Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics


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

Effects of Reorganization on Operations: Similarities between Russian Divisions and French Corps

By Robert Goetz

Because the Russian divisional structure of 1806 was used as an operational structure during the 1806-7 war against France, it is useful to examine the similarities and differences with the more familiar French organization.  In size and composition, the Russian divisions most closely resembled the French corps of two divisions, which in the fall of 1806 included the V, VI and VII Corps.  Both the French corps and the Russian divisions were composed of infantry, cavalry and artillery, often with pontoon trains and pioneers attached.  The total strength of both the Russian divisions and French corps of two divisions is roughly comparable.  While the Russian divisions were slightly larger than the French corps of two divisions, this is largely the result of the inclusion of ten squadrons of heavy cavalry with each of the Russian divisions.  In both cases a permanent commander was assigned who, barring illness, injury or capture, retained command during peacetime and on campaign.  (See Table 7)

The use of Russian divisions and French corps also involved parallels.  The composition of the divisions, like the French corps, was not rigid and some reassignment of units occurred to meet operational needs.  Thus we see Marshal Ney forming an Advance Guard from regiments in his divisions (VI Corps) while General Bennigsen formed an Advance Guard for his army from regiments of 4th Division in November 1806, and later formed advance guards for each of his three columns during the January 1807 Russian advance.  Similarly, in the spring of 1807 Bennigsen formed a larger ad hoc Advance Guard division and collected the cavalry from several divisions into separate brigades.  These adjustments have their parallel in the organizational adjustments in the French army in November 1806:  the reorganization of the French Cavalry Reserve to form two bodies, the formation of a fifth dragoon division from regiments of other dragoon divisions, and the attachment of dragoon divisions to corps.  At the army level, the divisions, like the corps, could be detached or combined into larger bodies as needed.  In January 1807 Bennigsen had formed his army into three columns, each with an advance guard and one or two divisions, while the cavalry was organized into two “corps” operating on the right and left flanks with a third body in reserve.   This adjustment resembles the formation of a semi-independent army under Bernadotte in November 1806 consisting of I Corps (Bernadotte), VI Corps (Ney) and the 2nd Cavalry Reserve (Bessieres). 

Table 7:  Composition of Russian Divisions and French Corps, Nov. 1806

Russian Divisions and French Corps[i]
(Approximate Strength: November 1806)

Number of Battalions

Number of Squadrons (excluding Cossacks)

Total Officers and Men

Artillery Batteries (Foot/Horse)

Total guns (approx)

Russian

2nd Division

18

20

15,900

4/1

60

3rd Division

21

20

19,100

5/1

72

4th Division

21

20

18,800

5/1

72

6th Division

18

25

16,300

5/1

72

Average per Division

19.5

21.25

17,525

4.75/1

69

French

V Corps

21

9

19,600

3/2

30

VI Corps

17

6

15,000

4/2

36

VII Corps

17

6

14,500

3/2

30

Average per Corps

18.33

7

16,366

3.33/2

32

 

While the divisions created a convenient structure that improved efficiency and flexibility and provided some of the benefits of the French corps d’armée structure, these similarities should not be overemphasized.  Unlike the French corps d’armée structure, the Russian divisions lacked the two-tier command structure of the French corps – the French division.  While Russian brigades were often detached, there does not appear to have been any staff or administrative infrastructure at this level beyond any personal staff of the commander.  Further, while the French organization was a well-established structure used throughout the French army, the Russian structure left much to the discretion of the local commander with the result that some generals immediately split up the divisions to form ad hoc columns according to long-established practice.  This differs from French practice even in the smaller peripheral armies like the Armies of Italy and Dalmatia where a divisional organization prevailed despite the omission of a formal corps due to the small size of the army.

 

 

 

 

Notes

[i] Eduard von Höpfner, Der Krieg von 1806 und 1807, Berlin, 1851, III, 24-26.  Foucart, I, foldout tables for each corps.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2002

 

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