1812 - The March on Moscow, Paul Britten Austin

1812 - The March on Moscow, Paul Britten Austin

In the summer of 1812 a massive French and Allied army crossed the Niemen River at the start of Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia. Austin's three volume work follows that invasion from the point of view of the men of Napoleon's multi-national army, using extracts from the writing of over 100 participants in the campaign.

This first volume in the trilogy looks at the invasion of Russia, from the early movements in Poland to the arrival in Moscow. It covers the crossing of the Niemen, which marked the opening of the campaign, the early failures to get to grips with the Russian army, Borodino and the approach to Moscow.

The main theme of most accounts is the failure of events to go as planned, from the early failures to catch the Russian armies, to the unsatisfactory result of the battle of Borodino or the Tsar's unwillingness to negotiate, very little went as Napoleon or his men expected. There is a mode of rising unease in many of the accounts, some of it perhaps retrospective but much of it clearly genuine. Many of the authors had expected an early battle, another famous victory and a quick end to the war. Instead they found themselves being dragged ever further east. The battles that were fought were more costly and less decisive than they expected, and the army began to shrink even before the first battles.

Britten Austin spent more that twenty years studying this campaign, and thus had a vast range of eyewitness accounts at his disposal. Some of our witnesses appear throughout the book, providing a continuous threat to the narrative, others are used only once or twice, where their letters, diaries or memoirs provide information on a particular topic. We also get several different views of many key events, giving a good idea of how chaotic the campaign would become. The eyewitness accounts are linked by the author's text, a mix of a narrative of the campaign (where needed) and comments on the reliability or otherwise of his sources.

This is truly excellent piece of work, giving us a very human account of the disastrous invasion of Russia as seen by the men (and a handful of women) who took part in the campaign. This first entry in the trilogy comes highly recommended.

1 - Overture to 1812
2 - The Rape of Poland
3 - Midsummer at the Niemen
4 - 'Get into Vilna!'
5 - Bagration gives Davout the Slip
6 - Problems at Vilna
7 - With the Advancing Columns
8 - First Clashes
9 - Battle at Ostrowno
10 - What Fézensac Heard on Mission
11 - An Army Vanishes
12 - Worries at Witebsk
13 - The Great Manoeuvre
14 - The Walls of Smolensk
15 - Smolensk - the First Shock
16 - Death in the Sacred Valley
17 - Stragglers and Prisoners
18 - Dust, Heat and Thirst
19 - The Gathering Storm
20 - The Mouths of the Guns
21 - Holocaust at Borodino
22 - The Butcher's Bill
23 - The Last Lap
24 - 'Moscow! Moscow!'

Author: Paul Britten Austin
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 432
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 2012 edition of 1993 original

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