Monday, August 10, 2015

Rebuilding the Army - summer 1813 the Russian army Part IV

Arranging the march of scores of thousands of inexperienced troops was also not easy. While drowning in the detailed preparations which needed his attention, Lobanov-Rostovsky suddenly received urgent orders to divert part of his forces to suppress a mutiny in the Penza militia, ‘in the name of His Imperial Majesty the Sovereign’, ‘without the slightest loss of time’ and with ‘extreme severity’. The mutiny was suppressed without difficulty but the tone of Count Saltykov’s instructions reflected the central government’s acute fear that a horde of armed peasant and Cossack militiamen might unleash mayhem in a region where Pugachev had roamed forty years before.

Lobanov-Rostovsky reported his arrival in Belitsa to Alexander on 1 February 1813. It was at this point that his worst troubles began. His troops’ deployment area covered three provinces: northern Chernigov, southern Mogilev and south-eastern Minsk. In today’s terms this means north-central Ukraine and south-eastern Belarus, the region of Chernobyl. This was a poor area in 1812, much poorer and less densely populated than central Great Russia Suddenly establishing a city of 80,000 men in this region in the middle of winter was a great challenge. Immense efforts went into housing, feeding and training the troops and providing medical services.

These arrangements were barely in place, however, when Lobanov received two new commands from Alexander on 1 March. These orders breathed the impatient ruthlessness which was the hallmark of Aleksei Arakcheev, the emperor’s assistant on all matters concerning reserves and the mobilization of the rear. The first wave of reinforcements was to be dispatched to the Field Army immediately. Lobanov was to inspect all departing units personally to ensure they were fully equipped and victualled. He was then to remove himself and the remainder of his troops hundreds of kilometres north-westwards to Belostok, on the Russo-Polish frontier. The emperor had decided to create a united Reserve Army which would be deployed in the Belostok area and would be responsible for training and dispatching all future reinforcements to the armies in the field. Even initially this Reserve Army was to be over 200,000 strong. Lobanov was appointed its commander and ordered to submit plans for the new Reserve Army’s deployment immediately.

Lobanov was not exaggerating when he responded to Alexander on 1 March that he feared that his physical powers could not sustain such burdens. The following month must surely have been among the most stressful in his life. Within a week he had submitted to Alexander a plan for the organization and quartering of the new Reserve Army. Immediately on receiving Alexander’s orders on 1 March to dispatch the reinforcements at once, Lobanov responded that ‘Your Majesty may do with me what you want and I place my head on the block’, but it was totally impossible to execute this command. He did, however, promise to do everything possible to speed the troops’ departure and proved as good as his word. By the middle of March he had dispatched 37,484 reinforcements to the Field Army.

It was not just Lobanov, however, who suffered because of the Field Army’s urgent need for reinforcements. Of the 37,000 men, 2,350 had died by the time the reinforcements reached Warsaw and a further 9,593 were left behind along the way because of illness or exhaustion. Reinforcements sent from Petersburg and Iaroslavl suffered similar losses. Lobanov subsequently put down most of these casualties to exhaustion: many of these men – almost all of them new recruits – had marched 3,000 kilometres or more in the past few months, through snow and mud, and latterly across a ravaged war zone where typhus raged. In time, most of the 9,000 men left behind would recover and rejoin their battalions. Nevertheless the scale of the losses bears witness to the immense difficulties Russia faced in getting reinforcements to the theatre of operations in these critical months.

For all the difficulties overcome by Lobanov and his colleagues, it was General Andrei Kologrivov, tasked with forming the bulk of the army’s cavalry reserves, who faced the greatest challenge in 1812–13. He was to do an outstanding job. Training cavalrymen was much more complicated than turning recruits into effective infantry. Given good raw material and efficient training cadres, acceptable foot soldiers could be ready in three months. Cavalry would take at least three times as long. The cavalry recruit needed the same initial drill as an infantryman. The peasant recruit had to stand up straight, know his right from his left, and march in step. In short, he had to become a soldier. The cavalry recruit needed to master both cold steel weapons and firearms. Amidst the rush to train recruits in wartime, in the cuirassier and dragoon regiments the job of skirmishing might initially be left to veterans. But a light cavalryman who knew nothing about skirmishing, firearms and outpost duty was a danger to his comrades.

The biggest challenge came when the peasant recruit first encountered his horse. Unlike Cossacks, who were bred in the saddle, few peasants rode horses, though it helped Kologrivov that the great majority of his first 20,000 recruits came from the southern provinces of Orel, Voronezh, Tambov and Kiev where horses and in some districts studs were numerous. The Russian light cavalry and dragoon horses drawn from steppe herds were feisty animals. The brief but ferocious breaking-in of these horses often left them hard to handle initially. The recruit’s life was also not made easier by the need in wartime to accept more mares than would otherwise have been the case. This did not contribute to order in a cavalry squadron packed with stallions. Despite these problems the cavalry recruit had to master his horse quickly. He must learn to ride first on his own and then in formation, carrying out increasingly complicated manoeuvres at ever greater speed. Crucially, he must also learn to water, feed and care for his horse properly, otherwise a cavalry regiment would quickly disintegrate amidst the strains of a campaign.

In 1813–14 the Russian cavalry got its horses from a number of sources. The Field Army requisitioned or even occasionally bought a few horses in the countries through which it marched: its finest coup was to grab part of the King of Saxony’s stud. In the spring of 1813, however, Alexander ordered that no more cavalry horses were to be purchased abroad, since they were far cheaper in Russia. All cavalrymen in the Field Army whose horses were lost were to be sent back to Kologrivov to receive new mounts and help in the formation of reserve squadrons.

A small number of the horses acquired in Russia came from the state’s own studs, both in the winter of 1812–13 and subsequently. These were fine animals but most were reserved for the Guards cuirassiers and dragoons. A far larger number of horses were bought by the regiments’ remount officers, in other words by the normal peacetime process. On their own, however, the remount officers could never have satisfied the hugely increased wartime demand. In addition, the price of horses went through the roof. In September 1812 Alexander sent the head of the internal security troops, Evgraf Komarovsky, to levy horses in lieu of recruits in the provinces of Volhynia and Podolia. He secured more than 10,000 cavalry horses – sufficient for fifty full-strength squadrons – from the two provinces. As a result the scheme was extended to the whole empire, with Komarovsky in charge. In time he sent General Kologrivov a further 37,810 horses. In addition, beginning in the winter of 1812–13, the governors bought 14,185 horses for Kologrivov’s cavalry. These huge numbers illustrate Russia’s wealth in horses, especially when one recalls that they do not include the great number of animals acquired for the army’s artillery and baggage trains.

In addition to acquiring new horses, the army made great efforts to preserve the ones it already had. In December 1812 Kutuzov ordered cavalry commanders to ‘remove all ill, wounded or very thin horses from the cavalry and settle them in Chernigov province once communications with it reopen’. This policy of resting and rehabilitating horses in depots established behind the lines was to continue until the army reached Paris in 1814. What percentage of horses was detached in this first wave is impossible to say but it was certainly considerable. The 2nd Cuirassier Division alone sent away 164 horses out of a total of well under 1,000 and there is no reason to think it was untypical.

In the early summer of 1813 a young lancer officer, Lieutenant Durova, returned to duty after sick leave. Durova was a unique officer since she was female, serving for many years while preserving her secret. Like all convalescents returning to active military service from Russia, she was assigned to the Reserve Army, a policy which helped greatly to refill its ranks with veterans. She was sent to the cavalry depot, which had now moved forward to Slonim, charged along with three other officers ‘with fattening up the exhausted, wounded, and emaciated horses of all the uhlan regiments’. She adds that ‘to my part fell one hundred and fifty horses and forty uhlans to look after them’, which is a reminder of how very labour-intensive was the care of cavalry horses. Every morning after breakfast,
I go to inspect my flock in their place in the stables. From their cheerful and brisk capers I see that my uhlans…are not stealing and selling the oats, but giving them all to these fine and obedient beasts. I see their bodies, previously distorted by emaciation, taking on their old beauty and filling out; their coats are becoming smooth and glossy; their eyes glow, and their ears, which were all too ready to droop, now begin to flick rapidly and point forward.

Together with horses, Kologrivov above all needed trained cadres. By the winter of 1812 the Field Army’s cavalry regiments had a great many under-strength squadrons, usually with a disproportionate number of officers and NCOs. At Alexander’s suggestion, in most cavalry regiments Kutuzov created three, two or if necessary even just one full-strength squadron for service in the field. The remaining cadre of officers, NCOs and veterans was sent to help Kologrivov form reserve cavalry. In the spring 1813 campaign the Smolensk Dragoon Regiment, for example, deployed two squadrons with the Field Army. These now comprised 13 officers and 332 other ranks. Meanwhile 18 officers and 89 other ranks were sent to Slonim to join Kologrivov.60 The detailed report on the Reserve Army which Lobanov submitted at the end of the war, packed with statistics, shows that the Reserve Army’s cavalry had contained many more veteran soldiers and a much greater proportion of officers and NCOs than was the case with the infantry. Given the realities of cavalry training and service this was essential.

The generous provision of horses, officers and veteran troopers goes a long way to explaining why Kologrivov made such a success of forming the cavalry reserves but it is far from the whole story. According to his aide-de-camp, the poet Aleksandr Griboedov, Kologrivov organized not just horse hospitals, blacksmiths and other obvious adjuncts to a depot for cavalry but also picked recruits with key skills, trained others and created workshops to manufacture horse furnishings, saddles and uniforms, thereby not just saving the state a great deal of money but also freeing himself from overdependence on the war ministry’s commissariat.

Between March and September 1813 Kologrivov sent 106 squadrons to the Field Army. In November 1813 he sent another 63 and had almost as many more ready for dispatch. Dmitrii Lobanov-Rostovsky spent much of his time inspecting units of the Reserve Army before their departure to the Field Army. His comments about the cavalry were always complimentary in all respects. He was usually satisfied with his infantry and artillery reserves too but the artillery’s horses were a frequent cause of complaint, as was the infantry’s equipment. Though he thought most of his departing infantry well trained, there were exceptions. In December 1813, for instance, he commented that the reserves now departing to reinforce Wittgenstein’s corps were too young and needed more time to prepare for combat.

Perhaps the fairest judges were foreigners, however, not least because they were inclined to make informed comparisons. On 8 June 1813 Sir Robert Wilson watched as Alexander inspected the Guards and Grenadier reserves just arrived from Petersburg and Iaroslavl. Aware that they had spent the last three months on the march, he was astonished by their appearance:
These infantry…and their appointments appeared as if they had not moved further than from barracks to the parade during that time. The horses and men of the cavalry bore the same freshness of appearance. Men and beasts certainly in Russia afford the most surprising material for powder service. If English battalions had marched a tenth part of the way they would have been crippled for weeks and would scarcely have had a relic of their original equipments. Our horses would all have been foundered, and their backs too sore even for the carriage of the saddle.

Colonel Rudolph von Friederich was the head of the historical section of the Prussian general staff. He had no doubt that the Russian reserves who arrived during the armistice were much superior to most of the Prussian and Austrian reinforcements who joined their field armies at that time. The Russian was ‘an excellent soldier, of course without any intellect, but brave, obedient and undemanding. Their arms, clothing and equipment were very good and on the whole they were well trained.’ Above all, these soldiers who had survived months of gruelling marches were extremely tough and resilient. As to the cavalry, they were ‘in general excellently mounted, well-trained and impeccably uniformed and equipped’. Friederich’s only criticism of the Russian reinforcements was that ‘only the jaeger regiments had been taught to skirmish’.

As regards training, it helped that the great majority of the reserves had arrived in the Field Army’s encampments by the end of June. Most reserve units were broken up and distributed among the army’s battalions and squadrons. The July weather was fine and the Field Army’s regiments possessed the free time and the veterans to help complete the reserves’ training, including intensive shooting practice. Friedrich von Schubert was the chief of staff of Baron Korff’s cavalry in Langeron’s army corps. In his memoirs he wrote that
the reserve squadrons, new recruits and remounts arrived in the regiments from Russia and the training and exercising of the men and the horses lasted from morning until night: it was a very hectic, brisk but cheerful business…the same happened in the infantry and artillery…Our efforts paid off because at the end of the armistice the Russian army was in better condition than at the beginning of the war: fully up to strength, well-equipped, healthy, full of courage and enthusiasm for battle, and with a mass of experienced and tested generals, officers and soldiers in numbers it had never previously possessed.

The Russian reinforcements moving westwards in the spring and summer filled not just the Field Army but also the allied strategic reserve, in other words the so-called Army of Poland which Alexander ordered General Bennigsen to form in early June. Bennigsen’s four infantry divisions had been blockading the fortresses of Modlin and Zamosc in the spring. Some of their units had also been performing an internal security role in Poland. At one point their combined strength was less than 8,000 men. By the end of the armistice, however, just these four divisions were 27,000 strong. In September Bennigsen’s army, which included Count Petr Tolstoy’s militia corps, advanced through Silesia to join the Field Army.

But Bennigsen’s army could not just set off to Saxony, uncovering the French garrisons besieged in Modlin and Zamosc and leaving the Duchy of Warsaw denuded of troops. When the autumn campaign began, Napoleon was poised in Silesia, within jumping distance of the Polish border. Many Poles awaited his arrival with impatience. If he advanced through Silesia, his fortresses at Danzig, Modlin and Zamosc would become very important. When Alexander ordered Bennigsen forward, he therefore instructed Dmitrii Lobanov-Rostovsky’s Reserve Army to move across the Duchy of Warsaw and take over his role of blockading Modlin and Zamosc, watching Warsaw and Lublin, and overawing the Polish population. At the same time Lobanov was to continue with his troops’ training and to prepare to dispatch further reinforcements to the Field Army.

In the last months of the war the Reserve Army played a crucial and successful role in Alexander’s strategy. By deploying Lobanov’s men across the Duchy of Warsaw the emperor had released Bennigsen’s army to make what proved to be a major contribution to the autumn 1813 campaign. The Reserve Army’s blockade of Modlin and Zamosc led to the fall of both these fortresses in the winter of 1813. Throughout this period the Reserve Army’s reinforcements continued to flow to the Field Army in Germany and France. At the end of the war, strengthened by troops released by the fall of Danzig and by the first wave of recruits from the 85th recruit levy, the Reserve Army was at unprecedented strength, with more than 7,000 officers and 325,000 men on its rolls. As always, paper strengths did not accurately reflect the numbers actually present in the ranks. Moreover, many of the soldiers were not yet fully trained or armed, and almost one-quarter were sick. Nevertheless, had the struggle with Napoleon continued there would have been no doubt of Russia’s ability to pull its weight on the battlefield. Also to the point, at a moment when other powers might contest Alexander’s right to Poland, not merely did he have a formidable army in the field to deter them, he could also point to a fresh force of well over a quarter of a million men positioned in the region which he was claiming.

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