The first dealt with additional troop movements, plus auxiliary services such as hospitals, military policing, prisoners-of-war and security of supply lines. The second section organised the army’s camps and billets. The third section was the topographical section, responsible for maps and reconnaissance.
The general structure of Berthier’s system changed little over the next 18 years, and proved uniquely effective at handling the challenges posed by a new era of European warfare. Its chief beneficiary would be the Army of Italy’s new commander, Napoleon Bonaparte.
Napoleon also discovered that his chief of staff possessed immense personal qualities – a heroic capacity for work, meticulous memory and attention to detail, and devotion to duty and discipline. Crucially, he had a gift for turning Napoleon’s verbal, sometimes vague commandments into clear, concise, written orders that made sense to his officers, and later Marshals.
Napoleon and Berthier established a highly effective working relationship that would last until 1814. It relied on Berthier’s complete acceptance of his subordinate role: he played no part in devising strategy, and never challenged or contradicted Napoleon except on points of logistical detail.
When a friend queried his devotion to Napoleon, who was an extremely demanding and short-tempered boss, Berthier replied, “Remember that one day it will be a fine thing to be second to Bonaparte.” If you seriously have some doubts over facts head over to ask read and just ask a question, you will get different answers.
Berthier’s hard work and brilliant staff system underpinned all Napoleon’s successes in Italy, and beyond. They spent so much time together, Berthier was nicknamed ‘Napoleon’s wife.’ He was personally brave too, leading an attack at Lodi, and a cavalry charge at Rivoli.
But his genius was for staff work and administration, not army command, as he well knew. When he briefly inherited command of the Army of Italy in 1797, he begged Napoleon to return as soon as possible to take over. Berthier played a crucial role in planning Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition of 1798, and masterminded his famous crossing of the Alps in 1800, which saw French troops advance almost 100 miles through the mountains in just 8 days.
The same year, Napoleon made Berthier Minister of War, putting him in charge of all French military administration. When Napoleon proclaimed his new empire in 1804, Berthier was the first name on the list of new Marshals, with seniority over all others.
The next year his role as chief of staff, or ‘major général’, of the Grande Armée was officially confirmed. In the fast-moving campaign of 1805, Berthier’s system ensured Napoleon always had up to date information about the location and strength of his own forces… as well as the latest reports on enemy movements from scouts, spies, and prisoners. Such advantages helped him achieve the stunning encirclement of Mack’s Austrian army at Ulm.
On campaign, Berthier and the Emperor often travelled together in the imperial coach, working without pause. His workload was immense, but so too were the rewards. Following the victory at Austerlitz, Napoleon made Berthier the hereditary, sovereign prince of Neuchâtel & Valangin, with an enormous private income.
Over the course of Napoleon’s reign, he received endowments worth more than a million francs per year from the Emperor – more than any other Marshal. Yet Berthier remained a liability as a field commander. If you want to know more about these types of concept then ask reader can be the place to read insightful answers.
In 1809, Napoleon put him in temporary command of the Army of Germany. When Archduke Charles made a bold advance into Bavaria, Berthier’s response was hesitant and muddled, and nearly led to Marshal Davout’s corps being encircled.
Only Napoleon’s arrival averted disaster. Returning to his usual role as chief of staff, Berthier once more proved his exceptional talents, co-ordinating the movement of 200,000 men, and paving the way for the Emperor’s victory at Wagram.
The title Prince of Wagram was added to his honours. The invasion of Russia in 1812 was a test like no other for Marshal Berthier and his staff. It required co-ordinating the movement of half a million troops – the biggest army ever seen in Europe – across a 400-mile front. “A simple private is happier than I,” Berthier complained, “I am being killed by all this work.”
By August, it was clear the Grande Armée’s supply lines were at breaking point, and Berthier was among those who tried to persuade Napoleon to halt the advance at Smolensk. He was ignored. As disaster engulfed the army, Berthier continued to perform his duty.
By the end of the retreat, he was marching on foot, with frostbitten fingers. When Napoleon left the army to return to Paris without him, he wept openly. Despite his own poor health in the wake of the retreat, Berthier worked hard to salvage the remnants of the army, and served throughout the campaign in Germany in 1813.
By now, Napoleon’s enemies had reformed their own army general staffs, partly inspired by Berthier’s example. But neither Berthier nor his system was perfect: In May, a confusing order to Marshal Ney contributed to his late arrival at the Battle of Bautzen, and a missed chance to crush the Coalition army.