Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

Between Inspections and Corps:  The Russian Divisional Structure, 1806 - 1810

Effects of Divisional Reorganization on Operations: Use of Divisions as Operational Formations

By Robert Goetz

The new divisional structure of 1806 created entities of equal size that could be mobilized in their entirety as operational formations.  This provided a more efficient structure than the former practice of drawing regiments from several inspections to form ad hoc columns, a practice that plainly required more administrative effort.  The existence of an established field commander responsible for each division also removed the need to select a commander (with the political issues and lobbying involved in such decisions) and also theoretically reduced the time required for orders to be sent to the selected commander and the commander to travel to his command.  Additionally the delays imposed when an appointment was not accepted or when the named commander appealed his appointment on the basis of health or other concerns were eliminated by the creation of a permanent commander.  Another obvious advantage in the new structure is that the permanently appointed commander of the division would have the opportunity to gain considerable familiarity with the regiments under his command and the regiments to become familiar with their commander.

While divisions were consistently used to allocate forces to the various corps and armies, the use of divisions as operational formations was entirely at the discretion of the commander.  As such, the divisions at times were used as an operational structure similar to the French corps d’armée in many respects.  In other instances the divisions appear to have ceased to have any operational function once the forces were mobilized.

Use of Divisions as Operational Formations

In all of the wars fought by Russia between 1806 and 1811, forces were mobilized by division, each army typically being formed from the divisions that were geographically closest to its theater of operations.  In some cases the preparedness of the division may also have influenced the assignments.  During mobilization some adjustments were made in the composition of the divisions, usually involving the specific regiments allocated to each division.  These adjustments appear to be the result of practical considerations during mobilization – for example, regiments ready to march replacing regiments not yet fully mobilized in another division to allow a division to march sooner. 

For example, in 1806-7 four divisions were allocated to the corps of GL Bennigsen to comprise the first army to march to the support of Prussia.  These divisions, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th, were all geographically near the Prussian border.  An additional four divisions, the 5th, 7th, 8th and 14th, were allocated to the corps of GL Buxhowden who followed Bennigsen roughly a month later.  Five divisions, the 9th through the 13th, were placed under the command of GL Michelson to form the Army of Moldavia.  With the destruction of the Prussian army after the battles of Jena and Auerstadt, the northernmost of Michelson’s divisions, the 9th and 10th under GL Essen-1, were detached and sent to operate against the French in Poland. 

Beyond the initial allocation of divisions to the various armies and corps, re-allocation of forces was also performed by division.  The Army of Moldavia was reinforced during the winter of 1807-8 by four additional divisions, the 8th, 15th, 16th, and 22nd.  The 9th, 10th and 18th were added the next year.  Later, during the winter of 1810-11, four divisions (9th, 11th, 12th and 16th) were withdrawn from the Army of Moldavia, indicating that the process worked in both directions.  Divisional allocations for the period 1806-1810 are given in Table 6.

The substitution of regiments occurred regularly.  Typically this would simply involve the swapping of regiments between two divisions.  For example, the 24th Jäger Regiment was assigned to the 2nd Division in 1806, but when 2nd Division marched into Poland in December of that year 24th Jäger had changed places with 20th Jäger from 5th Division.  In other cases regiments were simply reassigned.  The Butyrsk Musketeer Regiment in 11th Division does not appear in orders of battle for the Army of Moldavia and instead appears with 13th Division.  The Orel Musketeer Regiment from 10th Division appears to have replaced it.  These adjustments did not affect the formal divisional organization, although the various reorganizations of divisions sometimes formalized these adjustments after the fact.[i] The reasons for substitutions were probably based on practical considerations of the level of preparedness of the unit or other practical considerations.

Use of Divisions in Poland, 1806-7

While the Russian armies were formed from divisions, the actual use of divisions as an operational formation within the army occurred to varying degrees.  The 1806-7 campaign in Poland provides the clearest example of the use of divisions as an operational structure on campaign.  During the course of November and December both GL Bennigsen and GL Buxhowden issued orders directing the movements of entire divisions.  For example, Bennigsen directed 6th Division to Warsaw, 2nd Division to Plonsk, 4th Division to Pultusk, and 3rd Division to Prasznitz in November 1806.  In his deployment for the defense of the Narew-Wkra line, Bennigsen assigned 6th Division to cover the left, 2nd Division to cover the center and the Advance Guard (from 4th Division) and 3rd Division to cover the right with 4th Division in reserve.  During the same period Buxhowden, ordered by FM Kamensky to concentrate his forces with Bennigsen’s, ordered the 14th and 8th Divisions to march by the left bank of the Narew while 7th and 5th Divisions marched by the right bank.[ii]

While the use of the divisional structure during the opening months of the campaign is perhaps unremarkable since this was the organization established on mobilization, Bennigsen’s reorganization of his army in January 1807 demonstrates the continued use of the divisional structure as the operational basis of the army.  Shortly after becoming overall commander of Russian forces in Poland, Bennigsen formed his army into three columns and a reserve for his January 1807 offensive.  An Advance Guard was formed for each column and divisions assigned to each column.  The 2nd Division formed the left column, 3rd and 7th the center, 5th and 8th the right and 4th and 14th the reserve.[iii]  This approach differed radically from the traditional formation of columns by assignment of individual regiments.  Bennigsen’s January reorganization deviated from the divisional structure somewhat by consolidating the heavy cavalry into three larger bodies (left, right and reserve) and distributing the light cavalry among these cavalry “corps” and the column advance guards.  This deviation appears to have been the result of depletion in the ranks of the cavalry regiments due to combat losses and lack of fodder.  After the French forced the Russian army back on the defensive and drove them back to the field of Preussich-Eylau on 7-8 February, the Russian army deployed for battle by divisions, some detachments rejoining their original divisions.[iv] 

Even after incurring severe losses at Eylau and spending several months refreshing his army, Bennigsen maintained the divisional structure.  Between Eylau in February and Friedland in June, the Russian army underwent only minor organizational changes.  These changes were pragmatic in nature and resulted from the severe combat losses suffered at Eylau and the considerable attrition experienced due to the harsh winter conditions.  The reduction in regimental strength affected the cavalry most substantially, resulting in the consolidation of the depleted cavalry regiments into homogeneous brigades by type, each brigade approximating full regimental strength.  The jäger regiments, having been in the forefront in numerous rearguard actions in the operations of December and January, also seem to have suffered from a significant reduction in strength and were consolidated into an Advance Guard under GL Bagration.   Finally, the Prussian Corps was strengthened by a substantial detachment of regiments drawn from many of the Russian divisions.  Despite the large number of regiments detached to the Prussians and allocated to the Advance Guard, the divisions from the beginning of the campaign in November 1806 retained the same general organization and composition (except cavalry) through June 1807.[v]

While the practices described may not seem particularly remarkable, the maintenance of established higher formations over eight months of campaigning had no precedent in the Russian army.  Not only was the divisional structure retained largely intact, from November 1806 through July 1807, but divisions were combined and recombined into larger formations at several points in the campaign quickly and without confusion.  The speed with which these reorganizations were accomplished, the successful shifting from strategic defensive to offensive in January 1807 and the strong stand at Eylau (with forces deployed by division) all testify to the effectiveness of the divisional structure in action.

Use of Divisions in Finland, 1808-9

The Russian army in Finland during the Russo-Swedish War of 1808-9 demonstrates the degree to which the operational organization of the army was left to commander discretion while still continuing to use the divisional structure.  In the initial mobilization for the war, the use of the divisional structure parallels that of the army in Poland in 1806-7.  Five divisions were mobilized initially for the invasion of Finland in March 1808.  The 17th Division operated on the left, the 21st with two regiments from 14th Division in the center and the 5th on the right.  The 6th Division and the remainder of the 14th were mobilized as a reserve.  Through the spring and summer of 1808 a number of garrison battalions from the fortresses on the Russo-Swedish frontier in Finland were used to reinforce the Russian forces.  An additional division, the 4th, appeared in the summer of 1808 and individual regiments were detached from 1st and 2nd Divisions as reinforcements.

While the initial deployment of forces resembles the organization used in the campaign in Poland, two significant differences in the operational use of divisions during this war stand out.  First, due to the losses incurred by these divisions during the war that had just ended against France, only two battalions were mobilized for each regiment instead of three, the remaining battalion serving as a depot.  This practice may well have been the inspiration for the 1810 establishment of the Replacement Battalions for the entire army.  Some of these reserve battalions joined the army in Finland as reinforcements in the autumn of 1808.[vi]  Second, the large number of fortresses on the Russo-Swedish frontier in Finland provided a large number of garrison troops.  As the campaign advanced beyond the immediate frontier, several garrison battalions joined the field forces.  Some of these were used in garrisoning the occupied territories, but others were distributed as reinforcements to the various field commands. 

While the general overall deployment placed the divisions on the left, center and right, operations were complicated by the nature of the terrain.  The region was heavily wooded, and was characterized by many rocky outcroppings, marshes, and numerous lakes and ponds, all of which contributed to creating narrow defiles and limiting lateral movements and communications.  Because of the nature of the terrain most of the cavalry in the divisions committed to Finland was not mobilized, as the terrain was unsuitable for cavalry operations.  An anonymous Russian officer writing about the campaign commented on the dispersal of forces that the terrain in Finland necessitated, noting that “… it would very rarely be possible for a superior force to meet with ground on which a great number of fighting men could be drawn up.”[vii]  As a result, the divisions operated in smaller bodies.  An order of battle of 20 March 1808 shows brigade-sized detachments consisting of 4-6 battalions of infantry (often including a mixture of line and garrison battalions), a squadron or more of light cavalry and artillery.[viii] 

Despite this fragmentation of the divisions into smaller columns and the distribution of cavalry to the columns by squadrons, the detachments generally remained under the overall command of the divisional commanders.  By November 1808 the divisional formations were still plainly recognizable despite having been augmented by reserve battalions and individual regiments from other divisions.  Forces on the south coast of Finland, under the overall command of GL Wittgenstein, included 17th and 14th Divisions along with some detachments from 1st Division.  Forces on the west coast of Finland under the overall command of GL Bagration included the 21st and small detachments from 1st and 17th Divisions.[ix]  The Russian corps opposing the main Swedish army in the north under the command of Kamensky-2 and forces on the northwest coast and in the interior were comprised primarily of 4th, 5th and 6th Divisions.

The practical modifications to the division structure in Finland can be readily understood due to the small amount cavalry, presence of large numbers of garrison battalions and the broken terrain over which the army was operating.  Under such circumstances the formation of brigade-sized columns of all arms constituted a practical solution to the problem imposed by narrow frontages and isolated roadways.  It is interesting to note, however, that the Finnish columns, ad hoc as they were, still operated within the broader divisional structure. 

Use of Divisions in Poland, 1809

The unenthusiastic Russian campaign in Galicia in 1809 also demonstrates the use of divisions for both mobilization and operations.  The operations in 1809 occurred over a brief period of about 6 weeks, but throughout this period the army strictly adhered to the formal divisional structure.  The 7th, 9th, 10th and 18th Divisions were mobilized in the spring of 1809 and placed under the command of GL Golytsin.   As in the campaign in Finland, only two battalions were mobilized from each regiment for operations in Poland in 1809.  In the initial operations, 10th Division advanced on the left towards Sandomir, 9th Division advanced in the center to occupy Lublin and 18th Division advanced on the right to the Vistula.  The 7th Division constituted the reserve and followed 9th Division to Lublin.  With the withdrawal of the Austrians from the right bank of the Vistula, the Russian forces moved to the south to occupy Galicia.  By the end of the short campaign the Russian divisions were positioned in echelon on the road from Leopol (Lemberg/Lvov) to Cracow.[x]  Therefore, while Russian involvement was limited to the occupation of a handful of locations, often to the benefit of their Austrian enemies rather than their French allies, Golitsyn’s army operated by division.




[i] Compare the details of divisional organization in Viskovatov with the Order of Battle of Russian forces in Poland in Nov-Dec 1806 for substitutions in 2nd and 5th Divisions (Bennigsen, II, 279-284).  For adjustments in 10th, 11th, and 13th Divisions see Bennigsen, II, 292, George Nafziger, “Russian Army of Turkey, Russo-Turkish War, 16 October 1806” and “Russian Black Sea Fleet and Forces Being Transported, January 1807”, Unpublished Orders of Battle.

[ii] See F. Loraine Petre’s Napoleon’s Campaign in Poland, 1806-7 for the most accessible account of this campaign.

[iii] Bennigsen, I, pp. 128-9.

[iv] As forces arrived at Eylau they were deployed by division except those regiments detached to form the Advance Guards of the columns, which remained with their Advance Guards.  The Archangel Musketeers were detached to support Russian forces in the town of Eylau on 7 February and rejoined their division in the main Russian position the next morning.  Petre, Poland, p. 178.  Some details of the Russian deployment at Eylau remain unclear, but for general deployment see Eduard von Höpfner, Der Krieg von 1806 und 1807, Berlin, 1851, III, pp. 225-7.

[v] By May/June 1807, all jäger regiments were detached, some to support the Prussian Corps and the remainder to the Advance Guard of GL Bagration.  This left most of the divisions at 4-6 regiments.  The 4th Division, which contributed more than its share of regiments to both the Prussian Corps and the Advance Guard, was reduced to 2 regiments and combined with the four regiments of 14th Division for operations in May and June.  This is the only division to have been broken up entirely.  Bennigsen, II, pp. 287-295.

[vi] See Nafziger, “Russian Army under Wittgenstein, South Coast, 2 October 1808”, Unpublished Order of Battle for details [from Sveriges Krig Aren 1808 och 1809, Stockholm, 1890].

[vii] Anonymous, Narrative of the Conquest of Finland by the Russians in the Years 1808-9, ed. by General William Monteith, London, 1854, pp. 11-13.

[viii] Nafziger, George.  “Russian Army, 20 March 1808”.  Unpublished Order of Battle.

[ix] Nafziger, George.  “Russian Army under Wittgenstein, South Coast, 1 November 1808” and “Russian Army under Bagration, West Coast, 11 November 1808.” Unpublished Orders of Battle.

[x] Roman Soltyk, Operations of the Polish Army During the 1809 Campaign in Poland, Paris, 1841.  Translated by George Nafziger, West Chester, Ohio, 2002, pp. 111-119.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2002


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