Admiral Pavel Chichagov, 1767-1849

Admiral Pavel Chichagov (1767-1849) was an important Russian naval reformer who is best known for letting Napoleon slip past his blockading forces in 1812, and who spent the last thirty years of his life in exile.

Chichagov spent some of his early life in England. He studied in the Russian Naval Corps, before joining the army in 1779 as a sergeant in the Life Guard Preobrazhensk Regiment (a fairly precocious sergeant at only 12!). He joined the 1st Marine Battalion in 1782, and served in the Mediterranean in 1782-84, acting as an aide-de-camp to his farther, Admiral Vasily Chichagov.

Over the next few years he rose through the ranks in the navy, reaching lieutenant in 1783, captain lieutenant in 1787, captain 2nd class and captain 1st class both in 1790. During this period he served on the Iezekil in 1788 and on the Rostislav during the Russo-Swedish War of 1788-90, fighting at Eland, Vyborg and Reval. His promotion to captain 1st class came after he brought then news of Vyborg to Catherine II.

Chichagov spent 1792-93 studying in Britain. He was then given command of the former Swedish ship of the line Sophia-Magdalena, before being given the Retvizan (1794-96), serving in the Baltic. He was promoted to captain brigadier in 1796, but in the following year was discharged from the navy after a disagreement with the erratic Tsar Paul I.

After two years Chichagov was pardoned and promoted to rear-admiral, only to be accused of treason later in the year. He was acquitted and his rank restored after less than two weeks, but the incident can only have added to the atmosphere of distrust in the court of Paul I.

Later in 1799 Chichagov was given command of a Russian naval squadron that was cooperating with the British during the Dutch expedition of 1799. Chichogov fought at the Helder and Texel.

His career continued to prosper under Alexander I. He became adjutant general to the new Tsar on 24 May 1801, joined the Committee of Naval Reorganisation, was promoted to vice admiral and became deputy naval minister in 1802. He played an important part in modernizing the Russian navy, and was rewarded with the post of minister of the navy and promotion to full admiral in 1807.

In 1812 he was given command of the Army of the Danube (or of Moldavia), which was facing the Turks in southern Russia. The Peace of Bucharest ended that war, allowing Chichagov to play a part in the campaign against Napoleon.

He wasn't a particularly good land commander, with limited knowledge of army operations and a tendency to create impractical plans which he then refused to modify.

Chichagov was blamed for allowing Napoleon to escape from Russia. After pushing back Schwarzenburg's corp on the south flank of the retreating French army, Chichagov had a chance to block the French at the Berezina River (21-29 November 1812). He managed to capture the bridgehead at Borisov, and for a short period Napoleon was trapped. This only lasted until Chichagov was tricked into believing Napoleon was planning to cross the river further south. The Admiral moved his main force south, allowing the French to cross at Borisov.

Chichagov was unfairly blamed for Napoleon's escape. He was relieved of command early in 1813, and in 1814 decided to move to France. In 1834 Tsar Nicholas I made it illegal for any Russian to live abroad for more than five years. Chichagov refused to return to Russia and was stripped of his remaining posts and titles in Russia. He survived in Paris until 1849.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (22 March 2012), Admiral Pavel Chichagov, 1767-1849 ,

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