2017-07-31 20:41:54 UTC
OTL is well-known: Nappy assembled an overwhelming military force, marched
it to Moscow, well beyond the logistical capacities of his military system
and the rest is history. Presumably he was expecting that capture of the
former capital will strike Russia "into its heart" but it is quite possible
that this was one of his post-factum justifications of his actions: it is
quite obvious that he was expecting to destroy the bulk of the Russian forces
near the border and then repeat Austrian and Prussian scenarios: government
capitulates when its army is beaten. When this did not happen (mostly thanks
to Barclay), the further actions were dictated by the same idea of defeating
opponent in a major battle (and expectation that a token event like capture
of Moscow will force Alexander's hand).
Advance toward St-Petersburg never was seriously considered, perhaps because
Nappy did not quite understand specifics of the Russian Empire (and limitations
of his own system). While Moscow was "historically important" city it was not
a capital of Russia which means that its fall meant very little as far as
governing of the Russian Empire was concerned: it was a highly bureaucratized
state and center of the bureaucracy was in St-Petersburg.
So, what would happen if Nappy marched northward? (Disclaimer: this scenario
does not look very "Napoleonic" - usually, he was concentrating on enemy's
armies not geographic points but in OTL he ended up with a "geographic"
He has approximately 600K most of which are placed in the "center" and
can go either way. The opponents have 120 - 130K in Lithuania (1st Army under
Barclay), up to 57K in Belorussia (2nd Army under Bagration), 44 - 49K (3rd
Army under Tormasov) in Ukraine (facing Austrians, can't be moved easily),
59K on the Danube (free after conclusion of peace with the Ottomans), 31K in
Finland and 42K on Caucasus (probably can't be moved). So, at most, his troops
may face up to 270K (1st and 2nd armies, Danube Army and troops in Finland),
providing all of them managed to assemble without any significant losses (aka,
the French are completely ignoring them). It will take few months to get troops
from the Danube to the main theater (in OTL they appeared in Lithuania only
by the late fall).
So, if he marches Northward leaving 300 - 400K to guard his "right flank" (if
Nappy is "center", then the left flank does not exist :-)), he has
200 - 300K on the main direction.
While in OTL advance Eastward allowed the 1st and 2nd
Russian armies to met and keep retreating together, this is simply impossible
with Northward scenario: Barclay would have no option but to strengthen
St-Petersburg direction either with a significant part of his army (in OTL,
only a small part of it was on Polotsk-Riga directions) or with all of it (in
which case much less troops needed on French "right flank" with more on the
main direction). So, at most Napoleon is facing 160K (1st Army and the troops
from Finland) while the troops left on the "right flank" can face up to 160K
(if Tormasov totally ignores the Austrians) arriving in a piecemeal fashion
and squabbling about the leadership.
There is a single reasonably big river on the way, Daugava, which in OTL
the French bypassed on the right and after that there is very little in the
terms of the natural obstacles all the way to St-Petersburg. The distances
from Vilno (by today's roads): to Moscow - 947km, to St-Petersburg - 723km
(.76 of one to Moscow). Territory is, generally, more densely populated than
the Central Russia. There was no (AFAIK) a single wide road like Smolensk Road
used in OTL but probably enough of the smaller ones, which in Nappy's case
would be an advantage (marching along a single road caused huge problems and
losses described in numerous books).
As a result, taking St-Petersburg earlier than Moscow and with the smaller
losses from fighting and exhaustion is quite possible.
1st, a HUGE blow to the imperial administration: evacuation of the enormous
volumes of documentation would be technically impossible (IIRC, at some point
Alexander was scared enough to order evacuation of the leas archives but this could be just a tip of an iceberg) and there would be a need to evacuate and
place somewhere thousands of the bureaucrats as well. This would take a while
with an administrative chaos for at least few months. "Chaos" would handicap
an ability to assemble the new troops, get the revenues, etc.
2nd, severely diminished possibility to get money and supplies from Britain:
in 1812 - 14 Russia bought from Britain 225 thousands muskets, approximately
the same number as the Russian production for that time (at least 50K in 1812),
1100 tons of gunpowder (1811-13), 1000 tons of lead, and a wide variety of other
items from wool cloth to spyglasses. And a LOT of cash (the Brits had been
paying subsidies on per capita basis). St-Petersburg was the main Russian port
and with its fall and a relatively small advance northward, supplies from
Sweden and Archangelsk would be cut off as well leaving only the Southern
route via the Med and Black Sea, which would require the Ottoman agreement.
Of course, if Alexander does not freak out, victory is still a far fetched
thing but at least there is a chance of extricating French army from Russia
without catastrophic losses while causing some real damage to the Russian
ability to fight back immediately.
[To provide a balanced picture, Kutuzov did not notify the governor of Moscow
about intention to give up the city and as a result, among other things, the
whole Moscow Arsenal fall into the French hands with the thousands of muskets,
hundreds of cannons, etc. Not being lost, they could at least somewhat
compensate for the "deficit" and, without the huge OTL losses, need for the
new troops could be less pressing.]
As far as freaking out is going, while French capture of Moscow caused a big
uproar (more than "slightly" exaggerated by the post-factum patriotic
propaganda) and noticeable personal losses for the Russian nobility, the fall
of St-Petersburg would mean even bigger personal losses for the aristocracy
and "ruling bureaucracy" who lived there. Campaign in Baltic region would hit
the local nobility which was heavily engaged both in the military and
civic administration. BTW, "the fire of St-Petersburg" would be much less
likely because a much greater part of the city was built of stone and, being
both the greatest Russian port and a center of the military administration,
the city had big warehouses.
What I have no idea of is situation on the Baltic. Denmark is French ally but
OTOH Sweden is Russian ally. Was British Navy operating on Baltic Sea in 1812?
In OTL Riga got reinforcement of the small ships (cannon boats and such) from
Baltic fleet but I heard nothing about the Brits. Would the Danish fleet
(and French/German ships) be able to secure the supplies by the sea?
Would Alexander be more inclined to make peace in this scenario? Personally,
I doubt but he could find himself in a worse position than in OTL so who knows.
Not directly related WIF:
In OTL a recognized head of the "patriotic party" was Grand Duchess Catherine
Pavlovna, sister of Alexander, married at that time to the Duke of Oldenburg.
At some point, when Alexander's prestige went South (initial stage of war with
its supposedly shameful retreat) there was even a talk of overthrowing
Alexander in her favor. Notice, not in favor of Constantine: even if he was
loudly and obnoxiously "patriotic", nobody wanted him anywhere near the
throne (BTW, his patriotism was not preventing him from selling army the
sub-standard horses from his breeding farm). WIF the coup happened and Russia
is ruled by Catherine III? In OTL as Queen of Wurttemberg (2nd marriage) she
was quite impressive, in 1812 was very active both in PR campaign and in
organization of "opolchenie", in 1813 - 15 accompanied Alexander in the
military campaigns and was helping him during the Congress of Vienna.