Armies of 1812

By Digby Smith



The sheer scale of Napoleon Bonaparte's disastrous move on Russia in 1812 is gobsmacking - even almost 200 years later - and the fate of that Grande Armee has burnt itself into the minds of history fans.

Up to 60,000 men died during the horrendous retreat from Moscow, but many examinations of the destruction of Bonaparte's force have omitted the march to the Russian capital where heat, lack of food and disease accounted for far more men.

And who better to go into the ultra-detail of the 600,000 man French army, its allies and enemies but Digby Smith. His Napoleonic Wars Databook is a must-have for people who love to get into the nitty-gritty of the subject and Armies of 1812 is no different.

It examines the character of the 1812 Grande Armee, the nations and soldiers that made it, the casualty rates, the French logistic system and the campaign itself.

Smith uses a lot of quotes from eyewitnesses and survivors to illustrate his opinions on why the disaster unfolded and these add first-hand horror to the already awful tale.

However, once passed the events you move into Smith's forte which is in high levels of detail about military units, battles and the like.

He goes through each nation that made up the Grande Armee and includes information on how many men they sent, their uniforms and ranks.

These include Badeners, Bavarians, Berg, French, Portuguese, Swiss, Frankfurters, Hessians, Italians, Neopolitans, Saxons, Poles, Westphalians and Wurttemburgers.

Then there are a heap of orders of battle, maps, casualty graphs and details of the clashes of arms of the campaign.

In Armies of 1812, Smith also looks at the Russian, Austrian, Prussian and Turkish armies.

If you are interested in the 1812 Campaign then this is a beauty to have in your home library.

I do have to say, however, that the presentation of Armies of 1812 leaves a little to be desired. The information is far too tightly packed within the pages, the text looks cramped and it really deserved a bit more thought by the designer.

Some of the images, too, are poorly presented - not in terms of sharpness, but rather in colour. There are far too many that have no whites in them and have been left with obvious colour casts. This gives the impression they were done in a hurry.

- Richard Moore



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