“Ick bin Klinke. Ick öffne dit Tor.“ - Legends, marches and ironclads - The Battle of Dybbøl

18 April 1864, the key battle of the Second Schleswig War between Prussia and Denmark was fought at the Battle of Dybbøl, ending with a decisive Danish defeat.

“One of the consequences of this attitude was that Sapper Klinke, who, at the cost of his life had blown up the palisade support of Bastion Three of the Düppel fortifications, was the genuine hero of all three wars in Kluckhuhn’s eyes, and when all was said and done, had but one single rival. This one single rival, however, had been on the side of the Danes and was, in fact, not a person at all, but a ship instead named “Rolf Krake”. “Yes sir, boys, while we were floatin’ across there like that, there lay that black beast staying right up close to us, lookin’ just like a coffin. And if it had wanted to, it would have been all over with us and plop, down we’d have gone right into Flensburg Bay. And since we all knew that, we just kept on blasting away at her, because when a fellow feels like that, he just keeps on shooting.” (Theodor Fontane, “The Stechlin”)

An imagination of the storming of the Danish redoubts by the German painter Wilhelm Camphausen (1818 – 1885), Düsseldorf, 1866

If it was the Danes’ new king Christian IX’s brightest idea from a political and legal point of view to answer the lingering Schleswig-Holstein Question along with a constitutional reform by virtually annexing Schleswig, a more or less autonomous region and right in the middle of an ethnic conflict between Germans and Danes, remains rather doubtful. It was exactly the pretence Bismarck was waiting for to unify Germany with blood and iron. He played strictly by the book, though, Prussian troops occupied the Duchies of Holstein and Lauenburg along with Austrian units and those of other German states to protect their autonomy according to the Protocol of London from 1852, that had ensured self-administration of the three regions after the first Schleswig War (1848 – 1851). King Christian was given an ultimatum in January 1864 to abandon Schleswig within 48 hours, he didn’t react and on February 1st, Prussian and Austrian troops crossed the Eider, the border river between Holstein and Schleswig.

The new Danish ironclad "Rolf Krake" under steam off Dybbøl

The Danish commander-in-chief Lieutenant General de Meza decided to quit the border fortifications of the Dannevirke, a shock for the Danish public, and left most of his heavy artillery in Flensburg to avoid being surrounded, a decision that saved most of his army, but the retreat towards Jutland in ice and snow felt like Napoleon’s from Moscow and the Prussians caught up with him at the half finished fortifications of Dybbøl close to Flensburg Bay. Outnumbered, outgunned and demoralised after almost two weeks of the Prussian barrage of their positions, the only advantage the Danes had was their brand new ironclad “Rolf Krake” in the bay who could at least harass the Prussians with her 8’’ guns. Without a navy, the Prussians could do nothing to stop her except prevent her with field artillery from coming to close. On April 18th however, the Prussian commander Prince Frederick Charles decided, the Danish entrenchments of Dybbøl were softened up enough and prepared his men to storm the “Düppeler Schanzen”. Allegedly, the sapper Carl Klinke cried “Ick bin Klinke. Ick öffne dit Tor.“ (I’m Klinke – German for door handle – I’ll open this gate), blew up a 30 pound sack full of powder at the outworks of Redoubt II with a match at the cost of his life after the blasting fuse was lost during the approach. Klinke was a subject of German hero worship for the following decades, even though the author Theodor Fontane, who was present as war correspondent, just couldn't resist the door handle pun and made the story up.

Jørgen Valentin Sonne: "The Battle of Dybbøl" (1871)

However, the whole first line of the six redoubts of Dybbøl Banke were taken 15 minutes later after fierce Danish resistance to the strains of Beethoven’s “Yorkscher Marsch” performed by four army brass bands of the Prussian music corps under the direction of Gottfried Piefke, who got his baton shot out of his hand by a Danish cannon ball, wrote the “Düppeler Schanzen Marsch” in situ and inspired the Austrians to their epithet for Germans: Piefkes. By 13:30, the whole Danish resistance had collapsed, 700 Danes and 260 Prussians were dead, 1.500 wounded on both sides and for the first in history taken care of by the Red Cross. The war was over by August of 1864, Schleswig and Holstein became an Austro-Prussian condominium, a state of affairs that led to the next of Bismarck’s wars, this time against the former Austrian allies.

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