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18th of September

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 18

In 1812 The Fire of Moscow had burnt out after destroying ¾ of the city.

 

On the 21st of October 1805 Napoleon attempted to invade the United Kingdom. With a massive combined fleet of Spanish and French ships he attempted to cross the English Channel and conquer Britain. His plan however was foiled when a smaller Royal Navy fleet, led by Nelson, defeated Napoleons naval forces. With the Royal Navy and new defences across the Southern English coast, a successful invasion seemed unlikely. Having suffered several defeats in the Peninsular War (1808-1814), particularly the loss of Portugal to British and Portuguese forces under the command of Wellington, Napoleon was eager for the United Kingdom to broker peace with France. He hoped by preventing European trade with the British they would be forced to start peace negotiations. However Russia, among other European nations, continued to trade with the UK.

 

Napoleon planned to invade Russia and force Tsar Alexander I to stop trading with Britain. He amassed the largest army the world had ever seen, some half a million men known as the Grande Armee, and headed for Russia. Such a large army would require a huge amount of food and other supplies to enable the force to keep marching. Accompanying the Army was 9,300 wagons of supplies and including both those carrying the wagons and used by the troops a total of 250,000 horses.

 

Russia had no chance of defeating a mobile army of such magnitude but Napoleon had made a massive mistake. Despite the huge amount of supplies Napoleon would have to defeat the Russians quickly before supplies ran out and starvation began and Russia was a vast country to conquer. Previously smaller armies would live off the land, stealing or buying what they needed but this tactic would not last long on this scale. The Russian military leader knew the difficulty feeding such a large force would cause and he used this to his advantage.

 

The retreating Russian army began to employ the tactic of “Scorched Earth”. By retreating they drew the depleting French army deeper and deeper into Russia, burning each of their own cities to the ground as they went and leaving nothing for the French army to use.

 

Napoleon had not planned for the Russian invasion to take so long and now winter was setting in. As the invasion began in June the horses still had summer shoes which were useless in the icy conditions of a Russian winter. Winter horseshoes had spikes for grip and without them the horses would frequently break their limbs. The Grande Army were loosing some 5,000 men a day to illness, starvation and suicide.

 

The Russian army finally turned and fought Napoleon’s forces on the 7th of September, in the town of Borodino, West of the capital. The Battle of Borodino caused the death of between 70,000 and 100,000 soldiers and ended with another Russian withdrawal and French semi-victory. With the Grande Armee so close to Moscow the city was evacuated and as the retreating Russian army passed through the city soldiers were ordered to set it alight before leaving on the 14th of September 1812.  The French Grande Armee continued onto Moscow arriving at the Kremlin on the 15th only to find the capital evacuated and ablaze.  Napoleon retreated to the suburbs keeping a safe distance from the fire. He and his army remained in Moscow for a month in the hope that Tsar Alexander I would seek peace negotiations, but they never came.

 

Napoleon took his remaining forces south attempting to engage with the Russian Army once more on the 18th of October. By the end of the year Napoleon had left Russia with most of his army dead. When Russians returned to Moscow they discovered at least ¾ of the city destroyed by the fire and more than 12,000 bodies (many of whom were Russian soldiers) that perished in the flames.