Swiss Campaign of Suvorov 1799

Swiss Campaign of Suvorov (1799)


the movement of Russian troops commanded by Field Marshal A. V. Suvorov from Italy across the Alps to Switzerland between Sept. 10 (21) and Sept. 27 (Oct. 8), 1799, during the War of the Second Coalition (Great Britain, Austria, Russia, Turkey, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and others) against France.

Almost all of Italy was liberated from French troops as a result of Suvorov’s Italian campaign [seeITALIAN CAMPAIGN OF SUVOROV (1799)] and Ushakov’s Mediterranean campaign [seeMEDITTER-ANEAN CAMPAIGN OF USHAKOV (1798–1800)]. The French Army under General J. V. Moreau, defeated at Novi, retreated toward Genoa. Only the forts of Tortona and Coni remained in French hands in northern Italy. Suvorov laid siege to Tortona. By this time, the Anglo-Austrian leadership of the coalition had developed a new plan for military operations. As early as July 1799, the British cabinet suggested to Emperor Paul I that a joint Anglo-Russian expedition be sent to Holland, thus altering the entire plan of the war. After changes were made by the Austrian command, the following plan was adopted. The Austrian Army under the command of Archduke Charles would march from Switzerland to the Rhine, lay siege to Mainz, occupy Belgium, and establish contact with the Anglo-Russian corps in Holland. At the same time, the Russian forces commanded by Suvorov would march from Italy to Switzerland, where they would meet the Russian corps of General A. M. Rimskii-Korsakov and the corps of émigré Frenchmen of Prince L.-J. Condé, after which all these forces, under the command of Suvorov, would invade France through Franche Comté. The Austrian army under Field Marshal M. von Melas was to advance on Savoy from Italy.

The plan adopted served the expansionist interests of Great Britain and Austria. Great Britain sought to gain control of the Dutch fleet and thus gain supremacy at sea; Austria wanted to get Russian troops out of Italian territory and strengthen its own domination in Italy.

Paul I agreed to the plan with the condition that the Austrian forces would clear French troops from Switzerland before the Russian troops arrived. Suvorov received the order from the Austrian emperor Francis to cross into Switzerland on August 16 (27), but he did not hasten to carry it out because he believed it was first necessary to take the French forts in Italy. Meanwhile, despite its promises to Paul I, the Austrian command began withdrawing the army of Archduke Charles from Switzerland, which left the Russian corps of Rimskii-Korsakov, which had arrived in the Zurich area, under attack by the French Army under General A. Masséna. Despite Suvorov’s vigorous protests, Archduke Charles agreed to leave only 22,000 men in Switzerland, under the general command of General F. Hötze. On August 31 (September 11) immediately after Tortona’s surrender, Suvorov’s forces, totaling 21,000, marched north, from Alessandria and Ri-valta. Suvorov sent the field artillery and supply trains through Austria, taking with him only 25 mountain guns.

By early September, the forces of the allies were deployed in Switzerland in the following primary groupings: Rimskii-Korsa-kov’s corps (24,000 men) on the Limmat River, near Zurich; Hotze’s detachment (10,500) along Lakes Zurich and Wallen-stadt and on the Linth River; F. Jelačič’s detachment (5,000) near Sargans; Linken’s detachment (4,000) near Ilanz; and Auf-fenberg’s detachment (2,500) at Disentis. The Austrian detachments of G. Strauch, W. L. Rogan, and K. Hadik, numbering about 11,500 men, were situated on the southern approaches to Switzerland. General Masséna’s main forces, totaling 38,000 men, were deployed opposite Rimskii-Korsakov’s corps. N. Soult’s division and G. J. Molitor’s brigade, numbering 15,000 men, were opposed by Hötze’s detachment, C. J. Lecourbe’s division, with 11,800 men, was deployed in the Rhine River valley at the St. Gotthard Pass, while L. M. Turreau’s detachment, totaling 9,600, stood west of Lake Maggiore, opposite Rogan’s detachment. Thus, the French forces outnumbered the coalition forces and occupied advantageous positions.

To join up with Rimskii-Korsakov, Suvorov chose the shortest but also the most difficult route, across the St. Gotthard Pass, which was occupied by the enemy. He set September 8 (19) for the attack on the pass. Simultaneously with the attack on St. Gotthard by Suvorov, the troops of Rimskii-Korsakov and Hötze, supported by the Austrian detachments of Strauch and Auffen-berg, were to pass to the offensive on the Limmat and Linth rivers.

Suvorov arrived in Taverne on September 4 (15) but found neither the supplies nor the pack mules that the Austrian commissariat promised to have ready. Five days were lost assembling pack animals and supplies. On September 10 (21), the Russian troops approached St. Gotthard, which was occupied by Lecourbe’s French detachment, numbering 8,500 men. Suvorov directed General A. G. Rozenberg’s column to circumvent the pass from the right through Disentis to reach the enemy rear at Devil’s Bridge, while he himself attacked the pass with the main forces on September 13 (24). Two attacks were driven back, but during the third attack, the detachment led by General P. I. Bagration reached the rear French positions, forcing the enemy to withdraw. On September 14 (25), the French tried to stop the Russian troops at the Urnerloch tunnel and at Devil’s Bridge, but they were enveloped from the flanks and withdrew.

Suvorov’s troops arrived in Altdorf on September 15 (26), only to learn that there was no road from there to Schwyz (the Austrian command had not informed Suvorov of this) and that the ships needed to cross the Lake of Luzern had been seized by the enemy. Suvorov decided to cross the Rosstock Range and travel down the Muota River valley to Schwyz. The Russian troops completed the difficult 18-km march to the Muota River valley in two days, but there they received the news that Rimskii-Korsakov and Hötze had been defeated on September 15 (26) in the battle of Zurich and on the Linth River. The Austrian detachments of Jelacic and Linken had retreated, and Schwyz had been seized by the French. Suvorov’s forces were trapped in the Muota valley without food and with little ammunition.

At a war council held on September 18 (29), it was decided to break through to Glarus. Bagration’s advance party drove back Molitor’s brigade and opened the way to Glarus. On September 19–20 (September 30-October 1), Rozenberg’s rear guard waged a desperate battle against Masséna’s detachment, numbering 10,000, and repulsed all attacks, driving the enemy back to Schwyz and taking 1,200 prisoners. On September 23 (October 4), the rear guard joined the main forces in Glarus. However, there were no Austrian troops in Glarus, since Linken’s detachment had already left. Auffenberg’s detachment also separated from Suvorov and left the area. To save his troops, Suvorov decided to withdraw to Ilanz. After a very difficult passage over the Ringenkopf (Panixer) Range, the Russian forces reached Ilanz on September 26 (October 7), and by September 27 (October 8) they were in the vicinity of Chur. From there they withdrew to winter quarters at Augsburg.

Suvorov’s Swiss campaign failed to achieve its objective because of the essentially treacherous actions of the Austrian command, the defeat of Rimskii-Korsakov’s troops, the failure of the Anglo-Russian expedition in Holland, and the extreme exhaustion of Suvorov’s forces and large losses (more than 4,000 killed and wounded). Nonetheless, the Russian Army accomplished an extremely difficult, historically unprecedented mountain march, drove back the attacks of superior enemy forces, escaped from encirclement, and even took 1,400 prisoners. The events in Switzerland exposed Austria’s two-faced policy with respect to Paul I, and consequently, on October 11 (22), Paul broke off relations with Austria and ordered Suvorov to return to Russia with his army.

Suvorov’s Swiss campaign showed the courage, endurance, and heroism of Russian soldiers and Suvorov’s skill as a military leader. F. Engels called this march “the most outstanding crossing of the Alps accomplished to that time” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 13, p. 243). Suvorov set an example of how to conduct military operations in the mountains under unfavorable conditions and demonstrated procedures for capturing mountain summits and passes by combining frontal attacks with envelopment, thus making a valuable contribution to the theory of the art of war.


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Engels, F. “Poi Rein.” Ibid., vol. 13.
Al’tgovzen, M. L. “Polkovodcheskoe iskusstvo Suvorova v Shveitsarskom pokhode.” In Suvorovskii sbornik. Moscow, 1951.
Clausewitz, K. 1799 g., part 2: “Shveitsarskii pokhod Suvorova.” Moscow, 1939.
A. V. Suvorov: Dokumenty, vol. 4. Moscow, 1953.