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What is the secret of Napoleon's military success?
What is the secret of Napoleon's military success?

If the two world wars became the foundation on which our modern world is built, then the era of Napoleon is one of the foundations that existed before them. The young general conquered Europe and controlled the politics of all its countries. What is Napoleon's secret?

Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in France in 1799 and kept it in his hands until the crushing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The young general conquered Europe and controlled the policies of all its countries in accordance with his ambitions, including the military (Napoleonic wars). No country in continental Europe escaped a clash with his army. She also invaded Egypt and threatened the British Empire, which was Napoleon's main enemy and the center of his strategic goals. How did he achieve this?

Research by Ethan Archet claims that Napoleon was the greatest general in history. Whether we agree with this statement or not, the fact remains that Napoleon was one of the greatest military leaders in world history.

Colonial Europe, like the rest of the world, could not remain the same after the Napoleonic era. Many historical and social studies view the Napoleonic Wars as an important milestone from which the emergence of modern warfare can be counted. The Napoleonic era played an important role in the formation of the modern nation-state and its ability to mobilize resources and citizens in various fields, and also contributed to the formation of national identity in Europe. And the introduction of the tax system was a continuation of what the Great French Revolution began.


All this subsequently had a huge impact on world history. The "art of war" before Napoleon was radically different from what was done after him. By the way, Napoleon always aroused great interest among researchers because of the reforms in the army and the state. In addition, the Napoleonic era is fertile ground for research, writing novels and poetry.

Many European armies adopted Napoleon's military tactics, which helped them gain the upper hand over the enemies and opponents of their colonial policies in the 19th and 20th centuries. The taxes that financed the Napoleonic army and large-scale military campaigns played an important role in shaping countries and bureaucracies as we know them today. Napoleon brought this to all the countries of Europe that were under his rule.

And if two world wars became the foundation on which our modern world is built, then the era of Napoleon is one of the foundations that existed before them. Therefore, the Napoleonic Wars are relevant for the whole world, especially for countries that have witnessed European colonialism, such as most of the Arab states.

Despite the fact that the Napoleonic military campaigns had a direct impact only on European countries, they also indirectly affected the rest of the world.

The birth of modern warfare can be dated to the Napoleonic campaigns and his battles. The Napoleonic era contributed to the emergence of "patriotic wars", and also led to the superiority of Europe over its opponents and enemies.

The Napoleonic Wars can be viewed as a world war in miniature due to the participation of various armies, a huge influence on the course of history and development of European societies, which determined and still partially determine the course of world history.

The Napoleonic Wars partly contributed to the outbreak of the First and Second World Wars.It should be noted that the formation of the world political system that took place at that time deserves great interest.

Who is Napoleon? What were his policies, military strategy and tactics? What are the most important reforms he carried out in various areas, including the military sector? What important battles did he participate in?

Napoleon: from a distant island to the only hero of France

Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769 on the island of Corsica. In 1785, his father died, which put Napoleon in a difficult position. He was forced to postpone his military training as an artillery officer at the Brienne military school.

Napoleon's studies at the Brienne military school greatly influenced his later military tactics. He placed great emphasis on artillery, using tactics that proved effective on the battlefield, although infantry and cavalry were more desirable choices in wealthy and well-connected families.

In 1789, the Great French Revolution began, during which revolutionary France fought many wars and battles against the British, Spanish, Austrian, Ottoman and Russian empires, as well as against the French royalists.


Napoleon showed a talent for leadership in one of these battles. In 1793, the French army laid siege to the port of Toulon, which was captured by the British-Spanish forces and the French counter-revolutionary army outside France.

Napoleon managed to attract attention thanks to successful plans to siege and capture the port of Toulon. The chief of the siege artillery even allowed the young artillery captain to take command of the Battle of Toulon, despite his skepticism.

The forces of the First Coalition were able to leave the port of Toulon after breaking the blockade, which lasted 114 days. Napoleon managed to take control of the positions overlooking the port, which made it possible to fire at him from artillery pieces. As a reward, Napoleon was appointed battalion commander in the French army. An anti-French coalition took part in the siege of the port, which included Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, Prussia, Great Britain and Sardinia (in modern Italy), as well as French counter-revolutionary and pro-monarchist forces. Its goal is to fight and stop the French Revolution, as well as prevent its spread outside the country.

In 1795, Napoleon was tasked with putting an end to the riots in Paris, which arose against the backdrop of the desire of the republicans and some monarchists to overthrow the government. He demanded complete freedom of action to suppress the riots.

His demand was met. Napoleon quickly suppressed the rebellion and became a hero in Paris. As a reward, he was made a general and appointed deputy commander of the internal troops.

The Parisian political elite feared the presence of a strong and popular young general like Napoleon and viewed him as a threat to their authority. Fortunately, Napoleon was not interested in politics at the time and wanted to join the French army in Italy to fight against the Austrian Empire. In 1796 he went to the front.

Napoleon won important victories over the Austrian Empire, proving to other army generals, who considered him an inexperienced youth who climbed the career ladder through diplomacy and politics, rather than military experience, that he was rightfully in office. He not only excelled them in tactical skills, but also paid due attention to the logistics and morale of the army.

Napoleon achieved great military victories in battles against forces that outnumbered his army. But, despite the huge numerical superiority and little experience in commanding an entire army, he was able to defeat the Austrian army. Bonaparte's first Italian campaign was completed in 1797.On the one hand, he achieved great popularity in France, and on the other hand, he frightened the political elite even more.

In 1798, Napoleon was sent to Egypt, as it became known that the British Empire, the sworn enemy of France, could not be beaten without destroying its fleet - the main power of the British. All Napoleon's thoughts were focused on leaving France and fighting the British outside of it.

Initially, he proposed sending a French fleet to attack British settlements in India and block the sea trade routes that were the main source of wealth for the British Empire. Since the French navy did nothing to fight the British, Napoleon proposed invading Egypt and threatening British trade interests by cutting off the road leading to her colonies in India. He believed that Egypt was an important corridor between the British Empire and its colonies to the east, including India.

The proposed campaign was approved. Napoleon sailed to Egypt with 40,000 soldiers, with the help of which he was able to capture Malta, and then take control of Alexandria and defeat the large army of Mamluks. He quickly captured Cairo, but the British were able to crush his fleet by cutting off the supply line of the French army in Egypt. In addition, the Ottoman army was preparing to attack Napoleon's army.


Napoleon preempted events by attacking the Ottoman army in Syria before it laid siege to Acre. He was able to thwart the attempts of the Ottomans to lay siege to the city, but Napoleon's campaign still ended in the defeat of the French army, which suffered heavy losses. A plague spread among the French soldiers, prompting him to retreat to Egypt again. It was followed by the Ottoman army supported by the British Empire. Napoleon was able to withstand the Ottoman attack, but huge losses, lack of progress in Egypt and defeat at Acre prompted him to return to France.

Napoleon returned to Paris in 1799 after the strategic goal of his expedition to Egypt and the Levant was not achieved. Then he began his political career. Napoleon staged a coup d'etat called the 18 Brumaire coup, which proved his insight not only on the battlefield, but also in politics.

As a result of a coup d'état, he became the first consul and ruler of France. But Napoleon did not stop there. He spread rumors that the Jacobins (one of the parties in the French Revolution) allegedly orchestrated a coup against him, which allowed Napoleon's army to easily disperse across Paris.

This allowed him to impose a new Constitution. The government of the country was transferred to three consuls, and the powers of the first consul were significantly expanded.

Victories in various military campaigns and battles played into Napoleon's hands. But in order to stay in power, he needed new victories. This marked the beginning of a new era of European wars, called the "Napoleonic era". The European powers formed alliance after alliance, trying to defeat Napoleon, which only the sixth anti-French coalition succeeded in. Napoleon was expelled from France but was able to return. He subsequently suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.

France and the British Empire: ground forces versus naval forces

Before returning to the Napoleonic Wars, it is necessary to first understand the big picture. Geographic and strategic realities have played an important role in shaping the history and different strategies used by countries during military conflicts.

The British Empire was isolated from the European continent, since it was actually a large island. This contributed to the formation of British national identity and helped to build a state away from the conflicts taking place on the European continent.

England deliberately used diplomatic isolation to distance itself from conflicts in Europe and pursue its own policies. She tried to combine land and amphibious forces in order to change the balance of power in the region and more closely to ensure the security of its sea trade routes as the main source of wealth for the British Empire, ensuring its superiority over the rest of the powers.

The British Empire was forced to maintain dominance at sea due to its geographic location and characteristics (island), and dependence on trade with foreign countries. But the world was and remains divided between countries relying on their naval power (the British Empire and later the United States), states that mainly depend on land power and geographical expansion (France), and countries trying to achieve dominance at sea., and on land.

While the French Wars on the European continent were a struggle between land powers, the conflict between France and the British Empire was a struggle between land and sea powers. Geographical location and characteristics were more important than the dominant ideology and political strategies adopted in the conflicting countries.

In light of British naval supremacy, France during the Napoleonic era relied on vast territories and land power. After winning a series of military victories until 1806, Napoleon saw that despite these victories, he could not defeat the British in a military conflict unless the British fleet was neutralized or France created a stronger navy. It should be noted that building a navy would be a costly and difficult project for a land power like France, especially given the British dominance at sea.

In light of these facts, Napoleon's strategy relied on containment of the British naval forces. He sought to isolate the British Empire by establishing complete control over the entire European continent, directly or through alliances with other European powers. In addition, he constantly threatened the British trade routes or the occupation of its territory. In 1806, Napoleon declared a continental blockade of England, breaking off relations with her and closing all European ports to her.

Although the British were the sworn enemy of France, the French before Napoleon and during his reign sought to establish control over the European continent, before opposing the British Empire, preventing it from selling goods in European countries. The French sought to isolate and weaken England, in order then to subjugate her with appropriate treaties. Therefore, Napoleon, although not without confrontation with British forces and armies supported by the British Empire, was focused on the wars with the European land powers.

The main military strategies and tactics of Napoleon

Before talking about the chronology of the Napoleonic wars in the period from 1799 to 1815, you must first familiarize yourself with the events and results of the most important battles in order to understand the strategy and military tactics of Napoleon. But besides this, we must not forget about one more important thing - material and technical support, without which it is impossible to achieve victory.

Napoleon's genius as a commander lies not in inventing new strategies and tactics, but in his ability to provide the army with the necessary weapons, train it to increase efficiency, make timely decisions, correctly assess the situation on the battlefield at critical moments or over longer periods of time. All of the above are difficult tasks, in which not everyone managed to succeed, but, as we know, the main reason for the fall of Napoleon's empire and the cessation of the military progress of France was that he underestimated his enemies, especially Russia. In 1812, the French army burned down Moscow during the occupation of the city, but lost the battle near the village of Borodino.

In an effort to ensure the success of his strategy, Napoleon divided the French army into several parts for greater maneuverability, instead of concentrating a huge army in one place.His strategy allowed for sudden and quick maneuvers, unlike that adopted in other European armies. It was enough for Napoleon to use one of his tactics, as well as artillery fire, which inflicted huge damage on the enemy army. Below we will tell you about the most famous military strategies and tactics of Napoleon.


Napoleon used two main strategies to approach battle depending on the circumstances.

First: encirclement of the enemy

Napoleon liked to use the "strategy of encircling enemy forces." It was used when Napoleon's army outnumbered enemy forces. The French army had the ability to maneuver in accordance with the geographic characteristics of the region where the battle was taking place, and used a deceptive maneuver, dividing its forces in two. While the enemy army was occupied by the advancing enemy, another part of the French army attacked in the rear, seeking to encircle the enemy and prevent him from finding escape routes, cutting off supply lines and communications with any possible rear lines.

This strategy may sound simple, but it is quite difficult to implement. In addition to the need to create the appropriate conditions, the army commander must be fully aware of these conditions in order to make optimal use of them against the enemy. It is also necessary to carefully conceal plans and engage in reconnaissance so that the enemy does not guess about the chosen tactics and does not come up with counter plans. Splitting an army can be very dangerous if the enemy forces become aware of it, as they can destroy one part of the army. In addition, it is necessary to take precautions against the implementation of a similar plan by the enemy.

What, then, about the army's ability to maneuver quickly?

The army may need to cover long distances, which can reach several tens of kilometers, in order to complete the tasks assigned to it in full, without losing communication between its units and heavy weapons (mainly artillery). Each part of the army must independently assess the task facing it and make appropriate decisions regarding the way of their implementation within the framework of the overall strategy.

The army commander must also prepare for important decisions in the midst of a battle based on current circumstances, since battles never happen the way they were planned. Napoleon was a genius commander, capable of transforming an army into a maneuverable war machine that could take different positions depending on the current realities.

In Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace, which takes place during the Russian-French war, it is said that some Russian generals of German origin believed that the reason for the failure of their military plans was that they were so perfect that field commanders could not implement them in the field. Unfortunately, these kinds of plans are doomed to failure in advance due to the fact that they do not take into account the conditions in which the army and the situation on the battlefield find themselves, turning into mere pipe dreams of how the battle might have gone.

Second: the central position maneuver

Napoleon used the "center position maneuver". He sought to divide the enemy forces so that he could beat them in parts in the subsequent stages of the battle, building up his forces as necessary to achieve temporary superiority.

Napoleon divided the enemy army with a cunning maneuver, and then fought with each of its parts. Individually, they were weaker than Napoleon's army, which made it easier for him to destroy them.

The strategy looks pretty simple: fight with a weaker army and your chances of winning will be much higher, but splitting the enemy army and fighting each unit separately is not an easy task.The difficulty lies in the fact that many army commanders are afraid to do this, as there is a possibility of collision with even larger enemy forces. Dividing an army (or armies) and fighting each army individually carries the risk of an enemy army being able to trap a weaker army and attack it. An army caught by surprise will be defeated and possibly surrounded or even completely destroyed.

Napoleon divided the enemy army, attacking the most dangerous of its parts, trying to conduct a decisive battle. And other parts of his army, meanwhile, attacked the second part of the enemy army and prevented it from uniting with the one that fought the decisive battle with Napoleon. After the end of the decisive battle, he went to the aid of another part of his army in order to finally defeat the enemy.

The main danger of the Napoleonic plan was that the first part of the defeated army could go to the aid of the second, so it was necessary to continue pursuing the remnants of the enemy army, forcing it to continue retreating or capitulating.

Napoleon used the two previous strategies together, or just one of them, to put his army in a better position. For example, he used an encirclement strategy to divide enemy armies and fight separate battles with each of their parts. He could first deal with one army, and then spill over to another, or wedge himself between two armies.

Napoleon was forced to split his army when the sixth anti-French coalition opposed him, dividing their forces into three parts. Napoleon led one of the French divisions, and entrusted the remaining two to his marshals. The army opposing Napoleon fled, while the other two fought against the weaker French marshals, sometimes defeating them with the same tactics as Napoleon.

Despite the defeat of the marshals, as a result of which the Napoleonic army was weakened and eventually defeated, the generals of the enemy armies respected Napoleon. Moreover, the Europeans were able to quickly learn from his tactics.

In addition to the main strategy, Napoleon also used other tactics that ensure the success of his military campaigns. The most important were maneuvering and the war of attrition.

First: maneuvering

Napoleon's most important and most used tactic was to quickly maneuver to catch the enemy by surprise and win the advantage in battles. The tactics chosen allowed the French army to take part in several battles in different places in a short period of time, which gave the impression that it was fighting more than it actually was, in contrast to armies that did not use maneuvering tactics to gain an advantage and make up for the lack of soldiers. …

Second: exhaustion

This tactic was used in the event that his army was weaker and fewer in number. He strove to drain the forces of the enemy army before the decisive battle, from which he emerged victorious.

Amateurs discuss tactics, professionals discuss logistics

The most important thing in the French army is the supply system created by Napoleon.

The supply system was based on the organized plunder of the territories occupied by the French army, which helped to meet its needs as the troops advanced. Small battalions of the French, operating independently of the main military unit, collected the stolen supplies for subsequent distribution among the rest of the battalion to which they belonged.

The supply system of the French army was not welcomed and punished for accidental robberies, as they led to the loss of a significant part of the looted wealth.Soldiers plundered mainly for personal enrichment, while the army as a whole did not need their plundered wealth, and occasional looting caused damage to many valuables and supplies due to arson and sabotage. The French became experts in the exploitation of the occupied territories to such an extent that they significantly reduced the loss of looted wealth.

The importance of the French supply system, which is inherently unique, is that there was no need to keep civilians always accompanying the army. Nevertheless, the loss of the battalions involved in supplying the army meant its inevitable death from hunger.

Such a system prevented military marches of European armies and made it impossible for them to make lightning and surprise attacks, but the French, using an organized system of plunder, were able to create a fast and agile army that did not need a civilian army to supply and feed soldiers, which did the French army more efficient and mobile and, of course, less expensive.

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