Route-march of the Allied Army from Astrabad till the Indus.
Measures to provide the success of the expedition.

Russian Army Soldiers 1801
Russian Army Soldiers 1801
Before Russians set sails to Astrabad, commissaries of the allied powers will go to all Khans and local Asian princes of the countries on the way. Their mission will be in persuading the heads of small countries that " the army of two nations, the most powerful of the Universe has to pass via their lands on the way to India, with only one aim to liberate India of British tyranny. It is important to persuade the Asians princes that they should not be feared of the allied army. On the contrary, they should co-operate and contribute in the success of such a glorious and useful enterprise. The Allied Army will not impose any contributions but will pay for all materials and products and subsistence by mutual agreement. The religion, laws, customs, morals, property, women, etc... will be respected and mercied". With such proclamation and honest actions, it is obvious that Khans and other local Asian princes will not make any obstacle and will let the Allied Army pass via their lands. However if any disagreement occurs among Asian princes it seems they are too weak to produce any significant resistance.

Skilled engineers will accompany the Allied Army. They will draw topographic maps of the lands on the way; will mark areas suitable for bivouacs, rivers to pass across, and cities to pass by, places where wagon train, artillery and ammunition wagons may meet with obstacles and how to bypass them. Commissaries will negotiate with Khans, Asian princes and private owners in order to organize the supplies of goods, carts, carriages, etc. They will sign business agreements, ask for and receive deposits and credits.

As soon as the first French division arrives to Astrabad, the first Russian division will march ahead. Other divisions of the Allied army will follow one after another at the distance of 4 - 5 lieu. The communication between the divisions will be provided by small Cossacks parties. The advance guard will include the Cossacks corps of 4,000 - 5,000 men mixed with Russian regular light cavalry. Engineers and sappers with pontoons will follow. The advance guard will construct bridges across the rivers and will protect them from the enemy attacks and guard the army in case of betrayal or any other unforeseen situations. The French government will provide commanders in chief with arms from the Versailles factories such as: muskets, rifles, porcelain items of Sevres Manufacture, pocket and wall watches of skilful Parisian manufacturers, wonderful mirrors, the best French tissues of different colors: blood-red, crimson, green and blue - the most favorable in Asia, especially in Persia; velvet, golden and silver drapes, carpets, silk Lyon tissues, Goblin hangings, etc...

All the above items if presented in due course with kindness and respect so natural for French people will produce the high idea of munificence, developed industry and power of French nation and later will become an important commercial branch of trade.

The selected corps of scientists and artists will accompany this glorious expedition. The government will supply them with notes and books describing the Asian lands on their way and they will draw new and careful maps of the area.

The aeronauts (air-balloon flyers) and fireworks makers would be useful.

To inspire the Asian people with the higher idea of France and Russia it would be convenient to organize in Astrabad, before the army and General Headquarters leave, some brilliant celebrations with military evolutions and fireworks similar to those in Paris when French people celebrates great events.

When all is done, there is no doubt in the success of the enterprise. Of course the result will depend upon the intelligence, energy, bravery and perception of chiefs to whom we command the execution of this project.

As soon as the army reaches the banks of the Indus, military operations will start.

N.B. European money most welcomed in India and Persia: sequins of Venice, the ducats of Holland and Hungary, Russian imperials and golden rubles.

Having examined the above project, Napoleon Bonaparte sent to Paul 1 a working questionnaire. Here are some of the notes of First Consul:
  1. Is there enough of river crafts to transport the corps of 35 000 men down the Danube till its apertures?

  2. 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.

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

  4. 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.
  5. 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?
Here are the answers of Emperor Paul I:
  1. 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.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.
The First Naval Expedition to India by Holand Fleet, 1609
The First Naval Expedition
to India by Holand Fleet, 1609
Here is an historical fact to justify the above. Nadir-Shah or Thamas-Koulikhan in 1739-1740 left Deli with countless army to campaign Persia and coasts of Caspian Sea. He passed via Kandaghar, Ferah, Herat, Mechehed and arrived to Astrabad. All these cities were large and rich. And although they lost some of the former influence, they still preserve a great part of it.

And if the Asian army (all is said by this) won the campaign in 1739 - 1740, there is no doubt that French and Russian armies would do the same.

The above cities will be the important centers of communication on the line between Hindustan, Russia and France. It is necessary to organize military post and Cossacks will there be employed, as they are most suitable for such service.

Finalising the above, we can see that the main blow to India was expected via Astrabad. And here we have to admit "...that the choice of operational direction and the plan of the expedition as a whole was one of the best military scheme ever worked out by Russian Headquarters"[29].

The way to India was the shortest and most effective one. Namely, this route was already taken by the phalanxes of Alexander the Great. The same way was equally used by the cavalry of Nadir-Shah in 1739 - 1740. Having in mind the limited number of British troops in India, the alliance with Persia nearly signed, insertion of Georgia to Russian Empire early in 1801 and finally the sympathy and loyalty of Indians to rely upon, we have to admit that the strength of expeditionary corps was quite sufficient as well.

* * *

Russian Cannon
Russian Cannon
During the elaboration of a joint expedition to India, it was quite clear for St. Petersburg that the mutual struggle of France and Russia against England in case of success could lead to problems related to shaping India between Paul I and Napoleon. That is why some preparative and separate measures have been undertaken to provide for Russia the prevailing positions and related status of main power during the campaign and not only.

By the end of December 1799 Russian-Asian Company was set up. This was to provide a dominating position for Russian trade in Middle Asia and in India. This new company was similar to British Ost-Indian Company. By this time all required information was collected to organize "Indian trade". Commercial offices were set up in Orenburg, Bukhara and Astrabad.

Motivated by the above, the idea of independent expedition "Orenburg - India" was born. The necessity of separate expedition prior to joint campaign was based on the number of reasons. The route-march of the Allied Army was the best from the military point of view. However examining the possibilities to establish the economical and commercial links on the way to India, St. Petersburg biased more to the route via Heeva and Bukhara than to the itinerary via Herat-Kandaghar.

Copy of Prince S.Voronzov's letter
Copy of Prince S.Voronzov's letter
At this time French troops were still in Egypt. It was obvious that if the expedition had a success, France, possessing Egypt, could provide by sea its dominating positions in India. And although Admiral Nelson defeated French fleet at the battle of Aboukir, this defeat was not yet realised in the world as a signal of total loose by France any dominating position at sea. That is why Russian envoy during negotiations with Napoleon insisted upon quitting Egypt by French army. But, as this was not agreed, in St. Petersburg was found necessary to hurry with providing the security of trade routes to India. Moreover, new information available by this time related to the organisation of Russian -Asian trade signalled that escorting of caravans via Bukhara will not provide their safety and will not bias Khans (especially Khan of Heeva) to submission.

That is why only separate expedition from Orenburg to Heeva and Bukhara and further to India could solve the above problems. From the other side the march of Russian mobile detachments with the Allied Army would strengthen the position of Russia in India. Finally, the promptness with which Paul I prepared the expedition via Orenburg was motivated by the necessity to produce a moral stress on England. Paul I believed that all future dramatic events will produce a crisis of Pitt's Cabinet. See copy of Prince S.Voronzov's letter below.

Dr. Alex Zotov, FINS, St.Petersburg, Russia


Historical magazine Gatchina Over the Centuries