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People Who Invaded Russia and Failed

Russia is and traditionally was one of the Great Powers of Europe, Russia’s ruler whether it was called the Tsar, the General Secretary of the Party, or President were and still are important political players.

As it is always the case disputes arise in politics, the interests of two sides are often different, in modern times countries try to resolve these issues peacefully, in the pre WWII era however oftentimes disputes were decided by force of arms.

Charles XII

One famous enemy of Russia was Charles XII, King of Sweden, a military prodigy who was one of the best generals of his age. During the Time of Troubles in the early 17th century Russia lost its access to the Baltic Sea. Sweden rose to become the greatest power of the Baltic and controlled most of the key ports of the area.

When the ambitious Peter the Great became the ruler of Russia he knew that his country cannot remain landlocked. When the King of Sweden died and was followed by his 15 years old son all the neigbhours of Sweden ( Denmark-Norway, Poland-Lithuania and Russia) were preparing to attack Sweden.

Unfortunately for them Charles XII turned out to be a great general and defeated Denmark, and smashed Peter’s army at the Battle of Narva. He than turned against Poland-Lithuania and in a long war deposed King Augustus and put his own puppet on the throne. With only one enemy left standing Charles invaded Russia with an army of 40,000 men, he marched into the country, however thanks to the Russian scorched earth tactics he could not march on Moscow, but was forced to wait for a second Swedish army which was coming up with reinforcements and supplies. Unluckily for Charles this army was attacked en route, it was defeated and lost most of its supplies.

When the battered remnants of the second army joined him he moved to Ukraine where he hoped to use the Cossack rebellion to his advantage. Cossack support was nowhere near as strong as he would have needed, to make matters even worse the winter of 1708-09 was one of the harshest ever. By spring 1709 his army was badly depleted. Still he decided to face Peter’s bigger army at Poltava only to be defeated by the Russian’s, after the defeat he was forced to flee to the Ottoman Empire, where he spent 5 years, trying to convince the Sultan to attack and destroy Peter.


Napoleon Bonaparte was the greatest military mind of his generation, his Grand Armee defeated coalitions of European nations who attacked France. Yet despite all his brilliance Napoleon also failed to defeat Tsar Alexander in 1812.

Napoleon fought the Russians during the Wars of the Third and Fourth Coallitions and defeated them both times, although the battles against the Russians were sometimes very costly. After the War of the Fourth Coallition Napoleon forged an alliance with Tsar Alexander, the Tsar even accepted to cooperate in Napoleon’s Continental System. However despite the personal liking the two rulers shared the different interests of their states led to a cooling down in the Russo-French relations.

By 1812 Napoleon the alliance was dead and Napoleon decided to invade Russia. Napoleon assembled a massive army of over 600,000 men, the Russians intially had a lot less men than Napoloen and chose to avoid pitched battles. The huge number of soldiers was more a hinderance for Napoleon in hindisight, his army moved too slowly and thus they were unable to encircle and destroy the Russians. Napoleon’s army was already badly decimated during the summer months, lack of food and desease meant that he lost soldiers and horses in the thousands.

By the time the Russian’s finally decided to face him at the Battle of Borodino Napoleon’s army was already badly decimated. In an incredibly brutal battle the French defeated the Russians, after their victory they marched on Moscow and took the city without a fight. Napoleon remained for weeks in Moscow where he mistakenly waited for a peace proposal from Alexander which never came. By the time he decided to abandon Moscow and retreat the weather was turning cold, during the retreat Napoleon’s already battered army suffered further casuaties.

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Though estimates vary, historians believe that over 400,000 men of the initial army were lost during the campaign. The Russian disaster emboldened Napoleon’s allies Prussia and Austria to turn on him, in 1813-14 the combined Russian-Prussian-Austrian forces defeated Napoleon’s depleted French army and forced him into exile.


Germany invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. Operation Barbarossa was the largest military operation in European history.

During the outbreak of the invasion, the Germans and their allies had over 3,8 million frontline soldiers, over 3,000 tanks and aircrafts, over 15,000 fighting armoured vehicles and well over half a million horses and other vehicles used for supplying the invasion force.

The Soviet frontline strength was estimated to have been around 2,6-2,9 million men, around 11,000 tanks that were operational and from 7,000 to 11,000 aircraft. The Russians had immense additional manpower, but the training, coordination and supply lines of the Red Army were in a poor state.

The German High Command was supposedly shocked when they realised the true scale of the Russian army, but luckily for them, the superior communication, training and tactics allowed the Wehrmacht to smash through the Soviets in the early months of the invasion.

Despite their early onslaught, the German advance came to a halt by October. The long supply lines combined with the poor infrastructure of the Soviet Union made supplying the advancing troops increasingly difficult. The weather also turned for the worse, and the huge fields of mud often served as well the Russians as any army could.

The attacks of the Army Group Centre, which was aiming for Moscow, were restarted when the ground froze, but the halt gave the Soviets enough time to fortify their position. The German attack was stopped and a Soviet counterattack threw the Axis forces back from the gates of Moscow.

The Germans regrouped in early 1942 and resumed their attack in the Spring. Their push to capture the oilfields of the Caucasus was defeated, however.

German commanders managed to stabilise their situation in February-March 1943 after the disaster at Stalingrad, but after their failed offensive at Kursk was repelled the Germans were increasingly on the defensive for the rest of the war. The huge numbers of the Red Army, the difficulty of repairing their tanks and armoured vehicles, and resupplying their army was simply too much for the Germans. The Allies also waged a successful bombing campaign against German industrial bases, which further incapacitated the chances of the Germans.

It took the Russian 1 and a half years to push the Germans back from mainland Russia, Ukraine and Belarus into Central Europe, but by early 1945 they succeeded.

The German invasion, just like the invasion of Charles XII and Napoleon was in the end defeated and Holy Russia prevailed over its enemies.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Andrew Szekler

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