His troubles, though, were just beginning. Upon entering Russia in June, he anticipated a short campaign, which is why his horses were still shod with summer shoes.
But with the severe Russian winter swiftly approaching, this logistical mistake was to cost him dear, according to some Western historians.
They say that winter horseshoes are equipped with little spikes that prevent a horse from slipping on snow or ice . Without them, a horse can neither tow a wagon uphill, nor use them as brakes on the way down.
In the winter of 1812, this meant disaster for Napoleon’s army. Horses in summer shoes would have “fallen down underneath whatever it was they were towing”,according to Bernie Tidmarsh, one of Britain's leading farriers.
“They wouldn't have got any grip going downhill any more than they would have going up. The end result would have been broken legs and mutilated limbs,” Tidmarsh says.
Hit by hunger, the cold and Russian cavalry, the Grande Armee suffered heavy losses.
By the time Napoleon arrived back in Paris on December 5, 1812 it numbered fewer than 10,000 soldiers, a disaster from which he would never recover.
His protracted retreat from Moscow went down in history as one of the greatest logistical disasters of all time. Without relevant horse transport and 2,400 kilometers away from home, French forces had no chance.
At the same time, it would be naïve to share a standpoint by those historians who claim that the Russian winter and the French horses’ summer shoes added significantly to Napoleon’s defeat in the 1812 Patriotic War.
It is common knowledge that the 1812 winter was not so frosty as it is painted by some historians. Average temperatures stood at about 10 Degrees Celsius, something that was not uncommon in many Eastern European countries at the time.
The key factor in Russia’s victory over Napoleon was the fact that Russian military commanders, including Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, proved to be wiser and more perspicacious than their French colleagues. This was recognized by prominent British historian and professor Dominic Lieven of the London Economics School.
In his book titled Russia against Napoleon, Lieven dispels a myth that it was just good luck that helped Russian commander-in –chief Mikhail Kutuzov to get the better of Napoleon’s military genius. According to Lieven, the Russian army was one of the best armies in Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. He believes that Russians brilliantly prepared for the war with France, and that Russian commanders mapped out and successfully implemented a military action strategy and tactics. As a result, Napoleon suffered a catastrophic defeat in Russia and was then ousted and exiled.
Lieven’s words can be illustrated by a flop of Napoleon’s strategy aimed at winning the entire military campaign with the help of the only major battle. After the Battle of Borodino, the Russian troops left Moscow in a maneuver that then helped them exhaust Napoleon’s Grand Armee that was almost destroyed on Russian territory.
Aside from Russian commanders’ common sense, one should also take into consideration the courage and valor of Russian soldiers, as well as the selflessness of the entire Russian people who stood up for their Motherland.
It seems that Napoleon should have been more diligent in studying Russian history, because if he had, he would have never invaded Russia.