General Alexander Suvarov, one of the few generals in military history to have never been defeated in battle was born on this day in 1729. He is credited with being responsible for the foundation of the Russian school of military art. Because of his numerous successes, his titles include Prince, Field Marshall, Count and Generalissimo.
A sickly child, Suvarov, decided to work through his physical weaknesses and go into military training despite his father’s objections. He was also a very studious boy, learning multiple languages and studying the works of Plutarch, Julius Caesar, Quintus Curtius, Charles XII, and Cornelius Nepos. When he was twelve, General Abraham Gannibal (someone who will get a podcast about his life one day) told Alexander’s father that the boy should be allowed to go into military service because of his great intellect.
When he turned 18 he entered into military service and saw his first combat during the Seven Year’s War (1756-1763). By 1763 his brilliance was already noted and he was elevated to regimental commander. Quickly he moved up the ranks to Brigadier then Major General. From 1768-1772 he helped to defeat the Polish Confederation of the Bar, capturing Krakow. which led to the first partition of Poland.
Suvarov was a key general during the First (1768-1774) and Second (1787-1792) Turkish Wars, winning battle after battle. He was a favorite of Catherine the Great which eventually led him to fall into disfavor when Emperor Paul took over the Russian Empire.
Suvarov’s legacy was as great as he was as a military leader. His book, the Art of Victory written in 1795-6 was a masterpiece. He told his students that to win battles three things were necessary, “speed, assessment, and attack” with speed being most important. As he put it, “One minute decides the outcome of battle, one hour the success of a campaign, one day the fate of empires… I operate bot by hours but by minutes.” Suvarov also believed that flexibility was also one of the most important features of a great military leader. Unfortunately, this was lost on subsequent generations of Russian generals.
I have plans to put together a whole podcast episode on General Suvarov in the future as he was one of the most compelling figures throughout Russian history.