- From 1805 onwards he developed the use of war as une bonne faire (a good thing) financially. Peace treaties imposed on defeated countries not only provided for the free quartering of Napoleon’s troops on their territory, but included payment of massive indemnities – Prussia was forced to find 311 million francs after her defeat at Jena 1806. War had been satisfactorily self-financing. It would continue to be so, as long as he kept on winning.
v) Weapons and Training in the Grand Armee
- Armies and their deployment might have changed, but the soldiers’ weapons did not begin to do so until the middle of the nineteenth century, when industrial technology caught up with military theory.
- All Napoleon’s campaigns were conducted using the weapons of the Ancien Regime.
- The musket was still the standard infantry weapon – a smooth-bored, muzzle-loading flintlock firing lead bullets, and fitted with a bayonet. Its firepower was limited, its rate of fire slow and its accuracy poor except at close range.
- The artillery was equally inaccurate and slow, with a range of about half a mile. It took a skilled gun crew to be able to fire a round a minute, even with the new, lighter cannon introduced into France in the 1770s. The use of horse artillery giving greater mobility to the guns, and the new practice of concentrating artillery fire in a barrage to open up gaps in the enemy front line for infantry or cavalry to attack, where tactics of which Napoleon made good use, especially after 1806 as armies grew larger. They were not, however, his innovations – he had learnt them during his raining as a young artillery cadet.
- In fact he was surprisingly conservative in his military thinking and generally unreceptive to fresh ideas on any kind. He ignored new inventions brought to his attention, such as ‘a water wagon driven by fire’ (submarine), ‘rockets’ (incendiaries), the telegraph (a mechanical semaphore system), and the percussion charge (a replacement for the flint-lock). He seems to have known about but to have ignored also the cheap Prussian innovation of a sharp knife attached to a musket which could be used by the infantry to open the cartridges without having to waste time biting them, and so be able to fire more rapidly. He disbanded as unnecessary the small corps of (ground-anchored) observation balloons used for reconnaissance; but reintroduced for wear by the heavy cavalry the helmet and breastplate, already obsolete in the time of Louis XIV.
- Training, to the modern way of thinking, was of the slightest for the new recruit, and continued to follow the programme, intended to combine enthusiasm with discipline, laid down for the Revolution armies in the early 1790s. A week in the home base, a hardening-off march of 50 or 60 days to the front, collecting kit, practising drill and gaining experience by example along the way.
- Most practical training was still provided, especially in a battle situation, by veteran soldiers in the tradition of the amalgame of 1793. In 1805, for instance, half the total strength of the army had fought under Napoleon at Marengo (1800), and a quarter had served in the Revolutionary wars; most of the officers and non-commissioned officers were experienced campaigners, although a high proportion of the rank and file were raw conscripts. The army consisted, therefore, of a mixture of old and young, experience and inexperience, combined under one command.
- Military historians have disputed the size of Napoleon’s Grand Armee at length. For the years before 1805 estimates vary from about 300,000 upwards. It is now thought, based on the known average figure of 73,000 men enrolled each year in France, that from 1805-6 Napoleon’s standing army numbered between 500,000 and 600,000. In addition to this, he had other troops to call on, the auxiliary levies provided by the satellite states, which by 1807 represented about a third of the total strength of his armed forces.
vi) Napoleon’s Strategic Planning
- It used to be stated in campaign histories that Napoleon planned his campaigns and battles well ahead and in meticulous detail, and that his victories cam from following his plans minutely; but military historians are now much less certain that this was so.
- Napoleon once wrote to his brother Joseph that ‘ in war nothing is achieved except through calculation. Everything that is not soundly planned in its detail yields no result’.
- Recent reassessments of Napoleon’s military career suggest that while he had always formulated a general plan, whether for a whole campaign or a particular battle – ‘my great talent, the one that distinguishes me the most, is to see the whole picture distinctly’ – he was basically an opportunist, prepared to adjust his plans according to changing circumstances and to take advantage of enemy errors or weakness.
- Napoleon could improvise brilliantly in the heat of the battle and frequently did so, abandoning his original plan without hesitation. He was, however, always unwilling to take others into his confidence. This habit of keeping his ideas to himself resulted in a weakness of the command structure, which was to have serious results in later years.
- In the same way, the old idea that Napoleon forever moved his troops from one place to another, making in the process lightning marches across Europe, has been discredited. Such marches, like the famous one from the Channel coast to the Danube in 1805, were the exception.
- When he needed to, Napoleon could organise the rapid movement of large numbers of men over wide areas to converge on his chosen target, but normally his marches were shorter, slower and lesser dramatic.
- Whether Napoleon had ‘a grand strategy’ in a sense of a wide, overall design for the war as a whole is difficult to say. The only consistent theme running through the years from 1800-15 is hostility towards Britain.
- Until 1805, it is suggested, his ‘grand strategy’ may have involved a naval confrontation with Britain, but if so it, as well as the proposed invasion plans, had to be abandoned as the result of the heavy French losses at Trafalgar.
- Napoleon’s relations with his navy were happy or successful; he had no admiral to compare with Nelson, and no understanding of ships nor liking for the sea. He therefore concentrated from 105 onwards on dealing with his enemies on land, while keeping up an attack on Britain by means of the Continental Blockade.
vii) Napoleon’s Generalship – an Assessment
- Many historians are no longer willing to accept that Napoleon was a great general. They point out that he was in no way an innovator. He made no significant contribution to tactics, introduced no new weapons and was not open to new ideas. His contributions to strategy were not original.
- The armies he commanded were taken over from the Revolution, the levee en masse was established before he came to power. He introduced no new training methods. He underestimated supply problems, and made other errors of judgement, often because of his amazing, but acknowledged, ignorance of climatic and geographical conditions.
- This led to avoidable losses in Egypt and in San Dominigue from heat and fever, from cold, snow, and mud on other occasions, the crossing of the Oder in 1806 for instance.
- Sometimes out of sheer obstinacy, as at Boulogne in 1805, he refused advice from those who knew better than to underestimate as he did the dangers to his ships from tide and weather. His lack of interest in the provision of maps covering the terrain over which he was to march, his often inadequate reconnaissance, and his failure to appreciate the difference between foraging in the prosperous and well-populated west of Europe and in the bare lands further east caused his men unnecessary hardship, as did his reduction of the army medical services to save money (he may have declared that the men’s health was of paramount importance to him, but the sick and wounded on campaign were left to die).
- Despite these well-founded criticisms, some historians still believe that Napoleon was a nevertheless a great general, quoting Wellington that he was ‘a great homme de guerre, possibly the greatest who ever appeared at the head of a French army’. The point out thee extent of Napoleon’s conquests achieved in so few years.
- This reputation rests largely on the success of his early campaigns in Italy and Egypt, and on those of 1806-6, when he was still young and energetic, full of enthusiasm and, it seemed, invincible. His methods, if not exactly new in theory, were new in practice and he used them well. They were a break with eighteenth-century tradition, and confusing to the opposition.
- Given his hold over his men and the incapacity of his enemies to match him and his army, his victories multiplied rapidly.
- If his career had finished in 1807, then Napoleon would have been considered one of the most undisputed great generals. But his career didn’t finish then, and the failures and defeats of the later years, the blunders and ill-judged decisions of the later campaigns, in Spain, in Russia, even at waterloo, must be taken into account when in consideration of a Napoleon as a leader.
b) Napoleon’s Strength – the Civil Aspect
- When Napoleon became First Consul, he took over the existing ministry of war, expanded it and made it more efficient. It was reorganised into two separate ministries, one dealing with the army itself (conscription, promotions, troop movements and the like) and one concerned with administration (provisions, supplies and military transport). The real power, though, lay with the war section of the Council of State, all decisions of which were made by Napoleon himself.
- In the absolutist state which he created, Napoleon’s resources for war were unrivalled in Europe. Money, men and materials were his to demand, the plans his to make. By breaking with Revolutionary principles and uniting in himself the offices of head of state and active commander-in-chief of the army, there was no conflict of civil and military interest, for he alone made the decisions. It was a situation not enjoyed by any enemy general.
- Military expenditure was enormous. Conquered territories were exploited to make the army self-sufficient. Troops were quartered on annexed or occupied lands. Huge indemnities were demanded from defeated countries as part of the price of peace. As mentioned earlier, this worked only up to a point – foraging for supplies during an eastern European winter was a desperate matter.
c) The Enemies’ Weakness – Allied Disunity
Britain, Russia, Austria and later Prussia formed a series of anti-French alliances with each other, but these were continually undermined by their mutual suspicions and jealousy. Only Britain remained opposed to France for the whole period. The other powers were tempted away from time to time by Napoleon’s offers of territory, for as well as making use of the opportunity to profit from quarrels among the allies, Napoleon’s foreign policy was based on ‘divide and rule’. His normal strategy was to keep at least one of these major powers as an ally while be dealt with the others.
i) The Second Coalition 1799
- In the spring of 1799 the second coalition of Britain, Russia, Austria and the Ottoman Empire was at war with France. Theoretically a strong combination, it was in fact nothing of the sort.
- It was not in fact an overall coalition, but a series of separate alliances, and even these links were not complete for there was no alliance between Britain and Austria. Even more important there was no agreement on a unified military strategy, nor was there a commitment by the allies not to make a separate peace with France if it suited their interests to do so.
- Although Austrian and Russian forces pushed the French out of Italy in the summer of 1799, (this was part of the news which brought Napoleon hurrying back from Egypt and hastened the coup d’etat of Brumaire), an Anglo-Russian landing in Holland was unsuccessful and led to recriminations between the British and Russian commanders over whose fault it was that they had been defeated.
- Relations between the two countries worsened over the question of control over French-held Malta, at that time being blockaded by Britain but promised by her to Russia in due course. At the same time a rift developed between Austria and the other two powers over Austrian suspicions of British intentions in Belgium and Russian ambitions in Italy.
- These differences exposed the much deeper divisions among the allies on the whole nature of the war against France. Russia was unsympathetic to the British view that the fight was one to destroy the Revolution totally, while Austria favoured the eighteenth-century view of the conflict as a limited one which would end in an exchange of territory – perhaps Belgium for Sardinia.
- The defeat of the Russian army by the French near Zurich in September 1799 led to the break-up of the Coalition, from which the Tsar withdrew in November of that year.
- Over the winter of 1799-1800 Napoleon, now First Consul, tried, with some success to win Tsar Paul over to his side, while also attempting to make peace with Austria and Britain. As the two allies could not agree between themselves what would be an equitable settlement, it proved to be impossible to reach an agreement.
- As a result, Napoleon decided that if France was to have peace, he would have to impose it, but to do this he would have to defeat one of the allies first. Therefore he embarked on a second Italian campaign aimed against Austria, and forced her to accept humiliating loss of all her Italian possessions, except Venice, at the Peace of Luneville (February 1801).
- Meanwhile, Tsar Paul, irritated by Britain’s refusal to give up Malta and by her high-handed behaviour over the interpretation of some aspects of maritime law, had formed a League of Armed Neutrality (Russia, Sweden, Denmark and Prussia) to keep Britain out of the Baltic.
- Although the assassination of the Tsar in march 801 and Nelson’s bombardment of Copenhagen the following month brought the League to a speedy end, the new Tsar, Alexander I, despite his anti-French sympathies, showed no signs of wishing to form an Anglo-Russian alliance.
- Isolated and tired of war, Britain had little choice but to accept the peace of Amiens in March 1802.
ii) The Third Coalition 1805
- In May 1803, after six months of deteriorating international relations, Britain declared war on France. However, there is little that Britain, with a strong navy but a very small army, could do on her own. In 1804 William Pitt, who had become Prime Minister since the continuation of hostilities, began the search for allies to join a Third Coalition.
- He announced his willingness to pay subsidies on an unprecedented scale to any ally willing to provide the troops needed to fight Napoleon on the continent, but neither Russia, Austria nor Prussia came forward.
- Austria and Russia were both anxious to see Napoleon defeated, but were not prepared to work together, for each still blamed for other for deserting the Second Coalition in 1799. In addition, Russia was not prepared to co-operate with Britain because the question of Malta was still unresolved.
- By the middle of 1805, evidence of Napoleon’s enormous ambitions, his assumption of the title of Emperor and of King of Italy combined to persuade Russia and Austria to join Britain in the Third Coalition.
- The coalition was fragile from the beginning because once again there was no overall treaty uniting the three powers, and because each of the members again had different wishes for the outcome of the war.
- This time the Tsar dreamed of a crusade for peace in Europe and an extension of Russian influence in south-east Europe, Austria aimed to recover her position in Italy and Germany, while Britain still wanted the comprehensive defeat of France.
- Endeavours to persuade Prussia to join the Coalition had failed – Napoleon’s tempting offer of Hanover (French since 1803) in return for neutrality had been to attractive. This use of Hanover had been a shrewd move by Napoleon, as the territory had previously belonged to George III and its ‘passing on’ was bound to cause friction between Britain and Prussia.
- Austria did not remain a member of the coalition for long. In October her army was defeated at Ulm and she made a separate peace with France.
- Prussia, resentful of pressure from Napoleon to supply him with troops and to join the Continental Blockade against Britain, eventually declared was on France in August 1806. However, her adherence to the coalition was as short-lived as Austria’s had been. Her army was totally defeated in October at the twin battles of Jena-Auerstadt. The most powerful army of the Ancien regime had been destroyed by Napoleon’s new style warfare.
- Russia, Britain’s other ally, had been involved in a distracting war with the Ottoman Empire by the end of 1806. Taking advantage of this, Napoleon launched an attack through Poland, and in the spring in 1807 won a decisive victory over the Russians at Friedland.
- Afterwards he was able to exploit the tsar’s resentment over the inactivity of Britain and Austria and the poor military showing by Prussia during 1806. At their private meetings at Tilsit in June 1807 Napoleon entirely captivated Alexander, who formally allied himself with France.
- Prussia and Austria were left to the mercy of Napoleon. Both emerged greatly weakened from the peace settlement, losing influence and territory and being burdened with the payment of heavy war indemnities to France.
- The Third Coalition was dead. Only Britain, which since 1805 had played no part in Europe other than that of paymaster, still remained at war with France. Once again, Napoleon ended had succeeded admirably in playing on divisions between the allies, and then in picking them off one by one.
Reasons for Napoleon’s
Decline and Fall (1808-15)
- The Military Situation
b) The Allies United
- The Fourth Coalition 1813-15
- Final Defeat and the end of Napoleonic Europe
In the final campaign against Napoleon, France’s military difficulties were exposed. What were the reasons?
- The Spanish and Russian ‘disasters’ had sapped morale.
- Armies had become too large for Napoleon either to control effectively or to ensure that they were properly supplied and fully trained.
- Napoleon’s early campaign had relied on mobility. Given, for example, that he had 600,000 men at the start of the Russian campaign, speed and flexibility were lost. His opponents’ armies also tended to be large. Hence battles became more setpiece artillery clashes, followed up by frontal assaults. He mass charge was used for battering through the enemy centre.
- Casualties increased as a result – only 25,000 of the grand Armee survived Russia. This increased the reliance on raw recruits and non-French conscripts. They were less reliable.
- Opponents had copied Napoleon’s tactics. They used artillery and speed, and were careful not to be lured into open battle.
- Napoleon’s generals lacked experience of taking the initiative. There was no army staff to assist Napoleon, who often refused to share tactics, ideals or details of the battle.
- Napoleon’s arrogance meant that he had failed to grasp how dangerously opponents were becoming. This was particularly true of the Fourth Coalition.
Although the frontiers of 1807 are not those of the Empire at its greatest extent, that year does mark an important turning point in Napoleon’s affairs. Napoleon’s three mainland enemies brought to heel, and with the expectation that Britain would soon succumb to the Continental Blockade, he was at the peak of his success. In November 1807, Russia declared war on her former ally, Britain. Any further anti-French coalition was obviously impossible for the time being. Napoleon would never again be so well placed to dominate Europe. There were still victories to come and conquests to be made, but only at an increased cost in men and materials and with great difficulty; and there were to be disasters and defeats. The general trend from 1808 onwards was no longer upward. Decline did not, however, set in immediately.
What effect did the Continental System have on France?
- Continental System – After 1793 British goods were prohibited from French territories. Napoleon expanded this as a way of weakening Britain and protecting the Napoleonic Empire, which now became a huge market for French goods. After that, the economic campaign against Britain intensified. As First Consul in 1803, Napoleon banned British goods from north-western Europe. The Berlin Decrees of 1806 had more bite – the blockade of Britain would now mean that goods coming from Britain (and colonial) parts would be excluded and seized.
As the Empire expanded, so Napoleon’s hopes of success rose. By 1807, the Treaty of Tilsit brought Austria, Russia, Denmark, Sweden and Portugal into the blockade. In December 1807, the Milan Decrees turned the screw still tighter – if any neutral ship had called at a British port, its cargo could be confiscated.
- The Continental System caused economic disruption, not only to its intended victim but also to France. It proved impossible to enforce and smuggling was commonplace.
- The French navy had been fatally weakened after the battle of Trafalgar (1805) and, as French troops were required elsewhere, the ban on British goods was continually being breached.
- While Britain’s economy was able to withstand the strain, there is no doubt that considerable distress was caused. By 1810, Britain’s balance of payments was suffering. Exports had declined and Britain was short of gold to pay for imports.
- In France, the Atlantic trading areas, as well as the shipbuilding industries, were badly hit. The linen industry of the north and west was ruined.
- However, other areas benefited. Strasbourg and Marseilles developed their trade with Germany, Italy and the east. Luxury goods developed in Paris and Lyons.
- The System and its extension throughout the Empire gave French industrialists a huge, protected market. Conquered people were forced to buy French goods at inflated prices. Nevertheless demand did not increase significantly. Alsace and Belgium did well, but elsewhere the advantages were insignificant.
- In the final analysis, Napoleon’s attempts to extend the Continental System proved catastrophic. This was partly the motive behind the invasions of Spain and Russia – two campaigns which cost France dear.
Furthermore, the resentment which it caused throughout the Empire contributed to the growth of Nationalism and opposition. Little wonder that the Empire collapsed so rapidly. The continental System proved to be a liability.
The Spanish Ulcer
- Should Napoleon ever have become involved in Spain? On the face of it, there were good reasons for doing so. He wanted to extend the Continental System and to plug a gap to stop British trade.
- Portugal remained out of Napoleon’s grasp. Not only were its ports being used by the Royal Navy, but also just under a million pounds worth of British exports passed through there.
- Perhaps Napoleon saw Spain as another country he could add to his empire. Spain was in the hands of the weak Charles IV and the Queen’s favourite Chief Minister, Godoy.
- In 1795, Spain had been forced to make peace with France. It was a dishonourable settlement to many Spanish. Their country was compelled to become France’s ally and supplier of men and resources.
- Napoleon insisted on the abdication of Charles IV and, for good measure, made the Spanish heir, Ferdinand (who had no liking for the French) renounce his claim to the throne.
- Instead Joseph, Napoleon’s brother, was to be crowned in Madrid. The signs for Joseph were not encouraging.
- In May 1808, the ordinary people of Madrid started an insurrection against Joachim Murat, who had been sent there with the French army. The French suppressed the revolt and carried out horrifying reprisals.
- Joseph found himself in a largely hostile land, as Spain divided for and against French. There were groups of Spanish people, many of them from thee educated and middle class, who wanted to reform their country and to draw on the French example to bring about change.
- However, the overwhelming impression is that Spain was willing to take arms to liberate itself. The Spanish clergy stirred up opinion against the French, who were identified with dechristianisation and attacks on the Catholic Church. Hence the forces of tradition rose in defence of Ferdinand’s cause.
- Juntas (local resistance committees) were formed and Spanish partisans armed themselves. At Baylen, in July 1808, a French division was defeated by Spanish forces. News of the first defeat of Napoleon shot round Europe.
- Bonaparte called it a ‘horrible catastrophe’ and, in his anger, ordered two corps of the Grand Armee to Spain. These 100,000 troops were intended to do the trick. The Spanish junta appealed to England for assistance. It arrived in the shape of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) in August 1808, with 10,000 men. At Vimiero, the French Army of Portugal was defeated.
- Despite always having numerically smaller forces, the English had already realised two major advantages. Firstly, their Portuguese bases meant that they would be supplied constantly by the Royal Navy.
- Secondly, and this was to be repeated later, well-trained English musketeers standing in lines had blasted the French columns with devastating effect. When Sir John Moore arrived to take over the English force, even the presence of Napoleon himself (in November) could not prevent French plans being wrecked.
- Moore paid particular attention to two important matters. Napoleon didn’t. Napoleon failed to grasp the geography of Spain and its sheer size. He didn’t give enough thought to supplies. Living off the land would prove problematic, given the hostile population and their ‘scorched earth’ policy.
- Moore also played Napoleon at his own game. He manoeuvred to try to cut Napoleon’s only line of communication back to France. The English forces never quite achieved the blow they wanted to strike – and were forced to retreat to Corunna in the west.
- Here they were evacuated by the British Navy, but not before they had inflicted significant damage on the French forces and drawn them away from their objectives – to retake Portugal and subdue the south of Spain.
- In January 1809, Napoleon was forced to leave Spain .He never retuned. The Austrians were planning an attack on the Danube so he left Spain to French Marshals who disliked each other and who had never been used to doing anything apart from obeying Napoleon’s orders.
- Given the job of subduing the Spanish, they seemed incapable of devising plans of their own to do this. Instead they quarrelled. Spain became, to the French, an ‘ulcer’ right up to 1814.
- It sucked a quarter of a million French troops of enormous amounts of gold. French invincibility and pride were dented, and the Peninsular War became more and more unpopular in France.
- Sir Arthur Wellesley, with only 30,000 men, was well supplied. He guarded Lisbon behind the huge fortifications known as the Lines of the Torres Vedras. The Spanish employed ‘hit and run’ guerrilla tactics – hitting French columns and supply lined before disappearing back into the landscape.
- The French starved, while the Emperor scoffed at the English and the Spanish. He never understood how to counter guerrilla warfare, how to keep his men and supplied or how to give the war some realistic, unified direction.
- In the end, Joseph was giving overall charge. This was not a wise move. He had no grasp of military strategy. Wellesley broke out of the Torres Vedras and, by 1813, he had defeated the French at Vitoria and entered Madrid.
- Joseph, who had never effectively ruled Spain, turned on his heels. Wellesley pursued his campaign and invaded France, defeating the French at Toulouse in 1814.
- This war crippled France. Napoleon’s plans elsewhere were left in taters. For example, there would be no Middle East campaign. If the Peninsular campaign was meant to tighten the Continental Blockade, it had proved an expensive failure. British goods poured through Portugal and trade increased sixfold.
What French weakness did the Wagram campaign of 1809 expose?
- In 1808, Austria planned to recover lost pride – it wanted to reclaim its status and assert its old influence over Germany and Italy. War began in February 1809.
- The narrative is straightforward enough. Napoleon clashed with the Austrians in Bavaria. Although battered, the Austrians retreated and regrouped. Napoleon had entered Vienna but he then had to march against further enemy to the nort hof the Danube.
- Napoleon only narrowly averted disaster. At Essling, he was outnumbered and forced to retreat onto an island in the Danube. He lost 20,000 men in a bloody exchange which again sapped French prestige.
- By July, with preparations complete, Napoleon met the Austrians again – this time at Wagram. Napoleon was victorious in the epic, two-day clash of artillery. Casualties on both sides were enormous. Napoleon lost at least 32,000 men, while the Austrians retreated with 80,000 survivors.
- Peace was dictated to Austria at Schonbrunn. It was Napoleon’s last great victory. The signs of French problems were disturbing.
- Napoleon’s troops were poorer quality - he had fewer veterans and more raw recruits and foreigners (from satellite states) in the army. At Wagram, some of these had deserted in the face of the enemy onslaught. Ill-disciplin and terror had run through the ranks.
- Austria had been copying the French. Archduke Charles had more men at his disposal, they were more mobile and supplies were more than adequate. Their artillery had performed well but the French had lost their lead.
- Not for the first time, Napoleon’s arrogance had led him to prepare inadequately. Hence the defeat at Essling when he was faced with superior numbers.
- The Spanish campaign and risings in Germany and the Alps also diverted French troops from their main objectives. Once again, Napoleon’s infallibility had been challenged. This served only to encourage the spirit of resistance and to demoralise the French.
Why was the Russian campaign such a disaster?
- In June 1812, the French campaign against Russia began when the river Niemen crossed. Why did Napoleon order the attack on Russia?
- Tsar Alexander I was angry with Napoleon’s marriage alliance with Austria (he married Marie-Louis in 1810). No attempt had been made by the French to support Russia’s policy of expanding into the eastern Mediterranean and taking Constantinople. French troops were stationed in the east on the river Oder and in the Duchy of Oldenburg Russia felt endangered by the close proximity of French troops. The fact that the Duke of Oldenburg was married to the Tsar’s sister did not help either. The Tsar was also concerned that France might want back Polish land which Russia had taken in 1793 and 1795 when Poland was partitioned.
- Napoleon, however, nursed the most serious grievance. Russian trade had been badly affected by the Continental System. At the end of 1810, Alexander wrecked Napoleon’s trade embargo. He put tariffs on French imports and let neutral ships (no doubt carrying British goods) into Russian ports. Napoleon could no let this go unpunished. Both Alexander I and Napoleon had an inflated sense ogf their own importance. In this trial of strength, Napoleon was determined to strike the first blow.
- Napoleon always claimed that this catastrophic campaign could be blamed on the weather – freezing temperatures, ice and frostbite. Not so. The campaign faced other problems that would be most difficult to overcome.
- Russia was too large – if Napoleon could not lure them into an open, pitched battle quickly, then he might have to march hundreds of kilometres in pursuit.
- If that happened, 600,000 troops would be impossible to supply. Many men were untrained and badly disciplined. They were varied rabble drawn fro mall over the Empire. Long supply lines would be prey to enemy attack.
- The soldiers had only four days’ rations – it was planned that the whole campaign would last only nine weeks. In the meantime, could 600,000 men ‘live off the land’? Unlikely, particularly sine the Russians were setting fire to supply dumps as they fell back.
- The French had inadequate maps, poor clothing and few medical supplies. Before they crossed into Russia, 60,000 men had fallen because of disease.
- The omens did not look favourable. Once, Napoleon’s Grand Armee ahd relied on speed and mobility. With no roads and with supply routes blocked by deserters and corpses, the French lines were quickly stretched.
- Hunger and disease slowed the army, which already had no forage for supplies.
- Vilna’s supply dumps were set on fire by the Russians who were falling back rather than giving battle.
- The French had suffered huge casualties mainly through starvation and diseases, as well as through the raids by bands of Cossacks.
- The Russian armies fell back from Smolensk. Anew commander Mikhail Kutuzov, was appointed. He was careful, cunning and skilful.
- Borodino – it was here that the open battle took place.
- Napoleon did not have good enough troops to outflank Kutuzov. So he decided on a head-on attack. The battle lasted 10 hours. Casualties were huge on ech side: the Russians lost 40,000 and the French 28,0000.
- Napoleon could claim a win because the Russians retreated. Kutuzov also claimed a victory because he was able to escape with only 700 taken prisoners. He regrouped, south of Moscow, to protect rich farmlands there.
- On 14 September, Napoleon entered Moscow. His troops looted the city while the Russian governor set fire to it. With supplies being constantly attacked by Cossacks, Napoleon decided to retreat – it was either that or starve. More than half of hisa rmy was already dead.
- On 19 October the retreat from Moscow began. Kutuzov harassed the Grand Armee the whole way. The French were starving, ill and moving desperately slowly. They lost 35,000 men in one week alone.
- The winter was just beginning. As the temperature dropped, the Russians decided to block Napoleon’s escape at the river Beresina. Only the superhuman efforts of General Eble and his teams of engineers saved what was left of the Grand Armee. Pontoon bridges were built to replace the ones destroyed by the Russians and the main force got across in time.
- By December, in freezing temperatures, Napoleon left for Paris. His departure almost led to the disintegration of the army. He had been forced to leave because of news of a plot, led by the royalist Malet, against him. Malet tried to set up a provisional government before he was dealt with.
- As the French regained order in retreat, only 25,000 of the Grande Armee had survived. Poor discipline, poor planning, lack of supplies and weak command had done the damage long before winter had arrived.
a) The Military Situation
- There were changes in the armies and methods of warfare of both Napoleon and his enemies after 1807. In that year, the Grand Armee was still strong enough to defeat all who stood in its way, Austrians, Prussians, or Russians.
- It had, however, lost many of its experienced and disciplined troops and, although new recruits were available to fill the gaps, they went into battle untrained and often unreliable.
- As a result, Napoleon’s earlier tactics of attack by columns of infantry were no longer so successful and he began to rely much more on sustained artillery barrages. As his armies became larger – over 600,000 crossed the Niemen into Russia with him in 1812 – they were more difficult to manoeuvre and to provision on the march.
- His later campaigns had, therefore, to depend much less on surprise elements of speed and mobility than before, and his battles to rely much more on the sheer brute force of artillery duels or the weight of numbers storming the enemy lines in a massed charge of cavalry or infantry. His later victories were much costlier in men than the earlier ones. For example, 30,000 were lost in Wagram in 1809 compared with the 8,000 lost at Austerlitz in 1805. French loses overall in the Austrian campaign of 1809 were almost equal to those of the enemy.
- Napoleon’s enemies stopped employing old-fashioned methods with their armies. And learnt to play his own game. They copied his tactics, became more flexible, and developed their artillery to match his. They increased the size of their armies to equal or exceed his.
- The French army had been created as a national army, but by 1807 its character had changed. It had become extremely cosmopolitan. Two-thirds of the men were either non-French troops from the annexed territories or foreign auxiliaries from the satellite states of the Grand Empire.
- It was at this time that Prussia and Austria, after their disastrous defeats, began replacing their old foreign mercenary armies with national ones, designed to have a ‘new structure, armament and equipment in accordance with the new methods of warfare’.
- By adopting new methods and by learning how to pin napoleon down to a more defensive style of warfare, by denying him the opportunity to force an early and, he hoped, decisive battle, and in the end by co-operating among themselves long enough to be able to field a combined force of superior manpower, the allies learnt how to defeat Napoleon.
- To some extent, Napoleon played into the hands of his enemies by the ‘mistakes’ of the Spanish and Russian ventures, brought about by his determination to force both countries to implement the Continental Blockade against Britain.
- In both cases, he grossly miscalculated the sheer size of the country he was hoping to conquer, and he was ill informed about either the terrain or the climate he would encounter.
- Accustomed to allowing his armies to ‘live off the land’ in countries they were campaigning in, he wrongly expected they could also do so in Spain and Russia. In Spain, guerrilla fighters, and in Russia scorched earth policies, produced unexpected difficulties for the French troops.
- The ‘Spanish ulcer’ eventually cost Napoleon about 300,000 men and 3,000 million francs in gold, and brought the first serious defeats for his armies. In Russia matters were even worse: nearly 500,000 men dead, missing or taken prisoner, and 200,000 trained horses and 1000 guns lost – all in course of a campaign lasting only six months. This enormous expenditure of experienced officers and men weakened the French army, especially the cavalry, for future campaigns, leaving it over-dependent on new levies of raw recruits.
- Even more important was that the disasters of 1812 and the defeats in the Peninsular War shattered Napoleon’s reputation for military invincibility.
- It had always been a weakness in his command structure that he did not take his senior officers into his confidence when on campaign, nor allow them any independence of action. He retained all power and all decision making in his own hands. It was entirely personal leadership.
- In the early campaigns when his army was still quite small this did not matter a great deal, but as armies became larger – already in 1806 Napoleon was at the head of an army at Jena of about 165,000 men difficult to achieve.
- Even then Napoleon did not establish a permanent staff to share command. He continued to tell his marshals what to do, and they continued to do it. As a result, as in Spain for instance, they were unavoidably left in charge in Napoleon’s absence from the country, his senior staff proved quite unable to cope on their own.
- By 1814 Napoleon’s early self-confidence and determination had degenerated into supreme egoism, obstinacy and unwillingness to face facts – a fatal combination for a commander about to meet for the first time a united enemy able to deploy a numerically superior combined force.
b) The Allies United
- The Fourth coalition 1813-15
- The Russian debacle encouraged a general diplomatic reshuffle, whish began in February 1813 with the signing of an anti-French alliance by Russia and Prussia.
- Tsar Alexander now saw himself as the saviour of Europe. He believed he had a Christian mission to complete the defeat of Napoleon and to free Europe from tyranny.
- Under his leadership, the Fourth Coalition, initially composed of Russia, Prussia and Britain, was formed in 1813. It was still not a full, united alliance, being based only on separate bilateral treaties between Britain and Russia and Britain and Prussia.
- In the early summer of 1813 a Russo-Prussian campaign in central Europe met with some success and in June, Napoleon – with a much weakened army after his losses in Russia, and forced to fight on two fronts by the continued conflict in Spain – accepted Austrian proposals for an armistice and a peace conference.
- Austria’s attitude towards the Fourth Coalition had so far been one of hesitant suspicion. The Chancellor, Matternich, distrusted Russo-Prussian ambitions in Germany, and Napoleon’s marriage to Marie-Louise had left Austria in an awkward position as a nominal ally of France, but in August 1813 Austria, tired of Napoleon’s unwillingness to negotiate a peace settlement, declared war on France.
- It was the first occasion on which all the other great powers, Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria, were at war with Napoleon at the same time; but there was still no single alliance binding them together.
- The end of the armistice led to renewed fighting, and in October the numerical superiority of the combined armies Austria, Prussia and Russia enabled them to win a decisive but expensive victory at Leipzig in the three-day ‘Battle of the Nations’.
- With the loss of the battle, Napoleon also lost control over Germany and was forced to retreat to the Rhine and the defence of the ‘natural frontiers’ of France.
- Napoleon’s only hope was that Austria, Prussia and Russia would quarrel over the future of Germany and Poland and that the coalition would collapse as a result. This was Britain’s fear, but it was averted when intense diplomatic pressure by the British government led to the imposition of the Treaty of Chaumont on the coalition in March 1814.
- This treaty, which converted the coalition into a Quadruple Alliance, committed each of the four powers no to conclude a separate peace, but to fight on until Napoleon was defeated.
- They would then remain in alliance for 20 years while political and territorial plans, outlined in the treaty, were put into effect in a post-Napoleonic Europe. At long last the allies had come together in a properly united alliance of powers legally bound to each other in a common purpose.
ii) Final Defeat and the End of Napoleonic Europe
- The Grand Empire collapsed very quickly after the Battle of the Nations in 1813. It had always depended on military supremacy. That lost, the satellite states began to desert Napoleon. Several minor states actually went over to the allies in return for promises to respect the sovereignty.
- At the end of March 1814 an allied advance captured Paris, and in April, Napoleon abdicated unconditionally as Emperor of the French.
- The first Treaty of Paris (May 1814) began the long process of reaching a peace settlement by reducing France to her 1792 borders. Almost immediately after the treaty was signed the allies fell out with one another.
- Matters became so hostile that Britain and Austria, encouraged by the restored Bourbon government of France, made a secret alliance against Prussia and Russia.
- The Coalition was only saved by the sudden return of Napoleon from Elba in March 1815 and the need to restore the wartime co-operation. This was successfully achieved, enabling Britain and Prussia to join forces at the battle of Waterloo.
- After Napoleon’s final abdication and exile in June, the second Treaty of Paris (November 1815) reduced the frontiers of France still further to those of 1790.
- There remained the problem of the territories of the French Empire and of the satellite states. Each of the allies had different views on what should be done and great power unity was constantly threatened by suspicion and disagreement. However, it was accepted by all the allies that France needed to be contained within her revised frontiers and that this could be best done by surrounding her with a ring of buffer states – not the weak and feeble neighbours who had collapsed in 1792-3, but strong, potentially hostile states would prevent any future French aggression.
- To the south, Austrian influence was restored in northern Italy in Lombardy and Venice, and a newly strengthened kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont (including nice, Genoa and Savoy) guarded the Italian frontier with France; to the north, Belgium was united with an independent Holland behind a fortified frontier with France; while to the east, Switzerland’s guaranteed independence barred the way, as did the Rhinelands, now a part of Prussia.
- In this way the frontiers which France had threatened mostly often during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were blocked off.
- As far s the satellite states were concerned it was generally, though not completely, conservative settlement. In Italy, Naples was returned to Bourbon rule and the other states were restored to their pre-1796 boundaries and mostly to their former ruling families.
- The Papal States were returned to the Pope. In Germany, Napoleon’s general suppression of a large number of minor German states was confirmed and 41 (later reduced to 38) sovereign states were brought together in a new German Confederation, whose borders were not dissimilar to those of the old Holy Roman Empire.
- Russia acquired most of the Poland and Spain was returned to Bourbon rule.
- The map of Europe again looked much the same as it had done in the eighteenth century, the Napoleonic Empire had disappeared.