Napoleon was planning to cross the English Channel and invade Great Britain with 200.000 soldiers. He needed ships to cross the channel. He didn’t have a strong navy. The British had the strongest navy in the world. He said, “If I am the master of the [English] channel for 6 hours, I am the master of the world” But he was never the master of the Channel.
Then, at the end of summer 1805, he gave up the plan to invade Britain. His soldiers turned their backs on England and marched into Europe. Austria and Russia had allied with Great Britain to destroy Napoleon. Tens of thousands of Russian soldiers were marching forward to unite with their Austrian allies.
Napoleon’s soldiers were highly disciplined. They could walk 48 km a day with 30-40 kg of equipment. They would walk 4 hours and then stop and rest and then walk another 4 hours. These soldiers admired Napoleon. They thought he was one of them. He would ride ten hours in one day. He would eat lunch on horseback. He would sleep a few hours. Then he would study reports and give orders.
Russian and Austrian allied army outnumbered Napoleon’s Grand Army two to one. The allies were confident. They thought they would destroy Napoleon in the center of Europe. But there was a flaw in the allied strategy: their forces were widely dispersed across the continent. Napoleon saw it. He could destroy them one by one. If he moved quickly he could strike at the Austrians before the Russians arrived, and before the allied armies could unite. His army of 200.000 men marched 800 km in 40 days. (www.bebekce.gen.tr) The French forces encircled the Austrians and General Mack surrendered with 27.000 Austrian soldiers at the Battle of Ulm. One month later Napoleon entered Vienna, the capital of the Austrian Empire. He said, “I have destroyed the Austrian army by marching”
The Emperor Francis had fled.
At the time of this great victory, Napoleon received some bad news. At the battle of Trafalgar, the British navy had destroyed the French navy.
BATTLE OF AUSTERLITZ
Napoleon had won a great victory but he was in a dangerous situation. Why?
Here are the reasons:
- His troops were dwindling and number and in supplies. He was almost a thousand miles from Paris. It was winter and it was cold. He’s surrounded by a hostile population.
- Prussia was now threatening to declare war.
- On November 22nd the Russian and Austrian armies finally united in a single fighting force, 90.000 allies against 75.000 Frenchmen.
Napoleon was not afraid. He would not go back to France.
He studied the maps of the area. He read books about the battles of Frederick the Great. Then he called his marshals and generals, showed them a spot on the map near the village of Austerlitz, and he said, ““Gentlemen, examine this ground carefully. It is going to be a battlefield”
The day before the battle was December 2, 1805. This was the anniversary of his coronation. In other words, he had become an emperor one year ago, on December 2, 1804. He walked among his soldiers. They cried, “Long live the Emperor!” Napoleon was optimistic about tomorrow. He said, “This is the finest evening of my life.”
Napoleon’s army was on the Pratzen Heights. It was an advantageous position militarily. But Napoleon had another plan. It was this: he would leave the Pratzen Heights, and then the enemy would occupy it. And then they would attack his right flank because it seemed weak [it wasn’t actually weak. Reinforcements were coming]. When the enemy attacked his right flank, the centre of the enemy forces on the Pratzen Heights would become weak. Then Napoleon would attack the Pratzen Heights and destroy the enemy center. His right flank would be strong when the reinforcements arrived and they would destroy their attackers.
The Russian Czar Alexander I was 28 years old. He commanded the Russian Army himself. He was eager to fight and defeat Napoleon. He wanted glory. However, he was proud and inexperienced. When he saw that Napoleon was leaving the Pratzen Heights, he wanted to occupy it. The Russian General Mikhail Kutuzov objected. He was an experienced general. He felt that there was a trap. He didn’t know what it was but he felt it.
The next morning the battle began.
Napoleon’s plan worked perfectly. Alexander sent a lot of soldiers from the center to the French right flank. When these soldiers arrived at the right flank, they saw that there were more French soldiers on the right flank than they thought. There was heavy fighting on the right flank. When Alexander sent soldiers from the Pratzen Heights, his center was weakened. Napoleon said, “One sharp blow and the war is over” And he attacked the Heights. The enemy panicked. There was great confusion on the Russian side. Many were killed. Others fled. The Russians were utterly defeated. They lost 36.000 soldiers (16.000 killed or wounded, 20.000 captured).
The French lost 8.800 (8.300 dead or wounded, 500 captured). The Czar Alexander retreated. The Austrian Emperor Francis sued for peace.
This was Napoleon’s greatest victory.
WAR AGAINST PRUSSIA
France was increasing its influence in the region. Prussia (Germany) didn’t like this. The Prussian king Frederick William III declared war on France. Napoleon defeated the Prussians in three weeks. Prussia lost 175.000 soldiers (25.000 dead or wounded, 150.000 captured), 4000 cannons and 100.000 muskets. Napoleon marched victoriously into Berlin on 27 October 1806.
Towards the end of 1806, Prussia also sued for peace. Now only two countries remained at war with Napoleon, Russia and Britain.
Bloody battles took place between Russia and France in 1807. Both sides lost thousands of soldiers (Russian and French casualties in these battles amounted to 70.000). One Russian general wrote to the Czar, “it is not combat any more, it is butchery.”
The Czar’s brother talked to the Czar about the war with Napoleon. He said, “Instead of fighting Napoleon, give each soldier a gun and let him put a bullet in his head. The result will be the same.” In other words, he said, they were losing too many soldiers in the war against the French. The Czar agreed with his brother. He sued for peace. The two emperors met at Tilsit. Alexander said, “I hate the English as much as you do”. Napoleon liked these words and replied, “Then we have made peace”.
Napoleon didn’t demand any Russian territory. He wanted an economic alliance against the British. He had started an economic war against Britain. He forbade European nations to trade with Britain. He asked Alexander to join the embargo. Alexander agreed. They signed a treaty. Napoleon was very happy. He thought that they were friends now. This was a mistake. Alexander would never stick to the agreement.
Now there was peace in Europe. After almost a year in central Europe (300 days) Napoleon returned to France a happy man.
END OF PART III