Empire Collections

Scene of Bridge builders

Reference : Pontonniers

The pontooners. A little-known corps of the Grande Armée but which contributed greatly to Napoleon's tactical success and his fame on the battlefield.

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The pontooners

Little-known pillar of the Napoleonic army

When we talk about Napoleon's army, attention is generally focused on his infantry, his cavalry, or even the imperial guard.

However, within this great army, one force often remains in the shadows despite its essential role: the pontooners. This troop
discreet, both engineers and soldiers, proves to be an essential link for military maneuvers, guaranteeing the rapid crossing of waterways
and thus contributing to the conquest or defense of
the Empire. Highly trained military engineers, their rigorous training prepared them to assemble pontoon sections with mathematical precision,
to use ropes to stabilize structures and to securely anchor temporary bridges in often tumultuous waterways. Their technical expertise was crucial, as the speed of their intervention could mean the difference between a victorious maneuver and a disastrous defeat on the battlefield.

Wagram and the Bérézina

Two major events of the Napoleonic Wars brilliantly illustrate the importance of pontooners. At the Battle of Wagram, their contribution was essential
to allow Napoleon to maintain his hegemony in Europe. However, when crossing the Bérézina in November 1812, the pontoniers sacrificed
their lives to allow the French army to overcome this difficult obstacle, thus marking a tactical victory despite considerable losses. This extreme episode
demonstrates the pontooners' capacity for sacrifice, emphasizing the importance of their dedication in critical circumstances.

 

Techniques and Innovations of pontoon workers

The value of pontooners lies in their ability to cross waterways in creative ways. Using simple means such as flat-bottomed boats, trestles, bridges on piles, and even "French-style bridges" with whatever floating body was available, these resourceful people had to be versatile. Their technical expertise proved crucial during difficult crossings, such as that of the Danube before the Battle of Wagram, thus demonstrating their vital role within the Napoleonic army. Pontonniers also developed innovative techniques, such as the use of ferries with folding mantels and articulated boat decks, illustrating their adaptability on the battlefield.

The legacy of the pontooners

Thus, these engineer-soldiers left a lasting mark in military history, contributing significantly to the tactical successes of the Napoleonic Empire.
The legacy of Napoleon's pontonniers transcends the limits of the 19th century. Their remarkable contribution shaped the face of the Napoleonic Wars in
enabling rapid strategic movements and enhancing the effectiveness of Imperial military campaigns.
Even after the fall of Napoleon, the influence of pontonniers persisted in developments in military engineering, influencing tactics and strategies.
adopted by armed forces around the world. Thus, the legacy of Napoleon's pontonniers remains a significant page in military history, recalling the
crucial value of engineering on the battlefield.

Les Etains du Prince wanted to make a most faithful representation of the work that the pontonniers of the Empire could carry out.

We used real hemp ropes, weight bags, nails, fabric nets, etc. Almost all of the accessories (axes, hammers, shovels, picks, pliers, saws, lamps) are made of tin. The pontoons and logs are made of real wood.
We were able to recreate the water of the Danube River using a special transparent resin technique.