The Fateful Year of 1805

In 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte (Emperor of the French since 1804) planned an invasion of Great Britain. He was so confident in his plans that he annexed Hanover or even kidnapped and executed a relative of the former French king. Such audacity could not go without a response...

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Unsurprisingly, he infuriated the majority of European monarchs! Particularly, Russian Tsar Alexander I had long been trying to persuade Prussia and Austria to join him in taking action against France. In the summer of 1805, they also signed an alliance with Great Britain, giving rise to the Third Anti-Napoleonic Coalition.

Napoleon adopted his favoured strategy: “the best defence is a good offence.” Rather than relying on a predictable defence of France, he intended to launch an attack on Austria first, with plans to deal with Russia afterward. His army of 200,000 soldiers moved at an exceptional speed, covering 25–30 kilometres per day. Furthermore, due to its division into seven independently operating corps, the Austrians could only speculate about how and where the main assault would take place.

In October 1805, the French reached the Danube, and a few days later, with a masterful manoeuvrer, they encircled Austrian Field Marshal Mack at Ulm. He had no choice but to surrender.

Simultaneously, from Russia, the Russian army under the command of the renowned General Kutuzov moved to aid the Austrians. However, Kutuzov failed to rescue Mack's soldiers at Ulm or prevent the French campaign along the Danube to the east. Even the Imperial residence in Vienna fell into the hands of the French.

Napoleon turned north and forced the Russian and the remaining Austrian armies to retreat to Olomouc. He occupied Znojmo and Brno, where he established his headquarters. However, he encountered supply difficulties, and Russian reinforcements were en route to Moravia, while Prussia posed an ultimatum threat...

Napoleon decided to force the adversaries to a decisive battle

The anti-Napoleonic coalition was reinforced by another Russian army under the command of Tsar Alexander I. They felt numerical superiority. On 28 November, they approached Vyškov from the east, forced the French to withdraw towards Brno, and the main forces advanced along the imperial road from Olomouc. They reached the main battlefield on December 1.

The French had the advantage, and they were already on the heights of Staré vinohrady in the middle of the future battlefield on 29 November. They surprised the enemy with a suspicious move – clearly advantageous terrain was handed over to them. Napoleon noted: „As the master of this magnificent position, I could stop the Russians. However, I can give it to them and withdraw with the right wing. If they attempt to climb those heights to encircle me, they will be irretrievably lost.“

He anticipated that the allies would occupy the heights above the village of Prace, launch a southern attack to cut off the French from the road to Vienna. His southern wing would withdraw, and subsequently, without resistance, they would retake the Staré Vinohrady abandoned by the allies. The adversary would weaken by dividing into two parts, and the French corps under General Davout, who was rushing from Vienna, would crush the enemy like a hammer against the anvil of Napoleon's main forces.

His predictions were only partially realized. Three Russian columns were supposed to descend from Pratecké návrší (Pratecký hill) to the south early in the morning, break through the French right wing, and advance northward through the center of the French formation. The northern flank of the allies, led by General Bagration, was to move along the imperial road, penetrate the French left wing and, hand in hand with the Austrian cavalry under Prince Liechtenstein's command, pursue the fleeing French towards Brno. However, they did not have time to communicate the complex plan to all the commanders, and disaster was imminent.

The Finale on 2 December, 1805

In the end, everything turned out differently than both sides had planned. According to Napoleon's estimate, the Russians began descending from the Pratecké výšiny (Pratecké heights) in the morning, but due to delays, they encountered the French in the valley of the Zlatý potok (Golden Stream). French units hidden in the morning mist were supposed to occupy the already empty Pratecké výšiny as planned, but they ran into allies, resulting in significant casualties on both sides.

The harsh battles in the northern part of the battlefield saw the involvement of elite cavalry units from both sides. While the French emerged victorious, the allies, under Bagration's leadership, managed to withdraw. Around noon, the French redirected southward and launched an attack on the allies who were still fighting at the Zlatý potok (Golden Stream). In a state of panic, the allies scattered in disorganized retreat.

It was over; Napoleon relocated his command tent to the hill above Újezd u Brna and directed the pursuit of the fleeing enemy from there.
The battle did not unfold exactly according to Napoleon's script; however, he triumphed. With 70,000 men, he decisively defeated 90,000 allied soldiers. More than 30,000 of them were killed, wounded, or captured, while Napoleon lost 8,500 soldiers.

After the battle, Napoleon met with Emperor Francis I, and they agreed to a ceasefire between France and Austria. In contrast, Russian units withdrew without a word of peace. The French-Austrian peace agreement signed in Pressburg (26 December, 1805) entered history as the Peace of Pressburg. Austria had to relinquish Italian and German territories, which went to France and its allies.

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