Napoleon's invasion of Russia

Could Napoleon have conquered/subjugated Russia?

  • Yes, he could have conquered/subjugated Russia with use of a different strategy

    Votes: 7 36.8%
  • No, it would have been near impossible either way

    Votes: 9 47.4%
  • Other (please explain)

    Votes: 3 15.8%

  • Total voters
    19
Sep 2015
41
Vespucciland
Do you believe that Napoleon could have defeated Russia and conquered/subjugated it like other various European states in the case that he made use of a different strategy, or do you believe it was nigh impossible either way?
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,327
SoCal
Do you believe that Napoleon could have defeated Russia and conquered/subjugated it like other various European states in the case that he made use of a different strategy, or do you believe it was nigh impossible either way?
It was probably nigh impossible either way for logistical reasons. Indeed, in the pre-railroad era, Russia could simply keep on retreating further and further east and then counterattack Napoleon when(ever) it will think that it is strong enough to successfully do this.
 
Oct 2011
478
Sloboda
The problem of this question is the words 'conquered and subjugated', I think neither is suitable for situation.

To speak frankly, I could hardly imagine how he could conquered Russia of 1812. In 1612 When Russia was not fully developed it was possible but in 1812, I doubt...

On the other hand, I have never met any signs of Napoleon's plan to conquer Russia. As far as I know he planed to strike hard and to enforce a suitable for him peace. The political situation in Europe was difficult. Russia was an enemy and an ally in the same time. Napoleon was eager to find a suitable ally and tried with Austria and Russia. When a potential ally acted independently from Napoleon wishes, Napoleon felt himself obliged to punish the lost friend. In addition, a lots of soldiers were necessary to occupy Russian territory, in times more than he sent in Spain. The loose of such great numbers would have made the Great army weak and out-numbered, what in turn could have led to the rebellion of Napoleon's Germany or provoked Austria.

I think Napoleon wanted that Russia accepted his terms and changed it's policy. I think it was possible if Napoleon had won. It was unnecessary to occupy Russian territory to achieve such goal. It was enough to win some battles, what Napoleon tried to do, but failed.
 
Feb 2014
1,874
Kingdom of the Netherlands
Napoleon never intended to conquer or subjugate Russia. He was aiming towards re-establishing the Tilsit terms in Russia. There was however no clear goal on what that meant. In the end he might have annexed the the Baltic coast or released the Kingdom of Poland, but it was just as likely that he would strike another Tilsit deal with Alexander. The latter has more evidence then the former two.

If your question were if he could have beaten the Russians then the answer would be yes. First of all he should have picked a different set of commanders on particular posts before the campaign (Jerome, Junot and to an extent Eugene should have been replaced). Also he should have marched in with a smaller army, making it more likely that the Russians would engage him. He also made a mistake by annexing Swedish pommerania in 1810 which lost him any chance of the Swedes joining him. His efforts on the other side of Russia with the Ottomans were equally unsuccesful. The ottomans could have kept the Admiral occupied, while the Swedes could have marched on St Petersburg and probably gain Finland out of it. This is more or less all in regard towards different preperations. But it were these preperations that were the most vital for the French failure in Russia.

Lets assume he wouldn't have done all these things and went in, in a similar situation as he had done in june 1812. Yes, even then he still might have won. He had at least three major oppurtunities in cutting off the Russians. One at Grodno/Vitebsk, one at Smolensk and you could say one at Borodino (although by that time it might have been too late). If he had engaged the Russians the first day at Vitebsk, he could possibly have routed the army of Barclay. With Davout in command (instead of Jerome) he could have eliminated the Russian Second Army under Bagration at Grodno. At Smolensk his plan should have worked, but mainly failed due to failure on his own side (Ney and Marmont) and luck on the Russian side (Bagration ignored Barclay's orders). Even the aftermath at Valuntino could have been more decisive without Junot's folly. In these early stages he might have gotten a Tilsit like peace if had managed to destroy both these armies, but not even this would guarantee that. By that time it was virtually impossible for Alexander to come to terms with Napoleon and he would probably have decided to fight on, though this is mere speculation.
 
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Feb 2014
1,874
Kingdom of the Netherlands
We should not forget that Napoleon had defeated the Russians twice before. During both the Austerlitz campaign and the Friedland campaign, it was there that the Russians that had to lick their wounds in the end. This resulted in the treaty of Tilsit in 1807. Nevertheless Napoleon should have predicted that the war he initiated in 1812 was quite a different nature. Even his closest like Duroc, Caulaincourt, Bessieres etc warned him for the dangers of such a campaign.
 
Oct 2011
478
Sloboda
Lets assume he wouldn't have done all these things and went in, in a similar situation as he had done in june 1812. Yes, even then he still might have won. He had at least three major oppurtunities in cutting off the Russians. One at Grodno/Vitebsk, one at Smolensk and you could say one at Borodino (although by that time it might have been too late).

By the time of Borodino he was doomed. For sure, doomed, even if he had won the battle. His last chance was- Smolensk
 
Feb 2014
1,874
Kingdom of the Netherlands
Lets assume he wouldn't have done all these things and went in, in a similar situation as he had done in june 1812. Yes, even then he still might have won. He had at least three major oppurtunities in cutting off the Russians. One at Grodno/Vitebsk, one at Smolensk and you could say one at Borodino (although by that time it might have been too late).

By the time of Borodino he was doomed. For sure, doomed, even if he had won the battle. His last chance was- Smolensk
I wouldn't say doomed though. Yes his chances were relatively small at this point, even if he routed the army of Kutuzov on the battlefield of Borodino. Let's assume he had adopted Davout's plan and circumvented the Russian left flank, and was able to destroy the army or at least damage it beyond repair, what would have happened would probaly have been quite different from what did happen. First of all there were no other Russian armies close by at that time. Chichagov's Army was still a long way off and even this army alone could not defeat the Grande Armée. No, let's assume (this is all highly speculative ofc) the tsar would still refuse him a peace at this point, Napoleon would most likely have marched on Tula (Russia largest weapon manufactory) and seriously cripple the Russian war effort. Even if he had decided to march on Moscow after that it would still be different. Yes a similar situation of a 'fire of moscow' and an eventual retreat would occur, but this retreat would be rather different in nature. Not only would Napoleon have been able to take a different route (other then the Old Smolensk one from which they came), but they would also not be herassed by Kutuzov's army constantly (at least not in the same shape if it had been able to recover somewhat). The French retreat would then not have been that dissastrous and he might even have contemplated to hold out at Smolensk, but more likely Vilnius as a base of operations. In conclusion: No, Napoleon was not lost after Smolensk. His chances of victory on his terms were at least largely gone by that point. But a victory at Borodino could have at least make the retreat of a different nature and less dissastrous. Also it would have made it much harder for Russia to organize its spring offensive in 1813 with the core of its army destroyed and its main factory of weapons in ashes. Thus making it less likely for Prussia to join the Sixth Coalition, if at all Austria.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,668
I doubt the Russians could be made to come to Tilsit like terms, Napoleon had no understanding of the dynamics of Russia society/politics, Russian could have with great difficulty been defeated in 1812 but there was no prospect of Russia becoming friendly or adopting the policies Napoleon wanted. Politically the whole basis of his campaign was totally flawed not just the military strategy.

Napoleon actions and attitudes meant there was no prospect whatsoever of any of the major powers being any sort of lasting ally. Austria, Prussia and Russia were all fundamentally opposed to Napoleon, as Napoleon was fundamentally hostile to their interests.

While Napoleon had chances to engage the various Russian Armies at various points a complete and decisive victory in terms of destruction of the Russian army as an effective force was unlikely. The Russians were very resilient and very adapt at fighting withdrawals.

Napoleon would have gone to Moscow after success at Borodino. he did so only very limited victory expecting the Russians to treat with him, so greater success he would have been more expectant of negotiations not less.

Even retreating without being harassed by a 'main' Russian army would have been a major defeat and the destruction of most of the French army. The Losses advancing to Moscow were greater than those in the retreat. Even a 'successful' retreat by a different route would have mean the crippling of the Grand Armee,
 
Jan 2013
5,835
Canberra, Australia
Perhaps Napoleon should have sent his main force north to join Macdonald in the siege of Riga.

In that case Riga would almost certainly have been captured, depriving the Russian Empire of its main trading port on the Baltic Sea and thereby achieving a substantial part of his essential aim of preventing Russia from trading with Britain.

From Riga, a part of his forces could have been sent onward to occupy all of Livonia and Estonia, further restricting Russian access to the Baltic. It might not have been necessary to march on to St Petersburg and occupy it, since that city was an administrative centre rather than a trading port.

Most probably Napoleon's best strategy would have been to do more for his Polish allies, eg expanding the Grand Duchy of Warsaw to include those parts of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that his forces occupied in June and July 1812. The Poles were his most loyal allies in the war against Russia, and never turned against him, unlike the Prussians, Austrians and other allies. They were also the most effective in operating in Russian territory, as shown by their much higher survival rate than other components of the Grande Armee.

It is quite probable that if the Poles had been given greater independence, they could have been very effective in preventing the Russian armies from taking back the territory that they had lost after Napoleon's crossing of the Niemen, let alone advancing into Germany. Furthermore, there could well have been an uprising of the Polish landowners in the western part of the Russian Empire, the part taken from Poland in the partitions at then end of the 18th Century, which would have kept the Russian armies occupied and unable to operate effectively against the French forces holding the Baltic coast.

In any case, the advance on Smolensk and then Moscow was a fatal strategic error that inevitably led to Napoleon's defeat. It would have been better to adopt a defensive position after occupying the territory that is now Belarussia.
 

Isoroku295

Ad Honorem
Jan 2009
8,488
In the Past
Perhaps a smaller army? I mean really, who was going to take on 600.000 men? No no no. An army of 150.000 or 200.00 maybe. But not 600.000.