125. Troublesome peaceful life
“When you make a move, make sure it's right one.”
1758. Fighting in Europe was going on but without any decisive results. In early 1758, Frederick launched an invasion of Moravia and laid siege to Olmütz (now Olomouc, Czech Republic). Following an Austrian victory at the Battle of Domstadtl
“You lose more from indecision than from the wrong decision.”
“Listen to everyone, pay atention to a few, decide for yourself.
“If my soldiers had started thinking, none of them would have remained in service.”
“The energy of activity they with a great skill opposed with the energy of inactivity.”
Saltykov-Schedrin (no, it was not
about the Austrian generals
that wiped out a supply convoy destined for Olmütz, Frederick broke off the siege and withdrew from Moravia. It marked the end of his final attempt to launch a major invasion of Austrian territory. In April 1758, the British concluded the Anglo-Prussian Convention with Frederick in which they committed to pay him an annual subsidy of £670,000. Britain also dispatched 9,000 troops to reinforce Ferdinand's Hanoverian army, the first British troop commitment on the continent and a reversal in the policy of Pitt. Ferdinand's Hanoverian army, supplemented by some Prussian troops, had succeeded in driving the French from Hanover and Westphalia and re-captured the port of Emden in March 1758 before crossing the Rhine with his own forces, which caused alarm in France. Despite Ferdinand's victory over the French at the Battle of Krefeld and the brief occupation of Düsseldorf, he was compelled by the successful manoeuvering of larger French forces to withdraw across the Rhine.
The war was continuing indecisively when on 14 October Marshal Daun's Austrians surprised the main Prussian army at the Battle of Hochkirch in Saxony.
Frederick lost much of his artillery but retreated in good order, helped by dense woods. The Austrians had ultimately made little progress in the campaign in Saxony despite Hochkirch and had failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough. After a thwarted attempt to take Dresden, Daun's troops were forced to withdraw to Austrian territory for the winter, so that Saxony remained under Prussian occupation.
It looked like the pattern of the war became reasonably clear and it was a good time to look at it, make the conclusions and, perhaps introduce some changes. Of course, it did not look like Frederick will be attacking Russia any time soon but Sweden was a different story (and Frederick’s Swedish wife hardly will be a deterrent) but, anyway, the Russian army must be up to any potential challenge.
Munnich, as a Military Minister, was given a task to assign whatever resources he deems necessary to produce a meaningful analysis of the current status of the European warfare with the emphasis on Prussian army, Frederick and his methods of war. The conclusions boiled to the following :
Frederick's Prussian army consists of foreigners of all kinds of countries, mores, religions, customs and characters. In order for such an army to serve as a reliable tool in the hands of the government, iron discipline is needed and, as was formulated by Frederick himself, “a soldier must fear his corporal more than an enemy”. All soldier’s training has a goal to turn him into an automaton completely voided of the initiative or individual thinking. For achieving this goal, Prussian army has more non-commissioned officers and the punishments more severe than any other army of Europe (and has to use much more effort on curbing the desertions than anybody else; the 1st chapter of Frederick’s instruction to his generals was dedicated to the explicit descriptions of methods to prevent the desertions, all the way to surrounding a camp with the cavalry patrols looking not for the advancing enemies but for their own soldiers).
There were, of course, the carrots. The unter-officers upon retirement had a priority of being employed to state and even private positions. The officers had been highly respected in the society and commanders of the company and above had a good opportunity to enrich themselves by ..er.. “economizing” on soldiers’s uniforms and supplies , squeezing the local population (for example, Silesia, who supplied up to 7,000 recruits, delivered up to 1 million guilders to regiment commanders), etc. As a result, the Prussian army had a very loyal officers’ corps.
A rigorous drill allowed Prussian infantry to shoot at a rate 2-3 times higher than any of its opponents. Of course, due to the fact that the firing was done when marching and without aiming, effectiveness of that fire was extremely low but Frederick forced his infantry to shoot not so much to cause material harm to the enemy, but mainly to occupy the infantry moving into the attack. Usually, the infantry formations arranged in the battalion lines were starting attack at 1,000 steps supported by the artillery fire from the enemy’s front or flank opening fire at 400 steps and at 50 steps was launching a bayonet charge. But that time they were managing to make 5-6 salvos and the opponent was unnerved enough to flee before the contact had been made.
Cavalry was superb, attacking at the full speed sword in hand (use of the firearms during attack was explicitly forbidden). Unlike infantry, it was formed exclusively from the Prussians (mostly land-owning farmers) and as a result was highly loyal to the king. It had been rigorously trained 5 days a week. Officers were certainly required to "that they always attack the enemy first and never allow the enemy to attack himself; they had to encourage people and convince them that the enemy is far worse than what they imagined; in addition, the officers were obliged to inspire people not to feel sorry for the enemy and chop the enemy as ruthlessly as possible; when he overturned, do not pursue too far, and as soon as they crumbled - to reform the ranks immediately and quickly.” Each cavalry officer had to firmly remember that only the following actions necessary to defeat the enemy: firstly, to attack him with the highest speed and force, and secondly, to cover his flanks; each cavalry officer should never lose sight of the fact that he was obliged to attack the enemy on the flank to rather overturn him. Usually, cavalry was arranged in 3 lines (cuirassiers, dragoons, hussars) at the infantry’s flank. Usually, the cavalry was assembled into the big masses (up to 100 squadrons) under a single command. Field artillery (6- and 12-pound cannons and 7- and 10-pound howitzers ) had been moved on a battlefield but usually was arranged into the batteries of various sizes placed in the center and on the flanks.
Formally, there were divisions consisting of two brigades and their composition was not permanent and Frederick preferred to appoint line commanders, as well as those of the center and wings of combat order for the duration of the battle.
In a battle Frederick almost always used the same maneuver of advancing at an angle to one of the opponent’s flanks. This movement of the army to the enemy's flank had its dangerous side, because it could only be carried out through a flank march and almost always at the closest distance from the enemy's deployed combat lines so Frederick usually conducted demonstrations against parts of the enemy’s front which he was not planning to attack, hide his march behind the hills or protected his march by a part of his cavalry. However, not a single time did the opponent try to catch him during the approach.
No matter how risky were his maneuvers, the Austrians were just holding their positions, which was one of the main components of his victories. Fieldmarshal Daun was extremely cautious and, with very few exceptions, like Hochkirch, did not risk an attack. Most of the time he was relying upon the maneuvers, quite often successful one, using a main weakness of the prevailing style of the warfare: high reliance upon the supply magazines. Cutting off supply line, if happened (even with some relatively minor engagement) would often produce the same results as a successful battle but with a lesser risk and he stuck to this strategy with a full support of Maria Theresa who even honored him with a special medal saying “keep winning by procrastinating”.
So, one of the great bonuses of the Prussian side was Frederick himself with his aggressive style and willingness to take risks. And, of course, having the capable subordinates was another major bonus.
The major potential weakness was the linear system within which he was operating. Of course, he was the best player within the system but it definitely had its vulnerabilities the main of which was an absence of the meaningful reserves on a battlefield. A complete reliance upon the magazines, needed for a generally unreliable army, was another major weakness.
Answer to the question regarding adoption of the Prussian methods was generally negative:
- Rigorous training of the Russian cavalry in the attacking style was already happening and available big numbers of the light cavalry were providing an extra edge both in and outside a battlefield.
- Battlefield formation with the 1st line of the skirmishers in the loose formations, 2nd line of the battalions in the lines (with an ability to easily form squares in the case of a cavalry attack) and the 3rd of reserve in battalion columns, flexible artillery allocation and big cavalry reserves did not look inferior to the Prussian linear formation and allowed at least the same speed of maneuver.
- Aggressiveness on a battlefield was, of course, laudable but it should not be a single tool and, anyway, a bayonet charge was in place since the LNW.
- Magazine system as the main supply method was fine when you are trying to minimize harm to the local population and to keep your army from falling apart but in an aggressive war out of the Russian territory, why would this be a consideration? Intendancy officers must be able to organize an adequate regular supply using all sources available and the troops should also be also taking care of themselves.
However, it was admitted that a potential opponent like Frederick deserves a thorough study of his methods, development of the recipes of how to deal with them and making the troops trained along these lines. Not that these assurances made Alexey completely relaxed but most of what had been said did make sense and he got used to trusting his Military Minister. The Grand Duke Peter Petrovich was sent to the Ministry to oversee the proceedings and to get a greater familiarity with an army which soon enough will be his own.
The second serious and rather complicated issue was trade with China. Of course, comparing to Britain (which amounted to up to 50% of the Russian foreign trade), China was a rather minor trade partner (slightly over 7%) but not unimportant one because it was practically the only supplier of the tea, which was growing in popularity in Russia. The trade was going through Kyakhta and was almost completely a barter. So far, the main items of the Russian export were furs (predominantly), fabrics, paper and leather and the main imports tea and sugar. The problem with the furs was that the increasing numbers of them had to be transported from Kamchatka and even Alaska, which was, even with the usage of the newly built port on Amur, a long and expensive process. The same goes for transporting tea by land all the way to the European Russia where most of the consumers lived.
The 1st circumnavigational expedition demonstrated few things:
- Chinese authorities resisted Russian trade through Canton demanding that it was limited to Kyakhta.
- Even the direct sale of the furs in Canton proved to be ineffective and the most expensive furs ended up being sailed to Russia: the Chinese were not ready to pay anything close to the market price. Situation in Kyakhta was somewhat better but it did not change the fact that transporting there the furs from Kamchatka and Alaska was not too profitable (if profitable at all).
- The whole schema on which the RAC was built looked highly questionable in a long run even with the ongoing program of settling Southern segment of the Russian Pacific coast: even putting aside an excessively high rate of hunting the sea otters and seals, for how long the company would be able to function exclusively upon the fur trade with pretty much a single customer?
The first embassy sent to Qianlong Emperor in the early 1750s turned back due to the humiliating procedures which the Chinese officials at Urga requested from the ambassador.
The Minister of Commerce, Jackob Evreinov, proposed the following solution:
(a) Limit fur trade in Kyakhta to the Siberian furs with a stress on the cheaper ones (squirrels and red
foxes ) to prevent saturation of the Chinese market with the more expensive ones. Those will be transported to Russia by land or by the sea with the option of selling all or part of them on the route (to the Ottomans, Brits, Dutch, etc.) through the existing Russian trade missions or authorized local representatives. This will apply to the RAC furs as well.
(b) In Kyakhta increase selling of the Russian woolens.
(c) Send one more mission to China requesting
permission to establish a consulate in Canton and to conduct trade from it.
(d) Request to the Admiralty: start sending the regular (annual or bi-annual) circumnavigation expeditions both from the Baltic and Black Seas.
(e) RAC should have its own fleet of the merchant ships capable of the travel between the Russian Pacific coast and Alaska and to the South to the Spanish colonies in California and Philippines (find out about possibility of trade in Manila).
Mission had been sent and its appearance at Kyakhta was accompanied by a noticeable concentration of the Russian troops in a nearby Verhneudinsk.
To the worried local Chinese officials it was declared that the Russian Emperor considers behavior toward the Russian naval expedition as an unfriendly act, probably caused by an excessive zeal of the local officials, and expects that it will be remedied promptly by giving the Russian ships and merchants the same rights as enjoyed by other Europeans including establishing of a consulate in Macao. The Russian commissioner is going to wait in Kyakhta for four months and if by that time a positive answer is not received, he will act accordingly… do you want Fieldmarshal Rumyantsev to visit China again? This can be arranged.
Unfortunately for Qianlong Emperor, at that time he could not do too much for defense of his Northern territories. Thanks to his “wise” policies, the Khalka Mongols were completely impoverished and required to turn over their guns to the government  and to stick to their bows and arrows. Due to the oppressive taxation almost third of the male population became the buddhist monks. The Manchu bannermen had been losing their lands to the Han peasant settlers who were migrating from the Northern China and could not maintain themselves as an effective military force. Many of them had been Han adopted by the Manchu families. Of course, this did not mean that they were noticeably worse than the “true” Manchu bannermen but even those did not preform too well during the last wars.There was a distinct chance that in the case of a new war Qing is going to lose Outer Mongolia and, quite possible, a chunk of Manchuria as well.
The “European barbarians” in general had been weak and insignificant: what could they do besides sending few small ships? But the “Northern barbarians” were just across the border and already demonstrated twice
that they are capable of annihilating the Qing armies without any serious effort and not long ago they subdued the strong khanates of the Central Asia as well. The hated Oirats were obviously doing much better under the Russian rule than the Khalka Mongols under Qing so in the case of a war, a massive uprising in Mongolia in the case of Russian invasion was a distinct possibility: the Khalkians had been already fleeing across the border in, so far, the small numbers.
Anyway, at least formally, the Russian caravans already had a right to travel to Beijing so why don’t allow them to settle in Canton with other barbarians?
A messenger from Beijing arrived to Kyakhta with the imperial decree stating that the Emperor considered the Russian petition and granted permission to keep Russian consulate in Canton and to conduct trade there with the same rights as other European countries.
 Stolen from “History of the military art” by Mikhnevich.
 Clausewitz described this in some details in his book on 1806 campaign.
 AFAIK, in OTL it was done only to the Solons starting from 1763.