The Basis for Russian Military Thought: from the Late 18th to Early 20th Century

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The Basis for Russian Military Thought:
From the Late 18th to Early 20th Century

The success, or lack thereof, achieved by Russia's military during the 18th and 19th centuries has often been linked to the integration of Western, or European, strategies. Peter the Great, one of Russia's most revered military leaders, based much of his ideology concerning war around the things he learned while visiting other European nations. Russia's need to go abroad to find military strategies is often misrepresented as ignorance. However, ignorance did not propel the Russians to mimic western ideas. The borrowing of ideas was an attempt to recreate the effective strategy that propelled Russia to military greatness under Peter the Great.

One of the problems concerning Russia's advancement in military technology and strategy wasn't necessarily the lack of thinkers, but the lack of a will to change. Once Peter the Great modernized Russia in the late 17th century, there was a vast improvement in military procedure all across the board. The change created strong military victories for Russia, and abandoning any of these strategies was, for a long time, considered foolish. Furthermore, the Russian ideal method of war was of having one grand, decisive, battle. These ideas prevented the Russian military from competing with the new technology being developed in the rest of the world and developing the new strategies needed to operate against it.

Russian soldiers, until the military reform if 1874, were peasants enslaved by the feudal system. Once a peasant joined the military they were no longer a serf, but once in the military, service was for life. For the educated, the military was the preferred career, and this created a large number of suitable commanders for Russia's massive army. The success Russia experienced from 1709 until the mid-nineteenth century was a result of this huge standing force. The peasants were paid very little, but once they survived the drafting process the desertion was very low (Pintner p 356). Alexander Suvorov, Russia's greatest commander, optimized the use of peasant soldiers. Foremost, he realized the value of morale among the ranks, and thought it important to instill the "fighting spirit" in all of his men. However, he also engineered new tactics such as rapid forced marches and dispersed order which helped make the masses of soldiers under his command more mobile and agile. Nicholas I helped continue military success for Russia, but major social changes were beginning to impact the composition of the army. There was a rapid growth of the civil bureaucracy which meant a higher need for civil officials. A military career was no longer the only option for the educated nobility. Moreover, during this time of change, there was a "back to Suvorov" movement led by Dragomirov. This movement was based on the idea that newer weapons and techniques increased the importance of having a strong "moral force" (Pintner p 359). This kind of backward thinking was probably one of the causes for Russia's fall as a military super power.

The Crimean War was one of the first instances on a large scale that exhibited that strength is not necessarily in numbers. Russia mobilized a force of over two million, yet could not seem to overcome a force of just three hundred thousand French, British, Sardinian, and Turkish troops. This defeat exposed Russia's outdated military strategy. The benefit of being able to conscript as many peasants as needed may have hindered Russia's ability to develop new mobilization techniques, and implement new machinery. Other western powers had much smaller armies, so they were forced to develop effective means to transport the troops they did have very quickly. The realization of this came through a group of thinkers that emerged from the rule of Nicholas I. These intellectuals had radical ideas on everything from the organization of social classes to the composition of a more...
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