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Napoleon, Hitler And Russia: 1812 And 1941

"I am not blind, and I know that Emperor Napoleon is a great military leader, but on my side, as you can see, is space and time."

1812 and 1941. One could draw a parallel between the campaign of Napoleon in 1812 and the campaign of 1941, but from a historical point of view it is difficult to do so, since the causes and circumstances of these wars were quite different. And yet it would be interesting to compare them. Napoleon was not French, but an Italian from Corsica, which became part of France. Hitler was not a pure German but Austrian. 

Napoleon used the strike force, produced by the French Revolution, and was based on the power of France. Hitler used the power of Germany. Napoleon, a child of the revolution, waged many wars and one by one conquered all of Europe. Hitler followed in his footsteps. Britain was the main target of Napoleon, and he was ready to begin the invasion of Boulogne. "Operation Sea Lion" in 1940 was no more than a threat, designed to achieve political goals. The French fleet was destroyed by the British, and the dream of Napoleon to conquer England went up in smoke, so the emperor decided to harm the island kingdom, by creating a system of continental blockade.

Most European countries caved in front of Napoleon, and only Russia hesitated. This was one of the main reasons that led Napoleon to declare war on Russia. Hitler started the war with Russia, intending to create living space for the  Germans, destroy Bolshevism and become the master of Europe. Both Napoleon and Hitler believed that their war in Russia would end as quickly and successfully as the many others that they had fought before. Both failed to fathom and understand the inner strength and size of Russia.

A Soviet propaganda poster says it all

Both of them were not prepared for the war and failed to recognize the difficulties of supply their armies would face in this vast country. Many of Napoleon's marshals and generals did not approve of his plan for war in 1812, exactly the same was the case with Hitler's war plan in 1941 In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia with an army of more than 600 thousand people (among them, there were over 200 thousands of Germans, Flemish, Polish, Swiss, Spanish and Portuguese), 1,400 guns and 180,000 horses. Hitler's army too had soldiers who were Romanians, Hungarians, Italians, Slovaks, Finns,  a Spanish division and the Legion of French Volunteers.

 June 21, 1812, Napoleon addressed his troops with a pompous order. Before the start of the campaign in 1941 Hitler also gave the same order. On the evening of June 22, 1812 the Emperor watched his troops cross the river Niemen at Kovno. Hitler's army crossed the Bug on the same day, exactly 129 years later. Napoleon began military operations on June 24. In both cases, the war in the East started too late. The French emperor lost several precious weeks due to negotiations with the Russian Tsar. Napoleon renewed his attack on Moscow relatively late in the year like Hitler, (October 2, 1941) in 1812. The Russian retreat from the persistent, bloody battles  lured Napoleon into Russia and delayed the war till the winter set in.

 In 1812, the  French Emperor took Moscow, but the war was not over. On the contrary, from the Russian point of view, the war was just beginning. Hitler could not take Moscow, and only after that the enemy began to wage war in earnest. When Napoleon was forced to leave a burning Moscow, he suffered his first major defeat. A similar situation developed in 1941, in both cases at this stage the Russians moved into a powerful counter-attack, and in both wars guerrillas played a key role. In 1812, Napoleon thought, that by stepping on snow and ice, he could save his army. However, the opposite happened - retreat led to the defeat of his Grand Army. In December 1941, Hitler ordered that the German army was not to retreat. Huge inhuman efforts managed to keep the front, and the crisis was finally resolved.

One can find other historical parallels, but, as we have noted above, they should be treated with great caution. 1812 and 1941 showed that  it was impossible to win the vast expanses of Russia  in a short time using an old-fashioned vehicle, like a horse,. Neither was Napoleon's cavalry strong enough, nor were Hitler's motorized formations large enough to capture the huge Russian territory and to implement control over it.

Before starting the war, Napoleon made ​​a last attempt to persuade the king to accept his demands. In Vilna Count Narbonne was sent to Tsar Alexander I . The king told the ambassador: "I am not blind, and I know that Emperor Napoleon is a great military leader, but on my side, as you can see, is space and time. In all of this hostile land you will  not have a distant corner, no matter where I step back, there is no item that I would not defend, before I agree to sign a shameful peace. I did not start the war, but will not put down arms till a single enemy soldier  remains in Russia." Stalin showed the same determination in 1941, 

The Russian Military Council in 1812 discussed the question of whether to leave or not to leave Moscow. Prince Kutuzov then said: "With the loss of Moscow Russia will not be lost. The first duty of the army is to set up supplies closer to those troops who are coming to us for reinforcement. Then in  Moscow we will prepare to give death to the enemy. Command to retreat"

We can definitely believe that if the Germans had taken Moscow, the Soviets would have acted the same way. interesting to recall that the October 21, 1812, Marshal Mortier received orders from Napoleon to blow up the Kremlin before the retreat of the French from Moscow. Hitler intended to do the same thing if he could capture Moscow.

Both the armies faced many difficulties supplying troops in 1812 and 1941 . In 1941, the main problem was the supply of ammunition and fuel. In 1812, it was very difficult to provide horse fodder. The 180,000 horses in Napoleon's army could not exist on the meager feed. The French Emperor suffered heavy cavalry losses in the battles. After the battle of Borodino famous cavalryman Murat said, reproaching his generals that cavalry charges were not sufficiently energetic. At this cavalry general Nansuti replied: "To blame a horse - they are not patriotic. Our soldiers are fighting brilliantly, even if they do not have bread, but the horses without hay do not move." 

There is a famous lithograph by Denis Auguste Marie Raffet that depicts Napoleon on horseback  immersed in thoughts. On the sandy Russian road travel the columns of his guards. Words under the picture: "Ils grognaient et le suivaient toujours"  ("They grumbled  and always followed!") This is the best description of not only 1812 but also of 1941, for there is no doubt that the German troops also did all that they were able to do. 

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