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Browsing net randomly, I came across a very interesting website dealing with the aborted Franco-Russian invasion of India. This project considered by some as quixotic, practically materialized. Seeing that the Russians are at the doors of Persia and Samarqand from where India was repeatedly attacked requires a second thought though. For example, we had Timur Lang or the Mongols, who defeated both Indians and Russians. If it is possible for a medival, there’s no irrationality in these plans, even if it is an invasion of unknown lands without any maps. But this secret created jitters in Britain and that this is a meticulously planned operation is a fact. Though far fetching, one of the reasons for the assassination of the Tsar may be this.

The general background at the time of visualisation of this plan is as below.

  1. France occupies Malta on it’s way to Egypt from Russia.
  2.  France was defeated by Nelson and the magnitude and impact of the defeat was not yet identified.
  3. The Second Coalition against the French was defeated
  4. Napoleon offers return of Russian prisoners and Malta to the Russians while the British occupy Malta in the meanwhile.

In this chaos of happenings in Europe and the subsequent diplomatic war, Paul of Russia decided Napoleon as his ally as against the British. Napoleon also proffers a hand.

One another motivation for Napoleon is a report written in 1799 by Gutten a French agent who was working in Russia.

“The alliance with our neighbors is shaky and short life. … We will seek for an alliance with a great power, which geographically would be invulnerable for us and would not feel any danger from our army and our policy – the diplomat wrote – Two powers acting as allies could dictate terms to the whole Europe… Russia with all its Asian lands would give the French army a helping hand in Egypt and acting together with France would carry the war to Bengal”.

 The official aim of the expedition was to free India from the British yoke and improve chances of it’s trade with the west.

Plan of Action

  1. 35000 Russians(25000 army and 10000 Cossaks) will sail to Astrabad in Persia from Astrakhan and will wait for the French
  2. Austria to allow passage of 35000 French troops of the Rhine Army under Massenna and provide crafts till Danube empties into Black Sea.
  3. French will then board Russian ships to land at Taganrog on the Azov Sea. From there, by the Don to Pyatizbanka to crosss the river, from there till Tsarizin where they will sail till Astrakhan on Volga. Sailing onwards to Astrabad, they will join the awaiting Russians.
  4. General Headquarters of the Allied Army and Ammunition Depots to be setup at Astrabad.
  5. Missions will be sent to the local Khans not to oppose the allied march. Wares procured will be bought. Use of force only if they oppose.
  6. Topographic maps to be produced on the fly. Scientists will also be part of the mission
  7. As soon as the first French division reaches Astrabad, the first Russian division will march forward. The gap between the divisions to be around 40 – 50 km and the communications to be maintained by the Cossaks.
  8. Advance guard, followed by Engineers and Sappers to build bridges across rivers and protect them against the enemy
  9. Commanders to be given French luxury wares

10. To inspire the Asians, celebrations in the likes of that of Paris are to be celebrated in Astrabad

11. Advance till Indus is through Herat, Farah, Kandahar till they reach Indus where the general action is to begin.

It is estimated that the French will take around 85 days reach Astrabad and from then on to Indus will take another 45 days for the combined armies.

Since everything including the ammunition will be available, only the harnesses for the horses and basic provisions lasting a month are to be carried by the French.

Below is a set of questions Napoleon asked. Paul’s replies are inline.

Napoleon : Is there enough of river crafts to transport the corps of 35 000 men down the Danube till its apertures?

Paul: I think it will be easy to collect the required number of vessels. As the alternative, the army may disembark in Brailov – port on the Danube in Walachia and in Galatz -another port on the same river in Moldavia. In this case French corps will sail on the vessels provided by Russia and will continue the progress.

Napoleon: Sultan of Turkey will not agree to let French army sail down the Danube and will not permit to start sails from any port dependent of Ottoman Empire.

Paul: Paul I will compel Porta to follow his desires; he possesses the instruments to force Divan in respect of tsar’s will.

Napoleon: Are there enough vessels and ships to transport the army and does Russian Emperor think this number to be sufficient?

Paul: Russian Emperor will easily provide more than 300 ships of different size in ports on Black Sea. The world is aware how numerous is Russian commercial fleet located at Black Sea.

Napoleon: Is there any risk for this corps leaving the Danube in Black Sea to be attacked by British fleet under Admiral Keith? The latter, learning first news about the expedition would pass via Dardanelles in Black Sea to find and destroy French Army.

Paul: If the Turks let M. Keith to sail via Dardanelles, Paul I would strongly resist. For this purpose he has more efficient tools than someone may think.

Napoleon: How the Allied Army, concentrated in Astrabad would reach India, passing by the countries almost wild and fruitless, exploring 300 lieu until it arrives to the frontiers of Hindustan?

Paul: Countries on the way are neither wild nor fruitless. The road is opened long ago. It takes usually 35-40 days for the caravans to reach Astrabad from the Indus. The ground, like in Arabia and Lebanon, is not covered with friable sands. The rivers feed it almost everywhere. There is no lack in grass. Plantations of rice are in abundance. It is the essential product for inhabitants. Bulls, sheep and wild animals are countless. Fruits are in assortment and tasty. The only reasonable remark is long time needed for the march. However this would not be the reason for declining the project. French and Russian armies are looking for the glory. They are brave, patient, and tireless. Their courage, perpetuality and perception of their chiefs will master all the obstacles.

As a part of this, in December 1799 Russian-Asian Company was set up along with commercial offices at Orenburg, Bukhara and Astrabad. According to the Tsar’s plan 22,500 Cossacks would create the first Russian base in Central Asia in Bukhara and Khiva for further conquest of India.

Paul consequently, asks the Cavalry General Vassily Orlov, The Hetman and the Head of the Cossacks  of the Don to start operations.

St.Petersburg.
January. 12th, 1801

…The British are going to attack me and my allies – Denmark and Sweden. I am ready to confront, but it is important to attack them first and to blow at the most sensible place where they do not expect us. It will take you one month to reach Orenburg and three extra months – from Orenburg to India.

I command you. Dear Vassily Ivanovich. and your army to march via Orenburg and then with artillery take one of three roads or all of them to Bukhara and Heeva until you reach the Indus and British possessions on it.

The troops you may meet on the way arc similar armed and with artillery you will have much advantage. Provide the expedition corps with all necessary material. Send reconnaissance Cossacks parties ahead to explore the roads. All richness of India will be your award for this expedition.

Concentrate your army to the eastern villages, then let me know and wait for the order to march ahead to Orenburg. Reaching this town wait for the next order to move further. This enterprise will cover all of you with glory and will merit according to personal contribution my special favor, will bring us fortune, set up the commerce and blow die enemy right in his heart.

Enclosed are the maps as many as I could find.

God bless you.
Your blissful, Paul.

P.S. The maps cover the distance till Heeva and the Amu-Daria river. It is up to you to provide yourself with further information about English possessions and Indian people under British power.

Follow up:

St.Petersburg,
January, 12th, 1801

India, you are appointed to is governed by one major Prince and many local ones. Englishmen have there commercial enterprises bought for money or captures by force. You have to destroy all this and to release the oppressed private owners. Land and trade to turn in favor of Russia in the manner as it was with Britain.

Entrusting the execution of this enterprise in your hands,
I remain.
Your blissful, Paul.

Further Details and Instructions:

St.Petersburg.
January. 13th 1801

Dear Vassily Ivanovitch.
Enclosed please find a new and exact map of India. Remember that your business is to fight Englishmen only. Make peace with all those who do not support the|British. Be friendly with outnumbered nations. Tell them about Russian friendship and go further from the Indus to the river Ganges. On the way set up Bukhara and protect it from China. In Heeva release some thousand Russian prisoners. If you need infantry I can send it after your army. But it would be better if you can manage without it.

Your blissful. Paul.

Orlov received the first letter from Paul on January 24 1801. He ordered the regiments to get ready by Feb 25 1801 with provisions for 1.5 months and instructed General Denisov to concentrate the army.

The army was split into four columns led by General Denisov, General Bouzin, General Bockov and General Platov. Platov held the main column containing 13 regiments. Orlov was in general command but was asked to keep an eye on Platov, who was sometime before from prison. Platov joined on Feb 10th at Katchalinskaya stanyza.

The investment for the expedition was 1.5 Million Roubles and was to be returned as war booty.

Paul’s continual instructions along with maps digged out from the royal archives reveals his interest in the mission.

St. Michael Castle,
St. Petersburg,
February 7th. 1801.

Dear Vassily Ivanovilch.

Please find enclosed the new route-march map (Landcarte) which I could find for you. It will contribute a lot to those you already have. The expedition is very important. The sooner you start, the better it would be.

Your blissful, Paul.

P.S. However I do not insist upon this itinerary and you are free to find the route of your own choice.

On February 20, 1801 General Orlov informed Paul that the Cossack Army of the Don was ready for the expedition and without waiting for the reply ordered the first column to start the advance on February 21, 1801.

On March 1st, 1801, General Orlov reported:

“…40 regiments with two companies of horse artillery (21 651 mounted cossacks, 44 550 horses and 24 guns) started the advance from all points to Orenburg on February 27 – 28-th, 1801 and will continue march covering 30 – 40 km per day”.

During three weeks the regiment covered the distance of 700 km and camels and provisions were procured beforehand at Orenburg.

Order was given by the Tsar for the General Army to join the expedition on March 9, 1801.

Parallel to this, a fleet was equipped in Kamchatka to destroy the British ships in Indian Ocean. Consequently, in early 1801 Colonel Somov was sent with a  regiment to Kamchatka from Irkutsk. In St. Petersburg, Captain Boukharin was appointed to prepare transport vessels. This information was conveyed to London by a Prussian secret agent. Royal Navy is serious but the Government thinks it’s not real.

But, while the Cossacks were struggling to find the road to Orneburg, they got the news that the Tsar is dead and they returned back from the half-hearted expedition. No casualities occurred till then. 

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