been withdrawn
from Dannevirke. This to prevent the allied
Prussian-Austrian army encircle and destroy the army.
After an exhausting march and a bloody battle fought rearguard, reached
20,000 men, 500 cavalrymen, 80 field guns and
1,100 fortress artillerymen the Dybbøl redoubts.
enemy forces were just as exhausted as the Danes, and followed slowly
after. However the Prussian avantgarde arrived
at Dybbøl already February 8´th. Slowly the Prussians were
The withdrawal from Dannevirke was considered a castastrophy in the
public, and General de Meza´s military reasons were
ignored by the politicians in Copenhagen who still rode on the mood of
The Meza was removed as commanding general and replaced with General
At aproximately February 20´th the Prussians had 20,000 men, 1,200
cavalry and 88 guns in front of the stronghold of
Dybbøl. The Prussians established their artillery with the most dangerous
batteries at Broager on the other side of the fjord
Vemmingbund. From there, they were able to maintain a bombardement of
the Danish redoubts (specially the redoubts I
and II) on the Danish left flank. Due to elder guns, the Danish artillery
was not able to reach the Prusssian batteries.
Meanwhile the Danes were preparing to defend the stronghold and the
redoubts and took position in the terrain in front of
February 17´th the Prussian attack began, and during the following week, a
tough battle in the outpost terrain forced the
Danes to slowly retreat to the redoubts by the Prussian superior strength.
March 17th a Danish counterattack against the little town Ragebøl was
repulsed, and the army was now forced back to
the redoubts and behind the palisades and moats.
Now the siege of Dybbøl stronghold began.
The Prussians had collected 126 guns and mortars, and now they started
heavyest bombardment in the history of war. For weeks, thousands of
artillery shells rained down on the Danish positions,
and the Danish artillery was unable to
respond effectively. The Danish soldiers could only take cover in simple
watch while the Prussian artillery gradually pushed the stronghold to to
Meanwhile enemy engineer troops, covered by the
barrage, dug their trenches closer and closer to the redoubts.
To stay in the redoubts during a
prolonged artillery bombardment was a meaningless senseless slaughter
and would end
up destroying the Danish army, and the leading Danish officers were
therefore initially agreed that the position should be
But the Generals also knew, how much importance the government placed on
retaining a symbolic foothold in the
The British government had invited to a
peace conference in London that was to begin on April 12th. The Danish
Government, Bishop Monrad, was of the view that it could have great
political significance in the negotiations if the Danish
army still stood in Schleswig. Therefore he would not allow the army to
vacate Dybbøl. Conversely, the Prussian
Government and Otto von Bismarck, has no plans to begin peace negotiations
before Dybbøl was conquered.
The situation became increasingly
untenable. On april 9th, the new commanding general Gerlach
telegraphed to the war
departtment, giving them two alternatives.
Would they keep the Dybbøl stronghold or prefer having a combative army ?
The response from Secretary of War
Lundbye was clear enough: The post would be kept "to the utmost."
Everyone in the
officers corps knew that the Prussians would soon attack, and that it
would be a pure killing field.
General Gerlach telegraphed back to Copenhagen -
this time on behalf of all the commanders. Now Dybbøl should be
vacated, everything else were indefensible.
The Secretary of war Lundbye wavered. He dared not take this
responsibility, but Monrad did. He insisted that it was crucial
the army remained in the Dybbøl position and beat the attack back.
Prussian battery at Broager
this bombardement guns and fortifications were destoyed and soldiers by
the hundreds were killed or wounded.
The wooden houses that were made to protect the
soldiers, were easily pierced by
the 12 and 15 cm shells.
In one case
a grenade penetrated a wooden house, exploded on the
inside and killed
42 Danish soldiers.
In the daytime, the
soldiers sought cover in their shelters and tried
to get some rest, while at evening they desperately
repair the damage caused by today's bombardment.
The Danish force dwindled day by day, but
the spirit was still
high given the hardships the Danish soldiers were
March 28th the Prussians
tried to atack the redoubts.
The attack was rejected by the Danes
using both the Army and
(the armoured naval
battery Rolf Krake).
2th an 3th The city Sønderborg was shelled, and many buildingscaught
fire. The center of the city was destroyed
and many civilians were killed.
The destroyed center of
The townhall of Sønderborg.
April 7th the decisive artillery battle began, in which the
stronghold was shelled for the final attack.
lasted untill April 18th, when the Prussians in four hours shot 7900
shells at the redoubts.
They were now reduced to gravel
and grasspiles and a few functioning
While the Prussian
cannons thundered against the redoubts, the Prussian infantry were
digging themselves ever closer to
the Danish positions. A minor attack were rejected by the
Danes om April 5th but on April 18th the Prussian
ready for the final attack.