Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Great Fire of Moscow

On this day…..198 years ago, Napoleon entered Moscow. It was virtually deserted, and the French army was unnerved by the eerie silence. In some parts of the city, fires were burning.

The next day, a strong wind began whipping up the flames, setting ablaze the stores on Red Square and soon burning debris had spread the fire to the Kremlin where the emperor had set up his headquarters. French soldiers interrupted their looting to help him out of the city.

By the following day, the whole of Moscow was ablaze, and many of the French army decided to follow their leader and get the hell out. Eventually rain put the flames out, but not before three-quarters of the city had gone up in smoke. An estimated 2,000 wounded Russians and up to 20,000 wounded French soldiers perished, plus an unknown number of Russian civilians.

Who started the fire? The Russians blamed the French, and the French blamed the Russians. Certainly the Russians had burned down depots holding ammunition, food and forage to deny them to the invaders. On the other hand, the French had been plundering and fires they started may have got out of control. For the story, see A Disastrous History of the World.

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