1. Battle of Austerlitz, December 1805, vs Tsar Alexander I (Russia) and Holy Roman Emperor Francis II (Austria)

The Battle of Austerlitz, fought 10 kilometers to the south-east of the city of Brno, is one of the single greatest military triumphs of all time. The battle saw a masterfully tactical Emperor Napoleon deliver an amazing defeat to a larger Russo-Austrian army and thereby end the War of the Third Coallition. The Grande Armée's victory saved France from financial collapse, permitted the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine on 12 July 1806 and wiped the Holy Roman Empire off of the map on 6 August 1806 when Holy Roman Emperor Francis II abdicated and became Emperor Francis I of Austria.


In November 1805, Napoleon's campaign against the combined Austrian and Russian threat had so far progressed victoriously. After the Ulm Maneuver, which had resulted in the capture of 23 thousand Austrian soldiers, the Austrian capital of Vienna had fallen along with intact bridges across the Danube. For an account of the stunning capture of one of these bridges, please see: http://www.infobarrel.com/The_Silver_Tongued_Frenchman_Marshal_Lannes_Stunning_Capture_of_Tabor_Bridge

However much of the Austrian army remained intact and when the undefeated Russian army finally arrived in the region these two forces combined, increasing the challenge facing the French. Other factors upping the challenge for Napoleon were the unknown Prussian intentions and the very long lines of communication his army had to keep open. The Emperor knew that the only way to capitalize on Ulm was to defeat his enemies in a pitched battle; Mikhail Kutuzov, nominated by Tsar Alexander I to command the Russo-Austrian army, also knew this and was determined to avoid battle, retreating all the way to the city of Olmutz.

austerlitz campaign

The French army pursued their retreating foe, at last taking up positions at Austerlitz on the road to Olmutz. Napoleon meanwhile was trying to bait the Allies into attacking him by deliberately making it seem as if the French army was weak and as if he wanted to negotiate peace. Only 53 thousand French soldiers took up position on the Olmutz road. On 25 November, Napoleon sent one of his generals to Allied headquarters to express his desire not to join battle. Two days later, Napoleon showed signs of great enthusiasm towards an armistice proposed by Francis I and ordered Soult's IV Corps to withdraw chaotically from Austerlitz and the Pratzen Heights. The next day the Emperor requested a personal interview with the Tsar, who sent and aid, to whom Napoleon expressed anxiety and hesitation. The gambit was successful: in Allied headquarters Kutuzov's plan of eschewing battle was rejected in favor of an immediate engagement with the French.

Austerlitz map

 At 8 a.m. on 2 December battle was indeed joined as the Allies threw their first attack against the village of Telnitz, hoping to cut the French lines of communication with Vienna. This played right into Napoleon's hands: he wanted the Allies to commit the majority of their troops attacking his right so that his force could then counter-attack by recapturing the Pratzen Heights and encircling the Allied left. Napoleon had even deliberately weakened his right (and abandoned the Pratzen Heights a week earlier) so as to goad his enemy into attacking that part of his line. The Emperor's plan was clearly risky, relying heavily on the timely arrival of Davout's III Corps to help defend the French army's extreme right, but offered the possibility of a much needed decisive victory.

And so the first Allied attack came in against Telnitz, throwing the French out of the town. The first of Davout's men then arrived and recaptured Telnitz before themselves being thrown out, leaving the town in Allied hands. In the next door village of Sokolnitz (equipped with a castle), where the fighting throughout the day was fiercest, the initial Allied attack was unsuccessful, but a massive artillery barrage threw the French out. The French counter-attacked, retook the village, lost it again, counter-attacked again and ended up in control of Sokolnitz. Allied collumns poured against the French right, trying to force the defenders out of both towns; Pratzen Heights was totally forgotten and was left undefended.


cuirassiers at Austerlitz

At 9 a.m. Napoleon saw sufficient weakness in the center of his enemies' line and ordered Soult's IV Corps (St Hilaire and Vandamme's divisions) to capture the Pratzen Heights. After an hour of bitter fighting, an outnumbered St Hilaire just managed to defeat the immediate counter-attack by Allied infantry, while to his north Vandamme's attack succeeded more easily. Bernadotte's I Corps was order forward to protect Vandamme's left flank and Napoleon moved his command center to the Pratzen Heights. The battle, though now in France's favour, was still undecided. The Allies, recognising their dangerous position, sent the Russian Imperial Guard against Vandamme. Napoleon responded with his own heavy Imperial Guard cavalry. Both sides now threw in hordes of cavalry; though the Russians outnumbered the French the proximity of French infantry and artillery decided the outcome of this crucial engagement in Napoleon's favour. 

The French left was also witnessed a vicious cavalry melee at this time. Marshal Murat decided the engagement by sending in his cuirassier divisions; the fighting was long and brutal but eventually the Russian cavalry retreated. Marshal Lannes' V Corps then attacked Bagration and drove him from the field after a hard fight.

At this point Napoleon ordered the decisive attack of the battle, sending Davout's III Corps and St Hilaire's division to simultaneously attack the Allies around Sokolnitz. This French pincer attack utterly routed the entirety of the Allied left, sending the Russian and Austrian soldiers fleeing in all directions (some drowned falling through the ice of the frozen Satschan ponds). The remainder of the Allied army withdrew in an orderly manner and Napoleon, after just a few hours of fighting, had won a stunning victory. The balance of power in Europe was profoundly altered, the victory starting a decade of French domination of the continent.  


for part 2, please see