Grand Russian Commanders' contribution to development of military physical training of soldiers and officers of Russian Army



Honoured Worker of Physical Culture of the Russian Federation, Professor, PhD V.M. Knyazev2
Professor, Dr.Hab., Colonel G.G. Dmitriev1
E.B. Portsevskaya1
O.B. Ektova1
1Military Institute of Physical Culture, St. Petersburg
2National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics, St. Petersburg

Keywords: military physical training, Jager units, bayonet fighting, training sailors for overland operation, officer schooling, acclimation of soldiers and officers.

Introduction. Physical training (PT) is one of the most important components of combat readiness of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. It is currently governed by provisions and guidelines of the Regulation on physical training and sports in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation of 2009 (RPT-2009). According to the Regulation PT is a major component of combat readiness of servicemen for carrying out combat training tasks and one of the ways of improving combat readiness of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. It dates back to the end of the XVII and the beginning of the XVIII century when the military reforms ultimately influenced the creation of the system of military physical training in the Russian army.

Objective of the research was to carry out a historical analysis of the development of military physical training of soldiers and officers of the Russian army.

Research results and discussion. By the end of the XVII century Russia was a multinational feudal absolutist state with industry, military schooling, science and technology, education and improvement of the state apparatus being in need of development. The reforms of Peter the Great aimed at solving these issues. Metallurgy, manufactory production, shipbuilding began to develop rapidly. Much attention was also paid to the rise of Russian national culture.

A major role in the physical education development was played by reforms in the fields of education and military schooling. However, it should be mentioned that the remarkable changes that took place in the forms and content of physical education in that period are mainly associated with the forms that served the interests of the ruling classes.

Physical education of the Russian people in those times retained its inherent distinctive character. Fist and stick-fighting, wrestling, swimming, round dances, swings, sledding, games, etc. came back to life. In this regard the reforms of Peter the Great, though indirectly, had a positive effect on the development of national physical education.

At the end of the XVII century Semenovsky and Preobrazhensky Regiments of the “toy army” were formed of representatives of all population groups under the supervision of Peter the Great. While “playing”, the soldiers improved their combat training, developed agility, endurance, strength and speed. During games and expeditions the soldiers learned to seize artfully built fortresses and overcome barriers; there were also regulated exercises in shooting, rowing and sailing. Peter’s decrees ordered shooting to take place in the field, where there were no houses. All military physical training and field exercises were held in conditions close to combat ones. Considerable time was dedicated to mastering bayonet fighting, since soldiers often had to engage in hand-to-hand fights when in a combat situation.

Being an outstanding military leader, an innovator in the field of military tactics and training of the troops, Peter the Great paid a lot of attention to endurance and courage education of the soldiers. Dexterity and stamina were acquired in continual campaigns, during tactical maneuvers. Although the latter were in line with the army regulations, Peter warned: “Do not hold onto the regulations blindly”. When promoted, it was not the nobility of the officer’s kin that was taken into account, but his services in battle, knowledge and experience. Only those who knew soldier’s service “from the basics” were allowed into the rank of officer. Paying attention to march drill, Peter the Great, in contrast to Western military leaders, did not turn it into a fetish, an aim in itself. Based on the characteristics of the Russian soldier, he widely applied techniques of close-in combat, turning a bayonet into an offensive weapon. During Peter the Great’s rule hospitals were set up in the Russian army for the first time. The system of troops training Peter created underwent considerable changes in his successors’ times due to inculcation of the Prussian methods in the Russian army associated with square-bashing, drill, disregard of soldier’s personality. This led to protests of progressive military leaders.

After the death of Peter the Great (1725) the progressive part of Russian officers tried not only to preserve but also to develop the traditions set by him. Talented military commander and educator field marshal Pyotr Aleksandrovich Rumyantsev (1725–1796) stood out among them. He highlighted military physical, in particular march training. In this regard, for the first time in the history of the art of war he developed the tactics of using a combination of columns and extended order.

In Jager units established with the active participation of P.A. Rumyantsev a lot of time was dedicated to running, crawling and the art of concealment. All this contributed to speed, endurance and courage development. In the system of training and education of troops that he created a high value was placed on raising resourceful, courageous and decisive soldiers, capable of “defeating great powers of the enemy with a small number”.

An especially great credit in the development of the Russian national system of military physical training of troops goes to Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov (1730-1800), a great Russian commander who went all the way from an ordinary soldier to the Generalissimo of the Russian army. He created an original and progressive system of views on the warfare and battle techniques, education and training of troops that was in many ways ahead of its time. The strategy of A.V. Suvorov was of an offensive character. He contrasted the tactics of columns and extended order developed by him to the linear tactics in which cold steel played a secondary role, and improved the bayonet techniques of soldiers in hand-to-hand combat.

In “The Science of Victory” by A.V. Suvorov it is clearly and convincingly said: “A soldier should be healthy, brave, strong, determined, fair and righteous.” One of the slogans (aphorisms) of the commander was “Cleanliness, Health, Neatness, Vivacity, Boldness, Courage, and Victory! Glory, glory, glory!”

A.V. Suvorov paid much attention to hygiene and health of soldiers. Annual death rate of soldiers from diseases reached colossal figures in the Russian army. In 1796 A.V. Suvorov managed to decrease the death rate of his soldiers dramatically. Physical or rather military physical training of the troops was an integral part of the educational system of A.V. Suvorov. This does not mean that A.V. Suvorov underrated firearms, artillery and cavalry. He solved the issue of the combination of the firepower with movement operation of infantry that is always ready to engage in hand-to-hand combat in a new way, based on the art of war of those times.

In “Regiment institution” A.V. Suvorov noted that “nothing makes a soldier as good as his art in exercising”.

In “The Science of Victory” different kinds of movements, re-formations and maneuvers are considered by the commander to be the most important condition of a successful offensive blow. The importance of a bayonet attack is emphasized in his words: “The bullet is a mad thing; only the bayonet knows what it is about!” One of his favorite instructions was: “Shoot rarely but squarely, thrust with your bayonet steadily.” The development of the use of bayonet fighting during troops training as well as in combat is one of the major achievements of the military educational system of A.V. Suvorov.

A.V. Suvorov was one of the first to introduce morning training (the prototype of the morning exercises of today) in the army; they were comprised of walking including goose-step, marching exercises and shooting rifles. All this taken together plus the military commander genius of A.V. Suvorov made it possible for his troops to gain unparalleled victories.

In the Navy the traditions of Peter and Suvorov with regards to military physical training were carried out by Admiral Fyodor Fyodorovich Ushakov (1744-1817). Special physical training of sailors included rope and mast climbing, running along the ship’s rigging, exercising in fast setting and striking down the sails, swimming and rowing, sight shooting from a moving swing imitating rocking, mock boarding battles. All this contributed to increased combat efficiency of the Russian fleet.

Military pedagogical ideas of P.A. Rumyantsev and A.V. Suvorov in the context of the new conditions of warfare were developed by Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov (1745-1813), a great Russian commander. Paying attention to physical and drill training in the army, he like A.V. Suvorov was against formalism and pure square-bashing, trying to educate the soldiers in terms of conscious discipline and patriotism as well as strength, endurance, stamina and courage.

In the “Manual on battle training of light (Jager) infantry” that he wrote a lot of attention was given to walking at various pace, moving by bounds, crawling, mastering handling weapons techniques, actions “on the most uneven grounds”, that is on rough terrain.

As director of the Gentry Cadet Corps, M.I. Kutuzov did a lot for comprehensive training of officers. He paid much attention to acclimation of soldiers and officers and believed that toughness and strength of the Russian people had played an important role in the defeat of Napoleon’s troops during the Patriotic War of 1812.

The studies revealed that the modern physical training of the troops was preceded by the military physical training in the Russian army initiated by Peter the Great.

Preservation and further development of the traditions of Peter the Great is associated with the great Russian commanders – P.A. Rumyantsev, A.V. Suvorov, F.F. Ushakov and M.I. Kutuzov – who, in spite of all the obstacles on the part of the reactionary government, continued to work on further development and improvement of the Russian national system of military physical training of the troops after the death of Peter. Due to their activities some changes were introduced in the late 30-ies of the XIX century to improve physical training in the army. Special classes in gymnastics and fencing were started in some military units. Physical training begins to separate into an independent form of classes in the army.

Instruction on the use of gymnastics in the army was developed in 1838. Gymnastic exercises were, firstly, to ensure physical development of the soldiers, secondly, to strengthen their health and, thirdly, to promote better mastery of combat techniques using weapons. The training sessions were held in a special gymnastic area equipped with a variety of tools (ropes, ladders, poles, parallel bars, etc). However, this form of physical training in the army, advanced for its time, was not widespread due to narrow-mindedness and reactionary character of the military commanders.

Conclusion. All the activities of the great Russian commanders were aimed at the development and improvement of the military physical training of troops. In this context let us quote the words of A.V. Suvorov, a great Russian Commander, who said: “Let offspring of mine follow me!”


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The article deals with military pedagogical ideas and efforts of the great Russian commanders aimed at development and improvement of military physical training of troops during various historical periods.