7 August 2012, 10:00

Guerilla warfare during the war of 1812. Part I

Guerilla warfare during the war of 1812. Part I
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Guerilla warfare was a major element of the Patriotic war of 1812. The guerilla movement emerged shortly after the Napoleonic army invaded Russia, and grew stronger each day. Started in the form of sporadic fights quite soon the guerilla war was joined by people all across the country.

Guerilla warfare was a major element of the Patriotic war of 1812. The guerilla movement emerged shortly after the Napoleonic army invaded Russia, and grew stronger each day.

Started in the form of sporadic fights quite soon the guerilla war was joined by people all across the country. The war unveiled the names of thousands of national heroes and guerilla commanders.

Encouraged by guerilla fighting, peasants would leave their villages to go deep into the forests away from the front. Although guerillas remained quite passive for the first time they did pose serious obstacles to the Napoleonic army. The French troops had limited supplies of food and forage, which could not but affect the army`s success: horses were dying of hunger, soldiers also suffered from malnutrition, cases of looting were reported almost daily.

The further the Napoleonic army advanced into Russia, the more acute the problem of food supplies became. When the French sent special groups to search for food and forage away from the road to Smolensk, they were often met by angry peasants armed with axes and pitchforks. It should be added, however, that peasants involved in guerilla warfare not only defended their homes but launched offensives.

For example, guerilla fighters near Vitebsk, Orsha and Mogilev (present-day Belarus) regularly carried out day and night raids on the enemy`s wagons, killed those who supplied the French army with forage and held French troops captive. Napoleon then instructed Gen. Berthier to send more troops to protect wagons with forage.

A group of guerilla fighters from Gzhatsk was the most successful. It was formed by Fedor Potapov (Samus), a soldier at the Yelizavetgrad regiment. Wounded in a battle outside Smolensk, Samus found himself in the enemy’s rear area. After he recovered he immediately started forming a guerilla unit comprising up to 2,000 people.

Discipline in the Samus brigade was as strict as in the army, with the troops having their own alarm system and communication means. They first attacked small French convoys, get well-armed and then attacked larger ones. Over 3,000 French troops were killed by the Samus guerilla unit within a short period of time.

Another guerilla unit led by Yermolai Chetverikov operated in Gzhatsk district. Many other guerilla units were formed outside the town of Yukhnov in Kaluga region. Having built defence on the bank of the Yugra River, the guerillas prevented the French army from approaching Kaluga and provided active support to the unit commanded by Denis Davydov. Another outstanding guerilla leader Vasilisa Kozhina earned fame and glory to a unit she commanded in Sychevsk district.

Peasant guerilla units in Gzhatsk as well as in other areas located on the road to Moscow caused much trouble to the French. Many sources in Napoleon`s army confirmed this. It should be mentioned that peasant guerilla warfare grew even stronger when it received backing from Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov.

Guerilla units were particularly active during the Russian army`s stay in Tarutino. Fights were active at the time outside Smolensk, Moscow, Ryazan and Kaluga. Guerilla fighters carried out their raids daily, either attacking food convoys or taking French officers and men unawares.

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