Battle of Praga, 1794

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Josef Zajaczek versus Alexander Suvorov: A Russian army under Suvorov storms the Polish defences under Zajaczek. Will Suvorov’s preparations and deception plan prove effective enough to gain the quick resolution to the war he needs?
Significance
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In probably the best work on Suvorov’s life and military career, Longworth aptly labels his chapter on Suvorov’s operations in Poland as “Enemy of a Nation” (1965: 175-207). For Poland, Suvorov was the man who removed the Polish state from the map for over a century. While the Polish or Kosciuszko uprising was likely to fail even if the Poles were not facing a military genius, the uprising may have had a greater impact than it appears. It has been suggested that the timing and scale of the Polish uprising may have helped distract Russia, Prussia, and Austria from the rise of Revolutionary France, and ensure the project’s survival (Wilde, 2001); 1794 turned out to be a critical year of victory for Revolutionary France with far-reaching consequences. While this is arguable, it is easier to suggest that the Polish uprising had a clear impact on future uprisings in the region, and the formation of Polish identity. The November Uprising of 1830-1831 and the Greater Poland Uprising of 1848 have clear common themes from that of 1794. The 1848 uprising was also part of a larger revolution (the Spring of Nations) that had far-reaching consequences not fully understood at the time.
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Analysis
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Taking walled cities and fortresses requires skill, and usually patience. The decision to assault or besiege a city is often a difficult one; assault too early and a commander could suffer grievous losses, besiege for too long and a commander could waste too much time or lose the war of supply. In this battle, Suvorov decided early on he would assault Praga and took actions to ensure its success from the start. He ensured his troops had the proper assaulting equipment, carried sufficient rehearsals to allow his troops to be comfortable and confident in their task, and conducted a simple yet effective deception plan to surprise the Polish defences. The result was a breakthrough on every sector despite assaulting fortified positions. Zajaczek meanwhile confirmed Frederick the Great’s adage that to defend everywhere is to defend nowhere.
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The Russian victory at Praga is classic Suvorov. While now an obviously valuable tool in modern military operations at every level, Suvorov was an early and consistent proponent of not just proper training, but rehearsals as well. Imagine being ordered to assault a fortified position against deadly musket fire and being concerned with silly things like how to quickly position and scale a ladder. Rehearsals are important in building familiarity and confidence in troops for their assigned task. The battle is also classically Suvorov in that it was won with the bayonet; one of Suvorov’s main arguments in his treatise is that the goal should be to close with and destroy the enemy at the point of a bayonet.
Notes
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Alexander Suvorov is easily the most under-rated and under-appreciated of the all-time great European military commanders. Suvorov ranked Napoleon Bonaparte as one of the greatest military commanders of all time in 1799, long before his great victories of Austerlitz, Jena-Auerstadt, Friedland, Wagram, and the list goes on. Suvorov longed to meet Bonaparte on the battlefield but never did; most of Suvorov’s campaigning in Europe happened while Bonaparte was fighting in Egypt and Suvorov died in 1799. The debate continues as to who would have won this battle. Only someone uninformed of Suvorov’s achievements would be too quick to say Napoleon. One only needs to look at Suvorov’s victories at Rymnik, Praga, Trebbia, and his Swiss expedition to complicate the debate.
 
I had the pleasure of visiting the Suvorov museum in St Petersburg. While my Russian was good enough to understand most of what everything was, I really wish there was an English-language tour available to truly appreciate the museum. 
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– Jonathan Webb
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Works Consulted
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Bulgarin, F.V. General Klugen’s Memoirs: the Storming of Praga in 1794.” Military History of the Second Half of the 18th Century. Translated by Mark Conrad, 2010. http://marksrussianmilitaryhistory.info/KlugenOnPraga.html (accessed April 3, 2015).
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Eversley, G.J.S. The Partitions of Poland. New York: Howard Fertig, 1973.
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Goligenkov, I. “The Storming of Praga (Warsaw suburb) 4 November 1794. Military History of the Second Half of the 18th Century. Translated by Mark Conrad, 2010. http://marksrussianmilitaryhistory.info/AssaultOnPraga.html (accessed April 3, 2015).
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Longsworth, Philip. The Art of Victory: The Life and Achievements of Field-Marshal Suvorov 1729-1800. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965.
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Petryshevski, A. “The Polish War: Praga, 1794.” Adjutant. 2003. http://history.scps.ru/suvorov/pt17.htm (accessed April 3, 2015).
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Images
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Alexander Suvorov: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Suvorov
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Jozef Zajaczek: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%B3zef_Zaj%C4%85czek
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Map of Eastern Europe: http://history.howstuffworks.com/european-history/history-of-poland3.htm
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Map of the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_map_projections
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Polish guns: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20483/20483-h/20483-h.htm
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Polish soldiers: http://www.wbc.poznan.pl/dlibra/docmetadata?id=oai:www.wbc.poznan.pl:11298
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Russian guns: http://www.zvezda.org.ru/?lng=1&nav=2&p=31
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Russian soldiers: http://www.tlacanada.com/TLA/Historex.htm

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