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 on Aleksandr Vasilievich Suvorov

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.