Borodino, Battle of 1812
Borodino, Battle of (1812)
a battle of the Patriotic War of 1812 between the Russian Army (General M. I. Kutuzov, commander in chief) and the French Army of Napoleon I, fought on August 26 (September 7) in the area of the village of Borodino, 124 km west of Moscow. On August 22 the Russian First Army under General M. B. Barclay de Tolly and the Russian Second Army under General P. I. Bagration—both of which had been retreating since August 5–6 from Smolensk—were concentrated in the area of Borodino, where Kutuzov, after inspecting the position selected by Colonel K. F. Tol’, decided to engage the enemy in an all-out battle; his aim was to weaken the French Army through sustained resistance and halt its advance on Moscow. Having concentrated more than two-thirds of his forces on the right flank, Kutuzov reliably covered the Novaia Smolenskaia Road, along which Napoleon was advancing; Kutuzov forced a frontal battle on the enemy and still retained considerable forces for counterattacks. The Russian position beyond the Kolocha River was bounded on the right flank by the Moskva River (Maslovo fortifications) and was covered up to the Kurgannaia hill by the First Army, and farther left by the Second Army, the left flank of which was originally adjacent to the redoubt near the village of Shevardino. On the morning of August 23, Kutuzov ordered that the left flank be diverted to the hills southwest of the village of Semenovskoe and that the Shevardino redoubt be retained as a forward strong point. Napoleon tried to rout the Russian Army and intended to break through the center of the Russian position, bypass its left flank, and cut off the roads to Moscow for the Russian Army. The forces of the two sides were approximately equal; the Russian Army had about 132,000 men and 624 guns, and the French Army, about 135,000 men and 587 guns. But whereas the whole French Army consisted of regular soldiers, in the Russian Army there were about 21,000 insufficiently trained and poorly armed militiamen and 7,000 irregular cavalrymen (cossacks).
The all-out battle was preceded by the battle of August 24 for the Shevardino redoubt, where the Russian troops under General A. I. Gorchakov (about 8,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry, and 36 guns) heroically repulsed attacks of superior enemy forces (30,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry, and 186 guns) for an entire day. The Shevardino battle gave the Russian troops the time to fortify the major positions, that is, on the Kurgannaia hill (the so-called Raevskii battery, 18 guns) and at the village of Semenovskoe (the so-called Bagration fleches, 36 guns). This battle enabled Kutuzov to ascertain that Napoleon’s main forces were aimed at the center and the left flank of the Russian Army. He therefore directed General N. A. Tuchkov’s III Corps from the general reserves onto the Staraia Smolenskaia Road toward the village of Utitsa, hoping that in the course of the battle this corps would strike at the flank and rear of the enemy, which was attacking the Bagration fleches. Napoleon decided to direct the major thrust at the Kurgannaia hill and the village of Semenovskoe and auxiliary thrusts at Borodino with part of E. de Beauharnais’s corps and at Utitsa with J. Ponia-towski’s corps to bypass the left flank of the Russian Army. The battle opened August 26 at about 5:30 A.M. with an attack by Beauharnais’s troops across the Kolocha River on Borodino; the attack was repulsed. The attacks of Poniatowski’s corps on Utitsa also failed, but they pinned down part of the forces of Tuchkov’s corps. The attacks of Napoleon’s main forces on the fleches began at about 6:00 and lasted almost without interruption for more than six hours. By noon the French troops seized the fleches at the cost of many lives. Lieutenant General P. P. Konovnitsyn, who took command after Bagration was fatally wounded, diverted the troops beyond the Semenovskii ravine, where the Russian troops repelled the French cavalry attacks that followed. Two attacks of Beauharnais’s corps (at 9:30 and at 11:00) on Raevskii’s battery were repulsed. After the taking of the fleches, Napoleon shifted the thrust to Raevskii’s battery, deploying there more than 35,000 soldiers and about 300 guns. However, at noon Generals F. P. Uvarov’s and M.I. Plato v’s cavalry regiments, upon Kutuzov’s orders, directed a thrust at the left flank of the French Army, causing confusion and panic in the rear areas. The two-hour delay of the attack on Raevskii’s battery caused by this thrust enabled Kutuzov to bring up reinforcements. At about 2:00 P.M. the French began the attack on Raevskii’s battery, and by 4:00 P.M. by sustained combat they forced the Russians to abandon the demolished battery. The attempts of the French cavalry to develop an offensive were repulsed by the Russian cavalry, after which the attacks stopped. Napoleon, who had only a guards unit in reserve, did not dare to engage it in battle. By 6:00 P.M. the Russian Army, after regrouping, had occupied positions from the village of Gorki to the Staraia Smolenskaia Road. With the onset of darkness, Napoleon withdrew his troops to their original positions, abandoning the Russian fortifications he had taken earlier. The Russian Army prepared to continue the battle the next day, but in view of the great losses, the considerable disorganization of the troops, and the absence of reserves, Kutuzov (whose staff had even before the battle greatly overestimated the enemy forces) decided to withdraw the army to Mozhaisk and then to Moscow, in order to preserve the forces for the fight to come. The French Army suffered irreparable losses in the Battle of Borodino—more than 58,000 men (30,000 according to French data), including 47 generals. The Russian troops lost 44,000 men (38,500 on August 26 alone) including 23 generals.
In the Battle of Borodino the Russian Army showed exemplary tactical skill, such as maneuvers by reserves from the depth and along the front, successful utilization of cavalry for action on flanks, sustained and active defense, uninterrupted counterattacks with the combined action of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Napoleon did not achieve his goal—the routing of the Russian Army—and could not gain victory in the all-out battle. “Of all my battles,” he wrote later, “the most terrible was the battle I fought at Moscow. The French showed themselves in this battle to be worthy of victory, but the Russians won the right to be called invincible” (quoted in Istoriia russkoi armii i flota, vol. 3, Moscow, 1911, p. 164). The Battle of Borodino was a major event of the Patriotic War; it prepared and determined the defeat of Napoleonic France.
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M. I. Kutuzov: Sb. dokumentov, vol. 5. Moscow, 1956. Pages 794–801.
Gerua, A. V. Borodino. St. Petersburg, 1912.
Koliubakin, B. M. “Voina 1812: Borodinskaia operatsüa i Borodinskoe srazhenie.” In Tr. Russkogo voenno-istoricheskogo obshchestva, vols. 5–7. St. Petersburg, 1912.
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V. G. SUKHOV