Tuesday, January 16, 2018
The book's 236 pages covers his life from a privileged birth status, apprenticeship and tutelage under Suvorov to his struggles as commander of the Russian army during the grim 1812 campaign. His health failed him as old head wounds, failing eye sight, head aches and continual weight gain prevented him from being the sort of confident commander that one might expect from his position. Of enemies, he could count nearly everyone. Of friends, he seemingly could not find any. In many ways, his style of command mirrors that of Wellington in that he wished to spare his men's lives, distrusted subordinates and was more than willing to let an enemy wear itself down with partisan attacks and inclement weather.
His early life and the introduction of his father and the references to Catherine The Great were a little dull. It isn't until the author moves into the assassination plot on the Mad Czar Paul that the story picks up. The near insane Czar Paul and Kutusov did correspond and managed to get along with each other. Admittedly, it seems to me that Kutusov was more of an unwilling audience than a friend. Although Alexander was involved in the plot to kill his father, his paranoia and worry of Kutusov was more interesting to me.
I went into reading this biography largely ignorant of the details of the subject at hand. Since I didn't have a bias going into the book, it was easy to follow along with the persuasive writing technique that I picked up on from the author. It's clear the author felt that Kutusov was a victim and was a gifted commander that bested Napoleon but the world just wasn't aware of it and he wished to pen that narrative. At first, I could go along with some of this as indeed, Kutusov does appear to be unnecessarily suspected of intrigue and possibly even a hidden Bonapartist. As I read on, nothing further from the truth could be the actual case. Kutusov lacked personal friendships to attempt a coup of any kind and his behavior in the 1812 campaign shows a deal of fear and respect for the Grande Armee and Napoleon that should not be misinterpreted as concern for his enemy's well being.
His role in the ill-fated 1805 campaign was fleshed out by the author with some details about his command being mostly in name only. Alexander not wishing to share the glory and being entirely ignorant of tactical sense, held most of the control. Kutusov seems to have been resigned to being a set character and handling more of the administrative matters. His reluctance to advance rapidly with his army and protect Vienna earlier in the campaign foreshadows his future behavior in defending his own homeland. Just as he would fail to defend Vienna, Moscow too would be handed over without a real fight.
General Benningsen, the Hanoverian foreigner in Russian Service, Wittgenstein or the British military attache Sir Robert Wilson, who was his biggest enemy? They all despised Kutusov for his irresolute behavior in going after the Grande Armee. From the time he is in command up until the departure of the Grande Armee, he avoided battle far too often for everyone's liking. Alexander appears to have only retained his services out of popular concerns among the army and upper classes who felt Kutusov was the man for the job.
The battle of Borodino almost didn't happen. Kutusov did wish to prevent the capture of Moscow and the humiliation it would bring, but lacked the resolve to do that on his own. Without strongly worded letters from Alexander it is quite likely he would have danced and maneuvered his army out of the way and the French would have been permitted a swifter entry. The lost battle of Maloyaroslavets was again another failure to monitor the enemy's position and intentions. The constant retreating without major resistance destroyed his reputation among his peers. It wasn't enough to cost him his command, but neither does it place him among the greatest generals of his time.
I found myself feeling some sort of liking Kutusov to eventual pity and then loathing. Although the author Roger Parkinson would try to lead his readers into thinking Kutusov was playing some sort of 4D chess with the mind of a grandmaster, the results of Kutusov's fear of Napoleon/Grande Armee are inescapable. In constantly avoiding direct battle and not pressing outflanking maneuvers, the Grande Armee and Napoleon managed to escape from Russia. Kutusov's claims of wanting partisan attacks and weather conditions to do their work only holds credibility up until Berezina crossing. Placing his army along the line of retreat for cutting the Grande Armee off from home is more wishful thinking. Kutusov and the author seem to believe this but Kutusov's actions show he wasn't firmly committed to executing this strategy.
His dispatching Platov's cossack horde and Admiral Chichagov's force to attempt to check the Grande Armee's retreat was another half-hearted decision. Citing the preservation of the Russian army and wishing other external forces to wear the Grande Armee down, a major opportunity was lost. Such an important death blow should have been carried with far more strength and oversight. Hiding with the main army far away, Kutusov failed to act with any vigor. His critics were certain not to let this go unnoticed and let Alexander know of his major blunder.
His performance in 1813 shows more ability in army administration rather than an aggressive commander who could or rather, would follow up upon a victory. His command ability were responsible for winning the war against the Ottoman Empire but his reluctance or fear to engage the Grande Armee managed to make the war more costly than it had to be. The Russian praise heaped upon him doesn't appear to be just when his actions are under examination.
The books lacks the romance and dialogue of a Bernard Cornwell novel, but the odd details made it an interesting read. The intrigue and erratic behavior of so many of the major players is strikingly similar to that of the Spanish leaders in the other corner of Europe. If you enjoy slow reads and can follow narratives similar to a Charles Oman book, then this is a book you will want to read.
Saturday, December 16, 2017
Saturday, December 9, 2017
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
It isn't as if the Danube Campaign is of any great interest of mine, it is just the collector side of me wanting to add it to my collection. After all, I've got pontoon wagons, wagons full of fodder and lumber, why not a nice carriage model? On the Blog of Phil from Association - Les Riflemen, an Essex brand carriage can be seen. It is nice, impractical - but nice. And impractical is why this has sat unpainted in a box for a couple of years.
I decided to order other figures to complete the set as to how it historically appeared. There is no way for me to know if the original Old Glory model had four horses and a coachman, but the real carriage did. There isn't a great deal of information written about Massena's carriage, but from what there is I will have to make do. My quest for a proper coachman lead me to consider either ordering some other carriage model and rob the figure from that set or convert something. Alternative Armies makes a 15mm range known as Brickdust. Oddly enough, they happen to have a package of 8 identical seated wagon drivers/coachmen. Who knows what the motivation was for such a casting by itself, but it fills a need. Did Massena's coachman wear a bicorn or a type of top hat? Again, no information available. Since he is a civilian, I'll settle for the top hat.
From the Napoleon Series:
There is anyhow fairly certain that the decisions were taken within the innermost circle (i.e. circle, a strict figurative meaning for party, group) of the subordinates, consequentially from the entourage militaire (i.e. accompanying military suite) of his Staff. The prevailing solution in place of consultation – both medical, and military – was therefore not to leave the line of duty, but to remain as an exampled devotion in the operative theatre, making himself available, utilizing different means of transport.
This sound decision excluded for Masséna the free mobility of walking on foot, as well as horseback-riding; it consequently led to an expedient way out of this situation – certainly significant, and quickly pondering the necessary and demanding military tasks. To take over all the adversities and Masséna’s psychological state of passivity, the selected vehicle of locomotion was a wooden carriage.
"In the first instance artillery horses were to be harnessed to the carriage it was found that they were too long for the pole and not easy enough in their action, so four horses from the marshal’s stable were substituted.
Two soldiers from the transport were to drive, and they were just getting into the saddle on the evening of July 4, when the marshal’s own coachman and postilion declared that as he was using his own horses it was their business to drive. No representation of the danger into which they were running could deter them from their purpose; the coachman got on the box and the postilion mounted just as if they were going for a drive in the Bois de Boulogne".
The last issue was the horse team. I have the two standard limber horses, which I know was the original idea to pull the carriage but were swapped out for four white horses from Massena's stable. I have additional limber horses to spare, but they're not entirely correct as these animals were said to have been too long for the pole/shaft and thus why they were swapped out. Why cut a corner now? No one would likely know, but it shouldn't be hard to find suitable horses without the army harnesses and that are a little smaller. Blue Moon Manufacturing produces a package of wagon horses which are better suited than any other brand I could find. So size and harnessing appears to be a perfect fit for what I'm looking for.
The Napoleon Series also provided some details that I've considered:
Under this precise definition of wheeled transport the reader would be prone to understand that a carrosse (horse-drawn vehicle), a calèche (calash), but not a berline. The correct interpretation leads more properly to the calèche.
On this theme, Paulin, one French officer of the génie and aide-de-camp to Général Henri-Gatien comte Bertrand, presents exhaustive elucidations.
"A midi, rien ne paraissait se décider encore; de grands mouvements s’ opéraient de part et d’ autre. On voyait le maréchal Masséna, rappelant […] Maurice de Saxe à Fontenoy, parcourir les rangs de ses divisions et leur imprimer sa bouillante ardeur, porté dans une calèche que ses chevaux conduisaient partout où le danger réclamait la présence d’un chef".
Trslt.: Wagram - "At midday, nothing seemed yet to be decided; some great movements were carried out from one side and the other. One could see the Marshal Masséna, recalling […] Maurice de Saxe at Fontenoy, traversing the ranks of his divisions and leaving to them the imprint of his hot ardour, brought by a calash that his horses led everywhere where the danger asked for the presence of a leader".
Upon closer inspection, this appears to have a contour with the top and bottom shape of the carriage. Not knowing what to do with it and so badly wanting to add some dash of color or detail to an otherwise bland model, I painted a gold stripe atop this line. Such scrolling lines is not uncommon but it does make me wonder all the more just what image did the sculptor use for this piece?
Monday, October 2, 2017
Sunday, September 17, 2017
The end result was a draw.