Russian Army of Ivan the Terrible

A policy change introduced at this time was of major importance in the evolution of the relationship between the Tsar, the landowning class and the armed forces. For most of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries the main fighting force had been composed of cavalry, largely based on the princely appanages with little centralized organization. By the mid-sixteenth century these princely private armies were to be found only, if at all, in the appanages of Lithuanian origin, such as those of the Bel’skys and Mstislavskys, and in the retinues of the Russian ‘service’ princes of the Upper Oka, such as the Odoevskys and the Vorotynskys.

The development of a Russian army dependent on the grand prince alone began in the reign of Ivan III, who had already extended the grand prince’s control over the armed forces where he had been successful in absorbing a principality and destroying its separate identity. Princes and boyars, when not acting as governors and local commandants, were usually absorbed as commanders and senior officers in grand princely regiments, in accordance with the ranking laid down by the code of precedence, or mestnichestvo. The general run of service gentry, originally of mixed social origins, was gradually sorted out into those who served the grand prince directly, as members of his dvor, received estates in service tenure (pomest’ia), and were merged into the dvoriane or future service gentry, and those who had served local princes and boyars and who continued to carry out their service as pomeshchiki on a provincial basis. Lower-ranking cavalry officers were thus attached to provincial towns, resided on their estates and were summoned when required by the grand prince, bringing their servants with them. Both these groups received lands on a service tenure which in the early days of the system could not be sold or pledged, but could be passed on the death of the holder to a son or son-in-law fit to perform service. The service to be given was strictly calculated in terms of the amount and quality of land.

The system of pomest’ia was devised to enable cavalrymen to serve when called upon, and was to remain the basic way of paying for the cavalry army until the reign of Peter the Great. The Pomestnyi Prikaz, or Estates Office which administered the recruitment and the provision of land to the mounted cavalry, was founded in 1475. Further distribution of lands as pomest’ia took place under Vasily III and Ivan IV from a variety of sources. The estate was not regarded as the private property of the pomeshchik; it provided a fixed income for his maintenance and his equipment, and he was not expected to concern himself with its exploitation. He was not therefore a landowner in the Western sense of the word, but a land user entitled to a certain income from the land. It was thus quite distinct from the votchina or the patrimonial estate which formed the basis of the wealth of the aristocracy and the service gentry, which many pomeshchiki owned in addition to the land granted by the government.

The first major initiative in the remodelling of the armed forces taken in Ivan IV’s reign occurred in 1550. The Tsar’s dvor numbered some three thousand all told, and a specific group of one thousand cavalrymen, divided into three categories, was now provided with pomest’ia in the central provinces to enable them to lodge in Moscow and provide all their supplies from lands relatively near to the capital. They were to be available for immediate service as required, serving on a rota. The estates they were allotted were provided mainly from the Tsar’s own lands or from lands of free peasants around Moscow.46 Aleksei Adashev was one of these cavalrymen.

A corps of infantry equipped with firearms was also formed by Ivan, pishchal’niki, or ‘harquebuzzers’, as Jerome Horsey, a later English visitor, called them, who had already been used in 1480 in the nonexistent battle of the Ugra and who were replaced in 1550 by musketeers or strel’tsy, also on foot. These, together with Ivan’s chosen one thousand cavalry corps, formed his personal guard, ‘the forerunners of Peter I’ s guards regiments’, presumably to protect him against the sort of rioting which had so frightened him in 1547. The strel’tsy were to be part of the military scene until the reign of Peter the Great. Their function was not to fight with cold steel or pikes in hand-to-hand combat, but to use firepower. Their numbers fluctuated and probably reached some twenty thousand by the end of the sixteenth century. They were, unlike the cavalry levy, a permanent uniformed corps. Unlike the Ottoman janissaries they were free men; they received salaries in money and goods according to rank, but also maintained themselves and their families partly by artisan production and small-scale trading activities. Their officers belonged to the gentry and were allotted pomest’ia as well as salaries. The whole corps came under the authority of a new Streletskii Prikaz.

Artillery was also extensively and effectively used in Russia, and Ivan may have taken a personal interest in the manufacture of guns – from Russian-produced iron ore – and their utilization by his army. Each regiment was allocated a certain number of guns in the 1550s. Ivan took 150 heavy and medium pieces of artillery to Kazan’ with him in 1552, and in this respect Russia was not inferior to her Western enemies, though supplies of gunpowder and lead had to be imported and could therefore be subject to enemy blockade on land.

The origin of the idea of this corps of strel’tsy has been much debated in Russia. Clearly Russia needed more modern weaponry, namely firearms and heavy artillery, for her wars against Poland, Sweden and in Livonia, rather than cavalry armed with bows and arrows. Contemporaries and many military specialists have speculated on whether the new formations were borrowed from the Ottomans through the writings of a certain Ivan Semonovich Peresvetov, which may perhaps have been known to Ivan IV. For a long time Peresvetov’s very existence was in doubt and he was thought to be an assumed name or a collective personality. Not until the beginning of the twentieth century was his existence actually established. In the 1950s he was unfortunately treated as one of the powerful humanist thinkers of sixteenth-century Europe, comparable to Machiavelli or Bodin. A revision of his human and intellectual qualities has not yet been undertaken, nor is it certain that all his alleged writings can be attributed to him; thus his influence still needs to be questioned.

Born and bred in Lithuania, conditioned by life in this borderland, divided between Polish Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy, offering his sword as a Polish cavalryman now to the Hungarian Jan Zapolya, a vassal of the Ottomans, now to the Habsburg King of Bohemia, now to the voevoda Peter IV Raresh of Moldavia, Peresvetov was a fairly senior officer serving with six or seven horses and the corresponding number of grooms and servants. Evidently resentful at his failure to make good in service, and distrusting boyars and their ilk, he attempted to enter Russian service in 1538, during the regency of Elena. He may have been attracted to Russian service by his connexion with Peter of Moldavia, whose wife was Elena’s cousin by marriage. He tried to interest the Russian court in a model shield ‘in the Macedonian manner’ which he had invented, and was taken up by the boyar M. Iu’rev Zakhar’in, the uncle of the future Tsaritsa Anastasia, and provided with a workshop and a pomest’ie. Unfortunately for Peresvetov, Zakhar’in died, he lost his patron, and all interest in his patent shield evaporated.

Peresvetov continued in increasingly impoverished circumstances for some ten years, after which all traces of him vanish. This was not surprising since he had no connexions in Russia with any of the boyar clans, or even with the gentry, who tended also to be united by fairly close local associations. Reduced in his own eyes to poverty, in 1549, at the time of the gathering of the so-called ‘assembly of reconciliation’, he personally submitted a petition, together with a number of other written works, to Tsar Ivan, accusing the ‘great’ of having despoiled him of his land, leaving him naked and destitute, without even a horse. Peresvetov’s not unjustified hope of achieving more in Russia, where a simple horseman could now count on some support as a pomeshchik, was not to be fulfilled, and as a man he disappears from sight. But the various writings attributed to him survived in a number of manuscript copies of the early seventeenth century and have led to a belated acceptance of his existence as a man and his importance as a ‘spokesman’ of the gentry or the holders of pomest’ia, as against the rich and powerful, in the sixteenth century.

It is this interpretation of the ‘class’ role of Peresvetov, considered to have been insufficiently appreciated by pre-revolutionary historians, which has contributed to his great importance in Soviet historiography. The relevant texts attributed to Peresvetov are ‘On the conquest of Tsar’grad by the godless Tsar Magmet Amuratov, son of the Turkish Tsar’, ‘The Tale of Magmet Saltan’, and ‘The Great Petition’, which contains Peresvetov’s account of the five months he spent in the service of Peter IV Raresh, his only Orthodox patron. Mehmet II’s victory over the last Paleologus emperor, Constantine, was in great part attributed by Peresvetov to the selfishness, cowardice and incapacity of the ‘great’ men surrounding the Emperor and his failure to support the more lowly men-at-arms. (‘The rich never think of fighting, they think of peacefulness and gentleness and rest.’) He argued in favour of a centrally recruited, controlled and paid army, like the Turkish janissaries, but he also argued that free men fight better than slaves, and the Russian cavalry was free, while the janissaries were slaves as were all the civil employees of the Ottoman court. In Russia the kholopy or bondsmen of various kinds in the armed forces were at this time mainly employed either in the transport of food, fodder and munitions, or in labouring on engineering projects.

Another great virtue of the Ottoman system in Peresvetov’s eyes was its concentration on pravda rather than vera – truth or justice, rather than faith. This makes one wonder whether the long years in foreign parts, before he came to Russia, had somewhat dented the purity of Peresvetov’s Orthodox faith. The sense of the Russian word ‘pravda’ is impossible to convey in English, where in dictionaries the emphasis is almost always on the notion of truth, whereas in Russian the notion of justice or righteousness is fundamental. The most articulate expression of Peresvetov’s ideas (if they were his ideas) comes in his version of the tale of Prince Peter IV of Moldavia, where the Prince praises Mehmet the Conqueror for having restored justice to Constantinople, and explains that ‘God does not love faith, but pravda or justice’. Through his Son he left us the gospel of truth (pravda), loving the Christian faith above all other faiths, and showed us the path to heaven. But the Greeks, though they honoured the gospel, listened to others and did not carry out the will of the Lord and fell into heresy (i.e. the decision to unite with Rome, taken at the Council of Ferrara/Florence).

But Peresvetov was primarily concerned with the practical problems of governing a warlike society. He favoured the institution of a professional army (like the Ottoman janissaries), but free, government by state employees, and the bridling of the high nobility. It is difficult to see in him the spokesman of the gentry, he seems rather to place his faith in a state ruling by ‘groza’, terror or awe. Mehmed was again quoted as an example, for when he discovered that his judges were being dishonest he had them flayed alive, saying:

if their flesh grows back again their crime will be forgiven. And he ordered their skins to be stretched out and ordered them to be stuffed with cotton and ordered them to be affixed with an iron nail in places of judgment and ordered it to be written on the skins: without such terrors, justice and sovereignty cannot be introduced.

Mehmed was also praised for being dread, or terrible, in fact ‘grozen’: ‘If a tsar is mild and peace-loving in his realm, his realm will become impoverished and his glory will diminish. If a tsar is dread and wise, his realm will expand and his name will be famous in all lands.’ ‘A kingdom without terror [groza] is like a horse without a bridle.’ Peresvetov’s admiration for the efficiency of Ottoman rule is by no means unique at that time, when it was very much a lieu commun in that part of Europe which had had dealings with the Porte.

To be ‘dread’ Ivan did not need any advice from Peresvetov, and there is not in fact any evidence that Ivan IV ever read anything written by Peresvetov; and if the idea of creating the corps of musketeers came from outside Russia, a more convincing source is in fact Moldavia, where voevoda Peter Raresh had introduced a corps of musketeers who were not slaves like the janissaries, but free like the strel’tsy, and with which of course Peresvetov would have been familiar. It seems, therefore, unlikely that Peresvetov exercised any influence on Ivan’s policy in the 1550s as a spokesman for the gentry.


The Austrian Army circa 1800 Part I


The Austrian Army at the very beginning of the 19th century was in a state of confusion, still reeling from the debacles of the First and the Second Coalitions. In these wars, the armies of the French Revolution and Consulate continually outperformed their Habsburg counterparts. The problems that confronted the armies of the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II (r. 1792- 1806), were broad: logistically, tactically, strategically, and politically, the armies suffered handicaps compared to the rapidly modernizing French. The army of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria (r. 1740-80) had held off the greatest general of his day, Frederick the Great of Prussia (r. 1740-86). Her artillery was the envy of the world, and the infantry and cavalry accounted well for themselves. Following the Seven Years War (1756-63), a number of ‘reforms’ were attempted. The worst of these was an overhaul of the artillery arm. The result was a disaster, with several humiliating defeats at the hands of the Turks. Attempts to redress this situation succeeded only partially. Austria had the best artillery of the continental allies, but it could not compare to that of the French.

Throughout the reigns of the Emperors Joseph and Leopold, a number of changes were attempted in the infantry. Light infantry regiments were raised in 1798, but disbanded in 1801. The Habsburg commanders had no faith in the average troops performing well when not under the direct supervision of their officers. There were Jager battalions (elite rifle-armed light troops) and the Grenz troops (hardy frontiersmen from the Balkans with a traditional duty of military service), but there were never enough to counter the infuriating French swarm of skirmishers. To compound the problem, the Austrians were introducing greater discipline into the Grenzer to ensure their political reliability and make them more compatible with the rest of their army, but suppressing their old flair for irregular warfare.

The problems faced by the Austrian Emperor were in large part due to past Habsburg successes. Primarily through marriages, they had acquired many provinces with varied ethnic and racial populations – therefore, no universal language existed in the army. Further, many of these provinces owed no loyalty to the Austrians, just to the Emperor personally. This meant that the Hungarians, for example, believed they could decide among themselves how much they would support the war effort. As the Empire was teetering on bankruptcy in 1805, the regiments were dispersed to minimize the costs of upkeep and to aid recruitment. Whatever its economic advantages, such dispersal meant that mobilization was a long process.

The Emperor’s brother, the Archduke Charles, had set about reforming the army in 1801. He had taken power from the Hofkriegsrat, a military/civilian assembly, and had streamlined the logistical procedures. He was unquestionably Austria’s best field commander, but he had a knack of alienating the court personalities and the ossified high command. He had close favourites whom he allowed to dictate to others considered above their station. Charles was constantly at odds with a series of foreign ministers and a combination of his enemies worked to remove him from his position of power. They launched a two-front attack, playing on Francis’s paranoia regarding his brother’s popularity, while urging him to join the alliance against Napoleon. Charles was adamant that the army was in no shape to fight the French and that Austria needed further peace to get her financial house in order. To that end he even advocated recognizing Napoleon’s imperial status, humiliating as that might be for the oldest ruling family in Europe.






The army’s core was its German infantry, Upper Austrians in particular being considered ‘brave, laborious, industrious, intelligent and agreeable’. Conscription had operated across the Hereditary and Bohemian (western) lands from 1781, based on population rolls of each regiment’s district. All able-bodied men aged between 17 and 40 (with those aged 18-26 taken first) were liable unless exempted those exempted included nobles and priests; most skilled workers, including miners and workers in licensed factories; many townsfolk; and all free peasants and their eldest sons. The burden thus fell on junior sons of peasants and the urban proletariat. Service was for a tough 25 years (effectively life), except for bakers and equipment suppliers, who enlisted for three years. Prior to 1802, aside from complete incapacity, release was only possible when, through inheritance, purchase or marriage, a man acquired property or a business which he was required to run; but release was conditional on the district providing a substitute.

From 1782 to 1808 German regiments had Aushilfsbezirke (supplementary districts) in Galicia, and they were certainly productive: by 1802 Galicia’s population was contributing about 54,000 Poles and Ruthenes (Russians) to the army, and 11 regiments were transferred to Galicia in 1808 when the recruitment districts were changed. Moravian regiments retained their districts, which supplied half of their 3rd battalions.

The army contingent of Hungary (comprising Croatia, Hungary and Transylvania) rose steadily from 35,000 to 63,000, requiring 6,034 recruits per year. Renowned for their fighting spirit, the eastern provinces retained a feudal system to raise infantry, mainly from a peasant population ‘as rude and savage as the animals they dwelt amongst’. In the south the Serbs and Croats provided ‘doughty fighters [who] consumed vast quantities of strong liquors’, according to one contemporary commentator. Officered by local Saxons, who were ‘tall and more commonly fair than brown’ with ‘a high forehead, large blue eyes and an open cheerful countenance’, the Transylvanian regiments contained a mix of them, known for their ‘industry and sobriety’ and Vlach (Romanians) who were ‘rather lively, but of cunning, revengeful, indolent [and] brutal character… short in body, but of a strong, muscular strain [which] bears hardship with fortitude… His features are strong and expressive, his hair dark and bushy.’ The addition of ‘well-made brave, robust, and indefatigable’ Szeckels, with their reputation for ‘preceding the army and lying in ambush’, made them regular advance- and rearguard troops.

Apart from Galician regiments, the infantry were usually garrisoned in their home district. Some barracks, such as that of the Infanterie-Regiment 4 (4th Infantry Regiment) at Alserkaserne in Vienna, accommodated one battalion, but lack of purpose-built facilities meant most units were garrisoned in fortresses. Officers naturally enjoyed the best local houses, with some companies quartered in houses in the locality.

The recruit was formally enlisted at the garrison, and having sworn a resounding allegiance to the Emperor, received 3 Gulden, from which he had to purchase hairbands, comb, knife and fork, shoebrushcs and cleaning equipment. His pay didn’t go far – it had to cover his daily food, laundry and cleaning costs. His tunic was undyed ‘perlgrau’ wool (1769 Regulations), with a camisol (waistcoat) worn underneath. The regulations continued: ‘The uniform [must be] cleaned daily with a brush, and each piece cleaned with pipeclay and chalk [to render it white] and dusted down, shoes were to be polished every day’, and the leather maintained by ‘rubbing in unsalted fat regularly’. Both uniform and weapon were to be maintained in good order and the man ‘must not lose, exchange or sell any of it’ (1807 Regulations).

Those garrisoned in houses were fortunate: in barracks the man’s bed was ‘a wooden bed for two with a bed-end and a raised head board… on it a square pallias and straw bolster, a linen sheet, which the man could pull off to improve his uniform by cleaning it. In winter, a coarse blanket… which is like a board; in summer, he has nothing beyond his coat to cover himself with.’

A 1790 company comprised: Hauptmann (captain), Oberleutnant (1st lieutenant), Unterleutnant (2nd lieutenant), Fahnrich (ensign), Feldwebel (sergeant), four Korporals (corporals), two Tambours (drummers), eight Gefreite (lance corporal), a Zimmerman (pioneer) and 91 Gemeine (privates); Grenadiers were to maintain full strength at 99 Gemeine (no Fahnrich nor Gefreite), taking infantry as required – in 1795 the 4th Infantry Regiment’s grenadiers received 50 veterans from the 3rd Battalion.

The Feldwebel was effectively the company adjutant, a typically tough-minded, loud-voiced individual responsible for internal discipline, administration and drill. He organized distribution of bread in the rear tent line or at a convenient place in the garrison.

The Austrian Army circa 1800 Part II



The Austrian artillery of our period was a creation of the Lichtenstein system of the 1750s. Known for its economy and standardization of equipment, this system of guns and equipment would remain in use until 1850. The system produced a series of 3,6, 12 and 18pdr calibre guns, together with 7 and 10pdr howitzers, based around standardized carriage and wheel designs. In the 1780s more mobile cavalry artillery guns were added with their Wurst seats, on which sat most of the crew. Heavier 12, 18 and 24pdrs were divided into two types: Batterie Geschiitz (siege guns) and Verteidigungs Geschiitz (defence artillery).

The artillery was a single force within the army under the Director General of Artillery. From 1772 it was organized into the Feldartillerie (field artillery), the Garnisonsamt (garrison force) and the Feldzeugamt (administrative organization with responsibilities across the artillery service). The field artillery was mustered in three regiments (increased to four in 1802), each comprising four battalions that subdivided into four companies, expanded to a total of 22 in wartime (18 for the Wars of Liberation). In 1805 an artillery company was composed of 4 officers, 14 NCOs, 159 gunners and 5 others.

By 1790, Austria’s artillery was considered the best in Europe, primarily because of its technical specialists, the bombardiers. No other army possessed similar artillery personnel. Prince Lichtenstein had established a specialist Artillery Korps school near Budweis (Bohemia) in I 744, which also included depots and laboratories. Officers together with able NCOs and gunners were instructed in both the theoretical and practical aspects of artillery subjects. After a move to the Artillerielyceum in Vienna in 1778, the Bombardier Regiment was established as the elite of the artillery in 1786, when its home was renamed the Bombardier Korps school. The Korps was composed of four companies, expanded to five in 1802. The bombardier companies were commanded by the lecturers and comprised 1 Hauptmann, 3 Leutnants, 24 Oberfeuerwerker, 36 Feuerwerker, 6 Kadetts and 108 Bombardiers.

This unit was the main training school for the NCOs and officers, drawing on the most intelligent and able recruits, who were trained for up to seven years in a mix of advanced academic and military subjects. Winter work focused on theory, summer on practical exercises. They would join military exercises and perform garrison duties. The first five years focused on arithmetic, geometry, two years of advanced maths, mechanics and ballistics. Throughout, they undertook the same general artillery training as gunners, with additional classes in geometric drawing, topography and surveying, fortress warfare, tactics, logistics, staff and adjutant work. After five years, most were appointed as Feuerwerkers or Korporals and joined the regiments, particularly the howitzer crews. The best candidates were promoted to Oberfeuerwerker and stayed for a further two years, focusing on physics and finally, chemistry and technology, after which they would join the regiments. Most would be commissioned within an additional four years.

Gunners were paid one-third more than the equivalent ranks in the infantry and this, together with the humane conditions prescribed by the 1757 regulations, enabled the artillery to recruit freely amongst the more intelligent men in the rest of the army and to seek civilian volunteers, especially skilled tradesmen, across the Austrian Empire. Volunteers, who had to be Imperial subjects, were chosen for their self-reliance and decisiveness, alongside the ability to absorb the technical details of the arm. The training and knowledge required meant that service was for life, reduced to 14 years under the 1802 reforms.




The Austrian cavalry had started the French Revolutionary Wars as completely dominant over their French counterparts. By 1801, they still believed themselves to be the best horsemen in Europe, and in March 1809 there was a total of 44,490 cavalrymen and 42,791 horses in the forces of the Hapsburg Empire. By this time, however, any notions of supremacy had received a nasty shock. While the Austrians’ tactics and training remained stagnant, their French counterparts had creating cavalry that could function en masse. The majority of the Austrian cavalry was parceled out in ‘penny packets’ to the various infantry formations, which led to occasion after occasion where they would be thrown over by superior enemy numbers at the point of attack. Individually their cuirassiers, dragoons, chevauxlegers and Uhlans were still good, but coordination was all but nonexistent. The limitations in the command system employed prevented the cavalry from reaching their full, lethal potential, and successive reorganizations did little to correct the problems.

Cavalrymen were recruited in much the same way as infantrymen. They were supposed to come from the ranks of those who had already completed their infantry training, but this stipulation was largely ignored. Cavalry regiments (especially Hungarian units) were rarely short of those wanting to join their ranks. This was reflected in the bounties paid to men enlisted in the smaller south German states, which provided so much of the Austrian army’s manpower: an infantry recruit received 35 florins, whereas a cavalry recruit took only 29 – such was a clear indication of the preference for the mounted arm amongst the mass of potential recruits.

The rank system used in the cavalry was much like that of the infantry, and as in the infantry the quality of the officer corps was critical to the efficacy of the regiment. Such was apparent in the 1806 regulations, which claimed that poor-quality soldiers with good officers had a combat superiority over well-trained soldiers with poor officers. Yet finding fine officers amongst a higher command influenced by nepotism and politics was no easy business. Many commanders went into battle lacking experience of active service. As Archduke Charles reported from the Netherlands in 1794, so dissatisfied with their commanders were the officers of the Kinsky Chevaux-legers that ‘they have sworn that the first such gentleman who delivers an order to attack will be forced to take part in the charge’ As with the infantry, the Inhaber (colonel-proprietor) had an unusual amount of control over the regiment, dictating everything from general orders through to who received a regimental commission. Each regiment actually bore the name of its Inhaber, meaning that there was a regimental name change with the appointment of a new commander.

Again as with the infantry, there were distinct differences between those regiments formed in ‘German’ and ‘Hungarian’ areas of the empire; the former included all non ‘Hungarians’ such as Walloons and Italians, and the latter Croatians, Slovenians and Transylvanians. Hungarian cavalry were all hussars, and therefore acted as the light cavalry. The other ‘German’ cavalry regiments provided the heavy and medium cavalry, although the chevauxlegers were classed as light cavalry but had more in common with medium dragoons. Cavalry took more time to train than infantry, and this led to little difference between peacetime and wartime establishments. A ‘Reserve Division’ was also kept active, this serving an emergency resource during times of war.

In 1792 the Austrian cavalry had numbered 40,000 troops. These men were organized as follows: two regiments of carabiniers; nine regiments of cuirassiers, six regiments of dragoons; seven regiments of chevaux-legers, one ‘Staff-Dragoon’ regiment; nine regiments of Hungarian hussars; one regiment of Skekler Grenz (border) hussars; and one regiment of Uhlans. Regiments were organized into ‘divisions’, these comprising two squadrons, with two Flügel (‘wings’) per squadron and two Zugen (platoons) each. Carabinier and cuirassier regiments had squadrons numbering around 150 men all ranks, while the medium and light cavalry regiments had 170-180. Carabinier and hussar regiments had four divisions totalling eight squadrons; the Skekler Grenz hussars had five divisions; the Uhlans had two divisions; and all other regiments had three divisions. There was also a standard-escort, which totalled 24 men in the carabiniers and hussars and 18 men in the other regiments.

In 1798 structural changes swept through the Austrian cavalry, mainly affecting the German regiments. The number of cuirassier regiments was taken up to 12, this being achieved by creating a new formation, the 12th Cuirassiers, and by converting both of the carabinier corps. Dragoons and Chevauxlegers were compressed into 15 light dragoon regiments, and the hussars were expanded to 12 regiments. An additional Uhlan regiment was created, as was a new corps of mounted Jagers (Jager Regt,. zu Pferd ‘Bussy). Also, from this date Austrian cavalry regiments were numbered consecutively across all their types.



Sherman tank of the 3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) in the village of Milo near Catania, Sicily, August 1943.


The 3.7 inch howitzers gave what support they could, as did the Middlesex’ machine guns from the south of the river, but at extreme range they had little affect. The Shermans, despite efforts by the engineers to make the track suitable, were unable to move forward. By 1100 hours withdrawal was inevitable. This was far from easy because of the exposed positions, but seven hours later the battalion was back, some 200 yards across the river.

The other crossings to the east, at LION and JAGUAR, had some initial success but XXX Corps was not able to exploit forward from the bridgeheads. AT LION, the Highland Division had reached the outskirts of the Gerbini airfield, whereupon they had been counterattacked by tanks and driven back. This setback caused the British advance to be paused for a week to allow time for reorganisation and to give the troops time to gain a second wind.

Montgomery visited Wimberley at midday on 21 July. With the strength of the opposition facing the Highland Division and XIII Corps, he had come to the decision to stop attacking on these fronts, and was ordering 78th Division to Sicily from North Africa. Once they had arrived, the offensive would be resumed using the 78th and the Canadian Division. Meanwhile, the right flank of the Eighth Army would go on the defensive.

To the west, 1st Canadian Division had been moving on Leonforte and Assoro since 15 July. Its route had been through mountainous country, where the enemy had made good use of the small villages which sat astride the tortuous roads to make easily defensible redoubts. These were strengthened by use of demolitions, road blocks and mines, and had to be reduced by a series of small battles.

On 17 July 231 (Malta) Brigade was given the independent role of covering the gap between the 51st (Highland) and 1st Canadian Divisions, and moved northwards towards Raddusa. Its advance was held up by enemy demolitions, but the route was soon cleared and by 1900 hours that day contact was made with German forces on the line of the Gornalunga River, a mile or so south of Raddusa.

To the Canadians’ left, Seventh (US) Army advanced against less opposition, the Germans having abandoned any thought of defending the west of Sicily, and many of the Italians having no other thought but to surrender. On 17 July 1st (US) Division was abreast of the Canadians about eight miles to the west of Piazza Armerina, approaching Caltanissetta. 45th (US) Division was further west again, approaching the same town from the southwest. The race was still on between the Americans and the Canadians for Enna. The latter had the main road leading to the town from the southeast, but enemy resistance was stiffening, and was much more determined than the Canadians had experienced hitherto.

General Simonds directed 3 Brigade towards Enna and the 1st northeast towards Valguarnera. 3 Brigade were delayed at a narrow pass, the Portella Grottacalda, for some fourteen hours on 17 July until they attacked the enemy frontally with the Royal 22e Regiment, and from the flanks with the Carleton and Yorks, and the West Nova Scotia’s. At Valguarnera 1 Brigade entered the town, against resistance, after nightfall. The two encounters cost the Canadians 145 casualties.

The enemy – the 2nd Battalion of 1st Panzer Grenadier Regiment was thought to have been reinforced by the regiment’s 1st Battalion – held a position on a road junction southwest of Valguanera. Having had their advance held up by a blown bridge, 3 Canadian Infantry Brigade encountered the Germans here, and came under mortar and machine-gun fire. The infantry disembarked from their transport, the tanks took up hull-down positions to the west of the road, and the enemy were forced to retire, leaving three Italian guns and three small tanks out of action behind them.

At this stage Simonds decided to by-pass Enna. On 19 July he broadened his front by taking advantage of the road fork north of Valguarnera, sending 2 Infantry Brigade towards Leonforte and 1 Brigade to Assoro. The Canadians did, however, send a patrol from the Reconnaissance Squadron to try to enter Enna before the Americans, who were rapidly approaching it from the southwest. Halted about five miles from the town by a badly cratered road which prevented any further motorised progress, a group consisting of a sergeant, two corporals and a trooper proceeded to complete their mission on foot.

They had a walk of some four and a half miles to do uphill, but became ‘browned off’ after a short while, so commandeered a donkey to help them on their way. A patrol comprising a man mounted on a donkey, leading three others, proceeded with the mission of capturing Enna for the Canadians. In front of them they saw two truckloads of troops, but it was a little while before these were identified as being Americans rather than Germans. The GIs had just arrived, and gave the Canadians a lift into town, whereupon one of the Canadian corporals later claimed to be the first to dismount from the jeep in the town centre – thus claiming the honour of the capture for Canada. No doubt the Americans disputed this8.

Leonforte sat at the western end of the Etna Line before it turned northwards to the sea. Three battalions of the 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment of 15th Panzer Grenadier Division held the town and Assoro. The German defences were centred on demolitions and minefields, and small stay-behind parties armed with machine guns and mortars were deployed around destroyed culverts and cratered roads to further delay the Allied troops. The Canadian approach to the two towns had to cross the Dittaino valley, in full view of enemy observation posts, and artillery fire on them was continuous.

The route forward was hazardous. Although no enemy were encountered at close range, the Canadians were harassed by artillery, and C Squadron, 12th Canadian Tank Regiment (The Three Rivers Regiment) drove straight into a minefield, where nine tanks had their tracks blown off before the crews realised their predicament. They had to stay in their Shermans for nearly five hours while the Germans rained down mortar and artillery fire on them. The danger increased when the stubble on the ground around them caught fire, setting off petrol and ammunition dumps nearby. The Sappers distinguished themselves by starting to clear the mines while under fire, and it was yet another unpleasant experience in the campaign for those involved.

The lead battalion nominated for the attack on Assoro, the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, lost both its commanding officer and intelligence officer while carrying out a reconnaissance for a night assault on the village. The Canadians’ approach had been impossible to carry out unannounced, and the Germans were ready. The light was fading, but the Canadians could see that all along the horizon stretched an escarpment running from Leonforte through Assoro and on eastwards to Agira. Directly ahead the Assoro feature dominated, and it was clear that the Germans would have the only direct approach, a winding road, well covered. Major The Lord Tweedsmuir (the son of John Buchan, the author and former Governor-General of Canada) took command of the Hastings. He identified a route up a steep slope on the east of the feature to the 12th Century Norman castle which dominated the village, which might be practicable, and determined to attempt it. To divert the Germans’ attention from the Hastings’ approach, three carriers of the 48th Highlanders were sent down the road at dusk, with orders to swing about and return as soon as they came under fire, and artillery laid on harassing fire.

At 2130 hours Tweedsmuir led a hand-picked group of twenty men, followed by the rest of the battalion, up the terraces to the summit. Armed with no more than rifles and a few Bren Guns, they scaled the heights in bright moonlight, on their way awakening a sleeping boy on the back of a donkey, who closed his eyes and went straight back to sleep, not realising how tense the men around him were, and how close he might have been to being shot. The Hastings gained the summit a quarter of an hour before dawn, and the position was taken without a casualty. The enemy expected no-one but their own men to be there, and were completely surprised by the manoeuvre. The Germans mounted two counterattacks in attempts to dislodge them, but the Hastings held on until, on the morning of 22 July, the 48th Highlanders fought their way into the village through its western defences, which had been weakened in an attempt to dislodge the Canadians on the castle heights.

The fall of Assorto made it more difficult for the Germans to defend Leonforte. They had to hold the whole ridge, or withdraw from it altogether.

On 21 July the Seaforth of Canada had been halted in the steep approaches to Leonforte, but towards 2100 hours the Edmonton Regiment succeeded in gaining a foothold in the town. House-to-house fighting continued through the night, and early the next day the Canadians managed to repair a bridge over a ravine below the town, allowing four tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment, a troop of antitank guns and a company of the PPCLI to enter. After a morning of hard fighting the Germans were driven out. They retired to two hills, from where the PPCLI removed them at about 1730 hours. Leonforte cost the Canadians 175 casualties; Assorto nearly a hundred.

The Divisional Intelligence Summary of 23 July made the following statement:

For the first time, the Germans fought all three battalions of 1 Pz Gren Regt as one tactical formation. After the fall of ASSORO the coys (3 Bn?) fighting there were moved in to defend LEONFORTE. During 22 Jul all three bns were identified in and about the latter town. At first light 5 tks and about 75 inf penetrated back into LEONFORTE. This resolute defence is something new. Hitherto the German rearguard has pulled stakes cleanly and retired some 8 or 10 miles to a new posn. The fact that they are not voluntarily retiring from their latest strong point but are fighting for every yd of ground indicates that we are nearing something like a serious defence zone. Beyond doubt they would have held LEONFORTE had they not been driven out of it.


The point regarding nearing ‘a serious defence zone’ was not far off the mark. Ahead lay Agira.

While the Eighth Army was engaged in the events described above, Alexander was giving consideration to the future. On 19 July he signalled Montgomery, pointing out that the enemy defences stretching from the northern to the eastern coasts (in effect, the Hauptkampflinie) might prove to be too strong for the Eighth Army to pierce. He suggested placing one of the American divisions under Monty’s command, which would work in the northern sector. He still saw Seventh Army’s task as being to occupy western Sicily, very much a secondary role.

Montgomery’s reply enumerated the four thrusts that he had launched: Catania (which was now called off), Misterbianco, Paterno, and Leonforte-Adrano. He considered these to be very powerful, and if his troops could be in Misterbianco the following night (20 July), and Adrano the next day, he thought that he would be in a strong position to move around either side of Etna. The Americans, he suggested, might provide one division to push along the north coast towards Messina. This would stretch the enemy’s defences and might divert them.

After visiting Montgomery on 20 July, Alexander reported to Brooke that the Catania offensive was to be suspended because it would prove too costly. However, Agira had fallen, the Canadians had captured Enna and Leonforte, and the Americans were expected to be in Petralia that day. They would then provide one division to cut the northern coast road and to work to the north of the Eighth Army. His intention was for the Seventh Army to be based on Palermo, before operating to the north of the Eighth in the final thrust for Messina.

One has to question where Alexander got his information. Leonforte did not fall until the 22nd, and Agira on the 28th. Whether it was Montgomery’s over-optimistic view of things, or Alexander’s, is debatable – but the Eighth Army situation reports for 19 and 20 July gave the correct state of affairs, and it would appear that Monty’s rosy assessments were not checked before Alexander reported to the CIGS10.

During the evening of 21 July Montgomery again signalled Alexander, reporting that enemy resistance around Catania and in the foothills about Misterbianco and Paterno was ‘very great’. Although he ‘had won the battle for the plain of Catania… heat in the plain is very great and my troops are getting very tired’. He was therefore going to hold his right wing, while continuing operations against Adrano. XXX Corps would be strengthened by 78th Division, to assist in operations north towards Bronte.

Meanwhile the Americans should thrust along the northern coast road towards Messina, and the full weight of Allied airpower from North Africa should be brought to bear on the enemy in the northeast corner of Sicily. The four-thrust strategy which he had outlined only two days previously was no longer mentioned; the prospect of extending the battle on both sides of Etna with the assistance of an American division had gone. Instead, he was calling forward his reserve, 78th Division, from Africa, and XXX Corps would be committed to a ‘blitz attack’ on the line Adrano-Bronte-Randazzo, northwards up the western side of Etna. Possession of Adrano would put Etna between the two halves of the Axis forces, robbing them of their lateral communications on the southwest and south of the mountain. What Monty now wanted was more commitment from the Americans on the northern coast road.

Alexander accepted Montgomery’s fresh strategy. Patton had already been ordered to bring pressure against the enemy on Highways 113 and 120, the coast road and that some twenty miles inland, running west to east through Nicosia and Troina to Randezzo, On 23 July Patton was given directions to transfer his supply lines through Palermo, and to use the maximum strength he could maintain to thrust along these two roads, striking at the enemy’s northern flank while the Axis communications system in the north-eastern corner of Sicily was subjected to a bombing campaign.

He ordered the remainder of his reserve, 9th (US) Infantry Division, to the island (39th RCT had been brought over on 15 July, landing at Licata, and had been attached to 82nd Airborne Division to assist in clearing western Sicily). On 24 July, Alexander visited Montgomery, and the following day the two generals held a conference with Patton – the first time during the campaign that the land force commanders met together.

It is notable that the conference was held at the instigation of Montgomery rather than Alexander. Monty signalled an invitation to Patton and his chief of staff to attend the meeting, in Syracuse, to discuss the capture of Messina. Despite the campaign now being two weeks old, there was still no strategy agreed for its completion. Montgomery was coming to recognise that the enemy facing the Eighth Army was too strongly ensconced to push through, and that a greater degree of coordination was needed between Patton and himself to resolve the impasse. Alexander, on the other hand, was continuing with his ‘handsoff’ style of leadership, refusing to become involved in the detailed direction of the campaign. This may have been acceptable in North Africa when he let Montgomery run Eighth Army’s battles as he saw fit, but in Sicily there were two Allied armies operating, and thus far Alexander had rather ignored the American role in the campaign.

Patton’s – understandable – suspicions notwithstanding, the two army commanders quickly agreed that Seventh (US) Army was to have the exclusive use of Highways 113 and 120, and Montgomery even proposed that it should be Patton who was to have the privilege of taking Messina, and striking through Randazzo to Taormina, across the north of Etna. If necessary, the Americans were given full permission to cross the inter-army boundary in pursuit of this aim, which if successful would mean that two German divisions would be cut off from their line of retreat. With the legacy of Monty’s commandeering Highway 124 from the Americans only eleven days earlier, it was not surprising that Patton should be suspicious of Montgomery’s motives. But the Eighth Army commander was aware that his strategy of launching separate attacks by various divisions along the Catania front was proving unsuccessful and that the campaign needed greater inter-Allied cooperation.

Three days later Montgomery paid a return visit to Patton in Palermo, narrowly avoiding disaster when the airfield proved too short for the B-17 bomber in which the British delegation was travelling. An accident was prevented only by the skill of the pilot. At last, Allied strategy – at least on the ground – was coming together. But Alexander appeared to be taking little part in this, for he arrived late at the Syracuse meeting, to be told by Montgomery that everything had been settled by Patton and himself. In Palermo, the Montgomery-Patton agreement was confirmed, although Patton remained mistrustful. With memories of Anglo-American problems since TORCH, he had little faith in Monty’s good intentions, and saw Messina as the prize that must be competed for, as a way of establishing American military prestige.

Burgundian Army


The dukes of Burgundy were students of the art of war. They were the first to add gunpowder artillery units to a regular army, and the first to appoint salaried nobles as artillery officers (most nobles preferred to serve in the cavalry, the traditional arm of aristocracy). They were also the first to concentrate cannon in batteries, rather than disperse them evenly across a battle front. In a series of military reforms from 1468 to 1473, the Burgundian army was remade, partly on the French model but also making use of a unique four-man lance as its core unit. Subsequently, Burgundy fought with France (1474–1477), then with the Swiss (1474–1477), in the hope of becoming a full kingdom and one of the emerging Great Powers of Europe, stretching from Lorraine to Milan. Instead, the Swiss destroyed the Burgundian army and killed Charles the Rash.

Burgundian-Swiss War (1474–1477).

Burgundy’s conflict with the Swiss Confederation resulted principally from the effort by Charles the Rash to expand his domain and elevate his Duchy to the rank of kingdom and even one of the Great Powers of Europe. To connect his core holdings in the north with rich Italian lands to the south, he sought to carve a path of conquest and annexation through the Swiss Confederation. The inevitable clash came at Héricourt in 1474, where mature Swiss square tactics allowed the men of the Cantons to catch in a pincer maneuver a mercenary relief column, mostly comprised of armored cavalry, and destroy it. The next major encounter came at Grandson (1476), where the Swiss captured the Burgundian artillery train of over 400 very fine cannon and many more ammunition and support wagons. However, the Swiss pursuit floundered when it reached Charles’ hastily abandoned camp and a frantic and ill-disciplined scramble for booty began. The Cantons thereby missed a main chance to destroy the Burgundian army. The two forces met again at Morat (1476), where some 12,000 Burgundians and allied mercenaries in lance formation fell to Swiss ‘push of pike’ and the spears and pistols of allied cavalry from Lorraine. At Morat, a further 200 Burgundian cannon were lost to the Swiss, giving them one of the finest trains in Europe. This string of defeats unhinged what might have become a Burgundian empire. Along with mutinies and treachery by mercenary garrisons, Charles’ power and territorial holdings were alike eroded. The final act came at Nancy (1477), where Charles lost another battle through stilted tactics to a superior and more disciplined enemy, saw the Burgundian army built up over a century destroyed, and surrendered his life. The defeat ensured that Burgundy would not emerge as one of the Great Powers of the early modern age but would instead see its territory eaten by more powerful and militarily successful neighbors, especially Austria and France.

Battle of Grandson, (March 2, 1476).

After defeat of his relief army at Héricourt, Burgundy’s Duke Charles the Rash moved against Berne. The Bernese reinforced their garrison at Grandson but Charles overran it. He allowed his troops to massacre the garrison, which provoked the Swiss Confederation to rage. A confederate army moved to intercept the Burgundians near Concise, a village south of Neuchâtel a few kilometers from Grandson. The Swiss moved in their standard formation of three pike squares: the ‘‘Vorhut,’’ ‘‘Gewalthut,’’ and ‘‘Nachhut.’’ In the early hours of March 2, 1476, an advance column of Swiss foragers unexpectedly stumbled into the Burgundian camp set up in a shallow valley of small copses and vineyards. Charles hastily formed up his men while more Swiss arrived to take command of the sloped high ground above the camp. Some minor skirmishing by Swiss handgunners provoked Charles to order part of his infantry to attack up the valley side. Archers and gunners of both armies began to inflict casualties, but neither side gave ground. Then the Swiss Gewalthut arrived, raising the number of Swiss on the field to some 10,000. At mid-morning, the Swiss decided to move downslope toward the Burgundians. They formed a single massive square at whose center fluttered the great Banner of the Swiss Confederation along with cantonal standards and Fähnlein. Charles ordered his artillery to open a bombardment and sent his cavalry to attack directly. The Swiss set a Forlorn Hope of 300 crossbowmen and arquebusiers in front of the square to act as a light skirmisher screen. At their rear, atop the slope just descended, canon were manhandled into position and opened fire.

At first the Burgundian canon had the better of it, cutting gaping holes—as much as 10 or 12 files deep—in the Swiss ranks. Burgundian cavalry charged the Forlorn Hope, which scrambled for cover under the pikes in front of the square. Charles led a second charge of lancers from which he emerged sans horse and barely in possession of his life. Another company of cavalry tried to flank the Swiss, but could not navigate the steep slope. The result was sharp combat with lance, halberd, crossbow, pike, pistol, and arquebus. The fight lasted several hours, until the Swiss ran out of quarrels, shot, and powder. Charles’ artillery was still well-supplied and kept up a deadly bombardment while his cavalry rested and reformed. But then he repositioned the artillery and moved his infantry back, hoping to draw the Swiss off the sloping vineyards. This was a grave error, as at that moment two more Swiss squares arrived. Upon blowing of a Harsthörner (‘‘Great War Horn’’), all three squares advanced at once. This movement, along with the disorder of the retreat Charles’ men were attempting, spread panic in the Burgundian ranks. Particularly unruly were his German mercenaries. The flight of most of his foot left Charles exposed with only artillery and cavalry, and neither arm could hold the field against the Swiss ‘‘push of pike.’’ Charles considered the situation then wisely fled with his army, in part to save himself and partly in an effort to regroup his infantry. The Swiss fell upon the Burgundian camp and looted it, foregoing any advantage they might have had by pursuing a defeated enemy. On the other hand, they captured Charles’ superb artillery train of nearly 400 cannon along with many more supply carts. Given the duration of the fight, casualties were relatively low on both sides.

Battle of Morat, (June 9–22, 1476).

‘‘Murten.’’ Swiss lack of cavalry contributed to a failure to pursue and finish off the Burgundians at Grandson (March 2, 1476). That allowed Charles the Rash to withdraw and to reform an army of 22,000 ducal, Milanese, and mercenary troops (including English longbowmen and Landsknechte infantry). He also cobbled together a new artillery train to replace the 400 guns lost at Grandson. Within three months he was ready. On June 9, 1476, he besieged the garrison town of Morat. There he faced his old Grandson guns which the Bernese had emplaced atop the walls. Several rash Burgundian assaults were repelled by the guns, but Charles was able to get his largest siege pieces into position by June 17 and these blew great gaps in the city’s defenses. Into these breaches he sent infantry to take the city by storm. After a full day of hand-to-hand fighting the Swiss still held, guarding the smoking gaps. Meanwhile, a relief column of 25,000 tough troops from the Swiss Confederation and another 1,800 Lorrainer cavalry made for Morat. Learning this, Charles personally chose the ground for the coming battle and fortified it with a ‘‘Grünhag’’ (earthwork palisade) paralleling a forward-lying ditch. His rear rested securely at the foot of a wooded hill. For a week the Burgundians manned the Grünhag and waited as Charles grew ever more impatient with each false alarum. He sent out scouts to locate the Swiss encampment then rashly repositioned the bulk of his army in fields in front of the Grünhag, leaving just 3,000 men to hold the earthworks.

Seeing this, the Swiss seized the initiative. They sent a 5,000 man Vorhut (van) forward to pin the Burgundians down with harassing fire from crossbows and arquebuses. The Vorhut was supported by a 12,000-man Gewalthut (center) moving in echelon, which was highly unusual for the Swiss, on the left. Free to maneuver to either flank or to assault the rear of the Burgundian position was a third square,a 7,000-man Nachhut (reserve). The Vorhut, along with allied cavalry from Lorraine, attacked the Grünhag directly. The advance was slowed by sharp casualties inflicted by longbowmen and Charles’ artillery, which was in fixed position behind the Grünhag. The main square recovered and with ‘‘push of pike’’ swept over the earthworks, killing most of the defenders. This released the Vorhut to continue its advance toward the main Burgundian force. When the Vorhut collided with Charles’ men neither side was in tactically disciplined formation: the fighting was disorderly, hand-to-hand, and extremely bloody. Also charging into the Burgundians was the oversized Gewalthut, supported by hundreds of allied horse from Lorraine. In the interim, the smaller Nachhut completed a planned encirclement of the main Burgundian position aided by a distracting sortie by the Swiss garrison out of Morat. A mêlee ensued during which most of the Burgundian foot were slaughtered with the usual Swiss efficiency and ignorance of quarter. Many men-at-arms were driven into the water of nearby Lake Morat, where they drowned under deadweight of their own armor. Or they were cut down along the shoreline after discarding armor and weapons to better run from the pursuing Swiss foot and ruthless Lorrainer cavalry. Confederate casualties ranged between 400 to 500 men, whereas Burgundian dead reached close to 12,000. And Charles had again lost his artillery train, further weakening him even as its capture strengthened the Swiss. After Morat came the climactic battle of the Burgundian Wars, at Nancy (1477).

Pike and Shot: Campaigns


Soldiers of the Tsar [Czar] I


Battle of Kulikovo

The armies of north-eastern Russia from the Mongol conquest until the accession of Ivan the Terrible. Dvor were the paid troops of the prince and the more important boyars. This period saw the rise of Moscow to preeminence under the protection of Mongol overlordship. Muscovite rulers were said to be skilled in both ingratiating themselves with the Mongols and in discreetly leaving Mongol armies on the eve of battle. Open war in 1380 saw the defeat of the Mongols at the epic battle of Kulikovo. Russian armies of this period were predominantly of cavalry, and their tactics were similar to those of the Mongols. The usual formation consisted of an advance guard, a strong centre, the “bolshoi polk”, left arm, right arm and rearguard, the right arm having seniority over the other divisions. Infantry were first used for offensive campaigning by Ivan III in 1469 and provided almost exclusively by town militia in separate bodies of spearmen and bowmen and by Cossacks. Muscovite grand prince Ivan III began using the term TSAR to introduce an added level power and majesty to his rule. Cossacks (“adventurers”) were originally renegade Tartars and Russian peasants not on the tax rolls or who refused to work another’s land and were free associations who settled along distant borders in areas of uncertain control. Although we think of them today as light horse, they at this time provided many infantry and specialised in boat work, taking quickly to handguns when these became available.


The musketeers, or streltsy (literally “shooters”), were organized as part of Ivan IV’s effort to reform Russia’s military during the sixteenth century. In 1550 he recruited six companies of foot soldiers armed with firearms, organized into tactical units of five hundred, commanded and trained by officers from the nobility. These units were based from the beginning in towns, and eventually took on the character of garrison forces. Over time their numbers grew from three thousand in 1550 to fifty thousand in 1680.

Militarily, they were ineffectual, mainly because of their economic character. The musketeers were a hereditary class not subject to taxation, but to state service requirements, including battlefield service, escort, and guard duties. During the seventeenth century, the state provided them with grain and cash, but economic privileges, including permission to act as merchants, artisans, or farmers, became their principal support. One particular plum was permission to produce alcoholic beverages for their own consumption. They also bore civic duties (fire fighting and police) in the towns where they lived. Pursuing economic interests reduced their fighting edge.

Throughout the seventeenth century the musketeers proved to be fractious, regularly threatening, even killing, officers who mistreated them or represented modernizing elements within the military. By 1648 it was apparent that they were unreliable, especially when compared with the new-formation regiments appearing prior to the Thirteen Years War (1654–1667) under leadership of European mercenary officers. Rather than disband the musketeers entirely, the state made attempts to westernize them. Many units were placed under the command of foreigners and retrained. Administrative changes were made during and after the war, including placing certain units under the jurisdiction of the Tsar’s Privy Chancery, which appointed officers and collected operations reports. The Privy Chancery, and by extension, the Tsar, was at the center of the attempt to transform the musketeers into more thoroughly trained western-style infantry.


The Imperial Russian Army and Navy owed their origins to Peter I, although less so for the army than the navy. The army’s deeper roots clearly lay with Muscovite precedent, especially with Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich’s European-inspired new regiments of foreign formation. The Great Reformer breathed transforming energy and intensity into these and other precedents to fashion a standing regular army that by 1725 counted 112,000 troops in two guards, two grenadier, forty-two infantry, and thirty-three dragoon regiments, with sup- porting artillery and auxiliaries. To serve this establishment, he also fashioned administrative, financial, and logistical mechanisms, along with a rational rank structure and systematic officer and soldier recruitment. With an admixture of foreign- ers, the officer corps came primarily from the Russian nobility, while soldiers came from recruit levies against the peasant population.

Although Peter’s standing force owed much to European precedent, his military diverged from conventional patterns to incorporate irregular cavalry levies, especially Cossacks, and to evolve a military art that emphasized flexibility and practicality for combating both conventional northern European foes and less conventional steppe adversaries. After mixed success against the Tatars and Turks at Azov in 1695–1696, and after a severe reverse at Narva (1700) against the Swedes at the outset of the Great Northern War, Peter’s army notched important victories at Dorpat (1704), Lesnaya (1708), and Poltava (1709). After an abrupt loss in 1711 to the Turks on the Pruth River, Peter dogged his Swedish adversaries until they came to terms at Nystadt in 1721. Subsequently, Peter took to the Caspian basin, where during the early 1720s his Lower (or Southern) Corps campaigned as far south as Persia.

After Peter’s death, the army’s fortunes waned and waxed, with much of its development characterized by which aspect of the Petrine legacy seemed most politic and appropriate for time and circumstance. Under Empress Anna Ioannovna, the army came to reflect a strong European, especially Prussian, bias in organization and tactics, a bias that during the 1730s contributed to defeat and indecision against the Tatars and Turks. Under Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, the army reverted partially to Petrine precedent, but retained a sufficiently strong European character to give good account for itself in the Seven Years’ War. Although in 1761 the military-organizational pendulum under Peter III again swung briefly and decisively in favor of Prussian- inspired models, a palace coup in favor of his wife, who became Empress Catherine II, ushered in a lengthy period of renewed military development.

During Catherine’s reign, the army fought two major wars against Turkey and its steppe allies to emerge as the largest ground force in Europe. Three commanders were especially responsible for bringing Russian military power to bear against elusive southern adversaries. Two, Peter Alexandrovich Rumyantsev and Alexander Vasilievich Suvorov, were veterans of the Seven Years War, while the third, Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin, was a commander and administrator of great intellect, influence, and organizational talent. During Catherine’s First Turkish War (1768–1774), Rumyantsev successfully employed flexible tactics and simplified Russian military organization to win significant victories at Larga and Kagul (both 1770). Suvorov, meanwhile, defeated the Polish Confederation of Bar, then after 1774 campaigned in the Crimea and the Nogai steppe. At the same time, regular army formations played an important role in suppressing the Pugachev rebellion (1773–1775).

During Catherine’s Second Turkish War (1787–1792), Potemkin emerged as the impresario of final victory over the Porte for hegemony over the northern Black Sea littoral, while Suvorov emerged as perhaps the most talented Russian field commander of all time. Potemkin inherently understood the value of irregular cavalry forces in the south, and he took measures to regularize Cossack service and bring them more fully under Russian military authority, or failing that, to abolish recalcitrant Cossack hosts. Following Rumyantsev’s precedent, he also lightened and multiplied the number of light infantry and light cavalry formations, while emphasizing utility and practicality in drill and items of equipment. In the field, Suvorov further refined Rumyantsev’s tactical innovations to emphasize “speed, assessment, attack.” Suvorov’s battlefield successes, together with the conquest of Ochakov (1788) and Izmail (1790) and important sallies across the Danube, brought Russia favorable terms at Jassy (1792). Even as war raged in the south, the army in the north once again defeated Sweden (1788–1790), then in 1793–1794 overran a rebellious Poland, setting the stage for its third partition.


Military Parade of Emperor Paul in front of Mikhailovsky Castle painting by Alexandre Benois.

Under Paul I, the army chaffed under the imposition of direct monarchical authority, the more so because it brought another brief dalliance with Prussian military models. Suvorov was temporarily banished, but was later recalled to lead Russian forces in northern Italy as part of the Second Coalition against revolutionary France. In 1799, despite Austrian interference, Suvorov drove the French from the field, then brilliantly extricated his forces from Italy across the Alps. The eighteenth century closed with the army a strongly entrenched feature of Russian imperial might, a force to be reckoned with on both the plains of Europe and the steppes of Eurasia.


Soldiers of the Tsar [Czar] II



At the outset of the century, Alexander I inherited a sizeable and unaffordable army, many of whose commanders were seasoned veterans. After instituting a series of modest administrative reforms for efficiency and economy, including the creation of a true War Ministry, the Tsar in 1805 plunged into the wars of the Third Coalition. For all their experience and flexibility, the Russians with or without the benefit of allies against Napoleon suffered a series of reverses or stalemates, including Austerlitz(1805), Eylau (1807), and Friedland (1807). After the ensuing Tilsit Peace granted five years’ respite, Napoleon’s Grand Armée invaded Russia in 1812. Following a fighting Russian withdrawal into the interior, Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov in September gave indecisive battle at Borodino, followed by another withdrawal to the southeast that uncovered Moscow. When the French quit Moscow in October, Kutuzov pursued, reinforced by swarms of partisans and Cossacks, who, together with starvation and severe cold, harassed the Grand Armée to destruction. In 1813, the Russian army fought in Germany, and in 1814 participated in the coalition victory at Leipzig, followed by a fighting entry into France and the occupation of Paris.

The successful termination of the Napoleonic wars still left Alexander I with an outsized and unaffordable military establishment, but now with the addition of disaffected elements within the officer corps. While some gentry officers formed secret societies to espouse revolutionary causes, the Tsar experimented with the establishment of settled troops, or military colonies, to reduce maintenance costs. Although these colonies were in many ways only an extension of the previous century’s experience with military settlers on the frontier, their widespread application spawned much discontent. After Alexander I’s death, unrest and conspiracy led to an attempted military coup in December 1825. Tsar Nicholas I energetically suppressed the so-called Decembrist rebellion, then imposed parade- ground order. His standing army grew to number one million troops, but its outdated recruitment system and traditional support infrastructure eventually proved incapable of meeting the challenges of military modernization. Superficially, the army was a model of predictable routine and harsh discipline, but its inherent shortcomings, including outmoded weaponry, incapacity for rapid expansion, and lack of strategic mobility, led inexorably to Crimean defeat. The army was able to subdue Polish military insurrectionists (1830–1831) and Hungarian revolutionaries (1848), and successfully fight Persians and Turks (1826–1828, 1828–1829), but in the field it lagged behind its more modern European counterparts. Fighting from 1854 to 1856 against an allied coalition in the Crimea, the Russians suffered defeat at Alma, heavy losses at Balaklava and Inkerman, and the humiliation of surrender at Sevastopol. Only the experience of ex- tended warfare in the Caucasus (1801–1864) afforded unconventional antidote to the conventional “paradomania” of St. Petersburg that had so thoroughly inspired Crimean defeat. Thus, the mountains replaced the steppe as the southern pole in an updated version of the previous century’s north- south dialectic.


Alexander II’s era of the Great Reforms marked an important watershed for both services. In a series of reforms between 1861 and 1874, War Minister Dmitry Alexeyevich Milyutin created the foundations for a genuine cadre- and reserve-based ground force. He facilitated introduction of a universal service obligation, and he rearmed, reequipped, and redeployed the army to contend with the gradually emerging German and Austro-Hungarian threat along the Empire’s western frontier. In 1863–1864 the army once again suppressed a Polish rebellion, while in the 1860s and 1870s small mobile forces figured in extensive military conquests in Central Asia. War also flared with Turkey in 1877–1878, during which the army, despite a ragged beginning, inconsistent field leadership, and inadequacies in logistics and medical support, acquitted itself well, especially in a decisive campaign in the European theater south of the Balkan ridge. Similar circumstances governed in the Transcausus theater, where the army overcame initial setbacks to seize Kars and carry the campaign into Asia Minor.

Following the war of 1877–1878, planning and deployment priorities wedded the army more closely to the western military frontier and especially to peacetime deployments in Russian Poland. With considerable difficulty, Alexander III presided over a limited force modernization that witnessed the adoption of smokeless powder weaponry and changes in size and force structure that kept the army on nearly equal terms with its two more significant potential adversaries, Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary. At the same time, the end of the century brought extensive new military commitments to the Far East, both to protect expanding imperial interests and to participate in suppression of the Boxer Rebellion (1900).


Under Russia’s last Tsar, the army went from defeat to disaster and despair. Initially over-committed and split by a new dichotomy between the Far East and the European military frontier, the army fared poorly in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. Poor strategic vision and even worse battlefield execution in a Far Eastern littoral war brought defeat because Russia failed to bring its overwhelming re- sources to bear. While the navy early ceded the initiative and command of the sea to the Japanese, Russian ground force buildups across vast distances were slow. General Adjutant Alexei Nikolayevich Kuropatkin and his subordinates lacked the capacity either to fight expert delaying actions or to master the complexities of meeting engagements that evolved into main battles and operations. Tethered to an 8-thousand-kilometer-long line of communications, the army marched through a series of reverses from the banks of the Yalu (May 1904) to the environs of Mukden (February–March 1905). Although the garrison at Port Arthur retained the capacity to resist, premature surrender of the fortress in early 1905 merely added to Russian humiliation.

The years between 1905 and 1914 witnessed renewal and reconstruction, neither of which sufficed to prepare the Tsar’s army and navy for World War I. Far Eastern defeat fueled the fires of the Revolution of 1905, and both services witnessed mutinies within their ranks. Once the dissidents were weeded out, standing army troops were employed liberally until 1907 to suppress popular disorder. By 1910, stability and improved economic conditions permitted General Adjutant Vladimir Alexandrovich Sukhomlinov’s War Ministry to undertake limited reforms in the army’s recruitment, organization, deployment, armament, and supply structure. More could have been done, but the navy siphoned off precious funds for ambitious ship-building programs to restore the second arm’s power and prestige. The overall objective was to prepare Russia for war with the Triple Alliance. Obsession with the threat opposite the western military frontier gradually eliminated earlier dichotomies and subsumed all other strategic priorities.

The outbreak of hostilities in 1914 came too soon for various reform and reconstruction projects to bear full fruit. Again, the Russians suffered from strategic overreach and stretched their military and naval resources too thin. Moreover, military leaders failed to build sound linkages between design and application, between means and objectives, and between troops and their command in- stances. These and other shortcomings, including an inadequate logistics system and the regime’s inability fully to mobilize the home front to support the fighting front, proved disastrous. Thus, the Russians successfully mobilized 3.9 million troops for a short war of military annihilation, but early disasters in East Prussia at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes, along with a stalled offensive in Galicia, inexorably led to a protracted war of attrition and exhaustion. In 1915, when German offensive pressure caused the Russian Supreme Command to shorten its front in Russian Poland, withdrawal turned into a costly rout. One of the few positive notes came in 1916, when the Russian Southwest Front under General Alexei Alexeyevich Brusilov launched perhaps the most successful offensive of the entire war on all its fronts.

Ultimately, a combination of seemingly endless bloodletting, war-weariness, governmental inefficiency, and the regime’s political ineptness facilitated the spread of pacifist and revolutionary sentiment in both the army and navy. By the beginning of 1917, sufficient malaise had set in to render both services incapable either of consistent loyalty or of sustained and effective combat operations. In the end, neither the army nor the navy offered proof against the Tsar’s internal and external enemies.