Third Coalition, 1803-1806
France clearly had the preeminent land forces in Europe, but Britain’s navy regularly proved to be the more powerful at sea. Britain’s naval ongong blockade of the French and Spanish ports was disrupting their mercantile trade and stopping any real naval threat to evolve. The French naval forces were locked up in Brest and Toulon, the Spanish navy in Cádiz and Ferrol, Galicia.
Napoleon had first conceived of an invasion of Britain back in 1798, but he felt the navy was not strong enough and besides the peace of Amiens had halted this particular plot, he had instead launched his campaign in the Middle East. Now he quickly dusted off the plan.
Britain and Sweden had found some common ground against France. The Swedes and other European aristocrats had become aggrieved by Napoleon’s execution of Louis Antoine, Duke of Enghien, dubiously implicated in an assassination attempt on the First Consul. The memories of the Reign of Terror were still far too raw.
Preparing for his invasion of Britain, Napoleon had assembled troops in six camps around Boulogne and called them the Armée d’Angleterre (Army of England). This force would later be augmented by a large cavalry, mounted dragoons and artillery. This grew eventually in to a force of 350,000 men that was referred to as La Grande Armée.
Late in 1805 he had to turn his attention eastward to a developing situation with the Austrians and Russians.
The Russians had a strong infantry and artillery but they were led by aristocrats many of whom had no experience and had purchased their rank.
The Archduke Charles was the brother of the Holy Roman Emperor and their most competent commander, but unpopular at court the command of the Austrian forces was given to General Karl Mack von Leiberich. Mack restructured his infantry virtually on the eve of battle, but was blessed with reputedly the best cavalry in Europe,
The Bavarians had entered the war on the French side so the Austrian commander, invaded Bavaria rather hastily, while his Russian allies were still travelling through Poland. He also mistakenly expected that the French would approach from the south through Italy.
Napoleon’s forces marched instead south from Boulogne, they crossed the Rhine and then performed what became known as the Ulm manouevre swinging southward so that he approached the Austrians from their rea.
After a series of separate skirmishes and clever manoeuvres to confuse the Austrians further the French had soon enveloped Mack’s forces at Ulm; Mack surrendered without the two forces ever engaging in a formal battle. The French captured 1,000 muskets and 500 cannon, but much more significantly they captured the bridges over the Danube without any damage,
But the victory celebration was curtailed as news reached them about what had happened at Trafalgar the very next day.