Carnage on the Danube. Prelude

War, war never ends

By the beginning of 1809, the wars brought to life by the Great French Revolution and the rule of Napoleon Bonaparte had been burning in Europe for a decade and a half. And although after the war of the 4th coalition (1806–07) some great world came between the great powers (Austria could not recover from Austurlitz, and Russia and Prussia were defeated under Jena and Friedland), Napoleon got involved in the war in Spain, where against him rose the whole country. The first noticeable failure of the French under Bailen (July 1808), where the corps of General Dupont was surrounded and surrendered by the Spaniards, spurred on the anti-French movement not only in Spain, but throughout Europe.


Europe in 1809

In the Vienna Cabinet, who closely followed all the actions of Napoleon and long had plans to revenge for the defeats of the last ten years, they decided that while the Corsican with the best troops was stuck in Spain, you can try to return the lost and save Europe from the "tyrant". The determination of the Austrians was supported by English money and assurances of all possible help and support from London. Even Emperor Alexander, who, according to the Erfurt tractate (Oct. 1808), was obliged to help Napoleon in the struggle with Austria, if she came out against Paris, promised not to take any action against his “brother” Emperor Joseph. February 8, 1809 in Vienna, the war party finally took the upper hand and it was decided to start a war with France in the same year.

It may seem that by getting involved in a new war with Napoleon (the so-called War of the Fifth Coalition), the Austrians are taking another step into the abyss. The commander smashed the Austrians in a variety of military theaters and in very different conditions: a republican general in Italy, the first consul in the Alps and the emperor of the French in Germany and on the Danube. However, the Austrians were not so rash as to enter the war without drawing conclusions from previous campaigns.

Reforms of the Archduke Charles

Strange as it may seem, the defeat in the War of the Third Coalition (1805) and the plight of the Austrian Empire, which was in the zone of influence of France, brought to life the popular forces, the rise of the national spirit and the determination to war. A French diplomat in Vienna shortly before the outbreak of the war wrote: “In 1805, only one government wanted war — neither the army nor the people wanted it; now, in 1809, the government, the army, and the people are all united in this determination. "


Archduke Karl

But one should not think that only the national rise was to ensure the victory of Austria in the war: in the end, France experienced the same rise, albeit a few thinning population. The wars of recent years have convinced the government of the need for radical military reforms. The chief reformer of the army was the Archduke Charles - the brother of Emperor Joseph and the most talented Austrian commander from the time of Eugene of Savoy. It is interesting that the first who tried to analyze and explain the features of the military art of Napoleon and the army he created was precisely the Archduke Charles.

For three years of the world, the Austrian army has changed (at least on paper). In addition to the regular army, units of the national army were created — a landwehr, which, however, looked more like a militia than the French army. The number of soldiers almost doubled (340 thousand versus 200 thousand in 1805), instead of divisions corps were introduced according to the French model. Artillery was significantly strengthened (up to 750 guns). The infantry was trained in scattering and columnar operations — the two main tactical methods of the revolutionary and Napoleonic troops. The archduke knew firsthand how the French were fighting: he met Bonaparte in Italy in 1797, fought Moreau on the Rhine in 1799, and again commanded in Italy in 1800 and 1805.


Reformed Austrian Infantry

However, the Archduke did not have the freedom of creativity and transformation that was in the Republic, and after that in the French Empire. Austria was much more like a more conservative state, inertia and cronyism flourished among the command, the officers were poorly trained, there were not enough talented people. In 1809, the main changes were still outlined: Karl wanted to have at least 700,000 new, trained troops (not half), the cavalry equestrian left much to be desired, landver was not suitable for field operations, and in the headquarters and military ministry of the event commander frankly sabotaged.

Problems of the warring countries

However, the problems were not only the Austrians. Despite the prematurity of the performance of Vienna against Napoleon, the latter also had enough trouble. In Spain, things did not go well, but the emperor was still hoping for a quick decision, for which he left the best troops there, including the guard and veterans (almost 200 thousand soldiers). For the war on two fronts, it was necessary to urgently replenish the army with recruits, which negatively affected the combat capability of the French. Even universal military service could not give enough people - they had to mobilize ahead of time, almost boys (in 1808 they called for 1810).


French soldiers 1807−09

To replenish the officer corps, it was necessary to give ranks out of turn, without due service, to yesterday’s graduates of military schools. The poor quality of the rank and file was decided to be compensated by artillery: “The worse the troops, the more guns they need,” wrote the emperor to the war minister. But even with the saturation of the infantry with guns, there were problems — by the start of the war the guns were desperately short (almost half of the required number was in the army).

By the beginning of March 1809, when in Vienna it was already firmly decided to start a war, the Great Army of Germany (175 thousand) was formed to operate beyond the Rhine and on the Danube. Another 70 thousand were quartered in Italy, small detachments were scattered from Danzig to Dalmatia. In total, Napoleon had almost 300 thousand soldiers at his disposal, which can be considered a real achievement for the French military machine — the most modern at the time. Napoleon hoped to parry the Austrian strike, then counterattack with concentrated forces and smash the army of the Archduke Charles in parts. The key point of the emperor's plan was the city of Regensburg on the Danube, which occupied an exceptionally advantageous strategic position in relation to the main cities and fortresses of the future campaign.

Austrian offensive

The first move was for the Archduke Charles - Napoleon waited for the Austrians to strike, since a preemptive strike on Vienna or the Austrian army would cause a storm of indignation all over Europe, the monarchs of which were already unhappy with the French aggression of recent years. The Austrian commander concentrated about 200 thousand soldiers and five hundred guns for action on the Danube. It was much more than what Napoleon had hoped for (he believed that the Austrians would send much more line troops to Italy), so that the archduke had a real opportunity not only to strike first, but to do it from an unexpected side and with superior forces while Napoleon was in Paris: the emperor, in order not to escalate the situation, did not go to Strasbourg, where the Great Army of Germany was concentrated, but was in the capital. The commander in chief was General Berthier, the invariable chief of staff of Napoleon.


1809 Campaign Map

The Archduke wanted to attack the French straight from Bohemia, where the Austrian army was already concentrated, bring down the Dauva's Rhineland army (formally 120 thousand - actually less than 80 thousand) and crush it before the main forces approached. In this case, the French would lose their superiority of forces for action on the Danube, while the Austrians would have the opportunity to retain the initiative. However, the Archduke’s plan envisaged a march through difficult-to-reach Bohemia and a break in communications with the army in Tyrol, so that the gofkrygsrat (military department) insisted on a safer plan: march south on both banks of the Danube, concentrating forces and hitting Regensburg and beyond the Danube. Negotiations and marches went all March and the first half of April — precious time for a sudden strike was lost.

April crisis

However, due to the wrong concentration of the French (Berthier did not understand the orders of Napoleon) and the actions of the Archduke, who, without declaring war, launched the offensive on April 9, 1809, the Austrians still had good chances to cut the French and destroy their corps piece by piece - exactly as they wanted the emperor himself. But then the famous Austrian sluggishness affected - instead of a decisive, energetic offensive, the Austrians were advancing slowly and lost all the advantage of surprise.


Troop movements April 17-19, 1809

As soon as Bertier received news of the Austrian offensive (April 11), he rushed to correct his mistakes. The general decided that time allowed the army to be concentrated in Regensburg, although Napoleon ordered movement towards Augsburg (150 km south-west of Regensburg, north of Munich) and Berthier moved the army closer to the Austrians. The army was dispersed at a great distance, so if the Austrian generals were more prudent, the French would have to wait for the fate of General Dupont.

Fortunately for the latter, on April 17 Napoleon arrived at the headquarters of the army in Donauwörth, from where he ordered his army to concentrate at Ilm (a small town south of the Danube between Augsburg and Regensburg). In order to ease the position of Davout, where Austrian ticks were about to close in, Napoleon sent Massena’s corps to attack the Austrian left flank and intercept enemy communications. The position of the French was unenviable: the left flank of the army could simply be destroyed, and the right flank could only help with the threat of enemy communications. The emperor was nervous - now decided the fate of the campaign. If the Austrians manage to break up parts of the army east of Ingolstadt, then the French will have to be very tight. Napoleon sent to the aid of Davout all possible reserves, but they still have to come, while the Austrians will not wait.

On April 19, on the left flank, battles began, which grew into a grueling five-day operation on the Danube, full of endless maneuvers, attacks, counterattacks, retreats on a territory 200 kilometers long. But we'll talk about it next time. To be continued.

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