Peter Bagration
Hero of the Great Pariotic War 1812 (I)

"There are no good generals In Russia. The exception makes Bagration"

Napoleon, 1812.

"Bagration is a Lion of the Russian Army"

I. Chernishev
Chapter II

Napoleon used infringement by Russia of conditions Tilzit peace agreement as a pretext for the begining of war. He aspired to isolate Russia and to use in war against her all basic West-European states. Governments of these states, trembling before Napoleon, have started obediently to deploy armies. On 12 February, 1812 the king of Prussia has signed with Napoleon the agreement about joint actions against Russia and has undertaken to expose the 20-thousand Regiment with 60 canons, and also to provide the French army with the foodstuffs during its progress through Prussian territory. On 2 March, 1812 the similar treaty with Austria was made. The Austrian emperor promised to expose the 30-thousand army with 60 pieces of artillery. Only Sweden, having incurred heavy casualties in war 1808-1809, did not go for Napoleon and has concluded on March 24, 1812 the allied agreement with Russia.

Also, unsuccessful was Napoleon's attempt to ally with Turkey. As a result of a rout by Russian army under command of M. Kutusoff of Turkish army in 1811, the Turkish government was compelled to sign on 16 May, 1812 the Bucharest Peace Treaty, one of which conditions was the obligation of Turkey to keep neutrality in case of war between Russia and France.

Despite of these two failures, Napoleon nevertheless has managed to form an extensive coalition, led by France, that possessed huge material resources.

Simultaneously with diplomatic preparation the strengthened preparation of necessary forces and means was developed. This preparation was carried out in unusual before that time scales. "Never till now, I did not do of so extensive preparations" - declared Napoleon.

By continuous mobilization in France and among the population of other states, under French dominion, Napoleon has put under a gun 1200 thousand men, from which 600 thousand were inside the country and 600 thousand with 1372 pices of artillery have made the so-called "Great Army" and intend for war against Russia.

The army of Napoleon differed by the large variety of the parts, entering into her. Besides actually the French armies, it included armies almost of all nationalities of then Europe: from Italy, Austria, Prussia, Bavaria, Westphalia, Saxony, Poland and others.

The significant part of the foreigners serving in "Grand army" was violently recruited and was hostilely concerned to the future actions. These circumstances as well as many others, did not promote maintenance in army a discipline and high moral spirit. Nevertheless it had good battle training, had skilled command structure, still trusted in authority of Napoleon and consequently, despite of lacks, represented very puissant force.

The large attention was given to preparation of rear and material maintenance of armies. In fortresses on r. Visla the huge stocks of the foodstuffs concentrated and the warehouses of an ammunition were created, the hospitals were developed, the road network was improved.

Extensive preparations of the French government to war against Russia, required from the Russian Royal Court immediate performing of effective measures on organization of a reliable defense of the state.

However the Royal Court, knowing about approaching danger, has failed to prepare properly the country for repulse of enemy invasion.

First of all imperial government has appeared powerless to draft the concrete plan of wars under the certain circumstances.

On the eve of war on the part of a number of military plans and drafts concerning possible character of actions against France were submitted to government.

The preference was given up to the plan made by the military adviser of Czar Alexander I, general Full, former Prussian officer.

Recognizing that the frontier strip of Russia was divided by bogs of Polesye on two parts - northern and southern, Full supposed probable approach of the napoleonic army only on one direction: either to the north from Polesye or to the south of it. In this connection he offered to generate two armies and to arrange first In northern part of a frontier strip, and second - in southern. In case of approach of the opponent to the north from Polesye, the first army should recede to empowered camp, that was necessary to put up at Dryss on Western Dvina, and to hold down there coming armies of the opponent. In the meantime second army should act on enemy's flank and rear. If the opponent has passed in approach to the south from Polesye, the second army was obliged to recede to Jitomyr and Kyiv, and the first army - to act on rears and communications of the coming opponent.

This plan was vicious in the basis. It does not take into account an opportunity of conducting by the opponent of simultaneous approach on both specified directions. And it is at the moment when against Russia approached Napoleon himself, who was wage triumphant war with all Europe for 15 years already.

Besides division, provided by this plan, of Russian army into two groups, isolated one from another by un-passable strip of Polesye, created favorable conditions for the opponent to rout them in parts.

Nevertheless Alexander, blindly trusting in authority of the adviser, has accepted the plan and has put it in a basis of waging of war with France. According to this plan to the north of Polesye, in area of Vilno, the 1st Western army was deployed, and to the south from Polesye, in area of Lunk - the 2nd Western army.

On Western Dvina at Dryssa, the urgent construction of the so-called "Camp of Dryss" began.

In the spring of 1812 the imperial government has made attempt to improve strategic expansion of Russian army by rapprochement of 1st and 2nd Western armies. With this purpose the 2nd Western army was re-located to north from Polesye, at first, in area Pruzhan, and then - Wolkovisk. In area Lunk, on a place of a former arrangement of 2nd Western army, 3rd Western army was convened.

However this measure has not resulted in radical improvement of strategic expansion of Russian army. Even after this actions, the military forces of Russia, located on western border, remained stretched and shattered.

Directly ahead of beginning of military actions the strategic expansion of military forces of Russia on western border was the following:

The 1st Western army in structure of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6-th infantry, 1st and 2nd cavarly and one corpus of Cossacs, with a total number of 127 thousand men at 558 canons settled down at the front of 180 kms from Rossyena up to Lyda, having put forward a Cossac corpus in area of Grodno.

The 2nd Western army in structure of 7-th and 8-th infantry, 4-th cavalry and nine Cossack corps, with a total number of 36 thousand men at 180 canons (not considering 27-th infantry division, included in structure, on 9 May, 1812 and taking place in ways from Moscow) settled down at the front of 100 kms in area Wolkovysk, having Cossacks deployed along border.

The 3rd Western army with an aggregate number in 43 thousand men with 165 canons was located in area Lunk.

The break between 1st and 2nd Western armies reaches 100 kms, and between 2nd and 3rd armies - 200 kms.

The total number of military forces of Russia resisting on western border to army of Napoleon, made 210 thousand men with 903 canons.

The government has not created a single commander headquarters. In case of separated forces, it strongly complicated interaction of armies.

The construction of defensive structures was developed unsufficiently. In frontier areas the repair and strengthening of fortresses began, as well as construction of a number of new fortresses and bastions.

However all these works were carried extremely slowly and to the beginning of military actions were not finished. Organization of material maintenance of armies was in a poor condition. Although, in many places, especially along the rivers of Western Dvina, Berezina and Dnepr, food warehouses were built.

Thus, to the moment of intrusion of napoleonic army, the situation in Russia and its armed forces was quite unclear. The opponent had the overwhelming numerical superiority. The Russian armies were developed unsuccessfully, they had not single commander-in-chief and real plan of conducting war.

Napoleon, having huge forces and means, intended to destroy Russian army in a frontier strip and then, by fast promotion of the armies, to take possession of Moscow and to dictate of Russia of a condition of armistice.

Napoleon has expressed strategic importance of possesing Moscow by the following words: "If I occupy Kyiv, I shall take Russia for legs; if I acquire St. Petersburg, I shall take it for a head; having occuping Moscow, I shall spear Russia in its heart"

According to this plan in the beginning of June, 1812. Napoleon has deployed the army near Visla on a line Warsaw - Konisgberg, in three groups: the left wing, centre, right wing.

The left wing in structure of 1st, 2nd and 3rd infantry, 1st and 2nd cavalry corps and French guards by an aggregate number in 220 thousand men with 527 canons, was under Napoleon's command.

The central group under command of the vice-roy of Italy Eugene de Beauharnais consisted of 4th and 6th infantry, 3rd Cavarly corps and Italian Royal Guards by a total number of 85 thousands men with 208 canons.

The right wing in structure 5th, 7th and 8th infantry, 4th cavalry corps with a total number of 75 thousand men with 166 canons was under leadership of Napoleon's brother - Jerome Bonaparte.

The left flank of Napoleon's army was provided with 30-thousand prussian corps of Marshal McDonald, and right - 35-thousand Austrians of general Swartsemberg.

Besides Napoleon had large reserves (160 thousand men), that were deployed in Prussia.

The main impact should be rendered to the left wing with a task to cross Neman, defeat the 1st Western army of Russians and take in possession Vilno.

Central group of corps was necessary to supprot left wing in performance of the task.

The task of right wing corps was to hold down armies of 2nd Western army to prevent its movement to north on connection with 1st Western army and by that to enable left wing and central corps to destroy 1st Western army and to take in possession Vilno.

In further army of the right wing was supposed to share with other forces in resolute actions against 2nd Western army.

In night for 12 June, 1812 the left wing of the French army begun a ferry through Neman at Kovko (nowadays Kaunas). The War began.

After resignation of a post of the commander-in-chief of Moldavian army, Bagration was not at businesses for some time. Only on 7 August, 1811 the imperial decree about his assignment as commander-in-chief of Podolsk army (which settled down on Ukraine in Kiev, Volynsk and Podolsk provinces) has followed.

In the beginning of September, 1811 Bagration arrivied to Podolsk army, and by spring of 1812 was authorized to hold a post of the commander-in-chief of 2nd Western army, that generated on the basis of Podolsk army. The new army at first settled down in Lupk area, and then was relocated to Volkovysk area.

This army covered major western strategic direction and it assigned on Bagration responsiblilty to defend borders of Russia.

Facing to the extensive military preparations of France, Bagration showed a large concern for destiny of the native land and took concrete measures in interests of maintenance of safety of the country.

One of steps in this direction was the development by him of the plan of campaign 1812, which was stated in special report to czar Alexander.

Characterizing the situation that has been occured in Europe, Bagration marked, that in the unlimited aspiration to a gain of world domination Napoleon took over many European peoples and that the real threat to undergo the ssame fate has hung above Russia. "He (Napoleon) is waiting for an appropriate minute to set up an ardent banner on limits of your empire !" - wrote Bagration to Alexander.

Considering war inevitable, Bagration recommended Alexander to accept urgent measures for the safety of Russia and to protect the country from a sudden attack of an enemy. In these purposes he offered to direct immediately to the French government the Note, in which, on the one hand, to state about means accepted by Russian government for maintenance of the world between Russia and France, and on the other hand to specify all actions of Napoleon directed against peaceful intentions of Russia.

Having confirmed readiness of Russian government to aspire henceforth to preservation and strengthening of relations between both states, the Note should also made to the French government an offer on an establishment border line on Oder river or any other boundary. Through this boundary napoleonic army should not pass. The transition of this boundary by armies, even by one battalion, should be considered by Russia as the announcement of war.

To opinion of Bagration, establishment of a such border line could serve a sufficient guarantee ensuring Russia from a sudden attack of an enemy. Simultaneously with departure of the Note Bagration advised to carry out the following measures on preparation of Russian armies:

  1. To strengthen the armies, located on western border, having developed them in two groups: one in area Belostoc by number in 100 thousand man with enough of artillery, and another in Baltic area in structure not less to than five divisions, having supplied it not only field, but also, as far as it is possible, by siege artillery, completely supplied with an ammunition;
  2. To arrange spare armies by number in 50 thousand man in the second line, on distance of 1OO-150 miles from these armies making the main army. This group was necessary for using depending on conditions;
  3. To found beforehand warehouses for uninterrupted maintenance of armies by the foodstuffs They would contain not less than annual stock of the foodstuffs and fodder on 250-thousand army, and also to prepare vehicles for transportation of a monthly stock of the foodstuffs and fodder on 150-thousand army;
  4. To result in battle readiness the Baltic fleet. Bagration considered as most probable, that Napoleon in interests of a prize of necessary time for expansion of the army will hesitate with the answer to the specified Note and "not looking on anything" throw armies through offered to him border line. In this case Bagration offered to put forward to Visla an army located at Belostoc and to occupy Warsaw. The armies, located in Baltic area on border with East Prussia, must be put forward to Graudents on the same day and with the same speed, then proceed to Visla and with an assistance of the Baltic fleet to take possession of Gdansk After the first line it was necessary to move also armies of the second line. The further plans of military actions were provided to be defined depending on actions of the opponent.

"... Main...advantage of such sudden and speed movement, adviced by me, - wrote Bagration, - is, that the theatre of war will leave from limits of empire and that we shall be in a condition to occupy on Visla such a position that would provide us with an opportunity to act against opponent with a great courage. . . "

Bagration well understood, that future war will be waged with large pressure from both parties, and consequently recommended to create beforehand reliable reserves to supply the main forces. He offered to arrange the third line, on a distance of 100-150 miles from spare armies, in a structure of recruits, trained in special depots, and besides to recruit more soldiers.

These are the basic features of the plan of campaign 1812 drafted by Bagration. The analysis of this plan testifies about deep and correct estimation of Bagration of conditions on the eve of intrusion of napoleonic army. The measures, planned by him, carried active character and provided reliable protection of Russia against a sudden attack of an enemy. The large interest is represented by the basic idea of the Bagration's plan - . . . . . . of the opponent in drawing the first impact.

Bagration's plan, as well as valuable suggestion of many other military figures on a question of conducting war against France, was not accepted by imperial government. At the same time it does not inform Bagration neither about the general plan (Full's plan) of conducting war, nor about a concrete task, which was assigned on 2-nd Western army.

Concerned by such situation Bagration has requested on 17 April 1812 from the minister of war. Barclay de Tolly the general plan of military actions.

"I believe, - wrote Bagration, - that before beginning of military actions I shall receive on this account the most detailed remarks from Your Excellency, for you are more aware of the political businesses and items, on which an opponent shall throw the forces"

However the answer has not followed. Only on 3 June, that is for 9 days prior to the beginning of war, the headquarters of the 2nd Western army received three instructions of Barclay de Tolly dated 1 June, in which on behalf of Czar Alexander, the first instructions on character of future actions and task of Bagration's army were given.

According to them the task of 2 Western army was reduced to conducting defensive actions. It was offered to abstain from offensive actions. "When it will be decided conudct offensively, then Your . . . . will be informed, in appropriate time about the general plan of operations, but before its reception you must conduct defensive operations"

In case of transition in approach of superior forces of the opponent, it was necessary for the 2nd Western army to recede at first to river Sharu, and then to Novogrudoc and river Neman, where it should receive the further instructions either about continuation of deviation through Minsk to Borisov or about movement on north in the shortest way to incorporate to 1-st Western army.

Bagration was offered to familiarize with a condition of Bobruisk and Borisov and to begin immediately strengthening Nesvij.

Besides he was ordered to establish communication with general-lieutenant Eytel's corps, which in structure of 18 spare battalions, 16 squadrons and two Cosscaks regiments was formed at Mozyr to defend Pripyat, and also with 3rd Western army, Platov's corps and armies of the left wing of the 1st Western army.

Carrying out the received instructions Bagration has sent the staff officers for recognition of road Volkovysc-Zelva-Slonim and ferries through river Shara from its mouth up to Bitten.

To the military engineer the general-major Ferster was entrusted to examine Nesvij and to present opinions about measures on its strengthening, also to survey a fortress of Bobruisk and redoubt at Borysov, to make recognition of roads from Nesvij to Borysov and Bobruisk, and also between these two items.

The communication with the commander of the reserve corps general-lieutenant Eytel was established and found out the number of corps, their) arrangement, and accommodation area.

Having begun to perform received instructions, Bagration at the same time has addressed on June 6 to Alexander I the letter in which has stated the reasons of an estimation of present conditions and outlined plan of actions.

Having stipulated, that, not being entered in circle of political questions, he will speak only about subjects that are known for him on the basis of battle experience, Bagration has subjected to sharp criticism strategic expansion of Russian army, marking the following its main defects:

  1. Russian armies were deployed on the much stretched front and in case of intention of the opponent to put strong impact on one of them it was impossible to support it.
  2. Russian armies were located too close to border and they had not time to concentrate for repulse the opponent, if last approach by superior forces on any one direction.
  3. An unsuccessful expansion of Russian armies allowed the opponent to prevent their connection.

Sharply criticizing strategic expansion of Russian army, Bagration resolutely has condemned also outlined plan of actions. Thus he especially emphasized the extremely negative consequences, which will be caused in armies by a deviation.

To avoid it, Bagration again has confirmed the idea on necessity to not wait for an attack of an enemy, and to break its intentions by conducting on actions.

"... Much more useful would be, without waiting for an attack, to fight in its borders" - specified Bagration.

After this letter, on 8 June, Bagration has directed to Alexander I another letter, in which, again marking negative consequences of deviation, insisted on necessity of drawing of the first impact on an enemy.

"Order to us to assemble at Grodno and attack enemy - wrote Bagration - Any deviation encourages rival and gives him great ways in this territory, and takes away our spirit... What are we afraiding of and why we have to exhaust army . . . ?".

On 11 June Bagration received Barclay de Tolly's answer. Barclay informed Bagration, that given to him instruction on a case of deviation, does not mean refusal from offensive actions and that he will receive additional instructions in due time.

However, the military minister wrote, the care requires to be prepared to deviation, that Russian armies have not appeared compelled to be involved in resolute battle with superior forces of an enemy in unprofitable conditions.

Bagration was informed also, that the order to provide the left flank of 2nd Western army was sent to the commander -in-chief of 3rd Western army general Tormasov.

Thus, in the Barclay de Tolly's letter did not answeredon Bagration's major questions connected to unsuccessful expansion of Russian armies and passive character of strategy. Also it followed from the letter, that the supreme command was going to support further Full's plan. As for the statement of the military minister concerning an opportunity of transition to offensive actions, obviously, it was purpose only to calm Bagration.

It is quite clear, that Barclay de Tolly's reply could not satisfy Bagration. On 12 June he again sent a letter to the military minister, asking to report to Alexander I about the situation of 2nd Western army, and also about necessity to carry out urgent measures on maintenance of Russian armies from sudden impact of an enemy. Bagration again marked the stretched disposition of 2nd Western army, which, having only two corps and unsufficient number of cavalry, was compelled to occupy a hundred miles. In this situation, reported Bagration, the army will not have an opportunity to prevent intentions of rival in case of intrusion at Grodno and Belostoc.

Besides Bagration paid attention to the large break between 2nd and 3rd Western armies. To liquidate this break, he offered to pull together 3rd Western army to 2nd, by concenrating the 3rd army at Kovel, and to put its right flank to Kobryn.

"In that ratio of the third army with the second - wrote Bagration - we shall find itself in ways to repulse opponent, as in opposite very much divided for loss mutual assisstance from one to another"

At last, Bagration marked, that 2nd reserve corps of general-lieutenant Ertel, located at Mozyr, was too remote to render assisstance to the 2nd Army.

On Bagration's accounts, for forwarding of this corp to 2nd or 3rd Armies, it would be required not less than 10 days. Therefore he offered to approach the corp to armies of both armies, having arranged it at Pynsk.

Fairly specifying on expansion of Russian army, Bagration rightly foresaw also possible way of actions of the opponent. Under present situation), in his opinion, the best way of actions of the opponent will be rout of Russian army by parts.

"His indispensable benefit is to divide our forces, and he, in my opinion, will try to take advantage of it" - informed Bagration.

On 13 June the instruction of Barclay de Tolly, dated on 12 June about change of a task of 2 Western army has arrived.

The instruction stated, that in connection with accumulation of enemy forces between Kovno and Meretsh and a ferry, expected on 12 June of the opponent through Neman, the Cossacks corp of Platov was ordered to act from area of Grodno in flank and rear of the opponent. 2nd Western army should assisst Cossacks in performance of this task by protecting its rear. At the same time Borysov was specified as a point where it was necessary for the 2nd Western army to recede. Further instruction informed Bagration, that if 1st Western army will not manage to give the opponent battle Vilno, it will be concentrated at Swentsyan where, can be, the battle will be given.

On 14 June Bagration has received one more instruction of the military minister, in which, informing about a ferry of the French army through Neman at Kovno and about intention to concentrate the 1st Western army at Vilno, Barclay de Tolly confirmed a task of 2 Western army stated in the instruction of 12 June.

The new instructions of Barclay de Tolly did not facilitate a situation of 2nd Western army, and on the contrary, considerably complicated it. The army of Bagration was ordered to act in flank and rear of the opponent, but was not specified neither time of transition in approach, nor direction, in which it was necessary to go. Also. in the instructions nothing was spoken about the purpose, which was pursued by the planned actions.

Besides the opponent, who has concentrated against 2nd Western army was not considered and, at last, the instructions of Barclay de Tolly, putting a new order, did not cancel previous order about deviation to Borysov.

Upon reception of the first instruction, on 13 June, Bagration was directed to the military minister the report, in which marked insufficiency of forces of 2nd Western army for performance of the order. Simultaneously Bagration resolutely has condemned the assumption to concentrate 1st Western army at Vilno. He considered, that in case of realization of this assumption, 2nd Western army will appear under threat of being cut off not only from 1-st Western army, but also from the line of deviation.

"One correct review of a map, proves, that after deviation of 1-st army to Swentsyan, a rival, having occupiedVilno, can warn deviation of 2nd army to Minsk and on brevity of a way will be there before I shall reach there receding" - was written by Bagration.

Besides Bagration considered that realization of the intended actions would result in break of communication between 2nd and 3rd Western armies, and also in exception of any opportunity of their connection.

The next day, after reception of the second instruction, Bagration sent a new report, in which again has emphasized, that the task, put before the 2nd Western army, was unreal and that the attempt of performance will create extremely difficult conditions for connection of armies. Informing his opinion, Bagration asked the sanction to allocate 2nd Western army on Shara river, and to recede up to Minsk.

Getting decision about deviation to Minsk, Bagration well understood, what a huge importance in present conditions had an organization of interaction of armies of 2nd Western army and cossacks. Therefore he has sent to platov on 14 June the letter, in which specified the large threat which has hung above 2nd Western army and Cossacks. He wrote, that the opponent, having occupied Vilno on 16 or 17 June, can reach Minsk by June 24 and thus cut off ways for connection with 1st Western army.

Bagration advised Platov, in order to not be cut off from 1-st Western army, to follow with the corp on the right shore of Neman through Lyda on Minsk. He informed Platov, that in case of movement of his corp in the specified direction, 2nd Western army will concentrate in Slonym and will begin to recede Nesvyj under covering of Cossacks corp of general-major Ilovaysky. Bagration informed further, that after achievement of Nesvyj, Cossacks will be directed to north and, maintained by the main forces, can together with the Platov's corps render impacts on opponent and at the same time keep communication with 1-st Western army.

In the letter Bagration wrote the following account of distances: "An opponent has 102 miles from Kovno up to Vilno, 200 miles from Vilno up to Minsk, 75 miles from Minsk up to Borysov, total 377. If it will take from Vilno a way on a direct road, rather convenient for transition of armies, having left Minsk on the right, then there are 321 miles up to Borysov; hence 18 less than mine path; since there are 59 miles from Volkovysk up to Slepym, 100 miles from Slepym up to Nesvij, 105 miles from Nesvij up to Minsk, 75 miles from Minsk up to Borysov. total 339 miles"

Having informed Platov this account of distances, Bagration tried to assure him that the best direction for movement not only for the 2nd army, but also for Cossacks, was the direction on Minsk, as it gives the greatest opportunities to achieve connection with 1st Western Army.

In another letter, Bagration told Platov about his negative attitude to idea of actions in flank and rear of the opponent. "To threaten in flank and rear is impossible for you, since they have considerable forces everywhere that means failures wherever you appear..". Bagration again has specified, that the most expedient way of actions was the deviation to Minsk. "... If I shall not receive the answer on my reports till tonight, I shall inform you about my deviation to Slonym Nesvyj and Minsk. That is all, that I can tell you. Better to help ther 1st army there, rather than to be divided and wander here".

Platov has agreed with the Bagration's proposal. On 15 June he has informed it(him), that the parts of the case will follow from Grodno on the right coast Iaiaia, "having about a direction on Minsk".

The establishment of unity of sights between Bagration and Platov on character of forthcoming actions has played a positive role. It has ensured subsequently organization of close interaction between 2nd and Cossacs has rescued them from inevitable rout in parts.

Besides an establishment of communication with Platov, Bagration has undertaken a number of measures having the purpose to not admi occupation by the opponent of Minsk. He has ordered 27-th infantry division, that was moving from Moscow on connection with 2nd Western army, to stop in Minsk and to defend it in case of approach of the opponent from Vilno. Also they were given the instruction to put forward in area of Minsk 12 reserve battalions, located in Bobruisk.

Bagration expected for answer on his request for deviation of 2nd Western Army through Slonym, Nesvij to Minsk. At 20 pm on 16 June he has received the instruction from Barclay de Tolly on 15 June, in which military minister informed, that the order is given to Platov to begin deviation through Lyda, Smorgon to Swentsam, acting whenever possible in rear and flank of the opponent.

Bagration was ordered to prevent cutting off of the 2nd Western army on a road through Minsk to Borysov, and to preserve the right wing of army against a sudden attack.

The Instruction of Barclay de Tolly dated 15 June, as well as his instructions received by Bagration earlier, did not bring in clearness to a task of 2nd Western army, and main - did not give the answer to the request of Bagration about deviation to Minsk. Considering further stay of army in area Volkovysk extremely dangerous, Bagration has decided to allocate the army in the specified direction under the own initiative. On 16 June the order on deviation was given up.

In these conditions the decision of Bagration can be considered as the best, as only fast deviation of the 2nd Western army to Minsk could warn an exit there of enemy armies and ensure the most favorable conditions for connection of 1-st and 2 Western armies.

As it is visible from the above mentioned documents, Bagratoion has not at once come to this decision. On the eve of war he was the supporter of anticipatory actions. Aspiring to relieve the country of threat of enemy invasion, he offered to put the first impacts on an enemy and by that to break all its plans. This idea Bagration very clearly has expressed in plan of campaign of 1812, and also in representations to military minister and Czar.

Bagration's offers were quite real during preparations of Napoleon of war against Russia. However in the beginning of June, 1812, when the French army was already made for drawing impact, and Russian army was not prepared for conducting anticipatory actions, these offers did not correspond any more to conditions and were erroneous.

But it is necessary to blame for a mistake not Bagration, and the imperial government, which did not inform the commander-in-chief by 2 Western army on conditions. In his judgements Bagration was compelled to consider only own information, which, naturally, could not reflect the true situation that has been occurred on all theatre of military actions.

To honour of Bagration it is necessary to mantion, that he managed in time to refuse these sights. During the first days of war he has solved Napoleon's plan and in the report to Barclay de Tolly dated 14 June, put a question not about offensive actions, but about the deviation of 2nd Western army with a task to remove it from under threat of an surrounding and destruction by superior forces of the opponent and by that to break a plan of Napoleon. Bagration has carried out this task perfectly.

Unfortunately, some historians do not take into account the inscribed evolution in sights of Bagration and represent him as a commander, who during the Great Patriotic War of 1812 obstinately kept offensive tactics and ostensibly did not want to hear about deviation. Such sight does not correspond to the validity and also belittles Bagration as the commander, who used in the practice such ways of actions that perfectly corresponded to those conditions.

The Deviation of 2nd Western army began on 17 June. The army moved in a direction Zelva, Slonym, being covered by two rear guards-horse and infantry.

Horse rear guard, consisting from Akhtyrsk Hussar, Lithuanian Uhlan and one Cossacks with horse-artillery, was under leadership ofi general-aide-de-camp Vasylchykov.

Infantry rear guard was composed of Grenadier Divsiionm and horse-artillery under general-major Vorontsov.

The allocation of two rear guards was caused by necessity to ensure 2nd Army from possible impact of the enemy army from rear.

For the purpose to supply army with the foodstuffs during a march, every regiment choosed a group of soldiers led by the skilled officer. These gropus, following ahead of the columns, during rests, provided the foodstuffs at the expense of local means raised by requisitions. Bagration demanded, that performance of the specified task must take place without violence against the peace inhabitants and their robbery.

The 2nd Western army had to accomplish a difficult task. They had to overcome distance in 250 miles, while the opponent who has occupied Vilno on 16 June, was only in 160 miles from Minsk. Despite of it, the specified task was quite real, and Bagration was sure in its successful performance.

"I calculated marches in the way, that on June 23 my apartment should be in Minsk, avant guarde further, and parties already nbear Sventsyan" -wrote Bagration to A.P. Ermolov. It was the exact and correct account. It provided the most expedient way of connection of 1-st and 2nd Western armies.

But the well-organized deviation of 2nd Western army was broken by intervention in actions of Bagration by Alexander. At 14 pm on 18 June in Zelva the aide-de-camp of Czar, colonel Benkerdorf has handed to Bagration Alexander's order, according to which direction deviation was changed. Bagration was ordered to allocate army near river Shara and to set it on connection with the 1st Western army through Novogrudok or Belitsy in a general direction on Vileyko.

Thus, 2nd Western army should make difficult and dangerous flank march near to the main forces of enemy army, which already were ar this time at Vilno. The complexity of this flank movement was, that the 2nd armys had to make 10 transitions at a distance on 4-5 transitions from the opponent. Besides Russian armies were compelled to move in remote, marshy territory and to make a ferry through a large river barrier - river Neman. All this inevitably would result in a delay of a march, and the army of Bagration could appear under impact of the main enemy forces from front and armies of Jerome Bonaparte - from rear.

Obliged to obey the order of Czar, Bagration has begun organization of a march in a new direction. First of all he had to choose one of two specified in Czar's order directions. The way on Bileyko through Belitsy was shorter and convenient but it passed too close from Vilno, and consequently, was also more dangerous.

Bagration has selected the second way - through Novogrudok. Though this way also passed on remote and marshy territory, distinguished by a bad condition of roads, but it was far from Vilno and reduced probability of meeting with the opponent. Besides at movement through Novogrudok, which was closer to Minsk, it was easier to strengthen army by connection 27-th infantry division, that reached at this time Minsk.

Having accepted the decision on a direction of movement of army, Bagration has given back the following orders:

  1. to 27th infantry division - to concentrate in Novogrudok and to expect arrival there of main forces of 2 Western army;
  2. To the chief of the engineers - to send sappers to Neman with a task to make investigation of the river at Kryvichy, Nikolaev and Delyatichy and to construct by June 21 a ferry in the elected place;
  3. To make recognition of a way for movement of armies on Vishnev and Volojin.

The order about the instruction of movement in a new direction was given that very day. Army had to recede by two echelons on distance about one transition one from another, being covered by horse and infantry rear gueard. The special attention was paid on necessity of understanding by all personal structure of an essence an objective, for what Bagration has ordered to explain all details to the sorldielrs the reason and purpose of deviation.

Moving in a new direction, 2nd Western army has concentrated at Slonym to the outcome of June 19. On another day it has made the 40-kilometer forced transition and has reached Dvorets. With the purpose of acceleration of a march, army was released from excessive cargoes. All transports, not stipulated by staff, was directed from Dvorets to Stvolytchy and Nesvij for the further following on Minsk or Bobruisk.

On June 21 the 2nd Western army continued movement and, having made again the forced transition for 40 kilometers, has arrived in area Novogrudok. Its advanced parts have reached Delyatichy on Neman, forwarded through the river, have entered Nikolaev and Ivye, having put forward some groups to north. In Novogrudok 27th infantry division joined the army.

March of 2nd Western army from Volkovysk up to Novogrudok was accomplished with an extreme speed. Starting on June, 17 from Volkovysk, the army has reached Neman in five transitions, that means it has passed 150 kilometers for 5 day. An Average rate of a march per day was about 30 kilometers, but in last two day the army promoted with speed of 40 kilometers per day.

After an way out to Neman organization of a ferry have begun at once. At Nikolaev erection of a bridge was began and the device of the ferry of army, and at Koledzan -construction of the bridge for a ferry of transports.

In the meantime to the north from Nikolaev on ways of the further movement of 2-nd Western army there was menacing conditions.

On June, 16 the napoleonic army has occupied Vilno. Russian 1st Western army, not accepting battle, started deviation on direction to Sventsyan and Dryss. It meant, that calculation of Napoleon on defeat of Russian armies in area Vilno has failed. Having convinced in impossibility to crush 1st Western army in a frontier strip, Napoleon has decided to concentrate all efforts of the armies against 2nd Western army as it was provided by his plan. To define a direction of deviation of 2-nd Western army, Napoleon has put forward on the major roads departing from Vilno on the south and a southeast, strong avant guardes. On June, 17 one of these avant guardes, moving to the south from Vilno, has found out at Bolshye Solechniky Russian group of general-major Dorokhov. This group was an avant guarde of 4-th infantry division of the 1st Western army and moved from Oran in a northeast direction on connection with the main forces.

This very day other avant guarde of the French army acting to a southeast from Vilno, has received data on an arrangement of Russian armies in area Oshmjany. These armies were parts of lateral guard of the 3rd cavarly corp of the 1-st Western army departing on to Olshan and Smorgon.

On June, 18 at Bolshye Solechniky there was a fight, as a result of which Russians have rejected french avant guard. However, getting informed that enemy forces were located to the north, Dorokhov was forced to direct his group to Olshan. He hoped to lay way in this direction and join the main forces of the 4th infantry corpus.

Simultaneously, near Olshan, battle between the french avant guarde and flank guard of the 3rd cavarly corpus took place. Russians firmly rejected all the assauklts of the considerably superior forces of enemy, and thus ensured deviation to Smorgon of the main forces. Succesfully achieving set forth objective, they went back from Oshmian folloing the main forces of the coprpus on the night of 19 June.

Having received reports cioncernung the appearance of the Rusian forces on the ways to Lidu and Oshmian and battles, that had been fought at the Bolshix solechnikov and Oshmian, Napoleon supposed that these forces were the part of 2nd Western Army and that abovesaid armywas moving from Grodno to the north-east, to join the 1st Western Army. Based on this incorrect assessment of situation, he decided to make a decisive assaut on the army of Bagration and destroy it.

With a view to fullfill this objective accoriding to te roder of Napoleon, a group of division was deployed, being led by one of the most talanted military commander of the French Army Davout. This detachment was composed of 2 infantry and 1 curaisser divisions and 4 brigades of light cavalry - totally 33, 864 men.

Davout's forces began offensive on 19 June. This operation led to the ciurcumstances in which russian forces deployed to the south and south-eat from Vilno, were cut from the main routs, that allowed them to join 1st Western Army in a short period of time. First of all this refered to the Cossacks of Platov and Dorokhov's group.

Dorokhov's group retreated from the Bolshie Colechniki to Olshan, and getting informed about the forwarding of the enemy forces to the Oshmian, gave up of the idea to join 1st Qwestern army . He moved to join 2nd western army by the road to Bishnev-Volojin on the night of 20 of June.

Cossacks of Platov , having left Grodno on 16 of june, retreated to the eatern direction and by 21 June reached the locateion the north from Nikolaev. By the time these events were taking lace, the 2nd Western Army was preparing to cross over the Neman. According to the Bagration's order, the army was to concentrate on the left shore of the river by the 10 pm of 22 June and be ready to cross the river.

With the purpose of the further clearing armies of excessive transports, soldiers were authorized to take only the most necessary vehicles (for wounded, artillery, food) and besides in a strictly limited quantity. Generals might have only one carrier, and commanders of divisions and corps, besides - one vehicle under chancellory.

All other transport, including the private vehicles belonging to an officers, was concentrated at Korelichi, where it should be divided into two parts; it was planned that one part of it will be forwarded through Neman at Koledzani, with a view of sending them further to Ivenec, Rakov and Minks, while another part - to direct on the Mir and, Minsk.

After a ferry, a rest for armies of 2-nd Western army was predetermined, and with approach of darkness - the beginning of a march two columns was provided.


© 2000, Alexander Mikaberidze. Design by Logunov Eugene. Creative artel of the Project «1812 year».