Main content

Napoleon's Retreat from Moscow

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, thought he was victorious yet had to retreat, losing most of his army and, soon after, his empire.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in September 1812, Napoleon captured Moscow and waited a month for the Russians to meet him, to surrender and why, to his dismay, no-one came. Soon his triumph was revealed as a great defeat; winter was coming, supplies were low; he ordered his Grande Armée of six hundred thousand to retreat and, by the time he crossed back over the border, desertion, disease, capture, Cossacks and cold had reduced that to twenty thousand. Napoleon had shown his weakness; his Prussian allies changed sides and, within eighteen months they, the Russians and Austrians had captured Paris and the Emperor was exiled to Elba.


Janet Hartley
Professor Emeritus of International History, LSE

Michael Rowe
Reader in European History, King’s College London


Michael Rapport
Reader in Modern European History, University of Glasgow

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Available now

54 minutes

Last on

Thu 19 Sep 2019 21:30


Janet Hartley at the LSE

Michael Rowe at King's College London

Michael Rapport at the University of Glasgow The History Website of the Fondation Napoleon

French Invasion of Russia – Wikipedia



Christopher Duffy, Borodino: Napoleon against Russia, 1812 (Sphere, 1972)

Philip G. Dwyer, Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power 1799-1815 (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013)

Charles Esdaile, Napoleon's Wars: An International History, 1803-1815 (Penguin, 2008)

David Gates, The Napoleonic Wars, 1803-1815 (Pimlico, 2003)

Janet M. Hartley, Alexander I (Longman, 1994)

Janet M. Hartley, Paul Keenan, Dominic Lieven (eds.), Russia and the Napoleonic Wars: War, Culture and Society, 1750-1850 (Palgrave, 2015)

Dominic Lieven, Russia Against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814 (Penguin, 2016)

Mike Rapport, The Napoleonic Wars: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2013)

Leo Tolstoy (trans. Anthony Briggs), War and Peace (first published 1869; Penguin, 2016)

Adam Zamoyski, 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow (Harper Perennial, 2005)



  • Thu 19 Sep 2019 09:00
  • Thu 19 Sep 2019 21:30

Featured in...

In Our Time podcasts

In Our Time podcasts

Every episode of In Our Time is available to download.

The In Our Time Listeners' Top 10

The In Our Time Listeners' Top 10

If you’re new to In Our Time, this is a good place to start.

Arts and Ideas podcast

Arts and Ideas podcast

Download the best of Radio 3's Free Thinking programme.