Moscow In September, Don’t Stay Too Long

David Reavill
6 min readSep 25, 2023
Napolean

Many of us see the Autumn as our favorite time of the year. The humidity and high temperatures are behind us now, and we can enjoy pleasant temperatures and often fair skies. That’s how it is in Moscow, Russia, currently. The weather forecast for the rest of September calls for a light breeze, with temperatures in the high 60s and 70s. Napoleon found the same weather when he was there in the Autumn of 1812. He had just conquered most of western Russia and enjoyed September in Moscow. But he stayed too long.

You’re undoubtedly familiar with this ancient parable: “For Want Of A Nail.” Many authors, from Shakespeare to Benjamin Franklin, have used it to describe that small missing piece that leads to ultimate defeat. For want of a nail, the horse was lost, the rider was lost, the message was lost, that battle was lost, and ultimately, the kingdom was lost.

Many have used this parable to describe Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia, known as the Patriotic War of 1812. Napoleon had assembled the most fearsome Army in the world. He had at his command an army of more than 450,000 battle-hardened soldiers, 25,000 wagons, and 1,400 of the most potent artillery pieces, a force that eclipsed the Russians by at least double.

Predictably, the “Grand Armee” swept through Western Russia, in the section that is now Belarus. Throughout the Summer, the French continued to advance, although the Russians put up a tremendous fight in withdrawal. Knowing that a brutal Russian Winter was just weeks away and wanting to save as many fighting men as possible, Russian General Mikhail Kutuzov ordered a full retreat, ordering his troops to abandon the city of Moscow.

The same strategy, incidentally, that another Russian General, Aleksandr Dornikov, would use 210 years later as he ordered his troops to withdraw, this time from previously captured territory in the heart of Ukraine. The vaunted “Counterstrike” by the Ukrainians was making all the headlines last September.

But like Napoleon, today’s Ukrainian Leaders may have been premature in declaring ultimate victory. Napoleon, you see, so enjoyed the pleasant weather that 1812 Autumn in Moscow that he decided to spend a few extra weeks. That proved to be a fateful miscalculation.

In days, the dreadful Russian Winter descended on the French Troops. The realization hit that the Grand Armee was ill-prepared for this onslaught of nature. Their uniforms were inadequate for the cold, food was short, and military hospitals were few and far between. Those vaunted artillery pieces were now dead weight that had to be slogged behind as the troops struggled to return to France. In the end, weapons, guns, and equipment were abandoned, as the soldiers perished in the bitter cold.

The invincible Armee that invaded Russia barely a year earlier became a rag-tag mob of just one-quarter the size as they tried to return home.

For generations, poets and musicians would celebrate the Russian Victory over Napoleon. Pyotr Tchaikovsky would write the 1812 Overture in celebration, a concert now heard worldwide. Here in the United States, we often hear his music on Independence Day, to the accompaniment of fireworks.

The lessons from this victory are profound to the Russians and go to their very soul. We see how different their strategy has been in Ukraine than NATO’s. For instance, the Western Allies, and chiefly the United States, have measured victory or defeat by how many kilometers of territory each side has won.

In that Ukrainian counter-offensive of a year ago, Time Magazine declared:
“…the Ukrainian Counterstrike That Turned the Tide of the War.”
As if Ukraine had won the conflict. Unfortunately, a year later, we can see that hasn’t been the case.

On the other hand, the Russians have visualized this conflict as a “war of attrition,” willing to give up territory while preserving their force and inflicting harm on the Ukrainians. They employed the same strategy in the pivotal battle for Bahkmut. Here, the territory was irrelevant. For months, the Russians and Ukrainians fought over a few square kilometers in a tiny village far from any real strategic targets. Both sides were suffering casualties, but the Ukrainians to a withering extent.

The Russians were able to employ their most lethal weapon in this conflict: artillery. With their troops out of the line of fire, protected, and utilizing state-of-the-art satellite and drone telemetry, the Russians could rein down a withering hail of fire on the Ukrainian troops. Although exact numbers are not currently available, it is estimated that in the initial stages of the War, and in Bahkmut, the Russians were firing between 50,000 and 60,000 high-impact artillery shells daily, numbers far greater than Western War Planners thought possible.

In contrast, American production of its most widely used artillery shell, the 155mm, stood at just 14,000 per month when the War began. The Americans produce these shells out of just a few factories nationwide, including their premier General Dynamics Factory in Scranton, Pennsylvania. A factory that started operations 60 years ago.

And to say that the Americans can’t keep up is an understatement. On any given day, the Russians can launch the same number of artillery shells before noon as the Americans produce in a month.

The American inability to supply Ukraine with conventional weapons led to some ominous decisions because we’ve given the Ukrainian Army virtually our entire stockpile of 155mm artillery shells. The Department of Defense has declared that we have no more to give. In its place, President Biden has elected to send depleted uranium shells, a munition that has been considered a health hazard for years when left on an abandoned battlefield.

This Administration has been telling us that the Russians are losing this War for months and that a Ukrainian victory lies just around the corner. We’ve supplied Ukraine with Billions of Dollars, yet we still need more artillery shells to give them. As we all know, money is a beautiful asset, but for Ukraine, only if they can purchase the weapons they’ve requested. Last week, Volodymyr Zelensky was in this country, asking for weapons and financial support. Reports are that he was not successful.

The US Congress is growing increasingly restless in its support for Ukraine. And why not? The United States spends more annually on Ukraine than it did in the Vietnam or Afghanistan conflict. Based on the currently published spending for Ukraine, our yearly spending rate is $75billion. The annual spending rate for Vietnam, converted to today’s dollars, was $62 billion, and for Afghanistan (again using current dollars), the yearly spending rate was $45 billion.

Further, both of those conflicts had obtained Congressional approval, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution for Vietnam and the Authorization for Military Force (AUMF) for Afghanistan. The Authorizations allowed Congress to provide financial support within the framework of those two resolutions. This Administration argues that there are no American troops on the ground, so Congressional authorization is unnecessary.

A fine distinction at best. It’s made all the more questionable with a review of the level of support the US Military is currently supplying Ukraine. It is reported that tactical and strategic guidance is provided by NATO and the Americans, as well as battlefield surveillance. There are even rumors that out-of-uniform American personnel are currently in the country. Biden is walking a very narrow path, all to avoid any Congressional oversight. The current support for Ukraine is squarely on Biden’s shoulders.

Like Napoleon two centuries ago, Zelensky is running out of supplies. The fact that he spent the week in America asking for more aid says that things are becoming very tight for the Ukrainian Army. Summer is over now, and with it, Ukraine’s Summer Offensive. As it ended, Ukraine looked under-supplied, still asking for more from America.

While across the battle lines, the Russians remain implacable. They are still shelling the Ukrainian troops, extracting a terrible price in casualties and Ukrainian lives.

Perhaps it’s time for the leaders of NATO and Ukraine to remember the lesson of Napoleon: while September in Moscow can see fair weather, don’t stay too long; it’s followed by a brutal Russian winter.

General Winter

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David Reavill

David Reavill writer + finance +iconoclast + hiker + Pennsylvania #valueside daily podcast + medium + meditate valueside.com/links