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Aspern Essling & Marengo (& Close Run Things.)

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Aspern Essling & Marengo (& Close Run Things.)

Postby Josh&Historyland » November 13th, 2017, 11:03 pm

I shall kick off this thread, whose germ of creation was planted by Senarmont and myself on a thread about the Austrians in Russia, by saying there is no place that I can see on the forum to discuss battles outside of their campaigns or alongside others in this context, I thought about putting it in weapons and tactics but I wasn't sure that was appropriate either. If moderators think it better suited to another place I believe they can shift it.

I've read through what I have on the subjects, excepting Chandler, whose book will have to be excavated. To begin with a few questions arose that might stimulate discussion about these battles, one of which was won narrowly and then lost dramatically, and the other won narrowly and not built upon. Both as Wellington would have said were close run things.

I've tried to isolate the key moments of the Battles.
Marengo's seem to be the fight for the bridgehead, the French flank, the Austrian pursuit or lack of, and the French counterattack.
Wagram is to my mind the Bridges, the struggle for the French strongpoints, Napoleon's counterattack and the use of Austrian forces.
Doubtless there are many more.

In terms of Marengo:

"The key to the battle of Marengo was the bottleneck of the village itself, the open flank, and the lack of Austrian pursuit until precisely the wrong moment.

Why did the Austrians think the afrench would be easily broken when defending such a naturally strong position. Was the Austrian pursuit following a broken enemy or merely a retreating one?

If Napoleon had not been joined of Desaix, could he have held off the Austrians with the forces at his disposal for 24 hours?

In the last attack was Napoleon remiss in committing Desaix so quickly? An act alone which secured perhaps a modest punch in the nose to the Austrians but encountered a check in itself until Kellermann's charge."

For Wagram these thoughts occurred:
"Did Napoleon misjudge the crossing of the Danube. Was he underestimating his opponent. Was he being reckless?

Was Charles' plan sound? Or did it needlessly pack french troops into a eminently defensible position. How far in advance did the plan to sabotage the bridges come about?"

Did Charles lose control of the battle and were Austrian communications faulty. Allowing attacks to polarise around the villages and constantly losing the initiative. Could he have pressed Napoleon's retreat harder?

Did Charles utilise his forces, especially his superior artillery effectively? He only seems to have deployed ordinance with effect on the second day?

Was Napoleon's counterattack on the second day, and his seeming intention to fight the battle to the finish a mistake, when perhaps wiser council should have seen him attempt to withdraw on the first day and secure his communications?"

I think that's enough to get started.
Josh.
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Re: Aspern Essling & Marengo (& Close Run Things.)

Postby Senarmont198 » November 14th, 2017, 1:41 am

Excellent posting! I'll take a look at a few references and try to answer in a manner fitting your well-thought-out posting.
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Re: Aspern Essling & Marengo (& Close Run Things.)

Postby DaveH » November 16th, 2017, 6:39 pm

It is a thing wargamers do that they try to distil innumerable factors down into some figure reflecting "performance" or "national attribute" - so we must think about what we mean by "performance" and how we measure it?

Were the Allies rubbish in 1991 when they did not advance in Baghdad? Is the French performance at Rivoli any good given the French had the Austrian plan? Is Lodi relevant, given that it was an unnecessary action? Is it fair to slate the Austrians in 96 in Italy when they trounced the French in Germany and again in 1799?

A) In terms of Marengo:

"The key to the battle of Marengo was the bottleneck of the village itself, the open flank, and the lack of Austrian pursuit until precisely the wrong moment.

Why did the Austrians think the French would be easily broken when defending such a naturally strong position. Was the Austrian pursuit following a broken enemy or merely a retreating one?

> This is an intelligence issue. Napoleon implicitly trusted the double agent Toli (not his real name) until Toli told him that the French could cross the Po at Stradella and have a free march on Alessandria, where the Austrians were massing. Zach hastily moved Ott to Montebello, so as N met Toli at Pavia, the sound of battle was clearly audible. So, when Toli brought Zach's fake plan in, N did believe him enough to send Lapoype to the north and Desaix south. However, rather than advancing down the Sale rod to face Ott, he massed in the centre and attacked Marengo village late on 13th June. The Austrians still thought the main French force would come from sale, but it was too late to move pontoons, so they stuck with the plan and just ran into a
lot more than they expected.

>The French army collapsed in stages and was in pretty broken flight, but there were groups of French in the high corn (up to hat height) and among the trees, between which were slung vines, putting up rearguards.

If Napoleon had not been joined of Desaix, could he have held off the Austrians with the forces at his disposal for 24 hours?

> No, they would have been driven back on San Giuliano and bombarded there. It would probably have necessitated a retreat on Milan, while Desaix joined Massena and Suchet.

In the last attack was Napoleon remiss in committing Desaix so quickly? An act alone which secured perhaps a modest punch in the nose to the Austrians but encountered a check in itself until Kellermann's charge."

> No, it was essential to gain time to regroup. I haven't got it quite right - IR11 did run into trouble facing Boudet, but Boudet/Desaix's position is some buildings in a line south of the road and with artillery to he north, they could hold off the Austrian fresh troops for some time. Once Desaix had pulled back to the main line, the key was to recover the initiative. Something i have really seen recently is that Kaim's column is on the Old Road and he is starting to engage Gardanne, so this is a joint advance, where Kellerman could attack with greatest effect.

B) For Wagram these thoughts occurred:
"Did Napoleon misjudge the crossing of the Danube. Was he underestimating his opponent. Was he being reckless?

> Contrary to the criticism he usually gets, I would not say so. The main Austrian army had escaped into Bohemia, but Napoleon had no real idea where it was. he had chased Hiller back to Vienna, which he had taken after a quick siege. Hiller had crossed the Danube via the Tabor bridges, but had burned them this time. With no prospect of a surrender, he needed to engage Hiller quickly before Charles arrived - the first attempt to seize the Tabor bridgehead at Schwarze lacken-au failed, so he looked for an easier crossing. Thinking only Hiller was around, it made it obvious to get across quickly on one bridge. French cavalry as so often failed in its recces and bizarrely, standing on the top of the Aspern church tower, N and Massena also failed to see the Austrian main army campfires on 20th May.

Was Charles' plan sound? Or did it needlessly pack french troops into a eminently defensible position. How far in advance did the plan to sabotage the bridges come about?"

> Yes, given what it was based on. Schwarze lacken-au had confused them somewhat as they didn't know whether the French coming through the Lobau were a diversion or a main attack. Then they concluded that the French would advance on SLA, so the plan was to engage the head of the French column around Hirschstetten with 3 Korps and assail the rear with Rosenberg's IV Korps, while the cavalry screened the centre. the troops thus became congested as they approached Hirschstetten and the element of surprise was lost. As the French dug in at Aspern and Essling, it now became essential for the Austrians to attack the French before their troops got over - Charles was thinking about Eugen's victory over the Turks. The Danube was in full flood, so they would have seen the problems the French were having and the Pioneers seem to have started chucking trees in, before an organised plan with boats was devised as it became clear the French army was intent on crossing in full.


Did Charles lose control of the battle and were Austrian communications faulty. Allowing attacks to polarise around the villages and constantly losing the initiative. Could he have pressed Napoleon's retreat harder?

> No, but it was difficult to coordinate assaults across a long, brittle middle, especially when he began to push II Korps into that area to counter the obvious French build-up behind the Ravin. The retreat is another issue where the background is forgotten - Charles had little prospect of reinforcement - III Korps was at Linz, John was tied down in Hungary and the 3rd battalions had been marched off for more training. So, putting troops into the Auwald would have meant heavy casualties for no real gain. Forcing N to withdraw from the north bank was enough for him. However, I don't think Charles realised how fragile N's position was - a drawn peace was never going to be enough for N to stay in power. So, his hopes of peace if he didn't damage N too much were mistaken.

Did Charles utilise his forces, especially his superior artillery effectively? He only seems to have deployed ordinance with effect on the second day?

> Wargamers have created am illusion of artillery as some kind of death ray when actually it was very inaccurate. The Austrians fired about 55K rounds over the two days and French casualties from all causes were around 20K. You cannot fire artillery into villages under infantry assault, although the grenadiers did lose casualties to "friendly fire" when assaulting the Essling Great Garden. It was easier on the second day as fighting moved to the open centre.

Was Napoleon's counterattack on the second day, and his seeming intention to fight the battle to the finish a mistake, when perhaps wiser council should have seen him attempt to withdraw on the first day and secure his communications?"

> Again, we come back to political considerations. 05/06 had been crushing victories and Eylau could be left vague, especially when followed by Friedland and Tilsit. However, the lack of an indemnity from Russia and the end of the Spanish subsidy marked the start of a major deterioration in his finances as the French became bogged down in Spain, culminating in the very obvious defeat at Bailen. The British had landed in Portugal the following month in August 1808 and all this had encouraged the Austrian war party. The Russians were not reliable and Prussia was out for revenge for the overdone dismemberment. Napoleon effectively had to keep winning. So he tried a counterattack against the Austrian centre as it would have broken the coordination and at least forced an Austrian retreat. Napoleon is often accused of being able to make any sacrifice to fight to the end, often knowing that his opponents could not, but it is more a case of circumstances forcing him to do this. Tactically, it would have been better to withdraw and regroup, especially reinforcing his troops, but news of Aspern was enough to encourage Spanish and Prussian nationalsits to greater efforts.
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Re: Aspern Essling & Marengo (& Close Run Things.)

Postby Josh&Historyland » November 18th, 2017, 2:48 pm

Marengo.

First off, Dave thanks for your thoughts. Second, I'm not really trying to assign values of fighting quality to anyone, nor performance, nor assigning any tabletop value to any nationality. As you can see I'm more interested in command decisions here. Man for man I count French and Austrian battalions on par with one another. I think these battles prove that. I will repeat this down the page but I'm not a wargamer so I'm not really sure what your references in that regard refer to, but can surmise that Battles would tend to be dissected in this way if you were playing a game.



Q1:
DaveH wrote: This is an intelligence issue. Napoleon implicitly trusted the double agent Toli (not his real name) until Toli told him that the French could cross the Po at Stradella and have a free march on Alessandria, where the Austrians were massing. Zach hastily moved Ott to Montebello, so as N met Toli at Pavia, the sound of battle was clearly audible. So, when Toli brought Zach's fake plan in, N did believe him enough to send Lapoype to the north and Desaix south. However, rather than advancing down the Sale rod to face Ott, he massed in the centre and attacked Marengo village late on 13th June. The Austrians still thought the main French force would come from sale, but it was too late to move pontoons, so they stuck with the plan and just ran into a
lot more than they expected. >The French army collapsed in stages and was in pretty broken flight, but there were groups of French in the high corn (up to hat height) and among the trees, between which were slung vines, putting up rearguards.

Sensible explanation.

Q2.
DaveH wrote:> No, they would have been driven back on San Giuliano and bombarded there. It would probably have necessitated a retreat on Milan, while Desaix joined Massena and Suchet.

The Austrian pursuit seems to have been quite disorganised for it to have really incapacitated the French. I must apologise for phrasing the question in the way I did. The question wasn't really to say, could the French have stopped the Austrians, but could they have survived 24 hours as a fighting force. It sounds like you think Napoleon would have been able to keep his forces mostly intact, but why would Desaix and Lapoype not have tried to assist Napoleon a deal later?

Q3.
DaveH wrote:> No, it was essential to gain time to regroup. I haven't got it quite right - IR11 did run into trouble facing Boudet, but Boudet/Desaix's position is some buildings in a line south of the road and with artillery to he north, they could hold off the Austrian fresh troops for some time. Once Desaix had pulled back to the main line, the key was to recover the initiative. Something i have really seen recently is that Kaim's column is on the Old Road and he is starting to engage Gardanne, so this is a joint advance, where Kellerman could attack with greatest effect.

At the moment this is also my view. Though it begs a theoretical observation of what might have happened if Kellerman had not been ready to charge. And would a more measured response really have done any worse?

Aspern Essling.
I think I accept your take on the first two points. And it is excellent to hear you fill in the gaps. I'm not trying to second guess commanders, and like many armchair generals say, he should have done this because of A,B & C, I'm trying to find out the "why", and in battle, the "why" is usually down to environmental factors.

Q3:
DaveH wrote: > No, but it was difficult to coordinate assaults across a long, brittle middle, especially when he began to push II Korps into that area to counter the obvious French build-up behind the Ravin. The retreat is another issue where the background is forgotten - Charles had little prospect of reinforcement - III Korps was at Linz, John was tied down in Hungary and the 3rd battalions had been marched off for more training. So, putting troops into the Auwald would have meant heavy casualties for no real gain. Forcing N to withdraw from the north bank was enough for him. However, I don't think Charles realised how fragile N's position was - a drawn peace was never going to be enough for N to stay in power. So, his hopes of peace if he didn't damage N too much were mistaken.

Being careful not to sound preachy, and being fully aware of the difficulty of command and control in this period. It seems to me that if a General intends on forcing a position it is his business to make sure his attacks are coordinated. From an investigative point of view, Charles's plan became rather focused on many fragmented assaults on the French strong points.
As to what you say about the retreat, that would indeed explain why he didn't press napoleon's retreat. I'd only ask if Austrian field commanders cared particularly about how decisive a victory was so long as the enemy was in categorical retreat?

Q4: >
DaveH wrote: Wargamers have created am illusion of artillery as some kind of death ray when actually it was very inaccurate. The Austrians fired about 55K rounds over the two days and French casualties from all causes were around 20K. You cannot fire artillery into villages under infantry assault, although the grenadiers did lose casualties to "friendly fire" when assaulting the Essling Great Garden. It was easier on the second day as fighting moved to the open centre. whatever wargamers do or don't do is completely unknown to me, Dave, I don't play. I asked this because his rather laborious use of his artillery suggested to me either, difficulty in bringing them up, or lack of ammunition. But also a particularly Ancien Regime attitude to role of field artillery.

Whatever wargamers do or don't do is completely unknown to me, Dave, I don't play. I asked this because his rather laborious use of his artillery suggested to me either, difficulty in bringing them up, or lack of ammunition. I'm aware that one does not bombard while, your own troops attack but that wasn't really what I meant. It occurred to me that the Austrians showed a particularly Ancien Regime attitude to role of field artillery.


Q5:
DaveH wrote: > Again, we come back to political considerations. 05/06 had been crushing victories and Eylau could be left vague, especially when followed by Friedland and Tilsit. However, the lack of an indemnity from Russia and the end of the Spanish subsidy marked the start of a major deterioration in his finances as the French became bogged down in Spain, culminating in the very obvious defeat at Bailen. The British had landed in Portugal the following month in August 1808 and all this had encouraged the Austrian war party. The Russians were not reliable and Prussia was out for revenge for the overdone dismemberment. Napoleon effectively had to keep winning. So he tried a counterattack against the Austrian centre as it would have broken the coordination and at least forced an Austrian retreat. Napoleon is often accused of being able to make any sacrifice to fight to the end, often knowing that his opponents could not, but it is more a case of circumstances forcing him to do this. Tactically, it would have been better to withdraw and regroup, especially reinforcing his troops, but news of Aspern was enough to encourage Spanish and Prussian nationalsits to greater efforts.
This is what I suspected, but hindsight is what it is, and Napoleon doesn't seem to have been calmly considering the military situation, of course then again it nearly worked.
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Re: Aspern Essling & Marengo (& Close Run Things.)

Postby DaveH » November 19th, 2017, 12:47 am

Josh&Historyland wrote:Marengo.

First off, Dave thanks for your thoughts. Second, I'm not really trying to assign values of fighting quality to anyone, nor performance, nor assigning any tabletop value to any nationality. As you can see I'm more interested in command decisions here. Man for man I count French and Austrian battalions on par with one another. I think these battles prove that. I will repeat this down the page but I'm not a wargamer so I'm not really sure what your references in that regard refer to, but can surmise that Battles would tend to be dissected in this way if you were playing a game.


Wargaming has had quite a significant influence on general perceptions of the armies and these were general comments aimed at anyone reading the thread, who might be aware of Quarrie's infamous "National Characteristics". It is where many enthusiasts start (myself included) so they can be influenced by this kind of thinking. It is important to understand that events on individual battlefields are affected by many different influences way beyond the field itself.

Josh&Historyland wrote: Q2: The Austrian pursuit seems to have been quite disorganised for it to have really incapacitated the French. The question was really: could they have survived 24 hours as a fighting force. It sounds like you think Napoleon would have been able to keep his forces mostly intact, but why would Desaix and Lapoype not have tried to assist Napoleon a deal later?


As the battle developed, the Austrian army was largely used up. The few Austrian accounts mention that the cavalry was scattered and not fighting as formed units - this was due in part to the decision (which I do not understand) to move Karl Hadik to the infantry and put Elsnitz in charge of the cavalry. The infantry had been essentially used up except for the fresh IR11 and the 11 Grenadier battalions, but they were at the back, so they had to be marched through. There is no 90 minute lull in the fighting, but it tailed off for some time, while the fresh troops moved through. Even with the cavalry and three Cavalry batteries north of the road, there wasn't enough for a sustained pursuit, especially down a single road. Lapoype would probably have made his way across the Po somewhere and gone back to Milan, but I doubt Desaix would have risked encountering large Austrian units or a difficult march across the higher ground when Suchet was nearby and they could join up. the Austrians would just have been delighted to have open comms down the road to Mantua again.

Josh&Historyland wrote:
Q3. Though it begs a theoretical observation of what might have happened if Kellerman had not been ready to charge. And would a more measured response really have done any worse?


> Once you realise where this final phase was actually fought (as Lejeune pinpoints it exactly) you will appreciate this is a chokepoint where the Old and New roads meet. To withdraw beyond it would put the fighting into more open ground beyond the road to Cascina Grossa and enable the whole Austrian army to deploy properly. At this moment, the artillery is in front of a cavalry regiment and Kaim is in a road column, already engaging with Guenand's outposts. napoleon's troops are well-enough re-formed to seek to retake the initiative. Without Kellerman, it would have been harder, but Marmont could have continued to pin down the artillery north of the road and Kaim v Gardanne would have bogged down.

Aspern Essling.

Josh&Historyland wrote: if a General intends on forcing a position it is his business to make sure his attacks are coordinated. From an investigative point of view, Charles's plan became rather focused on many fragmented assaults on the French strong points.


Charles's problem was that he could not allow the French to secure the bridgehead. So, he had to assault the strongpoints and of the two, Aspern was the key to rolling up the French position. Just like today, commanders would prefer to avoid street fighting, but we can see from more recent wars that bombardment will not shift determined defenders. Charles could not just send a messenger to Rosenberg to say "attack at 2 pm", because the position might change especially as the French are building across the fragile centre and the nerest east-west road is back at Breitenlee -Raasdorf (which was also an issue in moving troops as otherwise they are marching across prime farmland in late May). Charles was trying to institute a proto-corps/auftragstaktik system and was expecting his senior commanders to assess the situation and act in support of each other. It was rather optimistic. He really had to break Aspern and when he finally did and there were no fresh French troops, Napoleon duly withdrew.

Josh&Historyland wrote: As to what you say about the retreat, that would indeed explain why he didn't press napoleon's retreat. I'd only ask if Austrian field commanders cared particularly about how decisive a victory was so long as the enemy was in categorical retreat?


>What is often disparaged as 7YW thinking is a system we use now - the "total war" devised by Carnot in 1793 was abandoned in 1945, because total war can only end in total victory or total defeat with so much devastation in the process. We use the same 7YW system of achieving objectives and then calling a halt.

Josh&Historyland wrote: Q4: whatever wargamers do or don't do is completely unknown to me, Dave, I don't play. I asked this because his rather laborious use of his artillery suggested to me either, difficulty in bringing them up, or lack of ammunition. I'm aware that one does not bombard while, your own troops attack but that wasn't really what I meant. It occurred to me that the Austrians showed a particularly Ancien Regime attitude to role of field artillery.


To be fair, it is not just wargamers, but also the images of WW1 artillery in relatively static battles, which has created this background view that artillery is so devastating. In reality, although we have to make assumptions, the hit rate was probably 5-6% and so, even less when firing into built-up areas. Charles was certainly complaining after the battle that the Austrian artillery lacked ammunition and many of the barrels were worn out, (ie: they were worn and thus, the windage was too great for accurate fire).

Aside from the Grenzer guns, the guns were all in permanent batteries within the Korps, so they were too closely packed at the start and could not go in too close without sustaining unacceptable losses (the Grand Battery at Wagram was all very well, but the French artillery had not recovered from the losses of trained gunners even by 1812). Later on, the Austrians are really on the defensive across the Marchfeld and the batteries were in between the Masses so that they could fire when the Masses were not (which was similar to the battalions guns under the 1769 regs). Smola's battery at the end was 150 guns, which was bigger than the Grand Battery.
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