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Napoleon was successful because his enemies were incompetent and divided. How far do you agree?
Napoleon was one of the most successful military leaders Europe has ever seen; his leadership of the French army saw him control much of continental Europe. Napoleon’s enemies did give him a great advantage during his success through their incompetence and divisions. However the weaknesses of Napoleon’s opposition was not the only reason why he was so successful. One must also look at other reasons to why Napoleon had so much success.
Napoleon’s enemies had old-fashioned, slow and immobile tactics when fighting Napoleon, this made it easier for Napoleon to defeat them, as his army was quick and mobile. This inability to produced new tactics was exposed at the Battle of Ulm in 1805. The Prussians were fighting Napoleon, they were slow and immobile, and as a result lost 45,000 men, Napoleon was able to easily expose their immobility. Napoleon’s enemies showed were divided and not united together as they failed to join together and forge a successful alliance against Napoleon. The Second Coalition of 1799 is an example of their incompetence to join together against Napoleon.
It was between Britain, Russia, Austria and the Ottoman Empire. However it was made up of a series of separate alliances, which meant there was no single aim. Soon there was political fallout between Russia and Britain over Malta, which meant the coalition was effectively disbanded. The fallout allowed Napoleon to interfere and get Russia on side, and then bully Austria into the Peace of Luneville. Although it can be seen that Napoleon was successful in ‘divide and rule’ as he was able to split the allies and forge a separate alliance, this failed coalition also shows the incompetence of Napoleon’s enemies to united against him.
Napoleon’s enemies also saw him as infallible and this meant they would enter a battle against him with fear and often gave him too much respect. Evidently Napoleon’s enemies incompetence and divisions did play a part in his success, they had poor tactics and could not unite against him. However in order to analyse how far his enemies incompetence and divisions led to Napoleon’s success, one must also look at other factors which led to Napoleons success.
Napoleon’s himself and his leadership of the French army is a key reason for his success. When Napoleon took command of the French army, he reorganised it and took lead of the whole army himself. The army was divided into corps of 25,000 to 30,000 soldiers, which increased the armies’ mobility. Napoleon controlled the whole army and decided every move on the battlefield. This along with the mobility of the army, allowed him to make fast decisions and his army were able to respond quickly. To increase speed and mobility Napoleon also introduced ‘living off the land’ which meant his soldiers carried a limited supply of food and clothes and were encouraged to loot as they marched. This meant his men could travel from 12 to 15 miles a day. In another effort to increase mobility Napoleon also used horse artillery.
Napoleon had great qualities as a military general; he would formulate a general plan of action before any battle and calculate all the possibilities. He did this at Austerlitz in 1805 to great effect. He engaged the Russians, but kept a large reserve, which allowed him to roll to victory. Napoleon was also a quick thinker and was able to improvise by using his mobile army to take advantage of enemy mistakes. This can be seen at the Battle of Ulm in 1805, where he improvised by making a quick decision to send marshal Murat in pursuit of the Austrians, which reduced their numbers from 70,000 to 27,000.
Napoleon possessed great charisma. Wellington said of him ‘his presence in the battlefield is worth an extra 40,000 men’. He would fight alongside his men, which inspired his men and gained him respect. He did this at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, when times got hard for his soldiers. He also used emotional, theatrical language in his Daily Bulletins, to inspire and arouse the passions of his troops.
This ability to inspire his troops meant he got the best out of his men at all times, increasing his chances of victory. Napoleon also understood the importance of paying his men in coin money as appose to paper money, as it did not depreciate in value. He also allowed them to loot as they conquered new lands. This boosted morale as his soldiers were payed well and it also meant they respected him. Napoleon would also play to his strengths, and as he had a weak navy, he never fought naval battles.
Another skill of Napoleon was his ability to incorporate other people’s tactics into his own army with great effect. For instance he took military thinker Guibert’s tactic of ‘mixed order’ (a combination of lines and columns of men), and incorporated it into the army. It had a great impact as it increased mobility and meant they were less vulnerable and predictable. Although it was not his idea, Napoleon did incorporate into his army to great effect.
Evidently Napoleon’s military skills and leadership of the French army was another reason for him been so successful. He possessed great skills such controlling the whole army, planning ahead and improving to take advantage of enemy mistakes. He was also brilliant at getting the best out of his troops through his charisma and incorporating other people’s tactics to great effect.
Another reason that must be analysed in order to establish why Napoleon was so successful is the strength of the French army he inherited when he came to power.
Due to conscription introduced in 1793 before Napoleon was in power, the French army was by far the largest in Europe. By 1805 it consisted of around 600,000 men. This was an obvious a great advantage to Napoleon, it enabled him to change the nature of warfare to ‘levee on masse’. The size of the army allowed him to surround enemies as he did at the twin battle of Jena-Auerstadt where by surrounding the Prussians, made them face on the wrong way when battle began, as a result they lost 45,000 men. Napoleon was also able to take huge losses himself, as on average he took on 73,000 new conscripts. Napoleon also inherited the experienced soldiers that had fought in the ‘Grande Armee’ during the French revolution; these men were of great value. So evidently Napoleon was assisted in his success, as he inherited a huge army, which gave him the edge against the smaller, weaker armies of his enemies.
So although Napoleon was assisted by the incompetent and divided nature of his enemies, other factors also had a great contribution in his success, particularly his military skills and leadership. Without possessing great skills he would have not been as successful. It was his skills, which allowed him to take advantage of the weakness of his enemies, and the army he inherited and as a result have so much military success.