Friday, September 28, 2018

I Wrote a Guest Post over at Rogue Blade Entertainment's Gathering - It's about grimdark

Like it says over head, I wrote a post for Rogue Blade Entertainment's site. Whether you agree with my sentiments, disagree, or even think I'm a loon, let me (and RBE impresario, Jason Waltz) know with a comment. Go HERE to read it.

Here and in my Black Gate articles, I think I've made my opinions on grimdark clear. I don't hate it - I don't think there's really anything to it to hate. What I do hate are the airs put on by a lot of grimdark's adherents and the ignorance some of them spread about pre-today fantasy.

for your enjoyment, a generic grimdark scene

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Austria Descending, part 1: The Campaign of Magenta and Solferino 1859 by HC Wylly

not, sadly, the edition I own
Today Austria is thought of, if ever, as a quaint alpine country with little importance to anybody outside its own borders. Maybe devotees of Haydn and Mozart turn their eyes, at least metaphorically, to the land of their heroes occasionally. Vienna, once the capital of a sprawling, multi-ethnic empire, and the beneficiary of centuries of accumulated wealth and artistic and architectural wonders, get more attention than the nation as a whole.  A century ago, though, even weakened by years of raging nationalism, political backwardness, and the four years of the Great War, Austria-Hungary, as it was then known, was still an important power.

The end of the Great War spelled the final relegation of Austria to minor state status. Its component parts were set free and used to build new nations - Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia were joined to the already independent Serbia to form Yugoslavia. Bohemia and Slovakia were merged into Czechoslovakia. Galicia was added to lands repossessed from Germany and Russia to rebuild Poland. Transylvania was turned over to the Romanians. Hungary became a small, independent state. The first two, constructs built from the dreams of academics, no longer exist. The second two, both with dominant ethnic citizens and long histories predating the Austrian Empire, remain viable and moderately healthy nation states.

Austrian infantry
Austria's decline and fall wasn't an overnight event. The internal pressures of so many nationalities poorly contained within such a ramshackle state meant the empire would probably dissolved eventually, but two military losses in the 19th century ensured it would happen sooner rather than later.

There's something about Austria that's always intrigued me. How had one of the major continental powers come to such an insignificant state, and why wasn't it part of the larger Germany? Reading this book, as well as Geoffrey Wawro's The Austro-Prussian War, I've gotten some answers.

French infantry
First, there was always a fragility to the empire. From the moment Hungary became part of the empire in 1526 it demanded recognition of its historic rights and laws. As various emperors and their ministers tried to tighten control over the Hungarians, there were several major uprisings over the centuries. The last, and worst, in 1848, required help from Russia. The latter sent nearly 300,000 troops to help the Austrian crush the revolution. In 1859, and again in 1866, in was not uncommon for whole non-Austrian units to simply drops their arms and flee the battlefield the first time they were fired upon.

Sardinia troops
As to why Austria isn't part of Germany, it's pretty simple. The only other contestant for ruler and unifier of the numerous German states (reduced to a mere thirty-nine after 1815) was Prussia. There was only room for one leader of the Germans and Prussia maneuvered herself into that place by gradually excluding and finally crushing the Austrians in battle (though that's discussed more in the next book I read).

The Second Italian War of Independence (29 April – 11 July 1859), fought by the Austrian Empire against the combined forces of France and the Kingdom of Sardinia set the stage for Italian unification in 1871. The latter wasn't just the island of Sardinia, but also a substantial part of northwestern Italy. Its capital was at Turin.

The political turmoil that had swept across Europe in 1848 had led to war between Sardinia and Austria. Austria had ruled the Northeast of Italy, in particular the cities of Milan and Venice, for over a century. There had been a break when Napoleon conquered the region, but the Congress of Vienna in 1815 had reaffirmed Austrian Hapsburg rule of the area. The war, called the First Italian War of Independence, ended in Austrian victory, but it clearly set the stage for next one.

Sardinia realized it would need allies in order to defeat its enemy. To make friend, she allied herself with the French and British in 1854 and sent troops to help fight Russia in the Crimea. This, coupled with a later deal to transfer Nice and the region of Savoy to France, ensured when the time came, Napoleon III would bring his army in on the side of Sardinia - provided the Austrians declared war first. In 1859, that happened.

When I set my sights on reading about the wars of the 19th century, I didn't think I'd have a hard time finding books on them. Hah! There isn't much and, since I wanted an ebook, I ended up with H.C. Wylly's  1907 The Campaign of Magenta and Solferino, 1859. The title references the two main battles of the short war. The latter engagement, the largest in Europe since Leipzig in 1813, led directly to the end of the war two weeks later.

As over-a-century-old military works go, Wylly's is adequate. In the preface he states his is the first work in English about the campaign to draw on official sources. Unfortunately, in buying the nice, cheap Kindle version, I didn't get any maps (even though the original included a portion of on from the book "la campagne de Napoleon III en Italie"). A war with lots of rapid retreats and advances, it is practically impossible to follow some of the events without pausing to find maps somewhere else. I guess it serves me right for being cheap, but it was seriously frustrating.

The Sardinians began pressuring for a European congress in order to force Austria's withdrawal from the Italian territories it controlled (Lombardy and Venetia in particular). The Austrians also had their fingers in the affairs of several other independent states and the Sardinians wanted them gone.

The Austrian response to Sardinian agitation was to agree to a congress but only is the Italians disarmed. When this was clearly not going to happen, the Austrians declared war and invaded. 

Despite having a large, relatively modern army, the Austrians committed one blunder after another. Under the command of Count Ferenc Gyulai, governor of Lombardy, the Austrian army slowly advanced on Turin. When it became clear his lackadaisical pace had allowed the rapidly arriving French army would cut them off from their supplies he retreated. 

In preparation for the war, France had transferred large numbers of veterans out of North Africa to southern France. They then began using the railroads to move these same forces quickly into Sardinia. Wylly states this was one of the first times railroads were successfully used to move such large numbers of soldiers - nearly 170,000.

Battlefield of Magenta
There were several small engagements in the opening weeks of the war. Each time the French maneuvered around Gyulai's flanks causing him to pull back eastward. On June 6th, Napoleon threw a large portion of his army head on into the Austrians on the east bank Tincio River town of Magenta. It was a tough battle, with the town being captured, recaptured, and captured again. In the end, though, the Austrians were forced out. On June 7th, the Allies marched into Milan.
Towards 7:30 o'clock Espinasse ordered the final advance of his division upon Magenta, and his two columns entering from the north and east, while La Motterouge, closely followed by Camou, penetrated from the west, bloody fighting took place - in the streets, in the churches and from house to house. Here General Espinasse was killed. The Austrians were driven from the town and fell back in great confusion upon Corbetta, covered by Lilia, by Mensdorfl, and by Lippert of the VIII Corps who ha at this moment reached the scene of action.
French troops force the crossing into Magenta
At that point he abandoned any plans for serious offensive operations and shifted to a defensive posture. Gyulai's plan was to build a secure position within the Quadrilateral, the geographic area of Lombardy marked off by four great fortresses - Peschiera, Mantua, Legnago and Verona.

For his withdrawal from Sardinia and the defeat at Magenta, Gyulai was relieved. Instead of relying on a veteran general, Emperor Franz Josef himself took personal command of his empire's army. He was 29 and inexperienced.

On the other side, Napoleon III, Emperor of the Second Empire, held the reins of his nation's forces. The final major battle of the war, Solferino, would be the last European battle where both sides were led by their country's monarch. The Sardinian forces were also commanded by the their king, Victor Emmanuel II.

After several weeks of retreating, the Austrians decided to counterattack. At the same time the Allies resumed their offensive. The two armies collided in a series of engagements around the town of Solferino on the morning of June 24th. For nine hours 83,000 French soldiers, 37,000 Sardinians and 129,000 Austrians fought for nine hours. On the north end of the line, the Sardinians attacked around San Martino, in the center the French attacked at Solferino itself, and in the south at Medole. The French army, many of its soldiers battle-tested, long-service veterans, fought with great ferocity. The Austrian army, many of them inexperienced, less so. 

The Austrians were never convinced, until too late in the day, that Solferino was a major engagement. As battalions arrived on the scene they were thrown into battle piecemeal. The result was mostly disaster. 
Battle of Solferino by Carlo Bossoli
The one bright moment of the battle for the Austrians was the stand of VIII Corps under General Benedek around San Martino on the northern end of the line. Outnumbered, they held off the Sardinian army all day, not leaving the field until the rest of the Austrian army had withdrawn.

Sardinians at San Martino - from the Torre di San Martino della Battaglia and Ossuary

The four brigades in Benedek's front line had endured and beaten back the attacks of the Italian divisions of Mollard and Cucchiari, and had indeed so completely overthrown them that about 1 o'clock the battle in this portion of the field had died down, and for some two hours there was no more heard "the voices of them that shout for mastery and the noise of them that cry, being overcome."

In summing up the battle, Wylly quotes two previous writers on Solferino:
Of the battle itself (Edward Bruce) Hamley says: "There was no exhibition on either side of strategical art; none of the movements on either side since the battle of Magenta had altered the chances of success; and the result was altogether due to tactics."
(Wilhelm) Rüstow very truly remarks that it was not gun or rifle or even tactics which won the day at Solferino, but the offensive, spirit which was wanting in the Austrian leaders; and in support of this statement he points out that the Austrians, who crossed the Mincio simply and solely to attack the Allies, had no sooner met them than they took up defensive positions.
When it was done, the vast majority of the Austrian army was in retreat. The French and Sardinians were too battered to pursue. Viewing the human wreckage the next day inspired Swiss businessman Henry Dunant to found what would eventually become the International Red Cross. About 4,500 men were killed and 22,000 wounded.

Napoleon III 
A few weeks later, facing possible Prussian opposition, and shocked by the great losses at Solferino, Napoleon III signed an armistice with the Austrians. While unable to take Venetia, the Sardinians did end up with Lombardy. In return for the French giving up any claim to Lombardy, Sardinia turned over the province of Savoy and its capital, Nice. Within a year, with French and British support, they occupied the rest of the Italian peninsula and in 1861 proclaimed the birth of the Kingdom of Italy.

As for Austria, it took on the appearance of someone slowly dying from gangrene. The empire was still suffering from the aftershock of the 1848 revolutions. The loss of such a wealthy province as Lombardy, isolation from Italy's allies (England as well as France), weakened the empire tremendously. The stage for the next big blow was set.

For anyone with the slightest interest in the wars that built the nations of modern Europe and helped set the stage for the Great War, Wylly's book is only reasonable game around. It's short on any sort of real character study of the commanders or the soldiers as individuals. It's also fairly dry and there's too much attention to the minutia of troop movements., but it's one of the few available studies of a most important, if forgotten, war. I wish there was an affordable, more in-depth work, but there doesn't seem to be.

Nonetheless, there was value in reading the book. In a sense, it's a sequel to Trevor Royle's book I read on the Crimean War, the French-Sardinian alliance being a direct result of that. With Prussia lurking in the wings, it's also a prequel to Wawro's books on the Austro-Prussian War and the Franco-Prussian War.