Home Forums General Books and Magazines Review- 1805- TSAR ALEXANDER’S FIRST WAR- RUSSIAN OFFICIAL HISTORY

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    Avatar photoOotKust

    Duplicated in one post from the Napoleonic section, so you do not need to read again. [However minor edits for content and spelling*dw]



    Author- Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky, A. I.
    Phillips, Peter G. A. translated. 2022

    Publishers Blurb:
    Russia’s involvement in the campaign of 1805 is remembered mostly for the disaster at Austerlitz. However, Kutusov’s campaign on the Danube included a number of successful minor actions and the hard-fought Battle of Dürnstein; Russian troops were also engaged as part of the 3rd Coalition in Germany and around the Mediterranean. Translated by Peter Philips, the Russian staff history of the campaigns details all of these operations, drawing extensively on original correspondence and reports to do so. As such, it is a valuable aid to anyone seeking to understand the performance of the Tsar’s armies in the Napoleonic Wars.

    A follow-up volume, covering the campaigns of 1806-1807, is planned for release in 2023
    – –

    Having received this notable book from Helion I was amazed how little of it there is. Next I did a quick scan- about the primary author- Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky – almost as interesting as the history itself; and then the Introduction by Alexander Mikaberidze; a noted Georgian historian now resident in the US and greatly entrenched in translating and producing Russian and other contemporary histories.

    Then I picked some select pages out of sequence to examine. I was looking for something. And it wasn’t too long before I found it. You don’t find this in the publishers blurb at all. After all that may hurt sales!

    Both the associates- Phillips and Mikaberidze sections contained warnings about the ‘depth’ and accuracy of information, based around the premise of this ‘Official’ history being edited and changed by Tsar Nicholas of Russia who commissioned it prior to 1846.

    The primary warning included “…there are points that need to be born in mind regarding his accuracy, precision and reliability. The work was commissioned by the Tsar and was published on condition that the Tsar had editorial control, that he could and did, censor the manuscript. Criticism of strategic decision making or of Alexander I’s behaviour is thus, almost entirely absent.”

    Further a statement that pleased me somewhat “Many of the reverses and failures in this campaign are blamed almost entirely on Austrian incompetence, which is clearly unjust…”. This corroborates my own ageing view of the hysteria of history writers (British) for some time.

    The last piece of evidence I sought in my quick scan was the ‘truth’ about Alexanders actions after the French assault on the Pratzen ‘Heights’ unfolded. According to this ‘official’ version, Chapter 15 p119, it is stated that “he rode with them.., in the morning coming under fire… the Emperor remained with the 4th Column until their final defeat… Eyewitnesses testify to His complete composure… Kaiser Franz noted his fearlessness…”.

    Enough of that, total lies. The Emperor went ‘missing’ some time after 9am; the 4th Column not defeated until near 11am; both Austrians and adjacent Russians put up a fight that could have turned the tables on Napoleons plans (considering the heights were meant to be devoid of enemy and the infantry Divisions of Soult had no cavalry scouts or vedettes to precede them).

    He was discovered by an Imperial Staff Officer, devoid of all Aides and attended only by his personal servant, some distance from the battlefield before the Coalition Army started to dissolve.

    Thus in light of this knowledge, one must read the rest of the book as ‘massaged’ history, or to use a favourite flame, it lies as equally as much as the maligned Bulletin does!

    Having put that to rest, one can now read the build up, history of events and communications between many parties, and the ‘fog of war’ that continued to exist in many ways. Kutuzov received a dozen different views on the demise at Ulm, yet it was days before Mack (en parole) appeared and sacrificed himself by giving the single truth. Kutuzov, already the wary fox, knew he had a fight coming. He was all for avoiding too hasty a conflict, and it wasn’t old age that caused this.

    Part Two
    The book follows the general timeline we all expect. The slow progression of Austrian and Russian movements, realignments and reactions well documented. However some caution is needed here as again, within the major battle, the Russian version flips actions unlike any other I’ve read. More later.

    The fascinating role of Kutuzov- given carte blanche and full authority by Alexander, yet subordinated to the Kaisers ‘directions’, not quite a Supreme Generalissimo like Suvorov was declared in 1799.

    Yet it is apparent his political skill was every bit as poignant. He managed both, unreasonable directions (orders) and managed to direct once any higher command from Austrian influence was over, on their Generals. The 3 main officers supported and coordinated with Kutuzovs wishes and directions.

    There is a lot more divulged around the ‘secret accords’ between Prussia, Sweden and all other parties.

    In reading this I felt a little confused, as much of what is written about this complicit ally seemed to recite more about the Prussian antagonism in 1806 than 1805. At least that is what I took from it. AM I confused or did the Russian history ‘merge’ the period and actions. I’d not read before that Prussia actually had troops standing on Austrias border waiting to invade Napoleons rear LOC.

    Certainly the secret pacts are laid bare due to the distance of time and a lot of explanation given. This also includes the then public information of Napoleons counter measures to keep Prussia subdued.

    Alexander was the first monarch to leave Russia in 80 years since Peter the Great, so that required special organisation at St. Petersburg as well. An expansion of the army ‘reserve’ was ordered as precursor to further increases a year later.

    Useful information following the path of Kutuzovs army, various units and an overview of his strategic working is welcome. Placing Prince Bagration in the familiar role of rear-guard, sometime later replaced by another confidant, GM Miloradovich who performed equally well it seems.

    Full page and clear maps (8) are used extensively to display and explain the complicated movements across major unfordable rivers of Central Europe with troop deployments (en marche) dated for their progress. Whether it is true or not, Kutuzov is credited for a rare display of prescience by Coalition commanders in countering Napoleons aims to entrap him. Certainly his reports as cited are frank and clear, so like Suvorov he appears a man of his word.

    The full detail contains much on this trek, so let us move to the battle. The final rest stop for Kutuzov, then in full public view of the Emperor at Olmütz, where all the Russian forces and Austrians, treated somewhat as auxiliaries, encamped for a few days rest and reorganisation. Affairs were still difficult it is stated, as no supplies could be obtained locally and Austrian supply trains coming through Hungary, as usual slowly.

    Apart from unit details, movements by ‘columns’ organised in the Austrian manner, a new strategy for attacking the French was planned and executed. Sadly we do not get much tactical detail of how they came to this decision, and the impression is given that there was a no-mans land between the armies. I personally doubt that with a host of Cossacks and Austrian light cavalry available this was so.

    The Emperor Alexanders first appearance on a [minor] battlefield (Wischau) brought the first of notable reactions in the headstrong leader- quiet, sullen and did not eat all day is cited.

    Nevertheless the well documented and mixed up advance and overnight encampment of the Coalition army is the same. Disagreement on the morning effects are revoiced, yet an army that stands-to at 0600 and doesn’t move its’ reserves forward until after 0900 seems a little shortsighted. Nothing about orders or explanations is unchanged from the narratives we know.
    The OB by Columns is given here.

    Of the great battle most events follow the cycles and waves of action, though it is apparent the author has interpreted or inserted French meanings where they know them in hindsight. Some are incredibly wrong- Bernadottes First Corps certainly did not ‘lead’ any advance; some commanders are swapped in places and troops again exaggerated strengths.

    The author promotes ‘manoeuvres’ by troops under the names of Generals much like we are accustomed too in British historical writing. However in cases like Büxhowden, who we plainly understand never left his secure position near Augezd, kilometres from any fighting until 1500, these are futile citations. The lower commanders took these actions, not the perenial figurehead. However the units are cited time and again

    The battle lasts 15 pages including two maps. Plenty of detail, as cited above, some mixed up. They would have the French Guard cavalry assaulting the Russian Emperors BodyGuard infantry before their cavalry overrun the 4eme de Lignes battalion square near Stare Vinohrady. Getting the sequence wrong means the ‘if and buts’ change… nevertheless the result remains the same and the losses of the Russian Guard were a compromise for allowing both their artillery and infantry component to retreat quickly.

    One important omission in my mind, if glorifying actions was important, seems to be the fine actions of the sole BodyGuard Jager Battalion- whose efforts to hold Blasiowitz (closely supported by a half company of artillery) held up Lannes advance for at least half an hour, adequately completing their mission AND retiring in good order with losses. Completely overlooked in this history.

    The aftermath of the 1805 campaign is also covered, plus chapters on the other deployed Russian involvements from Hanover to Naples.

    In Summary
    Whilst not many revelations, in the context of a ‘massaged’ history, certainly parts of enlightenment appear useful, several OBs provided, useful clear context maps and while mitigating the losses and humiliation, deflected onto the Austrians, a ritual eulogy of praise for Alexander I appears (there must have been bad blood around St.P for years?), and sanctimonious denial then praise of his 1813-14 rage against France in mitigation.

    Will I be buying the second volume- undoubtedly.
    © 2023

    Avatar photoOotKust



    Not really, no point, however I did buy the second volume and found it generally (sic) softer, prosaic and less frantic- measured due to the lower martial and greater political content.

    The last third was quite hard going in that the politics involved, whilst amusing, isn’t that interesting except again, at the duplicity of so called ‘allies’.

    If it wasn’t for much better battlefield maps and grainier Russian battle/ OB content (ie Friedland), I’d not have thought essential.
    Regards, davew

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