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 . . .

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6 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 3.11 – Flanking Movements

  1. No, you’re safe there Matt – no spoilers re the outcome of Austerlitz. I guess Tolstoy would have assumed that most of his readers would have known the outcome anyway. His purpose, after all, is not so much to have us on the edges of our seats, wondering who’s going to win the battles or the wars, but rather to tell us the stories behind it all.

    But a propos yesterday’s discussion, leading into today’s, about the Tsar and his reaction to seeing the wounded and dead, I’m afraid I can’t quite agree with you that Tolstoy was gently showing us that the Tsar was “soft” – at least not if soft is meant to have sort of connotation of “weakness” linked with it. Quite the opposite in fact – I think he is showing us the human side of this man in whose name all these thousands upon thousands of soliders are going off, with such exhileration, to fight and kill. To me that’s an enormous irony – such patriotic, militaristic pride from all those soldiers, against wich we see the Tsar’s sadness and repulsion at the human consequences of it all.

    Just one other little thing that I have wondered – the cameo appearance in this chapter (as in an earlier one, as I recall) of Count Tolstoy … is this a nineteenth century Russian literary version of Hitchcock’s trademark cameo’s in his own films, do you think?

  2. I can’t remember – but somewhere in the footnotes to my Garnett translation, there is a mention of Count Tolstoy who is actually a real historical character. And also no relation. So, no, it would have just been a happy coincidence, I think.

    I also see your point about the Tsar being overcome with his responsibility for so many lives. That would also be a fair interpretation.

    Just wondering, have you read any of the Shaara novels? The first one was a phenomenal novel that came out in the 1970s written by Michael Shaara called “The Killer Angels” which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. It told the story of the battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War.

    What made it so amazing, though, was that the story was told, not from the point of view of some fictional soldiers, but from the point of view of the very real, historical commanders. While this is a risky thing to do as a novelist, it worked really well, because it is the commanders who bear the enormous responsibility of knowing that their commands cause soldiers to die.

    It painted an achingly said, but very authentic, picture of a bunch of good men called to make hard decisions as leaders.

    Some 20 years later, after his father’s death, Michael’s son, Jeff Shaara, came along and wrote a prequel starting at the beginning of the Civil War and a sequel starting after the Battle of Gettysburg, turning it into a father/son trilogy. They’re very hard to get hold of in Australia in bookstores, but they’re well worth a read.

    Maybe not on the Tolstoy level, and there’s no ballrooms or anything like that, but the writing is beautiful, and it takes quite a sober and serious approach to war, which is more than can be said for the average war film cranked out by Hollywood.

  3. No, Matt, I’ve not heard of the Shaara books, but I had a quick squizz at Amazon, and the ones you mentioned got pretty stunning reviews from their readers. I don’t normally go in for war fiction – and Tolstoy is for me by far the exception to the usual rule of steering clear of all those guns and things … but it may well be worth making another exception, it seems. I just sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by how much great stuff there is to read, and so little time to do it all in. And it doesn’t help when you have an obsession with Russian literature, and there’s all that Dostoevsky and Tolstoy to get through. I’ve hardly even started on Anna Karenina yet!!

    And thanks, too, for the information on Count Tolstoy. Actually, I just looked up the very comprehensive historical index at the back of the Pevear/Volokhonsky edition and, sure enough, he’s there – Count Pyotr Alexandrovich Tolstoy: he was, amongst other things, ambassador to France in 1807/08 but was then recalled to Russia because of his criticisms of Napoleon and the treaty of Tilsit.

  4. Anna K . . . oh, you’ll love that one, Ian . . . we just got through it at Barnes n’ Noble. That story will haunt you forever, especially . . . oh, I’ll shaddup about that.

    We are doing some Dostoevsky (I think) at Barnes n’ Noble after the W & P read.

    I too wondered about the ‘Tolstoy’ name showing up in there. But I just thought it was a common name in Russia.

  5. Yeah I’m looking forward to Anna K, Carly – I’ve read parts of it, and know the story pretty well, and have seen the Russian movie of it … but it’s always a million times better to read Tolstoy’s telling.

    Hope you enjoy Dostoevsky. I’ve actually read more of him than I have of Tolstoy, and think he’s fantastic (but I still think War and Peace is the greatest thing ever written). Dostoevsky is certainly bleak, and some of his characters are heart-breakingly, wrist-slashingly grim – but Dostoevsky does it so well. Brothers Karamazov is, I think, his real masterpiece – but Crime and Punishment and The Idiot are both stunning too.

    And then sometime, when you’ve got some spare time on your hands, you’ve got to plunge into Pushkin too. His Yegveny Onegin is just brilliant. Ah …. I could go on, and on, and on.

  6. Arakcheev – Count Arakcheev –

    “It is not true; there are now two Russians, Miloradovich, and Dokhturov, and there would be a third, Count Arakcheev, if his nerves were not too weak.”

    Hohenlohe – le Prince de Hohenlohe –

    The commanders are: Herr General Wimpfen, le Comte de Langeron, le Prince de Lichtenstein, le Prince, de Hohenlohe, and finally Prishprish, and so on like all those Polish names.”

    Langeron – le Comte de Langeron –

    The commanders are: Herr General Wimpfen, le Comte de Langeron, le Prince de Lichtenstein, le Prince, de Hohenlohe, and finally Prishprish, and so on like all those Polish names.”

    Lichtenstein – le Prince de Lichtenstein

    The commanders are: Herr General Wimpfen, le Comte de Langeron, le Prince de Lichtenstein, le Prince, de Hohenlohe, and finally Prishprish, and so on like all those Polish names.”

    Miloradovich –

    “It is not true; there are now two Russians, Miloradovich, and Dokhturov, and there would be a third, Count Arakcheev, if his nerves were not too weak.”

    Prishprish –

    The commanders are: Herr General Wimpfen, le Comte de Langeron, le Prince de Lichtenstein, le Prince, de Hohenlohe, and finally Prishprish, and so on like all those Polish names.”

    Savary –

    At daybreak on the seventeenth, a French officer who had come with a flag of truce, demanding an audience with the Russian Emperor, was brought into Wischau from our outposts. This officer was Savary.

    Villier – The emperor’s doctor –

    The next day the Emperor stopped at Wischau, and Villier, his physician, was repeatedly summoned to see him.

    Wimpfen – Herr General Wimpfen

    The commanders are: Herr General Wimpfen, le Comte de Langeron, le Prince de Lichtenstein, le Prince, de Hohenlohe, and finally Prishprish, and so on like all those Polish names.”

    339

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