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    Posted: 16-Apr-2009 at 10:17
Last weekend I had a browse through an Osprey book about the Imperial Russian army in the 1800s.

What amazed me was that throughout history, soldiers had always been motivated by material or social-status gains; or otherwise by the necessity to defend the state that protected his legal rights. Throughout histories, most nations and empires had seduced citizens to the soldiering career with pay or special priveliges.

The impression I get is that the Russian Imperial Army was one in which most soldiers were peasant levies who had little interest in defending the state, who exploited them more than protected them. Many were retained in service for years or decades receiving very low pay and modest discharge benefits. Service conditions were usually harsh, and they were poorly armed compared to other European armies at the time.

Yet surprisingly, the Russian army performed relatively well on the battlefield from the late 1700s and the 1800s. Russian soldiers were tough warriors in hand-to-hand combat and managed to defeat several European empires in pitched battles.

Obviously, they fought for something... but what motivated the average Russian soldier to fight?
Why weren't there any serious munities prior to the WWI?


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Temujin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Apr-2009 at 18:15
which Osprey book are you refering to specifically? mind you, some Osprey books were written during the Cold War and have a certain bias to them particularly the MaAs on the Napoleonic Russians. the book on the Soviet-Afghan War, whcih was written while the war was still on-going is a hell of a funny read today... Big smile

ironically Russian sodleirs used to be serfs until the mid-19th century and only after that there were munities at all... (1905 & ww1 which cost them both wars). obviously educating the masses didn't worked very well for the Czars. definately i would say the Orthodox Church and having to defend the motherland were major factors.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Apr-2009 at 14:46
Yes, but we also shouldn't forget that in the 1700th and early 1800th Russian soldiers were facing European armies with the similar type of organization where people were forcibly conscripted to the army for decades.
 
The system of universal short time consciption was the invention of the French revolution and it was not until another several decades that it was adobted by the major powers in the continent.
 
Keeping that in mind it was not surprising that the Russian army performed relatively well against its adversaries. As about the motivation, I believe that the Russian soldiers were much more indoctrinated by the official ideology of the Russian empires which is "Orthodox church-Monarchy-Nationhood" than the other European soldiers. Sometimes Russian soldiers were even more willing to die for their autocratic empire than French for their republican ideas that always surprised Europeans. This phenomenon as a collective consiousness of the common responsibility for the fate of the empire and the priority of the "state interests" over the "individual interests" would be a part of the more general discussion about the phenomenon ot the Russian mentality.
 
Also, unfortunately, a lot of Western publications about the Russian military history are very biased. In fact, many famous Russian commanders tried to create the best conditions for their soldiers and were loved by them almost like "fathers" that relates to Suvorov, Kutuzov, Bagration and later Nakhimov, Kornilov and Skobelev and also a number of other commanders.
 
Surprisingly, but usually, the cause of inefficiency of the Russian Imerial Army was not the "soldier" but almost always the "leader." While Russian soldiers were always willing to do everything possible to achieve victory it was almost in all the case that the leader's bad judgement that was responsible for military failures.
 
The best example for that would be the Crimean war. However, here I want to make a side note that although the Crimean war as a rule regarded as a very shameful Russian defeat, in fact, it was a "Phyrric victory" at best for the Allied armies whose casulaties according to some sources actually even surpassed the Russian ones.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Temujin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Apr-2009 at 19:31
Originally posted by Sarmat Sarmat wrote:

Yes, but we also shouldn't forget that in the 1700th and early 1800th Russian soldiers were facing European armies with the similar type of organization where people were forcibly conscripted to the army for decades.
 
The system of universal short time consciption was the invention of the French revolution and it was not until another several decades that it was adobted by the major powers in the continent.
 


well that's not true at all. western european armies were mercenary and volunteer armies most of the time, forced "volunteering" being rather rare but happened most famously in Fredericks II Prussia.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Apr-2009 at 19:57
I thought Austria had a lifetime conscription system until 1802.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Temujin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Apr-2009 at 20:16
i don't think Austria had something like a national army until very late. even in the Nap Wars, there were mercenaries and volutneers from southern germany.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Apr-2009 at 20:39
I believe volunteers formed only a part of the army, another part consisted of the conscripts that served for a life time before 1802 and ten years aftewards.
 
As for the Prussian army its forcible conscription system was notorius througout the whole Europe
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Apr-2009 at 00:36

Were Russian serfs generally willing to serve, or was military service very unpopular? Did life in the army have any material and social attractions for the average serf?

Would you say that the transformation from the Imperal to Soviet army saw an improvement or decadance in the quality of the Russian soldier?

 

 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Apr-2009 at 06:22
I can't say that the military service was very popular cause it complitely took Russian peasants away from their families and native villages virtually for the whole life, it cut effectively all their connections with their relatives. and made them people without roots.  Usually those who were destined to serve were chosen by lot and would be considered unlucky. In fact, those recruits instead of being serfs of a particular noble were becoming serfs of the state. Conditions in the army were tough.  Depending on a period different areas of the empire were free of recruit duty. Often, introduction of the recruit duties to a particular area leaded to rebellions like for example in the Ukraine.
 
The soldiers, however, sooner or later adobted to that new environment and learned how to survive.
 
The benefits of the military service were that talented soldiers could become officers and even nobles. The soldiers also could get education and learn new professions.
Retired soldier received state pension. Some interesting priveleges applied to the ethnic minorities that served in the Russian imperial army. For example, there was an official discrimination of Jews in the Russian empire and Jews were allowed to settle only in limited areas. However, Jews that retired after serving in the army were allowed to settle where they will.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Apr-2009 at 06:34
Originally posted by calvo calvo wrote:

Would you say that the transformation from the Imperal to Soviet army saw an improvement or decadance in the quality of the Russian soldier?
 
I can't say for sure. In fact, the Red Army was created out of the Imperial Russian Army, by the former Russian Imperial Officers. Moreover, during WWII some reforms were made in order to bring the Red Army even closer to its direct ancestor i.e. Imperial Russian Army.
 
Though, I can say that perhaps, the Red Army had a greater social mobility in the top officers corps, in the Imperial army it was almost exclusively reserved for the members of noble class. And the ranks were often based on some court connections but not on the real merits.
 
One may say that it would be easier for a talented commoner to become a top general in the Red Army than in the Imperial Army; a good example is Zhukov.
 
On the other hand, Russian Imperial Army had some interesting institutions like officer's code of honor and with some customary standards of dignity and behavoir that was not really there in the Red Army.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Apr-2009 at 13:25
To what extent did the Imperial Russian army depend of the mobilization of "free Cossacks" or warlike nomad tribesmen?
Were these units better fighters than to common infantryman?
 
The Soviet army has a very harsh reputation; especially during WWII when they employed "waste-tactics"; followed by the summary excecution of its own officers.
The existence of "poltical comissaries" in each military unit apparently made planned military mutinies impossible.  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Apr-2009 at 22:40
Originally posted by calvo calvo wrote:

To what extent did the Imperial Russian army depend of the mobilization of "free Cossacks" or warlike nomad tribesmen?
Were these units better fighters than to common infantryman?
 
I wouldn't say that the Imperial Russian army "depended" on the mobilization of the free Cossacks. The backbone of the Russian army was always the peasant soldier. But for sure Cossacks played a very important part in the army especially during the later years. Cossacks were perfect for reconnaiscence operations and cavalry charges and also as a kind of "commando" units.
 
Since Cossack culture was very warlike by itself and all the males were expected sooner or later to become warriors and fight and die, of course, as a general matter, they were more warlike than the common infantrymen.
 
As for the warlike nomad tribesmen, they were called "irregular troops" and were not considered very reliable and disciplined. However, if employed under right conditions, they could produce very good results as shock troops like during the Napoleonic wars. By the time of the Crimean war, however, irregular troops mostly seized to exist.
 
 
Originally posted by calvo calvo wrote:

The Soviet army has a very harsh reputation; especially during WWII when they employed "waste-tactics"; followed by the summary excecution of its own officers.
 
I'm not really sure what do you mean here. Stalin repressions?
 
Originally posted by calvo calvo wrote:

The existence of "poltical comissaries" in each military unit apparently made planned military mutinies impossible.  
 
"Political commissaries" insitution was complitely abolished in the Red Army in 1942 due to its negative influence on the operational capabilites of the army units.


Edited by Sarmat - 18-Apr-2009 at 23:10
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Reginmund Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Apr-2009 at 22:59
Originally posted by Sarmat Sarmat wrote:

Also, unfortunately, a lot of Western publications about the Russian military history are very biased. In fact, many famous Russian commanders tried to create the best conditions for their soldiers and were loved by them almost like "fathers" that relates to Suvorov, Kutuzov, Bagration and later Nakhimov, Kornilov and Skobelev and also a number of other commanders.


Wouldn't Potemkin deserve a mention here? I have been told his care for the common soldier was exceptional, but I'm not sure how reliable that information was.
Hwæt! wē Gār-Dena in geār-dagum,
þeod-cyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Apr-2009 at 23:14
Yes, that is true. Potemkin demanded the officers to take the best care of their soldiers they can.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Temujin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Apr-2009 at 13:15
Originally posted by calvo calvo wrote:

Were Russian serfs generally willing to serve, or was military service very unpopular? Did life in the army have any material and social attractions for the average serf?

Would you say that the transformation from the Imperal to Soviet army saw an improvement or decadance in the quality of the Russian soldier?

 

 



i wouldn't say there was any big difference between Imperial and Soviet soldier, the difference lies in the officer corps mostly.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Temujin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Apr-2009 at 13:22
Originally posted by calvo calvo wrote:

To what extent did the Imperial Russian army depend of the mobilization of "free Cossacks" or warlike nomad tribesmen?
Were these units better fighters than to common infantryman?
 


Cossacks are individually better fighters than serf soldiers, definately. the question how much Russia depended on the forces is a difficult question. they made up a significant minority of the regular army in both numbers and capabilities that didn't existed in the regular army. certainly they were much welcomed and fullfilled many duties that would have overstreched the militarical possibilties of the regular army. however they were not comparable to commandos (unless Sarmat means Boer commandos) but more like guerrillas.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Apr-2009 at 13:33
I'm not really sure what do you mean here. Stalin repressions?
 
For example, in the famous battle of Stalingrad, and the subsequent executions of the officers who failed to detain the German advance.
 
Regarding the comparison between Imperial and Soviet Russian soldier, as far as I know back in tarsist times soldiers were often retained (against their will or not) up to a large number of years; thus giving a more professional backbone of the rank-and-file army and veterans that could fullfill the roles of NCOs.
 
The Soviet army was almost completely manned by short-term conscripts, and a career NCO class was almost non-existant.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Apr-2009 at 17:12
Originally posted by Temujin Temujin wrote:

  however they were not comparable to commandos (unless Sarmat means Boer commandos) but more like guerrillas.
 
In fact, Cossacks did performed many military task that are done by special forces/commano units in Russo-Turkish war, Crimean war, Caucasian war etc. There is even an expression in Russian "polzti po plastunski" which can be translated as "commando crawl" into English. "Plastuny"  - "[commando] crawlers" was a nick name for Black Sea and Kuban Cossacks which crawled to the enemy trenches and blockposts and beyond and attacked them suddenly by surprise, destroyed small units of the enemy, distrupted their communications and captured prisoners. 
 
Plastuns units in the Russian Army, especially, during the Crimean war were meant to perform commando/special forces functions.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Apr-2009 at 18:06
Originally posted by calvo calvo wrote:

I'm not really sure what do you mean here. Stalin repressions?
 
For example, in the famous battle of Stalingrad, and the subsequent executions of the officers who failed to detain the German advance.
 
Yes, but this was a part of creation of "anti-retreat units" and execution of "desrters, cowards and anti-Soviet elements" the main victims of which were Soviet Army privates. I don't recall any specific measures aimed at the execution as many officers as possible during WWII.
 
 
Originally posted by calvo calvo wrote:

Regarding the comparison between Imperial and Soviet Russian soldier, as far as I know back in tarsist times soldiers were often retained (against their will or not) up to a large number of years; thus giving a more professional backbone of the rank-and-file army and veterans that could fullfill the roles of NCOs.
 
The Soviet army was almost completely manned by short-term conscripts, and a career NCO class was almost non-existant.
 
Well, but the Imerial Army also had been formed by the universal short time conscription starting from 1874.
 
In the Soviet army a career NCO class appeared after WWII and as a general matter military service was considered kind of prestigious
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Apr-2009 at 21:02
Apart from the Cossacks, did Imperia Russia have any other more "professional" military units?
 
 
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