12 failures of Napoleon Bonaparte. No one disputes the fact that the Russians missed Napoleon twice – at Krasnoye and on the Berezina. But if during the last terrible crossing of the French one can still talk about mistakes and miscalculations, then in the battles near Krasnoye Kutuzov himself purposefully avoided a collision with the main forces of Napoleon. And perhaps by doing so, in the end, he achieved the best result.
The retreat of the French in 1812, art. P. Stoyanov
Smolensk dead end
The French reached from Vereya to Smolensk in less than two weeks – by November 8. The army and carts were drawn into the city for another seven days. Back in Moscow, Napoleon seriously hoped to stay near Smolensk for winter quarters, but his hopes were not justified. Those supplies, which his army so longed for, in a city that was half burnt down, even in the best case scenario, could last for 10-15 days. However, in three days they were plundered by the Napoleonic warriors themselves.
All the best in the preserved warehouses was immediately crushed by the guards, along with the headquarters and generals. The allies, starting with the Italians and ending with the Poles and Germans, who had already completely lost not only their combat capability, but also the last remnants of discipline, got what was left. Even executions did not help to restore order in the ranks of the Great Army.
The most difficult problem was the lack of forage, there was practically no forage either in Smolensk or in the vicinity of the city. Napoleon could forget not only about the cavalry, but also about most of the guns. There was simply no one to transport them.
At the same time, the Russians had a good idea of what the position of the French army was, having sufficient information both from the Cossacks and partisan detachments, and from numerous prisoners, mainly from among the stragglers. However, Kutuzov, who during this time managed to remove from the army two of his main rivals – Bennigsen and Barclay, clearly felt like a sovereign commander in chief, and in letters he constantly dived with the emperor himself.
The field marshal would very much like to squeeze out of the army also the British military representative – General Wilson, but this was no longer in his power. Barclay, leaving the army, complained to his adjutant Levenstern: “I handed over to the field marshal the army preserved, well dressed, armed and not demoralized … The field marshal does not want to share with anyone the glory of the expulsion of the enemy and the empire.”
Kutuzov near Red. 1962. Hood. D. Shmarinov
Kutuzov, continuing to demonstrate in public his slowness, laziness and sybarism, suppressed all attempts of his subordinates to get involved in a serious clash with the French. Moreover, not only with the main forces of Napoleon, but even with his rearguard, at the head of which was Marshal Ney. At the same time, he more than once tried to tear off a small part of the Napoleonic army in order to immediately defeat it.
So it was near Vyazma, so it was before Smolensk. It did not work only because Napoleon’s troops had vast experience in compact movement, although sometimes the Great Army, or rather what was left of it, stretched for tens of kilometers. And the Russian commander-in-chief understood perfectly well that the blow of even a wounded lion could be fatal.
At the same time, Kutuzov did not want to completely release Napoleon, since having broken away, he could well defeat either Wittgenstein’s corps, or Chichagov’s army approaching from the south. Indeed, in the north, it was easy to attach the corps of Victor, Oudinot and MacDonald to the main forces, and Rainier and the Austrians of Schwarzenberg were waiting for him in the south.
Nevertheless, the Russian commander-in-chief extremely harshly rejected the idea with which his favorite Colonel Toll and General Konovnitsyn, who headed the army headquarters after Bennigsen, were rushing. They suggested finally bypassing Napoleon’s army and hitting it directly in a narrow defile at the exit from Krasnoye. In response, Kutuzov quoted the well-known Suvorov formula: “the one who goes around can easily be circumvented himself.” And he continued to wait.
At the stage. Bad news from France, thin V. Vereshchagin
Most likely, Napoleon would not have lingered in Smolensk for a long time without the well-known news of General Male’s conspiracy in Paris, but it nevertheless accelerated the implementation of the decision already made. The fact is that almost simultaneously with the bad news, reports came from Paris about the loss of Vitebsk, where there were also French warehouses, and that on the northern flank of the corps, Oudinot and MacDonald were again beaten by Wittgenstein.
On the high road
So, the 1st Russian corps moved forward at a distance of only four transitions from the Napoleonic rear. Napoleon also could not fail to take into account that the Russian Cossacks inflicted heavy damage on the remnants of the Italian army of Eugene Beauharnais on the Vop River, and Augereau’s brigade surrendered in full force at Lyakhovo. Meanwhile, the division of Baraguay de Illier, instead of rearguard battles, preferred to hide behind the walls of Smolensk, and thereby opened the way to Yelnya for the main forces of Kutuzov.
It seemed that the Russians had nowhere better position for a blow to the flank and even to the rear of Napoleon. But this, it seems, seemed only to the French. Kutuzov was very afraid to frighten off luck, preferring a tit in his hands – victories over individual units of the French army.
The French began to leave Smolensk on November 14. At this time, the main forces of Kutuzov continued to hang over the left flank of Napoleon’s army, and a strong vanguard, led by General Tormasov, who had recently arrived from the Moldavian army, advanced to the outskirts of Krasnoye.
The first clashes on the high road from Smolensk take place the next morning – the 8-thousandth corps of Marshal Davout, who had only 11 guns left, falls under the flank attack of Miloradovich’s detachment. However, the blow is probably too loudly said. The Russians mainly fired artillery fire from an extremely short distance, literally mowing down the once elite French regiments.
Between Korytnya and Krasny, November 15, 1812, thin. H. Faber du Fort
Kutuzov still succeeds in his favorite idea – with an unexpected and quick blow from Borozdin’s detachment, he managed to cut off Davout’s corps from the French army. The Marshal had to take him out of the encirclement, bypassing the dams of the Losminka River and the village of Andrusi. It is hard to believe that the losses of the French in this case of the first day really amounted to 6 thousand people, according to many sources, otherwise, just a day later, 7.5 thousand people were again in its composition.
However, after another battle with the Russians – already on November 17, as a real combat formation, the 1st corps of the Great Army, once the most powerful, no longer existed. And its commander – the iron marshal Davout, after that at all meetings offered only one thing: “to retreat.”
Marshal Davout in the Chudov Monastery, thin. V. Vereshchagin
At this time, the weather sharply worsens and almost the entire day of November 16, the main forces of the two armies are carried out in very slow and indecisive maneuvers. The remnants of Junot and Poniatovsky’s corps are retreating in the direction of Orsha, while Davout and Ney are trying to reach for Red – to Napoleon and the Guards. However, from Ney’s corps, only the vanguard is still in motion, the corps itself hangs in Smolensk for a long time, which will then be very expensive for him.
Meanwhile, Miloradovich, who has successfully positioned his regiments along the road, successively defeats three divisions from the Italian army of Eugene Beauharnais. Kutuzov finally approves of the idea of blocking the path of Napoleon right behind Krasnoye – near the village of Dobroe, but in the end only a small detachment of Ozharovsky will be there in time.
The next morning, Napoleon moves the Young Guard to Uvarovo to flank the retreat of the main forces of the army. The old guard attacks directly on the road to Smolensk. Tormasov, instead of going into the rear of Napoleon, has to endure a fierce battle with his Young Guard, which, apparently, French historians now take for a victory.
Dutch grenadiers of the Imperial Guard in the battle at Krasnoye, November 17, 1812, thin. J. Papendrecht
And yet the strong Russian columns continued to advance in the direction of Dobry. Napoleon, having learned about this, as well as about the large losses in the guard, decides not to pull all the troops into Red, but to retreat to Orsha. Ney’s rearguard corps will actually have to break through in isolation from the main forces, Napoleon simply sacrificed him.
Kutuzov’s trap worked again, but for some reason, even in modern Russian studies, they prefer to pay little attention to this fact. However, on the pages of “Military Review” the battle of Krasnoye is described in great detail (Battle of Krasnoye on November 3–6 (15–18), 1812), but, alas, without any refutation of the French version about the next victory of the great Napoleon.
Well, if we count the salvation of the marshal and his closest associates as a victory, so be it. Ney still managed to break out of the encirclement, although he was clearly late in leaving Smolensk, which took place only in the morning of November 17. He had to throw two divisions into the fire for almost complete destruction, and then make a detour in the swamps of the same river Losminka several times longer than Davout.
Marshal Ney’s square, thin. I. Lvov
She brought to Napoleon no more than a thousand of those 15-16 people with whom he left Smolensk. Another “victory” at Krasnoye cost Napoleon another 30 thousand killed, wounded and prisoners. The losses for the Russians were at least three times less. Kutuzov’s army then also melted before our eyes, but mainly due to non-combat losses. And just taking this into account, Field Marshal Kutuzov was not eager for a direct clash with the main forces of Napoleon.