Thunder on the Danube

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First, I want to blame the game. What game? Wagram 1809 about the famous battle at the climax of Napoleon’s campaign against the Habsburg Empire.

What am I blaming the game for?

It’s not unusual for me to be inspired to do some reading on the background to a game I am playing. But this time around, I went overboard. As soon as I saw the three volumes of John H Gill‘s work on Amazon, and the reviews, I knew I had to read them. The order went in, weeks passed, the game came off and went back on my table, and eventually I was invited to collect my goodies from the post office. I picked them up and read them all, one after the other, entranced.

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This is what military history should be; sweeping storyline with plentiful maps, bursting with source notes, an incredible bibliography, and detailed orders of battle. He covers the whole campaign, including the political hopes and aspirations before hostilities began, and the lesser zones of conflict like Italy, Poland, Hungary, Dalmatia, Styria, and the Tyrol.

The author puts us into the Austrian HQ and lets us witness the clash between the different interest groups. He shows us Napoleon’s commanders at their worst and best. He gives us a peek into the chaos of battle – of blunders and bold strokes, of hesitation and ┬ádisorder, and those who kept their heads. And he reminds us of the heroism and bravery of the poor, individual soldier who often gave up his life for ethereal concepts like honor and loyalty. In short, he delivers a complete picture – or as complete as I have ever seen – with an impressive grasp of detail and the big picture all at the same time.

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I found myself grabbing games from my collection, to see how they fitted the history. I gave up because it was taking so long, but it does lie at the back of my mind as (yet another) retirement project.

I owe a debt to Laurent Martin for sparking my interest, and a bigger debt to Mr Gill for his stupendous skill on top of, no doubt, countless hours of long hard sweat.

If you have any interest in Napoleonic warfare, these books are a must read:

  • Volume I – Abensberg
  • Volume II – The Fall of Vienna and the Battle of Aspern
  • Volume III – Wagram and Znaim