Download FREE briefings. Have an account? Please log in. Text Size: A A A

Russian Earthworks at the Battle of Borodino

Military History

Russian Earthworks at the Battle of Borodino

Russian earthworks and fieldworks, although hastily constructed, played a crucial role in the Battle of Borodino.

Russian earthworks and fieldworks, although hastily constructed, played a crucial role in the Battle of Borodino.

by Jonathan North

Although the terrain around the Battle of Borodino presented the Russians with a number of good opportunities for a defensive battle, they further strengthened their positions with hastily constructed earthworks.

The first of these was the Schevardino Redoubt, positioned about a mile in front of the Russian main line. Although the exact purpose of the earthwork is unclear, it proved a difficult obstacle for the French to take. With earth packed to a height of four or five feet, and fronted with a steep-sided ditch, the redoubt was the scene of a fierce and prolonged struggle on the afternoon of September 5 as both sides clashed in a bloody encounter. Two days later, it served as the position for Napoleon Bonaparte’s headquarters during the battle proper.

The Battle of Waterloo

Gain new insight into the battle that brought the end of Napoleon’s rule in France.
Get your copy of Warfare History Network’s FREE Special Report,
The Battle of Waterloo


Bagration “fleches”

More important were the Bagration “fleches.” These were hastily constructed by the inexperienced men of the Moscow militia on the 4th and 5th and were designed to strengthen the rather weak and exposed Russian left. There were three of these V-shaped, or chevron-shaped, earthworks, two side by side and one, much smaller, a hundred yards to the rear. The two larger earthworks were open to the rear to enable reserves to be fed in whenever desired and to make the positions more difficult for the enemy to defend should they be successful in their assaults.

Each fleche was pierced to allow a 12-gun position battery to fire at the attackers. The works were constructed of sandy soil and supported by wood, although no gabions [baskets packed with earth] were available to add further support. They were built up to chest height and fronted with a shallow ditch. Each fleche could hold and offer partial protection to a battalion of Russian infantry. The fleches were largely destroyed in the fighting, being obliterated by artillery bombardment and charge and countercharge of infantry and cavalry, but exact replicas were constructed in the 19th century and these can still be seen today.

Rajevsky Batteries, Redoubts and Wolf-Pits

More significant, in terms of structure and strength, was the Great Redoubt or Rajevsky Battery. This famous position was built by militia and men of Rajevsky’s division, desperately short of pickaxes and spades, under supervision of Russian engineer officers, and was intended to hold a battery of 18 guns from the 26th Artillery Brigade (12 guns from the 26th Battery Company and 6 from the 47th Light Company).

The earthworks were again V-shaped but they were not open to the rear. Instead, a low wooden wall ran behind the V and extended beyond it on either side. The earthworks had been thrown up quickly on September 6, work continuing during the night, and were not finished by the time the battle began in earnest on the 7th. Even so, considering its physical position, the Redoubt was well placed and presented the attackers with a formidable obstacle.

To further augment that strength the Russians dug wolf-pits in front of the position. These were designed to act as an obstacle for French cavalry but also, of course, proved fatal to a number of French infantrymen throughout the fighting. Ironically, Napoleon’s cavalry did play a crucial part in the taking of the Battery—by skirting around its flanks and attacking the position from the rear.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

Issue Previews

Behind  Enemy Lines: Escape at the Bulge

Behind Enemy Lines: Escape at the Bulge

An American infantry sergeant survived three days behind enemy lines during the opening chapter of the Battle of the Bulge.

Could the United States Have Gone to War With France Over Mexico?

Could the United States Have Gone to War With France Over Mexico?

Continued French meddling in Mexico almost led to a post-Civil War confrontation with the United States.

Action off Santa Cruz: Last Stand of the USS Hornet

Action off Santa Cruz: Last Stand of the USS Hornet

A tactical Japanese naval victory off Santa Cruz actually hastened the defeat of the empire.

Clash of the Ironclads

Clash of the Ironclads

A “barracks roof” and a “cheese box” met in March 1862 at Hampton Roads. The pioneer ironclads pounded each other with their heavy guns.

facebook gplus twitter youtube rss

Enter Your Log In Credentials

Forgot your Password?

×
.