TNB Night Owl: Gen. Kuropatkin’s Final Fight

Illinois National Guard Soldiers. Photo by The National Guard.

Aleksey Kuropatkin wasn’t the best general, but the most important part of any war is to be on the winning side. He had been able to manage that much.

Kuropatkin had risen to prominence the hard way, starting as a minor officer in late-19th century Russia and participating in a series of successful battles and campaigns. Longevity and experience are often assumed to go hand-in-glove with competency, and this was the concept which fueled his rise to leadership. He was a reform-minded General whose efforts during peacetime increased the training and morale of the troops.

His strategy, however, left something to be desired, as displayed in the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War. He was hesitant to engage without overwhelming force superiority, and he received a large amount of the blame for the eventual military loss.

There was no doubt of his loyalty, though, and there was no denying his prior history. For this reason, he was given another chance to command when World War I broke out.

Kuropatkin’s forces fared poorly in their first few movements, although they were hindered by weather, bad roads and other issues. He needed a win. And in his desperation a brilliant idea came to him…

…actually, no, it had come to him years before, during the Japanese campaign. One of the most successful battles for the Russians had involved blinding the Japanese with powerful searchlights before moving the Russian troops in to attack.

He would use the tactic again, during a dark night. Brilliant lights were prepared, the sun went down, the Russians waited until all was dark. Then the lights were turned on and the Russians charged.

In the Japanese war, though, the Russians had come in from the flanks. Against the Germans, the Russians had to attack their position from the front.

It hadn’t occurred to General Kuropatkin that his troops would be silhouetted by the very lights which were meant to blind the enemy. Or that silhouetted troops would be quite visible to enemy riflemen.

Kuropatkin at once bloodied his corps in a futile night attack; using searchlights to illuminate the battlefield, he made 8,000 of his men into perfect targets, then corpses.


He retained his command for another year, but the handwriting was on the wall. Thankfully for future soldiers, Kuropatkin’s failure became military legend and the “make all of your assets plainly visible to your opponent” tactic has been abandoned.

Question of the night: Have you ever been instructed to do something truly idiotic by your boss?

About the opinions in this article…

Any opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this website or of the other authors/contributors who write for it.

About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.