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Battlefield of Austerlitz

Listed under Battlefields in Czech Republic.

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The main reminder of this battle is the Monument of Peace on top of Pratecky Hill, at the highest point in what was the battlefield commanding a view of the whole theatre. In the very opening movements of the battle this position was occupied by Austrian Emperor Franz and Tsar Alexander. It also marks the spot where one of the Austrian generals fell. The monument was built more than a century after the battle in the art deco style to serve as a reminder of the event and the thousands of lives which were lost here. A museum now shares the spot. Special events are arranged here each year to coincide with the anniversary of the battle. The battle itself was one of Napoleon’s greatest tactical victories and was fought against the old imperial leaders Franz and Alexander. It is probably familiar to most due to the battle’s inclusion in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”.

The story of the Battle of Austerlitz: Napoleon’s 350,00 strong army was well trained, well organised and well stocked in 1805 in contrast with the Russian army which lacked order amongst the officers who were still largely recruited from the aristocratic classes with no formal training, but still maintained a strong artillery force. The Austrian forces were some of the best in Europe but were reshuffled in the lead up to the battle creating confusion amongst officers and many men were performing tasks they were not properly trained for. By the time the French forces arrived on the Austerlitz battlefield they numbered around 75,000, the Russian and Austrian forces had similar numbers of men but double the numbers of artillery weapons. The French were also deep in enemy territory and required large numbers of men to keep their communication lines open. Napoleon knew he needed to fight, but he planned to give the impression that he wanted peace, he also implied a weakness of his army, especially on the right flank, which invited the allies to attack there, which they did. Napoleon’s plan was that while the allies attacked to the right their centre would be weakened and the French would push for the centre. The right would be supported by troops who were marching late into the battle from Vienna. This plan paid off. The allies made the first moves to the right then the French pushed to the centre surprising the allied forces with their numbers. The allies managed to repel the forces back down the hill but they kept pushing and eventually toppled the allies from their raised line. The battle itself raged for nine hours and several towns suffered heavy artillery barrages and changed hands multiple times, but in the end the French forces overwhelmed the allies and they fled in disarray loosing guns and men as the French pursued them. The allies lost around 40 per cent of their men, the French less than 13 per cent.

Written by  Anthony Harrison.

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