This rather short chapter deals with layouts of the army, strategies, etc. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain flanking strategy for those who aren’t sure what it is. (This is only because I first read about it earlier this year, and learned a lot.)
Basically, if you imagine an army spread out in a line, the flanks are the sides of the army. So your far left flank is your soldiers all the way over on the left, etc.
Obviously, this is the opposite for the army facing you. So your left flank is their right flank.
Where this all becomes important is when you try to do what the Russians are trying to do here – a flanking movement. Quite simply, this is where you try to get your army to go around one of the sides (or flanks) of the enemy.
We don’t usually see this too much on war films, because most of the time, most battle scenes are usually front-on charges, where two groups of soldiers rush towards one another. Whereas it’s a bit harder to show one group of soldiers heading around the side of an army line.
Why would you want to go around the flank of an enemy army? Quite simply, it’s because if you can get around the side of the army without being touched, you can then turn around and attack that army from the rear. Believe it or not, an army is not that easy to turn around when they’re facing in a certain direction. (Certainly not artillery and cavalry, but it’s hard with foot soldiers as well.)
So if you send a bunch of soldiers around the flank and then they attack the rear of the enemy, you actually stand a pretty good chance of causing utter chaos. Getting attacked from the rear is one of the absolutely worst things that can happen to an army on the battlefield.
Which brings us to this chapter – the Austrians have done some scouting, and they think they know where the French are. Or think they know well enough to try going around the outside of them, anyway. General Kutuzov, being more cautious, thinks it is far too dangerous to attempt this kind of move without knowing where the enemy is properly located and wants to just wait.
The other generals (Dolgurokov especially), think this is being totally soft – and after all, the French are obviously petrified out of their minds- so they’re all gung ho for the battle. Of course, it’s these generals that start the great wheel turning (as Tolstoy so poetically puts in this chapter) that eventually leads to the defeat of Austerlitz. (He did say that in there, didn’t he? Apologies if I just spoiled something.) But only Kutuzov seems to see that coming . . .