On this day way back in 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte’s Grande Armée completed a tormenting escape (we’re using that term loosely today) out of Russia and back into friendly territory. The conflict came about after Tsar Alexander I of Russia reopened trade with Great Britain and then, to add insult to injury, refused to let Napoleon bang his sister. Napoleon, then Emperor of the French and undeniable badass, was not about to stand for that shit. For all his military genius and ruthless cunning, it turns out Napoleon couldn’t help but throw a temper tantrum on a continental scale. Hell hath no fury like a tiny megalomaniacal dictator scorned… or something like that. Anyway, in the summer of 1812, your boy Napoleon raised 500,000 of the baddest troops of the era and stormed off to Russia so quickly he forgot the three cardinal rules of invading Russia.
Rule No. 1 of Invading Russia: Don’t try to logic Russians on their home turf.
The normal rules of logic and common sense don’t apply in Russia. It’s like the whole damn country sits on top of an inter-dimensional vortex into crazy town. Go Google “meanwhile in Russia” if you don’t believe me. The first step of Napoleon’s plan was to provoke the Russian military into battle in order to free up his road to Moscow. He thought he could lure them into battle by pillaging Russian towns and villages. Attack the foundation of an agrarian economy and the army will have to intervene before the country collapses. Seems like a sound plan, right? Not in Mother Russia.
Apparently, the only thing Russians hate more that some pantywaist Corsican pillaging their stuff is a some pantywaist Corsican thinking he can pillage their stuff better than they can. The Russians – both soldiers and peasants alike – responded to Napoleon’s grand plan by executing it for him. They looted and then burned every town, village, farm, and field along the way as they retreated to the safety of Moscow. Things were not going according to plan for Napoleon. He came to do two things: pillage the countryside and bitch slap the Tsar and his cronies right in the mouth. Yet our boy Napoleon spent his summer march toward Moscow devoid of pillagable countryside, harassed by hit-and-run military tactics, and mocked by the macabre destruction left in the wake of the Russian retreat.
Not one to be easily discouraged, Napoleon comforted himself with thoughts of the monumental smack down he would soon lay on the Russian capital. In mid-September, on the outskirts of the city, he finally got his chance. The Russian military finally turned to face him in open warfare. Napoleon’s victory was hard fought and bloody. The total casualties of the day were more than 70,000 but the road to Moscow was finally clear. After months of frustration, Napoleon’s goal, the seat of Russian government, one of the country’s oldest and most magnificent cities, the home to the royal family, was finally within reach. But, once again, Russians gonna Russian. They burned Moscow to the ground.
Rule No. 2 of Invading Russia: Don’t think you can drink like a Russian.
Although Napoleon himself was furious with the empty victory, the capture of Moscow was not without it’s rewards. The Russians left behind a massive amount of their own booze. Not being afraid of a good time, Napoleon’s army took it upon themselves to enjoy these limited spoils to the fullest. Historically accurate or not, I can’t help but picture thousands of whine sipping Frenchman attacking these barrels of hard Russian vodka like college freshmen go at a plastic bottle of Burnett’s. Either way, the outcome was roughly the same. By the time Napoleon lured his troops out of their bender – presumably with promises of pedialyte and greasy cheeseburgers – it was Mid-October. (Seriously, not even the degenerates here at BB are capable of that kind of depravity.)
Rule No. 3 of Invading Russia: Don’t mess with General Winter.
For centuries, Russian soldiers have affectionately referred to the Russian winter as “General Winter.” Foreign invaders from the Swedes to the Nazis tested their metal against General Winter and limped away nothing to show aside from their frostbitten man parts. Folks, the Russian Winter is no joke. Napoleon knew this. When General Winter showed up on the battlefield in late October, Napoleon was already hightailing his army south. Unfortunately for him, General Winter’s comrades in the Russian army had maneuvered south of Napoleon’s Grande Armée in an effort to pin him between the deadly forces of man and nature. It worked. Napoleon’s army was forced to retreat along the same route they took to Moscow through high winds, deep snow, and sub-zero temperatures. Thousands of men and horse died of starvation. The exceptionally cold nights claimed thousands of lives at a time. Remember this scene from the Revenant? Napoleon’s soldiers were fighting each other for the PRIVILEGE of sleeping inside horse corpses. Meanwhile, the Russian army continuously attacked the flank and rear of Napoleon’s forces compounding the staggering French casualties. By December 5, Napoleon had had enough. He abandoned his army and fled back to Paris to lick his wounds. Of the 500,000 experienced soldiers that Napoleon led into Russia in the summer of 1812, as few as 22,000 made it back across the Russian border. Thanks to this crippling embarrassment, the powers of Europe united against Napoleon and forced him to remain on the defensive for the remainder of his life.
What’s the modern moral to take from this story? If you’re going to party in Russia, do it in the summer and GTFO before winter comes.