Also known as the Battle of Three Emperors, Austerlitz saw the rulers of France, Austria and Russia leading their men into battle. The campaign ended with total victory for the French and is often regarded as Napoleon’s masterpiece.
The Russian commander in Austria, Kutusov, recognized that the newly reformed French army was likely to win any pitched battle. He decided on a slow withdrawal hoping that the French would run out of supplies.
This plan was overruled by the Tsar Alexander who ordered a halt near the village of Austerlitz. Emperor Francis II of Austria joined the army, which by 1 December numbered 60,000 Russians and 25,000 Austrians with 278 cannon. Marching against them was Napoleon with 73,000 men and 139 cannon.
Alexander noticed that the French right flank was weak and ordered an attack there in great force, while the centre and opposite flank stood on the defensive. This was what Napoleon had wanted. He knew the land on his right flank was marshy and that this would slow and disorder an attack.
The battle began at 8am with Russian attacks led by General Buxhowden on the French right flank through dense fog. Napoleon waited until the Russians were committed to the fray, then sent Marshal Soult’s corps to assault the thinly held Pratzen Heights in the allied centre. As Soult came up the slope the fog lifted and blazing sun illuminated the battlefield. Soult had crushed the Austrian forces on the Pratzen Heights and broke the centre of the Austro-Russian army. The allied right flank was forced to withdraw after two hours fighting.
At about 2pm Buxhowden realized that he was isolated and got drunk. The Russians began to fall back in disorder, then broke and fled to be pursued by French cavalry. By 4pm the Allies had lost 27,000 killed or captured, while the French had lost only 8,000.
Tsar Alexander gathered his shattered army and set off back to Russia, abandoning his allies. Napoleon’s peace terms were harsh. Austria had to hand her lands in northern Italy to France. Emperor Francis had to disband the thousand year old Holy Roman Empire and give up all claims over Germany.
This is an extract from The Historical Atlas of the World at War by Rupert Matthews