History of War

Great Battles   FRIEDLAND

The defeat of a combined Russian-Austrian army at Austerlitz on 2 December 1805 signalled the collapse of the Third Coalition and also marked the high point of Napoleon’s career. After the stunning success, coming hot on the heels of the surrender of an Austrian army on 17 October, Napoleon appeared unstoppable.

In retrospect, it is possible to see that his army reached its peak in 1805 and would soon begin an inexorable decline as the demands of near-constant campaigning took their toll. Certainly Napoleon’s enemies were not about to give up. The Third Coalition was finished, but the British and Russians remained at war with France.

Napoleon made efforts to bring a conclusion to the seemingly endless string of wars, putting out feelers to Britain and Russia and attempting to keep Prussia out of the struggle. The death of the British prime minister, William Pitt 'the Younger', in January 1806 appeared to offer a glimmer of hope, but the new Whig administration was in no mood for compromise. In October 1806 Britain and Russia formed the heart of the Fourth Coalition, along with Prussia. Having watched from the sidelines for some time, French encroachments on German territory had finally persuaded the Prussians to join the struggle. Saxony, Sweden and Sicily were junior partners in the Fourth Coalition, which Napoleon moved swiftly to crush.

Napoleon’s 'blitzkrieg'

Northeast Bavaria became the staging point for the French Grande Armée, with an invasion of Prussia the initial goal. Napoleon’s approach to the campaign has been likened to the German tactics in World War II, his intention being to destroy the Prussian army before the Russians could intervene. The results were stunning. In just 19 days the Prussians had effectively been knocked out of the war following the battles of Jena and Auerstädt on 14 October and the pursuit that had followed. Prussia had lost more than 150,000 men, either killed, wounded or captured, and French troops occupied Warsaw on 28 November.

With Britain offering limited military contributions to the Fourth Coalition, it was down to

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