Alternate History

Battle of Prislitz (Napoleon's World)

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The Battle of Prislitz was an engagement on June 19, 1813 in eastern Hungary near the Austrian border with the Ottoman Empire, where Napoleon's Grand Army surprised the Austrian Imperial Army's eastern corps with an attack from the Ukraine. The battle, while relatively bloodless, scattered the Austrian forces across a wide swatch of terrain, allowing Napoleon's armies to engage and defeat them individually over the next three days until the rout of the main disorganized Austrian force and its haphazard reinforcements at Buda on June 24. The "Prislitz Surprise," as some refer to it, is regarded as one of Napoleon's crowning achievement's of tactical prowess and is cited as the reason for his surprisingly quick crushing of Austria within the matter of weeks in the summer of 1813, especially coming so recently after his bloody campaigns in Russia.


Austria's strategy moving forward into 1813 was one that recognized that Napoleon's pending invasion of Russia would leave his armies stretched from Spain to the Urals, and recognized that, after over a decade of successive defeats at the hands of the French and the alignment of Prussia with France, they represented one of the last powers on the continent that could destroy Napoleon's considerable momentum he had carried into the winter months of 1812-13. Hoping that a two-pronged attack into southern France through Italy and then into central Germany with the help of a number of sympathetic Prussian generals would cut Napoleon off from Paris, Francis I's plan was gambling on the ability of his armies to secure their strategic goals before Napoleon could gain a decisive victory on Russian soil and subjugate the Russians.

This plan was a failure on several fronts. Austria, hoping to alleviate the pressure on Britain in Spain, was not made aware of the Duke of Wellington's death at Toledo and the demoralizing effect this had on the British war effort until their grand plan was already in effect. Second, the Austrian forces and their Italian allies moving into southern France from northern Italy were underequipped and headed by the notoriously incompetent Count von Sternhaf, who led them into a quick and surprisingly total defeat at Grenoble. Third, the enthusiasm for an Austrian-led revolt in the Germanic provinces against French rule was severely overestimated by Francis I and his advisors, in particular Archduke Charles, of whom the plan was his brainchild. The proposed Austrian invasion of Germany never got off the ground after the failure at Grenoble and Austria's hopes for exerting greater continental influence hinged on Russia.

With the total Russian defeat at Petrograd and the collapse of the Russian Empire in the course of a few weeks thanks to the backbreaking blow suffered, Austria was now alone on the continent. Archduke Charles believed that Napoleon, feeling betrayed by Francis I, would attack Austria next through Prussia and solidified the border accordingly with as many as 450,000 men, while arranging a nominal eastern frontier force under Heinrich von Bellegarde, a veteran of Wagram whom he trusted.

Order of Battle

Napoleon did indeed elect to invade Austria in June of 1813, much as Francis I and Archduke Charles had predicted, but the French were already well aware of the Austrian armies south of Prussia and attacked a full two weeks later than Francis I expected and with a much smaller force, having divided up his Grand Army into several components to better secure Russia.

Austrian scouts reported that Napoleon had launched his attack with a force 175,000 strong through the Ukraine on the morning of June 17, and von Bellegarde scrambled his force of 100,000 to engage Napoleon accordingly, having been caught off-guard and unprepared. The belief was that Napoleon would use his Polish and German allies in a three-pronged offensive from Russia proper, the Duchy of Warsaw and Bavaria to force a multi-front defense of Austria. While Austrian leadership acknowledged that an attack from the rear was possible, they found it highly unlikely that Napoleon would circumvent the Austrian frontier to attack them from the east.

Even with two days to prepare and alert Archduke Charles of the impending assault, von Bellegarde managed to only muster a small number of his scattered men at Prislitz on June 19, where Napoleon overwhelmed him within less than two hours with artillery fire and a cavalry charge aimed at the Austrian left flank. The Austrians, only 50,000 against a force three times larger, were scattered after being gouged from the side and Napoleon advanced to take the small village of Prislitz, which was effectively destroyed in the fighting. In the evening of June 19, Napoleon's cavalry engaged an Austrian infantry unit ten miles south of the main battlefield and forced their surrender. With the haphazard Austrian battle plan, the 100,000 men of the frontier guard were scattered into individual battalions across almost forty miles of terrain without clear leadership, and Napoleon's cavalry forced the surrender of most of them relatively quickly.


The lack of preparation by the Austrians resulted in the disaster at Prislitz, in which almost the entire force surrendered en masse to Napoleon after being crushed. The remnants of von Bellegarde's army fled to Buda, where Archduke Charles was bringing his defensive force in a forced march in the hopes that they could prevent the fall of the city. When Napoleon attacked Buda and Pest on June 24 in an effort to control both sides of the Danube, the tired and disorganized two pieces of the Austrian Army were broken in two, beaten back by artillery fire and routed by a valiant French charge, as well as cornered by a Polish attack from the north led by Napoleon's allies chasing Charles' forces south.

The Battle of Buda resulted in a devastating blow to the disorganized Austrian forces, who surrendered after sustaining over 65,000 total casualties, and the remnants of Charles' mighty Austrian Reichsarmee, which he had claimed only Napoleon's own Grand Armee rivaled, were scattered across the Hapsburg's eastern realms. Archduke Charles himself was forced to surrender to Napoleon on June 25 at Buda Castle in an elaborate ceremony, ending years of fighting between the two rivals, and leaving the Austrian army virtually leaderless as Napoleon marched on towards Vienna, defeating the scattered Austrian corps that remained along the way.

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