Between Inspections and Corps: The Russian Divisional Structure, 1806
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
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
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
[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,
[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