In 1990, Osprey published Campaign #2 Austerlitz 1805 by the renowned Napoleonic expert Dr. David Chandler. Now twelve years later, Osprey Campaign #101 by Ian Castle returns to the scene of Napoleon's greatest battlefield triumph. Inevitably, the two volumes will be compared and so far they are the only Osprey campaign series titles to cover the same subject. Naturally, the question arises on whether this new volume is, in fact an improvement. The short answer is...a qualified yes. This review will attempt to examine Austerlitz 1805 both on its on merits and in comparison to Chandler's earlier volume.
Austerlitz 1805 begins in standard Osprey format with short sections on the road to war, opposing plans, campaign chronology, opposing commanders and opposing armies - a total of 18 pages. Unfortunately, these opening sections are rather weak even by summary standards. In the plans section, Castle makes virtually no mention of French dispositions for war (e.g. Marshal Massena in Italy), the near-simultaneous Trafalgar campaign or why Napoleon chose to make his main effort in Bavaria instead of Italy, as the Austrians expected. The section on leaders is absurdly top-heavy, covering only Napoleon, Tsar Alexander I, Emperor Francis I and Kutuzov; Napoleon's key subordinates like Soult, Lannes and Murat are only mentioned in the battle narrative. Now in comparison to Chandler's earlier volume, Castle's volume virtually apes the master in these opening sections, sometimes paragraph by paragraph. Indeed, Castle's volume is clearly inferior to Chandler's in terms of background material. However this disparity begins to shift once the campaign narrative begins, because this is where Castle has put virtually all of his new material. Castle covers the preliminary Ulm campaign and the approach to Austerlitz in 17 pages, one page more than Chandler. The battle narrative itself is 42 pages, compared to 34 pages by Chandler. There are also a total of five 2-D maps (strategic plans of the 3rd Coalition, French advance to the Danube, Ulm encirclement, Austerlitz pre-battle dispositions, and the Treaty of Pressburg) and four 3-D "Birds Eye View" maps (Soult's assault on the Pratzen Heights, Lannes and Murat versus Bagration's advance guard, the attack of the Russian Imperial Guard and the retreat across the frozen ponds). There are also three excellent battle scenes: the fighting at Telnitz, charge of the Russian Guard cavalry and the Allied retreat across the frozen ponds. There is little doubt that the maps and artwork are of far higher quality than in Chandler's earlier volume, but of course Osprey has evolved over twelve years.
The main value of Castle's revised Austerlitz 1805 lies in the greater detail provided on the four main aspects of the battle: Soult's seizure of the Pratzen Heights, the cavalry-infantry actions in the north, the Russian Imperial Guard counterattack and the Allied retreat. Castle knows the battlefield terrain well and his research into Austrian archives has yielded useful details that were lacking earlier. For example, Chandler did not mention that the French 4th Line Infantry lost their eagle to the Russian Guard cavalry - the only Allied triumph that day. The struggle for the Pratzen also appears to have wavered back and forth for some time, until superior French training and discipline carried the day; other accounts tend to make this key attack seem like a foregone conclusion. Finally, the Allied retreat across the frozen ponds is presented with more balance, showing that Austrian cavalry fought a successful rearguard that saved many troops, rather than the usual massacre-style portrayal of this rout. In the regards of providing greater detail on this key Napoleonic battle, there is little doubt that the author's research has provided a good overall summary and one that exceeds the detail of Chandler's earlier volume.
However, Castle's take on Austerlitz suffers from the same problem evident in many other Osprey campaign titles - failure to analyze. In terms of the principle of war, while the French demonstrated amazing prowess in economy of force (Legrand's division held off the main Allied attack for two crucial hours), maneuver, surprise and unity of command, they and the Allies both failed to employ mass. The main Allied attack was intended to achieve 4-1 local superiority on the French right in order to crumple Napoleon's flank but as Castle notes, clumsy tactical movements reduced this initial attack to a series of 2-1 odds attacks into built-up areas. Result: delay, stalemate and indecision. Yet Castle fails to note that Soult's attack on the Pratzen Heights - the French main effort - was only a 1-1 odds attack up a hill mass and even if reinforced by Bernadotte, the odds only increased to 3:2. Without a decisive local superiority in mass, the French main effort hung in the balance until superior training tipped the balance. Castle notes this seesaw fighting, but fails to address why it occurred. Both the French and the Allies over-committed troops in the less critical northern sector and maintained their small guard corps as reserves. Neither side was prepared to deal with the eventuality of their main attack stalling and had only limited reserves to redress such an event. Nor does Castle address other important tactical issues, such as the effect of the early morning mist on Allied artillery, which had a 2-1 superiority over the French. Austerlitz is rightly regarded as a great French military triumph, but an analysis of this triumph should go beyond merely assessing the Allies as clumsy and la Grande Armée as invincible. In fact, even a cursory analysis should indicate that Napoleon won this battle by a fairly slim margin and that it could have gone the other way or been an indecisive draw.