Reviews: Uniform Plates & Studies



Austrian Grenadiers and Infantry, 1788-1816

Hollins, David. Austrian Grenadiers and Infantry, 1788-1816 ("Warrior" series, no. 24.) Oxford, UK: Osprey, 1998. 64 pages. ISBN# 1855327422. Softcover. $16.95.

Austrian GrenadiersOne of the most neglected and least studied armies of the Napoleonic period, and the one that took the field most often against the Grande Armee, was the Austrian Army of the Hapsburgs, properly the Kaiserliche und Konigliche Armee. Never a national army in the sense that the Grande Armee was, being a dynastic army loyal to its King and Emperor, it demonstrated great vitality in adversity and came back repeatedly after disastrous defeats to face the Grande Armee, its allies, and its terrible Emperor.

In the Osprey "Warrior Series" book, Austrian Grenadiers and Infantry: 1788-1816, author David Hollins manfully steps up to the plate and, with excellent research and an earnest admiration of that army and the Austrian soldier in particular, gives a well-documented, accurate, and informative view of the Austrian infantry, both German and Hungarian, that fought for the House of Hapsburg.

This volume thoroughly covers the Austrian infantry arm, including sections on training, reward and punishment, casualties, colors, tactics, and the varied performance of the individual units in combat. There are excellent diagrams throughout the text on both organization and tactical formations, and the illustrations superbly support the authoritative text. Additionally, Jeffrey Burn's accurate paintings give a view seldom seen of the Austrian troops both in garrison and the field during war and peace.

The best features of the book are two: (1) the text is plentifully peppered with a myriad of first-hand accounts describing the Austrian army by those who served in it, both by well-known personalities such as Rausch, as well as by anonymous soldiers who penned their observations during the course of the wars; and, (2) an excellent and very well done bibliography, detailing information on where to find additional information as well as the primary source material used for this volume. These two features alone make this book worthwhile and valuable as both a reference and a standard text.

Mention is also made in this study of the Austrians' performance as a French ally in the Russian campaign of 1812. The Austrian corps, under the command of the talented Prince Schwarzenberg (who served loyally and was complimented on his performance and skill by Napoleon), operated on the French right flank, in conjunction with the Saxon corps commanded by French general Reynier. They won several successes over the Russians and were never defeated during the campaign. This may have been the best Austrian performance of the period.

There are some puzzles in the book, such as the author's statement that 'Infantry played a support role' on the battlefield and that 'Aspern marks the end of cavalry's domination of the battlefield, as Austrian masses felled 1500 French cavalry.' By this time in the history of warfare, infantry was the dominant battlefield arm and the sinew of every European army. Cavalry no longer dominated the battlefield. However, its importance when used in mass was still significant. Decisive use of it in the Napoleonic period lasted long after the Campaign of 1809. There were decisive charges in Russia at Borodino and the Berezina by both French and German cavalry, Pajol's wild chevauchee at Montereau that shattered an allied corps in 1814, and Pire's and Kellermann's expert use of both light and heavy cavalry at Quatre Bras in 1815, to name but a few examples.

However, these minor glitches do not detract from either the detail or overall impact of this important work. There is definitely not enough information available to us in English, Professor Rothenberg's excellent books being a notable exception, about the Austrian army of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and the author's painstaking and thorough research as well as his expert use of vital primary source material have resulted in an important addition to Napoleonic literature filling a long-empty void. Deftly blending first hand information in the text enhances this volume considerably, and gives it a credibility that must be accepted as definitive. The only question that will not go away, however, is why wasn't this methodology used in the author's volume on Marengo that came out last year?

This volume, however, is highly recommended both for the story it tells, and the accuracy and sources which it uses. It is above the normal cut of an Osprey publication and rivals the excellent volumes authored by Rene Chartrand in scope, accuracy, and scholarship. It is a definite keeper, is easy to read and use, and all of us should look forward to the author's next production with great anticipation.

Reviewed by Kevin Kiley 

Placed on the Napoleon Series February 2001

 

 

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