5 July 2012, 10:00

1812 War: Battle of Borodino. Part II

1812 War: Battle of Borodino. Part II
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Western military historians mistakenly accuse the Russian army’s Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov of failing to choose the right terrain for the Battle of Borodino – a standpoint that is regrettably supported by some Russian historians.

Western military historians mistakenly accuse the Russian army’s Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov of failing to choose the right terrain for the Battle of Borodino – a standpoint that is regrettably supported by some Russian historians. They argue that Kutuzov did not pick the battle-ground at all because it was Napoleon who pressed Kutuzov to finally opt for the Borodino field which they contend was a bad option. This standpoint raises eyebrows given the fact that an outstanding military commander, Kutuzov knew perfectly well that picking the right battle-ground was of paramount importance to the final result of the fighting.

Bracing for the battle with outnumbered enemy, Kutuzov tried his best to find the most convenient position to defend Moscow. He ordered a host of experienced officers to deal with choosing the right terrain ahead of a decisive battle with French forces. All the dispositions were personally inspected by Kutuzov, including those located near the village of Borodino outside Moscow, where the Battle of Borodino took place on September 7, 1812.

The Borodino field, which was finally chosen by Kutuzov, had a spate of natural obstacles to protect the Russians’ right and left flanks. Kutuzov believed that the Russian army’s fortified position at the Borodino field would prevent the French from maneuvering.

It is safe to assume, therefore, that all the allegations about Kutuzov playing down the importance of choosing the right disposition ahead of a decisive battle hold no water. It was Napoleon, not Kutuzov, who was forced to deploy his troops to the Borodino field and then use a frontal attack at the restricted battlefront. It is absolutely clear that it was Kutuzov, rather than Napoleon, who called the shots in the run-up to the battle.

The Russian position at Borodino consisted of a right wing, a center, a left wing and reserves. The 30.000-strong right wing was under the command of General Mikhail Miloradovich who was tasked with preventing the enemy from advancing to Moscow. Kutuzov also planned to use the right wing as a reserve force that could help him fulfill a maneuver with the aim of strengthening the left wing and the center, as well as launching counterattacks against the enemy.

The center was under the command of General Michael Barclay de Tolly who was ordered to protect access to the Raevsky Redoubt and the new Smolensk Highway. General Pyotr Bagration was at the helm of the Russian army’s left wing which included 30.000 troops and an additional reserve force. The main 40.000-strong reserve force was under the command of General Barclay de Tolly.

Napoleon was also bracing for the upcoming decisive battle at Borodino. During his two-day stay in Gzhatsk, he made last-ditch preparations for the battle which included logistic support efforts and those aimed at reinforcing cavalry, artillery and infantry units. September 3, 1812 saw the final roll-call of the French troops that included 103.000 operational infantry, 30.000 cavalrymen and 587 artillery pieces, according to Military Chief of Staff Marshal Berthier.

Remaining at odds over the exact number of Russian and French forces involved in the Battue of Borodino, military historians agree, however, that the French troops outnumbered the Russian army which included 120,000 men and 640 guns. Napoleon, in turn, had at least 130.000 troops and 587 guns.

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