Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Schlapanitz

The last morning of our visit was warm and sunny. We had to drive to Vienna to return the hire car and catch our flight back to UK, but we did not have to be there until 3pm. Not long enough for a proper walk, but long enough to pay a visit to Schlapanitz.

Or Slapanice to use the local spelling is a small town a short walk from Napoleon’s command post on Zuran hill. On our last morning we explored this area, which was where the French reserves were formed waiting for the order to advance. As you follow the winding track to the town you can see nothing of the battlefield, other than the Zuran.

The town has grown a lot since 1805, but the old town remains much as it was then. This former monastery school was Bernadotte’s headquarters and has now been turned into a small museum. Unfortunately it was closed, but we did have a cup of coffee at the nearby cafĂ©.

And then it was back to Vienna and the flight back to UK. We had been very lucky with the weather during this holiday, and we were particularly pleased to be able to walk Austerlitz in the sun, after our earlier experience of cold, heavy rain and lots of mud.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Augezd

Augezd is a small village on the south east edge of the battlefield. It is famous as the site of the frozen Satschan pond, which feature in most descriptions of the battle. Our objective was to find the small church on the hill overlooking the village.

The church is on a steep hill overlooking the village, and the area over which the allied army retreated at the end of the battle. It is here that Napoleon ordered his artillery to fire on the allies as they retreated over the frozen ponds.

The church is not easy to find. It is quite close to the Pratzenberg monument, but the path leading south runs alongside a large collection of concrete buildings which was a Russian army communications base during the Cold War. We felt a little uneasy walking so close to the buildings, but no one stopped or questioned us. We eventually found the church, clinging to the side of a steep hill.

With the Pratzen in French hands, the allies fighting for Telnitz and Sokolnitz could only retreat to the south of the high ground between the villages of Augezd and Satschan. In 1815 this area was covered in a large pond. It was frozen, and the allies retreated over the hard ice. Napoleon ordered his artillery to fire on the ice, which broke up and he claimed that 20,000 allied troops drowned there. However when the ponds were drained some years later the remains of only two men and a handful of horses were found.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stare Vinhorady

Stare Vinhorady (Old Vines) is one of the more difficult locations to find on the Austerlitz battlefield. I knew where it was on the map, and found the general area without difficulty, but could not find anything like a hill. It is part of the Pratzen ridge, so it provides excellent views towards the French position. But nothing to identify it as Stare Vinhorady as opposed to just part of Pratzen ridge.

This map shows the area covered during our various walks around the battlefield. All start at the Pratzenberg monument, called Pracky kopec on the map. Our exploration of Stare Vinhorady followed the green line north of the monument. Start Vinhorady is shown as just north of the crossroads. We found the path from Pratzenberg and followed it to the cross roads. But we could not see any hill as indicated by the contour on the map. The spot shown in the photo above is right in the middle of the contour shown on the map, but as you can see from the photo it was pretty flat!

We were lucky to have yet another sunny day, and we settled down amongst the cut hay with our picnic lunch, our maps and our photocopies to study the ground. There are really extensive views from here, and we could easily identify all the major villages. So it was also easy to identify the area where Vandamme and St Hilaire spearheaded the French attack. To our left St Hilaire led his division towards the village of Pratzen. Directly ahead Vandamme headed for Stare Vinhorady.

Vandamme had the toughest nut to crack, as the Russian Guard was on and behind Stare Vinhorady. As the two bodies of infantry struggled for possession of the Pratzen, the Russian Guard cavalry charged the French left flank and broke the 24th regiment who were holding Stare Vinhorady.

Fortunately Napoleon was approaching, as the infantry broke and ran past him. He immediately ordered his only available reserve, his own Guard cavalry, to charge the Russian horsemen. Both sides fed reinforcements into the cavalry melee, but it was the French cavalry who won the day.

We spent all afternoon studying the area, walking the ground and enjoying the warm sun. Another of those very memorable battlefield visits which we remember with affection.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Telnitz and Sokolnitz

This is the view of Telnitz and Sokolnitz from The Pratzen. The allied attacks on the villages advanced over this ground. The first attack was on Telnitz, and then spread to Sokolnitz. Both villages changed hands during the battle, but both we retaken by the French before the end.
We spent a day walking the whole area around the two villages following the red outline above. First we followed the Austrian advance from the hill to Telnitz to the south. Then around the back of the village towards Sokolnitz, over the area where the French reinforced the village. And finally we had lunch on the small hill to the west of Sokolnitz, where the French counter attacks on the village were formed.

There was no path from the Pratzen to Telnitz in 1805, nor is there now. We tramped across the fields heading for the church tower of the village, much as the Austrian infantry must have done in 1805.


There were a number of attacks on each village. The French were driven out, received reinforcements and counter attacked throughout the day. The reinforcements came from Sokolnitz, and one column was fired on by their own comrades when it was mistaken for an allied attack (see accidental clash above). Walking from Telnitz to Sokolnitz we found the likely spot for this unfortunate mistaken exchange of fire.

In Sokolnitz we had a short break in the walled garden looking towards The Pratzen. Then we walked through the village and up to the small hill behind. In doing so we followed the route taken by the Russians as they stormed the village time and again. Each time the French rallied on the hill behind, and returned to retake the village. Here we had a picnic lunch and read our prepared accounts of the fighting.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Pratzenberg

Austerlitz is blessed with three easy to find locations which give excellent views of the battlefield. Zurlan hill was Napoleon’s command post for the early part of the battle, and is the easiest to find. Nearby The Santon is easy to locate, though slightly more difficult to get to. The third is Pratzenberg. I had expected a long dominating ridge, but from the French position is looks quite flat. However the monument can be seen from any part of the battlefield.
The allied attacks on Telnitz and Sokolnitz came from Pratzenberg. It now contains a large monument to the battle, a small museum and a large car park. The immediate area has been landscaped, but does not alter the battlefield in the same way that The Lion monument does at Waterloo.
We were unable to hire bikes here to explore the battlefield, but fortunately it is not too large to cover on foot. Parking is not difficult in any of the villages, but we often used the car park at Pratzenberg because it is central and we wanted to follow the route of the allied attacks on Telnitz and Sokolnitz on foot. There are also convenient tracks leading to both Stare Vinorady (where the battle with the Russian Guard took place) and Augezd (where the French artillery fired on the retreating allied army as it tried to cross the frozen ponds).
Each day we visited the nearby motorway service station to get a supply of fresh rolls, fruit and a bottle of wine for our picnic lunch. We carried our rations in our haversacks, as we tramped the battlefield. We also had a folder with maps and photocopies, plus a couple of reference books. We would then drive to Pratzenberg and plan our tour for the day. We only used the car once or twice, mostly we explored on foot. The bemused car park attendant seemed quite surprised to see us turning up day after day. But he spoke no English, and we had to make do with an exchange of smiles.
Our first visit to Austerlitz had been memorable for such terrible weather. Heavy rain throughout both days that we spent here. We returned to our hotel in Brunn each night covered in mud and dripping water all over the carpets. This time we had warm, sunny days with a slight breeze. Ideal for walking and very pleasant to have our lunch gazing over sections of the battlefield and reading accounts of the battle.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Santon

It’s a short walk from our accommodation at The Post House to The Santon.

As soon as we had lunch and a wash up we set out to walk to The Santon along the side of the busy road. The present road follows the old road through the middle of the French left flank. To our left Murat fought his cavalry battle. Along this very road the Marshal Lannes pursued the broken allied army at the end of the battle

This map shows the Post House on the right, and The Santon on the left. This was the situation at the start of the battle.

Although The Santon is neither high, nor difficult to climb, it dominates the flat countryside around it. It is an excellent viewpoint to survey the whole battlefield, and in particular the northern part .

The left section of the diorama shows the French advance towards the end of the battle. Our road runs left to right, with The Post Office on the left

The right section of the diorama shows The Santon as it was during the battle. The French had transformed an insignificant hill into a redoubt, dominated by a large number of captured Austrian guns on the flattened top.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Stara Posta (The Old Post House)

It is only 80 miles from Vienna to Austerlitz, but the journey took us nearly three hours. Jan did all of the driving on this holiday, and I did the map reading. Unlike our previous visit, we had another hot and sunny day for our journey. We had booked four nights at the historic Stara Posta, or Old Post Office. Despite a minor map reading error driving around Brunn, we eventually arrived safe, if slightly overheated We had visited Stara Posta during our previous visit. It was used by both the French and allied staff during the battle. It has since become the centre piece of the battlefield, with many participants of the annual reenactment sleeping in the large stables. Most visitors to the battlefield pay a visit and eat a meal. Some take advantage of the battlefield tours on offer on foot or by horse driven coach.
When we visited with Midas Tours a few years earlier the owner had given us a guided tour, so we were well aware of the historical part of the grounds. Then it had been raining hard, now it was sunny and pleasant to roam around on our own.
The historic buildings seem to have changed little. They were not damaged during the battle, and if updated or renovated the work has been well done to maintain the original look of the buildings. We had not seen the very modern chalet style visitor accommodation, which is behind the historic buildings. They can not be seen from the courtyard, but are just a short walk away. We expected very basic accommodation, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that each chalet is very large and well appointed. There is also a large underground car park, which is entered from the main road via a concealed entrance.

As our visit was in mid July, we were surprised to find that we were the only visitors. Not just when we arrived, but throughout our four night stay. The chalets overlooked a horse training circuit, and it was nice to sit in the evening with a glass of wine soaking up the atmosphere.During our previous visit the resident display team had put on a demonstration. There are only three of them, dressed as an officer, a soldier and a drummer of the Imperial Guard. We were to see the display many times during our stay; it appeared to be a regular for any visiting coach group.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wagram

We had allowed a whole day to explore the main battlefield of Wagram. We would cycle to Markgrafneusiedlung, which was the left of the Austrian battle line. From here we would follow the ridge to Deutsch Wagram, the Austrian right flank. Both towns saw a lot of fighting, and we wanted to have plenty of time to explore them properly There is a road between the two towns, and this was the main Austrian defensive line.

Time permitting we would visit Aderklaa and Breitenlee on the way back to Aspern.

It proved a good plan, and we had allowed sufficient time. What I had not allowed for was how painful cycling could be if you do too much too soon. We did not have proper cycling clothing, and I had not ridden a bike for many years. I was relieved to find that I could handle the bike ok, or at least I did not fall off. However I was saddle sore within an hour and it got more and more painful as the day wore on. I am not sure how long the whole route way, but it must have been about 20 miles. I could hardly walk by the time we reached Deutsch Wagram, and we still had to cycle back to Aspern!

Davout’s horse is shot during III corps attack on Markgrafneusiedl. The tower dominates the area, as it does now. This whole area is very flat, and the tower can be seen from almost any part of the battlefield.

We had not problem finding either Markgrafneusiedl or the tower. It was not possible to climb the tower, and there were not the magnificent views I had hoped for. So after a short stop we set off for Deutsch Wagram. There is a small ridge to the north of the road, where the Austrian line stood, and this provided good views of the ground the French advanced over. Wagram itself was also disappointing, very modern and ordinary. There was a small museum, but not as interesting as either Aspern or Essling.

The whole area reminded me very much of Salisbury Plain.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Marchfeld

The battle of Wagram was fought over a large area shown on the map above. It’s about 10 miles from Aspern to Wagram, and all of the villages shown on the map were involved in the fighting. The whole area is very flat, similar to Salisbury Plain in the UK. And in 1809 it served a similar purpose, it was a military training area. The modern roads tend to by pass the area, except for one which goes through the centre. But all of the villages are connected by a series of farm tracks. This would make it difficult to explore by car. It is too large to explore on foot. So we tackled it by bike.

The big advantage of cycling is that you can go where you want, and stop when you want. The big disadvantage is that it is all manual work. On the day we spent exploring the Marchfeld was warm and sunny, and being unused to cycling we were soon hot and saddle sore. But it was well worth it to be able to go just where we wanted.

I knew that just north of Raasdorf there is a small rise covered in trees, and it was from this spot that Napoleon observed the battle. We were delighted to find the very tree, which has a plaque confirming that it was his observation post.

All of the villages have changed a lot since 1809. We particularly wanted to visit Aderklaa, which was critical to both sides. We found it easily enough, but it did not bear any resemblance to the village shown above. The most interesting part was exploring the area between the villages, which can not have changed much, and reading accounts of the fighting in that part of the Marchfeld.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Aspern and Essling

We were fortunate to arrive at Aspern on a Saturday, because we discovered that the small museum beside the Aspern church was only open on the Sunday morning. We were the first visitors when it opened at 10am. There is only a small collection, but the building itself is all of the original church still remaining. The rest of the church was rebuilt after the battle.

Having crossed the river Danube, via Lobau Island, the French occupied Aspern. They were surprised by the strength and determination of the Austrian attack. The village changed hands a number of times during the battle, and the church was the scene of the most desperate fighting.

We had allowed an hour for the museum, which was plenty of time. After our visit we planned to visit Lobau Island again, this time on our bikes, and explore some more. As we left we thanked the lady at the desk, and asked if there was anything else in the area relating to the battle that we should visit. She told us that there was a new exhibition at Essling granary, but it was only open Sunday morning.

Essling is about two miles from Aspern, and it was already 11am. We did not know the exact location of the granary, but I had this photo with me. We cycled as fast as we could along the modern road to Essling. We could see no sign of the granary, but found it by showing the photo and asking for directions. It is on the outskirts of the village, and we might well have missed it had we not known what it looked like, and had good directions to get there. It was sad to find it in such a run down condition.

The Granary was to Essling what the church was to Aspern. It was held by the French throughout the battle, though it was attacked time and again by the Austrians.

We arrived just before noon, and the old chap at the door seemed none too pleased to have visitors arriving so late. We were the only ones there, and I suspect that he wanted to lock up and get home for his Sunday lunch. To be honest there was not much to see inside the building, except for this large diorama. The whole building looked very run down, though perhaps now there would be an attempt to renovate it. Unfortunately we could not communicate with the old boy, other than in broken German. And he was not at all interested in small talk. It was not possible to see any of the Granary, other than the room where the diorama was laid out. It was not even possible to walk around the outside. However the large door looked very similar to paintings I have seen, and was obviously very old and battered. So it might well have been the same.