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  • Napoleon's Grande Armee in 1812: too big...

    While pondering on the bicentennial of the Battle of Borodino today as I was driving home something became very logical to me:



    The Russian campaign of 1812 always brings alot of interesting topics to discussion. One of them is the topic IF the Russians deliberately retreated eastwards as the Grande Armée moved westwards in the opening phases of the campaign.
    I'm convinced, and I've always defended this, that this was not the general Russian strategy from the very start. Russia was didvided at this time of which strategy to actually adopt: there was certainly a war-party that wanted to kick Napoleon out of Russia from the moment the Grande Armée crossed the Niemen, there was also a party that wanted to lure Napoleon deep into Russia first before attacking (the famous 'scorched earth' policy), there was also a party that wanted to wait at Drissa before confronting the Grande Armée head on...there are numerous strategies that were discussed but I'm convinved that until Kutuzov arrived there was no real strategy - largely because none of the commanders wanted to take the risk to lose his army by fighting Napoleon. They were afraid to confront the juggernaut...

    But now that I've thought about it...it was only logical that the Russian army retreated eastwards. Imagine the reports sent to the Russian HQ when this huge army of 500.000 men crossed the Niemen? Imagine seeing all these soldiers crossing the river at the head of Napoleon. You can't blame the Russians for not taking Napoleon on in the first month of the campaign, especially since the Russians only had 200.000 soldiers in the front line!

    Now, personally, if I'm attacked at night in the street by one guy of about the same size as myself, I'll be more than willing to defend myself. But if I'm attacked by two or three guys, you can bet your trousers that I'll be retreating. So, it is only common sense that the Russians decided to retreat.

    But now I'm looking at Napoleon's situation. Before the start of the campaign he was bragging that he would bring along a huge army to force the Russians to submit to him...and he kept his word. But...here's the dilemma: Napoleon wanted to bring his army onto the Russian soil and expected to defeat the Russians in one pitched battle, claiming that the campaign would be brought to a succesful conclusion by the end of the summer. However, his army was just much too large...there is no way that the Russians were going to face him.
    So, as we all know, in more then one sense, Napoleon's strategy of bringing such a large army was wrong from the beginning...

    Now, I'm convinced that if he had only brought along 250.000 soldiers - hell, even 150.000, his chances of succes would have been much, much better. I wouldn't doubt that if he had only 200.000 soldiers with him, the Russians would have dared to confront him within a few weeks after crossing the Niemen...



    Greets,
    Stratego
    Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.- Napoleon

    It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.- Herman Melville

    Aut viam inveniam aut faciam

    BORG

  • #2
    Depends. He would need quality over the quantity he did have. Better to never have invaded Russia in the first place really. Take care of Spain and Portugal and subdue the rest of Europe first.
    First Counsul Maleketh of Jonov

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    • #3
      Interesting thoughts, Jason. This needs some contemplation & discussion.

      My first thought is to agree that Napoleon should not have brought such a large army. But he also had this army... so why not bring it?
      History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon. Napoleon Bonaparte
      _________
      BoRG
      __________
      "I am Arthur, King of the Britons!"

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      • #4
        Astute observation Jason.
        My first reflex is to agree with your insight:smaller is better.
        I'm going to give it a night's sleep for inspiration before commenting further.
        BoRG

        You may not be interested in War, but War is interested in You - Leon Trotski, June 1919.

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        • #5
          Too many men?



          It sure looks like it here!
          History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon. Napoleon Bonaparte
          _________
          BoRG
          __________
          "I am Arthur, King of the Britons!"

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Torien View Post
            My first thought is to agree that Napoleon should not have brought such a large army. But he also had this army... so why not bring it?
            But why not leave half of the army at home?
            Did he want to impress the world - especially the Russians - into making peace? After 15 years of practically being victorious everywhere, I do not think he had to impress anybody.
            Was he secretly doubting the Russian strategy...or the immense territory he had to cover?

            Why go through so much trouble????

            If he did not have 500.000 at his disposal, he would have never gone further on to Moscow, he would have been forced to halt at Witebesk and history would have been so much different...

            Interesting, interesting...



            Greets,
            Stratego
            Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.- Napoleon

            It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.- Herman Melville

            Aut viam inveniam aut faciam

            BORG

            Comment


            • #7
              Russian armies were still divided in the start of the campaign, so a retreat was necessary in any case. Napoleon still needed men to occupy the tows and he certainly thinked about the possibity for Russians to field an army of similar cize.
              There are no Nazis in Ukraine. © Idiots

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              • #8
                The senior Russian commanders were divided on what to do being faced with invasion.

                Some wanted to launch an offensive of their own; others wanted to fight a defensive campaign. What eventually evolved was a plan to withdraw to the fortified camp of Drissa and fight the decisive battle there. This was the plan first adopted by Alexander. The Drissa camp proved to be a trap in the making, further scrambling Russian decision-making.

                What did not happen, however, was a definite plan from the beginning of the campaign to consciously draw the French deeper into Russia. Unfortunately, for the Russians Barclay was not listened to, the Tsar was hanging around army headquarters too much, and they couldn't stop the French.

                Sincerely,
                M
                We are not now that strength which in old days
                Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
                Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
                To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Emtos View Post
                  Russian armies were still divided in the start of the campaign, so a retreat was necessary in any case. Napoleon still needed men to occupy the tows and he certainly thinked about the possibity for Russians to field an army of similar cize.
                  Sure he needed men to occupy the towns and cities for his lines of communication, but it was never his intent to move so far east in the first place...250.000 would have done the job up until Witebesk.
                  Spain's territory was also vast, but he never sent 500.000 to the Iberian Peninsula at once...
                  As for the Russian forces. Sure they had the possibility of fielding that many souls but Napoleon's intelligence never confirmed that the Russians could/had field(ed) that many at the outset.

                  So either he must have been afraid that he MIGHT campaign futher eastwards OR that he MIGHT face the same quagmire as in Spain...



                  Greets,
                  Stratego
                  Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.- Napoleon

                  It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.- Herman Melville

                  Aut viam inveniam aut faciam

                  BORG

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I don't think so. Napoleon's plan was to trap and destroy the Russian armies close to the border.

                    When that didn't happen, he very unwisely kept going deeper into Russia for the same objective and when he finally got his decisive battle, he failed to destroy Kutusov at Borodino.

                    It wasn't the Emperor's best campaign.

                    Sincerely,
                    M
                    We are not now that strength which in old days
                    Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
                    Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
                    To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      The main battle force of the Grand Army was not 500,000, it was less than 300,000. The rest of them were logistics.
                      Flag: USA / Location: West Coast

                      Prayers.

                      BoRG

                      http://img204.imageshack.us/img204/8757/snap1ws8.jpg

                      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PtsX_Z3CMU

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                      • #12
                        If you take a look through the orders of battle of the corps that invaded Russia, you'll see that the overwhelming majority of the personnel strength was in combat units, not supporting or logistic personnel.

                        No army of the period had that high percentage of support/logistic personnel, or in modern parlance 'teeth to tail.'

                        Sincerely,
                        M
                        We are not now that strength which in old days
                        Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
                        Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
                        To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Massena

                          You took the words out of me mouth. The Logistics train would be a nightmare. Plus the troops it would require to guard such a monster

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Massena View Post
                            If you take a look through the orders of battle of the corps that invaded Russia, you'll see that the overwhelming majority of the personnel strength was in combat units, not supporting or logistic personnel.

                            No army of the period had that high percentage of support/logistic personnel, or in modern parlance 'teeth to tail.'

                            Sincerely,
                            M
                            The Grand Army had supply magazines stretching all the way back through Poland and East Prussia. Going into Russia, the usual foraging cannot be expected with less agricultural lands, even without the scorched earth. Lots of units were needed to guard that supply line.

                            The armies of the period included most support personnel as "combat units". Such as sappers and pontooniers. Even communications were mostly Hussar units.
                            Flag: USA / Location: West Coast

                            Prayers.

                            BoRG

                            http://img204.imageshack.us/img204/8757/snap1ws8.jpg

                            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PtsX_Z3CMU

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              But hussars and sapeurs du genie (instead of pionniers who were labor troops) were combat troops.

                              Even troops on line of communication duty would be combat troops.

                              For example, the troops of the artillery train, which hauled the artillery, were in what might be termed a 'supporting' unit. However, they went into the fire with their artillery companies and had served with that artillery company for quite some time.

                              An infantry regiment on duty in the rear areas is still an infantry regiment, not support troops.

                              Pontonniers were artillerymen who were armed the same as any foot artilleryman. And the pontonniers at the Berezina, for example, suffered 90% casualties from exposure and enemy action building bridges under fire. They were also combat troops.

                              Sincerely,
                              M
                              We are not now that strength which in old days
                              Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
                              Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
                              To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

                              Comment

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