Aleksandr Vasilevich Suvorov
Suvorov, Aleksandr Vasil’evich
Born Nov. 13 (24), 1729 or 1730, in Moscow; died May 6 (18), 1800, in St. Petersburg; buried in the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. Russian military commander and theorist. Count Rymnikskii (1789), Prince of Italy (1799), generalissimo (1799).
As a child, under the supervision of his father, General Vasilii Ivanovich Suvorov (1705–75), a comrade-in-arms of Peter I, A. V. Suvorov studied artillery, the science of fortification, military history, and foreign languages and strengthened his congenitally weak constitution with physical exercise. In 1742 he enlisted as a private in the Semenovskii Life Guards Regiment, and in 1748 he began his active service in the regiment as a corporal. In 1754, Suvorov was commissioned a lieutenant and was posted to the Ingermanland Infantry Regiment. From 1756 to 1758 he served in the Military Collegium. During the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), he occupied staff and command posts from 1758 and took part in the battle of Kunersdorf (Kunowice) in 1759, the capture of Berlin in 1760, and the taking of Kolberg (Kolobrzeg) in 1761. In 1762, Suvorov was promoted to colonel and appointed commander of the Astrakhan Infantry Regiment, and from 1763 to 1769 he commanded the Suzdal’ Infantry Regiment.
In 1764–65, Suvorov drew up his Regimental Organization, an original treatise dealing with the routine service duties and providing rules for the training of officers and soldiers. He also implemented his ideas within his own command. From 1768 to 1772, as commander of a regiment, a brigade, and various detachments in the army corps of General I. I. Veimarn, Suvorov fought in Poland against the forces of the Confederation of Bar, inflicting defeats on them at Orekhovo (1769), Landskron, and Stalowicz (1771) and taking the citadel at Kraków (1772). In 1770 he was promoted to major general.
In 1772, Suvorov commanded the St. Petersburg Division. In 1773, during the Russo-Turkish War, he was sent at his personal request to the war theater, joining the First Army of Field Marshal P. A. Rumiantsev-Zadunaiskii. In May and June 1773, Suvorov’s detachment twice forced the Danube and routed the Turks at Turtukai. In September 1773, Suvorov led the defense of Hirsov and repulsed Turkish troops. In June 1774, together with General M. F. Kamenskii, he defeated a 40,000-man Turkish corps at Kozludzha.
In August 1774, on orders of the empress Catherine II, Suvorov was dispatched with troops to crush the Peasant War led by E. I. Pugachev. However, the rebels were routed before the arrival of Suvorov, who had only to escort the captive Pugachev to Simbirsk.
From 1774 to 1786, Suvorov commanded divisions and corps in various parts of Russia. He supervised the construction of the Kuban’ fortifications line and the reinforcement of the defenses of the Crimea. In 1778, he prevented the landing of a Turkish landing party in Akhtiarskaia Bay, thereby cutting short an effort by Turkey to begin a new war in an international climate unfavorable to Russia.
In 1786, Suvorov was promoted to general in chief. At the beginning of the Russo-Turkish War of 1787–91, he commanded a 30,000-man corps that defended the coasts in the Kherson-Kinburn region, and destroyed a Turkish landing party near Kinburn in October 1787. In 1788 he took part in the siege of Ochakov, where he was wounded (in all, Suvorov received six serious wounds in the course of his military career). In 1789, Suvorov commanded a division in Moldavia and, with Russian and allied Austrian troops under his supervision, routed superior Turkish forces in battles at Focsani in July and on the Rimnic River in September.
In 1790, Suvorov, commanding a 30,000-man siege corps outside Izmail, spent two weeks preparing to storm this powerful stronghold, which he took on Dec. 11 (22). From 1791 to 1794 he commanded various large units in Finland and southern Russia and supervised the construction of fortifications on the Russian borders. In August 1794 he was put in command of the Russian troops sent to crush the Polish Uprising of 1794. In September and October he defeated rebel forces at Krupshchitse, outside Brest-Litovsk, Kobylk, and elsewhere. His troops took Praga, a suburb of Warsaw, by storm and occupied Warsaw itself. During these operations, Suvorov manifested a humane attitude toward the “mutineers,” releasing prisoners, prohibiting requisitions, and forbidding “insults to the inhabitants.”
Catherine II, promoting Suvorov to field marshal, recalled him from Poland in October 1795. In 1796, after assuming command of the troops in the south at Tul’chin, Suvorov wrote his famous work, The Science of Victory, a product of his many years of experience in training troops. This work was a direct protest against the new military regulations introduced by the new emperor, Paul I, who borrowed his ideas from the Prussian Army. Suvorov’s criticism of Paul’s regulations and his refusal to obey the emperor’s order to make the troops conform to the regulations led to Suvorov’s dismissal from the army (Feb. 6 , 1797) and his exile to the village of Konchanskoe in Novgorod Province.
After Russia helped to form the second anti-French coalition, Paul in February 1799, at the request of his allies, appointed Suvorov commander in chief of the Russian troops that were to be sent to Italy. Austrian troops were also put under Suvorov’s command. During Suvorov’s Italian campaign of 1799, the Russian and Austrian troops under his command routed the French forces in a series of battles from April to August and freed all of northern Italy from the French. Suvorov’s brilliant victories were won despite intrigue and interference by the Austrian Court War Council (Hofkriegsrath), which hindered Suvorov severely. Austria thwarted Suvorov’s strategic plan for further military operations. His plan had provided for the advance of his army together with the re-created Piedmontese Army to Grenoble, Lyon, and Paris in cooperation with the Austrian Army of the archduke Charles, which was to advance from Switzerland. The Austrian government sought a free hand in order to seize Italy and persuaded Paul to shift Suvorov’s troops to Switzerland. “They drove me to Switzerland, so they could destroy me there,” Suvorov wrote. However, in Suvorov’s Swiss campaign of 1799, unparalleled in military history, the Russian troops overcame extreme difficulties and in September broke out of an encirclement. In October 1799, Paul broke off his alliance with Austria and recalled Suvorov’s troops to Russia. Suvorov was again subjected to the emperor’s disfavor for violations of the “supreme regulations.” Soon after, Suvorov died.
While relying on Russia’s age-old military traditions, Suvorov restored and developed the progressive features of Peter I’s army with respect to organization, combat preparation, and military skill. Suvorov was one of the best educated military figures of the 18th century. He knew mathematics, philosophy, and history, and the German, French, Italian, Polish, and Turkish languages, as well as some Arabic, Persian, and Finnish. He understood the science of fortification to perfection. He studied the conditions of contemporary foreign armies and attentively followed the course of military and political events in Western Europe as a constant subscriber to many foreign newspapers, journals, and scientific publications. Suvorov’s political ideal was an “enlightened monarchy.” While a supporter of the autocracy and a representative and defender of the class interests of the landowning gentry, Suvorov at the same time condemned the tyranny of the autocrats (Catherine II and Paul I) and sharply criticized the mores of the court (favoritism, protectionism, idleness, sycophancy, and careerism), as well as the Prussian military discipline introduced by Paul and “useless cruelty in the troops.” Suvorov’s independent views and his enormous authority in the army caused the government to mistrust him and to burden him with continual humiliations, official disfavor, and secret surveillance.
Suvorov’s patriotism was based on the idea of service to the fatherland and profound faith in the Russian soldier’s high military capabilities (“there is no one in the world braver than a Russian”) and in the military talent of his subordinates and students, including M. I. Kutuzov, P. 1. Bagration, M. I. Platov, and M. A. Miloradovich. Suvorov displayed a humane attitude toward civilians and prisoners (“humaneness can conquer a foe no less than weapons”) and severely punished marauding.
Suvorov’s military theories and practice are reflected in his enormous literary, documentary, and epistolary legacy, which includes the Regimental Organization, The Science of Victory, and various instructions, orders, dispositions, memorandums, and correspondence with military and state figures. This rich legacy reveals Suvorov as an outstanding military theorist, strategist, and tactician, a man with a profound understanding of military problems. In many ways, Suvorov was ahead of his time: he had original ideas on the methods of conducting war and battles and on the training of troops, and he founded his own progressive school of military art. By winning numerous victories over strong enemies, Suvorov won a reputation as an invincible commander, and he enriched military practice with brilliant examples of successful actions under difficult conditions. He contributed new ideas and principles to military science, which in their totality constitute the Suvorov “science of victory.” In the area of strategy, Suvorov held that war should be as short as possible. This required prompt and energetic mobilization of all forces and means for the successful conduct of the war, taking account of the international situation and the enemy’s strength and intentions. It also required that the troops be given decisive goals and that swift aggressive operations be carried out with the primary aim of routing the enemy manpower.
Suvorov was a decided opponent of the cordon strategy, predominant in European armies of that time. He regarded the maneuvering of troops in the theater of military operations not as an aim in itself but as a means of destroying the enemy’s sources of supply and reinforcement, while concentrating one’s own forces against the enemy’s “weak point” for a decisive blow on the battlefield. In following the principle of “keeping one’s own forces in the aggregate as far as possible,” Suvorov anticipated the strategic idea of the massing of forces usually ascribed to Napoleon I. Suvorov taught that success in battle depends on careful reconnaissance by troops and scouts, secrecy of plans and actions, and sudden attack. He attributed enormous importance to the factor of time: “keeping account of time is the chief rule in the conduct of war” and “the fate of a battle is sometimes decided by a single moment.”
An implacable foe of dogmatism and stereotypes, Suvorov taught that “every campaign is different from every other,” that “no battle can be won in one’s office,” and that “theory without practice is dead.” Sharply criticizing the system of conducting battles with the aid of “exemplary plans drawn up pro forma in offices” and without taking into account the constantly changing situation, Suvorov maintained that the commander in chief must have full authority. He took strict account of the situation and characteristics of the theater of operations, such as topography, climate, season, available raw materials, river systems, and roads. He gave equal attention to the characteristics of the enemy and to the possibility of enlisting the local population in his army (Slavs and Greeks in the Russo-Turkish wars, Italians and Swiss in the war with France).
Suvorov paid a good deal of attention to the tasks of supplying the army with personnel and material reserves, means of transport, and efficient support from the quartermaster and staff services. Although regarding the offensive as the chief form of military operation, Suvorov did not neglect defense and the “great principle” of “never moving too far away from one’s resources.”
Suvorov’s tactics were an organic part of his offensive strategy and were decisive in nature. He applied various troop formations in battle: the line, the carré (square formation), the column (regimental, battalion, platoon, and so forth), and combinations thereof. As early as 1778, he was convinced of the advantages of deploying columns: “the column is more flexible than other formations and is swift in its movement; moving without a halt, it breaks through everything.” Actions by column formations were combined with actions by mounted and unmounted chasseurs in scattered formation ahead of the front and on the flanks of the battle formation. Suvorov often conducted battles at night. In actions against fortresses, he preferred a decisive and meticulously prepared storm attack over a prolonged siege.
In 1799, Suvorov compiled his Rules for the Conduct of Military Actions in the Mountains. He employed the tactical technique of rapid movement of troops in an attack in order to reduce losses in the zone of active fire and to conserve his forces for a bayonet charge. In addition, Suvorov increased the supplies of ammunition to 100 cartridges per soldier, while demanding accurate, aimed firing.
Suvorov worked out meticulous and detailed dispositions for battles, sieges, and assaults on fortresses. However, after issuing general orders, he allowed the field commanders of divisions and corps the right to act “in the best way” according to their discretion, “depending on local conditions.”
Suvorov gave great attention to the combat training of troops. He instructed his soldiers whenever he had the opportunity, both in peace and in war, in firm accordance with his principle: “easy in training, hard in campaigning; hard in training, easy in campaigning.” For training he introduced the comprehensive penetration attack, which was a two-sided army maneuver used to develop attack, defense, meeting engagement, actions on rugged terrain, pursuit, and so forth. While inculcating troops with the spirit of “bold aggressive tactics,” Suvorov sought in every way to develop initiative in his subordinates. Not only senior officers but noncommissioned officers and soldiers as well were informed of the plan of operation, since “every soldier must understand his maneuver.” Suvorov encourged initiative, resourcefulness, and bravery by awarding battle decorations and promoting men of ability, including soldiers and noncommissioned officers. He constantly concerned himself with maintaining high morale and a strong fighting spirit among the troops. In difficult campaigns, he inspired the soldiers with his eloquence and humor. He inculcated the troops with a sense of comradeship and professional pride and was concerned about their military bearing, neatness, and morality; he also opposed the senseless drilling and cruel treatment of soldiers. Suvorov demanded that his subordinates be competent and quick-witted. He did not tolerate mental laziness and a “know-nothing” attitude. He maintained strict military discipline but always took account of extenuating circumstances if discipline was violated. He showed constant concern for the health and physical fitness of the soldiers and for the sanitary conditions of the barracks and camps; he saw to it that the troops were supplied with nutritious food and with warm, comfortable uniforms and footgear. He compiled his Rules for the Medical Officers, a work that was extremely advanced for the time. As a result, disease, the scourge of 18th-century armies, was sharply reduced among Suvorov’s troops.
In prerevolutionary Russia, only progressive military men and military writers recognized Suvorov’s contributions. In some official works, his military legacy was either ignored or distorted. Genuine scholarly study of Suvorov’s legacy has begun in the USSR, and his works have been published.
On July 29, 1942, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR instituted the military Order of Suvorov, which has three classes. By a decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR and the Central Committee of the ACP(B) of Aug. 21, 1943, Suvorov schools were created.
In the USSR, there are Suvorov museums in Leningrad, Novaia Ladoga, Ochakov, Izmail, Kobrin, the village of Konchanskoe (Novgorod Oblast), the village of Timanovka (Vinnitsa Oblast), and the village of Undo! (Vladimir Oblast). Monuments to Suvorov have been erected in Leningrad (sculptor M. I. Kozlovskii, 1801), Novaia Ladoga (V. A. Verner, 1948), Ochakov, Izmail, and Tul’chin (B. V. Eduarde, 1907, 1945, 1954, respectively), Kobrin (M. E. Roberman), Kherson (E. N. Rukavishnikov, 1950), Timanovka, Simferopol’, Kaliningrad, and Konchanskoe. There also is a monument in Rimnic Rumania.
Places named in Suvorov’s honor include the village of Suvorovo in Penza Oblast, the village of Konchanskoe-Suvorovo in Novgorod Oblast, and the village of Suvorovo (formerly Kozludzha) in Bulgaria.
WORKSA. V. Suvorov (documents), vols. 1–4, Moscow, 1949–53. (Bibliography.)
Generalissimus Suvorov: Sb. dokumentov i materialov. Moscow, 1947.
“Biografiia A. V. Suvorova, im samim napisannaia v 1786 g.” In the collection Chteniia v Obshchestve istorii i drevnostei rossiiskikh, 1848, book 9.
Naukapobezhdat’. Moscow, 1950.
Polkovoe uchrezhdenie. Moscow, 1949.
REFERENCESMiliutin, D. A. Istoriia voiny 1799 g. mezhdu Rossiei i Frantsiei v tsarstvovanie imperatora Pavla I, 2nd ed., vols. 1–3. St. Petersburg, 1857.
Petrushevskii, A. F. Generalissimus kniaz Suvorov, 2nd ed. St. Petersburg, 1900.
Suvorov v soobshcheniiakh professorov Nikolaevskoi akademii general’nogo shtaba 1800g.-6 maia 1900g. [books 1–2]. St. Petersburg, 1900–01.
Bogoliubov, A. N. Polkovodcheskoe iskusstvo A. V. Suvorova. Moscow, 1939.
Osipov, K. Suvorov, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1955.
Meshcheriakov, G. P., and L. G. Beskrovnyi. A. V. Suvorov. [Moscow] 1946.
Nikol’skii, G. S. Suvorovskaia “Naukapobezhdat’.” Moscow, 1949.
A. V. Suvorov: Iz materialov, opublikovannykh v sviazi so 150-letiem so dnia smerti 1800–1950. Moscow, 1951.
Suvorovskii sbornik. Moscow, 1951.
P. P. EPIFANOV