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Alexander Suvorov

Alexander Vailevich Suvorov
(ca. 1729-1800)
Russian Marshall

During his long career, Alexander Suvorov led Russian troops to victory over Poland, Turkey, France, and rebels from his own country. Intelligent, brave, and tenacious, Suvorov never lost a battle despite often facing much larger enemy forces. Although frequently restricted by various intrigues and jealousies within the Russian court, Suvorov’s innovative offensive operations, employing long, rapid marches and surprise attacks supported by the detailed training of his army, gained him the enduring admiration of the Russian people. In 1942 the Soviet Union created the Order of Suvorov in honor of his military legacy.

Specific details about Suvorov’s youth are scarce. His birthplace was either Moscow or eastern Finland, sometime between 1725-30, they year 1729 being the most likely. Although a sickly child, he enlisted in the Russian army at about the age of thirteen and served as an enlisted man before earning a commission in 1754 – an accomplishment in itself during an era when the wealthy and influential bought commissions for their sons at birth.

Suvorov served as a junior officer against the Prussians in the Seven Years’ War and fought in the Battle of Kinersdorf on August 12, 1759. by the time he participated in the occupation of Berlin on October 9, 1760, his personal bravery and superior leadership had earned him promotion to colonel.

As a regimental commander in 1762, Suvorov instituted tactics and training that marked the rest of his career. Suvorov simplifies complex drills and emphasized physical stamina for rapid movements. He granted subordinate commanders independence to maneuver their units and to exploit advantages. Suvorov also disdained the typical siege mentality of the time and expounded the theory that the army would sustain fewer casualties in an immediate attack than it would through disease during a prolonged siege. He advocated close, violent combat and stated, “The bullet is a fool, the bayonet a fine fellow.”

In April 1773, Suvorov tested his methods in the attack of the fortress of Turtukai in the early stages of the First Russo-Turkish War. Decorated for bravery and promoted to lieutenant general, Suvorov overwhelmed the Turkish stronghold of Kozludjii the following year even though his forces were outnumbered five to one.

Despite the bloody encounters his tactics produced, Suvorov’s soldiers exhibited superior morale and held their commander in high esteem. Suvorov, in turn, ensured that his soldiers received fair pay and the best available supplies and armaments. His penchant to lead from the front, to share the dangers of the battlefield, and to display human characteristics – unlike the typical gentleman officer – also endeared him to his soldiers.

Returning to Russia from Turkey, Suvorov established a serried of military installations, known as the Kuban Line, to defend Russia’s southern territories. In 1783 he put down a revolt in the Crimea in a particularly bloody campaign in which his troops gave little quarter to their rebellious countrymen.

At the outbreak of the Second Russ-Turkish War, in 1787, Suvorov won the conflict’s initial battle at Kinburn. He followed with victories at Focsoni in July 1789 and tow months later defeated an Ottoman army that outnumbered him four to one at the Battle of Rymnik. Suvorov coordinated a six-pronged attack supported by naval gunfire and inflicted more than twenty-six thousand Turkish casualties (by fisher). The fall of Izmail opened the way to the Danube and Constantinople. Although it would be three years before a peace treaty was signed, Izmail affectively ended the conflict.

In 1793, Suvorov led an army into Russian-occupied Poland to put down a peasant revolt. His army defeated the rebels at the Battle of Maciejowice on October 10, 1794, and captured Warsaw two weeks later. Catherine the Great rewarded Suvorov with a promotion to field marshal, a vast estate, and command of a larger army.

Suvorov went into semiretirement in 1795 and published his ideas on warfare, aptly title The Art of Victory. Two years later, Suvorov found himself in full retirement and exiled from Russia when Catherine the Great died and her successor, Czar Paul I, who distrusted Catherine’s inner circle, replaced all military commanders. Yet when the czar joined England and Austria against Napoleon in 1798, he realized the need for able leaders and recalled Suvorov, restoring his rank and privileges.

Although nearing seventy years or age, Suvorov assembled and trained a joint army of Russians and Austrians to remove the French from northern Italy. In the spring and summer of 1799, Suvorov defeated the French at Cassano, Trebbia, and Novi. Never to be defeated, Suvorov had won his last great campaign. After a series of battles poorly supported by his Austrian ally, Czar Paul ordered Suvorov home and dissolved the alliance. With no support, Suvorov fought his way northward across the Alps against great odds.

Despite his successful withdrawal to Russia, with most of his army intact, Suvorov did not receive a hero’s welcome. Paul no longer needed the elderly warrior and, threatened by his popularity, relieved him of command and stripped him of his rank. Suvorov, seventy, weak from age and the long campaign, died a few months later, at St. Petersburg, on May 18, 1800. According to Paul’s directions, Suvorov received a private burial with no state honors and with none of his commands in attendance.

Suvorov’s fall from grace proved short-lived. When Paul died, the Russian people unleashed their admiration of their field marshal, revering him almost to a point of worship. His spirit of the attack earned him the distinction of his country’s most influential and popular military leader between Peter the Great and World War II, and his strategy remained a model for the Russian army through that war and into the cold war. Suvorov not only developed the tactical maneuvers of future Russian armies, he established himself as a military leader to be emulated by those who followed.