Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

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Rolling Mobilization of Field Forces

Reserve Corps Formation

Home Defense Forces


The Development of the Russian Inspectorate, 1762-1806:

Part III: The Inspectorate in Wartime, 1796-1806

By Robert Goetz

The purpose of the divisions and inspectorate was to maintain the army near the frontiers in order to facilitate mobilization.  In order to determine whether this goal was met, it is important to examine some examples to see how mobilization was actually accomplished.  Beyond the actual mobilization of regiments, the creation of higher formations deserves some study.  Because the Russian army had no permanent higher formations during this period, regiments were organized into larger bodies termed “corps” or “columns” and assigned to a commanding general.  While this assignment was largely ad hoc, the process of forming corps during mobilization followed clear patterns designed to address the logistics of getting forces in the field (or on the march to the theater of operations) as quickly as possible and to form a ready reserve while maintaining adequate defenses on the frontiers.

Rolling Mobilization of Field Forces

For large-scale mobilizations, as were undertaken in 1799 and 1805, a pragmatic “rolling” mobilization seems to have been used.  In both cases regiments cantoned closest to frontier were assembled for initial columns, while other regiments assembled deeper within Russia and marched to the frontier to form successive columns.  This process was necessary because the distances involved significantly affected the time required for mobilization.[27]  This served the dual purpose of getting forces on their way as quickly as possible and spreading out the logistical demands (supply, transport, billets) on the local population in the frontier regions over several weeks or even months.  In general terms it seems that it took approximately 30 days for the regiments to be brought up to a war footing and up to an additional 30 days to reach the designated assembly points on the frontier.

In the example of 1799, the geographic distribution of forces assigned to the various corps and the timetable of the mobilization illustrate this process.  Field forces sent west to fight France included an advance corps under GL Rosenberg, followed by additional corps under GL Rehbinder, GL Korsakov and the French émigré Prince Condé.  This mobilization was spread out over a nine-month period.  Rosenberg’s corps was drawn from among those regiments cantoned closest to the frontier in Litov, Smolensk and Ukraine inspections, the majority from Litov.  Rehbinder’s small force (3 regiments musketeers and 1 regiment jäger), originally to have embarked at Odessa for transport to Naples, came entirely from Ekaternislav inspection in the south.  Korsakov’s corps drew regiments from St. Petersburg, Liflyand, Litov, Smolensk, Moscow, and Ukraine inspections – in other words, border inspections as well as interior inspections.  The corps of Condé is perhaps a special case, having been assigned to cantons in Volhynia near the frontier but constituting the last column to leave Russia.  It is interesting to note that although the regiments assigned to these columns appear to have been drawn from the areas closest to the western frontier, not all regiments in frontier inspections were assigned to these columns.  This would seem to indicate the deliberate retention of several regiments in each inspection to provide security for possible internal and external threats and to form a reserve.

Assembly of the forces on the frontiers for the march west occurred in stages.  Rosenberg’s corps began mobilizing at the end of July and was fully assembled on the frontier by 29 September 1798, as noted above, marching in October to winter quarters on the Danube.  Rehbinder marched his troops overland to Italy in April 1799 after the lack of seaworthy ships and the French conquest of Naples late in 1798 forced a change in plans.  Korsakov’s corps was assembled on the frontier and ready to march by May 1799, the late date seeming to demonstrate the affect of the difference in climate between southern Russia and central Russia.  Condé’s small Russian-supported émigré force left Volhynia about a month after Korsakov.  The consistent pattern demonstrated shows a 30-day mobilization of regiments followed by a march to the designated assembly point, followed by the march west.  This pattern also holds for forces assembling at other points than the western frontiers.  Forces designated for the Holland landing in 1799 that were embarked at Reval in early August required as much as 21 days of constant marching just to reach the port (mobilization had apparently begun in June).  These regiments were mainly from the St. Petersburg and Liflyand inspections and were thus “local” although three regiments came from as far afield as the Finland, Litov and Smolensk inspections.[28] 

The example of the 1805 mobilization parallels the mobilization of 1799, although in this case the allies did not have the luxury of mobilizing over the winter prior to initiating hostilities.  Agreement on the details of the expeditionary force had only been finalized on 16 July for the fall campaign.  The formation of the advance corps, assigned to GL Kutusov, was assembled in six columns.  Not surprisingly, the regiments composing these columns were drawn from the western inspections.  The 1st and 2nd columns were assembled from regiments in the Litov, Brest and Ukraine inspections, the 3rd and 4th columns were assembled a bit further east from regiments in Brest and Kiev inspections while the 5th and 6th were assembled further to the southeast from Ukraine, Kiev and Dniester inspections. 

Kutuzov’s corps was followed by the main body, to have been commanded by GL Michelson, which consisted of the corps of GL Buxhowden, GL Essen and GL Bennigsen.  Buxhowden’s forces were drawn from Brest, Litov and Smolensk inspections to the north.  The formation of Bennigsen’s corps is not clearly documented, but as the northernmost of the three corps committed to the west, this corps would have been assembled primarily from regiments in Lifland and Litov inspections.  Essen’s corps was drawn from the Litov, Smolensk and Moscow inspections.  Unlike 1799, the mobilization of 1805 seems to have been more complete with all regiments in the western inspections of Brest and Ukraine marching west leaving only the newly authorized regiments still assembling in these inspections.  Once again, though, the leading columns were assembled from the westernmost inspections.[29]

As in 1799, once mobilized the regiments proceeded to assembly points on the frontier. Kutuzov’s force assembled at Radziwillow on the Austrian frontier by 21 August and crossed the frontier on the 25th.  Buxhowden’s forces, which had concentrated at Brest by 9 September, received the order to advance to the banks of the Pilica on the frontier in order to avoid crossing Prussian territory.  Buxhowden crossed the frontier around the 20th, Essen following in his wake.  Bennigsen was ordered to assemble his forces at Grodno on 9 September, presumably completing this concentration by the end of the month.  Thus each corps concentrated on the frontier and was ready to march at approximately 30-day intervals, reflecting the time taken to march from more distant parts of Russia.[30]

The analysis of mobilization by inspection provides a reasonably clear picture of the geographic distribution of the forces being mobilized, but does not take into consideration the specific location of the regiments at the time of mobilization, whether regiments were in peacetime cantons, occupying Polish territory or otherwise shifted from their assigned cantons.  However, it does show a consistent pattern of mobilization with the regiments nearest the western frontier being assembled into an advance corps and regiments in the interior (or to the north and south) assembling and marching to the assembly points in the west, before setting off across the frontier at approximately 30-day intervals. 

Reserve Corps Formation

In the wars of 1799 and of 1805, Russia itself was not directly threatened with invasion and the forces contributed to the allied cause represented a fraction of the total forces available.  However, in both cases once the contingents committed to the war were on their way, the remaining regiments in the inspections were organized into reserve corps.  This seems to have served a need for internal security as well as to provide a reserve to reinforce the corps already engaged.  The reserve corps collected the regiments remaining in the western inspections and organized them into commands.  In 1799, these commands included the forces on the Baltic coast under GL Hermann, the forces from the Baltic to Brest-Litovsk under GL Lacy, and a probable third corps of forces in the southwest under GL Gudovich.  The two northern corps were combined under Lacy’s command after Hermann left in September with the descent force drawn from his corps for the invasion of Holland.[31]  In 1805 a single large reserve corps was formed from the regiments remaining in the west and assigned to Rimsky-Korsakov.[32] 

The purpose of the reserve corps is not clearly recorded.  In both 1799 and 1805, the reserve corps were not committed to the war.  In both cases the war ended by the end of a single campaigning season due to Russia’s withdrawal from the war in 1799 and the decisive defeat of Austerlitz in 1805.  We can, however, take an example from beyond this period in a war that lasted into a second campaigning season in order to see how the reserve corps might have been employed.  The reserve corps of GL Labanoff in 1806 assembled during the winter and set off for Poland in the spring, approaching the east Prussian frontier in June 1807.  In this instance the reserve corps formed a body to reinforce the forces on campaign.  Because it does not appear that the Russian army had an established method for reinforcing regiments on campaign during this period, it makes sense that a strong reserve would be necessary to reinforce or replace depleted regiments already engaged in the event of a protracted conflict.[33] 

In the case of 1799, we can surmise that had Russia remained in the war, the reserve corps would have followed the course taken by Rosenberg’s corps the previous year, marching to the Danube and taking up winter quarters there to be committed to the fighting when campaigning season opened in the spring.  This conjecture is supported by the fact that Gudovich, apparently named commander of the southern reserve corps in 1799, is noted as commanding “the army designated to cross the border to the Rhine.”[34]  In 1805 the war was simply too short to draw any conjectures as to the intended function of the reserve corps, but it seems likely that a similar approach would apply.  Therefore, it seems probable that the reserve corps in 1799 and 1805 were intended to reinforce the army in the west in the subsequent year. 

Home Defense Forces

Even when Russia committed to mobilizing very large armies for western wars, it was still necessary to maintain forces in Russia to guard against other potential threats from hostile neighbors.  In both 1799 and 1805 the regiments in Finland and in the Crimea, Caucasus and eastern inspections remained on the frontiers.  In the case of Finland, three musketeer regiments and two jäger battalions watched the Swedes in 1799 while in 1805 there were two musketeer regiments left in Finland backed up by additional regiments in St. Petersburg inspection and the garrisons of the substantial number of fortresses in the north. 

While ambiguities in the exact composition of some of the corps make it impossible to draw precise conclusions regarding the number of troops left behind in the south, it seems probable that a strong force was also left on the Dniester (from Ekaterinoslav/Dniester inspection).  In the case of 1799, if we assume the corps of Gudovich to be comparable in size to the corps of Hermann and Lacy (each with 10 regiments of grenadiers and musketeers, 2 jäger battalions and 30-40 squadrons of cavalry), then the forces left on the Dniester would have amounted to four regiments of grenadiers and musketeers, one or two jäger battalions, and a substantial cavalry force.  The extent of the forces left on the frontiers in 1799 provides an illustration of the level of trust St. Petersburg placed in their neighbors and sometime Turkish allies, although internal security precautions in recently conquered territories may also have played a part. 

Totalling the grenadier and musketeer regiments alone, the forces left in Finland, on the Dniester and in the Crimean, Caucasus, Orenburg and Siberian inspections in 1799 comprised an estimated 23 regiments out of a total of 75 – nearly a third of the infantry of the army.  This fact demonstrates the substantial drain the defense of the extraordinarily long Russian frontiers imposed on the military resources of the country.  Uncertainty as to the exact composition of Bennigsen’s corps and the reserve corps in 1805 prevent any accurate assessment of the extent of the forces retained in these regions during the 1805 campaign, but it seems very likely that the forces would be comparable, particularly given the diplomatic situation with regard to the Turks in 1805.  If we assume roughly equal forces maintained on the frontiers in 1805, though, this would represent a smaller percentage of the total forces due to the additional regiments raised between 1799 and 1805.




[27] The terms corps and column were used interchangeably in this period.  I have chosen to use corps for simplicity, but these corps should not be confused with the later Army Corps as they were ad hoc organizations.

[28] Duffy, C. Eagles Over the Alps Chicago, 1999, pp. 40-1; Lynedoch, T. G. History of the Campaign of 1799 in Holland London, 1803, p. 91.

[29] Mikhailovski-Danilevski, A. Relation de la Campagne de 1805 Paris, 1846, pp. 32-3, 48-9.

[30] Ibid., pp. 32-47, 91-4. 

[31] G. Nafziger, “Austro-Russian Corps, 1 June 1799”, “Anglo-Russian Army, September 1799”, and “Russian Forces Holland, 16 September 1799”;Gudovich, Graf Ivan Vasil’evich, general-field marshal” in Sytin's Voennaya Entsiklopediya (unpublished translation by Mark Conrad).

[32] Rimsky Korsakov had under his command 56 battalions and 70 squadrons of which 45 battalions and 35 squadrons were to be placed on the border between Brody and Brest.  Mikhailovski-Danilevski, Relation de la Campagne de 1805 pp.  94, 200. 

[33]Petre, F. L. Napoleon’s Campaign in Poland 1806-7 London, 1989, p. 344.

[34]Gudovich, Graf Ivan Vasil’evich, general-field marshal” in Sytin's Voennaya Entsiklopediya (unpublished translation by Mark Conrad).


Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2002


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