To what extent was Napoleon's success in Europe to 1807 the consequences of his own military ability?

Authors Avatar

To what extent was Napoleon’s success in Europe to 1807 the consequences of his own military ability?

Napoleon’s success in Europe to 1807 could not have been the consequences of a single factor, his own military ability, but rather a combination of linking, interdependent factors, some of which playing a greater role than others, but all helping Napoleon along the road to success. It is undeniable that if fate had given Napoleon an entirely different set of circumstances (if he had not been able to rise through the ranks as easily, if France had not the massive population it did e.t.c) then, no matter how intelligent or able he was, he would not have enjoyed the kind of success he did.

        Correlli Barnett, in his book Bonaparte, is very critical of Napoleon and his tactics, claiming that it was largely the incompetence and weaknesses of his enemies that enabled him to achieve success. For example, on the Battle of Ulm (October 1805), Barnett talks about what might have happened if Austria had a “general more active than Mack”, who broke out with a single Austrian corps right across Bonaparte’s communications. The Austrian army had an impressive artillery which could have posed a threat to Napoleon if combined with Russia, but there was no universal language, and with it’s varied ethnic and racial populations this was a huge problem - it slowed communication and often left many in a state of confusion. This also meant that there was no real national identity allowing the kind of patriotism that the French could use to fight with.  The Russian army also had huge problems, one of the main ones being the fact that the soldiers did not want to be fighting a war at all. Surrounding the conscript army was a negative, fatalistic view of army life - a darkly amusing fact is that soldiers could often go to their own funeral before they were conscripted away to battle. Apart from the fact that they were treated like criminals, Russian soldiers were also poorly trained, severely lacking in tactical awareness and education. Prussia on the other hand, with its fine tradition, had a very strong army. However, the Prussian skirmishes were poor and the army missed a sense of individuality (instinct or initiative) and instead acted after strategic planning alone. Furthermore, the Prussian artillery could not come close to the French standards, being completely out gunned on some occasions, even when the French had far less numbers. The British army, before 1807, was not much of a force to be reckoned with - it was fairly tiny and was not as strong or quick as the French army. Even though the weaknesses of Napoleon’s enemies were rather considerable before 1807, he would not have been able to profit from these weaknesses if it were not for his military genius and the strength of his army.

Join now!

        When he came to power, Napoleon inherited a huge and incredibly strong army to do with whatever he pleased. The French army fought for a cause. They were not as mercenaries, not as men impressed against their will, but as citizens honorably defending their revolution against its threatened destruction by outside forces. People were full of this revolutionary ardour and actively sought battle. This was a wholly new perspective of war and the causes it was fought for. Generally, Napoleon’s enemies fought Wars of maneuvers and not, unlike Napoleon’s army, with the intention of completely annihilating the enemy. They relied ...

This is a preview of the whole essay