The War of Austrian Succession: 1740-1748 – In Italy


The death of the Chevalier de Belle-Isle, Battle of Assietta.

In October 1740, Emperor Charles VI died. In his youth he had held title as the Archduke Charles, claimant to the Spanish crown and for whom the Habsburgs waged the War for the Spanish Succession. He left a single heir, his daughter the Archduchess Maria Theresa.

The Holy Roman Empire was an elective monarchy. Charles VI, however, negotiated with the ruling houses of Europe and the magnates of his monarchy to accept Maria Theresa as his legitimate and rightful heir and the next empress. Having secured domestic recognition of his daughter’s right to succeed him, he also acquired international recognition embodied in the document, the Pragmatic Sanction. It did not work. As soon as he died, the Bavarian and Saxon electors competed for the crown; and King Frederick II of Prussia, newly ascended to the throne, rejected Maria Theresa’s legitimacy and invaded Silesia, wealthiest of the Habsburg territories. France did not enter the war, but a French auxiliary corps was dispatched to central Germany in accordance with the Treaty of Westphalia, “to defend German liberties.”

The Spanish royal family decided the war offered an opportunity to reclaim Milan. Prince Philip of Bourbon, the youngest son of Philip V and Elizabeth Farnese, needed a crown; and Milan, along with Parma, suited him. A Spanish army landed in Tuscany-a neutral-and marched north to the Padana Plain. Then, Philip V asked his son Charles VII of Naples to return the army he lent him in 1733 to the Neapolitan and Sicilian thrones. Neapolitan troops marched north to join the Spanish army.

France too required allies. They requested Piedmontese permission to cross the Alps and march on Milan, but Charles Emmanuel III did not want to involve his state in this conflict. He realized that, in case of a French and Spanish victory, Piedmont would be caught between the Bourbons. It meant the end of any autonomous policy and of any possible dream of expanding his power in Italy. Moreover, he threatened the approaching Spanish army that if it entered the Padana Plain, his army would its his route to Milan.

At the same time, Britain perceived the precarious situation as a threat to the Balance of Power. Piedmont and Austria were alone against much of Europe, save Russia. London therefore committed its resources to the Habsburg cause. Charles Emmanuel received a £250,000 annual subsidy to keep his army on a war footing. Then, a British squadron entered the Mediterranean under Admiral Matthews, ordered to act in support of Charles Emmanuel. The British ships entered Naples harbor with some five thousand marines. Charles VII knew it. He had no fleet and very few men to defend the city because his army had marched north. So, when Matthews presented an ultimatum: recall all his regiments with the Spanish army, or the city would be shelled and the marines landed, Charles VII had little recourse but to accept the terms.

The defection of Naples eased Charles Emmanuel’s army action against the Spanish in the Padana Plain. Not wanting to face isolation, the Spanish withdrew through the Papal States along the Adriatic coast. Soon after, Charles Emmanuel countermarched rapidly to meet a second Spanish army entering Savoy via France. He won the campaign, but it was clear that the war was becoming harder to manage.

In 1743 the Spanish threatened Piedmont with two armies. Charles Emmanuel possessed no more than 42,000 men and could use only half against each Spanish army. Nonetheless, he crushed Prince Philip’s army, marching from France, at Casteldelfino. Simultaneously, the Piedmontese with their Habsburg allies fought and defeated the second army under de Gages at Camposanto, on the other side of Italy and pressed it to the Neapolitan-Papal States border on the Adriatic coast, where it sought refuge from the Neapolitan king.

In the autumn of 1743, Britain joined Piedmont and Austria in a formal league. The treaty signed in Wörms widened the scope of the conflict from Europe to Asia, Africa, and America, where it was known as King George’s War.

The 1744 campaign was hard fought. Unfortunately, Maria Theresa wanted Naples because, according to the Peace of Utrecht, it should have remained in Habsburg hands, yet the War of Polish Succession had reversed that agreement.

Charles Emmanuel warned the Austrian ruler that this would only increase the strategic dilemma. Why expand the conflict when victory was not in sight? Regardless of the free advice, she ordered her army to destroy de Gages’s Spanish army still waiting on the Neapolitan frontier. Charles VII of Naples, aware of the Austrian menace, declared war and once again united his troops with his father’s army.

An Austrian army marched south, passing through the Papal States from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian coast. Charles VII gathered the Spanish and Neapolitan army and encamped near Velletri, south of Rome. The Austrians attacked in August and were repulsed with great loss.

The defeat forced the Habsburgs to abandon central Italy in November. The Neapolitan-Spanish army followed on their heels, arriving in northern Italy. What a present for Charles Emmanuel, who had his own troubles.

In fact, France officially entered the war in that same year. A French army united with Prince Philip’s army passed the Alps, defeated the local Piedmontese resistance, and besieged Cuneo. Charles Emmanuel tried to relieve the city, but failed. He then directed the militia against the enemy’s ordnance and supply lines and, thanks to these guerrilla tactics and to Cuneo’s resistance, the Bourbon armies raised the siege and withdrew to France to take winter quarters.

In the early days of 1745, Genoa entered the conflict. The Most Serene Republic sought neutrality, just as Venice had done for the third time in forty-five years. Unfortunately, while Venice could defend its neutrality with 40,000 men, Genoa could not; and, moreover, Britain and Austria promised to give Charles Emmanuel the Marquisate of Finale, a little imperial fief in Liguria owned by the republic as a feudatory of the empire. Charles Emmanuel desired it as a port, an additional window to the Mediterranean.

In order to protect its territory, Genoa signed a treaty in Aranjuez and joined the Bourbon alliance. It was a disaster for Charles Emmanuel. The Genoese accession to the League provided the Spanish-French army with an opened route from France through Genoese territory, and now they could mass the army from France with the army from Naples via Velletri, adding to it 10,000 Genoese troops. This was the real disaster as it increased the powerful Bourbon army to 90,000 men.

As the war in Flanders continued, Charles Emmanuel received no support from Austria.

He had a mere 43,000 men. Maneuvering them well to avoid battle, he lost many fortresses but preserved his army. Despite this, he was compelled to accept an armistice in December 1745. Fortunately, Prussia accepted peace terms offered by Austria, allowing Vienna to send 12,000 men to Italy. It was not an impressive army, but enough to permit Charles Emmanuel to take the field upon the expiration of the armistice. In the spring 1746 he attacked and the Bourbons were defeated. Milan was reconquered, Piedmont liberated, and Genoa overrun by the Austrians. The Piedmontese army occupied western Liguria and the French and Spanish fled, abandoning the republic.

While Charles Emmanuel prepared an invasion of southern France, he sent a regiment to support the Corsican revolution against Genoese rule.

Genoa found itself under occupation and threatened with destruction if it did not pay 3 million scudi to Austria. Subsequently the city revolted, and the Austrian garrison was ejected. Charles Emmanuel halted his operations against France and marched to support Austrian operations against the city. The Genoese fleet, supported by coastal defenses, prevented the British fleet from shelling Genoa, but the Austrian and Piedmontese armies cut the city off from the outside world by land, while the French supplied its ally with men and material by sea.

In the spring of 1747, a new French army marched along the Mediterranean coast. Charles Emmanuel ordered his troops to hold Nice, but soon he knew that another French expeditionary force was approaching the Alps from the west. If they crossed the Alps, they could effectively threaten Turin.

Charles Emmanuel had no troops to stem the invasion. He scraped together what troops he could find. On July 19, 1747, at Assietta Hill, 30,000 French with artillery attacked 5,400 Piedmontese and 2,000 Austrians. At sunset, the French had lost 5,800 men and left more than 600 wounded to the victorious defenders. General Count Bricherasio lost only 192 Piedmontese and 27 Austrians; it was clearly a triumph.

Assietta Hill was the last battle of the war on the Italian front. A peace was signed on October 30, 1748, at Aix-la-Chapelle. Everything remained as it was before the war, except that Prince Philip of Spain obtained the duchy of Parma and Charles Emmanuel received from Maria Theresa two West Lombardy provinces, Vigevano, and Anghiera County, and a part of the territory of Pavia, setting the Milanese-Piedmontese border along the Ticino River.

Battle of Novi (15 August 1799)


Battle of Novi by Alexander Kotzebue


A major battle between French and Austro-Russian armies near the town of Novi in the Italian Piedmont. As the Allies liberated Lombardy and Piedmont, the French Directory made a new effort to turn the tide of the war by appointing a new commander in chief, the young and energetic General Barthélemy Joubert, to the Armée d’Italie. The French advanced in early August from Genoa, and by 15 August they approached the Allied position at Novi. Joubert was surprised to find that he faced superior Allied forces, as Field Marshal Alexander Suvorov massed more than 50,000 men on the battlefield against 35,000 French and enjoyed a great superiority in cavalry. The French command spent the night vacillating, and, as a result, the French troops had no clear orders for the coming battle. On the Allied side, Suvorov was impatient to attack. At 8:00 P. M. on 14 August, he ordered Austrian Feldzeugmeister Paul Kray Freiherr von Krajova to begin movement during the night so that the troops could attack at dawn.

The Austrians (27,000 men) launched an assault on the French left flank at 5:00 A. M. Hearing the exchange of small arms fire, Joubert rode to observe the action and was instantly killed by a musket ball. His death was kept secret from the army, and General Jean Moreau assumed command in his place. An experienced commander, Moreau realized the dangers and kept his troops on the defensive. Meanwhile, as Kray continued his attack on the French left, generals Peter Bagration and Mikhail Miloradovich attacked the French positions in the center. For the next several hours, the Russians launched desperate charges on the town of Novi, where the French had established strong positions and expertly arranged their batteries on three levels. After seven hours of fighting, the Allies failed to break through the French positions but, around 3:00 P. M., Suvorov launched a flanking attack with General der Kavallerie Michael Freiherr von Melas’s troops, while Bagration attacked Novi and Kray assaulted the left flank.

Despite their stubborn defense, the French right flank was swept away, allowing Bagration to capture Novi and pierce the central positions of the French. The Allies now threatened to encircle the French left wing, which hurriedly withdrew toward Pasturano. The retreating French packed the narrow streets of the village, while Allied troops opened fire on them from the nearby heights. Moreau’s men fled in confusion, leaving their artillery and supplies. Generals Emmanuel, marquis de Grouchy and Catherine Dominique Pérignon tried to organize some sort of resistance, but both were wounded and captured. Feldmarschalleutnant Michael Freiherr von Colli was surrounded and forced to surrender with 2,000 men and 21 guns. Only General Laurent Gouvion St. Cyr’s troops retreated in good order and covered the rest of the army. The exhausted Allied troops did not pursue the French and bivouacked on the battlefield.

The next morning, Suvorov intended to resume the pursuit, but his troops were still exhausted and could not move. Moreau exploited the Allied inactivity and successfully extricated the remaining troops to the Riviera. The Battle at Novi was a decisive Allied victory. The French army was shattered, having lost almost 6,500 killed and wounded, 4,600 captured, including 4 generals, 84 officers, 4 flags, and most of the artillery. The Russians lost 1,900 killed and wounded, while Austrian casualties amounted to 5,800 men.

References and further reading Clausewitz, Karl von. 1833. Die Feldzuge von 1799 in Italien und der Schweiz. Berlin: N. p. Duffy, Christopher. 1999. Eagles over the Alps: Suvorov in Italy and Switzerland, 1799. Chicago: Emperor’s. Gachot, Edouard. 1903. Les campagnes de 1799: Souvarow en Italie. Paris: Perrin. Longworth, Philip. 1965. The Art of Victory: The Life and Achievements of Generalissimo Suvorov, 1729-1800. London: Constable. Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky, Alexander, and Dmitri Miliutin. 1852-1853. Istoriia voini Rossii s Frantsiei v 1799 godu. St. Petersburg: Tip. Shtaba voenno-uchebnykh zavedenii. Orlov, Nikolay. 1895. Suvorov na Trebbii v 1799 g. [Suvorov on Trebbia in 1799]. St. Petersburg: N. p.—,ed. 1898. Pokhod Suvorova v 1799 g.: Po zapiskam Gryazeva [Suvorov’s Campaign of 1799: Gryazev’s Notes]. St. Petersburg: N. p.


Battle of Eylau (7–8 February 1807)


“Napoleon on the field of Eylau” by Antoine-Jean Gros


The Battle of Eylau, 1807 – Situation Early, 8 February


The Battle of Eylau, 1807 – Situation About 1600, 8 February

Eylau has the dubious distinction of being one of the bloodiest and most futile battles of the Napoleonic Wars. Some 200 years after the inconclusive event, it is difficult for historians to calculate the true scale of the losses incurred by the participants. One thing remains clear: The figures involved would not look out of place in the attrition rates for the soldiers of World War I. Modern scholars put a figure of 25,000 men on French casualties, approximately one man in three. The opposing Russians lost some 15,000 men, including a number of Prussians. One officer described it as “the bloodiest day, the most horrible butchery of men that had taken place since the beginning of the Revolutionary wars” (quoted in Haythornthwaite 2001, 56). The grueling combat, which saw the forces under Napoleon pitted against Russian troops under General Levin Bennigsen, is also noteworthy for a number of other reasons. It gave rise to one of the greatest cavalry charges in history (spearheaded by Marshal Joachim Murat); it was fought in some of the most atrocious weather conditions; and was one of the few occasions when the Emperor himself almost fell into the hands of his enemies.

Following an indecisive action at Jankovo, Napoleon, on 7 February 1807, with 30,000 men under his corps commanders Murat and Marshal Nicolas Soult, met the Russian army of 67,000 near the small village of Preussisch Eylau in Poland. The Russians drew up in a line running roughly from the north to the east behind the town. The French were drawn up from just northwest of the town down to the southeast. Hostilities began when, probably ignorant of the enemy’s presence, Napoleon’s own baggage train entered Eylau in search of cover for the night. Bitter street fighting ensued, accompanied by intense combat in the town graveyard. Eylau changed hands several times until Bennigsen conceded the place to the French and pulled back to a ridge behind the town, leaving around 4,000 casualties on each side. With French supply wagons lagging behind the army and the Russian supply system on the verge of collapse, both sides suffered from severe shortages of food. Worse still for Bennigsen, loss of the village forced his men to spend the night in subzero temperatures. During the evening 15,000 French reinforcements arrived, with an equal number again expected on the following day under Marshal Louis Davout. To the northwest stood a corps under Marshal Michel Ney, operating independently to keep the 9,000 Prussians under General Anton Wilhelm Lestocq from uniting with the Russians, but with orders to join the main body on the eighth.

The size of the respective armies during the second day’s fighting remains unknown, but it is estimated that though Napoleon was clearly outnumbered in the morning, the successive appearance of troops over the course of the day increased the strength of each side until they stood about equal-perhaps 75,000 men, but with Bennigsen enjoying a clear superiority in artillery: 460 guns to about 200 for Napoleon.

The French, occupying heights slightly north of the town and only 1,200 yards from the Russian positions, stood in expectation of a frontal attack. At about 8:00 A. M. the massed artillery of the Russians opened the battle with a bombardment that left the village of Eylau ablaze, but in concentrating their guns at relatively short range they exposed themselves to counterbattery fire from the French, whose accuracy soon began to tell. Amid a shrieking blizzard, Soult, supported by cavalry under General Antoine Lasalle, carried out a diversionary attack against the Russian right to deflect attention from the arrival of Davout from the southwest, where Napoleon hoped the decisive blow would be delivered. At about 9:00 A. M., however, Soult was beaten off by the stoic Russians, and General Louis Friant’s division (the advance guard of Davout’s corps) was effectively stalled by an attack at about the same time by a large body of Russian cavalry.

The stage was set for even more carnage. With both his flanks seriously threatened, Napoleon ordered the 9,000 men under Marshal Pierre Augereau, on the French right, to counterattack the Russian center, with a division under General Louis St. Hilaire in support. Augereau’s ill health and the atrocious weather conditions ensured that the attack ended in grisly chaos. The columns became separated, and Augereau’s men-advancing blindly and losing their way-ended up walking directly into the mouths of seventy massed Russian guns. A withering bombardment ensued, while the beleaguered French troops were also subjected to fire from their own artillery, whose gunners could not make out anything through the swirling snow. By 10:30-in under an hour-Augereau’s corps had all but been destroyed, with over 5,000 killed and wounded, Augereau included among the latter, and St. Hilaire’s men had been halted in their tracks.

Napoleon’s fortunes were taking a turn for the worse as General Dmitry Dokhturov’s reserve infantry corps pushed into Eylau on the heels of Augereau’s reeling formations. With the appearance of something on the order of 6,000 Russians in the town, the Emperor himself only narrowly avoided capture, thanks to the self-sacrifice of his escort, who lost heavily until relieved by the arrival of Imperial Guard infantry. Characteristic of the carnage of the day’s fighting was the fate of the French 14th Regiment of the Line: Finding itself completely encircled by the enemy, it refused to surrender and was consequently annihilated near the cemetery.

With the battle reaching a critical phase and with only one major formation still uncommitted, Napoleon ordered the 10,500 men of his reserve cavalry into the fray. Around noon, Murat deployed his eighty squadrons into two vast columns before launching them against the Russian center in a maneuver that has become almost legendary. It gave rise to the oft-quoted vignette in which General Louis Lepic exhorted his men as they waited for the charge with the rejoinder: “Heads up, by God! Those are bullets, not turds!” (quoted in Lachouque and Brown 1997, 88). With inexorable momentum, Murat’s massed horsemen smashed through Bennigsen’s infantry and rode over a seventy-gun battery before reforming, facing about, and returning to friendly lines as a single column through the wreckage left by their initial advance. The charge cost the French 1,500 men, but it brought the relief Napoleon’s infantry desperately needed, allowing him to restore order among his hard-pressed formations. Historians have pointed out that Murat’s feat validated the cavalry as an independent (and useful) fighting force in its own right rather than as a mere adjunct to the artillery or infantry.

While Lestocq’s Prussians had meanwhile arrived around 11:00 A. M. to bolster their beleaguered Russian allies, Davout’s corps was not far behind and by 1:00 P. M. was applying pressure against Bennigsen’s left, which had to shift its position by 45 degrees to maintain a solid front against ever-increasing numbers of French troops. Nevertheless, so determined was Russian resistance that despite the continuous increase of French troops on the field as the day wore on, they still found themselves unable to wrest ground from dogged Russian infantry who preferred to die where they stood.

Ney’s corps did not arrive until dusk, by which time the bulk of the fighting had ended. That night Bennigsen withdrew from the field, leaving Napoleon in possession of Eylau. Despite Napoleon’s subsequent claims in Le Moniteur, the government’s official newspaper, the battle was far from a great victory and is now generally viewed by historians as a costly draw at best, with losses estimated at 15,000 Russian casualties and as many as 25,000 French, whose exhausted state rendered pursuit impossible. Both sides, severely mauled, went back into winter quarters to recover from the bloodletting, but with the certain expectation of renewed fighting in the spring. Eylau’s significance cannot be underestimated because, as David Chandler points out (Chandler 1966, 551), it was one of the first occasions when the chinks in Napoleon’s considerable armor were exposed for all his contemporaries to see.

References and further reading Chandler, David. 1966. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York: Macmillan. Davidov, Denis. 1999. In the Service of the Tsar against Napoleon: The Memoirs of Denis Davidov, 1806-1814. Trans. and ed. G Troubetzkoy. London: Greenhill. Haythornthwaite, Philip J. 2001. Die Hard: Famous Napoleonic Battles. London: Cassell. Lachouque, Henry, and Anne S. K. Brown. 1997. The Anatomy of Glory: Napoleon and His Guard-A Study in Leadership. London: Greenhill. Petre, F. Loraine. 1989. Napoleon’s Campaign in Poland, 1807-07. London: Greenhill. Summerville, Christopher. 2005. Napoleon’s Polish Gamble: Eylau and Friedland, 1807. London: Leo Cooper.


Map of the second day’s fighting showing the charge of the French cavalry


Murat’s Cavalry charge at Eylau

With his centre almost broken, Napoléon resorted to ordering a massive charge by Murat’s 11,000-strong cavalry reserve — aside from the Guard, the last major unbloodied body of troops remaining to the French.

Thus began one of the greatest cavalry charges in history. Somewhat obscured by the weather, Murat’s squadrons charged through the Russian infantry around Eylau and then divided into two groups. The group on the right, Grouchy’s dragoons, charged into the flank of the Russian cavalry attacking St Hilaire’s division and scattered them completely. Now led by Murat himself the dragoons wheeled left against the Russian cavalry in the centre and, joined by d’Hautpoult’s cuirassier division drove the Russian cavalry back on their infantry. Fresh Russian cavalry forced Murat and the dragoons to retire, but d’Hautpoult’s cuirassiers broke through everything and the broken Russian were cut to pieces by fresh regiments of cuirassiers. D’Hautpoult then rode through the Russian guns chasing off or sabering the gunners and burst through the first line of Russian infantry trampling a battalion of infantry that attempted to stand. The cuirassiers forced their way through the second line of Russians and only after 2,500 yards did the charge finally expend its force in front of the Russian reserves. A second wave of cavalry consisting of the Guards and Grouchy’s dragoons now charged the Russians as they attempted to reform and also rode through both lines of infantry. Another group charged into the Russian infantry in the area where Augereau’s corps had made its stand. Not content with these heavy blows, the cavalry reformed, wheeled, and charged back again, finally retiring under the protection of the Guard cavalry. Murat had lost 1,000 to 1,500 well-trained troopers, but relieved the pressure on Augereau, Saint-Hilaire, and Soult paralyzing the Russians long enough to allow Davout to deploy in strength. Rarely had French cavalry played such a pivotal part in a battle. In part this was because, for the first time, Murat’s men were now mounted on the best cavalry horses in Europe, freshly requisitioned in the aftermath of the conquest of Prussia.

French lessons of the Great War


A group of 13.2 mm-armed AMR 35s, belonging to 4e RDP, 1re DLM; the vehicle in front, N° 87347, is the second produced and shows the large rosettes typical of this unit from 1938.

The French believed that they had mastered the lessons of the Great War. They, of course, had entered the Great War with one of the most offensive-minded doctrines of any of the combatants and had suffered crippling casualties. Well into 1917 the French army continued to embrace the offensive, but tempered its doctrine. Failures along the Chemin des Dames led to the virtual refusal of some units to adopt anything other than a defensive posture. In 1918, cautious infantry attacks supported by massed artillery and swarms of tanks secured victory. The French, having turned their collective backs on the offensive doctrine of 1914, easily made a transition to a defensive doctrine. As a result, defensive-mindedness shaped French planning, training, and acquisition during the interwar period.

After the Great War, there were occasional calls for the development of a broader mechanized force capable of independent, and possibly offensive, operations. In the mid-1930s, a French army officer, Charles de Gaulle, went so far as to propose the establishment of a small, mechanized, and professional army to supplement the mass army that France had relied on throughout the history of the Third Republic. De Gaulle’s plan was a Gallic version of a somewhat similar proposal in Britain advanced by retired Captain Basil Henry Liddell Hart, who had suggested the conversion of the entire army into a professional mechanized force. While De Gaulle’s call for the development of a professional mechanized army appears reasonable, it was politically unacceptable and demographically and fiscally unrealistic. France was already committed to the development of the Maginot Line (see “The Maginot Line”), and given the lean years—the demographic population hole caused by the casualties suffered during the Great War—there were not enough men to support both forces. As a result, resistance came not only from most of the army’s senior commanders, but also from a broad spectrum of political leaders. Nor were the French people clamoring for such a development. De Gaulle’s proposal, whatever its military virtues, was inconsistent with the concept of a nation in arms and lent itself to offensive operations.

The French army remained committed to the defensive and the 1918 formula—what became known as the “methodical battle.” The high command envisioned tightly controlled engagements marked by heavy reliance on massed artillery and the commitment of infantry offensively, in short bounds, led by heavy support tanks, only when the prospects of victory were overwhelming and the likelihood of casualties much reduced. Given this doctrinal mindset, in combination with the popular revulsion to the horrors of the last war, it was easy for the French to adopt the defensive not solely as a doctrinal posture, but also as national policy.

It would also have been very difficult to alter that doctrine. First, under the French system during the 1920s and the early 1930s, draftees served for only a single year and then entered the reserves. Extensive reliance on the reserves during a general mobilization made it difficult, and disruptive, for the French to stage large-unit maneuvers to test new equipment and doctrine. Thus, the French rarely undertook divisional-level or higher training as often as did the Germans. Nor were the regulars in the army long enough to digest new ideas and concepts. Second, until the advent of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, subsequent German rearmament, and the formation of the first armored panzer divisions in 1935, the French army had no reason to suspect that its doctrine might be inadequate. While the Germans were able to quickly add an additional armored component to an already coherent military doctrine, the French faced the prospect of a veritable chaotic doctrinal and organizational revolution on the eve of crises that could easily lead to war.

Adherence to a predominantly defensive doctrine also had a deleterious impact on the development of French armored forces. For most of the interwar period, French tanks remained under the control of the infantry arm. Only slowly did the other arms participate in a broader mechanization. Nevertheless, by the mid-1930s, the French had developed a fair number of excellent armored fighting vehicles. In 1933, the French formed their first division légère mécanique (DLM), a converted cavalry division equipped with 240 armored cars, tanks, and other motorized vehicles, designed primarily to play a reconnaissance role. (The Germans had yet to form their first panzer, or armored, division.) As stocks permitted, additional cavalry divisions slowly made the conversion to the new mechanized form. When the French published a new doctrinal manual in 1936, the DLMs’ mission expanded to include employment in the main battle itself.

Nevertheless, the heavier French tanks remained committed to infantry support, and the DLMs lacked infantry, possessing only four battalions of motorized dragoons. As a result, when war began in 1939, the French had as many tanks as the Germans, but the tanks were not concentrated in powerful units capable of sustained combat. Not until 1940, after the fall of Poland, did the French hastily form their first division cuirassée de réserve, or armored division. By May 1940, when the Germans struck west, the French had formed three such divisions, with a fourth still forming. Unfortunately, at that time, the French had not yet fully developed a doctrine to employ their armored units.

Nor were many of the French tanks designed for mobile warfare. Most French models were well built and heavily armed and armored, especially compared to German tanks. In some technical respects—electric turret traverse and transmissions—French tanks were superior. But the heavier French models were designed primarily for infantry support during a slow-moving methodical battle. All but command tanks often lacked radios. In some models, tank commanders doubled as gunners. In fast-paced tank-versus-tank actions, French tank commanders quickly found themselves isolated and overwhelmed, unable to maintain a sense of what was happening while simultaneously attempting to sight their gun.

This doctrine also had a negative impact on the development of French infantry. The goal of the methodical battle was to limit friendly casualties through set-piece tactics that relied primarily on artillery and supporting tanks to suppress and destroy enemy positions. Infantry played a tertiary role in this formula. The basic French infantry platoon possessed fewer machine guns and generated far less firepower than its German counterpart. As a result, when the higher-than-expected tempo of operations of the spring of 1940 left French infantry without tank or artillery support, those units were at a severe disadvantage, not only unable to hold off German armor, but also unable to handle German infantry attacks.



French 75 – Mademoiselle Soixante-Quinze





The French industrialist Eugene Schneider began cannon production in 1870 and by the turn of the century commanded an arms empire to rival the German industrial giant Krupp. The Schneider concern employed some 14,000 employees and incorporated company- owned railways and mines as well as a huge factory complex. By the advent of the twentieth century, it could boast more than twenty-five powers across the globe as customers for its output of advanced artillery.

Ironically, the Germans’ confiscation of nearly the entire French artillery arsenal following the Franco-Prussian War forced France to rearm from scratch with the very latest cannon designs. Therefore, by 1875, France boasted some of the best artillery ever fielded. Although a national fervor to avenge the country’s humiliating defeat played no small role in its rapid modernization, France also benefited from the efforts of a number of talented designers. The culmination of these engineers’ experiments along various artillery avenues was eventually combined to create a masterpiece of artillery-the famous “French 75.”

Vechere de Reffye, the commandant of the Meudon Arsenal, played a critical role in the evolution of modern, rapidly loaded field pieces. Basing his efforts on an earlier U. S. model, Reffye worked extensively in perfecting a breech mechanism using the interrupted screw principle. Reffeye’s breech consisted of a heavy steel block threaded to mate with the rear of the gun barrel. The incorporation of a number of smooth slots milled through the screw threads of both the block and the breech of the piece then allowed the hinged block to fit snugly into the breech, where it was locked by a quick one-quarter turn of the breech handle. Reffye also advocated the use of metallic cartridges containing powder, primer, and projectile in one unit. The advantages of such a cartridge, he maintained, were numerous, including consistently measured and waterproof powder, as well as ease of loading. The brass cases he recommended also expanded when fired, providing effective obturation; also, as the cases incorporated a self-contained primer, there was no need to drill a vent in the breechblock, weakening it structurally.

During the 1870s, Colonel C. Ragnon de Bange, head ordnance engineer of the Société des Anciens Établissements Cail in Paris, built on Reffeye’s work in designing breech mechanisms more suitable for heavier artillery pieces. De Bange’s breech mechanism also relied on the interrupted screw principle yet did not employ fixed metallic cases, as the French saw them as overly expensive for use in heavy guns and howitzers. As de Bange’s system used powder bags, he addressed the obturation problem by using an asbestos pad on the breech face that compressed upon firing, thus sealing the gap between the block and rear of the barrel. During the last quarter of the century, General Hippolyte Langlois emerged as a visionary theorist who expounded on the possibilities of maneuverable quick-firing field artillery. In his 1892 book Field A rtillery in Cooperation with Other Arms, Langlois advocated the development and deployment of relatively small caliber rifled breechloaders using metal cartridges that could be deployed rapidly to deliver a rafale, or “squall,” of intense fire at decisive moments on the field.

Other technological breakthroughs also contributed to the French advances during the period that, when combined, would culminate in a true masterpiece of artillery design. These included the invention of a safer and more powerful nitrocellulose-based smokeless powder by Paul Eugene Vielle. Christened Poudre B in honor of France’s minister of war, General Boulanger, it was, in turn, followed by the improved BN, or Blanche Nouvelle (New White), powder. By 1898, General George-Raymond Desaleux had also developed a high-explosive, more aerodynamically stable “boat-tailed” projectile code-named Obus D, or “Shell D.” The combination of Poudre B with a metal case and the Shell D afforded the French a highly efficient round suitable for Langlois’s ideal field gun-the French 75.

Affectionately christened Mademoiselle Soixante-Quinze (Miss Seventy-five) by the French and later U.S. gunners who crewed it, the French 75 became one of the most famous artillery pieces of all time. It was adopted by France in 1897, by the United States in 1917, and remained in service with the former until that country’s fall in 1943; it was used by other, smaller nations into the 1950s. Having learned that recent Krupp recoil reduction experiments had proved unsuccessful, the French director of artillery, General Charles P. Mathieu, directed that a development program be set up to design a quick-fire 75mm gun as envisioned by Langlois. He subsequently assigned the project to Colonel Albert Deport, director of the Chatillon-Commentry Gunfoundry at Puteaux, where the development process was carried out in strictest secrecy.

Deport began by appropriating a number of features from an earlier 57mm gun developed in 1889 by Captain Sainte-Claire Deville. These included an improved caisson, seats for the crew, a steel gun shield to protect crewmen from small arms fire and shrapnel, a removable rear sight, and a collimator-a telescopic direct-fire sight. For the breech mechanism, the design team adopted a design incorporating a simple rotating eccentric disk-shaped breechblock designed by Thorsten Nordenfelt of Société Nordenfelt. The block itself was manufactured with a milled cutout that, when the unit was rotated up, allowed loading. A one-half turn downward then closed the breech, with the metallic cartridge providing self-obduration.

Although they had been ingeniously combined, the French 75 thus incorporated features that were already available and used in various other artillery pieces. The greatest obstacle facing the designers lay in neutralizing the gun’s recoil and automatically returning its barrel to its original position. They approached the problem with what came to be known as the “long recoil” system, consisting of a piston attached to the lower rear of the gun barrel and two gas and oil-filled piston tubes mounted to the carriage. Upon firing, the barrel and its piston moved violently rearward to compress the oil in the upper tube, or “buffer,” to force oil into the lower tube, or “recuperator,” and thus control its recoil. At the point of extreme recoil, the tapered “throttling rod” attached to the rear of the floating piston in the recuperator sealed a diaphragm to shut off the oil flow to the lower piston. This action also further compressed nitrogen gas contained under pressure in the recuperator, thus providing the energy to return the gun barrel to its firing position.

The first prototypes were finished in 1894, but tests revealed that their recoil systems did not perform as originally desired. Captain Emile Rimailho and Captain Sainte-Claire Deville, however, continued to perfect the recoil system until the project culminated in 1897. In addition to its many advanced features and recoil system, the new Model 1897 also incorporated carriage innovations that further lessened its recoil. Although still mounted on conventional wood-spoked, iron-tired wheels, its three-point suspension’s wheel brakes and trail spade (a blade attached to the end of the trail as an anchor) provided unprecedented stability. It was also capable of independent tube traversal and elevation.

The Schneider concern and the Bourges Arsenal, the primary French ordnance facility southeast of Paris, manufactured the French 75 for the French government and its allies. It entered service in 1898, and some 1,100 were in use by 1914. Its hydraulic long-recoil system virtually eliminated recoil, and with its eccentric screw breech it made possible a firing rate of up to 20 rounds a minute-a rate that increased to 30 when fitted with a semiautomatic breech mechanism. Moreover, the Model 1897’s maximum range approached 5 miles.

The French 75mm barrel was 106 inches in length, and the weapon’s overall weight was 2,560 pounds. It was capable of elevation ranging from -11 to +18 degrees and could traverse up to 6 degrees. It fired a 15.9-pound shrapnel shell at a muzzle velocity of 1,735 feet per second to a maximum range of 9,300 yards.

The French 75 was first used by French forces in China during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion and quickly proved its superior mobility and high rate of fire. Its success alarmed the other major powers, initiating an arms race that resulted in their development and adoption of quick- fire field pieces of 75mm to 77mm calibers by 1906. France and the United States later improved the original design by replacing its early stock trail carriage with a split trail and adding pneumatic rubber tires. These additions boosted the gun’s maximum range up to 7 miles.

Battle of Friedland, the decisive battle of the campaign of 1807.


Napoleon Watching The Battle Of Friedland 1807




A major engagement between French forces under Napoleon and the Russian army under General Levin Bennigsen Friedland was the decisive battle of the campaign of 1807. Following the bloody stalemate at Eylau in February, the Russian and French armies spent the spring recuperating and preparing for a new round of fighting. The Russians launched their offensive on 5 June, threatening Marshal Michel Ney’s corps around Guttstädt. However, the Russian attack was poorly executed, allowing Ney to make a fighting retreat to the Passarge River. Napoleon quickly concentrated his forces at Deppen on the Passarge and counterattacked on 7 June, driving the Russians out of Guttstädt. Three days later, the French attacked the Russian fortified camp at Heilsberg and suffered heavy casualties. However, Bennigsen feared a flanking maneuver by Napoleon and ordered further retreat toward the Russian frontier.

Late on the afternoon of 13 June, the Russian advance guard approached Friedland and found it already occupied by the advance guard of Marshal Jean Lannes’s corps. After a cavalry skirmish, the Russians carried the town and established a cavalry screen on the left bank of the river Alle. The French prisoners indicated that only Lannes’s advance guard was some 2 miles from Friedland waiting for the rest of V Corps to arrive. The leading units of the main Russian army arrived after 8:00 P. M., and Bennigsen moved General Dmitry Dokhturov’s 7th and 8th Divisions to the left bank to support the Russian Imperial Guard and cavalry already deployed there. During the night, the rest of the army concentrated on the right bank. Bennigsen initially did not intend to give battle around Friedland but wanted to secure his march northward to Wehlau, whence he planned to attack Napoleon’s flank and rear if the French advanced to Königsberg.

Bennigsen was exhausted and in poor health, so on the evening of 13 June he left the army to spend the night in a town house in Friedland. He had barely received any rest when, at 11:00 P. M., he was informed that General Nicolas Oudinot’s troops were deployed near Postehnen. Concerned about his positions, Bennigsen moved additional troops across the river and took up positions near the forest of Sortlach. By late evening there were some 25,000 Russians on the left bank of the Alle. Furthermore, that same evening two pontoon bridges were constructed, and additional forces moved to the left bank to secure the flanks. Ataman Matvei Platov’s Cossacks, supported by the Preobrazhensky Guard, the cavalry of the Guard, Finnish Dragoons, and Oliovopol Hussars, were dispatched northward to seize crossing sites at Allenburg and on the Pregel River. Bennigsen moved most of his cavalry to the left flank and posted Prince Peter Bagration with his advance guard on the left. Thus, the Russian troops were deployed in a half-circle around Friedland. This position was extremely unfavorable for several reasons. First, a deep ravine, Muhlen Teich, in the center divided the Russian forces into two parts and complicated communications between them. Second, the troops were deployed on marshy terrain with their backs to the Alle. In case of defeat, the Russians could escape only through the narrow streets and across one small wooden bridge and three pontoon bridges at Friedland. No attempt was made to reconnoiter the river for fords or to examine the terrain on the flanks.

Late on the night of 13 June, Lannes learned about the Russian occupation of Friedland. He instructed Oudinot to reconnoiter the Russian positions and to recapture the town if he found himself faced only by small Russian detachments. Oudinot reached Postehnen, where he encountered a Russian cavalry screen and observed the enemy main columns in the distance. As he was reading Oudinot’s report, Lannes also received instructions from Napoleon to prevent Bennigsen from crossing the Alle and was told that General Emmanuel marquis de Grouchy was en route with his dragoon division to reinforce V Corps for this mission. Around midnight, Lannes received reinforcements, increasing his forces to some 13,000 men. He deployed these troops between Postehnen and Heinrichsdorf, with the light cavalry deployed on the right flank and Grouchy’s dragoons kept in reserve near Postehnen.

Some time after 2:00 A. M., Oudinot, supported by General François Ruffin’s troops, reached Postehnen and engaged the Russian outposts in the woods of Sortlach. The fighting rapidly grew intense, and an hour later Grouchy arrived with his cavalry; he was initially driven back by the numerically superior Russian cavalry, but new French reinforcements (Dutch cavalry of General Adolphe Mortier’s corps) arrived and forced the Russians back. Simultaneously, General Andrey Gorchakov’s troops advanced toward Heinrichsdorf, forcing Lannes to shift part of his cavalry to the right flank. The fighting continued for the next three hours, in the course of which Heinrichsdorf changed hands several times.

On the Russian left flank, Bagration arrived at Sortlach shortly after 3:00 A. M. and deployed his infantry in two lines. In addition, he deployed most of his Jäger regiments (some 3,000 men) as skirmishers in the woods of Sortlach; two battalions, five squadrons, and four guns were placed behind them as reserves and another two battalions, five squadrons, and four guns were placed at Sortlach. As the French attacked, the fighting on the left flank was particularly violent as the French tirailleurs (skirmishers) and Bagration’s Jäger regiments stubbornly contested the ground in the woods. Bagration launched a series of attacks against Oudinot, but French grenadiers repulsed him each time. The 9th Hussars and the Saxon cavalry also counterattacked but suffered heavy losses.

Lannes skillfully used the terrain and protected his troops with a dense screen of skirmishers in the woods. He had mobile columns moving between the lines to create the illusion of arriving reinforcements. He was already told that Napoleon was hurrying with the rest of the army, so he had to pin down Bennigsen for as long as possible. Bennigsen ordered more troops to cross the Alle to support forces already there. The Russian troops crossed the river and, by 9:00 A. M., Bennigsen had most of his cavalry deployed on the right flank, supported by the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Divisions; Gorchakov commanded these forces. On the left flank, the 1st and 2nd Divisions reinforced Bagration. The 14th Division and the Imperial Guard were kept in reserve.

Around 7:00 A. M. Bagration launched another assault. He spread General Nikolay Rayevsky’s 20th Jägers in a skirmish line and arranged the Life Guard Jäger Regiment, with the Rostov Musketeers in reserve, in two columns behind them. A battalion of the 20th Jägers, spearheaded the attack. In hand-to-hand combat, the Life Guard Jägers captured three officers and forty-eight men, but lost two officers and six men themselves. As the French counterattacked, Bagration committed the Moscow Grenadiers, the Pskov Musketeers, and the Alexandria Hussars and deployed Colonel Aleksey Ermolov’s horse artillery battery. The 3rd and 7th Jäger Regiments were ordered to hold their ground in the center while the 5th Jägers remained at Sortlach. Bagration also instructed Rayevsky to disengage the 20th and Life Guard Jägers and rally them in the valley behind the forest. The Jägers slowly retreated, pursued by the French, who stopped on the edge of the woods and continued harassing the Russian lines.

At the same time, Oudinot moved part of his division to seize Sortlach on Bagration’s left, but he was beaten back by the 5th Jäger Regiment. Simultaneously, Rayevsky rallied his troops (20th Jägers and Life Guard Jägers) on the plain behind the Sortlach woods. The French cavalry soon charged him there, but a squadron of the Life Guard Horse Regiment drove them back. Early in the morning, Bagration called up General Karl Baggovut’s detachment. He wanted to make a decisive attack to clear and secure the woods, where Oudinot’s grenadiers had found good positions from which to harass Bagration’s troops. Bagration deployed the 26th Jägers in line, followed by the 4th and 25th Jägers in column. The Russians overwhelmed Oudinot’s troops and drove them out of the Sortlach. To secure his position in the forest, Bagration reinforced Baggovut with a battalion of Olonetsk militia.

Hearing of this success, Bennigsen ordered the rest of his army to adjust the line with the front held by Bagration’s troops. As a result, the Russians advanced 1,000 paces. At the same time, several major cavalry actions took place around Heinrichsdorf, where regular cavalry under General Fedor Uvarov and the Cossacks threatened to envelop the French flank. However, the cavalry of I and VI Corps arrived in time to repulse the Russians and secure the flank. Shortly after 9:00 A. M., Mortier’s corps also arrived on the battlefield near Heinrichsdorf in time to counter a new Russian attack.

It was an important moment in the battle. Unable to defeat Lannes’s corps, Bennigsen could have recalled his army and safely retreated across the Alle before Napoleon’s entire army arrived. However, he decided to remain at Friedland, though he took no precautions to protect his exposed army.

The Russian troops, already exhausted by the previous days’ marches and the early fighting, lapsed into a brief lull between 2:00 and 5:00 P. M. Both sides exchanged artillery fire, but no major actions took place. Bagration, meantime, met Bennigsen in Friedland and turned his attention to the arrival of the French corps. He urged Bennigsen to take measures to strengthen the positions around Friedland. Furthermore, Bagration anticipated that Napoleon would direct a main attack against his flank, so he requested more reinforcements; his appeals were all turned down. Finally, shortly after 4:00 P. M., Bennigsen observed the French corps taking up new positions from which to attack and realized the danger to his exposed army. He ordered a retreat, but Gorchakov argued it was better to defend the current positions until night. Bagration disagreed with this suggestion and began preparing his troops to withdraw to Friedland.

Napoleon, meanwhile, was rapidly concentrating his corps at Friedland. He personally arrived near the town shortly before noon, declaring to his troops “Today is a happy day-it is the anniversary of Marengo” (Chandler 1966, 577). Examining the Russian positions, he realized that he had a chance of destroying the Russian army in a single battle. He urged Ney, General Claude Victor, and the Imperial Guard to accelerate their march to the battlefield as he prepared new dispositions for the battle. He rested his troops in the woods of Sortlach and made sure they had enough ammunition. He then placed Victor’s troops and part of the cavalry in reserve near Postehnen. On the left flank, Mortier’s corps, supported by most of the French cavalry, defended Heinrichsdorf and the road to Königsberg. However, Mortier was instructed not to advance, as the movement would be by the French right flank, pivoting on the left. Napoleon had two corps designed for this flanking attack. Ney was ordered to move to the right flank, passing Postehnen toward the woods of Sortlach. Lannes would form the center in front of Postehnen, while Oudinot’s troops were to turn to the left in order to draw upon themselves the attention of the enemy. Napoleon’s planned maneuver was aimed at destroying the bridges at Friedland and cutting the Russian line of retreat.

At 5:30 P. M. a salvo of twenty French guns signaled the renewal of battle. Ney’s corps advanced from Postehnen to the woods of Sortlach, where Bagration had posted his Jägers. After an hour of vicious fighting, Bagration had to withdraw his exhausted Jägers, allowing the French to occupy the woods and open fire on his main forces. Ney organized his troops in columns in three broad clearings in the forest; General Jean Gabriel Marchand’s division was on the right, General Baptiste Bisson on the left with the cavalry of General Marie- Charles Latour-Maubourg following them behind. The superior French forces drove Bagration’s Jägers out of the woods and carried Sortlach, which was partly abandoned on Bagration’s orders. As the French advanced, several Russian batteries on the right bank opened fire at them, while Bagration deployed his troops in new positions. He then moved the Life Guard Ismailovsk and Semeyonovsk Regiments forward.

The advancing French came under fire from Bagration’s troops and from the batteries on the opposite bank. General Alexandre Antoine Senarmont, chief of artillery of Victor’s corps, later recalled that the Russian batteries, deployed on the opposite side of the Alle, fired on the French flanks and decimated them. Bagration initially counterattacked with the Life Guard Horse Regiment and then moved the Pavlovsk and St. Petersburg Grenadier Regiments forward. The Russians drove the French columns back and captured the eagle of the 69th Line in the process. Ney’s troops fell back in confusion but were quickly rallied when General Pierre Dupont moved his division with the cavalry under generals Armand Lahoussaye and Antoine Auguste Durosnel closely behind. The Russian cavalry continued its attack but came under fire from Dupont’s batteries and was counterattacked by Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry. As the Russians fell back, Dupont changed the direction of his troops to the right and covered the gap on Ney’s left.

Simultaneously, Senarmont moved his twelve guns forward and organized two companies of fifteen guns, with six pieces in reserve, and placed them on both flanks of Dupont’s division. As the French advanced, Senarmont outpaced the infantry and opened fire on Bagration’s troops from close range. The fire was very effective because the Russians were massed in a narrow defile between the Muhlen Teich and the Alle. Realizing the danger of these batteries, Bagration directed his artillery against them. Senarmont disregarded the Russian artillery and concentrated his fire on the enemy infantry. His guns initially fired at 600 paces, then moved to 300 paces; Senarmont’s guns operated with remarkable intensity, firing over 3,000 rounds into the Russian troops. Bagration sent his cavalry to destroy the French guns, but Senarmont calmly awaited their advance before ordering canister fire, which in the event literally mowed down the enemy ranks. The Russians then attacked with the Life Guard Izmailovsk and Pavlovsk Grenadier Regiments, but the French fire virtually wiped out these regiments as well; the third battalion of the Izmailovsk Regiment lost some 400 men out of 520. Realizing the utter futility of his orders, Bagration finally fell back to Friedland, where he unsuccessfully attempted to delay the French advance. By 8:00 P. M. Bagration had withdrawn into Friedland and had the houses in the southern suburbs set on fire to slow down the French. At the same time, as he approached the river, Bagration found the bridges had already been set ablaze by the Russians.

On the Russian right flank, Gorchakov made a desperate assault with his four divisions on Lannes and Mortier. The French contained General Dmitry Golitsyn’s efforts with the support of the cavalry of the Imperial Guard. However, senior French commanders did not exploit their numerical superiority in cavalry (forty squadrons against twenty-five) and allowed the Russians to retreat. The French artillery on the left bank of the Muhlen Teich soon engaged Gorchakov’s forces in flank. The arrival of Gorchakov’s troops in the crowded streets of Friedland created havoc at the bridges, which were already on fire. Bagration and Gorchakov dispatched numerous officers to look for fords along the river, which were quickly found.

The Battle of Friedland was the final engagement of a long campaign. The Russian army had suffered a crushing defeat and could not field another army. The casualties were staggering, as the Russians lost some 20,000 killed and wounded; the French lost 7,000-8,000. Bennigsen had undertaken some effective operations in the early months of 1807, but he committed a fatal blunder at Friedland. Furthermore, the Russian high command played virtually no role in the battle, since Bennigsen was in poor health, his quartermaster general, Fadey Steingeldt, and his duty general, Ivan Essen, were wounded and unavailable for duty, and the Russian headquarters were full of incompetent officers and observers.

Friedland was a decisive military and diplomatic victory for Napoleon. It proved the superiority of French military organization: A single corps had repulsed attacks of the Russian army and allowed the rest of the French to concentrate for a counterattack. It put an end to the Fourth Coalition and led to rapprochement between Russia and France. The meeting between Napoleon and Tsar Alexander at Tilsit and the subsequent treaty of alliance was a direct result of this victory. In addition, Napoleon spread his sphere of influence to the territory between the Oder and the Niemen rivers and found eager supporters in Poland.

References and further reading Both, Carl von. 1807. Relation de la bataille de Friedland le 14 juin 1807. Berlin: Schropp. Chandler, David G. 1995. The Campaigns of Napoleon. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Derode, M. 1839. Nouvelle relation de la bataille de Friedland. Paris: Anselin et Laguionie. Grenier, E. 1911. Etude sur 1807: Manoeuvres d’Eylau et Friedland. Paris: Lavauzelle. Horne, Alistair. 1979. Napoleon, Master of Europe: 1805-1807. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Lettow-Vorbeck, Oscar von. 1896. Der krieg von 1806 und 1807. Berlin: Mittler und Sohn. Michel, Lt. Col. 1909. Etude sur la période du 5 au 14 juin de la campagne de 1807. Paris: Berger-Levrault. Mikhailovsky-Danilevsky, Alexander. 1846. Opisanie vtoroi voini Imperatora Aleksandra s Napoleonom v 1806-1807 godakh [Description of the Second War of the Emperor Alexander against Napoleon in 1806-1807]. St. Petersburg: N. p. Petre, F. Loraine. 2001. Napoleon’s Campaign in Poland, 1806-07. London: Greenhill. Summerville, Christopher. 2005. Napoleon’s Polish Gamble: Eylau and Friedland, 1807. London: Leo Cooper.


The French Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, has announced that the launch of the Joint Light Helicopter (Hélicoptere Interarmées Léger; HIL) programme has been brought forward to 2021. The HIL programme, for which the Airbus Helicopters’ H160 was selected in 2017, was initially scheduled for launch in 2022 by the current military budget law. Launching the programme earlier will enable delivery of the first H160Ms to the French Armed Forces to be advanced to 2026. During a visit to the Airbus Helicopters headquarters, the Minister also revealed the full-scale mock-up of the H160M that will be presented on the Ministry of the Armed Forces stand at the next Paris Air Show. The helicopter was also given its official name and will be designated as “Guépard” (“Cheetah”) by the French Armed Forces. The H160 was designed to be a modular helicopter, enabling its military version, with a single platform, to perform missions ranging from commando infiltration to air intercept, fire support, and anti-ship warfare in order to meet the needs of the army, the navy and the air force through the HIL programme. Built around a platform that will enter service next year, the HIL programme will benefit from many of the advantages inherent in the civil H160, particularly in terms of support, with simplified maintenance and lower operating costs than the previous generation of helicopters in this category.

The first examples will go to the French Army, followed by the French Navy in 2028 and then the French Air Force. The army is set to receive 80 examples, the navy 49 and the air force 40. Certification of the 1,280shp (941kW) Safran Arrano engine was completed last June. Further developments have included modifications to the airframe and addition of new Thales FlytX avionics. Under the nose of the mock-up on display at Donauwörth was a Safran Euroflir 410 and a Thales three-podded tactical radar. The naval version will have folding rotor blades and reinforced landing gear. Armament will include the MBDA Sea Venom anti-ship missile and the HForce kit with 12.7mm calibre machine guns and capacity for laserguided rockets and 20mm cannon. Cabin-mounted armament could include a pintle-mounted 7.62mm calibre machine gun or sniper rifle.

H160M Guepard joint light helicopter design and features

H160M is a military version of the H160 medium-lift utility helicopter, which was first unveiled at the Heli-Expo show held in Orlando, Florida, US, in March 2015. Based on a civil platform, the H160M will ensure simplified maintenance and reduced operating costs than the old-generation of rotorcraft in its class.

The modular design of the H160 also allows for the integration of mission systems to configure the H160M platform for deployment in multiple missions.

The H160M will feature a composite fuselage to achieve weight reductions and fuel savings. It will be equipped with cutting-edge technologies such as Blue Edge five-bladed main rotor, which can reduce the acoustic signature by 50% and increase the lift by 100kg when compared to conventional rotor blades.

The helicopter will also feature a Spheriflex bearingless main rotor hub, which is designed to minimise weight and optimise damage tolerance. Its main rotor will have a diameter of 13.4m. The tail assembly will include a canted Fenestron anti-torque tail rotor.

H160M’s undercarriage will feature a tricycle-type landing gear with a nose unit and two main units. The nose wheel will be fitted with twin wheels, while the main units will be installed with a single wheel unit each.

The helicopter can be armed with MBDA’s Sea Venom (ANL) anti-ship missiles (ASMs) to perform anti-ship warfare missions. The over-the-horizon missile can engage targets within the range of 20km.

H160M’s cockpit will accommodate up to two crew members. It will be equipped with the Helionix avionics suite, which integrates up to four multi-functional displays.

The spacious cabin offers an internal volume of more than 7m³ and can house up to 12 armed personnel.

The H160 Guepard will be powered by two Safran Arrano turboshaft engines supplied by Safran Helicopter Engines. The engine will feature a two-stage centrifugal compressor, a reverse-flow combustion chamber, and a single-stage power turbine. It is expected to deliver a maximum power output of 1,300hp.

The power-plant will reduce fuel consumption by 15% when compared to its counterparts and will also increase the payload-range performance of the H160M. The time between overhauls (TBO) of the Safran Arrano engine is 5,000 hours.

The French armed forces are to procure 169 H160Ms as part of the Hélicoptere Interarmées Léger (Joint Light Helicopter) programme, which will replace older rotary fleets across all three services

Gazelle Helicopters in service with the French Army

A total of 340 Gazelles were procured for the Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre (ALAT), 171 SA.341Fs with the Turboméca Astazou IIIC turboshaft, which entered service in 1969, and 161 of the later SA.342M that was a dedicated anti-tank variant with the more powerful Turboméca Astazou XIVH engine.

The SA.341Fs ended up being modified to three different configurations. Sixty-two were converted to support gunships with an SFOM 80 sight and a fixed GIAT M621 20 mm cannon mounted on the left, designated SA.341F/Cannon. Forty were converted to anti-armour gunships with an SFIM optical sight above the cockpit and armed with four HOT anti-tank missiles (ATMs) on pylons, designated SA.341M. They could also be equipped with two rocket launchers for eight SNEB 68 mm EAP unguided rockets. Many of the rest of the SA.341Fs were configured as unarmed scouts with an SFIM M334 Athos sight.

Gazelles could be fitted with an upturned exhaust diffuser to reduce the helicopter’s infrared (IR) signature from heat-seeking missiles and sand filters for desert warfare. Some Gazelles were later updated with the advanced composite rotor blades of the Aérospatiale Écureuil helicopter.

The ALAT obtained a variant of the SA.342L that featured an improved Fenestron tail rotor and was powered by the 859-shp (641-kW) Astazou XIVM engine for improved hot and high operations. Designated the SA.342M, it first flew on 11 May 1973. The SA.342M featured a revised instrument panel, a SFIM PA 85G autopilot, Sextant Avionique Nadir self-contained navigation system and Decca 80 Doppler night-flying equipment.

Fitted with an M397 optical sight, the SA.342M could carry up to 1,540 lbs (700 kg) weapons payload that included four or six Euromissile HOT or Aérospatiale AS11 short-range, wired-guided ATMs, 7.62-mm machine guns or a 20-mm GIAT M621 single-barrel revolver cannon mounted on the skids or on external weapons pylons. Up to seventy were upgraded in the 1990s with a SAGEM Viviane stabilised direct view/IR/laser roof-mounted sight to allow night firing of HOT missiles, designated as SA.342M1 Gazelle Viviane. Thirty were retrofitted with the Astazou XIV M2 turboshaft, designated SA.342M ATAMs, and were armed with four Matra/MBDA Mistral air-to-air missiles (AAMs) that were first fired from a Gazelle in 1990 with a Sextant T2000 sight.

By the mid-1980s a number of the Escadrille d’Hélicoptères Légères (EHL) of the ALAT’s Régiment d’Hélicopteres Anti-char (RHC) were each fully equipped with ten Gazelles. These included 1 and 2 EHLs of 5 RHC with SA.341F Gazelles for liaison and forward observation based at Pau in the south of France, and 6 RHC with 1 EHL with SA.341F Gazelles and 2 Escadrille d’Hélicoptères Anti-char (EHA) with SA.342M Gazelles with HOT for anti-tank duties based at Compiègne.

Other major units were the Groupes d’Hélicoptères Légères (GHL)s that carried out liaison duties with the Gazelle. These included 11 GHL at Nancy/Essay and 12 GHL at Trier, each with three EHLs equipped, and 13 GHL at Lers Mueaux with one EHL each equipped with ten SA.341F Gazelles

The ALAT training system started at the École de Spécialisation de l’ALAT (ESALAT) at Dax, where SA.341F Gazelles were used for basic training. At the Groupement ALAT de la Section Technique de l’Armée de Terre (GALSTA) at Valence, experienced co-pilots could qualify as captains on the SA.341F. The École d’Application d’ALAT (EAALAT) at Luc/Le Cannet carried out instrument and tactical training with fifteen SA.341F Gazelles, and later SA.342Ms. Smaller Gazelle units included the Escadrille ALAT de l’Armée (EALAT 1A) at Baden-Oos, the Escadrille de la Direction Centrale du Matérial (EDCM) at Bourges and the Escadrille de l’Ergm Alat (EERGM) at Montaubin.

During the Cold War, ALAT regiments were part of larger airmobile units. The 4th Division Aéromobile (4 DAM), which was created in 1985, specialised in airmobile combat within the French Rapid Reaction Force. It was set up to conduct autonomous combat operations and stood ready to engage WARPAC armoured units if they launched an attack on the West from beyond the Iron Curtain.

ALAT SA.341F/SA.342Ms were deployed to Operation Desert Storm from 4 DAM/5 RHC with Task Force Alpha based in Saudi Arabia, close to the Iraqi border. As part of the French Operation Daguet, the Gazelles supported the French Army during the brief ground phase of the war in February 1991, destroying a number of Iraqi tanks with HOT missiles. The 4 DAM was disbanded in 1995.

In February 1997, Ploče Airfield in Croatia became a French-led Multinational Army Aviation Battalion of Multinational Division – Southeast (MND–SE) of the NATO-led Stabilisation Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina (SFOR). The base operated the French Bataillon de l’Aviation légère de l’Armée de Terre, or BATALAT, with four SA.330 Pumas and four SA.342M/M1 Gazelles until November 2002.

Helicopters from 4 RFHS are frequently deployed to the French Navy’s Mistral-class Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs) as part of a Helicopter Strike Group. Training is focused on all aspects of helicopter operations from an LHD, including low-level navigation over the sea in radio silence and day and night deck landings in all weathers. In 2010 Gazelles from the LHD FS Tonnerre deployed to Operation Atalanta, the EU anti-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa, fired missiles at a Somali pirate mother ship.

During Operation Harmattan, the 2011 Libyan campaign, LHDs FS Mistral and Tonnerre launched a series of daring ALAT helicopter raids to destroy hostile armour hidden in the desert. Gazelle and Tiger attack helicopters took off for a series of night missions, during which the Gazelles fired 431 HOT anti-tank missiles at a large number of targets, including armoured vehicles and artillery positions.

The annual Jeanne d’Arc exercise is a five-month amphibious deployment that takes a French LHD and its Helicopter Strike Group to the Far East, during which the vessel conducts multilateral exercises to develop cooperation and knowledge of this area of deployment. The ports of call provide an opportunity to strengthen defence ties with Djibouti, India, Singapore, Vietnam, China, Japan and Australia during the 24,000-mile (40,800-km) round trip.

The ALAT’s permanent DETALAT based in Djibouti fulfils a crucial mission for the projection of the French forces in the Horn of Africa and its helicopters have accumulated more than 90,000 flight hours since 1977. It is currently equipped with four SA.330B Puma helicopters and two SA.342M Gazelle/HOT helicopters. Djibouti is the ideal location for tactical training in a desert environment; the nights are very dark in Djibouti, providing ideal conditions for NVG operations. The DETALAT regularly supports the 5eme Régiment Interarmes d’Outre Mer (5e RIAOM), which is a French marine regiment stationed in Djibouti that carried out joint exercises with the Armée de l’Air 1/88 Corse fighter squadron of Mirage 2000s.

The ALAT’s Bataillon Mousquetaire 5 (BATHELICO) is located at the ISAF base at Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan. The battalion was deployed in June 2012 until December 2014 with four Gazelles and four Tigers to undertake ground attack, close combat air support, escort, reconnaissance and overwatch duties. During the deployment, the Gazelles conducted 7,000 flight hours during 5,000 missions and fired some sixty HOT guided missiles in support of ground troops or in the destruction of ‘high-value targets’, including weapons caches and vehicles.

Operation Barkhane was launched in August 2014 as the successor to the French Operation Serval, which began in January 2013 against Islamist terrorists in northern Mali with twenty-eight ALAT helicopters, including eight HOT-armed Gazelle Vivianes based at Gao Airport. At the same time the ALAT deployed another four Gazelles and six Pumas out of its base at Bangul in the Central African Republic as part of Operation Sangaris. The helicopters in the theatre were used to escort convoys, perform reconnaissance missions and, when necessary, to combine forces with ground troops. The helicopters spend days far away from their home base, moving between locations in the field with the ground troops. France ended this operation in October 2016, while Operation Barkhane continued into 2019.

In July 2016, 1, 3 and 5 Régiment d’Hélicoptères de Combat were formed based at Phalsbourg, Étain and Pau respectively and currently operate a total of seven Escadrilles equipped with Gazelle Vivianes. Also based at Pau is 4 Régiment d’Hélicoptères des Forces Spéciales with one flight equipped with Gazelles. In the field, 4 RHFS aircrews operate in small detachments, each comprising a Gazelle and Puma. Air and ground crew train in all environments – arctic, desert, mountain, jungle and at sea. A Gazelle can deliver a team of two combat swimmers close to a hostile shore or river estuary to carry out undercover reconnaissance and sabotage.

Equipped with twenty-three SA.342M Gazelles, 3 RHS is taking the lead in ALAT Manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) trials of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear operations. In 2018 its aircraft were deployed to the Sahel region of Chad, Mali and Niger, Djibouti and the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, while its base at Étain is now part of the future CAP HNG 2021 project, which includes opening up to civil and commercial aviation and the renewal of infrastructure, facilities and equipment.

Six of the 3 RHS Gazelles were also modified to carry out trials of a new multi-functional information system, two of which were deployed to the Système d’Information Terminal de l’Aviation Légère de l’Armée de Terre (SIT-ALAT), while another two were deployed to the Central Africa Republic (CAR). A GPS tracker gives a real-time 3D view of the battlefield to the crew of the helicopter, with all the information being displayed on a single screen, giving the patrol leader the position of each of his operational elements and the real-time tactical situation. This information is accessible not only by aircrews but also by the chain of command. Mission planners can customise maps with additional data as the enemy positions, undercover corridors and other strategic elements and all this data can be updated during the mission.

The data can be downloaded for after action reviews (AARs). This modern tool has been designed to be compatible with the next generation of helicopters, as well as the Tiger and the NH90 Caiman, and will be compatible with the new Système d’Information du Combat Scorpion (SICS) that will be one of the main components of the French Army’s next generation of land vehicles.

The SIT-ALAT system is the most significant element of the Gazelle’s current upgrade programme, which will allow it to remain relevant despite the age of the platform. A total of fifty-eight SA.342M1 and twenty-three SA.342MAs, which are used for crew training and as an airborne sniper platform equipped with the M134 Gatling MiniGun, are being fitted with the SIT-ALAT system. The ALAT is also modernising its Gazelle helicopter fleet to meet the ICAO standards that regulate aviation across the world. As a consequence of the legal aspects of coalition-led operations, they will also receive the Système d’Enregistrement en Vol d’Images Référencées (SEVIR) system, which provides real-time recording of all gun and missile firing actions.

More than 100 SA.342L/M Gazelles remained in ALAT service in 2018, plus another twenty SA.341Fs in secondary roles. They are intended to remain in service for at least another decade before being fully replaced in the scouting and anti-tank missions by the EC665 Tiger HAD and the future light helicopter, the H160M.

Airbus Helicopters is working with the French Ministry of Defence to develop the H160M, which was selected to fulfil a French Armed Forces tri-service requirement for almost 170 rotorcraft. In April 2017, the H160M was selected by France as the basis for its hélicoptère interarmées léger (HIL) programme, which seeks to replace multiple fleets of aged types, including the SA.342 Gazelle, which will be a hard act to follow. A firm contract to officially launch the H160M is expected in 2022, supporting first deliveries after 2025.