Rumyantsev in the battle with the Turks
250 years ago, on July 7 (18), 1770, on the Larga River, a battle took place between the Russian army of General Rumyantsev and the Ottoman troops of the Crimean Khan Kaplan-Girey. Despite the numerical superiority, the Turks and Crimean Tatars were defeated and fled.
The situation before the battle
In the spring of 1770, the Turkish army, supported by the Crimean cavalry, launched an offensive. The small corps of General Repnin, located in Moldova, which suffered serious losses from the plague epidemic, could not resist the enemy and retreated. The Russian troops retreated under pressure from the superior forces of the enemy and consolidated their positions at Ryaba Mogila. Enemy cavalry blocked Repnin’s detachment.
To the aid of the forward corps came out with the 1st Army Rumyantsev. On June 17, 1770, Russian troops defeated a large Tatar-Turkish army at Ryaba Mogila (“The defeat of the Turkish-Tatar army at Ryaba Mogila”). The enemy fled. However, soon the troops of the Crimean Khan were reinforced by the Turkish corps. The Turks and Tatars took up a position near the Larga River, the left tributary of the Prut. The number of the Ottoman army reached 80 thousand people (65 thousand cavalry and 15 thousand infantry) with 33 guns. The Ottoman command chose a comfortable position. Turkish troops were stationed across the Larga River, on a high plateau. From the north (front) the Turks were covered by the impenetrable wading river Larga, from the west – by the rivers Balash and Prut, from the south and southeast – by the river Babikul. There were no serious natural obstacles from the northeast and east, and this was the most vulnerable place of the Turkish camp.
The Turks fortified the position with four retrenchments (a fortification in the form of a rampart with a moat in front). The most dangerous direction was reinforced with a strong horseshoe-shaped retrenchment so that the enemy could not bypass the position on the right. All field fortifications were occupied by Turkish infantry. The cavalry was located behind the right flank.
After the battle at Ryaboy Mogila, the Russian troops rested for two days. On June 19, 1770, the army went forward again. On July 4, Rumyantsev’s troops were stationed at the heights near the river. Largi. Repnin’s division was located on the left flank, Baur’s division on the right, behind them were the main forces. The Russian army numbered about 38 thousand people with 115 guns. The Tatar cavalry tried to attack the Russian camp, but were repelled by light cavalry with field guns.
Rumyantsev needed to defeat the troops of Kaplan-Girey before joining him with the 150 thousand army of the grand vizier. On July 5, a council of war was held. The decision was unanimous – to attack, despite his superiority in forces and a strong position. The Russian commander-in-chief decided to make a demonstrative attack from the front and deliver the main blow to the weakest right wing of the enemy. The division of Lieutenant General Plemyannikov (6 thousand soldiers with 25 guns) was advancing from the northern direction. The Plemyannikov division was supposed to divert the attention of the enemy to itself, and then, during the attack of the main forces, deliver an auxiliary blow.
On the right wing of the enemy army, the vanguard of Quartermaster General Baur (about 4 thousand soldiers with 14 guns) and the division of Lieutenant General Repnin (11 thousand people with 30 guns) struck. Behind them were the main forces under the command of Rumyantsev himself – about 19 thousand people (11 thousand infantry and 8 thousand cavalry). To hide their plans, the Russians lined up 8 km from the enemy camp. The infantry was built in several squares of 2-4 thousand soldiers each. The cavalry was located between the square, also covered the flanks and rear. Artillery was attached to divisions, some were in reserve. As a result, Rumyantsev skillfully chose the enemy’s weak spot and secretly concentrated the main forces there. At the same time, the enemy was distracted from the front.
Battle of Larga. Source: L. G. Beskrovny. Atlas of maps and diagrams on Russian military history
On July 5, the Turks and Tatars, under the command of Abdy Pasha, carried out a strong attack on the Russian positions. First they pounced on Repnin’s division, then on Baur. The attack was repelled. Having received reinforcements from the camp, the Ottomans again attacked the Russian right flank. The situation was dangerous. The Turks have pushed our forward light forces. It was fixed with a counterattack by Major General Weismann’s detachment. He received from the main forces additional forces of rangers, two battalions of rangers and, with the support of cavalry, dealt a strong blow to the enemy. Also, Russian artillery inflicted great damage on the enemy. The Ottomans retreated.
To mislead the enemy, the Russian troops observed camouflage. Tents were left in the camp. With the onset of darkness, when the troops began to maneuver, bonfires were left in the camp. On the night of July 7, the main forces of the Russian army crossed the Larga River along pre-established crossings. Russian troops went to the enemy camp. Ahead of the square were the huntsmen in a thick chain. In the first line were Repnin’s, Potemkin’s and Baur’s squares. In the second line, Rumyantsev’s forces, in the third – cavalry. Light cavalry was located behind the left flank. Artillery (7 batteries) moved between squares in the first line.
By 4 o’clock in the morning, Russian troops, having knocked down the enemy’s forward posts, reached the right flank of the Turkish position and, with the support of artillery fire, began an attack. Baur’s troops captured the first trench, then, having received reinforcements, and the second. Repnin’s soldiers attacked the third trench. The enemy’s offensive from the right flank came as a surprise to the Ottomans. They began to hastily transfer troops and artillery from the front to the attacked sector. This was used by Russian troops from the front. Division Plemyannikov broke into the enemy camp from the north. The Tatar cavalry tried to counterattack along the Babikul River in order to bypass the left flank of the Russian army and go to the rear. However, this attack was unsuccessful. Russian cavalry, artillery and jaeger battalions stopped the enemy with strong fire. The Crimean cavalry was upset and fled.
In order to strengthen the blow, Rumyantsev threw the troops of the second line into the battle. The units were pushed out from behind the flanks of the first line. The front of the attack was widened, the blow was strengthened. By noon, four enemy fortifications were captured. Turks and Tatars, unable to withstand a well-organized attack, were demoralized and fled from the camp. The Russian cavalry was too heavy and could not catch up with the enemy and complete the rout. The enemy threw all the artillery (33 guns), banners and baggage. The Ottoman army lost over 1,000 people killed and 2,000 prisoners. The losses of the Russian army were insignificant – 90 people killed and wounded.
In this battle, Rumyantsev used new tactical techniques. The army advanced in several marching columns, which became parts of the future battle formation. This facilitated the combat deployment of troops. The troops went without slingshots, which they used to defend against enemy cavalry. The bayonet was recognized as the soldier’s main defense. The army was divided into divisional and regimental squares (previously, the troops were lined up in one large square), which made it possible to simultaneously attack and maneuver forces. The success of the Russian army was facilitated by the use of the loose formation of gamekeepers in front of the main forces. Artillery was actively used under the command of General Melissino. Among the distinguished commanders, Potemkin, Gudovich, Kutuzov, Mikhelson, Ferzen, Lassi and others, who later became famous, stood out.