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One week before Christmas, 1806, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte arrived in the Polish city
of Warsaw, then part of Prussia.
A year had passed since his great victory over the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz,
and two months since he’d hammered the Prussians at Jena.
But Russia still had powerful forces in the field, the most important of which was the
Russian First Army, commanded by General Bennigsen.
Napoleon would not be master of Europe until it was defeated, and Russia and Prussia forced
to make peace.
But that winter, Napoleon’s first attempt to trap Bennigsen near Pułtusk got bogged
down in thick Polish mud.
The Russians withdrew to Białystok. The French army, half-starved and frozen, was ordered
into winter quarters.
… while in Warsaw, Napoleon began a famous affair with a young Polish noblewoman, Marie
In the late 18th century, the once mighty Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had been swallowed
up by its neighbours – Russia, Austria, and Prussia - in a series of annexations known
as ‘partitions’… until in 1795, a third and final partition wiped Poland off the map.
Now Polish patriots looked to Napoleon as their saviour – praying that his victories
against their occupiers would lead to the rebirth of a Polish state.
Marie Walewska became Napoleon’s mistress in order to further this cause.
Ordinary French soldiers, however, had little love for Poland – it was impoverished, freezing,
and they missed home.
Desertion rates soared. There were even a hundred cases of suicide.
Marshal Ney, commanding Sixth Corps, sent patrols towards Heilsberg, looking for better
What they found were Russian and Prussian soldiers on the move – they’d stumbled
into a surprise winter attack by Bennigsen.
Napoleon quickly laid a trap for the Russian army, ordering Ney and Bernadotte to retreat,
and lure Bennigsen west, while he led the rest of the army north, to fall on his flank
and rear.
But the Russians captured a French courier carrying the emperor’s orders to Marshal
Bennigsen, now warned of the trap, ordered a retreat, fighting a series of rearguard
skirmishes against the pursuing French.
But he refused to give up the city of Königsberg without a fight, and turned to give battle,
at Eylau.
Battle of Eylau, fought over two days, was one of the most brutal of the Napoleonic Wars,
fought in freezing conditions, with neither side backing down.
Marshal Augereau’s Seventh Corps, advancing into the face of a snowstorm, lost its way,
and was cut to pieces by Russian cannon fire.
Five French eagles were lost.
Napoleon’s army was only saved by a devastating, massed cavalry charge by 10,000 horsemen,
led by the fearless Marshal Murat, and remembered as one of the great cavalry charges in history.
At Eylau, for the first time as Emperor, Napoleon failed to win a clear victory on the battlefield.
He and the Russians covered up the true scale of their losses, but both sides are estimated
to have lost a third of their armies in the carnage.
After the horrors of Eylau, both armies sought time to rest and recover.
Meanwhile, the newly-formed French Tenth Corps under Marshal Lefebvre besieged Danzig, held
by 13,000 Prussians under General Kalkreuth.
The city came under heavy French bombardment, and infantry assault. After 8 weeks, with
no prospect of reinforcement, the Prussian garrison surrendered on 27th May.
Napoleon’s northern, sea flank was now secure against any possible Russian landing.
The French emperor now commanded an army 190,000 strong, against just 115,000 Russian and Prussian
But it was Bennigsen who moved first, launching a surprise attack against Ney’s Sixth Corps
on 5th June.
Ney conducted a brilliant fighting withdrawal, and escaped.
Bennigsen, having lost the element of surprise, and with Napoleon advancing, retreated once
Four days later at Heilsberg, the French lost 10,000 men in a botched assault against Russian
But the Russians continued their retreat the next day.
Napoleon thought Bennigsen would head north to Königsberg, but instead he retreated northeast,
keeping to the east bank of the Alle River.
So when Napoleon’s army marched north, it was Marshal Lannes’ Reserve Corps, on his
right flank, that next encountered the Russian army… near the small town of Friedland.
In the late afternoon of the 13th June, Russian cavalry scouts informed General Bennigsen
that they’d found a single French corps at Friedland.
Bennigsen decided he had time to cross the Alle River and smash this isolated corps,
before the rest of the French army could arrive to save it, and he ordered his army to begin
crossing the river.
Marshal Lannes, commanding 16,000 men and facing 46,000 Russians, sent an urgent message
to Napoleon that he was under attack from the main Russian army.
Then he fought a skilful delaying action, hiding the weakness of his force behind a
large screen of skirmishers, while gradually yielding ground to the enemy.
Lannes was still holding off the Russians as darkness fell.
That night, Russian engineers built three pontoon bridges at Friedland, to speed the
movement of troops over the river.
But Bennigsen was taking a huge risk.
If this turned into a major battle, his army would have to fight with its back to the river,
and the steep banks of the Mill Stream dividing its left wing from its right.
Bennigsen had also badly underestimated the speed at which Napoleon’s Grande Armée
would react.
The first French reinforcements arrived that night.
The Emperor himself wasn’t far behind.
By dawn on the 14th June, about 40,000 Russians had crossed to the west bank of the Alle River.
Bennigsen ordered an attack on the village of Heinrichsdorf, to turn the French left
But French cavalry reinforcements led by General Grouchy intercepted the Russians…
In more than an hour of charge, and counter-charge, the French horsemen finally drove the Russians
Marshal Mortier’s Eighth Corps now arrived to reinforce the French centre.
In Sortlack Wood, General Oudinot’s elite Grenadier Division fought stubbornly against
Prince Bagration’s Left Wing… but was outnumbered by the Russians, and gradually
pushed back.
Around noon, on a sweltering day, Napoleon himself arrived.
He was soon followed by First Corps, commanded by General Victor – standing in for the
wounded Marshal Bernadotte, as well as Ney’s Sixth Corps, and the Imperial Guard, under
Marshal Bessières.
The date, 14th June, held special significance for Napoleon: it was the seventh anniversary
of his great victory over the Austrians at Marengo – a good omen, he declared.
The battle then entered a lull, as Napoleon assessed the situation, saw Bennigsen’s
dangerous position, and issued orders for an attack to take advantage of it.
Bennigsen, meanwhile, who was tormented by ill health throughout the day, saw that he
now faced the full might of Napoleon’s army, and issued orders for a retreat.
But before Bennigsen’s retreat could get underway, at 5.30pm, three salvos from the
French guns signalled the start of Napoleon’s attack.
It was led by Ney’s Sixth Corps on the right wing, who first cleared Bagration’s infantry
from Sortlack Wood.
But as Ney’s troops left the cover of the trees, they came under heavy fire from Russian
cannon across the river.
As the French attack faltered, Prince Bagration rallied his men, and launched a cavalry counter
Ney’s corps retreated.
But now General Victor’s First Corps came up on his left. Its artillery commander, General
Sénarmont, advanced with 30 guns, and blasted the Russians at point blank range with case
Hundreds of Russians were mown down within minutes.
Under this onslaught, Bagration’s men began to waver, and then retreat.
Around 7pm the Russian Imperial Guard launched a desperate counterattack to try to halt the
French advance on Friedland.
But they were outnumbered, and outgunned.
As exploding shells began to start fires in Friedland… the French centre and left wing
joined the attack.
With its only escape route under threat, the entire Russian army began a panicked retreat
towards the river.
But Friedland’s houses and bridges were now ablaze. The town became a deadly trap
for the Russians.
Many were drowned trying to cross the river, others killed, or captured.
North of Friedland, some units were able to escape across a ford, or along the river bank.
But there was no disguising the Russians’ terrible defeat.
The Battle of Friedland was one of the most decisive victories of Napoleon’s career.
At the cost of 10,000 casualties, he had inflicted twice as many losses on the Russians – about
20,000 men killed, wounded, or taken prisoner – 40% of Bennigsen’s army.
The Prussians abandoned Königsberg the next day, which was occupied by Soult’s Fourth
Corps, while Bennigsen’s shattered army retreated across the River Niemen, into Russia.
Tsar Alexander’s advisors implored him to make peace with Napoleon.
He accepted their advice, and a ceasefire was agreed.
Alexander and Napoleon met for the first time aboard a raft in the middle of the River Niemen,
near Tilsit, and developed an immediate rapport.
Tilsit proved to be one of history’s great diplomatic summits, as the two emperors feted
each other for days, with banquets, parades and concerts, then discussed affairs late
into the night.
A friendship of sorts developed… whilst Russia’s former ally, King Frederick William
of Prussia, was left out in the cold.
And it was Prussia who would lose most in the Treaties of Tilsit, signed two weeks later.
One third of Prussian territory was taken away… to create the new Kingdom of Westphalia,
to be ruled by Napoleon’s 22 year-old brother Jérôme… And the Duchy of Warsaw, to be
ruled by the King of Saxony, which Polish patriots hoped would prove a stepping stone
on the road to their own state.
Polish troops were recruited into the Grande Armée, with Polish lancers even forming part
of Napoleon’s elite Imperial Guard.
Russia only had to give up the Ionian Islands, as Alexander accepted an alliance with Napoleon
that left the French emperor master of Europe.
Alexander even agreed to join the ‘Continental System’ – Napoleon’s economic blockade
of Great Britain, which banned British ships and goods from all French-controlled ports.
The System had been established the previous winter by Napoleon’s Berlin Decree.
Napoleon hoped that by cutting off British trade with Europe, he’d cause financial
chaos and political upheaval in Britain – allowing him to make a favourable peace.
There was just one problem - the Continental System didn’t work.
Not only was it impossible to enforce, and undermined by widespread smuggling, the system
damaged French trade just as much as British trade.
The decisive weapon in this economic war would prove to be the British Royal Navy, which
that summer, ensured its continued naval dominance by launching a pre-emptive strike against
the neutral Danish fleet at Copenhagen – capturing their warships before they could fall into
Napoleon’s hands.
Royal Navy squadrons blockaded all major French ports, seizing any ships trading with France,
while ensuring British merchants could continue to trade overseas in relative safety.
The navy even seized the tiny Danish island of Heligoland, as a base for smuggling British
goods into Europe.
But most disastrously for Napoleon, the Continental System would draw him into two conflicts that
proved ruinous for his empire…
The first would be fought in the Iberian Peninsula, where Napoleon decided to force Britain’s
ally Portugal to join the Continental System.
In November 1807, French troops, supported by their Spanish ally, invaded the country.
The Portuguese royal family fled to their colony of Brazil, as the French occupied Lisbon
without a fight.
It looked as though Napoleon had won yet another easy victory. But the Peninsular War was just
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Napoleon Defeats Russia: Friedland 1807

15 タグ追加 保存
蔡文彬 2020 年 3 月 16 日 に公開
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