War, as Guibert predicted two decades ago, will cease to be an elegant royal sport. The armies will no longer politely line up in neat infantry lines, as in the days of King Frederick II of Prussia, but will involve an incredibly large number of soldiers mobilized to defend the Motherland into their ranks, getting involved in wars in the name of national ideology - such was the forecast of an older contemporary of Napoleon.
Antichrist. Man of the century. Great Corsican. Tyrant Bonaparte. Cannibal from Ajaccio (reference to his place of birth). The Universal Usurper. The soul of the world on horseback. Napoleon Bonaparte received many nicknames and even more titles in a military odyssey, as a result of which he, over and above many kings (as easily as opening bottles of wine), took Berlin, Vienna, Madrid and, in the end, changed the rules of the game.
Napoleon, one of the great strategists of history, showed the world the maximum manifestation of the method of warfare that became known as "total war." Unlike the outdated tactics of the previous (eighteenth) century, when armies clashed with each other in well-defined battle formations, and then knocked out the balance of victories and defeats at diplomatic tables, the Corsican Napoleon was not content with either a symbolic victory over the enemy, or the achievement of territorial advantages. He did not set himself the goal of crushing part of the enemy's troops and getting a piece of his territory. Napoleon destroyed the entire army of the enemy, and then brought his entire state to its knees.
Good proof of this was the Battle of Jena (October 14, 1806), in which the French army easily defeated 53 thousand Prussians, previously considered the best infantry on the continent. Simultaneously with this battle in Auerstedt, a few kilometers from there, another army, numbering about 50 thousand Prussians, was literally swept away by French troops, the number of which was twice as small. Within a few weeks, King Frederick William III lost almost all of his soldiers and fell into the power of Napoleon.
The same can be said about Napoleon's duel with the emperor from the Habsburg family - a representative of the Austrian dynasty, whose offspring, under normal conditions, would not even say "good morning" to some French general and consul of the Republic. But with defeats such as the Battle of Austerlitz, even the Habsburg dynasty was forced to accept that the world had changed. "The main thing in battle is to make the evil enemy flee, and not to exterminate as many of the human race as possible," said an Austrian officer who fought in the Seven Years' War of 1756-1763. and, of course, did not know Napoleon's methods. Not to mention how the French commander dealt with the kingdom of Spain by deploying his troops on its territory.
Total war doctrine
Historian Richard Bassett notes in his book For God and the Kaiser (Desperta Ferro, 2018) such qualities of Napoleon as "remarkable strategic instinct, an intellectual taste for the science of war, especially for the power of the correct deployment of artillery." The historian goes on to add “an incomparable ability to inspire his troops and in addition to great luck, the ability to understand the situation on the battlefield, combining this understanding with almost frantic action to turn the situation in his favor.” But despite these many virtues, one should not be credited To Napoleon, the qualities of the only innovator for his era. The truth is that Bonaparte was not the complete discoverer of "lightning" war for his era, as Rommel and Patton (German and American generals of the Second World War - ed.) Were not such pioneers for their era. The tactics of the successful Corsican were borrowed from military theorists of the Enlightenment such as Jacques-Antoine-Hippolyte de Guibert. This author, practically unknown today, enjoyed great prestige during the last wars of Louis XVI.
Two decades before the French Revolution, this aristocrat, in his Essai général de tactique (Paris, 1771), spoke of a new way of waging war. The meaning of this method was that not small mercenary armies of professionals had to face on the battlefield, but huge armies of hundreds of thousands of citizens capable of huge sacrifices in the name of protecting the nation. The armed nation that Napoleon would be so good at guiding against his enemies would eventually sweep him as well. After all, Napoleon was ultimately defeated by the popular armies in the person of the Austrian militias and the Spanish rural partisans.
War, according to Gibert, will no longer be an elegant royal sport. Armies will no longer politely line up in neat infantry lines as they did in the days of Frederick II of Prussia. They will draw into their ranks a huge number of mobilized soldiers, for whom the war will be a breakaway from peaceful affairs. People will fight in the name of national ideology, and the distinction between civilians and soldiers will be blurred. Under these conditions, the battlefield will occupy not only rural areas that are advantageous for the deployment of combat formations, but entire countries, involving cities in the struggle.
Armies will be more mobile, without the long lines of carts that previously followed the soldiers, laden with food and other necessities. The aristocrat hinted that the armies should feed off the occupied population through plunder, and not receive supplies in a noble way from their national governments, as was the case before. Napoleon, as the Spaniards, Russians, Italians, Austrians and Germans could observe, enthusiastically embraced the idea of such a supply. His armies were fed by plunder, and inspiration for new campaigns was drawn from the prospect of robbery, in which they were allowed to take everything from the enemy civilian population, right down to works of art or the last crust of bread.
Hibert was one of the great intellectuals of his time and was responsible for reforming the infantry and cavalry of Louis XVI. However, his reflections were not given sufficient attention. His treatise was hardly read by a few military men, among whom was Napoleon. It was necessary to wait for the right conditions for Europe to fulfill the prediction of this inspirer of French hegemony. Gibert correctly wrote about the possibility of the appearance in Europe of a people whose army would fight according to an aggressive, premeditated plan, knowing how to wage a war economically and live at the expense of the enemy: "Such a people will conquer their neighbors and overthrow any hostile state system like a storm, bending reed ".
From defensive to offensive war
The Count gave an accurate description of what the French Revolution should have been like thirty years before the old regime was to be overthrown. When Prussia, Austria, and other monarchies declared war on the French revolutionaries in April 1792, the Convention called for an all-out war to defend the frontiers, just before Hibert had predicted:
“From this moment until the expulsion of the enemies from the territory of the Republic, all Frenchmen are subject to constant conscription. The youth will go into battle; married men will forge weapons and transport food; women will make tents and uniforms and serve in hospitals; children will prepare bandages from old clothes; old people will perform in public to instill courage in the soldiers and preach hatred of kings and the need for the unity of the Republic."
It was a young officer of a comparatively modest background who best understood those options for combat operations in conditions of revolutionary chaos that would allow the war to be waged in a new way. It was Napoleon, promising fame and food to his soldiers, not abstract ideas, who went on an offensive that went beyond the boundaries of traditional tactics. Beginning with the first Italian campaigns, the Great Corsican introduced this philosophy to his ragged and hungry troops with great success. In March 1796, the 26-year-old general promised literally:
“I will lead you to the most fertile fields in the world. Rich provinces and lush cities, they will all be at your disposal, where you will find honor, glory and wealth. Soldiers! Do you have enough courage and endurance?"
The fertile lands of Lombardy have confirmed that the army can live off the products of the locals. True, the robbery made it possible to move quickly without a convoy at key moments, but did not work in the case of long campaigns. Other, more inhospitable lands will show that survival by robbery has its limits, especially when it is necessary to feed a large army. Russia became the best such lesson for the French: they simply turned into a desert that very Smolensk road in the summer, along which they had to flee from Russia in the fall.
In battles with the Russians, Prussians, Austrians and British, Napoleon was almost invincible for more than ten years thanks to his personal ingenuity and circumstances. According to John A. Lynn, one of the authors of The History of War, the main reasons that led Napoleon to so many victories were due to the revolutionary army inherited from the Jacobins. This army included loyal recruits, a talented officer corps, battle-proven generals, and a flexible tactical system that outstripped the thinking of France's enemies.
“The Napoleonic soldiers were no longer revolutionaries of 1793-94, but they were still French, children of their people, loyal to them and inspired by their leader,” Lynn writes. Napoleon also reorganized military structures and took advantage of the resurgence of the French cavalry. But he owes many of these successes to Gibert and his thoughts on the war of the future.