History, on this day : c’est la Bérézina !

a well understood French exclamation

The Grande Armée Crossing the Berezina (January Suchodolski, 1859, Poznań National Museum)

On November 26, 1812, near Borisov, Belarus, begins the last battle of Napoleone Buonaparte’s campaign in Russia. A 600,000 strong army, about 300,000 French, 150,000 Germans and Austrians, 100,000 Poles, other Europeans, has invaded Russia on June 24.

The 500,000 strong Russian army was retreating, luring and harassing the invaders in the deep of Russia. Smolensk was seized on August 17. Mikhail Kutuzov attempted to stop the still stronger Grande Armée near Borodino, 125 km west of Moscow. The battle began on September 7, the Russians retreated the day after. Buonaparte entered Moscow on September 14, but the resistance burned the city and deprived the invaders of shelters. The retreat began on October 18 and when Buonaparte was back in Smolensk on November 7, the temperature had fallen down to -22° C. The Russian winter was ravaging the European army

(Screenshot from The Duellists, Ridley Scott, 1977)

On November 29, after a four-day battle around Borisov, 45,000 survivors have managed to escape across Berezina river. 55,000 more invaders are dead or prisoners. Buonaparte’s army has been destroyed. Almost 200,000 Europeans have been taken prisoners of war (POWs) through the campaign, are freed after the allied troops have seized Paris on March 31, 1814

Cossacks in Paris, 1814

But 40,000 of them, many Germans, will stay and settle in Russia.


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