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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 December 2005, 00:07 GMT
Honouring Austerlitz's 'brave men'
By Rob Cameron
BBC News, Slavkov

Re-enactment of Battle of Austerlitz

Tens of thousands of people braved freezing temperatures in the Czech Republic to watch a re-enactment of one of the most famous battles of the Napoleonic Wars.

Two hundred years ago Napoleon Bonaparte defeated a joint Russian and Austrian army at Austerlitz, now Slavkov in South Moravia.

It was dubbed the Battle of the three Emperors. On 2 December 1805, 75,000 soldiers of Napoleon's Grande Armee outwitted a larger Russo-Austrian force of 90,000 on fields near the town of Austerlitz, in what was then the Austrian empire.

Almost 20,000 men lost their lives in one of the bloodiest clashes of the Napoleonic wars.

Outnumbered, and with the Russian and Austrian troops occupying the best strategic positions, Napoleon carried out what military experts describe as a masterpiece - launching a surprise attack that left his enemies in total disarray.

Within six hours the Russo-Austrian force - part of the Third Coalition that also included Britain - had been brought to its knees.

Saturday's re-enactment was also something of a logistical challenge - 1.5 tonnes of gunpowder and 350 pounds of explosives were used in the event.

Special stands were erected to house spectators, most of them Czech, who take a deep pride in playing host to one of history's most important battles.

Soup kitchens doled out gallons of piping-hot goulash to the troops.

'Don't forget'

Four thousand military enthusiasts in full historical uniform came from all over the world to take part in the battle. Some marched for days to reach Slavkov, camping in the snow-covered fields of South Moravia.

We don't want people ever to forget all those soldiers who died over here, and on all the other battlefields
Simon Wolber
Austerlitz re-enactment participant

The participants were united by a passion for historical uniforms and a boyish obsession with guns and soldiers which they clearly have not outgrown.

But many said there was also a serious side to the event.

"It's not just a military thing," said Simon Wolber from Wolfach in Germany, dressed as a German Herzog infantryman fighting on the side of the French.

"We want to show how the people lived, the normal small soldier. We don't want people ever to forget all those soldiers who died over here, and on all the other battlefields."

"When we put on this uniform, and try and do the best job we can out there, we're honouring the memory of those brave men," said Michael Mathews from the US state of Minnesota. He wore the navy blue uniform of the 21st regiment of Napoleon's Grande Armee.

"Many of them paid the ultimate price for their loyalty to their country and their army. We don't take it lightly."

Austerlitz 'shockwaves'

Napoleon himself was played by Mark Schneider, a 36-year-old American with an uncanny resemblance to the emperor. Mr Schneider is even the same as age as Napoleon was at Austerlitz.

Historians are divided over the battle's significance. Some claim it was one of the pivotal moments of European history.

The Holy Roman Empire was disbanded, Austrian power was dealt a severe blow, France took control over Italy and parts of Germany, and emerged as a major power in Europe.

Others say that interpretation is exaggerated.

At the time, however, Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz sent shockwaves throughout the world.

"Roll up this map of Europe," then British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger is reported to have said.

"It will not be needed this 10 years."

In pictures: Austerlitz re-enacted
03 Dec 05 |  In Pictures
Furore over Austerlitz ceremony
02 Dec 05 |  Europe
Dramatic turns of history
16 Jun 03 |  Letter From America



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