Suvorov, Alexander Vasilievich

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(17301800), generalissimo (1799), prince, field marshal, and count.

Perhaps the greatest Russian military leader of all time, Alexander Suvorov never lost a battle. He is generally credited among the founders of the Russian school of military art. Suvorov entered service in 1748 and first saw conventional combat during the Seven Years' War (17561763). As a regimental commander from 1763 to 1769, he devised a regulation that became a model for combat training and service practices. As a brigadier and major general from 1768 to 1772 he was instrumental in defeating the Polish Confederation of Bar. During Catherine II's First Turkish War (17681774) he won ringing victories at Turtukai and Kozludji (both 1773). Suvorov subsequently (17761779, 17821784) campaigned in the Crimea and the Kuban, where he imposed greater Russian control and where he refined unconventional tactics appropriate to circumstance and enemy. During Catherine's Second Turkish War (17871792), he defended Kinburn (1787), fought at Ochakov (1788), won battles of near-annihilation at Fokshani and Rymnik (1789), and successfully stormed Izmail (1790). After service against the Swedes in 1791, he returned to the southwest, where in 1794 and 1795 he subjugated rebellious Polish patriots.

Though briefly banished under Paul I (17961801), Suvorov served in the war of the Second Coalition against revolutionary France. In Italy during 1799, he led Austro-Russian armies to dazzling victories on the Adda and the Trebbia and at Novi. After disagreement with the Austrians, Suvorov in September 1799 successfully extricated Russian forces from northern Italy over the Swiss Alps in a campaign that probably exceeded the achievements of Hannibal two millennia before.

Suvorov left three important legacies to his military heirs. First, he insisted on progressive, realistic training tailored to the characteristics of the peasant soldier. Second, he left in his Art of Victory (17951796) a set of prescriptions for battlefield success. He saw the primary objective in war as the enemy's main force. He counseled commanders in pursuit of victory to observe his triad of "speed, assessment, and attack." Speed was all-important: "One minute decides the outcome of battle, one hour the success of a campaign, one day the fate of empires I operate not by hours but by minutes" (Menning, 1986, pp. 8283). Third, Suvorov's record in the field inspired emulation from subsequent generations of Russian military officers. However, many would-be inheritors forgot his admonitions about flexibility, and sought slavish imitation rather than flexible adaptation.

See also: military art; military, imperial era; russo-turkish wars


Longworth, Philip. (1965). The Art of Victory. The Life and Achievements of Field-Marshal Suvorov, 17291800. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Menning, Bruce W. (1986). "Train Hard, Fight Easy: The Legacy of A. V. Suvorov and His 'Art of Victory.'" Air University Review 38(1):7988.

Bruce W. Menning

Aleksandr Vasilievich Suvorov

views updated May 23 2018

Aleksandr Vasilievich Suvorov

The Russian general Aleksandr Vasilievich Suvorov (1730-1800) was never defeated in battle. Although he demanded discipline and sacrifice, he understood the needs and feelings of his soldiers better than any other commander of his time.

The descendant of an ancient Russian family of Novgorod, Aleksandr Suvorov was born in Moscow. His grandfather had a great influence in the molding of his moral character. Aleksandr's father paid little attention to the boy's education, and only his natural gifts and insatiable thirst for study prevented him from growing into an uneducated man. He acquired a greater store of knowledge than was usual among young gentlemen of his day. He began to master foreign languages and mathematics, but his first love was the study of military subjects. With characteristic stubbornness and persistence Aleksandr prepared himself for a military career.

Suvorov lived and worked in a feudal society. Catherine the Great's military policy was based chiefly on the interests of the great feudal landowners, whose control of the Russian masses was complete. But Suvorov's most characteristic trait, next to his military skills, was the absence in him of the universal contempt felt by the Russian gentleman-officer for the soldier. He protested against senseless cruelties inflicted upon the population in conquered countries, against the Prussification of the Russian army, and against the social, economic, and political exploitation of the Russian masses. "I have shed rivers of blood, " he said, "and this horrifies me, but I love my neighbor; I have brought misfortune to no one. I have never signed a death sentence, I have never crushed a beetle."

Suvorov took part in the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774 and helped put down the rebellion of Pugachev in 1775. He was created a count for his victories in the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-1792. In 1794 he crushed Polish resistance by winning the battle of Praga and capturing Warsaw. Perhaps his greatest achievement was in the War of the Second Coalition, one of the French Revolutionary Wars. Leading the Austro-Russian forces, he succeeded in driving the French from northern Italy.

Assessment of His Career

Suvorov's brilliant military skills, his daring disregard of current military theories, and the original methods of waging war peculiar to him seldom found proper appreciation among the military experts of his time. His resolute and independent character did not permit him to engage in court intrigues, thus he could not hope for recognition at home. Abroad, contradictory judgments on Suvorov were the order of the day. Some regarded him as "a general without a science, " a mere rough-and-ready bruiser who rushed headlong into battle with an utter disregard of all rules of warfare; others saw him as a sort of wizard who could conjure up victories as if by magic. Karl Clausewitz described him as a "crude, practical soldier." Napoleon I said that "Suvorov had the soul of a great general, but not the headpiece." But Lord Nelson wrote to Suvorov: "I am being overwhelmed with honors, but I was to-day found worthy of the greatest of them all: I was told that I was like you. I am proud that, with so little to my credit, I resemble so a great man."

In the Franco-Russian War of 1812, the disciples of Suvorov used his military strategy for the destruction of the enemy's main power. As a result, Napoleon was forced to retreat with hardly a hundredth of his original army.

Further Reading

The best source on Suvorov available in English is K. Osipov, Alexander Suvorov, translated by Edith Bone (1944). See also Walter Lyon Blease, Suvarov (1920), and Philip Longworth,The Art of Victory: The Life and Achievements of Field Marshall Suvorov (1965). Nikolaus Basseches, The Unknown Army, translated by Marion Saerchinger (1943), is a perceptive interpretation of the nature of the Russian army under imperial Russia and the Soviet regime until World War II. A well-written account of Russian military history is Albert Parry, Russian Cavalcade: A Military Record (1944); the first half of the book deals with the army prior to 1917 and the remainder with the period 1917 to 1943. □

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Aleksandr Vasilyevich Suvorov

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