Napoleon, the great war strategist, is defeated by warm weather.
The year was 1812. It was early in September. Following a number of failed attempts to make peace, the Russians and the French forces of Napoleon came face to face on Russian soil. A brutal battle occurred, leaving 75,000 men dead.
It is estimated forty-four thousand Russian and thirty-five thousand French were lost on that day of fighting. Napoleon was triumphant. But he didn’t feel like a victor. Indeed, the victory marked the beginning of a run of bad luck for the French emperor. After a few weeks in Moscow, Napoleon was informed of rebellion in France. He did not hesitate to order his troops to mobilize and return home.
Napoleon knew once his army reached Poland they would be out of enemy territory. All they needed to do to reach that safe haven was cross the Berezina River and head directly for Poland. The river was easy to cross, usually – especially as it was usually frozen solid in November. But it had not been a cold winter and the river wasn’t frozen. Instead, there was just cold, rushing, water.
So Napoleon’s engineers had to erect a bridge across the cold but rushing water. The 100-meter long makeshift structure managed to get the cavalry and infantry across safely enough. But 20,000 troops were lost as they rushed to cross the bridges and fell into the icy waters.