Napoleon in 1806 The painting by Eduard Detaille represents the canonical image of Napoleon Bonaparte: a large bicorner hat, a gray overcoat over the uniform of a colonel of horse rangers and a right hand hidden over the side of the camisole.
In contrast to other monarchs of his era, who, with the exception of Tsar Alexander in 1805, never commanded on the battlefield, leaving this matter to their marshals and generals, Napoleon always personally commanded troops in the main theater of operations. At the same time, he retained the administration of the empire, and even when he was in the army, he made decisions regarding civilian activities. IN history included, for example, the decree establishing the Paris "Comedie Francaise", signed in the Kremlin in October 1812. None of the rulers of his day have acquired as much power as the emperor of the French.
Legend of the genius of war
There is a widespread legend, supported by numerous historians who remain under the influence of the "star of Napoleon", that Bonaparte was a "genius of war", that he won battles, guided by some instinct known to him alone. According to the same legend, the entire military history could, in principle, be divided into two periods: before Napoleon and since his appearance, because the emperor introduced such radical changes in strategy and tactics that one can safely speak of a real revolution.
Without denying the personal talents of Bonaparte, who undoubtedly surpassed the majority of contemporary generals in the art of war, it must nevertheless be emphasized that he became more an imitator of the ideas already applied or proposed by his predecessors than the original inventor.
The Napoleonic system of warfare dates back to the days of the Revolution or even the Old Order. Moreover, if we are talking about the times of the Old Regime, then we do not mean the principle of linear warfare, characterized by static development, the complexity of maneuvers, the desire to avoid open clashes and give battle only when all other attempts to surround or push back the enemy have exhausted themselves.
Napoleon resorted to the innovative ideas of numerous military theorists who published their works in the second half of the XNUMXth century. First of all, we are talking about Jacques-Antoine-Hippolyte Guibert, whose work Essai de tactique générale Napoleon always and everywhere carried with him. According to the views of this theorist, Napoleon decided that the main factors in the conduct of war were the mobility of the army and the speed of its actions.
In practice, this meant minimizing the non-combat components of the army and the primacy of the principle that the army feeds on the conquered - if not its own - country. A manifestation of this decision was the onslaught on training soldiers for long marches and the brutal demand from them of extreme physical effort, if this was required by the strategic situation. It is safe to say that before Napoleon no army marched as much and as quickly as the Great Army. In 1812, some regiments in a short time made their way from Spain to Moscow, and their remnants were still able to return from there to Prussia and the Duchy of Warsaw.
Also from Gibert, Napoleon took the idea of maneuvering behind enemy lines and concentrating forces at the turning point of the battle. This became the basic principles of the Napoleonic system of warfare.
Napoleon also borrowed a lot from another prominent theorist - Jean Charles de Folard. First of all, the fact that the goal of military operations should be the destruction of the main forces of the enemy in a decisive battle and that a decisive battle can be achieved only during the offensive. Thus, Napoleon broke with the basic principle of linear warfare of the XNUMXth century, which prescribed to protect his own forces and, as a result, also protected the enemy's forces.
Finally, from Pierre-Joseph Bursa, Napoleon borrowed the principle that, when embarking on a military campaign, one must have his clear plan, and not hope for happiness and coincidence of circumstances. Of course, we are talking about a plan that would contain only basic, general provisions and would make it possible to make changes in the event of a change in the strategic situation. Bursa also proposed the principle of rational division of one's own forces, which was successfully applied by Napoleon more than once.
The emperor studied the history of military art with enviable diligence, and especially the campaigns of Moritz of Saxony and Frederick the Great. From Moritz of Saxony, he adopted the idea that the enemy's stamina should be shaken even before the decisive battle. For example, to sow panic in its ranks, or at least indecision, going to its rear or cutting off its connection with the rear. The Duke of Saxony also taught Napoleon that the successful completion of a battle often depends on the factor of surprise, strategically or tactically.
These were the theoretical foundations.
But Bonaparte, becoming the first consul, took over from his predecessors and the army, which was a good (and in many ways - excellent) instrument of warfare. In no case can it be argued that Bonaparte created the Great Army out of nothing. Yes, he made many improvements, but the backbone of the modern French military existed before him.
To begin with, the system of border fortifications erected by Sébastien Vauban at the turn of the 1792th and XNUMXth centuries not only saved France in XNUMX, but under Napoleon it became the starting point for further conquests.
During the reign of Louis XVI, the regular ministers of war carried out profound reforms that radically changed the appearance of the French army, and in particular its armament. The artillery received excellent cannons of the Jean-Baptiste Griboval system, and the infantry and cavalry received weapon, which could compete on an equal footing with the best European examples. Moreover, at the same time the system of royal arms manufactories was created; state warehouses stocked up on their products so much that it was more than enough to arm the revolutionary armies in 1792-1793.
The development of royal manufactories did not stop even under the Republic. Outstanding services in this field were, of course, put by Lazar Carnot, not without reason called "the father of victory." Bonaparte, when he became first consul, did not have to start from scratch. He, of course, continued to develop weapons manufactories, but the basis of the military industry was created before him.
The Revolution also provided a lot of Bonaparte. Indeed, it was in 1792-1795. the French army went through a fundamental restructuring. From a professional army, it became the people's army, from a means of subsistence for mercenaries under the command of aristocrats - an excellent instrument of modern warfare, where commanders and soldiers were united by a common idea. The Great Revolution prepared excellent cadres of all levels for Napoleon. Without revolutionary campaigns, without the battles of Valmy, Jemappa and Fleurus, there would be no victories for Austerlitz, Jena or Wagram. The French soldier not only learned the craft of war, he also - very importantly - believed in himself, got used to beat the best (seemingly) armies of Europe.
The revolutionary campaigns also shaped the modern structure of the army. Then already - even before Bonaparte - the formation of divisions and brigades began, which did not exist under the Old regime, but later became the basis of the Napoleonic system of warfare.
Blitzkrieg theory and practice
But the undoubted merit of Napoleon is that for the first time in practice he tried out numerous theoretical positions of the French strategists of the XNUMXth century. Bonaparte simply became the first who had the means and an army at his disposal, capable in practice and on a full scale to carry out what Gibert, Folard and Bursa only theorized about.
An analysis of Napoleonic campaigns clearly shows his desire to conduct a decisive battle. The emperor tried to play such a battle as soon as possible, because, firstly, then he had the greatest chances of catching the enemy by surprise, and secondly, by shortening the time of the military campaign, he thereby relieved himself of the supply problem. The Napoleonic Wars can be safely called the prototypes of Hitler's "lightning war" (blitzkrieg).
When planning the next military campaigns, Napoleon was of the opinion that one must, first of all, set a certain goal for oneself - as a rule, the destruction of the main forces of the enemy. To achieve this goal, the French army had to move to the designated areas of concentration in several columns. Thanks to this, the roads along which the French army moved were not clogged with a crowd of soldiers and ensured their rapid advance. In such a march, timely information about the enemy played an important role - hence the great role of light cavalry. Much also depended on the timely delivery of information to Headquarters and from the imperial dispositions to the corps and division commanders. Therefore, adjutants and couriers occupied a special place in the Great Army.
Further analysis of the numerous wars of the Napoleonic era makes it possible to assert that in order to achieve strategic objectives, the emperor, in principle, adhered to several simple schemes. Let me remind you once again that Napoleon always strove for the offensive. Only three of his battles - at Dresden, Leipzig and Arcy-sur-Aube - were defensive in nature, and even then after unsuccessful attempts to initially impose a battle on the enemy. Taking up the defensive position, Napoleon tried to wear down the enemy forces in the hope that their losses would significantly exceed the losses of the French.
If on the side of the emperor there was a significant advantage in forces, and, in extreme cases, forces equal to the enemy, then he used a "maneuver behind enemy lines." Binding the enemy forces with a part of his forces with a counterstrike, Napoleon simultaneously concentrated his main forces against the enemy flank, which seemed weaker, and after defeating it, he went to the rear, cutting off the enemy from reserves and supplies and instilling confusion in his troops; then came the decisive blow. With a well-played battle, this tactic gave excellent results - just cite the example of the battle at Arcole, Ulm or Friedland. Under such circumstances, the enemy had no choice but to surrender, as Field Marshal Karl Mac did at Ulm, or regroup his forces, as was the case at Marengo or Jena. In the second case, in order to avoid destruction, the enemy had to make distant roundabout maneuvers. And this, in turn, helped the French to undertake the pursuit of the enemy.
The success of the "maneuver to the rear" largely depended on the combat capability of the corps or divisions that were allocated for the oncoming engagement with the main enemy forces at the initial stage of the battle. A classic example is the corps of Marshal Louis Davout, which in the battle of Austerlitz took on a terrible blow from the Russian-Austrian troops. To increase the effectiveness of his units, Napoleon tried to use natural barriers - rivers, swamps, bridges, ravines, which the enemy had to take with battle for further advance. And when the battle reached a critical point, the emperor quickly concentrated his main forces and decided the outcome of the battle with a blow to the flank or outflanking.
It happened that the "maneuver to the rear" did not give the desired success. For example, at Hollabrunn, Vilna, Vitebsk, Smolensk, Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden or Brienne. This happened when there was a lack of light cavalry, which was supposed to scout the enemy's flanks, mix their ranks, and then pursue the retreating enemy. It is worth noting that these battles mainly took place in the last Napoleonic campaigns, that is, when the state of the Great Army was far from the best.
If the superiority in forces was on the side of the enemy, Napoleon chose a "maneuver from a central position." Then he strove for such a division of the enemy forces so that they could be beaten in parts in the subsequent stages of the battle, concentrating his forces as needed to achieve temporary superiority. This could be achieved either through the speed of their own maneuvers so as to catch one of the enemy corps by surprise, pulling up to the concentration area. Or, accepting a battle on rough terrain, for example, cut by rivers or ravines, so that they divide the enemy's forces and make it difficult to concentrate.
Bonaparte especially often used the "maneuver from a central position" during the Italian campaign of 1796-1797, when his forces were significantly outnumbered by the Austrian troops. An example of a successful application of such a maneuver is the battle of Castiglione. The emperor often used this maneuver in 1813–1814, when his forces again fell to a level significantly lower than their opponents. A classic example here is the "Battle of the Nations" at Leipzig, in which Napoleon built his defenses around the city itself, and Russian, Prussian, Austrian and Swedish troops attacked the city in a wide half-ring, but on rough terrain they could not always interact.
The battle on November 28, 1812 near the Berezina can also be considered a battle played out "from a central position", since the river divided the Russian forces: the corps of General Peter Wittgenstein on the left bank and the corps of Admiral Pavel Chichagov - on the right.
However, Napoleon did not always manage to play battles according to one of the above schemes.
It happened that the enemy could guess the imperial plans in a timely manner and took countermeasures. So it was at Borodino, where Napoleon was unable to crush the left flank of the Russians with the forces of the corps of Prince Jozef Poniatowski. In the forest near Utitsa, the Poles suffered huge losses from Russian artillery while still approaching the Russian positions. The battle of Borodino turned into a frontal clash of two huge armies, and although Napoleon stubbornly sent attack after attack on the Russian redoubts, his infantry suffered terrible losses without achieving success.
It happened that Napoleon inaccurately reconnoitered the enemy's forces and concentrated his forces against a part of the enemy's army, not knowing that another part might threaten him. In such cases, "double battles" took place, that is, those in which there was no direct strategic or tactical connection between battles on two battlefields. So, for example, the battles took place at Jena and Auerstedt. Napoleon, fighting at Jena, thought that he was opposed by the main forces of the Prussians. While in reality the main forces of the Prussians fought at Auerstadt against Davout's weaker corps. A similar "double battle" was the battle of Linyi and Quatre Bras on June 16, 1815.
To control the Great Army, Napoleon created the Headquarters, which played the role of his headquarters. The headquarters have always been called the "palace". Regardless of whether it is located in the residence of the Prussian kings in Potsdam or in the Habsburg residence in Schönbrunn, in the Prado palace in Madrid or in the Kremlin, in the royal palace in Warsaw or in the ancient Teutonic castle in Osterode, in the count's estate near Smolensk or in the bourgeois home in Poznan, at the post office at Preussisch-Eylau or in a peasant hut near Waterloo, or, finally, just in a bivouac among his troops, who had just fought at Austerlitz, Wagram or Leipzig. The headquarters consisted of two separate parts: the imperial apartments and the Headquarters of the Grand Army, that is, the headquarters of Marshal Louis Alexander Berthier.
The imperial apartments, modestly arranged, one might say - in the Spartan style, were, in turn, divided into the imperial chambers and the imperial military office. The number of people with access to the apartments was limited by a small number of high-ranking officials. Such as the chief master of the house (until 1813 he was Gerard (Géraud) Duroc, and after - General Henri Gacien Bertrand) or the chief equestrian (General Armand de Caulaincourt). In the "chambers" there was also a service that took care of Napoleon's needs.
All other visitors, including the officers in command of the Great Army, were received by the emperor in his military office. The cabinet included, among others, Napoleon's personal secretary, perhaps his most trusted person. The secretary had to constantly be with the emperor or appear within a few minutes at his first call. The secretary wrote down the imperial dispositions.
Three secretaries served under Napoleon. The first was Louis Antoine Fauvelle de Burienne (1769–1834), Bonaparte's classmate at the military school in Brienne. He began his service as early as 1797 in Leoben, and he edited the final text of the Campo-Formian Peace Treaty. Together with Napoleon, he took part in the Egyptian campaign and headed the Army of the East field publishing house there. Then came the 18 Brumaire coup and the 1800 campaign. Burienne was a very intelligent and executive man with a phenomenal memory. But Napoleon had to remove him in 1802 for embezzlement and financial scandals associated with his name.
After Bourienne, Claude-François de Meneval (1770-1850), who had previously served Joseph Bonaparte, became Napoleon's personal secretary. As Joseph's personal secretary, he was involved in the drafting of the Luneville Peace Treaty, the Concordat with the Pope, and the Amiens Peace Treaty. In 1803 he became secretary to the first consul. Meneval developed his own shorthand system, which allowed him to edit the incredible number of dispositions that Napoleon published daily, and pass them on through the chain of command. And although he was not distinguished by a sharpness of mind comparable to Buryanny, he remained in the service of the emperor for eleven years. He took part in all the campaigns in 1805-1809, as well as in the campaign against Moscow. The catastrophe of the retreat from Moscow undermined his health. In 1813, he resigned from all posts under the emperor and remained a trusted secretary of Maria Louise.
The third was Agathon-Jean-François de Fan (1778-1837), who had previously worked with Bonaparte in the War Office in 1795. In February 1806, by order of the Minister of the South - Bernard Mare, he took the post of court archivist and accompanied Napoleon on his regular campaigns, taking care mainly of his library and business papers. Feng became personal secretary in the spring of 1813 and remained in this post until Napoleon's abdication from the throne. He took office again on March 20, 1815, the day Napoleon arrived from Elba to the Tuileries. He was with Napoleon at Waterloo.
It is worth noting that, in addition to the personal secretary, Napoleon had several other employees whose duties included the care of the imperial library. As a rule, his library consisted of several hundred small-format volumes in leather binding. They were transported in a separate cart in small boxes with handles - for greater convenience during transportation. In addition to military-theoretical works, the emperor's field library always contained historical and geographical works, thematically related to the country or countries where Napoleon was sent on a campaign. In addition, Napoleon usually took with him a dozen or two literary works, which he read in rare moments of rest.
In 1804, Napoleon created a so-called topographic cabinet at his Headquarters, which became a very important branch of the imperial headquarters. The head of the cabinet was Louis Albert Guillain Buckle d'Albes (1761–1824), whom Napoleon had known since the siege of Toulon in 1793. Buckle d'Albes was a very capable officer, engineer and geographer. He, in particular, owned numerous valuable maps of Italy. In 1813 the emperor promoted him to the rank of brigadier general. Buckle d'Alba was responsible for mapping. He always had a set of excellent maps of the country or countries where the Great Army had a chance to fight. The collection was founded by Carnot and was constantly replenished, which, by the way, was reminded of by the corresponding imperial decrees. In addition, the French removed rich cartographic collections from Turin, Amsterdam, Dresden and Vienna.
Wherever a soldier of the Great Army set foot, special units of surveyors were looking for accurate and detailed maps. So, for example, for the campaign in 1812, they made a unique map of European Russia on 21 sheets, printed in 500 copies. Buckle d'Alba was also responsible for compiling a daily operational summary in the form of a battle map, on which he marked the position of his own and enemy troops with colored flags.
His post under Napoleon can be compared with the post of the chief of the operational department of the General Staff. He repeatedly participated in the preparation of military plans and in military conferences. He also oversaw the timely execution of the imperial dispositions. Buckle d'Albes was one of Napoleon's most valuable companions and only retired in 1814 due to deteriorating health. It is believed that he knew the plans and train of thought of Napoleon best of all, since he was with him almost 24 hours a day. It happened that they both fell asleep on the same table covered with cards.
The personal headquarters of Napoleon also included his adjutants in the rank of divisional and brigadier generals. In principle, their number reached twenty, but on campaigns he took with him from four to six. Under the emperor, they acted as officers for special assignments and received important tasks. Often the imperial adjutant replaced the killed or wounded corps or division commander on the battlefield. Each of the imperial adjutants, called "large", had their own adjutants, called "minor adjutants." Their task was to transmit reports on the battlefield.
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