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Monday, December 16, 2013

“1805 Austerlitz: Napoleon and the Destruction of the Third Coalition”, by Robert Goetz

368 Pages, Greenhill Books, ISBN-13: 978-1853676444

1805 Austerlitz: Napoleon and the Destruction of the Third Coalition is a very thorough and detailed account of perhaps Napoleon’s greatest victory (and certainly the one he was most proud of). The author writes of how the battle came about by the failure of the treaty of Amiens and the formation of the third coalition against France before moving on to cover the pre-battle tactical and political maneuvering of the major personalities involved, with both sides attempting to put their forces into position to ultimately achieve decisive victory. However, it was Napoleon that was able read his Russian and Austrian opponents rashness and enticed them to draw off the bulk of their forces to attack his right flank and leaving the dominant Pratzen heights vulnerable to attack by the French.

The battle itself is well covered off with the author detailing the movement of forces and blow-by-blow account of the battle; in fact, the detail is such that it sometimes hard to take it all in, but thankfully the author had the foresight to use maps to show the movement of forces at various places and times of battle so the reader can better visualize his narrative. Goetz also makes use of some firsthand accounts that give weight to his own explanation of the battle.

The author suggests that was perhaps the French tactical prowess in the field (after months of training at Camp Boulogne in anticipation of the invasion of Britain) that gave the French the edge. This was demonstrated repeatedly by the effectiveness of their musketry, their cool maneuvering under fire, effective coordination of combined arms operations, larger scale maneuvers, and a superb discipline produced by high morale and complete confidence in their commanders. The French command-and-control system also had flexibility, enabling field commanders to adapt and maneuver their forces to changing situations to achieve ultimate mission objectives. The Russian and Austrian forces typically seemed to be locked and awaiting orders from above losing valuable time and few officers used their initiative. Having said that, the Russians and Austrians fought hard and bravely and at times were able to throw the French back. In the end, however, it was Napoleon’s careful planning, use of detailed information about the enemy and terrain, and the ability to achieve numerical superiority at a given point that led to his decisive victory.

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