Johann Joseph Wenzel Graf Radetzky von Radetz (1766-1858)

Johann Joseph Wenzel Graf Radetzky von Radetz (1766-1858) was one of the most significant Austrian generals of the Napoleonic Wars, and went on to extend the Austrian presence in Italy by two decades after his victory at Novara in 1849.

Radetzky was born in Trebnice, south of Prague, in 1766. He joined the army in 1784, enlisting in a cuirassier regiment, and soon made his combat debut, during the Austro-Turkish War of 1788-89.

Most of his military experience came during the long Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

In 1794 he led a cavalry charge during the battle of Fleurus (26 June 1794), and was promoted to captain.

In 1796 he served on Beaulieu's staff in Italy, which brought him up against Napoleon at his early peak. He also took part in Wurmser's attempts to save Mantua.

During the War of the Second Coalition he fought at the Trebbia, Novi, Marengo (where he was wounded five times) and Hohenlinden, and was promoted to colonel.

By 1805 Radetzky had been promoted to Generalmajor, and during that campaign he served under the Archduke Charles in Italy.,

After the disastrous end to the War of the Third Coalition Radetzky helped the Archduke reform the Austrian army, at least as far as the conservative military establishment would let him.

At the start of the Franco-Austrian War of 1809 he commanded the advance guard of V Corps (Archduke Ludwig). His were the first troops to reach Landshut during the advance into Bavaria, and directed the successful attack at Landshut (16 April 1809), just about the only Austrian success of the campaign. Radetzky's troops formed part of the Austrian rearguard after the defeat at Landshut (21 April 1809), and managed to hold the French off until the pursuit slackened. His troops soon got caught up in the defeat at Ebelsberg (3 May 1809), and many were lost attempting to escape through the town.

Radetzky fought at Wagram (5-6 July 1809), where he commanded a division in IV Corps, and as a reward for his performance was promoted to Feldmarshcalleutnant.

In the retreat after the battle he helped defeat one of the French columns attempting to find the Austrians (combat of Laa, 9 July 1809).

After the end of the war he was made chief of the general staff, but many of his attempts to reorganise and modernise the Austrian army ended in failure after resistance by the same conservative elements that had restricted the Archduke Charles.

Austria didn't join the spring campaign against Napoleon in 1813, but spent the time preparing to end the war. Radetzky helped to raise an army of 200,000 men, and was partly responsible for the Trachenberg Plan, the Allied plan of campaign during the Autumn Campaign of 1813. The basis of this plan was that the various Allied armies would avoid battle against Napoleon himself, but instead focus on defeating his subordinates. Command of the new army went to Field Marshal Schwarzenberg. Radetzky also took over the role of directing the operational heads of department, a key step in the evolution of the modern chief of staff. At the start of the autumn campaign Napoleon made life more difficult by remaining on the defensive, a move that Radetzky hadn't considered. As a result a council of war decided to begin a general offensive movement, much against Radetzky's urging. The result was the battle of Dresden, Napoleon's best chance to win the war.

In 1814 Radetzky wanted Schwarzenberg to lead an aggressive attack on France, but Metternich disagreed, and Radetzky was sidelined for the campaign.

During the Congress of Vienna of 1815 Radetzky served as Metternich's military advisor.

After the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815 Radetzky fell out of favour, but in 1830 a wave of nationalist revolts broke out in Italy, and his military skills were suddenly in demand. He was appointed general of Lombardy-Venetia and promoted to Field Marshal in 1836.

On 18 March 1848 a revolt broke out in Milan. After five days of street fight Radetzky pulled back to the Quadrilateral, the key group of forts at Legnano, Mantua, Peshciera and Verona. Piedmont backed the rebels and invaded Austrian territory. Venice fell to the Italians, but Radetzky defeated them at Custozza (24-25 July 1848). He then reoccupied Milan and invaded Piedmont, defeating King Charles Albert at Novara (23 March 1849). Austrian authority in Italy survived until the 1860s.

Radetzky became governor-general of Lombardy-Venetia, and his repressive approach kept the area fairly quiet until his retirement in 1857. He died on 5 January 1858. Johann Strauss the Elder's Radetzky March is dedicated to him.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (16 November 2017), Johann Joseph Wenzel Graf Radetzky von Radetz (1766-1858) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_radetzky.html

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