August the Strong – Saxony 1706

Friedrich Augustus. Elector of Saxony (1694-1733); king of Poland (1697-1704; 1709-1733).

The shattered sanctuary 1706

On 8 January 1706 a Swedish army of between 18,000 and 20,000 men left Blonie. `My soldiers have enjoyed their winter quarters in summer’, declared their enigmatic King, so it was `only right that they should take the field in winter’. Covering nearly 200 miles in 16 days (five being rest-days), by 24 January the Swedes stood on the south bank of the River Niemen opposite Ogilvie’s force in Grodno.

Six days later Augustus left that town at the head of some 5000 Saxon cavalry and Russian dragoons. By 5 February he was in Warsaw, where he waited for a further body of horsemen to join him from the south, which brought his force up to around 8000. With it he intended falling upon the rear of Rehnskjöld’s army of about 12,000, which was quartered west of Poznan’.

To his west, from Silesia, Rehnskjöld anticipated the advance of a considerable `Saxon’ army under the command of LieutenantGeneral Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg (1661-1747). This was Augustus’s `mysterious project’, which had cost him so much money and was designed to procure `great and sure success’ by crushing Rehnskjöld between two armies. After that the victorious Saxons would take Charles too from the rear, while Ogilvie held him at Grodno.

Schulenburg’s force is variously computed as between 16,000 and 22,000 strong, with a cavalry component of 2000-5000. One-third of his infantry was Russian, and other units of the foot were battalions comprising French, Swiss and Bavarian deserters and prisoners of war. According to Stepney, this army consisted mainly `of troops newly raised’.

But there was no victory for Augustus. He was at Kalisz, some four days’ march away, when Schulenburg and Rehnskjöld clashed at Fraustadt (Wschowa), near the Silesian-Polish border, on the morning of 14 February. It was another disaster for our hero, and a bloody one.

Stepney’s account, based upon letters from Silesia, was sent to London on 20 February. He described how the Saxon left wing `began the attack with some success, but their horse being soon routed, the foot suffered extremely, being abandoned in a plain’. The Muscovites `made a valiant defence and orderly retreat’ for over an hour; but finally they were `so warmly plied, that hardly any of the 6000 escaped’, since Rehnskjöld had `resolved to give them no quarter’.

The Saxons `shifted something better by retiring to a village’. The Swedes surrounded it and set it on fire, and seven or eight battalions surrendered there. In all, `the whole body of foot’ was lost with all its baggage and artillery: perhaps 7000 infantry died and 6000 to 8000 became prisoners. However, only 100 of 5000 cavalry and dragoons were slain `upon the spot’; the rest had fled.

Raby sent his own version of events that same day, along with a copy of Rehnskjöld’s letter, to his wife. `Nous n’avons perdu de nos braves Soldats qu’un fort petit nombre’, wrote the Swede of his light losses of 400 dead and 1400 wounded. `Dieu m’a specialement conserve”, he added, `ayant eu un cheval tue’ sous Moy’.

Schulenburg lost more than a horse shot from under him. Raby reported that he was held responsible for the disaster, in `that he would take it upon him to attack the Swedes, when his King was with 6000 men within four days march of him’. The expectation was that `his best fate will be keeping M Patkul company in prison’.

After Fraustadt, Augustus retreated south-eastwards from Kalisz towards Cracow. Peter was `now absolutely disgusted at the repeated misfortunes of his ill-fated ally’, contended Whitworth. Despite `all the money he had given the King (which is near 1,600,000 roubles) he had brought nothing but bad luck’, while Muscovy was `drained of men and money’. The Tsar was `resolved to shut up his purse-strings’.

In the east Charles tried to engage Ogilvie in Grodno, but the weather thwarted him. At the beginning of April the Scot led the remains of an army depleted by privations southwards. By the time Charles could cross the thawing Niemen, Ogilvie had a four-day start. Struggling through the Pripet marshes, the Swedes pursued their foes as far as Pinsk, which they reached on 4 May. There Charles called off the chase, and the Muscovites staggered on to Kiev. Although Peter’s main army was saved, the Russians had `abandoned all Courland and Lithuania with the same precipitation as they took possession’, noted Whitworth.

Charles stayed at Pinsk until early June 1706, both to rest his troops and to harry Augustus’s supporters. Then his army tramped south-westwards to Luck, the capital of Volhynia, a region almost untouched by war. Arriving there in mid-June, the Swedes replenished themselves and their horses from the abundant grain stocks; for their next trek would be lengthy.

Charles `had forborne several times to invade Saxony, when all the reasons both of war and politics should have engaged him to it’ and despite `having destroyed their army and having the country at his mercy’. This was how the Swedish ambassador in Berlin expressed matters to Raby in April. Possibly he was preparing the political groundwork.

Following the allied victory over the French at Ramillies in May 1706, the envoy returned to the issue of removing Augustus as a player. He argued that it was in England’s interest to recognize the puppet Stanislaw instead, since as King of Poland he `could not be able to do anything to disturb the allies’. If Augustus remained upon the throne, then once the Swedes withdrew `he’d begin his old play again, for he was a prince that would not be quiet’. He would revamp `his old project’ of making the Polish throne hereditary `and joining Saxony to it’. Then Augustus would marry his son to Emperor Joseph’s daughter, and if `the Austrian family should be extinct’ in the male line, `by this match his son might pretend to the greatest part of the hereditary country and to be chosen Emperor’. Then, concluded the envoy, Augustus `would be more to be feared than the French King and have as great (at least) a power’.

Whether or not the Swedish sovereign endorsed such political arguments, he had settled by now upon a solution by the sword. On 17 July 1706 Charles marched out of Luck. Having crossed the Bug and the Vistula he teamed up with Rehnskjöld’s force north of Lodz on 16 August. A week later he forded the Warta. Passing full circle through his old base of Rawicz, Charles led his army across the Oder at Steinau (north-west of Breslau) on 2 September, and four days later the Swedes entered Saxony.

`Their march goes straight to Dresden’, hazarded Stepney from Vienna. Eberhardine fled to her father’s, while Augustus’s mother and son left for Magdeburg. The few Saxon troops remaining in the Electorate melted away into Thuringia. The general population, recalling Swedish ravages from the Thirty Years War, were on the move too, with their effects.

`This attempt in Saxony is only to put a speedy end to the war in Poland’, maintained the Swedish envoy in Vienna; Charles had no intention of disturbing the Empire, `provided they do not molest him in his present undertaking’. Stepney hardly anticipated any Imperial interference with the activities of the Swedish King. For `as near as I can perceive, the princes on all sides are in awe of the lion’ and fear that the slightest `remonstrance’ might provoke him `to fall upon them’. Ironically, only Augustus would be molesting the Swedes, and he was desperately trying to avoid just such an outcome.

After Fraustadt, Augustus retreated to Cracow; we know little of what he did there. On 24 April the visiting Plantamour (now in Augustus’s service) told Raby in Berlin that `the King diverts himself very well’. He was `under no apprehensions of the Swedes’, and had more of the Polish nobility with him `than before the unfortunate battle of Schulenburg’s’. He also retained 6000 men in Saxony and at present had no fear of a Swedish invasion of his Electorate.

In late July Whitworth reported that Augustus had retired from Cracow to Hungary. On 18 August the envoy told London that the Elector-King was marching towards Grodno with the Crown Army and 7000 Saxon horse, a `good part whereof, he has insensibly drawn from his Electorate by small troops’ since Fraustadt.

In fact Augustus was currently about 80 miles east of Grodno, in Nowogro’dek. His close adviser (Referendarius) Georg Ernst Pfingsten left that town on 16 August bearing a letter to Charles. This expressed the Saxon’s wish that the two cousins might fully reconcile their differences. Besides this missive, Pfingsten carried a set of principal and subsidiary instructions (Haupt- und Nebeninstruktion) for use at a conference with Swedish representatives. These made clear that the surrender of the Polish crown was only to be agreed to as a last resort, in order to prevent the invasion of Saxony. If the negotiations broke down, Augustus expected the Regency Council to defend the Electorate by all possible means.

Pfingsten only reached Dresden on 1 September; given a Swedish army on the march in western Poland, this was probably not excessive. But it also meant that Augustus’s negotiating position was already shattered. When the Saxon Privy Council met on the morning of 2 September, the Swedes were crossing the Oder and only a few days off from invading Saxony. Moreover, the panic and disorder in the Electorate precluded any possibility of armed resistance.

Charles was in possession of Augustus’s letter on 4 September, two days before he crossed the Saxon frontier. His answer would come better from the sword of an occupying power, than the pen of a negotiator. Therefore, it was not until 12 September that the Swedes consented to receive Pfingsten and the Geheimrat Anton Albrecht Baron von Imhoff at Charles’s temporary headquarters in Bischofswerda, about 20 miles east of Dresden. This proved to be the one and only `negotiating’ session.

The Saxon plenipotentiaries received their powers from the Privy Council and not from Augustus. It made little difference to the Swedish terms. Their first and unalterable condition remained Augustus’s renunciation of the Polish crown, and his recognition of Stanislaw as the legitimate King of Poland. All attempts by the Saxons to evade this point shattered against the rock of Charles’s obstinacy.

The Saxons endeavoured to obtain a Swedish withdrawal from the Electorate as a quid pro quo for accepting Augustus’s abdication. They argued that Saxony could not sustain such a large force, particularly the numerous Swedish cavalry, and generously suggested Brandenburg as a more congenial site (`dort gebe es fette Quartiere’). However, they were foiled here as well. As a Swedish diplomat phrased it, occupation of the Electorate would be the very means whereby `Saxony should be put out of condition for the future to assist King Augustus with men and money’. Occupation would also increase pressure upon Dresden to ratify and execute the peace treaty.

Once Pfingsten and Imhoff had conceded abdication and occupation, they capitulated down the line: on Patkul’s handover, the release of the Sobieskis and abrogation of Augustus’s treaties with the Tsar. Satisfied with the results, Charles removed his brooding presence from Bischofswerda the next day, and on 15 September he crossed the Elbe at Meissen. Six days later he reached the castle of Altranstädt, situated a few miles west of Leipzig, where he would maintain his headquarters throughout the Swedish occupation.

On 24 September 1706 the two Saxon plenipotentiaries arrived there. Together with Piper and Cederhielm for Sweden, and two shadowy representatives of King Stanislaw I of Poland, they signed the 22 articles of the Treaty of Altranstädt. For the moment its provisions were academic, since strict secrecy had successfully shrouded the negotiations.

Charles had not wanted any publicity to interfere with his subjugation of Saxony. Nor had Augustus courted it, since his position was far more precarious. He had ostensibly made peace with his Swedish cousin and voided all treaties with his ally Peter. Yet currently, he was surrounded by thousands of Russian cavalry, who under his leadership were aiming to destroy a Swedish army.

Fraustadt-Grodno Massacres (1706)

This refers to the Swedish massacre of probably over 8,000 soldiers of the Saxon army and supplementary Russian troops allied with Augustus II Wettin during and after the Battle of Fraustadt (present-day Wschowa) on February 13, 1706. Simultaneously, the Swedish army enforced a blockade of the distant city of Grodno during January-March 1706, where about 23,000 Russian troops were left without assistance, and in effect, suffered some 17,000 casualties in the city and during its evacuation.

The Battle of Fraustadt was one of the greatest Swedish victories of the Great Northern War, which opened the road to Saxony to Charles XII and even resulted in the short-lived abdication of the King of Poland Augustus II. At Fraustadt, the Swedish forces of Karl Gustaf Rehnskjöld were outnumbered by the Saxon-Russian troops of Johann Matthias von Schulenburg by two to one (three to one in infantry). The Saxon troops were, in fact, composed of French, Bavarian, Swiss, and Saxon soldiers. Deployed between two villages, the allied army was believed by the commanders to be impregnable to a cavalry attack. Yet, the Swedish horsemen attacked both flanks and, having beaten them, pressed on the centrally deployed troops, massacring them. Of roughly 18,000 Saxon-Russian troops, over 8,000 were killed. Historians cannot agree as to whether several hundred Russians were killed in cold blood after the battle.

About one month prior to the Battle of Fraustadt, in the distant city of Grodno (today in Belaurus), the Swedish forces managed to cut all supply lines to the Russian garrison in the city. The Russian troops numbering about 23,000 men, under the command of a Scottish general Fd. Mar. George Ogilvy and Gen. Nikita Ivanovich Repnin were left without provisions, assistance, and the necessary cavalry to either break through or withhold the blockade. The Polish-Lithuanian king, Augustus II left the area, heading for central Poland, taking with him all cavalry (even the Russian dragoons). In effect, about 8,000 Russian soldiers died of famine and disease, before Oglivy decided to evacuate the city on March 22. Historians claim, that another 9,000 were killed during the retreat.

Further Reading Frost, Robert I. The Northern Wars. War, State and Society in Northeastern Europe 1558-1721. New York: Longman, 2000.



On the eve of the Russo–Japanese War, Russian land forces were the biggest in the world, numbering 41,079 officers and 1,067,000 other ranks, and with full deployment of more than 3 million including the reserves. The sum of Russian troops stationed at that time east of Lake Baikal (the Priamur and Siberian Military Districts and the Kwantung Fortified Region) was about 95,000 infantry, some 3,000–5,000 cavalry, and between 120 to just under 200 guns. These were concentrated at Port Arthur, under the command of Lieutenant General Anatolii Stoessel, and around Vladivostok, under the command of General Nikolai Linievich. These forces were arranged in 68 infantry battalions, 35 squadrons of cavalry (mainly Cossacks), 13 engineer companies, five fortress engineer companies, and four and a half battalions of fortress artillery.

While it had often been regarded as conservative and unpolished, the Imperial Russian Army of 1904 was very different from what it had been four decades earlier. The defeat suffered by Russia in the Crimean War hastened the abolition of serfdom and stimulated the reorganization of the Imperial Russian Army. During the 1860s, War Minister D. A. Miliutin carried out several reforms that created a sufficient number of trained reservists to deploy a massive army in the event of war. The reform also resolved the problem of improving the organization of the military administration and the rearmament of the army. From 1874 military service was compulsory for every male who reached the age of 21. The length of active military service was set at up to six years, with nine years in the reserves. The law of 1874 did not extend to the Cossacks, or to the people of the Trans-Caucasus region, Central Asia, and Siberia. The benefits of the military reforms became clear during the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–1878. But despite the ultimate victory, the war also revealed disorganization, deficiencies in armaments, and weakness in the high command. Further reforms in the aftermath of the war made the Imperial Russian Army an awesome force, yet its true abilities were not tested for more than two decades.

On the eve of the Russo–Japanese War, the Russian national service consisted of four years of active service and 14 years in the reserves, with two training periods of six weeks each, for soldiers from the age of 21 to 43. There were few exemptions from service, though several groups, such as the Cossacks and Finns, were entitled to different conditions of service. The army had 12 military districts: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Finland, Vilno, Warsaw, Kiev, Odessa, Kazan, the Caucasus, Turkestan, Siberia and the Amur region, and the Oblast of the Don Host. Despite the improved deployment, the army suffered from outdated tactics and old, inflexible, high-ranking officers, who were often unfamiliar with new advances in technology. The lower-ranking officers and non-commissioned officers suffered from long periods of being given unchallenging assignments and a lack of training. The land forces were divided into regular units and Cossacks. In peacetime, field troops made up 73.4 percent of the entire regular forces, whereas fortress troops were 6.6 percent, reserve forces 9.5 percent, rear forces 0.7 percent, local troops 2.3 percent, and auxiliary detachments 7.5 percent. In 1898 the infantry accounted for 74.8 percent of the entire army; cavalry were 8.5 percent (excluding the Cossack cavalry units), artillery 13.7 percent, and engineering 3.0 percent. Infantry divisions, consisting of about 18,000 men each, were assembled into corps, and corps were joined in wartime into armies.

On the eve of the Russo–Japanese War, the forces of the Imperial Russian Army in Manchuria were organized within the Manchurian Army, under the command of General Nikolai Linievich. This army consisted of two corps: the First Siberian Army Corps and the Third Siberian Army Corps. The rank and file were mainly loyal peasants from eastern Russia, who were regarded as resilient and accustomed to the harsh conditions of the region, but uneducated and unused to fighting without a commanding officer to direct them. Initially the two corps were smaller and less well organized than parallel European corps. The former, for example, had 32 guns, whereas the latter had 48 or 64 guns. Each corps consisted of two divisions, which in turn comprised two brigades. The typical Siberian brigade consisted of 3,400 men and 12 artillery guns in two batteries. A battery consisted of eight Putilov M-1903 76.2-millimeter [3-inch] field guns, as well as a small unspecified number of 117-millimeter [4.6-inch] howitzers and no more than eight Maxim machine guns. The Siberian infantry brigades grew slowly and eventually evolved into the Siberian infantry divisions, which did not exist prior to the war.

The Siberian corps had no divisional cavalry and their infantry soldiers were equipped with the Mosin M-1891 rifle while their commissioned and non-commissioned officers were equipped also with the Nagant M-95 revolver. At the outbreak of the war the Russian units of the Manchurian Army were widely dispersed and disorganized, but as the war progressed their organization and efficiency increased. During 1904 the Manchurian Army was gradually reinforced by the First, Fourth, Eighth, Tenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth European Army Corps, consisting of 28,000 rifles and 112 guns each. Thus army corps, rather than divisions, were the main fighting unit used by the Russians during this war. Their troops were transferred eastward by the Trans-Siberian Railway, which could deliver 40,000 men (one and a half corps) a month. In September 1904 the Manchurian Army was divided into the First Manchurian Army and the Second Manchurian Army, and in December 1904 the Third Manchurian Army was also formed.

In the aftermath of the Russo–Japanese War, the Imperial Russian Army was forced to undertake a series of reforms to strengthen its forces, and thus initiated the “great military program.” In 1913 it envisaged an increase in the army’s size by almost 40 percent by 1917, and a large-scale augmentation of the armaments used by the artillery and the rifle forces. Changes were made also in the readiness of the army to mobilize and the way it was staffed. The overall length of service was set at 18 years, of which three to four years were on active service. On the eve of World War I, Russia’s land forces were regarded as a potentially unbeatable army, although in reality the army was still in the midst of a process of reorganizing and developing its capabilities. In the first months of the war, the Imperial Russian Army mobilized 3.5 million men. However, at the end of 1917 and early in 1918 it was demobilized, and the Red Army was created instead.


Russian infantry corps in Manchuria numbered by most estimates about 95,000 men and consisted mainly of peasants, considered hardy, obedient, brave, and used to the extreme conditions of the region. They won the admiration of military observers though they were still trained in outdated tactics. They were conditioned to volley fire on command and used the bayonet more often than required. These practices largely constricted their individual marksmanship abilities. They also often suffered from lack of motivation; during the conflict in Manchuria most of the second-line reservists resented being called up for duty in this remote area. The main weapon used by the Russian infantry was the Mosin M-1891 rifle, and infantry units also increasingly used Maxim machine guns as close fire support for the troops. The individual’s personal kit weighed about 32 kilograms [70 pounds] and consisted of two and a half days’ worth of rations in a watertight kitbag, a greatcoat, a tent sheet, and a shovel. The infantryman carried between 120 and 300 rounds of ammunition in clips of five.

Maxim Machine Gun.

Main machine gun used by the Imperial Russian Army during the Russo–Japanese War. It was designed in 1883 by Hiram Maxim, an American living in Great Britain, and during the following years came into widespread use. In 1895 the Imperial Japanese Army purchased a number of Maxims but eventually preferred the Hotchkiss machine gun. The Imperial Russian Army, however, purchased 58 Maxim machine guns in 1899 and made it its main machine gun. In 1902 the army concluded a contract with the British firm Vickers to manufacture the Maxim in Russia, thereby cutting costs by two-thirds. Manufacture of the Russian version of the Maxim started only in 1910; the machine gun was designated Pulemiot Maxima. At the outbreak of the Russo–Japanese War, the Russian war ministry placed a rush order abroad for a total of 450 machine guns for the troops at the front, which were mostly supplied toward the end of the war. The Maxim’s design was simple though ingenious: it was water cooled, recoil operated, and fully automatic. Its recoil, caused by the explosion of the powder, operated to eject the spent cartridge and load the next round. The Maxim was fabric belt-fed, and it fired the same 7.62-millimeter [.30-inch] ammunition used by the Russian-made Mosin M-1891 rifle.

Technical data: Water-cooled 4 liters; Caliber: 7.62mm; Gun length: 1.107m, barrel length: 0.72m; Grooves: 4; Wheeled mount weight: 36kg; Tripod mount weight: 27.6kg, empty fabric belt weight: 1.1kg, loaded fabric belt weight: 6.1kg (250 rounds); Effective rate of fire: 250r/min.

Mosin M-1891 Rifle.

Russian main rifle during the Russo–Japanese War. It was first produced following an order of Tsar Nicholas II, and thereafter it was manufactured in Russia, the Soviet Union, and Belgium from 1891 to 1944 in several models. It originated as a design of Captain S. M. Mosin and was favored over a Belgian design by Leon Nagant for its ruggedness and lighter weight. The Mosin M-1891 replaced the older, heavier, and longer Karle and Berdan No. 2 rifles. By 1903 the two-phase introduction of the Mosin M-1891 to the ranks was complete, and both the regular army and the reserves were armed with the new rifle. The Russian infantry had a bayonet permanently fixed to the rifle, which hindered accurate shooting to some extent. Versions of the Mosin were used as frontline rifles until World War II and as practice rifles until the late 1970s.

Technical data: Caliber: 7.62mm [0.3in.]; Weight: 4.33kg [9.61bs], with bayonet and sling 4.78kg [10.61bs]; Length: 131cm [51.4in.], with bayonet: 173cm [68.2in.], barrel length: 80.3cm [31.6in.]; Magazine capacity: 5 rounds; Rate of fire: 8–10r/min; Maximum sighting range (iron sights): 2,200m.


 Combat troops mounted on horses. Their importance in the Russo–Japanese War was limited and often marginal. After a millennium in which mounted troops were considered the masters of offensive warfare, the Russo–Japanese War marks a turning point in the history of cavalry; thereafter this type of warfare was to disappear rapidly from the modern battlefield. In many respects the limited contribution of cavalry during the Russo–Japanese War presaged its demise during World War I. The European armies, however, did not learn this particular lesson, nor the general lesson regarding the leading role of defense in modern warfare. Consequently they started World War I with huge cavalry forces without any effective alternative until the invention of the tank. While both belligerents in the Russo–Japanese War used cavalry forces, the Imperial Russian Army employed about three times more cavalry units than the Imperial Japanese Army.

On the eve of war the Russian cavalry numbered more than 80,000 and comprised 25 cavalry divisions, including two Guards, 17 Army, and six Cossack cavalry detachments. The Russian cavalry in East Asia consisted mostly of Cossacks, with each cavalry division consisting of 3,400 dragoons trained in mounted and dismounted combat. Some divisions had their own artillery support, usually 12 horse-drawn artillery guns. The Russian cavalry forces in Manchuria were organized in December 1904 in one huge Cavalier Corps. They were commanded initially by Lieutenant General Pavel Mishchenko until February 1905, then briefly by Lieutenant General Pavel Rennenkampf during February, by Lieutenant General Vladimir Grekov until March, and then again by Mishchenko until September 1905. The tactics of the Russian cavalry were revised several times during the 50 years prior to the war, their equipment was modernized, switching from lances to rifles and bayonets, and dragoon training was instituted combining infantry training with cavalry tactics. Nevertheless, at the outbreak of the Russo–Japanese War, they were still guided by outdated notions of attack, with scant regard for the technological and tactical advances achieved during the 19th century. Foremost among these advances was the widespread implementation of machine guns in the battlefield, the much more extensive use of artillery as support during battle, and the change from close to dispersed infantry formations, which made the infantry an unsuitable target for formation cavalry attacks.

In the evolution of cavalry warfare, the Russo–Japanese War is noted for the absence of the lance and sword, which were replaced by the rifle. The few achievements of the Russian cavalry were made through the effect of firearms. However, the cavalry units of both armies had little significance for the overall outcome of the Russo–Japanese War, and their basic weaknesses were quickly demonstrated. The Russian cavalry often lacked fighting spirit, as recorded by General Aleksei Kuropatkin in his memoirs: “Until cavalry is educated to feel that it should fight as obstinately as infantry, the money expended on our mounted arm is wasted.” Still, spirit was not the only cause. Horses were costly to maintain and the transport and effectiveness of cavalry was insignificant in siege warfare, such as in the siege of Port Arthur, or trench warfare, like that which developed before the battle of Mukden.


The Russo–Japanese War witnessed a massive use of artillery, but it was not a revolutionary step in the development of this branch. While the amount of usage and the centralization of control during the war were without precedent, field artillery reached maturity only during World War I. The use of goniometers for measuring angles, panoramic sights, field telephones (especially by the Japanese), and even aerial observation by balloons allowed the commanding officers in the field to use their artillery firepower against targets outside the line of sight of the batteries used. These technological advances, together with the increase in the range and effectiveness of the guns, made it possible to concentrate the fire of a whole army corps on a single target. At the battle of Liaoyang, for example, medium and heavy artillery were massively employed. On the Japanese side alone there were 56 heavy guns and mortars and a total of 470 guns. During the battle of Sha-ho, 48 Russian guns fired 8,000 rounds in 40 minutes; at the battle of Tashihchiao, a battery fired 500 rounds per gun.

The battle of Sha-ho may furnish a further instance of successful concentration of the fire of dispersed batteries. The concealment of batteries in action began to be more fully realized and the impracticability of close support by guns pushed forward into the infantry firing line under the enemy’s small-arms fire was demonstrated on many occasions. The advances of technology, achieved already in the 19th century, made the use of artillery and indirect fire in the battlefield safer and simpler, and during this war indirect fire at last became the norm. All in all, the two armies used unprecedented quantities of artillery ammunition. The Imperial Russian Army, for example, spent about 900,000 artillery rounds during the entire war, a tiny proportion of the 65.3 million manufactured and imported by Russia during World War I, and a fraction of the 360 millions shells and bombs Russia alone manufactured during World War II.

Still, the Imperial Japanese Army appeared to be more adapted to the modern use of artillery during the Russo–Japanese War. It used screens of artillery shelling to cover the advance of its infantry with very accurate and close support, through the extensive employment of field telephones and flag signaling. The tactics of advancing, positioning, and deploying the artillery forces evolved as well. The Japanese used camouflage and batteries to conceal the positioning of their guns from the Russian troops, and they watered the roads on which they moved them to prevent dust clouds that would have given away their position and movements. Until the Russo–Japanese War, shelling would stop when the attacking troops were still far from their target to prevent their being harmed, but now Japanese artillery officers often continued shelling almost up to the Russian trenches and ceased only moments before the assault began. During the war the Russians displayed improved gunnery performance and innovation as well. In the fortification of Port Arthur, for example, they placed most of their guns in batteries outside the forts of the main perimeter, contrary to common practice, thus eliminating “dead” ground and forcing the attacker to disperse his fire. Altogether, the use of artillery in the Russo–Japanese War inaugurated the era of mass bombardment and close support for the advancing troops, a fact that did not attract much attention of military observers.

During the Russo–Japanese War the distinction between guns and howitzers gradually disappeared and both sides employed successfully a small number of howitzers. Both sides used an increasingly large number of 120-millimeter [4.7-inch] Krupp-design howitzers purchased before the turn of the century, as well as a small number of 150-millimeter [5.9-inch] Model 38 howitzers (only in Japan). Only the Japanese, however, made full use of this type of gun by mobilizing 18 gigantic Krupp-made 280-millimeter [11-inch] howitzers at Port Arthur. Their firepower was exploited to the utmost during the siege of the fort and was instrumental in razing the Russian defenses. The Russian artillery corps were equipped with superb quick-firing Putilov M-1903 76.2-millimeter [3-inch] field guns, which replaced the older M-1900. Even though these guns were most up-to-date, they were still heavier and less maneuverable than the Japanese guns. In addition, both sides made use of various older guns of 90 to 120 millimeters, and the Russians also employed during the siege of Port Arthur naval guns, mainly of 152 millimeters [6 inches] and smaller, which were removed from the warships of the Pacific Fleet. Both sides made some limited use of heavy mortars, especially in mountain engagements and around Port Arthur against nearby targets protected by hills or other obstacles. They were of 90–150 millimeter caliber and could fire up to 30-kilogram [66-pound] shells a short distance.

SCUD-Types Redux

Notable missile systems such as Scud, Scaleboard and Scarab gave Soviet commanders the means to strike deep into the enemy’s lines of communication and across the battlefield. The initial generation of mobile medium- and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles such as the SS-4 Sandal and SS-5 Skean were transported by cumbersome trailers. (The latter systems gained some infamy after they were involved in the Cuban missile crisis.) These were followed by much more mobile self-propelled missiles mounted on their own transporter-erector-launchers (TELs).

The Soviet Union viewed its strategic rocket forces as the heart of its defensive system and the rocket personnel as the very elite of the Soviet forces. The strategic rocket forces evolved from the Soviet Army’s artillery, and the first commander-in-chief was also head of the artillery. They were formed in 1959 and were responsible for all Soviet land-based missiles with ranges over 1,000km. (Missiles with lesser ranges were assigned to the rocket and artillery branches of the ground forces.) Notably, the strategic rocket forces were considered the ‘primary service’ and their commander-in-chief took precedence over all other military supreme commanders.

SS-1 Scud Medium-Range Ballistic Missile

The SS-1C, known to NATO as the Scud B, was a medium-range surface-to-surface missile intended for battlefield strikes to hit troop concentrations, defences, depots and railways up to a distance of 280km. The missile was 11.4m long and could take high explosive, chemical and nuclear warheads. The rocket was a single-stage missile employing a liquid propellant. The Scud A and B were initially deployed on tracked carriers derived from the IS-3 (Joseph Stalin III) heavy tank chassis, but were later transported on the eight-wheeled MAZ-543. This had eight-wheel-drive, with the front four wheels steerable, and weighed 28 tons with the missile. The crew compartment consisted of a heated and air-conditioned cab divided into two by the missile. The original version was first seen in 1957, and the longer B variant five years later. The SS-1C Scud B was widely deployed with all the Warsaw Pact armies, as well as in Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria. The Egyptians fired a number at Israeli targets in the Sinai in 1973, but missed. Around a thousand Scud B missiles were fired at Mujahideen targets in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The longer-range Scud C and D missiles were largely superseded by the SS-12 Scaleboard and the short-lived SS-23 Spider.

SS-4 Sandal Theatre Ballistic Missile

The SS-4 Sandal, with a range of 2,000km, was an upgraded version of the earlier SS-3 Shyster. It became operational in the late 1950s and was deployed in some numbers with Soviet field armies. This missile system, though, was not really very mobile as it required twelve vehicles towing special trailers, and the missile itself had to be erected and fuelled before firing. From the late 1970s it was replaced by the fully mobile SS-20 Saber, although this process was not completed until the late 1980s. The longer-range silo-based SS-5 Skean that appeared in the early 1960s was essentially a scaled-up version of the Sandal. It was withdrawn from service from the mid-1970s onwards.

SS-12 Scaleboard Medium-Range Ballistic Missile

The SS-12 Scaleboard, first reported in 1967, was previously known as the SS-1D Scud C, but Scaleboard was a much more powerful missile than the Scud. Its range of 800km made it more of a strategic weapon than one for battlefield support. Scaleboard missiles deployed in East Germany could have reached much of eastern and south-eastern England. The SS-12 was very similar in appearance to the earlier SS-1C and employed the same MAZ-543 chassis as the transporter/launcher, but with a more fully enclosed body behind the cab. The missile was erected for firing in a similar way but was contained in a ribbed casing until ready for launch. The longer-range SS-23 Spider was eliminated in the late 1980s under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

SS-14 Scapegoat Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

The SS-14 Scapegoat and SS-15 Scrooge were monstrous long-range ballistic missiles carried on tracked chassis. Neither was deployed, and subsequently the Soviets opted increasingly for heavy wheeled vehicles. The SS-14 was carried in a cylindrical container mounted over the carrier vehicle. Before launching, the container was raised hydraulically and placed in a vertical position on a launch pad lowered from the rear of the vehicle. The container was then opened and removed, leaving the exposed missile ready for firing. First observed on a mobile launch pad in May 1965, the SS-14 was an intermediate-range (3,500km) missile with a nuclear warhead; it measured about 10.7 metres in length and was propelled with a solid-fuel rocket. Due to poor mobility and slow missile deployment time, the system did not enter service and the missiles were replaced in 1970.

SS-15 Scrooge Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

The SS-15 Scrooge was an even larger intercontinental ballistic missile, measuring 18.3 metres, likewise carried in a tube on the back of a tracked vehicle. While erected in a similar way to the SS-14, it was fired direct from the tube. Propelled by a solid-fuel rocket, it could reach up to 5,600km. The carrying vehicles for both the SS-14 and the SS-15 were very similar, though their missile erecting systems differed. Interestingly, the running gear was derived from components of the IS-3 heavy tank or its later T-10 derivative.

The transporter had eight small road wheels (whereas the IS-3 had six and the T-10 seven) sprung on torsion bars. The long upper track was supported on five return rollers on each side, which were unevenly spaced. Power transmission was via rear drive sprockets and the engine was believed to have been a V-2 cylinder diesel similar to that in the T-10, which was capable of producing 700hp. In both systems the crew travelled in a superstructure at the front. Again the SS-15 was deemed simply too ungainly for use in the field.

SS-16 Sinner Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

This was the Soviet Union’s very first mobile ICBM, with a range of around 10,000km. The three-stage solid-propellant 18.5 metre-long missile was transported on a massive 12×12 TEL. According to the Soviets, it was never deployed, although Western Intelligence believed it had gone operational in the late 1970s, by which time 200 missiles had been built. Of these, fifty were deployed at the test training site in Plesetsk, but these ran foul of the SALT II Treaty and by the mid-1980s they had been removed from the training sites. Design work on this missile influenced both the SS-20 and the SS-25.

SS-19 Stiletto Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

The Stiletto, unlike the other nuclear missiles described here, was not mobile, but was a fourth generation silo-launched liquid-propelled ICBM (supplementing the earlier SS-9, SS-11, SS-13, SS-17 and SS–18). Alongside the mobile Soviet strategic rocket forces, the SS-19 was the backbone of the silo-launched missile force. It was initially deployed in the 1970s but was replaced by the upgraded SS-19 Mod 3. This had a storage life of twenty-two years and was armed with six MIRVs. By 2008 Russia still had 126 operational missiles, but the mobile SS-25 remained the most numerous ICBM. Clearly Moscow felt that mobile systems offered a greater deterrence and first strike capability.

SS-20 Saber Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile

In light of the Warsaw Pact’s numerical superiority in ground forces, NATO developed a tactical nuclear weapons option that could form part of a graduated nuclear response. In order to neutralise these forces in Western Europe Moscow developed a new mobile intermediate-range ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead with a range in excess of 5,000km. This was given the NATO reporting name of SS-20 Saber, and entered service in 1976. The system was also intended to supersede the old SS-4 and SS-5 missiles.

A 37 ton, 16.5 metre-long missile based on two solid-fuel fibreglass-clad stages originally designed for the abandoned SS-16 Sinner mobile ICBM programme, the Saber initially had a single warhead but was made MIRV-compatible and transported on a 12×12 MAZ-547A/MAZ-7916 TEL. This mobile system so alarmed NATO that it responded by deploying ground-launched cruise missiles to Western Europe. By the mid-1980s an estimated 350 Sabers had been deployed, with 240 in eastern Russia threatening Europe and the remainder in Siberia targeting China and Japan. In total, 654 SS-20 missiles and 499 TELs were built, but they were withdrawn from service in the late 1980s under the terms of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and destroyed in 1991.

SS-21 Scarab Short-Range Ballistic Missile

The smallest member of the Soviet Union’s family of short-range ballistic missiles was the mobile SS-21 Scarab, with a range of 120km (compared to the 50km of the SS-23 and the 900km of the SS-12M). Mounted on a 6×6 TEL, the SS-21 could take fragmentation, nuclear, biological or chemical warheads. Developed in the late 1960s, it was used to replace the shorter-ranged FROG-7 battlefield rocket.

The Scarab A entered service with the Soviet Army in 1975 and was forward-deployed into East Germany in the early 1980s. From there, it could have destroyed NATO’s early warning radar and surface-to-air missile sites prior to air strikes. The longer-range Scarab B appeared in 1989, with a third version developed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. By this stage Scarabs had replaced most of the FROG-7 rockets in Eastern Europe and had been supplied to Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Syria.

SS-24 Scalpel Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

Unlike the SS-19, the SS-24 Scalpel was deployed in 1987 as both a railway-based and silo-based missile. The rail-mounted version understandably had limited utility in time of war. In total, fifty-six rail-based systems were produced but they have since been decommissioned.

SS-25 Sickle Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

Development of the SS-25 Sickle by the Soviets commenced in the late 1970s as an improved three-stage solid-propellant single-warhead mobile ICBM. The missile was deployed in a TEL canister on a 14×14 chassis. Measuring over 29 metres long and 1.7 metres in diameter, the missile was mounted on the MAZ-7310 or MAZ-7917. The TEL was normally supported by a mobile relay station and command support vehicle. Understandably, because the Sickle was fully mobile, it was vastly more expensive than the silo-based ICBMs. The first regiment equipped with it was activated in 1985; by 1991 the Russians had deployed 288 SS-25 missiles and five years later this figure had risen to 360. They were used to equip three strategic rocket forces missile armies totalling seven divisions.


Like those of the USA, the Soviet Union’s first post-war missile was a development of the German A-4; this led to the SS-1A (NATO = ‘Scunner’) with a range of 300 km and a 750 kg high-explosive warhead. The first nuclear battlefield missile to enter service (in 1957) was the Scud-A, which was mounted on a converted JS-3 heavy-tank chassis and carried a 50 kT warhead over a range of some 150 km. This was later supplemented by the Scud-B system, which carried a 70 kT warhead over a range of 300 km. Although Scuds were supplied to many other countries, nuclear warheads were only ever issued to the Soviet army and the system served throughout the Cold War, as plans to replace it with the SS-23 were cancelled as part of the INF Treaty.

The SS-12 (‘Scaleboard’) was a road-mobile, solid-fuelled ballistic missile, which was first fielded in 1962, followed by a modified version, the SS-12B (initially designated SS-22), in 1979. The missile had a maximum range of 900 km and a CEP of 30 m, carrying either a high-explosive or a 500 kT nuclear warhead, and system reaction time was estimated at sixty minutes. The SS-12B was withdrawn under the terms of the INF Treaty, and all missiles were destroyed.

One of the significant features of both the SS-1 and the SS-12 was that later versions were transported by 8 × 8-wheel TELs. These were highly mobile for off-road driving, were air-conditioned, accommodated the full crew and all necessary equipment, and even had an automatic tyre-pressure-regulation system. All these features enabled the missile detachment to move into a new location, set up the missile quickly, launch, and then move to a resupply point – the so-called ‘shoot-and-scoot’ tactic.

All Warsaw Pact exercises made use of battlefield nuclear weapons in support of attacks. A typical scenario, used some 233 weapons in the first strike, followed by 294 in the second strike. As used in these exercises, the intended purpose was to eliminate NATO forward troops – Area B, for example, coincided with the North German Plain. Following such a strike, the Warsaw Pact tank and motor-rifle units would have been able to advance rapidly into NATO rear areas.

The Soviet equivalent of the Honest John was known to NATO as the FROG (for Free Rocket Over Ground). The last model, the FROG-7, had HE, chemical, and nuclear warheads and a range of 42 miles. The SS-1C, known to NATO as the SCUD-B, was a guided missile with a range of 180 miles. During the Persian Gulf War, Iraqi-made crude versions of the SCUD proved widely inaccurate but were a tremendous nuisance to the Coalition, especially when Iraq fired them at Israel in a failed attempt to broaden the conflict. The Soviet SS-21 guided missile was a divisional-level system with a range of only 60 miles.

The SS-23 was an army-level system with a range of 300 miles. The SS-12 was a theater-level system with a range of 540 miles. All these Soviet systems carried nuclear warheads. Under the provisions of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the United States agreed to eliminate the Pershing and the Soviets agreed to eliminate the SS-12 and SS-23.

Summit meeting between U. S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev held in Moscow during 29 May–2 June 1988. It was the fourth such meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev since 1985. For Reagan, the conference coincided with congressional hearings on the Iran-Contra Affair. Because of this, some critics speculated that the president was trying to divert attention from the scandal by creating a newsworthy achievement at the meeting. The major accomplishment of the summit was the signing of the already-ratified 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on 1 June 1988. It did not represent a breakthrough in arms control.

From the Soviet perspective, the 1988 summit greatly enhanced Gorbachev’s domestic and international prestige. This was because of the obvious close relationship between the two leaders and Reagan’s international reputation as an anticommunist hard-liner. Gorbachev’s heightened prestige gave him important political capital, which was needed as he continued to move forward with his perestroika and glasnost reforms.

The meeting was carefully crafted to focus on the INF Treaty. The treaty had been forged at the December 1987 Washington summit meeting between the two leaders and was approved by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders in March 1988 and by the U. S. Senate on 29 May 1988. The treaty called for the destruction of 2,611 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) with flight ranges of 300–3,400 miles. Included in the treaty were U. S. Pershing II missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles as well as Soviet SS-4, SS-12, SS-20, and SS-23 missiles. It also specified very detailed on-site inspection and verification procedures. In accordance with the treaty, by 1991 both countries would have eliminated all intermediate- range nuclear missiles.


To increase the survivability of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), military planners have always turned to mobility in order to complicate the calculations of an attacker. For the Soviet Union, development of mobile ICBMs was slow until the late 1960s owing to concerns about command and control and the ability to maintain positive control of Soviet missiles under all circumstances. Lack of communications links were an additional Soviet concern. In the United States, high operating costs and the need to operate systems over enormous expanses of land limited interest in mobile missiles. The U. S. Air Force pursued the railmobile Minuteman option in 1960, which would have been deployed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, but for budgetary reasons Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara canceled the planned procurement of additional Minuteman ICBMs, which eliminated the need for the deployment scheme. As the accuracy of ICBMs improved, creating concerns about the survivability of ICBMs deployed in fixed silos, both superpowers revisited the issue of deploying mobile ICBMs.

The Soviets first attempted to use a tank chassis as a transporter for the SS-15 in 1968. After discovering that vibration of the chassis caused missile component failures, they canceled the system after ten test flights. After reviewing its options, the Soviet Strategic Forces decided that a truck chassis was a better vehicle than a tank chassis as a missile transporter, offered better road speeds, was relatively easy to maintain, and created fewer vibration problems. The SS-16 system that emerged in 1972 was concealable, highly mobile, and successful. It also became one of the major stumbling blocks in superpower arms control talks. The United States could not detect the missile launchers using reconnaissance satellites and tried to have mobile missiles banned. The SS-16 was specifically banned in the treaty resulting from the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I), although the Soviets kept the missile in their inventory in violation of the treaty. It was eventually withdrawn from service when better systems were ready for deployment.

After the SS-16 was decommissioned, the designs were used in the highly successful SS-20 intermediate- range ballistic missile (IRBM) that entered the Soviet arsenal in the 1970s. Soviet planners also decided that they required a secure second-strike capability and eventually deployed the road-mobile SS-25 and the rail-mobile SS-24 ICBMs. The SS-25 carried a single warhead, while the SS-24 carried ten multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). The SS-24 was deployed on missile trains that carried three missiles, their launchers, support equipment, and security railcars. These missile trains usually patrolled for about five days out of garrisons that were situated along the Trans-Siberian Railroad. In order to keep its defense posture as other strategic arms treaties entered into force, Russia replaced the SS-25 with the SS-27, another road-mobile missile.


A transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) is a self-propelled vehicle that transports and erects a missile to the vertical position in order to launch it. In the 1950s and 1960s, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) were too heavy and too susceptible to vibration damage while being moved on a transporter. Development of a mobile ICBM was thus a high priority for both the United States and the U. S. S. R. The Soviet Union had a string of failures with its SS-14 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) and its SS-15 ICBM, which were mounted on a tracked tank chassis. These two systems were never widely deployed because the tracked TELs could barely carry the weight of the massive ICBMs. Only with the development of the SS-16 ICBM and the SS-20 IRBM did the Soviets achieve their goal of a wheeled TEL.

The TEL carries not only a missile that is environmentally protected, but also electronics to monitor the missile, alignment equipment, and communications links to receive orders from headquarters. To increase the pre-launch survivability of the missile, the TEL must be able to traverse a variety of terrain types and move quickly over a large distance, especially to disperse to operating areas when placed on alert or during a crisis.

Russia currently uses a slightly larger TEL for its SS-25 and SS-27 ICBM force. Other nations have developed but not deployed mobile ICBM TELs. The United States developed a complex vehicle for the single-warhead Midgetman ICBM that could withstand a nuclear blast by hugging the ground. The MX missile also could have been TEL mounted, but it was never deployed in this configuration. Other short-range missile systems, most notably the Scud missile, often are mounted on trucks or simple tracked vehicles.

Reference Podvig, Pavel, ed., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001). A History of Strategic Arms Competition, 1945-1972, vol. 3, A Handbook of Selected Soviet Weapon and Space Systems (Washington, DC: United States Air Force, June 1976), pp. 204, 205, 209, 216. Jane’s Weapon Systems 1987-88 (London: Jane’s Publishing Company, 1988).

Russian Ship Types and Classifications – Age of Sail

Russian squadron visits Spithead August 1827

The Russian sailing navy at the height of its power and efficiency: during a state visit to Britain the Russian squadron at Spithead mans the yards in honour of the Duchess of Clarence, 8 August 1827. Drawn with meticulous attention to detail by Henry Moses, all the Russian ships are identified. From left to right, they are: Sisoi Velikii (74); Iezekiil’ (74); Tsar’ Konstantin (74); Merkurii (44); Kniaz Vladimir (74); Gangut (84), then the British royal yacht Royal Sovereign under sail; Aleksandr Nevskii (74); Azov (74); Sviatoi Andrei (74). Elements of this squadron were to fight with distinction a couple of months later at Navarino.

The sterns of four Russian ships of the line built between 1700 and 1763 show in detail the elaborate style of decorative wood carving still in vogue in Russia during the first half of the eighteenth century at a time when the sterns and quarter galleries of other European capital ships were becoming simpler and more utilitarian in the interest of economy and efficiency in battle. As warship design became more functional and less concerned with vulgar (and expensive) display under Catherine II, this level of decoration declined in the Russian navy as it had done so earlier in other European navies: top left, Goto Predestinatsiya 1700; top right, Ingermanland 1715; below left, Slava Rossii 1733; below right, Sviatoi Evstafii Plakida 1763.

This includes major seagoing warships present. Shallow-draught vessels intended solely for inshore and amphibious warfare and naval auxiliaries are not included. Coverage of the larger oared and rowing frigates has been included here on account of their size and firepower and their seagoing capabilities. The same reasoning applies to bomb vessels which were designed to accompany the battle fleets at sea. The categories covered below are all types familiar to the most casual students of sailing warships and our remarks are largely confined to elements of their construction and utilization unique to Russian conditions and in some degree of variance with normal practice elsewhere.

Line of battle ships

During the formative years of naval development, Russians followed British usage and formally divided their capital ships into four, and later three, Rates.

Unlike the British, no attempt was made to assign rates to cruising ships. The following official Rates were in effect prior to the reign of Catherine II:

Inventory of 1727

First Rate 90–100 guns

Second Rate 80–88

Third Rate 66

Fourth Rate 54

Establishment of 1732

First Rate 70–100

Second Rate 66

Third Rate 54

Establishment of 1750

First Rate 80–100

Second Rate 66

Third Rate 54

It should be noted that these ratings were formal categories and never achieved general circulation in the Russian naval circles of the period. Formal establishments of ships after 1750 describe capital ships solely in terms of the number of guns that they were rated as carrying. The sole exception to this practice was that ships carrying 100 guns or more were always referred to colloquially as First Rates within the fleet. Note also that `ships of the line’ will also be found referenced variously throughout the text as `line of battle ships`, `line ships` and `capital ships` solely in the interests of avoiding rhetorical tedium. Ships of the line shared certain basic features with several lesser warship types such as frigates, ship sloops and corvettes. These types were all collectively referred to as `ships` or `ship-rigged vessels` and had three square-rigged masts and from one to three continuous gun decks. The feature that distinguishes ships of the line from frigates and the like was their having been designed to `stand in the line` and withstand the firepower of any and all enemy warships. Some ships of the line were effectively rendered obsolete as ships being built in Russia and elsewhere became larger and more powerfully armed. In the British Royal Navy, these ships, such as 50s and 64s, were usually relegated to colonial service where they could be usefully employed as flagships and prestige ships. Russia lacked significant colonies throughout most of this period and dealt with their older ships of the line by converting them to floating batteries for stationary defence or employing them as troop transports or hospital ships. Many ships designated as frigates were in fact more powerful than some smaller ships of the line, but they were never intended to operate as `line ships`. No detailed discussion of capital ship evolution is possible at this point, but the following production table for all Russian purpose-built line of battle ships completed between 1700 and 1860 reflects the overall production of the Russian Navy as well as highlighting the differences in emphasis between the Baltic and Black Sea fleets, with the Black Sea fleet leaning more heavily on larger capital ships, and the Baltic possessing a more balanced mix of types:

*This total includes Sea of Azov ships for all categories and treats them as components of the Black Sea fleet.


Russian frigates were more functionally specialized than those found in Western navies. Readers accustomed to thinking in terms of Fifth Rates and Sixth Rates or 9pdr frigates, 12pdr frigates, 18pdr frigates and the like will need to familiarize themselves here with terms appearing in the body of the text, such as `battle frigates’, `heavy frigates’, `training frigates’, `small frigates’, `rowing frigates’, and even `newly invented frigates` (Novoizobretennye Fregaty). While it is true that standard 12- and 18pdr frigates of the type built in Western European navies were also built in moderate numbers throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Russia, they were steadily eclipsed after 1785 by much heavier 24pdr ships of a type not found elsewhere in significant numbers until the post-Napoleonic period.’

Part of the explanation for the Russian predilection for specialized frigate categories lies in the very different and variable operating environments experienced by their regional navies in both the Baltic and the Black Sea. Not only were there differences between the operational demands and expectations placed on cruising vessels in inland sea environments in general, with fewer opportunities for engaging in the traditional scouting, raiding and commerce protection functions of frigates operating in oceanic environments, and greater opportunity for inshore operations of an amphibious nature, there were also significant differences between the requirements imposed by the very different Baltic and the Black Sea environments, both natural and political.

It should be borne in mind that the categories presented below do not necessarily represent formally established categories. They do, however, reflect clearly defined lines of development in the Russian navy, and are being described here for the sake of clarity of communication in the pages that follow. Numerical totals for the frigate category are subject to considerable interpretation and the figures given below should be treated as informed approximations, especially with respect to the smaller and older categories. Many ships classed as frigates by Russia were too small to merit this classification by Royal Navy standards, but most of the ships included here were designed for cruising and scouting purposes, regardless of their size or armament. A total of 274 ships fall within the frigate category, 190 in the Baltic, 78 in the Black Sea, and 6 in the Caspian.

Battle frigates

A term briefly in vogue in the Black Sea to describe ships falling below the level of line of battle ships, but intended to participate in the line of battle against similar Turkish ships. In practice, this term quickly gave way to the following term:

Heavy frigates

A term applied to large and heavily armed 24-, 30- and 36pdr frigates found in significant numbers in both the Baltic and the Black Sea fleets. These larger ships were more numerous in both theatres than the smaller standard 18pdr frigates; but their respective popularity in the Baltic and the Black Seas arose from rather different tactical requirements and emphases. In the Black Sea, where the type was first introduced, heavy frigates were not regarded as traditional cruisers suited for scouting and raiding, but were rather the direct descendants of the previously described battle frigates and were intended to supplement the line of battle against similar Turkish ships. In the Baltic, on the other hand, heavy frigates were quite ironically the direct design descendants of the captured Swedish heavy frigate Venus, specifically designed by af Chapman to take its place in the line of battle, and captured by the Russians during the Russo-Swedish War of 1788-91. Russian heavy frigates built along the lines of the Venus were utilized in traditional frigate roles and not as battle line adjuncts as was the case with the Black Sea heavies.

During the period between 1770 and 1860, a total of 85 heavy and battle frigates joined the two Russian fleets, almost all of them armed with 24pdr cannon and ranging between 141 ft and 174 ft in length.

Standard frigates

These were similar to frigates found elsewhere in terms of size and capabilities. The same distinction between the older cruising vessels having two fully or partially armed gun decks and the later `true’ or `classic’ frigates of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic War periods, with unarmed lower decks and improved speed and handling characteristics, was found in the Russian Navy as elsewhere. The difference for Russia was that the design transformation that occurred in the 1750s for the navies of France, Spain and Great Britain apparently did not make its way to Russia until the Vos’moi class of 12pdr frigates entered service in the late 1770s in the then Sea of Azov flotilla and the Briachislav class of 18pdr frigates in the mid-1780s for the Baltic. The inspiration for the first Russian 18pdr frigates of the Briachislav class in 1784 probably came from ideas absorbed by Russian students returning from Great Britain in the early 1780s, quite possibly with the plans for the British Arethusa class frigates in hand – their armament and dimensions were suspiciously similar. As indicated above, these `true frigates’ were built in smaller numbers proportionally than in other navies where there was an ongoing requirement for large numbers of cruising vessels in scouting and commerce protection (and commerce destruction of course). Russian frigates had smaller areas to patrol in their confined inner seas and very little in the way of merchant ships requiring escort in the navy of a country lacking any significant investment in overseas trade, and so they were never required in the numbers found in the Atlantic navies.

Between 1773 and 1860, only 36 standard or `classic’ frigates armed with 18pdr guns and ranging between 121 ft and 150 ft in length were completed for both the Baltic and Black Sea fleets, less than half the number of 24pdr heavy frigates completed for the two regional fleets during the same general period. In the interests of completeness, it should also be noted that a total of 60 earlier cruising ships, all bearing the multifunctional name of `frigate’ were also completed for service in the Baltic between 1705 and 1785, including 18 obsolescent 12pdr ships of the Pavel type constructed between 1773 and 1785, just prior to the introduction of true frigate types.

Small frigates

A descriptive term rather than a formal category, these ships were intermediate in size and power between standard frigate types and corvettes and sloops. In the British Royal Navy, the vessels constructed after 1770 would probably have been rated as ship sloops. Between 1702 and 1761, 17 small ships classed as frigates and ranging between 65 ft and 94 ft in length were completed in the Baltic. Between 1762 and 1845, an additional 38 small frigates of the more classic type with a single gun deck, but ranging between 90 ft and 130 ft were completed, 19 in the Baltic, 13 in the Black Sea and 6 in the Caspian. Armament varied widely in this category, with small frigates carrying between 8 and 32 guns of as little as 6pdr calibre to as much as 30pdr (when rebuilt as `newly invented frigates’; see below).

Training frigates These purpose-built ships were limited to the Baltic fleet. They would normally have been rated as sloops or corvettes in most Western navies and are included in the totals given above for the larger `small frigate’ category. These ships were not intended to act as naval combatants, but rather as fully equipped peacetime training ships for young naval recruits. Fourteen ships were formally designated as training frigates during the age of sail.

`Newly invented frigates` (Novoizobretennye Fregaty) The phrase `newly invented’ does not transfer well from Russian to English and might more readily be rendered as `rebuilt` or `redesigned’. The frigate designation is probably not entirely appropriate for this small collection of short-lived Black Sea ships, five of which originally fell within the category of purpose built shallow draught frigates, while the others were comprised of a hotch-potch of converted pinks, cutters and merchantmen that were rebuilt as `frigates’. The purpose-built frigates chosen for the conversion programme were originally shallow-draught ships built in shipyards along the Don River and armed with 12pdrs and generally resembled conventional deep-water frigates. These highly specialized warships were found to be incapable of dealing with more heavily gunned Turkish ships in the opening phases of the Russo-Turkish War of 1788-90 in the Liman. In order to derive some value from their construction when their deficiencies became apparent, they were rebuilt in 1788 with reinforced hulls and enormously powerful (for their size) 30pdr batteries bored out hurriedly from available guns of lesser calibre. The concept of adding very heavy guns to shallow draught vessels in order to use their enhanced combination of firepower and manoeuverability to compensate for the Russian lack of line of battle ships in the Liman was the result of the fruitful and co-operative relationship that grew up between Samuel Bentham, a British mechanical engineer and later Inspector General of the Royal Navy, and the formidably talented Prince Potemkin. The resulting vessels resembled later nineteenth-century ships armed with gunnades and they proved an effective short-term solution for the Black Sea fleet, although they sacrificed a good deal of their scouting and cruising capabilities in their search for greater short-range firepower, becoming de facto coastal defence ships. A total of twelve `newly invented frigates’ of all types were converted in 1788 to meet the demands of the Russo-Turkish War. They were all disposed of in the early 1790s as newer, more carefully thought-out heavy frigate types began entering service in the Black Sea; but they set the tone for future generations of heavily armed Black Sea frigates with their deliberate substitution of heavy ordnance for more conventional cruiser qualities.

Oared or rowing frigates The shallow coastal waters of the northern Baltic mandated the construction by both Swedes and Russians of large fleets of small rowing vessels similar in function to Western gunboats. These small craft could not operate in deepwater environments, but they could do serious damage to larger sailing ships becalmed in the shallow-water environments of the northern Baltic and made helpless by the vagaries of the Baltic winds. Rowing frigates provided something of a link between the traditional deep-water sailing navy and the gunboat squadrons. They were as large and well armed as true frigates, but were at the same time shallow-draft vessels unsuitable for deep-water use and with sweeps capable of facilitating movement during calms and of manoeuvring successfully against smaller and more agile gunboats. Twenty-six of these handsome and unusual ships were completed between 1773 and 1823, ranging between 130 ft and 144 ft in length. The early ships carried 24pdrs and the final rowing frigates carried 36pdrs, an unprecedented armament for a frigate.

Corvettes and ship sloops

To English-speaking readers, corvette is simply the name used by the French for the British ship sloop and both designations refer (in this time period at least) to three-masted ships similar in layout to frigates but smaller and with fewer and lighter cannon. Both terms were in use in the Russian sailing navy, but they had separate and distinct meanings, although both types were alike in being three-masted ships of generally similar size and armaments.

Corvettes were purely combat ships with sharper lines than corresponding sloops. They were operationally attached to battle groups and employed as scouts, avisos and cruising ships. Corvettes were more popular in the Black Sea where they took on many of the functions reserved to frigates in the Baltic in the absence of adequate numbers of standard frigate types. A total of 15 corvettes entered service in the Black Sea after 1800 as opposed to only 3 for the Baltic and 4 for the Caspian.

Russian ship sloops were broader of beam and better suited for carrying cargo and supplies than corvettes. They retained the capability for assuming scouting and cruising functions if called upon, but were generally employed as armed store ships. After the Napoleonic Wars ended, ship sloops came into their own when they were found to be ideally suited for hydrographic survey work, foreign exploration and global circumnavigation. No sloops are found in the Russian Baltic or Black Sea fleets in the eighteenth century (unless one includes the `small frigates’), although three were built in Kamchatka. Between 1804 and 1818, 21 ship sloops were built for the Baltic and one lone sloop joined the Black Sea fleet in 1823. Ship sloops were not built in quantity in the Black Sea fleet because the closing of the Bosporus to Russian warships negated their potential for long-range service.

Snows and brigs

Snows and brigs were close cousins. Both had two large square-rigged masts; but the snow in its final incarnation in the second half of the eighteenth century also carried a small, short third mast called a trysail mast immediately abaft the main mast carrying a spanker that could be operated independently of the main mast’s sails. The trysail mast was not readily apparent to the uninformed observer due to its close proximity to the main mast and snows were sometimes referred to as `two- and-a-half mast’ ships. Russian snows built in the first quarter of the eighteenth century were originally based upon Dutch designs and were equipped with sweeps for inshore operations. Illustrations indicate that the rig of at least three early snows, two Lizets and the similar Munker (My Heart), all designed by Peter I and named after his daughter Elizabeth, carried traditional three-masted ship rig with a fully developed mizzen mast in place of the trysail. Other contemporary snows, such as Adler of 1705, are shown with more traditional snow rig. This may indicate Peter’s personal preference for three-masted ships, whatever their size, or it may reflect a variability in the rigging of early snows that would indicate that the designation may have had more to do, at this time, with hull design, size and intended employment than with a particular rig. Russian snows were popular in both the Baltic and Sea of Azov during the first quarter of the eighteenth century, but are not found thereafter. Their decline in popularity in later years mirrors a similar phenomenon in the Royal Navy during the same period and one wonders if there was a connection here, as in other areas, with the Russian employment of large numbers of British shipwrights and officers. A total of 22 snows were completed between 1700 and 1711, 16 in the Baltic and 6 in the Sea of Azov. One final snow was completed for the Baltic in 1723, almost as an afterthought.

Brigs did not begin to appear in the Russian navy until the very close of the eighteenth century, but they became extremely popular during the first half of the nineteenth, gradually edging out the slightly larger corvettes and ship sloops in both the Baltic and Black Sea. The development of the brig as the primary low-end ship best suited for inshore patrol, routine escort and scouting activities parallels a similar process in the British Royal Navy from about 1780 on. To quote Robert Gardiner from Warships of the Napoleonic Era, three-masted sloops were `more seaworthy, more habitable, longer ranged and better armed than the old two-masted type, and the ship rig must have conferred some advantages in battle – three masts would have made them less vulnerable to damage aloft than two. But the one quality the new-style sloops did not possess was speed.’ Besides having an important edge in speed, brigs required smaller crews as a result of having only two masts to the ship sloop’s three. The downside of the two-mast arrangement was a greater vulnerability in battle since the loss of a single mast was of more importance in a two-masted vessel than it was in a ship with three masts.

The nineteenth century saw a flowering of the type, with 37 being built for the Baltic, 26 for the Black Sea, 19 for the Caspian and six for Okhotsk. With few exceptions, brigs were between 90 ft and 105 ft in length and armed with all carronade batteries.

Cutters and schooners

Both cutters and schooners are small ships with largely fore- and-aft rigs, one or two masts, and a very light armament sufficient only for overwhelming the smallest of opponents. The two types developed in the later part of the eighteenth century as highly manoeuverable ships capable of patrolling close inshore and interdicting smugglers and pirates and the like. As a largely self-sufficient nation without much in the way of trade or foreign commerce, Russia in the eighteenth century had relatively little use for vessels of this type. After 1800, and particularly after 1820 as Russian naval horizons expanded, particularly in the areas of coastal surveying and exploration, cutters and schooners found an increasing role in naval affairs. Both types came within the same general size range, although schooners were probably a bit larger on the average. Between 1790 and 1860, the Baltic fleet acquired 27 two-masted schooners ranging between 35 ft and 105 ft, while the Black Sea fleet acquired 24 between 1772 and 1849 ranging between 75 ft and 119 ft. For reasons not immediately apparent, one- masted cutters were decidedly more popular in the Baltic, where there were a total of 42 vessels acquired between 1786 and 1826 as against only four for the Black Sea fleet and two for Okhotsk. Cutters in Russian service were as heterogeneous a group as schooners, with lengths varying between 51 ft and 99 ft and armament between 12 and 32 guns. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the Russians stopped building cutters with the accession of Nicholas I, apparently preferring the slightly larger two-masted schooner.

Luggers and tenders

Luggers and tenders were classified as light warships by the Russians and are included in this section for this reason.

Bomb vessels

Russian naval operations were frequently conducted in support of amphibious objectives and bomb ships, both purpose-built and improvised, were built in some numbers for both major fleets and for the Caspian flotilla. Although designed for shore bombardment, these ships were deep draught vessels, designed to accompany and work with battle fleets at sea, and not for the close-in, shallow water work of prams and gunboats. In appearance, they were clumsy-looking vessels, with heavily reinforced decks to bear the weight of their heavy ordnance.

Seven bombs were built in the closing years of the seventeenth century for the Sea of Azov. The Baltic fleet acquired a total of 18 purpose-built bombs, two converted ships and two ships purchased abroad for a total of 22. The Black Sea built nine, converted eleven and purchased five abroad. Bombs were quite reasonably also found in the Caspian flotilla, where amphibious operations were common, and four ships were launched in 1808.

An Alternative Battle of Austerlitz, 1805

Napoléon at the Battle of Austerlitz, by François Gérard (Galerie des Batailles, Versailles)

Allied (red) and French (blue) deployments at 1800 hours on 1 December 1805

The decisive attacks on the Allied center by St. Hilaire and Vandamme split the Allied army in two and left the French in a golden strategic position to win the battle.

The weather had turned bitterly cold and the news of the defeat of the Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar had further dampened French morale. The astonishing victory at Ulm, where the Austrian General Mack’s advance army had been surrounded and compelled to capitulate, though just two months earlier, seemed a distant memory. Even after the surrender of 60,000 Austrian troops and the occupation of Vienna, the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II, refused to come to terms with the Emperor of the French. The reason for this was the belated arrival of the Russian army, the other major participant in the Third Coalition of countries opposed to France along with Great Britain. Tsar Alexander’s men gave the Coalition force a decided numerical advantage, and Francis insisted in fighting on.

For his part, Napoleon needed a rapid resolution to the conflict. He was 700 miles from home and outnumbered. Back in France, the departure of the Grande Armée, and Nelson’s victory off the Spanish coast, had encouraged the supporters of the deposed Bourbon monarchy to rebel once again. There was also the possibility that Prussia, which was known to be mobilising its forces, would join the Coalition. Somehow Napoleon had to draw the Austrians and Russians into a battle on ground and under circumstances of his own choosing – and quickly. But how?

The combined enemy force, some 90,000 strong, was positioned towards Olmütz on the Morava River, in the present day Czech Republic, but then in the eastern regions of Francis’ empire. The Austro-Russian army had secured communications running back through Poland and Silesia. If Napoleon tried to attack the allied army, it could quite easily fall back on its lines of communication, and in doing so, further elongate the Grande Armée’s already severely over-stretched supply chain. Indeed, the French army was in poor shape, with their weapons, equipment, clothing and shoes all showing the signs of excessive wear. If the allied army did withdraw, the French were in no position to follow and if Prussia did declare war on France, Napoleon might well find his armies cut off from France and surrounded by enemies. Rarely had Europe’s finest general found himself in such a predicament.

The Field of Battle

The principle Austro-Russian force was concentrating at around Olmütz, some thirty miles to the northeast of Brünn (today’s Brno, the Czech Republic’s second largest city) and it was the area in the region of Moravia’s historic capital that Napoleon scouted to gain an appreciation of the ground to see if it could offer him any advantage. It was following one such reconnaissance that the soldier-historian Philippe-Paul, comte de Ségur, famously described an incident on the journey back from Wischau: ‘ turning off towards the south he entered a high plain contained between two embanked streams running from the north to the southwest.

‘The Emperor slowly and silently went over this newly discovered ground, stopping several times on its most elevated points, looking principally towards Pratzen. He carefully examined all its characteristics and during this survey turned towards us saying, “Gentlemen, examine this ground carefully, it is going to be a battlefield; you will have a part to play in it.” This plain was indeed to be within a few days the field of the Battle of Austerlitz.’

Having chosen his battleground, Napoleon had to bring on the action that he sought, and induce the Tsar and Francis to commit their troops to battle. He proposed to do this by pretending to be weak and worried, hoping that the prospect of defeating the great Napoleon would prove too tempting an opportunity to dismiss. Consequently, he planned to place a proportion of his army close to the main Austro-Russian force. This small, but significant French body, would give all the appearance of being isolated and within striking distance of the allied force. Hopefully, this would tempt the Tsar to attack and, once committed, Napoleon would then spring his trap, with the rest of Grande Armée suddenly appearing, to pounce on the unsuspecting enemy. It would a highly dangerous operation which would require perfect arrangement and impeccable timing.

Corps de Armée

Such an operation was only made possible because of the manner in which Napoleon had organised his army. It was divided into seven corps, whilst varying in size depending on the talents of its commander or the assignment it had been tasked with, each of which was a force of all arms capable of holding off an enemy of similar or larger numbers for at least a full day until reinforced. This meant that the corps in front of the Austro-Russian army could hold their own until the other corps marched to deliver the decisive blow. Added to this was the creation of a cavalry reserve of such a size that it could crash through the enemy’s line at the critical moment in a battle. This reserve totalled around 22,000 men including two full divisions of heavy cuirassiers.

Everything, though, would depend upon Napoleon’s brilliant chief of staff, Marshal Berthier, to bring all the Grande Armée’s corps together at the right moment. A corps of 30,000 men on the march took up five miles of good road, sixty guns with their caissons required two and a half miles, and 6,000 cavalry, riding four abreast, extended for about four miles. The length of such a column made it necessary for the corps to move along several parallel roads, keeping in mind the need for lateral communications if the situation required a sudden change of plan.

A Weak Front

The corps of Murat (Cavalry Reserve), Lannes (V Corps) and Soult (IV Corps) were to advance towards Wischau and Olmütz (present-day Olomouc) and occupy Austerlitz and the adjacent Pratzen Heights, with one cavalry brigade pushed towards Olmütz. This move would give all the appearance of an aggressive approach by Napoleon, indicating that he was still on the offensive. This was an obvious double-bluff. It would appear that Napoleon was putting a bold face on a rapidly deteriorating situation in the hope this would frighten the allies into remaining cautiously on the defensive. The Tsar, whose army constituted by far the bulk of the allied force and therefore who dictated strategy, would see through this and attack this comparatively small body of French troops which amounted to no more than 53,000 men. By 25 November, the move forward by this detached force was completed and Napoleon now had to wait to see if Tsar Alexander would take the bait.

Command of the Austro-Russian army was nominally under the command of Field Marshal Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov, though he had to take orders from Alexander. The Tsar saw what he thought was a golden opportunity and wanted to attack immediately, as did many of the Austrian and Russian generals. Kutuzov saw no need for such action and the Emperor Francis, on whose territory this was all taking place, urged caution. If the allies were defeated, the Russians could simply abandon the expedition and return to Russia, whereas Francis would be forced into a humiliating capitulation. Francis, therefore, had the most to lose.

With all this in mind, an allied delegation was sent to Napoleon to discuss the possibility of an armistice, but in reality to get a closer look at the state of the French army. Napoleon played his part to perfection, being charming and accommodating and indicating that he was only too happy to consider discussing terms.

This did the trick. It seemed clear that Napoleon was in some trouble and would happily accept a negotiated way out of the difficulties he was in. Never had there been a better chance for any of France’s enemies, in ten years of almost continual warfare, to strike such a blow. The Tsar had indeed sniffed the bait, and was about to swallow it.

The Eve of Doom

On 28 November, Austro-Russian troops attacked Murat’s outposts and pushed them back towards Soult’s corps. This was attended by impossibly high armistice demands from the Tsar and the Emperor. With this Napoleon knew the allies were going to fall into his trap and urgent messages were sent to the other corps commanders to march for Brünn with all speed. Marshal Bernadotte’s I Corps and Marshal Davout’s III Corps were soon on the road, with a thick cavalry screen ahead of them to conceal their movements from the enemy. Napoleon would still be outnumbered, but only slightly so, and he would have surprise on his side.

Before committing his troops to battle, the Tsar wanted confirmation that he was doing the right thing, and to allay the fears of those around him that doubted the wisdom of attacking Napoleon. So another delegation was sent to the French camp. Once again, Napoleon put on a display which made the returning Count Dologorouki tell the Tsar that ‘the French army was on the eve of its doom’.

Believing that he had convinced the enemy, Napoleon started the moves that would draw the enemy into his clutches, by ordering Soult to abandon Austerlitz and the Pratzen Heights, and in doing so to give all the appearance of near-panic. Kutusov was quick to take advantage of the French withdrawal and occupy the Heights.

No-one would relinquish the high ground if they were intent upon attacking, or even holding a defensive stance. The French, it seemed, knew the game was up and that they had better withdraw or be annihilated. To confirm this, the rest of the French cavalry pulled back from Wishau, again in an apparent state of disorder, followed now by the slow but increasingly confident Austro-Russian army. But as the Tsar’s men lumbered towards Austerlitz, Bernadotte’s I Corps arrived secretly behind Napoleon’s front, on 30 November, with Davout and the III Corps just a day’s march away. The following day was spent by Napoleon inspecting his troops and ensuring that everything was in place for the battle on the morrow.

He also issued an Order of the Day, which, rather than just appealing to the soldiers’ patriotism and sense of honour as such addresses usually did, actually explained an element of his plans for the battle:

‘SOLDIERS – The Russian army is before you, come to avenge the Austrian army of Ulm …

‘The positions which we occupy are formidable, and while the Russians march upon our batteries I shall attack their flanks.

‘Soldiers, I shall in person direct all your battalions; I shall keep out of range if, with your accustomed bravery, you carry disorder and confusion into the ranks of the enemy. But if victory is for a moment uncertain, you shall see your Emperor expose himself the foremost to danger; because victory must not hesitate an instant today, when, above all, the honour of the French infantry is concerned, which bears with it the honour of the whole nation.

‘Note that no man shall leave the ranks under the pretext of carrying off the wounded. Let everyman be filled with the thought that it is vitally necessary to conqueror these paid lackeys of England who so strongly hate our nation.’

As well as taking them into his confidence regards his plans, Napoleon was using clever psychology here, in that if the men did not see Napoleon at their head, they knew they were on course for victory and would keep on fighting, believing they were succeeding.

That evening Napoleon slept until 22.00 hours and then rode around part of the battlefield with twenty men of the Chasseurs à Cheval de la Garde Impériale, narrowly being captured by a party of Cossacks. He returned through the French camp. It was a foggy, moonless night and the Chasseurs lit torches of fir and straw to light the Emperor’s passage. ‘Seeing in the light of their torches a group of mounted officers approaching them, the soldiers quickly recognised the Imperial party, and many torches were lit,’ recalled Pierre Daumesil, ‘Soon the entire French line was ablaze, and repeated shouts of “Vive l’Empereur!” echoed across the Goldbach stream to the Russian lines. Regimental bands added their music to the exhilaration of the moment.’ Napoleon was moved by the scene, and as he later settled back in his tent, he was heard to murmur: ‘This has been the finest evening of my life.’ The following day would be remembered as the worst of his thirty-five years.

The Fog of Austerlitz

The field of battle for 2 December 1805, stretched from the villages of Welatiz and Bosenitz, just to the north of the road from Brünn to Austerlitz in the north, to the lake of Satschan, about six miles to the south. From east to west it spread from the Goldbach stream to the town of Austerlitz itself. The ground is slightly hilly but fairly open, dominated by the Pratzen plateau, with a wide, swampy region running northeast from the Satschan lake, along the River Littawa, on the eastern base of the plateau towards Austerlitz. On the day, the Austro-Russian army amounted to something between a little more than 85,000 to almost 88,000, compared to the 73,000 which Napoleon would eventually have under his command.

The fog of the night had not lifted when dawn broke on 2 December which hindered the assembly of the Austro-Russian formations. The allied plan, devised by the Austrian General Franz von Weyrother, was to direct the main effort against the seemingly weak French right, which was held by Soult. This would cut Napoleon’s line of retreat back to Vienna. As the French flank was being turned, another strong body would attack along the Olmütz-to-Brünn road on the French left, which also appeared to be held by a single corps, that of V Corps. What von Weyrother did not know was that already Bernadotte had joined Lannes, and Davout was closing in upon Soult. Von Weyrother’s plan also called for other columns to move from the Pratzen Heights as the French reeled under the blows of the two flanking columns to strike at the French centre to complete the victory. There were two complimentary flaws in this plan. The concentration of effort on the two flanks meant that the allied centre was very weak, and the Pratzen Heights – the high ground that dominated the battlefield – would be abandoned. Apparently General Langeron pointed out these dangers but his concerns were ignored. Napoleon, it was argued, was looking for a way out of the dangerous position he was in and he would never dream of sending troops to actually attack. This, though, was exactly what Napoleon hoped would happen.

Once the Russians and Austrians were on the move, a mass of 65,000 men would erupt from behind the Santon stream at its confluence with the Goldbach to confront the allied main force, whilst the divisions of Vandame and Saint-Hilaire (16,000 men and two batteries of artillery), would seize the Pratzen Heights. This would split the allied army in two, and whilst the enemy’s right flanking move was held by Lannes corps, the main French force would wheel round to the south and crush the left half of Kutuzov’s army. It was a brilliant and ambitious plan but, if the Russians abandoned the Heights, it could hardly fail.

First Moves

Tsar Alexander was anxious for the start of the great victory he visualized and, as the minutes ticked by he finally voiced his growing frustration. He addressed his commander in chief: ‘Mikhail Illarionovich why haven’t you begun your advance?’ Kutusov replied ‘I am waiting for all the columns of the army to get into position.’

‘But we are not on the Empress’s Meadows [a parade ground near St Petersburg], where we do not begin a parade until all the regiments are formed up!’

‘Your Highness, if I have not begun it is because we are not on parade, and not on the Empress’s Meadow. However, if such be Your Highness’s order …’

Ready or not, the Austro-Hungarian divisions moved off, and by 06.00 hours most of the attacking formations were on the move. General Buxhwden was in overall command of the main striking force which would crush the French right, and it was the five battalions of General Kienmayer’s 1st Infantry Brigade of his Advance Guard, leading the way, which first came into contact with the French as the Austrians approached the village of Telnitz on the banks of the Goldbach. The Austrians, anxious to show the Russians that they could fight as well as themselves, assaulted the village ‘with great resolution’. The ground, though, was difficult as the Goldbach at this point ran in ditches, behind which was a low height covered with vineyards and houses. Telnitz was held by a battalion of line infantry, the 3rd, as well as the Légion Corse. ‘Covered behind the inequalities of the ground,’ wrote the nineteenth century historian, Adolph Theirs, ‘these clever tirailleurs, taking cool aim at the hussars that had been sent forward in advance, brought down a great number of them … The Austrians, tired of a murderous conflict productive of no result, assaulted the village of Telnitz in a body of five united battalions which did not succeed in penetrating into it owing to the firmness of the 3rd of the line, which received them with the courage of well-tried troops.’

The other columns of Buxhwden’s force (First Column, Lieutenant General D. Doctorov; Second Column Lieutenant General A. Langeron; Third Column Lieutenant General I. Przbyswski; Fourth Column, lieutenant generals M. Miloradovich and J. Kollowrath) followed but not in the coordinated fashion that Von Weyrother would have hoped, but Kutuzov had predicted. Eventually, though, the allied main force overpowered the French left wing and Davout’s corps had still not reached the battlefield.

This was a critical moment in the battle. All Napoleon’s calculations were based on being able to hold back Buxhwden until he had taken the Pratzen Heights and broken through the Russian centre. Fortunately, Berthier’s arrangements proved to be satisfactory as usual, and the first until of III Corps finally marched into view. Corporal Blaise was with Heudelet’s division which was ordered to counter-attack: ‘General Heudelet put himself at our head and we marched boldly forward in battle order until we were halted by a ditch which was too large for us to cross. General Heudelet thereupon ordered our colonel to move us over a bridge away to our left. This necessary movement was the cause of our undoing, for the soldiers were so eager to come to grips with the vaunted enemy infantry that they disordered their ranks … and when we tried to reform our battle order under heavy fire, some Austrian hussars … in the thick smoke and fog which was a feature of the day, wounded a great many of us and captured 160 man including 4 officers.’

Despite such setbacks, Davout’s men helped recover Telnitz, only for a renewed assault by General Doctorov’s column to succeed in recapturing the village. Though the allies had the upper hand in the south, the easy breakthrough which had been anticipated by von Weyrother, upon which the whole of his plan depended, had not yet happened. This was in part because the Russian Second Column had become involved in what has been described as a massive traffic jam caused by the decision from the Russian staff on the Pratzen Heights to move the Fifth (Cavalry) Column across the front of Langeron’s men, causing a delay of almost an hour. All this meant that the French right was holding, just as Napoleon hoped it would, and the battle was developing exactly as Napoleon and anticipated.

Crossing the Goldbach

Eventually, though far later than had been planned, Langeron arrived on Doctorov’s right followed by Przbyswski’s Third Column on the right. Telnitz was retaken and the allies began to cross the Goldbach. It seemed that by sheer weight of numbers that the allies were overcoming the French. Then, as they crossed the stream, they were attacked by General Bouchier with six regiments of dragoons, followed by the rest of Heudelet’s infantry, and the Russians were thrown back in disorder. Davout’s men continued to push forward, taking advantage of the confusion in the Russian ranks. Astonishingly, a total of only 10,500 Frenchmen had not only stopped, but driven back, more than 50,000 Russians and Austrians. Often in history smaller, well disciplined and organised, bodies of troops, have defeated much larger enemy forces which are much harder to control and manoeuvre. Such was the case on the morning of 2 December on the banks of the Goldbach stream.

‘It was not yet eight o’clock,’ wrote Captain Segur, one of Napoleon’s aides-de-camp, ‘and silence and darkness were still reigning over the rest of the line, when, beginning with the heights, the sun suddenly breaking through the thick fog disclosed to our sight the plateau of Pratzen growing empty of troops from the flank march of the enemy columns. As for us who had remained in the ravine which defines the foot of the plateau, the smoke of the bivouacs and the vapours which, heavier on this point than elsewhere, still hung around, concealed from the Russians our centre deployed in columns and ready for the attack.’

Napoleon turned to Soult, who was to lead the assault upon the Pratzen, and asked him, ‘How long will it take to move your divisions to the top of the Pratzen Heights?’ The marshal replied, ‘Less than twenty minutes, Sire, for my troops are hidden at the foot of the valley, concealed by fog and campfire smoke.’ Napoleon hesitated for a moment, and then said, ‘In that case we will wait another quarter of an hour.’ Napoleon wanted the last of the allied columns to leave the heights before delivering the blow that would decide the battle, and end the Third Coalition.

But the sun which shone on the Pratzen Heights suddenly penetrated the mist that had concealed Soult’s division. The wary Kutusov, who had been opposed to the entire idea of attacking the French at all, immediately understood what he saw – a large body of French infantry that had not been engaged which was poised to cut right through the Austro-Russian line. The normally lethargic Russian general was a bustle of activity. The troops still on the Heights preparing to march down the slope were halted and orders were sent recalling Kollowrath’s Austrians and Miloradovitch’s twenty-five Russian battalions which were descending on the left towards Sokolnitz.

Napoleon had waited too long. For many years afterwards, Russians and Austrians who had been at the battle, would talk of the ‘sun of Austerlitz’, which had shed its light on the French, and shone its glory upon the Tzar and the Emperor of Austria.

Another few minutes and Miloradovitch would have been engaged and unable to extract his troops in time. But Kutusov’s urgent appeal reached the Russian general in time, and he wheeled his battalions round and headed back up the slope before Soult could begin his advance.

It was a race for the top of the Heights, but, despite the speed of the French columns, it was a race the Russians were always going to win. As Soult neared to within 200 yards of the summit, he saw the dense line of green-jacketed infantry stretched across the skyline.

To loud cries of ‘Vive l’Empereur’ Thiébault’s and Saint-Hilare’s divisions attacked with their usual impetuosity. But the Russians were stern opponents, and after a single volley, the men of the Novgorod, Apsheron, Little Russia and Smolensk regiment strode out purposefully, bayonets levelled.

The clash of arms was a terrible one, but weight of numbers and gravity was in the favour of allies. As the French were slowly pushed back, two brigades of von Lichtenstein’s cavalry, which had also been summoned by Kutusov, crashed into rear of Soult’s isolated regiments.


Witnessing the confused scene on the slopes above, Napoleon knew that the battle hung in the balance. True to his word, he galloped up the Heights to show his men that the result was in doubt. But when the French troops saw their Emperor, it only served to confirm what they knew – they were in trouble. Instead of galvanizing them into greater efforts, it had the opposite effect. It was clearly a case of every man for himself.

The French soldiers had never known defeat under Napoleon. They had supreme confidence in him, believing he would never fail. All that was shattered in moments. Napoleon watched the Grande Armée dissolve in front of him. It was the end of the dream.

The news of the French defeat soon reached Berlin and King Frederick William responded quickly, ordering those regiments that were fully mobilzed to take advantage of the situation, cutting off a large part of the retreating French infantry divisions. The Grande Armée was destroyed. So sluggish had been Kutusov’s pursuit, Napoleon could well have rallied his men and, with the help of reinforcements from France, held the allies on the Rhine, but the intervention of the Prussians proved fatal to what was to prove to be Napoleon’s weak grip on his adoptive country.

Though there was still a strong army in the south fighting the Austrians in Italy, there was little hope for France. Whilst Napoleon dreamt up ambitious schemes to attack the approaching enemy columns, his marshals knew that the only way to avoid France being overrun was to remove Napoleon. So it was, that on Christmas Eve, 1805, Louis XIII returned to Paris and was installed in his capital. Napoleon, however, was granted generous terms by the allies and he was permitted to retire with dignity to Corsica, the island of his birth. His had been a great adventure – until it came to an end on a low range of hills to the north of Vienna.


The Battle of Austerlitz was probably Napoleon’s greatest victory, which resulted in the destruction of the allied army. Around 27,000 Austrians and Russians were killed, wounded or taken prisoner, amounting to more than thirty per cent of the total allied force. This happen because Tsar Alexander had taken over command of the allied army from Kutusov, who had shown nothing but distain for von Weyrother’s plan and had argued against attacking Napoleon in the first place. Once Napoleon saw the Russians moving off the Pratzen, he send Soult’s IV Corps up the slope to push through the now extremely thin allied centre, cutting Kutusov’s army in two. Supported by Bernadotte’s corps and the Imperial Guard, Soult then swung round to the south, trapping Buxhwden’s force against the Satschan lakes. The allied troops tried to escape across the frozen lakes, and seeing this, Napoleon ordered up twenty-five cannon to fire upon the ice. The effect of the cannon balls, crashing onto the ice which was already under severe strain from the thousands of fleeing soldiers and the heavy artillery teams, began to crack. Though the number of men drowned in the freezing water was thought to have been many thousands, when the lakes were drained shortly after the battle only a few corpses were recovered. What the breaking of the ice did was block the allies only line of retreat, which why as many as 12,000 became prisoners.

The day after the battle the Emperor Francis sought an armistice, whilst the remnants of the Russian army retreated to the east. When news of the scale of the Austro-Russian defeat reached London, Prime Minister William Pitt is reported to have said, in reference to a map of Europe, ‘Roll up that map; it will not be wanted these ten years.’ He was proven, at least partially, correct. The Third Coalition was brought to a speedy end and the map of Europe was redrawn. The principle effects of this was that Napoleon created a grouping of the western German states, called the Confederation of the Rhine, to act as a buffer between France and Prussia. These states were formerly part of the Holy Roman Empire. Robbed, therefore of much of his authority Francis relinquished his title and the Holy Roman Empire, which had stood for almost 900 years, ceased to exist. Its demise was unquestionably one of the factors that enabled Prussia to become the dominant Germanic country which, in 1871, absorbed the smaller German states to form the German nation that we know today.

152mm Gun 2A36 M1976

During the 1970s the Soviets developed a new towed 152mm gun. It was first seen by NATO Intelligence sources in 1976, and so was dubbed the M1976. However, it did not enter service until 1981, when it replaced the M-46 130mm field gun. It was another four years before the M1976 was seen in a Moscow May Day parade, towed by a 6×6 KrAZ-260 truck. Its Soviet industrial number was 2A36 but it was called the Giatsint (‘hyacinth’) by the Soviet Army and was the same as that used in the 2S5 tracked self-propelled artillery system. The M1986 was deployed in batteries of six or eight guns, with three batteries per battalion. Production ceased during the 1980s.

Entering service in 1981, the 152mm Gun 2A36 (M1976) Giatsint (“Hyacinth”) replaced the 130mm M-46 in Soviet service and was also provided to Finland and Iraq. It is mounted on a split-trail carriage with large rear spades and a forward- mounted retractable firing base. The M1976 is served by a crew of eight and fires a 101-pound high-explosive shell up to 29,528 yards. With rocket-assisted projectiles, it attains a range of 43,745 yards.

The 152mm Self-Propelled Gun (2S5) Giatsint (“Hyacinth”) was designed and manufactured by the Uraltransmash Works and entered Soviet service in 1976. It saw service with Soviet forces in Afghanistan and was also adopted by Finland and Iraq. The 2S5 is equipped with a front mounted dozer blade to prepare firing positions and a rear stabilizing spade. It is served by between five and seven crewmen and, aided by a partially automated loading system, achieves a firing rate of up to 6 rounds per minute. The 2S5 utilizes a separate powder charge and projectile and accepts conventional, chemical, concrete-piercing, laser-guided, and tactical nuclear warheads. It fires a conventional 101-pound HE round up to 31,059 yards and a rocket-assisted projectile to a maximum of 43,745 yards.

152mm Gun 2A36 (M1976)

Adoption date: 1981

Caliber: 152mm

Weight: 21,517 pounds

Breech: semiautomatic horizontal sliding block

Barrel length: 323 inches

Elevation: 57°

Traversal: 25°

Projectile weight: 101 pounds

Muzzle velocity: 2,625 fps

Maximum range: 43,745 yards

Russian APC/IFV Design Overview

A typical example of a Soviet styled wheeled APC is the BTR-80. The BTR-80 is a 30,000 pound (13.6 tonne) 8×8 wheeled APC which is approximately 25 feet (7.7 meters) long, 9.5 feet (2.9 meters) wide and 8 feet (2.4 meters) high. Operated by a crew of three with a driver, commander and gunner the vehicle also transport 7 infantry troops. The driver and commander are situated to the forward of the vehicle while the gunner is positioned in a roof mounted seat beneath the main weapon. Two of the troops are located forward of the driver and commander, while the other five sit on bench style seats in the back of the vehicle. The troops are provided with firing ports. The rear positioned troops enter and exit the vehicle through side doors that are split. The upper door swings to the side and the lower half descends downward, thereby acting as a stepping surface. This approach is supposed to let troops exit the vehicle while it is in motion, with the side of the vehicle having the doorway oriented away from enemy fire.

The BTR-80 is powered by a 260 hp V-8 turbocharged diesel engine which provides a power-to-weight ratio of 17 hp/ton. This is a significant improvement over the dual gasoline engines that powered the earlier BTR-60 and BTR-70. Able to attain road speeds of up to 55 mph (90 km/hr) and having an operational range of 370 miles (600 kms) with on-board fuel the vehicle is also fully amphibious with a water speed of 6.2 mph (10 km/hr). The vehicle is powered through the water through hydrojets. The vehicle is able to navigate a gradient of 60% and climb a vertical step of 1.6 feet (0.5 meters).

A large number of variants of the BTR-80 have been produced to meet various operational needs and customer requirements. The more common of these are noted below:

• BTR-80 – standard Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) produced in 1986.

• BTR-80M – enhanced version available in 1993 with improved engine and tires.

• BTR-82 – further enhanced version available in 2009 with increased armor, addition of spall liner, improved night vision equipment and a 300 hp engine.

• 2S23 – a fire support version of the vehicle, mounting a 120 mm mortar rifled gun.

• BTR-80A – An Infantry Fighting Vehicle version introduced in 1994 and equipped with the remotely operated 2A72 30 mm auto-cannon in the turret and provided with 300 rounds of ammunition.

• BTR-82AM – A Naval Infantry (Marines) version of the BTR-82A.

• BTR-82A – Further enhanced IFV introduced in 2009 that has been well received by Russian troops battling in Ukraine. Weapon system has a FCS and improved night vision optics. Includes increased armor, addition of spall liner to the vehicle interior, GLONASS navigation system and a 300 hp engine. The vehicle is also able to accommodate 8 dismounts.

A typical example of a Soviet styled tracked vehicle is the BMP-1. BMP-1 – Modernized by the Belarusian 140th Repair Workshop from Barysaw in Belarus during major repairs between the 1970s and 2000s (decade). The modernization package included the pintle-mounted 9P135M-1 ATGM launcher capable of firing SACLOS guided 9M113 “Konkurs” (AT-5 Spandrel), 9M113M “Konkurs-M” (AT-5B Spandrel B), 9M111 “Fagot” (AT-4 Spigot) and 9M111-2 “Fagot” (AT-4B Spigot B) ATGMs as well as a new electronic pulsed infrared jam-resistant weapon system.

Armored Personnel Carriers became common during World War II, originally introduced by the German army to rapidly transport troops along the battlefield front. Capable of transport under conditions that regular trucks could not traverse, this provided tactical mobility to support the Blitzkrieg (lighting war) form of war. The Infantry Fighting Vehicle, essentially an APC styled vehicle with enhanced armor and armaments, was introduced during the 1960s by the Soviet Union. Its role was to provide fire support to dismounts and to engage lighted armored vehicles.

A weakness of APCs and IFVs is that they could not be armored sufficiently to protect against RPGs and ATGMs. Therefore modern warfare techniques rely heavily upon mobility, with tanks, IFVs and APCs advancing quickly upon enemy units. Supported by artillery and infantry to suppress the deployment of shaped-charged warhead equipped weapons, the armored vehicle are expected to overwhelm the enemy before they can effectively deploy their RPGs and ATGMs. This method of rapid mobile combat, known as maneuver warfare, was designed to engage in a successful full-scale conventional confrontation, as combat in Europe might unfold.

Modern warfare however has tended toward descending into asymmetric warfare and urban combat, with Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) often operating from isolated or stationary positions. This once again left them vulnerable to attack by infantry armed with RPGs and man-portable ATGMs. As Russians incurred heavy losses in the insurgent warfare experienced in their Afghanistan War and in Grozny during the 1st and 2nd Chechen Wars, they painfully came to recognize these vulnerabilities. Many Russian IFVs and APCs were destroyed by poorly trained but well-motivated infantry armed with relatively simple and inexpensive RPGs, ironically typically of Russian origin.

Multiple approaches were devised to overcome these vulnerabilities. These included having infantry outside the vehicle as it moved through cities to provide it protection, positioning troops at the vehicle front to operate defensive weapons, increasing the firepower available to the vehicle crew to destroy hostile enemy before they could deploy their weapons, installing lighter versions of ERA on these vehicles (the heavy tank versions of ERA damage the thin skinned IFVs and APCs) and to develop softkill and hardkill APS systems. The other approach is simply to provide APCs and IFVs with the same level of protection provided to MBTs (i.e., use tank chassis as APC/IFV chassis). Though the light-weight aspect of these vehicles is sacrificed by this approach, their survivability in insurgent and urban warfare is significantly improved. This has resulted for example in the development of the T-15 from the T-14. The Israelis are also taking this approach, developing the heavily armored Namer from the Merkava.

Soviet and Russian IFVs and APCs share regularities in their design approach, reflective of their military encounters, with designs evolving to meet the challenges presented by emerging technologies and tactics. Much like their Western counterparts, the Soviets field both wheeled and tracked APCs and IFVs that can be produced as a ‘Family of Vehicles’. Similar to the West, Soviet/Russian IFVs tend to be more heavily armored than their APCs. The IFVs ALSO tend to be tracked, permitting them the ability to maintain pace with MBTs, which their principal role is to support. For APCs however the Russians has long shown a preference for wheeled vehicles, with the West only absorbing the long established Russian approach in the 1990s. The Russians also have a strong preference for building APCs and IFVs that can ‘swim’, able to traverse rivers they encounter during an advance. While Western vehicles tend to stress higher armor levels, and therefore greater weight, the Russians keep their vehicle light enough to permit swim capabilities.

Until recently the Soviets in general have shown less interest in protecting their crews and providing for their comfort than their Western counterparts, focusing more on keeping their vehicles small, mobile and fast. Where Western vehicles tend to be taller and larger, providing more space for the occupants, Russian APCs and IFVs tend to be very low and flat by comparison, minimizing both the silhouette and vehicle weight. They also tend to be wider, and have wider tracks or wheels. Combining these features provides for optimized vehicle mobility, making them fast, able to traverse steep banks (low Center of Gravity) and able to navigate mud and snow.

The disadvantage of this approach is that the vehicle crew and dismounts (transported troops) have to operate is very cramped conditions. Therefore crews become exhausted more quickly, have more difficulty operating equipment and suffer higher casualties when the vehicle armor is breached due to slow and difficult vehicle egress. To counter these restrictions the Soviets have actually devised some rather novel innovations to improve the conditions for the crew and dismounts, and to improve overall vehicle performance.

Where older models of Russian APCs and IFVs have the transported troops enter and exit the vehicle from highly constrictive side doors, newer designs provide troops access through large doors and folding roofs at the vehicle rear. And where the loading rate of the main weapon was often only a quarter of that achievable on the more open spaced Western vehicles, integrated autoloaders has provided Soviets vehicles reload rates equal to or better than those achieved by their Western counterparts.

Another novel feature devised by the Soviets was to place the engine of their IFVs in the rear of the vehicle, providing it greater protection, similar to MBTs (IFVs and APCs more often place the engine at the vehicle front, to the right of the driver). By placing the engine low in the vehicle, troops are able to enter the vehicle over the rear mounted engine. This also permits the driver to be positioned in the center of the front of the vehicle, also similar to typical MBT design. The Soviets then place a soldier on either side of the driver, each operating as a machine gunner or grenade launcher operator. Similar to some WWII tanks, in which a weapons operator sat alongside the vehicle driver, this approach provides substantially greater firepower that can be directed at infantry to protect the vehicle from attack by RPGs and ATGMs.

Much like Western vehicles the Soviets fabricate their vehicle hulls from welded ballistic aluminum and/or ballistic steel, providing all around 360 degree protection to lower calibre threats. The vehicles possess highly sloped frontal glacis plates as well as sloped sidewalls, the oblique surfaces more effectively deflecting incoming rounds. While this reduces space availability for crew and troops, it does enhance vehicle overall survivability. With their low vehicle profile, Soviet APCs and IFVs are also more challenging to hit than their higher standing Western counterparts.

The Soviet approach to increasing the protection on their vehicles beyond the inherent capabilities of the hull have historically been more progressive than Western thinking. In many ways the Soviets have led the way in innovative armor developments, with the West later duplicating their advancements. Having led the way in developing ATGMs, the Soviets foresaw a need to counter such weapons, and so were first to develop ceramic armor solutions. As well the Soviets led the way in the development of ERA, electronic countermeasures (soft kill dazzlers and jammers) and hardkill Active Protection Systems. They also remain the only military to have integrated ERA directly into hull designs, and have APS as a standard system on their AFVs.

The Soviets also tend to more heavily arm their IFVs than equivalent Western vehicles. This includes deployment of multiple guns installed on a single turret, such as the dual 100 mm gun / 30 mm autocannon on the BMP-3 and BMD-4. Their main weapons also tend to be more multi-functional in terms of ammunition that can be fired than Western vehicles, often able to fire ATGMs as well as the standard KE and/or HE-I rounds. This provides them greater firepower and an extended maximum effective combat range. Additionally most modern Russian IFVs can be armed with various turret mounted ATGM systems. Vehicle protection is enhanced by offering firing ports to troops and positioning soldiers at the front of the vehicle to operate machine guns and grenade launchers. This set-up is particularly effective in suppressing infantry units trying to engage the vehicle.

Perhaps the most defining aspect of Soviet/Russian APC and IFV design, similar to their MBTs, is low cost and simple design. Soviet experiences in World War II convinced them that to defend their nation and to overwhelm and invader, they must be able to produce huge numbers of armored vehicles. This necessitates that the vehicles be inexpensive and fast to build. Where Western vehicles are built to a high quality standard and utilizes expensive components and advanced technologies, Soviet experience recognizes that armed forces are expended rapidly once conflicts erupt and must be able to be rapidly replaced. Therefore the fabrication quality of Soviet armored vehicles tends to be poor compared to Western vehicles and the use of sophisticated technologies is generally restricted.

A negative result of this approach has been that the Soviets fell behind significantly in the advancement of integrated computerised systems and sensor technologies. While this lack of sophistication was not disadvantageous is the early cold-war period, computerised capabilities and advanced sensors have become critical in modern AFVs, as they are essential for operating the Fire Control Systems that permit cannon to accurate fire on the move, for providing night fighting capabilities through use of thermal imaging, and for the guidance of advanced munitions.

Recognizing that in a modern ultra high-tech environment that an overly simplified AFV will not survive for long, and that replacing lost vehicle with more low quality units won’t suffice to win a battle anymore, the most recent generation of Russian designed vehicles, the T-14 and T-15, are making a clean break with traditional Soviet design. A new emphasis is being placed on crew and troop survivability, and inclusion of high tech equipment and capabilities. However, due to the relative distance that the Soviets have fallen behind in these aspects, they are actually reliant on Chinese and French computers and sensors to equip their latest generation of vehicles until they are able to catch up and develop these components within Russia.