The Real Turning Point in the Napoleonic Wars?

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Sir Arthur Wellesley
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Re: The Real Turning Point in the Napoleonic Wars?

Postby Sir Arthur Wellesley » Sat Mar 10, 2012 12:08 am

[N]bloody bill wrote:What was the one leading factor to the war with Russia? It was Napoleons Continental system!


Yes certainly, Napoleons continental system was a massive diplomatic blunder. The blockade hurt the continent economically more than it hurt Britain. Initially it had a serious impact on the British economy, however the British made up for this by mass smuggling on the continent and finding new markets overseas, particularly in South America (a point of bitter contention between Spain/Britain during their alliance). But while Britain was able to mostly make up for the damage the continental system dealt to its trade, the continent, particularly Germany and Russia suffered badly. Workshop based industries in Germany took a heavy hit and prices in Russia for manufactured goods and luxury items skyrocketed. This led the aristocracy to apply serious pressure on the Czar to stand up to Napoleon and led to an increasingly warlike anti-French attitude at the Russian court.
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Re: The Real Turning Point in the Napoleonic Wars?

Postby Sir Arthur Wellesley » Sat Mar 10, 2012 12:55 am

Chuckman wrote:As of 1811 Napoleon had 355 000 troops in the Peninsula, making it close to the same as the Russian campaign in terms of numbers (450 000 in Russia).

What made the Russian invasion so much more important in the course of the war was the huge loss of all of Napoleon's troops; virtually all of his best cavalry, guard and line. The quality of troops which remained in Spain were mostly conscripts. Losing his entire Spanish army would have also been catastrophic, but would have still left him with most of his best troops. Either scenario would have resulted in a Liepzig type ending. One of the main reasons Wellington beat them so easily time after time in the Peninsula was that he was facing the worst French troops with the best British; even his Portuguese allies were quite good (not all, they varied in quality).


I think its worth noting that there were a large number of veteran French troops in the Peninsular. It is true that in the opening stages of the campaign the forces were of a bad quality, being made up of Provincial battalions consisting of green troops. These are the troops that made up the Corps of Moncey, Junot, and also Dupont who was defeated by the Spanish early on at Bailen.

But when Napoleon arrived on the scene for his "Thunderbolt" assault across the Ebro, these men consisted of a large number of veteran formations and many of these formations would remain in Spain.

"directed some 130,000 men of the Grande Armee, including the Imperial Guard, four army corps and four divisions of heavy cavalry, to head for Spain; sent for further reinforcements from Naples, the Kingdom of Italy and the Confederation of the Rhine; ordered fresh levies in France"
- Esdaile, The Peninsular War, 2003 Pengiun p.128

True many green troops also served in Spain in fresh batallions or as replacements for existing units but regiments that had a core of veterans absorbed new conscripts well. Also the nature of the conflict, including many small scale skirmishes with guerrilla forces and allied regulars and the particular need for military comradeship in a dangerous isolated country tended to harden the recruits pretty fast. Also the length of the conflict meant that many troops served for long periods and accumulated much experience. Thus the forces that served in Spain were a mix of veterans, recruits, and seasoned soldiers.

Napoleons army that served in Russia was also not very high quality overall in fact, mainly as a result of so many veteran units either having perished or currently serving in the Peninsular. Napoleon even recalled several veteran units from Spain, including several units of the Young guard and iirc Polish guard lancers that had been serving there. To muster such a vast army for the Russian campaign Napoleon had to scrape pretty deep. After he lost this army he had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for his campaigns in Germany. Despite the quality of his troops at that point he was able to win significant victories at Dresden, Bautzen and Lutzen(sp?). Zamoyski in "Rites of Peace" quotes several senior Russian/Prussian figures as stating that had Napoleon pushed forward after the battles of B and L he may have succeeded in shattering the Allied forces. Napoleon had been concerned with the condition of his own forces however and agreed to armistice that gave the allies vital time to regroup. But the fact that Napoleon was able to push the Russians/Prussians to such an extent even after having lost a huge army in Russia, and with so many forces having been consumed/serving in Spain, shows what he was able to achieve when he had his back at the wall.

You quote 355000 troops as the number of French troops serving in Spain in 1811. Bare in mind that the war had been going on for several years and the French would of already lost significant numbers (Including the entire corps of Dupont) to warfare, sickness and desertion. The war would continue on for several more years, though little in the way of fresh troops in the later years, Napoleon taking troops away from this front. Had the Peninsular war not occured there would have theoretically been many more able bodied men available for service or conscription at any given time. Given the scale of the numbers, and the massive French commitment in supplies and money as well as the manpower, I personally believe the Peninsular was greatly significant in weakening Napoleon to the point where Russia/Prussia/Austria were able to take the offensive against his empire.

I would also argue that the British won for different reasons than the quality of the average French soldier. Wellington was generally able to force battle on terms favourable to him, generally had numerical advantage about often as he was outnumbered, and if outnumbered be in good position. British infantry tactics had been developed to emphasize maximum firepower, which was devestating when the French chose to attack in column, and gave them an advantage in general firefights. Also not to be underestimated is the contribution by the Portuguese and Spanish armies. Many tend to look down upon Spains regular army in the war and refer to the Guerrilla as being more effective in weakening the French. But the fact is that the Spanish armies, though frequently falling prey to the French forces rallied and reformed and kept fighting and tied up large numbers of French troops at key times. Later they would assist in pushing the French out of Spain altogether.
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Re: The Real Turning Point in the Napoleonic Wars?

Postby Chuckman » Sat Mar 10, 2012 3:17 am

The number 355 000 was actually the highest number of troops, there were less at all other times. The quote you mentioned about the Corps present, as well as the guard, was when Napoleon himself lead his army and drove Moore right out of Spain. After Napoleon went back to Franch, taking his best troops with him, Moore continued to run from a force half his size (including his Spanish allies) all the way to the coast. Moore was NOT a good general. Moore of course died at Corunna, defending his position from a smaller French force.

The Peninsular War for the British began in earnest when Wellington, who was a capable and intelligent general, arrived. He did not face the best French troops however, there were no guard, no curassiers, no carabineers. Napoleon also sent some of his worst German allies into Spain. The fact that the French were able to hold out in such a hostile environment shows the high quality of their army.

Wellington did not have the same problems that the French had, the British were the best supplied army in Europe, they also had dominance of the seas which allowed them to move easily. They had the overwhelming support of the Spanish. The French were blinded because of the Spanish Guerilla tactics. The British army as I am sure you are aware fought as battalions rather than regiments. Their regiments did have multiple battalions, but the other battalions 2nd battalions usually remained in Britain as a training battalion. They usually only sent their best battalions to the peninsula. IMO the British army in the 1800's was man for man the best army of the era, BUT not of the Napoleonic Wars. Clearly the French were the best army of era, which is why it was they who dominated, it took all of Europe combined to defeat them. I do not think even Wellington thought so, in the 100 days campaign, he had told Blucher that he was coming to his aid at Ligny where they would have significantly outnumbered the French. Where was he? Marching in the other direction! It is a good thing Blucher did not do the same to him. The Prince of Orange actually seized the crossroads at Quatre Bras and gave Blucher a fighting chance.

I actually don't like Wellington, read "Wellington's Smallest Victory", it gives some interesting info on this opportunistic aristocrat. I do think he was intellingent and a good general though. The British infantry were only good on the defence, so how good were they? It is easier to defend than to attack. Their cavalry was average at best (probably less than average). Every other major power also had uhlan and curassiers, the British did not. Interestingly right after Waterloo they created both, why? Because their cavalry was slaughtered when they actually faced REAL french cavalry, not just Drgaoons and chasseurs in the Peninsula (which is almost all they had previously faced).

The Peninsula was not a fair contest at all (though war is seldom fair), the French were surrounded by hostiles, and had a higher number of conscripts than normal for the French army.

Wellington could not beat and did not beat the best French or Napoleon (but who could?), the french were winning the battle. Only the arrival of the Prussians saved the British army from total annihilation. And Napoleon was no longer in his prime, he was using battering ram tactics instead of outsmarting his opponent.
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Re: The Real Turning Point in the Napoleonic Wars?

Postby Ziuk » Sat Mar 10, 2012 3:31 am

Buonaparte should have started Second Polish War in early April (1812). Late June - it was too late.
Hitler made same mistake.
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Re: The Real Turning Point in the Napoleonic Wars?

Postby Chuckman » Sat Mar 10, 2012 5:39 pm

In regards to quality of french troops in Spain;

From:
http://napoleonistyka.atspace.com/cruel ... Spain.html

The terrain greatly deterred the French from employing heavy cavalry. Consequently, apart from the 13th Cuirassier Regiment (with no armor) and a tiny handful of provisional cuirassiers, the heaviest mounted troops consistently used were dragoons.

The Imperial Guard was in Spain but only for a short time.

During 1810-1811, the majority of the French annual conscript calls of 180.000-200.000 conscripts went to Spain and dramatically lowered the quality of the French troops. The lack of seasoned officers caused replacement battalions and squadrons returning to Spain to be led by inexperienced officers of reserve formations and second rate troops.

The invasion of Spain and Portugal led to the formation of a large number of provisional infantry and cavalry regiments, mostly from conscripts detached from regular regiments. In April 1809 Napoleon described them as all big boys of 20 years, with whom I am satisfied. Baron de Marbot, who had a closer look at them, wrote that they didn't impress him, and he very much doubted that they impressed the Spaniards.
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Re: The Real Turning Point in the Napoleonic Wars?

Postby Le Marhceal Davout » Tue Aug 14, 2012 6:03 pm

Spain was the turning point.

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Re: The Real Turning Point in the Napoleonic Wars?

Postby Seimour01 » Sat Aug 18, 2012 4:32 am

Personally I think the turning point was 1806, right before the war with Prussia. At that time, Napoléon was in peace negotiations with both England and Russia. The treaty with england was about to be signed but Napoléon stalled on several occasions because he thought that by securing peace with Russia, he could split Europe in 2. I suspect he was acting under the delusion that Alexander was like his father.

Unfortunately for him, He couldn`t reach an agreement with Russia and then Prussia declared war which closed all peace negotiations and forced Napoléon to move forward. The continental blockade made things even worse as it made peace impossible with the british since the parliament was controlled mostly by the landlords who, as the name implies, owned a lot of land and therefore were making money from inflated grain price which led them to become very patriotic :wink: . While it`s true that the british economy would eventually suffer deeply from it, those in power profited from this state of affair and were more than happy to provide funds to the coalitions war efforts.

Anyway, everything else after that is cause and effect from being unable to make peace with the dreaded olligarchy of Albion.One of the two great powers had to collapse for good and Napoléon could no longer invade since Trafalgar. Napoléon`s Grand Army would keep being refreshed by untrained conscripts and his great commanders would age, unable to profit from their property, beautiful wives and forced to keep fighting past exhaustion.
Though I suppose that in the end it was best that he lost, young soldiers from previously french allied countries would be at the forefront of the revolutions of 1848 which as we all know, brought us democracy :mrgreen: but I digress.
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Re: The Real Turning Point in the Napoleonic Wars?

Postby Seimour01 » Mon Mar 25, 2013 4:57 pm

Just putting another two cent in here:
I think the last turning point really was the battle of Leipzig. Though we can argue over his ability to win that battle, after it was over, all his puppet states had deserted him save for Italy(at least half of it). Afterward, Napoleon is solely fighting defensive battles to retreat until he reaches the border of France to begin the brilliant campaign of 1814. As for the campaign of Russia itself, as Jean Tulard pointed out, the army was only f**k after it reached the polish border. Even after the berezina, the army was still holding together. If Napoleon hadnt been forced to return to Paris beause of Malet, he might have been able to contain the russian army and bring more troops in to beat them back and negotiate a white peace. His enemies only declared war after he was pushed into Germany, before that, they had no idea what was going on and were too scared to rebel openly. As for Bautzen and Lutzen, the prussian army couldnt have survived loosing both those battles and Russia would have most likely been reluctant to carry on an offensive. If I am not mistaken, the austrians hadnt joined the war yet so they would probably not have done so the and confederation of the rhine would have stayed a puppet state.
That's just what I think but I might be wrong, who knows? :orly:
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Re: The Real Turning Point in the Napoleonic Wars?

Postby Chuckman » Tue Mar 26, 2013 11:26 pm

I agree with you that Leipzig was a point of no return. Waterloo was the culmination of a campaign even less winnable than the battle for France in 1814.
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Re: The Real Turning Point in the Napoleonic Wars?

Postby Chromey » Wed Mar 27, 2013 1:13 am

Napoleon lost when he married that tart Josephine!
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Re: The Real Turning Point in the Napoleonic Wars?

Postby Seimour01 » Wed Apr 03, 2013 10:53 pm

Waterloo was the culmination of a campaign even less winnable than the battle for France in 1814.

I do think it was theoretically possible for Napoleon to win 1814 but it would have been a pyrhic victory. A lot of his despatches were intercepted by the allies and they essentially revealed his intentions to march to Paris after summoning up the garrisons of the south-east which were not engaged or fixed by any armies. If they hadnt been intercepted, the allies would have kept their ridiculous plan of slowly marching into France and taking staggering casualties far away from their supply lines. They also hadnt yet signed an agreement to prevent seperate peaces as they did afterward. The "guerilla" in Alsace-Loraine killed a few thousand russian and prussian soldiers who were misbehaving heavily and that was in a matter of weeks. Austria and Britain did not have that problem because the Austrians had a professional force(no conscription, only volunteers) and britain had their infamous provost system which kept them under a tight leash.The constant beatdown they were taking might have forced them to negotiate a real peace unlike the previous peace offers that were false and only aimed to appear real in order to discredit Napoleon and force him to refuse. I suppose it's arguable if the french army could have kept up with the death toll but the allies certainly couldn't have. Of course, this campaign only further revealed the flaws of the napoleonic system which was dependant on one man in order to make sure that said man could not be replaced. When left to their own,everyone who was a mandatory part of the system acted like children whereas those who wanted it to collapse were getting in position to collect the pieces. I also don't think Talleyrand would have been able to pull off his plot if Napoleon had been in Paris either.
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