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The Development of Tactics & Training in the Russian Army, 1801 to 1814: The Practice of Higher Tactics, 1810.

The Development of Tactics & Training in the Russian Army, 1801 to 1814: The Practice of Higher Tactics, 1810.

A Century of The Russian Ministry of War


General Staff Historical Department

(Translated into English from the original Russian by Peter Phillips)

The Development of Tactics & Training In The Russian Army, 1801 to 1814.

The Practice of Higher Tactics, 1810.

NCO Lifeguard Finland Bn 1808-10

The second part of the work contains the higher tactics. Here it is a question: of camps, of marches by an army, of battle formations and of quartering. We will focus only on the first three questions.

Encampments: “Nothing shows the ability of a general so much as the choice of places for camps, so important in military affairs that the success of the entire campaign often depends on one camp, well or poorly used.

“Higher Tactics” begins with those words. Thereafter the following are considered: camps for assembling forces; rest camps; foraging camps; transit camps; camps screening the ground; camps in an offensive war; camps in a defensive war; fortified camps; fortified camps under the guns of fortresses and raiding camps. The latter name meant the camp of an independent corps of light troops, “…because a large army can seldom find enough space to station itself; therefore, it should have independent corps that could protect its flanks and rear.

Camps have the same function as fortifications, because when occupying them, the main aim is to choose places in which a numerically weaker army could act with advantage against a superior one (especially in a defensive war)…

The weakest parts of the camp, the flanks, were recommended to rest against some kind of natural barrier or to strengthen them with entrenchments.

It must be observed that the length of the entire camp, from the right flank to the left, is equal to the space that the army, having drawn up in battle order, will actually occupy. If the camp is located in several lines, then it is necessary to leave from 300 to 400 paces of space between them, so that each line can be freely formed up without fouling the rearmost tents of the front line… The artillery should be located in appropriate places, and batteries should be placed in such a way that they can operate advantageously and offer mutual support, such that an enemy cannot attack one battery without being taken in the flank or rear by another… In many cases, and especially in hilly or rugged terrain… the reserve artillery should be divided into three or more elements… and be deployed in such places where it will most likely be needed…

The camp must be equal in all its parts, or, so to speak, it must be a fortress of some sort; but the camp cannot have this property if the cavalry is stationed on the flanks of the first line, because the enemy can attack them by surprise. As a result of this… both on the plains or in any other location, it should always be possible to place the cavalry behind the infantry; but then on the flanks of the infantry a place for the cavalry should be allocated, which they then, in case of need, immediately occupy, depending upon the location.” However, sometimes the cavalry can be placed on the flanks, and sometimes all put on one wing in one, two or three lines. “But if the cavalry occupies a clearing of 1,000 or 1,200 paces, surrounded by forest, then infantry must cover its flanks…

Jägers may be placed in front of the army; but hussars in such a position would soon be exhausted. Light infantry placed in front can have security, because a jäger is always ready to grab a musket and fight; on the contrary, a hussar, and especially at night, needs at least 12 minutes to saddle his horse and prepare for battle, no matter how much he is tested and well trained; consequently, if he is close to the enemy or in a position where he may be concerned about a surprise attack, he would have to remain on his horse all night, and as a result of that both he and his horse would be exhausted for some time.

But if the circumstances and location make it possible to place the hussars behind the jägers, placed in front and on the flanks of the army, so that these latter cover them from surprise attack and could hold the enemy until they have time to mount their horses and prepare for battle, then this placement will be very advantageous. because then the hussars will be able to provide more advanced guards and detachments to harass the enemy than if they were ahead of the army… If a whole hussar regiment is stationed at the front alone, without infantry supports, then we must assume that it will be on permanent alert.

Guard service: the above extracts show that after Paul’s regulations of 1796, according to which guard service was assigned mainly to hussars, both on this light cavalry, and partly on the combat value of cavalry in general, and they began to lean towards the idea of the importance of light infantry in war, i.e. the idea expressed by General in Chief Panin at the beginning of the reign of Empress Catherine began to develop.

An army in camp is protected and guarded in two ways:

  1. Mounted and foot guards, taken from line troops, which are rotated every day, and are called field guards.
  2. Detachments of light troops, located at vital points, in locations that must be held.

Both one and the other make up a screen of sentries around the army, who must be at such a distance from each other that they can see each other during the day and hear at night. But since the main outposts for light troops are usually located in villages and towns, sometimes very remote from one another, they are to establish among themselves additional intermediate outposts, of infantry and cavalry, which, if necessary, detach even smaller outposts from themselves, such that there are no gaps in the camp screen. In addition, light troops detach large guards forward, both for their own security and for observing the enemy, which are located on high ground or in open spaces, and incessantly, and especially at night, carry out small patrols along all the roads lying in front and along the flanks of the outpost they are holding, in order to reconnoitre for the enemy. All these outposts and guards should be located in such a way that they can assist one another and have a secured rear during their withdrawal…

Any outpost, which only has observation as its mission… must have vedettes everywhere, that is, two sentries together, so that one of them can return to the outpost with a report, while the other continues to monitor everything that happens…

The placement of advanced outposts depends on the position of the camp site and its surroundings.

On level and open terrain, infantry outposts are established in places that are most convenient for defence and protecting the main position. If necessary, they are to be fortified with entrenchments. These first outposts are protected by others located on the most elevated locations. Mounted anti-raiding guards are stationed in front of the infantry and detach small outposts from themselves along every road: both one and the other are located mainly on high ground and establish a screen of vedettes between themselves through which no one could pass without being noticed. If the mounted guards could be cut off, then at night they withdraw behind the infantry outposts, while these latter redouble their vigilance.

However, in any event, for the safety of the camp, it is necessary to have anti-raiding mounted guards that spend the night in the saddle, while as it is very easy to cut them off or take them from the rear, the commanders of the outposts should send frequent patrols along the flanks and to the rear and warn their minor detachments to rejoin the main outpost at the first shot.

Regarding marches: Marches… may be considered the key to all military operations, as by means of these marches the army operates by moving from one position to another, attacking the enemy unexpectedly or forestalling them at vital events…

All army marches may be divided into route and tactical marches.

A daring march, secured against all threats and undertaken with determination, may bring about the fortunate conclusion to a campaign and destroy the enemy’s carefully considered intentions.” Suvorov’s campaign in Italy in 1799 is given as an example.

… In order to make a march, an army must be divided into several bodies or columns, which, following different routes, would all strive for a single designated objective and then, with the help of skilfully coordinated movements between them, would form up in battle order and attack the enemy… The number of columns in which the army is to march, and consequently the number of routes that need to be cleared, should be commensurate with the strength of the army and the number of divisions that constitute it…

Regarding the order of march: If an army is operated as a single mass, it would be clumsy and incapable of movement. To avert these disadvantages, the army is divided into corps, divisions and brigades… Considering the movements of those deployed and the types of higher tactics, it seems that, according to best practice, the army may be divided into three, and many into four divisions of infantry, in addition to two wings of cavalry, each of which comprises one division. As for the strength of a division, each should be composed of no more than 24 battalions, and rarely less than 12, of which one half would form the front line, while the other is the support line. Each wing of the cavalry constitutes its own division, and therefore no exact proportion can be assigned to them.

Each infantry brigade contains from three to six battalions, while a brigade of cavalry has ten to 20 squadrons…

For the same reasons that an army is divided into divisions, the artillery should be divided into brigades, in proportion to the strengths of those divisions, and are to be composed of guns of various calibres. Each of these brigades joins an infantry division in order to camp, march and fight alongside it.

Horse artillery is established to support the cavalry, and therefore must march with it. It is also used in the vanguard.

In addition, it is necessary to have one reserve artillery brigade, which proceeds in front of the artillery park and is used for reinforcements and detachments when they are needed.

Finally, the vanguard must also have one artillery detachment commensurate with its strength.

It goes without saying that all these would be Battery guns, as regimental guns, both in the camp and on the march, remain with their battalions.

The vanguard: “The vanguard or leading corps is called the strong detachment, composed mostly of infantry or cavalry, depending on the character of the terrain through which it must pass, and on the obstacles that it may encounter on its way… It drives off enemy patrols and seizes important positions in advance for the army…

Light troops advancing forwards of the vanguard’s frontage should have small detachments in front, so that they can gather timely intelligence on the number and type of enemy troops they encounter, and as a result, immediately take action in order to fight the enemy or pursue them, without interrupting the march of the vanguard.

Over open ground, the jägers must follow closely behind the light cavalry, to support them when in contact with the enemy, and to fight alongside them; and in the event of a reverse, cover their retreat by taking up some advantageous outpost, and hold on to it until the arrival of the vanguard itself.

The light troops assigned to protect the flanks of the vanguard should march on the right and left sides of the column in small detachments, which should contain even smaller ones or flankers on their exposed flank. These latter should always try to get on high ground, but not too far away from the detachments to which they belong… In wooded terrain infantry protect the flanks of the march, while cavalry do so in the open…

As can be seen from the above, each column was supposed to have its own vanguard.

During the tactical march, each column was to have a specific order. “When advancing to contact, several artillery pieces with their ammunition caissons should be placed at the head of each column, under escort of a single battalion. The rest of the brigade follows the column, making sure that the guns go directly behind the troops, and the ammunition caissons behind the guns. With the assistance of such an arrangement, the artillery needed to cover the deployment of the heads of the columns will be there; the troops, not being halted, are able to deploy more quickly, and then the remainder of the artillery takes up positions in the battle order, in accordance with the situation. The artillery reserve moves behind the centre columns and must have doubled teams of horses in harness, so that it can immediately arrive in time at those places where it is needed… When marching on the flank, if it is not under threat of enemy attack, artillery may form an independent column on the inner side of the march; but if the enemy is close and able to attack the army on the march, then the artillery moves along with the troops within their divisions, while the reserve brigade and the park proceeds, as already mentioned above, in an independent column on the inside of the march.

The rear-guard: “The number of troops constituting the rear-guard is determined in proportion to the threat to which the rear of the army is exposed. It is usually joined by the majority of the light infantry or mounted light troops, according to the nature of the terrain through which it must pass. The rest of the light troops are used to cover the tail and flanks of the flanking columns…

The work contains many more details in the instructions on how to execute tactical marches in various situations (for example, at night), on the duties of the vanguard and rearguard. Without setting out the full content of the work, we only wished to present a general picture of those new ideas about field service in wartime, which were appointed for distribution to the army at a time when the special commission was entrusted with the work of compiling new combat regulations. In conclusion, we will cite more excerpts from the article “On Orders of Battle” in view of the fact that the thoughts expressed in it left a noticeable impression upon us.

On Orders of Battle: Firstly, a discussion is presented regarding a normal order of battle, which is called the initial, ordinary, or methodical; such an order: “has its place only in camp and in the dreams of tactical purists, but it could never be used in combat.” After that, parallel and oblique, or inclined battle formations are considered. “It can be said that during the last 150 years, almost every battle took place in oblique order, as for the most part attacks was made only at certain points.” Finally, the perpendicular order of battle and an arrangement in a crescent were described: “which is still in use among the Turks and other Asiatic peoples.” We have omitted all considerations pertaining to these questions.

Of greatest interest is Chapter 3: “On the location and distribution of troops into battle order.

The infantry always maintains battalion intervals required only for the regimental artillery. The second echelon is formed up at a distance of 200 to 300 paces from the first.

Cavalry on difficult terrain maintains intervals of 15 to 25 paces between squadrons, while on level ground it may form a wall, that is, in closed squadrons. The second cavalry echelon is usually formed at intervals, such that in the event of a reverse the first echelon, on being driven back, can more conveniently retire through the second.

When attacking batteries, entrenchments and villages, also in rearguards to cover the retreat, both infantry and cavalry are always formed up en échiquier (in the form of a chessboard), such that in the event of defeat the second echelon, moving through the intervals of the first, could immediately reinforce it, or such that both lines can retreat in good order and securely, passing alternately one through the intervals of the other.

In order to draw up the order of battle for an army, it is always necessary to use movement in columns, because an advance in line, being too cumbersome and slow, gives the enemy time to adjust their positions.

If one wing of the army is not anchored to any terrain obstacle, then the cavalry of the second echelon should deborde [over-extend] the flank of the first echelon, while the cavalry of the third echelon or the reserve must deborde the second echelon, such that if the enemy attempts to attack the flank of the first echelon, the second and third could take them in the flank.

To better secure this wing, the flank of the infantry should be protected by two or three battalions, which are formed up at the extreme of the flank, between the first and second echelons, so as not to allow the enemy to roll up the infantry if they manage to defeat the cavalry.

At the same time, it is worth noting that a cavalry wing of 60 squadrons, formed up in four echelons, one behind the other, is more vulnerable to disorder and total defeat than another wing, composed of only 30 squadrons, but positioned in two echelons; assuming that in both cases, the flanks and rear of these are secured from an enemy attack. Much experience has shown that cavalry, formed up in two echelons, having been defeated by the enemy, are able to reunite and form up again. On the other hand, a third or even a fourth wave of cavalry, placed behind the first two, cannot provide any support to them; if two echelons are driven off, then in their flight the other two echelons will certainly be swept away, and then the whole wing will become so disordered that it will in no way be possible to restore order.

This is the basis of the rule that the cavalry reserve should always be placed on the outer flank, somewhat behind the second echelon, but if the ground prevents it, then place it in a third echelon, behind the infantry. The latter arrangement is all the more advantageous because if a cavalry wing is broken, the reserve squadrons can flank the victorious enemy cavalry as it is attacking the infantry flanks.

Some tacticians advocate protecting the flanks of the cavalry with several battalions of infantry, which sometimes form squares on open ground; but this method is completely contrary to the nature of cavalry, as it cannot fight at the halt, and in order to operate successfully, it must certainly advance to engage an attacking enemy; as soon as it moves forward, it will leave the infantry located on its flank defenceless, and will itself lose the protection that it ought to receive from this infantry. Therefore, in order to avoid these disadvantages, the flanks of the cavalry must always be covered by cavalry, so that the whole wing can move at the same pace without disturbing its order.

The method for protecting the flanks of the cavalry with several squadrons placed obliquely to the first echelon is also disadvantageous and even high risk, because in this position the squadrons not only cannot carry out their mission, but also expose their own flanks to the enemy, who are sure not to miss exploiting such an unforgivable error. It should be taken as a rule that the troops assigned to cover the flanks should always be not alongside, but behind them.

The reserve of the army must be placed in such a way that, if necessary, it can immediately reinforce the attacked points, and to that end it is usually located behind the centre of the army; if the position occupied is very extensive, then it is necessary to have three reserves, one behind the centre, and the other two behind each of the flanks.

It must be a very desperate matter when, in order to restore the situation, the attacking army must resort to its infantry reserve, and much experience has shown that on ground that is level and open, a reserve of infantry can very rarely contribute to victory, but rather serves as a rearguard to cover the retreat of a defeated army. As a result, on a plain, reserves must be made up of the best cavalry under the command of decisive and gifted commanders, as they must be ready to operate without waiting for orders from the commander: in support of units of the battle line under attack, or to take an enemy pursuing a wing of cavalry driven back by them in the flank, and after that buy time to rally the troops…

The first echelon, made up entirely of infantry and supported by powerful batteries, will cause much harm to an enemy before they are able to approach to musket range; the enemy cavalry will certainly not dare to close to this rangee and attack the defending infantry if it is supported from behind by its own cavalry, which, of course, should not miss the opportunity to exploit opportunities when they may operate advantageously or attack from the front and into the flank of an enemy who has broken through the first echelon…

It is necessary to adopt a different posture against an enemy attacking in columns, than against troops attacking in a deployed line.

For the French, an exchange of fire is only a preparatory operation, during which their numerous artillery tries to silence the fire of opposing batteries. Tirailleurs (marksmen), scattered in front of the leading columns of line infantry, distract the enemy with their continuous fire, preventing them from identifying the focus of the actual attack; as soon as they notice disorder or hesitation in any part of the enemy line, then, having reformed into column, they break through, and the columns of line infantry, following behind the tirailleurs, rapidly rush to the locations that have been penetrated, and taking both parts of the broken enemy line in the flank, decide the battle in short order.

It is true that during such an attack the columns may lose so many that they could then be halted, or at least prevented from achieving anything decisive; yet, unfortunately, all the campaigns hitherto have provided more evidence in favour of this manner of attack by the French. Although they may lose a lot of men when attacking in columns, this loss is to some extent rewarded by the fact that battles have become shorter and more decisive than the old firefights, which sometimes lasted all day long.

This remark is not made to endorse the attack in columns, but to show that the tactics of the French require some change in the dispositions of the armies opposing them… Not to mention the benefit that can always be obtained by forestalling the French with a spoiling attack, and which Generalissimo Suvorov already proved quite sufficiently during his campaign in Italy and Switzerland in 1799, let us look in tactics themselves for ways to successfully repulse their attack… Against French tactics, positions that are immensely strong are not advantageous, rather it is better to be located on flat and open ground, so long as the flanks are provided with some kind of natural obstacle or field fortifications; but the front of the position should be as open as possible, and for this it is necessary to dismantle all the enclosures and fences that are in front, and burn the standing crops for a considerable distance, so as not to leave cover for the tirailleurs… If the French intend to attack such a position, they will be forced to approach overtly across the plain, which the more extensive it is, the more difficult it is for them; as both the artillery and the cavalry of the opposing army can profitably operate against their fragmented line of columns.

Not knowing what counter-manoeuvres the enemy opposing them intends, the French cannot weaken some parts of their battle formation in order to reinforce the attacking columns. They also cannot combine the actions of their artillery solely against the points they are attacking; but they would be compelled to divide it equally along all parts of their line. Then their manoeuvres will not be so secure, because the tirailleurs will not dare to run forward to protect them: should they dare, then the reserve cavalry of the first echelon together with the  horse artillery will immediately force them to retreat.

Let us assume that in spite of all these difficulties, the French, due to their courage and tenacity, close up to the front of the position for the assault. Then the infantry of the first echelon, having received them with fixed bayonets, can drive back or at least halt the heads of their columns; while the reserve cavalry, cutting into their flanks and rear, will throw them into extreme disorder, which has already been proved by many experiences during the campaign of 1807. However, even if the French managed to break through the first echelon, then you can be sure that from the heavy casualties they will have suffered during this attack, their columns will be disordered; and as a result, the reserve cavalry of the first echelon may attack them with great success. Otherwise, the first echelon retreats in good order through large intervals between the columns of the second echelon, and this one, reinforced by their cavalry, striking quickly with the bayonet, can restore the battle.

These words, as indeed all the writings (when establishing combat configurations for the infantry and training in battle formations), are obviously the expressions of a convinced supporter of linear tactics. The battle order proposed here in the form of the first line, elongated according to the rules of linear tactics, and the second line in the form of dense columns, fully corresponded to the military dispositions of our army during the battle of Preussisch-Eylau and subsequently became one of the five Supreme approved battle formations.

Square: An article is placed in the Practice of Higher Tactics: “On the dispositions for battle formations against the Turks.” Here a very particular battle formation is proposed, which had never been indicated in our previous regulations, namely a system of two echelons of three squares,  mutually supporting, for a 20,000 strong corps, and of five squares for a 30,000 man corps. In both cases: “Battery artillery is mainly located on the frontage of the 1st line and on the corners of the flanking squares, while regimental artillery is in the remaining intervals, between the infantry. Heavy cavalry is placed inside the squares, while hussars and Cossacks with horse artillery are in the interval found between the two echelons.

This order of battle was adopted, presumably, from the experiences of our wars with the Turks (for example, from Suvorov’s in 1778). In the Moscow Branch of the General Archives of the General Staff[1] there are two documents relating to 1808: the instructions by Gen Fd Marshal Prince Prozorovsky to General of Infantry Golenishchev-Kutuzov dated 19th [31st] August, 1808 and belonging to the same instructions, but not marked with a particular date: “Remark on manoeuvres used against the Turks,” both documents signed by Prince Prozorovsky. They are accompanied by a sketch of the battle order recommended by Prince Prozorovsky against the Turks, which is similar in concept to the sketch published in the General Practice of Tactics. The following extract explains the ideas of Prince Prozorovsky.

Prince Prozorovsky’s Order Of Battle Against The Turks

The Turks have no other manoeuvre than to surround the enemy with their numerous cavalry, against which Emperor Napoleon used a similar formation of troops in squares in Egypt, however, the circumstances and the lay of the land determine the ordre de bataille, and furthermore, one should not depart from the general principles; besides, this formation is as mobile as every ordre de bataille used against regular European troops: with these, one can move rapidly forward, to the right and to the left, and in general, such individual squares represent movable redoubts, with which artillery has a means to operate through crossfires. And in order to use such a formation, it is necessary to accustom the infantry on the march to swiftly form square from column. The cavalry stationed between them is masked and used when circumstances call for it…

A method of operating with cavalry alone against the Turks: Based on his personal combat experience, Prince Prozorovsky proposed a similar system, for example, of three or more squares even in the event when a force consists of cavalry alone. “As happened in 1769 I commanded the vanguard, having no infantry except for two weak jäger battalions and four small-calibre cannon, which I used to hold the necessary outposts, I fought only with hussars with sabres on nine occasions against Turkish cavalry five times stronger than me and always won victories over them; likewise, in 1771 I commanded the vanguard of Second Army with similar success…

Sources For The Essay: General Practice Of Tactics, 1807-1810

The work, General Practice Of Tactics, published by Supreme command in 1807-1810, has an undoubted connection with the thoughts underlying our subsequent regulations, both infantry, cavalry and artillery. In view of this, it is important to understand the origins of this work. In the work itself, there is absolutely no indication of these, and the name of the author is not even mentioned. Bibliographically, it can be determined that the author of this work was Lieutenant Colonel Khatov. Namely, this work is attributed under his name in the bibliographic dictionary by Sopikov, published in 1816: The Practice of Russian Bibliography, No. 7855. There is every possibility to prove that this was primarily a work of compilation, i.e. that not only the main ideas, but also most of the presentation was lifted from other sources.

In 1772, a work was published in London in French, without indicating the name of the author, under the title: Essai Général de tactique, précédé d’un discours sur l’état actuel de la politique et de la science militaire en Europe, avec le plan d’un ouvrage intitulé: La France politique et militaire, in two volumes, of which the first comprised: Tactique élémentaire, while the second was: Grande tactique[2]. This work was written by the French officer Guibert [Jacques-Antoine-Hippolyte de Guibert], which was known to everyone at that time, since in the controversy aroused by his work, his name was directly mentioned.

The above extracts from the Practice of Basic Tactics that come under the headings: combat formations for infantry, individual training, allocation to the ranks, flanks, musket drills, the march, speed of pace, evolutions, columns, volley firing, while for the cavalry they were: cavalry weapons, cavalry combat formations, columns, followed by an article: on light troops, and extracts relating to artillery constitute simply a literal translation, with some omissions, from the aforementioned French work, directly from the first volume Tactique élémentaire.

The following articles, not at all available in Guibert, were inserted: passage of lines, the attack en echelon, the retreat en échiquier and square. The first three articles were drawn up in relation to the Tactical Rules or Instructions for Military Evolutions, which were published for the first time in 1794, and then republished in 1797 and 1798, and are close to the originals in places even down to expressions. The system of several squares was extracted, presumably, as was shown above, from the experiences from our wars with the Turks.

The Practice of Higher Tactics adheres much less to the corresponding part of Guibert’s work, not only on individual articles, but also on the main concepts; however, it is very curious that when extracts from Guibert’s work are made, they are made as literal translation, occasionally with minor omissions.

The article about encampments was compiled in relation to two works that were quite famous in their time: His Majesty the King of Prussia’s Instruction on the Art of War to His Generals, and Secrets Of Ruses Of War, Instructions Related By Frederick II To His Inspector Generals. Both works had been repeatedly published abroad and in our country. In our country, the former work was published for the first time in 1762, and the latter came out in a luxurious edition in 1802: it was engraved and printed at His Majesty’s own map depot[3].

Guibert’s article on encampments was drawn up in a completely different way: it led with the idea of the importance of having a training camp in order to educate the troops, accustom them to the execution of grand manoeuvres and the development of military commanders.

The article on marches is only partly from Guibert; we could not determine the source of the other part.

The article on order of battle was compiled according to Guibert; only insofar as the two battle orders indicated by Guibert: parallel and oblique, the perpendicular battle order was added.

Nothing is mentioned in Guibert’s work regarding squares.

Guibert’s work : Essai Général de tactique provoked a great deal of controversy in its day. It is interesting to present a review of this work by Guibert’s main opponent, Mesnil-Durand [Francois-Jean de Mesnil-Durand][4] in his work: Fragments de tactique ou six mémoires, Paris, 1774.

Le système actuellement en usage n’avait pour lui que cet usage; et de tous les auteurs qui ont recherché les principes de la tactique, pas un n’avait manqué de le rejeter. Pour que son affaire fût plus complètement discutée et pût être jugée contradictoirement, nous souhaitions, sans l’espérer, que quelqu’un autre prît de le soutenir, qu’un bon avocat se charegeât de cette mauvaise cause.  C’est ce que vient de faire ‘l’Essai général de tactique,’ heureusement encore avec beaucoup de talent et de succès: car il fallait, pour bien et solidement détruire les idées contraires à nos principes, qu’elles fussent premièremeut aussi bien soutenous et autant applaudies qu’elles pouvaient l’être. Tolluntnr in altum ut lapsu graviore cadant [5].

[The system currently in use has no other use for it; and of all the authors who have researched the principles of tactics, not one has failed to reject it. In order that this matter might be more fully discussed and could be judged comparatively, we hoped, against hope, that someone else might support it, that a good lawyer would take up this lost cause. This is what the ‘General Essay on Tactics’ has just done, fortunately, yet with great talent and success: as it was necessary, in order to properly and solidly destroy these concepts contrary to our principles, that they were first mooted as well supported and applauded as much as they could be. The higher they climb the harder they fall.]


The work; General Practice Of Tactics, 1807-1810, or rather, its main source, the aforementioned work of the French officer Guibert of 1774, is the key to understanding many of the ideas underlying our combat regulations during the reign of Emperor Alexander I; in this work, for the first time, the idea of deep columns was expounded, which was subsequently developed to the extreme in these regulations; here for the first time the kneeling of the front rank of a deployed line was condemned; here, for the first time, attention was drawn to the importance of individual training not only in volley fire, but also in aimed fire, while volley fire as indicated by the regulations of 1716, but developed by subsequent regulations, especially those of Emperor Paul I, and firing by advancing and retreating platoons was condemned. Moreover, Guibert’s work also explains many of the transformations in the organisation of the forces that were introduced in our country during the reign of Alexander I, such as: the formation of divisions, the abolition of regimental artillery (Essai, Vol. II, p. 120: “Je n’attacherais point de canons aux régiments en temps de guerre…”), the formation of artillery brigades and attaching them to infantry divisions. Equally, in Guibert’s essay, the idea of the need to create battle camps and carry out large-scale manoeuvres was ardently defended in order to train the troops for war and to develop combat commanders even in peacetime, which was also given attention in the reign of Emperor Alexander I. He proposed to limit evolutions to a small number; in this respect our subsequent regulations did not agree with Guibert’s concepts.

However, it should be said that even before the appearance of Guibert’s work in the West, many of the above concepts, such as the importance of individual training, the importance of aimed fire, the harm of training troops in formations and movements that are too complex and unsuitable for war, designed for superficial appearance and pomp alone, the importance of battle camps and the execution of manoeuvres in a combat situations, were in our minds and were repeatedly expressed by our best commanders during Catherine’s reign, and moreover, all these concepts were even carried out by them in practice. The acknowledgement of all these concepts can be seen even in the military regulations of Peter the Great, 1716. If we had to turn to Western European sources in 1807 in order to scoop up the same concepts, then, of course, it was only because our own past was completely reworked in our literature, the glorious deeds of Peter the Great and Catherine’s commanders were therefore forgotten at that time, while in Western Europe a rich military literature could be found, and the recent example of Napoleon, the conductor of new military concepts of war, compelled us to introduce amendments to our combat regulations, where the long-standing routine gave way to new concepts with visible difficulty.

The Period From 1801 to 1805

For the first four and a half years of the reign of Emperor Alexander I, there is no information about any changes in the combat regulations of 1796 and in the concepts of linear tactics. The Military Scientific Archive of the General Staff contains documents[6] relating to the order of battle of two columns of the left wing of our army [Count Buxhoeveden’s] before the battle of Austerlitz. The first echelon of the vanguard is shown as deployed squadrons at full interval; the second echelon, in the form of jäger battalions in line with deployed squadrons on the flanks. Behind this line, two echelons of the main body are shown, which had exactly the same nature of the combat disposition as the second echelon of the vanguard, only musketeer battalions are shown instead of jägers. Behind this second line of the main body was the reserve (of about ⅓) in a similar linear arrangement. When descending from the Pratzen Heights, our troops advanced in columns by the left, as can be seen from the following description made by an eyewitness[7]: “A 7 heures du matin on vit la première colonne marchant par sa gauche de la montagne dans las vallée; la seconde colonne se porta directement vers la vallée de Telnitz. Quelque temps après on apperçut la troisième colonne en mouvement marchant par sa gauche, traversant le village Pratzin et descendant aussi la montagne, en se dirigeant vers Sokolnitz…

[“At 7 o’clock in the morning the first column was seen marching by the left from the high ground into the valley; the second column marched directly towards the valley of Telnitz. Some time later the third column was seen in motion marching by the left, passing the village of Pratzen and also descending the high ground, heading towards Sokolnitz…”]

From these uniform formations, the regulations of 1796, with their straightforward and inflexible formations, is easily recognisable.

The Period From 1805 to 1807

After 1805, we introduced minor changes in the infantry combat regulations, in connection with which our views were found to appear to begin to change on the immutable importance of lengthy lines in the combat disposition of troops. Below, in the Notes on the Latest Changes in the Doctrine of 1808, these changes in the regulations will be dealt with; but the change in concepts that had begun to take place was more clearly expressed in the combat disposition of our army at the beginning of 1807, in the battle of Preussisch Eylau.

Namely, in the battle at Preussisch Eylau, although our army adhered to the battle formations of the former, linear tactics, but immediately behind the first, battle line, the rest of the infantry was in deep columns. This can be seen both from the sketches of this battle [8], and from the following two testimonies.

In the collection: “Bulletins de la Grande armée,[9]” relating to the campaign of 1807, annexes sketches of former battles; in drawing III “Position des armées françaises le jour de la bataille (le 8 fevrier 1807) à huit heures du matin” has the following description:

La caononnade fut vive de part et d’autre, mais avec cette différence que l’armée francaise, étant dans l’ordre mince, éprouva beaucoup moins de mal que l’ennemi, placé sur plusieurs lignes, entremêlées de colonnes serrées.

[The cannonade was lively on both sides, but with this difference that the French army, being in extended order, experienced much less damage than the enemy, placed in several lines, intermingled with closed columns].

A similar testimony is available from an eyewitness to this battle in a published report Bericht über die Schlacht von Eylau, von einem Augenzeugen[10]. “Bei Anbruch des Tages erschien die russische Armee in Kolonnen, in der Entfernung eines halben Kanonenschusses von dem Orte. Sie hatte eine furchtbare Artillerie in ihren Zwischenräumen und nahm, 80,000 Mann stark, einen Raum ein, welchen eine Armee von 20,000 füglich hätte besetzen können.

[“At daybreak the Russian army appeared in columns, at half cannon-range from the town. They had a formidable artillery in their intervals, and, at 80,000 strong, occupied an area which an army of 30,000 could easily have held.”]

In explaining the reasons for our great losses, the author states: “Hierzu kommt noch, dass die Artillerie welche an diesem Tage vorzüglich gebraucht wurde, für den Feind, der beinahe immer in vier und fünffachen Reihen und mit unter in gedrängten Kolonnen in Schlachtordnung stand, weit mörderischer war und sein muszte, als für die französische Armee, die schwächer an Zahl, sich in dünneren Reihen in Schlachtordnung befand.[11]

[“To this must be added that the artillery, which was heavily used on that day, was and had to be far more deadly to the enemy, who almost always stood in battle formation four or five lines deep and sometimes in closed columns, than for the French army, the weaker in number, in thinner lines in battle formation.”]

Committees For Drafting Regulations, 1808

In 1808, by Supreme Command, a committee was formed under the chairmanship of the Tsarevich Konstantin Pavlovich; “in order to draft military regulations.” Not only infantry and cavalry regulations, but also those for artillery were subject to composition. Namely, in the Order[12] dated 29th April [11th May] from the Inspector General, Maj Gen Kaspersky was invited to to form a committee, under his chairmanship, with two additional members, and in accordance with this appointment, to draft regulations for the foot artillery, while in the Order dated 12th [24th] August of the same year addressed to Maj Gen Prince Iashvili, another committee, under his chairmanship, also of just three members, was to draw up regulations for the horse artillery.

The original documents relating to the activities of all these committees, apparently, have not been preserved[13], so the relevant information now has to be reconstructed according to some, more or less random evidence, or to assess them according to those works (regulations) that are now known to us.

Work on the preparation of the infantry regulations proceeded successfully, although it was interrupted by the outbreak of the Patriotic War in 1812; less successful were the sessions on compiling the cavalry regulations, of which only the first part (squadron training) were drafted, and even then not in the definitive form of regulations, while they were issued in the actual year of the war in the form of a preliminary decree; even less was done with regard to drafting the artillery regulations; these regulations appeared only towards the very end of the reign of Emperor Alexander I, and even then only for the foot artillery.

The drafting of regulations, interrupted by the Patriotic War, was resumed only in 1816.

Notes on Recent Changes in Training, 1808

The first evidence regarding changes applied to the Regulations on Field Infantry Service of 1796 originates from 1808. Namely, under orders from Gen Fd Marshal Prince Prozorovsky from the camp at the village of Kalieni dated 30th August [11th September], 1808, 12 printed copies were sent to Gen of Inf Golenishchev-Kutuzov titled; “Notes on recent changes in training,” delivered to him from the Military Collegium. One copy of these Notes is held in the Moscow Branch of the General Archive of the General Staff[14].

These notes concerned: volley fire, the construction and movement of columns and the execution of changing the guard.

Volley fire: The main changes in the orders for volley fire were as follows:

For loading battalions at the halt, the battalion commander orders ‘battalion, load;’ whereupon he moves to the front and centre… It is at his discretion to fire at will, with orders to the right, to the left, and cease fire as he pleases… Firing by files, which was previously referred to as battle fire, begins with a call to attention, which if it is to be delivered having muskets at the shoulder, each platoon commander orders: platoon, make ready, from the right flank in half-platoons, by files, fire; during this form of fire, observe that each file does not fire before the file standing next to it to the right has fired and returned muskets, proceeding in this order from the start point to the last file of the half-platoon; the very first files, having reloaded, immediately fire, without waiting for any instruction…

Columns: The formation of columns was introduced not only by the splitting of the frontage, but also by forming on one of the flank or centre platoons.

We will not dwell on the formations for changing the guard, which occupies by far the larger part of the Notes. The need for detailed rules for changing the guard began to be felt, presumably, because guard mounting, which had acquired importance in garrison service during the reign of Emperor Paul I and lost a little of its significance in the reign of Emperor Alexander I, was insufficiently regulated in the garrison regulations of 1796.

Conclusions: As is evident, the Notes on Recent Changes in Training, 1808 did not make significant changes to the infantry drill regulations of 1796, and only the introduction of new types of column seemed to indicate that the forthcoming new regulations would pay attention to these formations.

[1]    Article 168, Chapter 7, No. 73.

[2]    There are three editions of this work in the Library of the General Staff.

[3]    This edition is available from the Imperial Public Library.

[4]    Mesnil-Durand was the creator of the new, tactics in depth, N. Mikhnevich.

[5]    Chapter VXI.

[6]    Catalogued as, Folio 2, Nos. 1574, 1575, 1577, 1581, 1582.

[7]    Military Scientific Archive of the General Staff, Folio 2, No. 4704, from the papers of Gen Uvarov.

[8]    Ibid, Folio 2, Nos. 1610, 1612, 1613, 1627 and 1629

[9]    Ibid, Folio 2, No. 1610.

[10]  Ibid, Folio 2, No. 1612.

[11]  The exaggerated assessment of the strength of the Russian army, in comparison with the strength of the French army, is quite understandable from the eyewitness of this bloody battle, in which the Russian army showed great resilience, while the operations by our artillery under Count Kutaisov’s command was to make a great impression on the French army, in whose ranks the author was; however, in reality, the French army was more numerous than the combined Russian and Prussian armies.

In his work; Fundamentals of Russian Military Art, published 1896, on page 121, N.P. Mikhnevich, in analysing the battle at Preussisch Eylau, also points to signs of a turn from the concepts of linear tactics towards the latest concepts:

  1. Of the concentration of artillery along the front in three batteries of 60, 70 and 40 guns.
  2. Of a strong reserve, almost ⅓ of the force defending the position.
  3. Of the skilful location of this reserve behind the most important section of the position, its left flank.

      The author.

[12]  Museum of the History of Artillery, Д. ш. г.-ф. Св. No. 1025, No. 905.

[13]  In the Moscow Branch of the Archive of the General Staff there is “Catalogue No. 125,6 diaries and various documents for the attention of the commission for drafting military regulations,” but not on the self same business (bundle 7-12, relating to 1811); however, apparently, here we are not talking about those named in our text; “committees for the composition of regulations (combat arms),” rather regarding the Magnitsky Commission, established in March 1811 to draw up regulations for military administration.

[14]  Doc 168, 7.