Napoleon’s influence on modern western military armies

8 August 2016

Throughout history, military leaders have immortalized their legacies by vanquishing their enemies in the battlefield against overwhelming odds. Soldiers and historians have revered their accomplishments by studying their mastery in the art of warfare with the hopes mimicking their accomplishments. Of them all, Napoleon Bonaparte is considered the best military leader in the history of the Western World and has been the most influential with the development of modern day Western armies. According to Knox, “military revolutions are changes in the nature and purpose of war itself.

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Napoleon’s military tactics and strategy have revolutionized European warfare during the 1800s. His use of nationalism, military organizational structure, and combined arms were key factors that helped his juggernaut army conquer most of Europe. The French system led the way for Europe’s military modernization and is modeled by the modern day U. S. Army whose military victories and failures have strong familiarities. The French Revolution resulted in the overthrow of King Louis XVI and the monarchy. It gave rise to nationalism to a heightened level that has never been witnessed in Europe.

It unified the people under a profound sense of liberty and a sacred love of the country. French citizens willingly volunteered their services into establishing battalions and answered their nation’s call to arms. 2 They were determined to protect this new nation of the people. It changed its military from “being dynastic, private armies, as they had been in Frederick’s day, to being national, public armies. “3 The officer corps which was only privileged to the nobility was 1. Macgregor Knox, “Mass Politics and Nationalism as Military Revolution: The French Revolution and after.

In The Dynamics of Military Revolution 1300-2050, ed. Macgregor Knox and Williamson Murray (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 57. 2. John A. Lynn, “Nations in Arms. ” in The Cambridge History of Warfare, ed. Geoffrey Parker (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 196. 3. Thomas Huber, “The Rise of Napoleon” (paper presented at the Command and General Staff College, Fort Lee, Virginia, February 6-7, 2014). 2 now open to commoners. Rank progression was now based off of skills and merit rather than birth right or status.

Soldiers were now loved and valued by the people. “Common soldiers were now expected to display the same kind of commitment once reserved only to officers. ”4 Like the Napoleonic army, the modern day U. S. Army is an all volunteer force. Both armies enforced the draft when personnel strength was in need to support a difficult campaign. The U. S Army’s officer corps is open to all citizens, regardless of ethnicity, religion, and gender. Rank promotion is based off of performance and standards. Soldiers are respected and loved by their country. The U. S.

Army emphasizes the importance of the professional soldier whose core principles is in accordance with the Army Values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. It expects its soldiers to live up to the demands and expectations of their countrymen. The aftermath of the French Revolution forced Europe to face a powerful new nation that promoted democracy and nationalism. This powerful movement challenged the monarchy and threatened the stability and security of neighboring countries. France went to war with its enemies in order to secure its survival.

Napoleon’s leadership ensured France’ survival and led his armies on a warpath to dominate most of Europe. He accomplished this by first transforming its military organizational structure. It improved the efficiency of controlling large armies. “The breaking up of the formerly unitary army into permanent divisions and corps were fundamental to Napoleon’s strategy and his conduct of battle. The expansion of his staff, and the proliferation of subordinate staffs, already under way in the last campaigns of the Old Regime, made possible 4. John A. Lynn, “Nations in Arms. in The Cambridge History of Warfare, ed. Geoffrey Parker (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 189. 3 the control of constantly larger and more widely dispersed forces. ”5 According to Lynn, “by subdividing his army into corps, Napoleon enhanced command and control. It improved logistics, since several corps operating along separate lines of advance could supply themselves more easily than could a single large army operating along a single route. “6 In addition to the forming of corps and divisions, Napoleon created brigade and army levels of commands.

This unique military organizational structure allowed him to effectively move his large armies and outmaneuver his enemies. Like the French, the U. S. Army’s military organizational structure consists of armies, corps, divisions, brigades, and battalions. The only exception is the regional commands that it uses. Each command level organization consists of a robust staff that assists commanders with developing plans and executing orders. This organizational structure provides an efficient method of commanding and controlling from the lowest to the highest level of commands.

The transformation of the French military organizational structure provided better command and control for large armies. However, its use of combined arms allowed the French to annihilate their enemies in the battlefield. “The French had pioneered the use of combat division, combining infantry, cavalry, and artillery to create a small army of a few thousand men which could operate either independently or in conjunction with other divisions”7 For the first 5. Peter Paret “Napoleon and the Revolution in War. ” In The Makers of Modern Strategy, 123-142. ed. Peter Paret (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 198), 125.John A. Lynn, “Nations in Arms. ” in The Cambridge History of Warfare, ed. Geoffrey Parker (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 202. 7. Idib. 4 time in history, infantry units could be supported by artillery in all phases of combat. 8 While his enemies used cavalry to harass enemy formations, Napoleon used his cavalry as a flanking element in support of his infantry by charging into them with maximum force. He realized the importance of artillery and increased its numbers. 9 His combined arms army was capable of facing and defeating much larger enemy formations.

It allowed commanders to quickly flank his enemies, maximize his fields of fire, and destroy enemy formations by simultaneously unleashing his combat capabilities. In comparison, the U. S. Army has various combined arms units to fight its nations wars. Of them all, the Brigade Combat Team (BCT) is the country’s primary combat unit. The BCTs are organized depending on their mission requirements. They are either Armored, Infantry, or Stryker BCTs. They all consists of at least three light or mechanized infantry battalions, one cavalry battalion, one field artillery battalion, and two support battalions.

BCTs provide commanders the flexibility to maneuver a small and formidable force that is capable of unleashing devastating fire power. Regardless of their rank, soldiers in the heat of battle are able to coordinate air, artillery, and other enablers in order to destroy their enemies. The U. S. and Napoleon’s use of combined arms in conjunction with a more structured military organization and nationalism have proven to be effective in defeating their enemies. However, its effectiveness proved to have its limits against unconventional forces who refused to fight like professional armies.8. Peter Paret “Napoleon and the Revolution in War. ” In The Makers of Modern Strategy, 123-142. ed. Peter Paret (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 198), 125. 9. John A. Lynn, “Nations in Arms. ” in The Cambridge History of Warfare, ed. Geoffrey Parker (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 201. 5 By 1818, Napoleon conquered most of Europe. He was able to conquer Spain within a month that same year. However, he soon realized that his mighty army had its limits when fighting against Spanish insurgents who refused to fight the French in the battlefield.

The French viewed the guerrillas as poorly organized bands of thugs and refused to see the serious threat they posed. 10 The guerillas had full support from their Spanish brethrens, excellent knowledge of the terrain, and an ample supply of recruits who viciously hated the French occupiers. The Spanish guerillas eventually evolved into hardened warriors after continuous training and engagements against French forces. 11 Time being on their side, the Spaniards grew stronger as the French grew weaker. The French were unsuccessful in defeating the Spanish guerillas.

The U. S. Army is in a similar situation with its war in Afghanistan and with its recent operation in Iraq. The U. S. Army has proven its military might by easily destroying the Iraqi military in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and destroying the majority of Taliban forces in Afghanistan in support of Operating Enduring Freedom. However, the U. S. Army underestimated the capabilities of the insurgents in both countries. Time was on their side of the insurgents who were winning the propaganda war.

Their determination to win the war against the infidels seemed to grow in strength regardless of the countless battles they lost. Like Napoleon’s army in Spain, the U. S. Army was trying to defeat an enemy that had support from the majority of the local population and had access to an abundant source of recruits to support their jihad. The insurgents learned from their mistakes, understood the tactics of coalition 10. Don W. Alexander, “French Military Problems in Counterinsurgent Warfare in Northeastern Spain, 1808-1813” (paper presented at the Command and General Staff College, Fort Lee, Virginia, February 10, 2014).

Don W. Alexander, “French Military Problems in Counterinsurgent Warfare in Northeastern Spain, 1808-1813” (paper presented at the Command and General Staff College, Fort Lee, Virginia, February 10, 2014). 6 forces, and improved in their abilities to fight the infidels. Like the French before them, the U. S. Army faced tremendous struggles in defeating the insurgents in both countries. Napoleon’s military organizational structure, use of combined arms, and nationalism allowed his armies to easily conquer most of Europe.

His system forced Europe to revolutionize its military warfare in accordance with the French in order to match their abilities in the battlefield. Its influence in changing European warfare continues to have influence in today’s military. To this day, the U. S. Army continues to follow Napoleon’s system with an all volunteer army with the ability to initiate a draft, possesses combined arms capabilities through BCTs, and follows a multi-leveled command structure through armies, corps, brigades, and battalions.

Both armies have demonstrated similar victories against conventional armies, but have proven to be extremely challenging against non-nation states. Napoleon’s failures with insurrectionists in Spain are similar to the U. S. Army’s struggles against radical Islamists in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is clear that the tools used by both Western Powers must be altered or modified in order to defeat unconventional military forces. 7

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