Russian Campaign of 1812

Alexander Mikaberidze

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online July 2012 | | DOI:
Russian Campaign of 1812

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The Franco-Russian alliance created at Tilsit in 1807 and reinforced at Erfurt in 1808 withered away by 1811. Russia was disgruntled by economic losses sustained under the Continental System and was concerned about Napoléon’s plans for the restoration of the Polish kingdom. Emperor Alexander was also alarmed by Napoléon’s aggressive policy in Europe after France annexed Holland, the Hanseatic cities, and North German states. As Russia announced its decision to withdraw from the Continental System, Napoléon began preparations for war. Russia responded by negotiating alliances with Britain and Sweden and concluding a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire, which freed up additional Russian forces. On 24 June 1812 the massive Grande Armée of more than 450,000 men invaded Russia. Napoléon’s plan of forcing the Russians to fight, however, did not materialize, because the Russian armies, commanded by Mikhail Barclay de Tolly and Pyetr Bagration, retreated deep into the country. Compelled to follow them, the Grande Armée suffered from desertion and strategic consumption. Although Napoléon captured Smolensk on 19 August, the Russian armies escaped once more. In late August, Emperor Alexander, under pressure of public opinion clamoring for more-vigorous prosecution of war, gave overall command of Russian forces to Prince Mikhail Kutuzov, who gave battle to Napoléon at Borodino on 7 September. A tactical victory for the French, the battle claimed more than 35,000 French and 45,000 Russian troops but failed to deliver a decisive victory for either side. On 14 September the French occupied the abandoned city of Moscow. Yet, fires soon broke out in the city and continued until 18 September, destroying two-thirds of the buildings. Napoléon spent one month in Moscow, hoping to secure a peace with Russia. Kutuzov, meantime, regrouped the Russian army at the Tarutino Camp, encouraged popular war against the invader, and formed flying detachments to threaten the enemy rear and lines of communications. In mid-October, Napoléon commenced his retreat from Moscow. Unable to break through to Russia’s southern provinces, Napoléon returned to the devastated route to Smolensk and rapidly retreated to the west. The Russians inflicted considerable casualties on the Grand Armée in battles at Vyazma (3 November), at Krasnyi (14–16 November), on the Berezina River (26–29 November), and at Vilna (10 December). The Russian Campaign had disastrous consequences for Napoléon. His military might was shattered following the loss of up to half a million men in Russia. The French cavalry was virtually wiped out and never fully recovered during the subsequent campaigns in 1813–1814. Furthermore, Austria and Prussia exploited the moment to break their alliance with France and joined efforts to destroy the French Empire, which was accomplished in 1815. The campaign is particularly interesting for its gigantic scope, intensity, and variety of tactics employed. The war also had important effects on Russia, which became one of the arbiters of European affairs.

Article.  11679 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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