1809 Thunder on the Danube: Napoleon's Defeat of the Habsburgs, Volume I: Abensberg, John H. Gill

1809 Thunder on the Danube: Napoleon's Defeat of the Habsburgs, Volume I: Abensberg, John H. Gill

The Franco-Austrian War of 1809 (the main part of the War of the Fifth Coalition) was Napoleon's last victorious war, and thus one of the most significant in European history, marking the end of the era of Napoleonic supremacy. The war contains examples of Napoleon's great military skill, as well as his first real defeat and the first sign of a decline in his abilities.

This first volume in Gill's monumental three-part study of the war looks at the build-up to war, the Austrian invasion of Bavaria and the series of victories won by Napoleon that ended that invasion and allowed the French to occupy Vienna and move the theatre of conflict into the heart of the Austrian Empire.

Gill starts with an excellent account of the build-up to the war - a rare example of a war that was genuinely forced on Napoleon. As a result the first part of the book focuses very much on the Austrian point of view, look at the motives behind their declaration of war, and the disagreements within the Austrian ruling elite in the period before the conflict. Perhaps the most significant feature of this period is that Archduke Charles, the commander-in-chief of the Austrian army, was opposed to the war until very late in the day, and even when he came to believe that the war was inevitable was never that confident that Austria could actually win.

One of the most valuable aspects of a work on this scale is that it gives the author the space to compare the real situation on the ground with what was known to Charles and Napoleon when they issued their orders, casting an illuminating light on the reasons behind some of both men's more inexplicable decisions. Here the difference in the professionalism of the two armies comes very much to the fore, with the Austrians often operating without any real idea of where the French were, or where they might be going. The French also made mistakes, but were much quicker at correcting them.

The sheer scale of the research that has gone into this book becomes clear when you look at the notes section, which stretches from page 368 to page 485! Gill has used a wide range of Austrian and French sources for his examination of the main conflict, as well as Russian, Prussian and British sources in the sections on the diplomatic background to the war. The result is one of the best narrative histories that I have ever read, and one that will surely become the standard work on the War of 1809.

1 - War in Unavoidable
2 - What do they Intend?
3 - Austrian Would Not Be So Foolish
4 - It is War
5 - Eight Days in April, I: The War Opens and the Tide Turns
6 - Eight Days in April, II: Four More Victories

Table of Comparative Military Ranks

1 - The Austrian Army, April 1809
2 - Orders of Battle for the April Campaign in Bavaria
3 - Orders of Battle for the Battle of Abensberg and the Pursuit to Landshut (20-21 April)
4 - Orders of Battle for the Battle of Eggmühl (22 April)

Author: John H. Hill
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 496
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 2008

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