Part of the War of the Third Coalition
The Battle of Austerlitz, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, was one of Napoleon's greatest victories, where the French Empire effectively crushed the Third Coalition. On 2 December 1805 (20 November Old Style, 11 Frimaire An XIV, in the French Republican Calendar), a French army, commanded by Emperor Napoleon I, decisively defeated a Russo-Austrian army, commanded by Tsar Alexander I and Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, after nearly nine hours of difficult fighting. The battle took place near Austerlitz (Slavkov u Brna) about 10 km (6 mi) south-east of Brno in Moravia, at that time in theAustrian Empire (present day Czech Republic). The battle was a tactical masterpiece of the same stature of Gaugamela and Cannae.
Three days after the fall of France in 1940, Napoleon, lying in his marble tomb in Paris, received a visit from his greatest admirer. Adolf Hitler, on his one and only visit to the French capital, made an unannounced trip to the tomb in Les Invalides. In his white raincoat, surrounded by his generals, Hitler stood for a long time gazing down at his hero, his cap removed in deference.
Dictator: Napoleon was responsible for thousands of executions. He was said later to have described this moment as 'one of the proudest of my life'. The next day, during his official sightseeing tour of Paris, Hitler again visited Napoleon's tomb to salute him.
Conscious that his hero was known to the world simply as Napoleon, Hitler boasted that he would not need a rank or title on his gravestone. 'The German people would know who it was if the only word was Adolf.'
Throughout the war, Hitler had sandbags placed around Napoleon's tomb to guard against bomb damage.
Wooden floorboards were laid across the marble floor of Les Invalides so that they would not be scarred by German jackboots.
Until recently, the French would have been incensed by any comparison between Napoleon and Hitler.
But to their rage and shame, new research has shown that France's greatest hero presided over mass atrocities which bear comparison with some of Hitler's worst crimes against humanity.
These reassessments of Napoleon have caused anguish in France. Top politicians backed out of official ceremonies to mark what was possibly Napoleon's greatest victory, the battle of Austerlitz, when Napoleon's Grande Armee defeated the combined armies of Austria and Russia in just six hours, killing 19,000 of their adversaries.
A street in Paris named Rue Richepanse (after Antoine Richepanse, a general responsible for atrocities in the Caribbean) has recently had its name changed to Rue Solitude.
Admiration: Hitler had a great respect for Napoleon - and perhaps his killing ways, it has now emerged. During his reign as Emperor, concentration camps were set up and gas was used to massacre large groups of people. There were hit squads and mass deportations. And all this happened 140 years before Hitler and the Holocaust. Claude Ribbe, a respected historian and philosopher and member of the French government's human rights commission, has been researching Napoleon's bloodcurdling record for some years.
He accuses him of being a racist and an anti-Semite who persecuted Jews and reintroduced widespread slavery just a few years after it had been abolished by the French government. The most startling of these findings, the attempted massacre of an entire population over the age of 12 by methods which included gassing them in the holds of ships, relate to the French Caribbean colony of Haiti at the turn of the 19th century. In Ribbe's words, Napoleon, then First Consul, was the man who, for the first time in history, 'asked himself rationally the question how to eliminate, in as short a time as possible, and with a minimum of cost and personnel, a maximum of people described as scientifically inferior'.
Haiti around 1800 was the world's richest colony, a slave-powered export factory which produced almost two-thirds of the world's coffee and almost half its sugar.
The black slaves were lashed and beaten to work and forced to wear tin muzzles to prevent them from eating the sugar cane.
If the slaves were fractious, they were roasted over slow fires, or filled with gunpowder and blown to pieces.
When the slaves began to fight for their freedom, under the leadership of a charismatic African military genius called Toussaint L'Ouverture, Napoleon sent 10,000 crack troops under the command of his brother-inlaw, General Leclerc, to crush Toussaint and restore slavery.
In 1802, a vast programme of ethnic cleansing was put in place. Napoleon banned inter-racial marriages and ordered that all white women who'd had any sort of relationship with a black or mulatto (person of mixed race) be shipped to France.
He further commanded the killing of as many blacks in Haiti as possible, to be replaced by new, more docile slaves from Africa.
The French troops were under orders to kill all blacks over the age of 12. However, younger children were also killed - stabbed to death, put in sandbags and dropped into the sea.
The Haitians fought to the death for independence, which they finally declared in 1804. Prisoners on both sides were regularly tortured and killed, and their heads were mounted on the walls of stockades or on spikes beside the roads. Non-combatants, too, were raped and slaughtered. According to contemporary accounts, the French used dogs to rip black prisoners to pieces before a crowd at an amphitheatre.
Allegdly on Napoleon's orders, sulphur was extracted from Haitian volcanoes and burned to produce poisonous sulphur dioxide, which was then used to gas black Haitians in the holds of ships - more than 100,000 of them, according to records.
The use of these primitive gas chambers was confirmed by contemporaries. Antoine Metral, who in 1825 published his history of the French expedition to Haiti, writes of piles of dead bodies everywhere, stacked in charnel-houses.
'We varied the methods of execution,' wrote Metral. 'At times, we pulled heads off; sometimes a ball and chain was put at the feet to allow drowning; sometimes they were gassed in the ships by sulphur.
'When the cover of night was used to hide these outrages, those walking along the river could hear the noisy monotone of dead bodies being dropped into the sea.'
A contemporary historian, who sailed with the punitive expedition, wrote that: 'We invented another type of ship where victims of both sexes were piled up, one against the other, suffocated by sulphur.'
These were prison ships with gas chambers called etouffiers, or 'chokers', which asphyxiated the blacks, causing them terrible suffering.
Even at the time, there were French naval officers who were appalled at this savagery, claiming they would rather have braved a court martial than have forgotten the laws of humanity.
But from the Emperor's point of view, gassing was a way of cutting costs. Ships continued to transport prisoners out to sea to drown them, but corpses kept being washed up on beaches or tangled in ships' hulls.
Toussaint, who called himself the Black Napoleon, was kidnapped after accepting an invitation to parlay with a French general and shipped back to France in chains, where he died of pneumonia after being imprisoned in a cold stone vault.
Guadeloupe, an island to the east, suffered a similar fate to Haiti's.
Once again choosing not to recognise France's abolition of slavery, Napoleon in 1802 promoted a comrade of his, Antoine Riche-panse, to the rank of General, and sent him with an expeditionary force of 3,000 men to put down a slave revolt on the island.
During his purge, General Richepanse slaughtered any men, women and children he encountered on his route to the capital. Then he worked through a plan of extermination apparently approved by the First Consul.
A military commission was set up to give what followed a veneer of legality. Some 250 'rebels' were shot in Guadeloupe's Victory Square. Another 500 were herded down to the beach and shot there.
Richepanse and Lacrosse, the former colonial governor now restored to power, thought of piling up the dead in vast mounds to intimidate the islanders, but gave up the plan for fear of starting a disease epidemic.
Instead, using a technique which the French were to copy during the Algerian War, they sent death squads into every part of Guadeloupe to track down farmers who were absent from their homes.
These men were treated as rebels. A bounty was promised for each black man captured, and the rebels were summarily shot or hanged. The ferocity of the repression sparked another uprising, which Lacrosse subdued with the most barbarous methods yet.
'Being hung is not enough for the crimes they have committed,' he said. 'It is necessary to cut them down alive and let them expire on the wheel [prisoners were bound to a cart wheel before having their arms and legs smashed with cudgels].
'The jails are already full: it is necessary to empty them as quickly as possible.' In this he was successful, hanging, garotting and burning the rebels and breaking their limbs on the wheel.
Lacrosse developed possibly the most fiendish instrument of slow execution ever created.
The prisoner was thrust into a tiny cage and had a razor-sharp blade suspended between his legs. In front of him was a bottle of water and bread, neither of which he could reach.
He was stood in stirrups, which kept him just above the blade, but if he fell asleep or his legs tired, he was sliced by the blade. Neither fast nor economical, it was pure sadism.
After four months in Guadeloupe, the French lost patience with the islanders, and the ferocity of their repression reached new heights.
Blacks with short hair were shot out of hand, since the expeditionary force considered short hair to be a sign of rebellion. Orders were given that 'the type of execution should set a terrifying example'.
The soldiers were encouraged 'to cut open insurgents, to strangle and to burn them'. French officers spoke proudly of creating 'torture islands'.
In a letter to Napoleon, his brother-in-law Leclerc wrote: 'It is necessary to destroy all the negroes of the mountain . . . do not leave children over the age of 12.'
Ribbe, in his work in progress, sees continual affinities between Napoleon and Hitler. He argues that many of Napoleon's actions were later echoed in Nazi Germany, right down to his enthusiasm for slavery reflecting the grim message 'Arbeit Macht Frei' ('Work Sets You Free'), which appeared over the gates of Auschwitz. Napoleon, like Hitler, also used his own army like cannon fodder when the occasion demanded. His retreat from Moscow in 1812 squandered the lives and courage of 450,000 soldiers of the Grande Armee; many of them were found frozen to death while embracing each other to harvest a last flicker of warmth, in what was one of the bitterest winters in living memory. Nothing shows more clearly the contempt the Emperor showed for his minions than the bulletin announcing the destruction of his Army. Napoleon blamed his horses and ended by declaring that his health had never been better.
As theatres for Napoleon's callousness, Haiti and Guadeloupe were too far away to attract much public notice, let alone condemnation.
Syria was a different matter. In the war between France and the Ottoman Empire (most of it modern-day Turkey), Napoleon led the siege of the ancient walled city of Jaffa, whose harbour he needed as a vital shelter for his fleet.
The city fell on the fourth day, whereupon Napoleon's troops ran amok through the town, slaughtering Christians, Jews and Muslims indiscriminately.
To escape the slaughter, part of the garrison locked themselves into a large keep.
Napoleon sent his officers, who negotiated their surrender and marched them back to the French camp.
Rations were short, so Napoleon now decided that he had been too magnanimous.
For three days he kept the 4,000 mostly Turkish prisoners with their arms tied behind their back; then the massacre began. Somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 men were slaughtered there and then, either by shooting them or by running them through with bayonets.
Shortly afterwards plague broke out, decimating the troops on both sides. With real courage, Napoleon led his general staff on a tour of the plague-infested hospitals.
It did not deter him from suggesting to the doctors that seriously ill French troops who could not be evacuated should be given a fatal dose of the opiate laudanum. The doctors forced him to back down.
From Jaffa, Napoleon marched to Acre, a city constructed on a peninsula and therefore impregnable, given that there was British control of the seas. Napoleon launched seven major assaults; each one failed. Marching back to Cairo, Napoleon left 2,200 of his troops dead, and 2,300 more seriously ill or wounded.
As far as Napoleon was concerned, these wounded were already dead men. Most of them he left behind, knowing that the Turks would cut off their heads as soon as his army left. They did their best to follow his retreat, crying out not to be abandoned.
They straggled along, their throats parched in the debilitating heat, which reduced their cries to a croak. Injured officers were thrown from their litters and left to die in the dunes.
Soldiers were abandoned in the cornfields, which were still smouldering in the devastation of crops and villages ordered by Napoleon. In all, some 5,000 Frenchmen lost their lives.
If Hitler learned any lessons from Napoleon, one must have been that victory required callousness, not just in the leader but in those around him.
'Like those working in the Nazi system, the French carrying out Napoleon's killing did so with little thought to morality,' Claude Ribbe says today. 'There was no sense of good or evil: it was just a matter of getting a difficult job done. In the end, the killing methods had to be efficient and cheap.'
So is Napoleon to be feted as a great leader or denounced as a dictator? A poll published in Le Figaro in 2005 found that nearly 40 per cent of Frenchmen regarded Napoleon as 'a dictator who had used all means to satisfy his thirst for power'.
However, considering what was done in Napoleon's name in Haiti and Guadeloupe, there is one memorial which deserves to be added.
Next to the unknown soldier at the Arc de Triomphe should be erected the Tomb of the Unknown Slave.
The French victory at Austerlitz effectively brought the Third Coalition to an end. On 26 December 1805, Austria and France signed the Treaty of Pressburg, which took Austria out of both the war and the Coalition, while it reinforced the earlier treaties between the two powers of Campo Formio and of Lunéville. The treaty confirmed the Austrian cession of lands in Italy and Bavaria to France and in Germany to Napoleon's German allies, imposed an indemnity of 40 million francs on the defeated Habsburgs, and allowed the defeated Russian troops free passage, with their arms and equipment, through hostile territories and back to their home soil. Victory at Austerlitz also permitted the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine, a collection of German states intended as a buffer zone between France and central Europe. As a direct consequence of these events, the Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist when, in 1806, Holy Roman Emperor Francis II abdicated the Imperial throne, keeping Francis I of Austria as his only official title. These achievements, however, did not establish a lasting peace on the continent. Prussian worries about growing French influence in Central Europe sparked the War of the Fourth Coalition in 1806.
Europe had been in turmoil since the start of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1792. In 1797, after five years of war, the French Republic subdued the First Coalition. A Second Coalition was formed in 1798, but by 1801, this too was defeated, leaving Britain the only opponent of the new French Consulate. In March 1802, France and Britain agreed to end hostilities under the Treaty of Amiens. For the first time in ten years, all of Europe was at peace. However, many problems persisted between the two sides, making implementation of the treaty increasingly difficult. The British government resented having to turn over most of the colonial conquests it had made since 1793. Napoleon was angry that British troops had not evacuated the island of Malta. The tense situation only worsened when Napoleon sent an expeditionary force to crush the Haitian Revolution. In May 1803, Britain declared war on France.
Battle of Austerlitz
The Third Coalition
In December 1804, an Anglo-Swedish agreement led to the creation of the Third Coalition. British Prime Minister William Pitt spent 1804 and 1805 in a flurry of diplomatic activity geared towards forming a new coalition against France, and by April 1805, Britain and Russia had signed an alliance. Having been defeated twice in recent memory by France, and being keen on revenge, Austria joined the coalition a few months later.
French imperial army
Prior to the formation of the Third Coalition, Napoleon had assembled an invasion force, called the Armée d'Angleterre (Army of England) around six camps at Boulogne in Northern France. He intended to use this invasion force to strike at England, and was so confident of success that he had commemorative medals struck to celebrate the conquest of the English. Although they never invaded, Napoleon's troops received careful and invaluable training for any possible military operation. Boredom among the troops occasionally set in, but Napoleon paid many visits and conducted lavish parades in order to boost morale.
The men at Boulogne formed the core for what Napoleon would later call La Grande Armée. At the start, this French army had about 200,000 men organized into seven corps, which were large field units that contained 36 to 40 cannon each and were capable of independent action until other corps could come to the rescue. A single corps (properly situated in a strong defensive position) could survive at least a day without support, giving the Grande Armée countless strategic and tactical options on every campaign. On top of these forces, Napoleon created a cavalryreserve of 22,000 organized into two cuirassier divisions, four mounted dragoon divisions, one division of dismounted dragoons and one of light cavalry, all supported by 24 artillery pieces. By 1805, theGrande Armée had grown to a force of 350,000 men, who were well equipped, well trained, and led by competent officers.
Russian imperial army
The Russian army in 1805 had many characteristics of Ancien Régime organization. There was no permanent formation above the regimental level, senior officers were largely recruited from aristocratic circles (and commissions were generally sold to the highest bidder, regardless of competence), and the Russian soldier, in line with 18th-century practice, was regularly beaten and punished "to instill discipline". Furthermore, many lower-level officers were poorly trained and had difficulty getting their men to perform the sometimes complex maneuvers required in a battle. However, the Russians did have a fine artillery arm, manned by soldiers who regularly fought hard to prevent their pieces from falling into enemy hands.
The supply system of the Russian Imperial Army depended on the local population and Russia's Austrian allies, with seventy percent of Russian supplies being provided by Austria. Without a sturdy and organized supply system and with overextended supply lines, Russian soldiers found it difficult to maintain combat readiness and good health.
Austrian imperial army
Archduke Charles, brother of the Austrian Emperor, had started to reform the Austrian army in 1801 by taking away power from the Hofkriegsrat, the military/political council responsible for decision-making in the Austrian armed forces. Charles was Austria's best field commander, but he was unpopular with the royal court and lost much influence when, against his advice, Austria decided to go to war with France. Karl Mack became the new main commander in Austria's army, instituting infantry reforms on the eve of the war that called for a regiment to be composed of four battalions of four companies, rather than the older three battalions of six companies. The sudden change came with no corresponding officer training, and as a result these new units were not led so well as they could have been. The Austrian cavalry was regarded as the best cavalry in Europe, but the detachment of many cavalry units to various infantry formations reduced its effectiveness against its massed French counterpart.
In August 1805, Napoleon, Emperor of the French since December of the previous year, turned his army's sights from the English Channel to theRhine in order to deal with the new Austrian and Russian threats. On 25 September after great secrecy and feverish marching, 200,000 French troops began to cross the Rhine on a front of 260 km (160 mi). Mack had gathered the greater part of the Austrian army at the fortress of Ulm in Swabia (modern day southern Germany). Napoleon swung his forces southward and performed a wheeling movement that put the French at the Austrian rear. The Ulm Maneuver was well-executed and on 20 October Mack and 23,000 Austrian troops surrendered at Ulm, bringing the total number of Austrian prisoners in the campaign to 60,000. Although the spectacular victory was soured by the defeat of the Franco-Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar the following day, French success on land continued as Vienna fell in November, replete with 100,000 muskets, 500 cannon, and the intact bridges across the Danube.
Meanwhile, the lateness of the arrival of Russian troops prevented them from saving the Austrian field armies, so the Russians withdrew to the northeast to await reinforcements and to link up with surviving Austrian units. Tsar Alexander I then appointed general Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov to the commander-in-chief of the Russian and Austrian troops. On 9 September 1805, Kutuzov arrived at the battlefield to gather information. He quickly contacted Francis I of Austria and his courtiers to discuss planning and logistical matters. Under pressure from Kutuzov, the Austrians agreed to supply munitions and weapons in a timely and sufficient manner. Kutuzov also spotted shortcomings in the Austrian defense plan, which he called "very dogmatic". Furthermore he objected to Austrian annexation of the land recently under Napoleon's control because this would make the local people distrust the allied force. However, many of Kutuzov's proposals were rejected.
The French followed, but soon found themselves in an unenviable disposition: Prussian intentions were unknown and could be hostile, the Russian and Austrian armies now converged, and to add to Napoleon's challenges, the French lines of communication were extremely long and required strong garrisons to keep them open. Napoleon realized that the only meaningful way to capitalize on the success at Ulm was to force the Allies to battle and defeat them. On the Russian side, Commander-in-chief Kutuzov also realized that; so instead of clinging to the "suicidal" Austrian defense plan, Kutuzov decided to retreat. He ordered Pyotr Bagration to command 600 troops to contain the French at Vienna, and instructed the Allied Army to accept Murat's ceasefire proposal so that the allied army could have more time to retreat. Napoleon soon realized Murat's mistakes and ordered him to pursue quickly; however, at that time the allied army had already retreated to Olmutz.According to Kutuzov's plan, the Allies would retreat further to the Carpathian region and "at Galicia, I will bury the French.".
However, Napoleon did not stay still. The French Emperor decided to make a psychological trap in order to lure the Allies out. Days before any actual fighting, Napoleon had given the impression to the Allies that his army was in a weak state and that he desired a negotiated peace. About only 53,000 French troops - including Soult, Lannes and Murat's forces - would take possession of Austerlitz and the Olmutz road, occupying the enemy's attention. The Allied forces, numbering about 89,000, seemed to be far superior and would be tempted to attack an outnumbered French Army. However, the Allies didn't know that the reinforcements of Bernadotte, Mortier and Davout had already been within the supported distance, and could be called in need by forced marches from Iglau and Vienna respectively, raising the French forces to 75,000 troops, thus sharply reducing the inferiority in number
Napoleon's lure did not stop at that. On November 25, general Savary was sent to the Allied headquarters at Olmutz in order to secretly examine the Allied forces' situation and deliver Napoleon's message expressing Napoleon's desire to avoid a battle. As expected, that expression was seen as a sure sign of weakness. When Francis I offered an armistice on the 27th, Napoleon expressed great enthusiasm in accepting it. On the same day, Napoleon ordered Soult to abandon both Austerlitz and the Pratzen Heights and also create an image of chaos during the retreat; that would make the enemies occupy the Heights. The next day (November 28), the French Emperor requested a personal interview with Alexander I and received a visit from the Tsar's most impetuous aide, Count Dolgorouki. The meeting was another part of the trap as Napoleon intentionally expressed anxiousness and hesitation to his opponents, and Dolgorouki reported all of this to the Tsar as an additional indication of French weakness.
The plan was successful. Many of the Allied officers, including the Tsar's aides and the Austrian Chief of Staff Franz von Weyrother, strongly supported the idea of attacking immediately and appeared to be swaying Tsar Alexander's opinion. Kutuzov's idea was rejected, and the Allied forces would soon fall into the trap that Napoleon had set.
Napoleon with his troops on the eve of battle. Painting by Louis-François, Baron Lejeune
Napoleon could muster some 72,000 men and 157 guns for the impending battle, although about 7,000 troops under Davout were still far to the south in the direction of Vienna. The Allies had about 85,000 soldiers, seventy percent of them Russian, and 318 guns. So, The French Army was inferior in number.
At first, Napoleon was not totally confident of his victory. In a letter written to Minister of Foreign Affairs Talleyrand, Napoleon requested Talleyrand not tell anyone about the upcoming battle because he did not want to disturb Empress Joséphine. According to Frederick C. Schneid, the main concern of Napoleon was not the tranquility of Joséphine; the French Emperor worried more about how he could explain to Joséphine if the French Army was defeated.
The battle took place about six miles (ten kilometers) southeast of the town of Brno, between that town and Austerlitz (Czech: Slavkov u Brna) in what is now the Czech Republic. The northern part of the battlefield was dominated by the 700-foot (210-meter) Santon hill and the 880-foot (270-meter) Zuran (Žuráň)hill, both overlooking the vital Olomouc/Brno road, which was on an east/west axis. To the west of these two hills was the village of Bellowitz (Bedřichovice), and between them the Bosenitz (Roketnice) Stream went south to link up with the Goldbach (Říčka) Stream, the latter flowing astride the villages of Kobelnitz (Kobylnice), Sokolnitz (Sokolnice), and Telnitz (Telnice). The centerpiece of the entire area was the Pratzen (Prace) Heights, a gently sloping hill about 35 to 40 feet (10 to 12 meters) in height. An aide noted that Napoleon repeatedly told his Marshals, "Gentlemen, examine this ground carefully, it is going to be a battlefield; you will have a part to play upon it."
Allied plans and dispositions
Allied (red) and French (blue) deployments at 1800 hours on 1 December 1805.
An Allied council met on 1 December to discuss proposals for the battle. Most of the Allied strategists had two fundamental ideas in mind: making contact with the enemy and securing the southern flank that held the communication line to Vienna. Although the Tsar and his immediate entourage pushed hard for a battle, Emperor Francis of Austria was in a more cautious mood and, as mentioned, he was seconded by Kutuzov, the Commander-in-chief of the Russians and the Allied troop. The pressure to fight from the Russian nobles and the Austrian commanders, however, was too strong, and the Allies adopted Austrian Chief of Staff Franz von Weyrother's plan. This called for a main drive against the French right flank, which the Allies noticed was lightly guarded, and diversionary attacks against the French left. The Allies deployed most of their troops into four columns that would attack the French right. TheRussian Imperial Guard was held in reserve while Russian troops under Bagration guarded the Allied right. Furthermore, the Russian Tsar rudely stripped the authority of Commander-in-chief M. I. Kutuzov and gave it to Franz von Weyrother. In the battle Kutuzov could only command the IV Corps of the Allied army, although he was still the de jure commander because the Tsar himself was afraid of responsibility in case his favored plan failed.
French plans and dispositions
French cuirassiers taking position
Napoleon was hoping that the Allied forces would attack, and to encourage them on this mission he deliberately weakened his right flank. On 28 November Napoleon met with his marshals at Imperial Headquarters who informed him of their qualms about the forthcoming battle. They even suggested a retreat, but he shrugged off their complaints.
Napoleon's plan envisioned that the Allies would throw so many troops to envelop his right flank in order to cut the French communication line fromVienna. As a result, the Allies' center and left flank would be exposed and become vulnerable. In order to encourage them to do so, Napoleon even abandoned the strategic position on the Pratzen Heights, further faking the weakness of his forces and his own nervousness. Meanwhile, Napoleon's main force was to be concealed in a dead ground opposite the Heights. According to the plan, the French troops would attack and recapture the Pratzen Heights, then from the Heights they would launch a decisive assault to the center of the Allied army, cripple them and then encircle them from the rear.
The massive thrust through the Allied center was conducted by 16,000 troops of Soult's IV Corps. IV Corps' position was cloaked by dense mist during the early stage of the battle; in fact how long the mist lasted was vital to Napoleon's plan: Soult's troops would become uncovered if the mist dissipated too soon, but if it lingered too long, Napoleon would be unable to determine when the Allied troops had evacuated Pratzen Heights, preventing him from timing his attack properly.
Meanwhile, to support his weak right flank, Napoleon ordered Davout's III Corps to force march all the way from Vienna and join General Legrand's men, who held the extreme southern flank that would bear the heaviest part of the Allied attack. Davout's soldiers had 48 hours to march 110 km (68 mi). Their arrival was crucial in determining the success of the French plan. Indeed, the arrangement of Napoleon on the right flank was very risky as the French only had minimal troops garrisoning there. However, the reason why Napoleon could use such a risky plan was because Davout - the commander of III Corps - was one of Napoleon's best Marshals; because the right flank's position was protected by a complicated system of streams and lakes; and because the French had already settled upon a secondary line of retreat through Brunn. The Imperial Guard andBernadotte's I Corps were held in reserve while the V Corps under Lannes guarded the northern sector of the battlefield, where the new communication line was located.
By 1 December 1805, the French troops had been shifted in accordance with the Allied movement southward, as Napoleon expected.
Battle is joined
The battle began at about 8 a.m. with the first allied column attacking the village of Telnitz, which was defended by the 3rd Line Regiment. This sector of the battlefield witnessed heavy action in the following moments as several ferocious Allied charges evicted the French from the town and forced them onto the other side of the Goldbach. The first men of Davout's corps arrived at this time and threw the Allies out of Telnitz before they too were attacked by hussars and reabandoned the town. Additional Allied attacks out of Telnitz were checked by French artillery.
Allied columns started pouring against the French right, but not at the desired speed, so the French were mostly successful in curbing the attacks. Actually, the Allied deployments were mistaken and poorly timed: cavalry detachments under Liechtenstein on the Allied left flank had to be placed in the right flank and in the process they ran into and slowed down part of the second column of infantry that was advancing towards the French right. At the time, the planners thought this was a disaster, but later on it helped the Allies. Meanwhile, the leading elements of the second column were attacking the village of Sokolnitz, which was defended by the 26th Light Regiment and the Tirailleurs, French skirmishers. Initial Allied assaults proved unsuccessful and General Langeron ordered the bombardment of the village. This deadly barrage forced the French out, and at about the same time, the third column attacked the castle of Sokolnitz. The French, however, counterattacked and regained the village, only to be thrown out again. Conflict in this area ended temporarily when Friant's division (part of III Corps) retook the village. Sokolnitz was perhaps the most fought over area in the battlefield and would change hands several times as the day progressed.
While the allied troops attacked the French's right flank, Kutuzov's IV Corp stopped at Pratzen height and stayed still. Just like Napoleon, Kutuzov realized the importance of Pratzen and decided to protect the position. But the young Tsar did not, so he expelled the IV Corp from Pratzen height and, so, this act quickly pushed the Allied army into her grave.
"One sharp blow and the war is over"
At about 8:45 a.m., satisfied at the weakness in the enemy center, Napoleon asked Soult how long it would take for his men to reach the Pratzen Heights, to which the Marshal replied, "Less than twenty minutes, sire." About 15 minutes later, Napoleon ordered the attack, adding, "One sharp blow and the war is over."[
A dense fog helped to cloud the advance of St. Hilaire's division, but as they went up the slope the legendary 'Sun of Austerlitz' ripped the mist apart and encouraged them forward. Russian soldiers and commanders on top of the heights were stunned to see so many French troops coming towards them. Allied commanders were now able to feed some of the delayed detachments of the fourth column into this bitter struggle. Over an hour of fighting destroyed much of this unit. The other men from the second column, mostly inexperienced Austrians, also participated in the struggle and swung the numbers against one of the best fighting forces in the French army, eventually forcing them to withdraw down the slopes. However, gripped by desperation, St. Hilaire's men struck hard once more and bayoneted the Allies out of the heights. To the north, General Vandamme's division attacked an area called Staré Vinohrady ("Old Vineyards") and through talented skirmishing and deadly volleys broke several Allied battalions.
The battle had firmly turned in France's favour, but it was far from over. Napoleon ordered Bernadotte's I Corps to support Vandamme's left and moved his own command center from Žuráň Hill to St. Anthony's Chapel on the Pratzen Heights. The difficult position of the Allies was confirmed by the decision to send in the Russian Imperial Guard; Grand Duke Constantine, Tsar Alexander's brother, commanded the Guard and counterattacked in Vandamme's section of the field, forcing a bloody effort and the only loss of a French standard in the battle (the unfortunate victim was a battalion of the 4th Line Regiment). Sensing trouble, Napoleon ordered his own heavy Guard cavalry forward. These men pulverized their Russian counterparts, but with both sides pouring in large masses of cavalry no victory was clear yet. The Russians had a numerical advantage here but fairly soon the tide swung as Drouet'sDivision, the 2nd of Bernadotte's I Corps, deployed on the flank of the action and allowed French cavalry to seek refuge behind their lines. The horse artilleryof the Guard also inflicted heavy casualties on the Russian cavalry and fusiliers. The Russians broke and many died as they were pursued by the reinvigorated French cavalry for about a quarter of a mile. The casualties of the Russians in Pratzen included Kutuzov (severely wounded) and his son-in-law Ferdinand von Tiesenhausen (KIA).
By 1400 hours, the Allied army had been dangerously separated. Napoleon now had the option to strike at one of the wings, and he chose the Allied left since other enemy sectors had already been cleared or were conducting fighting retreats.
Meanwhile, the northernmost part of the battlefield was also witnessing heavy fighting. Prince Liechtenstein's heavy cavalry began to assault Kellerman'slighter cavalry forces after eventually arriving at the correct position in the field. The fighting initially went well for the French, but Kellerman's forces took cover behind General Caffarelli's infantry division once it became clear Russian numbers were too great. Caffarelli's men halted the Russian assaults and permitted Murat to send two cuirassier divisions (one commanded by d'Hautpoul and the other one by Nansouty) into the fray to finish off the Russian cavalry for good. The ensuing melee was bitter and long, but the French ultimately prevailed. Lannes then led his V Corps against Bagration's men and after hard fighting managed to drive the skilled Russian commander off the field. He wanted to pursue, but Murat, who was in control of this sector in the battlefield, was against the idea.
Napoleon's focus now shifted towards the southern end of the battlefield where the French and the Allies were still fighting over Sokolnitz and Telnitz. In an effective double-pronged assault, St. Hilaire's division and part of Davout's III Corps smashed through the enemy at Sokolnitz and persuaded the commanders of the first two columns, Generals Kienmayer and Langeron, to flee as fast as they could. Buxhowden, the commander of the Allied left and the man responsible for leading the attack, was completely drunk and fled as well. Kienmayer covered his withdrawal with the O'Reilly light cavalry, who gallantly managed to defeat five of six French cavalry regiments before they too had to retreat.
General panic now seized the Allied army and it abandoned the field in any and all possible directions. A frightful and famous episode occurred during this retreat: Russian forces that had been defeated by the French right withdrew south towards Vienna via the Satschan frozen ponds. French artillery pounded towards the men, and the ice was broken due to the bombardment. The men drowned in the viciously cold ponds, dozens of Russian artillery pieces going down along with them. Estimates of how many guns were captured differ; there may have been as few as 38 or more than 100. Sources also differ about casualties, with figures ranging from as few as 200 to as many as 2,000 dead. Because Napoleon exaggerated this incident in his report of the battle, and the Tsar tacitly accepted the account as an excuse for the catastrophic defeat, the low numbers may be more accurate. Many drowning Russians were saved by their victorious foes. However, local evidence, only later made public, suggests that Napoleon's account of the catastrophe may have been totally invented; on the emperor's instructions the lakes were drained a few days after the battle and the corpses of only two or three men, with some 150 horses, were found.
Austerlitz and the preceding campaign profoundly altered the nature of European politics. In three months, the French had occupied Vienna, destroyed two armies, and humbled the Austrian Empire. These events sharply contrast with the rigid power structures of the 18th century. Austerlitz set the stage for a near-decade of French domination of the European continent, but one of its more immediate effects was to goad Prussia into war in 1806.
Military and political results
Overall, Allied casualties stood at about 27,000 out of an army of 73,000, which was 37% of their effectives. The French lost around 9,000 out of a force of 67,000, or about 13% of effectives. The Allies also lost 180 guns and 50 standards. The great victory was met by sheer amazement and delirium in Paris, where just days earlier the nation had been teetering on the brink of financial collapse. Napoleon wrote to Josephine, "I have beaten the Austro-Russian army commanded by the two emperors. I am a little weary....I embrace you." Tsar Alexander perhaps best summed up the harsh times for the Allies by stating, "We are babies in the hands of a giant."
France and Austria signed a truce on 4 December and the Treaty of Pressburg 22 days later took the latter out of the war. Austria agreed to recognize French territory captured by the treaties of Campo Formio (1797) and Lunéville (1801), cede land to Bavaria, Wurttemberg, and Baden, which were Napoleon's German allies, and pay 40 million francs in war indemnities, andVenice was given to the Kingdom of Italy. It was a harsh end for Austria, but certainly not a catastrophic peace. The Russian army was allowed to withdraw to home territory and the French ensconced themselves in Southern Germany. The Holy Roman Empire was effectively wiped out, 1806 being seen as its final year. Napoleon created the Confederation of the Rhine, a string of German states meant to serve as a buffer between France and Prussia. Prussia saw these and other moves as an affront to its status as the main power of Central Europe and it went to war with France in 1806.
Napoleon's words to his troops after the battle were full of praise: Soldats! Je suis content de vous (English: Soldiers! I am pleased with you). The Emperor provided two million golden francs to the higher officers and 200 francs to each soldier, with large pensions for the widows of the fallen. Orphaned children were adopted by Napoleon personally and were allowed to add "Napoleon" to their baptismal and family names. Napoleon never gave a title of nobility to any of his commanders, as was customary following a great victory. It is probable that he considered Austerlitz too much of a personal triumph to elevate anyone else significantly.
The Battle of Austerlitz, 2 December 1805by Joseph Swebach-Desfontaines.
There are many stories and legends regarding events before or during the battle. In the night before the day of battle, Napoleon set out with his entourage to review the forward positions. During this tour, he was recognized by the soldiers of Vandamme's division, and fairly soon the entire army lit candles to celebrate the anniversary of his coronation. Allied soldiers and commanders looking at this believed that the French were preparing to retreat. Another story features an unfortunate French soldier running from Cossacks; apparently, the soldier climbed through a chimney trying to hide, but the Cossacks found and killed him anyway. A more humorous episode occurred between some Russian troopers looking for horse fodder from a local peasant woman. The soldiers kept yelling, Babo, ovsa("Granny, give us oats") but the woman, who was old and probably had difficulty hearing, thought they were saying Hopsa ("Jump"), so she repeatedly jumped, to the very great frustration of the Russian soldiers. Eventually, the soldiers realized she did not understand them, pointed to the horses outside, and even started chewing to give her a clue, which she finally got, giving the soldiers the oats they wanted. Yet another story tells of French artillerymen throwing a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary into a fire for warmth and discovering that it would not burn.
War and Peace
The Battle of Austerlitz is a major event in Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace. As the battle is about to start, Prince Andrei, one of the main characters, thinks that the approaching "day [will] be his Toulon, or hisArcola," references to Napoleon's early victories. Andrei hopes for glory, even thinking to himself, "I shall march forward and sweep everything before me." Later in the battle, however, Andrei falls into enemy hands and even meets his hero, Napoleon. But the previous enthusiasm has been shattered; he no longer thinks much of Napoleon, "so petty did his hero with his paltry vanity and delight in victory appear, compared to that lofty, righteous and kindly sky which he had seen and comprehended." Tolstoy portrays Austerlitz as an early test for Russia, one which ended badly because the soldiers fought for irrelevant things like glory or renown rather than the higher virtues which would produce, according to Tolstoy, a victory at Borodino during the 1812 invasion.
Napoleon did not succeed in defeating the Allied army as thoroughly as he wanted, but historians and enthusiasts alike recognize that the original plan provided a significant victory. For that reason, Austerlitz is sometimes compared to other great tactical battles such as Cannae or Blenheim. Some historians suggest that Napoleon was so successful at Austerlitz that he lost touch with reality, and what used to be French foreign policy became a "personal Napoleonic one" after the battle. In French history, Austerlitz is acknowledged as an impressive military victory, and in the 19th century, when fascination with the First Empire was at its height, the battle was revered by the likes of Victor Hugo, who "in the depth of [his] thoughts" was hearing the "noise of the heavy cannon rolling towards Austerlitz". In the 2005 bicentennial, however, controversy erupted when neither French President Jacques Chirac nor Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin attended any functions commemorating the battle. On the other hand, some residents of France's overseas departments protested against what they viewed as the "official commemoration of Napoleon", arguing that Austerlitz should not be celebrated since they believed Napoleon committedgenocide against colonial people.
After the battle, Tsar Alexander I laid all the blame on M. I. Kutuzov, Commander-in-chief of the Allied Army. However it is clear that Kutuzov's plan was to retreat farther to the rear where the Allied army had sharp advantage in logistics. In that case the Allied troops might have been reinforced by Archduke Charles's troops from Italy, and the Prussians might have joined the Coalition against Napoleon. A French army at the end of her supply lines, in a place which had no food supplies, would have faced a very different ending from the real battle of Austerlitz.