The Grande Armée (French for ″Great Army″ or ″Grand Army″) first entered the annals of history when, in 1805, Napoleon I renamed the army that he had assembled on the French coast of the English Channel for the proposed invasion of Britain. It never achieved its primary goal, as Napoleon had to re-deploy it east in order to eliminate the threat of Austria and Russia, which were part of the Third Coalition assembled against France.
Thereafter, the name was used for the principal French army deployed in the Campaigns of 1805 and 1807, where it got its prestige, 1809, 1812, and 1813–14. In practice, however, the term "Grande Armée" is used in English to refer to all of the multinational forces gathered by Napoleon I in his campaigns of the early 19th century (see Napoleonic Wars).
The first Grande Armée consisted of six corps under the command of Napoleon's marshals and senior generals. When Napoleon discovered that Russian and Austrian armies were preparing to invade France in late 1805, the Grande Armée was quickly ordered across the Rhine into Southern Germany, leading to Napoleon's victories at Ulm, Austerlitz and Jena.
The army grew in size as Napoleon's might spread across Europe. It reached its maximum size of 600,000 men at the start of the invasion of Russia in 1812. All contingents were commanded by French generals, except for a Polish and an Austrian corps. The huge multinational army marched slowly eastwards, with the Russians falling back before it. After the capture of Smolensk and victory in the Battle of Borodino, Napoleon and a part of the Grande Armée reached Moscow on 14 September 1812; however, the army was already drastically reduced due to the numbers killed and wounded in battles with the Russians, disease (principally typhus), desertion and long communication lines. The army spent a month in Moscow, but was ultimately forced to march back westwards. Assailed by cold, starvation and disease, and constantly harassed by Cossacks and Russian irregulars, the retreat utterly destroyed the Grande Armée as a fighting force. Only 120,000 men survived to leave Russia (excluding early deserters). Of these 50,000 were Austrians, Prussians and other Germans, 20,000 Poles and 35,000 Frenchmen. As many as 380,000 died in the campaign.
Napoleon led a new army to the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig in 1813, in the defence of France in 1814 and in the Waterloo campaign in 1815, but the Napoleonic French army would never regain the heights of the Grande Armée in June 1812.
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