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Napoleon’s Grande Armee invades Russia


Following the rejection of his Continental System by Czar Alexander I, French Emperor Napoleon orders his Grande Armee, the largest European military force ever assembled to that date, into Russia. The enormous army, featuring some 500,000 soldiers and staff, included troops from all the European countries under the sway of the French Empire.

During the opening months of the invasion, Napoleon was forced to contend with a bitter Russian army in perpetual retreat. Refusing to engage Napoleon’s superior army in a full-scale confrontation, the Russians under General Mikhail Kutuzov burned everything behind them as they retreated deeper and deeper into Russia. On September 7, the indecisive Battle of Borodino was fought, in which both sides suffered terrible losses. On September 14, Napoleon arrived in Moscow intending to find supplies but instead found almost the entire population evacuated, and the Russian army retreated again. Early the next morning, fires broke across the city, set by Russian patriots, and the Grande Armee’s winter quarters were destroyed. After waiting a month for a surrender that never came, Napoleon, faced with the onset of the Russian winter, was forced to order his starving army out of Moscow.

During the disastrous retreat, Napoleon’s army suffered continual harassment from a suddenly aggressive and merciless Russian army. Stalked by hunger and the deadly lances of the Cossacks, the decimated army reached the Berezina River late in November, but found their way blocked by the Russians. On November 27, Napoleon forced a way across at Studenka, and when the bulk of his army passed the river two days later, he was forced to burn his makeshift bridges behind him, stranding some 10,000 stragglers on the other side. From there, the retreat became a rout, and on December 8 Napoleon left what remained of his army to return to Paris. Six days later, the Grande Armee finally escaped Russia, having suffered a loss of more than 400,000 men during the disastrous invasion.

READ MORE: Why Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia Was the Beginning of the End


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View of the ruins caused by a bomb explosion in the Moscow Kremlin during the retreat

View of the ruins caused by a bomb explosion in the Moscow Kremlin during the retreat of the French troops on the evening of 18 , 1814. Found in the Collection of State Museum of A.S. Pushkin, Moscow

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Waiting for Peace

On the 18th September , Major General Ivan Tutolmin was received at the Petroff Palace. The subsequent letter he wrote to the Tsar's mother Maria Feodorovna, on Napoleon's request, regarding the opening of peace talks received no reply. A similar attempt by Napoleon to open dialogue around peace came on the 22nd September , soon after the end of the fires, when Ivan Alekseevich Yakovlev, former captain of the guard, wrote to the Tsar on Napoleon's behalf, but again to no avail.

Meanwhile, in the terrible weather and mud which hampered the troops from 18th-23rd September , Napoleon turned his attention to Russian manoeuvres, hoping to crush any resistance. Cossack bands, however, continued to thwart French attempts at control led by Murat. By the 26th September , Napoleon had discovered that Kutuzov's main forces were on the main Kaluga road. Over the end of September and the beginning of October, the Russian Army slowly retreated to Tarutino, where it took up a defensive position on 3rd October after clashes with Murat's troops.

During this period, Napoleon was also thinking about the pursuance of the campaign. Several options were open: retreat to Smolensk in order to winter in safety before continuing the campaign the following year a drive on St Petersburg in order to take Russia's second capital, and finally force Alexander into submission or to engage Alexander in peace negotiations.

Napoleon's preference for the final option led to his sending Lauriston to Kutuzov's headquarters to discuss possibilities for peace. Caulaincourt had refused the Emperor's plan to approach the Tsar on the grounds that it would be in vain. On the 4th October, Napoleon wrote to Kutuzov (CG, 31792):

‘Prince Kutuzov, I send one of my aides de camp to you in order to discuss several important matters. I hope that Your Highness will believe what he is to say to you, above all when he expresses the high esteem and particular respect I have for a long time held for your person. Moscow, 3rd October 1812. Signed: Napoleon.'

On the 5th October , Kutuzov received the letter. On reading it he agreed to a secret meeting with Lauriston, and suggested to the French that he would take their peace proposals to the Tsar. Alexander had already stated that he had no intention of any negotiation with Napoleon as long as there was a single French soldier left in Russia, and was furious when Kutuzov informed him of this meeting in meeting with Lauriston, Kutuzov had acted in direct contravention to an imperial order. But Kutuzov was in fact playing for time and had no intention of negotiating peace, indeed he guessed that Napoleon's keenness on negotiation was in the end a sign of weakness. Keeping French hopes for peace alive allowed him precious time to organise Russian forces for the next stage of the campaign while the Grande Armée remained in the ashes of Moscow.

It gradually dawned on Napoleon that peace talks would not be forthcoming and with the Russian winter approaching he was left with the dilemma of what to do next. The circle surrounding him spoke of Napoleon's initial determination to stay in Moscow for the winter months, not because of its military value, but because of the political blow that would be dealt him should he leave this would look like an admission of defeat, and could harm his standing in Europe. But arrangements did also begin to be made for a retreat, although too little too late. The horses did not have horseshoes which would allow them to cross the ice safely, and the men were not appropriately equipped for the bitter cold to come.

But finally, on the 14th October , Napoleon decided to leave Moscow. He directed Berthier to organise the evacuation of a convoy of 1,500 injured soldiers to Smolensk, accompanied by 200-300 men. The convoy departed Moscow on the 16th October a few days before the army.


Never Invade Russia: How Napoleon Doomed His French Empire

Could Napoleon have kept his reign and his Empire had he not done so?

Key point: Invading Russia went poorly for nearly very would be conquerer. From Sweden, to France, to Nazi Germany, these efforts were foolhardy in the extreme.

For many, the fascination of military history lies in the “What if …” What if Hitler had not ordered the Luftwaffe to shift from bombing RAF airfields to bombing London in 1940? What if Saddam had pushed on through Kuwait into northern Saudi Arabia, denying coalition forces the use of Saudi airfields to launch their counterattack? Many of the defining events in history turn on the fate of a single decision, a decision whose import is not always evident to the participants. For Napoleon’s Grande Armeé, that fateful day of decision was October 25, 1812.

Napoleon’s invasion of Russia set the stage for his downfall and the destruction of the Grande Armée. The long march to Moscow and the bloody Battles of Smolensk and Borodino lay the planks for the army’s coffin a little-known battle in a town southwest of Moscow at Maloyaroslavets and the fatal council of war pushed on the lid, with the long torturous retreat driving in the nails.

Battle of Borodino

Following the bloody Battle of Borodino, Napoleon and his Grande Armée had at last reached the gates of Moscow. Victory was in sight. With his army in possession of the Russian capital, Napoleon believed it was only a matter of time before Alexander sued for peace and the long, costly campaign would end as all the others had, in victory. This campaign had been like no other Napoleon had fought: The Russian strategy of trading space for time had frustrated his ability to bring them to battle and had dangerously thinned his army as he was forced to guard his long and tenuous supply line back to France.

The Battle of Borodino on September 7, 1812, had at last provided Napoleon with a chance for the decisive battle he had sought on the long road from the Niemen River. The battle, like the campaign, however, proved to be a hollow triumph, the Grande Armée ending the day in possession of the field but at horrible cost—some 30,000 men. More importantly, the battle had shaken Napoleon and his army’s confidence. At the height of the struggle, with the chance for a decisive victory in his grasp, the Viceroy Eugène implored him to employ the Guard against the Russian center. Napoleon hesitated. “I will not demolish my Guard,” he answered.

Marshals Louis Berthier and Joachim Murat agreed. Berthier “urged him not to engage the only Corps in the army that remained intact and ought to be kept so for future occasions.” Napoleon and his marshals were aware how far away they were from France and how much they risked by tempting fate. The great gambler, who had always believed in his destiny, had blinked—he would not take the risk. The seed of doubt planted at Borodino would grow to fruition on the field of Maloyaroslavets, with harsh consequences.

Napoleon’s Options for Retreat

Throughout September and into October, Napoleon waited in the palaces of the Czar for Alexander’s gesture of negotiation. He waited in vain. Alexander offered no terms and refused to meet with envoys. He had sworn to remove the French from Russian soil and he intended to keep that promise. As he had from the beginning, Alexander intended to allow the expanse of Russia itself to wear on the French. Six hundred miles from their starting point on the Niemen River and 1,400 miles from the security of France, Napoleon and his army were not looking forward to spending the winter in Moscow. It was time to consider a retreat, but by which route and how far?

Napoleon faced three options. First was a withdrawal to the northeast toward Kalinin and Velikiye Luki. Doing so would allow the French to shorten their supply lines by bringing them closer to the security of friendly Lithuania and to threaten St. Petersburg at the same time. However, the prospect of moving farther north with winter looming was deemed too risky to chance. The second option was to retreat back along their line of advance, the Smolensk-Vyazm-Moscow road. This was uninviting because the retreating Russians and advancing French had picked it clean of food and forage. Moreover, this center route would take the Grande Armée through the carnage of the Borodino battlefield, a dreadful prospect.

That left the southern route through Kaluga via Maloyaroslavets to the southwest. This route would allow the Grande Armée to pass through land not already ravaged by the war and rejoin the main Vilna-Vitebsk-Smolensk road where Napoleon had painstakingly gathered supplies to maintain his army.

The Southern Road to Smolensk

Realizing he could wait no longer, Napoleon ordered preparations for a return via the Kaluga Gate and the southern road to Smolensk. Since the French Army had entered Moscow, the main Russian Army had been encamped south-southeast of the city in the vicinity of Taruntina. This placed the Russians across the Old Kaluga Road and astride the projected route of Napoleon’s army. Opposite them sat the corps of Murat and Marshal Josef Poniatowski. Since mid-September, an uneasy if often-violated truce had been in place along this front. Napoleon’s plan was to send Viceroy Eugène’s corps southwest down the New Kaluga Road, while he and the bulk of the main army left Moscow via the Old Kaluga Road. He hoped to deceive the Russians into believing he was moving to engage them southeast of Moscow. If he could avoid a major engagement and evade the Russians, Napoleon would be able to place his army between Smolensk and the main Russian Army.

On October 13, Eugène’s corps left Moscow via the Kaluga Gate, and by the 16th they reached the village of Gorki some 10 miles south-southwest of Moscow. The Russians, however, had plans of their own. Alexander, realizing the state of the French Army, implored Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, commander of the Russian forces, to attack. After some hasty preparations, Kutuzov set his forces in motion to attack Murat’s extended line at Vinkovo. Accordingly, at 7:00 am on October 18, the 7th and 8th Russian Corps under General Nicolay Raevski struck the right and center of Murat’s corps at Vinkovo. The initial assault met with some success. Raevski’s lead columns under Generals Mikhail Miloradovitch and Orlov-Densilov drove the French back through Vinkovo and threatened to cut the New Kaluga Road.

But the French recovered quickly. While Murat rallied the scattered remnants of his corps, Marshal Michel Ney and Poniatowski’s corps restored the situation and pushed the Russians back to the vicinity of Vinkovo. The crisis having been averted, Napoleon continued to move the army south. He and the Guard left Moscow on October 19 while Eugène and the vanguard reached Fominskaya, 25 miles to the south, on the 21st. In an attempt to take advantage of the latest Russian setback, and as a further deception, on October 20 Napoleon sent General Jacques Lauriston to Kutuzov’s headquarters with yet another request for a negotiated settlement. He held no real hopes that Alexander would come to terms. Rather, his intent was to delay any possible Russian reaction to his movements while his message was forwarded and he awaited a reply. On the 23rd, Napoleon’s rear guard left Moscow via the New Kaluga Road, while Napoleon began to shift the army from the Old Kaluga Road to the New Kaluga Road, sidestepping the main Russian Army. By the 22nd, Kutuzov began to sense something was up when his scouts informed him that the French vanguard under Eugène was heading toward Maloyaroslavets. Kutuzov hastily began to shift his forces to intercept them.

The Battle for Maloyaroslavets

The town of Maloyaroslavets is 57 miles southwest of Moscow and 25 miles north of Kaluga. Three key routes meet there: The Old Kaluga Road passes through the center of town, the Mulin Road is to the west, and the Tula Road is to the east. The town rests on the side and summit of a hill south of the Luzha River. From Moscow the town was only accessible to cavalry and artillery via a single wooden bridge spanning a ravine and the Luzha River. South of the river the terrain was just as foreboding. The southern bank of the Luzha River and the area east, west, and south of the town are heavily wooded and steep. Any assault force from the north would first have to secure the bridge across the Luzha, the town itself, and finally the heights beyond.

On the evening of October 23, Eugène’s lead infantry division—the 13th, under Alexis Delzons—reached the town ahead of General Dmitri Dokhturov and quickly moved to take up positions to hold the vital river crossing. He occupied the town, but not in force. Later that evening, Dokhturov’s forces reached the town and took up positions on the southern side of the ravine astride the three main routes. Dokhturov quickly ordered his Chasseurs into the town to dislodge the French before they could solidify their hold on the bridge and its crossing. Their initial charge carried the town, but the banks of the ravine provided cover for Delzons’ troops and the Russians were stopped short of the bridge. Throughout the early hours of the 23rd, the Russian Chasseurs fortified their position, but Dokhturov did not send in further reinforcements. The following morning, Delzons ordered a regiment of infantry forward in support. Their reckless charge cleared the Russians from the base of the bridge and would have cleared the town itself, except a Russian light artillery battery moved into position and fired three rounds of canister into the advancing column. The first halted the column, the second wavered it, and the third dispersed it.


They are termed camp followers and have followed armies since before Ramses II at Kadesh. Modern armies travel with long tails of official logistical services - cooks, tailors, smiths, armourers, teamsters, nurses, physicians & surgeons, etc. - that in earlier times were provided by civilian camp followers, but wives, children, mistresses and others have also been present since time immemorial.

American armies has been more prudish than most in their regard (notably only after the Revolutionary War), and European armies in general have usually declined to officially supply comfort women to their troops. However armies have always been a profitable place to find lonely young men with money to burn, especially after a victory. Wives have often found it worthwhile to follow their men to guard their husbands from temptation and share their tribulations, as Martha Washington did at Valley Forge. Marshal Massena's mistress always followed a day or two behind her husband while on campaign, except when accompanying him more directly dressed as a male soldier.

During the Napoleonic Wars camp followers were commonly found behind all armies as at Waterloo. During preparations for the 1812 Russian campaign:

Nor does this take into account the hordes of accompanying civilians. Napoleon’s household alone contained some 100 to 150 civilians–butchers, cooks, vintners, bakers, saddlers, blacksmiths, laundresses…And many of Napoleon’s generals also had large ‘households’ which accompanied them into occupied territory. Then there are the thousands of soldiers who brought their wives and children there are the bakers, saddlers, blacksmiths, brandy-sellers, and camp followers…some 50,000 people, is the conservative estimate of the number of civilians.

The Grande Armée was assailed by starvation, extremes of weather and terrifying Russian partisans throughout, and by the end of 1812 only 10,000 soldiers were able to fight. Many of the rest had died in horrible conditions, with the camp's followers faring even worse.

In the Waterloo Campaign Napoleon lost patience with the camp followers, and both authorized and directed (pages 268-272) his Director-Genera of Transport to burn all vehicles which hindered troop and baggage movements:

No. 8.
March Orders [for the Armeee du Nord].

Beaumont, 14 June, 1815. .
Each division of the III Corps will march complete, namely, accompanied by its battery and ambulance wagons but every other vehicle seeking to accompany the column of troops will be burned.
.

The Emperor commands that all transport vehicles found in Infantry, Cavalry, or Artillery columns are to be burned, as well as the vehicles in the baggage column which leave their allotted place and thus change the order of march, unless they have previously obtained special permission to do so from the Director-General of Transport.

For this purpose a detachment of 50 Military Police will be placed under the orders of the Director-General of Transport and the latter officer is held personally responsible, as well as the officers of the Military Police and also the Military Police them- selves, for the due execution of these arrangements on which the success of the campaign may depend.

By Order of the Emperor,
.


Napoleon invades Prussia in March 1812

What if instead of allying with Prussia in 1812, Napoleon invaded Prussia in March 1812 and partitioned Prussia's territory among Austria, Poland and Westphalia. In otl Prussia was practically useless as an ally and a third of Prussia's officer corp (Clausewitz) had quit. Russia would have run to Prussia's rescue, and then been soundly defeated by Napoleon just like at Friedland. Russia was still involved in a war with Turkey in Spring 1812 and didn't have all the forces that were available in June. Napoleon also wouldn't have had to march so deep into Russian territory to find an army to fight on disadvantageous terms like at Borodino.

During the negotiations for the Treaty of Tilsit Napoleon didn't dissolve Prussia as a favor to Alexander because Napoleon wanted to keep on good terms with the Russian Tsar. By 1812 there was no reason for Napoleon to play nice with Alexander. Russia was seeking an alliance with Prussia against France in 1811 but was refused by Prussia. Russia was also planning an offensive against Poland since 1811 but the offensive was eventually called off when Russia realized how many forces Napoleon had gathered for the coming war. Assuming the spring campaign in Poland and Prussia goes well Napoleon then could have taken his time occupying Russian ports in 1812 and 1813, which would prevent British trade until Alexander sued for peace.

Alexmilman

What if instead of allying with Prussia in 1812, Napoleon invaded Prussia in March 1812 and partitioned Prussia's territory among Austria, Poland and Westphalia. In otl Prussia was practically useless as an ally and a third of Prussia's officer corp (Clausewitz) had quit. Russia would have run to Prussia's rescue, and then been soundly defeated by Napoleon just like at Friedland. Russia was still involved in a war with Turkey in Spring 1812 and didn't have all the forces that were available in June. Napoleon also wouldn't have had to march so deep into Russian territory to find an army to fight on disadvantageous terms like at Borodino.

During the negotiations for the Treaty of Tilsit Napoleon didn't dissolve Prussia as a favor to Alexander because Napoleon wanted to keep on good terms with the Russian Tsar. By 1812 there was no reason for Napoleon to play nice with Alexander. Russia was seeking an alliance with Prussia against France in 1811 but was refused by Prussia. Russia was also planning an offensive against Poland since 1811 but the offensive was eventually called off when Russia realized how many forces Napoleon had gathered for the coming war. Assuming the spring campaign in Poland and Prussia goes well Napoleon then could have taken his time occupying Russian ports in 1812 and 1813, which would prevent British trade until Alexander sued for peace.

Very interesting scenario providing Russia would dare to go to the offensive war at that time and under these circumstances. The only problem with it is that it would be clearly suicidal requiring a much greater idiocy than Alexander possessed.
To start with, as you noticed, Russia is still at war with the Ottomans which keeps a considerable part of its force occupied (55,000 with 202 guns).
Then, the military reform and increasing army size was still going on. The defensive war could not be avoided but to start an offensive one was a totally different thing.
While the the offensive plans had been presented among numerous others, none of them was getting a serious attention and, IIRC, they had a limited scope, anyway.
It is questionable if the “2nd Friedland” could be achieved because Barclay was a considerably better general than Bennigsen and the chance for him making such a gross operational mistake would be much lower. Most probably would be something similar to the OTL but with start on Prussian territory: insignificant advance and, as soon as the numbers became known, retreat to the Russian territory because Barclay was adamantly against taking a major battle at a great disadvantage (unless it was dictated by a need to save other army, as was his decision at Vitebsk). Needless to say that, while still lacking in troops experience, even in the early 1812 Russian army was much better organized that at the time of the 4th coalition (reforms of Arakcheev and Barclay).

This being said, the idea is great: if works out, it gives Nappy a HUGE edge.

JD180

What if instead of allying with Prussia in 1812, Napoleon invaded Prussia in March 1812 and partitioned Prussia's territory among Austria, Poland and Westphalia. In otl Prussia was practically useless as an ally and a third of Prussia's officer corp (Clausewitz) had quit. Russia would have run to Prussia's rescue, and then been soundly defeated by Napoleon just like at Friedland. Russia was still involved in a war with Turkey in Spring 1812 and didn't have all the forces that were available in June. Napoleon also wouldn't have had to march so deep into Russian territory to find an army to fight on disadvantageous terms like at Borodino.

During the negotiations for the Treaty of Tilsit Napoleon didn't dissolve Prussia as a favor to Alexander because Napoleon wanted to keep on good terms with the Russian Tsar. By 1812 there was no reason for Napoleon to play nice with Alexander. Russia was seeking an alliance with Prussia against France in 1811 but was refused by Prussia. Russia was also planning an offensive against Poland since 1811 but the offensive was eventually called off when Russia realized how many forces Napoleon had gathered for the coming war. Assuming the spring campaign in Poland and Prussia goes well Napoleon then could have taken his time occupying Russian ports in 1812 and 1813, which would prevent British trade until Alexander sued for peace.

Raferty

It definitely fits Napoleon's tendency to see alliances as temporary, and to be fair, his allies had always done the same to him, except for some of his family members but not all.

The French would win the war to the extent there was one quite easily. As for a strategy of shutting down the Baltic Ports, the question has to be if Napoleon's main body could beat the Russian mobilization efforts with Prussian resistance to it's rear. I think that they could have held Poland, but likely not make it far into Russia.

Keeping the army spread out but well supplied is important, though, as the diseases decimated the Grande Armee in OTL before winter even set in.

Raferty

Austria had the advantage of having Napoleons wife being of their elite, and he never really seemed to have the same hard line with them as with Prussia and Russia.


But I agree that it would look capricious. Austria however I don't think ever really accepted Napoleonic hegemony, seeing as they backstabbed over the Tyroleon Revolt and were constantly building up their army.

I think it's likely if Napoleon wants to keep them inside, he is going to have to back them in a conflict against the Ottomans, and even then, it will be temporary.

Alexmilman

John Gault

Alexmilman

It definitely fits Napoleon's tendency to see alliances as temporary, and to be fair, his allies had always done the same to him, except for some of his family members but not all.

The French would win the war to the extent there was one quite easily. As for a strategy of shutting down the Baltic Ports, the question has to be if Napoleon's main body could beat the Russian mobilization efforts with Prussian resistance to it's rear. I think that they could have held Poland, but likely not make it far into Russia.

Keeping the army spread out but well supplied is important, though, as the diseases decimated the Grande Armee in OTL before winter even set in.

GuildedAgeNostalgia

By 1812, the Danish fleet had been defeated twice by the British and Copenhagen had been captured with it's defenses destroyed during it's last Siege.

Denmark can't close the straits, especially with a pro Russian Bernadotte in Sweden.

JD180

Alexmilman

By 1812, the Danish fleet had been defeated twice by the British and Copenhagen had been captured with it's defenses destroyed during it's last Siege.

Denmark can't close the straits, especially with a pro Russian Bernadotte in Sweden.

Alexmilman

I'm not sure what you are talking about. On the Northern direction Napoleon had MacDonald (32,00) against Essen in Riga with 18,000 and and Oudinot (28,000) against Wittgenstein with 25,000 on Polotsk direction (with a task of marching on St-Petrersburg). Oudinot and then Gouvion-Saint-Cyr with the VI corps failed to advance beyond Polotsk/Klayastitz and MacDonald get to the proximity of Riga but did not start a siege and spent the rest of campaign doing close to nothing so the Prussians did not have a serious chance to demonstrate anything.

Oudinot was later strengthened by the VI corps of Gouvion-Saint-Cyr (Bavarians) . He was forced to retreat after Klyastitz (losing 10,000 killed and wounded and 3,00 POWs vs. 4,000) and, after the 1st battle of Polotsk active fighting stopped until the 2nd battle of Polotsk (this time Wittgenstein was reenforced) the French had been forced to start retreating.

JD180

I'm not sure what you are talking about. On the Northern direction Napoleon had MacDonald (32,00) against Essen in Riga with 18,000 and and Oudinot (28,000) against Wittgenstein with 25,000 on Polotsk direction (with a task of marching on St-Petrersburg). Oudinot and then Gouvion-Saint-Cyr with the VI corps failed to advance beyond Polotsk/Klayastitz and MacDonald get to the proximity of Riga but did not start a siege and spent the rest of campaign doing close to nothing so the Prussians did not have a serious chance to demonstrate anything.

Oudinot was later strengthened by the VI corps of Gouvion-Saint-Cyr (Bavarians) . He was forced to retreat after Klyastitz (losing 10,000 killed and wounded and 3,00 POWs vs. 4,000) and, after the 1st battle of Polotsk active fighting stopped until the 2nd battle of Polotsk (this time Wittgenstein was reenforced) the French had been forced to start retreating.

JD180

Alexmilman

Can’t say that I remembered too much of it: read it at least 4 decades ago. Rather surprised that it is still in circulation and available on the web. Needless to say that it reflects the time when it was written, 1937 and not quite a military history but to a great degree an attempt to rehabilitate himself after exile by showing that he recognized errors of his ways and eager to serve.

Kutuzov ended up being a military genius. Bagration (being a Georgian) is great and ready to beat Napoleon singlehandedly. Unflattering Alexander’s comment that he is a complete idiot in the area of strategy is omitted. And Barclay is just a military organizer without any “heroic achievements “ . Of course, crossing the Botnic Gulf by the ice was an ordinary operation and so was the fact that by 1812 he already had St. George of the 4th and 3rd class (indication of much more than an ordinary bravery). How could it be otherwise when Stalin defined who was and who was not great?

Now, as far as the Prussians (bad guys by definition during Stalin’s times) are involved, he wrote that they were fighting seriously (*) expecting that Prussia is going to get the Baltic provinces but the only reference to confirm that statement is a quotation from report of general Essen, governor of Riga, who wrote that he was trying to be nice to them but they did not reciprocate. The problem is that the actions on Riga direction had been minimal: after the minor battle at Ekau at which Prussians and Westphalian had 2:1 numeric advantage and in which they forced troops of general Levize (sp) to retreat, the most (and only) remarkable event was Essen’s panicky order to put on fire Riga suburbs before enemy came even close to the city. Eventually, Essen was removed from command for incompetence. What you are seemingly missing from Tarle is a punchline: “. looted the whole area they occupied . and as soon as Napoleon left Russia they immediately changed sides” In other words, what he is saying is that they were nasty greedy bastards.

As I already wrote, initially under Grawert, who was strongly pro-French, the Prussians did fight seriously but soon enough he left and was replaced by Yorck who was anti-French and the attitudes changed. Table completely ignored that part because the Prussians had to be bad.

_____
(*)
The hell, as usually, is in the details (and translation). Tarle used word “усердствовали” which is formally “acted eagerly” but has a pejorative or ironic meaning.

Alexmilman

Prussian willingness to ally with France perfectly fits into definition of “shotgun marriage”.

JD180

Can’t say that I remembered too much of it: read it at least 4 decades ago. Rather surprised that it is still in circulation and available on the web. Needless to say that it reflects the time when it was written, 1937 and not quite a military history but to a great degree an attempt to rehabilitate himself after exile by showing that he recognized errors of his ways and eager to serve.

Kutuzov ended up being a military genius. Bagration (being a Georgian) is great and ready to beat Napoleon singlehandedly. Unflattering Alexander’s comment that he is a complete idiot in the area of strategy is omitted. And Barclay is just a military organizer without any “heroic achievements “ . Of course, crossing the Botnic Gulf by the ice was an ordinary operation and so was the fact that by 1812 he already had St. George of the 4th and 3rd class (indication of much more than an ordinary bravery). How could it be otherwise when Stalin defined who was and who was not great?

Now, as far as the Prussians (bad guys by definition during Stalin’s times) are involved, he wrote that they were fighting seriously (*) expecting that Prussia is going to get the Baltic provinces but the only reference to confirm that statement is a quotation from report of general Essen, governor of Riga, who wrote that he was trying to be nice to them but they did not reciprocate. The problem is that the actions on Riga direction had been minimal: after the minor battle at Ekau at which Prussians and Westphalian had 2:1 numeric advantage and in which they forced troops of general Levize (sp) to retreat, the most (and only) remarkable event was Essen’s panicky order to put on fire Riga suburbs before enemy came even close to the city. Eventually, Essen was removed from command for incompetence. What you are seemingly missing from Tarle is a punchline: “. looted the whole area they occupied . and as soon as Napoleon left Russia they immediately changed sides” In other words, what he is saying is that they were nasty greedy bastards.

As I already wrote, initially under Grawert, who was strongly pro-French, the Prussians did fight seriously but soon enough he left and was replaced by Yorck who was anti-French and the attitudes changed. Table completely ignored that part because the Prussians had to be bad.

_____
(*)
The hell, as usually, is in the details (and translation). Tarle used word “усердствовали” which is formally “acted eagerly” but has a pejorative or ironic meaning.


Jun 24, 1812 CE: Napoleon Invades Russia

On June 24, 1812, the Grande Armée, led by French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, crossed the Neman River, invading Russia from present-day Poland.

Geography, Physical Geography, Social Studies, World History

Advance and Retreat

The famous map depicts the advance (tan) and disastrous retreat (black) of Napoleon’s Grande Armee through Russia.

On June 24, 1812, the Grande Armée, led by French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, crossed the Neman River, invading Russia from present-day Poland. The result was a disaster for the French.

The Russian army refused to engage with Napoleon&rsquos Grande Armée of more than 500,000 European troops. They simply retreated into the Russian interior. The Grande Armée did not have the supplies or the distribution networks required for such a long march. French strategists assumed the Grande Armée would be supplied by wagons, or would be able to gather supplies as they went. Russian roads, however, were in very poor condition, making it very difficult to transport supplies. The Grande Armée also failed to prepare for Russia&rsquos harsh winter. Its troops were not dressed or trained for the kind of weather they faced.

The invasion lasted six months, and the Grande Armée lost more than 300,000 men. Russia lost more than 200,000. A single battle (the Battle of Borodino) resulted in more than 70,000 casualties in one day. The invasion of Russia effectively halted Napoleon&rsquos march across Europe, and resulted in his first exile, to the Mediterranean island of Elba.


How a Russian general saved Napoleon’s life

In the spring of 1814, the French Empire came to its end: Coalition Forces took Paris, Napoleon abdicated and the Bourbons were back on the French throne. As a sign of respect for the man who had once held sway over all of Europe, the allies let Bonaparte keep the title of emperor. But the only place left for him to rule was on the small Mediterranean Island of Elba.

At the end of April, after saying goodbye to the soldiers of his Old Guard at the Palace of Fontainebleau, Napoleon went into exile. His route passed through the whole of France to the port of Fréjus, where a ship was waiting to take him to Elba.

The ousted emperor travelled in a modest manner, in a simple carriage, accompanied by a small armed guard and several commissioners specially assigned to him by the Allies. Tsar Alexander I dispatched Lieutenant-General Pavel Shuvalov to accompany Bonaparte. It was to Shuvalov that Napoleon would owe his life.

François Bouchot. The Abdication of Napoleon at Fontainebleau on 11 April 1814.

François Bouchot/Museum of the History of France

Against Napoleon

When Napoleon&rsquos Grande Armée invaded the borders of the Russian Empire, Count Shuvalov commanded the 4th Infantry Corps. But he almost immediately fell seriously ill and was forced to pass his command to someone else.

Shuvalov returned to duty in 1813, when Russian troops marched across Europe, slowly pushing the French towards Paris. The Count accompanied Emperor Alexander I on all the battlefields and for his role in the Battle of the Nations near Leipzig he was awarded the Order of Saint Alexander Nevsky.

Much later, in April 1814, Napoleon met Shuvalov at the Palace of Fontainebleau and asked what medal the Russian general was wearing on his chest. When Bonaparte learnt that it was a medal &ldquoIn Memory of the Happy Outcome of the War of 1812&rdquo, he fell silent and for several days didn&rsquot exchange a word with his travelling companion as a mark of his disdain. However, the former emperor would shortly have to completely change his opinion of the Russian.

George Dawe. Portrait of Pavel A. Shuvalov.

A brush with death

At first, crowds greeted Napoleon&rsquos convoy of carriages with elation, shouting &ldquoVive l&rsquoEmpereur!&rdquo But as it proceeded south, admiration gave way to silence and, then, undisguised hostility.

In Provence, crowds were already yelling abuse and showering curses on Napoleon. He remained calm, pretending none of it concerned him.

The real danger awaited Napoleon in the town of Orgon, south of Avignon. On the route of the convoy, a mob had erected a gallows with a stuffed effigy of Napoleon swaying from it. People rushed up to the closed carriage, trying to pull the deposed emperor out in order to kill him. Royalists interested in preventing the &ldquoCorsican Monster&rdquo from reaching his destination may have been partly responsible for fomenting the anger.

Paul Delaroche. Portrait of Napoleon at Fontainebleau.

After overpowering the small armed escort and the Allied commissioners, the mob closed in on its target, but Count Shuvalov intervened in the nick of time. He was the only one to have withstood the onslaught of the crowd and then, using his fists and haranguing the townspeople, he managed to push them back. Having gained precious moments, he gave a signal to the coachman of the ex-emperor's carriage to ride out of Orgon as quickly as possible.

Having failed to get their hands on Bonaparte, the mob was ready to tear Shuvalov himself to pieces. But when the people learned that a Russian general was before them, anger gave way to joyful exclamations of &ldquoLong Live Our Liberators!&rdquo

Soon afterwards, having caught up with Napoleon&rsquos convoy, Shuvalov offered to exchange overcoats and switch to Napoleon&rsquos carriage. This way, the Russian general explained, any attacker would kill him and not Bonaparte. When the astonished ruler of the Island of Elba asked why he wanted to do so, he received the following reply: &ldquoMy Emperor Alexander ordered me to deliver you to your place of exile alive and well. I consider myself honour bound to fulfil the order of my Emperor.&rdquo

Gratitude

The subterfuge worked, and several days later, Bonaparte, safe and sound, boarded the British frigate HMS &lsquoUndaunted&rsquo, which was to take him to the island in the Mediterranean. Prior to departure, Napoleon presented the Count with his saber in gratitude for saving his life.

For 15 years, Bonaparte had never parted with the magnificent saber of Damascus steel, which had been presented to him &ldquoFor the Egyptian Expedition&rdquo, when he had still been First Consul of the Republic. The fact he gave it to the Russian Count was a gesture of true gratitude on the part of the former Emperor of the French.

Joseph Beaume. Napoleon leaving Elba.

Less than a year later, Napoleon Bonaparte would return to France in order to triumphantly retake power and stir up the whole of Europe for another three months. And the fact that things turned out that way at all was not least due to the role played by one Russian general in 1814.

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The Downfall of the French Army

One reason for the downfall of the unstoppable French army was the buttons on the army uniforms. All of the army’s clothing, spanning from the highest general to the most-lowly private, had buttons made of the chemical element, Tin sewn on to their uniforms.

When exposed to bitter cold, as Napoleon’s army encountered in Russia, Tin disintegrates into a fine powder. As their buttons and uniforms fell apart, they felt so weakened by the cold that it could not function. Instead of using their hands to carry vital supplies and weapons, they were holding together their garments, grasping for heat.


This Day in History: Napoleon Invaded Russia (1812)

On this day in history, Napoleon invaded the Russian Empire in 1812. At this time, Napoleon was the de-facto rule of much of Europe. He had been crowned Emperor of France. Those countries that he did not directly rule, were ruled by family members. After the Battle of Austerlitz, where Napoleon had defeated the combined Russian and Austrian forces, the French Emperor, was the greatest military power in Europe. Napoleon and the Russian Tsar had come to an agreement and the Russians were effectively excluded from continental Europe. Napoleon had only one enemy left aft the Battle of Austerlitz, that was Britain. Napoleon did not have the naval might to knock Britain out of the war. Instead, he adopted a sanctions regime that was aimed at forcing the British to come to terms. The French Empire sought to ensure that Britain did not trade with any nations. This came to be known as the Continental System.

Czar Alexander I refused to join the Continental System and refused to be dictated by Napoleon. This gave Napoleon the excuse to attack Russia. He assembled the largest military force that Europe has ever witnessed. Napoleon&rsquos army consisted of some half a million men, mostly French but drawn from all the countries of Europe.

Following the rejection of his Continental System by Czar Alexander I, French Emperor Napoleon orders his Grande Armee, the largest European military force ever assembled to that date, into Russia. The enormous army, featuring some 500,000 soldiers and staff, included troops from all the European countries under the sway of the French Empire.

Napoleon crossing the River Neman in 1812

At first, Napoleon crossed the border without incident and was able to march far into Russian territory. The Russian Imperial forces under the leadership of General Mikhail Kutuzov retreated before the Imperial Army. The Russians adopted scorched earth tactics and they left nothing for the French army, as they advanced. This was to be later proved to be a decisive tactic. Guerrilla attacks , carried out by local Russians became the norm. However, Napoleon marched into the interior of Russia with only minimal losses. Kutuzov was obliged by popular opinion to fight the French and he reluctantly agreed to stand and free. On September 7th, the Battle of Borodino was fought. Despite huge loses the battle was a draw. Napoleon carried on and eventually occupied Moscow. Napoleon had arrived in Moscow intending to find badly needed supplies but instead found almost the entire population fled. Early the next morning, fires broke across the city, set by Russians. The French army&rsquos winter quarters were destroyed and the weather was becoming cold. With few supplies and no quarters, the French army waited for the Tsar to surrender, but it never came. Napoleon was forced to retreat in the middle of a Russian Winter and as a result, he managed to lose most of his vast army.


Watch the video: 360 video captures re-enactment of Russias fight against Napoleons Grande Armee (January 2022).