THE BATTLE OF AUSTERLITZ
On April 11th 1805, the nations of Great Britain, Russia, Austria and Sweden signed the convention of St Petersburg, creating the third coalition. Thus dedicating themselves to the total defeat of France and the removal of Napoleon as Emperor.
Napoleon was now forced to postpone his planned invasion of Great Britain and ordered the Grand Army to leave their coastal positions and march east. When ready, Napoleon’s plan was to cross the Rhine and defeat the closer Austrian’s before the Russian army ( still far off to the east ) could mobilize and come to their aid.
During the Austrian and Russian strategic planning, it never emerged that the Russians operated on a different calendar system, an error which would see a difference of twelve days between themselves and their European allies.
Napoleon's opening campaign against the Austrian’s was a masterpiece of maneuver. The Grand army numbering 210,000 men, crossed the Rhine on September 25th and clashed with an Austrian army of 70,000 men at Wertingen (Oct. 8), Albeck (Oct. 11) and Elchingen (Oct. 14), until eventually the Austrian’s were pushed back to the town of Ulm.
The Austrian commander General Mack, believing the Russian’s were in the area waited in vain for reinforcements to arrive. Unknown to Mack, the Russian’s were operating on their own calendar system and were in reality more than one hundred miles away.
On October 20th, now completely surrounded and with supplies running out, Mack was forced to surrender his remaining force of 30,000 men. In one brilliant maneuver, Napoleon had vastly improved his odds against the combined might of the allied coalition.
Napoleon now ordered his victorious army to march east towards the combined Austro - Russian army under Field Marshall Kutuzov. When the allied army learned of the Austrian defeat at Ulm, Kutuzov refused to give battle, instead choosing to withdrawal and lure Napoleon farther eastward in an effort to overextend the French.
The allied plan worked, as Napoleon ordered his army forward, occupying the Austrian capital of Vienna on November 14th. The French campaign was now beginning to show signs of trouble, for each mile the French continued onward there supply lines grew ever longer and more vulnerable. Large numbers of valuable troops were already being diverted to protect the French lines of communication and the forced marches were leaving the troops exhausted.
Napoleon continued chasing the allies north from Vienna, reports were now coming in that smaller allied offensives to the south were beginning to gain ground. With this knowledge Kutuzov stopped retreating and turned the allied army around to face the French.
To Napoleon retreat was out of the question, his only chance was to engage the allies quickly. Facing incredible odds Napoleon came up with a brilliant plan. Napoleon ordered his troops to execute a series of deceptions which would lure the allies into battle on ground of his choosing.
Napoleon selected an area three miles west of the town of Austerlitz, dominated by a rise known as the Pratzen Heights with lake Satchsen to its right. Napoleon’s plan worked perfectly as the Austro - Russian army began marching on the area.
The French Grand Army arrived on the battle field before the allies and immediately occupied the heights and surrounding area. Napoleon’s force consisted of 75,000 men (65,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry and 150 cannons).The allied army numbered 90,000 men (70,000 Russian infantry, 13,000 Austrian infantry, 7,000 mixed cavalry and 300 cannons).
When the allies began to reach the battle field in strength, Napoleon ordered his forces atop Pratzen to withdrawal from their dominating position as if they were retreating, in addition Napoleon purposely left his extended right flank along the Goldbach Stream weak and undermanned where Field Marshall Soult's IV corps of 24,000 men held almost five miles of front. Napoleon hoped this inviting target would tempt the allies into launching their main assault in that area.
THE ALLIES OCCUPY PRATZEN
The Russian’s immediately took the bait and occupied the superior high ground. On the evening before the battle during the allies consultation meeting, the Russian commander Field Marshall Kutuzov sensed a trap and tried to warn his Austrian allies. Russian Czar Alexander I and Austrian Emperor Francis I, wanted to destroy Napoleon once and for all and overruled Kutuzov's warnings, the allies agreed to attack next morning.
On the morning of December 2nd, a dense fog covered the battle field which left the allies even less clear about the French positions. Nevertheless the allies opened the battle by simultaneously attacking both French flanks, hoping to pin down the French left, while concentrating the bulk of their attack against Napoleon’s weaker right wing.
While the attack on the French left was drawn out in a stalemate, the Russian assault on the French right easily pushed Soult's corps back, occupying the villages of Telnitz and Sokolnitz. Only the sudden arrival of 6,600 infantry under Field Marshall Davout marching up from the southwest, stopped the Russian’s and stabilized the French line.
Still wanting to regain the initiative and smash through the still weak French right, Kutuzov ordered two infantry divisions atop Pratzen to vacate their positions and launch another fresh assault. The attack slammed hard into the French defenders causing their line to severely buckle but not break.
As the French right flank desperately hung on against vicious allied attacks, Napoleon's commanders urgently pleaded with the Emperor to immediately attack and save their flank from disintegrating.
Napoleon waited for what seemed an eternity as the French General staff witnessed two more allied infantry divisions leave the center and march on their right. Meanwhile on the French left, the allied attack had nearly collapsed the French line, but a desperate cavalry charge under Field Marshall Murat, pushed the allied assault back and saved the French positions from being overwhelmed.
At 9.00 am, just as it seemed the French right flank was about to collapse, Napoleon ordered his masterstroke. Concealed by the dense fog, two large infantry divisions under General St Hilaire, emerged from out of the mist and advanced up the slope towards Pratzen.
The French advance caught the allies completely by surprise, while at the same moment infantry and cavalry units under Field Marhall's Lannes and Murat, advanced from Zurlan Hill and prevented Russian reinforcements under General Bagration, from assisting the allied center. St Hilaire's infantry assault easily pushed the weakened Russian defenses aside, allowing the French to reoccupy the dominating Pratzen Heights.
NAPOLEON RETAKES PRATZEN
At 10.30 am, Kutuzov launched a vicious counterattack to reclaim the strategic high ground. The assault amounted to pure carnage as both French and Russian infantry fought a bloody hand to hand engagement with neither opponent asking nor giving any quarter. The Russian counterattack almost breached the French line, but the losses suffered were too severe and the Russian’s simply ran short of men and were forced to fall back.
Although the French right flank was still under heavy pressure, they still had not broken. And with Napoleon now in control of the center, for the allies it seemed the battle was slowly turning against them, but they were not defeated yet. At 1.00 pm, Kutuzov ordered the Russian Imperial Guard (elite troops handpicked for their size and strength) to retake Pratzen.
The Russian’s hurled themselves again and again at the near exhausted French defenders, who fired volley after volley into the masses of attacking Guardsmen. Despite very heavy casualties, the disciplined French fire began to take its toll as the Russian Guard broke ranks and fell back.
The situation for Kutuzov was now desperate, and he decided to gamble all rather than give Napoleon possession of the battle field. Kutuzov ordered the last allied reserve of fifteen cavalry squadrons along with the now reformed Russian Guard in support, to move up the heights once again and take Pratzen.
Napoleon knew the battered French troops atop the hill could not withstand such an attack and ordered his Imperial Guard along with units of the Guard cavalry forward to meet the threat.
The Russian attack reached the summit first and smashed into the exhausted French defenders. The French line could not withstand the large Russian assault and instantly began to break. Some sections of the French defenses did hold firm just long enough for the French Imperial Guard to arrive.
Upon their arrival, the French Guardsmen in one continuous motion immediately halted the Russian forces dead in their tracks and easily pushed them back down the hill scattering them in all directions. The dominant Pratzen heights were now firmly under French control and Napoleon now moved his command post there.
With the allied center now completely destroyed. Napoleon ordered his troops atop Pratzen to swing down behind the allies on the beleaguered French right. The allied forces under General Buxhowden were now trapped between the Goldbach stream and frozen lake Satchsen. The allied left wing immediately began to disintegrate as troops scattered and ran across the lake for their very lives.
THE ALLIED ARMY COLLAPSES
Napoleon now ordered his cannons atop the surrounding hills of the lake to open fire and smash the ice. The French artillery sent thousands of fleeing allied soldiers into the icy waters and an agonizing death.
By mid afternoon Kutuzov pulled what was left of the Russian army from the battlefield and limped for home. The allies had suffered 27,0000 casualties compared to Napoleon's 8,000. The battle was now over and what began as a golden opportunity for the allies to destroy Napoleon, had ended not only in defeat, but utter catastrophe for the Third coalition.
ALLIED SOLDIERS PLUNGE INTO THE ICY DEPTHS
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