Aleksander Suvorov

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Aleksander Suvorov, Russian Field Marshal

Text of Aleksander Suvorov

Bhishma: Is it true that you have mastered all the possible forms of war? Drona: As well as you, Bhishma. Jean-Claude Carrire and Peter Brook (translator), The MahabharataAlexander V. SuvorovRussian Field Marshal, 1729-1800 Soviet poster of 1942. The caption is from Suvorov's The Science of Victory: "Hit, stab, give chase, take prisoner!" Source: Longworth, The Art of Victory. Wanted to buy: an original or reproduction of this poster. Write me.Image credits and copyright (unless otherwise noted)Alexander V. Suvorov (1729-1800) was the one man who, at the end of the 18th century, could have stopped Napoleon. He did beat Napoleon's generals Moreau, Macdonald, and Joubert. His aphorisms on war show appreciation for the need for speed (Sun Tzu: "Speed is the essence of war") and overcoming paradigms, or preconceived ideas. On speed: "The enemy doesn't expect us, reckons us 100 versts away, and if a long way off to begin with, 200, 300 or more suddenly we're on him, like snow on the head; his head spins. Attack with what comes up, with what God sends; the cavalry to begin, smash, strike, cut off, don't let slip, hurra!" (Tsouras, 1992, 31) "Swiftness and impact are the soul of genuine warfare." (Tsouras, 1992, 399)A good solution now ("Attack with what comes up, with what God sends") is better than a perfect solution tomorrow (or even an hour from now). Suvorov's approach looks slipshod and reckless- "Attack with whatever arrives"- but suppose a cavalry company charges an enemy infantry regiment that is still in its camps, eating breakfast with its arms stacked. The company might well scatter the soldiers, destroy their camp, and put the regiment out of action. Now suppose one waits an hour for an entire cavalry brigade to arrive, to "do the job right" (or a perfect job). Sounds good- but by now the enemy regiment has had time to form itself into a square. Now a brigade cannot do what a company could have done an hour ago. This, I think, is what Suvorov meant- and his officers and enlisted soldiers understood his principles."A hard drill makes an easy battle." ("Train hard, fight easy.")"The bullet's an idiot, the bayonet's a fine chap." (Underlying principle of the Western Way of War: "Get in the enemy's face.") "Stab once and throw the Turk off the bayonet. Bayonet another, bayonet a third; a real warrior will bayonet half a dozen and more. Keep a bullet in the barrel. If three should run at you, bayonet the first, shoot the second and lay out the third with your bayonet. This isn't common but you haven't time to reload..." (Tsouras, 1992, 23)On overcoming paradigms: what if a scaling ladder was too short to reach the top of a wall? "Bayonet into the wall climb on to it, after him another and a third. Comrade help comrade!" (Tsouras, 1992, 35)This short phrase illustrates two important concepts of modern management practice, and of self-directed or self-managing work teams. "Don't wait for someone to tell you what to do. Develop an innovative solution and work as a team to make it happen."Suvorov's funeral illustrated this principle (!), and it was a final testimony to the organization he had developed. His pallbearers could not get his casket through a narrow hallway in the chapel. As they tried to figure out what to do, some soldiers pushed their way past the priests and officials, declared, "Suvorov must pass everywhere!", lifted the casket above their heads (thus reducing the procession's width), and carried it through the hallway.On bureaucracies and large headquarters staffs: "Large staffs- small victories." (Tsouras, 1992, 402)Suvorov article in Military History by Russell Isinger Alexander Suvorov wrote his Science of Victory (Nauka Pobezhadt) for enlisted soldiers as well as officers. Suvorov recognized that victory depended on the morale, training, and initiative of the front-line soldier. Suvorov's own career easily places him in the top rank of history's great military commanders. He would have easily been a match for Alexander the Great or George S. Patton. (Patton was easily Suvorov's intellectual, if not spiritual, reincarnation.) He was probably more than a match for Napoleon or Frederick the Great. He not only got away with violating Sun Tzu's guidelines for waging war, he won victories by doing so. Philip Longworth (1965) summarizes his career, "He won far too frequently to be called lucky: he never lost." Few people outside of Russia know about Suvorov, but he is legendary in Russia. Russians revere Suvorov as Britons do King Arthur: "one Russian legend has it that Suvorov never really died, that he rests in a deep sleep to awaken when Russia is threatened by grave military danger" (Menning, 1986). Both Suvorov and Stalin forbade their troops to retreat, but they used different methods to get them to obey. Stalin ordered "blocking units" to shoot soldiers who gave ground. Suvorov prevented retreats by instilling his troops with pride, morale, and self-confidence. The Russians under Suvorov never considered retreat because they knew themselves to be better than the enemy! Suvorov's ranking in military history Top rank: the greatest commanders of all time. Rarely if ever lost a battle, and usually won without losing many troops. Achieved seemingly impossible victories.Alexander III of Macedonia, "The Great."Alexander V. SuvorovAlexander the Great inherited a powerful military organization from his father, Philip II. Suvorov had to develop one, with Russian peasants as his raw material.Alexander the Great has the advantage of combining military and civil authority into one person: himself. He did not have to deal with the interference of incompetent sovereigns like Tsar Paul, nor was he answerable to nominal superiors like Potemkin. Suvorov achieved what he did despite such interference.Final choice: Alexander V. Suvorov, greatest military commander of all time. This is not to say that Alexander the Great would not have achieved what he did without his advantages, but he definitely had a head start on Suvorov. It is quite likely that neither could have beaten the other decisively had they been on opposite sides at any time in history. They thought alike and they inspired confidence and commitment among the soldiers they led.Subset: Possibly in the top rank, but not enough informationHannibal (lost only once, at Zama, largely because the Romans acquired his Numidian cavalry).Horatio Nelson: crushed French and Spanish fleets in overwhelming victories. Shorter track record than Alexander the Great and Marshal SuvorovGeorge S. Patton, Jr. (intellectual reincarnation of Alexander the Great and of Suvorov: his principle of speed mirrored theirs, and he inspired confidence and high morale among his men)Second rank: famous commanders. Sometimes lost battles but usually won. Often sustained serious casualties.Napoleon Bonaparte (amazing victories, but he made serious mistakes on occasion, e.g. the invasion of Russia)Frederick II, "The Great," of Prussia (usually won but not always; heavy casualties eventually destroyed his army of veterans. Like Alexander the Great, he inherited a good army from his father.)Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of WellingtonHelmuth Karl Bernhard, Graf von Moltke (1800-1891)Suvorov appears in Lord Byron's Don Juan. If you're interested, the entire poem appears at Bob Blair's page (and may be available on line from Project Gutenburg). Don Juan was, of course, the famous lover/ swashbuckler, and Byron gives him a role in the siege of the Turkish fortress of Ismail. From the Seventh CantoVIII "Fierce loves and faithless wars" -- I am not sure If this be the right reading -- 't is no matter; The fact's about the same, I am secure; I sing them both, and am about to batter A town which did a famous siege endure, And was beleaguer'd both by land and water By Souvaroff, or Anglic Suwarrow, Who loved blood as an alderman loves marrow. IX The fortress is call'd Ismail, and is placed Upon the Danube's left branch and left bank, With buildings in the Oriental taste, But still a fortress of the foremost rank, Or was at least, unless 't is since defaced, Which with your conquerors is a common prank: It stands some eighty versts from the high sea, And measures round of toises thousands three. X Within the extent of this fortification A borough is comprised along the height Upon the left, which from its loftier station Commands the city, and upon its site A Greek had raised around this elevation A quantity of palisades upright, So placed as to impede the fire of those Who held the place, and to assist the foe's. XI This circumstance may serve to give a notion Of the high talents of this new Vauban: But the town ditch below was deep as ocean, The rampart higher than you'd wish to hang: But then there was a great want of precaution (Prithee, excuse this engineering slang), Nor work advanced, nor cover'd way was there, To hint at least "Here is no thoroughfare." ... XLVI But to the tale: -- great joy unto the camp! To Russian, Tartar, English, French, Cossacque, O'er whom Suwarrow shone like a gas lamp, Presaging a most luminous attack; Or like a wisp along the marsh so damp, Which leads beholders on a boggy walk, He flitted to and fro a dancing light, Which all who saw it follow'd, wrong or right. ... LI New batteries were erected, and was held A general council, in which unanimity, That stranger to most councils, here prevail'd, As sometimes happens in a great extremity; And every difficulty being dispell'd, Glory began to dawn with due sublimity, While Souvaroff, determined to obtain it, Was teaching his recruits to use the bayonet. LII It is an actual fact, that he, commander In chief, in proper person deign'd to drill The awkward squad, and could afford to squander His time, a corporal's duty to fulfil: Just as you'd break a sucking salamander To swallow flame, and never take it ill: He show'd them how to mount a ladder (which Was not