Imperial Russian Army

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Imperial Russian Army
(Русская императорская армия)

Russian coa 1825.png

Emblem of the Imperial Russian Army
active October 22nd July / November 2, 1721 greg.  until September 1st jul. / September 14, 1917 greg.
Country Flag of Russia.svg Russian Empire
Armed forces Russian armed forces
Armed forces Russian army
Type Armed forces
Patron saint George
motto For faith, the king and the fatherland!
Butcher Great Northern War , Russo-Turkish Wars , Russian campaign in 1812 , First World War

The Imperial Russian Army , also Imperial Russian Army or Tsarist Army ( Russian - Русская императорская армия РИА called), was the army of the Russian Empire from the time of Peter the Great to the proclamation of the Russian Soviet Republic in 1917. Succession Force was officially the Red Army while parts of the old army went over to the White Army .


The roots of the later Tsarist army go back to the Druzhinas of princes and grand dukes in the Middle Ages. These were somewhat professional soldiers hired by the prince and paid from his own coffers, who functioned as a kind of bodyguard. In contrast to the European knights, the members of the Druzhina were not tied to land grants, but directly to the prince. That is why members of the most varied of peoples came together in the regiments. Another difference was the lack of a feudal obligation , joining the Druzhina was just as voluntary as leaving or switching to another prince. Since the Druzhinas were not strong enough to carry out major military operations, the municipalities called up land forces if necessary.

During the reign of Vasily III. (1479–1533) the first predecessors of a standing army , the pishalshiky (in German the hand-tube bearers ) were set up. These were made in peacetime from noble people together in times of war, the nobles their followers, and the cities and towns presented a special squad additionally available. From around 1530 onwards, under Ivan IV, the Strelizi emerged from this structure . The aristocratic and community contingents were supplemented by Cossacks , state-paid artillerymen and supply units such as blacksmiths, tailors, interpreters, etc. Privileged by their nature, these units were very capricious, often intervened in politics and were of dubious combat value compared to professional soldiers.

The army in Russian tsarism (1547–1721)

In the 17th century

Book illustration by Strelizen around 1674
Aleksander Wassiljewitsch Wiskowatow, 1841

In general, the pre-Petrine army of the 17th century is associated with a collection of untrained aristocrats and unruly strelizos . This is a wrong impression, however, as reforms had been undertaken since the 1630s aimed at bringing the Russian army closer to the Western European style.

After the Smuta period , in which Russia was at war for 20 years, it then needed a period of internal consolidation to recover from the losses it had suffered. In the 1630s, the empire felt strong enough to wage a new war against Poland with the aim of regaining territories lost to Poles during the Smuta period. In the ensuing war against Poland-Lithuania from 1632 to 1634, however, it became apparent that the formerly powerful Russian troops could not keep up with the modern line regiments of the Polish army. The mounted aristocratic contingent was, due to lack of training, poorly on horseback and carried outdated weapons, while the Strelitzen suffered from poor leadership and were impaired in their performance by an increasing focus on the assertion of their own interests.

After this failure, a broader and long-lasting reform phase of the Russian army began. The tsars first hired entire foreign regiments. From the middle of the 17th century, however, this changed, as only individual foreign officers were hired to train and lead the national regiments. These officers transferred their military skills, knowledge and technologies that they had received in Western Europe to the Russian regiments, which led to an imitation of the Russian Army according to Western European standards.

From the middle of the 17th century, the army of the Russian tsarist empire essentially consisted of:

The artillery was an independent part, separated from the army organization, called Narjad . It did not have a stable form of organization or strength.

By the middle of the 17th century there were already 16 Strelizen regiments (16,900 men), the aristocratic contingent consisted of 9,700 men, while at the same time there were 58 regiments, which together made up 59,200 men, and 25 regular cavalry regiments with 29,800 men. Of the 115,000 regular troops, 76% of the soldiers were members of the new type of associations . The success of the Russian troops in the Russo-Polish War of 1654–1667 confirmed the reform course.

War missions by the tsarist army in the 17th century:

The funds earmarked for the army in the first traditional state budget in 1680 amounted to 62%. The high expenditures for the army were connected with the army reform that had been going on for decades. The aim of this was to replace the old aristocracy with a standing army . At this point in time, the tsar - including the Ukrainian Cossacks - had around 200,000 men. Of these, 61,300 infantry and 30,500 modern cavalry were in 63 regular regiments on the European model with foreign and Russian professional officers. The armament roughly corresponded to that of the other armies of Europe, which were manufactured in Russia itself. In addition there were 15,800 aristocrats and 20,000 Strelitz men. The proportion of nobles had decreased from 34% to 8% between 1630 and 1680, although in consideration of the nobility and for financial reasons, the aristocracy was not renounced. However, the Strelitzen officers rebelled against the introduction of the new ranks of Colonel and Captain instead of the previous Haupt- und Hundertschaftsführer . In contrast, the introduction of nine, then eight military districts for the empire, which were intended to facilitate recruitment, was successful .

After two suppressed Streliz uprisings (1682 and 1698 ), the regiments were disbanded.

The attempts to modernize the army were partially nullified during the reign of Peter's sister, Sofia Alexejewna and Prince Golitsyn from 1682 to 1689. The regent, who was not interested in the military, submitted to the nobility's aversion to the troops of the New Order and forbade the further training of such troops. This ban broke the backbone of the standing army and threw Russia militarily far behind its neighbors. The so artificially weakened army consequently suffered defeats in two Crimean campaigns in 1687 and 1689 against the Tatar vassals of the sultan . At that time, the army had only about 112,000 men (80,000 of them according to the modern order in still the same 63 regiments) and about 40,000 recruited service Cossacks. That means that since 1681 the Russian army had shrunk by more than 60,000 soldiers. The condition worsened in the first years of the official rule of Peter I (1689 to 1694), when his mother was still running the government. During this time, the number of regular soldiers must have decreased by another 40,000 men.

Reforms under Peter the Great (1700-1723)

Bronze commemorative plaque with the Tsar's coat of arms on a memorial stone for Russian soldiers who fell from 1914 to 1916, Luftwaffenkaserne Wahn

During the reign of Tsar Peter I from 1689 to 1725, Patrick Gordon , François Le Fort and others laid the foundations for a modern army based on the European model. The initial spark for the fundamental reform turned out to be the catastrophe following the Battle of Narva in the Great Northern War in 1700, in which the Russian army proved to be clearly inferior to a much smaller Swedish force. At that time the Tsar had an army of 100,000 men, which was weakened by 30,000 men by the dissolution of the Strelitzen regiments in 1698 and the expulsion of the Strelitzen from the army. Apart from four regiments, the army was poorly armed and even worse trained and managed.

Since the main Swedish army was tied to the Polish theater of war, Tsar Peter I took advantage of the situation and gradually rebuilt the army. The army could be strengthened again through recruitment and in 1705 it comprised 200,000 soldiers again, after 34,000 in 1700. Peter I appointed foreign experts who were to train the troops - equipped with modern weapons - in the methods of Western European warfare. In order to quickly rebuild the artillery that was lost at Narva, Peter I had church bells confiscated to make cannons from them. In spring 1701, the Russian army again had 243 cannons, 13 howitzers and 12 mortars. After that, further efforts were made under the guidance of skilled Dutch gun founders to further modernize the artillery. 15,000 new muskets were bought in Liège , Europe's oldest and most important arms factory .

Further points of the army reform of 1705 and before:

The Tsarist Army was able to grow from 40 to 78 regiments between 1701 and 1706 , and by 1709 it was completely renewed and reorganized so that it was able to keep up with the disciplined Swedish troops and achieve a decisive victory in the Battle of Poltava win and turn the war around.

Since Peter the Great did not wage war in only 2 years in his 36 years of reign, there were numerous levies. Between 1705 and 1713 during the Great Northern War alone, there were 10 muster that called around 337,000 men to arms. However, the conditions of service were so poor that around 45,000 Russian soldiers were fatally injured during the Great Northern War, but 54,000 died of illness.

Another important reform of Peter, which was also very helpful to the army, was the abolition of the old ranking in favor of the new ranking table in 1721. Originally, according to the old ranking, no one was allowed to serve in the army under someone whose rank was lower than the rank of one's own father . This led to the fact that suitable military personnel could not take on leadership roles in associations, provided that sons of higher-ranking nobles served in these associations. This massively weakened the clout of the Russian army. Sofia Alexejewna had overruled this system, but it had not been reorganized until 1721.

To finance the new Russian army, which was enlarged from 40 to 78 regiments between 1701 and 1706 , and the newly established Russian fleet , Peter the Great introduced poll tax for the serf peasants and the taxable citizens of the cities in 1718 .

Due to the poor conditions in the army, desertion was growing on a large scale at the time. A census made by the Russian administration showed 198,876 deserters between 1719 and 1727.

After the victorious end of the Great Northern War, Tsar Peter I appointed himself emperor in 1721 and elevated Russian tsarism to the Russian Empire . The official name of the Tsarist Army from then until its dissolution in 1917 was the Imperial Russian Army .

The Army in the Russian Empire (1721–1917)

In the 18th century

Illustration of Russian infantry at the time of the Seven Years' War
( Richard Knötel (1857–1914): Uniformkunde, Volume III. No. 27)

During the reign of Empress Elisabeth , the new army stood out alongside the coalition against King Friedrich II in the Seven Years' War. It is believed that Elizabeth's sudden death saved Prussia from defeat. At the beginning of the reign of Catherine II , the Russian army had a standing army of around 186,000 soldiers plus irregular Cossack groups . In addition, the Opoltschenije could be called up. This numbered 270,000 infantry and 50,000 horsemen.

In the age of Napoleon until the First World War

In the war in Europe at the time of Napoleon , the army of the Russian Empire stood alongside the Allies against France and took part in all major battles, from Austerlitz to the great Battle of Leipzig . At the beginning of Napoleon's Russian campaign in 1812, almost all of the troop formations of the Russian Empire were in the western part of the country. 87,000 men were grouped under General Kutuzov to form the Danube Army. A total of 19,500 men were stationed on the Crimean Peninsula and in New Russia , 10,000 in the Caucasus, 2,400 in Georgia , and a further 30,000 in Finland under General von Steinheil . At the time of the outbreak of war, the 27th Infantry Division was newly formed in Moscow with a strength of 8,000 men. Also in the list were the 1st and 2nd Armies with a total of 280,000 men who were stationed in the area near the border to the Duchy of Warsaw . Of these troops, only 193,000 were ready for action when the war broke out, of which 18,000 were Cossacks . Pioneers , training troops and reserve artillery made up an additional 12,000 men. In addition, there were Cossack formations and troops from Asia, which together resulted in a force of 70,000 men.

After the Napoleonic Wars and the leading role in the defeat of France in the ensuing Wars of Liberation , many saw the Russian Empire as the strongest European military and land power. In the early 19th century, his army was still mainly a muzzle-loading musket ( flintlock equipped with smooth bore). Like its predecessor, the Russian model from 1828 still used round balls and no longer hit exactly from 200 meters. The breech loaders now used in the armies of Western Europe were considered too complicated and not robust enough to handle, and they also caused a lot of technical difficulties for the Russian arms industry . The regiment was responsible for procuring weapons, but the officers preferred to spend the funds provided on food and, above all, on drinking bouts, which were considered rituals of manliness. For the procurers, traveling to dirty state arsenals and distant arms factories was tantamount to punishment. The state tried to prevent junk sales by appointing weapons inspectors, albeit with little success, because the inspectors themselves soon became part of a lottery system in which the rule was: fulfill the plan, deliver the units, pay the inspectors and do not worry about them Quality. The result was mostly wrongly fitting barrels, bad rivets and screws, rotted rifle stocks and unsuitable lock parts. In 1853 the tsarist army only had half of the muskets it needed. The level of training of their soldiers was no better (general period of service 25 years). The rifle served more as a demonstration device and was only polished up for parades, as the men had to pay for the fat out of their own pocket. Ammunition was expensive because it could not be produced in sufficient quantities in what was then Russia. Clay balls were mainly used for target practice, but they soon ruined the barrels. The officers didn't take much care of their weapons either. The War Department therefore ordered that pistols should be issued rather than revolvers . The army's gunsmiths, on the other hand, had neither the training nor the appropriate tools; With the same equipment that they used to repair rifles, they had to shod horses or fasten wheels again, for example.

With all of these inadequacies, Russian strategists eventually decided that hand-to-hand combat and morale were more important. The bayonet was therefore of particular importance in these considerations. " The bullet is a fool, but the bayonet is a good guy, " said Field Marshal Suvorov , because he believed it would be safer to use it in battle. Rifles, on the other hand, weaken determination and fighting spirit, so it is a mistake to switch from front to rear loading. A lot of ammunition is just wasted. While in other armies the modern breech-loaders became more and more important, the Russian soldier was subjected to a rigorous austerity program in this regard. This fatal military economy was also a reflection of the society in the empire, which was characterized by a great fear of change and a pronounced inefficiency. The Crimean War was therefore the preprogrammed disaster for the emperor's army. Many units still used flintlock muskets, while the British and French used percussion rifles that were 3–5 times the range. Even the Russian generals were easy prey. The Russians lost what they could most afford: soldiers. 600,000 of them died in the Crimea. The general staff and the tsars were much more hurt by the considerable loss of territory.

After losing the Crimean War , France first took over the position of the leading European military and land power, which in turn was replaced in 1871 by the newly founded German Empire . As in other European countries, the Russian army grew steadily during the imperialist phase in the 19th century. In 1874 conscription was introduced . Due to the huge human potential of the empire, at most 30% of the eligible conscripts were used for decades.

Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905)

During World War I (1914–1917)

The Russian army was numerically the largest in the world in 1914. However, this fact did not correspond to a corresponding impact. At the start of the First World War, around half of the infantry divisions lacked weapons, ammunition and modern equipment. It was missing z. B. heavy artillery and communications equipment. The material security (supply, replenishment) was inadequate.

At the beginning of the war in 1914, the Imperial Russian Army was a highly fragmented organization, through which various fault lines ran that decidedly weakened its chances of success in the First World War :

  • Another trench opened up within the officer corps of the Imperial Army. A caste of mostly noble officers went through general staff training and rose to the highest ranks without any noteworthy service. The rest of the officers, mainly of petty bourgeois and peasant descent, were mostly fixed on poorly paid posts with no opportunities for advancement. These circumstances limited the accuracy with which information moved along the chain of command, as the sender and receiver often literally came from different worlds. The problems of warfare through the lower ranks could hardly be conveyed to the noble general staff, as they often did not know the situation of the men due to lack of service to the troops. The differences in social status made this factor even worse, as the social perspective and behavior were different between the two groups. All of Europe's armies were unprepared for modern warfare, but Russia's armed forces had the worst conditions for rapid reforms.
  • In the detailed planning of the war, the army staff adhered to outdated military doctrines. The railway network was used inefficiently. Whole regiments often marched alongside unused railway lines for days. It was the same with planning mobilization for the war. The troops were set on the march quickly, but their preparation for a modern war was insufficient. The ammunition reserve per gun in the field was based on numbers from the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. Thus a Russian battery commander only had a third of the projectiles of his German opponent available. The same problems arose with the allocation of hospital beds and entrenchment equipment.
  • When equipping the artillery, light guns were preferred. The few heavy cannons were kept in the fortresses far from the front. This focus on fortifications that had become militarily pointless also tied up most of the armed forces' ammunition reserves.

Peace structure spring 1914 (Source: Adres Kalendar 1914. - St. Petersburg, 1914)

St. Petersburg Military District (Peterburgskii Voennyi Okrug) St. Petersburg:

  • Guard Corps
  • 1st Army Corps
  • 18th Army Corps
  • 22nd Army Corps
  • St Petersburg Brigade
  • Archangel Brigade
  • 1st railway regiment
  • 6th Feldgedarmeriebataillon
  • 1. Air company

Vilna Military District (Vilenskii Voennyi Okrug) Vilna:

  • 2nd Army Corps
  • 3rd Army Corps
  • 4th Army Corps
  • 20th Army Corps
  • Vilna Brigade
  • Minsk Brigade
  • 1st Railway Brigade (1st, 2nd, 3rd bag)
  • 1st Feldgedarmeriebataillon

Warsaw Military District (Warshavskii Voennyi Okrug) Warsaw:

  • 6th Army Corps
  • 14th Army Corps
  • 15th Army Corps
  • 19th Army Corps
  • 23rd Army Corps
  • Warsaw Brigade
  • Kuban Kossacken (Half) Regiment
  • 1st Railway Brigade (4th bag)
  • 2nd Feldgedarmeriebataillon

Kiev Military District (Kievskii Voennyi Okrug) Kiev:

  • 9th Army Corps
  • 10th Army Corps
  • 11th Army Corps
  • 12th Army Corps
  • 21st Army Corps
  • 3rd Reserve Cavalry Brigade
  • Kiev Brigade
  • Potava Brigade
  • Kharkov Brigade
  • 2nd Railway Brigade
  • 3rd Feldgedarmeriebataillon
  • 3. Air company

Odessa Mititarian District (Odesskii Voennyi Okrug) Odessa:

  • 7th Army Corps
  • 8th Army Corps
  • Odessa Brigade
  • 4th Feldgedarmeriebataillon
  • 2. Air company

Moscow Military District (Moskovskii Voennyi Okrug) Moscow:

  • Grenadier Corps
  • 5th Army Corps
  • 13th Army Corps
  • 17th Army Corps
  • 25th Army Corps
  • Moscow Brigade
  • Smolensk Brigade
  • Jaroslavel Brigade
  • Tambover Brigade
  • 1st Reserve Cavalry Brigade

Kazan Military District (Kazanskii Voennyi Okrug) Kazan:

  • 16th Army Corps
  • 24th Army Corps
  • Kazan Brigade
  • Saratov Brigade
  • Perm Brigade
  • Orenburg Brigade
  • Orenburg Kossaken Brigade
  • Ural Brigade
  • Turgai Brigade

Caucasus Military District (Kazanskii Voennyi Okrug) Tbilisi:

  • 1st Caucasus Corps
  • 2nd Caucasus Corps
  • 3rd Caucasus Corps
  • Tbilisi Brigade
  • Vladican Brigade
  • 5th Feldgedarmeriebataillon
  • 1st Caucasian Railway Battalion
  • 2nd Caucasian Railroad Battalion
  • Turgai Brigade

Turkestan Military District (Turkestanskii Voennyi Okrug) Tashkent:

  • 1st Turkestan Corps
  • 2nd Turkestan Corps
  • 6th Turkestan Rifle Brigade
  • Siberian Kossaken Brigade
  • Amu-Darya flotilla

Omsk Military District (Omskii Voennyi Okrug) Omsk:

  • 11th Siberian Rifle Division
  • Omsk Brigade
  • 3rd Siberian Cossack Regiment
  • 6th Turkestan Rifle Brigade
  • 4th Siberian Engineer Battalion

Irkutsk Military District (Irkutskii Voennyi Okrug) Irkutsk:

Amur Military District (Priamurskii Voennyi Okrug) Chaborovsk:

Planned war organization spring 1914 (Plan 20):

Northwest Front

1st Army (2nd AK, 3rd AK, 4th AK, 20th AK)

2nd Army (1st AK, 6th AK, 13th AK, 15th AK, 23rd AK)

Central front:

9th Army (Guard, 18th AK, 19th AK, 22nd AK)

10th Army (2nd Kauk. K., 1st Sib. K., 2nd Sib. K., 3rd Sib. K., 1st Turk. K.)

Southwest Front:

3rd Army (9th AK, 10th AK, 11th AK, 21st AK, 3rd Kauk. K.)

4th Army (Gern. K., 14. AK, 16. AK)

5th Army (5th AK, 17th AK, 19th AK, 25th AK)

8th Army (7th AK, 8th AK, 12th AK, 24th AK).

Caucasian Front (mobilization):

Caucasus Army (1st Kauk. K. + reserves)

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Evgenii Viktorovich Anisimov, John T. Alexander: The Reforms of Peter the Great , ME Sharpe Publishers, p 57
  2. ^ Geoffrey Parker: The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare , Cambridge University Press, p. 172
  3. Evgenii Viktorovich Anisimov, John T. Alexander: The Reforms of Peter the Great , ME Sharpe Publishers, p 58
  4. Hans-Joachim Torke: The Russian Tsars, 1547-1917. CH Beck-Verlag, p. 132.
  5. Hans-Joachim Torke: The Russian Tsars, 1547-1917. CH Beck-Verlag, p. 133.
  6. Lothar Rühl: Rise and Fall of the Russian Empire. Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, Stuttgart 1992, p. 166.
  7. Evgenii Viktorovich Anisimov, John T. Alexander: The Reforms of Peter the Great. ME Sharpe Verlag, p. 58.
  8. ^ Lothar Rühl: Rise and Fall of the Russian Empire , Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, Stuttgart 1992, p. 160.
  9. Lothar Rühl: Rise and Fall of the Russian Empire , Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, Stuttgart 1992, p. 166
  10. Lothar Rühl: Rise and Fall of the Russian Empire , Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, Stuttgart 1992, p. 175
  11. a b Duffy: Russia's Military Way to the West , p. 17
  12. a b Christoph Schmidt: Russian History 1547–1917. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, p. 32.
  13. a b Christoph Schmidt: Russian History 1547–1917. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, p. 37.
  14. David Landes: Prosperity and Poverty of Nations. Why some are rich and others are poor. Pantheon, Random House publishing group, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-570-55102-8 , pp. 268-270.