Napoleon did two reforms that changed the way of how to climb to higher ranks in the army and these reforms caused him to gain a much more solid loyalty and by promoting people because of their performance rather than social background, increased the quality of the army significantly.
Napoleon refined previously used tactics of the army. He replaced large divisions to instead be miniature armies. These miniature armies were able to hold off great superior forces for enough time to have reinforcement arrive. This allowed the great army to be able to move separately, making the logistics easier to handle, which in return allowed a greater mobility and was deceiving the enemy. The enemy were never able to keep track of where napoleons army were and where they were going. He was very keen to have the miniature armies in strategic positions, so they were able to reinforce each other when needed. This new system he worked on gave him a significant advantage over his enemies in the early years of this career.
He changed the way of how cavalry was distributed among the miniature armies and created new elite troops which he directly controlled. This gave him a huge advantage to move in at the right time at the right place to crush the enemy completely. This changed layout of the army was key factor of the success, but it was not revolutionary in any ways, he only changed the system to be more efficient.
Noteworthy features of Napoleons army were the mobility and infinite variation he could choose. The perseverance of swiftness and flexibility was the two features of his army from the beginning to the end. The key contribution of these two features were to confuse and perplexing his enemies. He took use of things other people took for granted and though were not useful in aspects of war, he took use of the men’s legs instead of their bayonets. This army moved 275 miles in 22 days, 14 miles in 48 hours, with this mobility he was able to send help that came as a surprise for the enemy.
This strategy of his had one purpose, a decisive battle. All maneuvering had an incentive of bringing the enemies into a state of confusion, to never let the know what he is planning to do. The enemies could not figure out what Napoleons moves were going to be, but he knew what their moves were going to be. Napoleons caused the enemy to be both surprised and demoralized by using his decisive tactics. He knew that the battle is won before it even starts.
Napoleon had principally three strategic concepts he used to always have the most advantageous position in the field of battle.
Firstly, he liked to feint attack the opponent and then secretly attack them from an unexpected position where they had no way to counter his attack. This was proven to be his most successful strategy and it took is enemies’ many years and defeats to learn to counterattack this strategy.
Secondly, when being attack of two or multiple armies at once, Napoleon wanted to be in a central position, he was inferior in men, but he was genius in engaging each part distinctly to achieve superiority over the whole battle.
Third, Strategic penetration. Crushing the enemy’s corridor of defense and right after continue marching in to their territory to take hold of a position to be used as a new base. This is made his army to not need much supplies and was self-sufficient because they could live of the land that they conquered.
These three methods proved to be very efficient. Although, Napoleon kept on repeating his strategies which took away the element of randomness and surprise which lead to he started to become predictable for the enemies and the enemies learned how to counter him.
One may not underestimate the effectiveness of Napoleons subordinates that saved his skin. A general with his small army moved on its own initiative to the sound of the guns that saved Napoleon in a campaign in Italy. Another general did a successful battle where he completely routed the enemy off, so they could not come to aid their Prussian allies.
In all, Napoleon’s reforms combined with this remarkable personality where all key factors for the French army to their achievements of dominance during his time.
After having a very successful early career until 1806, how could it all start to decline and end up in his final fall in 1815? Undoubtedly, there were many glorious victories after his peak too. It was after 1806 his influence dominance and influence started to steadily decline as well as his abilities overall. The decline of his power has certainly many contributing factors such as the battles in Spain and Russia, his own personality, his opponents are learning and getting more effective, the boundaries of his men, the quality of his own men were decreasing.
Napoleon’ personality started to decline as the years went by just like his capacity to work did. The intellectual part was never to challenging, but the increasingly absence of determination was noticeable. He was turning more and more irrational and started to be delusive, a mentality of all in or nothing started to consume his rational decision-making process. His willpower, and grit transformed into inflexibility, stubbornness and he also became more and more cynical of those around him.
Napoleon developed a greedy will to power that put a huge pressure on Frances resources. His belief that he was above the ordinary man distorted his judgment, his physical health was as well declining. The demand that he retained in absolute control over the civil administrations and military caused him to take on more than he would be able to handle effectively. The changing personality of his after his peak had a remarkable impact of the outcome in coming events and decisions of his.
The army where not only of Frenchmen anymore, one third was of foreign nature, and increased the more time passed. When he created the elite troops, the best men went there, and the quality of the ordinary troops declined. The entire army was declining, after many years of constant war, people lacked the proper training and there were not enough people to fill the spots with the right competencies. He offered more promotions and commissions, but it had often an adverse effect on performance.
Napoleon turned towards Spain, when he achieved his first victory there, he left all in Spain to his subordinates and he never returned there again. His army was now fated to continue to have a war in Spain as well as Portugal until Napoleons final fall. This war drained heavily on his resources as well as now they had to fight wars in more than one place at once.
1812, the campaign that occurred in Russia was one of the biggest mistake Napoleon ever made and came with a cost of 30’000 men and ended he had to retreat, and he lost the entire army of more than 500’000 men. The invasion had been his decision alone and he took that decision even that every advice was to avoid invade Russia at this time. This heavy loss for Napoleon was because of his megalomaniac personality, his pride, his obsession of territorial acquisition and to have absolute power in Europe. He was consumed by his greed for power, his rationality faded away, his emotions took over.
Above all, he demanded an unquestioned obedience of his subordinates rather than military talent. With very few who had the expertise to be commanders for different army divisions levels, caused a huge damage to Napoleons empire. Napoleons system caused many feuds among the marshals. The feuds got worse and worse as time passed by. The marshals especially in Spain stopped to take order from Napoleon because they have become spoiled by him. The marshals had become to powerful and rich now on their own, they didn’t want to obey anyone anymore.
By 1813, constant battling of 17 years, Napoleon was unsuccessful to apply the principle of keeping war short and to always keep his opponents alienated. At Leipzig where he was heavily outnumbered, he abandoned his own number one top priority – destruction of the enemy’s armies – and was more fanatical about keeping geographical sites instead such as Prague and Berlin. Furthermore, to achieve his new objective of keep geographical sites instead of crushing the enemy’s army, he abandoned his principle of concentrated force.
He sent big troops to different location where they cannot come to aid each other, and we shall not forget about speaking of the commanders he sent there to the locations. The only thing they did was to achieve self-destruction. This clearly indicated that a break down in Napoleons system of command he had set up. His techniques had not adapted to the new times even regardless of the fact that his miniature armies had increased from small ones to big ones where they couldn’t be as effectively self-sufficient as they were before.
Without casting any shade on Napoleon, we can conclude that he was at the top when he commanded his miniature armies in quick strike campaigns. As time passed, the armies grow larger and larger in numbers and was not flexible or swift anymore. It became more challenging with the logistics, and the slaughter ever increasing.
In 1814 Napoleon succeeded to show excellent results as a general once again that he lacked during the campaigns in Russia and Germany the years before. It is important to note that he has always glorified his own abilities as a general since his early victories in Italy. This glorification is further heightened by his victory after victory, during the Russian and German campaign he did suffer devastating defeats. During 1814, he was once more demonstrating his abilities that he showed during the campaigns in 1796.
His limitations were seen from a clear point and he was general for miniature armies once more which he could completely dominate the battlefield with. He was able to take use of the strategies once more with the smaller armies and use it for lightning strikes against is separated opponents. After a winning streak of battles once more he begun to take his enemies too lightly and allowed his imagination triumph over facts.
The enemies of Napoleon were becoming stronger and was also able to counteract Napoleons tactics. They have learned how to organize themselves as well as an increasing quality of their forces. They have learned their lesson after their defeats and started to undertake reforms. They were facing an gradually more effectively commanders as time went on and Napoleon did not adapt after the circumstances.
Furthermore, there were co-operations going on between the other big players in Europe and Russia. These co-operations had a significant influence on the fall of Napoleon. Napoleons allies started to abandon him to the other powers, started to lose loyalty to him. In 1814, allies attack and forced Napoleon to surrender and his return last for barely 100 days in the year of 1815, which ended as a catastrophe in the battle of Waterloo.
With his abilities in the field of battles with various maneuver, how he reformed his army and his mobility and modernized strategic and tactical handling of enemies made it possible for him to dominate all his opponents in most of his days as a general. Almost 20 years of constant battling, the decline of his strong personality, the gradually improved enemies, the increasing size of the battles, his insufficient subordinates, and the gradually diminishing quality of his army led to his downfall.