Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Admiral Lazarev and the Black Sea fleet

Admiral Lazarev (1788–1851) drove many of the reforms that helped mold Russia into the world’s second naval power by the 1830s. An explorer in his early days as an officer, he formed close relationships with officers of the Royal Navy when serving in the Mediterranean, keeping abreast of new developments in ship design and ordnance developments in the process. He remained open to change throughout his life, and promoted improvements in ordnance and the adoption of steam propulsion, working to overcome the complacency and lethargy of a peacetime navy. His greatest gifts were as an administrator, and his two most accomplished subordinates were Vice-Admirals Pavel Nakhimov and Vladimir Kornilov, both of whom died in the siege of Sevastopol’. Painted by L. D. Blinov 1885, after Karl Briullov’s portrait.

Mikhail Lazarev succeeded to command of the Black Sea fleet in 1833 after an extraordinary early career that had involved three circumnavigations of the globe, the discovery of the Antarctic mainland, combat at Navarino as commander of Rear-Admiral Login Petrovich Geiden’s flagship Azov, and command of the blockade of the Dardanelles in the 1828–9 war. He was a ruthless critic of what he considered to have been the shoddy construction standards of Russian Black Sea warships and did much to upgrade infrastructure and quality control during his tenure as commander. During his earlier years, Lazarev had established close relations with British officers serving in the Mediterranean and he introduced uniform calibre gun establishments along lines established in the Royal Navy in the 1820s at a time when the less progressive Baltic fleet remained tied to mixed batteries, with the exception of a very small number of experimental ship of the line and frigates.

Lazarev was intensely interested in technological progress of all sorts and pushed for the introduction of steam power in advance of its acceptance and feasibility in a Russia that was only slowly entering into the beginning stages of the Industrial Revolution. Had his determination and dynamism been sufficient in and of itself to bring about the modernization and reconstruction of Russian warships, the Russian navy might well have been in a position to give a better account of itself in 1853. As it was, his legacy was carried on by two of his pupils, Vice Admiral Pavel Nakhimov and Vice Admiral Vladimir Kornilov, both of whom insured the continuation of his standards of excellence and both of whom died heroically during the siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War.

Turkey and the Caucasus Campaign 1830–40
In the wake of the Russo-Turkish War of 1827–9, the Ottoman Empire found itself in the unlikely position of having to enter into friendly relations with its ancient enemy, Russia. The rise of Egyptian power was of more moment to Constantinople than the threat of further Russian expansion to the south. While the Egyptians had fought alongside the Turks at Navarino, the Egyptian Pasha Mehmed Ali was clearly on a collision course with his Turkish overlord, the Sultan. By the early 1830s, both Egypt and Turkey were engaged in massive shipbuilding programmes, and the former vassal state was in the lead. By 1837, the Egyptian fleet included ten ships of the line with over 100 guns, two with 88–92 guns and six in the 60-gun range – for a total of 18 capital ships, a remarkable accomplishment in itself and one little noted by most naval historians. Three of the 100-gun ships were under construction, but all had been launched by 1838, although one of these was accidentally burnt while fitting out.

Against this, only two 126-gun ships, six with 74–80 guns and seven heavy frigates with 52 guns were active at Constantinople out of a total Turkish strength of three 126-gun ships, 12 of 74–90 and ten heavy frigates of 50–60 guns including one still under construction. The Turkish fleet was in poor condition in contrast to the Egyptian. The only available counterweight to the Egyptian navy was alliance with Russia and this carried a price tag: opening of the Straits to Russian naval movements, the closing of the Black Sea to non-Russian warships and the ceding of the Caucasus to Russian control. In 1833, Admiral Lazarev entered the Bosporus at Turkish invitation with the Black Sea fleet and 12,000 Russian troops and saved Constantinople from almost certain capture by the Egyptians, who were by this time in open revolt and approaching the heart of the Empire with an army that had successfully defeated the Ottoman forces sent against it. For their assistance in containing Mehmed Ali, Russia was awarded with de facto control over the Straits until 1841 at which time the combined power of France and Great Britain brought about a return to previous restrictions on the movement of naval forces in either direction.

The subjection of the independent tribal groups in the Caucasus became a major focus for the Russians from 1836 on and through the early 1840s. While the rebellious ethnic groups presented no naval threat to Russian control of the Black Sea, the elements of the Black Sea fleet – from the lightest to the heaviest – were all extensively involved in the full range of amphibious support activities, from transportation of troops and supplies, to shore bombardment, to patrol and escort activities, and to the landing, establishment, and protection of beachheads and forts. While these activities must have been tedious in the extreme, one can only surmise that the level of training, readiness and seamanship of the ships involved must have been of a high order – especially under Admiral Lazarev’s demanding leadership.

Sinop and the Crimean War 1853–6
The Russian Black Sea fleet had approached the highest standards of efficiency during the closing years of the age of sail and its warships and commanders were well regarded by informed British and French observers. By mid-century, technological change was transforming military and naval weapons and tactical systems at a rate that often left even the most advanced European powers struggling to keep up. The Ottoman Empire was quickly left behind by improvements in ordnance and the introduction of steam propulsion, while their Russian rivals were at the same time attempting with only limited success to keep abreast of European powers possessing even more fully matured industrial and scientific resources. One effect of the industrial revolution would be the Russian destruction of Turkish naval forces at Sinop by means of their more advanced ordnance, their more highly trained manpower resources and their overwhelming materiel superiority. In a similar manner, Russian naval power would in its turn be eclipsed very shortly thereafter at the siege of Sevastopol’ by British and French naval forces operating with even more highly developed technological sophistication acting similarly in tandem with equally overwhelming materiel superiority.

For westerners unaccustomed to the highly developed interrelatedness of Russian naval and military operations, the decision of Emperor Nicholas I, acting upon the advice of Prince Menshikov, to order Admiral Nakhimov to scuttle the major elements of the Black Sea fleet at the harbour entrance and send his sailors ashore along with their artillery to aid in the defence of Sevastopol’ seems an act of craven cowardice or incredibly poor judgment. Many of Nakhimov’s officers are said to have held similar viewpoints, holding that the honour of Russia required a fight to the death against an overwhelmingly powerful Anglo-French armada in the open waters of the Black Sea. If real military effectiveness is deemed the criterion in place of self-serving posturing by officers imbued with an excess of nineteenth-century romanticism, the practical contribution of the Russian sailors to the defence of Sevastopol’ clearly out-weighed whatever propaganda value the heroic sacrifice of the certainly doomed Russian battle fleet at sea by the superior
Anglo-French forces might have had in the eyes of history and naval tradition. If, on the other hand, real courage and sacrifice were to become the criteria, the death of Admirals Kornilov, Istomin and Nakhimov along with 15,000 seamen and officers during the siege and the survival of a mere 600 speaks for itself.
Official Russian records credit the warship losses during the siege of Sevastopol at 12 line of battle ships, two frigates, five corvettes and brigs and five steam warships. This was the fleet built so carefully over a quarter century by the will of Nicholas I and the skill and leadership of Admiral Lazarev. It was unquestionably the most efficient and well-trained fleet ever put into service by the Russian Navy during the age of sail. Its inability to mount an effective challenge to the combined fleets of two of the most powerful and technologically advanced great powers of the period is no reflection on its standing in this regard. The Treaty of Paris signed in March of 1856 ended the Crimean War and forbade (temporarily as events were to prove) the future operation of Russian naval forces in the Black Sea. Sailing ships would hang on in the Baltic until 1860, but the death by scuttling of the Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol marked the real end for the Russian sailing navy.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Olga Hussars. A Battle Between Russian and Hungarian Hussars, 8(20) July 1849.

 Portrait of P. M. Rayevsky Cornet of the Life-Guard Hussar Regiment. Artist: Liphart Ernst Karlovich Location: Hermitage Museum Medium: Oil Painting on Canvas

Olga Hussars 8 July 1849 Hungarian Revolt

The Hungarian campaign opened in fact on 20 January (1 February) 1849, when two small columns-those of Major General Engelhardt (3 battalions, 2 sotnias, and 8 guns) and Colonel Skaryatin (4 battalions, 5 sotnias, and 8 guns)-crossed the Transylvanian border on Lüders' orders (he had previously received Nicholas I's approval).



A peacetime order of battle of the Russian Army for July of 1914, listing all corps, divisions, brigades, regiments, and independent battalions of infantry, cavalry, artillery, and engineers with their garrison locations. All support, technical, administrative, supply, medical, and staff troops and units are also included with their locations and assignments.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Battle of Gross-Jägersdorf

Map of the battle of Gross-Jägersdorf on August 30 1757 Source: Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, volume III by the German Grosser Generalstab.

The Russians were moving against the East Prussian province by the end of June. East Prussia, isolated from the main Prussian province of Brandenburg/Pomerania, had at its disposal only 32,000 troops under the command of Field Marshal Hans v. Lehwaldt. The Russians, under the overall command of Field Marshal Stephen Fedorovich Apraksin, deployed 55,000 men in five corps along a broad front. They captured the port of Memel on 5 July, and pressed on, intending to march on the East Prussian capital of Königsberg. Lehwaldt decided to attack the Russian columns when they came within striking distance, even though the Prussians, with only 24,000 men, were outnumbered two to one.

On 30 August Lehwaldt and the Prussian army emerged from the west near the town of Gross-Jägersdorf and attacked the Russians at around 5.00 am. The Prussians were spread thinly in linear formation. They had surprised the Russians on the march and tried to take advantage of the ensuing confusion. Heavy fighting took place in the center lines in the Norkitten Wood, but the Russian artillery took a heavy toll of the Prussians. After four salvoes against the center, the Prussian effort was spent and a general retreat began. The Prussians lost 4,500 men and the Russians lost 6,000. The Russians did not follow up the Prussian retreat, allowing them to leave the battlefield without much molestation. The Prussians, for their part, had a newfound respect for the fighting capabilities of the Russians that was reinforced in the later battles of Zorndorf and Kunersdorf.

A British observer reported that: ‘The Russian troops … can never act with expedition.’ Ponderous drill movements and an almost lethargic attitude to manoeuvre hindered the Russian ability to move troops easily on the battlefield. At Gross-Jägersdorf a Russian observer noted that, ‘Our army was ranged immobile for the whole duration of the combat, with the first rank kneeling and sitting.’ A Prussian reported that’ … although deployment into line has been introduced into their service, the infantry regiment is scarcely capable of arranging a line in less than an hour, and even then the process is always attended with disorder.’

The Russians decided to withdraw from East Prussia and returned to Poland in October. The reasons for this decision are not clear, but Apraksin was removed from his post as a result and ordered to appear at court in St Petersburg. The Prussian field army also left East Prussia, withdrawing to Pomerania to deal with Swedish attempts to seize territory. The Russians returned to East Prussia in January 1758 with 72,000 men and attacked during the winter snows. The Prussians, without the East Prussian field army, offered no real resistance on this occasion, and the Russians took possession of the province, a position they held until the end of the war. As other battles demonstrate, territorial victories were not as important as destroying the field armies of the enemy.


Russian Army 1650-1715

Like other early modern states, in the 1630s Russia’s leaders set out to reform and modernize the Army. They did so to a significant degree based on Dutch and Swedish “new model army” examples set decades earlier by Maurits of Nassau and Gustavus Adolphus. In Russia during this period, the more modern units were known as “new-formation” regiments (re-formed units trained and equipped in Western European fashion). They first fought alongside older strel’sty units in the Smolensk War (1632-1634) waged between Poland-Lithuania and Muscovy. These early experimental units were disbanded at the end of that conflict, under social and economic pressure from traditional military interests. New-formation infantry, cavalry, and dragoon regiments were raised again in 1637 to fight the Tatars. Within a year, a core of 5,000 dragoons and 8,700 new infantry were recruited, then disbanded again. More experiments with new-formation troops took place in the 1640s, such as drafting peasants along the southern frontier with the Cossacks and Tatars to serve as part-time dragoons. Servitor or “dvorianstvo” (landed gentry) cavalry were also encouraged to resume their traditional role along the frontier, in exchange for avoiding further social debasement.

By the early 1650s the Russian Army had over 133,000 men recorded on its rolls, of whom just 7 percent were new-formation troops. The outbreak of three interrelated conflicts that drew Russia into protracted fighting from 1654 proved to be the spur needed to reform almost the whole Army-the closing events and weakening of Poland caused by the Khmelnitsky Uprising (1648-1654), the Second Northern War (1654-1660), and the Thirteen Years’ War (1654-1667). By 1663, fully 79 percent of Russian troops were in new-formation units. They were supplied with modern flintlock firearms, though some still used matchlocks longer than in western Europe. Both types of infantry weapon were eventually made in Russia at a factory built by Dutch experts at Tula in 1632, and expanded thereafter. Tens of thousands of additional muskets were imported from the United Provinces, Germany, and Sweden, as were many thousands of mercenaries. Through the last half of the 17th century, two famous Guards regiments, the Preobrazhenski Guards and Semenovskii Guards, formed the modern core of the Russian Army. They served alongside two bodyguard regiments, the strel’sty, and servitor cavalry. The fact that large Russian armies continued to be routinely dispatched and even routed by smaller Polish and Swedish forces surprised no one before 1709. But it should have, because military transformation in Russia was already under way before Peter I became tsar.

The “military revolution” in Russia was well under way by the end of the Thirteen Years’ War in 1667, by which time new-formation infantry constituted nearly 80% of all Russian Army formations outside the strel’sty. Moreover, many new-formation regiments were officered by well-trained and experienced Russians, rather than by foreigners. Nevertheless, the final transformation of the Russian Army into a modern force did not begin until just before the start of the Great Northern War (1700-1721). In 1699, Peter began an earnest expansion of the Army, in addition to having earlier commenced construction of an entirely new Navy. By 1700, Peter had herded 32,000 recruits into two regiments of dragoons and 27 of infantry, along with some squadrons of cavalry. These men, mostly peasants, were supported by remnants of older strel’sty regiments and servitor and Cossack cavalry. They were still in training when routed by the Swedes at Narva (1700).

Peter made much propaganda out of that defeat because it helped him discredit the old ways in favor of urgent reforms, which in turn swelled his reputation as a great modernizer, westernizer, and visionary. This should be borne in mind, even as it is noted that he was indeed the principal driving force behind radical change in Russian military culture and institutions, and that Narva was the pivot point of his reforms. In the years immediately following Narva, the Army was expanded to 47 infantry regiments. The servitor cavalry was sharply reshaped, with all eligible males age 15 and older registered for service in nine new-formation dragoon regiments founded in 1702. Peter also established five new grenadier regiments from existing companies. The changes were locked in place by a new recruitment system, established by decree in 1705, under which every 20 peasant households provided one recruit for the Army or Navy and supplied him with his food, uniform, and boots. The quota was filled by 1710, by which year the system was supplying up to 50,000 fresh recruits per annum. They were organized into two regiments of Guards, five of grenadiers, 35 of fusiliers, and 42 of ordinary infantry. Also by 1710, the cavalry arm reached 35,000 effectives, in addition to 45,000 Cossack and other auxiliaries. Army artillery had nearly 150 field guns and pulled a substantial siege train. These levels were more-or-less maintained to the end of the Great Northern War, despite heavy desertion rates among new conscripts.

More than increased numbers, what fundamentally changed within the Russian Army in this period was an emphasis on professionalism among officers and a correspondingly greater battlefield discipline. As with all early modern armies, this was achieved through intensive drill. Swedish soldiers and commanders began to notice as early as 1704 that whereas Russian armies previously had tended to break and flee once the battle started to go against them, “new-formation” regiments exhibited a growing ability to suffer reverses and then to rally and stand, or even counterattack.

Furthermore, the Russians did not just ape western tactics and styles of fighting. They learned their own methods and developed their own style, which was well adapted to conditions in the east. For instance, Russians showed an unusual willingness to emerge from entrenchments and fight before them in open combat, taking advantage of always-superior numbers. Similarly, Russian garrisons increasingly refused to sit inside fortresses, waiting for some Polish or Saxon army and siege train to arrive and blast them out. Instead, Russian defensive tactics emphasized mobility and harassment of enemy foraging parties and supply columns, relying on a natural advantage in cavalry numbers to carry out raids. Flexibility, using the terrain to advantage, and concealment in forest and swamp prior to seeking battle, rather than hunkering down inside fixed fortifications, became the hallmark of the Petrine military. This was nowhere in greater evidence than during the brilliant Russian defensive campaign of 1708-1709 that culminated in triumph at Poltava. By the time Peter died in 1725, he had modernized the Russian Army and raised its standing cohorts to 130,000 men. More importantly, he had also persuaded the noble service elite that, as had been the case for the Swedish service and military elite in the 17th century, the dawning 18th century presented Russia with opportunities to grow great and rich through aggressive war.

Sunday, February 7, 2016


Capture of Azov by Robert Kerr Porter. Peter stands in the foreground, commanding his troops

Measured by large outcomes, the Imperial Russian military establishment evolved through two distinct stages. From the era of Peter the Great through the reign of Alexander III, the Russian army and navy fought, borrowed, and innovated their way to more successes than failures. With the major exception of the Crimean War, Russian ground and naval forces largely overcame the challenges and contradictions inherent in diverse circumstances and multiple foes to extend and defend the limits of empire. However, by the time of Nicholas II, significant lapses in leadership and adaptation spawned the kinds of repetitive disaster and fundamental disaffection that exceeded the military's ability to recuperate.

The Imperial Russian Army and Navy owed their origins to Peter I, although less so for the army than the navy. The army's deeper roots clearly lay with Muscovite precedent, especially with Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich's European-inspired new regiments of foreign formation. The Great Reformer breathed transforming energy and intensity into these and other precedents to fashion a standing regular army that by 1725 counted 112,000 troops in two guards, two grenadier, forty-two infantry, and thirty-three dragoon regiments, with supporting artillery and auxiliaries. To serve this establishment, he also fashioned administrative, financial, and logistical mechanisms, along with a rational rank structure and systematic officer and soldier recruitment. With an admixture of foreigners, the officer corps came primarily from the Russian nobility, while soldiers came from recruit levies against the peasant population. 

 Fleet of Peter the Great (1909) by Eugene Lanceray.

Although Peter's standing force owed much to European precedent, his military diverged from conventional patterns to incorporate irregular cavalry levies, especially Cossacks, and to evolve a military art that emphasized flexibility and practicality for combating both conventional northern European foes and less conventional steppe adversaries. After mixed success against the Tatars and Turks at Azov in 1695-1696, and after a severe reverse at Narva (1700) against the Swedes at the outset of the Great Northern War, Peter's army notched important victories at Dorpat (1704), Lesnaya (1708), and Poltava (1709). After an abrupt loss in 1711 to the Turks on the Pruth River, Peter dogged his Swedish adversaries until they came to terms at Nystadt in 1721. Subsequently, Peter took to the Caspian basin, where during the early 1720s his Lower (or Southern) Corps campaigned as far south as Persia.

After Peter's death, the army's fortunes waned and waxed, with much of its development characterized by which aspect of the Petrine legacy seemed most politic and appropriate for time and circumstance. Under Empress Anna Ioannovna, the army came to reflect a strong European, especially Prussian, bias in organization and tactics, a bias that during the 1730s contributed to defeat and indecision against the Tatars and Turks. Under Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, the army reverted partially to Petrine precedent, but retained a sufficiently strong European character to give good account for itself in the Seven Years' War. Although in 1761 the military- organizational pendulum under Peter III again swung briefly and decisively in favor of Prussianinspired models, a palace coup in favor of his wife, who became Empress Catherine II, ushered in a lengthy period of renewed military development. During Catherine's reign, the army fought two major wars against Turkey and its steppe allies to emerge as the largest ground force in Europe. Three commanders were especially responsible for bringing Russian military power to bear against elusive southern adversaries. Two, Peter Alexandrovich Rumyantsev and Alexander Vasilievich Suvorov, were veterans of the Seven Years War, while the third, Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin, was a commander and administrator of great intellect, influence, and organizational talent. 

Equestrian portrait of Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796) - Catherine II of Russia in Life Guard Uniform on the Horse Brillante, by Vigilius Eriksen

During Catherine's First Turkish War (1768-1774), Rumyantsev successfully employed flexible tactics and simplified Russian military organization to win significant victories at Larga and Kagul (both 1770). Suvorov, meanwhile, defeated the Polish Confederation of Bar, then after 1774 campaigned in the Crimea and the Nogai steppe. At the same time, regular army formations played an important role in suppressing the Pugachev rebellion (1773-1775). During Catherine's Second Turkish War (1787-1792), Potemkin emerged as the impresario of final victory over the Porte for hegemony over the northern Black Sea littoral, while Suvorov emerged as perhaps the most talented Russian field commander of all time. Potemkin inherently understood the value of irregular cavalry forces in the south, and he took measures to regularize Cossack service and bring them more fully under Russian military authority, or failing that, to abolish recalcitrant Cossack hosts. Following Rumyantsev's precedent, he also lightened and multiplied the number of light infantry and light cavalry formations, while emphasizing utility and practicality in drill and items of equipment. In the field, Suvorov further refined Rumyantsev's tactical innovations to emphasize "speed, assessment, attack." Suvorov's battlefield successes, together with the conquest of Ochakov (1788) and Izmail (1790) and important sallies across the Danube, brought Russia favorable terms at Jassy (1792). Even as war raged in the south, the army in the north once again defeated Sweden (1788-1790), then in 1793-1794 overran a rebellious Poland, setting the stage for its third partition. 

Vasily Surikov. Russian Troops under Suvorov Crossing the Alps. 1899. Oil on canvas. The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Under Paul I, the army chaffed under the imposition of direct monarchical authority, the more so because it brought another brief dalliance with Prussian military models. Suvorov was temporarily banished, but was later recalled to lead Russian forces in northern Italy as part of the Second Coalition against revolutionary France. In 1799, despite Austrian interference, Suvorov drove the French from the field, then brilliantly extricated his forces from Italy across the Alps. The eighteenth century closed with the army a strongly entrenched feature of Russian imperial might, a force to be reckoned with on both the plains of Europe and the steppes of Eurasia. 

In contrast with the army, Muscovite precedent afforded scant inspiration for the Imperial Russian Navy, the origins of which clearly lay with Peter the Great. Enamored with the sea and sailing ships, Peter borrowed from foreign technology and expertise initially to create naval forces on both the Azov and Baltic Seas. Although the Russian navy would always remain "the second arm" for an essentially continental power, sea-going forces figured prominently in Peter's military successes. In both the south and north, his galley fleets supported the army in riverine and coastal operations, then went on to win important Baltic victories over the Swedes, most notably at Gangut/Hanko (1714). Peter also developed an open-water sailing capability, so that by 1724 his Baltic Fleet numbered 34 ships-of-the-line, in addition to numerous galleys and auxiliaries. Smaller flotillas sailed the White and Caspian Seas.

Battle of the Chios Straits (Prelude to the Battle of Chesma) July 5th (June 24th) 1770 By Ivan Aivazovsky. 1848

More dependent than the army on rigorous and regular sustenance and maintenance, the Imperial Russian Navy after Peter languished until the era of Catherine II. She appointed her son general admiral, revitalized the Baltic Fleet, and later established Sevastopol as a base for the emerging Black Sea Fleet. In 1770, during the Empress' First Turkish War, a squadron under Admiral Alexei Grigorievich Orlov defeated the Turks decisively at Chesme. During the Second Turkish War, a rudimentary Black Sea Fleet under Admiral Fyedor Fyedorovich Ushakov frequently operated both independently and in direct support of ground forces. The same ground-sea cooperation held true in the Baltic, where Vasily Yakovlevich Chichagov's fleet also ended Swedish naval pretensions. Meanwhile, in 1799 Admiral Ushakov scored a series of Mediterranean victories over the French, before the Russians withdrew from the Second Coalition.

At the outset of the century, Alexander I inherited a sizeable and unaffordable army, many of whose commanders were seasoned veterans. After instituting a series of modest administrative reforms for efficiency and economy, including the creation of a true War Ministry, the Tsar in 1805 plunged into the wars of the Third Coalition. For all their experience and flexibility, the Russians with or without the benefit of allies against Napoleon suffered a series of reverses or stalemates, including Austerlitz (1805), Eylau (1807), and Friedland (1807). After the ensuing Tilsit Peace granted five years' respite, Napoleon's Grand Armée invaded Russia in 1812. Following a fighting Russian withdrawal into the interior, Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov in September gave indecisive battle at Borodino, followed by another withdrawal to the southeast that uncovered Moscow. When the French quit Moscow in October, Kutuzov pursued, reinforced by swarms of partisans and Cossacks, who, together with starvation and severe cold, harassed the Grand Armée to destruction. In 1813, the Russian army fought in Germany, and in 1814 participated in the coalition victory at Leipzig, followed by a fighting entry into France and the occupation of Paris.

The successful termination of the Napoleonic wars still left Alexander I with an outsized and unaffordable military establishment, but now with the addition of disaffected elements within the officer corps. While some gentry officers formed secret societies to espouse revolutionary causes, the tsar experimented with the establishment of settled troops, or military colonies, to reduce maintenance costs. Although these colonies were in many ways only an extension of the previous century's experience with military settlers on the frontier, their widespread application spawned much discontent. After Alexander I's death, unrest and conspiracy led to an attempted military coup in December 1825. 

 Russian Black Sea Fleet on a Parade

Tsar Nicholas I energetically suppressed the socalled Decembrist rebellion, then imposed parade ground order. His standing army grew to number one million troops, but its outdated recruitment system and traditional support infrastructure eventually proved incapable of meeting the challenges of military modernization. Superficially, the army was a model of predictable routine and harsh discipline, but its inherent shortcomings, including outmoded weaponry, incapacity for rapid expansion, and lack of strategic mobility, led inexorably to Crimean defeat. The army was able to subdue Polish military insurrectionists (1830-1831) and Hungarian revolutionaries (1848), and successfully fight Persians and Turks (1826-1828, 1828-1829), but in the field it lagged behind its more modern European counterparts. Fighting from 1854 to 1856 against an allied coalition in the Crimea, the Russians suffered defeat at Alma, heavy losses at Balaklava and Inkerman, and the humiliation of surrender at Sevastopol. Only the experience of extended warfare in the Caucasus (1801-1864) afforded unconventional antidote to the conventional "paradomania" of St. Petersburg that had so thoroughly inspired Crimean defeat. Thus, the mountains replaced the steppe as the southern pole in an updated version of the previous century's northsouth dialectic. 

 Defend Sevastopol - Vasily Igorevich Nesterenko (1967, Russia, Pavlograd)

During the first half of the nineteenth century, the navy, too, experienced its own version of the same dialectic. For a brief period, the Russian navy under Admiral Dmity Nikolayevich Senyavin harassed Turkish forces in the Aegean, but following Tilsit, the British Royal Navy ruled in both the Baltic and the Mediterranean. In 1827, the Russians joined with the British and French to pound the Turks at Navarino, but in the north, the Baltic Fleet, like the St. Petersburg military establishment, soon degenerated into an imperial parading force. Only on the Black Sea, where units regularly supported Russian ground forces in the Caucasus, did the Navy reveal any sustained tactical and operational acumen. However, this attainment soon proved counterproductive, for Russian naval victory in 1853 over the Turks at Sinope drew the British and French to the Turkish cause, thus setting the stage for allied intervention in the Crimea. During the Crimean War, steam and screw-driven allied vessels attacked at will in both the north and south, thereby revealing the essentially backwardness of Russia's sailing navy.

Alexander II's era of the Great Reforms marked an important watershed for both services. In a series of reforms between 1861 and 1874, War Minister Dmitry Alexeyevich Milyutin created the foundations for a genuine cadre- and reserve-based ground force. He facilitated introduction of a universal service obligation, and he rearmed, reequipped, and redeployed the army to contend with the gradually emerging German and Austro-Hungarian threat along the Empire's western frontier. In 1863-1864 the army once again suppressed a Polish rebellion, while in the 1860s and 1870s small mobile forces figured in extensive military conquests in Central Asia. War also flared with Turkey in 1877-1878, during which the army, despite a ragged beginning, inconsistent field leadership, and inadequacies in logistics and medical support, acquitted itself well, especially in a decisive campaign in the European theater south of the Balkan ridge. Similar circumstances governed in the Transcausus theater, where the army overcame initial setbacks to seize Kars and carry the campaign into Asia Minor.

Following the war of 1877-1878, planning and deployment priorities wedded the army more closely to the western military frontier and especially to peacetime deployments in Russian Poland. With considerable difficulty, Alexander III presided over a limited force modernization that witnessed the adoption of smokeless powder weaponry and changes in size and force structure that kept the army on nearly equal terms with its two more significant potential adversaries, Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary. At the same time, the end of the century brought extensive new military commitments to the Far East, both to protect expanding imperial interests and to participate in suppression of the Boxer Rebellion (1900). 

Russian Army and Navy 1904-1905

The same challenges of force modernization and diverse responsibilities bedeviled the navy, perhaps more so than the army. During the 1860s and 1870s, the navy made the difficult transition from sail to steam, but thereafter had to deal with increasingly diverse geostrategic requirements that mandated retention of naval forces in at least four theaters (Baltic, Northern, Black Sea, and Pacific), none of which were mutually supporting. Simultaneously, the Russian Admiralty grappled with issues of role and identity, pondering whether the navy's primary mission in war lay either with coastal defense and commerce raiding or with attainment of true "blue water" supremacy in the tradition of Alfred Thayer Mahan and his Russian navalist disciples. Rationale notwithstanding, by 1898 Russia possessed Europe's third largest navy (nineteen capital ships and more than fifty cruisers), thanks primarily to the ship-building programs of Alexander III.

Under Russia's last tsar, the army went from defeat to disaster and despair. Initially overcommitted and split by a new dichotomy between the Far East and the European military frontier, the army fared poorly in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Poor strategic vision and even worse battlefield execution in a Far Eastern littoral war brought defeat because Russia failed to bring its overwhelming resources to bear. While the navy early ceded the initiative and command of the sea to the Japanese, Russian ground force buildups across vast distances were slow. General Adjutant Alexei Nikolayevich Kuropatkin and his subordinates lacked the capacity either to fight expert delaying actions or to master the complexities of meeting engagements that evolved into main battles and operations. Tethered to an 8-thousand-kilometer-long line of communications, the army marched through a series of reverses from the banks of the Yalu (May 1904) to the environs of Mukden (February-March 1905). Although the garrison at Port Arthur retained the capacity to resist, premature surrender of the fortress in early 1905 merely added to Russian humiliation.

The Imperial Russian Navy fared even worse. Except for Stepan Osipovich Makarov, who was killed early, Russian admirals in the Far East presented a picture of indolence and incompetence. The Russian Pacific Squadron at Port Arthur made several half-hearted sorties, then was bottled up at its base by Admiral Togo, until late in 1904 when Japanese siege artillery pounded the Squadron to pieces. When the tsar sent his Baltic Fleet (rechristened the Second Pacific Squadron) to the Far East, it fell prey to the Japanese at Tsushima (May 1905) in a naval battle of annihilation. In all, the tsar lost fifteen capital ships in the Far East, the backbone of two battle fleets.

The years between 1905 and 1914 witnessed renewal and reconstruction, neither of which sufficed to prepare the tsar's army and navy for World War I. Far Eastern defeat fueled the fires of the Revolution of 1905, and both services witnessed mutinies within their ranks. Once the dissidents were weeded out, standing army troops were employed liberally until 1907 to suppress popular disorder. By 1910, stability and improved economic conditions permitted General Adjutant Vladimir Alexandrovich Sukhomlinov's War Ministry to undertake limited reforms in the army's recruitment, organization, deployment, armament, and supply structure. More could have been done, but the navy siphoned off precious funds for ambitious shipbuilding programs to restore the second arm's power and prestige. The overall objective was to prepare Russia for war with the Triple Alliance. Obsession with the threat opposite the western military frontier gradually eliminated earlier dichotomies and subsumed all other strategic priorities. 

The outbreak of hostilities in 1914 came too soon for various reform and reconstruction projects to bear full fruit. Again, the Russians suffered from strategic overreach and stretched their military and naval resources too thin. Moreover, military leaders failed to build sound linkages between design and application, between means and objectives, and between troops and their command instances. These and other shortcomings, including an inadequate logistics system and the regime's inability fully to mobilize the home front to support the fighting front, proved disastrous. Thus, the Russians successfully mobilized 3.9 million troops for a short war of military annihilation, but early disasters in East Prussia at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes, along with a stalled offensive in Galicia, inexorably led to a protracted war of attrition and exhaustion. In 1915, when German offensive pressure caused the Russian Supreme Command to shorten its front in Russian Poland, withdrawal turned into a costly rout. One of the few positive notes came in 1916, when the Russian Southwest Front under General Alexei Alexeyevich Brusilov launched perhaps the most successful offensive of the entire war on all its fronts. Meanwhile, a navy still not fully recovered from 1904-1905 generally discharged its required supporting functions. In the Baltic, it laid mine fields and protected approaches to Petrograd. In the Black Sea, after initial difficulties with German units serving under Turkish colors, the fleet performed well in a series of support and amphibious operations. 

 The WWI-era Sikorsky Il'ya Muromets, the first 4-engined heavy bomber

Ultimately, a combination of seemingly endless bloodletting, war-weariness, governmental inefficiency, and the regime's political ineptness facilitated the spread of pacifist and revolutionary sentiment in both the army and navy. By the beginning of 1917, sufficient malaise had set in to render both services incapable either of consistent loyalty or of sustained and effective combat operations. In the end, neither the army nor the navy offered proof against the tsar's internal and external enemies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Baumann, Robert F. (1993). Russian-Soviet Unconventional Wars in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. Ft. Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute. Curtiss, John S. (1965). The Russian Army of Nicholas I, 1825-1855. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Duffy, Christopher. (1981). Russia's Military Way to the West: Origins and Nature of Russian Military Power 1700-1800. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Fuller, William C., Jr. (1992). Strategy and Power in Russia, 1600-1914. New York: The Free Press. Kagan, Frederick W. (1999). The Military Reforms of Nicholas I: The Origins of the Modern Russian Army. New York: St. Martin's Press. Kagan, Frederick W., and Higham, Robin, eds. (2002). The Military History of Tsarist Russia. New York: Palgrave. Keep, John L. H. (1985). Soldiers of the Tsar: Army and Society in Russia, 1462-1874. Oxford: Clarendon Press. LeDonne, John P. (2003). The Grand Strategy of the Russian Empire, 1650-1831. New York: Oxford University Press. Menning, Bruce W. (2000). Bayonets before Bullets: The Imperial Russian Army, 1861-1914. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Mitchell, Donald W. (1974). A History of Russian and Soviet Sea Power. New York: Macmillan. Reddel, Carl F., ed. (1990). Transformation in Russian and Soviet Military History. Washington, DC: U. S. Air Force Academy and Office of Air Force History. Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, David, and Menning, Bruce W., eds. (2003). Reforming the Tsar's Army: Military Innovation in Imperial Russia from Peter the Great to the Revolution. New York: Cambridge University Press. Stone, Norman. (1975). The Eastern Front 1914-1917. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Westwood, J. N. (1986). Russia against Japan, 1904-1905. Albany: State University of New York Press. Woodward, David. (1965). The Russians at Sea: A History of the Russian Navy. New York: Frederick A. Praeger.

Sunday, January 31, 2016


Peter the Great by Paul Delaroche

Military reform has been one of the central aspects of Russia's drive to modernize and become a leading European military, political, and economic power. Ivan IV (d. 1584) gave away pomestie lands to create a permanent military service class, and Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (d. 1676) enserfed Russia's peasants to guarantee the political support of these military servitors. In the same period, Alexei, seeking to modernize his realm, invited Westerners to Russia to introduce advanced technical capabilities. But as the eighteenth century dawned, Russia found itself surrounded and outmatched by hostile enemies to its north, south, west, and, to a lessor extent, to its east. At the same time, perhaps Russia's most energetic tsar, Peter the Great (d. 1725), adopted a grand strategy based on the goal of conquering adversaries in all directions. Such ambitions required the complete overhaul of the Russian nation. As a result, the reforms of Peter the Great represent the beginning of the modern era of Russian history.

Military reform, designed to create a powerful permanently standing army and navy, was the central goal of all of Peter the Great's monumental reforms. His most notable military reforms included the creation of a navy that he used to great effect against the Ottomans in the sea of Azov and the Swedes in the Baltic during the Great Northern War; the creation of the Guard's Officer Corps that became the basis of the standing professional officer corps until they became superannuated and replaced by officers with General Staff training during the nineteenth century; a twenty-five year service requirement for peasants selected by lot to be soldiers; and his codifying military's existence by personally writing a set of instructions in 1716 for the army and 1720 for the navy. While these reforms transformed the operational capabilities of the Russian military, Peter the Great also sought to create the social and administrative basis for maintaining this newly generated power. In 1720 he created administrative colleges specifically to furnish the army and navy with a higher administrative apparatus to oversee the acquisition of equipment, supplies, and recruits. Peter's final seminal reform, however, was the 1722 creation of the Table of Ranks, which linked social and political mobility to the idea of merit, not only in the military but throughout Russia. 

 Potemkin in later life

The irony of Peter's culminating reform was that the nobility did not accept the Table of Ranks because it forced them to work to maintain what they viewed as their inherited birthright to power, privilege, and status. While no major military reforms occurred until after the 1853-1856 Crimean War, the work of Catherine II's (d. 1796) "Great Captains," Peter Rumyanstev, Grigory Potemkin, and Alexander Suvorov, combined with the reforming efforts of Paul I (d. 1801), created a system for educating and training officers and defined everything from uniforms to operational doctrine. None of these efforts amounted in scope to the reforms that preceded or followed, but together they provided Russia with a military establishment powerful enough to defeat adversaries ranging from the powerful French to the declining Ottomans. Realizing that the army was too large and too wasteful, Nicholas I (d. 1855) spent the balance of the 1830s and 1840s introducing administrative reforms to streamline and enhance performance but, as events in the Crimea demonstrated, without success. 

Alexander II's (d. 1881) 1861 peasant emancipation launched his Great Reforms and set the stage for the enlightened War Minister Dmitry Milyutin to reorganize Russia's military establishment in every aspect imaginable. His most enduring reform was the 1862-1864 establishment of the fifteen military districts that imposed a centralized and manageable administrative and command system over the entire army. Then, to reintroduce the concept of meritocracy into the officer training system, he reorganized the Cadet Corps Academies into Junker schools in 1864 to provide an education to all qualified candidates regardless of social status. In addition, in 1868 he oversaw the recasting of the army's standing wartime orders. The result of these three reforms centralized all power within the army into the war minister's hands. But Milyutin's most important reform was the Universal Conscription Act of 1874 that required all Russian men to serve first in the active army and then in the reserves. Modeled after the system recently implemented by the Prussians in their stunningly successful unification, Russia now had the basis for a modern conscript army that utilized the Empire's superiority in manpower without maintaining a costly standing army.

Milyutin's reforms completely overhauled Russia's military system. But a difficult victory in the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War and the debacle of the Russo-Japanese War demonstrated that Russia's military establishment was in need of further and immediate reform in the post-1905 period. In the war's aftermath, the army and the navy were overrun with reforming schemes and undertakings that ranged from the creation of the Supreme Defense Council to unify all military policy, to the emergence of an autonomous General Staff (something Milyutin intentionally avoided), to the 1906 appointment of a Higher Attestation Commission charged with the task of purging the officer corps of dead weight. By 1910, the reaction to military defeat had calmed down, and War Minister Vladimir Sukhomlinov sought to address future concerns with a series of reforms that simplified the organization of army corps and sought to rationalize the deployment of troops throughout the Empire. These reforms demonstrated the future needs of the army well, resulting in the 1914 passage of a bill (The Large Program) through the Duma designed to finance the strengthening of the entire military establishment.