The Russian Army in the Great Northern War 1700-21: Uniforms, Organization, Materiel, Training and Combat Experience

By Boris Megorsky.

My friends and I started our group ‘Preobrazhensky Life Guard regiment, 1709’ back in 2003; we had done the same regiment in the Napoleonic period and now wanted something new that had been missing then. Despite Peter the Great being one of the most notorious figures of the Russian history, his times never attracted as many reenactors as early 19th century or Second World War or Medieval (same in the miniatures world). So we thought we’d step in and do something in a different way, compared to what we had done in Napoleonics.

Join your right hand to you muskets!

First, we aimed to study and then represent the drill strictly according to the period manuals and instructions at least at a platoon level. That meant manoeuvring and firing in four- or even six-rank formation; there are many aspects in Petrine tactics that inherited from the 17th century and that faded out by 1800s. Then, we concentrated on events in fortresses and castles and on naval battles – a pleasure that Napoleonic re-enactors rarely have. We did some historical tracking and 24 hour tacticals too. And we did our best to not to become a ‘classic’ re-enactment group consisting of a Colonel, Captain, NCO, flag bearer and a drummer with couple privates. We all were rank and files when we started and at certain moment friend of mine and myself were promoted to NCOs – these are still the highest ranks in our group; we dreamt of doing a full scale company however challenging it sounded and still sounds. Numbers are the issue, so we adopted an umbrella approach where

Admittedly, the GNW Russian foot unlikely formed pike blocks like this, but the photo went out nice. Photo by Stepan Sochivko, 2009.

we invite friendly groups from various locations who may not necessarily represent Preobrazhensky but who are willing to wear green and red coats (not the only possible but still typical colour for Petrine foot). Thus our formation at bigger events amounts to 20-40 uniform men from St. Petersburg, Moscow, Narva, Riga and other places. And we have pleasure to ‘fight’ our like-minded friends from Sweden and Finland who re-enact GNW Caroleans.

As a re-enactor I of course was first interested in uniforms, then in tactics. This interest eventually led me to more academic studies of Petrine siege warfare – the theme in which I now specialise. Two books and dozen articles have been published. I also became rather aware of source materials and studies on the GNW Russian military, both old and new. This is why I thought it was worth writing an overview book in English that would encompass recent results of various Russian scholars. A lot of new data was retrieved and printed in Russian after Angus Costam’s Army of Peter the Great (1993) or Hoglund’s, Salnas and Bespalov’s GNW Sweden’s allies and enemies. Colors and uniforms (2006) were published in English! Naturally, language barrier won’t allow the worldwide army of 1700s period lovers to read it all in Tsar Peter’s native language, so I hope my book will help.

What is special about the book? The reenactor in me wanted to describe in detail all pieces of uniform, equipment and weapons that were in use in the army, and to cover often overlooked evolution of uniforms and answer odd questions like: how did the fashion for grenadier caps evolve? Did they wear waist coats without coats and vice versa? Why is it inaccurate to illustrate scalloped pocket flaps? There is, of course, a voluminous appendix describing known regimental uniform colours.

Members of several societies under the flag of 2nd Company, Preobrazhensky Life Guards, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the battle of Poltava.

The scholar in me felt it was interesting to compare how tactical instructions and manuals were followed (or not). The combat experiences I gathered include not only conventional field battles but also sieges, small war and naval fights. Another appendix provides timeline of the war with (nearly) all possible combats where the Russians took part between 1700 and 1721.

The reader in me wanted to share what is now the modern view on Peter’s army organisation, of Russia’s pre-reform troops and of her efforts to raise new army and the navy. The bibliography of over hundred titles gives enough reference for further in-depth reading. By the way, many of those titles are available in downloadable copies (free and legal), so I can share them if you ask.

The Russian Army in the Great Northern War 1700-21: Uniforms, Organization, Materiel, Training and Combat Experience (Century of the Soldier) is available to order here.

‘Preobrazhensky Life Guard regiment, 1709’ website: http://peter.petrobrigada.ru/index_e.htm and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lgpp1709/

My articles on Academia: https://independent.academia.edu/BorisMegorsky

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