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THE BATTLE OF AUSTERLITZ

The Battle of Austerlitz or the Battle of the Three Emperors.

The French Crowning of her War of 1805 against the Third Coalition.

Introduction. Reasons of the war. England Promotes the Third Coalition against France. The First Movements of the Belligerents.

The first series of the wars that arise immediately after the French Revolution ended with Loeben’s (in 1801) and Amiens’ (in 1802) Peaces. But between France and England the intervals of peace were at the time only respites, to be able to continue their inevitable fight for the supremacy and the survival in Europe. In May, 1805 the war exploded between France and the so called Third Coalition, created the previous month by Russia, Austria and England, her promoter. An excited William Pitt sent generously the English gold to her continental allies.

The main part of the French army was at the time lodged along the coast of the English Channel, preparing himself to invade England. But the threat for the army in campaign, which was the real strategic goal of the Napoleonic wars (let’s remember that the occupations of Madrid, Vienna, Moscow, were not decisive), was arising in the East, by the armies of the Russian and Austrian Empires.

In September, 1805 Napoleon moved his «Army of England» to the Rhine, deploying his 208.000 men between Mainz and Strasbourg and renamed he the «Great Army». The French “Grande Armée” was formed by 145.000 infantrymen and 38.000 troopers, joined 7 Army Corps, each one at the orders of a French marshal, a great cavalry reserve commanded by the marshal Prínce Murat and the Imperial Guard, directly under Napoleon; to them 25.000 allied Bavarians were added.

Taking as usual in him the initiative, Napoleon decides to give the first strategic blow against the army of 72.000 Austrians that, at the orders of the general Mack and the archduke Fernando, son of the emperor Francisco II, was advancing towards Ulm, without waiting the arrival of help from their allied Russian.

Napoleon is going to use against the Austrians what we can call an operative effort of gravity center. The characteristics of the process of establishment and functioning of that one are the originality, the flexibility of the deployment, the consistency, its not predictability by the enemy and the efficiency. The operational gravity center supposes the centripetal action of all the means and their lines of action, of the «branched out» activity of all the units and services. Not necessarily coincidental, but convergent and resultant in their synergy, in their efficiency and in the result. By means of the different and coordinated lines of advance or of action, we induce uncertainty and insecurity in the enemy, disperse his capacity of rejection and disturb his Defense Plan and its systematic conduction by the commands.

In an ample advance of his independent Army Corps, the Grande Armée (about 210,000 men) quickly crossed the center of Germany, from the Rhine to the Danube, between September, 25 and October, 6. With this, it operationally interposed between the Austrians (about 40,000 men) and their allied Russian forces that went to help them. The Austrians did not understand the need of the rapidity of the movements, thinking only about the battle, as the only instrument of the decision. The French initiated the crossing of the Danube on October 7, 1805 and, during the following week, Napoleon converge most of his Army Corps in an enormous restricting spiral on Ulm, while a Corp with enough forces watched for the arrival from the east of Russian General Kutuzov.

General Mack made, in vain, several attempts at rupturing Napoleon’s forces, applying his greatest efforts in Haslach and Elchingen. Both Austrian commanders quarreled among themselves and Archduke Fernando, with his 6,000 troopers, separated from the main force and tried to escape to the northeast. But Archduke Fernando’s forces were surrounded and beaten by the cavalry Corps of Murat, near Trochtelfingen. Another 12,000 Austrians surrendered in Neustadt.

On the other hand, General Mack and the rest of his men (about 27,000, after the mentioned battles), with Napoleon’s overwhelming forces at the doors of Ulm since October, 14, came out the city and laid down their weapons at the feet of mounts Michelsberg. The capitulation was signed by General Mack on the 20th. The campaign, without properly battles, cost Austria more than 50,000 men (around 70%) of her initial forces of about 70,000 troops.

The Second Phase of the War: the Battle of Austerlitz.

The shining campaign of 1805, after the easy operational victory over General Mack in Ulm, reached its peak in Austerlitz.

Under command of General Kutusov, the Russians who went to aid Mack did not let themselves be caught by the Fench. They returned the way they came, heading first toward the east and soon toward the north of the Danube, thus moving Napoleon further and further away from his bases. The capture of Vienna on November 12th was useless for him, because Kutusov continued to refuse to fight, avoiding even two French traps tended by Murat. The general was looking forward to meeting with the forces of General Buxhowden and the Czar, near Olmutz, before opposing the French. On November 20th, about 85,000 Russian and Austrian soldiers concentrated; also present were the Emperor Francis and the Czar Nicholas.

Napoleon, who had initiated the campaign against Mack from his positions along the Rhine with about 210,000 men, was now about 720 kilometers from them. The losses due to the incessant marches, battles and the necessity to guard his line of communications had reduced Napoleon’s operational army to 55,000 men, who were under his direct control.

The Creation of Napoleon’s Battle Plans.

But Napoleon, often neglected and trusted, demonstrated his better moments in crises times. At age 36, only one year after his coronation, Napoleon reached the zenith of his military career. During the first days, Napoleon mainly prepared his enemy. Pretending weakness, his cavalry vanguards backed down from contact with Cossack patrols near Olmutz. Next, he evacuated the town of Austerlitz and, still more demonstratively for a defensive approach, evacuated the heights of Pratzen. He was even especially courteous to the Russian pedantic envoy Count Dolgorouki, escorting him personally to the French advance parties. The allies tentatively offered an armistice to him, waiting to win time for Archdukes Charles and John to approach from the south with around 122,000 Austrians.

On the first of December the allies advanced from Olmutz and occupied Pratzen. Meanwhile Napoleon received reinforcements from Army Corps I and III (commanded by Marshals Bernadotte and Davout), who went from the garrisons of Iglau and Vienna in their line of communications. This increased his strength to more than 73,000 men.

Napoleon was now going to offer as bait his debilitated right flank to the allies. Who were anxious to secure a victory over the hated young emperor and had come to believe that this was possible. In addition, an allied victory and penetration in the zone behind Napoleon’s lines, will cut him the retreat toward Vienna. This would also leave the French Army in an isolated, hostile land, surrounded by enemies, without reinforcements at hand, and in a situation of enormous numerical inferiority (a strategic triumph!). That was already too much for Czar Nicholas (his presence inevitably interferes with the authority of a Commander-in-Chief in a campaign) and many young generals, who disregarded Kutusov’s advice of prudence. Also, the doubts of the Emperor Francis could be ignored, because three-quarters of the troops were Russian.

The imbalance of the enemy seeks to turn vulnerably his deployment, before the imminence of a combat, to optimize our results and to minimize our losses in it. The imbalance of the enemy, together with his functional incapacitation for combat, must allow us the action on his critical vulnerabilities. Looking for his disorganization and disintegration, with the minor attrition (in capacity of combat) and the minor wear (in capacity of operative movement) possible for us. For this, it is required the determined, flexible and imaginative military action. The intellectual human means of the Army, through the commands, are put here in proof and in tension.

The effective factors of the enemy imbalance are the surprise, the deception and the fantasy or appearances, that always are perceived as real and evident by him. Using them, we establish in the enemy a false impression, of opportunity, or apprehension, or distraction, which tries to induce him to operate erroneous and harmfully for him, without proposing or knowing it. On having looked and been orientated towards a fantasy, his combat capacities adopt and relax in an erroneous, inconvenient deployment and, especially, vulnerably against us.

When for the imbalance we use the opportunity, we look for the exaltation of the enemy. The opportunity must be something appreciated by the enemy, a tactical advantage, which arises suddenly as consequence of the flow of the situation or at the beginning of it. She cannot turn out to be as offered by us, because then would not intervene the mentioned factors of the surprise and the deception. Though she can appear as something neglected or failed to take advantage by us. These are the qualities that the opportunity must possess, in order that the enemy perceives in her not a trap, but the attractive and / or important benefit. The weakness is a good fodder for the arrogant. The profit is a good bait for the avaricious and / or meticulously.

Are there different baits? Yes and no, and which is used can vary according to the opponent’s psychology and interests. But remember that only the strong (such as Napoleon) can pretend weakness, and only the intelligent can appear to be clumsy or confused before a calculating opponent.

A combination of these aspects of the opportunity is what Napoleon used to unbalance the Austrian – Russian allies, preparing them to be conquered easier.

Do exist a medicine for this menace? Yes, false impressions can be avoided if there is sufficient intelligence (collected from operational and tactical reconnaissance) to form the commands a correct assessment of the situation. And if the «correct sense» (one of the «operational systems» developed by us in our book «On the Nature of War») of the commands exists in them.

The First Military Movements.

At the right of the French deployment, which extended about 6 kilometers, General Le Grand received only the skeleton of a force with which to maintain the line from the Goldbach stream to the town of Zokolnitz, in the direction of Vienna. He was promised the aid of the division of Friand of Army Corps of Davout. At the north, near Santon, which was fortified, the French left flank rested. It was entrusted to the V Corp of Marshal Lannes, to part of the troops of Bernadotte and to a reserve of cavalry under the command of Murat. Both flanks had a defensive function. In the stream of Bosenitz, the town of Puntowitz and Zurland hill, from south to north, the main body of Army Corps I and IV (this under the command of Marshal Soult) was concentrated. With them were part of the cavalry of Murat, the division of Oudinot, the artillery reserve of the French Army and the Imperial Guard.

The deployment of the allies was more oblique, running about 10 kilometers from the town of Aujest Markt to the heights of Goldbach. It was strong in the left flank and very reinforced in the center, but was weak and distant on the right flank. This last was covered from north to south by the forces of Bragation, the cavalry of Lichtenstein (concentrated near Austerlitz) and the Corp of Constantine, as a central reserve (the Russian Imperial Guard that had 8,500 elite men), located at the northeast of Krenowitz and that geared with the reserve Corp of Kollowrath, at the west of that town.

The Battle is been Prepared. The Tactical Plans of Both Rivals.

Napoleon’s plan anticipated that the allied decision to send troops to the French right flank would greatly debilitated their center, at the northeast and southeast of the town of Pratzen. To take advantage of this, the Corp of Soult would advance on the plateau where the center was based, breaking the allies’ hinge deployment. The French forces that stayed as reserves would penetrate through the rupture and encircle the allies’ right or left flanks from the north or south.

More than half of the allied forces, at the command of General Buxhowden, would breach the front of the Goldbach stream, block the highway to Vienna and then advance north, having swept all the French positions. Shortly after the rupture, the reserve of General Kollowrath (about 15,000 men) would descend from the heights of Pratzen to seize Puntowitz, thus breaking the hinge of the French line. A third force (with less than 18,000 men) at the orders of General Bagration and the Prince of Liechtenstein, would approach Santon and would fix the French forces there. This was the allied tactical plan.

The Development of Austerlitz’s Battle. The Allies, seduced, fall down in Napoleon’s immense Tactical Trap.

At 4 in the morning on the second of December, the first anniversary of the coronation of Napoleon, both armies began their movements. By 9 a.m., when Buxhowden’s troops were totally fixed and a part of the Kollowrath’s reserve had descended behind them, Napoleon ordered the assault of the Pratzen heights. The two divisions of Marshal Soult occupied the zone quickly, surprising and condemning the allied Army.

From now one, the only French operational problem, would be to resolve the different local crises that would emerge without doubt, without getting to exhaust the tactical reserves.

The grenadiers of Oudinot were sent from the Zurland hill to support the south flank, where the main battle was evolving. Bernadotte advanced to the town of Blaswitz, to protect the north flank of Soult. The cavalry reserve of Murat on Santon hill opposed the cavalry of Liechtenstein, to support the green infantry of the Corp of Lannes, that were wavering. At about 10:30 in the morning, Kutusov was able to bring toward Pratzen part of the forces of his left wing and Soult, attacked on three sides, had to employ part of the artillery reserve of the French Army, to contain the enemy’s ceaseless attrition fire.

Napoleon advanced his headquarters and the Imperial Guard, the only reserves not yet been brought into action, to Putowitz, on the slopes of Pratzen. At about 1 p.m., Constantine and the Russian Imperial Guard attacked the tired French in Pratzen. The French first forward line yielded. But the cavalry of the French Imperial Guard, under the command of Marshal Béssiers and General Rapp, attacked the Russians, who fled. Finally, Bernadotte, from Blauswitz, sent a division in support of the critical French center.

The tactical crisis had been passed. Napoleon could now finish off his triumph and looked towards the south, where was the enemy left flank.

The remaining forces of Soult, Le Grand and Davout and the French Imperial Guard concentrically attacked the dispersed men of Buxhowden. At about 3:30 p.m. the battle was over. On the other hand, General Bagration retired from Santon, and Kutusov and both emperors and their entourages fled from Krenowtz and Austerlitz, under the protection of the Russian Imperial Guard.

The Consequences of the Battle of Austerlitz.

The French had lost 11,4% of their troops (about 1,300 dead and 7,000 wounded or disappeared). Allied casualties were 16,000 dead and wounded and 11,000 unharmed taken prisoner; about 33% of their forces. In addition, 180 cannons and 45 flags were taken by the French.

The Third Coalition had disappeared in a short and shining campaign of two great battles. In distant England, the news of the disaster caused William Pitt, lose all his hopes, to say: «Put away the map of Europe». He died within a few months.

Napoleon distributed ample rewards to his Great Army: he gave pensions to all widows, adopted the orphans, allowed them to add Napoleon to their names and gave them a state education, and he gave all marshals and generals two million francs in gold.

«Ordinarily, a battle inclines completely towards one side from the beginning, even though there may not appear to be sense in it. This effect is often attributed to the distinct dispositions taken before the battle. Sometimes there is also the lack of discernment by a general who fights a battle in unfavorable conditions for him. It is in the nature of things that the march of a battle resembles a slow and gradual alteration of balance, weakly indicated in the beginning, and later becoming progressively and more constantly visible and strong. The result is an oscillation much less in diverse senses which one could imagine, according to the capricious and unreal descriptions of battles». It is almost certain that Clausewitz was thinking in the battle of Austerlitz when he wrote these words.


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Enrique Alonso nació en La Habana. Tras el establecimiento del régimen comunista se trasladó a España, licenciándose en Ciencias Químicas en la Universidad de Oviedo.

Es titulado por la Universidad Complutense en Química y Tecnología del Petroleo (dos cursos) y en Logística por la Cámara de Comercio de Madrid (un curso). Ha realizado su labor profesional durante más de 30 años en REPSOL y empresas anteriores, absorbidas posteriormente. Su trabajo se centró en la investigación de lubricantes (Centro de Investigación de la calle Embajadores), el área comercial y la logística de lubricantes (unas 100 mil Tm. al año de productos a granel y envasados, con un presupuesto total de unos 1000 millones de ptas).

Ha sido colaborador en la década de los 80, del diario Pueblo y, a través de la agencia EFE, de diversos diarios españoles e hispanoamericanos en temas de política internacional y militares.

Es autor de la novela “Operación Elefante”, publicada en 1982, que trata minuciosa y extensamente de las operaciones y tácticas de las guerrillas y contraguerrillas en la Angola socialista prosoviética de Agostinho Neto, apoyada desde 1975 por tropas cubanas. 

En 2005 publicó en inglés el ensayo “On the Nature of War”, que es una teoría de la guerra basada en el desarrollo y la aplicación práctica de 10 “sistemas operativos”.

Actualmente es colaborador permanente de la revista española War Heat International.

En la sección de Enlaces pueden ver datos sobre la oferta actual de estos libros.