Land battles

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© Bob Denton 2014

Land battles

As a result of Trafalgar any invasion plan of Britain were dispelled and Napoleon subsequently concentrated his efforts upon land-based exploits.

Following the defeat of the Austrians at Ulm, the Russians arrived belatedly and both forces were then merged and put under the command of Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov. Mack was sent back to face opprobrium for his lack of success against an inferior force.

Napoleon’s supply lines were stretched and needed to maintain strong garrison forces along the routes to keep them open, depleting his numbers at the front. He calculated that he needed to bring the Russians and Austrians in to battle promptly.

This would lead to the 1805 Battle of the Three Emperors – waged between Napoleon I, Tsar Alexander I and Francis II, the Holy Roman Emperor.

The Russian commander had already concluded that he would not be drawn in to the plans the Austrians had created to defend Vienna and was in the process of retreating his forces to give him time to regroup and come up with a better approach.

On the French side, Murat let it be known that Napoleon was prepared to negotiate a ceasefire, but then launched a surprise attack on Vienna. This failed to breakthrough a Russian reserve force. Believing he was facing the entire Russian force at Vienna, Murat did then agreed a ceasefire.

Napoleon realised Murat’s error when his reports indicated the main Russian force was at Olmutz, and urged him forward. Bonaparte ordered 53,000 of his troops to move to take possession of Austerlitz and the Olmutz road to keep the Russians off-balance. He was outnumbered there but reinforcements were called up to swell his numbers to over 75,000.

He decided to display weakness to encourage his opponents forward. He sent General Savary to their Allied headquarters at Olmutz to propose that he was seeking an armistice.  He had various units appear to retreat and move around to little purpose to underline this implied weakness. Then personally met with an aide to the Tsar where he appeared hesitant and concerned. Given all these indications of weakness and uncertainty the Russian and Austrian commanders decided to attack.

Although it was called the battle of Austerlitz it took place near to Brno.  Outnumbered at the battle Napoleon deliberately weakened his right flank and abandonned the Pratzen Heights, a clearly strategic high-point of the theatre. This was not as daring as it sounds because a network of lakes and streams did make this area less desirable for pursuing any action.

In this way he tempted the Allies to attack on his right, particularly as this would serve to cut him off from communicating with his force still outside Vienna. Counting on this he knew that his enemy’s left and centre would therefore be weakened – he attacked through the centre.

His defeat of the superior Austro-Russian force at Austerlitz, saw Third Coalition losses of 27,000 of its 73,000 men, Napoleon just 9,000 of his 67,000.

Austria signed the Treaty of Pressburg, ceding German lands to France and the second-half of Venice to the Kingdom of Italy. The residual Russian forces were permitted to withdraw and return home. The Tsar commenting, ‘We are babies in the hands of a giant’. The Third Coalition was over.

As a result of this victory, the following year 1806 is judged to have marked the end of the Holy Roman Empire.

Fearing the aggressive and independent nature of the Batavian Republic (the successor to the Republic of the United Netherlands), Napoleon established a new Kingdom of Holland in June 1806 and appointed his younger brother Louis Napoleon as its king.

Louis Napoleon Bonaparte – was nine years younger than his brother, the fourth surviving son in the family. He had served with Napoleon in Egypt and rose through the military becoming a general though this was more about nepotism than valour. He was involved in the overthrow of the Directory.

He had a tendency to mental illness, reputedly because he was denying is homosexuality or at least bisexuality. Napoleon arranged that he married Hortense, Josephine’s daughter.

When he was appointed the King of Holland had planned this as something of a prefecture role, but Louis Napoleon threw himself in to the task. He declared himself Dutch, renamed himself as Lodewijk I, the Dutch form of Louis. He set about learning Dutch and insisted the court speak only in Dutch. The court and diplomats were led a merry dance as he constantly moved his capital around the Dutch cities.

His Dutch was initially poor and he on one occasion is said to have said he was the Konijn van Olland rather than Koning van Olland, so instead of introducing himself as King, he had said the Rabbit of Holland.

His desire to try won him the support of his people, when a ship loaded with gunpowder blew up in Leiden in 1807 and the country was devastated by floods in 1809 he led the relief efforts and so earned the epithet Louis the Good.

Forward to Fourth Coalition – Back to Invasion of Britain
Back to 1789 and all that!
© Bob Denton 2014