Napoleon: Great Power, Great Expectations, Great Catastrophes

By Alexey Braguine
Sept. 24, 2012

As we approach winter in 2012, we also approach the 200th anniversary of a battle that did not take place. This phantom non-battle caused Napoleon's European Empire to collapse and allowed the Russian Army to hold a grand victory parade in Paris.

Remember Napoleon from history class? The great strategist, superb leader who won every single battle he fought? The guy who lost by winning?

The year 2012 is a good year in which to remember Napoleon's gigantic fiasco.

Just like in 1812, this year we have a dominant military power which is threatening to rule the world. Unlike Napoleon whose Grand Armee of over 600,000 men that marched victorious all over Europe, this power uses a navy which is vastly superior to all the navies of the world put together and a la Beau Geste garrisoning outposts. everywhere. Somewhat like Napoleon, this great power wins every battle. But, unlike him loses every war.

So let's look back at history, but also keep in mind not to lose sight of the way ahead and crash into the lamp posts of the future.

Napoleon's Brilliant Plan

He had conquered all Europe, but one nation eluded his dream of world conquest, Britain.

If he invaded India and cut the British isles from its empire, the conquest of Britain would be a snap (Or slam dunk?). The plan was simple, Invade Russia, march to India and voila, the whole world would be his.

Onto Moscow and the Granary of Europe.

In June 1812, without declaring war, Napoleon ordered his huge army to cross the Niemen River and invade Russia he also sent messengers to Saint Petersburg demanding from Emperor Alexander I an immediate surrender. Napoleon was sure that the much smaller Russian Army was incapable of stopping the invasion. Emperor Alexander. Did not answer.

Smolensk, Kaluga fell. The French army moved eastward like an unstoppable lava flow.

Alexander named General Kutuzov as commander in chief of the Russian Army. Kutuzov was a veteran of the Russian.-Turkish war, but did little to stop the French. His colleagues accused him of inaction and ceding too much territory. Most of the action were minor skirmishes with units covering the retreat of the Russians.

Sixty kilometers west of Moscow, Kutuzov decided to make a stand. He ordered to build fortified artillery positions in the valley of Borodino. His army lacked shovels, but the job was done when the Grand Armee arrived.

The battle started at dawn and lasted until dark. Both sides suffered enormous losses.

In the cover of darkness, the Russian Army withdrew. Napoleon had scored another great victory. The road to Moscow was open.

What Napoleon did not take in consideration was that he had invaded a land that over 300 years its inhabitants had experienced peace on its territory. The Russian population was incensed over this aggression. Peasants burned their fields or took their food stocks and hid them in the forests. they organized themselves into guerilla bands.

Cossack cavalry detachments penetrated deep into the French rear and raided the supply trains. It was the beginning of what is today known as asymmetrical warfare.

Outside Moscow, Napoleon waited for the city authorities to deliver the keys to the city. It did not happen.

Napoleon entered a burning city. Food warehouses were on fire. The legendary city, capital of the Muscovite barbarian empire had been abandoned by its inhabitants. Again, Napoleon considered himself a victor.

To the southeast of Moscow a guerilla band from Tula attacked a supply train and captured Napoleon's victory column. A symbolic event that should have given the strategic genius pause.

Autumn came, Hussar light cavalry regiments joined the guerillas and cut Napoleon's supply lines. Hunger attacked the Grand Armee and the great leader ordered the retreat. On 21 November 1812 Napoleon left Moscow.

Bridges had been burned or blown up. Stores of food which the great general had built up were destroyed. Rain changed to snow. French soldiers starved, froze. They dumped their weapons and surrendered by the thousands.

In December, Napoleon abandoned his troops.

Just like Napoleon, in Washington D.C. groups of secretive war and foreign policy planners, without consulting the American people have dragged the US into a number of wars and they have never lost a battle in Vietnam, Iraq ,or Afghanistan.


About the author: Alexey Braguine spent four years in Vietnam and Laos during the American involvement there. He has also worked in the Middle East and has visited Pakistan-Afghan border areas. He is the author of Kingmaker, a geopolitical thriller.

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