Sunday, September 12, 2010

Summary of Walking Austerlitz

This was our first trip with Midas Battlefield Tours. For a short tour of only four days we managed to fit a great deal in.

Again the weather was pretty dismal. However we regularly do hill walking in UK, so we are well used to walking in the rain. Mind in UK the mud was never quite as bad as it turned out to be at Austerlitz.

It was raining as we drove to Heathrow on 3 September 1998 to catch the flight to Vienna, and it continued to rain on and off for the whole holiday.

The group was surprisingly cheerful, and remained so in pretty challenging conditions.

Despite the weather we stuck to the programme, and walked large sections of the battlefield. Austerlitz is an easy battlefield to explore. Modern roads follow those to be found on period maps and battle diagrams.

The area was used as a Russian military training area during the Cold War, and no doubt that helped to keep it under developed. The Pratzen now has a huge monument, but provides an excellent viewpoint of the battlefield.

Another good viewpoint is Zuran Hill, the site of Napoleons command post during the early stages of the battle. The nearby Santon Hill is less good, as it overlooks an area not much fought over during the battle.

Telnitz and Sokolnitz are both well worth a visit, and unchanged enough to be able to follow the detailed descriptions of the battle readily available.

My particular favourite was The Post House. This was used by both sides as a battlefield headquarters, and is the centre of the reenactments which take place every year. It retains much of its original flavour, but has a very modern motel (with underground garage) added on.

Brunn and Austerlitz, plus an afternoon at the Vienna military museum, were an added bonus.

We enjoyed our visit so much, that it inspired us to return a few years later for a much more detailed walking holiday.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Austerlitz and Vienna

Our last day was always going to be a busy one. The timetable included a visit to Spilberk Castle, drive back to Vienna and visit the military museum before catching our late afternoon flight back to London. It was not helped by the fact that we had a very late night visiting a local wine cellar.

Spilberk Castle has a long history as a castle, barracks and most of all a prison. The guided tour pays particular attention to the dank cells with their large assortment of tools of torture. Most of it was wasted in our group who were suffering from the after effects of too much food and much too much wine.

As it was a relatively clear and sunny day Alan Rooney offered us a quick visit to Zurlan Hill after the Castle and before the drive back to Vienna. We had seen little during our first visit in the heavy rain, so we were happy to exchange an hour in Vienna for a second visit to Zurlan.

The photographs which follow were all taken from the memorial on the Zuran Hill and show the battlefield looking from right to left.

Above is looking right from Zurlan. Puntowitz is on the right and Girzikowlitz on the left. The hill in the centre distance is the Pratzen. St Hilaire led the right hand column of the French attack on the Pratzen over this ground

Looking slightly left of the previous photo this shows Pratzen Heights on the right, with Girzikowitz in the centre and Vinobradi behind. Vandalle led the left hand column over this area.

Looking slightly left again we find Vinobradi (centre right) just behind the village of Girzikowitz. Further left in the distance is Blaziowitz. This was the area of the cavalry battle.

Looking left from Zuran we see The Santon (wooded hill just behind the motorway and Wimpy service station) and the mountains of Moravia behind. This was the area of the French reserves and the Imperial Guard. It was also the extreme left of the French battle line.

With our sore heads and upset tummy’s it was a long two hour drive to Vienna in the less than comfortable mini van. We had last visited the impressive military museum about ten years earlier, and it had not changed much since then. Still the huge saloons and wide staircases. The Napoleon section is well worth a visit, though it was starting to look a little old fashioned.

The flight to London was delayed by one hour and we were very pleased to reach Salisbury at the end of a very enjoyable, if tiring, long weekend. It is hard to believe that it is possible to fit so much into such a short time. We had to rush parts, but we had seen enough to convince us that we would return for a much longer visit.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Austerlitz - Sokolnitz

Unlike Telnitz, which we covered last week, Sokolnitz is a very interesting village to visit. Both played a critical, and similar, part in the battle of Austerlitz. Both are on the right flank of Napoleon’s position, with Telnitz on the far right. Sokolnitz is larger than Telnitz, and contains a small castle a large walled garden and a number of large buildings similar to the Granary at Essling.

The castle is separate from the village, and behind the large walled garden called The Pheasantry. Both changed hands a number of times during the battle.

The battle opened with the attack on Telnitz, and was quickly followed by a larger attack on Sokolnitz. The loss of either would have allowed the allies to sweep around Napoleon’s right flank.

This is the view of the Pratzen heights from The Pheasantry (large walled garden) at Sokolnitz. The allied columns would have marched down from the heights and crossed this ground as they approached the village.

There are 12 holes in the stone wall of The Pheasantry on the side facing the Pratzen heights. This is where the French artillery was positioned to fire on the allied columns as they approached the village. All have now been covered with a cross and the words 1805 as shown above.

This is the track leading into the village. It is flanked by stone barns, which would have given good cover to the defenders. This village was the scene of the most savage fighting of the whole battle, and subject to attack after attack throughout the day.

At the far end of the village is this large stone building, apparently for storing grain. It looks very similar to The Granary at Essling. It was held by the French against repeated attacks, and formed the pivot for subsequent French counter attacks. Slightly further up the road is a small ridge, where the French rallied each time they were forced to abandon the village.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Austerlitz - Telnitz

Telnitz is a very unassuming little village with nothing to indicate the vital part it played in the battle. This church was the scene of bitter fighting throughout the day, but we could find no plaque to record that fact. Fortunately we had an excellent guide in Alan Rooney; otherwise we could have spent hours exploring the village and still found nothing of interest.

The village was the southern end of Napoleon’s position. It was lightly held, to encourage the allies to attack this end of the line. But reinforcements were due from Vienna, which should start to arrive during the morning. The allies took the bait, and the village was the scene of desperate fighting throughout the battle.

This is the first sight the Austrian light infantry would have had as they approached the village and the early morning mist started to clear. There is little cover, and the French were forced to fall back into the village.

This impressive well had nothing to do with the battle, but was in the centre of the field over which the allies would attack again and again. For the first time during this visit the weather was good enough to allow us to have a picnic on the battlefield, and this seemed a very appropriate spot to have it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Pratzen Heights

The Peace Memorial dominates the Pratzen Heights. It was built in 1912, and contains a crypt at the base containing the scattered human remains which are still found in the area. There is a plain chapel which contains a body in a glass topped coffin. There is also a small museum. The main interest is the views of the battlefield. Having viewed the Russian positions from Napoleon’s command post on Zuran Hill we could now study the French positions as seen by the attacking allied army. It was easy to follow the route taken by the allied columns towards Telnitz and Sokolnitz, and indeed we would walk that route shortly.

The Pratzen Heights are not as dominating as they appear in this map. Indeed from a distance, such as Zuran Hill, it would be impossible to identify them were it not for the monument. However they appear much higher when you stand by the monument and view Telnitz and Sokolnitz. And the walk along the ridge towards Stare Vinohrady covers the area of the main French attack and the desperate Russian counter attack.

The right hand column of the French attack on the Pratzen Heights was commanded by general St Hilaire. He led his column over these muddy fields towards the heights which can be seen behind the tree line. In December the ground would have been much firmer than it was during our visit in September 1999.

As the leading French regiment approached the village of Pratze they were ambushed by a Russian battalion hidden in these woods (the village is behind the woods. The French quickly recovered and drove the Russians back and took the village and heights behind.

This is the view of Pratze village from the Pratzen Heights. The day of our visit was grey and overcast and my cheap camera was not up to the task.

This map shows the attack on the Pratzen Heights and the Russian counter attack on Sare Vinohrady. You can see that the village of Pratze holds the centre ground between these two points.

This farm track leads from Pratze (behind the camera) to Blasowitz in the distance. It covers the area of the bitter fighting for the heights. It takes about half an hour to walk from the monument to Sare Vinohrady. However the latter could easily be missed if you do not have either a good map or a guide.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Austerlitz Castle

This was an unexpected treat, an evening visit and meal at Austerlitz Castle. As far as I know, neither the castle nor the village has any significant connection to the battle, although I believe that the armistice was signed there. The village is a mile or so east of the battlefield, well behind the allied battle line.

The highlight of the visit was a demonstration of artillery drill by a group of authentic looking French artillerymen. I think that they were a little short handed for a gun crew, but these guys were all young and really looked the part, unlike so many of the overweight and unfit looking reenactors you often find at Wargame shows.

The demonstration was quite impressive, with enough noise and smoke to impress.

Jan was somehow selected to fire the gun the second time. Not sure how or why, certainly she did not volunteer. But she enjoyed the experience, and was the envy of everyone else in the group – including me.

Next came a display of sword fighting. No doubt very skilful, but less impressive than the artillery drill.

Finally it was inside for a very pleasant dinner. I understand that there is a small museum in the castle, but as our visit was after the castle had closed to the public we were unable to visit it.

This was an unusual extension to our battlefield walk, and one which I would recommend to anyone who has the opportunity. It is also the advantage of going with a coach group, as it is not something we would not have taken the trouble to book had we been on our own.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Austerlitz - The Santon

The Santon is a small hill on the far left of Napoleon’s battle line. Immediately prior to the battle it was fortified with field works and 20 captured Austrian light cannon. It came under attack during the early stages of the battle, but was held throughout the day.

The main road runs between the Santon and Napoleons main command post on the Zuran Hill. From the road the Santon is not very impressive, as it is now overgrown on that side. To reach the steep steps you have to walk around to the other side.

The plan was to walk from the Post House to the Santon after lunch. However after our wet and cold morning we were reluctant to leave the warmth of the Post House. We were eventually persuaded by the offer of a lift to the Santon in the mini bus. By now the weather had greatly improved and we were all keen to get back to the tour.

It came as a surprise that the view from the top of the Santon is quite restricted. There are good views to the left, but that area saw little action during the battle, other than a minor infantry attack on the Santon itself. Alan Rooney explained the importance of this hill in the battle and the cavalry battle which took place between it and the Post House. This is the area that we should have walking over instead of extra glasses of local wine to wash down the excellent Santon Cannonball for lunch!

There was a chapel on the Santon prior to the battle, but it was dismantled to provide material for the fortifications. The present chapel was built in 1832 and looks like it has always been there.

There is also a cannon gun on the summit. There are no signs in English, so I am not sure whether this was an original or a replica.