The aim of this research paper is to explore Napoleon’s strategies and tactics, which he employed throughout his military campaigns to defeat his enemies and conquer other empires, when he ruled the French empire between 1779 and 1821.
The thesis of the research paper examines critically the effectiveness of the Napoleon’s military strategies and tactics, which he used during his reign as a powerful emperor of France and a military commander.
This paper delves into military experiences of Napoleon and tries to unravel why his strategies are valid in teaching military students of this great technological era. Since many commanders of his time acknowledged and credited him as a military genus, then, how effective were his military strategies. The effectiveness of his military and leadership tactics is evident in the way he managed to lead French empire, mobilized his armies, and conquered numerous territories.
Napoleon employed strategy of dividing his enemies and forming strategic alliances in order to conquer his enemies with much ease. The uniqueness of Napoleon is that he had already discovered in his time the current application of professional military skills and logistics in his strategies and tactics. Professional skills and logistics are the current pillars of military that guarantee victory when optimally utilized. To overcome his battles, he interrupted the logistics of his enemies to weaken them. Even though Napoleon considered himself as a great commander, he never underestimated the danger posed by the enemies, even the weakest of them all.
At all times Napoleon took precaution and responded rapidly to any threatening enemy. When combating his enemies in the battlefield, Napoleon employed central position approach and indirect approach. These two approaches enabled him to seize the local superiority in order to control and manipulate the enemy in the battlefield. Moreover, Napoleon utilized Battalion square strategy to combat his enemies. This strategy enhanced his ability to mobilize his armies and troops effectively in combating powerful forces of Russia, which defeated him. He also applied his five military principles that enabled him to use his forces economically as concerted military efforts focused on the enemy were quite effective.
Napoleon was the great Emperor of France with novel military strategies and tactics that enabled him to conquer his enemies and neighboring empires in a bid to expand his territory. His determination to win battles came from his confession that “there is no man more pusillanimous than I when I am planning a campaign.
I purposely exaggerate all the dangers and all the calamities that the circumstances make possible …I am like an unmarried girl laboring with child” (Nafziger 1989, 23). He derived his military strategies and tactics from inherent fears that kept him on toes due to the imminent battles that revolved in the neighboring empires. The fear of losing a battle haunted him constantly and this prompted him to draw novel strategies and tactics to overcome his enemies.
During the great battle of Borodino when he attacked Russia, he demonstrated his military potential and ability to conquer ferocious enemies despite their military prowess. Critical analysis of Napoleon’s strategies and tactics show that his military approach to the decisive Russian battle, invasion of Italy, Egypt, United Kingdom, Portugal, Syria and series of Coalition wars was quite effective and is still invaluable in the contemporary warfare.
Napoleon left leadership and military legacy due to the strategies and tactics he extensively employed during his reign as the French Emperor. Although Napoleon exercised his military powers during the early 19th century, his strategies and tactics are still applicable in the 21st century. According to Nafziger, “…his campaigns formed the basis of military education throughout the western world and a lot of military thinking is still influenced by the great Frenchman” (1989, 26).
Since his military strategies and tactics have stood the test of time, which is about two centuries now, and can still prove to be invaluable in this era of great technology, then it shows that his military skills were and still are quite effective. The effectiveness of military strategies and tactics depends on the ability of military commander to mobilize his armies and resources effectively. Napoleon applied time and space as the components of logistics that are necessary to win a decisive battle such as invasion of Russia, Coalition wars and the Italian Campaign. The greatness of Napoleon emerged after he became an emperor in 1779 when he begun to exercise his political and military powers with novel strategies and tactics. Tarle and Viktorovich observe that, “Napoleon’s greatness as a soldier was evident from the start of his remarkable career; he made victory followed upon victory for over a decade” (Tarle & Viktorovich 1979, 357). His victory in a series of battles did not only demonstrate his strategies, but also tactics that gave him an upper hand in major battles that he fought. Military analysts of his time considered him a military genius based on his ability to strategize and mobilize his armies to war. Even if Napoleon lost battle like the Russian invasion, he still demonstrated the courage and creativity in withdrawing his soldiers from the field.
Therefore, the character and military prowess of Napoleon were of high standards and that is why current military students still read his military strategies and maneuvers.
By 1812, Napoleon had led France to become a mighty empire in Europe and he boasted of the great achievement that he had made. Given the military status of the French Empire, Napoleon was poised to invade and conquer the neighboring independent states of Europe. To achieve his mission, “he managed to destroy the unity of purpose which had fed the coalitions against France for so long, as Austria, Russia, and Prussia were now ready to fight each other as well as to fight France” (Tarle & Viktorovich 1979, 356). Napoleon knew that the unity of independent European states threatened and would eventually ruin his powerful empire and there would be no legacy left for him and his successor, so he had to destroy their unity before conquering Russia individually. Therefore, he employed the tactic of dividing and conquering; what colonialists would popularly call divide and rule.
Since Napoleon participated in a series of coalition wars, he had learned the importance of making coalition against the common enemy. When an enemy seemed to have many coalition partners against him, Napoleon would scheme a way of dividing the coalition and conquering. This strategy weakened the ability of the enemy to fight effectively with the immense back up from its allies. To fight and conquer Russia, Napoleon devised a scheme of building alliances with the Middle-East powers of the Ottoman Empire. “In 1803, Napoleon went to considerable lengths to try to convince the Ottoman Empire to fight against Russia in the Balkans and join his anti-Russian coalition” (Olszewski 2005, 34).
After three years of negotiations, the Ottoman Empire realized Napoleon’s victory on the battle of Austerlitz and agreed to form a powerful alliance and they conquered Russia and England in 1806. Napoleon used the strategy of dividing the enemy and formation of powerful strategic alliances to defeat his enemies, a creative, scheming, and effective strategy.
The unique strategy that Napoleon employed as a military commander is the use of military professionalism. Many of his successors regarded Napoleon as premier general who conceptualized new strategies and tactics in terms of structure and composition of strong armies; impregnable in the face of threatening enemies. “Napoleon embodied the idea of the professional military leader, not gaining his position through familial or political connection, but earning it by distinguishing himself in combat” (Hoffman 2005, 122).
In his military professionalism, Napoleon took two years in making logistical planning to invade Russia, for he realized that decisive battles demanded proper logistics. Due to his logistical approach to battles, many generals have appreciated his approach and have applied his strategies and tactics, which have proved to give consistent successes in various wars. His presence during war made great difference, as he was indispensable in mobilization of resources and troops.
Logistical interruption of the enemy is a professional application of military strategies and tactics. Napoleon had realized that, “every effort must be made to render the enemy helpless through the severance of his lines of supply, communications, and retreat…to envelop one of the enemy’s army’s flanks and threaten its rear and communications” (Nafziger 1989, 21). The prime objective of Napoleon as a commander of army was to identify the location of the enemy and logistical parameters that the enemy relied upon. Battle is not only about fighting the enemy directly, but it also involves indirectly fighting by interrupting logistical support as a means of weakening the enemy. When logistical support in terms of communication, transport or supply of essential weapons decline, then an enemy becomes weak and can only retreat or risk fighting helplessly.
Napoleon utilized this strategy extensively when he invaded Russia, Egypt, Italy, and series of coalition wars all over Europe. To this day, the concept of military professionalism and logistics are central pillars of military strategies.
Since Napoleon harbored many fears concerning his great empire, which he had managed to hold together through immense challenges, he wanted to guard it jealously without overlooking any possible threats albeit negligible. Napoleon argues that, “…when I am planning a campaign, I purposely exaggerate all the danger and all calamities that circumstances make possible” (Olszewski 2005, 32). This strategy gave him the advantage in case the potential threat of the enemy was underestimated.
During the Russia invasion, Napoleon never at any instance overlooked or underestimated the battle and consequences that arose, for in his logistical skills, he provided for the worst-case scenarios that were bound to occur in decisive battles like the Russia invasion that cost the lives of many soldiers. Giving chance and ample time to an enemy to strategize was against Napoleon’s strategy. In his military campaign, Napoleon never wasted his time camping troops in wait of already known enemy. Rainey (2006) explains that, “the strength of an army, like the power in mechanics, is estimated by multiplying the mass by the rapidity, as a rapid march augments the morale of an army, and increases its means of victory.
Press on!” (169). Therefore, rapid response to an impending battle was a Napoleon’s strategy, which ensured that his enemies did not gain an opportunity to wage war; moreover, the strategy increased the morale of the army to attack zealously. In his principles, Napoleon believed that military strategies should employ tactics to surprise and confuse an enemy in the battlefield, because initiating and controlling the pace of the fight is the key element in conquering an enemy. Napoleon illustrated this tactics when he successfully won the battle of Ulm-Austerlitz in1805.
The primary strategy of Napoleon was to identify the enemy.
Identifying the location, composition, and structure of the enemy highlighted any possible threats and imminent calamities, which were very critical in determining whether to go ahead with the battle or not. If the battle was inevitable, then effective strategies and tactics were necessary to combat the enemy. Hardeman (1998) notes that, “when facing a foe superior in numbers, the strategy of the central position was employed to split the enemy into separate parts, each of which could then be eliminated in turn by adroit maneuvering…” (175). With this strategy, though overwhelmed by the Russian armies, Napoleon armies managed to kill more of them as compared to their armies who died in the decisive battle. In this case, central position strategy proved useful in combating armies who were mightier while incurring minimal losses and injuries. Strategy of indirect approach was very effective when Napoleon had large number of armies under his command. This strategy enabled Napoleon to seize superiority while in the battlefield and thus wield much power to control the battle.
This strategy involved displaying mighty armies in front of the enemy in order to attract attention and subsequently scare away the enemy. According to Hoffman (2005), in this strategy, “one of two army corps would be detached to pin the attention of the enemy to his front. Meanwhile, Napoleon would take the bulk of his army on a swift, wide march around one of the enemy’s strategic flanks (177). Flanking the enemy weakens the logistical maneuvers that sustain it in the battle preventing further reinforcement from other troops. Eventually, the enemy is isolated and severed from obtaining logistical support of troops, communications, retreating, and supply of more weapons. This strategy demonstrated to be very effective as it led to massive victories of Jena, Ulm and Friedland battles.
Napoleon also utilized the strategy of Battalion Square and the tactic of outflanking his enemies. The Battalion Square consisted of an advance guard, which was to identify the enemy, right and left wings who acted as combating troops that marched within the range where they could offer emergency support to both advancing and reserved troops. At the rear end of the advancing army was a reserved troop, which provided extra support in case the advance troop retreated. Rainey argues that, “Napoleon could use a mere part of his force to tie down and occupy the attention of one enemy, then rapidly move his remaining forces to build up a local superiority against his enemies” (2006, 158).
When Napoleon had built local superiority, he employed the tactic of flanking to combat the Russian armies who were too strong for him to conquer, but at least he demonstrated artful military combat. Napoleon had five principles that guided his military strategies and tactics. His principles were quite evident in the number of battles he successfully fought during his reign, because many commanders acknowledged that no commander could beat him in terms of the number of battles he fought and severity of battling conditions, which he experienced. The five principles entailed destruction of the enemy on sight, concentration of the military efforts, scheming operations, interruption of logistics, and real time surveillance of the armies. Adhering to these principles, Napoleon focused objectively on the enemy. He held that, “there are in Europe many good generals, but they see too many things at once.
I see only one thing, namely the enemy’s main body…I try to crush it, confident that secondary matters will then settle themselves” (Nafziger 1989, 23). In this strategy, Napoleon distinguished himself from other generals who lacked concentration on the enemy and lost the decisive battles they fought. His military principles enabled him to concentrate forces and managed to mobilize them artfully in order to economize his resources.
Napoleon’s military strategies and tactics are very important in military education as a case study of a genius military commander who fought numerous and diverse battles. Despite the astounding defeat that Napoleon met during his war against Russia, he demonstrated logistical strategies and tactics that many generals consider artful and worth acquiring in the current generation.
Napoleon left military legacy as his successors credit him a military genius who made great impact in military reforms and shaped the approaches of decisive battles. His strategies and tactics still echo through the 21st century since military academies recognize and approve them as effective and worth learning. Although Napoleon armies terribly suffered after invading Russia, this does not mean that their strategies were ineffective; it is only that the Russian armies were many, organized, and smarter.
Hardeman, Richard. “General Logistics Paradigm: A study of the Logistics of Alexander, Napoleon, and Sherman.” Air Force Logistics Management Agency 26, no.
13 (1998): 120-125. Compares and contrasts logistical strategies and tactics, which great men like Napoleon, Alexander and Sherman employed in their military leadership to conquer battles. It underscores the fact that military logistics forms the central part of effective strategies in decisive battles. Hoffman, Smith. “Logistics of Waging War.” American Military Logistics Journal 12, no. 4 (2005): 172-189.
Emphasizes the importance of military professionalism by applying logistical planning and consultation, in order to accommodate varied ideas that are paramount in assessing looming threats and dangers. Napoleon demonstrated professionalism in his logistical planning to invade Russia. Nafziger, George. Napoleon’s Strategy and Tactics.
Ancient Military Journal 58, no. 6 (1989): 17-31. Describes Napoleon strategies and tactics such as divisive diplomacy, military professionalism, logistics, structuring, and composition of the advancing armies. His strategies and tactics enabled him to survive annihilation during the Russian Invasion. Olszewski, Zbigniew. “The Battle of Borodino, 1812.
” Napoleon Military Conquest 16, no. 9 (2005): 24-47. Portrays Napoleon’s insecure and unassuming character for he never overlooked or underestimated the danger an enemy poses to his empire. It further outlines causes and subsequent implications of the Russia invasion by Napoleon. Rainey, James.
Old Lessons New Thoughts. New York: DIANE Publishing, 2006. Explains how old strategies and tactics are applicable in contemporary world. It also confirms that old lessons of Napoleon strategies and tactics are still invaluable in the current warfare. Tarle, Eugene, and Viktorovich, Evgenil. Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, 1812. New York: Octagon Books, 1979.
Analyses strategies and tactics that Napoleon used to invade Russian and gives the strengths and weaknesses that led to eventual defeat of the Napoleon armies.