5-6 July 1809

The Napoleonic Guide's Suggested Tours

1809 Danube Campaign Battles Map

Six weeks after his near-disaster at Aspern-Essling, Napoleon Bonaparte was ready to have another go at the Austrians.

Having learnt from his previous mistake of trying to move across the Danube with just a single bridge as a precarious lifeline, Bonaparte ensured his base, Lobau Island, was well fortified and linked to the south bank of the river by three guarded spans.

Next a pontoon bridge was used to bridge the river to the enemy-held north bank and, taking advantage of the bad weather, the French vanguard moved across only a few kilometres to the east of Aspern-Essling.

The move caught the over-confident Austrians napping and they failed to use their numbers, some 155,000 men, against the French bridgehead.

Within hours, Bonaparte had a massive area under his control and it would have been even bigger had not a counterattack from Archduke Charles and his grenadiers halted French progress.

But Charles had his tail up and early the next morning attacked a key position at Anderklaa, pushing back Marshal Bernadotte's Saxons. A furious Bonaparte sacked the marshal on the spot and sent him away from the army. The next time they met on a battlefield would be on opposite sides.

More Austrian attacks had the vital bridges to Lobau under threat and it was looking as if, once again, Bonaparte had manouevred his men into a very sticky situation.

But reinforcements under Marshal Massena and artillery fire support from the grand batteries on Lobau stemmed the Austrian advance and then the battle swung France's way with Marshal Davout pushing back the Austrian left wing.

The decisive attack was then unleashed against the Austrian centre by Marshal Macdonald and, after ferocious fighting, finally broke through Charles' lines, splitting the army and winning the day for Bonaparte.

Macdonald won the only battlefield promotion to marshal for his actions and did so among a sea of bodies. The 80,000 killed and wounded were evenly divided between the two armies, but it was a heavy defeat for the Austrians who sued for peace four days later.





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