• Michael Nordstrøm Pedersen
4. term, History, Master (Master Programme)
The present study examines the Russian imperial army in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Western military studies of the period have, until recently, for many years mainly focused on Western military matters and given little thought for warfare in contemporary Eastern Europe. Through neglect the Russian army has been perceived as half barbaric and backwards compared to it’s Western European counterparts, whereas Soviet and Russian scholars have deduced that Russia developed a distinct fighting style, superior to that of the West. This paper seeks to correct these caricatured conceptions and present the Russian army as a product of it’s time and geography, and highly influenced by some of the most skilled and intellectual army commanders of the age.
As such it is established that the Russian army of the latter part of the eighteenth century was developed along the lines of Western European military innovations during the so called era of ’The Military Revolution.’ The Russian tsars Alexey Mikhailovich and Peter Alexeyevich, both of which held an interest in Western Europe, greatly influenced the development of their armies to a degree that it came to resemble the most famous army of Frederician Prussia. Also important was the degree to which military technology, innovation, skills and, equally important, military theory, was imported and implemented into the standing forces of tsars. Thereby the army of the Russian tsar’s realm, later in the eighteenth century the Russian Empire, came to deviate much from it’s closest enemies from the Ottoman Empire and the Crimean Khanate, when the Russian army laid greater emphasis on infantry and artillery than to cavalry, the last of which were held more important in both Turkey and Crimea.
However, the army of the Russian Emperors and Empresses were still greatly influenced by the enormous geography of Eastern Europe and the steppe warfare it was facing from the cavalry of the Sultan and his vassals, thereby making the Russian army a hybrid between Western military principles and the challenges the army was forced to encounter from its enemies in Russia’s near abroad. This parameter, which this thesis emphasises, was perhaps also greatly advanced by the great Russian commanders Pyotr Rumyantsev and Alexander Suvorov, who acknowledged and criticised the shortcomings of the tactics of the Western European army model. Thus, the Russian army from the Seven Years War and onwards, until after the Italian and Swiss campaigns in 1799, abandoned the cordon formation and the emphasis on infantry fire in favour of more flexible formations of small sized squares and acknowledgement of the bayonet as a weapon of precision and terror, and also to sacrifice secure and defensive movements in favour of cunning and great speed. Also, Rumyantsev, and especially Suvorov, acknowledged the moral of the soldiers and tried to establish special paternal connections to their men in the rank and file, thereby founding what later Russian and Soviet scholars understands as a unique Russian way of war which, however, was merely only a deviation from the Western models towards solving the problems of campaigning in the Eastern European theatre of warfare against the highly mobile forces of the Ottoman Turks and Crimean Tatars. Thereby the Russian army came to be able to cut through the Gordian knot of eighteenth century European warfare and the problems the armies of the European continent were facing, problems which Napoleon eventually solved in the following century.
Publication date1 Aug 2017
Number of pages80
ID: 261153060