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1809: Thunder on the Danube, Volume III: Wagram and Znaim

John H. Gill
In Print
Frontline Books (2010)

Sparker writes:

Yes, wholeheartedly agree with this review, this indeed military history writing at its very best.

And the whole trilogy is particularly recommended to Napoleonic gamers interested in 1809 as a plethora of small to medium engagements are entrallingly described in great detail, usually accompanied by clear maps showing the action down to unit level – there are literally dozens of smaller actions for the 28mm man to design a game around…

Once again the benefits of combining military experience with rigorous academic training and background are demonstrated by Col Gill, US Army (Ret'd).

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This entry created 18 October 2012. Last revised on 5 September 2016.

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1809: Thunder on the Danube, Volume III: Wagram and Znaim

Napoleon's Defeat of the Habsburgs

Rating: gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star gold star no star (8.93)

554 pages. Maps, tables, 17 appendices, bibliography, index.

Let me admit that it is somewhat eccentric to begin with the third volume in the trilogy, but the work does stand admirably on its own.

The author carefully explains that by this point in the war between Austria and France, Napoleon's goal was to bring the main Austrian forces to battle and decisively defeat them; he did not want them to slip away, and he did not want the campaign to drag out any further.

The Austrians, on the other hand - and more specifically, the Habsburgs - were fatally divided. The dominant "war party" wanted a battle, but Charles (commanding in the field) felt that preserving the army (i.e., not committing it to battle) was essential to saving the monarchy.

Thus, the prelude to the Battle of Wagram consists of Napoleon making enormous efforts to guarantee that when the time comes, his concentrated forces will be able to rapidly cross the river and force a battle on the Austrians; while the Hapsburgs argue, divide their forces, and fail to commit to a plan.

When the battle finally arrives, the author explains that Napoleon's river-crossing does force the Austrians into a battle, but a command blunder by Napoleon turns what should have been a minor testing of the Austrian lines into a wasteful frontal assault on a fortified position. On the second day of the battle, Napoleon's ability to redirect his forces saves one flank long enough for success on the other flank to win the battle - yet this is a costly battle, the Austrians have been full of fight, and Napoleon's genius for war seems absent.

Pursuit of the retreating Austrians leads to the minor battle of Znaim, at which point the fighting ends and negotiations begin.

However - delightfully - this volume goes beyond the story of the battles of the main forces, and provides a complete history of the other theaters of war. The author explains how these apparent "sideshows" affected the greater war, with the Austrians showing lack of discipline in dividing their forces, while Napoleon was willing to take risks in minor theaters to reinforce the critical main theater.

The Polish campaign, for instance, is interesting due to its seesaw progression, and the intervention of the Russians (causing aggravation to all parties, and setting the stage for the disastrous Russian Campaign). The fighting in Dalmatia, Styria, and the Tyrol provide examples of limited forces fighting multiple battles in difficult terrain. Also included is the fighting on the Hungarian flank, leading up to the Battle of Raab (a "good enough" victory for the French, but not the decisive victory it might have been).

The text is well-written and entertaining, the maps are generally excellent, portraits of many of the commanders are provided, and there are extensive OOBs for Wagram and Znaim.

This is an example of how history should be written. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian.