Back

Three Battlefields of Russia

Throughout the centuries-old history of Russia, many battles took place on its territory. Military museums were created in different cities, but Three Battlefields, where three battles took place in different epochs, are of particular importance for the history of Russia.

The Three Battlefields of Russia are the stages of the formation of Russia as a single state that can afford to pursue an independent foreign policy. The battles on these battlefields took place in different centuries:

•    Battle of Kulikovo field – 1380
•    Battle of Borodino field - 1812
•    Battle of Prokhorovsky field – 1943

These three battles took place on the territory of Russia with the enemy who invaded the country, in the course of various wars. All three battles were key in the history of these wars.

 

Battle of Kulikovo field - 1380

The battle of Kulikovo Field in the Tula region took place between the Russian army under the command of Prince Dmitry Donskoy and the Mongol-Tatar army of Khan Mamai in 1380. Kulikovo field is the First Battlefield of Russia, where the combined Russian troops were able to defeat the army of the Golden Horde for the first time.

By 1380, the scattered Russian principalities had been in vassalage to the khans of the Golden Horde for almost 150 years. In 1237, the army of Batu Khan appeared on the Russian borders. By the beginning of the 13th century, Kievan Rus was no longer unified. It consisted of dozens of small principalities ruled by Rurik's descendants, but all of them were in constant conflict with each other. The principalities were divided between sons and relatives, becoming weaker and smaller.

Individually, these principalities could not resist the powerful Mongol-Tatar army. Ryazan was the first to be burned in 1237. Then, within 3 years, almost all major Russian cities were burned and conquered. From this moment began the period that in Russian history is called the "Mongol-Tatar yoke". Most of the Russian cities were burned, and the population was reduced. This significantly slowed down the development of the Russian lands.

In 1322, there was no longer a single strong Horde. However, an equally serious threat has emerged in the West. The Lithuanian Principality was located there. In the Middle Ages, the Principality of Lithuania was the largest and most powerful state in Europe. It conquered the lands in the lower reaches of the Dnieper and the Don, including the ancient capital of Kiev, from the Golden Horde. The southern border of Russia in those years passed in the area of Tula (200 km from Moscow). The western border was located near Mozhaisk (100 kilometers from Moscow). Looking at the current political map of Europe, it is difficult to imagine that in the 14th century the borders of Russian lands were drawn in the immediate vicinity of Moscow, and the Lithuanian Principality occupied huge territories in the center of Europe.

In 1380, the Russian princes realized that it was necessary to unite in order to fight together against a common enemy. This was facilitated by the sermons of Sergius of Radonezh. The combined army of Dmitry Donskoy came to the Trinity-Sergius Lavra to be blessed by Sergius of Radonezh before the battle.

The Battle of Kulikovo Field took place on September 7, 1380. First there was a duel between the hero Peresvet and Chelubey. After that, there was a battle between the Guard Regiment and the Tatar vanguard. During the main battle, Mamai's army was able to significantly push the Right-hand regiment. At this moment, an Russian ambush regiment hit the rear of the Tatar army, and this resolved the outcome of the battle. The Tatars began to retreat, and then turned to flight.

This brilliant victory did not solve the main problem. There was no liberation from the Mongol-Tatar yoke. Mamai Khan was overthrown by Takhtamysh with the help of Tamerlane. Two years later, Khan Tokhtamysh came to Russia, and burned Russian cities.

However, after the Battle of Kulikovo, the process of unification of the Russian lands began to accelerate. A century later, Khan Ahmad again came with an army to Russia, but he did not even dare to fight. In 1480, two army just stood at the Ugra River. After some months the Mongol-Tatar troops left, and Russia was completely freed from vassalage from the Golden Horde. The Moscow princes were able to significantly expand the borders of the Russian state not only at the expense of the Golden Horde, but also at the expense of the lands of the Lithuanian Principality.

 

Battle of Borodino field - 1812

The Battle of Borodino Field took place on August 26, 1812, between Russian troops commanded by Prince Mikhail Kutuzov and French troops led by Emperor Napoleon.

By 1812, Napoleon, as a result of several wars, was able to subdue most of Europe. On the thrones of various kingdoms sat his relatives or marshals, other states were in vassalage to France. The Peace of Tilsit was concluded with Russia in 1807. The only enemy was England.

By 1812, relations between Russia and France had deteriorated. Russia did not want to take part in the continental blockade of England, so Napoleon gathered a large army to invade Russia. On June 24, 1812, he crossed the Neman River and entered Russia. The army of Napoleon exceeded 500 thousand people, but a significant part of these troops had to be dispersed throughout the country to ensure communications. Three Russian armies were located in different regions of the country. Their number was half that.

The Russian troops retreated at first. Their main goal was to unite. The first significant battle took place only in Smolensk. Just before Moscow, the Russians decided to give a general battle, which took place on the Borodino field, 120 kilometers from Moscow.

The Russian troops were stationed on the Borodino field between two roads leading to Moscow. In the center of the field was the Mound’s Height, where the Russians had placed the Battery Rajewski. Main attacks of Napoleon`s army were directed here during the day. The capture of this height meant the domination of the artillery over the field of battle.

On August 26, 1812, the general battle began. The forces of the Russians and the French were comparable – 130 thousand people each. At the beginning of the Borodino battle, the main combat actions were on the left flank of the Russian troops, at Bagration fleches position. Napoleon wanted to crush the Russian left flank and surround the troops. To protect the Bagration fleches, part of the regiment was removed from the Raevsky Battery. At 11 o`clock the corps of Eugene Bogarne, taking advantage of the weakening of the defense of the Mound Height, attacked and captured the height. This was the key moment of the battle. If the French army could have set up their artillery here, they would have won the battle brilliantly.

At this moment, generals Yermolov and Kutaysov appeared near the battery. They were following Bagration fleches. They took the 18th chasseur regiment and the Ufa regiment with them and led them in a bayonet attack. The hand-to-hand combat at Raevsky`s Battery was the most desperate moment of the battle of Borodino. The French were driven out of Raevsky Battery.

In the afternoon, realizing that it was impossible to crush the left flank of the Russian troops, Napoleon concentrated all his efforts on capturing the Raevsky battery. The attack was conducted by 34 cavalry regiments, and the French suffered huge losses. Later, Raevsky Battery was called "the grave of the French cavalry".

At 4 o`clock, the Raevsky battery was still taken by the French, but the Russians withdrew their front behind it, and this did not change the course of the battle. The troops of both sides had suffered such heavy losses that it was impossible to continue the battle. In the evening, it soon ended.

Russian and French historians discuss about who won the Battle of Borodino. French army had taken the main heights on the Borodino field by the end of the day, and the Russians had begun their retreat to Moscow the next day, it is quite logical to say that the French had won. However, the Russian army put up such a significant resistance to a stronger enemy that Napoleon realized that it was impossible to win this campaign. Napoleon occupied Moscow, but began to seek contacts with the Russian Emperor Alexander I. It made no sense to stay in Moscow, and Napoleon began to retreat.

In the battle of Maloyaroslavets, the Russians blocked the Kaluga Road. After that, Napoleon was forced to retreat along the ruined Smolensk road. Soon the cold weather began; the Russians pursued the French army, whose retreat turned into a flight. The last battle took place on the Berezina River. Of the 500,000-strong army that invaded Russia in June, only 20,000 French were able to cross the river and leave Russian territory.

 

Battle of Prokhorovsky field – 1943

From 1941 to 1944, Russia fought the German army alone in World War II. On the German side, the troops of several vassal countries participated in the war. The disastrous defeats in the summer of 1941 were replaced by the victory of the Russians near Moscow in December 1941. In 1942, the Germans again seized the initiative and occupied vast territories up to the Caucasus, but in the winter of 1942, the Russian victory at Stalingrad again changed the balance of power.

By the summer of 1943, Germany was still a strong enemy, and the actions of German troops in the summer campaigns were always more successful than in the winter. Hitler understood that the total defeat of Russia in this war was no longer possible, but he hoped to exhaust Russian army and force Russia to sign a peace treaty, leaving behind the conquered lands of Ukraine and Belarus.

The decisive battle on the Eastern front in 1943 was the Battle of the Kursk. This battle lasted from July 5 to August 31, 1943. It was the biggest battle in the history of the world. On both sides, there was participated by more than 2 million people, more than 6 thousand tanks and more than 4 thousand aircraft. Hitler postponed the start date of the battle several times, waiting for a sufficient number of new Tiger and Panther heavy tanks to arrive in the army.

On July 5, 1943, German forces launched Operation Citadel. In the north of the Kursk Salient, a group under the command of Model was advancing from Orel. In the south, a group under the command of Manstein was advancing from Belgorod. The main forces of the German army were concentrated in the south. In the north, the offensive of the Model was almost immediately stopped, and in the south, very heavy fighting unfolded. The German troops slowly, but still advanced through the defensive formations of the Soviet troops.

On July 12, the Russians decided to launch a counteroffensive on the Prokhorovsky field. The largest tank battle in history took place here. In a frontal battle, at least 1,000 tanks converged: about 700 tanks on the Soviet side, and about 300 tanks on the German side. On the German side, for the first time, the new Tiger and Panther heavy tanks participated in this battle, which could penetrate the armor of Soviet T-34s from a distance of 2 kilometers, and at the same time their armor was invulnerable to the guns of Soviet tanks. Due to the power of the German tanks, the losses of the Soviet side were many times greater than the German ones.

Some historians say that there was no large-scale frontal battle of tanks on the Prokhorovsky field, however, the number of tanks that participated in the Prokhorovsky battle is not questioned by anyone.

The main consequence of the battle on the Prokhorovsky field was the fact that the SS panzer group, equipped with new heavy tanks, with invulnerable armor for Soviet tanks, not only did not break through the Russian battle lines, but after 2 days was forced to retreat.

Prokhorovsky field was named the Third BattleField of Russia. The Battle of the Kursk was a turning point in the World War II. After it, the Germans never had a strategic initiative, and only retreated till Berlin.