Moravia, today’s Czech Republic. Dawn is just breaking on December 2, 1805. The French army is about to face the Austrian and Russian allied armies in battle. The ensuing Battle of Austerlitz has gone down in history as Napoleon Bonaparte’s tactical military masterpiece. In 1792, just after the French Revolution, the European monarchies formed an alliance to fight France, which was viewed as a dangerous revolutionary republican model. By 1803 France had won two wars against the royal coalition. These successes made it possible for France to expand its domains in Central Europe and Italy. Beginning in 1799 a talented young general began running the French Republic. His name was Napoleon Bonaparte. 0 In just 5 years, on December 2, 1804, Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor. A few months later, England started a third coalition against France. Sweden, the Austrian Empire and the Russian Empire all joined. Another war had begun.
In the summer of 1805, the Austrian army invaded Bavaria. Napoleon reached the front before troops loyal to the Russian Tsar Alexander I could join Austria’s army. In September, after a month of fighting, only 9,000 Russian and Austrian soldiers out of an original 90,000 stationed in Bavaria managed to escape death or imprisonment. The French troops were also tired, and supplies were late in arriving. Napoleon needed a decisive battle, and finally found one in the countryside surrounding Austerlitz on December 2, 1805. The combined Russian and Austrian armies outnumbered France by 20,000 men. In the morning, Russian troops successfully attacked Napoleon’s right flank, cutting off his retreat. But Napoleon surprised everyone, ordering his troops to counterattack. A bloody battle ensued, and the French broke through the enemy’s central line. Napoleon’s army isolated both wings of enemy soldiers, then chased each flank down separately, inflicting heavy casualties. The Austrians and Russians fell into disarray, attempting to escape across the icy lakes that lay behind them.
It was time for Napoleon’s final move: he fired French canons onto the lakes, breaking through the thick ice covering them. Hundreds of soldiers drowned in the icy waters. The combined Austrian and Russian army registered 15,000 dead.
France won the war. Tsar Alexander I withdrew his army into Poland. On December 26, 1805 Francis II of Austria signed a peace treaty that radically reduced the territories in his empire, while at the same time recognizing Napoleon’s Imperial Crown.
With the battle of Austerlitz, Napoleon’s domain reached its greatest extent.