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The Reason Napoleon Was Beaten At Waterloo

4362 words - 17 pages

The Reason Napoleon was Beaten at Waterloo

"Recouler pour mieux sauter." (French idiom. A rough translation would
be. "Recoil, the better to strike.")

The campaign of Austerlitz, leading up to the battle of the same name,
can be viewed as Napoleon's greatest victory. However a glaring
blunder is that the Austrian staff failed completely to calculate the
difference between the calendar systems of the two countries. The
Russians used the ancient, Gregorian system, putting their dates ten
days behind those of the Austrians. And this miscalculation was to
ruin the entire campaign. It was, in the proper sense of the word, a
decisive victory. By the end of the day on December 2nd, 1805, the
Austro-Russian army had ceased to be effective as a military unit,
being as it was, reduced to a handful of fleeing fugitives, groups of
mauled units in full retreat.

Napoleon had carefully weighed the options and decided what threats
there were to France. Chandler describes how he went about this:

"The French armies could expect attack from four possible directions.
Two could be discounted as insignificant; an Anglo-Swedish onslaught
against Hanover from Pomerania, or an allied descent on Naples, would
have little effect on the major issues of war, and in the former case
such an attack might even persuade Prussia to throw her lot in with
the French." (Chandler, 1993, p384).

The Grande Armeé, unlike other armies, did not move in column
formation. Instead, the army was divided into corps, each under a
marshal or general, with his own orders and his own methods of
executing them. Thus the manoeuvre at Austerlitz is one of the
greatest pieces of military strategy that has ever been undertaken.

On a trip to the front line at Wischlau, Napoleon spotted an arena of
ground that took his interest. After visiting the cavalry pickets, he
turned back to Brunn, and on the way, analysed his ground more
carefully. Castle quotes him as saying:

"Gentlemen, examine this ground carefully. It is going to be a
battlefield."

(Castle, in Napoleon, the final verdict, p50)

By 25th November, his troops were occupying the area around Brunn, and
Soult's fourth corps was stationed around the village of Austerlitz,
occupying the commanding Pratzen heights. To convince the allies of
his weakness, he left Bernadotte and Davout stationed some distance
away, giving him a 22,000-man reserve that only he knew of. To further
this insistence of weakness, he constantly insisted on opening
negotiations for terms with the allies. When those negotiations were
about to take place, he withdrew Soult from the Pratzen heights, a
sure sign of impending retreat. General Savary, who had been sent to
the allies to discuss terms, reported back that the camp was divided;
Kutusov and Emperor Frances urging caution, the Tsar...

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