I dug out a batch of old zip disks the other day. Unfortunately only about 3 out of 15 of the disks were still readable. A ton of my writing from the 1990s is presumably irrevocably lost. One of the military disks still worked, though, and I found my course paper I wrote "as a budding scout platoon leader" at the Armor Officer's Basic Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky, in October 1994. This might be a good place to bunker it for posterity.
My Battle Analysis discusses the Battle of Jena fought between French forces under Napoleon and Prussian forces under Prince von Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen of Prussia at Jena on October 14, 1806.
Brief Description: Napoleon defeated Prussian forces under Prince Hohenlohe by successfully employing his forces in a manner that could be considered to adhere to the principles of war (FM 100-5). While his subordinate commander, Marshal Davout, was faced with the Prussian main element at Auerstädt, Napoleon defeated Hohenlohe in a fast and decisive blitzkrieg battle.
Conclusions: The main lessons of the Battle of Jena are that commanders must seize and retain the initiative, use their forces in mass, form reserves which they can employ at critical times during the battle, and must establish clear and unified lines of command, control, and communication.
The Battle of Jena was fought on October 14, 1806 near the town of Jena in Thüringen, Germany. This battle between Napoleon Buonaparte's French forces and Prussian and Saxon troops under King Frederick-William III of Prussia was one of two major battles known collectively as the Jena Campaign. The other battle which occurred on the same day was fought nearby, at the town of Auerstädt.
Historical Material Available
There is much information available on this battle, to include information derived from diaries and journals of commanders and common troops alike. The primary sources are hard to come by, however, and are more easily accessed by reading one of the more comprehensive secondary sources listed below.
David G. Chandler is perhaps the foremost of historians who have studied Napoleon in great depth. His comprehensive study of Napoleon, The Campaigns of Napoleon, written in 1966, and subsequent studies of individual battles such as Jena 1806 and Austerlitz 1805 of the Osprey Campaign Series provide a wealth of information to include maps, illustrations, and annotated bibliographies. Chandler bases his assessment on the written accounts of witnesses to the battle, to include Napoleon's own correspondence. Chandler's is probably the most comprehensive works on Napoleonic warfare.
General Sir James Marshall-Cornwall's book Napoleon as Military Commander of 1967 is valuable because of its detailed accounts of the logistical aspects of Napoleon's war machine and because it includes numerous eye-witness accounts and quotes Napoleon's Correspondance in detail. Marshall-Cornwall provides us with detailed accounts of Napoleon's operations orders which illustrate how he used his subordinate commanders.
Albert Sidney Britt III's The Wars of Napoleon, published in 1985 as part of the West Point Military History Series, deserves mention because of its readability and its glossary which facilitates understanding Napoleonic warfare for the novice by translating terms into 20th century terminology. Britt concentrates on the tactical aspects of the campaigns he describes and furnishes excellent maps. His book is obviously aimed toward students of military history who seek a broad, basic understanding of campaigns.
The Road to War
By 1806 Napoleon had defeated Austria at Austerlitz and thus gained control of Bavaria and Württemberg. In July 1806 he dissolved the Holy Roman Empire and created the Confederation of the Rhine whose members were to be loyal to France (Chandler, 449). To secure his growing empire, Napoleon put many of his relatives in charge of the new territories. Such forced rearranging of the power structure did not sit well with all of the neighboring nation states. Most notably, Prussia was distressed by Napoleon's increasing proximity and his continued massing of troops in southern Germany (Britt, 58). Humiliated by Napoleon's previous diplomatic maneuverings, Prussia was moved to war when Napoleon offered Hanover, originally offered to Prussia, to Britain (Chandler, 451). When Prussia occupied Saxony despite a formal warning not to, war seemed inevitable (Chandler, Jena, 9). Prussia decided on war on August 7, 1806 and began to mobilize shortly thereafter (ibid.).
Other than wanting to halt further expansion of the French Empire, Prussia's objectives were less strategic than simply to restore national pride and to seek revenge for humiliation. That is perhaps why there was no clear strategic plan on the Prussian side and why Prussia's military high command could not reach a clear agreement (Chandler, Jena, 11). Napoleon's goals were more clearcut: (1) protect France from invasion, (2) decisively defeat Prussia to prevent further aggression, and (3) to invade Saxony and expand the empire. Having been forced to war, Napoleon was now going to exploit the situation for maximum benefit.
Technologically the two nations were similar. Both had a strong industrial base and were able to man their armies through conscription. Prussia also utilized Saxon troops which were forced into Prussian service. Both armies had artillery and were able to muster a sizeable force of infantry and cavalry. These troops were well trained on both sides. Both armies enjoyed the support of their native countries, at least at first. This was to change for Prussian forces who were treated badly by their own civilian population as they retreated after their defeat at Jena and Auerstädt (Britt, 71).
The Area of Operations
Jena is located in Thüringen, an area of Germany just northeast of the former border between Bavaria and what used to be East Germany. Jena, itself on an open plateau, is surrounded by the heavily wooded area of the Thüringerwald. It is overlooked by the Landgrafenberg, a steep hill on the south end of the plateau which was to become key terrain in that it was the site for Napoleon's artillery. It proved a formidable natural obstacle, however not one which Napoleon's engineers could not handle (Chandler, Jena, 23).
The battlefield itself "covers a rectangular area of some 42 square kilometers," limited on the east by the River Saale, on the west by a stream, a winding pass on the south, and only by the soon to be retreating Prussians to the north (Chandler, Jena, 47). Chandler, who has seen the area of operations in person, explains that "at the season of the year there were no standing crops" and that "the deciduous trees were beginning to shed their leaves" (Jena, 48-9).
Despite the open nature of the terrain around Jena itself, visibility was poor due to the weather. To the French troops' advantage in concealment, "a thick mist capped the Landgrafenberg" (Chandler, Jena, 48). The wet and cold weather complicated French movement on their forced march into the area of operations and must surely have affected soldiers' morale, on both sides, as they waited through the night for the battle to begin (ibid., 24).
The Opposing Forces
The Prussian Army had a battlefield strength of roughly 180,000: "121,000 infantry, 35,000 cavalry and 550 cannon (manned by 15,000 artillerymen)" and was augmented by 20,000 Saxon troops (Chandler, Jena, 38). The Prussian forces at Jena , roughly 35,000 troops, were commanded by Prince von Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen. A detached Corps of 13,000 positioned at Weimar, commanded by General von Rüchel, was later called as support. Hohenlohe's commanders at Jena were Generals von Tauenzien, von Zechwitz, von Grawert, and von Prittwitz. General von Holtzendorff commanded the cavalry attached to von Grawert's division.
In all, however, Prussian mobilization was inefficient and the army was able to muster only a fraction of its potential forces (Britt, 62). In contrast, Napoleon's Grande Armée totaled over 200,000. Of these forces, those involved primarily in the Battle of Jena were the corps under Marshals Soult, Augerau, Ney, Lefebvre, and Murat, totalling 145,500 troops during the height of the Battle (Chandler, 476).
Prussian command and control was weakened tremendously by the fact that the Prussian Army had three competing commanders "who operated almost independently of each other" (Britt, 62). Communication in the Prussian army was further complicated by the fact that "the Prussians had not yet adopted the formation of army corps, so the commander-in-Chief's orders had to be transmitted to 14 divisions separately" (Marshall-Cornwall, 157). Napoleon had no such problem and orders were passed quickly and clearly to his field commanders through his Chief of Staff, Louis-Alexandre Berthier. Both opposing commanders had equally weak intelligence in that Napoleon thought he faced the Prussian main element near Jena, whereas Prince Hohenlohe merely expected the French flank guard there (Chandler, 479).
Prussian soldiers were well trained, if rather authoritatively. Prussian training practices of "beating soldiers into obedience with the stick" supported the Prussian Army's use of "pure linear" tactics (Marshall-Cornwall, 500) which demanded blind followership rather than creativity and initiative. As a result of this drilling, Prussian troops "could load and fire faster than any rival force." (Marshall-Cornwall, 500) Prussian infantry consisted of musketeers, grenadiers, and fusiliers (light infantry) (Chandler, Jena, 39). Prussian cavalry, who had an excellent fighting reputation and whom Chandler considers "best-mounted in Europe" at that time, (ibid., 44) consisted of heavy, dragoon, and light units, and cavalrymen "carried swords or sabers , pistols, and a carbine apiece" (ibid). Prussian artillery was organized to provide close support to infantry and, as Chandler points out, was neither massed nor organized in reserve. (ibid., 45)
Napoleon's Grande Armée was not only well equipped but enjoyed tremendous morale and had the benefit of ample battlefield experience. French infantry was organized into light forward scout (voltigeur) companies and light infantry (tirailleur) battalions. (ibid., 31) French cavalry, cuirassiers, dragoons or light, generally attacked in "twin squadron charges" and were "armed with swords or sabres, pistols and carbines"(ibid., 32). In contrast to Prussian cavalry, some of the French troops "still wore breast and back plates" (ibid.). Napoleon's artillery were highly mobile and flexible. Heavy artillery was placed under Army command. This facilitated coordinated volleys of fire and heavy bombardments, which Napoleon often used to open a battle (ibid., 33).
What Happened on October 14, 1806
The previous night the French advanced under cover of a heavy mist. Napoleon placed his guns on the Landgrafenberg and was not budged by Hohenlohe's forces. Thinking that the plain north of Jena was where the main element of Prussian forces was located (they were actually northeast of Auerstädt, commanded by General Brunswick and were defeated that same day by Marshal Davout), Napoleon gave the order to attack north of Jena at dawn. French artillery opened up in mass. In response, the Prussian forces formed weak and dispersed lines of infantry which had little effect on advancing French skirmishers (Marshall-Cornwall, 502).
The first phase of the battle was marked by an attack on the villages of Cospeda and Closewitz by Lanne's corps. Prussian forces commanded by General Tauenzien retreated to Vierzehnheiligen and counterattacked successfully, splitting the French forces (Chandler, 480). However, Tauenzien failed to exploit this advantage and retreated further to link up with Hohenlohe's main element (ibid., 481). This allowed Napoleon to further bring his troops on line. Von Holtzendorff's cavalry was defeated on the French right flank by Soult's cavalry, badly shaking Prussian morale (ibid., 483).
When Prince Hohenlohe realized that he was facing more than just the French flank guard, he requested assistance from von Rüchel's army at Weimar. This help was to come too late, however, as the Prussians were engaged by Marshal Ney's advance guard, which he impatiently pressed forward before the rest of his unit had arrived (Chandler, 483). Napoleon, however, saved Ney's troops by sending in his reserve cavalry (ibid., 484). Once again Prince Hohenlohe's troops retreated and reconsolidated. And once again Hohenlohe could have counter-attacked in force. Still, Hohenlohe decided to wait for von Rüchel's corps (ibid.). Hohenlohe was not to recover from this act of indecisiveness.
Hohenlohe put everything he had on the line and counted on Rüchel to arrive. The Grande Armée, however, now reinforced by Murat's reserve cavalry, attacked the Prussian line in force. The Prussians were steadily driven back, and, with Rüchel's arrival less and less likely, soon began to crumble and break apart in disorder (Chandler, 486). When von Rüchels' replacements arrived from Weimar, they too were demolished by Napoleon's Army.
Following the twin battles of Jena and Auerstädt, where Marshal Davout had defeated the Prussian main body commanded by General Brunswick, the Grande Armée drove the Prussian Army into the heart of its homeland and occupied its territories.
Why Napoleon Was Victorious
Napoleon gained a very clear victory at Jena. The battle was decisive in that the Prussians could not have recovered from it and, coupled with Davout's victory at Auerstädt, succeeded in permanently unsettling the Prussians for that campaign. Strategically, however, the battle was "an incomplete achievement," as two more campaigns had to be fought to bring about peace negotiations (Chandler, 85).
In bringing about French victory at Jena, morale played an important part. While Napoleon's troops had great confidence in their commander and were well fed due to good supply and liberal looting policies, Prussian soldiers had little confidence in their leadership. The forceful integration of Saxon units did not help either. Personnel issues were keenly handled by Napoleon who wisely kept forces in reserve which he could send into battle should unexpected contingencies arise. Napoleon's elite forces, the Imperial Guard, were generally kept in reserve, much to its eager soldiers' disappointment. This flexibility allowed Napoleon to transform Ney's blunder into a victory, for example.
Poor leadership on Hohenlohe's part must also be cited in determining the cause of the Prussian defeat. Had Hohenlohe responded to Napoleon's blitzkrieg in kind, counter-attacking in force when he had the chance, he may have suffered fewer losses or been able to hold things in sway until von Rüchel's arrival.
Lastly, it must also be said that Napoleon had some luck in the whole affair. For one, Napoleon outnumbered his foe by 20 percent (Chandler, 503). To Napoleon's ignorance, the Prussian main force was located elsewhere. It is hard to say whether Napoleon could have succeeded against both Hohenlohe and Brunswick with Marshals Davout and Bernadotte an Naumburg. It is also hard to say what may have happened had Davout been unsuccessful at Auerstädt. Altogether, for Jena and Auerstädt, Prussian losses equaled 20,000 dead and 140,000 prisoners of war (Chandler, Jena, 85).
Napoleon's victory at Jena can be analyzed, though anachronistically, in terms of the Principles of War outlined in FM 100-5 (Operations). These are objective, offensive, mass, economy of force, maneuver, unity of command, security, surprise, and simplicity.
The principle of focusing one's efforts on a clearly defined and attainable objective was more clearly adhered to Napoleon than by the Prussians. Napoleons objective was to destroy the Prussian Army using whatever force necessary in one great meeting engagement. The Prussians meanwhile were indecisive about whether to mount a preemptive attack or to defend, or where to defend.
Napoleon, in distinct contrast to Hohenlohe, exercised the principle of offensive by seizing, retaining, and exploiting the initiative whenever possible. Even when he was uninformed, Napoleon was able to come out on top by taking the initiative and forcing the enemy to fight on his terms.
By keeping forces in reserve, Napoleon was able to adhere to the principle of war of mass: "massing the effects of overwhelming combat power at the decisive place and time." (FM, p. 2-4) This is particularly evident in his use of artillery which was employed in mass against critical targets, rather than assigned to maneuver units as in Hohenlohe's case.
Economy of force was not handled to perfection by either commander. In both cases there were units not effective engaged in the battle or available for employment. Rüchel's absence and the fact that Bernadotte's corps did not enter into the fight, are two examples.
Maneuver, or "placing the enemy in a position of disadvantage through the flexible application of fire power," (FM, p. 2-5) was less applicable in this case as the battle constituted a meeting engagement. Once engaged, however, Napoleon did effectively deploy his cavalry against key targets.
Whereas Napoleon effectively used unity of command, singly issuing orders to his corps commanders and granting them latitude in their execution, the Prussian Army's lack of a centralized command system resulted in the lack of a clear plan and confusion on the battlefield.
Security was compromised by Ney's hasty and imprudent attack. By throwing himself into the battle without support, Ney allowed the Prussians to gain an unexpected advantage, even if this advantage was short-lived due to the prompt rescue maneuver by Murat's cavalry.
Surprise, due to a lack of intelligence, hindered both commanders. Neither knew much about the enemy. The sheer speed by which Napoleon's Army moved must have achieved a surprise effect on the Prussians, though.
Finally, the principle of simplicity, especially in issuing clear, easy-to-understand orders, aided Napoleon in communicating his intent to his field commanders. Prussian plans for action were anything but simple and the fact nobody really knew what the overall objective was, probably resulted in the splitting of Hohenlohe's and Brunswick's forces.
Military Lessons Learned
As a budding scout platoon leader, I can identify a few distinct military lessons learned. First, establish clear lines of command so as to facilitate control and the flow of communication. Napoleon did this quite well through his six corps commanders. The Prussians were indecisive due to bickering among top commanders and were thus unable to take the initiative despite the fact Napoleon had no clear knowledge of Prussian whereabouts or intentions.
Second, form and keep reserves. Had the Prussians kept a clear reserve, rather than forming one great line with the entire force, they would have been able to maneuver around and assist in times of crisis.
Third, fight as a combined arms team. The Prussians made the mistake of mixing their divisions, of integrating all elements of arms at the division level (Chandler, Jena, 39) And finally, take the initiative whenever possible so as to confuse and disrupt the enemy. If you gain an advantage over the enemy, exploit it; don't let him regroup and take it back from you.
It is just as well that we are not nowadays faced with fighting by massing troops in giant formations on the ground. The principles of maneuver warfare, of seizing the initiative and decisively cutting through the enemy in blitzkrieg fashion, are as important today as in 1806. For me that is the most important lesson: Fight decisively and do not let yourself get bogged down in a war of attrition.
Britt, Albert Sidney III. The Wars of Napoleon. Ed. Thomas E. Griess. Wayne, NJ: Avery, 1985.
Chandler, David G. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York: MacMillan, 1966.
---. Jena 1806: Napoleon Destroys Prussia. Campaign Series vol. 20. London: Osprey Military, 1993.
Marshall-Cornwall, General Sir James. Napoleon as Military Commander. London: B.T. Bratsford, 1967.