In a year of dates significant for Russian military history – the 75th anniversary of the Great Victory, the 640th anniversary of the Battle of Kulikovo and the 540th anniversary of the Great Standing on the Ugra, “Russian Battlefield’s” Project turned to the historical events that served as the foundation for the Victory of 1945, where the Russian spirit was tempered and a Russian warrior was formed.
The Battle of the Vozha River. 1378
The Russians were led by Prince Dmitri Ivanovich of Moscow, who had not yet received his nickname Donskoi. The Tatars were commanded by Murza Begich. The two armies met near the river Vozha, a tributary of the Oka. After successful reconnaissance Dmitri managed to block the ford which the Tatars intended to use for the crossing of the river. He occupied a good position for his troops on a hill. The Russians’ formation had a shape of a bow with Donskoy leading the center and the flanks under the command of Timofey Velyaminov and Andrei of Polotsk.
After waiting a long time, Begich decided to cross the river and to encircle the Russians from both sides. However, the attack of the Tatar cavalry was repelled and the Russians went over to a counter-attack. The Tatars left their tracks and began retreating in disorder, many of them drowned in the river. Begich himself was killed.
The Vozha battle was the first serious victory of the Russians over a big army of the Golden Horde. It had a big psychological effect before the famous Battle of Kulikovo because it demonstrated the vulnerability of the Tatar cavalry which was unable to overcome tough resistance or withstand determined counter-attacks. For Mamai, the defeat of Vozha meant a direct challenge by Dmitry which caused him to start a new unsuccessful campaign two years later.
Battle of Kulikovo. 1380
September 8, 1380 at Kulikovo field in the upper reaches of the River Don, the battle was fought between the Russian troops under the leadership of Vladimir and Moscow Grand Duke Dmitry Donskoy and Tatar army led by Mamai. The battle resulted in a defeat of the Tatar forces and initiated the release of the Russian people from the yoke of the Golden Horde.
In the second half of the 14th century Muscovy had a dominant position in Russia. By that time, the grandson of Grand Duke Ivan Kalita, Dmitry Ivanovich, Prince of Moscow, had become so strong that he ceased to pay tribute to the Golden Horde. In 1378 on the River Vozha, Dmitri’s army defeated a Tatar detachment under the command of Begich. Tatar khan Mamai, who had seized power in the Horde, decided to crush the growing power of Moscow. He formed an alliance with the Polish-Lithuanian King Jogailo and gathered a large multi-national army which included detachments of Circassians, Ossetians, some of the steppe peoples, Genoese mercenaries.
At the end of July 1380 Moscow Prince Dmitry Ivanovich, having learned about the approach of the Tartar hordes, turned to the Russian princes calling to gather all forces to repel the enemy. Russian troops, which had recognized the power of Moscow Prince, gathered in Moscow and Kolomna.
Troops led by Jogailo and Mamai were to unite on the River Oka for the general march on Moscow. But Dmitri decided to forestall the enemy and defeat the main forces of the Tatars. On August 26th the Russian army set out from Kolomna, and two days later the Russian troops crossed the Oka River.
Tatars missed the Russians’ crossing over Don River, so in the evening of September 7th the whole army of Dmitri deployed on the right bank of the Don. By 11 a. m. September 8th the Russian troops were ready for battle. By noon Tatars had approached the Russian positions. Their first line was represented by the cavalry, the second one – by the infantry. In the melee Mamai struck a frontal attack with all his might, trying to overthrow the Russian military orders. The Tatars succeeded in cutting off the Russian army from the bridges over the Don. However, covering the left flank of the Russian, Tatar endangered their flank and rear which were attacked by an ambush regiment. Its unexpected appearance decided the outcome of the battle. The Tartars, unable to withstand the attack, retreated.
Both sides suffered heavy losses in the battle, and the Grand Duke Dmitry was seriously wounded. Having learned of the defeat of the Tatars at Kulikovo field, King Jogailo retreated beyond the Russian principalities.
The dead Russian soldiers had been buried during the week after the battle. In those days the Russian Orthodox Church legalized the custom of remembrance of the dead, the so-called “Paternal Saturday”.
The Battle of Kulikovo was of great historic importance in the struggle of the Russian people against the Golden Horde’s rule. It dealt a severe blow to the power of the Horde, speeding up the process of its breakup. An important consequence of this battle was the strengthening of the authority of Moscow and its role in the formation of a unified Russian state.
The Great Stand on the Ugra River. 1480
In the spring of 1480 a khan of the Great Horde Akhmat directed his troops toward Moscow that refused to pay tribute to the Tartars. Having arrived to the mouth of the Ugra river (the left tributary of the Oka river), the Mongolian troops were stopped by the Russian host. The Russian commanders had blocked the fords and passages over the river to the Tartars. The battle for the passage over the Ugra river had continued for several days. All the attacks of the Horde were repulsed. The Tartars withdrew 2 versts away from the Ugra river and stopped at the Luza river. The armies of Ivan III occupied the positions on the opposite bank. “The great stand on the Ugra river” began.
Akhmat awaited the assistance of the Polish-Lithuanian king Kazimir IV. Ivan III had concluded an agreement with his mutinous brothers Boris Volotsky and Andrey Bolshoy and, seeking to win the time while waiting for their armed forces, started the negotiations with the khan. However the Russian embassy had not succeeded. From time to time skirmishes took place, but neither of the sides dared for an active move.
In the end of October the prince Ivan III ordered to withdraw the Russian forces from the Ugra river to the town of Borovsk so that he could give a battle to the Horde soldiers in case they forced a crossing over the river.
On November 11, 1480 the khan Akhmat not having obtained the assistance of the Lithuanians and having learned that the forces of Ivan III had gained its rear, began the retreat. During the winter stay in the mouth of the Donets river, on January 6, 1481 the khan Akhmat was killed when his troops faced those of a Siberian khan Ibak. Soon after that the intestine strives began and the Horde broke up into several independent khanates which the Russian state had been struggling with during 16-18th centuries.
The great stand on the Ugra river marked the final downfall of the Tartar yoke. The Moscow state became sovereign not only practically but also formally.
During the celebration of the 500th anniversary of “The great stand on the Ugra river” in 1980, on the bank of a legendary river there was opened a monument in honor to this event.
Battle of Borodino. 1812
The French Grande Armée began its invasion of Russia on 16 June 1812.
Borodino battle or the battle on Moscow river as the French call it took place near Borodino village on August 26 (September 7), 1812. The commander of Russian army was M. I. Kutuzov and of the French one – Napoleon Bonaparte. Kutuzov had at his disposal 120 thousand men and about 640 units of gun. Napoleon disposed of 135 thousand men and 587 guns.
From the moment that French army invaded the territory of Russian Empire in June of 1812 the Russian army had constantly retreated. The rapid progress and numerical superiority of Frenchmen prevented the general commander of the Russian army M.B. Barclay de Tolly from preparing the troops for the battle. The prolonged retreat had provoked social displeasure. The army and the people longed for the decisive battle and demanded that M.I. Kutuzov was appointed the general commander. On August 8 (20), 1812 yielding to the demands of society Alexander I nominated Kutuzov the general commander.
Kutuzov arrived to the headquarters on August 17 (29) and immediately started to search a convenient position for the decisive battle. Finally he chose the place near Borodino village, 120 km away from Moscow.
Early morning of August 26 (September 7) Napoleon began the battle attacking the left flank of the Russian army and its center. The decisive struggle started for Bagration’s fleches and for Raevsky battery that the Frenchmen managed to win at the cost of great losses. The battle lasted all day and by evening the French troops drew off without having solved its essential problem – to defeat and destroy the Russian army.
If Napoleon aspired to win making one blow in the decisive battle, Kutuzov chose another strategy. It implied the whole system of separate battle and maneuvers as well as an active defense followed by a counteroffensive. Withdrawing the army far inland Kutuzov was preparing the necessary conditions for the future aggressive offensive war.
Borodino battle was first of all strategically reasonable. It meant to ruin the plan of Napoleon to win in just one decisive battle, to slow further progress of Napoleon’s army toward Moscow and to lay a solid foundation of the future victory over the enemy.
In this battle Napoleon’s army lost over 50 thousand men killed or wounded. The losses of the Russian army reached 44 thousand people.
Later, in exile, the defeated French emperor admitted that of 50 battles he had held “in the battle near Moscow the greatest valor was displayed and the least success achieved. The Frenchmen showed themselves deserving a victory, and the Russians merited the right to be invincible”.
Battle of Kursk. 1943
July 5, 1943, German shock troops according to the plan of “Citadel” began an offensive of Kursk moving from Orel and Belgorod, which marked the beginning of one of the key battles of the Second World War, the Battle of Kursk. The Battle of Kursk, which lasted until the end of August 1943, was decisive in making the turning point in the Great Patriotic War.
After the defeat of the enemy forces in the Battle of Stalingrad (1942-1943) and during the winter offensive of the Soviet Army, the German command planned to hold a major attack on the Soviet-German front in the summer in order to regain the strategic initiative. For this, the enemy chose the Kursk salient, formed during the winter-spring offensive of the Soviet troops, which went deep into the lines of his armies.
To implement the operation, the enemy involved the most capable troops, numbering a total of 50 divisions and a large number of individual units. In total, the group of German troops numbered over 900, 000 men, 10, 000 guns and mortars, about 2, 700 tanks and assault guns, and over two thousand aircrafts. The enemy’s command pinned his hopes especially on the use of new military equipment – heavy tanks “Tiger” and “Panther”, assault weapons “Ferdinand”, fighters “Focke-Wulf-190 A” and attack planes “Henschel-129.” The operation plan provided for sudden converge shocks in the general direction of Kursk in order to encircle and destroy the group of Soviet troops and, if successful, to continue the offensive far inland. The operation was called “The Citadel” and was to be the starting point for all the offensive operations of the summer campaign of 1943.
Planning the summer-autumn campaign of 1943, the Soviet command, in its turn, was also going to hold an offensive, to deliver the main blow in the south-west in order to defeat the Army Group “South” of the enemy, to release the Left Bank Ukraine, Donbass and cross the Dnepr River. On the basis of the information about the preparation of the German offensive near Kursk, it was decided to weaken the enemy’s groups and complete their defeat through deliberate strategic defense of Soviet troops on the Kursk salient.
The Supreme Command charged the troops of the Central Front, under the command of Army General, K. K. Rokossovsky, with the task to repel the enemy from the city of Orel and the troops of the Voronezh Front, under the leadership of the Army General, N. F. Vatutin, were charged to repel it from the city of Belgorod. In their rear focused a strategic reserve – Steppe Front (commanded by Colonel General I. S. Konev). The coordination of the fronts was assigned to GHQ representatives, Marshals of the Soviet Union, G. K. Zhukov and A. M. Vasilevsky, Marshal of Artillery N. N. Voronov and Marshal of Aviation, A. A. Novikov. In April-June, at the Kursk salient was created eight defensive lines up to 300 km deep. Special attention was given to the construction of a strong anti-tank defense.
In the morning of July 5, the main attack forces of the enemy, weakened by preemptive artillery counter preparation of the Soviet troops, launched an offensive. The most fierce fighting took place in the zone of the Central Front and by the end of July 11 the German offensive was stopped. Within a week of fighting, the enemy, having advanced by 8-12 km, and having suffered heavy losses, was forced to take up a defensive position. On the Voronezh Front, by the end of July 9 the enemy managed to break through the Soviet defenses to a depth of about 35 km. To disrupt the attack and defeat the enemy attack force, July 12 the command of the Voronezh Front took a counterattack – Prokhorovka tank battle, which resulted in the withdrawal of the enemy’s main forces to the starting position beginning from July 16.
July 12 began a new phase of the Battle of Kursk – Soviet counterattack. After a 10-day training, the troops of the Red Army broke the German defenses and August 5 liberated Orel and Belgorod. August 23, the troops of the Steppe and Southwestern Fronts liberated Kharkov. During the counter-offensive in the Belgorod-Kharkov sector, the Soviet troops advanced towards the south and south-west by 140 km and occupied an advantageous position to go to a general offensive to liberate the Left-bank Ukraine and reach the River Dnieper.
The Battle of Kursk was a major one in the Second World War. From both sides there were involved more than 4 million people, over 69, 000 guns and mortars, over 13, 000 tanks and self-propelled artillery pieces, about 12, 000 aircrafts. The Battle of Kursk finally thwarted the plans of the German command to change the course of the war in their favor.
The Battle of Kursk led to a further change in the balance of forces on the front in favor of the Armed Forces of the USSR, finally cemented their strategic initiative and created favorable conditions for the development of the general offensive. Defeat of the enemy near Kursk was an important step in achieving radical change in the course of the war. Germany and its allies were forced to take up the defensive in all theaters of the World War II.
In modern Russia, in accordance with the Federal Law of 13 March 1995 “On Days of Military Glory (Victory Day) of Russia,” the day of the defeat of German forces Soviet troops in the Battle of Kursk on August 23 was established as the Day of Military Glory.
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