What are the (seemingly) dumbest military tactics used that actually worked?
The Battle of Austerlitz, 1805
The Battle of Austerlitz is widely regarded as Napoleon’s greatest victory. The battle saw Napoleon facing off against a numerically superior Russian-Austrian Army. In order to win the battle though, Napoleon had to use a fairly dumb strategy.
Prior to the Battle of Austerlitz, Napoleon had been on a campaign across the Austrian empire. He had conquered most of Southern Germany at the decisive Battle of Ulm in 1805.
Then he advanced his troops to the Austrian capital of Vienna. The Austrian Emperor and his army fled into the hands of the Russians where the two began preparations for an attack to expel Napoleon from Vienna.
In total the Russians and Austrians had between 85,000 and 90,000 soldiers, of which most were Russian. The alliance was receiving more troops by the day, and with the homefield advantage they expected to crush Napoleon. The longer they waited, the better their position became, so they had no interest in defeating Napoleon just yet.
Napoleon by contrast was far from home, his supply lines were stretched thin and dangerously exposed through the Austrian countryside. He didn’t have many reinforcements within the area nor did he have many allies. His total forces numbered between 68,000 and 75,000 soldiers. Napoleon needed to defeat his enemy soon, before they became more powerful. But he needed to give them a reason to attack him… so he began to devise a plan.
Napoleon knew of the massing Russian and Austrian army, so he marched his troops from Vienna north into Moravia, leaving around 7,000 soldiers plus a garrison behind in the city.
He found a spot near the town of Austerlitz that he hoped to do battle, and occupied the Pratzen Heights which was a large hill in the region that gave a commanding view of the surrounding area.
The heights would surely give whoever holds them a massive advantage. In warfare, one can never understate the importance of high ground advantage. Napoleon knew if he wanted to win the battle he would need the heights.
According to Sun Tzu in The Art of War: “All armies prefer high ground to low”
After the enemy army approached to check his position, however, they observed in astonishment as Napoleon actually abandoned the heights. The Austrian and Russian commanders were baffled as to why Napoleon would abandon his only shot at winning.
To the enemy this appeared to be the dumbest move he could have made. Even to the modern observer there really was no military advantage Napoleon gained by doing this, he literally gave the enemy a better starting position in the battle. What the enemy failed to realize though was that Napoleon didn’t abandon the heights to gain a military advantage. He abandoned the heights to gain a psychological advantage.
Napoleon wanted to give the enemy false confidence, and lure them into attacking him, he knew they would never attack him on the heights, so he purposely gave them the high ground.
The Austrians and Russians quickly occupied the Pratzen heights, which Napoleon had left for them, and eventually were lured into an attack.
They noticed that Napoleon’s right flank was incredibly weak, so they determined that they would focus the brunt of their attack on that.
The battle began with a low hanging fog across the battlefield, on the morning of December 2, 1805. The allies began the attack by focusing on the right flank. They deployed almost half of their troops on this one flank, with the goal of overwhelming the weakly defended French position.
The French defenders fought viciously, there was a small village on the flank that saw brutal hand to hand combat throughout the battle. As Napoleon’s troops in the village began to lose their ground, one of Napoleon’s commanders arrived from Vienna with the troops that Napoleon had left behind. These troops had been on a multi day forced march, and arrived just in time to plug the hole in Napoleon’s right flank.
The Russians saw this and repositioned some troops from the center, on the Pratzen heights, to the right flank.
This was the opportunity Napoleon had been waiting for. Early in the morning Napoleon had concealed two entire divisions of soldiers at the base of the heights. They were hidden by fog and were unseen by the Russian commanders at the top of the heights.
With the Russian center weak, Napoleon commenced an artillery barrage, followed by a charge up the heights by French infantry.
The infantry charged up the hill and after a clash of bayonets and fierce hand to hand combat, expelled the Austrians and Russians from the heights. Napoleon had reoccupied the heights. Now Napoleon could win the battle. As he had predicted earlier, the key to winning the battle was the heights.
After this the battle continued, though with the heights now on his side, Napoleon was at a clear advantage. He made masterful use of his heavy cavalry to expel attempts to retake the heights.
(Credit to Jules Gillespie for finding this picture of Napoleon’s cavalry charge at Austerlitz, actual painting by Keith Rocco)
Then using the heights, he commenced a two pronged assault on the remaining enemy attacking his right flank, routing them and forcing the Russians and Austrians to surrender.
There is a reason Napoleon is widely regarded as one of the greatest military commanders ever, and this battle…. this is one of the reasons why.
Napoleon made a seemingly rookie mistake by abandoning the heights, but in doing that he tricked the enemy into attacking him. Almost everything in this battle went Napoleon’s way.
He deliberately weakened his right flank so that the Russians would divert troops from the heights to attack it. He deliberately hid troops at the base of the heights with the goal of using them to retake the high ground. He purposely left thousands of troops in Vienna so that they could arrive at the last minute to save his right flank from disaster. Everything about this battle was oriented towards the Pratzen Heights, the very heights that Napoleon had seemingly abandoned for no reason.
In retrospect was this a dumb strategy? No, but the genius behind it is that this strategy looked dumb to the enemy. That’s all that mattered to Napoleon.
This information was taken from Quora. Click here to view the original post.
Have you ever heard about the Battle of Austerlitz? Do you agree it was one of the dumbest military operations?
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