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Berezina(byĕrāzēnä`), river, c.380 mi (610 km) long, rising in Belarus. It flows generally S past Borisov and Bobruysk into the Dnieper River. It is navigable for most of its length. The heroic retreat across the Berezina of the remnants of Napoleon's Grand Army took place near Borisov from Nov. 26 to Nov. 29, 1812. The crossing—effected under heavy Russian attack—saved Napoleon and his forces from capture, but lost the lives of more than 20,000 men.
a river in the Byelorussian SSR. Right tributary of the Dnieper. Length, 613 km; area of basin, 24,500 sq km. It has its origin north of the Minsk elevation. It runs through the Central Berezina Plain. The shores of the Berezina are low-lying in the upper reaches and frequently swampy; the right bank is elevated south of the city of Borisov. Its main tributaries are the Bobr, Kleva, Ol’sa, and Ola on the left and the Gaina and Svisloch’ on the right. The average annual discharge (into the estuary) is 145 cubic meters per second. It is navigable from its mouth to its confluence with the Serguch River (a distance of 505 km). Along with its tributary, the Serguch, which flows into it north of Borisov, the Berezina is part of the Berezina water system, which joins the basins of the Dnieper and the Zapadnaia Dvina. The cities of Borisov and Bobruisk are situated on the Berezina.
The Berezina, which runs from north to south in the western part of Russia, has been an important strategic border and has played an important role in Russia’s wars of the 18th through 20th centuries against Sweden, France, and Germany. The crossing of the Berezina by Napoleon’s retreating army during November 14–17 (26–29) during the Patriotic War of 1812 is best known. After the battle near Krasnoe, the French Army faced the threat of encirclement: the main Russian forces, led by M. I. Kutuzov, pursued in a parallel march south of the Moscow road; P. G. Vitgenshtein’s corps enveloped the French from the north; and the army of P. V. Chichagov barred retreat to the west. By November 10, Chichagov’s army was concentrated at Berezina between Zembin and Usha. Napoleon decided to break through toward Vil’no, crossing at the village of Studenka (above Borisov). The French forces numbered 75,000 to 80,000 men and the Russian army, about 100,000. On November 11 the forces of C. Oudinot occupied Borisov. In the belief that Napoleon was preparing to force a crossing of the Berezina south of Borisov in order to break through toward Minsk, Chichagov sent his main forces there on November 13. On November 14, Napoleon began the crossing at Studenka. Vitgenshtein acted indecisively and missed the opportunity to detain the enemy until the approach of the main force and Chichagov’s army. On November 16, Vitgenshtein’s troops entered into battle against Victor’s corps; at the same time, Chichagov’s forces initiated battles with Oudinot’s corps. The gross miscalculations of Chichagov and Vitgenshtein and the difficulty of establishing communications between the armies prevented the encirclement and annihilation of the French forces. Nonetheless, the French were overtaken by catastrophe at the Berezina. The excessive accumulation of men and carts in a narrow area, general demoralization, and bloody battles caused the French to lose about 50,000 men (killed, drowned, or taken prisoner) and to lose much of their artillery and carts. In effect, the Grande Armée ceased to exist.
In the summer of 1920 during the Soviet-Polish war, Soviet troops carried out two offensive operations on the Berezina.
During the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45 stubborn fighting was carried out in the region of the Berezina in the course of the Border Battles of 1941 and the Byelorussian Operation of 1944.