Military Review

Campaign in Poland. How Napoleon tried to crush the Russian army

210 years ago, in December 1806, the Russian imperial army entered the battle against the French army under Napoleon. Napoleon launched a campaign in Poland and East Prussia with the aim of imposing a decisive battle on the Russians, winning it and dictating the terms of the peace of Russia, which led to the defeat of the Fourth Anti-French Coalition. In December, 1806, fierce battles took place between the Russian and French armies near Charnov, Golymin and Pultusk. They did not reveal a winner.


The war of the fourth coalition (the Russian-Prussian-French war), which included England, Prussia, Russia, Saxony and Sweden, against Napoleonic France, was actually a continuation of the Russian-Austro-French war of the 1805 year. The leading European powers tried to crush first revolutionary and then imperial France, which claimed dominance in Europe. In fact, it was another attempt to build a "European Union", but under the authority of France. France subjugated Italy, in 1805, pacified Austria. Now it was the turn of Prussia, which led to the complete domination of the French in a fragmented and multi-state Germany, among which the Prussian kingdom was the strongest.

In fact, it was an internal European war of leadership in Western Europe and the Western project as a whole. The main instigators of the war, the aggressors were London, Paris, Vienna and Berlin. Russia in this quarrel climb was not worth it. France had no common borders with us, Russia and France had no fundamental contradictions. However, all opponents of Republican France, and then Napoleon’s empire, needed Russian “cannon fodder”. A special role in drawing Russia into a series of wars with France was played by Vienna and London.

At the same time, the Austrians and the British tried to ensure that in the course of this long war Russia did not get strategic positions in the Mediterranean basin, in Central Europe. The sovereign Pavel, angry with the intrigues of the "partners" that almost led to the death of A. Suvorov’s army, broke with the "allies" and headed for an alliance with France. France and Russia could well curb the appetites of England. However, the British organized a palace coup and "Russian Knight" Pavel Petrovich was killed. His successor, Alexander, retained all his life fear and pursued a pro-British policy. Russia has steeped in European affairs and has destroyed enormous resources, the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers on the aimless war for Russia with Napoleon’s empire. All the benefits of Russia's participation in the war with France were obtained by Vienna, Berlin, and especially London.

The “allies” regularly substituted the Russian army with their short-sightedness and greed, which led to strategic mistakes and defeats. Thus, during the 1805 war, Austria did not wait for the Russian army under the command of M. Kutuzov to launch an offensive herself. This led to a decisive defeat of the Austrian army near Ulm. At the cost of tremendous efforts, Kutuzov and his generals were able to save the army from encirclement and surrender or complete rout. However, the mistakes of the supreme Austrian and Russian command led the Russian-Austrian troops to a new decisive defeat at Austerlitz. Austria was withdrawn from the war.

Russia continued the struggle and concluded an alliance with Prussia. The Prussian military-political elite, blinded by pride, decided that the "invincible" Prussian army itself would crush the "Corsican upstart". As a result of the general plan of the war, the Allies did not have and acted inconsistently, which allowed Napoleon to break them one by one. The 2 (14) of October in Jena-Auerstedt battle the French army utterly defeated the Prussian-Saxon troops. It was a real disaster, the will of the Prussian military-political leadership was broken, the remaining Prussian troops and garrisons were demoralized. The strongest Prussian fortresses that could have been besieged for months, one after another, capitulated. After that, the French troops occupied most of Prussia and 12 (24) in October occupied Berlin, where on November 9 (21) Napoleon signed a decree on the continental blockade. However, formally Prussia has not yet capitulated. Prussian king Frederick William III with his wife and retinue fled to East Prussia, hoping for help from Russia.

French army in berlin

The continuation of the war

Russia is once again alone in the face of the victorious French army. The strategic situation was very difficult - at the same time Russia was at war with the Ottoman Empire (war of 1806-1812) and Persia (war of 1804-1813). Capitulate Russia, since I started the war, now I could not. Not only Germany and Prussia were at stake, but also Russia's position as a great power. Paris could completely oust Petersburg from European politics. Napoleon was going to use the Russian empire in the struggle with England, which threatened the economic interests of the empire and could recreate the Polish state as a buffer between Europe and Russia under its control, which already affected the national interests of Russia.

Thus, the advance of Napoleon to the east of Berlin threatened the Russian borders. A delegation of Poles came to the French emperor with a request to restore the independence of Poland. This has directly affected the interests of Russia. Now it was necessary to show the determination of Russia to defend its interests. Give Napoleon a fight to get a decent world.

On November 3, 1806 of the year, help was already sent to Leonty Leontyevich Bennigsen’s 60-thousand corps, and then another corps of 40 thousand soldiers led by General Fyodor Fedorovich Buksgevden. After the Russian troops crossed the border, they decided to strengthen the army, and the corps of General Essen-first arrived from the reserve to the theater of forthcoming actions. With his arrival, the Russian Foreign Army increased to 160 thousand people with 624 guns.

According to the union treaty, Russian troops were to operate in Germany and supplied at the expense of Prussia. The complete defeat of the Prussian army radically changed the situation: now the struggle was to be fought on the territory of East Prussia and the Polish regions of Prussia. Under these conditions, the Russian army was tasked with preventing the invasion of the French into the Russian Empire. The Russian army was concentrated in the area of ​​Pultusk, Ostroleka, Brest-Litovsk, having advanced detachments on the Vistula.

Bennigsen's corps consisted of 4 divisions: 2-division of Count Ostermann, 3-division of Saken, 4-division of Prince Golitsyn and 6-division of Sedmoratsky. The Prussian king proposed to Bennigsen to go to East Prussia. However, Bennigsen said that turning into East Prussia, he would open the way for the French to the borders of Russia.

It is worth noting that Russian troops in the Polish regions were confronted with sabotage of the local population. The Polish elite waited for the arrival of Napoleon's troops, and the orders of the Russian command did not comply or delayed the time. The local Prussian administration was demoralized and could not help the Russians. As a result, there was a problem of supplying troops with food. At first, while there was money, our generals and regimental commanders bought bread and other products. When the funds ran out, the soldiers began to get food supplies by force, which angered the population.

16 (28) November, French troops occupied Warsaw. Our troops left the city without a fight. Bennigsen was accused of leaving the strong line of the Vistula River without a fight. The general said that the French army had a large numerical advantage and could easily bypass it on the flanks. In addition, on the side of the French were the inhabitants of Warsaw, who could raise a rebellion.

The French army numbered 150 thousand people and 600 guns. Thorn housed the corps of Ney, Bernadot and part of the Bessiere guard; in Plock, the cases of Soult and Augereau; in Warsaw, the Lanna corps, Murat's guard and cavalry; Modlin has a Davou body. The French did not pursue Bennigsen's troops in the direction of Ostrolenka, completing the crossing. Finding that the French were not moving forward, the main forces of Bennigsen returned to Pultusk, the advance guard of Barclay de Tolly, Ostermann-Tolstoy and Baggowut were put in front. Lestocq was ordered to take Thorn. On the march there the Prussians learned that there were three French corps there and returned to Strasbourg.

December 4 in Ostrolenka arrived Count Buksgevden Corps, which by order of Tsar Alexander was to make a reserve Bennigsen. The corps had 4 divisions: 5-division of Tuchkov 1, 7-division of Dokhturov, 8 of Essen 3 and 14-division of Anrep. At the same time, the body of Essen 1 began to approach Brest. The corps consisted of two divisions: 9 of Prince Volkonsky and 10 of Miller-Zakomelsky Division.

Bennigsen and Buksgevden did not depend on each other, there was a feud between the corps commanders, which reduced the overall combat capability of the army. Senior Buksgevden, who considered himself bypassed, complained that foreigner Bennigsen was more trusted than he was. That Bennigsen was given more troops, and they were better in quality. Thus, the corps of Bennigsen did not participate in the battle of Austerlitz, was in good condition, the troops were eager to fight the French. But the corps of Buksgevden consisted mostly of regiments that had been defeated near Austerlitz, they had not fully recovered from the defeat, the troops lacked rifles and cartridges, the artillery park needed horses.

Another problem was the choice of the commander-in-chief of the Russian army. Alexander could not find a leader who would inspire the army to fight and become a worthy opponent of Napoleon. Calling his senior generals, the king said: "That's all of them, and in no one do I see the talents of the commander in chief." Kutuzov was not among them. The great Russian commander was in disgrace after Austerlitz, and at that time he was appointed Kiev military governor. As a result, senior field marshal Mikhail Fedotovich Kamensky, who was known for his impudent temper and victories over the Turks during the time of Catherine the Great, was appointed commander-in-chief of the Russian army.

It was a mistake. Kamensky in the best years was notable for his courage, energy, determination and self-control, was considered a good tactician, but his best years were far behind. Already on the way to Pultusk he felt bad and wrote to the emperor: “I lost almost the last sight, I cannot find a single city on the map ... The pain in the eyes and in the head; I am not capable of riding a long time ... I truly feel incapable of commanding such a vast army. " Kamensky asked to send a deputy to surrender his army. Arriving in the army, Kamensky again wrote to the emperor: "I am old for the army ... I dare to ask myself for a change."

Napoleon planned to crush the Russian army before it was combined with the only surviving 14-thousand from the Prussian army. the corps of General Lestocq, who covered East Prussia. Active actions began on December 7. The left wing of the French army was tasked to march to Strasbourg in order to cut Lestok from the Russian army and then act against the Russian right flank and rear. The center was to divert Russian troops eastward, towards the Narev River. The right wing was to march from Warsaw to Chernova, bypass the left flank of the Russians and complete their encirclement.

To be continued ...
Articles from this series:
Russian-Prussian-French War 1806 – 1807

Russian-Prussian-French War 1806 – 1807.
As a military psychosis led Prussia to a military-political catastrophe
How Napoleon destroyed the Prussian army

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  1. Ham
    Ham 13 December 2016 07: 55
    a completely meaningless war in which Russia paid with the lives of its soldiers exclusively for the interests of Great Britain and all sorts of Austrians and Prussians ...
    Napoleon really wanted an alliance with Russia, but the young Tsar Alexander, who had just killed his father in the name of the interests of Great Britain, did everything so that such an alliance would never take place ...
    as a result, the Napoleonic wars cost Russia hundreds of thousands of dead and completely ruined the country, not to mention the fact that the Patriotic War of 1812 became a consequence of the Tsar’s pro-British policy. and military settlements and as the apotheosis of the Decembrist uprising
  2. parusnik
    parusnik 13 December 2016 07: 56
    Russia should not have climbed into this weld. ..Well, for the beautiful eyes of Queen Louise, Alexander I climbed ... In May and June 1802, Frederick William III and Queen Louise met in Memel with Tsar Alexander I, these meetings had no particular political significance, but left a bright trace ... in Louise's memories. Alexander I made a huge impression on the Queen. In her notes, it was found: "The Emperor is one of those rare people who combine all the most amiable qualities with all real virtues .... He is superbly built and has a very stately appearance. He looks like a young Hercules." Alexander, of course, was also fascinated by Louise. Frederick Wilhelm III was not jealous, but he was always proud when admired by his other half. Alexander and Louise did not have any close relationship. They were just friends, and for the sake of this friendship Alexander was ready for anything.
    1. Monarchist
      Monarchist 13 December 2016 20: 51
      Parusnjk. Now it is easy to argue about what the emperor should have done or not. "
      Friedrich Wilhelm 3 was not jealous, but he was always proud when his other half was admired, "he was a Wretched Wretch, and his wife had a will and a mind.
  3. Basil50
    Basil50 13 December 2016 09: 06
    So historians in bewilderment are trying at least somehow to find the logic of events that led to that war. Won and romance are trying to * harbor * events. In general, there was a lot of intrigue and as a result of the WAR.
    It was approximately the same with the events that led to the WWII, historians argue about the reasons, only the romance was less, and the intrigues of the French and British were more.
    With WWII there is even more intrigue and no romance anymore, that's just * arsonists * the same and the same reasons. It seems that she’s not even able to learn from her own mistakes in Europe, or is there with each change of generations of politicians a purely criminal desire * farta * and hope that they will be able to dodge will prevail? Well, how else to explain what is being prepared in Europe today?
    If we move from politically smooth expressions to despicable criminality, then the situation becomes clearer, the godfather and his sixes find * the patilla * which they rob, and then * excuse themselves * from all responsibility. Moreover, they can speak and make excuses as they like, those who are * more respectable * speak condescendingly and instructively, and the rest are expressed in a hysterical style. Here are just a * godfather * throw sixes in any case, even if successful, and if * no luck * sixes will answer in full, including before * godfather *.
    1. Spnsr
      Spnsr 13 December 2016 14: 09
      Quote: Vasily50
      So historians in bewilderment are trying at least somehow to find the logic of events that led to that war. Won and romance are trying to * harbor * events. In general, there was a lot of intrigue and as a result of the WAR.

      I share your opinion, though I adhere to a slightly different view of history ...
      and romance was then in the form of a desire to rule a large state ....
      and then there was no romance because often it has the appearance of murder wars, and anyone has a limit, and the desire to rule is unlimited, and if you take the British Empire, Germany in the USA, now everywhere victims of genocide killings
      only the former republics of the USSR were led by enslaved peoples, it’s good that the Russian spring is not like the Arab, otherwise the Anglo-Saxons are only waiting for this, they don’t imagine power in any other way, only murder and genocide
      1. Monarchist
        Monarchist 13 December 2016 21: 01
        So far, ugh, ugh, we are not yet approaching a "colored spring" ... Although in some places they try to bring it closer in every possible way, and some officials just push it
    2. Monarchist
      Monarchist 13 December 2016 20: 55
      Vasily50, I shake your hand. You have a figurative but true comparison.
  4. Cartalon
    Cartalon 13 December 2016 09: 44
    Epic power, do you really think that it was in Russia's interests to give Europe to Napolen and what Russia would be after the destruction of Britain as a French vassal, Alexander the first did a lot of harmful things, but this war was inevitable otherwise in 1812, Filled would not have a second front in Spain, and Russia of British aid, and the invasion would have been for any emperor loved to fight.
  5. antivirus
    antivirus 13 December 2016 09: 55
    How good are the keepers! and now they stand for freedom under their heel!
    Solitaire is static, but no one wanted to paint the bullet and lose everything
  6. Spnsr
    Spnsr 13 December 2016 13: 33
    here we still need to figure out what kind of German lands !? so if you read the annals, well, somehow the Germans weren’t there, but they suddenly appear as Ukrainians in the last century, precisely during this period, when Napoleon tried to unite Europe ...
    the fact is that it was at that time that the map that we see now is being crushed and formed ....
    and another question is what Paul wanted, but Romanov’s Russia was not interested in such a neighbor as Napoleon would have represented France. and she was primarily interested in dividing, or rather creating a map on which there would be many opposing states, launching the theme of pan-Slavism in order to unite them under her control. “SHARE AND OVER!”
    she also spent after the collapse of the Ataman Empire and with the Ottoman Empire and Persia
    By the way, in the case of the Ottoman Empire, Napoleon helped her by squeezing a piece from the Ottomans and calling it Egypt, like Syria too
    the story is much more obvious than the confusion that needs to be rethought in order to throw away the extra noise and see the fact ....
    1. Cartalon
      Cartalon 13 December 2016 18: 40
      Yeah, and Napoleon built the pyramids there.
      1. Spnsr
        Spnsr 13 December 2016 19: 59
        Yeah, but still do not have to be .... sorry, but look at the obvious facts in the face, while lying before your eyes, and not read fairy tales in which the story is more likely to be just a thread, and the rest is tinsel, beyond which this thread is not visible!
        no one says he built the pyramids or not, but it’s much more realistic that they became Egyptian not earlier than when he came there!
    ALEA IACTA EST 13 December 2016 17: 21
    British bondage ...