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Armies of the Napoleonic Wars
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10 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2011
I was eager to see this title, considering some of the great authors it employed. However, at the same time, it was doomed to failure. To some people it must have really sounded like a good idea on paper. Sadly, that is where it should have stayed. There is no way 10 Napoleonic armies could be described, in any sort of detail, within less than 300 pages, which also included the index and book list. If it was a first volume, an introduction, to a forthcoming series, in which each volume covers one army, great, that would just about be acceptable. And at least one of the better authors, John Gill, writing on the Armies of the Confederation of the Rhine, admits to this when he writes 'A brief essay cannot do justice to the complexity of the Confederation and the thousands of men who marched, fought and died as French allies during this period, but it is hoped that the following will serve as an introduction...' Such honesty is rare these days, especially in pre-sales hype. And Gill's chapter is one of the better ones, possibly because he was given 38 pages. But even that is a small number in which to describe the numerous armies and states forming the Confederation of the Rhine. But Gill was lucky, Frederick Schneid describing the Italians was only give a measly 10 pages, Jaroslaw Czubaty, describing the Polish had only 14 pages, Malyn Newitt describing the Portuguese had 18 pages, while the author describing the French had 22 pages and Alexander Mikaberidze was given only 21 pages to describe the Russians armies. In contrast, Hollins, the author of the Austrian army was give a whopping 41 pages, obviously at the expense of some of the other authors. His chapter does contain some impressive lists of regiments, but even these were very similar to the lists found in Haythornthwaites 20 year old Osprey titles covering the Austrian Infantry and Cavalry, so no real new stuff there then. On the positive side, the Amazon price is just about right and it is a handy book to have on the shelf, if your Napoleonic collection is small or you couldn't be bothered searching through your Osprey collection. And yes, some of the chapters are enjoyable, and, in some places informative, and had it been described as an introduction, that would have been acceptable and possibly, just possibly earned it another star. It would be great if the publishers announced that there will be further volumes, each one covering a separate army. One can but hope.
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6 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 20 March 2011
One of the most difficult books to attempt to put together is that of the group effort, and the editor in charge of that has a herculean task before him. Having been involved in three books of that type, the difficulty of the task is both recognized and applauded.
The toughest task to do is to assemble a group of authors that will convey to the readership what the editor is attempting to accomplish. Here, the selection of authors contains some of the best scholars of the Napoleonic period now available, such as Jack Gill, Rick Schneid, Charles Esdaile, Alexander Mikaberidze, and Oliver Schmidt. And these historians have produced worthwhile and noteworthy work to contribute to the overall volume. Their outstanding contributions are the heart of the work, and standing on their own, along with the Italian and Polish chapters would rate a `five star' rating for the work.
The best chapters in the book are on the Confederation of the Rhine, the Spanish, the Russians, and the Italians, though those on the Prussians and the Duchy of Warsaw are also informative and very helpful. The largest drawback on any of the chapters, with a few exceptions, are the length that the authors were assigned. Trying to describe the important armies of the Kingdom of Italy, the Duchy of Warsaw, Portugal in a few pages (ten, fourteen, and eighteen, respectively) only gives a brief snap shot of those armies, and while that might be considered as an introduction to those armies (and this book, unfortunately, can only be classed as an introduction), the small number of pages allocated to those armies is a great shame. The Italians and the Poles were significant and important allies to Napoleon and provided important contingents to the combat power of the Grande Armee, especially after 1807. The Portuguese, Wellington's famous `fighting cocks' greatly increased the combat power of Wellington's small British army in the Peninsula, especially in artillery, and all three armies deserve to be given more space in the book. While quality of research and writing is much more important than length, it is quite puzzling that the chapters on armies that are not usually represented, such as the Poles and Italians, were not given more space in order to allow more material to be put into easily accessible print.
Three of the chapters have some problems. Errors in the French chapter are myriad, less so in the British chapter by the same author. And the Austrian chapter fails in two areas-on the Austrian general staff and in the artillery section.
As the French chapter is the first in the book, the amount of errors about the French army tends to make the reader hesitate to continue with the book. Most of the errors could easily have been avoided as the material is in print and some of the relevant source material is in the book's bibliography.
Some of the errors include naming the two French carabinier regiments as an `elite form of cuirassiers' when the cuirassiers themselves were designated as elite troops (also stating in two places that the carabiniers were only issued with breast plates, when they were given full cuirasses in 1810); giving the Sailors of the Guard three battalions when they only had one at full strength; identifying a 3d Regiment of Guard Chasseurs a Pied in 1813 when there were only two; stating that the Dragoons of the Guard were `redesignated' as the `Empress Dragoons' when that term was a nickname, not an official designation; confusion over the Guard Lancer Regiment in 1815; stating that the Flanquer-Grenadiers were formed in 1812 when they were not until 1813; stating that there were 12 cuirassier regiments in Poland in 1806 when there were only eight (organized in two divisions under Nansouty and d'Hautpoul)-the other four were in Italy and were not transferred to Poland until after Eylau in early 1807; mistakenly naming hussars as `elite light cavalry' when they were not so designated, every hussar (and other line cavalry) regiment each had an elite company; names the Polish Light Horse at Somosierra in November 1808 as lancers, when they were not designated as such and issued lances until 1809-1810.
Amazingly, the engineers are portrayed as part of the French artillery arm, when the two were actually officially separated in 1758 and the engineers were finally given combat units in 1793 by Carnot (who was himself an engineer officer). Formerly, the French engineer arm consisted of only commissioned officers. Contrary to what is listed in the chapter, in 1809 there were two battalions of miners, seven engineer train companies (one of them being a depot company), five sapeur battalions (three more would be added in 1811-1812) and the number of pioneer battalions is greatly understated in the text by at least a factor of three. The pontonnier battalions did belong to the artillery and were not engineers.
In the British chapter the statement that the British foot guards `conduct and performance in battle was also generally higher' than line units is at the very least arguable and cannot be maintained under scrutiny either in the Peninsula and in Belgium in 1815. The old error of the French attacking in column at Maida is perpetuated in this chapter, when that error has been corrected many times in different publications. Further, the statement that the British infantryman could fire his musket `perhaps twice as quickly as his French counterpart' is also an over-generalization and is incorrect. Further, the statement in the chapter that the musket could not be fired prone is incorrect.
The staff section in the Austrian chapter is both confusing and error-ridden. The role of an army chief of staff is not presented correctly and if close attention is paid to how the Austrian general staff developed during the period, it is quite obvious that they were behind that of the French general staff as organized and run by Marshal Berthier and the Prussian general staff as organized by first Scharnhorst and then Geneisenau. The chief of staff's major function in an army is to run the staff. The staff's function is to relieve the commander of all detailed work allowing him to command the army. If the Austrian general staff, which was not innovative in any way during the period and generally inefficient, was actually organized and run as it is portrayed in the chapter here then it is no wonder that the Austrians had as many command and staff problems as they had in the field, especially in 1809 when, while organized on the French model in corps d'armee, the subordinate divisions did not have their own staffs and the burden of their administrative work, as well as that of the corps as a whole, was thrown on the corps staffs. Further problems about the Austrian staffs is that they were not organized in staff sections on the French model until 1801 (as outlined in the French staff manual of 1800) which meant that there was not a proper division of staff work among the staff officers and that staff work was slow and inefficient, which in turn would slow down field operations, as it did in the first half of the campaign of 1809 when the Austrian offensive was defeated in and around Ratisbon.
An excellent snapshot of the Austrian staff organization and its inherent problems is outlined very well in Gunther Rothenberg's Napoleon's Great Adversary as well as his The Army of Francis Joseph. Rothenberg is still the English language authority on the Austrian army of the period and it appears he will remain so for the indefinite future.
The artillery section is also error-ridden, the most ridiculous, and unsupported, error being the oft-repeated denigration of the new French field artillery system developed by Gribeauval in the 1760s which surpassed the older Austrian Lichtenstein system in both design and employment. Further, the characterization of Gribeauval as a `siege engineer' is incorrect (there was no such thing as a `siege engineer-you had engineers and you had artillerymen), Gribeauval being a graduate of the French artillery school at La Fere. Unfortunately, it appears that no primary source material was used for either Gribeauval or his artillery system in the comparisons in the text, and the reference to the recent work, Napoleonic Artillery, is to a volume on artillery that is error-ridden in itself and is not a reliable reference for the French artillery arm.
Taken altogether, however, despite the flaws noted above, this book is recommended as an introduction to the period as well as for students of the period who are interested in the work of Jack Gill, Charles Esdaile, Rick Schneid, Oliver Schmidt, and Alexander Mikaberidze. These scholars always contribute to the overall knowledge of the period and the editor of the book is to be congratulated in assembling these authors for the work. Unfortunately, the scholarship of the work taken as a whole is uneven as noted above, but all of us should look forward to more work on the period by Malyn Newitt and Jaroslaw Czubaty as their contributions to this volume are another `arrow in the quiver' of the overall knowledge of the period. Unfortunately, the length of those two chapters was cut too short and more interesting and useful material was denied to the readership while three error-ridden chapters do not add to the overall knowledge of the period and detract from the overall effort of the other contributors.
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