Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

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

Effects of Divisional Reorganization on Operations: Persistence in use of Ad Hoc Columns

By Robert Goetz

While the divisions were used as an operational structure in the war against France in 1806-7, the Finnish campaign of 1808-9 and the campaign in Poland of 1809, the 1806 reorganization did not impose any particular operational structure on the Russian commanders.  The example of the Russo-Turkish war of 1806-12 reveals that the traditional method of forming ad hoc columns from available forces prevailed despite the establishment of a divisional structure for the forces committed to this war, and only influenced organization of the Army of Moldavia in the last year of the war.  Additionally, the brief tenure of FM Kamensky in command of the Russian armies in Poland in December 1806 also demonstrates a reversion to the shuffling of regiments into formations without regard to maintaining consistent higher formations.

Use of Divisions in Moldavia, 1806-12

The Army of Moldavia provides the most dramatic example of deviation from the divisional organization.  The successive commanders of this army from 1806-1810 reorganized the divisions into ad hoc columns mixing the regiments from several divisions in each, a practice that persisted until Kutusov took over the army in March 1811.[i]  There is no consistent discernible divisional structure in the Army of Moldavia until the winter of 1810-11 when the withdrawal of divisions required reorganization along divisional lines.  Even taking into consideration the practical considerations that might require detachments, formation of smaller ad hoc units and reorganization of units, the organization of the Army of Moldavia represents a continuance of the traditional organizational practices.

In the first actions of this war, conducted by Michelson, forces from the 11th and 12th Divisions were organized into an Advance Guard, two smaller bodies under the command of Miloradovich (commander of 11th Division) and Kamensky-1 (commander of 12th Division, and a Main Body under the command of Meyendorff.  Later in the campaign the two columns commanded by Miloradovich and Kamensky-1 were reorganized into an five columns, each with 4-6 infantry battalions, 4-10 squadrons of cavalry and artillery.[ii]   While all of the regiments assigned to Miloradovich’s column were from his own division, Kamensky’s column and Meyendorff’s main body included regiments from both divisions.  The reasons for breaking up the formal commands are not clear, but the distances involved and the need for a larger number of smaller commands required some redistribution of forces.  The newness of the divisional structure and the distance of the Moldavian front from St. Petersburg may also have played a role.  However, the practice of breaking up the divisions to form ad hoc commands is also demonstrated in the organization of forces under Prozorovsky, who succeeded Michelson in command of the Army of Moldavia. 

During the winter of 1807-8, Prozorovsky was reinforced by four additional divisions: the 8th from the war against France in Poland, the 15th from the forces that had just returned from the Mediterranean, the 16th which had been formed from recruits in 1806-7, and the new 22nd Division which had just been formed from established regiments drawn from existing divisions.[iii] As there was no significant fighting in 1808, these divisions remained intact.  When hostilities resumed the next spring, the divisions initially remained recognizable.  At Braila in May of 1809 Prozorovsky organized his forces into three “corps” under Kamensky-1 (Commander of 12th Division), Essen-3 (commander of 8th Division), and Markov (commander of 15th Division).  Olsufiev-3 (commander of 22nd Division) was also present with a portion of his troops along with a detachment from 13th Division.  Miloradovich, with his own 11th Division and portions of 22nd Division, was operating in the vicinity of Bucharest.  The 16th Division appears to have remained in reserve.  However, although the forces were allocated to larger commands by divisions, within these commands columns were still formed in the traditional way – by assembling individual regiments and battalions.  The assault columns formed from the Russian right at Braila included regiments from four different divisions.[iv]

In July 1809, Prozorovsky reorganized his army into a Reserve Corps and a Main Army.  The Main Army was further subdivided into two parts:  a force to defend Wallachia and a force to invade Turkish territory south of the Danube.  While the divisions of Essen-3 (8th Division) and Miloradovich (11th Division) remained largely intact, less some detachments, the remaining columns were composed of assorted regiments and battalions.  Platov’s column, for example, included regiments from four different divisions.  Therefore, while the army was composed of six divisions and was divided into six main parts that did not conform with the divisions.  Moreover, the regiments were reorganized into different columns than they had been in a few months previously.[v]

The organization of forces by Kamensky-2 for the storming of Rustchuk (4 August) and the battle of Batin (7 September 1810) reveal the use of the traditional wings and columns with regiments from all of the divisions allocated to the columns without regard to the original divisional structure.  At Rustchuk, Kamensky-2 formed his troops into five columns.  The regiments in these columns were from seven different divisions and the infantry columns (four of the five) were each comprised of regiment from 3-5 different divisions.  Moreover, the organization of the forces changed between Rustchuk and Batin.  None of the columns at Batin had the same composition as the columns at Rustchuk.  This clearly demonstrates a reversion to traditional practice where formations were not established for the duration of the campaign. However, it is interesting to note that Kamensky’s general dispositions in October 1810 placed his forces in winter quarters by their original divisions, demonstrating the use of the divisions as an administrative structure even where the divisions were broken up for operational purposes.[vi]

The reasons for the different practices in the northern armies and in the Army of Moldavia during this period are not certain, but several possible explanations can be suggested.  First, the reorganization appears to have been implemented first in the north (nearest the capital) and to have then been put into effect in stages.  This may have resulted in some delay in implementing the structure formally in the Army of Moldavia and, once the forces were on campaign they were not reorganized into formal divisions.  This explanation addresses the deviations from the formally established structure in 1806-7, but fails to address the deviations in 1809-12 after a period of almost complete inactivity in 1808.  This also fails to explain the break-up of established divisions sent from Poland to Moldavia in 1807-8. 

A second possible explanation is that the commanders of the Army of Moldavia were more persistent in clinging to the old ways than were the generals in Poland and Finland.  This certainly applies to Michelson and his successor, Prozorovsky.  While it seems clear that some old dogs resisted the learning of new tricks, this hardly explains the continuation of these deviations under Kamensky-2, a younger general fresh from the wars in Poland and Finland.[vii]

A final possible explanation is the differences in operational needs in fighting the Turks.  This, on the surface, seems reasonable.  However, the similar practice of creating smaller ad hoc columns in Finland was performed within the divisional framework, not in place of it.  This would seem to indicate that the deviation from the established divisional structure did not have any specific tactical purpose beyond, perhaps, distributing fresh regiments evenly among the columns.  In all probability the main reason for the deviations in the Army of Moldavia stems from the distance of the Turkish frontier from the capital and the considerably greater level of autonomy enjoyed by the commanders there.

Use of Divisions in the Caucasus, 1807-1811

Operations in the Caucasus against both the Turks and Persians also demonstrate the continued use of ad hoc columns.  This is perhaps more understandable than other instances considering the broken terrain of the region and the relatively small number of troops committed to a large, difficult region with an unstable and often hostile population.  Nevertheless, the designation of two divisions to cover Georgia and the Caucasus in February 1807 seems to imply allocation of specific regiments to distinct regions. In practice, the divisional structure seems to have been ignored for operational purposes from its inception until 1811.

In 1807, FM Count Gudovich organized his forces into three bodies for his campaign against the Turks.  The largest column was composed of 9 battalions, 3 squadrons of dragoons, and 3 Cossack regiments.  The other columns included battalions and squadrons from several regiments.  While the full details of the regiments involved are not available, the regiments known to have been included in these columns were from both the 19th and 20th Divisions.  General Tormasov, who succeeded Gudovich in 1809, organized his forces along similar lines, forming small columns composed of regiments from both the 19th and 20th Divisions in both the 1809 and 1810 campaigns.  In the operations of both Gudovich and Tormasov it appears that the regiments of the 20th Division, reinforced by additional regiments of the 19th Division, engaged the Turks and their allies while the remainder of the 19th Division defended the Caucasus line.[viii]

In 1811, Tormasov received the command of a new army forming in Volhynia to oppose the expected French invasion.  Tsar Alexander then “divided the troops in the Caucasus into two independent parts” when in fact they had been formally divided into two parts since February 1807.  The forces assigned to Georgia under the command of GL Marquis Paulucci included 2 grenadier regiments, 5 musketeer regiments, four jäger regiments, one dragoon regiment, 3 heavy artillery companies and 2 light artillery companies along with Cossacks and some garrison regiments.  The remaining forces under the command of GL Rtyschev were to cover the Caucasus line.[ix]  This operational division of forces may represent the first implementation of the divisional structure in the Caucasus, as there is no mention of separate divisional commanders before this time.  Therefore it seems that formal divisional structure was imposed on the forces in the Caucasus and Georgia through direct imperial intervention, though not according to the formal organization that had been established four years earlier.

4.2.3   FM Kamensky in Poland, December 1806

One additional example demonstrates the reversion to the traditional organization of ad hoc columns.  FM Kamensky, on assuming command of the combined Russian armies in Poland for six days in December 1806, had immediately issued orders to form columns for an offensive.  When Kamensky arrived and assumed command, the Russian army was deployed to defend the line of the Narew and Ukra Rivers.  Two divisions, the 2nd and 6th, covered the left and center of the position while the Advance Guard (drawn primarily from 4th Division) and 3rd Division covered the right.  The jäger regiments of these divisions, augmented by some musketeer regiments from the 2nd and 4th Divisions and supported by light cavalry and Cossacks, were deployed on the river line as a first line of defense.  In the second line stood the remainder of the forces roughly a day’s march to the rear.  The reserve, 4th Division, stood another day’s march to the rear at Pultusk.[x] 

Instead of concentrating the regiments of 3rd Division to form one column and sending 4th Division forward to form the second column, Kamensky divided 4th Division into three detachments.  The first detachment of two regiments was sent forward to Nowemiasto, the second of one regiment and the heavy cavalry of 4th Division, was sent to join the bulk of 3rd Division at Lopaczin the next day.  A third detachment of one regiment and some uhlans marched on the third day to join the first detachment.  This placed two regiments of 3rd Division and four of 4th Division under the command of GL Bennigsen in one column, while the other column consisted of four regiments of 3rd Division and one of 4th Division plus a large body of cavalry from both divisions.  Further, both GL Sacken, commander of 3rd Division, and GL Golytsin, commander of 4th Division, were assigned to the right column.[xi] 

Thus Kamensky’s deployment demonstrates the reversion to the traditional practice, as it would have been equally effective – and in fact would have required shorter marches – had he simply assigned the two divisions to concentrate at the two selected points under their respective commanders. 





[i] The commanders of this army were Michelson (1806 to August 1807), Prozorovsky (September 1807 to August 1809), Bagration (August 1809 to February 1810), Kamensky-2 (February 1810 to January 1811) and Kutusov (March 1811 until the end of the war in 1812).  See Mikhailovsky-Danielevsky, Russo-Turkish War for a thorough description of the commanders and operations.

[ii] Nafziger, George.  “Russian Army of Turkey, Russo-Turkish War, 16 October 1806” and “Russian Army of Turkey, Russo-Turkish War, Late December 1806.” Unpublished Orders of Battle.

[iii] Mikhailovsky-Danielevsky, Russo-Turkish War, I, p. 82.

[iv] Ibid., I, pp. 96-99.

[v] Ibid., I, pp. 113-4.

[vi] Ibid., II, pp. 39-41, 52. 57-58. North, Jonathan.  “Attack along the Danube:  The Russo-Turkish War of 1810”,

[vii] Kamensky-2 in particular first rose to prominence in the war in Poland, assuming command of the 14th Division after the death of GL Anrep and was therefore quite familiar with the divisional organization.

[viii] See Mikhailovsky-Danielevsky’s Russo-Turkish War of 1806-1812, Volume I: Chapters VII and XVI   and Volume II: Chapters IX and XIX for details on operations in the Caucasus.

[ix] Mikhailovsky-Danielevsky, Russo-Turkish War, II, p. 136.

[x] Carl von Plotho, Tagebuch wahrend des Krieges Zwischen Russland und Preussen einerseits, und Frankreich andrerseits, in den Jahren 1806 und 1807, Berlin, 1811, pp.14-16.

[xi] Bennigsen, I, pp. 81-87.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2002


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