Josef Wenzel, Count of Radetz was born in Austria in 1766. He became a soldier aan fought the Turks at the age of twenty-two in one of those interminable Balkan wars. In 1800 he was wounded charging with the cavalry against Napoleon at the battle of Marengo, but had recovered enough to take part in the battle of Wagram in 1809, again against the French, but with a more senior rank.
After helping to plan the battle of Leipzig in 1813, in which Napoleon was defeated for the penultimate time, he was appointed Chief of the Austrian General Staff. He then served in Italy, where he was again commander-in-chief from 1831.
In the Revolution of 1848 in Milan, Radetzky decided to withdraw his troops from the city after several days of dreadful street fighting to avoid more loss of life. He said it was the ‘most terrible’ decision he had had to make in his life so far.
However, Austria was driven out of Venice too, and then Charles Albert of Piedmont declared war on her; Radetzky withdrew to the fortresses of Mantua, Verona, Peschiera and Legnano. Safe in the fortresses he rested and recuperated to freshen his troops for the next big battle; this came in Custozza in July, with a resounding thrashing for Charles Albert, who then did a bit of resting himself before sallying out again against Radetzky. Piedmont re-entered the fray at Novara in March, 1849. Again Charles Albert was defeated.
Our hero then turned his gaze towards Venice; he starved the city into submission and was thus responsible for the total success of the Austrian military machine in Italy. At the same time he saved the weakened Austrian Empire from collapse. Naturally he became the Number One Austrian hero before being made Governor-General of Lombardy-Venetia until 1857, when he was ninety-one years old. He retired at this age, and died one year later. A thrilling and popular piece of music was written for him by Johann Strauss called The Radetzky Waltz.
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