Alexander Suvorov – Determination and Unrelenting Simplicity of Action and Purpose

(This is somewhat of a deviation from the typical content found here, and this may result in either a reformatting of the spirit of this particular blog or an entirely new entity created elsewhere. We shall see. Also, please excuse the formatting – WordPress seems to be against direct transferrence from Word, and paragraphs are somewhat bunched.
This was a submission for my class on “Readings in Military History.” The professor initially voiced understandable and warranted caution due to the potential difficulties in finding suitable primary sources. However, I have discovered a certain level of academic tenacity which may or may not be beneficial later. 
The end result was a grade of 97% – the only errors were minor and since corrected for further sharing. This was an enjoyable subject to tackle, and I am very appreciative of my brother-in-law’s help in seeking out primary sources in Russia and the translation assistance/proofreading my wife provided… and I hope that the reader will enjoy my attempts to honor Alexander Suvorov…)

“The more comfort, the less courage there is.” Alexander Suvorov
Figure 1 March of Suvorov Through the Alps by Vasili Surikov, 1898 Source:
Figure 1: “March of Suvorov Through the Alps” by Vasili Surikov, 1898

For European powers, the 18th century was a period of the slow evolution of key societal and cultural areas. Influence, ideas, and practices which had sustained Europe, Central Asia, and Northern Africa were continually generating friction amongst the influence of internal forces of change and the external threats which contrasted, often violently, with each other. As a central aspect of this transitional period, military leadership became an epicenter of change which necessitated a broad understanding of more than just tactics and firepower. An appreciation of the psychology of how to effectively wage war and the responsibilities in motivating the common man to perform uncommon feats under extreme duress provided the men leading armies during this time ample opportunities to either create a legacy or fade into anonymity. One such leader, Alexander Suvorov, managed to capture the hearts and minds of his men and his nation in the process of establishing his place in history that he nearly was cast into obscurity due to his coarse and unorthodox approaches to leadership at the time. For Alexander Suvorov (1729-1800), the art of leadership was not about eloquent and elaborate prose from the comforts of safety, but was perpetuated before his men in the determined and unflagging simplicity of action and purpose under fire and often against odds.

Is this person associated with a military treatise and if so, why was the treatise written?

The late 1700’s proved to a continuation of the struggles between major European powers. By 1776, the contention over the Crimea brought Russia and Turkey had become a conflict in which the Turks were unable to continue their resistance of Russia’s encroachment and increasing influence in this independent region. The treaty of Kutchuk-Kainnardji that year proved to be a tenuous peace between Russia and Turkey, and a challenge of Suvorov’s abilities to assist in the maintenance of this peace on the nations bordering the Black Sea.[1] Beginning in 1779, Suvorov’s forces established their presence in the central area of the Crimean Peninsula near Karasubazar – present-day Belogorsk – as part of Russia’s assertion of dominance in the region.[2] This action, and other diplomatic pressures, resulted in the abdication of the Khan of the Norgay Tartars in 1783, with Suvorov as witness the ceremonial swearing of tribal allegiance to Russia.[3] The importance of the Treaty of Kutchuk-Kainnardji was part of the overall efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church to guarantee of safe passage of both commerce and religious pilgrims to ports on the Black Sea and subsequent access to the Mediterranean, though such privileges challenged Turkey’s standing as a major power in southeastern Europe and threatened to Turkish dominance in the Middle East.[4] Though Suvorov was instrumental only in maintaining a Russian military presence in the area, Empress Catherine (1762-1796) took special interest via direct correspondence, personally commending him on his service and dedication to the Russian Empire.[5]

How did technological advancements or limitations of this person’s age shape his or her ideas?

Much of Suvorov’s ideas centered around the men who employed the weaponry, as opposed to the actual physical implements of warfare. With the bulk of the Russian army resulting from conscription, Suvorov countered the contemporary stereotypes and truisms of the rampant “idleness, drunkenness, and dishonesty” which plagued the Russian army with established guidance, realistic training, and demanding preparation for the brutalities of warfare.[6] Complimenting his insistence on discipline were Suvorov’s approaches and experimentation in preventive medicine. Proper nutrition, clothing, activity all lent towards his broader view of the importance of hygiene and the positive and negative effects this foundation of health could have on the men under his command.[7] Most important to Suvorov’s theory and subsequent legacy was the challenges posed by the muzzle-loading rifles of his time. Though firearms had been established as the primary weapon of the soldier, reliability of this weapon was still a matter of question in the 18th century. Suvorov countered the relatively slow rates of fire with doctrine which emphasized coordination in movement, fire, and reloading; much of his theory, however, returned to the reliability of the bayonet and the complimentary effects of shock and speed afforded by this simple weapon.[8] Holistically, Suvorov understood the critical interdependence of the ability, through health, of his men to be able to wield the weapons in the manner which deemed most successful for their victory.

What social latitudes or constraints influenced this person’s military philosophy and the warfare of the age?

Social latitudes and constraints faced by Suvorov fall into either formal or informal categorization. Favorable leeway was indirectly presented in the praise given by Empress Catherine in the supporting praise for his methods and actions during the Siege of Turtukay in 1773,[9] and it was his ethical restraint of his men following the pursuit of Yemelian Pugachev (1742-1775), an impostor posing as the Tsar in 1774, which prevented excessive brutality upon the civilian population of the Kirghiz tribes whom had supported Pugachev’s cause.[10] In doing so, Suvorov showed appreciation of the relation and importance of public opinion and military operations.[11] Informal societal leeway was reflected in his mannerisms and camaraderie which solidified his relationship with the men he trusted to carry out his orders. His appearance and demeanor, though not endearing to his superiors, repeatedly won the loyalty of the men whom with he would share brutal days of service and rough nights of sleep far removed from the comfort all but their rapport and purpose.[12]

The challenges faced by Suvorov, both formally and informally were as substantial and profound in 18th century Russia as similar difficulties in modern leadership positions are. Suvorov’s unorthodoxy and lack of adherence to contemporary methodologies in leadership ostracized him from superiors, peers, and subordinates and his lack of appropriate tact in reconciling such differences exacerbated the friction between Suvorov and his opponents in Russia.[13] The comforts and benefits of command lavishly enjoyed by his peers, coupled by the unwillingness of his comrades to maintain motivation in his fair demands, were another source of his persistent disdain for his fellow Russian officers;[14] ultimately, Suvorov’s biggest point of contention and frustration was the overall reluctance of his superiors to accept risk and readily lose the initiative at places like Rushchuk in 1773.[15] The informal limitations, however, proved to be the burdens hardest to bear in his later years. Unable to “swallow the camels of social convention and the etiquette of Courts,”[16] Suvorov’s casual dismissal by Paul I, in 1800, proved to be the final result in his overall pattern of treading his own path as he saw fit. Denied honors by the Tsar, Suvorov approached St. Petersburg anonymously with his only sarcastic remark being that of such dishonor being “the reward of those who devote their existence to the service of their country!” Within days of his arrival at St. Petersburg, Suvorov, passed away “under the displeasure of his master, at a distance from his family, and abandoned by his friends.”[17] Though capable of defying odds of unfavorable disparity in combat, Suvorov proved incapable and stubbornly petulant in defeating his own obstinate attitudes towards interpersonal relationships.

Was this person’s ideas well-respected in following periods by other military theorists? Why or why not?

The immediate 19th century, much like subsequent years which bridges the gap between Suvorov’s life and the present found his teachings both celebrated and denounced by a litany of military theorists and civilian leaders. Suvorov’s attitude towards military philosophers was one of derision and he viewed the contemporary study of his time as a matter of contempt.[18] To his immediate predecessors like Rumyantsev (1764-1786), Suvorov epitomized the core of Russian society and provided a shining example of the devotion, bravery, tenacity, and enduring intelligence Russian people were capable of exhibiting. His refinement of the Russian forces under his command offered a solid study of the capabilities of Russian defensibility against foreign invasions.[19] Authorizing his aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Colonel Anthing (1753–1805), to write his autobiography in 1795, Suvorov sought to preserve detailed insights of his life and motivations during his military career,[20] and supporting historians followed suit in the early 1800’s in a multi-national attempt to capture the contributions and exploits of his career and stem early critical studies of his legacy. [21] In practice, Suvorov’s protégés carried his lessons into the War of 1812 – revisiting and contesting some of the same grounds they had fought beside Suvorov earlier in their careers. [22]

Into the 20th century, Suvorov’s theory contrasted with the ideals espoused by the Soviet Union at the time of its inception as a replacement for the Russian Empire. However, with the threat posed by Nazi Germany and the subsequent “Great Patriotic War” which found the Soviet Union once again desperately defending against foreign forces, Suvorov’s writings were once resurrected to provide inspiration to the military leaders of the Soviet Union during this critical time.[23] Proving to be effective as a propaganda tool and as a result of increased wartime publication and circulation,[24] Suvorov and historic figures from Russia’s legacy of combat against other nations were once again revisited and reincorporated into contemporary Soviet military literature, contrary to earlier Party dismissal with labels such as “progressive” and “reactionary” work which contradicted Communist ideals of social class and philosophy.[25]

Opponents to Suvorov’s theories were a primary function of the barriers posed by both language and culture in the 19th century. Initially limited to mere academic opinion centered on Russia’s tendencies of progression expansionism, Suvorov’s work fell victim to the unfortunate association of a national policy which few in the west understood or considered worthy of inclusion or study.[26] Compounding the issue, the misrepresentation of Suvorov in inaccurate and biased “Memoirs” which surfaced in both France and England in the first half of the 1800’s provided more apathy than inspiration. Two of the most prominent names in military theory, Jomini and Clausewitz were overtly dismissive and critical of Suvorov’s work, deciding that they could neither take Russian military theory seriously, nor could they find him worthy of detailed discussion.[27] Similar attitudes prevailed into the earlier part of the 20th century, with the idea that they were either anecdotal tales or nationalistic exaggerations of Suvorov’s ability and actions as a military theorist.[28] However, as technology and commerce increased the flow of information between nations, the ability to understand the history of nations progressed as well; with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the advent of the internet, Suvorov became one of many historic figures for which the previous hindrance of boundaries in language and distance no longer remained.

What lessons does this person’s military philosophy impart to warfighting in the 21st century”?

Present interpretations of Suvorov’s work are primarily limited to military applications, but his style of leadership, like previous military philosophers before him, offer a bounty of guidance for a wide variety of leadership roles in the civilian sector. For Suvorov, the conduct of battle was driven by his desire to defeat an enemy and not the larger ancillary factors by theorists such as Clausewitz.[29] Though warfare in the 18th century was predominately influence by the political ramifications of occupying contended lands and the basic issue of raising appropriate armies to defend or conquer new territory,[30] Suvorov was able to simplify the larger issue into the political needs of a nation, balanced with the doctrinal direction necessary to ensure those needs were met. His approach to the ethical and moral values of combat provided sufficient guidance to provide both the motivation and restraint within conflict to maintain favorable momentum.[31] Suvorov preferred simplicity over complexity, mobility over stagnation, and innovation over tradition;[32] Intelligence was a prime factor in determining the disposition of his enemies, and deception played a key role in his operations against larger opponents, but his most important universal maxim for either warfare or corporate competition was eloquently terse:

Never despise your enemy, whoever he is. Try to find out about his weapons and means, how he uses them and fights. Research into his strengths and weaknesses.[33]

Suvorov’s dominant principle in both his “Suzdal Regulations” and later “Science of Victory” was simple: “to teach the soldier to go and meet danger and not wait for it.” Broken down into two distinct sections, “Science of Victory” recalls the basic element of combat – the solider – and explains the techniques and guidance for his troops. “Eye, speed, and rush” being the basic elements of his writings, Suvorov placed accuracy with weapons as one of the most foremost skills which needed to be mastered by soldiers under his command, but he felt the “bullet is a fool, the bayonet is smart” and therefore to be diligently practiced with until proficient in both.[34] Concurrently, Suvorov stressed conservation of fire and discipline of movement in combat, encouraging movement forward on the battlefield and maneuvering as close to enemy cannons as quickly as possible.[35] Speed on the battlefield, according to Suvorov, was not simply about the quickness of pace of individual soldiers, but the movement as a whole of the battle. Training his Suzdal Regiment in 1768, he underscored the element of surprise when his forces redeployed from Lake Lagoda to Smolensk, travelling 850 miles in a month over poor terrain, in inclement weather, and arriving a month earlier than his superiors had planned with a loss only only 5 men out of 1,500. Such training proved to be vital, as his last trek as Generalissimo through Italy in 1799 was a 36-hour movement against his enemies, covering over 80 kilometers in sweltering heat.[36]

Suvorov’s theory of “rush” found in his writings would initially suggest either redundant emphasis on movement, however, his writings broach on the psychological impact of maintaining initiative, momentum, and morale on the battlefield. The excitement of the battlefield was not overpowering enough to carry Suvorov away,[37] but it was one of the many areas of conflict he not only understood, but counted upon for victory. Decisive offensives called for the overpowering assault to deprive the opponent reprieve, and from the start of a battle, Suvorov boldly asserts that the proper action for men under his command to “attack, hit with hostility, and persecution.”[38] Such attacks were to be conducted upon the enemies first and second lines, as well as the reserves, with the opposing cavalry to be attacked with bayonets – all with an almost chaotic ferocity which brought Suvorov’s forces as close to the enemy with little reaction time afforded.[39] Finally, Suvorov reiterated the proper attention be given to his soldiers health. From casual discussion of common remedies which plagued 18th century soldiers,[40] regardless of nationality – constipation and diarrhea being the most frequent detriments to combat manpower – to his efforts to improve the deplorable condition of his field hospitals, Suvorov sought only the best care and conditions for his forces to preserve his overall fighting strength and earn their trust and loyalty.[41] By deed, and not by writing, Suvorov established himself as a skilled leader with an understanding of the men who fought for, and against him.

Phillip Longworth succinctly summarizes Suvorov’s legacy by commenting that “he demonstrated that authority would only work in extremity if based on mutual trust, concern, and acceptance.”[42] Alexander Suvorov participated in conflicts Russia waged against a wide variety of enemies, in vastly different environments, and with the limitations of technology which suggested a slight reversion to methods cast aside for the sake of progress. The support available to Suvorov proved to be only as strong as his ability to reign his abrasive manner in which he sought assistance, and his legacy nearly followed him into the forgotten abyss of disgrace due to the contentions of theorists who often failed to understand the simplicity of Suvorov. The lessons for modern warfighting and the art of leadership that is Suvorov’s legacy, therefore, can be reduced to the reinforcement of the relationship and mutual trust between the leader and those who are led; for Alexander Suvorov’s art of leadership was not about words, but the determination and unrelenting simplicity of action and purpose – under fire, and against the odds.

Figure 2: “Suvorov’s Troops in 1799” by A. Kotsebu. Source:


[1] Philip Longworth, The Art of Victory – The Life and Achievements of Field-Marshal Suvorov 1729-1800, (London: Constable, 1965), 106.
[2] Frederic Anthing, History of the Campaigns of Prince Alexander Suworow Rymnikski, Field-Marshal-General in the Service of His Imperial Majesty, The Emperor of All the Russias, (G. & R. Waite: New York. 1800), accessed November 16, 2016,, 129.
[3] Ibid., 134.
[4] H. M. Scott, Cambridge Studies in Early Modern History: The Emergence of the Eastern Powers, 1756–1775, (Cambridge, GB: Cambridge University Press, 2001), accessed November 16, 2016, ProQuest ebrary, 249.
[5] Anthing, 136.
[6] W. Lyon Blease, Suvorof, (Constable & Company: London. 1920), accessed November 16, 2016,, 11.
[7] Ibid., 132.
[8] Alexander Suvorov, Nauka Pobezhdat’ (Science of Victory), Translated by Alina Bennett, (Military Publishing House of the Ministry of Defense: Moscow. 1980), 5.
[9] Anthing, 95.
[10] Longworth, 103.
[11] Ibid., 310.
[12] Blease, 159.
[13] Longworth, 54.
[14] Ibid., 61.
[15] Ibid., 91.
[16] Blease, 60.
[17] “Monthly Obituaries,” The European Magazine: And London Review, Volume 38 (1800): 159, accessed November 16, 2016,
[18] Edward N. Macready, A Sketch of Suwarow and His Last Campaign: With Observations on Mr. Alison’s Opinion of the Archduke Charles as a Military Critic, and a Few Objections to Certain Military Statements in Mr. Alison’s History of Europe, (Smith, Elder, & Co.: London, 1851), accessed November 16, 2016,, xiv.
[19] Suvorov, Nauka Pobezhdat’ (Science of Victory), 3.
[20] Longworth, 299.
[21] Ibid., 301.
[22] Ibid., 302.
[23] Alexander Suvorov, Voyenno-Strategicheskiye Zametki (Military Strategic Notes), Translated by Alina Bennett, (AST:Moscow. 2011), accessed November 16, 2016,, 36.
[24] Longworth, 303.
[25] Alexander Bitis, The Russian Army and the Eastern Question, 1821-34, (London School of Economics and Political Science: 2000), accessed November 16, 2016,, 17.
[26] Longworth, 299.
[27] Ibid., 301.
[28] Ibid., 302.
[29] Ibid., 307.
[30] Ibid., 305.
[31] Ibid., 308.
[32] Ibid., 309.
[33] Ibid., 312.
[34] Alexander Suvorov, Nauka Pobezhdat’ (Science of Victory), 10.
[35] Ibid., 16.
[36] Ibid., 17.
[37] Longworth, 59.
[38] Alexander Suvorov, Nauka Pobezhdat’(Science of Victory), 4.
[39] Ibid., 15.
[40] Ibid., 13.
[41] Ibid., 18.
[42] Longworth, 320.
Primary Sources
“Monthly Obituaries.” The European Magazine: And London Review, Volume 38 (1800): 159. Accessed November 16, 2016.
Anthing, Frederic. History of the Campaigns of Prince Alexander Suworow Rymnikski, Field-Marshal-General in the Service of His Imperial Majesty, The Emperor of All the Russias. G. & R. Waite: New York. 1800. Accessed November 16, 2016.
Suvorov, Alexander. Nauka Pobezhdat’(Science of Victory). Translated by Alina Bennett. Military Publishing House of the Ministry of Defense: Moscow. 1980.
Suvorov, Alexander. Voyenno-Strategicheskiye Zametki (Military Strategic Notes). Translated by Alina Bennett. AST:Moscow. 2011. Accessed November 16, 2016.
Secondary Sources
Bitis, Alexander. The Russian Army and the Eastern Question, 1821-34. London School of Economics and Political Science: 2000. Accessed November 16, 2016.
Blease, W. Lyon. Suvorof. Constable & Company: London. 1920. Accessed November 16, 2016.
Longworth, Philip. The Art of Victory – The Life and Achievements of Field-Marshal Suvorov 1729-1800. London: Constable, 1965.
Macready, Edward N. A Sketch of Suwarow and His Last Campaign: With Observations on Mr. Alison’s Opinion of the Archduke Charles as a Military Critic, and a Few Objections to Certain Military Statements in Mr. Alison’s History of Europe. Smith, Elder, & Co.: London. Accessed November 16, 2016.
Mikaberidze, Alexander. Russian Officer Corps of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Havertown, US: Savas Beatie, 2005. Accessed November 16, 2016. ProQuest ebrary.
Scott, H. M. Cambridge Studies in Early Modern History: The Emergence of the Eastern Powers, 1756–1775. Cambridge, GB: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Accessed November 16, 2016. ProQuest ebrary.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s