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


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Zhmodikov28 Sep 2017 8:23 a.m. PST

Brechtel198 wrote:

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

Why do you think so? Their way of retreat was not cut off.
What will you say about Massena in 1799? According to you criteria, he was defeated twice: first by Rimsky-Korsakov at Zurich (Korsakov was surrounded in Zurich, but broke through and escaped, and later fought at Schlatt and Konstanz), second by Suvorov in the Swiss Alps (Suvorov was blocked, the French were standing on all known roads, but the Russians repulsed all French attacks and escaped).

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.

It was a large scale skirmish in a vast forest. Infantry fought in skirmish order, there were just a few guns.


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.

They were not Napoleon's soldiers any more? Just poor travellers?


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.

Both Wittgenstein and Tchitchagov had not used all their forces at the battle.


Tshitshagov's advance guard was commanded by Langeron.

Langeron did not commanded the advance-guard personally. He was wounded by a stray bullet. See his memoirs:
Langeron, A. de, Mémoires de Langeron, général d'infanterie dans l'armée Russe. Campagnes de 1812, 1813, 1814. Paris, 1902, pp.73-75.
The advance-guard was commanded by General Tchaplits. See:
"Explications du génèral Tschaplitz." // Fabry G. J., Campagne de 1812: Mémoires relatifs à l'aile droite, 20 Août – 4 Décembre. Paris, 1912, pp.16-17.


He had 4,000 men and eight guns.

Only four guns could be put in a battery on the road, there were no place for the other guns. There are memoirs of Ivan Arnoldi, the commander of the 13th Horse Artillery Company, whose men fought in this battle, but his memoirs were published in Russian only:
Memoirs of I.K.Arnoldi in Voyensky K.A. (ed.), Otechestvennaya Voyna 1812 Goda v Zapiskakh Sovremennikov. (The Patriotic War of 1812 in Memoirs of Contemporaries.) St.Petersburg, 1911.


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.'

This is an opinion, not fact.


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.

Wittgenstein very cautiously engaged in combat with Victor. He made no large scale attacks with large forces. He had been much satisfied with his performance in the campaign, he had been talking to everyone that he won ten battles during the campaign. He did not want to be defeated in the end of the campaign, so he acted very cautiously.


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.

The Swiss fought well, but they were driven out of the forest, as Fezensac wrote:
"The combat was sustained for some time; but the 2nd corps, overwhelmed by superior forces, began to give way, and our reserves becoming more exposed to the enemy's balls fell back."

And the fighting had not ended after the attack of the 4th and 7th cuirassier regiments, as Legler clearly states (both Begos and Rey were wounded and had not witnessed the battle to the end).


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.

Any conclusion is also an opinion. It is not evidence, it is not fact – it is an opinion.

von Winterfeldt28 Sep 2017 11:29 a.m. PST

Beresina – an obvious (French and Allies) defeat of the multi national Grande Armée – easy to answer and even more easy to argue, but I would be interested in the op question – why did the Russians did so well and were the most serious opponent Napoleon encountered so far?
Esposito – nor elting will help on that.

Zhmodikov29 Sep 2017 5:01 a.m. PST

von Winterfeldt wrote:

I would be interested in the op question – why did the Russians did so well and were the most serious opponent Napoleon encountered so far?

I think that the answer is: "The qualities of the Russian soldiers and the field officers, and the quantity of the artillery."
With such soldiers, the army commander should commit grave errors to be completely defeated. Austerlitz is an example, when the allies tried to advance in several separate "columns" over rough terrain against the enemy, who were very active, flexible, and bold, as Napoleon and his army of 1805 were.
In 1806-1807 the Russian commanders were much more cautious, they usually took a position and remained on the defensive, using their artillery, as well as the discipline and the bravery of the troops, to the full extent. They did not try to carry out any complicated manoeuvres by large units at a battlefield, оnly local counterattacks were launched to regain any lost points of their position. Such tactics allowed to avoid serious defeats, but did not allow to achieve victory.
Two Bennigsen's attempts to advance failed in 1807, one in January, another in May.

Le Breton29 Sep 2017 12:28 p.m. PST

'I think that the answer is: "The qualities of the Russian soldiers and the field officers, and the quantity of the artillery."'

Perfectly stated in succint form. I would agree 100%.

Le Breton29 Sep 2017 12:48 p.m. PST

"Perhaps you could compare/contrast the original text in French with the English translation"

I did that exactly.
1. I pointed out the phrase added by the translator that was just not there in the original
2. I reprinted the original in French
3. I provided a more accurate transaltion
4. I linked the full text in the original in French
What more should I do? Dance and tell funny jokes ?

In this case
--- the translation was "not so great", but more or less similar to the French.
--- you quoted out of context, making the orignal authors' comments on the battle after Ney took control on the west side of the river pass for a general comment on the whole battle – and failed to provide the relevant context that the author was lauding his mentor and close associates, who literlaly had saved his life in the days before
--- the provenance was poorly cited : you provided no accurate information on how to check the source of the quote
--- the provenace was otherwise not so bad : memoirs written by the actual participant, prepared for publication by him, with only the question of the passage of almost 40 years from the events to the publication perhaps impairing accuracy

Overall, it is pretty typical : seeking a source who agrees with you, you cut and past a source, in a not so great translation, until it appears he agrees with you. You post it here without accurate citation and no one who is not multi-lingual and able to guess and find the original would know the difference.

Instead of telling people what is "right" or "fact", I prefer to give access to the original or contemporary sources and let people decide for themselves. Perhaps you think it is your responsibility as an "historian" to make such judgements and inform us common sorts with your wisdom? Not being an historian, and thinking people can decide things for themselves, I am not burdened with such a taxing responsibility.

Gazzola29 Sep 2017 3:29 p.m. PST

Whirlwind

So, going by your 'logic', if the French had crossed the Berezina without losing any men, it could be considered a victory, but because they did lose men, it must seen as a defeat. Er, it is a battle, and people get killed in battles!

And please, do get real. There is no need for anyone to invent French victories, the Napoleonic period is full of them, before, during and after 1812.

But I'll leave the final word, as far as I'm concerned on the Berezina to Alexander Mikaberidze. 'At the Berezina, Napoleon escaped from what Clausewitz described as 'one of the worse situations in which a general ever found himself'. Was it a victory for Napoleon? Yes, it was, since he achieved his primary gaol of breaking through enemy forces and leading his army out of Russia. Furthermore, he saved most of his officer corps, all marshals and the nucleus of his Guard. It cost him dearly, but the greater part of casualties fell on non-combatants and stragglers.'
(The Battle Of The Berezina by Alexander Mikaberidze, page 225)

You are, of course, free to disagree with Mikaberidze.

Gazzola29 Sep 2017 3:45 p.m. PST

Gunfreak

No, Napoleon's aim at Leipzig wasn't to survive or escape, it was to win the battle, which he didn't – hence the allied victory.

His aim at the Berezina, in contrast, was to cross the river and escape, which he did.

I find it quite sad, although perhaps understandable in some cases, that some people just don't want to accept this.

Whirlwind29 Sep 2017 6:26 p.m. PST

So, going by your 'logic', if the French had crossed the Berezina without losing any men, it could be considered a victory, but because they did lose men, it must seen as a defeat. Er, it is a battle, and people get killed in battles!

So by your logic, as long as two Frenchmen escaped, then it would have still been a French victory? You aren't serious.

And please, do get real. There is no need for anyone to invent French victories, the Napoleonic period is full of them, before, during and after 1812.

And yet people do, it seems.

"Was it a victory for Napoleon? Yes, it was, since he achieved his primary goal of breaking through enemy forces and leading his army out of Russia. Furthermore, he saved most of his officer corps, all marshals and the nucleus of his Guard. It cost him dearly, but the greater part of casualties fell on non-combatants and stragglers"

I have no problem with that. I only ask that if achievement of primary goals is considered the objective, then those who say the Berezina was a French victory acknowledge Eylau and Borodino as French failures. That's just logic.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP29 Sep 2017 11:23 p.m. PST

No, Napoleon's aim at Leipzig wasn't to survive or escape, it was to win the battle, which he didn't – hence the allied victory.

First two days yes. He than decided to retreat (changing the objectives midway) And he did escape and fought for many more months. So he completed his objectives. So at worst it was half a victory for Napoleon.

Le Breton30 Sep 2017 3:36 a.m. PST

During the evening of 18 June 1815, Napoléon changed his ojective to be not getting hung from a tree by the Prusssians. And he did escape.
So, is it "Waterloo – The French Victory"?
:-)

von Winterfeldt30 Sep 2017 3:43 a.m. PST

indeed he escaped – what a wonderfull French victory, just as on the Beresina – Napoleon's great escape part 2.

otherwise what is right and fact for one, is wrong and fiction for others

Personal logo jeffreyw3 Supporting Member of TMP30 Sep 2017 6:31 a.m. PST

Nice to see you back, Alexander!

Gazzola30 Sep 2017 7:45 a.m. PST

Whirlwind

Very interesting that you have no problem with what Alexander Mikaberidze states, even though he is offering the same viewpoint as I am. LOL

And it is quite clear that the French objectives at Eylau and Borodino were different to that at Berezina. The aim at those two actions was to win the battles and therefore cannot be considered anyway similar to the aim and action at Berezina.

Gazzola30 Sep 2017 7:48 a.m. PST

Gunfreak

You are being silly now and you seem to want to alter one battle into three battles. Napoleon's aim was to win at Leipzig and win the war. He didn't. The allies won.

At the Berezina the French aim was to cross the river, which they did.

Gazzola30 Sep 2017 7:51 a.m. PST

Le Breton

Well, we were all talking about the actual battles and the aim of those battles, not what happened afterwards. Perhaps you should read the posts more carefully before making further silly posts. I'm sure that would be appreciated by everyone.

And in terms of your silly remark about Waterloo. Napoleon's aim was to win at Waterloo. He failed in that aim. Simples really.

Whirlwind30 Sep 2017 9:27 a.m. PST

Very interesting that you have no problem with what Alexander Mikaberidze states, even though he is offering the same viewpoint as I am.

I think I have been very consistent. I could see how someone could think Berezina was a French victory, but point out that logically they should also believe that Eylau and Borodino were French defeats.

And it is quite clear that the French objectives at Eylau and Borodino were different to that at Berezina. The aim at those two actions was to win the battles and therefore cannot be considered anyway similar to the aim and action at Berezina.

Certainly the objectives were very different, the point is whether they were achieved or not. One can just about make an argument that Napoleon achieved his objectives at the Berezina – although frankly the weakness of the arguments are convincing me of the opposite – but Napoleon certainly did not achieve his objectives at Borodino or Eylau. So by this logic, he must have failed at those two battles. Weak protestations to the contrary, one must also believe that Falaise was an American defeat.

Gazzola01 Oct 2017 3:19 p.m. PST

Whirlwind

Again, I think you appear to be confusing overall aims with the immediate aim of winning a particular battle. If winning every battle could result in winning a war, then that is what the commanders of armies would aim for. But each battle had a different aim.

Again, at Eylau and Borodino, the aim was to win those battles, which the French did and if wiining those battles could end the war, that would have been an added bonus. However, although the French won at Eylau, winning that battle was not the result that won them the war of 1807. And their victory at Borodino did not win or lose them the war of 1812. There were other factors and actions in both campaigns that enabled the French to win the war of 1807 and lose the war of 1812.

In terms of people believing the Berezina was a victory for the French, here are others who also appear to do so:

Philip Haythornthwaite, The Napoleonic Source Book, lists it as a French victory (page 64) Interestingly, he also lists Eylau as a French victory (page 62) and Borodino as a French victory (page 64).

Digby Smith, who I think we can safely say is not a fan of Napoleon, also states that Berezina was a French victory. (The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book, page 406. He also lists Borodino as a French victory (page 390) In terms of Eylau, he states that both sides claimed a victory but that the Russo-Prussians withdrew.

Both Haythornthwaite and Smith, of course, saw Leipzig as an Allied victory.

Whirlwind01 Oct 2017 7:20 p.m. PST

I think you appear to be confusing overall aims with the immediate aim of winning a particular battle. If winning every battle could result in winning a war, then that is what the commanders of armies would aim for. But each battle had a different aim.

Again, at Eylau and Borodino, the aim was to win those battles, which the French did and if winning those battles could end the war, that would have been an added bonus

I've dealt with all of this before.

Is there anyone out there who thinks all three battles were French victories who will actually engage with the basic logic here?

von Winterfeldt02 Oct 2017 3:45 a.m. PST

Each battle had a different aim?
No
Each battle had to be won and not to end in a fiasco as on the Beresina. All the French and Allies could claim a propaganda success by the escape of Napoléon, who deserted his army soon after.

holdit02 Oct 2017 4:30 a.m. PST

What reading this discussion tells me is that it's a mistake to treat questions of victory vs. defeat as binary choices and then use rigid definitions to hammer each outcome into one pigeonhole or the other. Context is everything, and tends to blur the lines quite a bit.

In addition to ground taken and lost, casualties, inflicted etc, the question of what the battle was mean to achieve, in local and campaign terms, must be factored in. Borodino, while it didn't result in the hoped-for destruction of the Russian army, it did result in them being beaten back from their initial positions and generally coming off worse than the French. It also left Napoleon with an open road to Moscow (something Kutuzov was supposed to prevent) so it surely has to be a win albeit not by much, given the casualties and the fact that taking Moscow didn't end the campaign as hoped.

Eylau has to be even less of a win, as it was fought with the aim of ending the campaign, as Napoleon's battles generally were. Sure the French kept the battlefield, but it wasn't Eylau they were fighting over, so who cares (the same could be said of Borodino). Granted, Bennigsen seems to have felt he got the worst of it at Eylau, but his army was still intact and in the field. If from the French point of view, 0% is an outright defeat, 50% is a draw and 100% a decisive victory, I wouldn't give Eylau higher than a 55. All in all, you can't beat Ney's assessment.

I find the discussions around the Berezina more interesting than Eylau and Borodino, perhaps because it is much less clear-cut, being an atypical situation, and none of the definitions of victory seem to apply sensibly. The Russians remained on the battlefield, but the same point regarding Eylau and Borodino still applies, even more so, since the French were trying to get off the battlefield as quicky as possible. And yet the Russians failed to stop them from doing so. Even so, in the context of the Russian campaign, to call the Berezina a victory for the French just seems…wrong. Can you really call it a victory when you successfully managed to keep retreating? But you call it a Russian win when the French succeeded in their objective (cross and keep moving) and the Russians failed in theirs (stop them)?

I submit that for the Berezina, to talk of victory and defeat is incorrect, and it would make more sense to use terms such as "success" and "failure". The French succeeded, but you couldn't call it a win, and the Russians failed, but you couldn't call it a defeat. I'll leave the last word to Winston Churchill…"We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations."

I shall now take cover from both sides… ;-)

4th Cuirassier02 Oct 2017 6:41 a.m. PST

Avoiding being destroyed for now is not much of a victory, it's true.

The Beresina reminds me of Calder's action at Finisterre
link

The French (French) escaped. Just not to victory. But nor were they Trafalgared to bits and plainly out of the game. The British (Russians) couldn;t be said to have lost but neither had they crushed the enemy.

von Winterfeldt02 Oct 2017 8:06 a.m. PST

@holdit

Why should you take cover, you expressed your opinion in well reasoning.

holdit02 Oct 2017 10:07 a.m. PST

@ von Winterfeldt

I meant that tongue-in-cheek and was referring to the fact that I've managed to agree and disagree with both sides, but thank you for the compliment.

By the way, the last sentence of my fourth paragraph should read "But can you call it a Russian win when the French succeeded in their objective (cross and keep moving) and the Russians failed in theirs (stop them)?

le Grande Quartier General Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 11:04 a.m. PST

I did like the Gaz response.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 1:20 p.m. PST

Both Gazzola and holdit gave reasonable, well-thought out, and interesting responses to the basic premise of who did what to whom regarding Eylau, Borodino, and the Berezina.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 2:52 p.m. PST

Why do you think so? Their way of retreat was not cut off.
What will you say about Massena in 1799? According to you criteria, he was defeated twice: first by Rimsky-Korsakov at Zurich (Korsakov was surrounded in Zurich, but broke through and escaped, and later fought at Schlatt and Konstanz), second by Suvorov in the Swiss Alps (Suvorov was blocked, the French were standing on all known roads, but the Russians repulsed all French attacks and escaped).
It was a large scale skirmish in a vast forest. Infantry fought in skirmish order, there were just a few guns.
They were not Napoleon's soldiers any more? Just poor travellers?

-And what do you think is my ‘criteria?' Comparing the battles in Switzerland in 1799 with the Berezina in 1812 (which was a river crossing operation in the face of hostile forces) is both illogical and ahistorical.

-The two Russian armies objective at the Berezina was to cut off Napoleon's retreat. And having two armies on either side of the river is evidence of that. Tshitshagov taking Borisov and burning the bridge over the river there is also evidence of their attempt to stop and trap Napoleon and the Grande Armee in Russia.

-A large-scale ‘skirmish' is still a battle and the Grande Armee's commanders would many times form their first line as a heavy skirmish line in defense and would also attack with troops in a heavy skirmish line. That does not change the fact that the battle was desperate with heavy casualties on both sides.

-The large number of stragglers had to opportunity to return to their units and refused. Eble also kept the bridges open past the time he was ordered to burn them to give the stragglers the opportunity to cross to the relative safety of the west bank. Around 10,000 didn't and they were rounded up and captured by the Russians, many of them falling into the ‘kind' hands of the Cossacks.

Both Wittgenstein and Tchitchagov had not used all their forces at the battle.

If that is so, and I don't believe that it is, then it doesn't speak highly of both Russian army commanders. Perhaps they, like Kutusov, were also afraid to face Napoleon in the field.

Langeron did not commanded the advance-guard personally. He was wounded by a stray bullet. See his memoirs:
Langeron, A. de, Mémoires de Langeron, général d'infanterie dans l'armée Russe. Campagnes de 1812, 1813, 1814. Paris, 1902, pp.73-75.
The advance-guard was commanded by General Tchaplits. See:
"Explications du génèral Tschaplitz." // Fabry G. J., Campagne de 1812: Mémoires relatifs à l'aile droite, 20 Août – 4 Décembre. Paris, 1912, pp.16-17.

If Langeron was indeed out of action because of a wound, then the command of the advance guard would be incorporated into the division that Tschaplitz commanded. And Tshitshagov also brought the rest of his command to the Berezina crossings to support Tschaplitz.

Only four guns could be put in a battery on the road, there were no place for the other guns. There are memoirs of Ivan Arnoldi, the commander of the 13th Horse Artillery Company, whose men fought in this battle, but his memoirs were published in Russian only:
Memoirs of I.K.Arnoldi in Voyensky K.A. (ed.), Otechestvennaya Voyna 1812 Goda v Zapiskakh Sovremennikov. (The Patriotic War of 1812 in Memoirs of Contemporaries.) St.Petersburg, 1911.

Arnoldi was in place at the Studenka crossing with his four guns before the French began to cross and while the bridges were being built. Tshitshagov brought his artillery with him. And of the Russians failed to deploy their artillery on the west bank, the French did not have that problem as Napoleon supported Victor in his defense on the east bank with massed artillery firing across the river.

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.'
This is an opinion, not fact.

Fezensac, who you first brought up as a source, definitely states that the French won at the Berezina. He is a first-person witness and his memoir is a primary source. That is not opinion, but the judgment of a professional soldier engaged in the action. Either Fezensac is a reliable source or he isn't-you cannot have it both ways when it disagrees with your preconceived ideas.

Once again, you are incorrect.

Wittgenstein very cautiously engaged in combat with Victor. He made no large scale attacks with large forces. He had been much satisfied with his performance in the campaign, he had been talking to everyone that he won ten battles during the campaign. He did not want to be defeated in the end of the campaign, so he acted very cautiously.

I disagree. He outnumbered Victor and all of his attacks were defeated. Victor's cavalry counterattack with the Baden Hussars and the Hesse-Darmstadt Cheveau-Legers was not only successful and broke a Russian cuirassier unit, but suffered heavy casualties in the process. I believe the Germans later referred to it as a ‘Death Ride.'

The Swiss fought well, but they were driven out of the forest, as Fezensac wrote:
"The combat was sustained for some time; but the 2nd corps, overwhelmed by superior forces, began to give way, and our reserves becoming more exposed to the enemy's balls fell back."
And the fighting had not ended after the attack of the 4th and 7th cuirassier regiments, as Legler clearly states (both Begos and Rey were wounded and had not witnessed the battle to the end).

The Swiss lost heavily, but I haven't found that they 'were driven out of the forest.' The French line protecting the bridgehead was not broken during the fighting.

Any conclusion is also an opinion. It is not evidence, it is not fact – it is an opinion.

If a historical conclusion is based on assembled facts, then it isn't an opinion. That is historical inquiry or it is based on primary witnesses such as Fezensac. And the majority opinions of the historians I have read or that have been presented in this thread are that the French won at the Berezina.

And if you wish to take to opposite opinion, then present any evidence that the French lost. As of yet you have not.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 2:53 p.m. PST

Beresina – an obvious (French and Allies) defeat of the multi national Grande Armée – easy to answer and even more easy to argue, but I would be interested in the op question – why did the Russians did so well and were the most serious opponent Napoleon encountered so far?
Esposito – nor elting will help on that.

Have you read the Esposito/Elting Atlas? And have you seen the source material they used? It might interest you as it is annotated. The newest edition is from Greenhill in 1999.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 2:55 p.m. PST

I think that the answer is: "The qualities of the Russian soldiers and the field officers, and the quantity of the artillery."

And yet the Russians lost most of the big battles in Russia, including Borodino and the Berezina.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 2:56 p.m. PST

"Perhaps you could compare/contrast the original text in French with the English translation"
I did that exactly…

As this question was not put to you, do you know to what I was referring?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 2:58 p.m. PST

Overall, it is pretty typical : seeking a source who agrees with you, you cut and past a source, in a not so great translation, until it appears he agrees with you. You post it here without accurate citation and no one who is not multi-lingual and able to guess and find the original would know the difference.
Instead of telling people what is "right" or "fact", I prefer to give access to the original or contemporary sources and let people decide for themselves. Perhaps you think it is your responsibility as an "historian" to make such judgements and inform us common sorts with your wisdom? Not being an historian, and thinking people can decide things for themselves, I am not burdened with such a taxing responsibility.

Once again, you resort to the ad hominem fallacy approach.

I would ask you once again to stop.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 3:01 p.m. PST

indeed he escaped – what a wonderfull French victory, just as on the Beresina – Napoleon's great escape part 2.
otherwise what is right and fact for one, is wrong and fiction for others

Enough supporting information has been given to determine historically and practically that Eylau, Borodino, and the Berezina were French victories.

You have not supported your viewpoints at all with practical or credible information, merely opinions.

And your citation of Mikaberidze's book on the Berezina contradicts your own postings and opinions as he believes that the French won at the Berezina, among other historians.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2017 5:53 p.m. PST

…then those who say the Berezina was a French victory acknowledge Eylau and Borodino as French failures. That's just logic.

No, it isn't. In point of fact your 'conclusion' is both illogical and ahistorical.

Whirlwind03 Oct 2017 6:45 a.m. PST

No, it isn't. In point of fact your 'conclusion' is both illogical and ahistorical.

No, it isn't. In point of fact your 'conclusion' is biased, illogical and ahistorical.

Whirlwind03 Oct 2017 6:58 a.m. PST

@holdit:

What reading this discussion tells me is that it's a mistake to treat questions of victory vs. defeat as binary choices and then use rigid definitions to hammer each outcome into one pigeonhole or the other. Context is everything, and tends to blur the lines quite a bit.

Why should one change the definition of victory for each battle? That simply allows the biased and the special pleaders to emphasize a different factor on each side and claim their side "won".

In addition to ground taken and lost, casualties, inflicted etc, the question of what the battle was mean to achieve, in local and campaign terms, must be factored in. Borodino, while it didn't result in the hoped-for destruction of the Russian army, it did result in them being beaten back from their initial positions and generally coming off worse than the French. It also left Napoleon with an open road to Moscow (something Kutuzov was supposed to prevent) so it surely has to be a win albeit not by much, given the casualties and the fact that taking Moscow didn't end the campaign as hoped.

Okay, perhaps rephrasing this will make my point:

In addition to ground taken and lost, casualties, inflicted etc, the question of what the battle was mean to achieve, in local and campaign terms, must be factored in. The Berezina , while it didn't result in the hoped-for destruction of the entire French army, it did result in them being beaten back from their initial positions and generally coming off worse than the Russians . It also left Alexander with an open road to The French Empire so it surely has to be a win, given the casualties and the fact that the campaign ended as hoped.

Looked at this way, the Berezina was a far more convincing victory for the Russians than Borodino could ever be considered for the French; incidentally the claims for a French victory at Borodino seem to be entirely based on the casualty ratio, which is itself doubtful – AFAIK there are no very reliable figures for French losses at Borodino.


Eylau has to be even less of a win, as it was fought with the aim of ending the campaign, as Napoleon's battles generally were. Sure the French kept the battlefield, but it wasn't Eylau they were fighting over, so who cares (the same could be said of Borodino). Granted, Bennigsen seems to have felt he got the worst of it at Eylau, but his army was still intact and in the field. If from the French point of view, 0% is an outright defeat, 50% is a draw and 100% a decisive victory, I wouldn't give Eylau higher than a 55. All in all, you can't beat Ney's assessment.

Using this schema, there seems to be no particular reason to consider Eylau a French victory at all. Why not mark it 45 to the French and 55 to the Russians?

I find the discussions around the Berezina more interesting than Eylau and Borodino, perhaps because it is much less clear-cut, being an atypical situation, and none of the definitions of victory seem to apply sensibly. The Russians remained on the battlefield, but the same point regarding Eylau and Borodino still applies, even more so, since the French were trying to get off the battlefield as quickly as possible. And yet the Russians failed to stop them from doing so.

Well, they stopped many of them from doing so, somewhere between 25%-50%. Why are the Russians being judged against a maximalist standard that isn't applied to Napoleon?

Whirlwind03 Oct 2017 7:07 a.m. PST

Enough supporting information has been given to determine historically and practically that Eylau, Borodino, and the Berezina were French victories.

No it hasn't. The information given has been sufficient to determine that Eylau, Borodino and the Berezina cannot be considered French victories

You have not supported your viewpoints at all with practical or credible information, merely opinions.

Or rather, all you have done is assert your mere 'opinions'.

And your citation of Clausewitz on the Berezina contradicts your own postings and opinions as he believes that the French lost at the Berezina, amongst the whole French population, for whom the Berezina passed into legend as a synonym for defeat.

holdit03 Oct 2017 8:58 a.m. PST

Why should one change the definition of victory for each battle? That simply allows the biased and the special pleaders to emphasize a different factor on each side and claim their side "won".

Let's get one thing clear right now. I do not have a "side". I am well aware that there pro and anti-Napoleon camps around here – it's one of the reasons my visits are infrequent, but I belong to neither. I judge each issue as I see it, sometimes that puts me on the side of the French, sometimes on ther other side. I don't care and neither, I submit, should anyone else who is genuinely interested in history instead of propaganda. So being neither biased, nor a "special pleader", let me tell you why there is a good reason to have varying definitions of victory for various battles. It's quite simply because each battle is different. Different armies, different terrain, different objectives, different losses, different commanders, different campaigns, different strategic situations, different wars, different locations…etc. To take an activity as complex as human warfare and imagine that one single set of rigid criteria can be used to judge victory or defeat in every single case just doesn't make sense to me. A battle isn't a game of chess, or something that happens in a laboratory under controlled conditions. Note also, that I didn't say that the French won at the Berezina, nor that the Russians lost. My argument is, given the nature of that battle, neither of those terms is really appropriate.

In addition to ground taken and lost, casualties, inflicted etc, the question of what the battle was mean to achieve, in local and campaign terms, must be factored in. The Berezina , while it didn't result in the hoped-for destruction of the entire French army, it did result in them being beaten back from their initial positions and generally coming off worse than the Russians . It also left Alexander with an open road to The French Empire so it surely has to be a win, given the casualties and the fact that the campaign ended as hoped.

Sorry but this just proves the point I'm making – in fact, you probably couldn't have picked a worse example. Borodino and the Berezina are completely different battles. The Russian objective was to stop the French from crossing and complete the destruction of the Grande Armee. They failed, but given the operational situtation, you couldn't really say they were defeated, in my opinion anyway, any more than you can say that the remnants of a mortally-wounded army could be said to have won, just because it succeeded in getting across. Also, the Russian army wasn't looking for a road to the French empire and the French weren't looking to hang around Studienka, whereas Napoleon was looking to get to Moscow and Kutuzov did want to hang on to his positions at Borodino – the ferocity of the Russian defence is evident of that.

Looked at this way, the Berezina was a far more convincing victory for the Russians than Borodino could ever be considered for the French

Well my point is that I wouldn't look at it that way, as I have explained.

incidentally the claims for a French victory at Borodino seem to be entirely based on the casualty ratio, which is itself doubtful – AFAIK there are no very reliable figures for French losses at Borodino.

Indeed. Nevertheless the man on the spot, Kutusov, clearly believed his army had got the worst of it, like Bennigsen at Eylau.

Using this schema, there seems to be no particular reason to consider Eylau a French victory at all. Why not mark it 45 to the French and 55 to the Russians?

Because Bennigsen's actions suggest otherwise, but I agree that it is debateable. Debatable but not ultimately resolvable, in my opinion.

Well, they stopped many of them from doing so, somewhere between 25%-50%. Why are the Russians being judged against a maximalist standard that isn't applied to Napoleon?

I'm doing no such thing. If the river had been the Seine, and the Russians retreating from France, but otherwise the same conditions as the Berezina I would say the same thing, just swapping around the armies: French failure, Russian success, victory/defeat not really applicable.

Whirlwind03 Oct 2017 9:31 a.m. PST

Let's get one thing clear right now. I do not have a "side".

That's good, I don't have a side either.

The Russian objective was to stop the French from crossing and complete the destruction of the Grande Armee. They failed, but given the operational situtation, you couldn't really say they were defeated, in my opinion anyway, any more than you can say that the remnants of a mortally-wounded army could be said to have won, just because it succeeded in getting across. Also, the Russian army wasn't looking for a road to the French empire and the French weren't looking to hang around Studienka, whereas Napoleon was looking to get to Moscow and Kutuzov did want to hang on to his positions at Borodino – the ferocity of the Russian defence is evident of that.

And this really proves the point I am making (this applies to your final point too). The Berezina gets judged against Russian objectives, and the Russians are deemed to have 'failed' despite the damage caused to the French; but Borodino and Eylau aren't judged against French objectives, despite Napoleon's failure to achieve them.

I'm not saying that every battle can only be judged against a single naive outcome – like who killed the most or who retained the ground. But I am saying that if the term "victory" has any meaning at all, it must have some consistent meaning. Otherwise to say Napoleon won at Austerlitz, Jena and Wagram (I pick 3 uncontroversial examples) is to literally say nothing at all. When describing the Berezina you went straight for the side achieved its objectives, which is fine – but why is judging against objectives then not fine for Eylau and Borodino?

Whirlwind03 Oct 2017 9:36 a.m. PST

Well, they stopped many of them from doing so, somewhere between 25%-50%. Why are the Russians being judged against a maximalist standard that isn't applied to Napoleon?

I'm doing no such thing. If the river had been the Seine, and the Russians retreating from France, but otherwise the same conditions as the Berezina I would say the same thing, just swapping around the armies: French failure, Russian success, victory/defeat not really applicable.

I'm not saying that you would apply different criteria to the same sides in the same situation, I'm saying that you are applying a very different definition of success to the different battles.

Russian maximalist objective at Berezina – failed, because 50-75% escaped.

French maximalist objectives at Eylau and Borodino – failed, because decisive victory (i.e one that led to the end of the campaign) not obtained.

The argument seems to be that given the situation at the Berezina, the Russians should be judged against that maximalist objective, but not the French at Eylau and Borodino. I simply ask "why?"

4th Cuirassier03 Oct 2017 9:44 a.m. PST

I think you legitimately can and should give different conditions for a battle. In a campaign, to do otherwise is to overlook that context is everything.

Grouchy won at Wavre in that he forced Thielman out of his positions and by morning of the 19th had established himself on the north bank of the Dyle. As his boss had been routed the previous day, his uncontestable tactical victory counted for nothing. It isn't, in this case, sufficient to argue that he lost strategically, because Thielmann had held him up long enough for Blucher to get to Waterloo. Grouchy wasn't trying to prevent that. He was harrying the Prussian rearguard and thought that attacking at Wavre was what was required. One can argue that he should have been doing everything to obstruct Blucher's march – by striking northwest rather than north for instance – but this is to second guess what he should have done. What he sought and managed to do was defeat Thielmann. So he achieved a tactical victory without value; he won the wrong battle.

If one then looks at a battle such as Bunker Hill, the British drove the Americans from their position but at disproportionate loss for the value of doing so. Was that a British victory? Sure, it was just a stupid idea to go for it.

Similarly there is Buçaco. Massena's route was blocked; he attacked; he lost ten times what Wellington lost; next day he flanked the position and marched on. So he ended up occupying the battleground and continuing his march, but only a Wikipedia editor would claim that wasn't Wellington's victory.

It would be tempting to try to triangulate the victory conditions into a simple formula, but it's easier to say than do. If, for example, one took as the test whether a commander ended up closer to or further from his campaign goals as a result of any given battle, you're no further forward. Wavre in that light looks like a French defeat – but in consequence of events elsewhere at Waterloo. Buçaco looks like a French victory. The Beresina busts the test completely because the campaign was already lost. Aspern-Essling would look like a draw, which seems odd.

If you look outside the era, it becomes even clearer how hard and perhaps how pointless it is to parse individual battles out of a campaign and assign them the label of victory or defeat. At Coral Sea in 1942 the Japanese sank a fleet carrier for the loss of a light carrier, and made the surviving US carrier retreat. But they had to abandon the New Guinea invasion their carriers were covering and they fought two carriers down at Midway a month later. Midway itself was a clear victory, but it wasn't really decisive – in that, as the USA built 99 carriers between 1941 and 1945, Japan was absolutely sure to lose either in dribs and drabs or four carriers at a time.

The run of the events of a battle can perhaps be an indicator of who won, but on this basis the British won Jutland, the German fleet spending almost literally the entire battle in headlong retreat. It fought and shot very well but it was unquestionably sent fleeing back to port.

I think you can argue the Beresina either way. The French forced their way across the river and continued their retreat but it didn't save the army. The Russians didn't manage to bag the French at the Beresina, but within weeks, there was constructively nothing of it left to bag anyway.

Whirlwind03 Oct 2017 10:11 a.m. PST

@4th Cuirassier,


Very good post.

I do find this bit debatable though:

If, for example, one took as the test whether a commander ended up closer to or further from his campaign goals as a result of any given battle, you're no further forward. Wavre in that light looks like a French defeat – but in consequence of events elsewhere at Waterloo. Buçaco looks like a French victory. The Beresina busts the test completely because the campaign was already lost. Aspern-Essling would look like a draw, which seems odd.

I'd put it more that when we judge the situation, do we think that the commander would swap the situation immediately pre-battle for post-battle, somewhat divorced from the idea of whether the battle was a good idea overall in the context of the campaign. So, for the examples we have discussed:

Wavre – definitely a French victory; as you say it might have been better if Grouchy had been up to something else, but defeating the Prussian III Corps did at least mean Napoleon had something to form an army on.

Bussaco – definitely an Allied victory; time and casualties are the purposes of a delaying action after all; Massena was definitely in a worse position post-battle than pre-battle

Bunker Hill – I'm not well-enough read on the Revolutionary War/AWI to know, but it occurs to me that there is a case for re-considering it. Did the Brits get any advantage from it at all?

Aspern-Essling – definitely an Austrian victory, the Austrians were in a much better position after it than before it

Coral Sea – probably a draw; since neither side was relatively better or worse off than before

Midway – definitely a US victory, the US was much better off after the battle than before.

Jutland – a very interesting one indeed – which probably indicates a draw

so if we look at the ones under discussion:

Berezina – I think you can make an argument for the French, although it is quite a difficult one. You have to say that the entire French army were dead men walking and by the Berezina a few thousand ended up being saved. I instinctively dislike such arguments since they are based on "imaginary victories", but one could make it. On balance though, I think it looks more like a Russian victory. The Russians look to be in a better position after the battle than before.

Borodino – A French victory. Although a total failure in terms of Napoleon's campaign plans, he probably was in a slightly better position after than before' but this is very arguable, and also, depends on very weak data (casaulty balance, Kutusov's real thoughts)

Eylau – On balance, a draw, or perhaps a slight Russian victory. Before Eylau a decisive Russian defeat was on the cards, afterwards it wasn't (in the short-term). I can't see how Napoleon improved his position at all, whereas the Russians knew they weren't going to be caught and defeated so could continue their retreat.

War is adversarial (obviously!); so it is impossible for both sides to improve their situations at once, although it may be possible for neither side to gain a relative advantage from an action.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2017 11:43 a.m. PST

Jutland – a very interesting one indeed – which probably indicates a draw.

In terms of losses in both men a ships, the British clearly loose Jutland. If you consider the strategic situation, it remained unchanged – "The German Fleet has assaulted its jailor, but it is still in jail."

Still find it interesting that the Russians can be "beaten" in virtually every battle in 1812, 1813 and 1814 and yet who is it that waters their horses in the river Seine in the Spring of 1814? Clearly I'm missing something.

Napoleon does rather remind you of Ambassador Londo Mollari

YouTube link

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2017 12:00 p.m. PST

Still find it interesting that the Russians can be "beaten" in virtually every battle in 1812, 1813 and 1814 and yet who is it that waters their horses in the river Seine in the Spring of 1814? Clearly I'm missing something.

I believe the comment about the Russians losing battles was regarding 1812.

For the campaigns of 1813 and 1814, the Russians had allies-first the Prussians (with whom they lost at Lutzen and Bautzen) and then the Austrians, the latter giving the allies the distinct advantage.

And it should be noted that the Russians were allied in the field armies with the Prussians and Austrians as well. There was no independent Russian field army in 1813 and 1814-their losses in 1812 had been too heavy.

Blucher's Army of Silesia, for example, was made up of both Prussian and Russian corps.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2017 12:10 p.m. PST

There is another strategic parallel regarding winning battles and winning campaigns. Nathaniel Greene in the Carolinas fighting against the British lost every battle he fought, yet he crippled three different British armies and drove the British out of the Carolinas.

When the war was over, the British in the South only held Charleston and Savannah and that was thanks to the Royal Navy.

4th Cuirassier04 Oct 2017 1:55 a.m. PST

@ Whirlwind

The idea of looking at whether either army was better off after than before is a good one, but it introduces (to my mind) another contextual problem. This is that the battle fought may have been fought in a way that constructively squandered an opportunity to inflict much more serious damage, and thus made it a failure.

With some battles, eg Quatre Bras, this view suggests the result was a French failure. Ney should have pushed on, bagged the crossroads, and either engulfed the Prussians in their crazy Ligny position, or prevented the concentration of Wellington's army. It has in fact always been seen as a failure.

But what about, say, Aspern-Essling? That would have to be reckoned an Austrian failure by this standard too. They should have let Napoleon cross with 40 to 50,000 men, then severed his bridges, and then attacked with 100,000 and bagged the lot. Instead, both sides lost about 20,000 and Napoleon looked foolish for about 6 weeks. When he re-crossed the Danube, he was forewarned to do it properly this time; and then Wagram.

Jutland looks like a German failure on this count also. The British let two squadrons move out of supporting range of the main body and into range of the whole German fleet. This was exactly the unforced mistake the Germans planned on punishing. Their entire naval strategy of building a fleet too small to face the RN was justified on the supposition that this mistake would happen. The British also had five technical deficiencies – poor tactical signalling, poor ammunition handling, uneven gunnery standards, unreliable shells, and no night-fighting doctrine. On paper this was the optimal battle for the Germans, and they utterly blew their opportunity. Jutland informed the RN of all the major problems, which it fixed, making it a much tougher opponent, and no weaker. It left the Germans persuaded that their fleet action had been so successful it was U-boats from now on, a mistake that helped add the USA to their enemies.

Beresina then starts to look like a Russian failure as well – depending admittedly on whether one figures the French avenue of retreat was open or not. The French army was damaged, but should it have been bagged? Was Beresina kind of Russia's Aspern-Essling, an incomplete victory that looks better only because there was no Wagram?

Eylau also starts to look like a Russian failure because they should and probably could have won early on when they still had the French outnumbered and after the French infantry attack had been accidentally shot up by French artillery.

4th Cuirassier04 Oct 2017 1:59 a.m. PST

@138

In terms of losses in both men a ships, the British clearly loose Jutland.

Which is why you can't just look at losses, because if you do, the Russians lost Stalingrad and Kursk.

Whirlwind04 Oct 2017 3:25 a.m. PST

@4th Cuirassier,

I think there is much in what you say, but to my mind those instances are more useful in evaluating generals rather than the results of battles. For battles in my suggested way of looking at them, then what might have happened 'if' is irrelevant – if a side improved its position as the result of a battle, then it won. The Austrians at Aspern-Essling definitely improved their position against the French from the moment before the battle to the moment just after it. But we might well say that we thought the position offered much greater possibilities than those actually achieved, which is a mark against the general (in this case, Charles); I think many of us might feel something similar about the Berezina, Falaise and perhaps Jutland too. I think Clausewitz was saying something very similar to this in his remarks on the Berezina, as quoted earlier. Having said that, I think we should always be extremely cautious in doing this – it is too easy to imagine great victories whilst actually executing them is much harder.

Eylau also starts to look like a Russian failure because they should and probably could have won early on when they still had the French outnumbered and after the French infantry attack had been accidentally shot up by French artillery.

Hmm, a tricky one (but a very interesting point) and I will admit I hadn't thought about the implications of the situations within the battle itself. Whilst I think that the Russians did come off rather better at Eylau (from where they started to where they finished); halfway through Eylau it may well have looked different. I think that, likewise, I would consider that a mark against generalship rather than a reason for thinking changing which side "won" the battle in its entirety.

von Winterfeldt04 Oct 2017 4:46 a.m. PST

Why did Eylau start as a failure? It was goind all well for the Russians up to the point when Davout came up in force, who in turn was checked by l'Estoqu.

Whirlwind04 Oct 2017 5:02 a.m. PST

@vonW,

Is that to me or 4th Cuirassier? I don't think either of us are saying that.

We are both saying (I think) that Eylau went very well for the Russians in the first sections of the battle;

I am also saying that the Russian position in the campaign was better at the end of the battle than before it (i.e. on balance the Russians profited from the battle); but it didn't end quite as well as for the Russians as it looked it might half way through.

4th Cuirassier04 Oct 2017 5:36 a.m. PST

Eylau has always felt to me like a check inflicted on the French. It was unexpected, it was more trouble than the Russians had ever given them, and thus it left them shocked – as Ney's comment suggests – but also a bit relieved given that it was very nearly so much worse.

The result, like Borodino, was in effect that both armies took a mauling and were left in poor condition to fight another battle. Now the interesting thing here is that this otherwise inconclusive outcome may still leave you better off. Perhaps you lost as bad as the enemy, but unlike him you aren't 400 miles inside hostile country. Or perhaps you lost as bad, but the road to your capital's not open as a result whereas that to his, is.

So for either side such a battle may be a constructive win. You can stand this longer than he can, and if it keeps up it will be he, not you, who quits first.

This was essentially how Dowding played the Battle of Britain. He was not interested in deploying wings of fighters to conduct huge engagements over south-east England and inflict maximum losses. He had no idea what level of losses the Luftwaffe might be prepared to accept. He might destroy two (or three, or four) German aircraft for each of his own that he lost. The result would still be a win for Goering, when Fighter Command lost all 600 of its aircraft and the Luftwaffe lost 2,400 leaving it down to its last 1,600.

So any strategy that aimed at mere infliction of losses foundered on his not knowing what loss he needed to inflict. What he had to do was inflict them in a way that persuaded his opponent to quit*. Hence the strategy was to conserve his forces and always intercept every raid with one or two squadrons. After a couple of months of this, the RAF appeared undiminished so far as the Luftwaffe could tell. According to its intelligence the RAF should be on its knees but in fact by September it appeared no less numerous and was increasingly tactically proficient. The Luftwaffe itself was in contrast in a dire state, having lost nearly 2,000 aircraft, withdrawn one type from the battle, and found that one of its fighter types needed itself to be escorted by the other.

The interesting thing about this is that on this basis, Dowding would still have won the Battle of Britain even if he'd lost a lot more aircraft than he actually did. If he'd lost 600 and the Luftwaffe had quit when it lost 500, it would still have been his win. In either case the other guy gave up because this – whatever "this" was – wasn't working.

So I wonder who can be said to have chucked in the towel at Eylau?

* As is said in 'Brains and Bullets': battles are won by whoever makes more of the other side stop fighting first.

von Winterfeldt04 Oct 2017 6:40 a.m. PST

it was just a general statement, Eylau did not end that well for the Russians because Ney finally turned up, but too late to interfere.

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