allies in name, France and Russia were never real friends.
economy was being hurt by Napoleon
Bonaparte's Continental System that banned trade with
Britain and internal pressures forced Tsar
Alexander to turn a blind eye to those who broke it.
Bonaparte decided to bring the Russians back into line
and gathered a Grande Armee of more than 500,000 men -
including contingents from all France's allies - to frighten
implied threat did not work and the tsar ordered two Russian
armies to protect the Motherland.
by General Barclay de
Tolly and General
Bagration, the Russians retreated as Bonaparte's troops
swarmed across the frontier on the River Niemen on 24
at Smolensk, the Russian armies fought at Smolensk
and Valutino, but the overall strategy was to trade space
for time and continue to avoid a major battle with the
French. Finally the retreat stopped some 110 kilometres
west of Moscow.
under the command of General
Mikhail Kutusov, the Russians set up strong defensive
positions for his 120,000 troops at Borodino
and waited for Bonaparte's men to come on.
did so, 133,000 strong, and the fighting was brutal, even
in Napoleonic terms, with little quarter being given.
advised by Marshal Davout
to manouevre around the defences and attack from another
direction, Bonaparte threw his men into a series of bloody
attacks on the Russian positions.
the end of the day - and at the cost of 44,000 Russian
casualties and 30,000 French losses - the battle was indecisive,
as Bonaparte withheld his Imperial Guard in a move that
probably saved Kutusov's army from destruction. But, so
far from friendly territory, Bonaparte said he could not
take the risk.
retreated again and the French occupied a burning Moscow
- set on fire by the Russians themselves.
for a Russian surrender that never came, Bonaparte waited
in Moscow for five weeks - far too long - and then began
what would become one of the greatest disasters in military
ignoring good advice from Davout to take a different,
better-supplied route to that they had advanced on, Bonaparte
sent his men back to Smolensk through already-plundered
make a bad situation worse, the snows came early in 1812
and the cold, together with hunger and cossack attacks,
doomed what had been one of the most impressive armies
ever to be formed.
by a magnificent fighting rearguard led by Marshal
Ney, the French struggled on. They were almost destroyed
during the crossing of the River
Beresina where a two-day battle to hold off the Russians
allowed what was left of the army to limp across two fragile
left the army on 5 December to return to Paris where a
coup had been foiled and to raise another army. His troops
dragged themselves on and on 7 December finally crossed
the Niemen out of Russian territory. They had survived,
but only 20,000 of them.