“That you will make no deliberate blunders, your character guarantees; if you make the usual ones, well I have long become used to them.”
— The Emperor Francis I on appointing Joseph Radetzky to the position of Chief of General Staff
The full title of this book reads as ‘Radetzky. Imperial Victor and Military Genius’ and after reading this piece I have to agree with the opinion of the author, Alan Sked, on many issues. Many but not all, for at one moment he makes the bold statement that the Marshal Radetzky was a greater commander than Marlborough. While this might be true, I would need to look into this far more, while I am more forgiving in granting him the correctness of opinion when asserting that the Marshal outclassed Napoleon Bonaparte along with every other man of his own day, and probably the majority of the soldiers of the previous century.
So, who was Radetzky? Well, the answer to this I knew a while ago, when I had not heard of this book nor of Alan Sked. This answer would read: Radetzky was a man who was great enough to have a march written about him. This for me was quite sufficient for indeed the Radetzky March is a brilliant composition, as I see it.
However, that was not really an answer to who the man himself was, so when I saw this book on one good day on a shelf in Waterstones I knew I had to read it. It was until yesterday waiting for me to finish a biography of von Bismarck, when for some reason I decided to pick the book up and nearly read it in one go.
Compellingly written, I believe Mr Sked to do justice to the Field Marshal for the victories gained at Leipzig, Custoza, and Novara, and the plans leading up to these do indeed allow us to consider Joseph Radetzky as a most brilliant military mind. I was also intrigued by the statement that the Field Marshal was one of the few people in the relatively peaceful decades after Napoleon’s Hundred Days to insist on military innovation, bringing Austria to a rather high position (especially compared to where it would end up by the Great War).
Overall… now I know why Johann Strauss wrote such a masterful piece of music, and I know that the man it was meant to celebrate went far further in the minds of his contemporaries than history would give him credit for.
“If I had an army of 700,000 and Radetzky only four men and a corporal, I would not attack Lombardy.”