Napoleon's Invasion of Russia

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Piotr Kapuscinski
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Napoleon's Invasion of Russia

Post by Piotr Kapuscinski » 22 Jul 2021 03:42

Probably the best documentary ever about Napoleon's Invasion of Russia:





^^^ Russians used wise tactics there. Quote from the comments section:

"Denying the enemy victory is considered a legitimate war strategy. It has even been used by Americans in the Revolutionary War to starve the British of resources and spread their lines thin until a decisive counterstrike can be prepared."
There are words which carry the presage of defeat. Defence is such a word. What is the result of an even victorious defence? The next attempt of imposing it to that weaker, defender. The attacker, despite temporary setback, feels the master of situation.

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Re: Napoleon's Invasion of Russia

Post by pugsville » 22 Jul 2021 06:19

Peter K wrote:
22 Jul 2021 03:42
Probably the best documentary ever about Napoleon's Invasion of Russia:





^^^ Russians used wise tactics there. Quote from the comments section:

"Denying the enemy victory is considered a legitimate war strategy. It has even been used by Americans in the Revolutionary War to starve the British of resources and spread their lines thin until a decisive counterstrike can be prepared."
5/10 Not very impressed.

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Re: Napoleon's Invasion of Russia

Post by Piotr Kapuscinski » 22 Jul 2021 06:22

pugsville wrote:
22 Jul 2021 06:19
5/10 Not very impressed.
What are the pros and cons in your opinion? And do you know any better documentaries about this campaign?
There are words which carry the presage of defeat. Defence is such a word. What is the result of an even victorious defence? The next attempt of imposing it to that weaker, defender. The attacker, despite temporary setback, feels the master of situation.

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Re: Napoleon's Invasion of Russia

Post by pugsville » 22 Jul 2021 08:07

Peter K wrote:
22 Jul 2021 06:22
pugsville wrote:
22 Jul 2021 06:19
5/10 Not very impressed.
What are the pros and cons in your opinion? And do you know any better documentaries about this campaign?
Well you tube videos are often pretty poor, I don't know of a better documentary on the Russian campaign of 1812. I am a fairly harsh judge. A lot of Napoleonic stuff is pretty caught up ina lot of Semi-Mythical Historiography (some actually true, but some pretty persistent tropes are not)

Dominic Liven who appears in the video is good author and his book "Russia Against Napoloen" is a good take from the Russian perspective. I got that and Zamoyoski, Paul Austin Brittan who are fairly good. but keen to get my hands on Nafziger, (he reputation is that he's all detail and very dry, but I donlt mind that)

here one of the talk of his on 1812 on line.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_Pdkv16BFo


There was no surprise with the French invasion the build up was pretty long and slow.the Russian had some well placed spies and during the buildup Alexander basically received the same reports as Napoleon. Napoleon also never declared war, the pattern was very well set by 1812.

This Video takes everyone at their word in many cases when they are speaking./writing for propaganda purposes. It does not really addresses the real command conflicts with the Russian Army, Bagration / Barclay / Kutuzov. A lot of Bagration writing was about conflict and a desire to replace Braclay rather than actual disagreement (his protestation about endless retreats have more than touch of political command maneuvering ) . The Decision to stand and fight had been made before Kutuzov took command., Kutuzov also soft pedaled the pursuit tbe several occasions, he wanted Napoleon nd the French army to escape as he thought total French defeat would favor the central European powers rather than Russia.

It repeats a lot of the standard historiography, but for instance id the Russians actually burn Moscow. I read a whole book just on this one subject and it does come to any definite conclusion. The Russians definite tried to fire Military stores as thy had throughout the retreat. A Wooden City, a French army looting, it could easily gone up form either source. Afterwards when it looked like some genius move, Rostopchin took the credit. To my mind it; still an open question. (Napoleon of course was quick to blame the Russians)

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Re: Napoleon's Invasion of Russia

Post by Sheldrake » 22 Jul 2021 10:12

You could consult the dead Prussian. The kindle version of his analysis of the 1812 campaign is practically free.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Campaign-1812- ... 0306806509

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Re: Napoleon's Invasion of Russia

Post by Kriegswirtschaft » 22 Jul 2021 11:52

I would recommend Adam Zamoyski´s "Napoleon´s Fatal March on Moscow"

It addresses in detail and with a nice style the command problems of the Russians. It shows how the czar Alexander was out of his depth at the strategic & operational level at the beginning of the campaign. Eventually he would be rescued by a combination of circumstances & logistical constrains for the French quite well explained.

Book gives also a good insight on Napoleon´s preparations that contrary to the popular belief were quite sound. It also stresses the difference of the Russian campaign to previous campaigns, mainly that the campaign could not be won in a single battle. Actually Russians were beaten at almost every battle and Napoleon was puzzled that after so many setbacks & conquering the main city, Russians still fought on. Nor he expected he would have to fight across hundreds of miles to end up in a dead run.

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Re: Napoleon's Invasion of Russia

Post by The Veteran » 22 Jul 2021 12:17

2462259C-4556-4651-8DA5-1F28ECEC64FD.jpeg
BC334347-646E-4142-B5DC-C000FBA0FA3C.jpeg
I put this story together a few years ago, from a number of books I have on “The Retreat”….

"The Hero Of The Berezina 1812"


As he left the old derelict flour mill the icy cold gripped Eble almost immediately, it took his breath away. My God! how could one bear up to this horror.
The weather had been changing for the worse almost hour by hour over the past few days. It seemed only a short while from the pleasant autumn to this white hell.
His old artillery coat counted for little against this terrible weather as he wearily made his way back to his post. He pondered on the orders he had just been given in the mill by his Emperor and Commander of the Grand Armee, Napoleon.
General Eble", Napoleon had said, "the retreat is going badly, I want you to build as quickly as possible three bridges to cross the Berezina. If you cannot my Army is doomed”

It was the 25th of November 1812 in Russia.

The facts were very simple really, the fate of an Emperor, his Army, and his Empire depended on the ability of this mild mannered middle aged engineer, his 400 Pontoniers or bridge builders, some engineers, and a few sailors.
To make matters worse, officially they had no equipment or tools with which to work. How Napoleon must have regretted his action a week before near Orsha, when he ordered the bridge building equipment, and all the tools destroyed, including 60 pontoon boats (twenty of these would now have saved his Army). This done, he had the horses given to the Artillery, to help save their guns. ( Napoleon had a soft spot for the Artillery, as had been an artillery officer in his younger days). All this happened despite the strong objections of the wily Eble, who knew better.

Despite the numbing cold, Baron Jean-Baptiste Eble managed a wry smile on that journey back to his men. The week before on receiving the order to destroy his bridge-building equipment, he decided to secretly hold onto some field forges, as much field material as was feasible, and had his men carry as many tools and implements as was possible under the circumstances.
However that slight satisfaction was quickly replaced with utter despair on looking around at the bleak landscape before him.
Where in God's name was he to acquire the necessary wood and materials to meet his master's needs. It was indeed a grim Eble who arrived back to inform his men of the impossible task ahead.

But for all that the Army was his life. He was born the son of an artillery Sergeant, joined the Army at nine years of age, and became a gunner at fifteen. Twelve years later he was an officer. His promotion after this was rapid, helped by his presence at many campaigns and battles, including Kehl, Naples, Hanover, Halle, Lubeck, and along the way he was made Baron of the Empire in 1808. He served under a number of Marshals, including Bernadotte, Massina, and Jerome. In 1812 he was hurried up from Spain to be part of the invasion of Russia, as Commander of the bridging-train.

Eble was a competent leader, well liked by his men, and was a loyal servant to Napoleon having fallen under his spell like many others years before.

The great crusade to Russia had started well for the French. Almost three quarters of a million men had started out during that summer of 1812. The mighty Russian Army had wilted before them, and apart from the great battle of Boridino, the road to Moscow lay open before them.

The stay in Moscow was a little surreal, and because the Russians simply refused to parley, Napoleon had no option but to eventually make plans to leave and get his Army back home. And so on the 19th October 1812 Napoleon and the remainder of his Grand Armee set out for France. The Great Retreat had begun....

But two major events were to create the terrible disaster that lay ahead. Napoleon delayed too long in Moscow, and the dreaded Russian winter arrived early.

After leaving Moscow the vast armada headed west. But Paris was a long way off for an Army tired and spent from this campaign. Russia was vast and debilitating, it sapped the will and strength of the men who undertook this invasion all those months ago.

The onset of winter simply made a bad situation worse, and this happened with alarming rapidness. Everyone was ill prepared for such a change in conditions. The rains arrived first and turned the land into a morass of mud, to be followed soon by freezing icy weather, until finally only a bleak white landscape was available as far as the eye could see.The one common factor in all of this collection of soldiers and camp followers, not to mention the thousands and thousands of various animals spread across many miles of wilderness was that everything moved west, always west!.

During the course of this great Retreat, and while losses from all the obvious reasons, the harassing Cossacks, lack of proper food, the freezing conditions, and so on ran into thousands every day, great side-shows of history were being enacted.

The creation of "The Sacred Squadron" was one such event. The loyal Marshal Grouchy, fearing for Napoleon's safety created a personal bodyguard for the Emperor. 500 of of the most senior General Officers (ordinary Generals at this time were two a penny) some serving as mere Troop Commanders came forward prepared to lay down their lives to protect their emperor.

Another heart breaking event for soldiers of that era took place on the 22nd. This was "The Burning Of The Eagles", when, to prevent the Eagles and Colours of the surviving regiments falling into Russian hands, Napoleon had them gathered and burned. The impact of this on those present who survived would live with them all their lives.

While these episodes were taking place a giant among his peers Baron Larrey Surgeon General to the Army worked day and night with his helpers to comfort as many as possible of all those seeking help. Larrey the father of modern medicine, inventor of the ambulance, the man who perfected the art of amputation during those great Napoleonic battles, helped countless souls during that terrible journey. Larrey, beloved by all the Army survived Russia, and Napoleon (who had included him in his will) called him "The most virtuous man I have ever known". Larrey lived to see his Emperor brought back to Paris in 1841 for the last time.

Early in November Marshal Ney, the darling of France whose bravery was matched only by his rugged good looks and brash demeaner, had been created Commander of the Rear Guard of the Grand Armee by Napoleon. His task was to prevent the destruction of what was left of the Army by engaging and slowing the Russian advance with whatever means available. His gallantry over the next few weeks earned him the title "The Bravest Of The Brave" by Napoleon, (who was noted for his stingy compliments towards his Marshals). At one time on hearing that Ney and his men were lost he said "I would have given every franc in the Tuileries to save him".

In fact Ney was not lost, but continued with his men to defend the Grand Armee across the bleak landscape, literally to the last man. On the 15th December a lone pathetic figure limped into the village of Gumbinnen near East Prussia and asked for directions to the Commander of the Army present. Wearing the tattered remains of a Marshal's uniform over which hung remnants of an overcoat of sorts, a long beard, with red rimmed eyes glaring out of a hungry blackened face, this apparition burst in on Count Dumas, who was eating at the time."Who are you" roared Dumas,"What, don't you know me, I am Marshal Ney, of the Rear Guard of the Grand Armee, I have fired the last shots on the bridge at Kovno.I have crossed a hundred snow covered fields. I am the last man to leave Russia, can you spare me some soup".

Thus the "Bravest Of The Brave" had fought his way back from Russia, and on to immortality.

As Napoleon's Army neared the great Berezina river, the Russian Army under Kutusov continued to harass the French retreat, but failed to deliver any kind of knockout blow. In fact Kutusov is quoted as saying "the destiny of Napoleon has reached it's irrevocable end. The meteor will finally be extinguished in the marshes of the Berezina watched by the entire Russian Army". But Kutusov dithered for far too long and the marshes near the Berezina froze, allowing the Grand Armee passage towards the river.

Meanwhile Napoleon desperate to find place to cross heard from General Corbineau of the Cavalry, of a previously unknown ford near the village of Studenka. As a result of this information Napoleon occupied an old flour mill along with his staff near the river. Shortly afterwords he called for the Commander of the Bridging-Train to join them.

As the great mass of the Army started to arrive at the proposed crossing near Studenka Ebla conferred with his men, and relayed Napoleon's orders. Ebla and his men were to build two bridges, and the third was delegated to General Chasseloup a fellow engineer and colleague of Eble. (this third bridge was never completed, and Chasseloup and his men offered their services to help Eble with his two.

Soon plans were in place to acquire as much material as possible from the villages of Studenka and nearby Veselovo, which were in effect little more than cabins grouped here and there. All this work took place on the 25th, and into the early hours of the 26th. Meanwhile Corbineau's Cavalry had already crossed over to protect the riverbank on far side. At the same time Marshal Victor's gallant 4000 men moved to the heights around Studenka, and over the next few days held off Wittgenstein's 40.000 Russians who were hell bent on finishing off the French.

Early on the 26th November work started on building of the bridges, the loyal 400 Pontoniers working up to their shoulders in the freezing waters. As those men who became exhausted and numb with the cold collapsed on the bank, others rushed to take their places.

While the construction of the bridges was taking place, Napoleon arrived at the scene on several occasions to see the progress for himself. On one such occasion he said to Eble "It's taking a long time General", but when Eble pointed out the inhuman conditions his men were working under, Napoleon mindful of this, helped personally to give out brandy to the exhausted Pontoniers. Indeed of these 400 men, mostly Dutch, fewer than 40 of them would ever see their homeland again.

Hundreds died in and around the Berezina.

The sight of the once proud Grand Armee crossing over must have been a sight straight out of a white Dantes Inferno. The most awful scenes were being played out. Men, comrades a few hours before were killing each other to get across, while at the same time tens of thousands of others were just languishing around the river bank, unable to do much to save themselves.

Heroes and villains abounded in this theatre of tragedy. It was to last nearly three days. During this nightmare, the Artillery bridge broke no less than three times throwing men and machines into the freezing waters never to be seen again. But each time also the heroic Pontoniers plunged into the river to repair them, most of them dying in the process.

So for nearly three days the great mass of the Amy shuffled it's way across to the safety of the other side.

Finally Napoleon could delay no longer and ordered the destruction of the bridges on the morning of the 21st.

Meanwhile on the Studenka heights Marshal Grouchy, having bravely held off the attentions of Wittgenstein's Army, decided it was time to cross over on hearing of the impending destruction of the bridges. However he had to cut a way through the masses gathered at the riverbank, those he had been so recently defending.

Although Eble had been ordered to destroy the bridges he waited as long as possible to allow more to cross, while imploring those thousands on the wrong side to gather themselves and come across. So many of them had just given up hope and the will to survive, despite being only 300 feet from comparative safety. Finally, on seeing the Pontoniers arrive with torches to fire the bridges, the stragglers started to charge the crossing, thus causing even greater carnage.This scene must have defied description..

The bridges were finally destroyed and the humane Eble was distraught with grief.

The great crossing was at an end and the road to Smorgoni and distant Vilna lay open. Sadly the butchers bill for this terrible event was in the tens of thousands. Of the 20.000 plus stragglers left on the Russian side, near 10.000 were killed by the Cossacks. Perhaps over 50.000 crossed over, while Russian losses may have been 20.000 here.
No exact figures will ever be ever be available for the French losses during The Retreat and the crossing, but what one can say is that of nearly three quarters of a million men who marched into Russia, only a little more ten thousand lived to see France again. The Russians lost a quarter of a million men.

Napoleon said of Russia "Ordinary men died, men of iron were taken prisoner, I brought back only men of bronze".

At Smorgoni, some days after the crossing Napoleon hearing of the Malet conspiracy back home, left the Army and made for Paris.

This was the end of the Russian campaign for Napoleon, but for the remnants of his Army the ordeal still had some way to go.
Eble and what was left of his men struggled into Konigsberg. He was a broken man physically and mentally. Planet de la Faye, an aide to Eble said of him, "When I asked him for orders he said he had none to give, he himself was beyond help". The profound grief he suffered at not being able to save more at the crossing affected him deeply, he never quite recovered and died within days of arriving.

He was buried in the Catholic Cemetery at Konigsberg, but that has now sadly been lost to history.

About this time Napoleon had him created First Inspector- General Of Artillery, and later his widow was made Comtesse Of Empire. During his long military career, Napoleon granted him the honour to wear gold spurs, a privilege claimed by Pontoniers Officers of the French Army ever since.

And so in the modern world when the great bridge building engineers gaze at their vast masterpieces with a well deserved pride, surely their proper place in history is at the feet of the greatest bridge builder of them all.

And if indeed there was to be a patron saint of bridge builders, that person will also have to be none other than Baron Jean-Baptiste Eble, the hero of the Berezina, who along with his gallant Dutch Pontoniers saved an Emperor, an Army, and an Empire.....
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Re: Napoleon's Invasion of Russia

Post by pugsville » 22 Jul 2021 13:23

The Veteran wrote:
22 Jul 2021 12:17
2462259C-4556-4651-8DA5-1F28ECEC64FD.jpegBC334347-646E-4142-B5DC-C000FBA0FA3C.jpegI put this story together a few years ago, from a number of books I have on “The Retreat”….

"The Hero Of The Berezina 1812"


As he left the old derelict flour mill the icy cold gripped Eble almost immediately, it took his breath away. My God! how could one bear up to this horror.
The weather had been changing for the worse almost hour by hour over the past few days. It seemed only a short while from the pleasant autumn to this white hell.
His old artillery coat counted for little against this terrible weather as he wearily made his way back to his post. He pondered on the orders he had just been given in the mill by his Emperor and Commander of the Grand Armee, Napoleon.
General Eble", Napoleon had said, "the retreat is going badly, I want you to build as quickly as possible three bridges to cross the Berezina. If you cannot my Army is doomed”

It was the 25th of November 1812 in Russia.

The facts were very simple really, the fate of an Emperor, his Army, and his Empire depended on the ability of this mild mannered middle aged engineer, his 400 Pontoniers or bridge builders, some engineers, and a few sailors.
To make matters worse, officially they had no equipment or tools with which to work. How Napoleon must have regretted his action a week before near Orsha, when he ordered the bridge building equipment, and all the tools destroyed, including 60 pontoon boats (twenty of these would now have saved his Army). This done, he had the horses given to the Artillery, to help save their guns. ( Napoleon had a soft spot for the Artillery, as had been an artillery officer in his younger days). All this happened despite the strong objections of the wily Eble, who knew better.

Despite the numbing cold, Baron Jean-Baptiste Eble managed a wry smile on that journey back to his men. The week before on receiving the order to destroy his bridge-building equipment, he decided to secretly hold onto some field forges, as much field material as was feasible, and had his men carry as many tools and implements as was possible under the circumstances.
However that slight satisfaction was quickly replaced with utter despair on looking around at the bleak landscape before him.
Where in God's name was he to acquire the necessary wood and materials to meet his master's needs. It was indeed a grim Eble who arrived back to inform his men of the impossible task ahead.

But for all that the Army was his life. He was born the son of an artillery Sergeant, joined the Army at nine years of age, and became a gunner at fifteen. Twelve years later he was an officer. His promotion after this was rapid, helped by his presence at many campaigns and battles, including Kehl, Naples, Hanover, Halle, Lubeck, and along the way he was made Baron of the Empire in 1808. He served under a number of Marshals, including Bernadotte, Massina, and Jerome. In 1812 he was hurried up from Spain to be part of the invasion of Russia, as Commander of the bridging-train.

Eble was a competent leader, well liked by his men, and was a loyal servant to Napoleon having fallen under his spell like many others years before.

The great crusade to Russia had started well for the French. Almost three quarters of a million men had started out during that summer of 1812. The mighty Russian Army had wilted before them, and apart from the great battle of Boridino, the road to Moscow lay open before them.

The stay in Moscow was a little surreal, and because the Russians simply refused to parley, Napoleon had no option but to eventually make plans to leave and get his Army back home. And so on the 19th October 1812 Napoleon and the remainder of his Grand Armee set out for France. The Great Retreat had begun....

But two major events were to create the terrible disaster that lay ahead. Napoleon delayed too long in Moscow, and the dreaded Russian winter arrived early.

After leaving Moscow the vast armada headed west. But Paris was a long way off for an Army tired and spent from this campaign. Russia was vast and debilitating, it sapped the will and strength of the men who undertook this invasion all those months ago.

The onset of winter simply made a bad situation worse, and this happened with alarming rapidness. Everyone was ill prepared for such a change in conditions. The rains arrived first and turned the land into a morass of mud, to be followed soon by freezing icy weather, until finally only a bleak white landscape was available as far as the eye could see.The one common factor in all of this collection of soldiers and camp followers, not to mention the thousands and thousands of various animals spread across many miles of wilderness was that everything moved west, always west!.

During the course of this great Retreat, and while losses from all the obvious reasons, the harassing Cossacks, lack of proper food, the freezing conditions, and so on ran into thousands every day, great side-shows of history were being enacted.

The creation of "The Sacred Squadron" was one such event. The loyal Marshal Grouchy, fearing for Napoleon's safety created a personal bodyguard for the Emperor. 500 of of the most senior General Officers (ordinary Generals at this time were two a penny) some serving as mere Troop Commanders came forward prepared to lay down their lives to protect their emperor.

Another heart breaking event for soldiers of that era took place on the 22nd. This was "The Burning Of The Eagles", when, to prevent the Eagles and Colours of the surviving regiments falling into Russian hands, Napoleon had them gathered and burned. The impact of this on those present who survived would live with them all their lives.

While these episodes were taking place a giant among his peers Baron Larrey Surgeon General to the Army worked day and night with his helpers to comfort as many as possible of all those seeking help. Larrey the father of modern medicine, inventor of the ambulance, the man who perfected the art of amputation during those great Napoleonic battles, helped countless souls during that terrible journey. Larrey, beloved by all the Army survived Russia, and Napoleon (who had included him in his will) called him "The most virtuous man I have ever known". Larrey lived to see his Emperor brought back to Paris in 1841 for the last time.

Early in November Marshal Ney, the darling of France whose bravery was matched only by his rugged good looks and brash demeaner, had been created Commander of the Rear Guard of the Grand Armee by Napoleon. His task was to prevent the destruction of what was left of the Army by engaging and slowing the Russian advance with whatever means available. His gallantry over the next few weeks earned him the title "The Bravest Of The Brave" by Napoleon, (who was noted for his stingy compliments towards his Marshals). At one time on hearing that Ney and his men were lost he said "I would have given every franc in the Tuileries to save him".

In fact Ney was not lost, but continued with his men to defend the Grand Armee across the bleak landscape, literally to the last man. On the 15th December a lone pathetic figure limped into the village of Gumbinnen near East Prussia and asked for directions to the Commander of the Army present. Wearing the tattered remains of a Marshal's uniform over which hung remnants of an overcoat of sorts, a long beard, with red rimmed eyes glaring out of a hungry blackened face, this apparition burst in on Count Dumas, who was eating at the time."Who are you" roared Dumas,"What, don't you know me, I am Marshal Ney, of the Rear Guard of the Grand Armee, I have fired the last shots on the bridge at Kovno.I have crossed a hundred snow covered fields. I am the last man to leave Russia, can you spare me some soup".

Thus the "Bravest Of The Brave" had fought his way back from Russia, and on to immortality.

As Napoleon's Army neared the great Berezina river, the Russian Army under Kutusov continued to harass the French retreat, but failed to deliver any kind of knockout blow. In fact Kutusov is quoted as saying "the destiny of Napoleon has reached it's irrevocable end. The meteor will finally be extinguished in the marshes of the Berezina watched by the entire Russian Army". But Kutusov dithered for far too long and the marshes near the Berezina froze, allowing the Grand Armee passage towards the river.

Meanwhile Napoleon desperate to find place to cross heard from General Corbineau of the Cavalry, of a previously unknown ford near the village of Studenka. As a result of this information Napoleon occupied an old flour mill along with his staff near the river. Shortly afterwords he called for the Commander of the Bridging-Train to join them.

As the great mass of the Army started to arrive at the proposed crossing near Studenka Ebla conferred with his men, and relayed Napoleon's orders. Ebla and his men were to build two bridges, and the third was delegated to General Chasseloup a fellow engineer and colleague of Eble. (this third bridge was never completed, and Chasseloup and his men offered their services to help Eble with his two.

Soon plans were in place to acquire as much material as possible from the villages of Studenka and nearby Veselovo, which were in effect little more than cabins grouped here and there. All this work took place on the 25th, and into the early hours of the 26th. Meanwhile Corbineau's Cavalry had already crossed over to protect the riverbank on far side. At the same time Marshal Victor's gallant 4000 men moved to the heights around Studenka, and over the next few days held off Wittgenstein's 40.000 Russians who were hell bent on finishing off the French.

Early on the 26th November work started on building of the bridges, the loyal 400 Pontoniers working up to their shoulders in the freezing waters. As those men who became exhausted and numb with the cold collapsed on the bank, others rushed to take their places.

While the construction of the bridges was taking place, Napoleon arrived at the scene on several occasions to see the progress for himself. On one such occasion he said to Eble "It's taking a long time General", but when Eble pointed out the inhuman conditions his men were working under, Napoleon mindful of this, helped personally to give out brandy to the exhausted Pontoniers. Indeed of these 400 men, mostly Dutch, fewer than 40 of them would ever see their homeland again.

Hundreds died in and around the Berezina.

The sight of the once proud Grand Armee crossing over must have been a sight straight out of a white Dantes Inferno. The most awful scenes were being played out. Men, comrades a few hours before were killing each other to get across, while at the same time tens of thousands of others were just languishing around the river bank, unable to do much to save themselves.

Heroes and villains abounded in this theatre of tragedy. It was to last nearly three days. During this nightmare, the Artillery bridge broke no less than three times throwing men and machines into the freezing waters never to be seen again. But each time also the heroic Pontoniers plunged into the river to repair them, most of them dying in the process.

So for nearly three days the great mass of the Amy shuffled it's way across to the safety of the other side.

Finally Napoleon could delay no longer and ordered the destruction of the bridges on the morning of the 21st.

Meanwhile on the Studenka heights Marshal Grouchy, having bravely held off the attentions of Wittgenstein's Army, decided it was time to cross over on hearing of the impending destruction of the bridges. However he had to cut a way through the masses gathered at the riverbank, those he had been so recently defending.

Although Eble had been ordered to destroy the bridges he waited as long as possible to allow more to cross, while imploring those thousands on the wrong side to gather themselves and come across. So many of them had just given up hope and the will to survive, despite being only 300 feet from comparative safety. Finally, on seeing the Pontoniers arrive with torches to fire the bridges, the stragglers started to charge the crossing, thus causing even greater carnage.This scene must have defied description..

The bridges were finally destroyed and the humane Eble was distraught with grief.

The great crossing was at an end and the road to Smorgoni and distant Vilna lay open. Sadly the butchers bill for this terrible event was in the tens of thousands. Of the 20.000 plus stragglers left on the Russian side, near 10.000 were killed by the Cossacks. Perhaps over 50.000 crossed over, while Russian losses may have been 20.000 here.
No exact figures will ever be ever be available for the French losses during The Retreat and the crossing, but what one can say is that of nearly three quarters of a million men who marched into Russia, only a little more ten thousand lived to see France again. The Russians lost a quarter of a million men.

Napoleon said of Russia "Ordinary men died, men of iron were taken prisoner, I brought back only men of bronze".

At Smorgoni, some days after the crossing Napoleon hearing of the Malet conspiracy back home, left the Army and made for Paris.

This was the end of the Russian campaign for Napoleon, but for the remnants of his Army the ordeal still had some way to go.
Eble and what was left of his men struggled into Konigsberg. He was a broken man physically and mentally. Planet de la Faye, an aide to Eble said of him, "When I asked him for orders he said he had none to give, he himself was beyond help". The profound grief he suffered at not being able to save more at the crossing affected him deeply, he never quite recovered and died within days of arriving.

He was buried in the Catholic Cemetery at Konigsberg, but that has now sadly been lost to history.

About this time Napoleon had him created First Inspector- General Of Artillery, and later his widow was made Comtesse Of Empire. During his long military career, Napoleon granted him the honour to wear gold spurs, a privilege claimed by Pontoniers Officers of the French Army ever since.

And so in the modern world when the great bridge building engineers gaze at their vast masterpieces with a well deserved pride, surely their proper place in history is at the feet of the greatest bridge builder of them all.

And if indeed there was to be a patron saint of bridge builders, that person will also have to be none other than Baron Jean-Baptiste Eble, the hero of the Berezina, who along with his gallant Dutch Pontoniers saved an Emperor, an Army, and an Empire.....
The Army suffered horrendous losses after Berezina, most of those who crossed died afterwards., it wasn't over and most of the army was not saved,

T

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Loïc
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Re: Napoleon's Invasion of Russia

Post by Loïc » 22 Jul 2021 17:05

Actually nothing to do with a poor youtube video as described, it was the two parts docu-fiction from the channel arte in 2015
Marie-Pierre Rey, Thierry Lentz and Jacques-Olivier Boudon are not youtubers only because they are not english-speaking authors as Mister Dominic Lieven of Cambridge, the napoleonic amateurs if there are some in this forum will understand what I mean
they are only searchers historians universitarians authors and one of them as historical advisor coming from La Sorbonne specialist of the soviet-russian History having published works books and articles on the topic
excusez du peu

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