"One sharp blow and the war is over" - The Battle of Austerlitz

2 December 1805, Napoleon won the arguably most brilliant of his victories during the Battle of the Three Emperors over the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz near present-day Brno in Moravia.


“So all things may be in readiness, he himself stands before the legions, waiting only for the sun to rise in order to announce the time for the oration that will electrify the soldiers, and the sun may rise more glorious than ever, an inspiring and inflaming sight for all, only not for him, because the sun did not rise as glorious as this at Austerlitz, and only the sun of Austerlitz gives victory and inspiration. Thus, the inexplicable passion with which such a one may often rage against an entirely insignificant man, when otherwise he may show humanity and kindness even toward his enemies." (Søren Kierkegaard)



François Gérard (1770 - 1837) "Napoléon at the Battle of Austerlitz" (1810)



Alliances are, by and large, a fine thing and so is a common goal. Quoth, mutatis mutandis, Mr William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister, and forged the Third Coalition to fight the French or rather Napoleon, since the Revolution was over since 18 Brumaire 1799 and the Ogre crowned himself emperor five years later. In effect, Napoleon was France, and, among lesser allies, the two large continental empires of the Ancien Régime, Austria and Russia agreed and war broke out again across Europe in April 1805. A wonderful plan was devised by the allies on a grand strategic scale with amphibious operations in the Netherlands, two wedges to be driven into the heart of France and a simultaneous mopping-up in French-occupied Italy. Unfortunately, the allies could not even agree on a common calendar, let alone communicate and coordinate effectively over distances from Palermo to Amsterdam by the speed of the fastest dispatch rider. But when Austrian troops under Mack shot ahead into the French satellite state of Bavaria in August of the year, Pitt had achieved his first mission objective. Napoleon secretly withdrew the Grande Armee from Boulogne where it lay waiting to invade England as soon as L’Empereur would be master of the Channel for a few hours. It was the first move of a master of his trade, though, and nobody realised the significance of French movement, Army Corps by Army Corps, 340,000 men, on different routes through the German-speaking states, until Napoleon suddenly showed up near Ulm, surrounded Mack and forced him and his 40,000 Austrians to surrender on 20 October. The first big push to defeat Napoleon had foundered at the headwaters of the Danube. Vienna, 350 miles to the east, surrendered three weeks later and now Napoleon began to play the Allies in earnest. The Russian supreme commander Kutuzov, certainly the sanest head among the allied armies gathered in Central Europe, was all for anticipating the fatal March on Moscow, drawing the French deep into the Eastern Europe to finally “bury the French” at the back of beyond, in Galicia, for instance. Unfortunately, his master, the young Tsar Alexander arrived on the scene, fell for Napoleon’s ruse that his Grande Armee already was exhausted while pursuing the retreating Allies to Moravia, overruled good, sane Kutuzov and persuaded the Austrian Emperor Francis to fight it out there and then and attack. On a battlefield of Napoleon’s choosing. "Gentlemen,“ the ogre said to his general staff assembled on the Pratzen Heights, overlooking the landscape between the town of Brünn, present-day Brno, and the village of Austerlitz, “examine this ground carefully, it is going to be a battlefield; you will have a part to play upon it." On a cold December morning in a dense fog, the battle began with 67,000 French soldiers on one and 85,000 Russian and Austrian soldiers on the other side.



In effect, Napoleon was France -
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: "Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne"
(1806)




In a twisted version of old Frederick the Great’s oblique order, the Allies intended to smash the French right wing, apparently the weakest point of their enemy’s position, and roll up the rest from there, centreing their own line on the Pratzen Heights. Unfortunately, Napoleon had deliberately vacated them with the intention of lulling the Allies into a sense of security and to provoke the flanking movement that followed. And when the “Sun of Austerlitz” dispersed the fog, the French right flank held while Napoleon ordered Soult’s divisions to charge the Pratzen Heights, retake them and thereby splitting the numerically superior allied forces in two to be destroyed piecemeal. The Sun of Austerlitz finally illuminated Napoleon’s ruse to Kutuzov as well, who tried to rush troops from the right flank to there to bolster the green Austrian regiments desperately trying to fend off Soult’s veterans, but too late and to no avail. In the afternoon, the Tsar’s life guards, both cavalry and infantry, the allies’ last reserve, managed to gain the upper hand on the Pratzen Heights for a moment, Napoleon threw his own guards into the battle and since no Austrian and Russian troops were unengaged at this point, Alexander’s elite hard core was battered to pieces by determined cavalry charges and French artillery employed almost at point-blank range. The battle was lost for the allies and rout and carnage commenced, most significantly on the contested French right flank. Trying to retreat across the ice of two frozen lakes there, the fleeing regiments ran under fire of French artillery, they broke through the shot-riddled ice and drowned miserably in their hundreds. 15,000 allies were dead or wounded, 12,000 taken prisoner.


During the counter-charge of the Tsar's Imperial Guard on the Pratzen Heights, even a French regimental eagle was captured - as patriotically imagined by the Russian Bogdan Willenwalde in 1884



Well into the 1850s, fish caught in the two lakes were deemed inedible because of the Austrians who drowned there during the battle. And Napoleon’s words spoken to Soult before his charge on the Pratzen Heights, deal them “one sharp blow and the war is over”, proved to be true. With only a demoralised remnant of a once proud fighting force left and Napoleon and his victorious army in his heartlands, Emperor Francis of Austria signed the Treaty of Pressburg that, amongst other things, meant the end of the Holy Roman Empire. Tsar Alexander retreated to Russia as soon as he could, concluded a preliminary peace with Napoleon, allegedly with the words spoken to the French envoy Anne Jean Marie René Savary: “Tell your master that I am going away. Tell him that he has performed miracles and that the battle has increased my admiration for him. That he is a man predestined by Heaven. That it will require a hundred years for my army to equal his”, as Sir Walter Scott hands it down in his “Life of Napoleon” while Pitt was not quite as morbidly enthusiastic. "Roll up that map;“ he said, “it will not be wanted these ten years." An assertion that proved to be correct almost to the day. Not that Pitt would benefit from it. He died in January 1806, a few weeks after his carefully planned alliance and his plans were shot to pieces at Austerlitz.



And more about the Battle of Austerlitz on:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Austerlitz