The Military History of Tsarist Russia

By Kane, Robert B. | Air & Space Power Journal, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

The Military History of Tsarist Russia


Kane, Robert B., Air & Space Power Journal


The Military History of Tsarist Russia edited by Frederick W. Kagan and Robin Higham. Palgrave Macmillan (http://www.palgrave-usa.com), 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10010, 2002, 272 pages, $59.95 (hardcover).

This book, the first one-volume overall view in English of the development of Russia's armed forces, consists of 13 monographs ranging from the rise of the Muscovite army of the 1400s to the collapse of the tsarist army in 1917. It is the companion to the editors' follow-on volume The Military History of the Soviet Union, which covers the period 1918-91. The essays generally review successive periods of the army's development. The collection, however, does include one piece on the tsarist navy, and several others mention significant naval developments. The editors are well qualified to produce this newest addition to the existing works on Russian military history. Frederick Kagan, son of the eminent historian Donald Kagan, is an assistant professor at the US Military Academy at West Point and has authored several books on Russian military history as well as contemporary US defense policy and military readiness. Robin Higham, the co-editor, is professor of military history emeritus at Kansas State University and has served as the editor of the journals Military Affairs and Aerospace Historian. The authors of the essays are also well qualified in their own right.

The editors provide well-written introductory and summary essays. The former is a general overview of Russian military history during this period. It presents the major factors-geographical vastness, ethnic diversity, natural resources, economic development, social development, and changing relationships with neighbors-that affected the development of Russia's military forces and ensuing historical events. The authors of the subsequent essays then use these factors, to varying degrees, to discuss a particular period of development of the Russian military forces under the tsars (and tsarinas). Collectively, these essays are well written and very informative about Russia's military history in the tsarist era, conveying especially well how political, social, and economic factors affected military development and the conduct of military operations. In the summary essay, the editors review these factors again in light of the preceding essays, noting the generally good conduct and fighting abilities of Russia's army during the eighteenth century and its decline during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The authors of most of the essays provide areas for future historical research, especially now that Russian archives are more readily accessible to historians.

Throughout these essays, the reader finds two significant themes. First, the editors wish to dispel the view that the Russian army was historically incapable of winning wars, a view that developed from the decline of Russian military capability after 1854. They want the reader to understand clearly that the Russian army did win battles and wars in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries against the powers of those times, including Sweden, Turkey, and even Prussia and Napoleonic France. In doing so, Russia's rulers obtained a vast and potentially rich empire, stretching from Eastern Europe to the Far East and from the Arctic to the Middle East and Central Asia.

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