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Battle of Austerlitz

Dec 2nd 1805
Strength: 75000Casualties: 8245
Strength: 89400Casualties: 36000


The battle began with the French army outnumbered. Napoleon had some 72,000 men and 157 guns for the impending battle, with about 7,000 troops under Davout still far to the south in the direction of Vienna.[29][30] The Allies had about 85,000 soldiers, seventy percent of them Russian, and 318 guns.

At first, Napoleon was not totally confident of victory. In a letter written to Minister of Foreign Affairs Talleyrand, Napoleon requested Talleyrand not tell anyone about the upcoming battle because he did not want to disturb Empress Joséphine. According to Frederick C. Schneid, the French Emperor's chief worry was how he could explain to Joséphine a French defeat.

Allied plans and dispositions

An Allied council met on 1 December to discuss proposals for the battle. Most of the Allied strategists had two fundamental ideas in mind: making contact with the enemy and securing the southern flank that held the communication line to Vienna. Although the Tsar and his immediate entourage pushed hard for a battle, Emperor Francis of Austria was more cautious and, as mentioned, he was seconded by Kutuzov, the Commander-in-chief of the Russians and the Allied troops. The pressure to fight from the Russian nobles and the Austrian commanders, however, was too strong, and the Allies adopted the plan of the Austrian Chief-of-Staff, Franz von Weyrother.[33] This called for a main drive against the French right flank, which the Allies noticed was lightly guarded, and diversionary attacks against the French left. The Allies deployed most of their troops into four columns that would attack the French right. The Russian Imperial Guard was held in reserve while Russian troops under Bagration guarded the Allied right. The Russian Tsar rudely stripped the authority of Commander-in-chief M. I. Kutuzov and gave it to Franz von Weyrother. In the battle, Kutuzov could only command the IV Corps of the Allied army, although he was still the de facto commander because the Tsar was afraid to take over in case his favoured plan failed.

French plans and dispositions

Napoleon was hoping that the Allied forces would attack, and to encourage them, he deliberately weakened his right flank.[34] On 28 November Napoleon met with his marshals at Imperial Headquarters, who informed him of their qualms about the forthcoming battle. He shrugged off their suggestion of retreat.

Napoleon's plan envisaged that the Allies would throw many troops to envelop his right flank in order to cut the French communication line from Vienna.[23] As a result, the Allies' centre and left flank would be exposed and become vulnerable.[36] To encourage them to do so, Napoleon abandoned the strategic position on the Pratzen Heights, faking the weakness of his forces and his own caution. Meanwhile, Napoleon's main force was to be concealed in a dead ground opposite the Heights. According to the plan, the French troops would attack and recapture the Pratzen Heights, then from the Heights they would launch a decisive assault to the center of the Allied army, cripple them, and encircle them from the rear.

Battle Begins

The battle began at about 8 a.m. with the first allied column attacking the village of Telnitz, which was defended by the 3rd Line Regiment. This sector of the battlefield witnessed heavy fighting in this early action as several ferocious Allied charges evicted the French from the town and forced them onto the other side of the Goldbach. The first men of Davout's corps arrived at this time and threw the Allies out of Telnitz before they too were attacked by hussars and re-abandoned the town. Additional Allied attacks out of Telnitz were checked by French artillery.

Allied columns started pouring against the French right, but not at the desired speed, so the French were mostly successful in curbing the attacks. Actually, the Allied deployments were mistaken and poorly timed: cavalry detachments under Liechtenstein on the Allied left flank had to be placed in the right flank and in the process they ran into and slowed down part of the second column of infantry that was advancing towards the French right.[35] At the time, the planners thought this slowing was disastrous, but later on it helped the Allies. Meanwhile, the leading elements of the second column were attacking the village of Sokolnitz, which was defended by the 26th Light Regiment and the Tirailleurs, French skirmishers. Initial Allied assaults proved unsuccessful and General Langeron ordered the bombardment of the village. This deadly barrage forced the French out, and at about the same time, the third column attacked the castle of Sokolnitz. The French, however, counterattacked and regained the village, only to be thrown out again. Conflict in this area ended temporarily when Friant's division (part of III Corps) retook the village. Sokolnitz was perhaps the most fought over area in the battlefield and would change hands several times as the day progressed.

One sharp blow and the war is over

At about 8:45 a.m., satisfied at the weakness in the enemy centre, Napoleon asked Soult how long it would take for his men to reach the Pratzen Heights, to which the Marshal replied, 'Less than twenty minutes, sire.' About 15 minutes later, Napoleon ordered the attack, adding, 'One sharp blow and the war is over.'

A dense fog helped to cloud the advance of St. Hilaire's French division, but as they went up the slope the legendary 'Sun of Austerlitz' ripped the mist apart and encouraged them forward.[41] Russian soldiers and commanders on top of the heights were stunned to see so many French troops coming towards them.[43] Allied commanders moved some of the delayed detachments of the fourth column into this bitter struggle. Over an hour of fighting destroyed much of this unit. The other men from the second column, mostly inexperienced Austrians, also participated in the struggle and swung the numbers against one of the best fighting forces in the French army, eventually forcing them to withdraw down the slopes. However, gripped by desperation, St. Hilaire's men struck hard once more and bayoneted the Allies out of the heights. To the north, General Vandamme's division attacked an area called Staré Vinohrady ('Old Vineyards') and, through talented skirmishing and deadly volleys, broke several Allied battalions.

The battle had firmly turned in France's favour, but it was far from over. Napoleon ordered Bernadotte's I Corps to support Vandamme's left and moved his own command center from Žuráň Hill to St. Anthony's Chapel on the Pratzen Heights. The difficult position of the Allies was confirmed by the decision to send in the Russian Imperial Guard; Grand Duke Constantine, Tsar Alexander's brother, commanded the Guard and counterattacked in Vandamme's section of the field, forcing a bloody effort and the only loss of a French standard in the battle (a battalion of the 4th Line Regiment was defeated). Sensing trouble, Napoleon ordered his own heavy Guard cavalry forward. These men pulverized their Russian counterparts, but with both sides pouring in large masses of cavalry, no victory was clear.

The Russians had a numerical advantage but soon the tide swung as Drouet's Division, the 2nd of Bernadotte's I Corps, deployed on the flank of the action and allowed French cavalry to seek refuge behind their lines. The horse artillery of the Guard also inflicted heavy casualties on the Russian cavalry and fusiliers. The Russians broke and many died as they were pursued by the reinvigorated French cavalry for about a quarter of a mile.[45] The casualties of the Russians in Pratzen included Kutuzov (severely wounded) and his son-in-law Ferdinand von Tiesenhausen (KIA).