Jump to content


Ask the Tales


  • Please log in to reply
2311 replies to this topic

#1 Josh

Josh

    Evil bird

  • Admin

Posted 14 October 2009 - 12:48 PM

We have a good collection of brains here, and sometimes I'd rather trust you guys to give me a good answer to a question that entrust myself to the tender ministrations of wikipedia. If you have a question for one of the cohort, here's the place to ask.

My question, for the history buffs (esp. Kenti) - how did Napoleon get to be so militarily successful? Before Napoleon, France wasn't so powerful that it could hold off the entire rest of Europe; unlike the Germans under Hitler, his achievements don't seem to be explainable in terms of industrialisation and social control. His source of troops was surely not limitless, yet he successfully waged several vast campaigns, many of which has horrific casualty rates. What was the secret of his success? What did he do that no-one else did, or could have done?
George Alagiaaaaaaargh: I lost my pecker in the siege :(

#2 Kramer

Kramer

    Chalk

  • Members

Posted 14 October 2009 - 01:00 PM

On a related note, which the answer to that question may well encompass: What on earth did the Spanish do to surrender their considerable advantages between being a super power in the 16th and 17th century and getting conquered by Napoleon in the 19th century?

My history has a big fat hole where the 18th century should be, but the pictures "before" and "after" it are radically different.

#3 Innokenti

Innokenti

    I am an awesome horse.

  • Admin

Posted 14 October 2009 - 01:13 PM

I shall attempt to answer these questions after I get back from work since both need a bit of extra explanation beyond just the 'simple' (anything but) answer. I am by no means an expert, but I am very much interested and fairly read-up on Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic history as well as 17th century British Isles and have a good understanding of bits and bobs in between.

In a very short and pithy way, I would answer Josh's question thus - Napoleon's France was as much a military success against European armies as the British Empire was against Napoleon's France. Their respective success in battle stem from very similar mid-results. Just as the European armies refused to change in the face of Napoleon's different and successful tactics, so Napoleon's Marshals refused to change Napoleon's new tactics in the face of how the British armies were used at the beginning of the 19th century.

More on this and other things later of course.

There is no short way to answer your question Kramer, so I will do the lengthy later. One thing to bear in mind is that Spanish and Habsburg fortunes were a confusing mix of personal ambitions and though a claim for Spain being a superpower can be made, the term 'superpower' doesn't give quite the right image of Spanish power.
Proud of Russia because we have cheaper Paracetamol
"" Jen (and KD) on my photoshop skills.
Look no further for Kentoshop™, KentiHugs™ and Abwebsobmeb!
"I don't know who he is either but whoever it is he looks craaaazy..." - Optimist about me. 

#4 Willem100

Willem100

    Lackey

  • Members
  • PipPip

Posted 14 October 2009 - 03:54 PM

View PostKramer, on Oct 14 2009, 03:00 PM, said:

On a related note, which the answer to that question may well encompass: What on earth did the Spanish do to surrender their considerable advantages between being a super power in the 16th and 17th century and getting conquered by Napoleon in the 19th century?
Pretty much everything happened to them. By all means, they were the dominant power during the early reign of Phillip II of Spain. He controlled the Iberian peninsula, large parts of Italy and Sicily, the Low Countries and large areas in the New World. Things went well at first, but then: Bam! The Low Countries rebelled. Religious issues and such created the Dutch Republic. This was generally seen as A Very Bad Thing. During the 80 Years' War with the Dutch, the Spanish really did lose a lot of their power. The Spanish also intervened in the French civil wars, without much result.

It had a bit of a tussle with England as well. England had been helping the Dutch, fellow protestants. So, Spain sent the Armada Invencible to fight the English. Unfortunately, the English won and in returning to Spain by going around the British Islands (brilliant!), half of the Armada was lost. Spain could rebuild its fleet, but the most important result was that England started focussing on its fleet after that, leading to her domination of the seas.

From 1609 to 1621, Spain agreed to a truce with the Republic. The Republic took this opportunity to take as many of Spain's colonies as possible. So, Spain resumed hostilities.

During the Thirty Years' War, Spain helped the Austrian Habsburgers. The 80 Years' War wasn't even over. And France and the Republic were joining forces against Spain. So, Spain was in a shitty position and had to make peace with the Republic in 1648, getting not a single concession. It lost the northern Netherlands and all colonies taken by the Dutch. The war with France kept going until 1659, where again, they lost a good deal of land in Flanders and Louis XIV of France got to mary Marie-Thérèse of Spain. Alas, in 1667, France claimed to have a right to the throne of Spain thanks to some horrible reasoning, which caused the very short War of Devolution. Spain again lost lands in Flanders.

1672: The Dutch War between France/England versus Spain/the Republic/the Holy Roman Empire (oh yes). Spain again lost whole chunks of land in Flanders.

And then. The War of Spanish Succession! Hurrah! France got its grubby little hands on the Spanish throne, but the rest of Europe wasn't having that. So. War. This from 1700 'till 1713. Conclusion: The Spanish king Phillips V could keep the Spanish colonial possesions and Spain, but lost his right to the throne of France. The Southern Netherlands and the areas in Italy went to the Austrian Habsburgers.

By this time, both England and France were the dominant powers in Europe, both far more powerful than Spain. During the 7 Year's War, Spain (and France) lost a lot of possesions in North America to England. (It may be worth noting that France and England had been taking bits and pieces of the Spanish colonial empire all this time) The Dutch founded the VOC around the beginning of the 17th century, which also caused an enormous amount of damage to the Spanish colonial possessions and their monoply on certain aspects of trade.


So, Spain got in a shit-load of wars and lost nearly all of them.

(Sorry if everything's a bit unclear. I just took my book about the Early Modern period and browsed it a bit. I'm sure someone will come along to give a proper explanation.)

#5 Willem100

Willem100

    Lackey

  • Members
  • PipPip

Posted 14 October 2009 - 04:02 PM

View PostJosh, on Oct 14 2009, 02:48 PM, said:

Before Napoleon, France wasn't so powerful that it could hold off the entire rest of Europe
Actually, under Louis XIV, they pretty much did hold off the rest of Europe. Louis XV and Louis XVI were shit, though. But during the Revolution, before Napoleon, they did fairly well on the battlefield, IIRC. France already started expanding before Napoleon got to power.

Quote

His source of troops was surely not limitless, yet he successfully waged several vast campaigns, many of which has horrific casualty rates.
Actually, he had access to a lot more troops thanks to the use of conscription (which had started during the Revolution itself).

'Wacky-pedia' said:

More than 2.6 million men were inducted into the French military in this way between the years 1800 and 1813.


#6 Willem100

Willem100

    Lackey

  • Members
  • PipPip

Posted 14 October 2009 - 04:05 PM

Yay history!

#7 Innokenti

Innokenti

    I am an awesome horse.

  • Admin

Posted 14 October 2009 - 05:19 PM

To begin answering Josh's question.

France had an interesting time in the French Revolution. The revolutionary and eventually regicidal tendencies displayed by France between 1789 and 1799 did not win it many friends - in fact, didn't win it any friends and pitted it against its neighbours (most notably Prussians and Austrians). Despite suffering frequent military setbacks in attempting to defend the nascent Republic and having to put up with internal dissent, France somehow still managed. This can be to some extent attributed to revolutionary zeal, but mechanically comes down to the numbers that could be raised through conscription. Between the two, numbers could be raised to outdo the armies of the continental monarchies by simple attrition.

This could not, however, win France aggressive wars abroad - that's where Napoleon comes in. The fascinating thing to ask is - just how much did Napoleon innovate and change land warfare and just how awful, comparatively, were his opponents? Napoleon, beyond his own grasp of strategy and tactics, didn't really hit upon anything himself, but he grasped two very important tools that ensure a degree of success even if he wasn't personally leading France's armies. Promotion and reward of merit over station (and idea that was progressively pushed throughout the revolution and which allowed Napoleon's rise), and what could be done with conscription.

The rest was down to his own redefinition of warfare that his opponents steadfastly refused to follow. Napoleon used his numbers brutally - to keep on going and going. In practical, battlefield terms, this mean using and infantry column as a battering ram - very few in the column could actually fire their muskets, but that caused fairly small numbers of casualties. What mattered was that the enemy, when deployed in the universal 3-line formation, could only kill so many in the column as it advanced, and when it arrived, to charge into the line, there were still an awful lots of those conscripts alive pierce through the line. Napoleon did grasp one aspect of the warfare exceptionally well, being by training an engineer - artillery. Artillery he was reputed to do extremely well, though how this realistically compared to his opposition is hard to gauge.

Finally, there is the steam-roller effect to consider - as Napoleon progressed, starting off with smaller and less significant fights (Egypt, Italy), so his resources grew - first to enable him to secure the position of Emperor, and then to continue into France's sweep through Europe. He couldn't tap into the manpower of conquered (or otherwise controlled) territories quite as well as France, but his armies were still joined by sizeable contingents obtained from across Europe. Potentially (there is some question as to the exact makeup of it) a full third of the Grand Armee assembled for the invasion of Russia in 1812 was not French. This was at the time that a large force was still committed to the Peninsular Campaign.

But! But... Fundamentally this was precarious - the manpower that could be attained by conscription was still finite, if initially incredible, and the military tactics were still gimmicks, even when applied by Napoleon. The armies that Napoelon opposed in Europe were at a serious disadvantage in that their commanders adhered to fairly rigid army organisations that depended on a very precise use of infantry - a precise use that Napoleon had worked out how to easily crack. It is still somewhat of a mystery as to why the generals were quite so stubborn - arrogance and a Prussian sort of stagnation can account for some of that, and the lack of generals talented in the right direction for some more. But the rest? Well... who knows?

Now the British. Ah the British... opposed to Napoleon, fighting him through thick and thin. Why were such small British armies in the Iberian Peninsula so successful against Napoleon? A plethora of factors which had reformed and nudged the British army into a form that was far more effective and flexible than its rivals - this is not merely down to Sir Arthur Wellesley, or firing by rank, or Richard Sharpe. There was a lot more involved there than I could easily go into here, save to say that failures of the previous century encountered by the British actually, miraculously, caused lessons to be learned, and Wellesley was put in the right place, at the right time. The very same thing happened to France in terms of direct military tactics, that had happened to the Europeans. Napoleon's Marshals, and ultimately Napoleon himself, stuck to their new guns and the new military doctrine, and would not adapt to the way the British fought. Then, in a stroke of genius, the British trained the whole of the Portugese army and a number of Spanish elements that helped as Spain was gradually liberated...


I've rambled on for quite enough and will now take questions. Just to add - Napoleon's success is perhaps no more remarkable than many others, and less remarkable than several. The right circumstances beyond just L'Empreur were probably more significant than how good a general and ruler Napoleon was.
Proud of Russia because we have cheaper Paracetamol
"" Jen (and KD) on my photoshop skills.
Look no further for Kentoshop™, KentiHugs™ and Abwebsobmeb!
"I don't know who he is either but whoever it is he looks craaaazy..." - Optimist about me. 

#8 Kramer

Kramer

    Chalk

  • Members

Posted 14 October 2009 - 05:50 PM

Got to be said, some really high quality stuff from Willem and Kenti there. I learned a lot, thanks :D

#9 Willem100

Willem100

    Lackey

  • Members
  • PipPip

Posted 14 October 2009 - 06:51 PM

Another thing to take into account with Napoleon, was that he wasn't fighting a single force. The nations that formed the coalitions against him were still very suspicious of eachother. For instance, at the beginning of the war, the First Coalition included Austria, Prussia, Spain and Great Britain. Austria and Prussia however, kept their armies in the east, fearing Russia and eachother in the partition of Poland. The First Coalition didn't last long.

But Napoleon was able to beat all his enemies one by one. If combined, who knows what would've happened? Remember, Napoleon was only beaten after the Battle of Leipzig, where a larger group of nations combined managed to defeat Napoleon. And probably only because he had just lost his veteran army in Russia and was fighting with green troops. The same happened after his return at Waterloo.

They said of Hannibal that he could gain victory, but failed to use it. That couldn't be said of Napoleon. The reforms he brought to the lands he conquered, the alliance and puppet system he installed (including the many republics), it all helped him keep his empire, and thus his ability to wage war, going.

But of course, it'd be silly to say this was all thanks to Napoleon. He just managed to come into play at the right time and surround himself with the right people.

#10 Carlisle Dave

Carlisle Dave

    Doctor at Law

  • Admin

Posted 14 October 2009 - 07:01 PM

Of course another reason that Napoleon was so successful was that he kept his armies up his sleevies, hiding them perfectly from the Earl of Cardigan and the Duke of Wellington Boots. ¬_¬

#11 Josh

Josh

    Evil bird

  • Admin

Posted 14 October 2009 - 07:16 PM

Man, I'm glad you're here Dave! These other chumps don't know nuffin'
George Alagiaaaaaaargh: I lost my pecker in the siege :(

#12 Scuzz

Scuzz

    Least Geeky Talesian

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip

Posted 15 October 2009 - 08:42 AM

Unfortunately in the winter cold the Earl of Cardigan was all over Napoleon's armies.
"I've been disappointed with the boobs so far this season." - Masked Dave

#13 Innokenti

Innokenti

    I am an awesome horse.

  • Admin

Posted 15 October 2009 - 08:47 AM

You people make a mockery for my subject! It's despicable!
Proud of Russia because we have cheaper Paracetamol
"" Jen (and KD) on my photoshop skills.
Look no further for Kentoshop™, KentiHugs™ and Abwebsobmeb!
"I don't know who he is either but whoever it is he looks craaaazy..." - Optimist about me. 

#14 Optimist

Optimist

    ...

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip

Posted 15 October 2009 - 08:36 PM

Okay, have some serious questions, Kenti.

What exactly was Denmark's role in the Napoleonic wars?

And is it true Denmark and Russia have had a longstanding alliance?

#15 TSP

TSP

    "The Don"

  • Members

Posted 15 October 2009 - 08:47 PM

The Napoleonic Wars are interesting, but what I'd really like to know about the history of Seoul.

If only we had an expert in Korean history on TCT ...

#16 Kramer

Kramer

    Chalk

  • Members

Posted 15 October 2009 - 09:06 PM

View PostTSP, on Oct 15 2009, 09:47 PM, said:

The Napoleonic Wars are interesting, but what I'd really like to know about the history of Seoul.

If only we had an expert in Korean history on TCT ...

:lol:

#17 Jentastic!

Jentastic!

    Cake!

  • Members

Posted 15 October 2009 - 09:27 PM

Nah, we don't have any of those.
Existentialism? Don't even get me Sartred.

#18 Hey Kidz

Hey Kidz

    TONY B. LIARS

  • Members

Posted 15 October 2009 - 09:30 PM

Who wants to know about Geomancy, because that's where the story of Seoul begins?

#19 Carlisle Dave

Carlisle Dave

    Doctor at Law

  • Admin

Posted 15 October 2009 - 09:31 PM

I do!

Oh boy!

#20 Josh

Josh

    Evil bird

  • Admin

Posted 15 October 2009 - 09:31 PM

ME ME OH ME
George Alagiaaaaaaargh: I lost my pecker in the siege :(

#21 Schtroumpf

Schtroumpf

    Swashbuckling Boat Mage

  • Admin

Posted 15 October 2009 - 09:33 PM

Posted Image

"The temperature inside this apple pie is over 1000 degrees. If I squeeze it, a jet of molten bramley apple will squirt out. Could go your way; could go mine. Either way, one of us is going down."


#22 Carlisle Dave

Carlisle Dave

    Doctor at Law

  • Admin

Posted 15 October 2009 - 09:34 PM

Some of those children look like they've been beaten. What is this?!

#23 Schtroumpf

Schtroumpf

    Swashbuckling Boat Mage

  • Admin

Posted 15 October 2009 - 09:35 PM

Kidz is a mean teacher.

"The temperature inside this apple pie is over 1000 degrees. If I squeeze it, a jet of molten bramley apple will squirt out. Could go your way; could go mine. Either way, one of us is going down."


#24 Innokenti

Innokenti

    I am an awesome horse.

  • Admin

Posted 15 October 2009 - 10:21 PM

View PostOptimist, on Oct 15 2009, 09:36 PM, said:

Okay, have some serious questions, Kenti.

What exactly was Denmark's role in the Napoleonic wars?

And is it true Denmark and Russia have had a longstanding alliance?

Not a question I can really answer, since that's not so much my stuff.
Proud of Russia because we have cheaper Paracetamol
"" Jen (and KD) on my photoshop skills.
Look no further for Kentoshop™, KentiHugs™ and Abwebsobmeb!
"I don't know who he is either but whoever it is he looks craaaazy..." - Optimist about me. 

#25 Carlisle Dave

Carlisle Dave

    Doctor at Law

  • Admin

Posted 16 October 2009 - 07:02 AM

Oh, if anyone has any medical questions they want answered then I can do my best. Can be about anything, including the history of medicine as this is turning into a bit of a history lesson.