Reviews: Military Books


1809, Thunder on the Danube (Vol. III): Wagram and Znaim

Gill, John H. 1809, Thunder on the Danube: Napoleon's Defeat of the Habsburgs, Vol. III: Wagram and Znaim. Barnsley, UK: Frontline, 2010. 554 pages. 17 appendices of major orders of battle, 43 maps, 16 tables of orders of battle of minor contingents, 45 illustrations, numerous footnotes, a massive bibliography (51 pages) and an index of names and places. ISBN 9781848325470. Hardcover. $60

This is John H. Gill's third and final installment of his account of the action-packed campaign of 1809, which took place as most of Europe was ablaze with more-or-less successfully coordinated efforts to throw off Napoleon's increasingly iron grip on the continent.

The efforts taken to produce this major academic work of the busiest year in Napoleonic military history are - obviously - of epic proportions. This is the worthy last episode of Gill's trilogy, which will stand as a milestone of military writing for many years. To which I must add, that it is extremely rare to find a publisher who will allow an author so much latitude on the size of such a manuscript.

Not only are the major battles such as Wagram and Znaim covered, but a host of middle-piece clashes and even quite minor skirmishes, some in the side-shows of the side-shows are all included. Having researched all these actions over several years myself, I recognize and applaud the fact that they are included here. They range from the North Sea and the Baltic to the Dalmatian coast, from central Germany to the remote passes in the Austrian Alps, covering Hessian and Prussian uprisings and the bitter mountain struggles of the Bavarians against the Tyroleans. Nothing in central and southeastern Europe has been omitted.

Again and again, the parlous state of Austria's preparedness for this war is laid bare. Inadequate funds, inadequate means, inadequate supplies of food, forage, clothing, equipment, poor and sloppy preparation, insufficient manpower, too little training, too few competent commanders, too many rose-tinted spectacles were the order of the day from the Austrian Emperor down. Warnings by Archduke Charles about these fatal shortcomings were ignored, cracks were thinly papered over, all with disastrous results.

Given the details quoted above, it must be obvious that reading this book is not for the faint-hearted; it is aimed at the most determined zealots of the military historical reading public. The masses of detailed information, of place names, commanders (at even junior level) and unit - even sub-unit - participation, the footnotes, which cram each page require literary stamina of Olympian standards to digest them.

The maps are a very useful adjunct to the text, covering major and minor engagements, many of which will be new to the uninitiated. The coverage of the actions of 1809 is unparalleled - in my experience - since the heady days of the Austrian academics of the Nineteenth Century.

Gill draws on many personal accounts and war diaries to flesh out the tactical events on the many stages that he covers; not only of the usual leading commanders.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book and wish it every success, footnotes and all.

Reviewed by Digby Smith

 

Editor's Note: John Gill has given to the Napoleon Series additional material relating to the Franco-Austrian War of 1809, that could not be included in his book. It can be seen at: The 1809 War with Austria: the "Thunder on the Danube" Archives

Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2010

 

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