Book Review:
1809 Thunder on the Danube


By John Gill

The 1809 campaign along the Danube is one of my favourite parts of the Napoleonic Era and so I have been savouring John Gill's wonderful study of the mighty clash of arms.

Gill begins by looking at the causes of renewed conflict between Habsburg Austria and Napoleonic France.

In 1807, many in Austria were seething at the situation their empire found itself in.

It had been beaten three times by revolutionary and Napoleonic France in 1797, 1800 and 1805. Prussia was crushed, Russia was allied with the hated Napoleon and Austria was impotent to strike back.

But its new Foreign Minister Graf Johann Phillip Stadion was determined to bide time, build up an army and put together another coalition to take down Napoleon Bonaparte.

By 1808 Austrian hopes began to rise as the French difficulties in the Peninsular War began to grow. Britain proved the French armies were not invincible and so those of Vienna's war party started the impetus towards war.

Knowing it couldn't take on France by itself Stadion looked to various powers - Prussia and even Russia - to see if they would ally with a new Austrian military bankrolled by Britain.

In Paris, Napoleon could sees signs of increased preparations coming from across his borders but he did not think Austria would be so stupid as to risk war with his veteran armies.

He also did not take into account Vienna's growing paranoia that he would strike first and the ever-increasing momentum as Austria rushed towards war.

Gill examines the self-delusion that Austrian leaders had about sparking a great pan-Germanic uprising against Napoleon, particularly in Bavaria and the Rhine Confederation.

When they struck it was slow and ill co-ordinated but they were only up against the out-of-his depth Marshal Berthier.

Fortunately there were enough veteran heads around - including the incomparable Marshal Davout and Marshal Massena - and lesser known generals who fought hard to save the situation until the emperor arrived in person.

Gill's book is superbly detailed giving accounts of the many small clashes that occurred in the early days of the war, the Austrian knack of shooting themselves in the foot and the French ability to scramble out of trouble.

One thing is clear that for all of the bravery of their troops, the Austrians could not match the French quality of command, its speed of operations or attacking abilities.

Gill has lots of good meaty details in his appendices that include army lists from the initial outbreak of hostilities, through to Abensberg and the French pursuit to Landshut.

There are also more than 120 pages of notes to browse.

1809 Thunder on the Danube is an exceptional piece of work and I can't wait to open the next volume.


- Richard Moore


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