L’Aigle Triomphant: A Napoleonic Victory TL

Dance of the Apennines
Dance of the Apennines

"...and now, our dance begins..."

- Bernadotte, Duke of Rome, 1814

The War of the Fifth Coalition was inherently a war over Germany and who would command the most influence within the confines of the Rheinbund - would it be France going from the preeminent position to total domination, or could Austria and, to a lesser extent, Prussia still exercise the ability to identify and defend their interests? The stakes were high yet also low; it was the first of the coalition wars where there seemed little chance of actually ousting Napoleon or even breaking his grasp over Europe. Indeed, the tail risk was awfully wide for a war of choice by the Fifth Coalition when the stated war aims - if not expelling Napoleon from Germany than at least curtailing French control of it to a state all the Great Powers could agree upon, and the destruction of the Duchy of Warsaw - were so narrow.

As a result, Italy was to Austria a secondary, even tertiary, theater; for the purposes of domestic politics, two small armies were raised in Slovenia and Dalmatia to corner the French armies in Istria but the war aims of Vienna in Italy, while officially the recapture of Veneto, were realistically curtailed to effectively end at the Isonzo. No, the real reason why armies were raised in Northern Italy was to draw Franco-Italian attention there from the real front - the invasion of Calabria by a large British army under Wellington with the massed forces of Savoyard Sardinia and Bourbon Sicily, to march up the "boot" and take Salerno, from where the Coalition could seize both a critical port and control land approaches to Bari and Taranto and effectively cut the Kingdom of Naples in half. The project was predicated on a number of assumptions that London's military planners felt good about - that the Austrians would raise a large enough army in Slovenia and Dalmatia to draw a substantial Italian force into Veneto; that Eugene de Beauharnais would be torn between either defending Germany or defending Italy, where he had been titular king and still served as formal regent to Prince Louis via proxy; and that not only would Italian forces be badly split but that Spain, which hated Britain but did not particularly love France and where the King Charles IV was once again sinking into unpopularity, would not offer up any forces at all as reinforcements, or if they did that it would be a paltry sum.

All three assumptions proved incorrect, but Wellington could not have known this as the Royal Navy closed the Straits of Messina and "Copenhagened" the paltry Neapolitan navy in its docks in Taranto. The coalition force - 55,000 men in all, with 37,000 of them British - marched rapidly up the "toe" of the boot and by late April had fortified Cosenza and were preparing their march. What Wellington did not know of course was that the Spanish had sent not five or ten thousand but thirty thousand men to repel Austria from Veneto, a choice that had not ingratiated Charles IV to his public but which promised to end the war more rapidly and allow Spain to return its attention to shooting Britons. He also did not know that Eugene decisively chose Italy, both for his controversial stature in Germany (which had triggered the war to begin with) and his love for the people of Milan, and his capable leadership led to overwhelming Austrian defeats within weeks of the Spanish reinforcements at last arriving (Spaniards are not famed for their punctuality, after all) and freed up the attention of the Duchy of Rome and Kingdom of Naples to focus entirely to the south.

Wellington's initial plan had been to wait at Cosenza, which was easily defensible, and repel Bernadotte's advances taking advantage of the terrain, but the setbacks in Slovenia, Silesia and Saxony led him to elect instead to go on the offensive, while still being cautious. His new strategy instead would be not to take Salerno but Bari, where he could be easily resupplied and have proximity to Austrian forces in Dalmatia, and also drawing Bernadotte and King Joseph away from mountainous, difficult geography into more maneuverable territory east of the Apennines. The first clash was between Wellington and Joseph at Padula, where Wellington was able to cross the mountains far south of where Bernadotte had expected (and was waiting); frustrated by the slippery loss, Joseph and Bernadotte chose not to attack south and retake Cosenza from its garrison but instead follow Wellington over the mountains. The two armies met again in a tactically muddled draw at Potenza, though Wellington was able to again achieve his goal of escaping east into the more open terrain and marched into Altamura. Now the decision loomed ahead of him - Bari, or Taranto? His supplies were low and his men were living off the land, and Royal Marines had seized both ports but not marched further inland. Close behind him, Bernadotte had taken command of the entire force as Joseph returned to Naples to raise more men and integrate an Etrurian Army marching south past Rome into his new conscripts, as it became clear that this "Peninsular" campaign would take some time to settle as Wellington refused to open himself up to anything other than a light skirmish and Bernadotte force-marched his men to position themselves somewhere between the two cities so they could react once Wellington committed to a single choice...

(I had initially planned to do the Prussian defeat/collapse first, but wanted to make sure I checked in on Italy and the Bernadotte v. Wellington campaign after some consideration)
Hmm, while south Italy has settled into something of a draw in the tactical sense, strategically, it is clearly advantageous to France and its allies. Britains continental allies are either crushed (Prussia) or are in no possitin to commit significant force to Italy (Austria). And while Wellington will have difficulties geting reinforcments (not to mention that such reinforcements will only worsen his supply situation), there are 30 000 Spanish soldiers in Italy that can march south, alongside any forces Eugene can detach. And once the war with Austria is ended, more and more French troops will be able to arrive. Wellington would really need a truly decisive victory that would allow him to secure most of southern Italy, and for the Austrians to pull several miraculous victories against Nappy and co. Otherwise, its a game of time which simply cannot favour the Brits.
It’s times like these I wish my command of 19th century military strategy was better
Don’t be too modest, your military narratives are very impressive. BTW, will it be a big hassle to provide maps of the theaters? Of course, it is not a problem to google them but switching all the time from one tab to another is distractive. If this is a problem, never mind.
Wellington is in a bit of a sticky situation here. Well, more than a bit. As others have said he's managed a tactical draw but the strategic situation is bleak for this peninsular campaign, unlike in OTL there are no allied armies or guerillas to tie down French troops and stop them from amassing huge strength to throw at him. Were it a less skilled general I'd say the British are doomed, but Wellington might have the skills to salvage this into a merely non-disastrous defeat.

Looking forward to what happens next with Italy, Prussia, Austria, France, and just about everywhere else this timeline has touched on really.
If there's anything the Duke is good at it is fighting defensively and he is situated on good defensive terrain in southern Italy. Given his tactical acumen and British control of the Mediterranean he should be able to withdraw in somewhat good order.

A strategic loss for the British but with a lesser guy at the helm it could be so much worse I suppose?
Don’t be too modest, your military narratives are very impressive. BTW, will it be a big hassle to provide maps of the theaters? Of course, it is not a problem to google them but switching all the time from one tab to another is distractive. If this is a problem, never mind.
Well thank you!

i can try but as I discovered with my map of the Spanish-Japanese War over in the Cinco de Mayo thread my maps suck lol