Wednesday 21 June 2023

Tsar Alexander’s Second War against Napoleon

Author Peter Phillips has translated another official Russian history of the Napoleonic Wars, this time giving us Tsar Alexander’s Second War with Napoleon 1806-1807. Originally published in 1846 by Alexander Ivanovich Mikhailovsky-Dailevsky, who was commissioned to write Russia’s official military histories. This is the second such volume published by Helion, and covers the period from the defeat of Prussia to the peace treaty agreed at Tilsit in 1807 which brought the war to an end, for a few years.

Works translated from other languages into English are often rather clunky and sometimes hard to follow, especially when the original was written in ‘mid-nineteenth century speak’.This is not the case with this volume, which like its predecessor volume, has been rigorously and sympathetically translated, the end result being a genuinely readable and informative account, an account which is by no means perfect or even wholly honest, but is still an incredibly important and detailed record of the war. Readers should note that these volumes were published for the Tsar, who had complete editorial control, and bear that in mind.

I will avoid listing all the many chapters within the book; suffice to say the campaign is described in great detail, beginning with the defeat of the Prussians at Jena-Auerstadt to the Treaty of Tilsit (and beyond). The author contends that the Russian army and the Russian leadership and its many rising stars benefited greatly from the war, in which they fought Napoleon’s seemingly invincible army to a stand still on numerous occasions, albeit sometimes with the assistance of the dreadful weather and incurring an equally dreadful number of casualties, but only actually lost one battle, at Freidland.

The chapters describing these battles are comprehensive and make especially good reading, and are accompanied by clear and easy to comprehend maps showing troop disposition and the topography of each battlefield. There are other very helpful, more strategic ‘theatre’ maps, showing the movements of the corps and armies which again are easy to follow; so often contemporary maps are insufficiently detailed or incomprehensible so it is a bonus that these have been produced so clearly. The book concludes with three appendices containing the orders of battle of Bennigsen’s, Buxhoeveden’s and Essex’s corps. The fourth appendix (actually appendix 1) is a representation of the number of men needed from each oblast to furnish the requisite number of Opolchenie (militia), amounting to a staggering 612,000 men!

This is an excellent book and is guaranteed to be of interest to historians, researchers and wargamers alike, and deserves its place in my library for sure. I am already working on an early/mid Napoleonic army for the Russo-Swedish War 1808-1809, and have since taken the plunge and over the course of three Foumdry Christmas 25 percent off sales have purchased rather more figures than I would ever need for the battles in Finland. I have ended up with about 30 battalions plus assorted artillery and cavalry, so all I need to find is somebody with an appropriately large enough 28mm French army. At a pinch I could temporarily reflag some of my late Revolutionary Wars French but I’d rather not.

ISBN978-1-804511-93-0 soft back, 232 pages.

On another note entirely, if anyone is wondering, yes there are some obvious benefits in me reviewing books for Helion (they kindly send me them every now and then). However the main reason I do this is because Helion are a growing and important presence in our hobby (in my opinion at any rate) and the range of mainstream and also rather eclectic titles is amazing as is the prolific number of books published across all their series every year, and are fortunate in having a deep pool of knowledgeable authors from both the UK and Worldwide to make the most of. They certainly surpass the likes of Osprey in terms of subject matter and the quality of the content ( again, that is my opinion based on my own comparisons between the two publishers) as I have found many recent Osprey’s to be very superficial despite the often nice colour plates. 


  1. Please continue to review these books. I find your comments very useful in deciding purchases from helion.