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Napoleon ordered the main body of his army to take Austerlitz, a town on the road between the allied headquarters at Olmutz and the Austrian capital of Vienna.

 

Reinforcement corps were  to march towards the battlefield, whilst Napoleon attempted to feign weakness by calling for meetings with Allied aides and expressing anxiety. The reason for this was because he wanted them to attack on his terms. By pretending to be weaker than he was Napoleon tricked the allies into attacking a position he knew he could defend.

 

The battle took place on the 2nd of December 1805, the first anniversary of his coronation. Symbolically, the battle’s outcome would either make or break Napoleon’s young empire.

Marshal Davout

The French army was outnumbered at the start of the battle. Napoleon had 72,000 soldiers to fight against 85,000 Allied soldiers. He was relying on a corps commanded by Marshal Davout to arrive swiftly in order to even the odds.

 

The battlefield itself was seven miles long, dominated by an area called the Pratzen heights which was a gently sloping hill within the centre of the battlefield. Napoleon had conceded control of the Pratzen Heights to the Allies who could see the weakness of his right flank.

 

On this observation, the Allied army launched an offensive to overwhelm the flank and begin an envelopment of Napoleon’s army.

 

This was all part of the plan. Napoleon hoped that Marshal Davout could arrive in time to strengthen the weak right flank.

Davout was able to reach Napoleon in time and managed to secure the weakened right flank, pinning down the Allied soldiers there. While the Allies were preoccupied with his right, Napoleon planned to launch his own offensive on the Pratzen Heights and cut the Allied army in half.

 

He was greatly aided by the dense mist during the early stages of the battle. The mist would be able to hide his great offensive on the Pratzen Heights along with causing general confusion among the Allied commanders.

 

The plan worked to perfection. The Allied soldiers on the Pratzen Heights were alarmed to see French troops seemingly appearing out of nowhere to do battle with them.

The decision to send the Russian Imperial Guard to the Pratzen Heights was evidence of the Allies' dire position. The elite Russian soldiers were unable to retake the heights which firmly swung the battle in France's favour.

Napoleon on the Eve of Austerlitz

Once securing the Heights, the Allied position became untenable. Once Napoleon had broken the Allied centre, he was able to send the Allied army into a general panic. His right flank which had endured the brunt of the Allied offensive was finally reinforced by the bulk of Napoleon’s army who sent the Allied forces fleeing from the battlefield.  Napoleon's gamble had paid off. The French at the cost of 9,000 casualties were able to inflict 36,000 on the Allied forces. It was a decisive victory that would end the Third Coalition.

Up Next: Consequences of Austerlitz

 

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