Did Napoleon have to Invade Russia?

Did Napoleon have to invade Russia?

  • Yes

    Votes: 17 19.8%
  • No

    Votes: 53 61.6%
  • Not Sure

    Votes: 16 18.6%

  • Total voters
    86
We all know how the disasterious invasion of Russia went for the Grande Armee.
Question I have is did it even need to take place?

Couple things we know is that the Continental System was doomed to fail. Russia we going to leave, and smugglers made it impossible to enforce. As far as I can tell, Britain wasn't going to be crippled economically after Trafalgar.

That being said, Russia couldnt have been left completely to its own devices. Eventually another coalition would've been formed.

What do you guys think?
 
Napoleon being Napoleon he was not tolerating Russia's open violation of the Continental System, and, IMHO, he felt that he had scores to settle with Alex I. Should he have invaded Russia, NO!, But this is Nappy in his declining phase and ego and hubris takes over. In his mind, he DID have to invade.
 
We all know how the disasterious invasion of Russia went for the Grande Armee.
Question I have is did it even need to take place?

Couple things we know is that the Continental System was doomed to fail. Russia we going to leave, and smugglers made it impossible to enforce. As far as I can tell, Britain wasn't going to be crippled economically after Trafalgar.

Britain established a very restrictive blockade well above Trafalgar and before the CS had been formally introduced so the Trafalgar, while being a famous battle, had little to do with the issue. The only realistic danger was League of the Armed Neutrality which ceased to exist after Paul’s assassination. If Alexander was not an open Anglophile and followed the course of his father then Britain would have serious problems because Russia was a major supplier of the timber, iron, hemp, flax and other strategic materials.

CS in its existing form was not practical even for France but Russia did not have to leave it in a short-term: the Tariff of 1811 took care of most of the problems. It also had been an open slap on Napoleon’s face and one of the factors which eventually led to the 1812.

That being said, Russia couldnt have been left completely to its own devices. Eventually another coalition would've been formed.

Quite agree. With Alexander’s obsession, this was a matter of time. Between 1810 and 1812 Russian military budged increased few times, the major military reforms had been conducted and army size at least doubled with the provisions made for its further increase. Actually, Alexander was at the point of ordering offensive into the Duchy and East Prussia when Austria declared alliance with Napoleon.

What do you guys think?
Nappy should not invade Spain (extra 200,000 available would make coalitions much less likely), had to stop expansion of the empire and had to come with something more flexible than CS (which was, after all, an answer to what the Brits had been doing). But he would not be a Nappy.
 
We all know how the disasterious invasion of Russia went for the Grande Armee.
Question I have is did it even need to take place?

Couple things we know is that the Continental System was doomed to fail. Russia we going to leave, and smugglers made it impossible to enforce. As far as I can tell, Britain wasn't going to be crippled economically after Trafalgar.

That being said, Russia couldnt have been left completely to its own devices. Eventually another coalition would've been formed.

What do you guys think?
Russia by allowing the landing of neutral ships was doing something that even France itself allowed itself, Russia should not be invaded for that. Yet Russia itself was preparing to seize the Duchy of Warsaw and, perhaps, establish a large Congress Poland. From there liberate Prussia if possible or stop for the moment.

For Napoleon this was becoming clear, Russia directly sent military divisions near the border in March 1811. To top it off, Alexander refused to reply back. Even if the slight violation of the Continental System (which everyone already did in one way or another) was forgiven, there would be war.

Napoleon, as Napoleon is, thinks that the best defense is a good offense, that's why he has to invade Russia before Russia invades the Duchy of Warsaw. But this is only what happened in OTL and he could have acted differently. For example, for a TL it could be argued that the Peninsular War, the Fifth Coalition and the birth of his heir affected him to a greater degree in OTL to the point that he now plays defensively (in a desperate attempt to hold on to it). that he has achieved and is afraid of losing [a fear based on how his army performed with half of its veterans in Spain and its declining vigor]).

Let's say that Napoleon then withdraws his men from the Peninsula and returns Fernando VII. He creates a Kingdom of Poland with Murat at the head (Joseph returns to Naples) to capitalize on Polish nationalism. And he is basing a defensive plan instead of an offensive one (which may perhaps be turned into an offensive one if Poland is given enough time to modernize its entire infrastructure).

The obvious problems:

1. How exactly would the French evacuation from Spain occur? What is its degree of plausibility? What would be the reaction of the British?

2. What will this Russian Defense be like? What will Murat do in Poland? And Carolina? How does Austria fit into the whole thing? Will Poland be promised lands to conquer? Will Poland be granted East Prussia and thus access to the sea?

3. What will Russia's reaction be to all this? Will he continue his offensive? Will Alejandro reply to messages again? What will follow after depending on the case?

4. What about the Continental System?​
 
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Napoleon being Napoleon he was not tolerating Russia's open violation of the Continental System, and, IMHO, he felt that he had scores to settle with Alex I. Should he have invaded Russia, NO!, But this is Nappy in his declining phase and ego and hubris takes over. In his mind, he DID have to invade.

Yep. Best answer - rationally no, psychologically yes.

He had lost such ability as he ever had to work with equal allies. You had to be either his satellite or his enemy. and a Russian Tsar would risk deposition and death if he lost "street cred" by being anybody's satellite.
 
War with Russia may have been inevitable, but invading Russia was not the original plan. He initially expected to fight them around Poland, and if not there, then a short distance into Russian territory. Circumstances changed this into a full invasion of Russian territory to Moscow.

He probably should have kept his forces in the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and dared the Russian army to attack him . . . but giving up the initiative was not his nature.
 
We all know how the disasterious invasion of Russia went for the Grande Armee.
Question I have is did it even need to take place?

Couple things we know is that the Continental System was doomed to fail. Russia we going to leave, and smugglers made it impossible to enforce. As far as I can tell, Britain wasn't going to be crippled economically after Trafalgar.

That being said, Russia couldnt have been left completely to its own devices. Eventually another coalition would've been formed.

What do you guys think?

Napoleon should have waited for the next coalition to form. His successes got to his head and he decided he should preemptively knock-out Russia before they organized a coalition against him. Spend the 1810s consolidating his gains from the 1800s and figure out what to do in Spain before launching any more adventure (or better yet, waiting for a good cassus belli). But being idle wasn't in Napoleon's nature.
 
Just because every body was violating the CS behind his back dosnt mean napoleon could abide by russia floating it openly, especially sense he still felt that that was his only way to get england to make peace.
 
Russia by allowing the landing of neutral ships was doing something that even France itself allowed itself, Russia should not be invaded for that. Yet Russia itself was preparing to seize the Duchy of Warsaw and, perhaps, establish a large Congress Poland. From there liberate Prussia if possible or stop for the moment.​

Actually, this is correct but rather one-sided. To start with, Nappy and Alexander seriously dislike each other (quite understandable) and did not trust each other (even more so). This personal factor can’t be shrugged off because it was defining their actions and reactions.

Some of the processes had been going in parallel and some had been just token events.

Davout was entrusted by Napoleon with the task of organizing the "corps of observation of the Elbe" which, among other things included buildup of the Duchy’s military force. Army itself was approximately 60,000 but together with other Polish units it amounted to approximately 100,000. Quite obviously, this alone should ring an alarm bell to Alexander (against whom this army is being raised?).

It was agreed by the Peace of Tilsit (at least as interpreted by Alexander 😉) that sooner rather than later the French occupation of Prussia will be limited to the garrisons of few key fortresses/cities but actually, it kept increasing. Napoleon’s “explanation” was that Prussia is his ally and he can place any number of troops there.

Starting from 1810 Russia was conducting a major military reform to bring organization and the size of its army up to the modern standards, clearly with a view upon the coming conflict with France. By the time of Napoleon’s attack the standing field army was more than 400,000 and there were approximately 200,000 new troops in training, which participated in the campaigns of 1813-14 (IIRC, in 1812-13 approximately 400,000 new troops had been raised and accommodated by created new military structure).

Formally, Russia went to war with Britain but this was a classic “phony war”: Russia closed its ports after the British attack on Copenhagen in 1807 and Britain reciprocated by declaration of war and seized all (two) Russian ships in the British ports. However, in Lisbon Admiral Senyavin refused to obey Alexander’s order to help the French, declared his squadron neutral and eventually signed a convention with Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, whereby the Royal Navy was to escort the Russian squadron to London, with the Russians still flying their flags. Moreover, Senyavin was to assume supreme command of the joint Anglo-Russian fleet (as the senior officer of the two). After various delays he was allowed to sail for Riga in 1809. Formally, this was Senyavin’s insubordination for which he was punished (and restored to service only by NI) but demonstration of the public attitudes was obvious.

Russian war with Sweden had been triggered by Alexander’s demand to maintain the CS but, contrary to the Tilsit Treaty, the French did not provide help.

By the Treaty of Tilsit Napoleon guaranteed independence of Oldenburg but in 1810 he annexed it. As a “compensation” the duke was offered some minor territory (even without a suitable residence). Napoleon’s explanation was two-fold: (a) the Duchy was surrounded by the expanded Empire and (b) the Duke did not supply troops for the war with Austria (explanation tgat he did not have an army was ignored). Seemingly, an absolutely irrelevant action but there was a big “BUT”: the Duke was Alexander’s relative and formally Alexander was the head of Oldenburg family. The annexation and proposed “compensation” was making him a subject of the Emperor of the French, which was a slap on the face (Nappy was not naive enough not to understand this so the insult was clearly intentional). In response Alexander sent to the European courts a memorandum in which Napoleon was accused in violation of the international proprieties. Nappy got offended (yeah, sure) and demanded a retraction of the memorandum (diplomatic exchange on the subject continued all the way to 1812).

While Napoleon did not openly help the Ottomans in their ongoing war with Russia, he was clearly encouraging them not to make peace and openly gloated when received overly-optimistic report about alleged Ottoman victory at Ruschuk.

Besides memorandum, Alexander took practical measures for getting even with Nappy. While formally not breaking with the CS, he introduced Tariff of 1810/11 which, while allowing imports/exports by the neutral ships also put a high import tariff on some traditional French imports (and IIRC some of these items had been forbidden for import). The items were not explicitly identified as “French”, just as carried by land. Nappy correctly interpreted it as slap on his face.

As a response to the escalation of the French/German/Polish military presence in Prussia and the Duchy Alexander was concentrating his armies along the border and at some point demanded that the “extra” French troops should be moved East of the Oder River and, presumably, was ready to issue an order to cross the Nieman and advance into Prussia and the Duchy. Austrian declaration of a military alliance with France made such an action impossible.

Graphically, the whole situation can be presented as following:

1638131425239.png




For Napoleon this was becoming clear, Russia directly sent military divisions near the border in March 1811.​

While Nappy was doing exactly the same in Prussia and the Duchy….
To top it off, Alexander refused to reply back.​

Not sure what do you mean: there was a continued diplomatic exchange on all these subjects. Not that it led to something, especially taking into an account Nappy’s habit to brag about his strength in the region. Not that Alexander was better in what he was doing but his diplomacy was a little bit subtler. 😉
Even if the slight violation of the Continental System (which everyone already did in one way or another) was forgiven, there would be war.​

The war had very little to do with the CS except as an excuse and while the two macho men were getting closer to a war, the diplomats came to a mutually-acceptable agreement (which was going to be ignored by their bosses). On the CS it was agreed that the explicit anti-French provisions of the Tariff would be removed putting the French goods on the equal footing with the British. Nothing about a strict adherence to the CS.


Napoleon, as Napoleon is, thinks that the best defense is a good offense, that's why he has to invade Russia before Russia invades the Duchy of Warsaw.​
The Duchy was created in 1807 and there was 1812. Escalation of the tensions started only after Davout’s appointment as a military administrator in the region. He was definitely the best person administratively and the worst possible politically.

But this is only what happened in OTL and he could have acted differently. For example, for a TL it could be argued that the Peninsular War, the Fifth Coalition and the birth of his heir affected him to a greater degree in OTL to the point that he now plays defensively (in a desperate attempt to hold on to it). that he has achieved and is afraid of losing [a fear based on how his army performed with half of its veterans in Spain and its declining vigor]).​

Well, he could limit the French military presence in Prussia and maintain a much smaller army in the Duchy (which would be a lesser burden for its already damaged economy). The unnecessary antics, like annexation of Oldenburg, also can be avoided to minimize tensions with Russia.

And a relaxed version of the CS would be popular in Germany. Speaking of which, more subtle and lenient policy toward Prussia would not hurt either.


Let's say that Napoleon then withdraws his men from the Peninsula and returns Fernando VII. He creates a Kingdom of Poland with Murat at the head (José returns him to Naples) to capitalize on Polish nationalism.​
Which would immediately spoil the relations with Russia. One of the points of contention was Napoleon’s refusal to guarantee that the Duchy is not going to be expanded and upgrading of its status would be a clear indication that such an expansion is being planned, most probably at the Russian expense. Polish nationalism could not help to raise more troops than already had been raised in OTL but kingdom status may give the hot heads some creative ideas regarding the “true” Polish borders.



And he is basing a defensive plan instead of an offensive one (which may perhaps be turned into an offensive one if Poland is given enough time to modernize its entire infrastructure).

Which would be what? A century (optimistically)? 😂

“For Poland the God invented the fifth element: the dirt.” Napoleon.
 
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Actually, this is correct but rather one-sided. To start with, Nappy and Alexander seriously dislike each other (quite understandable) and did not trust each other (even more so). This personal factor can’t be shrugged off because it was defining their actions and reactions.
1) Sorry, the thread is called Did Napoleon have to Invade Russia? instead of Did Alexander have to face Napoleon? So I focused on Napoleon's point of view. In any case, it is not a bad thing to do a review of the whole situation including the Russian point of view. Despite being a topic read several times by all of us, having them written in the thread should be useful.
Well, he could limit the French military presence in Prussia and maintain a much smaller army in the Duchy (which would be a lesser burden for its already damaged economy). The unnecessary antics, like annexation of Oldenburg, also can be avoided to minimize tensions with Russia.

And a relaxed version of the CS would be popular in Germany. Speaking of which, more subtle and lenient policy toward Prussia would not hurt either.
2) Interesting. I envisioned a defensive Napoleon just as relentless as the offensive one (German Campaign of 1813, for example), but what you propose is compatible with the proposed POD: Napoleon becomes more conciliatory to avoid war with Russia due to an alternative thought process based on the events of 1808 and 1809.

What do you think happens next?

Polish nationalism could not help to raise more troops than already had been raised in OTL but kingdom status may give the hot heads some creative ideas regarding the “true” Polish borders.
3) Agreed

Which would be what? A century (optimistically)? 😂

“For Poland the God invented the fifth element: the dirt.” Napoleon.
4) I was speculating on a forced modernization of the infrastructure for military purposes. Anyway, I agree after several mental tirades: Poland simply cannot be ready in time to be the headquarters for a long-lasting invasion of Russian Poland. Therefore, any attempt to invade Russia would end as in OTL.
 
1) Sorry, the thread is called Did Napoleon have to Invade Russia? instead of Did Alexander have to face Napoleon? So I focused on Napoleon's point of view. In any case, it is not a bad thing to do a review of the whole situation including the Russian point of view. Despite being a topic read several times by all of us, having them written in the thread should be useful.

2) Interesting. I envisioned a defensive Napoleon just as relentless as the offensive one (German Campaign of 1813, for example), but what you propose is compatible with the proposed POD: Napoleon becomes more conciliatory to avoid war with Russia due to an alternative thought process based on the events of 1808 and 1809.

What do you think happens next
Alexander has a PR problem because Napoleon refuses to be a bad guy. Alexander still may decide upon some aggressive action but besides looking bad he puts himself into strategic disadvantage.

3) Agreed


4) I was speculating on a forced modernization of the infrastructure for military purposes. Anyway, I agree after several mental tirades: Poland simply cannot be ready in time to be the headquarters for a long-lasting invasion of Russian Poland. Therefore, any attempt to invade Russia would end as in OTL.
The Duchy was in a very bad shape economically being a battleground and then having constitutional reforms (IIRC, the serfdom had been abolished which should create at least a temporary problem both for the nobility and the peasants). The forced modernization of “infrastructure” probably should mean massive (French) investments into its economy, especially infrastructure (roads, bridges, warehouses), and probably some artificial measures like buying the big amounts of the local agricultural products. Even with the army of only 60,000 the Duchy would have a higher mobilization rate than Russia, which would be a burden for its economy so there is a need for the French subsidies in that area.
So for quite a few years Nappy is saddled with a problem of a serious financial help to the Duchy by the reason not obvious if he is not planning a war with Russia (or Austria).
 
The Duchy was in a very bad shape economically being a battleground and then having constitutional reforms (IIRC, the serfdom had been abolished which should create at least a temporary problem both for the nobility and the peasants). The forced modernization of “infrastructure” probably should mean massive (French) investments into its economy, especially infrastructure (roads, bridges, warehouses), and probably some artificial measures like buying the big amounts of the local agricultural products. Even with the army of only 60,000 the Duchy would have a higher mobilization rate than Russia, which would be a burden for its economy so there is a need for the French subsidies in that area.
So for quite a few years Nappy is saddled with a problem of a serious financial help to the Duchy by the reason not obvious if he is not planning a war with Russia (or Austria).
Agreed.​

Alexander has a PR problem because Napoleon refuses to be a bad guy. Alexander still may decide upon some aggressive action but besides looking bad he puts himself into strategic disadvantage.
What about the withdrawal from the Peninsular War that should happen before that? How exactly do you envision military withdrawal and diplomacy happening? How do Wellington and the English react?​
 
Agreed.


What about the withdrawal from the Peninsular War that should happen before that? How exactly do you envision military withdrawal and diplomacy happening? How do Wellington and the English react?​
Honestly, I have no idea regarding a perfect solution. It seems that the obvious first step is to let Ferdinand free with a clearly defined agreement regarding the process of the French withdrawal from Spain and proclamation to this effect being distributed across the Peninsula (not sure how effective it is going to be). Probably Franco-Spanish alliance is unlikely but Spain may be proclaimed neutral and, with the French withdrawal going on, the Brits can be thanked for the services and politely asked to get the Hell out.
What are Wellington’s options?
(a) To march back to Portugal and from it sail to Britain in triumph: mission is accomplished and the French are leaving the Peninsula.
(b) Keep chasing the French:
(b1) On his own and against Ferdinand’s will. This may result in the change of the attitudes because the advancing Brits would need the supplies which the locals may not be too enthusiastic to provide.
(b2) As soon as he is in Madrid, Ferdinand declares war on France. If by that time the French are mostly out of Spain, this does not change much because with 150-200,000 French troops in the Southern France the British invasion seems unlikely.

How the British government is going to react I have no idea but the only meaningful theater of their activities on the continent is gone.

On a broader scale the withdrawal may be considered either as a sign of Napoleon’s new and more peaceful policy or as a sign of his weakness. But at least a portion of the released troops is now available for deployment elsewhere and this may have a cooling effect on Russia and Austria. If Nappy is showing a more peaceful attitude on the Eastern flank, it is even better: of course, Alexander is still itching for an action but he is not a complete idiot.
 
Honestly, I have no idea regarding a perfect solution. It seems that the obvious first step is to let Ferdinand free with a clearly defined agreement regarding the process of the French withdrawal from Spain and proclamation to this effect being distributed across the Peninsula (not sure how effective it is going to be). Probably Franco-Spanish alliance is unlikely but Spain may be proclaimed neutral and, with the French withdrawal going on, the Brits can be thanked for the services and politely asked to get the Hell out.
What are Wellington’s options?
(a) To march back to Portugal and from it sail to Britain in triumph: mission is accomplished and the French are leaving the Peninsula.
(b) Keep chasing the French:
(b1) On his own and against Ferdinand’s will. This may result in the change of the attitudes because the advancing Brits would need the supplies which the locals may not be too enthusiastic to provide.
(b2) As soon as he is in Madrid, Ferdinand declares war on France. If by that time the French are mostly out of Spain, this does not change much because with 150-200,000 French troops in the Southern France the British invasion seems unlikely.

On a broader scale the withdrawal may be considered either as a sign of Napoleon’s new and more peaceful policy or as a sign of his weakness. But at least a portion of the released troops is now available for deployment elsewhere and this may have a cooling effect on Russia and Austria. If Nappy is showing a more peaceful attitude on the Eastern flank, it is even better: of course, Alexander is still itching for an action but he is not a complete idiot.
Interesting.

How the British government is going to react I have no idea but the only meaningful theater of their activities on the continent is gone.
Given the circumstances... Would they prompt Alexander to make a move arguing that Napoleon is already collapsing and that only he can save Europe? Would Alexander's personality be enough to fall for this?​
 
Interesting.


Given the circumstances... Would they prompt Alexander to make a move arguing that Napoleon is already collapsing and that only he can save Europe? Would Alexander's personality be enough to fall for this?​
Well, if Alexander is lacking the OTL talking points (Oldenburg affair, continued mobilization of the Duchy, excessive French military presence in Prussia) and if Nappy is relaxing the CS to the level on which he was actually “misimplemented”, then the formal reasons for his aggressive stance are absent. Of course, Tilsit is still a humiliation but annexation of Finland is a bonus and he can attribute Napoleon’s ATL actions in Prussia and the Duchy to his influence getting more bonus points domestically. If the “excessive” French troops are withdrawn West of the Oder on Napoleon’s initiative in 1810 or earlier (and not as a reaction to Alexander’s demand) then Alexander is out of the legitimate pretexts for the offensive war and even for concentration of the Russian armies close to the border. Nappy’s offer of a friendly mediation in the Russian-Ottoman War (or some pro-Russian noises on the subject and even a proposal of a military action out of the Illyrian provinces) would be definitely appreciated in Russia.

Now, it is granted that Alexander personally did not like Napoleon and that the feelings of Russian society had been mixed at best. However, while the nobility was not paying taxes personally, increasing size of the army 2-3 times was hitting it in the pocket because these hundreds thousands new soldiers had been their able-bodied male serfs, aka, source of their income. Tariff of 1810 was a good thing for the Russian exports (bonus for the nobility (*)) but a ban/high tariff on the French goods, especially wine, was not welcomed (at that time Russia practically did not have a domestic wine production and the French wines had been the most popular ones). Without a clearly obvious reason for the offensive campaign Alexander is not in a good political and military position for starting an offensive war even if he can, optimistically, expect Prussia’s cooperation: Napoleon has extra 100-150,000 French troops and a much better logistics than in 1812 while the Russian goals in such a war are unclear, at best, and a chance for the victory is extremely slim. As you know, in 1812 Alexander managed to play a perfect victim, which provided him with a wave of the popular support (and ability to raise approximately 400,000 new troops in 1812-13) and a national cry for the revenge which lasted through 1813-14. Now he is going to an aggressive war for what? Liberating Prussia? Of course, the military may enjoy an opportunity for the promotions and awards but what about the rest of the “society” which is going to pay directly and indirectly for the exercise? In OTL Russian financial situation was not good but there was a valid excuse. Now it is absent.


________
(*) Actually, by 1812, while all Russian officers had been nobles, less then 10% of them had been from the land-owner families: most were either from the landless noble families (like Barclay), or sons of the people who got a nobility by being promoted from the ranks, or the people who raised from the ranks (usually, those from the educated classes who were a little bit more “equal” than the former serfs).
 
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