Combat of Papa, 12 June 1809

The combat of Papa (12 June 1809) was a rearguard action fought during Archduke John of Austria's retreat towards the Danube after the failure of his invasion of Italy. After some early successes over the French Army of Italy, led by Prince Eugène de Beauharnais, the Austrians had been forced to pull back by news from Germany, where Napoleon had won some early victories. The Archduke suffered a heavy defeat on the Piave on 8 May, and was then forced to retreat back into modern Austria, moving to Graz. At the same time Prince Eugène was moving north-east through the mountains towards Vienna, placing him to the north of the Archduke. When a second French army appeared on John's south flank, he had no choice but to retreat east towards the Raab River. He then received ordered from his brother Archduke Charles, the overall commander of the Austrian armies, to move down the Raab to the city of the same name, where he was to cross the Danube and prepare to support the main army. After spending the first week of June at Körmend on the Raab, the Austrians moved east, reaching Tuskevar on 9 June, and Papa on 11 June.

On 4 June Prince Eugène was at Wiener Neustadt, some way to the north of the Archduke. On that day he was ordered to move into Hungary to intercept and defeat the Austrians. At first he moved south, towards Körmend, but he quickly learnt that the Austrians had moved on. The French turned to the south-east, and on 8 June his advance guard crossed the Raab. By the morning of 12 June Eugène was at Karako, about 15 miles to the south-west of Papa, while another French force, under Montbrun, was at Merse, to the west of Papa.

Prince Eugène himself reached Papa on the morning of 12 June, to find the Archduke's entire army camped before him, but the rest of the French troops were slow in arriving. By the time Grenier's division arrived, at about 2pm, most of the Austrian infantry were already on their way north. A rearguard, consisting of two battalions of regular hussars, one battalion of regular infantry, one of frontier infantry (Grenzer) and three of Insurrection Hussars (a militia raised in an emergency), was left around Papa under the command of FML Frimont. Frimont posted his cavalry to the south-west of Papa, facing the French, and his infantry to the north

The French were finally ready to attack at around 2pm. Eugène sent troops to outflank the Austrians on both sides, then ordered Montbrun, the Badeners and two chasseur regiments to charge the Austrian centre. The first attack failed, but the second succeeded, and the town fell to the French, while the Austrians fled north. The French made something of a mess of the pursuit, only using their light cavalry, while the 1st Dragoon Division wasn't used all day. Despite this failure they inflicted around 600 casualties on the Austrians, many of the prisoners, three times their own losses of around 200 men. On the following day the French continued the pursuit, and on 14 June they inflicted a major defeat on the Archduke at Raab.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 July 2010), Combat of Papa, 12 June 1809 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_papa.html

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