THE BATTLES OF JENA - AUERSTADT
After the French victory over the combined Austro - Russian armies at Austerlitz in 1805, the bulk of the French Grand army had not returned to France with Napoleon and the Imperial Guard, instead they had taken up positions along the Rhine river in southern Germany.
In September 1806, it became apparent that Prussia was mobilizing its military forces against France. In response, Napoleon and the Imperial Guard immediately left Paris for southern Germany. By October all French corps commanders had assembled in Bavaria and Napoleon gave the order to advance.
On October 10th, Marshall Lannes V corps crossed the Saale river and ran into a Prussian advance guard sent to detain the French crossing. Lannes easily pushed the small Prussian force aside and continued his advance.
Lannes soon found himself in contact with a Prussian infantry corps under the command of Prince Louis Ferdinand. In a brilliant manoeuvre, Lannes completely surprised and enveloped the entire Prussian corps, wiping it out along with taking the life of the prince himself.
Lannes continued onward towards the town of Jena were he discovered a large concentration of Prussian forces. Lannes quickly sent word to the Emperor who, believing this to be the main Prussian army, ordered all French corps commanders to march on the town. Only Davout's III and Bernadotte's I corps were ordered north towards the town of Naumburg, to cut off any line of Prussian retreat.
During the evening of October 13th, Napoleon arrived north west of Jena with 96,000 men and the assurance that other French corps were marching on his position. Opposite Napoleon stood a Prussian army of 38,000 men under the command of Prince Hohenlohe.
Napoleon opened the battle the following morning At 6:30 am, by ordering Lannes V corps to occupy the town of Cospeda. At the same moment the Prussians under Von Hoeltzen, launched an infantry attack against the French right flank towards the town of Closewitz, but were repulsed with heavy losses due to the stubborn defence by Marshall Soult's IV corps. While Soult was beating back the Prussian assault, Marshall Augereau and his VII corps slowly worked their way around the Prussian right flank in the valley below.
Marshall Ney now arrived on the battlefield with an advance guard of 5,000 men from his VI corps. Without waiting for the remainder of his men to arrive, Ney charged into the fight to the left of Lannes attack. Ney did not keep pace with Lannes's march and severely overextended himself.
Prince Hohenlohe now saw an opportunity to drive a wedge between the two French corps and ordered one infantry division with a cavalry division in support to attack. Ney soon found himself isolated and cut off from Lannes left flank as the Prussians easily cut between them.
With Ney's men completely surrounded and fighting for their very lives, Napoleon immediately ordered Lannes to halt his attack towards Cospeda and along with Augereau, march to the aid of the desperate Ney.
FIELD MARSHALL LANNES
Around the town of Vierzehnheiligen, the fighting became desperate, as the French tried valiantly to save their stricken comrades. The Prussian troops soon began to suffer very heavy casualties from the two French corps converging on them and were compelled to fall back. this allowed Ney and his remaining men to retreat to the safety of the French lines.
It was now midday and with the failure of this last Prussian attack, Napoleon was now free to implement his strategy to end the battle. Napoleon ordered Augereau's VII and Soult's IV corps to pin down the Prussian left and right flanks respectively, while Lannes V and Ney's now reassembled VI corps, were to deliver the winning stroke and punch through the Prussian center.
With both Prussian flanks in serious trouble and a massive French assault against his center forth coming, Prince Hohenlohe chose to concede defeat and ordered his army to withdrawal. Napoleon now ordered Field Marshall Murat and 5,000 heavy cavalry to pursue the retreating Prussians, whose orderly withdrawal soon turned into a complete rout.
French losses at Jena numbered 5,000 men compared to the Prussians 10,000 dead and 15,000 taken prisoner along with 120 cannons. Napoleon believed he had defeated the main Prussian army, but unknown to the Emperor, another battle was being fought ten miles to the north at Auerstadt, where Field Marshall Davout's III corps of 26,000 men, would find themselves outnumbered more than two to one against a Prussian army 63,000 strong.
NAPOLEON REVIEWS CAPTURED PRUSSIAN BATTLE STANDARDS
THE BATTLE OF AUERSTADT
FIELD MARSHALL DAVOUT
On the day of the French victory at Jena, Marshall's Davout and Bernadotte commanding the French III and I corps respectively, were following Napoleon’s orders to march together to the town of Naumburg.
For many years hard feelings had run deep between the two men and along the march, Bernadotte chose to disobey Napoleon's direct orders and distance himself from Davout, by marching his corps toward the town of Dornburg, thus leaving Davout to march on alone in hostile territory.
As III corps continued onward, Davout began receiving reports from his advance units of strong enemy movements to his front. Dense fog had suddenly covered the entire area and with only one of his three divisions present, Davout choose to stop near the town of Auerstadt and camp for the night.
At 7:00 am, the fog abruptly lifted to reveal the main Prussian army encamped almost on top of Davout's position. Astonished to find the Prussians so close, Davout immediately ordered General Gudin to form up his 10,000 men into square and sent urgent requests to his other two divisions still to the rear, under General's Friant and Morand, to march to his aid with all hast.
Without waiting for infantry support, Field Marshall Blucher assumed command of the Prussian cavalry and charged towards the formidable French position. This uncoordinated attack had no effect on the massive French square and Blucher was compelled to fall back suffering heavy losses.
Witnessing Blucher's rebuff, King Frederick William III and the Prussian field commander the Duke of Brunswick, now wasted an additional two hours evaluating the situation. This allowed Davout's second division of 8,000 men under Friant, to arrive and take up positions on Gudin's right.
Now with 17,000 men, Davout redeployed his forces in order to keep the road back to Naumburg open in the event he was forced to call a withdrawal, sending the greater part of Gudin's division to the north of the village of Hassenhaussen while leaving only one regiment to its south.
Just before 10:00 am, the Prussian’s finally attacked in force with two infantry divisions to the north and south of Hassenhaussen. The northern attack was decimated as the Prussian’s were caught in a murderous crossfire as they veered to far from their objective and marched straight between Friant's and Gudin's divisions, while the southern attack easily brushed aside the lone French regiment.
With his left flank in serious danger, Davout personally led two regiments from Gudin's second line and counter attacked the Prussian breakthrough, successfully throwing the enemy back and returning some stability to the French lines. At this stage Davout's entire command was heavily engaged, his third division was still to the rear and would not arrive for some time, nor was their any sign that Bernadotte may be marching to his aid.
Fortunately for Davout the Prussians failed to make use of their numerical superiority by turning his weak left flank, instead they wasted more precious time and men by launching four consecutive frontal assaults to take Hassenhaussen, all of which were repulsed with heavy losses. It was also during these failed attacks the Duke of Brunswick was shot through both eyes and killed.
KING FREDERICK lll
King Frederick now makes a grave error by failing to take immediate command of the Prussian army, instead allowing his troops to fight on leaderless for some time. At 11:00 am, when the King does finally assume overall command, the Prussians again lost there tactical advantage by allowing Davout's third division of 8,000 men under Morand to arrive and take up positions on the shattered French left.
At the same time a Prussian infantry division under the Prince of Orange also arrived on the battle field, but instead of going into action on one flank or the other ( which may have turned the tide ), the Prince divided his force, sending half his men to each Prussian wing respectively.
General Wartensleben now ordered a large infantry attack on Morand's positions with the half division of Orange's in support. The Prussian assault suffered immense casualties as it was cut down and torn apart wholesale by the murderous fire from French rifles. Morand's defence was so disciplined and stubborn that the Prussian attack simply melted away.
The Prussian right flank was now in serious peril of disintegrating. King Frederick still had two infantry divisions numbering 15,000 men in reserve to call upon, but Frederick was mesmerized by the thought he was facing Napoleon in person and ignored the urgent requests by his commanders to commit these troops to stop the collapse of his army.
It was now mid day and with Davout sensing victory, he formed up his three divisions and ordered a general advance. Still refusing to commit his last reserves, the King of Prussia could only concede defeat and ordered his army to withdrawal.
The withdrawal however soon began to turn into a rout, for as Davout's corps approached, the Prussian's began to panic and scatter in all directions. Davout ordered his men to pursue, but they were to exhausted to continue.
Davout's victory had been now been complete, some 10,000 Prussians lay dead and 5,000 more taken prisoner along with 115 cannons. French losses numbered 7,000 men. The battle of Auerstadt would be Field Marshall Davout's finest hour and history would rank him as one of the great commanders.
The Prussian capital of Berlin would fall to Napoleon some eleven days later, in the triumphant parade that followed, the honour of entering the Prussian capital first, was bestowed upon Davout and his III corps.
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