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.

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Russia and Invasion

The “Battle on the Ice”

Winters in northern Russia are long, and the surface of Lake Chudskoe was still frozen when the Russian force marched out to meet the Germans, along with their Finnish allies, on April 5, 1242. In a scene made famous for modern filmgoers by the director Sergei Eisenstein, the invaders rushed at the defending Russians, who suddenly surprised them by closing ranks around the enemy and attacking them from the rear. The Russians scored a huge victory in the “Battle on the Ice,” which became a legendary event in Russian history.

Two years later, Alexander drove off a Lithuanian invading force, and though he soon left Novgorod, the people there had become so dependent on his defense that they asked him to come back as their prince. With Novgorod now in the lead among Russian states, Alexander was the effective ruler of Russia.

Prospects for a strong, well-defended Russian state had died with the collapse of Kiev. Andrei Bogolyubsky, a grandson of Vladimir Monomakh and architect of this latest defeat, transferred the center of power to his own principality of Vladimir-Suzdal in central Russia. About this time, a small settlement with the Finnish name of “Moskva” was established along the southern border of the principality. Prince Andrei then attempted to put down the last remaining challenge, Novgorod, the northern merchant city that had been autonomous since 1136.

According to the Novgorodian Chronicle, miraculous intercession saved the city: “There were only 400 men of Novgorod against 7,000 soldiers from Suzdal, but God helped the Novgorodians, and the Suzdalians suffered 1,300 casualties, while Novgorod lost only fifteen men. . . .” After several months had passed, Andrei Bogolyubsky’s troops returned, this time strengthened by soldiers from a number of other principalities. The Chronicle continues:

But the people of Novgorod were firmly behind their leader, Prince Roman, and their posadnik [mayor] Yakun. And so they built fortifications about the city. On Sunday [Prince Andrei’s emissaries] came to Novgorod to negotiate, and these negotiations lasted three days. On the fourth day, Wednesday, February 25th . . . the Suzdalians attacked the city and fought the entire day. Only toward evening did Prince Roman, who was still very young, and the troops of Novgorod manage to defeat the army of Suzdal with the help of the holy cross, the Holy Virgin, and the prayers of . . . Bishop Elias. Many Suzdalians were massacred, many were taken prisoner, while the remainder escaped only with great difficulty. And the price of Suzdalian prisoners fell to two nogatas [a coin of small value].

The political situation among Russia’s princes gradually evolved into a balance of minor powers. Kiev’s last claim to dominance – its special relationship with the seat of Orthodoxy – dissolved with Constantinople’s fall to the crusaders of the Latin Church in 1204.

This decline of the Kievan state and the fragmentation of Russian land into numerous warring principalities, none capable of leading a united defense, coincided with the climactic last westward drive of Asiatic hordes, led by the Mongols. Through military and economic vassalage, they were able to halt Russia’s struggle toward nationhood for nearly 200 years.

Early in the thirteenth century, the scattered tribes of the Mongolian desert – a mixture of Mongol, Alan, and Turkic peoples – were united into a single fighting army that drove across the Eurasian plain, following the paths of so many other Asian incursions, and threatened to change the course of Christendom.

The leader who organized and led the nomads in their great conquest of Asia was Temujin. He had been a minor chieftain whose success in a series of intertribal wars on the vast steppe region of northern Mongolia had united first his clan, then his tribe, and finally the majority of tribes – including the Mongols. A kuriltai, or great assembly of chieftains, in 1206 had proclaimed him not just the “Supreme Khan” but the “Genghis Khan,” meaning the “all-encompassing lord.” Thenceforth his authority was understood to derive from “the Eternal Blue Sky,” as the Mongols called their god.

Genghis Khan ruled over a people of extraordinary hardihood and ferocity. The Mongols were tent-dwelling nomads whose horses were their constant companions. Mongol boys learned to ride almost from birth, and at the age of three, they began handling the bow and arrow, which was the main weapon in hunting and in war. Their small sturdy horses were, like their riders, capable of feats of great endurance. Unlike Western horses, Mongol ponies were highly self-sufficient, requiring no special hay or fodder and able to find enough food even under the snow cover. The Mongols took care of their horses, which were readily rounded up in herds of 10,000 or more, allowing them regular periods of rest; and on campaigns, each warrior was followed by as many as twenty remounts. Their horses gave them the mobility to strike suddenly and unexpectedly against their enemies. Furthermore, the Mongols were more skilled in war than earlier nomad hordes, and they were undeterred by forest lands.

The Mongol nation numbered only 1 million people at the time of the empire’s greatest extent. Within the empire, Turks and other nomadic tribes were far more numerous, serving mainly in the lower ranks of the armies. (The hordes that swept across Russia, under the minority rule of Mongols, were predominantly Turkic and were generally known as Tatars, derived from the European name for all the peoples east of the Dnieper.) The authority of Genghis and of his law commanded unquestioning obedience. The Great Yasa, compiled principally by Genghis, was the written code of Mongol custom and law, laying down strict rules of conduct in all areas of public life – international law, internal administration, the military, criminal law, civil and commercial law. With few exceptions, offenses were punishable by death. This was the sentence for serious breaches of military efficiency and discipline, for possessing a stolen horse without being able to pay the fine, for gluttony, for hiding a runaway slave or prisoner and preventing his or her recapture, for urinating into water or inside a tent. Persons of royal rank enjoyed no exemption from the law, except to the extent that they received a “bloodless” execution by being put inside a carpet or rug and then clubbed to death, for to spill a man’s blood was to drain away his soul.

The functioning of the military state was set forth mainly in the Yasa’s Statute of Bound Service, which imposed the duty of life service on all subjects, women as well as men. Every man was bound to the position or task to which he was appointed. Desertion carried the summary punishment of death. The Army Statute, which organized the Mongol armies in units of ten, was explicit:

The fighting men are to be conscripted from men who are twenty years old and upwards. There shall be a captain to every ten, and a captain to every hundred, and a captain to every thousand, and a captain to every ten thousand. . . . No man of any thousand, or hundred, or ten in which he hath been counted shall depart to another place; if he doth he shall be killed and also the captain who received him.

Even in the far-off khanates, which the Mongols eventually established, the Great Yasa was known and revered much as the Magna Charta, of about the same time, was regarded in England. It provided the legal foundation of the Great Khan’s power and the means to administer the immense Mongol-Tatar Empire from the remote capital, which he established at Karakorum.

In 1215, Genghis Khan captured Yenching (modern Peking) and northern China; he went on to subdue Korea and Turkistan, and to raid Persia and northern India. The famous tuq, or standard, of Genghis – a pole surmounted by nine white yak’s tails that was always carried into battle when the Great Khan was present – had become an object of divine significance to the Mongols and of dread to their prey.

After taking Turkistan, gateway to Europe, Genghis Khan sent a detachment of horsemen to reconnoiter the lands farther to the west. In 1223, this force advanced south to the Caspian Sea and north into the Caucasus, finally invading the territory of the Cumans, a Turkic people settled in the region of the lower Volga. The khans of the Cumans called on the Russian princes to help them. “Today the Tatars have seized our land,” they declared. “Tomorrow they will take yours.” Heeding their call for aid, Prince Mstislav of Galicia and a few lesser princes marched with their troops to rescue their neighbor. In the battle on the banks of the Kalka River, at the northeastern end of the Sea of Azov, the Cumans and their allies suffered disastrous defeat. Few escaped with their lives, though Mstislav and two other captured princes were saved for special treatment.

Chivalry required that enemies of high rank be executed “bloodlessly” – according to the same rules as Mongol chieftains – so another expedient was devised. The vanquished were laid on the ground and covered with boards, upon which the Mongol officers sat for their victory banquet. The Russians were crushed to death.

Apparently satisfied with their foray, the conquerors vanished from southern Russia as suddenly and as mysteriously as they had appeared. “We do not know whence these evil Tatars came upon us, nor whither they have betaken themselves again; only God knows,” wrote a chronicler. Most historians attribute their departure to political changes in Mongolia.

Genghis Khan died in 1227 while on a military campaign against a Tibetan tribe. Since his eldest son and heir, Juji, had died earlier, Genghis Khan’s son Ogadai was chosen to rule in Karakorum as Chief Khan. However, Genghis directed that the administration of the empire was to be divided among all his sons, each receiving a vast ulus, or regional khanate, a portion of the empire’s troops, and the income of that area over which they ruled.

Juji’s original share was to have been the khanate of Kip-chak – the region west of the Irtysh River and the Aral Sea – most of which was still unconquered. It was left to his son, Batu, to complete the mission. In 1236, Batu, with the blessing of Ogadai, led a strong army westward. The Mongols advanced by way of the Caspian Gate and then northwestward. They took Bulgary, the capital of the Volga Bulgars, and making their way through the forests around Penza and Tambov, they reached the principality of Ryazan. The northern winter had already closed in, but Batu’s forces, some 50,000 strong, were accustomed to harsh conditions. The snow-covered frozen lakes and riverbeds served as highways for their mounts.

The Russians were in no position to defend themselves. Kievan Rus was in decline, and the newer principalities, like Vladimir-Suzdal, had not yet developed the strength to withstand such foes as the Mongols. Under siege for five days, the town of Ryazan fell on December 21, 1237. A chronicler described the ferocity of the Mongols:

The prince with his mother, wife, sons, the boyars and inhabitants, without regard to age or sex, were slaughtered with the savage cruelty of Mongol revenge; some were impaled or had nails or splinters of wood driven under their finger nails. Priests were roasted alive and nuns and maidens were ravished in the churches before their relatives. No eye remained open to weep for the dead.

Similar stories were repeated wherever the Mongols ranged. The invaders believed that their Great Khan was directed by God to conquer and rule the world. Resistance to his will was resistance to the will of God and must be punished by death. It was a simple principle, and the Mongols applied it ruthlessly.

By February 1238, fourteen towns had fallen to their fury. The whole principality of Vladimir-Suzdal had been devastated. They then advanced into the territory of Novgorod. They were some sixty miles from the city itself when suddenly they turned south and Novgorod was spared. The dense forests and extensive morasses had become almost impassable in the early thaw, and Batu decided to return with his warriors to the steppes, occupied then by the Pechenegs. On their way south, they laid siege to the town of Kozelsk, which resisted bravely for seven weeks. The Mongols were so infuriated by this delay that on taking the town, they butchered all that they found alive, citizens and animals alike. The blood was so deep in the streets, according to the chronicler, that children drowned before they could be slain.

During 1239, Batu allowed his men to rest in the Azov region, but in the following year, he resumed his westward advance. His horsemen devastated the cities of Pereyaslavl and Chernigov. They then sent envoys to Kiev, demanding the submission of the city. Unwisely, the governor had the envoys put to death. Kiev was now doomed. At the beginning of December 1240, Batu’s troops surrounded the city and after a few days of siege, took it by storm. The carnage that followed was fearful. Six years later, John of Plano Carpini, sent by Pope Innocent IV as his envoy to the Great Khan of Karakorum, passed through Kiev. He wrote that “we found an innumerable multitude of men’s skulls and bones, lying upon the Earth,” and he could count only 200 houses standing in what had been a vast and magnificent city, larger than any city in Western Europe.

The Mongols pressed farther westward and then divided into three armies. One advanced into Poland; the central army, commanded by Batu, invaded Hungary; the third army moved along the Carpathian Mountains into southern Hungary. The Mongols were intent on punishing King Bela of Hungary because he had granted asylum to the khan of the Cumans and 200,000 of his men, women, and children who had fled westward in 1238. Batu had sent warnings, which Béla had ignored. Now the Mongols overran the whole of Hungary, while the northern army laid waste Poland, Lithuania, and East Prussia. They were poised to conquer the rest of Europe, when suddenly, in the spring of 1242, couriers brought news that the Great Khan Ogadai was dead. Batu withdrew his armies, wishing to devote all of his energies to gathering support as Ogadai’s successor. Western Europe was thus spared the Mongol devastation, which, had it spread to the Atlantic, would have had an incalculable impact on the history of Europe and of the world.

Ogadai had ruined his health, as he frankly admitted, by continued indulgence in wine and women. Sensing death approaching, the khan appointed his favorite grandson as successor. But Ogadai’s widow, acting as regent until the boy was old enough to rule, plotted secretly to procure the election of her own son, Kuyuk, although this was strongly opposed by Batu and many other Mongol leaders.

Batu had established his headquarters at Sarai, some sixty-five miles north of Astrakhan on the lower Volga. It was little more than a city of tents, for the khan of the Kipchaks remained a nomad at heart, but the splendor of his court became legendary among the princes of his realm. Batu’s Golden Horde (from the Tatar altūn ordū) also impressed John of Plano Carpini, who wrote:

Batu lives with considerable magnificence, having door-keepers and all officials just like their Emperor. He even sits raised up as if on a throne with one of his wives. . . . He has large and very beautiful tents of linen which used to belong to the King of Hungary. . . . drinks are placed in gold and silver vessels. Neither Batu nor any other Tatar prince ever drinks, especially in public, without there being singing and guitar-playing for them.

Though Batu owed allegiance to the Great Khan, he now refused to visit Karakorum and to pay homage to Kuyuk. The Golden Horde remained a province of the Mongol-Tatar Empire, but Batu and his successors thenceforth administered the khanate with a large measure of independence, particularly in its relations with Russia.

The Russian princes paid their tributes directly to Sarai. The terror and destruction wrought by the Tatar invasion had left the Russians stupefied and brought their national life to a standstill. Decades passed before they began to recover, for the Mongol yoke lay heavy on them. In certain regions, mainly in western Ukraine, the Mongols took over the administration from the Russian princes and ruled directly; in other regions they set up their own officials alongside the Russians and exercised direct supervision. In most parts of Russia, however, the khan allowed the local Russian princes to administer as before.

Before the Mongol invasions, a distinctly Russian system of landholding and agricultural production had emerged. Feudalism, as it was known in Western Europe, had not yet taken hold; with vast areas of Russia still open to settlement, only the slaves were legally held to the acreage on which they were born. Land was organized rather loosely in the hands of four principal classes. First came the grand princes and lesser nobility, Russia’s proliferating royal family. Beginning sometime in the tenth or eleventh century, the princes turned from plunder and the collection of tributes to the land as the primary producer of wealth. Yaroslav’s decision to divide Kievan Rus into five portions, one for each of his sons, can be taken as the formal beginning of the appanage system, by which titles and estates passed from generation to generation.

Ranking below the appanage princes, and coming somewhat later to land ownership, was the class of boyars, who were roughly equivalent to the barons and knights of Europe. The boyars were an outgrowth of the Varangian druzhina, the prince’s retinue, made up of a mixture of Scandinavian and native Slavic leaders whose lands were secured by conquest, colonization, or outright princely gift. In the tradition of adventurers, the boyars were free to shift allegiance from one prince to another as it suited their own interests. Initially, no contract, either formal or by custom, held the boyar in vassalage to the prince, nor did a change of loyalty affect his title to his land. Service was not a condition of ownership, and land passed from father to son.

The Church formed the third and still later developing class of landlords, its right to tenure and administration independent of the princes established by Byzantine precedent. Church lands were acquired either by colonization in unclaimed lands or by donations from princes, often in exchange for the prayers of the Church.

The fourth and most elusive of definition was the peasant majority. Conditions varied from one principality to another, depending on local custom and the power of the prince. Prior to the development of boyars’ estates, a peasant held the land by virtue of having wrested it from the wilderness. This he usually accomplished as a member of a commune – a gathering of a few family units, itself an outgrowth of the more primitive Slavic tribal family. The peasant was technically a free man and remained so until the reign of Alexei, in the middle of the seventeenth century, though the intervening centuries brought an accumulation of legislation that would progressively limit his right to exercise this freedom. With the growing power of the various landlord classes, however, peasants living in the more settled areas of Russia were put under obligations, the most common being obrok, quitrent or payment in kind for land use, and barshchina, payment in contracted days of labor on the owner’s estate. Only the kholopy, or “slaves,” a motley assortment of prisoners and indebted poor, were entirely excluded from landholding during the period of Mongol domination.

The khans of the Golden Horde were interested in the conquered lands only as a source of revenue and troops, and so were content to allow the continuation of this political structure. The appanage princes had to acknowledge that they were the khan’s vassals and that they recognized the overall suzerainty of the Great Khan of Karakorum. They could hold their positions only upon receiving the khan’s yarlyk, or patent to rule; often, they first had to journey to Sarai to prostrate themselves before him. On occasion, they even went to Mongolia to make their obeisances. Moreover, they had to refer to the khan for resolution of major disputes with other princes and to justify themselves against any serious charges, competing with each another for the khan’s recognition with gifts, promises to increase their payments of tribute, and mutual denunciations.

Prompt action was taken in each newly conquered country to promote a census of the population, for the purpose of assessing the amount of tax to be levied and the number of recruits owed to the army. Mongol officials were appointed to collect and to enroll recruits. Delays in making payments to the tax collector, or producing men, or rebellion of any kind were punished with extreme ferocity.

Nevertheless, driven beyond endurance by Mongol demands, the Russians sometimes rebelled. No fewer than forty-eight Mongol-Tatar raids took place during the period of the domination of the Golden Horde, and some of these expeditions had the purpose of suppressing the Russian uprisings. Gradually, however, the khan’s grip on his vassal states relaxed. Early in the fourteenth century, Russian princes were allowed to collect taxes on behalf of the Horde, and the tax collectors and other officials were withdrawn. The Russian lands once again became autonomous, though they continued to acknowledge the suzerainty of the khan. However, internal rivalries, much like those that had fractured the Russian principalities, were weakening the Golden Horde, which was ceasing to display the bold confidence of conquerors. In the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, the khan’s direct rule came to be limited to the middle and lower Volga, the Don, and the steppelands as far west as the Dnieper.

The impact of the Mongol invasion and occupation on Russia’s social and cultural fortunes was largely negative, halting progress and introducing a number of harsh customs. The Mongols probably left their mark in such evil practices as flogging, torture, and mutilation, the seclusion of women of the upper classes in the terem, or the women’s quarters, the cringing servility of inferiors, and the arrogant superiority and often brutality of seniors toward them. But evidence that the invaders made any enduring, positive impression is slight. Historians S. M. Solovyev and V. O. Klyuchevsky argued that Russia had embraced Orthodox Christianity and the political ideas of Byzantium two centuries before the coming of the Mongols, and its development was too deeply rooted in Byzantine soil to be greatly changed. Further, the Mongol conception of the Great Khan’s absolute power was, in practice, close to the Byzantine theory of the divine authority of the emperor, and, indeed, the Mongol and Byzantine concepts might well have merged in the minds of the Russian princes.

Only the Orthodox Church flourished. The religion of the Mongols was a primitive Shamanism in which the seer and medicine man, the shaman, acted as the intermediary with the spirit world. He made known the will of Tengri, the great god who ruled over all the spirits in heaven. This form of worship could readily accommodate many faiths, and the Mongols showed a tolerance toward other religions, which Christian churches would have done well to emulate. The Mongols were familiar with Nestorian Christianity, a heretical sect for which Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, was deposed in the fifth century, and certain clans had embraced Nestorianism. Though the Great Khan, after considering Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism, had finally in the fourteenth century decided to adopt Islam as the faith of the Mongols, they continued to show a generous tolerance toward the Christians.

The Russian Orthodox Church, in fact, enjoyed a privileged position throughout the period of the Mongol yoke. All Christians were guaranteed freedom of worship. The extensive lands owned by the Church were protected and exempt from all taxes, and the labor on Church estates was not liable to recruitment into the khan’s armies. Metropolitans, bishops, and other senior clerical appointments were confirmed by the yarlyk, but this assertion of the khan’s authority apparently involved no interference by the Mongols in Church affairs.

Under this protection, the Church grew in strength. Its influence among the people deepened, for it fostered a sense of unity during these dark times. Both the black, or monastic, clergy and the white clergy, which ministered to the secular world and was permitted to marry, shared in this proselytizing role. Moreover, the Church preserved the Byzantine political heritage, especially the theory of the divine nature of the secular power. In accordance with this tradition, the support that the Church gave to the emerging grand princes of Moscow was to be of importance in bringing the country under Moscow’s rule.

The Orthodox Church was also strengthened, by virtue of being unchallenged by other ideas and influences. Kievan Rus had maintained regular contact with the countries to the south and west. By the great trade routes, Russian merchants had brought news of the arts and cultures, as well as the merchandise, of these foreign lands. But the Mongol occupation had isolated the Russians almost completely. The great ferment of ideas in the West, leading to the Renaissance, the Reformation, the explorations, and the scientific discoveries, did not touch them. The Orthodox Church encouraged their natural conservatism and inculcated the idea of spiritual and cultural self-sufficiency among them. Indeed, this isolation, which was to contribute notably to Russia’s backwardness in the coming centuries, was to be one of the most disastrous results of Mongol domination.

Only the remote, northern republic of Novgorod had managed to escape the devastation of Batu’s westward advance in 1238. The city, standing on the banks of the Volkhov River, three miles to the north of Lake Ilmen, in a region of lakes, rivers, and marshes, had built up a commercial empire “from the Varangians to the Greeks,” as they described it. “Lord Novgorod the Great,” the Novgorodtsi’s title for their republic, had been one of the first centers of Russian civilization. Beginning with Prince Oleg’s rule in the last years of the ninth century, it had acknowledged the primacy of Kiev; but as the power and prestige of “the mother of Russian cities” declined, Novgorod had asserted anew its independence. In 1136, its citizens had rallied and promptly expelled the Kiev-appointed prince who, they complained, had shown no care for the common people, had tried to use the city as a means to his own advancement, and had been both indecisive and cowardly in battle. The city concentrated its efforts on commerce, especially its connections with the Hanseatic trading ports of the Baltic, avoiding most of the internecine strife that had wracked the other principalities. “Lord Novgorod” showed the same pragmatism in dealings with the khan.

The Novgorodian Chronicle relates that their prince, Alexander Nevsky, son of Yaroslav I of Vladimir, had recognized the futility of opposition and had directed his people to render tribute. In the year 1259, “the Prince rode down from the [palace] and the accursed Tatars with him. . . . And the accursed ones began to ride through the streets, writing down the Christian houses; because for our sins God has brought wild beasts out of the desert to eat the flesh of the strong, and to drink the blood of the Boyars.”

Nevsky also made frequent journeys of homage to the khan of the Golden Horde, at least once to distant Karakorum, and had won the trust of the Mongols. But a further reason, which was perhaps of overriding importance in gaining the khan’s favor, was that Mongol policy stimulated Baltic trade, for international commerce was the source of the Golden Horde’s prosperity. While Kiev lay in ruins, Novgorod’s trade in the Baltic, and south by the river road to the Caspian Sea, continued to flourish, and the people – 100,000 in its heyday – to prosper. Confident in their wealth and power, the citizens asked arrogantly: “Who can stand against God and Great Novgorod?”

Novgorod was unique in claiming the right to choose its own prince; it allowed him only limited authority, in effect keeping him as titular head of state with certain judicial and military functions. The real power emanated from the veche – an unwieldy but relatively democratic assembly of male citizens – and its more select, more operative council of notables, which such day-to-day business as taxation, legislation, and commercial controls. Participation in the veche was by class – groups of boyars, merchants, artisans, and the poorer people – with the aristocratic element generally dominant by virtue of its close ties with the council. Conflicts within the assembly were often violent – a unanimous vote was required to pass any decision – and meetings broke up in disorder. Nevertheless, they managed to elect their posadnik, or mayor, and tysyatsky, or commander of the troops. The veche also nominated the archbishop, who played an influential part in the secular affairs of the republic. Both council and veche had existed in Kievan Rus as advisory institutions, but in Novgorod, they represented an impressive, if short-lived, experiment in genuine democratic government.

Prince Alexander was one who seems to have enjoyed the good will of his electors. He had an equally successful record in dealing with the armed threat from the West. While the Russian lands were falling under Mongol-Tatar occupation, powerful forces were putting pressure upon the Western principalities. In 1240, Alexander routed the Swedes on the banks of the Neva River, thereby gaining for himself the name “Nevsky” and for the Novgorodtsi an outlet to the Baltic. Two German military religious orders, whose conquests were directed at the extension of Roman Catholicism among the pagan Letts and Livonians of the Baltic, were also major threats. First to be organized were the Teutonic Knights, an army of noblemen that had come into existence as a hospital order during the third crusade. Beginning in the thirteenth century, they took over lands roughly equivalent to later-day Prussia. At this time, a second order, the Livonian Knights, was founded by the bishop of the Baltic city of Riga. The two united in 1237, and five years later, they marched on Novgorod. They were met on the frozen Lake Peipus, near Pskov, and defeated in the Battle on Ice, thus halting for a time the German drive eastward.

The Knights continued, however, to harass the pagan Letts and Lithuanians, who were forced to reach out in the only direction left them: eastward toward their weakened neighbor Russia. The Mongols had ravaged Lithuania in 1258, but had then withdrawn and not returned. The Lithuanians had recovered quickly, and not long afterward, under their great military leader Gedimin the Conqueror (1316-41), they succeeded in occupying most of west and southwest Russia, including Kiev. Though technically it now lay outside the sphere of Russia proper, this new “grand princedom of Lithuania and Russia” would rival the strongest all-Russian principality for decades to come. Olgierd, the son and successor of Gedimin, eventually defeated Novgorod in 1346, thereafter subduing the sister city of Pskov, expelling the Tatars from southwest Russia, and taking the Crimea.

Meanwhile, Moscow was growing from an insignificant settlement into the matrix and capital of the nation. Of this dramatic and unexpected development in Russia’s history, a Muscovite would write in the seventeenth century: “What man could have divined that Moscow would become a great realm?” The chronicle relates that, in 1147, Prince Yury Dolgoruky of Vladimir-Suzdal sent a message to his ally, Prince Svyatoslav of Novgorod-Seversk: “Come to me, brother, in Moscow! Be my guest in Moscow!” It is not certain that the town was then on its present site. Prince Yury founded the town of Moscow nine years later by building wooden walls around the high ground between the Moskva River and its tributary, the Neglinnaya, and thus created the first kremlin, or fortress. It soon became the seat of a family of minor princes under the hegemony of Vladimir-Suzdal. In 1238, the Mongols destroyed Moscow and the surrounding territory. About 1283, Daniel, son of Alexander Nevsky, acquired the principality and became the first of a regular line of Muscovite rulers. The rise of Moscow had begun.

Among Moscow’s neighbors, Tver, Vladimir-Suzdal, Ryazan, and Novgorod were more powerful and seemed stronger contenders for leadership of the nation, but Moscow had important advantages. It stood in the region of the upper Volga and Oka rivers, at the center of the system of waterways extending over the whole of European Russia. Tver shared this advantage to some extent, but Moscow was at the hub. This was a position of tremendous importance for trade and even more for defense. Moscow enjoyed greater security from attacks by Mongols and other enemies. As a refuge and a center of trade, the new city attracted boyars, merchants, and peasants from every principality, all of whom added to its wealth and power.

Another important factor in Moscow’s development was the ability of its rulers. They do not emerge as individuals from the shadowed distance of history, but all were careful stewards of their principality – enterprising, ruthless, and tenacious. They acquired new lands and power by treaty, trickery, purchase, and as a last resort, by force. In a century and a half, their principality would grow from some 500 to more than 15,000 square miles.

Ivan I, called Kalita, or Moneybag, who ruled from 1328 to 1342, was the first of the great “collectors of the Russian land.” Like his grandfather Alexander Nevsky, he was scrupulously subservient to the Golden Horde. His reward was to obtain the khan’s assent to his assuming the title of grand prince and also to the removal of the seat of the metropolitan of all Russia from Vladimir to Moscow, an event of paramount importance to Moscow’s later claims of supreme authority.

Ivan I strengthened his city by erecting new walls around it, He built the Cathedral of the Assumption and other churches in stone. The merchant quarter, the kitai gorod, expanded rapidly as trade revived. Terrible fires destroyed large areas of the city, but houses were quickly replaced, and Moscow continued to grow.

Ivan I was succeeded by Simeon the Proud, who died twelve years later in a plague that devastated Moscow. He was, in turn, succeeded by his brother, Ivan II, a man whose principal contribution to Russian history seems to have been fathering Dmitry Donskoy, who became grand prince of Moscow in 1363. Under Prince Dmitry’s reign, Moscow took advantage of the waning power of the Golden Horde to extend its influence over less powerful principalities. Generous gifts to Mamai, the khan of the Golden Horde, put an end to Dmitry’s most serious competitor, Prince Mikhail of Tver; Dmitry’s patent was confirmed and Mikhail’s claims to the throne ignored for several years. Then, with Moscow’s power growing at an alarming rate, Mamai reversed his earlier grant and sent an army against Moscow in 1380.

Dmitry was well prepared. He had rebuilt the Kremlin walls in stone, adding battlements, towers, and iron gates. He had secured by treaty the promise of support troops from other principalities. He had introduced firearms on a limited scale. Dmitry won enduring fame by launching the first counterattack against the dreaded Mongol enemy. The heroic battle of Kulikovo, fought on the banks of the river Don (hence Dmitry’s surname “Donskoy”) ended with the Russians inflicting a major defeat on the Golden Horde. The news was greeted with great rejoicing in Moscow, though the Russians had lost nearly half of their men in the struggle. It inspired all Russians with a new spirit of independence. The battle was not decisive, however, and it brought retribution. In 1382, the Mongols, this time led by the Khan Tokhtamysh, laid siege to Moscow. For three days and nights, they made furious attacks on the city, but they could not breach the stone walls. The khan then gained entry by offering to discuss peace terms. Once inside the city, his warriors began to slaughter the people – “until their arms wearied and their swords became blunt.” Recording these events, the chronicler lamented that “until then the city of Moscow had been large and wonderful to look at, crowded as she was with people, filled with wealth and glory . . . and now all at once all of her beauty perished and her glory disappeared. Nothing could be seen but smoking ruins and bare earth and heaps of corpses.” More than 20,000 victims were buried. With extraordinary vitality, however, Moscow soon was revived, and within a few years had been restored to its former power.

In the reign of Dmitry’s son, Vasily I, Moscow was threatened with an attack by Tamerlane, the Turkic conqueror who had, by a feat of historical revisionism, claimed to be a descendant of Genghis Khan. In 1395, following his successful campaign against his rivals, the doubting Tokhtamysh and the Golden Horde, Tamerlane advanced from the south to within 200 miles of Moscow, but then turned aside, apparently convinced that another siege would be too costly to his own troops. The city was saved, the people said, because of the miraculous intervention of the icon of Our Lady of Vladimir.

Though the Tatars would continue to be a major factor in Muscovite history for another half century, the balance of power was shifting to the Lithuanian front. Ladislas Jagello, son of the Lithuanian grand duke who had brought parts of western Russia under his suzerainty, ascended the Lithuanian throne in 1377. During the Jagello era, which his reign inaugurated, the prince conceived a dynastic union with his former enemy, Poland, through marriage to Jadwiga, heiress to that throne. Jagello thus became sovereign of the federated states of Poland and Lithuania, the latter under the vassal rule of his cousin. Husband and wife shared an ambition to control a still larger portion of Russia. Jagello’s conversion to Roman Catholicism, which was part of the marriage treaty, made this imperial plan all the more dangerous to Muscovite security. With Smolensk’s fall to the Lithuanians in 1404, almost all of the lands on the right bank of the Dnieper were brought under dynastically-united Polish and Lithuanian rule.

Only a matter as crucial to all Slavic peoples as the defeat of the Teutonic Knights held them in a brief state of peace. In 1410, the combined Polish and Lithuanian forces met the German forces at Tannenberg. Their grand master, many of their officers, and a devastating number of knights fell in the bloody clash. The eastward drive of the German Knights was effectively halted for all time, but the Polish and Lithuanian drives received new impetus.

The reign of Vasily I ended in 1425. His son and successor, Vasily II, ascended the Muscovite throne against strong opposition from a powerful boyar faction; the first twenty-five years of his long reign were largely devoted to suppressing these rivals, a feat achieved only after he had himself been blinded. Events outside of Muscovy would be of more lasting significance: The Golden Horde was losing large parts of its territory to the breakaway khanates of Crimea and Kazan, and the Ottoman Turks were threatening the very existence of the Greek Orthodox Church. In a desperate move to defend itself from total destruction, the Eastern clergy had sought help in Rome, at the price of recognizing the supremacy of the pope. Moscow was represented at the Council of Florence, which met in 1439, by the Russian Metropolitan Isadore. Acting on his own initiative, Isadore committed Russian Orthodoxy to the bargain. Upon his return, he was deposed and arrested, and Moscow formally severed its ties with Byzantium. When Constantinople, the capital of Eastern Orthodoxy, fell to the Turks in 1453, no Russian was surprised. It was God’s retribution to the duplicitous Greeks. Holy Russia would find its own way.

The Strategic Errors of Nicholas I

Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias: Nicholas I

The diplomacy of Nicholas I, then, all too often consisted in using inadequate means to try to reach the unattainable. Nicholas’s approach to the use of his military power was also faulty. Consider, for example, his practice of using his army as an instrument of deterrence and intimidation. It is always risky to stage such threats; instead of cowing one’s enemies into submission, they may galvanize them into action. Such was often the case during the reign of Nicholas I. His blustering against the Turks, for instance, led them to declare war on Russia first in 1827 and again in 1853. The bellicose posturing of the Russia was also counterproductive in its relations with the French and, most particularly, the British. The Tsar’s conversations with the British Ambassador in early 1853, when he had suggested the need for an agreement with London in advance about how to fill the vacuum of power that would occur should the Ottomans collapse was misinterpreted by the British as evidence of Russian annexationist designs. The Russian destruction of the Turkish fleet at Sinope the following November—which the Tsar had intended to use to force Turkish capitulation—inflamed British public opinion against Russia and set the stage for the British declaration of war. Nicholas’s practice of trying to bully and intimidate his neighbors with his military might often backfired, much as similar Soviet efforts did under Brezhnev in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Still further, mobilizing the army to send signals or to make military demonstrations was often fundamentally detrimental to Russia if war broke out. Deploying forces as a signal could make the prosecution of a real war much more difficult. The requirements of intimidation and the requirements of warfighting at times radically diverged. Take, for instance, Russia’s occupation of the Danubian principalities in 1828 and 1853. On the former occasion Russia marched into the principalities, despite the fact that Turkey had already declared war, in the hope of scaring the Porte to the bargaining table. Not only did the gesture fail to achieve its purpose, but it also complicated the execution of the Russian campaign plan, as the occupation of the principalities subtracted 20,000 men (almost one-third of its strength) from the ranks of the army. Nor was Russia any more successful in 1853, when as before it seized the principalities and then stopped. That action both antagonized the Austrians and provided the Turks with a breathing space of several months in which to organize their defenses. In international relations, no less than on the street, it can be perilous to draw a gun if one does not really intend to use it.

Once shooting war broke out, Nicholas’s ideas about how to wage it also had harmful results. In the first place the Tsar, who had a grotesquely distorted opinion of his own military talents, meddled far too much in the military planning and operational decision-making. The letters and memoranda he showered on his commanders analyzed the military options available to them in excruciating detail. The Tsar’s gratuitous advice and exhortation naturally enough hobbled his generals, stifling even what little initiative they had. Some of Nicholas’s military recommendations were simply boneheadly wrong, as the proposal he seriously made in February 1854 for a suicide naval attack should the British and French fleets enter the Black Sea and anchor off Feodosiia. Further, the Tsar’s constant insistence on the need for speedy victory, although founded on a shrewd estimation of the limitations of Russian power, often resulted in spreading forces too thin or incurring unacceptable risks. During the Turkish campaign of 1828, for instance, Nicholas ordered simultaneous sieges of three Turkish forts—Varna, Silistriia, and Shumla—despite the intelligent counsel of General Wittgenstein that it would be better to concentrate all effort on merely one objective. As Wittgenstein had foreseen, Russia did not have the forces with which to capture all three fortresses at once. Shumla and Silistriia successfully resisted Russian sieges, and although Varna fell, it took eighty-nine days to do so, principally because of the minuscule resources the Russian army was able to devote to investing it. Nicholas’s decision here was clearly one of the capital blunders of the campaign. Although his purpose had been to accelerate the progress of the war, arguably he only succeeded in protracting it. Nicholas’s demand for rapid results was not much of an asset to the Russian army during the war with Shamyl in Transcaucasia, either. It inclined at least some commanders to reckless haste, such as Viceroy Vorontsov, whose forces Shamyl trounced at Dargo in 1845 for that very reason. It took Nicholas too long to grasp the fact that pacification of guerrilla tribesmen in the extraordinarily difficult terrain of the Caucasus would perforce have to be accomplished gradually and slowly.

A final flaw in Nicholas I’s appreciation of warfare was the pernicious influence upon it of the image of the War of 1812. As we saw in the previous chapter, a considerable gap existed between the reality of the Fatherland War and the myth. The Fatherland War had not in fact seen the forging of unshakable national unity. Nicholas thought that it had. He considered its chief lesson to have been that the Russian army was invincible when in defense of its own territory. That was a dangerous belief for the Tsar to hold, for it engendered overconfidence no less than his erroneous reliance on alliances with the German Powers. Unrealistic expectations befogged the Emperor’s mind during the Crimean War. It was as if he expected his troops to be able to compensate for every advantage the enemy possessed by dint of gallantry alone. That gallantry, although evident on many occasions, was inadequate to the task.

Weaknesses in the Armed Forces

Nicholas’s use of military forces to gain his objectives often misfired. Part of the trouble lay in the quality of the military instrument itself. Grave inadequacies in the army, many stemming from Nicholas’s preference for using it to threaten, not fight, crippled the execution of Russia’s wartime strategies.

Of all of the problems of the Nicholaevan army, perhaps the most severe was that of manpower. Nicholas’s army was larger on paper than it was on the parade ground or in the field. In every war waged by Russia throughout the reign, its generals were chronically embarrassed by a shortage of troops. During the Turkish War of 1828–29, for instance, the Second Army mustered only 65,000 men, roughly half what it was supposed to contain by statute. Adjutant General Vasil’chikov, entrusted by the Tsar with drafting a report on the failure of the 1828 campaign, concluded that it had occurred in large measure because of insufficient military manpower. Ninety thousand men, he wrote, were simply too few with which to occupy Wallachia and Moldavia, block the Danubian forts, and conduct the sieges of Brailov, Varna, and Shumla. Three years later, during the Polish war, the situation was no different. The initial contingent of Russian forces earmarked for field operations consisted of only 120,000 men, and it required two months to assemble even that number. When Paskevich begged for reinforcements in August 1831, Nicholas replied that only 10,000 infantry men were immediately available and that there would be no more at least until the spring. Still later in the reign, when Russia went to war against Britain, France, and Turkey, it experienced grave (and notorious) difficulties in bringing its military power to bear in the chief theater of conflict. Out of total military forces that were supposed to amount to 1.4 million soldiers, fewer than one hundred thousand were initially available for the defense of the Crimean peninsula. Indeed, Russia’s military effort in the Crimea would be crippled throughout the two and a half years of war by inadequate numbers of troops.

What explains the fact that in Nicholaevan Russia, the outbreak of any war was immediately attended by a crisis of military manpower? Several factors were responsible. In the first place casualties were always high whenever the Russian army embarked on a campaign, and for the traditional reasons: miserable weather, bad hygiene, and inferior military medicine. During the Persian campaign of 1827 Russian losses from heat prostration (temperatures hit well over 100 degrees F. that July) so weakened the army that the siege of Erivan had to be postponed. During the subsequent Turkish war, disease in combination with extreme cold during the terrible winter of 1828 resulted in the loss of 40,000 men, virtually half the army. Operations in Poland in 1831 were stymied by an epidemic of cholera, which carried off the Tsar’s Viceroy and his commander-in-chief along with thousands of common soldiers. Excessive mortality and morbidity were also features of the campaigns in the Caucasus. Conditions of service in the Black Sea forts that Russia built to blockade the coast were so harsh that a soldier’s life expectancy there was estimated at three years. D. A. Miliutin, who was a participant, remarked that the rapid spread of sickness among the Russian soldiers during the siege of Akhulgo in 1839 was the result of “prolonged encampment in the same positions, on sunparched cliffs and in air poisoned by corpses.”

We should note, inter alia, that poor hygiene and bad food plagued the health of the troops in peace as well as in war. The Ministry of War admitted, for instance, that dysentery “was a frequent, even common” ailment suffered by the troops every summer. Official statistics indicate that more than 16 million cases were treated in military hospitals and clinics from 1825 to 1850. Over the same time period, whereas 30,000 Russian soldiers perished in combat, more than 900,000 succumbed to diseases of all kinds.

Another strain upon available military manpower in war was the widespread use of military units to perform a variety of nonmilitary services within the empire. During the first twenty-five years of Nicholas’s reign some 2,500 battalions of troops were at some time employed in state works for the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Communications, the Engineers, or the military colonies. Elements of the Russian army performed such essential tasks as the road repair and bridge-building. A still more serious headache for military planners was the deployment of large numbers of troops as permanent garrisons throughout the empire for the maintenance of internal order. In addition to the fifty battalions of the Internal Guard, troops were also stationed in quantity for this purpose in Finland, Orenburg, and Siberia. During the Crimean War forces detached for internal duty (and consequently excused from combat) may have numbered as many as 500,000. Also complicating the manpower problem during 1853–56 was the need to deploy troops in auxiliary and potential theaters of war other than the Crimean peninsula. The struggle against Shamyl’s murids tied up the entire 200,000-man army of the Caucasus; 300,000 soldiers were emplaced in the northeast to defend against possible attacks on the Baltic coast; and Paskevich insisted on retaining sizable forces in Poland to deter potential Austrian intervention.

A final limitation on military manpower inhered in the defects of recruitment. Throughout the reign of Nicholas, Russia continued to replenish its armed forces on the basis of the old Petrine conscription system. In times of peace the state decreed levies of from two to three soldiers per 100 taxable men in the empire. The system was naturally burdensome to the Russian economy, and Nicholas, for one, was troubled by that fact. Although early on he rejected the idea that the military colonies should be enlarged so as eventually to create a captive pool of manpower equal to the army’s entire annual needs, he was keenly interested in reducing the strain of recruitment on the population of his empire. He experimented with various reforms, including dividing the country into halves from which conscripts would be taken only in alternate years. Yet none of his reforms came up to the Tsar’s expectations, principally because the system as it was almost guaranteed that the quality of recruits would be poor. To be sure, selection of recruits by means of lotteries, which was gradually made mandatory for state peasants (gosudarstvennye krestiane) under Nicholas, was a reasonable safeguard against the tendency of that segment of the population to defraud the army of quality men. But for the majority of peasants—the proprietary serfs—selection of recruits was still in the hands of local landlords and village communes. Both the landlords and the communes still had every incentive to fob the dregs of the village off on the army. Because the conscription laws were often quite slackly enforced during peacetime, the consequence of the system was that the Russian army began each of the wars it fought under Nicholas seriously under strength. When the Turkish war broke out in 1828, for instance, the army was undermanned by no less than 40 percent. Since Nicholas almost never foresaw the outbreak of any war (expecting his military bluster to prevent it), the army was always severely short of men at the precise moment when operations began. The government therefore had no choice but to institute draconian recruitment procedures, including a doubling or tripling of the conscription levy, in order to fill the ranks of the army as quickly as possible. Yet despite all of the emergency efforts of the recruitment officers, numbers of recruits dispatched to the theater of war always lagged behind army requirements. The forced marches the new recruits endured, in addition to their almost total lack of training, seriously impaired their military value once they arrived on the battlefield. During wartime, in Nicholas’s words, the regiments “either did not receive reinforcements or received naked, unshod, and exhausted recruits; the regiments melted away, perished, and behind them stood nothing.”

It was precisely because he was alive to this problem that Nicholas had tried to overhaul the recruitment system by introducing provisions for “unlimited furloughs” in 1834. As already noted, the purpose of the reform was to build up a supply of trained reservists who would be available for recall to the army in the event of a crisis. After fifteen years of blameless service, a demobilized soldier was assigned to a reserve battalion that was in turn linked to an actual field regiment. On one level the “unlimited furloughs” were doubtless a boon to the Russian army, for having reserves was clearly preferable to having none. For example, in 1848 and 1849 the state succeeded in calling up more than 175,000 men in this category. Unlimited leaves were probably beneficial to army morale as well. Surely the prospect of an early discharge from the ranks was a powerful incentive for good behavior.

But the “unlimited furlough” system imposed costs on the state as well. In granting up to 17,000 men a year indefinite leave, the Russian government in effect created a legally anomalous and impoverished new class. Where, after all, were these discharged men to go? State peasants on indefinite leave might rejoin their communities, but for the majority of men on leave, former proprietary serfs, there was no welcome at home. Now legally free, they had nonetheless lost all of their claims on land or property within the village the moment they had entered the army. If they tried to rejoin their families, the latter were burdened with feeding them and paying their taxes. Thus neither their relatives nor their former landlords, for that matter, wished to see them return. The result was that many apparently took to begging, vagabondage, or crime. The plight of those miserable outcasts properly ought to have been a matter of grave state concern; in actuality, the Russian government was even more worried lest the former soldiers prove to be an unstable element in the villages and towns where they took up temporary residence. One prominent general warned Nicholas that “a man who is not attached to society by either property or family ties, wandering without work or goals, easily gets involved in disorders.” The head of the political police himself reported to the monarch in 1842 that in his opinion indefinite leaves had produced “an undesirable change in the morals of the Russian soldier.”

In any event, the reform of 1834 was a palliative, not a solution. Although it was able to provide the army with enough reservists to undertake the punitive expedition into Hungary in 1849, the program was too small in scale to satisfy the army’s need for reinforcements in case of a major war. All the 200,000 reservists on the books had been called up within the first year of the Crimean War. As that number was insufficient, the government once again had to resort to ad hoc emergency levies, which inducted possibly as many as 800,000 men into the ranks of the army during the conflict. Even that quantity proved in the end to be too small.

Problems other than inadequate manpower sapped the combat strength of the Russian army. The omnipresent evils of corruption and peculation are an example. On all too many occasions, officers devised ingenious methods for robbing both the state and the soldiers under their command. They ranged from outright theft, to doctoring the books, to substituting inferior goods for state supplies and pocketing the difference. To be sure, soldiers themselves stole as well. Then, too, as one scholar has recently emphasized, in view of the haphazard issuance of pay, the snail’s pace of logistical deliveries, and in general the relatively small state resources expended on its maintenance, the Russian army could not even have survived without some corruption. Still, egregious thieving could not but be detrimental to the morale of the troops. Some colonels were known to have syphoned off as much as 60,000 rubles from the regiments in a single year. It was not uncommon for soldiers to be deprived of such necessities as rations and firewood because of the criminal greed of their commanders. Abuses like those, a War Ministry report of the 1850s commented, “have a harmful effect on discipline”—an understatement if there ever was one.

Bad consequences arose also from what has been termed the “platz parad” (parade ground) tradition during the reign of Nicholas I. The tradition has often been portrayed as more dysfunctional than it actually was: goose-stepping and meticulously executed drill really did make the army look fearsome and imposing, which is how the Emperor wanted to look to potential enemies abroad or potential dissidents at home. Still, as was the case also with military deployments, drill that served the interest of military intimidation often did not prepare the troops for war. At inspections and exercises troops were required to observe petty rules: ranks had to be perfectly dressed; intervals between each man had to be identical; and boots had to be polished just so. Failure to measure up could incur many blows of the stick. In general, disciplinary measures were brutal. Army authorities meted out harsh punishments (including often fatal sentences of running the gauntlet) for quite trivial offenses. Although better off than common soldiers, officers themselves were not spared the rigors of Nicholaevan discipline. One young officer complained in his diary that as he found it physically impossible to fulfill all of his service obligations, he was under intolerable mental strain, fearing that any moment he might be visited with summary punishment for dereliction of duty.

In any event, contemporaries often bemoaned the deleterious effects of this rigorous and punctilious training on the health of the troops. Tight uniforms and incessant parading are said to have born fruit in disease. Parade ground exercises also wreaked havoc with military equipment. The manual of arms, which required a soldier to slam his musket violently onto the ground, often dislocated the firing mechanism, which could later result in the breech exploding in his face when he tried to take a shot. At least one commander placed such an emphasis on the smartness of his unit when on parade that his men’s gun barrels were actually worn thin through excessive burnishing.

Drill can obviously be of great military use. It can teach civilians to think of themselves as soldiers and can help build confidence and esprit de corps. There can, however, be too much drill. Pushed too far, as it was under Nicholas I, drill contributed little to preparing the soldiers for battle. Still worse, if soldiers attempted to perform in the field as they had been trained to on the Champs de Mars, the results could be disastrous. Intelligent young officers assigned to the Army of the Caucasus during Nicholas’s reign quickly discovered that it behooved them to forget everything they had learned on the parade ground—that is, if they wished to remain alive.

A final set of difficulties stemmed from the state’s efforts to economize on the maintenance of its army. Take, for example, the military colonies. One of the principal reasons for establishing them was the desire of the government to keep the military budget under control. Yet despite the fact that the colonies allowed (and indeed encouraged) soldiers to marry and raise families, both the soldiers and the peasants settled in the colonies regarded them as little more than hells on earth. Count A. A. Arakcheev, the driving force behind the colonies, was a sadistic martinet, and the administration of the settlements bore the imprint of the deformities of his character. Every aspect of life and behavior in the colonies was regimented; each colonist was attired in military uniform; hours of drill were demanded on top of backbreaking agricultural labor; discipline was both harsh and capricious. Conditions in the colonies, frankly unendurable, resulted in high incidences of suicide and eventual rebellion. In 1831 military colonists in Novogord suddenly rose up in revolt and massacred more than two hundred bailiffs, nobles, and officials; 3,600 men and women implicated in the atrocities were tried and punished.

The rebellion forced the state to ameliorate the regimen that existed within the colonies. In the immediate aftermath of the 1831 uprising many of the colonists were reclassified as “farming soldiers.” That relieved them of the responsibilities of military drill and placed them more or less on a par with the state peasants. Their children were no longer automatically enrolled as cantonists. Those reforms, however, represented a retreat from the principle of squeezing the colonies to provide food, money, and conscripts for the army.

Although Nicholas’s regime was unquestionably militaristic and although the Tsar personally was devoted to his army, the fact remained that the state simply did not possess enough revenue to support its armed forces or its ambitious military policies. Despite all the efforts of the Ministry of Finance, the state ran a budgetary deficit almost constantly during the reign of Nicholas I. Although the army continued to claim a high proportion of total governmental outlays, the bad harvests of 1839–41 compelled St. Petersburg to cut even its military spending.

Financial pressure had obvious consequences for military preparedness. Nicholas I was, for instance, very interested in constructing or improving fortifications along the western perimeters of his empire from Åland Island to Aleksandropol. Yet while Nicholas started nine large-scale fortress-building projects during his reign, he completed few. Of the three forts deemed indispensable for the defense of Poland—Novogeorgievsk, Ivangorod, and Brest—only the first had been finished when Nicholas died.

Revenue problems were still damaging to the armed forces during the 1840s and after. During that time Russia’s European competitors increasingly adopted advanced (and expensive) military technologies. Impoverished Russia lacked the money with which to compete. The navy was the first to suffer. In the early years Nicholas had been concerned with upgrading and improving his fleets. Indeed, sea power had served Nicholas well at Navarino in 1827 and at Constantinople in 1833, to mention but two occasions. Yet when the transition from sail to steam began, the Russian navy lagged behind. Russia did not acquire its first steamship until 1848. When the Crimean War began, there were only ten small paddle-wheelers in the entire Black Sea fleet, and they were completely outclassed by the French and British ships-of-the line, driven by their screw propellers. Russia was to suffer for that naval inferiority throughout the entire war. It was the reason that Russia felt it had to detach such a high proportion of troops to guard its Baltic coast in the 1853–56 period. It also meant that certain Russian possessions had to be abandoned. In December 1854 the Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich ordered the governor-general of Eastern Siberia to evacuate all Russian troops from the island of Kamchatka in view of the impossibility of defending it against an amphibious invasion. Technological inferiority was also a great problem for the army. The smoothbore muskets and cannon employed by the defenders of Sevastopol were no match for the rifles and improved ordnance of the enemy. French and British guns could fire faster and farther than Russian ones. The allies, moreover, were more abundantly furnished with ammunition; during the siege the French and the British fired at least 400,000 more shells on Sevastopol than the Russians were able to fire back. There is something in the end pathetic about Nicholas’s requests during the war that captured enemy rifles and shells be brought to Petersburg for his personal inspection; he was making an all too belated acquaintance with the implications of nineteenth-century technological progress. Allied technological superiority was in the end to be decisive in the Crimean War.

The Crimean War

As Russia interpreted them, the terms of the Peace of Kuchuk Kainardzhi of 1774 gave it special rights to protect the interests of Orthodox Christians living in the Ottoman Empire. In 1850, however, the government of France began to pressure Constantinople to grant it exclusive rights over the Churches of the Holy Sepulcher and the Nativity, in Jerusalem and Bethlehem respectively. Those demands were advanced even more forcibly after 1852, when, by means of a coup d’état, Louis Napoleon had swept away the Second Republic and proclaimed himself Emperor of the French. As Emperor, Napoleon III was eager both to enhance his international prestige and to curry favor with Catholic opinion in France by posturing as the most devoted defender of the Roman Catholic faith.

Napoleon’s negotiations with the Turks put Nicholas I in a difficult position. While the Holy Places per se were of little concern to him, he was unwilling to be perceived as backing down in the face of the French. Then, too, he believed that Imperial France was about to embark on a revolutionary policy, designed to win influence in Turkey at Russia’s expense. After much abortive negotiating, Nicholas finally dispatched his Minister of Marine, Prince Menshikov, to Constantinople as his personal emissary. Menshikov’s mission was to demand that the Turks reconfirm the special privilege of the Russian Tsar to protect the status of the 12 million Orthodox believers who were Ottoman subjects. Regarding this as tantamount to a surrender of sovereignty, the Turkish government rejected the demand, counting on the support of both France and Britain. Napoleon III was only too glad to oblige. And the coalition government of Lord Aberdeen, which included the Russophobe Palmerston as Foreign Minister, was increasingly inclined to view Russia’s activities as a prelude to an aggressive assault on the Near Eastern balance of power.

After the fiasco of the Menshikov mission Nicholas I attempted to threaten the Turks, as we have previously seen, by staging an invasion of Wallachia and Moldavia, two provinces under the nominal suzerainty of the Sultan. The Turks, however, were not inclined to give way. When a last-minute attempt at mediation by the Austrian Chancellor, Count Buol, also failed, Turkey declared war on October 4, 1853.

Although Russia intended to stand on the defensive against the Turks on land, it undertook offensive naval action early. In November its Black Sea fleet caught a Turkish naval flotilla in the Black Sea port of Sinope and sent it to the bottom. Fearing that Turkey was now in danger of toppling, France and Britain sent naval squadrons into the Black Sea and shortly thereafter (March 1854) declared war themselves.

Although the Russians had successfully repulsed Turkish attacks in the Balkans and the Caucasus during the first months of the war, the correlation of forces was now different. In September 1854, under the cover of the Royal Navy, an Anglo-French expeditionary force landed on the Crimean peninsula roughly 30 miles north of the strategic fortress of Sevastopol. On September 20 combined French, British, and Turkish forces ran into a Russian detachment of 36,000 men at the Alma River. The battle of the Alma, which featured senseless frontal assaults on both sides, resulted in a costly victory for the allies. The Russians were forced to retreat into the fortress of Sevastopol itself, reinforcing the 20,000-man garrison.

The Russians now made extensive preparations for the defense of the city. Under the direction of the brilliant engineer Colonel Totleben, Russian troops constructed an intricate system of earthworks and fortifications on the southern or inland side of the town. Those works were so formidable that the allies hesitated to risk an assault on them. Finally, in early October 1854 the allies launched the first of their attempts to take Sevastopol. The allied fleet bombarded the seaward side of the fortress with more than 40,000 rounds, while siege guns dragged into positions inland hammered at Totleben’s fortifications. The struggle, however, proved inconclusive, for if many of Sevastopol’s guns were silenced, several allied warships also took heavy damage.

But food and ammunition supplies were running low inside Sevastopol. Precisely because of powder shortages, Menshikov, the commander of the garrison, now ordered a Russian counterattack in the hope of raising the siege. The Russians selected as their target Balaclava, the site of a great concentration of British food and stores. The upshot was the Battle of Balaclava (October 12, 1854). The Russian 12th Division under Liprandi early on captured four Turkish redoubts on the British right flank. It soon appeared that the entire battle would turn on the British efforts to retake them. This was the engagement that witnessed the notorious Charge of the Light Brigade. Misunderstanding its orders, which were to harass the Russians on Causeway Heights, Cardogan’s light brigade instead attacked directly into the massed Russian artillery, with predictably catastrophic results. Despite wholescale carnage on both sides, Balaclava was also curiously indecisive. Although the Russians had failed to break through the allied lines, their military position actually improved after this defeat, for they shortly received a large number of reinforcements.

On October 24 Menshikov once again tried to break out of the allied encirclement by assaulting the forces of the British right flank on Inkerman Heights. Initially hard pressed by the Russian assault, the British troops were saved by the timely arrival of French troops from Bosquet’s corps of observation. The Russians were once again rebuffed, taking 11,000 casualties—roughly 40 percent of the men they had committed to the battle.

The war now settled into the dreary pattern of siegecraft, bombardment, and sorties. But time was not on the Russian side. Finally, after losing the suicide engagement at Black River (August 4[16], 1855), the Russians decided that Sevastopol had to be abandoned. The outgunned and outnumbered Russian soldiers and sailors began the evacuation; Sevastopol fell to allied forces at the end of August. Russia was now at the point of exhaustion. It was fighting a coalition composed of France, Britain, Turkey, and Sardinia. Sweden was growing increasingly hostile. When the Austrian government presented its ultimatum, demanding that Russia negotiate or face war, the new Emperor, Alexander II, felt that he had no choice but to agree.

The Crimean War represented the death knell of the Nicholaevan system. That system, and much of what it stood for, was thoroughly discredited. The Crimean defeat put into motion a process of reassessment that eventually resulted in such important reforms as the abolition of serfdom in 1861. Efforts by Russian diplomats to undo the humiliating Peace of Paris, which ended the war, were to occupy them for years afterward. But the impact of the war on the Russian military establishment was no less momentous. For more than a hundred and fifty years, the Russian military system with its impressed peasant army had proved equal to almost any challenge that could be brought against it. The Russian army had been an extraordinarily reliable instrument of the state’s grand strategy. But the Crimean War demonstrated that this was not necessarily the case any longer. The old military system was no longer of value under the changed conditions of warfare. That system now had to be reinvented—taken apart and replaced with something else that would permit Russia to be victorious on the battlefield once again. The problem was complex. What new sort of military system ought Russia to have? How could Russia integrate modern military technologies into its armed forces? Finally, how could it pay for it all? In one way or another, those questions continued to bedevil Russian statesmen for the next eighty years, until Stalin finally and conclusively resolved them in the 1930s. But a first attempt to answer them came in the reign of Alexander II. It is to this subject that we must now turn.

Tupolev Tu-95 Bear

A Russian Tupolev Tu-95 Bear parting the clouds.
RAF Tornados escorting Tu-95MS ’20’ to IAT Fairford, 23 July 1993.

The Tu-4 Grows Up

By the end of the 1940s, the development of turbine engines had marked the closing of the piston era. Initially, the new turbojets were small, and were not of any use for long-range bombers, but by the early 1950s they had started to develop. So had turboprops.

In the West, the turboprop was confined mainly to commercial aircraft the Bristol Britannia, Vickers Viscount and Lockheed Electra helped to bridge a gap between the piston and jet ages. Some military transports would use turboprops. Particularly well-known is the Lockheed Hercules, and a few mainly carrier-borne strike aircraft such as the Fairey Gannet. But little thought was given to the possibility of using turboprops to power strategic bombers by anyone except Tupolev and his team.

In 1949, he set up a team headed by Nikolai Bazenkov to develop the Tu-85 and make use of the new developments in Soviet turboprops, specifically Nikolai Kuznetsov’s new NK-12, due to be available in 1953, which offered a power of up to 15,000 shaft horsepower (shp). Pending their availability, development work began using TV-2 and TV-12 engines of 12,000shpeach.

Two prototypes were constructed in factory N156 beside the design offices, using, as usual, the design bureau’s specialist engineers working alongside Bazenkov and his team, with Tupolev visiting the works almost every day as was the norm. Although substantially based on the Tu-85, a considerable amount of work was needed to adapt the design for the much higher speeds targeted for the Tu-95. Most important was the wing; the Tu-85 had a maximum speed of 563kph/350mph, but the -95 was expected to achieve 900 to 950kph/559 to 590mph, almost sixty to seventy per cent faster. In an effort to achieve this, Bazenkov developed a wing which measured 51m/167.33 feet from tip to tip, despite a 35° angle of sweep. The 6m/l 9.7-foot-long engines were installed in large nacelles on the wings, with the inner ones having a pod which extended eight metres to the rear into which the four-wheeled undercarriage legs retracted rearwards.

The cabin was pressurised, which improved crew conditions on long-distance flights — cruising at 750kph/466mph, patrols could last up to twenty hours. One thing missing was ejection seats. Although normal equipment in most high-performance military aircraft since the late 1940s, the Tu-95 did not have them. The crew in the forward section had to evacuate by using an emergency lift which would bring them from the cockpit and drop them through a hatch near the nosewheel door while those in the aircraft’s tail exited through escape hatches.

The prototype Tu-95 (called Tu-95/1) was completed by September 1952, and was brought by road to Zhukovski. After reassembly, it began its ground trials early in November; on 12 November, with Aleksei Pereliot in command, the first flight took place. As mentioned earlier, its engines were the 12,000shp TV-2FS. In state tests, they exceeded 900kph/559mph, something considered impossible by many aerodynamic specialists for propeller aircraft. Tupolev gave particular credit for the excellent performance to the design and production of Konstantin Zhdanov’s propeller and gearbox developed at Stupino, near Moscow.

Work proceeded on the second prototype relatively slowly, but late in 1953 the first aircraft crashed due to an engine fire which resulted in the engine falling off. Three people died: Pereliot, a flight engineer and a research scientist; nine escaped by evacuating the aircraft by parachute. The second was completed only in July 1954. Delays in engine production meant that it did not receive its TV-12s until the end of the year. Early in 1955, the Tu-95/2 was rolled out at Zhukovski for its pre-flight trials, including engine runs and taxying tests. It made its first flight on 16 February, flown by Mikhail Nukhtikov.

Meanwhile, serial production of the Tu-20, as the VVS designated it, had been set up at Kuibyshev factory N18 under General Director Mitrofan Yevshin. Work started in January 1955 and the first two production aircraft were completed in October and began state tests. They were powered by the first production examples of Kuznetsov’s NK-12, which gave 12,000shp. As was usual in the Soviet system, production examples were not built to the same standards as the virtually hand-made prototypes, and Soviet designers made allowances for this. The production Tu-95, with lower powered engines and higher weight, was measured to have a performance of 882kph/548mph in speed, a range with a five tonne payload of 15,040km/9,346 miles, and a service ceiling of 11,300m/37,075 feet – not quite up to VVS requirements. The second production aircraft was fitted with the NK-12M, a higher powered version which gave 15,000sph and a lower fuel consumption. With these, performance improved to a maximum speed of 905kph/562mph, range to 16,750km/10,408 miles, and ceiling to 12,150m/39,864 feet. These figures met the requirements.

The Tu-95 was first shown to the public at the 1955 Aviation Day air show at Tushino, in Moscow’s north-west, in August, when the second prototype made a flypast. The VVS accepted delivery of its first Tu-95s in August 1957, and it went into service as a long-range strategic bomber. It was armed with six pairs of AM-23 cannons, providing almost complete coverage: one pair was in the nose, two above the fuselage, just behind the cockpit and forward of the tail, one was in a tail turret and the others under the fuselage. Some of these could be remotely operated by a gunner who sat between two glazed blisters in the rear fuselage. The bomb load varied from a maximum range version with five tonnes to fifteen tonnes with a fall off in range; it was possible to carry two nuclear bombs, or conventional warheads.

An accident in March 1957, when the failure of one engine plus a problem in propeller feathering caused the loss of the aircraft and the death of the crew, resulted in the installation of NK-12MVs, modified versions of the engine with automatic and manual systems of feathering. Production of the Tu-95 continued until 1959, in several different versions listed below.

Production totalled 173 aircraft plus the two prototypes. All these were strategic aircraft. While most of them continued in service until the late 1980s/early 1990s, the effects of the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) caused many of them to be cut up in the 1990s. Some of the Tu-95s – or, to give them their worthy NATO codename, Bear – were modified after their withdrawal from front-line bomber units to carry missiles or for reconnaissance roles. Two Tu-95s were removed from the production line in 1958 and were completed as Tu-116s. By the mid-1990s all Tu-95s were grounded or scrapped.

Later, the Tu-95 would appear again as the nonstrategic Tu-142. Although differing mainly in equipment from the Tu-95, the -142 was not a bomber, and so did not come under the auspices of the SALT treaty. Its story is related later.

A Tu-95 was modified as a Tu-95LAL (=Letavshaia Atomnaia Laboratoriya = Flying Atomic laboratory). Although no engine power was generated from atomic sources, the aircraft carried a VVR-100 reactor, and made 42 flights to test ecological problems; after these tests, the decision was taken not to proceed with the Tu-119 which remained a paper project.

Variants

Tu-95/1

    The first prototype powered by Kuznetsov 2TV-2F coupled turboprop engines.

Tu-95/2

    The second prototype powered by Kuznetsov NK-12 turboprops.

Tu-95

    Basic variant of the long-range strategic bomber and the only model of the aircraft never fitted with a nose refuelling probe. Known to NATO as the Bear-A.

Tu-95K

    Experimental version for air-dropping a MiG-19 SM-20 jet aircraft.

Tu-95K22

    Conversions of the older Bear bombers, reconfigured to carry the Raduga Kh-22 missile and incorporating modern avionics. Known to NATO as the Bear-G.

Tu-95K/Tu-95KD

    Designed to carry the Kh-20 air-to-surface missile. The Tu-95KD aircraft were the first to be outfitted with nose probes. Known to NATO as the Bear-B.

Tu-95KM

    Modified and upgraded versions of the Tu-95K, most notable for their enhanced reconnaissance systems. These were in turn converted into the Bear-G configuration. Known to NATO as the Bear-C.

Tu-95LAL

    Experimental nuclear-powered aircraft project.

Tu-95M

    Modification of the serial Tu-95 with the NK-12M engines. 19 were built.

Tu-95M-55

    Missile carrier.

Tu-95MR

    Bear-A modified for photo-reconnaissance and produced for Naval Aviation. Known to NATO as the Bear-E.

Tu-95MS/Tu-95MS6/Tu-95MS16

    Completely new cruise missile carrier platform based on the Tu-142 airframe. This variant became the launch platform of the Raduga Kh-55 cruise missile and put into serial production in 1981. Known to NATO as the Bear-H and was referred to by the U.S. military as a Tu-142 for some time in the 1980s before its true designation became known.

Tu-95MS6

    Capable of carrying six Kh-55, Kh-55SM or Kh-555 cruise missiles on a rotary launcher in the aircraft’s weapons bay. 32 were built.

Tu-95MS16

    Fitted with four underwing pylons in addition to the rotary launcher in the fuselage, giving a maximum load of 16 Kh-55s or 14 Kh-55SMs. 56 were built.

Tu-95MSM

    Modernized version of MS16 with advanced radio-radar equipment as well as a target-acquiring/navigation system based on GLONASS. Four underwing pylons for up to 8 Kh-101/102 stealth cruise missiles. 19 aircraft have been modernized as of late December 2018. Its combat debut was made on 17 November 2016 in Syria.

Tu-95N

    Experimental version for air-dropping an RS ramjet powered aircraft.

Tu-95RT

    Variant of the basic Bear-A configuration, redesigned for maritime reconnaissance and targeting as well as electronic intelligence for service in the Soviet Naval Aviation. Known to NATO as the Bear-D.

Tu-95U

    Training variant, modified from surviving Bear-As but now all have been retired. Known to NATO as the Bear-T.

Tu-95V

    Special carrier aircraft to test-drop the largest thermonuclear weapon ever designed, the Tsar Bomba.

Tu-96

    Long-range intercontinental high-altitude strategic bomber prototype, designed to climb up to 16,000-17,000 m. It was a high-altitude version of the Tupolev Tu-95 aircraft with high-altitude augmented turboprop TV-16 engines and with a new, enlarged-area wing. Plant tests of the aircraft were performed with non-high altitude TV-12 engines in 1955–1956.

Initial Retreat of the Russian Army 1812

As the Russian armies retreated, discontent about the conduct of the war quickly increased among Russian officers and soldiers. Russia had not sustained a foreign invasion since that of Charles XII’s Swedes in 1709, and even that was defeated at Poltava. A contemporary recalled: ‘The victories of [Field Marshals] Peter Rumyantsev and Alexander Suvorov made the very word “retreat’’ reprehensible.’15 Throughout the 18th century, Russia fought victorious wars against Sweden, the Ottoman Empire, Persia and Poland. The 1799 Campaign in Italy, conducted by Alexander Suvorov, was regarded as a true reflection of Russian military spirit, and the setbacks in the Alps were overshadowed by heroic Russian exploits. The defeat at Austerlitz in 1805 was largely blamed on the Austrians, while the memories of Friedland were soothed by victories in Finland and Wallachia. So, on the eve of the French invasion, an offensive psychology prevailed in the Russian military. Many officers were unwilling to accept defensive warfare within Russia and were inflamed by a belligerent ardour to fight Napoleon. According to one Russian nobleman:

All letters from the Army are filled with aspiration of war and animation of the souls […] It is said that soldiers are eager to fight the foe and avenge the past defeats. The common desire is to advance and engage Napoleon in Prussia, but it seems that the Sovereign’s advisers are against this notion. They decided to wage a defensive war and let the enemy inside our borders; everyone aware of this German [italics added] strategy […] is extremely upset, considering it as the greatest crime.

And a few days into the war Colonel Zakrevsky complained:

We are retreating to that dreadful Drissa position that seems to doom us for destruction. [Our commanders] still cannot agree on what to do and, it seems, they make the worst decisions. The cursed Pfuel must be hanged, shot or tortured as the most ruinous man …

A letter written by General Rayevsky expressed similar sentiments: ‘I do not know what the Sovereign’s intentions are […] Pfuel’s voice is stronger than anyone’s […] Lord save us from such traitors.’ But Ivan Odental perhaps expressed the Army’s frustration best, writing: ‘it seems to me that Bonaparte gave our leaders large doses of opium. They are all dozing off while [worthless] men like Pfuel and Wolzogen are acting instead of them.’

Despite increasing criticism of Pfuel’s strategy, the Russian armies continued to withdraw towards the Drissa Camp. The 1st Western Army reached the camp on 8 July, when Alexander finally realized the laws of Pfuel’s plan and discarded it. Urged by his advisers, Alexander then left the Army without appointing a supreme commander. Barclay de Tolly took over the command of the 1st Western Army and also enjoyed authority over the 2nd Western Army based on his position as Minister of War.

On 14 July Barclay de Tolly abandoned the Drissa camp, detaching General Peter Wittgenstein with some 20,000 men to cover the route to St Petersburg. Barclay de Tolly then withdrew toward Smolensk, fighting rearguard actions at Vitebsk and Ostrovno. In the south, Bagration withdrew first on Minsk and then to Nesvizh and Bobruisk, eluding Napoleon’s enveloping manoeuvres and gaining minor victories at Mir and Romanovo. When Marshal Davout’s forces finally intercepted the 2nd Western Army at Moghilev, Bagration fought a diversion at Saltanovka on 23 July, while his troops crossed the Dnieper to the south and marched toward Smolensk through Mstislavl. On 2 August, the two Russian armies finally united at Smolensk, bringing their total strength to 120,000 as opposed to some 180,000 in Napoleon’s main force.

Meanwhile, in the north, French forces Marshal Oudinot attacked Wittgenstein, protecting the road to St Petersburg, taking Polotsk on 26 July. But in combats near Klyastitsy on 30 July–1 August, the French suffered a defeat, forcing Napoleon to divert Saint-Cyr to support Oudinot’s operations. And in the Baltic provinces, Macdonald’s corps was fighting near Riga, while the Russians redirected reinforcements from Finland. Finally, in the south, Tormasov defeated French forces at Kobrin and then pinned down Schwarzenberg and Reynier in the Volhynia region. On 31 July Chichagov’s Army of the Danube moved from Moldavia to support Tormasov.

Thus, by August 1812, Napoleon’s initial plan to destroy the Russian forces in a decisive battle had largely failed. The two main Russian armies eluded piecemeal destruction and united at Smolensk, while the Grand Army suffered high losses from strategic consumption and desertion.

By the time they reached Smolensk, the Russian armies were already reeling from an ongoing crisis of command. The continuous retreat stirred up discontent among the troops, with many senior officers opposing Barclay de Tolly’s defensive strategy. Relations between the two commanders-in-chief deteriorated after they began to exchange recriminating letters, each unaware of the difficulties the other faced. Yet this discord was far from a simple quarrel between two generals: it also represented political friction between foreign officers and members of the Russian aristocracy, most of whom preferred a straightforward stand-up fight and bitterly resented the surrender of every inch of Russian soil, blaming the outsiders for all their misfortunes. Needless to say, chances of a harmonious partnership between Barclay de Tolly (a Livonian of Scottish ancestry) and Bagration (a Georgian prince) were thus severely compromised.

Indeed, the two commanders gradually came to represent opposing fractions within the officer corps. Barclay de Tolly was surrounded by the so-called ‘German Party’, consisting of émigrés or the descendents of settlers. The latter were usually thoroughly Russified, but they still had foreign-sounding names, and many professed Protestantism or Catholicism, unlike the Orthodox Russians. The ‘Russian’ group naturally resented numerous foreign officers, who filled Alexander’s army in the wake of Napoleon’s European conquests. For many Russians, such an influx of foreign officers seemed to have undermined the very spirit of the Russian Army and many identified with Bagration’s complaint that: ‘our headquarters is so full of Germans that a Russian cannot breathe.’ Besides, many newcomers were incompetent or inexperienced but took advantage of their social standing and connections to obtain promotions, as Bagration observed: ‘wishing to become field marshals without reading any military journals or books […] Today the rogues and impudent upstarts are in favour.’

2–7 August: Mutiny of the Generals

Leading the Army against the French, Barclay de Tolly acted under great stress and would later note that ‘no other commander-in-chief operated in more unpleasant circumstances than I did.’ Although his Scottish family settled in Russia in the 17th century and loyally served its new motherland for decades, Barclay de Tolly was still perceived as a foreigner by the ‘real’ Russians. According to Jacob de Sanglen, head of the Military Police, on the eve of the war he warned Barclay de Tolly that: ‘it is troublesome to command the Russian troops in their native language but with a foreign name.’ Barclay de Tolly could not boast ancient nobility or titles – and he never became a wealthy estate and serf owner as many around him did – but his successful career and high social status caused envy and hostility among fellow officers, and this was exacerbated by his foreign origins.

The Russian prejudice against foreign officers had deep roots, and by 1812 it was ingrained in both the Army and society. Russian senior officers gradually formed an anti-Barclay opposition party aimed at his dismissal. Barclay’s own staff members, headed by Major General Yermolov – ‘the sphinx of modern times’ as he was described for his inscrutable, conspiratorial mind – intrigued against him. Unaware of the actual circumstances and exasperated by the retreat, officers taught the rank and file to call Barclay de Tolly by the nickname ‘Boltai da i tolko’ (‘All talk and nothing else’). Soldiers complained about the continual retreat since: ‘they were prejudiced against the word “retirada’’ [retreat], considering it alien to the dignity of the courageous soldiers, whom [Field Marshals] Rumyantsev and Suvorov trained to advance and gain victory.’

Thus, confidence in the Commander-in-Chief was undermined and every new stage of the retreat intensified the malicious rumours about him. It was hard for Barclay de Tolly to parry thrusts of criticism since his cautious, albeit sensible, policy contrasted with the popular ideas of Bagration and his fire-eating supporters. One of the Russian officers understood that Barclay’s defensive strategy was ‘prudent’ but also noted ‘the extremely negative impact’ it had on the commander-in-chief: ‘The common view about him was that of a treacherous German; naturally, this was followed by mistrust and even hatred and contempt that were openly expressed.’

Bagration, with his impeccable reputation and eagerness to fight, certainly fared much better in the eyes of the common soldier. A contemporary remarked: ‘The difference in the spirit of the two armies was that the 1st Army relied only on itself and the Russian God, while the 2nd Army also trusted Prince Bagration […] His presence, eagle-like appearance, cheerful expression and keen humour inspired soldiers.’ Similar sentiments are echoed by Yermolov, who noted a dramatic difference in the state of the armies as they reached Smolensk:

The 1st Army was exhausted by the continuous withdrawal and soldiers began to mutiny; there were cases of insubordination and agitation […] At the same time, the 2nd Western Army arrived [at Smolensk] in an entirely different state of mind. The music and joyful songs animated soldiers. These troops showed only pride for the danger they had overcome and the readiness to face and overcome a new danger. It seemed as if the 2nd Western Army did not retreat from the Nieman to the Dnieper, but covered this distance in triumph.

Such were the passions on the eve of the junction at Smolensk, and the impending meeting of the two generals was naturally expected to be intense.

Yet, to everyone’s surprise, when they encountered each other on 2 August both commanders displayed unusual tact, realizing the importance of restoring a workable partnership.

When Bagration arrived, accompanied by his generals and aides-de-camp, Barclay de Tolly met him wearing a parade uniform complete with medals, sash, and plumed bicorn in hand. The two commanders then had a private conversation and each apologized for any injustice he might have caused the other. Bagration praised Barclay’s withdrawal from Vitebsk and Barclay de Tolly complimented Bagration on the skilful manner in which he had eluded Napoleon’s trap.

Bagration was pleased with this meeting and though senior in rank, agreed to subordinate himself to Barclay de Tolly. Unity of command was thus achieved for the moment. Alas, such cordiality between the generals would survive a mere seven days.

7–14 August: Offensive at Last

With the Russian armies concentrated at Smolensk the question was what to do next? Should the armies continue retreating or take advantage of their combined strengths and launch an offensive? The majority of officers, and Russian society in general, demanded a more vigorous conduct of the war. Minor successes at Mir, Romanovo, Ostrovno, Saltanovka, and Klyastitsy were already portrayed as great victories, which only intensified calls for an offensive. In early August, Pavel Pushin, serving in the 3rd Battalion of the Semeyonovsk Life Guard Regiment, noted in his diary the general restlessness prevailing in the Army: ‘We all are burning with impatience to fight, each of us is willing to shed blood to the very last drop, and, if commanded properly, we will inflict heavy losses on the enemy.’ Three days later the Army learned about Count Wittgenstein’s victory at Polotsk and the news only intensified the sentiments.

To many soldiers it seemed that the fruits of these victories were wasted by their high command (coincidentally full of ‘German’ officers) and Russian soil was being surrendered to the enemy without a fight. Bagration certainly echoed the opinion of many when he wrote to Barclay de Tolly:

With our armies finally uniting, we accomplished the goal set by our Emperor [Alexander]. With so many experienced troops gathered together, we now enjoy a superiority, which [Napoleon] tried to exploit while we were separated. Now, our goal must be to attack the [French] centre and defeat it while [the French] forces are scattered […] We would seize our destiny with one blow […] The entire Army and all of Russia demand [attack].

Conceding to public pressure, Barclay de Tolly called a council of war on 6 August. The council agreed to an attack and next day the Russian armies advanced westward in three columns on a 20-mile front. The weather was dry and the advance rapid. Yermolov recalled that the soldiers were in high spirits because: ‘the order to attack was finally given and it [was] impossible to describe the joy of our troops! Smolensk watched in bewilderment at our forces’ eagerness to fight; the Dnieper vociferously flowed, proud of the orderly movement of our troops!’

But the advance also revealed an ongoing disagreement between Bagration and Barclay de Tolly. One day after the offensive began Barclay de Tolly received news, later proved incorrect, that the French were advancing towards Porechye, north of Smolensk. Fearing Napoleon would turn his right lank, Barclay de Tolly ordered his troops to veer to the right to cover the Porechye–Smolensk route. Bagration opposed the change in direction of the 1st Western Army’s advance, since he anticipated Napoleon’s actual attack on the left flank.

Barclay de Tolly ignored Bagration’s pleas and remained on the Porechye route, awaiting new intelligence. His order to Platov (leader or Ataman of the Don Cossacks) to halt did not reach him in time, and acting under original instructions, Platov continued his march north-west, making a sudden attack on General Sébastiani’s division near Inkovo (Molevo Boloto). Instead of trying to exploit this initial success by mounting a major attack in this direction (as envisaged by the council of war), Barclay de Tolly remained idle on the Porechye route, still believing that the main threat to Smolensk lay from the north. A Russian general complained:

Instead of rapid movement that would have secured our success, the armies were given a useless rest and the enemy gained additional time to concentrate his forces! […] Circumstances still favoured us and had our Commander-in-Chief showed more firmness in his intentions [we would have succeeded]. Of course, the defeat at [Inkovo] awakened the French, but they were about to suffer from further attacks and had no time to avoid them. Yet, the Commander-in-Chief not only evaded executing the adopted plan but completely changed it.

This was a decisive blow to the Russian counter-offensive. The Russian armies remained inactive for days as Barclay de Tolly dithered, thus alerting Napoleon to Russian intentions and permitting him to prepare his troops accordingly. Finally, on 12 August, Barclay de Tolly learned that his intelligence regarding a French concentration at Porechye was incorrect and that Napoleon had assembled his army at Babinovichi, on the Dnieper, threatening the left flank of the Russian Army, as Bagration had anticipated days before. He responded by withdrawing his troops from the Porechye road to the Rudnya route on 13 August. The Russian troops reacted bitterly: the soldiers were grumbling and, after marching several times through the village of Shelomets, they called Barclay’s manoeuvres ‘oshelomelii’ or ‘dumbfounding’.

The sudden cancellation of the planned attack, lack of information on Barclay de Tolly’s plans, constant changes in orders and delayed manoeuvres aroused feelings of dismay in many Russian officers, and in Bagration above all. He clearly saw the threat to the Russian left lank but could not convince Barclay de Tolly to believe him. He complained:

I still believe that there are no enemy forces [in the direction of Porechye] […] I would be glad to coordinate my actions with [the 1st Western Army] but [Barclay de Tolly] is making twenty changes in a minute. For God’s sake, please do not change the strategy every minute; [we] must have some kind of system to act upon.

Russian senior officers who disliked Barclay de Tolly before now openly despised him. Conspiracy theories lourished in this fertile ground: especially after the Russians, searching Sébastiani’s headquarters at Molevo Boloto, found a message from Marshal Murat describing the Russian offensive. Could it be that someone at Barclay de Tolly’s headquarters had notiied the enemy about the counter-offensive? On 12 August, Pavel Pushin of the Semeyonovskii Life Guard Regiment noted in his diary:

A few days ago, General Sébastiani’s personal papers were captured. Notes were found in his portfolio that contained numbers, places and day-by-day movement of our corps. Rumours have it that, as a result, all suspicious persons were removed from headquarters, including Flügel Adjutants and Counts …

Not surprisingly, all of these persons were non-Russians, mostly Poles. It later transpired that the Polish Prince Lubomirski, one of the adjutants, accidentally overheard several generals discussing Russian offensive plans in the street and had sent a message to his mother, urging her to lee the coming bloodshed. Murat – who was billeted at Lubomirski’s family home – had intercepted this letter. Another incident further increased Russian suspicions against the Poles in particular. As the troops marched back and forth between Prikaz Vydra and Shelomets, some soldiers noticed:

a woman following our columns and, when asked, she always replied that she was with General Lavrov. Everyone was satisfied with her answer until one joker decided to flirt with her and, in a moment of passion, tore off her hat, which revealed a male head underneath. It appeared that he was a spy; he was [arrested] and sent to headquarters.

14–19 August: Napoleon Strikes Back – The Battles of Krasnyi, Smolensk and Lubino

Russian hesitation gave Napoleon enough time to adjust his plans. His first reaction to news of the action at Inkovo had been to suspend preparations for the drive on Smolensk, followed by an order to concentrate the Grand Army around Lyosno, in order to meet the Russians. But by 10 August Barclay de Tolly’s indecision convinced Napoleon that the Russian offensive presented no significant threat. Meanwhile, an opportunity to deal the enemy a decisive blow had presented itself.

Napoleon’s manoeuvre on Smolensk was a masterpiece. He concentrated his corps on a narrow front between Orsha and Rosasna on the northern bank of the Dnieper; then, under cover of a heavy cavalry screen, the Grand Army crossed to the southern bank. Napoleon’s plan was to advance eastwards along the left bank, taking Smolensk while the Russians were preoccupied with the northern approaches.

By daylight on 14 August almost the entire Grand Army was across the Dnieper and advancing on Smolensk. However, Napoleon’s plan was thwarted by a small Russian detachment led by General Neverovsky, which Bagration had deployed at Krasnyi to watch for any potential flanking manoeuvres. Neverovsky’s troops made a successful fighting retreat to Smolensk, ‘retreating like lions’ as one French officer described it. Their exploits enthralled the Russian Army, and future guerrilla leader Denis Davidov reflected what many felt at the time: ‘I remember how we looked at this division, as it approached us in midst of smoke and dust. Each bayonet shone with an immortal glory.’

Without Neverovky’s staunch resistance at Krasnyi, the French might well have reached Smolensk by the evening of the 14 August and taken the city, cutting the Russian line of retreat. However, as a result of this action, Napoleon decided to halt his advance for a day in order to regroup his forces, missing his chance of taking Smolensk by surprise.

Hearing of Napoleon’s flanking attack, both Russian armies rushed back to Smolensk. On 15–16 August the Russians repulsed French assaults on Smolensk but were nonetheless forced to abandon the city. Smolensk was almost completely destroyed and of 2,250 buildings only 350 remained intact. Meanwhile, of the city’s 15,000 inhabitants only 1,000 remained in its smoking, smouldering wreck. The Russians lost about 10,000 men in the two-day battle. French losses reached a similar figure, though Russian sources often claim as many as 20,000 French casualties.

As the Russians withdrew to Moscow, Napoleon attempted to cut their line of retreat but at the Battle of Valutina Gora (Lubino) on 19 August Barclay de Tolly’s army succeeded in clearing its way to Dorogobuzh. Once again the fighting proved bloody, this battle claiming over 7,000 French and around 6,000 Russian casualties.

Sukhoi Su-27 ‘Flanker’ (1977)

A Su-27 ‘Flanker-B’ of the 582nd Fighter Aviation Regiment, part of the Soviet 4th Air Army based at Chojna, Poland, in 1990. In the same year this unit withdrew its 32 Su-27s from Poland and relocated to Smolensk, Russia, where it disbanded in 1992.

Planned as a Soviet counterweight to the F-15 Eagle, the Su-27 entered service as an air superiority fighter but has demonstrated considerable growth potential, being further developed as a carrier fighter and proving to be an export success.

Sukhoi began work on its T-10 design in 1969 with the aim of creating a highly agile fighter that possessed a very long range, heavy armament and sophisticated sensors. In order to maximize manoeuvrability, the fighter was planned from the start to be unstable, and therefore required a fly-by-wire (FBW) control system. The first prototype of the T-10 took to the air in May 1977 and received the NATO reporting name ‘Flanker-A’. However, in its initial form the four original T-10 prototypes displayed a number of serious deficiencies and the aircraft required a wholesale redesign, re-emerging as the radically reworked T-10S-1 of 1981.

The T-10S entered series production in 1982, and received the in-service designation Su-27 (NATO ‘Flanker-B’). Service entry followed in 1984 and the single-seater was joined by the Su-27UB (NATO ‘Flanker-C’) fully combat-capable two-seater that first flew in 1985. By the end of the Cold War, a total of just over 400 Su-27s of both versions were in Soviet service.

After the collapse of the USSR, ‘Flankers’ were passed on to successor states, and Russia began an export drive for the fighter. First of the export models was the baseline Su-27SK developed for China, basically similar to the ‘Flanker-B’, but with with additional air-to-ground capabilities. China also received a ‘Flanker-C’ equivalent, the Su-27UBK. After around 80 Russian-built Su-27SK/UBKs were delivered, China launched licensed production of 95 additional single-seat ‘Flankers’ (designated as J-11).

Vietnam was the second customer, ordering a first batch of six ‘Flankers’ (including one two-seater), and a second batch of two Su-27SKs and four Su-27UBKs. Ethiopia purchased second-hand ex-Russian ‘Flanker-B/ Cs’, while Indonesian acquired two Su-27SKs and three of the improved Su-27SKM single-seater (the latter equivalent to the Su-27SM described later). ‘Flanker-B/C’ exports also included ex-Ukrainian aircraft sold to Eritrea and Ethiopia, while Angola received two ‘Flankers’ from an unknown source, likely Belarus.

The basic ‘Flanker’ continues to provide the backbone of the Russian Air Force fighter fleet, with 180 examples in service in 2013. These aircraft are undergoing a mid-life upgrade, transforming them into the Su-27SM that is based around a new avionics suite. Delivered to front-line regiments from 2004, the upgraded Su-27SM has been complemented by a small batch of newly built aircraft with improved avionics and mission equipment, designated as the Su-27SM3, which were delivered in 2011. More recently, Russia has procured three more new-build ‘Flanker’ versions: the two-seat Su-30M2 and Su-30SM, as well as the thrust-vectoring single-seat Su-35S. The Su-30M2 and Su-30SM are both domestic versions of the significantly improved two-seat derivatives of the ‘Flanker’, which have achieved significant export success.

The multi-role two-seat family was derived from the Su-30 interceptor developed for the USSR and fielded in small numbers. Itself based on the two-seat Su-27UB, the Su-30 added an in-flight refuelling probe and other changes for the long-range mission.

The Su-30 led to the multi-role Su-30MKI developed by the Irkut company for India, which has signed up for 272 aircraft. The Su-30MKI includes advanced avionics suite, including a phased-array multi-mode radar, precision-guided air-to-surface weapons, canard foreplanes, a more sophisticated FBW system and thrust-vectoring engines. The definitive Su-30MKI was preceded by a batch of eight Su-30Ks equipped to a basic configuration.

Essentially similar to the Su-30MKI are the 18 Su-30MKM aircraft (for Malaysia), the 44 Su-30MKA aircraft (for Algeria) and the Russian Su-30SM. Less sophisticated is the Su-30MKK two-seat multi-role ‘Flanker’ developed for China by the KnAAPO plant. China received 76 aircraft followed by 24 of the Su-30MK2 derivative optimized for anti-shipping. Other customers for the KnAAPO product comprise Venezuela (24 Su-30MK2V), Vietnam (24 Su-30MK2), Indonesia (two Su-30MK and nine Su-30MK2) and (six Su-30MK2). The Russian Air Force’s Su-30M2 is also broadly similar.

The definitive single-seat ‘Flanker’ was conceived in the early 2000s, initially for export. The Su-35 has been ordered by Russia and features a completely new airframe structure, avionics, systems and powerplant. Although not fitted with canards, it includes the super agility of the Su-30MKI family thanks to its 142.2kN (31,900lb) thrust-vectoring Saturn AL-41F1S engines and advanced FBW system. The Su-35S is capable of employing all Russian new-generation air-to-air and air-to-surface guided weapons.

Naval ‘Flanker’

Known to Sukhoi as the Su-27K, and to the Russian military as the Su-33, the ‘Flanker-D’ is a carrier-based air superiority fighter that was first flown in August 1987. Compared to the ‘Flanker-B’, the Su-33 features an arrester hook, canard foreplanes, a folding tail ‘sting’, folding wings and tailplane, a strengthened twin nosewheel, modified flight control system, increased-area fin and a retractable flight-refuelling probe. The weapons control system is similar to that of the baseline ‘Flanker-B’, essentially restricting it to air defence missions. The carrier version entered series production in the early 1990s and in 1993 the first batch of four Su-33s entered service. By 1998 as many as 24 ‘Flanker-Ds’ had been accepted by Russian Naval Aviation and these serve as primary fighter equipment aboard the Russian Navy’s sole aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov.

A specially marked Su-27 ‘Flanker-B’ of the Russian Air Force Training Centre at Lipetsk in the mid-1990s. This unit is tasked with training weapons instructors and developing tactics.

The Su-27 features a prominent leading edge root extension (LERX) that provides additional lift, helping destabilize the heavy radar nose. The starboard wing root contains a 30mm (1.18in) cannon.

The original ‘Flanker-B/C’ production models can carry weapons on a total of 10 external hardpoints: one on each wingtip, two under each wing, one under each engine nacelle and two in tandem on the fuselage centreline.

Specification (Su-27 `Flanker-B’)

Type: All-weather air superiority fighter

Dimensions: Length: 21.90m (71ft 10in); Wingspan: 14.70m (48ft 2.75in); Height: 5.93m (19ft 5.5in)

Weight: 33,000kg (72,751lb) maximum take-off

Powerplant: 2 x 122.58kN (27,557lb) Saturn/Lyulka AL-31F afterburning turbofans

Maximum speed: 2280km/h (1417mph) `clean’ at 11,000m (36,090ft)

Range: 3680km (2287 miles) at high altitude

Service ceiling: 17,700m (58,071ft)

Crew: 1

Armament: 1 x 30mm (1.18in) cannon and up to 6000kg (13,228lb) of disposable stores including up to 6 x medium-range and 4 x short-range AAMs

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Russia develops new mine-clearing systems

The Russian BMR-3M is a T-90 hull with the turret replaced with a superstructure housing the crew and other mine clearing equipment. Attached to the front of the vehicle are two arms each with solid steel wheels that whilst driving over mines, their weight detonates them and thanks to their thickness are not damaged, allowing the vehicle to continue along its path with other tanks such as the T-90 following it.

Latest Russian TMS-S mine clearing system installed on the front of the BMR-3M armoured deminer, showing the mine clearing rollers, two pole-type electromagnetic devices and the explosive reactive armour over the frontal arc. (Stankomash)

Russia’s Stankomash has completed development of the engineering tank mine-sweeping system TMS-S.

The TMS-S is mounted on the front of Russian BMR-3M armoured demining vehicles, recognisable by their raised rear roofline, providing space for the two crew and three combat engineers.

The system features eight mine-clearing rollers installed on hinged arms, which cover the full width of the vehicle. A blade is mounted on either side to cut through command detonation wires.

Mounted above the rollers are two pole-type electro-magnetic attachments and a mine ‘trawl’ (known locally as a UTPBM), which is claimed to be able to neutralise mines activated by the acoustic, thermal and seismic signatures of the vehicle.

A Russian firm is marketing a new mine-clearing system (TMS-S) that can be attached to tanks or armored engineer vehicles in 95 minutes and allows the mine clearing vehicle to move down a road at up to 15 kilometers an hour, clearing any mines. The basic tool is the rollers (heavy barrels that are rigged to run in front a vehicle and set off mines). The rollers are heavy enough to simulate the weight of a vehicle. In addition there are plow-like devices on each side of the device to cut wires used to detonate some types of mines. There are also two poles carrying an electromagnetic device (the UTPBM) that are said to be capable of disabling new mines that detect a specific acoustic, thermal, or seismic information about passing vehicles and only explode if a specific profile is detected. There are two versions of TMS-S. The 13 ton version is for armored engineer vehicles, while a smaller (fewer rollers) 7 ton version is used to mount on T-72/80/90 tanks. With the rollers in the up position (so they do not contact the road) the using vehicle can move at up to 45 kilometers an hour on a road.

Rollers in general are an old (World War II era) mine clearing device and proved useful in Iraq and Afghanistan where special sets of rollers were frequently used. The most frequently used American roller gear (SPARK, for Self-Protection Adaptive Roller Kit) was built to be used by a heavy truck or MRAP (heavily armored trucks). Over 300 SPARK systems were sent to Iraq, where they detonated over 70 anti-vehicle mines and “proofed” thousands of kilometers of road, verifying that the routes were mine free. All this saved hundreds of American lives, which means a lot when you consider that only 4,500 U. S. troops were killed in Iraq, about half of them on the roads (mostly from roadside bombs and mines). A customized (for local conditions) version of SPARK was designed for Afghanistan as well. Other NATO nations used roller kits, often of local design. The Russians have been using rollers since World War II and TMS-S is simply the latest refinement of this method.

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