marshal lannes

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A Plan so Crazy it Just Might Work

During the Napoleonic Wars in 1805, two weeks after the Battle of Austerlitz, the Austrian Army had been destroyed by Napoleon Bonaparte and the Russians were in full retreat.  The Emperor of Austria sued for peace, thus occupying Napoleon’s time.  He left the French forces in command of his two most trusted Marshals, Joachim Murat (pictured left) and Jean Lannes (pictured right).

Napoleon’s orders were for Murat and Lannes to advance against the Russians, preventing the Russian Army from meeting up with reinforcements.  The only problem was that lying between the French Army and the Russian Army was the Danube River and a single bridge.  There was no other intact bridge across the Danube, nor was there a suitable crossing place.  Worse yet, the bridge was heavily guarded with Austrian infantry, cannon, and was rigged with explosives.  Both Murat and Lannes knew that there was no way they could take the bridge intact by force.  Instead the two Marshals of France  resorted to guile and trickery instead.

To the amazement of the Austrians, Murat and Lannes confidently walked across the bridge alone holding a banner of truce.  Then to the Austrian general’s surprise, they claimed that an armistice had been reached between Napoleon and the Austrian Emperor, and that the bridge was to be momentarily occupied by France.  When a disbelieving engineer tried to blow the bridge, Lannes grabbed the torch from his hand, angrily scolding him that he was in violation of the armistice and could be held for court martial.  The Austrian general was so taken by their act that he concluded their claims of armistice was legit.  He ordered his men to grab their gear and vacate the bridge.  

Incredibly Murat and Lannes had successfully taken a heavily fortified bridge without firing a shot or shedding blood.  The Russians would later use the same tactic to escape, with the Russian General Bagration suggesting that they should negotiate terms. During the negotiations, Gen. Bagration quietly evacuated his army from harms way.  Needless to say, Napoleon was furious at Murat and Lannes could so stupidly be fooled by their own trick.