How was Napoleon's invasion of Russia supplied?

How was Napoleon's invasion of Russia supplied?

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How was such a great army, like the army of Napoleon on its way to Moscow, supplied with food and other needed things? Were they transporting it from France or maybe stealing from territory on their way? What were general methods to supply great armies?

Campaigns of Napoleon: The Mind and Method of History's Greatest Soldier by David Chandler is a good source of informations on Napoleon. See pages 749-797, chapter "War Pans and Preparations".

Mostly, the supplies were stored and ran from Poland. However, the army was accompanied by no less than 200,000 animals and 250,000 vehicles. A lot of the supplies were to be found on site -- hence the delay in the attack. The sheer scale of Russia and its scorched earth were massive factors in the failure of the offensive.

Napoleon's army got some supplies from occupied and allied territories of course, especially from Prussia and Poland. Still, the distances were too long to get sufficient supplies in and so the soldiers plundered villages on their way to collect food. This turned out particularly devastating on their way back: the Russians used scorched earth tactics and the army literally starved to death. To quote Wikipedia:

Napoleon and the Grande Armée had developed a proclivity for living off the land that had served it well in the densely populated and agriculturally rich central Europe with its dense network of roads. Rapid forced marches had dazed and confused old order Austrian and Prussian armies and much had been made of the use of foraging. In Russia many of the Grande Armée's methods of operation worked against it. Forced marches often made troops do without supplies as the supply wagons struggled to keep up. Lack of food and water in thinly populated, much less agriculturally dense regions led to the death of troops and their mounts by exposing them to waterborne diseases from drinking from mud puddles and eating rotten food and forage. The front of the army would receive whatever could be provided while the formations behind starved.

There were four main methods of supplying troops during the Napoleonic period;

(1) The individual soldiers would be issued with rations that they carried in their knapsack. Enough for about two weeks. This was often in the form of biscuits.

(2) Cattle or other animals were herded along and slaughtered along the way but these increased the grazing requirement.

(3) Wagons following in the supply train. The main component of which was normally flour. Periodically they would stop construct ovens and bake biscuits. (In Spain, Wellington's supply was mainly on mules rather than wagons)

(4) Living off the land and foraging. French armies tended to rely on this much more than the various allied armies. In western Europe this was much more successful than in less rich regions like Spain or Russia. While foraging can often enable armies to move faster, the prolonged use of foraging brings down good army discipline as troops get very used to this foraging and just outright looting follows and result in bad relations with civilians.(As well as opportunities for the less committed soldiers to just desert)

For the 1812 invasion of Russia, it was gathered in eastern regions under Napoleon's control and sent to the areas the Army was concentrating in. This was by wagon mainly but there was some use of river transport. Napoleon never intended to march to Moscow. The campaign was a series of ad-hoc decisions by Napoleon to move further into Russia which he had not planned for and had not the supply to do. Napoleon only had the wagon capacity to supply around half his army that sort of distance, and that's ideally. There were problems right from the start. Horses were not in good condition when they started (and the French cavalry were notorious for their bad treatment of their horses), and the extravagant use and marching of Murat was not going to conserve horses.

On the retreat from Moscow, the shortage of horses was made worse by poor march discipline, with much looted baggage that consumed both space on the road (making for more congestion slower march) and use of horses. Napoleon had been urged by his Generals to abandon much of the artillery (particularly those of the less useful smaller calibres) to free up some horses but this was rejected.

Napoleon's centre of gravity for his army was fast mobility and forced marches. Therefore, he enforced training for his troops to live and forage off the land. This worked within Europe where fertile lands made this practice easy. Organising his army into corps and regiments, he was able to ensure a fluidity and freedom of movement within the battlespace. This is more exceptional when you take into account that he faced enemies with the same technology (peer to peer).

Russia was a different matter entirely. The invasion was planned during 1811 in Germany. He crossed into Russia in 1812. His estimation of the campaign was that, due to his 600,000 troops, the Russian Czar Alexander would immediately surrender. He estimated it would take a total of three weeks.

The Russian generals knew they could not beat Napoleon head on. Already knowing his tactics and taking advantage of his need to bring Russia to heel quickly, to ensure the reinstatement of the effectiveness of his "continental system", Russia's troops kept withdrawing further into Russia. Only taking part in small skirmishes in order to ensure the French army never relaxed. Then Russia stated to commit to scorched earth, burning the winter's crops so the French could not utilise them.

When Napoleon got to Moscow he had 300,000 troops (some historians say 200,000). The Russians burnt Moscow to deny Napoleon the ability to rest and recuperate there. Napoleon withdrew from Russia trying to avoid the scorched earth, however, the Russians attacked Napoleon's army forcing them to go back through the scorched earth areas. When Napoleon eventually got back to Germany he had a meagre 30,000 troops.

Napoleons Russia campaign is not so much a lesson in failure of logistical systems more so a lesson that an army must always strive to eliminate any weakness within logistical systems as there is nothing that will control how an army can utilise a battlespace more.

Tinned food was in its infancy and expensive to employ, the tins were sealed with lead and would not have been used on such a massive scale. Napoleon's armies divided to march, United to fight and thus tried to live off the land/local produce and used supply wagons/depots more closer to the battle when concentrated. One of the reasons supply failed in Russia was the Russians destroyed everything and then the road Napoleon wanted to take was barred on the retreat forcing the army to retread the same barren route. Also severe heat then storms on the advance killed thousands of horses and so many of the wagons were abandoned.

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.

How Napoleon Ruined His Empire by Invading Russia

As Delzons was attempting to regroup his forces, Eugène arrived with the remainder of his infantry and heavy artillery. An hour later Delzons’ regrouped forces, under cover of heavy fire, descended the banks of the ravine across the bridge and into the heart of the town. A bloody hand-to-hand struggle ensued for the center of town as each side threw more and more forces into the narrow streets. At first the momentum of the French charge gave them the upper hand. But Dokhturov’s forces, under cover of their own heavy guns, pushed the French back to the ravine. This left forces in possession of a church and some adjacent homes that commanded the northern approaches to the bridge. Delzons was killed attempting to retain his hold on the northern edge of the town. His successor, General Guillment, renewed the offensive. Prince Eugène called up elements of an additional division under General Broussier, which managed to regain the town square, but they could make no further progress against stiffening Russian defenses.

As the morning wore on, the bulk of the Grande Armée began to close on the town. Ney and Marshal Louis Nicolas Davout’s corps arrived first and Eugène began constructing a second bridge across the Luzha to bring across the remainder of Broussier’s 14th Infantry Division. As the arrival of further French reinforcements threatened to overpower his overstretched command, Dokhturov dispatched riders in a desperate call for reinforcements. The first to arrive were Grenadiers from Raevski’s corps who quickly swept into the town, forcing the French back yet again and threatening to trap the expanding French bridgehead on the southern side of the river.

The Grenadiers sent the French back through the heart of town to the church and the area south of the bridge. Eugène was forced to regroup his scattered elements yet again and answered this new Russian attack with General Pino’s 15th Infantry Division—the last of Eugène’s divisions. Pino’s division slammed into the exhausted Grenadiers at the ebb of their charge, forcing them away from the bridge and through the town square, finally halting on the edge of town in the face of Russian artillery on the heights above.

The French at last had gained complete control of the town, but the Russians still held the surrounding hills. The cost was high, some 20,000 French and Russian casualties, or about one-third of the forces of Eugène and Dokhturov’s respective corps. The town itself was all but destroyed most of the buildings had been damaged and many were afire.

By 3 pm the French were gathering their forces to assault the heights beyond the town, but the timely arrival of the remainder of Raevski’s corps solidified the situation and denied the French their opportunity. As the afternoon wore into evening, both armies converged on the battlefield, taking positions on their respective sides of the Luzha River. Around 7:00 pm Napoleon and his staff arrived. Bonaparte was pleased with the efforts of Eugène’s corps and began making preparations to assault the heights in the morning.

Napoleon sent General Jean-Baptiste Bessières, the commander of his Old Guard and a trusted confidant, forward to survey the field and advise him on the morrow’s dispositions. The general reported that the Russian position on the far bank was “unassailable.” When questioned further by Napoleon, Bessières stated that “three hundred grenadiers up there would be enough to stop an army.”

Napoleon Calls for a Council of War

Once again Kutuzov had thwarted Napoleon’s maneuvers. As at Borodino, the Grande Armée’s effort had been for naught. The next morning, October 25, as Napoleon was surveying the Russian positions, a band of Cossacks burst from the nearby woods and attacked his escort, reportedly coming within 20 yards of Napoleon himself. His escort was able to repel the attack, but the incident had a profound effect on Napoleon and would shape the events about to come. In the face of an entrenched army to his front and now a direct threat to his person, Napoleon’s faith in his star, his destiny, was shaken to the core. That evening he took an unprecedented step in his career and called a council of war to decide the army’s next course of action.

According to General Armand Caulaincourt, Napoleon’s Master of Horse, and General Philippe-Paul Ségur, Napoleon summoned Ney, Murat, Prince Eugène, Berthier, Davout, and Bessières and asked them which route the army should take to reach Smolensk—continue south to Kaluga, shift north and west to Medyn, or retreat north back toward Moscow and Mozhaysk? At first, sensing Napoleon’s mood, the assembled generals were quiet, then Murat spoke, “You may accuse me of imprudence once again, but, in war everything is decided by circumstance. When there is no choice but to attack, discretion becomes valor, and valor discretion. It is impossible to stop now, and dangerous to run away. We must pursue! What do we care for the threatening attitude of the Russians and their impenetrable forests? I laugh at them all! Just give me the remainder of the cavalry and the Old Guard and I’ll go into their woods, crush their battalions, overthrow everything and open the road to Kaluga for our army!” To this Napoleon replied, “I’ve had my fill of heroics! We’ve done far too much for glory. The time has come now for us to turn all our thoughts to saving the remains of the army.”

Bessières, probably hoping to avoid being placed under Murat’s command, quickly agreed with the Emperor, citing the Guard’s dwindling morale and the army’s inability to handle the task. He and the others pointed to the wounded from the previous day’s battle and argued that the army would not pay a further price for this land. Davout, hoping to salvage the situation, suggested that the attempt be made to bypass the Russian position to the north and west, through Medyn. This, he argued, would allow Napoleon to still utilize the southern approach to Smolensk and place the army between Smolensk and the Russians.

Murat, seizing a chance to attack a rival, accused Davout of leading the army to disaster, citing that such a maneuver would expose the army’s flank to the Russians. Instead, Murat refuted his earlier statement and suggested that the army retire north via Mozhaysk and the road back toward Moscow. Davout countered that to return north was to take the army across a virtual desert where it would wither and die. As the argument rose to a crescendo, Berthier and Bessières stepped between the two feuding marshals. Finally, a dejected and weary Napoleon had had enough. At the height of his despair he announced that he had decided the army would return north to Moscow via Bovorsk. The fate of the Grande Armée was sealed.

Kutuzov Considers Russia’s Next Move

Coincidentally, a similar meeting was taking place in the Russian camp. According to Sir Robert Wilson, the British liaison officer assigned to Kutuzov’s headquarters, at 11 pm Kutuzov called all the officers to his tent and vigorously announced his intention to stand and contest the crossing of the Luzha, stating that “he had determined to finish the war on that spot—to succeed or make the enemy pass over his body.” Orders were quickly issued and the Russian Army was deployed to contain the French bridgehead. Three hours later, at about 2 am, Kutuzov resummoned his generals and announced that he had changed his mind he had received word that the army was in danger if it remained in position above Malo-yaroslavets. To ensure the army’s safety he ordered an immediate withdrawal back beyond Kaluga, to secure the army’s communications across the Oka River. Perhaps he feared Napoleon was using Eugène’s corps to pin his army in place while other elements of the Grande Armée crossed the Luzha at another point, trapping him against the river.

Wilson was incredulous, pleading with Kutuzov to reconsider. In an argument mirroring Davout’s to the north, he argued that to turn their back to an enemy to their front would doom the army and leave the route to Kaluga and Medyn for the French. Kutuzov did not heed his counsel. Instead he told Wilson that if pressed by the French he would move the army farther south across the Oka, 24 miles to the southeast. Like his French counterpart, he had had enough.

The French Army’s Infamous Retreat

On the 26th, both armies began preparations to depart, the French to the north and the Russians to the southwest. These preparations were noted by each army’s pickets and duly reported to higher headquarters. This was information neither commander wanted to hear—the hard-fought campaign had claimed the energy and confidence of each. The French advance guard under Davout turned away from the Medyn road and moved north toward Fominskaya the infamous retreat had begun.

From the start things did not go well. Wagons full of provisions had to be burned for lack of horses. On the first day, as the French passed through the field of Borodino, Ségur wrote in his memoirs, “We saw a field, trampled, devastated and every tree shorn off a few feet above the earth. In the background stood a number of hummocks with their tops blown off, the highest of which seemed the most misshapen. The spot had the appearance of a flattened, extinct volcano. Everywhere the earth was littered with battered helmets and breastplates, broken drums, fragments of weapons, shreds of uniforms, and bloodstained flags. Lying amid this desolation were thirty thousand half-devoured corpses. The scene was dominated by a number of skeletons lying on the crumpled slope of one of the hills death seemed to have established its throne up there. This was the terrible redoubt which had been the victory grave of Caulaincourt. All along our lines ran the sad murmur, ‘The field of the Great Battle.’” Hungry, demoralized, and with winter setting in, the remnants of the Grande Armée moved on.

How Napoleon's Invasion of Russia Led to His Downfall

How Napoleon&aposs Invasion of Russia Led To His Downfall

How Napoleon&aposs Invasion of Russia Led To His Downfall

Napoleon Bonaparte&aposs invasion of Russia was a major factor in his downfall. In 1812, Napoleon, whose alliance with Alexander I had disintegrated, launched an invasion into Russia that ended in a disastrous retreat from Moscow. Thereafter, all of Europe, including his own allies, Austria and Prussia, united against him. Although he continued to fight, the odds he faced were impossible. In April 1814, Napoleon&aposs own marshals refused to continue the struggle and stepped down from their positions. During the actual Russian campaign, there were many key factors that greatly impacted his downfall. The largest army ever assembled for one single invasion was reduced to a mere fraction of its original size. Because of the rebellions from his allies, Austria and Prussia, Napoleon had to fight a war on both the western and the eastern front. The losses he suffered in Russia greatly affected his future campaigns. Throughout his reign, Napoleon was able to overcome many obstacles that others before him could have only dreamed. One was the idea of having a United Europe under France. With his Grand ArmГ©e, Napoleon had already conquered, and was controlling an enormous amount of Europe, such as Switzerland, the Confederation of the Rhine, Austria, and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw (Broers, 47). These countries, or provinces, made up the bulk of central Europe. Napoleon had recently ended a war with Spain, and now had signed a peace treaty with them. In 1805, France, under Napoleon, and Russia, under Alexander I, signed the Treaty of Tilsit. The treaty was one of peace under certain conditions. Russia was prohibited to trade with England, and they were also obligated to turn over some of their land to France (Elting, 63). The territory that France gained control over was the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. The treaty was extremely harsh on Russia. The prohibition of trade with England greatly affected the economy of Russia. The Continental System, which Napoleon instituted, prohibited trade with England. Alexander I violated the Treaty of Tilsit by renewing trade with England. Napoleon invaded Russia in an attempt to force Czar Alexander I to abide by the Treaty of Tilsit (Web, Russian Embassy). The summer of 1812 was an ideal time for Napoleon to begin an invasion. Russia&aposs economy was weak due to the trade embargo and other internal problems. The infrastructure of Russia was at a technological disadvantage, which would later be more of a burden to Napoleon than an advantage. The artillery and small arms were years behind that of France. The Russian army was a conscription army, meaning that local farmers had to furnish a certain number of surfs for military service, as opposed to a professional, trained army where the government supplies the soldiers with all of their needs. An amazing half-million soldiers had enlisted in Napoleon&aposs Grand ArmГ©e (Saglamer, Beginning of the March). This was the largest army gathered for one single invasion. Russia&aposs army was out numbered 3:1 with only one hundred-seventy thousand soldiers. Not only was the Russian army not well trained, they were also ill equipped. Napoleon recognized that it would be difficult and extremely slow for Russia to mobilize her army due to her enormous size and weak infrastructure. If Napoleon invaded now, he knew that he could be well into the Russian territory before meeting any major opposition. On June 24, 1812, Napoleon began his fatal Russian campaign. The Grand ArmГ©e, led by Napoleon, crossed the Nieman River, into Russia. On the journey to Moscow, Napoleon met virtually no major opposition. The first stop in the campaign was Kovono. Early into the campaign, the Grand ArmГ©e was affected by a colic epidemic that claimed the life of nine thousand horses and thousands of soldiers (Web, Russian Embassy). This slowed the pace of the army. Harsh weather conditions caused the dry roads to turn to mud, making it extremely difficult to maneuver the large artillery cannons and wagons. The city was easily captured the Russians had previously retreated. After a day&aposs rest, Napoleon and his troops continued to the city of Vilna. The march from the River Niemen was tougher than expected. Once again, hot and rainy weather turned the poor quality roads into muddy tracks that rendered the carriages impossible to move. Damp weather did not help the situation of disease. Soldiers and horses suffered from sickness and malnutrition. The poorly built Russian bridges could not support the heavy load of cannons and soldiers consequently, the bridges gave way (Saglamer, Vilna). Napoleon had trained his troops to gather food from the surroundings, which in turn made the packs lighter. The little food the troops carried was eaten in a matter of days,

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.

The run-up to Borodino

Despite being chosen as the site to pitch battle, Borodino was not without its faults. The Old Smolensk Road, which cut in from the west behind the Russian position (the latter running from Maslovo, through Borodino and the destroyed village of Semenovskoe – Raevski's Redoubt – and onto the Russian left-flank stationed at Shevardino), offered the advancing Grande Armée a route behind Russian lines. To avoid this, Bagration's troops, stationed at Shevardino, started to push south eastwards to Utitsa, due south of Borodino.

On 5 September , the French advance guard under Murat appeared on the Russian left-wing near Shevardino, commanded by Major General Count Sievers. Murat, with Davout, captured the villages of Alexinki and Kolotsa, near Shevardino. Meanwhile Poniatowski moved up from the south and captured Doronino. During the fierce battle, the Russians lost between 5,000 and 6,000 men and were pushed back. French losses totalled about 4,000. As a result, a large majority of the Russian forces stationed at Borodino were squeezed into the small area of land between Semenovskoe and Borodino.

The morning of 5 September , French forces totalled slightly more than 140,000 men (of which Napoleon would commit 124,000, refusing to commit his elite Guards regiment), with the Russian troops at about 110,000. On 6 September , the two sides recuperated from the previous day's battle and made preparations for the next clash.

The night before the battle, Kutuzov roused his troops, declaring:
Fulfil your duty. Think of the sacrifices made of your cities delivered to the flames and of your children who implore your protection. Think of your emperor, your lord, who considers you to be the source of his strength, and tomorrow, before the sun has gone down, you will have written your faith and your loyalty to your sovereign and your fatherland in the blood of the aggressor and his armies.” (Quoted in French in Marie-Pierre Rey, L'Effroyable Tragédie , 2012, p. 155)
Remplissez votre devoir. Songez aux sacrifices de vos cités livrées aux flammes et à vos enfants qui implorent votre protection. Songez à votre Empereur, votre Seigneur, qui vous considère comme le nerf de sa force, et demain, avant que le soleil ne se couche, vous aurez écrit votre foi et votre fidélité à votre souverain et à votre patrie avec le sang de l'agresseur et de ses armées.”

At 2am on 7 September , Napoleon dictated his famous proclamation, to be read to the troops at about 6am :
“Soldiers! Here is the battle that you have so much desired. From now on victory depends on you: it is necessary to us. It will give you abundance, good winter quarters, and a prompt return to the fatherland. Conduct yourselves as at Austerlitz, at Friedland, at Vitebsk, at Smolensk, and let the most distant posterity point with pride to your conduct on this day. Let it be said of you, 'He was in that great battle under the walls of Moscow.'”
“Soldats ! Vous avez supporté les privations et les fatigues avec autant de courage que vous avez montré d'intrépidité et de sang-froid au milieu des combats. Vous êtes les dignes défenseurs de l'honneur de ma couronne et de la gloire du grand peuple. Tant que vous serez animés de cet esprit, rien ne pourra vous résister.
Soldats, voilà la bataille que vous avez tant désirée ! Désormais la victoire dépend de vous : elle nous est nécessaire. Elle nous donnera l'abondance, de bons quartiers d'hiver et un prompt retour dans la patrie ! Conduisez-vous comme à Austerlitz, à Friedland, à Vitebsk, à Smolensk, et que la postérité la plus reculée cite avec orgueil votre conduite dans cette journée que l'on dise de vous : il était à cette grande bataille sous les murs de Moscou !”


Tsar Alexander I had left the Continental blockade of the United Kingdom on 31 December 1810. [33]

The Treaty of Schönbrunn, which ended the 1809 war between Austria and France, had a clause removing Western Galicia from Austria and annexing it to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Russia viewed this as against its interests and as a potential launching point for an invasion of Russia. [34]

Napoleon had tried to get better Russian cooperation through an alliance by marrying the sister of Alexander. But finally he married the daughter of the Austrian emperor instead. On 20 March 1811 Napoleon II (Napoléon François Joseph Charles Bonaparte) was born as the son of Emperor Napoleon I and Empress Marie Louise becoming Prince Imperial of France and King of Rome since birth. [34]

Napoleon himself was not in the same physical and mental state as in years past. He had become overweight and increasingly prone to various maladies. [35]

The costly and drawn-out Peninsular War had not been ended yet and required the presence of about 200,000-250,000 French soldiers. [36]

Officially Napoleon announced the following proclamation:

Soldiers, the second Polish war is begun. The first terminated at Friedland and at Tilsit Russia vowed an eternal alliance with France, and war with the English. She now breaks her vows, and refuses to give any explanation of her strange conduct until the French eagles have repassed the Rhine, and left our allies at her mercy. Russia is hurried away by a fatality: her destinies will be fulfilled. Does she think us degenerated? Are we no more the soldiers who fought at Austerlitz? She places us between dishonour and war — our choice cannot be difficult. Let us then march forward let us cross the Niemen and carry the war into her country. This second Polish war will be as glorious for the French arms as the first has been but the peace we shall conclude shall carry with it its own guarantee, and will terminate the fatal influence which Russia for fifty years past has exercised in Europe. [37]

The invasion of Russia clearly and dramatically demonstrates the importance of logistics in military planning, especially when the land will not provide for the number of troops deployed in an area of operations far exceeding the experience of the invading army. [38] Napoleon made extensive preparations providing for the provisioning of his army. [39] The French supply effort was far greater than in any of the previous campaigns. [40] Twenty train battalions, comprising 7,848 vehicles, were to provide a 40-day supply for the Grande Armée and its operations, and a large system of magazines were established in towns and cities in Poland and East Prussia. [41] The Vistula river valley was built up in 1811–1812 as a supply base. [39] Intendant General Guillaume-Mathieu Dumas established five lines of supply from the Rhine to the Vistula. [40] French-controlled Germany and Poland were organized into three arrondissements with their own administrative headquarters. [40] The logistical buildup that followed was a critical test of Napoleon's administrative and logistical skill, who devoted his efforts during the first half of 1812 largely to the provisioning of his invasion army. [39] Napoleon studied Russian geography and the history of Charles XII's invasion of 1708–1709 and understood the need to bring forward as many supplies as possible. [39] The French Army already had previous experience of operating in the lightly populated and underdeveloped conditions of Poland and East Prussia during the War of the Fourth Coalition in 1806–1807. [39]

However, nothing was to go as planned, because Napoleon had failed to take into account conditions that were totally different from what he had known so far. [42]

Napoleon and the Grande Armée had used to be living off the land that had worked well in the densely populated and agriculturally rich central Europe with its dense network of roads. [43] Rapid forced marches had dazed and confused old-order Austrian and Prussian armies and much use had been made of foraging. [43] Forced marches in Russia often made troops do without supplies as the supply wagons struggled to keep up [43] furthermore, horse-drawn wagons and artillery were stalled by lack of roads which often turned to mud due to rainstorms. [44] Lack of food and water in thinly populated, much less agriculturally dense regions led to the death of troops and their mounts by exposing them to waterborne diseases from drinking from mud puddles and eating rotten food and forage. The front of the army received whatever could be provided while the formations behind starved. [45]

the most advanced magazine in the operations area during the attack phase was Vilna, beyond that point, the army was on its own. [42]

Compare on Minard's Map the location of Wilna.

Ammunition Edit

A massive arsenal was established in Warsaw. [39] Artillery was concentrated at Magdeburg, Danzig, Stettin, Küstrin and Glogau. [46] Magdeburg contained a siege artillery train with 100 heavy guns and stored 462 cannons, two million paper cartridges and 300,000 pounds/135 tonnes of gunpowder Danzig had a siege train with 130 heavy guns and 300,000 pounds of gunpowder Stettin contained 263 guns, a million cartridges and 200,000 pounds/90 tonnes of gunpowder Küstrin contained 108 guns and a million cartridges Glogau contained 108 guns, a million cartridges and 100,000 pounds/45 tonnes of gunpowder. [46] Warsaw, Danzig, Modlin, Thorn and Marienburg became ammunition and supply depots as well. [39]

Provisions and transportation Edit

Danzig contained enough provisions to feed 400,000 men for 50 days. [46] Breslau, Plock and Wyszogród were turned into grain depots, milling vast quantities of flour for delivery to Thorn, where 60,000 biscuits were produced every day. [46] A large bakery was established at Villenberg. [40] 50,000 cattle were collected to follow the army. [40] After the invasion began, large magazines were constructed at Vilnius, Kaunas and Minsk, with the Vilnius base having enough rations to feed 100,000 men for 40 days. [40] It also contained 27,000 muskets, 30,000 pairs of shoes along with brandy and wine. [40] Medium-sized depots were established at Smolensk, Vitebsk and Orsha, and several small ones throughout the Russian interior. [40] The French also captured numerous intact Russian supply dumps, which the Russians had failed to destroy or empty, and Moscow itself was filled with food. [40] Twenty train battalions provided most of the transportation, with a combined load of 8,390 tons. [46] Twelve of these battalions had a total of 3,024 heavy wagons drawn by four horses each, four had 2,424 one-horse light wagons and four had 2,400 wagons drawn by oxen. [46] Auxiliary supply convoys were formed on Napoleon's orders in early June 1812, using vehicles requisitioned in East Prussia. [47] Marshal Nicolas Oudinot's IV Corps alone took 600 carts formed into six companies. [48] The wagon trains were supposed to carry enough bread, flour and medical supplies for 300,000 men for two months. [48]

The standard heavy wagons, well-suited for the dense and partially paved road networks of Germany and France, proved too cumbersome for the sparse and primitive Russian dirt tracks. [49] The supply route from Smolensk to Moscow was therefore entirely dependent on light wagons with small loads. [48] Central to the problem were the expanding distances to supply magazines and the fact that no supply wagon could keep up with a forced marched infantry column. [44] The weather itself became an issue, where, according to historian Richard K. Riehn:

The thunderstorms of the 24th [of June] turned into other downpours, turning the tracks—some diarists claim there were no roads in Lithuania—into bottomless mires. Wagon sank up to their hubs horses dropped from exhaustion men lost their boots. Stalled wagons became obstacles that forced men around them and stopped supply wagons and artillery columns. Then came the sun which would bake the deep ruts into canyons of concrete, where horses would break their legs and wagons their wheels. [44]

The heavy losses to disease, hunger and desertion in the early months of the campaign were in large part due to the inability to transport provisions quickly enough to the troops. [49] The Intendance administration failed to distribute with sufficient rigor the supplies that were built up or captured. [40] By that, despite all these preparations, the Grande Armée was not self-sufficient logistically and still depended on foraging to a significant extent. [47]

Inadequate supplies played a key role in the losses suffered by the army as well. Davidov and other Russian campaign participants record wholesale surrenders of starving members of the Grande Armée even before the onset of the frosts. [50] Caulaincourt describes men swarming over and cutting up horses that slipped and fell, even before the horse had been killed. [51] There were even eyewitness reports of cannibalism. The French simply were unable to feed their army. Starvation led to a general loss of cohesion. [52] Constant harassment of the French Army by Cossacks added to the losses during the retreat. [50]

Though starvation caused horrendous casualties in Napoleon's army, losses arose from other sources as well. The main body of Napoleon's Grande Armée diminished by a third in just the first eight weeks of the campaign, before the major battle was fought. This loss in strength was in part due to diseases such as diphtheria, dysentery and typhus and the need to garrison supply centers. [50] [53]

Combat service and support and medicine Edit

Nine pontoon companies, three pontoon trains with 100 pontoons each, two companies of marines, nine sapper companies, six miner companies and an engineer park were deployed for the invasion force. [46] Large-scale military hospitals were created at Warsaw, Thorn, Breslau, Marienburg, Elbing and Danzig, [46] while hospitals in East Prussia had beds for 28,000. [40]

Cold weather Edit

Following the campaign a saying arose that the Generals Janvier and Février (January and February) defeated Napoleon, alluding to the Russian Winter. Minard's map shows that the opposite is true as the French losses were highest in the summer and autumn. Napoleon lost the majority of his army due to his neglect of logistics and supplies such as food, water and fodder for the horses. In addition, when winter eventually arrived, the army was still equipped with summer clothing, in spite of a 5 week stay at Moscow, and did not have the means to protect themselves from the cold. [54] It had also failed to forge caulkin shoes for the horses to enable them to traverse roads that had become iced over. The most devastating effect of the cold weather upon Napoleon's forces occurred during their retreat. Starvation coupled with hypothermia led to the loss of tens of thousands of men. In his memoir, Napoleon's close adviser Armand de Caulaincourt recounted scenes of massive loss, and offered a vivid description of mass death through hypothermia:

The cold was so intense that bivouacking was no longer supportable. Bad luck to those who fell asleep by a campfire! Furthermore, disorganization was perceptibly gaining ground in the Guard. One constantly found men who, overcome by the cold, had been forced to drop out and had fallen to the ground, too weak or too numb to stand. Ought one to help them along – which practically meant carrying them. They begged one to let them alone. There were bivouacs all along the road – ought one to take them to a campfire? Once these poor wretches fell asleep they were dead. If they resisted the craving for sleep, another passer-by would help them along a little farther, thus prolonging their agony for a short while, but not saving them, for in this condition the drowsiness engendered by cold is irresistibly strong. Sleep comes inevitably, and sleep is to die. I tried in vain to save a number of these unfortunates. The only words they uttered were to beg me, for the love of God, to go away and let them sleep. To hear them, one would have thought sleep was their salvation. Unhappily, it was a poor wretch's last wish. But at least he ceased to suffer, without pain or agony. Gratitude, and even a smile, was imprinted on his discoloured lips. What I have related about the effects of extreme cold, and of this kind of death by freezing, is based on what I saw happen to thousands of individuals. The road was covered with their corpses. [55]

This befell a Grande Armée that was ill-equipped for cold weather. The Russians, properly equipped, considered it a relatively mild winter – the Berezina river was not frozen during the last major battle of the campaign the French deficiencies in equipment caused by the assumption that their campaign would be concluded before the cold weather set in were a large factor in the number of casualties they suffered. [56] However, the outcome of the campaign was decided long before the weather became a factor.

Summary Edit

Napoleon lacked the apparatus to efficiently move so many troops across such large distances of hostile territory. [57] The supply depots established by the French in the Russian interior were too far behind the main army. [58] The French train battalions tried to move forward huge amounts of supplies during the campaign, but the distances, the speed required, and missing endurance of the requisitioned vehicles that broke down too easily meant that the demands Napoleon placed on them were too great. [59] Napoleon's demand of a speedy advance by the Grande Armée over a network of dirt roads that dissolved into deep mires resulted in killing already exhausted horses and breaking wagons. [42] As the graph of Charles Joseph Minard, given below, shows, the Grande Armée incurred the majority of its losses during the march to Moscow during the summer and autumn.

Crossing the Russian border Edit

The invasion commenced on 24 June 1812 with Napoleon's army crossing the border on schedule with around 400,000 to 450,000 men into Russia:
1. The left wing under Macdonald with the X corps of 30,000 men crossed the Niemen at Tilsit towards Riga defended by 10,000.
X corps of Macdonald 30,000
2. The centre under Napoleon Buonaparte with 297,000 men crossed the Niemen at Kowno/Pilona towards Barclay's first army of 90,000.
Guards of Mortier 47,000
I corps of Davout 72,000
II corps of Oudinot 37,000
III corps of Ney 39,000
IV corps of Eugene 45,000
VI corps of St. Cyr 25,000
Cavalry corps of Murat 32,000
3. The second centre under Jérôme Bonaparte with 78,000 men crossed the Niemen near Grodno towards Bagration's second army of 55,000.
V corps of Poniatowski 36,000
VII corps of Reynier 17,000
VIII corps of Vandamme 17,000
Cavalry corps of Latour Maubourg 8,000
4. The right wing under Schwarzenberg crossed the Bug near Drohyczyn towards Tormasow's third army of 35,000.
Auxiliary corps of Schwarzenberg 34,000 [19] [20]

In the course of the campaign, the IX corps of Victor with 33,000, the divisions Durutte and Loison with 27,000 as part of the XI reserve corps, other reinforcements of 80,000 and the baggage trains with 30,000 men followed the 440,000 of the first wave.
IX corps of Victor 33,000
XI corps of Augerau parts of the reserve

Napoleon's army had entered Russia in 1812 with more than 600,000 men, 180,000 horses and 1,300 pieces of artillery. [60]

In January 1813 the French army gathered behind the Vistula some 23,000 strong. The Austrian and Prussian troops mustered some 35,000 men in addition. [60] The numbers of deserters and stragglers having left Russia alive is unknown by definition. The number of new inhabitants of Russia is unknown. The number of prisoners is estimated around 100,000, of whom more than 50,000 died in captivity. [61]

Napoleon had lost in Russia more than 500,000 men. [60]

March on Vilnius Edit

Napoleon initially met little resistance and moved quickly into the enemy's territory in spite of the transport of more than 1,100 cannons, being opposed by the Russian armies with more than 900 cannons. But the roads in this area of Lithuania were actually small dirt tracks through areas of dense forest. At the beginning of the war supply lines already simply could not keep up with the forced marches of the corps and rear formations always suffered the worst privations. [62]

The 25th of June found Napoleon's group past the bridgehead with Ney's command approaching the existing crossings at Alexioten. Murat's reserve cavalry provided the vanguard with Napoleon the guard and Davout's 1st corps following behind. Eugene's command crossed the Niemen further north at Piloy, and MacDonald crossed the same day. Jerome's command wouldn't complete its crossing at Grodno until the 28th. Napoleon rushed towards Vilnius, pushing the infantry forward in columns that suffered from heavy rain, then stifling heat. The central group marched 70 miles (110 km) in two days. [63] Ney's III Corps marched down the road to Sudervė, with Oudinot marching on the other side of the Neris River in an operation attempting to catch General Wittgenstein's command between Ney, Oudinout and Macdonald's commands, but Macdonald's command was late in arriving at an objective too far away and the opportunity vanished. Jerome was tasked with tackling Bagration by marching to Grodno and Reynier's VII corps sent to Białystok in support. [64]

The Russian headquarters was in fact centered in Vilnius on June 24 and couriers rushed news about the crossing of the Niemen to Barclay de Tolley. Before the night had passed, orders were sent out to Bagration and Platov to take the offensive. Alexander left Vilnius on June 26 and Barclay assumed overall command. Although Barclay wanted to give battle, he assessed it as a hopeless situation and ordered Vilnius's magazines burned and its bridge dismantled. Wittgenstein moved his command to Perkele, passing beyond Macdonald and Oudinot's operations with Wittgenstein's rear guard clashing with Oudinout's forward elements. [64] Doctorov on the Russian Left found his command threatened by Phalen's III cavalry corps. Bagration was ordered to Vileyka, which moved him towards Barclay, though the order's intent is still something of a mystery to this day. [65]

On June 28, Napoleon entered Vilnius with only light skirmishing. The foraging in Lithuania proved hard as the land was mostly barren and forested. The supplies of forage were less than that of Poland, and two days of forced marching made a bad supply situation worse. [65] Central to the problem were the expanding distances to supply magazines and the fact that no supply wagon could keep up with a forced marched infantry column. [44] The weather itself became an issue, where, according to historian Richard K. Riehn:

The thunderstorms of the 24th turned into other downpours, turning the tracks—some diarists claim there were no roads in Lithuania—into bottomless mires. Wagon sank up to their hubs horses dropped from exhaustion men lost their boots. Stalled wagons became obstacles that forced men around them and stopped supply wagons and artillery columns. Then came the sun which would bake the deep ruts into canyons of concrete, where horses would break their legs and wagons their wheels. [44]

A Lieutenant Mertens—a Württemberger serving with Ney's III corps—reported in his diary that oppressive heat followed by rain left them with dead horses and camping in swamp-like conditions with dysentery and influenza raging though the ranks with hundreds in a field hospital that had to be set up for the purpose. He reported the times, dates and places of events, reporting thunderstorms on June 6 and men dying of sunstroke by the 11th. [44]

Desertion was high among Spanish and Portuguese formations. These deserters proceeded to terrorize the population, looting whatever lay to hand. The areas in which the Grande Armée passed were devastated. A Polish officer reported that areas around him were depopulated. [66]

The French light cavalry was shocked to find itself outclassed by Russian counterparts, so much so that Napoleon had ordered that infantry be provided as back up to French light cavalry units. [66] This affected both French reconnaissance and intelligence operations. Despite 30,000 cavalry, contact was not maintained with Barclay's forces, leaving Napoleon guessing and throwing out columns to find his opposition. [67]

The operation intended to split Bagration's forces from Barclay's forces by driving to Vilnius had cost the French forces 25,000 losses from all causes in a few days. [66] Strong probing operations were advanced from Vilnius towards Nemenčinė, Mykoliškės, Ashmyany and Molėtai. [66]

Eugene crossed at Prenn on June 30, while Jerome moved VII Corps to Białystok, with everything else crossing at Grodno. [67] Murat advanced to Nemenčinė on July 1, running into elements of Doctorov's III Russian Cavalry Corps en route to Djunaszev. Napoleon assumed this was Bagration's 2nd Army and rushed out, before being told it was not 24 hours later. Napoleon then attempted to use Davout, Jerome, and Eugene out on his right in a hammer and anvil to catch Bagration to destroy the 2nd Army in an operation spanning Ashmyany and Minsk. This operation had failed to produce results on his left before with Macdonald and Oudinot. Doctorov had moved from Djunaszev to Svir, narrowly evading French forces, with 11 regiments and a battery of 12 guns heading to join Bagration when moving too late to stay with Doctorov. [68]

Conflicting orders and lack of information had almost placed Bagration in a bind marching into Davout however, Jerome could not arrive in time over the same mud tracks, supply problems, and weather, that had so badly affected the rest of the Grande Armée, losing 9000 men in four days. Command disputes between Jerome and General Vandamme would not help the situation. [69] Bagration joined with Doctorov and had 45,000 men at Novi-Sverzen by the 7th. Davout had lost 10,000 men marching to Minsk and would not attack Bagration without Jerome joining him. Two French Cavalry defeats by Platov kept the French in the dark and Bagration was no better informed, with both overestimating the other's strength: Davout thought Bagration had some 60,000 men and Bagration thought Davout had 70,000. Bagration was getting orders from both Alexander's staff and Barclay (which Barclay didn't know) and left Bagration without a clear picture of what was expected of him and the general situation. This stream of confused orders to Bagration had him upset with Barclay, which would have repercussions later. [70]

Napoleon reached Vilnius on 28 June, leaving 10,000 dead horses in his wake. These horses were vital to bringing up further supplies to an army in desperate need. Napoleon had supposed that Alexander would sue for peace at this point and was to be disappointed it would not be his last disappointment. [71] Barclay continued to retreat to the Drissa, deciding that the concentration of the 1st and 2nd armies was his first priority. [72]

Barclay continued his retreat and, with the exception of the occasional rearguard clash, remained unhindered in his movements ever further east. [73] To date, the standard methods of the Grande Armée were working against it. Rapid forced marches quickly caused desertion and starvation, and exposed the troops to filthy water and disease, while the logistics trains lost horses by the thousands, further exacerbating the problems. Some 50,000 stragglers and deserters became a lawless mob warring with local peasantry in all-out guerrilla war, which further hindered supplies reaching the Grand Armée, which was already down 95,000 men. [74]

Kutuzov in Command Edit

Barclay, the Russian commander-in-chief, refused to fight despite Bagration's urgings. Several times he attempted to establish a strong defensive position, but each time the French advance was too quick for him to finish preparations and he was forced to retreat once more. When the French Army progressed further, it encountered serious problems in foraging, aggravated by scorched earth tactics of the Russian forces [75] [76] advocated by Karl Ludwig von Phull.

Political pressure on Barclay to give battle and the general's continuing reluctance to do so led to his removal after the defeat at the Battle of Smolensk (1812) on August 16–18. He was replaced in his position as commander-in-chief by the popular, veteran Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov. Kutuzov, however, went on with Barclay's strategy, using attrition warfare against Napoleon instead of risking the army in an open battle. The Russian Army fell back ever deeper into Russia's interior as he continued to move east while intensifying the guerilla warfare of the Cossacks. Unable because of politial pressure to give up Moscow without a fight, Kutuzov took up a defensive position some 75 miles (121 km) before Moscow at Borodino. Meanwhile, French plans to quarter at Smolensk were abandoned, and Napoleon pressed his army on after the Russians. [77]

The Battle of Borodino Edit

The Battle of Borodino, fought on 7 September 1812, was the largest and bloodiest battle of the French invasion of Russia, involving more than 250,000 troops and resulting in at least 70,000 casualties. [78] The French Grande Armée under Emperor Napoleon I attacked the Imperial Russian Army of General Mikhail Kutuzov near the village of Borodino, west of the town of Mozhaysk, and eventually captured the main positions on the battlefield but failed to destroy the Russian army. About a third of Napoleon's soldiers were killed or wounded Russian losses, while heavier, could be replaced due to Russia's large population, since Napoleon's campaign took place on Russian soil.

The battle ended with the Russian Army, while out of position, still offering resistance. [79] The state of exhaustion of the French forces and the lack of recognition of the state of the Russian Army led Napoleon to remain on the battlefield with his army, instead of engaging in the forced pursuit that had marked other campaigns that he had conducted. [80] The entirety of the Guard was still available to Napoleon, and in refusing to use it he lost this singular chance to destroy the Russian Army. [81] The battle at Borodino was a pivotal point in the campaign, as it was the last offensive action fought by Napoleon in Russia. By withdrawing, the Russian Army preserved its combat strength, eventually allowing it to force Napoleon out of the country.

The Battle of Borodino on September 7 was the bloodiest day of battle in the Napoleonic Wars. The Russian Army could only muster half of its strength on September 8. Kutuzov chose to act in accordance with his scorched earth tactics and retreat, leaving the road to Moscow open. Kutuzov also ordered the evacuation of the city.

By this point the Russians had managed to draft large numbers of reinforcements into the army, bringing total Russian land forces to their peak strength in 1812 of 904,000, with perhaps 100,000 in the vicinity of Moscow—the remnants of Kutuzov's army from Borodino partially reinforced.

Both armies began to move and rebuild. The Russian retreat was significant for two reasons: firstly, the move was to the south and not the east secondly, the Russians immediately began operations that would continue to deplete the French forces. Platov, commanding the rear guard on September 8, offered such strong resistance that Napoleon remained on the Borodino field. [79] On the following day, Miloradovitch assumed command of the rear guard, adding his forces to the formation.

The French Army began to move out on September 10 with the still ill Napoleon not leaving until the 12th. The main quarter of the Russian army was situated in Bolshiye Vyazyomy. Here Mikhail Kutuzov wrote a number of orders and letters to Fyodor Rostopchin and organized the withdrawal from Moscow. [82] 12 September [O.S. 31 August] 1812 the main forces of Kutuzov arrived at Fili (Moscow). On the same day Napoleon Bonaparte arrived at Bolshiye Vyazyomy and slept in the main manor house (on the same sofa in the library). Napoleon left the next morning and headed direction Moscow. [83] Some 18,000 men were ordered in from Smolensk, and Marshal Victor's corps supplied another 25,000. [84] Miloradovich would not give up his rearguard duties until September 14, allowing Moscow to be evacuated. Miloradovich finally retreated under a flag of truce. [85]

Capture of Moscow Edit

On September 14, 1812, Napoleon moved into Moscow. However, he was surprised to have received no delegation from the city. [86] Before the order was received to evacuate Moscow, the city had a population of approximately 270,000 people. 48 hours later three quarters of Moscow was reduced to ashes by arson. [27] Although Saint Petersburg was the political capital at that time, Napoleon had occupied Moscow, the spiritual capital of Russia, but Tsar Alexander I decided that there could not be a peaceful coexistence with Napoleon. There would be no appeasement. [87]

Retreat Edit

On October 19th, after 5 weeks of occupation, Napoleon left Moscow. The army still numbered 108,000 men, but his cavalry had been nearly destroyed. With horses exhausted or dead, commanders redirected cavalrymen into infantry units, leaving French forces helpless against Cossack fighters. With little direction or supplies, the army turned to leave the region, struggling on toward worse disaster. [88]

Napoleon followed the old Kaluga road southwards towards unspoilt, richer parts of Russia to use other roads for retreat westwards to Smolensk than the one being scorched by his own army for the march eastwards. [89]

At the Battle of Maloyaroslavets, Kutuzov was able to force the French Army into using the same Smolensk road on which they had earlier moved east, the corridor of which had been stripped of food by both armies. This is often presented as an example of scorched earth tactics. Continuing to block the southern flank to prevent the French from returning by a different route, Kutuzov employed partisan tactics to repeatedly strike at the French train where it was weakest. As the retreating French train broke up and became separated, Cossack bands and light Russian cavalry assaulted isolated French units. [90]

Supplying the army in full became an impossibility. The lack of grass and feed weakened the remaining horses, almost all of which died or were killed for food by starving soldiers. Without horses, the French cavalry ceased to exist cavalrymen had to march on foot. Lack of horses meant many cannons and wagons had to be abandoned. Much of the artillery lost was replaced in 1813, but the loss of thousands of wagons and trained horses weakened Napoleon's armies for the remainder of his wars. Starvation and disease took their toll, and desertion soared. Many of the deserters were taken prisoner or killed by Russian peasants. Badly weakened by these circumstances, the French military position collapsed. Further, defeats were inflicted on elements of the Grande Armée at Vyazma, Polotsk and Krasny. The crossing of the river Berezina was a final French calamity: two Russian armies inflicted heavy casualties on the remnants of the Grande Armée.

In early November 1812, Napoleon learned that General Claude de Malet had attempted a coup d'état in France. He abandoned the army on 5 December and returned home on a sleigh, [91] leaving Marshal Joachim Murat in command.

Subsequently, Murat left what was left of the Grande Armée to try to save his Kingdom of Naples.

In the following weeks, the Grande Armée shrank further, and on 14 December 1812, it left Russian territory.

Napoleon's invasion of Russia is listed among the most lethal military operations in world history. [92]

Grande Armée Edit

On 24 June 1812, around 400,000-450,000 men of the Grande Armée, the largest army assembled up to that point in European history, crossed the border into Russia and headed towards Moscow. [19] [20] [21] Anthony Joes wrote in the Journal of Conflict Studies that figures on how many men Napoleon took into Russia and how many eventually came out vary widely. Georges Lefebvre says that Napoleon crossed the Neman with over 600,000 soldiers, only half of whom were from France, the others being mainly Poles and Germans. [93] Felix Markham thinks that 450,000 crossed the Neman on 25 June 1812. [94] When Ney and the rearguard recrossed the Niemen on December 14, he had barely a thousand men fit for action. [95] James Marshall-Cornwall says 510,000 Imperial troops entered Russia. [96] Eugene Tarle believes that 420,000 crossed with Napoleon and 150,000 eventually followed, for a grand total of 570,000. [97] Richard K. Riehn provides the following figures: 685,000 men marched into Russia in 1812, of whom around 355,000 were French 31,000 soldiers marched out again in some sort of military formation, with perhaps another 35,000 stragglers, for a total of fewer than 70,000 known survivors. [98] Adam Zamoyski estimated that between 550,000 and 600,000 French and allied troops (including reinforcements) operated beyond the Nemen, of which as many as 400,000 troops died but this includes deaths of prisoners during captivity. [18]

Minard's famous infographic (see above) depicts the march ingeniously by showing the size of the advancing army, overlaid on a rough map, as well as the retreating soldiers together with temperatures recorded (as much as 30 below zero on the Réaumur scale (−38 °C, −36 °F)) on their return. The numbers on this chart have 422,000 crossing the Neman with Napoleon, 22,000 taking a side trip early on in the campaign, 100,000 surviving the battles en route to Moscow and returning from there only 4,000 survive the march back, to be joined by 6,000 that survived from that initial 22,000 in the feint attack northward in the end, only 10,000 crossed the Neman back out of the initial 422,000. [99]

Imperial Russian Army Edit

General of Infantry Mikhail Bogdanovich Barclay de Tolly served as the Commander in Chief of the Russian Armies. A field commander of the First Western Army and Minister of War, Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov, replaced him, and assumed the role of Commander-in-chief during the retreat following the Battle of Smolensk.

These forces, however, could count on reinforcements from the second line, which totaled 129,000 men and 8,000 Cossacks with 434 guns and 433 rounds of ammunition.

Of these, about 105,000 men were actually available for the defense against the invasion. In the third line were the 36 recruit depots and militias, which came to a total of approximately 161,000 men of various and highly disparate military values, of which about 133,000 actually took part in the defense.

Thus, the grand total of all the forces was 488,000 men, of which about 428,000 gradually came into action against the Grande Armee. This bottom line, however, includes more than 80,000 Cossacks and militiamen, as well as about 20,000 men who garrisoned the fortresses in the operational area. The majority of the officer corps came from the aristocracy. [100] About 7% of the officer corps came from the Baltic German nobility from the governorates of Estonia and Livonia. [100] Because the Baltic German nobles tended to be better educated than the ethnic Russian nobility, the Baltic Germans were often favored with positions in high command and various technical positions. [100] The Russian Empire had no universal educational system, and those who could afford it had to hire tutors and/or send their children to private schools. [100] The educational level of the Russian nobility and gentry varied enormously depending on the quality of the tutors and/or private schools, with some Russian nobles being extremely well educated while others were just barely literate. The Baltic German nobility were more inclined to invest in their children's education than the ethnic Russian nobility, which led to the government favoring them when granting officers' commissions. [100] Of the 800 doctors in the Russian Army in 1812, almost all of them were Baltic Germans. [100] The British historian Dominic Lieven noted that, at the time, the Russian elite defined Russianness in terms of loyalty to the House of Romanov rather in terms of language or culture, and as the Baltic German aristocrats were very loyal, they were considered and considered themselves to be Russian despite speaking German as their first language. [100]

Sweden, Russia's only ally, did not send supporting troops, but the alliance made it possible to withdraw the 45,000-man Russian corps Steinheil from Finland and use it in the later battles (20,000 men were sent to Riga). [101]

Losses Edit

A serious research on losses in the Russian campaign is given by Thierry Lentz. On the French side, the toll is around 200,000 dead (half in combat and the rest from cold, hunger or disease) and 150,000 to 190,000 prisoners who fell in captivity. [14]

Hay has argued that the destruction of the Dutch contingent of the Grande Armée was not a result of the death of most of its members. Rather, its various units disintegrated and the troops scattered. Later, many of its personnel were collected and reorganised into the new Dutch army. [102]

Most of the Prussian contingent survived thanks to the Convention of Tauroggen and almost the whole Austrian contingent under Schwarzenberg withdrew successfully. The Russians formed the Russian-German Legion from other German prisoners and deserters. [101]

Russian casualties in the few open battles are comparable to the French losses, but civilian losses along the devastating campaign route were much higher than the military casualties. In total, despite earlier estimates giving figures of several million dead, around one million were killed, including civilians—fairly evenly split between the French and Russians. [18] Military losses amounted to 300,000 French, about 72,000 Poles, [103] 50,000 Italians, 80,000 Germans, and 61,000 from other nations. As well as the loss of human life, the French also lost some 200,000 horses and over 1,000 artillery pieces.

The losses of the Russian armies are difficult to assess. The 19th-century historian Michael Bogdanovich assessed reinforcements of the Russian armies during the war using the Military Registry archives of the General Staff. According to this, the reinforcements totaled 134,000 men. The main army at the time of capture of Vilnius in December had 70,000 men, whereas its number at the start of the invasion had been about 150,000. Thus, total losses would come to 210,000 men. Of these, about 40,000 returned to duty. Losses of the formations operating in secondary areas of operations as well as losses in militia units were about 40,000. Thus, he came up with the number of 210,000 men and militiamen. [104]

Aftermath Edit

The Russian victory over the French Army in 1812 was a significant blow to Napoleon's ambitions of European dominance. This war was the reason the other coalition allies triumphed once and for all over Napoleon. His army was shattered and morale was low, both for French troops still in Russia, fighting battles just before the campaign ended, and for the troops on other fronts. Out of an original force of 615,000, only 110,000 frostbitten and half-starved survivors stumbled back into France. [105] The War of the Sixth Coalition [106] started in 1813 as the Russian campaign was decisive for the Napoleonic Wars and led to Napoleon's defeat and exile on the island of Elba. [2] For Russia, the term Patriotic War (an English rendition of the Russian Отечественная война) became a symbol for a strengthened national identity that had a great effect on Russian patriotism in the 19th century. A series of revolutions followed, starting with the Decembrist revolt of 1825 and ending with the February Revolution of 1917.

Alternative names Edit

Napoleon's invasion of Russia is better known in Russia as the Patriotic War of 1812 (Russian Отечественная война 1812 года , Otechestvennaya Vojna 1812 goda). It should not be confused with the Great Patriotic War ( Великая Отечественная война , Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voyna), a term for Adolf Hitler's invasion of Russia during the Second World War. The Patriotic War of 1812 is also occasionally referred to as simply the "War of 1812", a term which should not be confused with the conflict between Great Britain and the United States, also known as the War of 1812. In Russian literature written before the Russian revolution, the war was occasionally described as "the invasion of twelve languages" (Russian: нашествие двенадцати языков ). Napoleon termed this war the "Second Polish War" in an attempt to gain increased support from Polish nationalists and patriots. Though the stated goal of the war was the resurrection of the Polish state on the territories of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (modern territories of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine), in fact, this issue was of no real concern to Napoleon. [107]

Historiography Edit

The British historian Dominic Lieven wrote that much of the historiography about the campaign for various reasons distorts the story of the Russian war against France in 1812–14. [108] The number of Western historians who are fluent in French and/or German vastly outnumbers those who are fluent in Russian, which has the effect that many Western historians simply ignore Russian language sources when writing about the campaign because they cannot read them. [109]

Memoirs written by French veterans of the campaign together with much of the work done by French historians strongly show the influence of "Orientalism", which depicted Russia as a strange, backward, exotic and barbaric "Asian" nation that was innately inferior to the West, especially France. [110] The picture drawn by the French is that of a vastly superior army being defeated by geography, the climate and just plain bad luck. [110] German language sources are not as hostile to the Russians as French sources, but many of the Prussian officers such as Carl von Clausewitz (who did not speak Russian) who joined the Russian Army to fight against the French found service with a foreign army both frustrating and strange, and their accounts reflected these experiences. [111] Lieven compared those historians who use Clausewitz's account of his time in Russian service as their main source for the 1812 campaign to those historians who might use an account written by a Free French officer who did not speak English who served with the British Army in World War II as their main source for the British war effort in the Second World War. [112]

In Russia, the official historical line until 1917 was that the peoples of the Russian Empire had rallied together in defense of the throne against a foreign invader. [113] Because many of the younger Russian officers in the 1812 campaign took part in the Decembrist uprising of 1825, their roles in history were erased at the order of Emperor Nicholas I. [114] Likewise, because many of the officers who were also veterans who stayed loyal during the Decembrist uprising went on to become ministers in the tyrannical regime of Emperor Nicholas I, their reputations were blacked among the radical intelligentsia of 19th century Russia. [114] For example, Count Alexander von Benckendorff fought well in 1812 commanding a Cossack company, but because he later become the Chief of the Third Section Of His Imperial Majesty's Chancellery as the secret police were called, was one of the closest friends of Nicholas I and is infamous for his persecution of Russia's national poet Alexander Pushkin, he is not well remembered in Russia and his role in 1812 is usually ignored. [114]

Furthermore, the 19th century was a great age of nationalism and there was a tendency by historians in the Allied nations to give the lion's share of the credit for defeating France to their own respective nation with British historians claiming that it was the United Kingdom that played the most important role in defeating Napoleon Austrian historians giving that honor to their nation Russian historians writing that it was Russia that played the greatest role in the victory, and Prussian and later German historians writing that it was Prussia that made the difference. [115] In such a context, various historians liked to diminish the contributions of their allies.

Leo Tolstoy was not a historian, but his extremely popular 1869 historical novel War and Peace, which depicted the war as a triumph of what Lieven called the "moral strength, courage and patriotism of ordinary Russians" with military leadership a negligible factor, has shaped the popular understanding of the war in both Russia and abroad from the 19th century onward. [116] A recurring theme of War and Peace is that certain events are just fated to happen, and there is nothing that a leader can do to challenge destiny, a view of history that dramatically discounts leadership as a factor in history. During the Soviet period, historians engaged in what Lieven called huge distortions to make history fit with Communist ideology, with Marshal Kutuzov and Prince Bagration transformed into peasant generals, Alexander I alternatively ignored or vilified, and the war becoming a massive "People's War" fought by the ordinary people of Russia with almost no involvement on the part of the government. [117] During the Cold War, many Western historians were inclined to see Russia as "the enemy", and there was a tendency to downplay and dismiss Russia's contributions to the defeat of Napoleon. [112] As such, Napoleon's claim that the Russians did not defeat him and he was just the victim of fate in 1812 was very appealing to many Western historians. [116]

Russian historians tended to focus on the French invasion of Russia in 1812 and ignore the campaigns in 1813–1814 fought in Germany and France, because a campaign fought on Russian soil was regarded as more important than campaigns abroad and because in 1812 the Russians were commanded by the ethnic Russian Kutuzov while in the campaigns in 1813–1814 the senior Russian commanders were mostly ethnic Germans, being either Baltic German nobility or Germans who had entered Russian service. [118] At the time the conception held by the Russian elite was that the Russian empire was a multi-ethnic entity, in which the Baltic German aristocrats in service to the House of Romanov were considered part of that elite—an understanding of what it meant to be Russian defined in terms of dynastic loyalty rather than language, ethnicity, and culture that does not appeal to those later Russians who wanted to see the war as purely a triumph of ethnic Russians. [119]

One consequence of this is that many Russian historians liked to disparage the officer corps of the Imperial Russian Army because of the high proportion of Baltic Germans serving as officers, which further reinforces the popular stereotype that the Russians won despite their officers rather than because of them. [120] Furthermore, Emperor Alexander I often gave the impression at the time that he found Russia a place that was not worthy of his ideals, and he cared more about Europe as a whole than about Russia. [118] Alexander's conception of a war to free Europe from Napoleon lacked appeal to many nationalist-minded Russian historians, who preferred to focus on a campaign in defense of the homeland rather than what Lieven called Alexander's rather "murky" mystical ideas about European brotherhood and security. [118] Lieven observed that for every book written in Russia on the campaigns of 1813–1814, there are a hundred books on the campaign of 1812 and that the most recent Russian grand history of the war of 1812–1814 gave 490 pages to the campaign of 1812 and 50 pages to the campaigns of 1813–1814. [116] Lieven noted that Tolstoy ended War and Peace in December 1812 and that many Russian historians have followed Tolstoy in focusing on the campaign of 1812 while ignoring the greater achievements of campaigns of 1813–1814 that ended with the Russians marching into Paris. [116]

Napoleon did not touch serfdom in Russia. What the reaction of the Russian peasantry would have been if he had lived up to the traditions of the French Revolution, bringing liberty to the serfs, is an intriguing question. [121]

Swedish invasion Edit

Napoleon's invasion was prefigured by the Swedish invasion of Russia a century before. In 1707 Charles XII had led Swedish forces in an invasion of Russia from his base in Poland. After initial success, the Swedish Army was decisively defeated in Ukraine at the Battle of Poltava. Peter I's efforts to deprive the invading forces of supplies by adopting a scorched-earth policy is thought to have played a role in the defeat of the Swedes.

In one first-hand account of the French invasion, Philippe Paul, Comte de Ségur, attached to the personal staff of Napoleon and the author of Histoire de Napoléon et de la grande armée pendant l'année 1812, recounted a Russian emissary approaching the French headquarters early in the campaign. When he was questioned on what Russia expected, his curt reply was simply 'Poltava!'. [122] Using eyewitness accounts, historian Paul Britten Austin described how Napoleon studied the History of Charles XII during the invasion. [123] In an entry dated 5 December 1812, one eyewitness records: "Cesare de Laugier, as he trudges on along the 'good road' that leads to Smorgoni, is struck by 'some birds falling from frozen trees', a phenomenon which had even impressed Charles XII's Swedish soldiers a century ago." The failed Swedish invasion is widely believed to have been the beginning of Sweden's decline as a great power, and the rise of Tsardom of Russia as it took its place as the leading nation of north-eastern Europe.

German invasion Edit

Academicians have drawn parallels between the French invasion of Russia and Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of 1941. David Stahel writes: [124]

Historical comparisons reveal that many fundamental points that denote Hitler's failure in 1941 were actually foreshadowed in past campaigns. The most obvious example is Napoleon's ill-fated invasion of Russia in 1812. The German High Command's inability to grasp some of the essential hallmarks of this military calamity highlights another angle of their flawed conceptualization and planning in anticipation of Operation Barbarossa. Like Hitler, Napoleon was the conqueror of Europe and foresaw his war on Russia as the key to forcing England to make terms. Napoleon invaded with the intention of ending the war in a short campaign centred on a decisive battle in western Russia. As the Russians withdrew, Napoleon's supply lines grew and his strength was in decline from week to week. The poor roads and harsh environment took a deadly toll on both horses and men, while politically Russia's oppressed serfs remained, for the most part, loyal to the aristocracy. Worse still, while Napoleon defeated the Russian Army at Smolensk and Borodino, it did not produce a decisive result for the French and each time left Napoleon with the dilemma of either retreating or pushing deeper into Russia. Neither was really an acceptable option, the retreat politically and the advance militarily, but in each instance, Napoleon opted for the latter. In doing so the French emperor outdid even Hitler and successfully took the Russian capital in September 1812, but it counted for little when the Russians simply refused to acknowledge defeat and prepared to fight on through the winter. By the time Napoleon left Moscow to begin his infamous retreat, the Russian campaign was doomed.

The invasion by Germany was called the Great Patriotic War by the Soviet people, to evoke comparisons with the victory by Tsar Alexander I over Napoleon's invading army. [125] In addition, the Germans, like the French, took solace from the notion they had been defeated by the Russian winter, rather than the Russians themselves or their own mistakes. [126]

Cultural impact Edit

An event of epic proportions and momentous importance for European history, the French invasion of Russia has been the subject of much discussion among historians. The campaign's sustained role in Russian culture may be seen in Tolstoy's War and Peace, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, and the identification of it with the German invasion of 1941–45, which became known as the Great Patriotic War in the Soviet Union.

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.

Find out more

1812: The Great Retreat by Paul Britten-Austin (Greenhill Books, 1996)

1812: Napoleon's Invasion of Russia by Paul Britten-Austin (Greenhill Books, 2000)

With Napoleon in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Faber Du Faur, 1812 by Christian Wilhelm von Faber du Faur ed. Jonathan North (Greenhill Books, 2001)

1812: Eyewitness Accounts of Napoleon's Defeat in Russia ed. Anthony Brett-James (Macmillan, 1966)

Napoleon's Invasion of Russia by George F Nafziger (Presidio Press, 1998)

In the Legions of Napoleon: Memoirs of a Polish Officer by Heinrich von Brandt ed. Jonathan North (Greenhill Books, 1999)

In the Service of the Tsar against Napoleon by Denis Davidov, translated by Gregory Troubetzkoy (Greehill Books, 1999)

Napoleon began the invasion of the Russian Empire

On June 24, 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte began a fateful invasion of the Russian Empire with his Grand Army (French: Grande Armée). Napoleon mustered the largest military force Europe had ever seen (about 685,000 troops) for the attack. The invasion began by crossing the Neman River, which represented the border of the great Russian Empire.

Napoleon personally chose the places where the army would cross the river. The main location was near the Lithuanian city of Kaunas. At that point, three pontoon bridges were built on the river to cross the hull. After entering the Russian Empire, Napoleon directed his army towards the first large city nearby – Vilnius (today the capital and largest city of Lithuania). Although the French initially advanced rapidly, the Russians applied the tactic of burning the country against them, i.e., in order to retreat, they would destroy all possible sources of food and supplies. Napoleon’s vast army was thus left without enough food and other material.

Napoleon’s campaign lasted until mid-December of that year. Although he managed to capture the Russian capital, Napoleon’s army was completely exhausted and had to retreat. At the same time, the number of soldiers was constantly falling due to desertion, illness and Russian attacks. When the last French troops left Russian soil, only 27,000 soldiers remained capable of fighting.

In less than 6 months, more than 400,000 Napoleonic soldiers, including French, Poles, Germans, Italians, and members of other peoples of the Napoleonic Empire, lost their lives, and more than 100,000 were captured. The Russians had about 200,000 dead, but a very large number of civilians were killed. Many soldiers did not fall in battle, but succumbed to cold, hunger and disease. The French also lost almost all their horses, and they were unable to make up for that loss until after the fall of Napoleon in 1815.

Watch the video: Napoleons Invasion of Russia 1812 in a nutshell


  1. Grokasa

    already have, and have already seen waited a long time

  2. Talo

    I am sorry, that I interfere, but it is necessary for me little bit more information.

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