Book Review:

Castiglione 1796

By Bernhard Voykowitsch

Despite the fact the Austrians spent most of the Napoleonic Wars fighting against France, there is not a lot around in the way of in-depth reference material relating to their struggle.

However, in Castiglione 1796: Napoleon Repulses Wurmser's First Attack, Bernhard Voykowitsch has gone a long way to righting the balance with an exhaustive look at the actions of 1796 and the attempted Austrian relief of the besieged fortress of Mantua.

The first of an ambitious series of books, Castiglione 1796 shows Voykowitsch has gone to great lengths to get good prime source information from Vienna's Kriegsarchiv and Napoleonic buffs should be very grateful for his attention to detail.

He begins by looking at Mantua, its fortifications, supplies, defensive preparations and the troops garrisoning it, as well as its strategic importance in the region.

There is a day-by-day look at the military actions and there are a host of interesting details such as the fact the French threw some 4000 bombs, 2000 grenades and 6000 red-hot shot into the city over a period of 13 days - and that figure does not include the tonnes of cold roundshot fired at walls.

One of the most informative parts of Castiglione 1796 is the examination of the opposing leaders and while there is a lot known about the French, Voykowitsch has some terrific biographies of leading Austrian soldiers such as Dagobert Wurmser, Peter Quasdanovich, Michael Melas and their staff. These are historical treasure for those interested in the Austrian army of the period and include some very hard-to-get images of the men.

Castiglione 1796 looks at the rival armies' orders of battle and organisation and also the plans and preparations each side made for the campaign. Another little gem is a letter written by Emperor Francis I to Wurmser telling him he has been secretly put in charge of Austrian forces.

True to form, Voykowitsch's descriptions of the manouvreings and clashes of arms leading up to Castiglione give you the whole sweep of the campaign right from the overall strategy down to the number of cannons in a particular section of the field.

In addition, the author has used good photographs to show the terrain and areas the action was in and also a plethora of very good quality maps.

The production quality of the 96-page, A4-sized Castiglione 1796 is high, although with German as his first language, Voykowitsch has been very brave in writing a book in English. But - occasional phrasing problems aside - has made it very readable.

Castiglione 1796 is a must-have for people wanting to know more about Napoleon Bonaparte's lightning campaigns in northern Italy, or get a wealth of information on the Austrians.

Highly Recommended.

- Richard Moore



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