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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Essay on Reasons for Napoleon's Defeat at Russia

            In June 1812, Napoleon’s army advanced to Russia with over six hundred thousand soldiers.  It was one of the largest armies ever to have been assembled.  Napoleon had planned to engage the Tsar of Russia in a major battle where he knew he could outnumber the Russian forces and bring them down to their knees.  In order to ensure that his armies have adequate supply of food, his supply wagons had carried thirty (30) days of food.  However, the Russian army had a different plan for Napoleon. 

A. Poor Road Networks
            Along the way, Napoleon’s armies had encountered a number of obstacles which resulted in the failure of their campaign against Russia.  First, Russia had a very poor road network.  Since Napoleon’s armies were situated in another location it was essential for the road condition to be conducive otherwise it may take the French army longer time to reach their destination.  Because of poor roads, the armies had to force to march along very narrow roads.  Because fewer soldiers could march along their narrow roads, it took longer for the soldiers to reach their destination. 

B. Lack of Food
            Second, the food supply was not enough for all the soldiers.  Since the supply wagons were only enough to provide food for less than a month, the soldiers who have been in Russia for more than one month were left with no supply of food.  While the soldiers found food along the way, it was not enough as the agriculture in Russia was poor.  Consequently, only the soldiers who were the first to arrive at the target destination had food.  The rest of the soldiers who arrived late had to be contended with what the other soldiers have left behind.  Poor diet and fatigue eventually slowed down Napoleon’s soldiers.  Eventually, many soldiers have been weakened even before the major battles have started.  Many of them acquired diseases.  Thus, when Napoleon’s soldiers had reached Moscow already more than 200,000 soldiers were dead.

            What contributed to the military defeat of Napoleon in Russia was the effective use of the scorched earth policy employed by the Russian army.  The Russians knew that they stood little chance against the vastly superior French army if they will directly engage against them.  However, they also knew that the French armies did not have adequate supply of food.  They also knew that they could use their poor road condition to their advantage. 

Consequently, they employed the scorched earth policy in an effort to break the spirit of the French army.  The scorched earth policy is a military strategy which aims to destroy everything that may be useful to the enemy while advancing or retreating.  Russian soldiers destroyed everything that can be useful to the enemy such as the farms and even houses which the French soldiers could use as shelter during the winter days.  In fact, the Russians even burned almost the entire of Moscow so that the French armies will not have any supplies. (Anthony Kuhn 1) The strategy was effective as the French armies did not have any food to eat and shelter during the agonizing winter days. 

C. Lack of Discipline
            Third, since the soldiers had become tired and weary, they lost their discipline.  Many soldiers had started to leave their troops in search of food and water.  Commanders also lost control of their troops since the soldiers went away one by one in search of food.  While the soldiers found food along the way the soldiers who had turned into a mob often destroyed the little food that they found.  Consequently, very little food was left to the other soldiers.

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D. Bad Weather Condition
            The cold weather also contributed to the problems of Napoleon in his invasion of Russia.  At the time the French army invaded Russia, the snow had not yet came in.  Slowly, the French army advanced towards Moscow.  The Russian soldiers who were being led at the time by General Barclay de Tolly and General Bagration did not want to engage with the French army and retreated instead.  The plan was never to directly engage but to slowly retreat while harassing the French soldiers.

As the French army continued to advance, the Russian army continued to retreat.  In September 1812, the Russians made a stand at Borodino where the French army won.  Consequently, the Russian armies further retreated to Moscow.  The Russians retreated until they reach Moscow which they have burned to the ground.  While in Moscow, the French armies waited for the Russian army to surrender which did not happen.  The French armies who had stayed too long in Russia were already running out of supplies.  As a result, the French armies decided to withdraw from battle. 

As they retreated, snow came in.  What made matters worse for the French armies was that they could not use any other route aide from the same route they had used when they entered Russia since a huge number of Russian armies are protecting them.  This meant that they will have to travel for a few more days without food.  The bad weather coupled with hunger and fatigue took its tool on the soldier who died one by one in Russia. 

Defeat at Russia
            Consequently, from the 600,000 strong soldiers who went to Russia expecting a quick defeat, only a small fraction was left.  Napoleon did not just lose his men from the Russian army.  The defeat at the hands of the Russians was the primary reason for the coup against Napoleon.  After Prussia and Austria learned about Napoleon’s defeat, they joined the Russia, Great Britain and Sweden against France. (Walter G. Moss 342)  The events that followed led to the downfall of Napoleon Bonaparte.

            France’s invasion of Russia also had an indirect effect on Russia. Russia’s war with France can be seen as occurring in three battles.  In the first battle, the Russians won against the French armies in northern Italy.  In the second battle, the French defeated the Russians.  In the third battle which took place in 1812, the Russians defeated the French armies.  The invasion secured Russia’s military preeminence and superiority in the 19th Century.  It also allowed Russia to tap into the spirit of nationalism of its people.  “The defeat of Napoleon marked a peak in Russian military power, a point in which Russia was the dominant military power in all of Europe.” (David R. Stone 91)

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