Napoleonic Wargame Club

1813 Fall Campaign Question for Debate
Page 1 of 1

Author:  Ed Blackburn [ Fri Aug 09, 2013 9:48 am ]
Post subject:  1813 Fall Campaign Question for Debate

Did Napoleon make a strategic mistake by dividing his army in the fall and sending part of it to take Berlin? I will hold my opinion to later.

Author:  Jim Pfleck [ Fri Aug 09, 2013 5:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 1813 Fall Campaign Question for Debate

I think he made a mistake in sending a force strong enough to be decisive-a screening and delaying force would have been a better idea, allowing him to keep more troops in reserve closer to his direct command. He would likely have gotten better results too if he had ordered Ney and Oudinot to focus more on maneuver and less on Berlin itself...

Author:  Todd Schmidgall [ Fri Aug 09, 2013 11:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 1813 Fall Campaign Question for Debate


What an interesting subject to conjecture.

I find myself in agreement with Jim as to having been better to use a screening force rather than the full strength Armee of Berlin.

The existence of the armies of Silesia and the North required some measure of coverage.
But the total strength the Allies were bringing to bear (having added Austria to the Coalition) surely made it too dangerous to affect such a nearly even split of available French forces.

That said, I'm also beginning to believe that both Oudinot and Ney have been unfairly criticized as to their conduct of campaign.

It is said they advanced slowly and blindly and did not execute the usual Napoleonic art of war.

However, one must consider that there was a lack of any significant cavalry available to provide scouting, etc.

This in turn will cause slower movement.


Author:  Ed Blackburn [ Sat Aug 10, 2013 10:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: 1813 Fall Campaign Question for Debate

I guess what I found most striking about the decision is it represented a change from the younger Napoleon who made the enemy army the focus of his operations as opposed to a capital or a point on the map. That kind of thinking was more 17th Century than early Napoleon. Was it a carry over from 1812 where Napoleon thought by merely taking Moscow he would bring the Tsar to the peace table, or did he think by taking Berlin he could somehow force a big battle? Obviously it did not work out because his subordinates were defeated when operating independantly. I remain undecided about whether the strategy itself was flawed.

As to Todd's point about his choice of commanders, I agree about Oudinot, but not Ney. The problem with Ney was by his nature he wanted to be in the heat of the battle rather than at some distance where he could maintain his perspective. Thus at Dennewitz he incorrectly determined that the right where he was implusively leading troops into the battle was the critical point and directed his reinforcements there and away from the left were Bulow was in critical trouble.

Author:  Todd Schmidgall [ Sat Aug 10, 2013 12:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 1813 Fall Campaign Question for Debate


As to Ney's conduct of the battle of Dennewitz I agree Ed, Ney was always too impetuous in the heat of combat, and believed the ground upon which he stood and waved his sword was the critical point (whether true or not).

I was only referring to the conduct of the overall campaign.

Your point about the younger Napoleon always making the enemy army his main target is right.
And in this case we have the apparent importance being placed on Berlin.

But consider this: the French were sorely lacking in cavalry, which limits their ability to gain intelligence about the foe. Also, as pointed out, slows the overall movement of their advance.

So, if one does not know for sure where the enemy is - and one is seeking a battle, then one should threaten a target that is dear to the enemy - Berlin.

This threat against a valued target will presumably compel the enemy to defend it (actual or approach), resulting in the sought for decisive battle.

It worked to that extent.
Grossbeeren and Dennewitz occured.
But the battles themselves went against the French on those days - though if well read, were close run affairs.


Author:  EaglesFly [ Sat Aug 10, 2013 3:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 1813 Fall Campaign Question for Debate

Officers, <salute> Alll very good points brought out here

I agree that the lack of Cav forced Napoleon to alter his strategy but his choice of Commanders was poor - Oudinot and Ney were great warriors when on the same battlefield as Napoleon and carrying out the Emperor's orders.

Soult or St Cyr would have been a much better choice, but also Napoleon underestimated the strength and quality of the Army of the North and the French army of Berlin was comprised of poorer quality troops. ( it is also very unfortunate that Davot was not present in the campaign as he would have been the ideal Marcheal to lead the Armee of Berlin )

I think the strategy should have been to fall back once contact was made and hopefully the Allies would have pursueed a retreating Armee of Berlin where a stronger French Armee under Napoleon could have engaged either the Army of the North or Silesia,

Napoleon should have realizied that when Ney cost him great victories at Lutzen or Bautzen that he could not be counted on in Commanding any force larger than a corp .
Ney's conduct at these battles is in my opinion really where Napoloen lost the campaign of 1813. Once Austria entered the war the numbers were against him

Good subject though - it is too bad the 1813 Campaign Game does not permit greater choice to reflect the true concentration of the French armee

Author:  SLudwig [ Mon Aug 12, 2013 2:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 1813 Fall Campaign Question for Debate

Ah the glory of the Trachenberg Plan! :)

Author:  Ed Blackburn [ Mon Aug 12, 2013 5:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 1813 Fall Campaign Question for Debate

It was a good plan wasn't it Scott. What would the Allies have done I wonder if Napoleon had kept his army united and marched into Bohemia or even taken the whole army to Berlin?

Author:  Todd Schmidgall [ Mon Aug 12, 2013 7:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 1813 Fall Campaign Question for Debate


Another good question.

My take on it is: I don't think Napoleon would have advanced deep into Bohemia.
The provisioning for a large army would not be all that plentiful, specifically with the Allies falling back before the French.

And as the Army of Bohemia fell back into the hinterlands, if Napoleon pursued them, then that still leaves the Armies of Silesia and the North in his rear, threatening Dresden, Leipzig, etc.

If Napoleon had on the other hand directed a large scale, full effort operation against Berlin, that is more likely to have given him a decisive battle, vs the Prussians and Swedes (perhaps Bernadotte would have even departed in great fear of his former master).

By targeting Berlin the Prussians would no doubt have been compelled to stand their ground.
They were not the Russians of 1812, and their zeal and stamina could ill afford the loss of the capital.

Berlin is the difference in my opinion.
There was no such powerful target that would have acted as a lodestar in the south or southeast.

In fact, in these regions it is the French supply centers of Leipzig and Dresden that served to compel the movements of the French.


Author:  Jim Pfleck [ Mon Aug 12, 2013 10:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 1813 Fall Campaign Question for Debate

I do not have a map in front of me but from what I have read and from looking at the maps in the West Point Atlas, it seems that Napoleon's ability to go on the offensive was restricted by his long, potentially narrow supply line and the position of the Coalition forces. Berlin/Army of the North was the easiest direction for the French to attack without seriously exposing their lines of communication to the other Coalition armies. Also, and significantly, Davout and his army based out of Hamburg helped to limit the scope of action of the Army of the North. This means two things-
1. The army of the North had to be wary of advancing too far south as long as the threat from Davout was there, and
2. Davout could help cover the advance of an army advancing on Berlin and strengthen it.

In the opening phase of the Fall campaign these two pieces were in play, and it caused Bernadotte problems. Napoleon may have been better served putting Ney or Oudinot in charge of a holding force and giving Davout more and better men. This, however, would have weakened Napoleon's central position by shifting forces out of the central theater.

There are a few other factors here.
1. Danzig and the other fortresses- Napoleon wanted to get those men out and into the field, as well, perhaps unrealistically, throw the Army of the North back in to East Prussia.
2.Psychology-from what I have read, Napoleon thought little of Bernadotte or the Prussian King and thought that taking Berlin would take the heart out of the Prussians. Defeating this army also could force Sweden from the war.
3. Napoleon did not like St. Cyr and seems not to have trusted him very far. One of the problems the French faced was a war with at least four fronts-Southern France/Spain, Italy, Hamburg/Northern Germany, and the main theater centered on Saxony. Being unwilling to entrust the outer theaters to commanders without history of independent command, he was left sending perhaps his three best army commanders out of the main theater-Davout, Eugene, and Soult.

Ney had been brilliant and Oudinot competent in Russia. Ney had made some horrible mistakes, and performed poorly at Bautzen and could have ended the war, but such are the vagaries of battles to large to control from one place.

Author:  Jim Pfleck [ Mon Aug 12, 2013 10:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 1813 Fall Campaign Question for Debate

I also agree with Todd's assessment, although the question of Prussian morale is a finicky one

Author:  Tim Cavallin [ Wed Aug 14, 2013 5:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 1813 Fall Campaign Question for Debate

I generally agree with Todd and Jim (of course, hindsight is 20-20).

I think Napoleon should have focused on his original plan of taking Berlin and freeing his fortress garrisons, all the while attempting to destroy the AoN and AoS. Blucher more than likely would have eventually offered battle if combined with the AoN... and he would have eventually been crushed. With by far the most aggressive army and it commander defeated, the Allied morale and will to continue fighting would have been deflated in a big way... at the very least Napoleon would have at least re-confirmed his dominance over Germany up to the Oder and the Bohemian mountain ranges. (He would have then re-liberated Poland in 1814!)

Given the known 'slowness' of the large AoB, he could have left St.Cyr and Vandamme (two pretty solid commanders, the former more strategic and a known tenacious defensive expert, and the latter a great tactician) at Dresden with ~ 50,000 men to defend the city, delaying tactics, withstand a seige, etc. and concentrated his other 300,000+ and cleaned up whatever enemies lay between the Elbe and Oder. He would have been able to easily replace any losses/attrition with freed up garrisons.

His supply bases should have been further north (Magdeburg, Frankfurt, or somewhere leading towards the Lower Rhine or the Netherlands), as I thought he became too fixated with Dresden... and he over-valued by a large margin the true value of his alliance with Saxony.

As I have learned in our wargaming, success is usually the domain of the commander who is able to concentrate the most troops at the right place at the right time... for the decisive stroke. Also, worrying about geography (unless it furthers your decisive battle plans) and cities pre-occupied Napoleon's mind more than it should have. Although to his defense, issues with supply and logistics and enemy streifkorps probably forced him to worry more about controlling cities than he would have cared about 15 years ago while campaigning in Italy or Egypt.

I know I'm just babbling, but this is a very interesting subject!

Author:  SLudwig [ Thu Aug 15, 2013 1:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 1813 Fall Campaign Question for Debate

I agree with Jim on the use of his more successful commanders elsewhere. Eugene or even Soult as an addition in Germany would of been much better. I am always saddened by the second fiddle it seemed Eugene always got. But at the same time he was much more successful and valuable than half of the Maréchaux.

I also wonder how things might of went had Scharnhorst not died early off. He was an excellent organizer and battle planner and the Prussians relied heavily on him for the reforms. I think one thing that could of occurred is if Prussia had lost a few key battles but stayed in the fight there would of been some Armee-Korps command changes as there were more competent sub commanders waiting in the wings. This isn't Jena-Auerstadt, for you Frenchies out there, so one should understand that this Prussia he faced was far different than the one he did in 1806. I doubt they would of lied down this time. Plus the 1806 Napoleon is long gone by now.

Though yes Ed, I do agree it was a beautiful plan! :)

Page 1 of 1 All times are UTC - 5 hours
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group