14 November 2012, 12:27

1812 War: why was Napoleon defeated in Russia?

1812 War: why was Napoleon defeated in Russia?

In our series timed for the bicentenary of Russia’s victory in the 1812 War with Napoleon we continue to talk about people and events of those days. Our story today is on why Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated in Russia.

Each and every military commander faces a tricky task of redeploying army units.

The importance of this element of a military strategy and its far-reaching consequences can be illustrated by a number of historic events, including Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in the summer of 1812.

The art of relocating the army is of great importance to any commander-in-chief who typically deals with a whole array of logistics-related problems during redeployment, something that plays an important role in defeating the enemy.

At the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon Bonaparte’s Grande Armée numbered almost 600,000 soldiers and seemed to be invincible. After his invasion of Russia on June 24, 1812, Napoleon did not doubt that defeating the Russian Empire was just a matter of time.

Little did he know that six months later, his army would turn into separate rings of ragamuffins and defectors. Only one out of every twenty soldiers was able to return home from Russia. How did it happen?

During his contest of Europe, Napoleon was resolving his army’s logistical problems by referring to the so-called self-sustaining logistics, which included looting or buying food on the conquered territories.

He knew full well, though, that such a tactics would hardly be effective in Russia, something that prompted Napoleon to issue a decree on finding other ways to supply the French army with foodstuffs.

In light of this, a large-scale logistical operation was launched to deliver food to 26 advanced French battalions that invaded Russia in the summer of 1812. Napoleon ordered logistics officers to send a column of more than 9,300 carts to Russia, with a total weight of the vehicles amounting to about 8 tons.

250,000 horses helped transport French cavalry and guns, and each and every horse daily ate nine kilograms of hay.

Even if Napoleon seized Moscow with the help of the 300,000-strong army, all the same he would have needed more than 24,000 tons of food, thrice as much as the weight of his string of carts.

It is open secret that Napoleon planned to enter Moscow three weeks after the beginning of his invasion, namely, in early August 1812. In connection with this, he instructed logistics officers to take 24 days’ worth of food, a decision that reflects Bonaparte’s determination to swiftly defeat Russia. But the French Emperor was mistaken.

At the beginning of the 1812 Patriotic War, the Russian troops refrained from getting into action. They continued to retreat, burning fields with fodder and destroying foodstuffs. They made French forces move through forests, swamps and steppes bypassing the main roads.

The Grande Armée’s daily death toll was 5,000 soldiers due to defection, diseases and suicides. Scores of horses put to grass died because they could not tolerate to cover 50 kilometers a day.

In fact, the Russians only fought two major battles during the 1812 War. The Battle of Smolensk saw them biting the dust, while the bloody Battle of Borodino claimed the lives of about 80,000 soldiers, including 44,000 from the Russian side.

There were no winners in the Battle of Borodino. Many historians say that Napoleon failed to prevail in the battle, while Russian commander-in-chief Mikhail Kutuzov did not yield to Bonaparte.

Be that is it may, the Russian army continued to retreat, and Napoleon entered fire-ravaged Moscow in mid-September with only a quarter of his original strength.

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