Genrikh Antonovich Leer

Leer, Genrikh Antonovich


Born Apr. 4 (16), 1829, in Nizhny Novgorod, now Gorky; died Apr. 16 (29), 1904, in St. Petersburg. Russian military theorist and historian; general of the infantry (1896); corresponding member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences.

Leer graduated from the Chief Engineering College in 1850 and the Military Academy in 1854. From 1858 he was adjunct professor of the subdepartment of tactics at the Academy of the General Staff and simultaneously gave a course on military history at the Engineering Academy. From 1865 he lectured on strategy at the Engineering Academy and the Academy of the General Staff. Leer directed the reorganization of the Serbian Army in the early 1870’s. He was chief of the Academy of the General Staff from 1889 to 1898. He became a member of the Military Council in 1896.

Leer wrote several major works on tactics, strategy, and military history and did research on contemporary combat experience (for instance, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71). His main works on strategy were the Essay on a Critical and Historical Investigation of the Laws of the Art of Warfare (Positive Strategy), published in 1869, which was a course on strategy original and progressive for its time that ran to six editions and was translated into several foreign languages, and Strategy (Tactic of the Military Theater), published in three volumes in 1885–98. In these works Leer sharply criticized the major propositions of linear tactics and the cordon strategy and advanced a streamlined theory of the “strategy of annihilation,” which was based on the experience of the 19th-century wars (the Napoleonic wars, the Franco-Prussian War, and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78). Leer recognized the unity of politics and strategy, with the primacy of the former. He divided strategy into two parts—pure (in the broad, philosophical sense) and applied strategy. He viewed war as a social phenomenon governed by its own specific laws. Leer tried to discover the laws and principles characteristic of the armed struggle in his era; he formulated the concept of the strategic operation as part of a campaign or a war and showed the effectiveness of actions on the outer operational lines.

Leer’s works on military history (mainly Russian) were aimed at drawing general conclusions from military and historical experience and were of an applied nature. Leer made a great contribution in arranging and editing the eight-volume Encyclopedia of Military and Naval Sciences (1883–97) and the four-volume Survey of Russia’s Wars From Peter the Great to Our Days (1885–96). Leer also made a great contribution concerning questions of the methods and methodology of military science, on which he presented his views in the works “Theoretical Scope” (Voennyi sbornik, vol. 65, 1869), The Method of Military Science (1894), and Fundamental Questions (1897).

Leer’s scholarly work had a great influence on the nature of the military reforms of the 1860’s and 1870’s and the introduction of new armament into the army. In his world outlook Leer was an idealist and a Kantian, but in the solution of practical questions of strategy he drew many valuable conclusions from the military experience of many centuries and the facts of military practice. He was an honorary member of the Swedish Academy of Military Sciences.


Prikladnaia taktika, 2nd ed., issues 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1877–80.
Zapiski taktiki dlia voennykh uchilishch. St. Petersburg, 1866.


Russkaia voenno-teoreticheskaia mysl’ XIX i nachala XX vv. [sb. st.]. Moscow, 1960.
Beskrovnyi, L. G. Ocherki voennoi istoriografii Rossii. Moscow, 1962.
Strokov, A. A. Istoriia voennogo iskusstva, vol. 2. Moscow, 1965. Pages 624–35.