Military buffs march to Austerlitz re-enactment
SLAVKOV, Czech Republic, Dec 2 (AFP) - Government officials, military buffs and historians converged Friday on the site where, 200 years ago, the French Emperor Napoleon won what experts say was his greatest victory, Austerlitz.
On December 2 1805, Napoleon’s army of around 75,000 crushed a superior force of Russians and Austrians, breaking up the third coalition put together by Britain.
Historians describe Napoleon’s strategic preparations and tactics at Austerlitz — Slavkov in Czech — as a masterpiece of military strategy.
He also redrew the map of Europe by inflicting punitive terms on the Austrian empire in the peace that followed the so-called battle of the Three Emperors.
For participants in the main reconstruction on December 3, which Czech organisers claim will be the biggest reenactment of a Napoleonic battle in Europe, past hostilities and national ties are, for the most part, forgotten.
Re-enactions of the some of the pre-battle skirmishes, during which Napoleon drew his opponents on to his pre-selected battlefield while calling up reinforcements, already commenced on Friday.
David Banks, 60, a retired headmaster from Newcastle, Britain, and current president of the European Napoleonic Society, will take the role of an Austrian general in Saturday’s battle.
“The coalition army will be made up of people from almost every nation in Europe and the French army will be the same,” he explained. “There are some British people that even prefer to take part in the French army,” he said, adding, however, that none of the small 25-strong British party at Austerlitz will be doing so this time.
One Maltese re-enactment participant, an officer in the national army, declared he would rather appear on the battlefield naked than don a French uniform, joked Banks.
Spectators Arnold Barfield, 84, from Richmond upon Thames, and Edward Crawford, 70, from Ealing, London, joined a 174-strong French-organised tour to witness the commemorative events.
“We saw some publicity about the tour and decided to join,” said Barfield.
“Being British, there is obviously some leg-pulling,” Barfield, who describes himself as being passionate about French history and the Napoleonic era in particular, added.
The British underwrote most of the battles against Napoleon, explained Banks. “We were the sponsors of the Austrian army,” he added. “We paid out 1.25 million pounds for every 100,000 soldiers put in the field, about 12 pounds 50 for every soldier, a fortune at the time,” he added.
The latter-day Czech organisers of Austerlitz 2005 expect the battlefield reenactment to be a sell out. “We have already sold all the stand seats and 60 percent of the ordinary tickets,” said chief organiser Miroslav Jandora. Stand tickets cost EUR 60 euros and ordinary tickets nine euros.
“People from all over the world will take part in the reenactment of the battle. We even have someone from Australia,” added Jandora.
Russians who habitually enact the battle of Borodino are the biggest foreign contingent. There will also be around 600 Czechs, 500 Germans and 200 French.
Some were due to sleep in tents dotted around the site of the battle with nighttime temperatures falling to below freezing. The more fortunate will be lodged in hurriedly arranged dormitories in a military base.
The French official representation at Austerlitz is low key, with only Minister of Defence Michèle Alliot-Marie making an appearance.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the multinational event is the organisers selection of an American, Mark Schneider, to play the part of the victorious French general and emperor.
Schneider, from Williamsburg, Virginia, was chosen for his striking similarity to the real Napoleon. He described his Austerlitz role as “a dream come true.”
Subject: French news