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Napoleon - Battles Of Jena And Auerstedt

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Napoleon

Battles Of Jena And Auerstedt

The twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt (older name: Auerstädt) were fought on 14 October 1806 on the plateau west of the river Saale in today's Germany, between the forces of Napoleon I of France and Frederick William III of Prussia. The decisive defeat suffered by the Prussian army a mere nineteen days after its mobilization resulted in Prussia's elimination from the fourth anti-French coalition until the liberation war of 1813.

The battles began when elements of Napoleon's main force encountered Hohenlohe's troops near Jena. Initially only 48,000 strong, the Emperor took advantage of his carefully-planned and flexible dispositions to rapidly build up a crushing superiority. The Prussians were slow to grasp the situation, and slower still to react. Before Ruchel's 15,000 men could arrive from Weimar, Hohenlohe's force was routed. Nevertheless, it was a fierce battle, and Napoleon mistakenly believed that he had faced the main body of the Prussian army.

Further north at Auerstedt, both Davout and Bernadotte received orders to come to Napoleon's aid. Davout attempted to comply via Ekartsberg; Bernadotte, via Dornburg. Davout's route south, however, was blocked by the Prussian main force of 55,000 men, including the Prussian King, the Duke of Brunswick and Field Marshals von Möllendorf and von Kalckreuth. A savage battle ensued. Although outnumbered two to one, Davout's superbly trained and disciplined III Corps endured repeated attacks before eventually taking the offensive and putting the Prussians to flight. Though in sight of the battle, Bernadotte took no steps to come to Davout's aid, for which he was later censured by Napoleon.

Prussia's War Plan Prussia's main weakness in 1806 was a very weak high command structure that included command positions being held by multiple officers. One such example is the position of Chief of Staff, held by three different officers, General Phull (Pfuel), Colonel Gerhard Johann von Scharnhorst and Colonel Rudolf Massenbach. This confusing system lead to delays and complexities that resulted in over a month delay before the final order of battle was prepared. The Prussian army was divided into three armies drawn from across Prussia. The next obstacle facing the Prussians was the creation of a unified plan of battle. Five main plans emerged for discussion; however, protracted planning and deliberating shifted the initiative to the French. Thus, the Prussian plans became reactionary to Napoleons movements.

Although Prussia had begun its mobilization almost a month before France, Napoleon had kept a high state of readiness after the Russian refusal to accept the peace from the Third Coalition. Napoleon conceived a plan to force Prussia into a decisive battle, like Austerlitz, and pre-empt the Prussian offensive. Napoleon had a major portion of his La Grande Armée position in present day Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany, and thus decided on a northeast advance into Saxony and onto Berlin.

Battle of Jena-Auerstedt
Part of the War of the Fourth Coalition
Napoleon-imperial-guard.png
Napoleon reviewing the Imperial Guard.

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