Any review of this book would have to start off with two points. One involves the author. The author is David Chandler, one of the 20th centuries leading authorities on the topic (if not the authority). He was Professor of Napoleonic history at Sandhurst (England’s equivalent of the US’s WestPoint) and has written many leading books on the subject, including the classic academic tome “The Campaigns of Napoleon”. As such, Dr. Chandler is eminently qualified to write on the topic and the book conveys well the knowledge of this expert.
A second point that needs to be made is that this book is part of Osprey’s “Campaign” series and as such is quite short, at only 96 pages about a third or so consisting of illustration of one type or another. Despite its brevity the book does a very good job at more than introducing the reader to the topic. The reader finds what truly made this campaign what it was from many angles (i.e., armed forces involved, leaders, tactics and strategy, etc.).
Dr. Chandler starts off by providing the geopolitical picture prevailing immediately preceding the campaign. Then he goes on to discuss both side’s strategies and goals and after that the opposing commanders (making the point that Napoleon was at the top of his game while the opposing leaders were clearly incompetent). Then the author proceeds to discuss the opposing army. This is where the book really shines through. This reviewer has read many Osprey campaign series books and can unequivocally state that this is, by far, the best section on opposing armies. Why? Because Dr. Chandler present a picture that covers every angle. He covers troops from just about every conceivable angle (including morale, training, recruitment and experience). He discusses officer and NCO quality and roles. He covers weapons, not only in terms of their quality but their standardization (basically that the Grand Armee’s weapons were fairly standardized while the allied were heterogeneous beyond belief). He covers organizational structure and the implied flexibility as well as coherence. The main points were basically that the French organizational structure was very flexible (i.e. permitted units to be broken down and reconstituted very flexibly while the allied structures were inflexible) and that the even though French commanders of large groups (i.e., divisions or corps) changed often, officers, NCOs and troops lower down the command chain were rarely changed (in order to maintain coherence). This contrasted sharply with allied units which were, in contrast, in a constant state of flux throughout and whose organization did not permit flexibility because they could not be broken down, moved in or out of larger formations or could not be reconstituted almost at all, never mind during a battle. Dr. Chandler also discussed how the French Army required a minimal supply train because it could live off the land, how it traveled on a wide front to be able to live off the land and how, even so, it still had a superior resupply infrastructure. This section of the book alone is worth the price.
Even though the discussion of the opposing armies showed the incredible contrast between the armies and how superior the French Grand Armee was, Dr. Chandler is careful to point out that due to superior allied numbers, all of this did not imply that the battle was a foregone conclusion, as was say, the battle of Crecy. All of this was to play an important role but only in combination with Napoleon’s superior ability to motivate men, as a grand strategist and as a tactician, especially in terms of feint and being able to time his actions perfectly to the situation. All this is made perfectly clear in Dr. Chandler’s discussion and analysis of the battle itself.
The book is also very well illustrated in terms of both 2 and 3 dimensional maps that show strategic plans proceeding the battle and how the battle actually developed. The book is also very well illustrated with many contemporary paintings showing battle scenes.
All and all a five star book and one of the best in Osprey’s campaign series.