12 failures of Napoleon Bonaparte. Archduke Karl, who is sometimes called Teshensky, was able to reorganize the semi-migratory army of the Habsburg Empire so quickly that it came as a real surprise to the French emperor. After victories in the campaigns of 1805 and 1806-1807, which Napoleon won over the Austrians, Prussians and Russians, he had no doubt that he would quickly put the unexpectedly kicked Schönbrunn into place.
Errors and miscalculations
Contrary to the prevailing traditions, the analysis of one of the most painful defeats of Napoleon is still worth starting immediately with its causes. If only because under Aspern and Essling, it was not objective factors that played the main role. Napoleon himself was primarily to blame for the failure of the first battle in 1809 on the left bank of the Danube.
However, it was in the battle of Aspern and Essling that the French emperor had perhaps the most worthy opponent - Archduke Charles, one of the many brothers of the Austrian emperor Franz. He defeated the French more than once, but was already defeated by Napoleon in a five-day series of battles in the vicinity of Regensburg.
When talking about Aspern, Bonapartists are very fond of referring to the fact that the Danube suddenly turned into an irresistible stormy stream, as if forgetting how skillfully the Austrians took advantage of this. Fans of Napoleon also complain that it was very difficult for the attacking French to navigate unfamiliar terrain, although this is almost inevitable for the attacking side.
Almost never again did a great commander, who invariably did everything to put all his forces into a fist, scattered whole corps and divisions like that. Having managed to collect four and a half allied corps for the start of the company in Bavaria, along with three French corps and guards, Napoleon led only two corps to the Austrian capital to cross the Danube. Even together with the guards and cavalry, this was clearly not enough for a decisive victory.
Of course, there were objective reasons for this. Stretched communications, which in the first place could be threatened by the army of Archduke Charles, which managed to dissolve in the mountains of Bohemia. The premature deployment of the strongest 3rd corps of Marshal Davout to the north coast led to dire consequences - instead of putting pressure on Charles's army, Davout actually released it to fight the main forces of Napoleon.
Napoleon, of course, also counted on the approach from Northern Italy of the army of Viceroy Eugene, almost twice the opposing forces of Archduke John. Finally, the emperor was clearly let down by the impossibility of crossing the Danube directly in Vienna. The Austrians blew up all the bridges in the capital and kept them firmly at gunpoint with powerful batteries. Such a crossing could well cost Napoleon all his magnificent sappers and engineers.
And finally, the almost naked rear, completely hostile, in contrast to 1805, and also overcrowded with partisan detachments and saboteurs. Only three years later, already in Russia, Napoleon had to allocate the same large forces to guard communications, bases and shops.
As a result, more than 40 thousand Davout left somewhere in Bohemia, and even returning to the southern bank of the Danube, remained too far from the main forces.22 thousand Bavarians under the leadership of Lefebvre as part of the 7th corps remained in the vicinity of Salzburg, where they watched Jelachich and Archduke Johann. And in fact, he was supposed to be pursued by the troops of Viceroy Eugene. Finally, two more corps - the 9th Saxon and the 8th Württemberg, with about 35 thousand, on the Traun River covered the left flank from General Kolovrat, who had no more than 22 thousand people.
The spread of forces among the French is all the more surprising because Napoleon, after five days of fighting in Bavaria, managed to take a position between the Austrian army and Vienna. One cannot but pay tribute to the commander-in-chief of the Austrians, who then managed to withdraw his army from Bohemia to meet Napoleon. However, no one offered Napoleon peace in Vienna. Victory had to be sought on the northern bank of the Danube.
The option with a crossing upstream of Vienna, at Nussdorf, Napoleon and his chief of staff Berthier rejected immediately, since there was a very fast current, and strong Austrian batteries were also located on the dominant heights. In addition, the maneuver towards Nusdorf threatened to lose control over the capital and the surrounding area. There remained only a rather complicated narrowing of the Danube south of Vienna, near the island of Lobau, where it was planned to deliver the pontoons necessary for the crossing.
Moving at some distance along the northern bank of the Danube in order to remain invisible, the army of Archduke Charles reached the Marchfeld heights by May 16 - the area north of Lobau. It looks like it came as a surprise to the French. Napoleon could hardly believe that, under the pressure of Davout's 40,000th corps, the Archduke would decide to join forces with Johann's troops who were coming from Italy. If Johann had managed to unite at Linz with the Kolovrat corps, he would have led up to 60 thousand troops to Vienna, and quite fresh ones.
And this is in addition to more than 100 thousand from the Archduke Charles himself. With such forces it is no longer scary to fight with Napoleon himself. However, Archduke Johann did not manage to unite with Kolovrat, having stumbled upon the barriers put up by Napoleon, and this suggests that the spread of forces for the French was not at all superfluous. However, the Austrian commander-in-chief managed to use Kolovrat's troops to communicate with Lower Austria and Tyrol, actually forcing Napoleon to keep significant forces there as well.
Positions on the Bisamberg Heights allowed Archduke Karl to repel the French advance, however, having reliable information about the clearly insufficient forces of Napoleon, he decided to attack. If Johann's army arrived in time, it was to take a position located almost in the rear of Napoleon, on the line of his communications, and at the highest place.
Napoleon did not expect reinforcements and hoped to give the Archduke a battle even before reinforcements arrived to him. However, we repeat that the emperor clearly underestimated the strength of the Austrians. Lobau Island already from the evening of May 18 on the very first pontoons began to fill the troops of the 4th corps of Marshal Massena, covering the construction of the crossing over the northern branch of the Danube. It took two days to build the bridges - on May 19 and 20, and already on the morning of the 21st, the French began to move to the left bank.
Molitor's division from Massena's corps was the first to enter Aspern, which was immediately left by the patrols of the Hungarian hussars, followed by 10 battalions of the Legrand division. The right flank and the village of Essling were occupied by Boudé's division from Marshal Lann's 2nd corps. But by evening, only the powerful division of General Cara Saint-Cyr, consisting of 18 battalions and 8 squadrons of cuirassiers of General Saint-Germain, managed to pull up from the island of Lobau. Napoleon managed to transport no more than 35 thousand soldiers to the northern coast, who could only be supported by 50 cannons.
The bridge, built by French pontoons from the strongest materials on 68 large boats and 9 huge rafts, was still holding then, but its capacity was very low. The pontoons were torn apart by the current, in addition, the Austrians had already begun to lower fire ships along the Danube - ships and boats with heavy cargo and flammable substances, which, however, could not seriously interfere with the crossing.
Beginning of the End
The threat from the north turned out to be much more terrible. Already at three o'clock in the afternoon, thick columns of Austrians began to descend from the Bisamberg Heights - Archduke Charles had at least 75 thousand at hand, supported by almost three hundred guns. Five powerful columns at once - Generals Giller, Bellegarde, Davidovich and Rosenberg, as well as Prince of Hohenzollern, reinforced by the cavalry of Prince Liechtenstein, fell on the French.
From his lofty position, the Austrian commander managed to notice in time the rash maneuver of Napoleon, who was trying to ferry an army of many thousands across the only bridge. The Danube in May, when the streams are still descending from the mountains, is a very wide and fast river, which allowed only a very slow movement of all types of troops one after another. And this - along the long narrow bridges, even the cavalry moved along them with difficulty, and precious hours were spent on crossing the cannons.
The bridge was not at all suitable as an escape route. Just two years earlier, Napoleon had brilliantly taken advantage of a similar mistake by the Russians in the battle of Friedland, but this time he showed amazing self-confidence. Archduke Charles was quick to seize the opportunity to destroy half of the French forces on the northern coast, while the rest of Napoleon's troops, and especially artillery, were still busy crossing. Huge forces, almost 50 thousand French, generally hung on the southern bank of the Danube.
From the Austrian commander, adjutants immediately rushed to Generals Kolovrat, Nordmann and others, who commanded the troops located upstream of the Danube. They were ordered to prepare new fire ships to destroy the bridges built by the French. Archduke Karl carefully sheltered his main forces all morning, ordering cavalry and outposts to resist just for show. He had no intention of crushing the French vanguards, or even hitting an empty spot.
The key targets for the Austrian attack were Aspern and Essling, located on the flanks of the French. Between these two fortified points were scattered numerous buildings, mostly stone, surrounded by gardens fenced with walls and hedges, where powerful Austrian batteries immediately settled under the cover of cavalry. In their rear, as a reserve, the Hohenzollern infantry was located - 23 battalions, lined up in a square in advance.
On both flanks, fierce battles immediately flared up, as contemporaries wrote, "the fury of the attack, like the stubbornness of the defense, have almost no examples in the history of war." Aspern and Essling changed hands several times. General Molitor in Aspern was supported by the division of Marul, and Lann managed to pull up several battalions from the division of Oudinot to Essling.
Numerous Austrian artillery literally mowed down the ranks of the French as soon as their columns tried to launch attacks, leaving the narrow streets of Aspern and Essling. The infantry suffered such heavy losses that Napoleon ordered Marshal Bessières to make a general cavalry attack in order to recapture the batteries from the Austrians.
The attack of the guards cuirassiers was, as usual, brilliant - unrestrained courage combined with the swiftness and power of these "iron men". Liechtenstein's cavalry, for the most part light, they simply overturned, but a short battle gave the Austrians time to withdraw the artillery batteries.
The blow of the overclocked cavalry of Bessières fell precisely on the Hohenzollern square, which, despite the breakthrough of two or three squares, still managed to fight off and maintain a single formation. The impulse of the French cavalry soon dried up, although it was not yet necessary to say that it was defeated. Bessières was forced to retreat, albeit in frustration and with considerable losses.
By this time, the Austrians had once again captured Aspern. In the center, the battered squares of Hohenzollern were reorganized into columns, and they were supported by Liechtenstein's cavalry, who came to their senses again. They began slowly but surely to press against the thin lines of the French riflemen covering Bessieres' retreat. The marshal with his guards more than once again and again undertook attacks, and managed to prevent the breakthrough of the French lines.
The night interrupted the struggle only for a short time; but all the signs of a general defeat for the French were there. On the left flank, the Austrians finally took Aspern and practically completed their detour, threatening to attack the crossing itself. The French center, in spite of all the exploits of the cuirassiers of Bessieres, was thrown almost to the bridges. And only Marshal Lann, almost surrounded by the enemy, still clung to Essling, although this could lead to the fact that the Austrians, starting to attack again, would cut him off from the crossings.
All Napoleon's hopes were connected with the fact that his fresh troops, and most importantly, cannons, continued to cross the bridges, going out into the Marchfeld valley. Despite the terrible losses on May 21, by the morning of the next day, Napoleon had more than 70 thousand people and 144 guns on the left bank of the Danube, and the indefatigable Marshal Davout had already managed to bring his 30-odd thousand from the 3rd corps to the crossings.