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"Spain or Russia?" Topic

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22 Sep 2022 5:19 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian02 Jul 2021 11:46 a.m. PST

Which was the worst mistake for Napoleon?

DisasterWargamer02 Jul 2021 11:54 a.m. PST


14Bore02 Jul 2021 12:10 p.m. PST

Russia, Spain was a forced error, Russia was a mistake

Stoppage02 Jul 2021 12:10 p.m. PST
emckinney02 Jul 2021 12:11 p.m. PST

From Wikipedia, French losses in Spain:

180,000240,000 killed[9]
237,000 wounded[9]

In Russia:

400,000484,000 casualties

200,000[10][11]284,000 killed[12][13]
100,000 killed in combat[11][10]
50,000 died in captivity[14][12][3]
50,000 wounded[13]
50,000 deserted[13][12]
50,000 prisoners[3][12]

So, perhaps the same total losses in both, but vastly more wounded in Spain.

Sho Boki Sponsoring Member of TMP02 Jul 2021 12:42 p.m. PST

The worst mistake was not to kill Alexander I.
Napoleon always wanted peace with Russia, but with warmonger Alexander it was impossible.

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP02 Jul 2021 12:43 p.m. PST

Those total losses are for half a year in Russia with his best troops of the time, plus horse losses that could never be made up. Six years in Spain.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP02 Jul 2021 12:51 p.m. PST

The worst mistake Napoleon made was going into Spain and Portugal. Not finishing it after defeating Austria in 1809 saddled Napoleon with a continuous second front.

Another major error was committed in early 1813 when Napoleon was urged by trusted advisors and supporters to pull half the troops out of Spain and send them to confront the Russians and Prussians in eastern Europe. That could have kept Austria out of the war.

He could have left the remainder of the troops in Spain under Suchet.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP02 Jul 2021 12:52 p.m. PST

Russia, Spain was a forced error, Russia was a mistake

They were both mistakes.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP02 Jul 2021 12:59 p.m. PST

Both mistakes but Russia was the biggest one – in both cases should have known to leave earlier!

Korvessa02 Jul 2021 1:17 p.m. PST

Having too many brothers and sisters to placate?

Fredloan02 Jul 2021 1:50 p.m. PST

I agree with Frederick, Napoleon should have left Russia earlier to beat the winter.

In Spain he never should have put his brother on the throne. Suchet as a Military Governor had the respect of the Spaniards.

USAFpilot02 Jul 2021 1:57 p.m. PST

Both mistakes but Russia was the bigger. It destroyed his army.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP02 Jul 2021 2:06 p.m. PST


cavcrazy02 Jul 2021 2:16 p.m. PST


Robert le Diable02 Jul 2021 2:39 p.m. PST

Thinking the monarchs of L'Ancien Regime could ever be trusted. Or, not having Talleyrand whacked.

Ruchel02 Jul 2021 2:55 p.m. PST

Suchet as a Military Governor had the respect of the Spaniards.

Suchet had the respect of some Spaniards. Respect did not mean acceptance.

Spanish people would not have accepted Suchet or other French invader as a ruler. French army and French leaders were considered as invaders. They were their enemies.

Personal logo javelin98 Supporting Member of TMP02 Jul 2021 3:21 p.m. PST

Spain was an annoyance, but Russia was a disaster from which his army never fully recovered.

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP02 Jul 2021 3:34 p.m. PST

Russia by far. But the real mistake which led to both, was Napoleon's misguided Continental System (blockade), which was an unmitigated disaster.

There was not a "forced error". Napoleon had only himself to blame for both. Neither one had to be undertaken.

John the OFM02 Jul 2021 3:45 p.m. PST

Here's a "what if" for you.
What would be the state of Europe today had Bonaparte invaded neither?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP02 Jul 2021 3:54 p.m. PST

Surveying the wreckage in 1800 and concluding that what Europe (and France) needed was yet another dynasty of hereditary monarchs?

But of the two listed, Russia was less forgivable. In 1808, he was coming off an incredible string of successes, most of them cheap as such things are measured. He thought he could do anything, and he tried to pay the bill with second-tier or "allied" troops.

By 1812, he knew he had limits: his enemies could learn, his armies could be beaten, his marshals weren't invincible and he himself had passed his "limited number of years" for warfare. And so he spent a year preparing for his mistake, and organized his forces to maximize the damage to his most loyal and efficient units. If he were trying to bring down his own dynasty, I'm not sure what else he could have done.

Richard Alley02 Jul 2021 10:13 p.m. PST

Napoleon lost far more troop on the march to Borodino than he lost during and after it.

Zoltar Supporting Member of TMP03 Jul 2021 3:51 a.m. PST

Spain bled Napoleon but was over time. The Russian campaign not only destroyed his army (and cavalry) but encouraged all his enemies in Europe to attack at the same time as he was on his heels and left many of his allies feeling they had enough and switching sides (and that they could do so without retribution from France).

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP03 Jul 2021 5:54 a.m. PST

"Napoleon always wanted peace with Russia,"

I'm sorry? Napoleon always wanted everyone in Europe to do exactly as Napoleon pleased. When that didn't happen, he fell back on police and massed 12 pounders. Peace with--well, anyone, really--begins with accepting that other people or nations can do things you disapprove of. The concept him.

Au pas de Charge03 Jul 2021 6:27 a.m. PST


But the casualties in Spain were over almost 6 years and the casualties in Russia happened in just a few months.

@robert piepenbrink

You think the British, Austrian, Russian and Prussian monarchies and aristocracies were legitimate? What is that based on?

14Bore03 Jul 2021 7:43 a.m. PST

Always thought Napoleon should have waited for the invention of trains before be invaded Russia, but it didn't help in 1941.

Bill N03 Jul 2021 8:52 a.m. PST

You think the British, Austrian, Russian and Prussian monarchies and aristocracies were legitimate? What is that based on?

A minimum of three generations.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP03 Jul 2021 9:17 a.m. PST

That's not 'legitimacy'-it is strict adherence to the 'divine right' theory of hereditary monarchy.

Bill N03 Jul 2021 10:00 a.m. PST

I disagree Kevin. Time bestows legitimacy on all regimes and not just on absolute hereditary monarchies.

laretenue03 Jul 2021 10:12 a.m. PST

Just a thought guys, …

Boney was driving France, no question.
Ditto Alexander for Russia

But – and I've seen it God knows how many times before – I don't really see the point behind ApdC's question.

In Prussia, far from driving events, hapless Fred William was driven by them and by stronger personalities.

And I don't recall too many decisive in Britsh statecraft of this period buy either George III or the Prince Regent.

Not the same thing at all.

laretenue03 Jul 2021 10:13 a.m. PST

Sorry, fat finger syndrome

'too many decisive interventions in British statecraft'

von Winterfeldt03 Jul 2021 10:50 a.m. PST

I am more interested into the why, of course Continental system and Boney narcissistic personality disorder combined with megalomania, he just couldn't stop.

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP03 Jul 2021 10:55 a.m. PST


After reading Dominic Lieven's Napoleon against Russia, I came to believe that the Russians were much underrated and a major factor in defeating Napoleon.

I think that the scope and scale of the 1812 and 1813 campaigns were decisive in ensuring the French were drained of any real capacity to dominate again thereafter. I am still waiting for someone to write a readable, authoritative and objective modern account of Leipzig, one of history's greatest battles.

Au pas de Charge03 Jul 2021 12:15 p.m. PST


At this time, GeorgeIII was both insane and incompetent and the prince regent was both incompetent and a self serving pleasure seeker.

@Bill N

Time bestows legitimacy on all regimes and not just on absolute hereditary monarchies

This is quite complex but it is truer for feudal regimes and for tyrannies. Im sure while they themselves felt they were more established, modern day democrats think they had little legitamacy. Additionally, even back then, large bodies of people were sick of hereditary monarchies and wanted them out. Your opinion relies a lot on the viewpoints of the monarchs back then and also their supporters and courtiers. Let's try and think outside of their box.

laretenue03 Jul 2021 3:17 p.m. PST


Quite so. Which is why I find them fairly irrelevant to a question about who was directing policy.

Bill N03 Jul 2021 9:45 p.m. PST

@ Au pas de Charge

I think you are confusing the concept of legitimacy with institutional and popular support. During the period from 1787-1793 Louis XVI lost institutional and popular support to the extent that a large portion of both the establishment and population thought it was time for him to go. However that was forward looking. There wasn't a questioning of whether Louis XVI had the right to ascend the throne in 1774.

What Charles X didn't realize was that in the mind of the French people his right to rule wasn't based on descent from Henri IV, but was instead based on allied bayonets in 1814 and 1815.

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP07 Jul 2021 3:44 p.m. PST

What would be the state of Europe today had Bonaparte invaded neither?

Good question.

He would succumbed to the late 1840s revolutions and national movements throughout Europe? Maybe sooner? Difficult for one man to keep an empire of that size together for long.

What would have happen if Hitler hadn't invaded the Soviet Union?

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP07 Jul 2021 3:49 p.m. PST

I only want the land that borders mine.

42flanker07 Jul 2021 6:56 p.m. PST

There is a distinction to be made between the concept of monarchy (whether justified by a concept of rule by 'divine right' or other arguments), and the legitimacy either of a dynasty or of one particular individual's occupation of the throne.
Kings have been deposed and dynasties replaced throughout history. Misrule could generate critical levels of resentment, but it generally resulted in replacement, rather than fundamental change.

Uesugi Kenshin Supporting Member of TMP09 Jul 2021 8:34 a.m. PST

I gota go with Spain. Without Spain he had even odds of defeating Russia.

Bill N09 Jul 2021 12:39 p.m. PST

If we assume a Napoleon who could resist the urge to go into the Iberian Peninsula, then how hard is it to believe that same Napoleon would resist the urge to invade Russia as well?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP09 Jul 2021 1:55 p.m. PST

The reasons for the two misadventures have to be considered.

Levi the Ox10 Jul 2021 8:33 p.m. PST

Probably whichever one he makes first.

At the time he'd defeated every other foe but Britain, and although he'd lost the opportunity to do that years ago, he had cowed the rest of the continent. Both the Spanish and Russian campaigns are followed by the entry of other powers into the war against him. Whichever one he wages will start another war that he couldn't end decisively and eroded both his aura of invincibility and the quality and morale of his troops.

So I think Spain is the inflection point in his fortunes, but he is probably a bigger fool for repeating a similar mistake in Russia with the Spanish war ongoing.

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