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"RUSSIA'S SWORD"

Дата публикации: 16 сентября 2021
Автор(ы): Andrei BOGDANOV
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Рубрика: RUSSIA (TOPICS)
Источник: (c) Science in Russia, №1, 2011, C.68-74
Номер публикации: №1631778141


Andrei BOGDANOV, (c)

by Andrei BOGDANOV, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), Institute of Russian History, Russian Academy of Sciences

 

Generalissimo Alexander Suvorov (1730-1800) is a household name here that needs no superlatives. Last year (2010) we marked the 280th anniversary of his birth. Volumes have been written about the great Russian warlord who knew no defeats. And yet... The author of the present article, who has been involved with Suvorov and his heritage in these last fifteen years, looks at his hero from a different angle: "Suvorov the thinker".

 
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King Louis XVIII of France once described our famous compatriot as "the sword of Russia". The interest in this great army commander is much alive in our days, too. We might as well mention the four-volume documentary publication on Suvorov prepared back in 1949 to 1953 by the Military-Historical Archives jointly with our research institute; it is the most comprehensive study on the subject. Another major publication comprises Suvorov's letters–it was brought out by the Moscow-based NAUKA Publishers of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1986. These two studies are instructive in many ways: sticking to the chronological principle, they provide an insight into Suvorov's thoughts and ideas in their original form, the way he worded them.

 

Meanwhile Suvorian words are misinterpreted every now and then, or else quoted out of context. Here are just two examples. Said the generalissimo, "Every soldier should understand his maneuver." However, this precept has been misquoted as "should know his maneuver"–the difference is obvious. Describing the tactics of the Russian archistrategus, as his contemporaries called Suvorov, some people say he was remarkable for good distance judging, swiftness and onslaught...  But the strategus had many other good points like boldness, foresight, orderliness, and mercy–once the enemy was defeated. So, good combat morale and skills, discipline–assault, and peace in honor and dignity. Such are his merits. And mercy, of course. There are some inaccuracies and infelicities, too, insofar as his biography and date of birth are concerned. The exact birthday of our glorious warlord was ascertained only toward the end of the 20th century: November 30, 1730.

 

Suvorov was very particular in his choice of words. He took that in good earnest. '"Sicurs'*," he instructed one of the officers under him, "betrays weakness, while 'reserve' implies bold attack; 'danger' is a timid word and, like 'sicurs'.., it is never used in Russian, I forbid it; 'caution' stands in good stead..." Philologists, by the way, are enthusiastic about the pithy Suvorov terminology. Apart from his native Russian, Alexander Suvorov was conversant with German and French, he would test his quill in poetry. He showed interest in public and literary life, too.

 

He was a great man above all, one who revolutionized the art of warfare and who knew his true worth: "Equal

 

* Sicurs (sikurs)-Russian contraction of security, meaning help, assistance.–Ed.

 
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to no one", said he at the end of his days; and he had the headstone on his grave inscribed, "Here lies Suvorov"– as simple as that! He worshiped such great warlords and statesmen of antiquity as Hannibal (247-183 B.C.) of Carthage and Julius Caesar of Rome (102/100?-44 B.C.), and tried to measure up with them. He admired Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736), a great Franco-Austrian general; Marshal Henri Turenne de La Tour d'Auvergne of France (1663-1736), among others. Suvorov was glad when he carried the day and got the upper hand over indisputable authorities, like Friedrich (Frederick) the Great (1712-1786), king of Prussia in 1740 to 1786 and an idol of Russian Emperor Pavel (Paul) I. "1 am better than the late great king and, God willing, have lost no battle," he told the emperor. After the Swiss campaign* Suvorov wrote proudly, "Choose your hero, catch up with him, overtake him! Caesar is my hero. The Alps are behind us and God, before us! Russian eagles have flown ahead of Roman eagles!"

 

Philologists have appreciated the vigor and efficacy of the Suvorian word. A clever and sagacious commander, he did not stake on good luck alone even with "wonder heroes" behind him; if need be, he would withdraw rather than take chances: "Good luck today, good luck tomorrow, than God! But what about combat skills?" Now, how did Suvorov revolutionize military art?

 

Strange as it might seem, Suvorov did not interfere in the course of battles, if the successful outcome was certain for the Russian side. He gave his officers a free hand and told them not to wait for his orders but fight according to their lights depending on the situation. Full rein for battlefield commanders and their initiative! The Russian general outlined his ideas in this regard in great detail: battle formations should act single-handedly, as one entity.

 

Short, lean and wizened, he did not cut a dashing figure. But Suvorov took his physical frailty in good humor, he laughed it off. This small man won great battles by virtue of his intelligence much ahead of his time in many respects. Just take one aspect, the logistics (the branch of military science dealing with the movement, supply, and maintenance of equipment and troops).

 

Suvorov-led troops seemed to have wings to them– the speed of their march was fantastic. Say, in November-December 1768 the Suzdal infantry regiment covered 927 km (about 600 miles) just in 30 days, all the way from Staraya Ladoga near St. Petersburg to Smolensk, rough roads notwithstanding. Thereupon the general complained about the losses of that blitz march: "Three men left in hospitals. One dead, one ran away. Eleven men ill and weak. Yet most of the men as well as horses are in sound health–so much so that the regiment is ready to proceed with the march right now." His soldiers did not trudge on foot but rode on carts-the main problem was to keep these vehicles in good repair by reason of "rather poor passages".

 

Suvorov learnt logistic skills in his first war that came to be known as the Seven Years' War.** Failing then to

 

* In the Swiss campaign (10-27 September 1799) Russian and Austrian troops under Suvorov's command crossed the Alps from northern Italy towards Austria during the war of the Second Coalition (Austria, England, Russia, Kingdom of Naples, Turkey) against France.–Ed.

 

** Seven Years' War (1756-1763)–a war in which England and Prussia defeated Austria, France, Russia, Sweden and Saxony: Prussia established her power in Europe, and England seized French colonies in America and India.–Ed.

 
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get through as a field commander, he followed in his father's footsteps as a quartermaster. Braving the awful roads of the Great Principality of Lithuania, he managed to keep the army supplied with essential goods and cargoes. In his reports the young officer stressed the importance of lightening movements of troop contingents in full battle trim. Soon after, he became a regimental commander in General Gustav Berg's cavalry corps. He and his good boys tore to pieces the Prussian Horse, considered Europe's best.

 

In his dispatches Suvorov pointed out that only vigorous attacks with the use of cold steel brought victory, and this regardless of locality and time (he made such attacks in the woods even at night!). In his view spontaneous running fire from carbines, muskets, pistols and even artillery guns–much in practice in the European armies of the day–was of little effect for bold attackers. On September 15, 1761, Suvorov-led mounted troops hit upon an enemy division on the edge of the Friedeberg forest in Bavaria. The Prussians peppered the brave men with heavy artillery fire from all the guns at their disposal. Smashing into the enemy ranks "under fire", the Suvorov men cut them to pieces and took 71 prisoners, a corps staff officer among them.

 

It was a good lesson to Suvorov: in spite of the dense artillery fire and the high fighting efficiency of enemy dragoons, the Russian troops sustained small casualties–just five wounded Cossacks and a few hussars. This is how he explained his tactics: "They poise their cannon at you–go ahead, never mind the case-shot, it flies overhead! The guns and men are yours! Tackle them then and there! Stab, thrust and drive them away! But have mercy on the rest of them. It is a sin to kill off, they are people like us." Suvorov was dead set against homicide, he sought to save human lives even in the heat of a battle.

 

According to Suvorov, even superior En numbers could be of no decisive significance in some cases. In a battle fought on the 20th of November 1761 near the town of Nougard, Germany, his regiment routed Prussian units three times as strong. As he reported in his dispatch, "Near Regenwelde, we came upon a Prussian corps on the edge of a forest in full battle gear." Suvorov did not tarry. His mounted contingent charged at the enemy across a swampy stream. The enemy cavalrymen were taken by surprise, they tried to fight back in pursuit of the Russians who were short of one squadron only to throw the pursuers back into the quagmire.

 

Meanwhile a crack En regiment still managed to cross the rivulet. "We could not afford to waste time," said Suvorov. "I got a Serbian squadron fighting on our side to hit headlong at this regiment." The hussars unsheathed their swords, while enemy soldiers "fired a volley from their carbines", as if they were on parade grounds. "None of our men fell... the enemy was put to flight and driven back across the ford." Many were hacked and trampled under foot.

 

The Serbian squadron, Suvorov went on to say, was backed up by Hungarian units which were not engaged. The adversary had ten infantry battalions and cavalry. The enemy, though superior in numbers, missed his chance and did not attack, he was rebuffed. "We lost only a few, and captured a notable number of prisoners, and this apart from the killed." Suvorov paid tribute to the Prussian commander, he was a "brave and excellent officer." The moral: He who is stronger and faster in attack, he carries the day.

 

But is such tactics good for foot soldiers? Suvorov, a 30-year-old officer then, tested it in a bayonet attack of a rifle battalion at Golnow, Poland. He was injured in the attack (concussion, case-shot wounds in the leg and chest; his steed was killed under him); but the overall casualties were lower than in a "correct, regular" charge. Many enemy men were taken prisoner. So, swiftness and onslaught proved just as decisive as in cavalry.

 
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The young regiment commander was quite meticulous about his battlefield dispatches–a custom he kept up all his life long: he hoped his top commanders would hearken to his advice. He drew on his experience in orders of the day and instructions. This documentary evidence provides an insight into the evolution of Suvorian strategy and tactics. Suvorov got his subordinates to report facts in their evaluation and analysis, and thus help top commanders in decision making. He encouraged analytical thinking in the ranks.

 

This meant sweeping change in the chain of command. It was common practice in the 18th century and much later that orders should always get down from top to bottom and action on them, in the retrograde order. Absolute submission and no initiative. But those in direct touch with the enemy knew better; were they mute automatons, "small fry"? Or were they thinking men capable of taking decision?

 

In the latter half of the 1760s Suvorov was put in command of the Suzdal regiment. It was a self-evident truth to him–one he worded in his orders and instructions–that each and everyone, irrespective of rank, was a human being above all. Privates, commissioned and noncommissioned officers alike. In his manual on regimental establishment (1764-1765) Suvorov outlined his views on the training of troops; he pictured an ideal army community divorced from the harsh realities of 18th-century Russia, backward socially and economically, a country still under the yoke of serfdom.

 

Meanwhile those at the top were ridden with corruption, nepotism and favoritism, a fertile ground for every kind of placehunters. The army was not spared either, and cases of embezzlement were common there. Ambition, however, came first among officers, especially those who distinguished themselves during the Seven Years' War and who were eager to gratify "Mother Empress", i.e. Catherine II, with resounding victories. In her turn, she granted no stint of favors to her "eagles" in money and landed estates. The regimental command with its colonel at the head, all set to win and lay the enemy low, became an ideal for the rest of society. The orderly chain of command and duties distin-

 
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guished army officers from civil servants; merit was an essential condition for career. The Suzdal regiment captained by Suvorov was a model unit in this regard.

 

All that tallied with the popular ideas of justice and a soldier's lofty mission as visualized by Suvorov. A serviceman was exempt from bondage, he was well-fed and well-clad, and he could marry and have a family with superior officers' permission. He was entitled to regular pay, too. A soldier could not be punished if he carried out his duties in good faith. His diligence and initiative were rewarded. Suvorov instilled a sense of responsibility in his men. The higher the rank, the higher responsibility. Military service was a matter of honor for every nobleman. Recruits from the peasant stock, too, had good promotion opportunities as noncommissioned and commissioned officers.

 

This system ensured a sense of stability and security in the ranks. "A soldier is dear to me," said Suvorov. "He is dearer to me than my own self!" "Remember," he told his officers. "Your subordinates are also people like you and me. Love your soldier, and he will love you too. That's it!" Even though corporal punishments were practiced in the Suvorov regiment like elsewhere, young rookies were spared. "They were not beaten, each and everyone was taught and instructed... My officers know that I also did my bit." Good discipline, no leniency, for "leniency would turn decent soldiers into good-for-nothing lazybones... No amount of rough beating would put them right." Yeah, army service is a tough job...

 

Ambition came first and foremost as an essential part of a soldier's makeup. Each soldier should be sure of himself and proud of his mission. Again and again, Suvorov was quite meticulous in what concerned the daily routine–drills, good fighting trim, prayers. Every officer knew his line of duties. "One should master military science and show the best side of it... Keep your subordinates busy and avoid indolence... War exercise is a fun, not treadmill..." This is how Suvorov instructed his officers.

 

The desire to excel was part and parcel of military training as Suvorov saw it. Career was also an important consideration. Privates, if worthy, were promoted to corporals, then to sergeants and so on. Those who made the grade constituted the core of noncommissioned officers; if need be, they could double as commissioned officers. Each sergeant and officer had a free hand in battle.

 

This happened to be quite useful during the 1769-1772 campaign in Poland as Suvorov, commanding a brigade of three regiments, took part in hostilities against a mutinous szlachta military alliance, the Bara confederation so-called, that proceeded against King

 
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Stanislaw Poniatowski of the Polish Rzeczpospolita and Russia. Fighting the rebellious szlachta (Polish gentry), Suvorov split his troops into small detachments who defeated the enemy fivefold superior in numbers. War-seasoned petty officers were a decisive factor there. Suvorian officers were personally responsible for the life and health of their soldiers. Suvorov paid a great deal of attention to military medicine. Protection of the civilian population was another major concern of his. The strident keynote of the documents he signed in those years: "exterminate war" by every means.

 

Suvorov turned down all other military doctrines for the sake of his own–immobilize the enemy by a bold, impetuous attack. This strategy fructified. During the Polish campaign of 1794-1795 he gained four victories in just six days and, when the vanquished enemy begged to set free one army officer, he released as many as 500 (earlier, he set free 6,000 militiamen taken prisoner). At the end of his days the generalissimo confided he had never signed any death warrant, and that was true indeed.

 

The great Russian warlord was essentially a peacemaker all set on doing away with war in general, as it became evident during the first Polish campaign. Averse to dogma in any form, he conceptualized his strategy and tactics. In war games against French forces (making wars of conquests in Europe even at that time, in the 1790s), he kept training his officers until they stepped themselves into the shoes of their probable enemy.

 

"God must have punished me for my sins by sending [Napoleon] Bonaparte to Egypt and stealing the glory of vanquishing him," Suvorov complained at the close of the 18th century–not only because Napoleon was the best general of France: under the slogan of "liberté, egalité, fraternité", Bonaparte seized and sacked the Italian peninsula. "Arm yourselves, ye peoples of Italy!", Suvorov urged. "Look at peoples rising in revolt, inspired by the desire to stop bloodshed! Look at the heroes coming from the north to save you!... All misfortunes and sorrows are descending on you in the name of freedom and equality!.. Leave the banners blemished with vile deeds, join your saviors in the great cause of Italy's resurgence!" Suvorov made this passionate appeal during his Swiss campaign. In 1799 the "sword of Russia" routed the French armies of Generals Jean-Michel Moreau, Jacques-Etienne MacDonald and Barthélemy Joubert, thus sealing the invaders' fate.

 

Suvorov was ready to complete his last great campaign by striking at the French capital from the south–he had worked out this plan in detail before, while still in Russia. Here is its gist: "1. Offensive only.

 

2. Swift march, violent attack, cold steel. 3. No idle thinking–good eye. 4. All power with the commander. 5. Attack and fight the enemy in the field. 6. Waste no time in sieges... Blockade now and then, but best take fortresses by assault, there would be fewer casualties then. 7. Never spread thin your forces for security at different points. If the enemy bypassed them, all the better: he will be licked up the sooner... 8. Fight your way as far as Paris, the main target... No abortive maneuvers, countermarches and war ruses so-called-something good for poor academics alone. No procrastination."

 

The ruling French Directoire was doomed. But our allies-the English and the Austrians–would not let Russia defeat it. Suvorov realized that well before Emperor Paul I: "They drive me to Switzerland so as to squash me out there." Up in the Alps in the fall of 1799–with no supplies and ammunition, and confronting the superior enemy, four times as strong, led by the splendid French generals, André Masséna and Claude Lecourbe, Suvorov gave way to despair now and then. The great strategus was in the shadow of death; but his officers inured to independent action, captured Lecourbe and smashed Masséna, who confessed he would have sacrificed all his victories for just one Suvorian Swiss campaign.

 

Wounded and in poor health, Suvorov toughed it out together with his men. His flesh was weak, but spirit willing. "Death looms large before my very eyes," he wrote. "It hounds me away from this world, but I despise it, I do not wish to die in disgrace, I want to meet it in the battlefield." Suvorov gave out at seventy, in 1800, and thus failed to "exterminate" one war only, that against Napoleon.

 

"A good name is essential to any upright man," Suvorov noted. "I have married my good name to the glory of my Fatherland, and all my acts have been submitted to its prosperity."

Опубликовано на Порталусе 16 сентября 2021 года

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