Sunday, June 24, 2018

Crossing Rivers

24 June 1812, Napoléon's Grande Armée crosses the Niemen River.
The Invasion of Russia begins.
On this date in 1812, an army under the command of Napoléon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, crossed the Niemen River into territory controlled by the Czar of all the Russias, the Emperor Alexander I.

Napoléon's army was made up of Frenchmen, Poles, Italians (Napoléon was also the King of Italy), Neapolitans (Naples was not part of the Kingdom of Italy at that time), Rhinelanders, Badeners, Bavarians, Bergers, Saxons, Westphalians, Swiss, and Spaniards (his brother Joseph was the titular King of Spain, some Spaniards actually recognized that, some).

Soldiers of nations allied with (read previously conquered by) the French Empire also entered Russia alongside Napoléon, Austrians and Prussians, reluctant allies at best. The Danes were along as well. They sided with the French because the British Royal Navy had seen fit to destroy their fleet in 1807, To prevent it from falling into Napoléon's hands. Which they succeeded in doing, but at the cost of the Danish army (such as it was) joining forces with Napoléon.

This Grande Armée numbered approximately 685,000 men, 1,393 guns, and some 180,000 to 200,000 horses. It was a vast army marching into the Russian wilderness. An army used to campaigning in milder climes where farms and crops were plentiful. The French noticed, as the Germans did some 129 years later, that Russia seems to stretch on forever. Vast forests, dirt roads, primitive villages inhabited by peasants who had not really changed much since Ivan the Terrible ruled from the Kremlin.

The Imperial Russian Army which faced Napoléon consisted of some 488,000 men and 1,372 guns near the border with Western Europe. That army would, over the next few months, grow to some 900,000 trained soldiers and militia. Napoléon's army began to shed troops almost from the moment they crossed the Niemen.

The brown line = the Grande Armée going in.
The black line = the Grande Armée going out.
The thickness of the line indicates the strength of the army.
At first it was the heat of the Russian summer which began to kill men and horses. Then the rains came, the humidity climbed, then it was dry again. The logistics began to break down almost immediately. While the Emperor had made detailed logistical plans for  the campaign, virtually all of his generals, save one, ignored them. Marshal Davout, the Iron Marshal, made sure that his troops carried every last item the Emperor had specified. His troops were better prepared.

But not even the genius of Napoléon nor the iron will of Davout could have prepared the army for the vastness of Russia.

A battle was fought at Smolensk, but the Russians melted away again, refusing to stand. Some say it was planned that way, that Kutusov Bagration* (who commanded one of the Russian armies) was a genius who knew that if he traded space for time, eventually the French would be worn down and then the Russian Army and General Winter would finish the invaders.

Some say that the reality was that the two generals, Bagration and Barclay de Tolly, refused to coordinate their efforts therefore they had no choice but to fall back.

Regardless of where the truth lies (and I think it lies somewhere between the two extremes, as it usually does), the Grande Armée was withering as they moved forward, shedding men and horses, especially horses, as they moved deeper into Russia.

Finally, in September, the Russians made a stand at a small crossroads west of Moscow, at a place called Borodino. It was a bloodbath. Thousands were in the fight, thousands died, but the Russians held. Though they withdrew during the night, allowing Napoléon to claim a "victory," in reality it had been a devastating blow to the French.

When the army moved into Moscow, abandoned by the Russians before the French arrived, the city was deserted. Winter was approaching, the French were no nearer to bringing the Czar to negotiations than they were in June. Then the city began to burn.

Five weeks after entering Moscow, Napoléon had no choice but to fall back to the west. While he thought that perhaps there was still a chance at forcing Alexander to negotiate, in reality it was over. It would not end until the Russian cavalry were watering their horses in the Seine, in Paris itself, some two years, and thousands more deaths later.

Of course, it really didn't end until June of 1815, on the slopes of Mont-St-Jean in Belgium, but that was just a bitter postscript. Napoléon was doomed from the moment the first French soldier stepped onto the Russian side of the Niemen River, on the 22nd of June, 1812.

The cost was steep.

French Empire and her allies -
  • 340,000–400,000 dead
  • 50,000 wounded
  • 80,000 deserted
Russian Empire -
  • 210,000 dead
  • 150,000 wounded
  • 50,000 deserted
All told, some one million soldiers and civilians died in the Russian campaign of 1812. Seems tiny compared to the millions who died on the Eastern Front in World War II, unless you or a loved on was one of those one million dead. Not to mention the untold thousands injured and uprooted from their homes.

Only a fool invades Russia.



Late November 1812, the shattered remains of Napoléon's Grande Armée crosses the Berezina River.
The Invasion of Russia ends.



* It was actually Bagration and Barclay de Tolly who didn't get along. Thanks Jenk!

88 comments:

  1. If you were a wounded/injured Frenchman odds were pretty good you died. A traveling Vietnam War wall has been in town for the past few days. Sobering to see 140 panels inscribed with 58,318 names....sobering indeed. A good friend a couple years younger had a reaction of such a waste...... going to agree with her. A million names for the year 1812, how many for the entirety of the Napoleonic Wars? Excellent post Sarge.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The cost of Vietnam still staggers me. I've been to the Wall itself, it is to weep.

      But wasted? Yes, by the feckless scum in Congress and the White House.

      Delete
    2. Oh, the feckless scum in our news-rooms, the feckless scum in Hollywood, the feckless scum in our universities...

      There's lots of feckless scum out there to blame our fecklessness on.

      (To toss conspiracy theory into the feckless pool, one just asked who did fund all of those 'spontaneous' student union uprisings and marches... hmmm... Hmmmmmmm…. (cough, cough, kaygeeeeebeee, cough, cough...))

      Delete
    3. I have just read Bloody Sixteen: The USS Oriskany and Air Wing 16 during the Vietnam War by Peter Fay. It is a fantastically well researched book about the air war and highly recommended. After reading it I have an overwhelming need to go piss on Lyndon Johnson's grave and then find McNamera and kick him in the balls - several times!

      Delete
    4. And, yeah, I know thy are both dead, but I would be willing to dig'em up just to have the pleasure. And I'll bet there are a few million other vets who would be willing to stand in one more line just to join in.

      Delete
    5. Beans - The fecklessness is ubiquitous, innit?

      Delete
    6. Dave - I really do need to pick up a copy of Peter's book.

      Delete
    7. LBJ and McNamara, lots of blood on those hands.

      Delete
    8. One of the fun things about playing Dungeons and Dragons was that you. through your character, could kill someone, drag his sorry carcass to a priest, have him resurrected, and kill him again, and again, and again (up to the limits of his constitution (health, not the paper or the ship) score and the limits of the character's wallet or collection of treasure chests. Bwahahahaha…

      For fun, one could legitimately dig up a well-dead corpse and with enough magic powers or gold, or both, bring even a powdered skeleton back to full health and life just to wax the dead-now-alive-dude. "Oh, I dropped Phredd into a chipper shredder too quickly! (Zapp, ptwowwowowoooo, zzzzzinnnng-splortz!(sounds of heap big magic spell making) Do-Over!!!!"

      Delete
    9. Heh. Never played it that way.

      Too much Conan in me, move on, kill the next batch of a-holes and drive on again.

      Delete
    10. Oh, that was saved for that 'special' player that pissed us off. Oops, dropped my sword.... in your body. Oops, dropped my mace... on your head. Oops, you were standing between me and the giant when I cast a lightning bolt...

      Delete
    11. I actually had a player, when I was DMing, try to pull the 'survivalist' cut-offs and knife thing (before it became popular and they got stupid people to do it on the teebee.) He went into "The Wandering Forest (of Doooooooooooooooom)" willingly by himself, in leather cut-off pants and a dagger. I told him, after much nasty sounds and sights, his character died.

      He countered with he didn't get to make a saving throw against any poisons or toxins, and I didn't roll damage.

      I counter-countered with "Okay, smart guy, roll 10 perfect 20's in a row, and by the way...(dumping my dice bag on the table and starting to count (had 5 d20's, at least 4 d10's, a handful of d8's, a tanktrap's worth of d4's and did I mention I owned a lot of Avalon Hill games so my d6's numbered in the Legion.) . . . 200, 201, 202... How many hitpoints does your 4th level Ranger have? Hmmmmmm?"

      The other players actually applauded and cheered. It was kind of embarrassing, really.

      Delete
  2. "Only a fool invades Russia." Or Afghanistan. But, but, it's different now, right? Even the Russians must be tired of laughing at our stupidity. Seventeen years, a new commander each year to allow them to check the career box. Depressing.

    I remember being shown that chart of the Grande Armée as an excellent example of statistics being visually displayed. Your chapters of the book are being written week by week Sarge!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't get me started on Afghanistan. Thousands of years of history, and your average politician makes the same mistakes over and over again.

      The Brits, the Russians, the Americans, all of us wasted lives and treasure in that sinkhole.

      I had to include that chart, it conveys the cost in one glance. Hard to believe.

      Delete
    2. Afghanistan... Somebody has to be making a lot of money off our involvement there.

      Delete
    3. You know it, Rob. Someone always profits by the soldiers' blood.

      Delete
    4. Who was it that said Afghanistan is where empires go to die?

      Delete
    5. Alexander, in his day, and Rome found Afghanistan to be unconquerable, as well.
      Somewhere on my reading list is a fictional account of the Roman adventure.

      Delete
    6. AFG is kinda determined by logistics... isolated by mountains, deserts and all kinds of near-ompassable terrain, landlocked...
      supply routes into AFG just dont allow to supply enough troops to pacify the population
      otherwise Soviets would send 10 timne more troops and pacified it

      Delete
    7. Ron. IIRC that map has been called the greatest military campaign/historical map in history..

      Delete
    8. Joe - Yup, AFG, where empires go to die. Or embarrassed, or both.

      Delete
    9. Skip - Not sure Rome made it that far, Alexander wisely avoided it.

      Delete
    10. Paweł - You nailed it, AFG is a logistical nightmare!

      Delete
    11. Virgil - I've seen that mentioned as well, it certainly expresses things very succinctly.

      Delete
    12. Oops, my error.
      The book I read was about Alexander's campaign, The Afghan Campaign.

      Delete
    13. No problem, history has many stories, it's easy to cross them up at times.

      Heck, I did it with the whole Kutusov hating Bagration thing. I had the wrong guy!

      Delete
  3. unless you are Genghis-fucking-Khan, dont invade Russia :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahaha!

      Yeah, well he came in the back door, from the East. Coming in from the West is pretty much a guaranteed FAIL.

      Delete
    2. There is an old bad joke about a Pole who finds a strange bottle. He opens it up and out pops a fearsome djinn, who says "Thank you, Master, for freeing me from a hundred of hundred years of entrapment. I will grant you three wishes, and there are no limits of power that I cannot achieve. Choose wisely."

      "I want all of Mongolia to mount up, come to the border of Poland, and then go home." the Pole said. "And I want it done Three times. Three times, you hear me."

      "Master, that is easily within my powers, but... You could have fortunes beyond fortunes, Fame beyond fame, power beyond power. Why, with all that is in your touch, do you choose to have a horde of ignorant barbarians come up to your lands, and then go home? Why three times? Why Three?"

      "Because that way they go over Russia six times!"

      Delete
    3. Well, now that I think about it, it's an old good joke, maybe even an old great joke.

      Delete
    4. Beans - I never heard that one before, I like it!

      Delete
    5. And I would not be surprised if that's how many of Pawel's fellow countrymen still feel to this day.

      Delete
    6. That's probably why they allied themselves with Napoleon, the French killed a lot of Prussians and Austrians.

      Delete
  4. Amazing how often it comes down to supply and logistics.

    About 12 or 15 years ago I was in a doctors office waiting room. Got to talking with an older gentleman, had a WWII VET cap on. I asked he where he served. I guess he thought I was expecting him to say something like "I landed at Normandy" or "Anzio" or "Guadalcanal" because he kind of hung his head a little and said "I was never out of the US. I was in DC, at the War Department, in Logistics." Seeing his somewhat hangdog expression I quipped "Ah! So you made sure that "the sharp end of the lance had the shaft!" Which drew the sharp look I expected. So I continued with something like "Without the shaft, and the rider, and the horse, that "sharp end" just falls to the ground. If the guys at "the sharp end" don't have the weapons, the munitions, the food that allow them to fight, they are useless." Kinda perked him up.

    So, to the brave men and women who do the tedious work of planning, supply, and logistics that allow the heroes to be heroes, I say, "WELL DONE! Dilly, Dilly!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Only a fool insults his/her logistical chain and the folks who man it.

      Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics. All the fancy strategy in the world comes to naught without the "bullets and beans" to back it up.

      Delete
    2. Yet supply seems to be the most common butt of jokes and slurs.

      I imagine that the gravel agitators of Sargon the Great bitched and whined about the quality and quantity of their supplies.

      Delete
    3. Yup, complained about them until there were none.

      Supply guys get mocked all the time, of course, some of 'em do have rather sticky fingers.

      Delete
    4. Supply guys, by definition, are surrounded by hundreds or thousands of everything an army needs. It is all too easy to think that no one will miss just this one item that I am taking for myself. However, reality is that with all of the people in the supply chain, that seemingly endless supply of goodies melts away very fast when the REMFs are equipping themselves and then the people on the sharp end have to make do without.

      Thanks for the post.
      Paul L. Quandt

      Delete
    5. Thanks for your input on that Paul, a pair of boots here, a helmet there, pretty soon there's nothing for the guys on the line. Seems minor but yes, you nailed it!

      Delete
    6. Ha. Just got a flashback of Don Rickles in "Kelly's Heroes." Ha. Ha, ha. Ha, ha, ha. Gotta watch that movie again. So much goodness in that flick.

      Delete
  5. Snippet of training memory. Between Spain and Russia, an Army will encounter a water barrier requiring specialized equipment every fifty miles on average.

    ReplyDelete
  6. So the take-away for today's lesson is never, ever, no matter what invade Russia from the west, and just leave Afghanistan completely the hell alone...except to bomb it from 30,000 feet and then to leave rapidly. Do Not Land!! Do Not Stay!!
    Got it. I will remember when I get to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. :)

    Talk about folks not studying history so as not to repeat mistakes. Afghanistan has to be the prime example of that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good things to know for the occupant of that office.

      Afghanistan might be the poster child for Santayana's saying.

      Delete
    2. Oh, Trashcanistan is winnable, and it is supply-able.

      We don't have the national testicular fortitude to win, which fits in well with the whole "Make a Desert and Call It Peace" concept.

      As to supply-able? First we'd need to kick Pakistan's butt and then supply through India. Easy-Peasy. Other than that? Well, again, see my comments on 'winnable.'

      Afghanistan is winnable. But it requires following the same positive script for multiple years, like we did with Nazi Germany. The script being: Kick the ever-loving dog-squeeze out of the opponent, killing anything that gets in your way, beat the 'state' government to death, beat the local government to submission, start from the ground up and rebuild. It only really took 30 years or more to fix Germany, and that was with their help. So, to win in Afghan-land, we need to break lots of things and people, including, well, their culture, and rebuild it. And stick with the plan rather than changing it every year or so as the political winds blow smoke up a certain president's anal orifice (if you know what I mean.)

      Delete
    3. I'll disagree with you on that Beans. It may be winnable, but it isn't worth the cost in effort, in dollars, and in blood.

      Germany was a civilized country, Afghanistan has never been.

      To paraphrase Bismarck, Afghanistan is not worth the bones of a single G.I.

      Delete
    4. I'm with you 100% on that, OAFS.

      Paul

      Delete
    5. Well, it is winnable following the above first conditions. Just we won't be 'us' if we do it. We can't handle the amount of their deaths we'd have to chalk up in order to finally shock or end their resistance. The bigger hammer approach.

      One of the many wonders of the modern world is the ability to rack up a huge casualty ratio if one doesn't care about collateral damage. Of course, if one is trying to generate collateral damage, well, only the Soviets have been relatively successful with that approach with only covert and overt aid from US (not really any of the other co-religious rich nations really helped them at all) allowed Afghanistan to resist. Really think the Soviets might have pulled off the first 'win' if we hadn't gotten involved in a Reagan way (since the Carter way was so spectacularly unsuccessful.)

      Again, yes, we can win with either casualties to our people or casualties to who we are (we are not normally cold-blooded baby killers, I'll leave that to the Democrats.) We can only 'win' with the support of the Afghan people or without the Afghan people (if you get my drift.)

      Bleh. Unhappy topic.

      Delete
    6. It ain't real estate worth having at any price.

      Delete
  7. The Great Khan had the capacity to kill or subvert everyone and lay waste. The cavalry traveled on mare's milk and arrag (fermented mare's milk and horse blood). European armies couldn't do that.

    Neither the Greeks, the British, the Russians or ourselves had the will to do what the Khan's Army and empire did when they ran the silk road. They killed ANYTHING that opposed them. The US could have ended the war in Afghanistan by killing all of the people. That's what a Mongol would have done. End of people =end of war. I'm not advocating that solution, but it worked for the Mongols.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Mongol solution is two-fold: Join, or Die. Ghenghis was a very interesting conqueror.

      Of course, when faced against constant insurgency and people who lied out of every pore of their body, Timur/Tamerlane did make the phrase "I will make a desert and call it Peace" actually work for a while in the Middle East.

      Delete
    2. IIRC one of the Great Ghengis's favorite ways to teach object lessons to his opponents was to take a seized leader and pour molten silver down his throat in front of his Army.

      Delete
    3. LL - Precisely, Genghis was a conqueror extraordinaire.

      We didn't wish to conquer Afghanistan, I'm still not sure why we went in.

      Delete
    4. Beans - Those folks out of Mongolia did not screw around.

      There's a lesson there for those who will listen.

      Delete
    5. Virgil - The Great Khan's methods may have been brutal, but they were also damned effective!

      Delete
    6. Virgil, it was also one of Ghenghis' prescribed punishments for theft. As in "You steal gold and silver from me? Well, we pour gold and silver into You" type of thing.

      The Great Khan was very pragmatic. He actively sought out enemies who could touch him with their weapons, in order to recruit them to his side. His attitude was, "If you're good enough to hit me, you're good enough to work for me."

      Delete
    7. LL - I have a friend who tried to make Kumis (or arrag or airag, depending on what section of Mongolia one is from) in his home, in Florida. After a rather abrupt ending to the experiment, which resulted in him picking curdles out of his beard, off his face, hair, the sofa, the wall, the ceiling, the ceiling fan... his actual Mongolian friends pointed out that Mongolia is cooler than Florida. And drier. And doesn't have 2" long flying cockroaches. (His Mongolian friends were horrifically impressed with Florida's 2" long flying cockroaches. Like in "Fire Truck this pile of horse hockey" impressed. It takes a lot to really scare a Steppe Nomad that doesn't involve lightning (think about that one... treeless plain, tallest thing is guy on horseback, and Zzzzzottttt, guy no longer on horseback.)

      Delete
    8. Yeah, I would think that the climate in Mongolia just a tad different from Florida.

      ;)

      Delete
    9. I know the answer to that one. We invaded Afghanistan because it would have been politically incorrect to invade Saudi Arabia and the taxpayers were howling for blood. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz chose Afghanistan because it didn't have much of a standing army and Bin Laden hung out there in the past. We bombed them because we could and they didn't have the capacity to resist overhead artillery.

      Then BIG ARMY came in and it created a rolling pig fu*k that we're still engaged in.

      Delete
  8. I don't recall reading about any particular emnity between Kutuzov and Bagration, but I do remember reading that Bagration did not like Barclay de Tolly at all (the two were the commanders of the 2nd and 1st Armies respectively). Barclay de Tolly was a Lutheran Baltic German and Bagration was an Orthodox Georgian, which may have played a role in that dislike. Bargration was also getting orders from Barclay and Tsar Aleksanr at the same time; Barclay was not initially aware of this and that may also have caused Bagration to chafe at Barclay. Kutuzov really didn't come into the picture until after Smolensk, and even then Barclay and Bagration were left in command of their respective armies.

    Those armies fought together at Borodino under Kutuzov's overall command, but Kutuzov did not direct the battle in the field. Bagration was fatally wounded at Borodino and it fell to Barclay to keep the Russian forces together on the battlefield; before he died Bagration acknowledged that Barclay had pretty much saved the day.

    Kutuzov's biggest contribution was the "Golden Bridge" strategy once Napoleon began his retreat. During the summer the parts of Russia the French passed through were practically stripped clean by Russian "scorched earth" practices and the foraging of Napoleon's soldiers; Kutuzov forced Napoleon to retreat back through that despoiled territory and attacked the French when they tried to deviate from that route....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Damn, you're right. It was Bagration and Barclay de Tolly!

      I must correct that!

      Delete
  9. Ok, so I have what is probably a silly question...but here goes...why did Napoleon have 685,000 men but only 1,393 guns, and Russia have 488,000 men but only 1,372 guns? With about a million folks killed (ok, so some died of disease, starvation, and injury from the combined 2,765 guns), but with 1,173,000 folks on the ground, that leaves very few folks with guns in their hands...what did the rest use? Bow and arrow? Spears? Swords? I'm sure there was some form of cannon, which can do quite a bit of damage if aimed correctly...and I am sure some of the "men" were horse wranglers and cooks instead of infantry...but still seems like the logistics didn't even survive leaving Paris, never mind after crossing the river. Wouldn't you want every solder to have his own rifle/pistol before leaving the home base if you were heading off to war? Or did Napoleon think that just the sight of his army would scare Alexander spitless and he would cave immediately?
    I have an inquiring mind...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Suz:

      Guns, in this use means cannon, not individual weapons.

      Paul L. Quandt

      Delete
    2. Suz - my apologies, it's something I oft complain about in others - using technical terms that not everyone knows the meaning of. Paul is correct, in this instance guns mean cannons. And yes, lots of horse wranglers, wagon drivers, gunners, and others who did not actually carry a musket (infantrymen). My bad, I'll be more careful in the future.

      Perhaps I should write a primer?

      Delete
    3. Thanks Paul!

      Covered me nicely you did.

      Delete
    4. Yep. It's likBige reading a book about naval warfare (of the ship variety, not oranges or other navals.) Ships use rifles to blow each other up. Big, massive rifles, which in this case refers to cannon that are rifled. And to mess one's mind up, the ship also has rifles that are man-portable, you know, regular rifle-rifles. And smoothbores, too (shotguns.) (Rifling being those grooves cut into a barrel that the round engages when fired in order to provide stability, requiring tight tolerances and... vs a smoothbore, which has no 'rifling' Now to mess you up, you can buy a shotgun (which normally comes with a smooth barrel, right) and get one with rifling in it, but it's still a shotgun. You can also get a rifled barrel for your shotgun. Which still makes them a shotgun. And you can fire rifled slugs out of either barrel, if you want... Is your head hurting, yet?)

      It's a strange world out there when you get caught up in military or gun terms. Just a hint, stay away from any argument over the magazine/clip thingy...

      And you'll see, in a description of artillery pre-complete adoption of rifled weapons, a description like, "four cannon, and two rifles..." meaning "four smoothbore cannon and two rifled cannon." Or, "4 cannon and two rifled-breechloaders..." meaning, in this case, 4 muzzle-loaded smoothbore cannon and two rifled breechloading cannon.

      This can all be added into that primer that our host is talking about. Just wait until he starts talking about Parrotts, which don't say "Polly wanna cracker," more like "Polly wanna drill a 6" hole right through your pretty little boat, haha." (Parrott being a design of a muzzleloading rifled cannon.)

      And "interrupted screw" is not something you talk to your teenager about, unless you're talking about guns, or some types of screw fittings.

      And I'm saying all this on a Sunday. I am so going to sweat in Heck when I pass. (What, never heard of the 3 'H's' of Catholicism? Heaven, Heck and Hell? Heck is that place that sometimes exists and sometimes not, depending on what infallible pope you're listening to today, otherwise known as Purgatory.)

      Delete
    5. To further muddy the waters, guns and howitzers. How about gun-howitzers?

      Technically a gun fires on a flat trajectory, a howitzer shoots in an arc. A gun-howitzer can do both.

      Delete
    6. Having seen a fire-table for an 8" gun-howitzer, it's all about the bags, baby. (The number of bags of powder used to propel the round down-range. The more you use, the flatter the trajectory (at short to moderate ranges. There's a fine art to making the round go just over the intervening terrain feature while still hitting the target.))(And, yes, there's so much more involved, like time-on-target, height differences, vertical vs horizontal penetration, etc., etc, etc...)

      Delete
    7. Makes sense.

      Though I still tend to think in terms of Napoleonic guns, I'm old school that way.

      Delete
    8. Well Beans, the good news is I am familiar with shotguns of the 12, 16, 20, and 410 gauge varieties, both smooth and rifled barrels. Learned to shoot by shooting dump rats and woodchucks when I was a teenager. Biggest problem is I am a left handed person who is right-eyed. So I have a few crossed wires.;)

      I had a patient who was big into black powder flintlocks, I would talk about insulin pumps and he would show me his latest black powder gun. The French and Indian War was fought all around where I grew up, as well as only being about 30 miles away from Saratoga Battlefield...when I was doing home care nursing, that was part of my territory, so I frequently would stop for lunch there at the battlefield. Very pretty in the fall with the leaves turning across the Hudson River.

      I guess my problem was I think of cannon when folks talk about artillery, and I did know that the more powder bags does make the ball go faster farther in a flatter arc. But that's about all I know, except that tanks didn't come along much before WWI...at least that's what I think I know about tanks...but I am happy to learn more.

      I don't know if you need a primer, after all most everyone seemed to follow along ok. And I confess I didn't watch the film clips as the Internet is a tad slow today. Maybe that would have made all clear. But thank you for the explanations.

      Delete
    9. Oh but now I'm keen to write a primer!

      Delete
    10. Re Magazine/Clip: This has already been solved, the correct term is "clipazine." Thus spake the Internet, thus shall it forever be.

      Delete
    11. ~1400 guns, but how many howitzers and mortars? ;-)

      Delete
  10. As the Western Front was on the eve of Operation Barbarossa, the 1st and 2nd Armies were badly deployed with a significant gap between them; as I recall reading when researching Borodino Napoleon saw this and sought initially to drive a wedge between them and then defeat each army separately. Barclay was the first to realize the danger and initiated the retreat; trading space for time wasn't so much a strategy as a necessity forced upon the Russians due to their poor initial deployment. Bagration chafed at this; he learned from Marshal Suvorov and Suvorov's more aggressive and offensive approach to warfare matched Bagration's personality. I tend to think his counterpart on the other side was Marshal Ney, but that's just me.

    The "political optics" were horrible for both the Tsar and Barclay. Russia was being invaded by a foreign army and being defended by a man most Russians considered a foreigner. Neither Barclay nor Bagration were ethnic Russians, but the latter at least professed the "Russian faith" of Orthodox Christianity. And he was leading what looked like an ignominious retreat. Barclay was more or less forced to fight at Smolensk just to ease the injury to Russian honor, and pulling Kutuzov from retirement was a sop to Russian nationalism--Aleksandr did not like Kutuzov at all and under any other circumstances would probably rather have had a root canal. From Peter the Great.

    Borodino was the big stand-up fight of Napoleon's Russian campaign, and even he acknowledged that it was a slim and prohibitively expensive victory. Barclay and Bagration bought Russia time at the cost of losing Moscow, but at that time Moscow had little real political significance. Aleksandr vowed to fight Napoleon in Kamchatka if necessary; he knew that any wavering on his part would create potentially deadly threats within his own court, but that was only in addition to his own personal loathing of Napoleon.

    Kutuzov gave Russia the brutally brilliant strategy that effectively destroyed the Grand Armee, with General Winter in a merciless supporting role. But the Russians were not content to let Napoleon's men freeze and starve; they wanted their own personal hands-on revenge and got it.

    Some years ago I watched a program about the discovery and exhumation of a mass grave in Vilnius; the bodies were determined to be those of young men of military age from the early 19th Century. The skeletons showed signs of traumatic injury--bullet and sword/bayonet wounds. Presumably these were men who were wounded in combat and evacuated but later died from their injuries....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not sure if I want to label Kutusov as "brilliant." (Guy slept through the pre-battle brief at Austerlitz, there was a reason the czar didn't like him.)

      But I suppose he got the job done, which is all that counts in the long run.

      Delete
  11. Napoleon was delighted when he heard that Kutuzov had been called out of retirement; he referred to him as "the fugitive from Austerlitz" and considered Bagration to be the only worthy general Russia was capable of fielding. The brilliance in Kutuzov's "Golden Bridge" was a simple exploitation of a bad situation Napoleon's men helped create for themselves. Kutuzov died in 1813--leading to a recall of Barclay, who had stepped down for medical reasons. I think much of Kutuzov's praise comes from the Russians themselves, because ethically he was one of them as opposed to Barclay and Bagration. Stalin, of course, admired Bagration--a fellow Georgian, after all....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's my take on it, Kutusov was an ethnic Russian, the other guys were not, so Kutusov gets the glory, deserved or not, who's to say?

      Delete
  12. Interesting link on Russian fieldworks at Borodino--fun for any engineers reading here....
    http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/military-history/russian-earthworks-at-the-battle-of-borodino/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Russians have ever been good at digging in!

      Delete
  13. From a more recent war: https://s.hdnux.com/photos/47/60/21/10421340/3/1024x1024.jpg A serpentine line stretches to the far horizon as German soldiers routed from their last forts in the vicinity of Stalingrad, are marched to prison camps. The stone blocks mark fortifications that had been blasted by Russian artillery. Trucks and artillery are part of the loot. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Reminiscent of paintings of the Grande Armée's retreat.

      Delete

Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)