Thursday, 24 December 2015

The Battle of Borodino, 1812

7th September is the anniversary of the Battle of Borodino in 1812, which marked the beginning of the end of the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte as the most powerful man in Europe.

Napoleon had marched east into Russia at the head of an army of 530,000 men, but by the time he was within a day’s march of Moscow that number had been reduced to 130,000. The Russians refused to face him in battle until he reached the village of Borodino, to the west of Moscow.

The battle lasted all day, by the end of which the Russians had lost 45,000 of their original force of 120,000, but these were numbers that could always be replaced. On the other hand, the French losses of 30,000 were irreplaceable, as they were 1,500 miles from where they started.

The Russians retreated, but this was a French victory only on paper. Moscow had been evacuated and largely destroyed by the Russians, so there was nothing left for the French to capture and no supplies to be looted. There was nothing for it but to head for home.

The retreat from Moscow, through countryside that had been laid waste so as to offer nothing to the French, and in the depths of winter, made clear to Napoleon that Borodino was his greatest defeat. 

Out of more than half a million men that set out on this venture, no more than 10,000 returned.

7th September is therefore a very important date in European history.

© John Welford