The Battle of the Snowmen

Wolfgang IX and his snowmen infantry as depicted before The Battle of the Snowman in 1358.

One of the places to visit on the Frozen Underground is the site of The Battle of the Snowmen. Take the Alpine Line to the newly completed station at Snowdorf, and the deserted plain where the battle took place is just a short walk away. Here is its story…

The Battle of the Snowmen was fought during the last phase of the Frozen Wars (1324–1359) between Austria and the Old Swiss Confederacy. It took place on January 17 and 18, 1358, on the plains near the village today called Pulverkirchen, 3 km west of Snowdorf in the British Alpine Principality of Stieglstein.

It pitted the Austrian snowman army, composed of the best icicle archers and snowball artillery in Europe and led by Wolfgang IX, the newly crowned Snow King, against the cunning Swiss forces, led by Heinrich “Scarfman” the Cold.

With Wolfgang IX were some German Eisbildhauer. These were bitter rivals of the Swiss, and their job was to create diversions during the battle.

Background

The battle followed years of Swiss successes, during which Austrian fortunes had suffered greatly. The Swiss had taken control of Vaduz (for them the gateway to Austria and further, the Himalayas) and it looked increasingly as though Innsbruck was to be the next target.

The prologue to the battle was a remarkable Alpine passage, in which Wolfgang hauled pieces of artillery (including 80 huge snow cannons) up the newly made pistes overlooking present-day Snowdorf.

Stieglstein Map
Location of the battle site up on the western plains of Stieglstein, and not too far from the Frozen Underground station of Snowdorf. Why not stop off at the brewery on the way back down – their ‘Snowman’s Finger’ Ale commemorates the battle and has been produced here since 1368.

Battle

The Swiss encountered Wolfgang’s forces, below the little village of Pulverkirchen on a featureless plain. As a treaty had been signed a few weeks before, the Austrians were not actually expecting a battle – Wolfgang was in his tent, trying on a new mittens, when scouts reported the coming of the Swiss.

The Austrian army were quickly rolled into action, forming up in three divisions: the vanguard, known affectionately as the “Roundheads”, posted slightly forward and on the right under Frederick “Carrot Nose” XXII, Earl of Lebkuchen; the central battle, commanded by the King, slightly trailing the right; and on the left and even further back, the “singing rearguard” commanded by Frosty the Snowman. Each division was a combined arms force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery.

Close to sunset, Heinrich’s forces approached the Austrians in three divisions of their own, each a dense mass of “broom” snowmen. They had no artillery or cavalry and had learned in past actions that a rapid advance into the enemy would sweep all before them.

The battle began with a “forlorn hope” detaching from the Swiss vanguard phalanx, and with lowered brooms charging the grand battery in front of the King’s position in the center. Their intent, justified by experience in other battles, was to quickly overrun the Austrian snow cannons and Glühwein hoses and then turn them upon their owners – the blighters! At temperatures of around 70 degrees the Glühwein is a formidable weapon, and deadly to snowmen, so this was a serious danger.

As it happened, Frosty’s cavalry from the right counter-attacked their flank, driving the forlorn hope back to the shelter of the Swiss vanguard.

Smoke and the coming of night obscured the battle; in the moonlight and confusion, the outcome hung in the balance. Snow flew here, snow flew there, and the frightening sound of whistling icicles allegedly provided a constant soundtrack to the relentless attacks that took place that dreadful frozen night. The portable carrot greenhouses were used as makeshift hospitals during at the worst times.

In the darkest hours, the fighting stopped, and both armies extracted themselves and reorganized. During this time heads were remade and trees lost many branches for arms.

At dawn the battle commenced again. In Frederick’s forces, the Glühwein had been remixed, this time with the correct amount of cinnamon, which commentators say may have been the cause of it being ineffectual in the earlier morning attacks.

Fierce fighting continued for several hours until it was clear Heinrich was outnumbered and outsnowcannoned. By noon the Swiss had retreated back over the border and the battle was over.

This was a decisive victory for Wolfgang and the après-battle party was apparently “just the coolest” according to those who attended.

See how to get to the site of the Battle near Snowdorf by visiting: www.frozenunderground.com

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