Fifth coalition war

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The Fifth Coalition War or Austro-French War of 1809 describes the dispute between Austria, supported by Great Britain , and the French Empire with its allies in the Confederation of the Rhine . Austria started the war in the hope that Napoleon would be held in Spain by the uprising . This turned out to be a misjudgment. Archduke Karl was able to defeat Napoleon in the Battle of Aspern , but in the Battle of Wagram he suffered a decisive defeat. In the Peace of Schönbrunn the country suffered territorial losses and was severely weakened. As a result, Austria was politically forced to adapt to France before it joined the anti-Napoleonic coalition in the Wars of Liberation in 1813 .


Philipp von Stadion and the war party

Johann Philipp von Stadion as a knight in the Order of the Golden Fleece

In contrast to Prussia with the Prussian reforms , there was no comprehensive state reform in Austria after the defeat of 1805 in the Third Coalition War . With Johann Philipp von Stadion , a supporter of the war party gained decisive influence on politics. At the insistence of Archduke Karl , he had been appointed Foreign Minister after the Peace of Pressburg . Stadion was actually conservative and deeply rooted in the tradition of the Old Kingdom . Nevertheless, he included national slogans in his utterances. His aim was to make up for defeat in a new war. He hoped that the other German countries would join Austria in a war. As a result, the German states ruled by Napoleon were to be liberated and a new empire created on the basis of a renewed corporate order. Stadion wanted to beat the opponent with its own weapons and relied on the "Austrian nation", without it being clear what exactly was meant by this and how it behaved towards Germany. Nevertheless, many of the stadium ’s statements took Austria as the spearhead of the German nation against Napoleon. The stadium received journalistic support in particular from Friedrich Gentz . He was temporarily employed in the State Chancellery and remained a propagandist for a liberation struggle against Napoleon even after the war. Another important employee of the stadium was his brother Friedrich Lothar von Stadion .

Policy of Adjustment and Army Reform

Karl von Österreich-Teschen (Portrait of Johann Baptist Seele , 1800, HGM )
Johann around 1805 at the age of 18 ( Army History Museum ).

In view of the French superiority, Stadion was initially forced to adopt a policy of adjustment. He decided to make army reform and rearmament a top priority. Archduke Karl took on this task in particular. In addition, all other reform efforts were postponed. In any case, these did not have the depth and scope of the reforms in the Confederation of the Rhine or the Prussian reforms.

The army reform included the establishment of a landwehr on a provincial basis from 1806 . Archduke Johann propagated the national idea and became the organizer of the Landwehr. However, the success of the Landwehr was not the same in all parts of the empire. The Poles in Galicia were considered friendly to the French. The reaction in Bohemia was restrained and the Hungarian part of the empire completely rejected the Landwehr. This therefore played a role above all in the German-speaking parts of the empire. There were also considerable reservations in the military. Nevertheless, Austria had actually introduced compulsory military service with the Landwehr even before Prussia .

The army reform and the new Landwehr resulted in the government having a potentially strong army made up of defense forces and field troops at the beginning of 1809. However, the war began before these mobilization options were practically fully available. The Austrian troops were when the war began from the field army of 300,000 men. 136,000 reserve troops were still available . There were also 20,000 recruits approved by Hungarians. About 300,000 men were available for the Landwehr and the Hungarian insurrection .

Decision to go to war

On the diplomatic stage, the government sought an alliance with Great Britain, Prussia and Russia . However, Stadion was forced to strike out early and without a broad alliance. The fact that Austria's public finances were facing bankruptcy after the wars of the last few decades and due to the intensified arms policy played a role . This forced the war to start in 1809. The reorganization of the army was not yet complete. The new land defense units were poorly trained and inadequately armed. The possible allies showed little inclination to assist Austria effectively. A plan to unleash an anti-Napoleonic uprising in northern Germany became known in France and Napoleon forced the release of Freiherr vom Stein . Thus the Prussian war party was weakened and Friedrich Wilhelm III. stuck to the policy of neutrality.

The prerequisites for a successful war rested on the hope that Napoleon and his troops would be bound in Spain. There was also hope in Austria that there would be opposition from within France to Napoleon. There was a chance if the French troops and those of the Confederation of the Rhine in southern Germany could be defeated as quickly as possible before Napoleon and his main army could appear on the scene. These successes were to lead to revolts against Napoleon in the occupied territories and to the entry of other states into the war.

The Austrian ambassador in Paris, Klemens Wenzel Lothar von Metternich , leaned towards the war party. This was supported by the Empress Maria Ludowika and Archduke Johann. Archduke Karl, on the other hand, was rather skeptical about military strength despite the reforms. In February 1809 the leaders of the monarchy decided to go to war. Apart from Great Britain and Sweden, Austria had no allies. Russia officially allied itself with France in the Peace of Tilsit in 1807 and secretly with France in the 1808 alliance treaty of Erfurt . Ultimately, the political assessment of the situation was based on a complete misjudgment of Napoleon's weakness.


Eugène de Beauharnais, portrait by Andrea Appiani , 1810

Main theater of war

Until the capture of Vienna

The decisive factor was the war on the main battlefield. The Austrians opened the war on April 10th by attacking Bavaria, an ally of France . The main Austrian army was under the command of Archduke Karl. This consisted of four corps and two reserve corps with a total of about 126,000 men and 382 guns. The army advanced across the Inn . It should be supported by other units. One division stood near Salzburg . Two corps stood north of the Danube on the Bavarian-Bohemian border.

For Napoleon, the Austrian attack came faster than expected, and he assumed that the Austrians would advance into Bohemia . Hence the first instructions were contradicting itself. It benefited him that the Austrian advance was very slow for various reasons. Archduke Charles also greatly split his troops.

Napoleon arrived at the new theater of war with his troops in Donauwörth on April 17th . The French army , however, could only be compared with that of earlier wars to a limited extent. Most of the soldiers were young and inexperienced. About half of the army consisted of foreign aid contingents.

When Napoleon joined the army, three Bavarian divisions had withdrawn from the archduke's advance across the Isar . The French under Davout with about 63,000 men were near Regensburg . Another 64,000 men, some from the Confederation of the Rhine and some from France under Massena , were standing near Augsburg. There were also other smaller units.

Storming of Regensburg. Care for the slightly injured Emperor Napoleon. Lithograph by Antoine Antoine Charles Horace Vernet (1758–1836) and Jacques François Swebach (1769–1823)

On April 16, Archduke Karl forced the crossing over the Isar and intended an offensive . In the area of ​​Regensburg (→ Battle of Regensburg ) there were battles with high Austrian losses around April 20th. These include the Battle of Abensberg on the 20th and the Battle of Eggmühl on the 22nd . The defeat of the Austrians had to do with poor education, but also with the slowness of decisions and movements. Napoleon, however, acted quickly and prudently.

The Austrians found themselves on the defensive again. In the battle of Ebelsberg on May 3, the French suffered considerable losses, but the way to Vienna was clear. The authorities and court left the city before the advancing French.

Vienna was occupied by the French on May 13th. The reception of Napoleon by the Viennese was icy. He resided in Schönbrunn Palace and from there ordered the annexation of the Papal States .

The Austrians had destroyed all bridges over the Danube before their retreat . Their army gathered on the other side of the river in a camp between Korneuburg and Stammersdorf . A total of 96,000 men and 300 guns were gathered there. Napoleon gathered around 115,000 men near Vienna.

Aspern and Wagram

Johann Peter Krafft : Archduke Karl of Austria in the Battle of Aspern ( Heeresgeschichtliches Museum Vienna)
Napoleon during the Battle of Wagram

Napoleon then tried on May 21, from the island of Lobau to win the left bank of the Danube. The result was the Battle of Aspern (May 21/22). There Archduke Karl triumphed over Napoleon. This was his first defeat in a field battle. The crossing over the river had failed.

The news spread quickly in Europe and the counter-propaganda that soon began could not prevent the myth of Napoleon's invincibility from being damaged. However, the victory of the Austrians was not decisive for the war. After the battle, both armies faced each other on both sides of the Danube for about six weeks. Napoleon used the time to bring in all possible troops. On July 4th he had 188,000 men and 396 guns. Archduke Karl was significantly less successful in reinforcing his troops. He finally commanded 136,000 men and 446 guns.

On 5th / 6th July came the battle of Wagram , in which Napoleon decisively defeated the Archduke. Both sides suffered heavy losses. As a result, the Austrian army was forced to move to southwest Moravia . During the retreat there were various fights. The battle near Znojmo on July 11th ended with Archduke Karl's request for an armistice.

Patriotism and its limits

Friedrich von Gentz ​​was a propagandist for a freedom struggle against Napoleon

Unlike the war of 1805, this campaign was popular with the population. A patriotic enthusiasm developed beyond the sphere of influence of the Habsburgs. The Austrian Commander-in-Chief Archduke Karl took this into account. In an appeal he let it be spread: “Austria would fight not just for its independence, but for Germany's independence and national honor”.

The Austrian victory at Aspern in particular raised hopes inside and outside Austria. Kleist dedicated an ode to Archduke Karl as “Conqueror of the Unconquerable” . He, Friedrich Schlegel , Adam Müller von Nitterdorf and others tried to further increase the patriotic mood.

The hopes for a general popular uprising in Germany were not fulfilled. In northern Germany there were only various actions, but they remained isolated. These included Ferdinand von Schill , the Dörnberg uprising and the train of Friedrich Wilhelm von Braunschweig . These movements also failed because, unlike at the time of the wars of liberation, they ultimately lacked broad support from the population.

It was different in Tyrol. There was a broad uprising movement around Andreas Hofer against the Bavarian-French occupation. There were several real battles on the Bergisel . The uprising could not be put down until November of that year. The execution of Andreas Hofer made him a folk hero. The execution of Schill had similar consequences.

Secondary theaters of war

Smaller units of the Austrian army under Field Marshal Archduke Ferdinand Karl and Archduke Johann fought in Poland and Northern Italy.

On April 15, Archduke Ferdinand Karl entered the Duchy of Warsaw with 32,000 men . He defeated the Polish troops under Poniatowski near Raszyn , occupied Warsaw and advanced to Thorn . However, he did not succeed in gaining a permanent foothold on the right bank of the Vistula. There was a popular uprising against the Austrians. This gave Poniatowski room to maneuver again and, in turn, marched into the Austrian part of Galicia . Thereupon Russia began as a pseudo ally of the duchy, avoiding any fighting against Ferdinand with the occupation of Galicia up to a demarcation line along the Vistula and the Dunajec . While Archduke Ferdinand Karl withdrew to the main theater of war in Bohemia in July , Russians and Poles occupied Krakow .

Archduke Johann had 46,000 men. He crossed the Alps and surprised the viceroy Eugène de Beauharnais . This was defeated in several meetings - for example in the Battle of Sacile - and had to retreat behind the Piave . However, the Austrians had also suffered heavy losses. Because of this, but also because of the weather and the road conditions, they only advanced slowly. This prompted Eugene to counterattack, but was defeated again in several skirmishes at the end of April. Archduke Johann had meanwhile decided to retire. He lost a battle on the Piave on May 8th . Weakened by a fragmentation of his forces and the return of land defense units, there were more lost battles on May 11 and 12. Despite fierce resistance, the French captured the Austrian positions on the Predil Pass and at Malborgeth . The Archduke continued his retreat via Klagenfurt and Graz . On June 1st he reached Körmend in the Raab valley . Eugen followed him via Villach , Klagenfurt, Judenburg over the Semmering Pass to Wiener Neustadt . On June 13th, some Hungarian troops joined Johann near Raab . Eugen had received the task of Napoleon to conquer Raab and to secure the flank and back of the French main army by driving Johann out. On June 14th, Austria lost the battle of Raab . Johann marched from there to Pressburg . Raab soon passed into the hands of the French. As a result, they had gained a firm position to protect the main army, Eugen was able to strengthen Napoleon's main army with some of his units. Conversely, Archduke Johann was unable to join the main Austrian army early enough before the battle of Wagram .


As a result of the defeat of Wagram, the Znojmo armistice came about on July 12th . Archduke Karl had offered this before the battle because it was clear to him that further resistance would be pointless. Against the will of his generals, Napoleon accepted the offer after the battle.

The peace negotiations dragged on because the war party continued to be influential. It was also hoped that the British would land in the Netherlands. However, the Walcheren expedition failed. Therefore, on October 14th, the Peace of Schönbrunn came about . The peace conditions were tough for Austria. It lost Salzburg, Berchtesgaden and the Innviertel to Bavaria. Western Galicia came to the Duchy of Warsaw. Russia got an area in Eastern Galicia. The country also lost the Dalmatian coast and Trieste , which went to France as Illyrian provinces . Austria no longer had direct access to the sea. In addition, it had to pay substantial contributions and had to stop supporting the insurgents in Tyrol. Restrictions were placed on the military; the army was only allowed to include 150,000 men.

Austria was severely weakened by the peace so that it could no longer threaten Napoleonic hegemony. At least it remained as a weakened but independent power. However, it was subsequently forced to adopt a policy of adjustment towards Napoleon.

Emperor Franz I blamed the reform forces for the disaster of 1809. His brothers Karl and Johann lost their prominent positions and the stadium was replaced by Metternich. The Landwehr was disbanded. In 1811, the high costs of the war and the payments to France led to de facto national bankruptcy.

Metternich was convinced that sooner or later Napoleon's system would collapse. In order to obtain the goodwill of Napoleon, he advocated his marriage to the emperor's daughter Marie Louise . In fact, it turned out that Napoleon had passed the height of his power. Spain remained a permanent problem and a national consciousness directed against Napoleon began to develop in German-speaking countries. After the defeat in Russia this led to the Wars of Liberation.


  • Volker Ullrich : Napoleon. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2006, ISBN 3-499-50646-7 , pp. 100-103.
  • Steven Beller: A concise history of Austria .
  • Erich Zöllner: History of Austria. Verlag für Geschichte & Politik, Vienna 1990, ISBN 3-486-46708-5 , pp. 338–340.
  • Walter Bussmann : From the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation to the foundation of the German Empire. In the S. (Ed.): Europe from the French Revolution to the national movements of the 19th century (= manual of European history. Volume 5). Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-12-907570-4 , pp. 423-424.
  • Francis Smith: The wars from ancient times to the present (= manual for army and navy. Volume 9). Bong, Berlin 1911, pp. 559-563.
  • Manfred Botzenhart : Reform, Restoration, Crisis. Germany 1789–1847 (= Modern German History. 4). Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1985, ISBN 3-518-09240-5 , pp. 34-37.
  • Ernst Zehetbauer: Landwehr against Napoleon. Austria's first militia and the national war of 1809 (= military history dissertations from Austrian universities. 12). öbv & hpt, Vienna 1999, ISBN 3-215-12750-4 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Steven Beller: History of Austria. Volume 2, p. 103.
  2. Erich Zöllner: History of Austria. P. 338.
  3. a b Walter Bußmann: From the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation to the foundation of the German Empire. P. 425.
  4. ^ Volker Ullrich: Napoleon. P. 100.

Web links

Commons : War of the Fifth Coalition  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files