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7 September 1812

Documentary on the battle

Russia's armies had led the French Grande Armee on a merry dance during its invasion of his homeland but, fewer than 120 kilometres from Moscow, the new commander General Mikhail Kutusov turned and got ready to fight at Borodino.

The ground he chose was excellent for defence, but he added to its strength by building centrally placed earthen redoubts and arrow-head shaped fleches.

These positions were garrisoned with some of the 640 cannons available to him and Kutusov and his 120,000 men settled in to await the French.

Napoleon Bonaparte arrived with more men (133,000) but fewer guns (587) and while Marshal Davout urged him to send in a strong flanking attack, he ignored the good advice and instead embarked upon one of the most bloody frontal assaults of the era.

The emperor's plan was to smash the Russians in one great battle and so he threw his men at them with little tactical thought.

Initially the attack went well, but as more Russian reserves were committed the French found themselves in a bloody battle of attrition.

Late in the morning, a bold attack by Marshal Murat's cavalry overwhelmed the fleches and around 2pm a joint assault by infantry and cavalry finally seized but the crucial Raevski Redoubt, but lacking reinforcements Prince Eugene de Beauharnais' men could not exploit their success.

Meanwhile, the Russians were moving to counterattack in the centre, but the Guard infantry was pounded out of the action by massed artillery.

Exhaustion led to both sides winding down their efforts by 5pm and the Russians retreated during the night having suffered 44,000 casualties.

The French had 33,000 men killed and wounded but were only days off capturing the enemy capital.

Ahead lay that achievement and a horrendous retreat from Russia that would kill most of them.


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