Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

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


By Robert Goetz

The reorganization of the Russian divisions in 1806 constitutes an important step in the organizational evolution of the Russian army.  From 1806 through 1810, the structure was adapted to meet the changing needs of the army.  This structure could be used as an operational framework for the army during wartime, but the commander often adapted the structure to meet operational necessities or possibly personal preferences.  The further the commander was from St. Petersburg, it would appear, the more freely he exercised this discretion.  With each successive adjustment to the divisional structure, the concept of the division as an administrative unit associated with a specific geographical region shifted, until by 1809 the division had become primarily an operational entity used both for mobilization and as an operational command structure.  Taken as a whole, the series of changes in the organization of the Russian army during this period brought the Russian army to the point where the implementation of a French-inspired corps d’armée structure represented the logical next step rather than a radical departure from traditional practice.  Because of this, the divisional structure of 1806-1810 formed an important transitional stage for Russian army organization, enabling more rapid adoption of the organizational changes implemented between October 1810 and the French invasion of June 1812.

The similarities of the Russian divisional structure of 1806-1810 with the contemporary French Corps structure invite comparisons between the two.  Both were established as forces of all arms (infantry, cavalry and artillery), were uniform in composition, and had a permanent structure.  While it is tempting to draw parallels between the Russian divisions and the French corps based on the similarities of composition and usage, there is no evidence to suggest that the Russians were significantly influenced by organizational developments in the French army.  To the contrary, the Russian divisions of 1806 seem clearly to be a logical revision of the long-established Russian inspections/divisions that had originally been established under Catherine II in 1763.   The 1806 reorganization addressed the immediate needs of speeding mobilization and improving the operational organization of the army, particularly in the west.  The additional benefits of the reorganization seem to have emerged as an unexpected result of the reforms. 

The appointment of Barclay de Tolly as Minister of War and the deteriorating relations with France that made a new campaign against Napoleon seem imminent both helped to accelerate the organizational reforms of the Russian army.  From October 1810 to the eve of the French invasion of Russia, an extensive series of reforms reshaped the structure of the Russian army.  These reforms, implemented in just over 18 months, substantially restructured the Russian army and produced a more formidable enemy for the French.  The reorganization of 1806 and subsequent adjustments provided the framework that made possible these rapid, extensive changes that formed the Russian army of 1812 that would oppose the French invasion of Russia.



Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2002


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