While there is good background for the Invasion of Russia itself, the author gives nice descriptions of the two rival armies and how they fought in this period. The Russian army generally suffered from poor musketry and thus tended to fight in close battalion columns. The French likewise were doing much the same because the quality of their army had declined since the great days of 1805-08. These were two well matched shock armies that favored the assault and liberal use of the bayonet. Thus Borodino would see mostly close battalion columns on both sides, with some use of skirmishers and virtually no linear deployments. The French did use some of the mix-order line and column combinations but this was for larger formations such as brigades and divisions and did not reflect tactical use by individual battalions.

Duffy implies that both armies pretty much slugged it out in these large, close formations making perfect targets for massed artillery. The Russians suffered rather worse in this regard as they tended to keep their reserves massed near the front line and thus vulnerable to the richochet fire of the French guns. French solid shot would penetrate front line columns and continue to do more damage to 2nd and 3rd line formations. Both sides wasted manpower in this way, and there was no subtle use of reverse slopes or terrain to conceal any of these formations.

Borodino was a gigantic sluggfest with huge losses suffered by both sides. In this regard Duffy makes an interesting comparison to Gettyburg some years later, fought in much the same careless manner. Lee and Napoleon are both given the benefit of the doubt for having their off days on both occasions, but the fact remains neither fought their battle with much finesse.

The attritional nature of the fighting around the Great Redoubt and elsewhere seems to presage WW1 combat. Borodino can be regarded as a grim glimpse of what future warfare would be a like hundred Years later. Duffy gives a great blow by blow account of the fighting with the attack, and counter-attack nature of the fighting for both sides. Each chapter highlights various key aspects of the battle.

Although an older work from the early 1970s you won't find a better, more concise study with greater detail. The author mentions the movements and fighting of individual battalion and regiments and often uses excellent first-hand accounts by participants which tend to be mostly on the French side, but with a few Russian as well. For the 200th anniversary of the Invasion of Russia and battle of Borodino Christopher Duffy's little book remains the signature classic.

Borodino and the war of 1812

$24.95Price
  • 1972 Seeley, Service & Co Ltd London

     

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