Sunday, July 12, 2015

After Peter Part II

Burkhard Christoph von Münnich (1683-1767)

Despite this tour de force, Anna’s widowhood and her time outside of Russia in Courland forced her to rely heavily on the Baltic German elites who had served her there. Her largely German government was dominated by her favorite, the deeply unpopular Ernst Bühren. Foreign policy was the purview of another German: Heinrich Ostermann, a Westphalian who had already been a high-ranking diplomat under Peter the Great. As with Ostermann, Anna inherited from Peter the Great her chief administrator in the Russian army: Burchardt Christoph Münnich.

Münnich had long experience in European armies, fighting in the War of the Spanish Succession before Russian service as an engineer for Peter the Great. He appealed to Anna because of his German background and his relative independence from the powerful noble families that had attempted to limit her power. Tireless, efficient, and power hungry, Münnich used Anna’s backing to protect himself from the hostility he generated. Beginning from the post of Master of Ordnance, Münnich first used Anna’s backing to become in 1730 head of a Military Commission to investigate and reform the army, then in 1732 President of the War College.

Münnich had an ambitious agenda. One element was cutting expenditure, difficult in the face of wars in Poland and Turkey. He did eliminate superfluous personnel and improve financial management, while continuing his predecessors’ policy of allowing the navy to rot at anchor. Despite popular perceptions of a pro-German government, Münnich promoted native Russian nobility, establishing a Cadet Corps in 1731 for officer training of noble youth, effectively removing Peter the Great’s requirement for nobles to serve in the ranks first. He equalized the pay of Russian and foreign officers, eliminating the premium foreigners had enjoyed. Münnich also set a 25-year limit on noble service; while still a draconian demand, this improved on the theoretically limitless service Peter the Great had required. While he did introduce some cosmetic elements of drill and uniform along German or specifically Prussian lines, those were outweighed by the substantive improvements he made in the living conditions of Russian officers and soldiers alike.

Münnich also altered Russian infantry and cavalry to make them more flexible and effective. He increased the number of artillery pieces in infantry regiments and broke up separate units of grenadiers to distribute these grenade throwers among the troops. He expanded the types of cavalry in the Russian army to enable a wider variety of functional roles. Before Münnich, all Russian cavalry had essentially been dragoons, intended to move on horseback but fight on foot: Russian doctrine forbade dragoons to fire their weapons while mounted. In addition, Russia had plentiful light cavalry for raiding, scouting, and pursuit. Cossacks filled these roles, but the light cavalry also included several regiments of hussars, manned by Hungarians, Serbians, or other foreigners. This left a gap—Russia lacked heavy cavalry capable of a decisive shock attack. For this purpose, Münnich formed an elite guards cavalry regiment to match the three guards infantry regiments, and several regiments of cuirassiers, heavily armed and armored cavalry, named for the heavy breastplate or cuirass that they wore, and requiring larger and stronger horses than had been typical for Russia.

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