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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine memorial
Crossing the Berezina, A Victory During The Retreat is predominantly a picture book. The combination of the uniform plates, reproductions of famous paintings and diagrams all in a beautifully produced, hardcover publication make it a wonderful book to drool over. This, plus the details of units, commanders and, with cavaets, the main text, make for a useful source of...
Published on 17 Aug 2012 by Avon Napoleonic Fellowship

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Berezina - a bit disappointing.
As with other books in the series, it is full of colour plates depicting the uniforms and pictures of the action. However, as it explains in the forward, the author sadly passed away before the book was completed, and this is rather evident in the text. The textual description of the action appears cursory, sometimes doesn't follow the timeline, and whereas some parts are...
Published 12 months ago by IBle


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine memorial, 17 Aug 2012
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This review is from: Crossing the Berezina (Great Battles of the First Empire) (Hardcover)
Crossing the Berezina, A Victory During The Retreat is predominantly a picture book. The combination of the uniform plates, reproductions of famous paintings and diagrams all in a beautifully produced, hardcover publication make it a wonderful book to drool over. This, plus the details of units, commanders and, with cavaets, the main text, make for a useful source of information and a fine memorial to Francois-Guy Hourtoulle.

It was only when I became aware of the publication of this tome that I found out about the death in 2009 of Dr Hourtoulle and his editor at Histoire et Collections, Denis Gandilhon. This unfinished book was completed by others at Histoire et Collections, "...to offer it to you without betraying the joint wishes of these two specialists...". Fittingly, the book commences with a brief dedication to Francois-Guy Hourtoulle, outlining the three stages in the life of this amazing man; in the military, medicine and as an author.

At the heart of the book is the uniform plates by André Jouineau. These are presented, in colour, grouped by troop type, and provide examples of units in an array of uniforms, from full dress to greatcoats. The figures represented are predominantly from the ranks, but NCOs, officers, trumpeters, fifers, drummers, standard bearers and sappers are also shown, along with the flags or guidon's for many of them. With a few exceptions, the figures in the uniform plates are shown in profile for cavalry units and front-on for the infantry. In all cases the figures wear regulation uniforms, rather than the assortment of uniform items, civilian dress and whatever else could be found that we know was improvised by the men of both armies, most particularly those in the retreating `grande armée'.

A few of the individual figures are the same as those in the sister volume, Borodino-The Moskva: The Battle for the Redoubts, but the majority are of troops from completely different units to those that are presented in that book. Particularly pleasing is the large number of French allies that are represented: Polish, Italian, Swiss, Croat, Spanish, Portuguese, Bavarian, Westphalian, Würtemberger, Saxon, Hessian, Badener, Cleve-Berger, Neapolitan, Prussian, Austrian, Danish and Illyrian (plus the Mediterranean and Walcheren Regiments).

The book also contains large, clear reproductions of many of the most famous paintings of the retreat, the battles and the crossing, the majority of which are in full colour. Eighteen of these are printed at approximately the size of half of a page (around 16 cm x 19 cm), while the remainder are either printed on a full page (four paintings, including Peter von Hess' "Crossing of the Berezina" on the cover of the book) or as a double-page spread (a further four paintings). The size and clarity of these reproductions makes them ideal for closer inspection of the details in each painting.

The book also includes clear reproductions of uniform prints from Knötel, Philippoteaux, Chappell, Job and some unspecified artists (one of which is by Rousselot). Once again, the vast majority of these are in colour. Lastly are the numerous pictures of some of the main commanders of the two armies.

Another feature of the book is a `sidebar' entitled `The Heroes of the Bridges', which covers four pages. Here Hourtoulle lists the officers and men of the engineers and pontonneers who were responsible for the construction of the two bridges over which the French-Allied army crossed the Berezina, with a brief biography of each. There are also illustrations of the structure of the trestle bridges and of a campaign forge plus paintings of Elbé and Chasseloup-Laubat and of the crossing point on the Berezina, shown in summer. This is a fine piece of research and a fitting tribute to those brave men who made the crossing possible.

The orders of battle, which are a standard feature of the books of this series, are also present here. Those for the three Russian armies, or part thereof, that were present in the battles around the Berezina, list, for each division, the names of the units and their strength. It is not specified what stage of the battles these strengths reflect, but the numbers of troops and statements in the text suggest that they are `initial' strengths in early to mid November. The order of battle for French-Allied army is fully detailed, providing the names of generals, staff officers and unit commanders, with a one-line to one-paragraph biography for each, the units that were included in each `higher order' formation and, in most cases, estimated strengths. Together these provide a useful and detailed source for planning wargames or researching units or commanders.

Having waxed lyrical about the good features of the book we come to its weaker points. The first of these is the maps, of which there are three. The first shows the manoeuvres of the four armies in the area bounded to the east by Orsha, the west by Smorgoni, the north by Lepel and south by Minsk/Mogilev. The second is a reasonably detailed map, complete with the positions of troops, showing the battles of Studianka and Stakhov-Brili. The third is in the same style as the second and, quite strangely, shows the second Battle of Polotsk (which is barely mentioned in the text). These three maps are good, but are too few in number and are not clearly linked with the text.

Unfortunately, the weakest point of the book is the text. I have enjoyed reading Hourtoulle's other books, with his conversational style, copious use of quotes from eye witnesses, interesting insights and strong statements. While there are glimpses of those features in the text of Crossing the Berezina, much of it is disjointed and somewhat confusing. More critically there are several errors, such as the naming of Lambert as the commander of the cavalry sent by Chichagov (Tchichagov), following his capture of Borisov on 21st November, to reconnoitre Oudinot's approach (it was in fact Phalen), the statement that the bridge building began on 26th December (it was 26th November) and the assertion that the soldiers in the mass grave that was uncovered in Vilnius in 2001 were massacred. Scientific investigation of the site has shown that the majority died either from typhus and other diseases that were spread by the lice that were rampant amongst the retreating soldiers and/or as a result of illness caused by the sudden intake of food in previously starved bodies. The reasoning for these mistakes and the confusing flow of the text seems to be that the publishers decided to make minimal additions or changes to Hourtoulle and Gandilhon's unfinished manuscript. While this is to be applauded, a little firm editing would have improved the publication no end.

All in all this book is a fine memorial to the soldiers and civilians, from both sides, who suffered, fought and died in the winter of 1812 and also to Francois-Guy Hourtoulle and Denis Gandilhon. Notwithstanding the errors and omissions in the text, it is a fine addition to their many works that will give pleasure and inspiration, plus much useful information, to the many wargamers and history buffs for whom, like the authors, the Napoleonic period generates great interest, passion and considerable debate.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars another visual delight, 17 Aug 2012
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Mr. John Walsh (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Crossing the Berezina (Great Battles of the First Empire) (Hardcover)
This title is a very welcome addition to the Histoire & Collections series. It covers one of the amazing actions that took place during the 1812 Campaign in Russia. The book is full of colour images and numerous uniform plates and many of the images are totally new to me and make a refreshing change to those usually depicted. In terms of uniforms, the reader will find some that appear in the Borodino title, but generally the author has tried to include different uniforms plates, which is certainly appreciated, especially, if like me, the reader owns the Borodino title. The troops and commanders from both sides are included, there is a good selection of flags and the text, which is enjoyable to read, also includes a copy of the 29th Bulletin. A separate section on the engineers who built the bridges across the Berezina, is also well worth seeing. If you are interested in the 1812 campaign or just a Napoleonic enthusiast, you will not be disappointed with this title, apart perhaps from the price, which I think is a little high. But the quality of this colourful title is excellent.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Crossing the Berezina, 23 Nov 2012
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This review is from: Crossing the Berezina (Great Battles of the First Empire) (Hardcover)
I have been waiting a long time for this book.I have the entire collection and must admit I buy them mainly for the gorgeous uniform plates.I was a little surprised that none of the plates,however,showed the uniforms in 'campaign condition',which would have made it stand out more from the Borodino book.The tragic circumstances regarding the author seem to have left an unfinished feel to it.I understand that the Battle of Ocana (Spain) was the next planned release,but may never be.But,the one real let down was that Waterloo was never covered (misty-eyed;so many nations,so many uniforms,so many plates!).Ah well,let us be grateful for the treasures we have from this excellent publisher.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Berezina - a bit disappointing., 24 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Crossing the Berezina (Great Battles of the First Empire) (Hardcover)
As with other books in the series, it is full of colour plates depicting the uniforms and pictures of the action. However, as it explains in the forward, the author sadly passed away before the book was completed, and this is rather evident in the text. The textual description of the action appears cursory, sometimes doesn't follow the timeline, and whereas some parts are dealt with in detail others are not (like the map of Polotsk - a precursor battle, is present but with no textual comment). Overall it offers little detail above the book by Zamoyski which covers the whole campaign. Another example of incompleteness is that for some units the numbers quoted were at the start of the campaign, while others are as at the Berezina - it would have been more illustrating to clearly show both. So, while the state of the book does not appear 100% finished off and the reason for this is understandable, I was still a bit disappointed with it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another H&C gem, 28 May 2014
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This review is from: Crossing the Berezina (Great Battles of the First Empire) (Hardcover)
I own all the Napoleonic books issued by this company and although the format is the same in them all I never tire of each new one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars now here's a great book and a great deal to, 14 Dec 2013
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This review is from: Crossing the Berezina (Great Battles of the First Empire) (Hardcover)
great deal , no messing around , I do like this series of books to the point colour plates great and these are real good value for money mr f.g.hourtoulle will be sadly missed
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good read on the retreat from Moscow, 6 July 2013
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This review is from: Crossing the Berezina (Great Battles of the First Empire) (Hardcover)
A well put together book dealing with a very complex subject, as always with HIstioire et Collection, you get a lot of uniform information in one book, I just wish the artwork showed the armies in campaign dress, hence the 4 stars.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars exelent book, 2 Jan 2013
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This review is from: Crossing the Berezina (Great Battles of the First Empire) (Hardcover)
another great book from this publisher a great shame the auther has passed away now hope someone will carry on the good work
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Crossing the Berezina (Great Battles of the First Empire)
Crossing the Berezina (Great Battles of the First Empire) by Andre Jouineau (Hardcover - 30 Nov 2007)
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