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"Why did the Russians do so well in 1806-1807" Topic


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Brechtel19823 Sep 2017 5:23 p.m. PST

Then perhaps you can explain if the Russians had indeed won at Eylau, why did they leave the field?

Whirlwind23 Sep 2017 6:12 p.m. PST

At Eylau the aim of both sides was to defeat their opponents and gain the battlefield. The fact the Russians retreated and the French remained on the field, indicates that the French won the day. The same could be said of Borodino.

Except since that in both cases the explicit aim of the French was to crush the Russians. They failed. Apply the Brechtel logic. French defeats.

…if the Russians had indeed won at Eylau, why did they leave the field?

…if the French had indeed won at the Berezina, why did they leave the field. Apply the Brechtel logic. French defeat.

Whirlwind23 Sep 2017 6:18 p.m. PST

@Gazzola,

I don't want to insult your intelligence but your denial of the facts implies you appear to be deliberately ignoring the obvious.

The French lost massively at Berezina. The best that can be said is that at least some of them got away. It entered the French language as a synonym for crushing defeat for goodness sake! Yet Kevin wants this to be a French victory for reasons which escape me. So apply the same logic . If the French aim in any particular battle was to crush their enemies – and it was at Borodino and Eylau – and they failed, then these must be counted as defeats too.

Why is there one rule for the French in assessing victory and another rule for everyone else? Just pure bias. Now this isn't a problem, people can think what they like. But it does mean that any argument they make based on such flawed logic can be safely ignored.

von Winterfeldt23 Sep 2017 11:03 p.m. PST

the bias is very obvious – no need to say more, the facts speak for themselves.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2017 1:19 a.m. PST

…if the French had indeed won at the Berezina, why did they leave the field. Apply the Brechtel logic. French defeat.

If we follow his logic to conclusion than Austerlitz was a defeat too.
Yes he knocked Austria out of the war but not Russia. He didn't complete all his objectives. Automatic defeat.

Dresden also defeat.
Ware defeat etc.

Brechtel19824 Sep 2017 3:00 a.m. PST

From the sublime to the ridiculous…

basileus6624 Sep 2017 5:20 a.m. PST

No, Kevin. It is not like that. Problem is that you are using the same criteria to reach opposite conclusions, depending if the French were to be considered the victors or not.

The best that can be said for the Berezina is that it was an incomplete victory for the Russians. That was the Tsar thought at the moment, even to the point of toying with the idea of sacking Kutuzov. He believed that Kutuzov could have annihilated the French army and if anyone escaped, it was due to the glacial pace of Kutuzov's pursuit.

The Allies did the best they could of a bad situation, but losses were still horrific. It could have been worst, but it wasn't a victory.

Eylau I concede is more complicated to determine a victor. In my opinion, it was a Pyrrhic victory for Napoleon. He controlled the battlefield and that allowed him to claim victory. Trophies in the form of flags or guns captured -a traditional method of determine victory- were scarce, to say the least. Losses in men and horses were horrific. Napoleon couldn't mount a pursuit of the retreating Russians. He was content of not being forced to fight a second day. He learnt from the experience, though. It is clear at Friedland that he had taken notice of the lessons learnt at Eylau. So, yes, it was a French victory, but Napoleon would have had sacked any Marshal that would have commanded over a slaughter like that of Eylau and that would have had so few to show in exchange for the killing.

Brechtel19824 Sep 2017 6:22 a.m. PST

No, you are wrong. When comparing different actions the differences have to be taken into consideration. That is the 'criteria' to which you have referred.

Eylau and the Berezina (as well as Leipzig and Borodino) were very different actions and the measure of victory or defeat were also different.

Eylau was a battle in the open field with both sides drawn up for fighting. The Russians, who were as beat up as the French were with losses about equal, had had enough and retreated. Napoleon was preparing for a fight the next day.

Borodino was similar, with Napoleon preparing for a second day of fighting and Kutuzov had enough and pulled out. Further, Russian losses were much heavier than the French.

At Leipzig, Napoleon came to the decision after the first day's fighting, and with his trains cut off in Eilenberg and a very heavy expenditure of artillery ammunition, to withdraw to the west. With the Lindenau bridge being prematurely blown up after having been prepared for demolition after the French rear guard had passed over it, made it a definite defeat.

At the Berezina, the French were already retreating and both Tshitshagov and Wittgenstein trying to stop the French retreat. The French succeeded in not only building two trestle bridges across the Studenka ford while conducting a successful deception operation, but also succeeding in crossing all available formed units, holding the bridgehead on the west bank against all Russian attacks, and defeating Wittgenstein's attempts to push to the bridgehead on the east bank. Victor defeated all of Wittgenstein's attacks and then withdrew across the bridges unmolested, which Eble then burned. The Russians failed in their mission to stop Napoleon crossing the river, and Kutusov refused to come to the timely support of his fellow army commanders.

The fight at the Berezina was a successful assault river crossing against a determined enemy, defeating two Russian armies in the process.

There is no evidence that Napoleon would have sacked any marshal who had conducted a fight as bloody as Eylau. Soult at Albuera, the bloodiest fight in the Peninsula, is evidence of that.

The Berezina was in no way any type of victory for the Russians, nor was Eylau.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2017 7:53 a.m. PST

Napoleon's plan at Eylau, cut Russian army off from Russian homeland and destroy the Russian army. He failed but he wins because he is French(well not really French)

The Russian plan for Berezina destroy the French-Allied army, they failed and so they lose because they are not French.

Whirlwind24 Sep 2017 8:14 a.m. PST

Ney on Eylau: "Quel massacre! Et sans résultat "

The French on the Berezina: "C'est la Bérézina (C'est une défaite cuisante, une déroute complčte.)"

Zhmodikov25 Sep 2017 7:27 a.m. PST

Art wrote:


the Russian Military School for Infantry Service published in 1826(?) is a good example of similarities in Russian and French methods…especially with the aid of the diagrams at the end of the book… -well for me at least

As far as I know, the 1826 book has no relation to the drill regulations. The book was composed by General Mikhail Vistitsky, who was the Chief of Staff of the 2nd Army of the West in 1812.

The Napoleonic Russian drill regulations were printed in several steps: the first in 1809 (Recruit School), the second in 1811 (Recruit School + Company Drill), the third in 1816 (Battalion Drill), and the fourth in 1820 (Line Evolutions).

The first two parts of the Russian drill regulations (Recruit School + Company Drill, 1811 text and 1816 plates):

PDF link

Zhmodikov25 Sep 2017 8:43 a.m. PST

I am sorry, General Mikhail Vistitsky was the Quartermaster-General of the 2nd Army of the West in 1812.

His portrait by George Dowe:

link

The Chief of Staff of the 2nd Army of the West in 1812 was Guillaume Emmanuel Geignard de Saint Priest.

His portrait by George Dowe:

link

Gazzola25 Sep 2017 10:04 a.m. PST

Whirlwind and Gunfreak

To apply the same logic, as you put it, to everything, is to ignore the reality of history and offer an utter denial of the facts. War, victory and defeat is never that simple and every war, battle and campaign is different and should be treated as such.

And of course the aim of any battle is to crush the enemy, defeat them and hopefully win the war. But come on, get real, that very rarely happens in war. I am sure you are both aware of that?

But the French aim at Berezina was not to crush the enemy or win the war, but to cross the river and escape. This they did. The French were already retreating and the Russians failed to stop them crossing and stop them retreating.

Eylau, Borodino and Leipzig were battles in which, of course both sides wanted to crush their enemies and win the war. But the French won at Eylau and Borodino but did not crush their enemies or win or lose the war due to that battle alone.

And for people to make the silly suggestion of implying the 'same logic', as some put it, would suggest that the French won at Leipzig because they managed to cross the river and escape. But reality is not the same as theoretical logic.

The fact remains, like it or not, Berezina was a French victory because they achieved their aim of crossing the river. Eylau and Borodino were French victories because they held the field. Leipzig was an Allied victory because they held the field.

Of course you are free to disagree, although your disagreement won't change history, as much as I get the feeling some people might want it to. If people can't accept Berezina as a French victory, then that's their problem and I doubt anything said will alter their views, nor will anything said alter my view that it was a French victory against the odds..

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2017 10:32 a.m. PST

Sorry faulty logic you got there.

At Leipzig Napoleon didn't stand a chance at actually beating the Allies, no matter how bad the Allies did, he was simply outmanned, at worst the battle would last for weeks until no Frenchmen or civilian in Leipzig was alive.

So Napoleon's goal was so to survive and he did, and he escaped with enough forces to continue fighting.
So Leipzig was, in fact, an even greater victory for Napoleon than Berezina, where he lost half of those meager forces he had.

LORDGHEE25 Sep 2017 11:18 a.m. PST

Leipzig was a battle brought by the allies. They wanted a battle with everyone there. Napoleon wanted to isolate and destroy them one by one. May be with more artillery ammo Napoleon could have gain a victory. (Where was his artillery train? I have not read any about this.) It was an example of fighting on interior lines which he excelled at.

Napoleon fought on the first day because he felt he had a chance of defeating the Austrians, but day light ran out on him.

He did not start the battle to escape, he accepted battle with a plan.

two days of fighting changed his mind. then it became a battle to escape which was not well done. He should have been at the bridge the whole time. that might have made a difference. The defecting allies of Napoleon had no illusions about who won, they joined the winner.

von Winterfeldt25 Sep 2017 12:00 p.m. PST

" he accepted battle with a plan"

Indeed – and started again with a very bad mistake leaving St. Cyr in Dresden

Art Inactive Member25 Sep 2017 12:29 p.m. PST

G'Day Alexander,

I wish I could be of more help…but I do not read Russian…

For the title I have:

Military School for Infantry Service 1826

On the title page at the bottom it has 1826…perhaps that is the publication date of 1826…

(I'm looking at it right now)

The manual has 80 plates with 285 figures…of battalions executing evolutions…

Perhaps it is the 1820 (Line Evolution)…that you mentioned…

But in the 80 plate…there are Russian columns which are similar to the French…or the thirteen different types of tactical columns…such as the Colonne de Retraite…

Best Regards and I hope this helps
Art

Art Inactive Member25 Sep 2017 1:16 p.m. PST

G'Day Alexander,

Perhaps this will shed light on the matter…

This is from Seroga


I would translate the Russian name for this formation as a "column of divisions formed to the rear". I find it only formed as closed (French : serré).

Of course, you are perfectly correct in your assessment! I find it illustrated and evolutions employing it described in the "Описаниа чертежа военных пехотных эволюции"

(Illustrated description of infantry military evolutions) – and the application of the evolution is exactly as you described (now that I look closely at it).

See especially illustrations No.No. 143-147 in the 1826 printing, under the heading "Войско стоявшее в боевом порядке в переправы переходит за оную устроясь из средины фронт на зад в дивизионную густую колонну."

See books (WOW there are many books that one could download…if you read Russian)

reenactor.ru/?bookid=1038


This work should be identical to the "School of the Battalion" first published as the third section of the 1816 "Воинский устав о пехотной службе" (Military school for infantry service). Most authors take this as reflective of Russian practice for 1810-1815.

Alexander..let me thank you for the links you just provided…

Again I hoped this helps in knowing what book Seroga gave us…

Best Regards
Art

Whirlwind25 Sep 2017 5:49 p.m. PST

To apply the same logic, as you put it, to everything, is to ignore the reality of history and offer an utter denial of the facts. War, victory and defeat is never that simple and every war, battle and campaign is different and should be treated as such.

I disagree. Logic is logic. To say that every battle and campaign is different is a bland truism; to extrapolate from that one should literally redefine victory and defeat for every single battle is illogical, and invariably, special pleading

<q? And of course the aim of any battle is to crush the enemy, defeat them and hopefully win the war. But come on, get real, that very rarely happens in war. I am sure you are both aware of that?

Yes – are you aware of that?

But the French aim at Berezina was not to crush the enemy or win the war, but to cross the river and escape. This they did. The French were already retreating and the Russians failed to stop them crossing and stop them retreating.

But as you just said, literally crushing the enemy very rarely happens. Berezina cost the Grande Armee somewhere between 25% and 50% of its soldiers. This is not much of an escape.

Eylau, Borodino and Leipzig were battles in which, of course both sides wanted to crush their enemies and win the war. But the French won at Eylau and Borodino but did not crush their enemies or win or lose the war due to that battle alone.

Here comes the special pleading again. Napoleon wanted to crush the enemy at Eylau, but what he actually got was massive casualties and a field in Poland. Whereas at the Berezina he lost half his troops.

And for people to make the silly suggestion of implying the 'same logic', as some put it, would suggest that the French won at Leipzig because they managed to cross the river and escape. But reality is not the same as theoretical logic.

That is exactly where your logic takes you.

The fact remains, like it or not, Berezina was a French victory because they achieved their aim of crossing the river.

The fact remains, like it or not, that the Berezina was a clear Russian victory because they lost up to half their troops while trying to escape. Very like the Germans at Falaise, for instance, or Army Group Centre during Bagration.

Eylau and Borodino were French victories because they held the field. Leipzig was an Allied victory because they held the field.

This is touching pre-Napoleonic thought. He wasn't fighting to gain small bits of Polish plain or Russian forest. By his own military philosophy, he was always fighting to destroy the enemy's forces, which he signally failed to do on these occassions.

Of course you are free to disagree, although your disagreement won't change history, as much as I get the feeling some people might want it to.

Yes, agreed, your disagreement won't stop the Berezina being a Russian victory that elininated up to half the remaining Grande Armee, but I appreciate that some people need to invent French victories.

If people can't accept Berezina as a French victory, then that's their problem and I doubt anything said will alter their views, nor will anything said alter my view that it was a French victory against the odds…

If people can't accept the Berezina as a Russian victory and a French defeat which passed into French as a synonym for bitter defeat then it isn't my problem their faulty logic will lead them into all kinds of weird and wonderful places.

Brechtel19826 Sep 2017 1:33 a.m. PST

Your idea that the Berezina was a French defeat needs to be supported historically and logically. So far, that hasn't been done.

The Russian armies commanded by Tshitshagov and Wittgenstein at the Berezina were defeated by the French, otherwise the bridges could not have been built, and the formed units, including Victor's corps which had defeated Wittgenstein, got across and escaped.

Unfortunately too many equate the loss of stragglers who refused to cross and were not part of any formed units with the combat losses the French suffered.

The Russians failed at the Berezina and nothing you have posted has negated that fact or proved that the Russians won. By any military measure the Russians lost. And that is exacerbated by the fact that Kutusov failed to support his two fellow army commanders at the Berezina because he was afraid to face Napoleon in the field again.

So, it is up to you to demonstrate how you believe the Russians won at the Berezina. So far you have pontificated repeatedly on the subject but have clearly not demonstrated that they did by any measure of success. The bottom line is that the Russians failed to stop the French crossing the river and were badly defeated in the process.

Your idea that the French lost is militarily and historically illogical and is just plain wrong.

And perhaps you could also explain Napoleon's 'military philosophy' since you brought the subject up?

Brechtel19826 Sep 2017 1:34 a.m. PST

…if the French had indeed won at the Berezina, why did they leave the field. Apply the Brechtel logic. French defeat.

This statement clearly demonstrates that you have no idea about how and why the crossing of the Berezina was executed.

And there is enough information in print to find out. Perhaps you should take some time to study and find out what actually happened there. Clausewitz is a good place to start.

Whirlwind26 Sep 2017 1:53 a.m. PST

Your idea that the Berezina was a French defeat needs to be supported historically and logically. So far, that hasn't been done.

Actually Kevin, it has been done to death. What hasn't been supported is your illogical assertions that the Berezina should be judged on different criteria from Eylau and Borodino.

The Russians failed at the Berezina and nothing you have posted has negated that fact or proved that the Russians won. By any military measure the Russians lost. And that is exacerbated by the fact that Kutusov failed to support his two fellow army commanders at the Berezina because he was afraid to face Napoleon in the field again.

No Kevin, on the military measures you have applied to Eylau and Borodino, the Russians won by a huge margin.

So, it is up to you to demonstrate how you believe the Russians won at the Berezina. So far you have pontificated repeatedly on the subject but have clearly not demonstrated that they did by any measure of success. The bottom line is that the Russians failed to stop the French crossing the river and were badly defeated in the process.

No, Kevin it is you who have pontificated. Although of course that is polluting the forum with an ad hominem attack. You have to demonstrate why when the French losses were so much greater and they retreated, that this should be somehow judged a French victory. And you know why you haven't: because you can't.

Your idea that the French lost is militarily and historically illogical and is just plain wrong.

Your idea that Russians lost at the Berezina but the French won at Eylau and Borodino has been shown to be biased, illogical and just plain wrong.

And perhaps you could also explain Napoleon's 'military philosophy' since you brought the subject up?

Why would I explain it to you? Read up on it yourself, as you say "There is enough information in print to find out". Perhaps take some time to study the most elementary logic and try and see past the tired old biases. And don't imagine you are some kind of 'authority' or 'expert' able to judge the views of others.

This statement clearly demonstrates that you have no idea about how and why the crossing of the Berezina was executed.

And this statement clearly shows you have no ability or willingness to come to terms with the obvious illogicality and bias of your opinions.

Whirlwind26 Sep 2017 2:08 a.m. PST

Actually, this is tedious. I'm done. Carry on with your special pleading.

von Winterfeldt26 Sep 2017 2:42 a.m. PST

I fully agree with Whirlwind

Whirlwind26 Sep 2017 3:03 a.m. PST

For everyone but the special pleaders, I am very open-minded about which of these battles were victories for which side, but I still can't think of a principle by which one would deduce that the Berezina, Eylau and Borodino were all French victories. Whatever criterion one chooses, one seems to eliminate at least one of the battles. I'dbe genuinely interested to know.

4th Cuirassier26 Sep 2017 3:21 a.m. PST

This Beresina stuff is interesting.

To turn it on its head, if we accept for the sake of argument that the Russians won, what would a Russian defeat have looked like?

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP26 Sep 2017 3:54 a.m. PST

If the French escaped with minimal losses(25-50% is not minimal)

It was basically a huge rearguard action, and a rearguard action where half the army is destroyed is a defeat.

Le Breton26 Sep 2017 3:55 a.m. PST

"what would a Russian defeat have looked like?"

Tens of thousands of dead Russians piled hideously around the riverbanks, a full Russian infantry divison that surrendered instead of a French one and was led away to captivity, and all the French safely across the river in formed units with substantial fighting ability?

Yes? No?

Zhmodikov26 Sep 2017 4:12 a.m. PST

Art,
As I have said, the 1826 book entitled Illustrated description of infantry military evolutions is composed by General Mikhail Vistitsky. The 1820 Line Evolutions are a recast of the French 1791 regulations (Titre V, Évolutions de Ligne).

In Figs. 143 to 147 in the 1826 book I see the "closed column formed on the center". This column is almost the same as the "attack column", with the 4th and 5th platoons in the head of the column, but it is a closed column, i.e. the intervals between the successive platoons are equal to three paces, while in the "attack column" the intervals are equal to a half of the platoon frontage width.

The 1816 Battalion Drill contains both the "attack column" and the "closed column formed on the center".
If you have got the English version of our book on the Napoleonic Russian tactics, see vol. 2, p. 13, Fig. 23.

Brechtel19826 Sep 2017 4:32 a.m. PST

'Never were circumstances more propitious towards reducing an army to capitulate in the field. The Beresina fenced in, partly by morass, and partly by dense forest, affords means of passage, and of afterwards continusing a march at only a few points. The enemy was only 30,000 strong, about as many Russians were behind the river, as many more in front, and 10,000 more on the march to join them from behind. in addition to this utter dissolution of order in the enemy's ranks, 40,000 disarmed stragglers, hunger, sickness, and exhaustion of moral and physical force.'
'Chance certainly somewhat favored Bonaparte in his discovery near Borissow of a place so favorable for the passage at Studianka; but it was his reputation which chiefly saved him, and he traded in this instance on a capital amassed long before. Wittgenstein and Tshitshagov were both afraid of him here, as Kutusov had been afraid of him at Krasny, of him, of his army, of his Guard. No one chose to be defeated by him. Kutusov believed he could obtain his end without rise: Wittgenstein was reluctant to impair the glory he had acquired, Tshitshagov to undergo a second check.'

'Bonaparte was endowed with this moral strength when he thus extricated himself from one of the worst situations in which a general ever found himself. This moral power, however, was not all; the strength of his intellect, and the military virtues of his army, which not even its calamities could quite subdue, were destined here to show themselves once more in their full luster. After he had overcome all the difficulties of this perilous moment, Bonaparte said to those about him, 'Vous voyez comme on passe sous la barbe de 'ennemi.'

'Bonaparte had here entirely saved his old honor and acquired new, but the result was still a stride towards the utter destruction of his army. We know how much of it reached Kovno, and that the Beresina contributed the last blow towards this end.'

-Carl von Clausewitz, The Campaign of 1812 in Russia, 211-212.

Whirlwind26 Sep 2017 4:43 a.m. PST

the result was still a stride towards the utter destruction of his army . We know how much of it reached Kovno, and that the Beresina contributed the last blow towards this end

QED.

Brechtel19826 Sep 2017 4:58 a.m. PST

But that was after the French victory at the Berezina, not before or during.

The point is that the French did escape, through better operational expertise, tactical execution, and the devotion of such soldiers as Eble and his pontonniers.

The Russians failed to stop the crossing even though their attacks against those defending the bridgehead on the west bank were bitter and prolonged. And every attack on Victor by Wittgenstein was defeated.

The best comment on the Berezina was given by a French Guardsman when he said that if the roles were reversed, not one Russian would have escaped.

And then we have the moral cowardice of Kutusov to deal with, who deliberately stayed away from the fighting.

You have not offered one iota of evidence to support your supposition, which, once again, is wrong.

Whirlwind26 Sep 2017 5:13 a.m. PST

Hahaha! OMG – he still keeps at it.

But that was after the French victory at the Berezina, not before or during.

Erm, no. Read your own post

The point is that the French did escape, through better operational expertise, tactical execution, and the devotion of such soldiers as Eble and his pontonniers.

The point is some escaped, but lots were killed or captured. Obviously the rest is just your opinion, of no value.

The best comment on the Berezina was given by a French Guardsman when he said that if the roles were reversed, not one Russian would have escaped.

Yes, imaginary victories are always the best.

And then we have the moral cowardice of Kutusov to deal with, who deliberately stayed away from the fighting.

Is there a more irrelevant point?!? Why are we talking about the Russians who weren't there.

You have not offered one iota of evidence to support your supposition, which, once again, is wrong.

You simply haven't understood or engaged with my position, which is that there is no principle or criterion which can award the victory to the French at Eylau, Borodino and the Berezina. All you have done is given your biased opinion, which is of zero value. All you have done is special pleading.

Brechtel19826 Sep 2017 5:19 a.m. PST

Again, you haven't offered any evidence at all for your opinions, and until you do, that's all you have posted, your opinions.

Is there a more irrelevant point?!? Why are we talking about the Russians who weren't there.

On the contrary, Kutusov refusing to engage at the Berezina prevented the Russians from winning.

Brechtel19826 Sep 2017 5:20 a.m. PST

I'm done.

Guess not. So you are wrong yet again.

…your denial of the facts implies you appear to be deliberately ignoring the obvious.

That is an excellent explanation of your own position as to the French battles with the Russians. Well done.

Whirlwind26 Sep 2017 5:34 a.m. PST

Kevin, you have destroyed your own position with the Clausewitz post.

Again, you haven't offered any evidence at all for your opinions, and until you do, that's all you have posted, your opinions.

Then everyone will conclude you haven't actually read the thread or understood it. Why not come back when you do?

On the contrary, Kutusov refusing to engage at the Berezina prevented the Russians from winning.

Except, as Clausewitz pointed out, they lost anyway. Kutuzov might have made it a bigger French defeat, I suppose.

Whirlwind26 Sep 2017 5:37 a.m. PST

However, if you insist on continuing then you can have the last word in the discussion if you like.

Kevin, you are beyond parody.

I'm done.

Guess not. So you are wrong yet again.

Haha! I felt I had to comment since you posted a Clausewitz quotation which totally destroyed your own position – he makes it clear he thought it was a French defeat!

But yes, you are right, I have wasted too much time on your special pleading. Keep on making yourself happy by imagining French victories Kevin,

Brechtel19826 Sep 2017 7:28 a.m. PST

It's too bad you can't understand what Clausewitz stated in his book on the campaign.

The Esposito/Elting Atlas concludes on the Berezina fighting that 'In more senses than one, Napoleon had snatched an outstanding victory out of his worst defeat. The Grande Armee might be dying on its feet, but neither winter, hunger, rivers, nor overwhelming odds in men and guns could halt it. It trampled them underfoot, and went on. And with it, borne above disaster, marched Napoleon's prestige and the traditions of the French Revolution. 'You should never despair while brave men remain with the colors.'-Map 125.

If its a choice of who is correct on this matter, the Atlas or yourself, the Atlas wins hands down.

Again, you have not proven your position and it is only supported by your own opinion.

And posting ad hominem comments (such as 'you are beyond parody') only emphasizes the bankruptcy and continued error of your own position.

Zhmodikov26 Sep 2017 8:39 a.m. PST

Brechtel198 wrote:


The point is that the French did escape, through better operational expertise, tactical execution, and the devotion of such soldiers as Eble and his pontonniers.

They escaped, but they did not win.


The Russians failed to stop the crossing even though their attacks against those defending the bridgehead on the west bank were bitter and prolonged.

What are the bitter attacks you are talking about?
Only the advance-guard of the Army of the Danube under the command of General Tchaplits engaged in a combat against those defending the bridgehead on the west bank: seven jager regiments supported by four guns of horse artillery. They fought in a vast wood in skirmish order, the guns were positioned on the road, and there were no place to put more guns in the battery. The Russians had finally driven the Swiss and the Poles out of the wood, and only a desperate attack of two French cuirassier regiments (the 4th and 7th) saved the situation: the Russians were driven back into the wood, but they soon renewed the fighting.
See:
Fézensac R.-E.-P.-J. de Montesquiou, Souvenirs militaires de 1804 ŕ 1814. Paris, 3-e édition, 1869, pp. 331–333.

Fézensac was the commander of the 4th French Line Infantry Regiment. He was an eyewitness: the remnants of the I Corps were in the reserve behind the Swiss.

Muralt A. von, Legler T., Erinnerungen aus dem Feldzug Napoleons I in Russland 1812. Bern, 1940, S. 203–209; Legler T., «Denkwürdigkeiten aus dem russischen Feldzuge vom Jahr 1812» // Jahrbuch des historishen Vereins des Kantons Glarus. Zurich & Glarus, Viertes Heft, 1868, S. 42–50.

Thomas Legler was an Oberleutnant of grenadiers in the 1st Swiss Infantry Regiment.

Bégos L., Souvenirs des campagnes du lieutenant-colonel Bégos. Lausanne, 1859, pp. 103–107.

Louis Bégos was a captain in the 2nd Swiss Infantry Regiment.

Rösselet A., Souvenirs de Abraham Rösselet. Neuchâtel, 1857, pp. 177–182.

Abraham Rösselet was an officer in the 1st Swiss Infantry Regiment, he qoutes a letter of Captain A. Rey from the same regiment.


And every attack on Victor by Wittgenstein was defeated.

There were no large scale attacks. Wittgenstein was very cautious. Victor lost almost a whole infantry division.


The best comment on the Berezina was given by a French Guardsman when he said that if the roles were reversed, not one Russian would have escaped.

This is just boasting of some Frenchman.


And then we have the moral cowardice of Kutusov to deal with, who deliberately stayed away from the fighting.

And how does this confirm the alleged French victory?


The Esposito/Elting Atlas concludes on the Berezina fighting that 'In more senses than one, Napoleon had snatched an outstanding victory out of his worst defeat. The Grande Armee might be dying on its feet, but neither winter, hunger, rivers, nor overwhelming odds in men and guns could halt it. It trampled them underfoot, and went on. And with it, borne above disaster, marched Napoleon's prestige and the traditions of the French Revolution. 'You should never despair while brave men remain with the colors.'-Map 125.

This is just someone's opinion. This is not evidence.

Murvihill26 Sep 2017 8:48 a.m. PST

Actually the comparison to the Falaise Pocket is a good one, because I've heard criticism on more than one occasion that the Allies didn't bag the entire German Army. Conveniently ignored is that the ~50,000 troops that escaped only had small arms (I believe the number of tanks was six) and that German army pretty much didn't stop running until the German border.
I think the comparison of conditions between Falaise and Berezina holds pretty good. Both weaker armies were pinned, both escaped but with serious casualties. The stragglers that were captured or killed at Berezina could have been recovered if Napoleon had been given a break so the fact that they weren't with their colors doesn't render their loss completely insignificant. And the losses to formed troops holding the bridgehead was significant as well, contributing to the army's near complete dissolution later.
One question that comes to mind is: did the Russians expect to bag the entire French Army? I get the impression that Alexander would have said ‘yes' and Kutusov ‘no'. Certainly not having any troops on the west bank was not a good move, and most military philosophers recommend giving your enemy a place to run because it's easier to kill a man in the back running away from you than facing you with a musket in his hand. Maybe the 100% solution was a hope and not an expectation.
Another thought is that no one in this thread established the criteria for victory. Is it as simple as who holds the ground? Or who escaped (if Napoleon's carriage was the only thing that crossed the bridge and he made it back to Paris would it be a victory)? Is it whose intentions for the battle were met and whose weren't? (possibly both were met.) Was it how the battle contributed to each side's campaign goals? Without establishing common terms you guys are trains passing in the night.

Whirlwind26 Sep 2017 9:07 a.m. PST

Another thought is that no one in this thread established the criteria for victory. Is it as simple as who holds the ground? Or who escaped (if Napoleon's carriage was the only thing that crossed the bridge and he made it back to Paris would it be a victory)? Is it whose intentions for the battle were met and whose weren't? (possibly both were met.) Was it how the battle contributed to each side's campaign goals? Without establishing common terms you guys are trains passing in the night.

@Murvihill,

That is what I have been trying to do all along – I posted this not so long ago:

For everyone but the special pleaders, I am very open-minded about which of these battles were victories for which side, but I still can't think of a principle by which one would deduce that the Berezina, Eylau and Borodino were all French victories. Whatever criterion one chooses, one seems to eliminate at least one of the battles. I'd be genuinely interested to know.

I have suggested quite a few in this thread:

Relative losses
Ground gained or held
Aims achieved
Overall strategic position improved

Most seem to have their merits, although I think the second one is pretty tenuous (although in fact lots of people do seem to use it as a metric – see the comments on Eylau and Borodino). What I have been pointing out is that for many of the big battles between the French and the Russians in this period, as soon as you define any criteria, the Russian relative performance looks to improve. So some of those biased in favour of the French (or perhaps anti-Russian, or both) don't want to establish common terms because that makes the French performance look worse.

attilathepun4726 Sep 2017 12:18 p.m. PST

At Murvihill and Whirlwind,

I think you are both quite right to question just what constitutes victory in a given situation. I am not going to try to give an answer, as it is really a very large, important, and difficult question that requires a thread (maybe even an entire board) of its own. However, I will observe that if someone concerns himself only with miniatures gaming, then he may never have really thought systematically about strategic victory because of focusing narrowly on the tactical outcome of specific battles. In theory, the total annihilation of an enemy army might be strategically fairly insignificant, even though an overwhelming tactical victory, if said victory took place in an area of little strategic significance and the army comprised only a minor part of the enemy's whole military strength. Such a "victory" could even contribute to the victor's ultimate strategic defeat, if bought at the price of too many casualties.

Certainly there are cases where both sides can claim with some justification to have won the same battle because each achieved their particular objective. Conversely, there must be cases where neither side really attained their particular aim, regardless of holding the field or relative casualties.

Brechtel19827 Sep 2017 1:59 p.m. PST

They escaped, but they did not win.
The Russians failed to stop the crossing even though their attacks against those defending the bridgehead on the west bank were bitter and prolonged.
What are the bitter attacks you are talking about?
Only the advance-guard of the Army of the Danube under the command of General Tchaplits engaged in a combat against those defending the bridgehead on the west bank: seven jager regiments supported by four guns of horse artillery. They fought in a vast wood in skirmish order, the guns were positioned on the road, and there were no place to put more guns in the battery. The Russians had finally driven the Swiss and the Poles out of the wood, and only a desperate attack of two French cuirassier regiments (the 4th and 7th) saved the situation: the Russians were driven back into the wood, but they soon renewed the fighting.
See:
Fézensac R.-E.-P.-J. de Montesquiou, Souvenirs militaires de 1804 ŕ 1814. Paris, 3-e édition, 1869, pp. 331–333.
Fézensac was the commander of the 4th French Line Infantry Regiment. He was an eyewitness: the remnants of the I Corps were in the reserve behind the Swiss.
Muralt A. von, Legler T., Erinnerungen aus dem Feldzug Napoleons I in Russland 1812. Bern, 1940, S. 203–209; Legler T., «Denkwürdigkeiten aus dem russischen Feldzuge vom Jahr 1812» // Jahrbuch des historishen Vereins des Kantons Glarus. Zurich & Glarus, Viertes Heft, 1868, S. 42–50.
Thomas Legler was an Oberleutnant of grenadiers in the 1st Swiss Infantry Regiment.
Bégos L., Souvenirs des campagnes du lieutenant-colonel Bégos. Lausanne, 1859, pp. 103–107.
Louis Bégos was a captain in the 2nd Swiss Infantry Regiment.
Rösselet A., Souvenirs de Abraham Rösselet. Neuchâtel, 1857, pp. 177–182.
Abraham Rösselet was an officer in the 1st Swiss Infantry Regiment, he qoutes a letter of Captain A. Rey from the same regiment.


The French couldn't escape if they didn't win.

I would add Volume II of Lejeune's memoir. He had been appointed as Davout's chief and staff and served in that capacity during the crossing.

I have Fezensac's memoir of the Russian campaign as well as the full volume mentioned above. I am familiar with Legler's Bergos' and Rosselet's comments on the fighting at the Berezina. It was a major action with heavy casualties on both sides.

Speaking of casualties, a major portion of the casualties, at least 10,000, were noncombatants and stragglers who refused to cross the bridges and were taken by the Russians.

Strengths at the Berezina:

Including Oudinot's II Corps (11,000) and Victor's IX Corps (12,800), Napoleon probably had between 48,000 and 53,000 serviceable troops at the Berezina. Wittgenstein numbered approximately 30,000 and Tshitshagov 34,000.

It should also be noted that the capture of Partouneaux's division (IX Corps) was the only Russian success of the entire operation at the Berezina. Only one battalion from the division, that of the 4th Battalion of the 55th Ligne, managed to escape and make it to Victor on the Studenka ridge.

The main fighting on both sides of the river lasted for three days-between 26 and 28 November.

Tshitshagov's advance guard was commanded by Langeron. He had 4,000 men and eight guns. He fought against Oudinot and Ney and was wounded. Tschaplitz was a corps commander under Tshitshagov and was also committed against Ney and Oudinot. Both he and Langeron were wounded in the fighting.

From Fezensac, A Journal of the Russian Campaign, 135:

‘On the next morning, the 28th [of November]. A sharp action commenced on either side of the river. Admiral Tshitshagov, on the left bank, and General Wittgenstein on the right, combined their efforts to force back our troops, and drive them into the Berezina…The combat was sustained for some time…and the ground, which seemed likely to be the grave of the Grande Armee, became the scene of its last and not least triumph.'

One of the sources you listed states that the Berezina was a French 'triumph.'

Victor's defense of the ridge to the south of Studenka was both skillful and bloody and every Russian attack by Wittgenstein's troops was defeated. It is also noteworthy that both Victor on the east bank and Oudinot and Ney on the west bank fought outnumbered.

Back to the Swiss, Napoleon awarded 34 Crosses of the Legion of Honor to the four Swiss regiments. Fourteen went to the 1st Swiss, including Legler; 8 for the 2d Swiss, and six each for the 3d and 4th Swiss. Napoleon wasn't in the habit of awarding the Cross to the undeserving.

Doumerc, I believe, commanded the 4th, 7th, and 14th Cuirassiers. They overran and bagged at least 2,000 Russian prisoners.

As for the comment quoted from the Esposito/Elting Atlas, it wasn't opinion but a conclusion based on assembled factual material. That is called historical inquiry.

Brechtel19827 Sep 2017 2:41 p.m. PST

At Leipzig Napoleon didn't stand a chance at actually beating the Allies, no matter how bad the Allies did, he was simply outmanned, at worst the battle would last for weeks until no Frenchmen or civilian in Leipzig was alive.

No battle of the period lasted for weeks. Sieges did, battles didn't. Those type of battles would have to wait for War I to occur.

And Napoleon and the French most certainly could have won at Leipzig. If you take a good look at a set of maps of the battle (and the Esposito/Elting Atlas has excellent ones) it is quite obvious how the battle went and the reason that the French lost.

More often than not, Napoleon fought outnumbered and won with Dresden being the latest example.

Brechtel19827 Sep 2017 7:32 p.m. PST

The comparison of the Berezina with the St Lo/Falaise Pocket is interesting, but the two battles are not similar.

At St Lo/Falaise the Germans were attempting to avoid encirclement and the allied failure to completely close the pocket is why some of the Germans escaped. They didn't fight their way out. And the allied armies won this one. At the Berezina the Russians were defeated.

At the Berezina the Russians had the Grande Armee in a trap, but were outfought and defeated, which allowed the French to cross the river and continue their retreat. And there is the added consequence of Kutusov's failure to support his fellow army commanders, which was deliberate.

4th Cuirassier28 Sep 2017 12:26 a.m. PST

Relatedly, does anyone know how the Russians came to have an admiral commanding soldiers? Was he a marines officer, or something?

Le Breton28 Sep 2017 1:44 a.m. PST

‘On the next morning, the 28th [of November]. A sharp action commenced on either side of the river. Admiral Tshitshagov, on the left bank, and General Wittgenstein on the right, combined their efforts to force back our troops, and drive them into the Berezina…The combat was sustained for some time…and the ground, which seemed likely to be the grave of the Grande Armee, became the scene of its last and not least triumph.'

not so great translation
1. The bit about "and not least" is not in the original French text. The original French text : "et les lieux qui devaient čtre le tombeau de la grande armée, furent les témoins de son dernier triomphe" – "the places which should have been the tomb of the Grand Army, bore witness to its last triumph"

out of context
2. When you put back the missing parts shown as "…", it is clear that the baron de Montesquiou-Fézensac is *not* talking about the battle overall, but about how "in an instant everything changed" for the 2e corps' action against Tchitchagoff when Oudinot was wounded and replaced by Ney.
3. The young baron de Montesquiou-Fézensac was a protégé of the maréchal Ney, and had served as his aide de camp from after Austerlitz until the start of the 1812 campagne – rising from lieutenant to chef d'escadron. Posted to the 4e de ligne, Ney had taken him in when he ran out of food during the retreat, and he was in company of his former colleagues on Ney's staff at the Berezina.
4. The author goes on to describe the utter catastrophe on the other side of the river : capture of an intact division, 15,000 perished, etc. His summary for the 28th, ending his chapter on the Berezina : "cette affruese journée". Opening the next chapter, we have "déplorable situation de l'armée", "2e et 9e corps, qui s'étaient sacrifiés pour nous ouvrir le passage", "longue déroute san aucune opération militaire" and so on.

mis-stated provenance
5. The work was published in 1849. The passage quoted begins on page 137. A translated English edition appeared in 2009. The passage begins on page 97.
For the original, see : link
For the English edition, see : link

Le Breton28 Sep 2017 2:03 a.m. PST

Chichagov was really a fleet naval officer, rising to be minister of the Navy.
After many ministerial disputes, he resigned and went to England in 1809 (his wife was English).
In November 1811, after the death of his wife, he was recalled to Petersburg to be a personal advisor to Alexander.
In April 1812, Alexander – not satified with Kutuzov's handling of the Turkish War – appointed Chichgov commander of the Danube Army, the Black Sea Fleet and Governor-General of Moldova and Wallachia. This was both the posting of a favorite to replace a troublesome commander not beloved by Alexander, and not entirely inappropriate as the Turkish War had a substantially naval/marine character.
By the time Chichagov reached his command, Kutuzov had arranged peace with the Turks.
Then the French invaded.
Why was Chichagov retained in command ? Likely due to Alexander's confidence in him.
Tormasov did well at Kobryn and OK at Gorodetchna – and kept lots of Saxons, Austrians and Poles very busy with his separate corps. I always wondered if he would have done better than the Admiral at the Berezina.
Chichagov bio (in Russian, use a translator) :

https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Чичагов,_Павел_Васильевич

von Winterfeldt28 Sep 2017 3:07 a.m. PST

Yes, without reading any original text in French – one cannot achieve an in depth knowledge – translations, often faulty.

but in case – it is very balanced – one of the best recent accounts in English

Mikaberidze, Alexander : The Battle of the Berezina – Napoleon's Great Escape

Brechtel19828 Sep 2017 7:19 a.m. PST

Perhaps you could compare/contrast the original text in French with the English translation. You have brought that subject up from time to time, so maybe instead of just making the criticism, you could back up your supposition with a comparison?

The book I have was published by Ken Trotman in 1988 from a translation by Colonel W Knollys in 1852. The translation was published by Parker, Furnivall, and Parker in London. Colonel Knollys was an officer of the Scots Fusilier Guards.

The book only covers the Russian campaign and not Fezensac's entire memoir.

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