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Napoleon’s Battle Plan at Austerlitz

Excerpt from How Wars Are Won: The 13 Rules of War—From Ancient Greece to the War on Terror, by Bevin Alexander, page 265

The key position on the field of Austerlitz [in Moravia, December 2, 1805] was a three-mile-long ridgeline called the Pratzen, about a mile and a half east of a stream called the Goldbach. Napoleon had deliberately yielded the Pratzen heights, which seemed to be the best tactical position, and had formed his army instead mostly west of the Goldbach stream. He posted Nicolas Jean Soult’s 24,000-man 4th Corps along four miles of the western bank of the Goldbach. Two of Soult’s divisions were posted on the north, while only a single division, under Claude Juste Alexandre Legrand, occupied the lower two and a half miles of the stream down to Tellnitz, just above a group of shallow fish ponds.

The bait for the Allies was the weakly held stretch manned by Legrand’s division. Napoleon knew the Allies would naturally take a route around his southern flank because they wanted to cut him off from Vienna. The weakness of the French on this flank would give them further incentive.

The reason Napoleon had left the Pratzen unoccupied was that he wanted the Allies to climb onto it, see a seemingly weak French army ahead, and strike hard for its weakest position, Legrand’s men on the southern flank. The brilliance of Napoleon’s foresight was to appreciate that once the Allied force departed the Pratzen in pursuit of the French southern flank, the Pratzen would of course be vacated. He could move troops onto it and from there mount a masterful counteroffensive.

While the main body of the Allies pressed around the French southern flank, Napoleon knew the remainder of the Allied force would move forward along an east-west running highway about two and a half miles north of the Pratzen. These movements would create a hole in the Allied center. Napoleon knew that he could win by striking directly into this hole with Soult’s two divisions on the north, seizing the Pratzen, and then driving on what would now be the rear of the Allied force on the southern flank.

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