This week in history: The Battle of Austerlitz

02 December 2014

By Pan Macmillan

2 December 1805: The Battle of Austerlitz

Regarded by many as Napoleon Bonaparte’s greatest military victory, the Battle of Austerlitz was fought on 2 December 1805. Sometimes called the Battle of the Three Emperors, and fought in what is now the Czech Republic, it saw France defeat forces from Russia (led in the field by Tsar Alexander, a hot-headed twenty-seven year old) and Austria, who had joined with Great Britain and Sweden to form what became known as the Third Coalition against Napoleon. That September, the French Emperor had bested the Austrians at Ulm, and by November had succeeded in taking the Austrian capital, Vienna. But retreating Russian and Austrian troops, having evaded Napoleon, were able to make their way to Olm�tz, to the north east of Vienna, where they joined the Tsar’s second army. Though substantially outnumbered and in enemy territory, Napoleon decided that the only course of action was to lure the allies into making an attack on favourable terrain between Brno and Austerlitz. He did this by convincing a Russian envoy that his forces were much weaker than they were. Ahead of the battle, he deliberately left the right flank of his army looking vulnerable, a tactic that paid off on the day, when he was able to launch a surprise counter-attack on his enemies’ armies and go on to win a decisive victory for France.

In the classic novel, War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy, no fan of Napoleon, includes a fictional account of the battle from a Russian point of view.