How Peter I failed the Prut campaign and almost got captured by the Turks

When planning a campaign against Russia, which ended in defeat at Poltava, Charles XII made a complete set of all conceivable strategic mistakes: he attacked with insufficient forces, without providing communications; underestimated the opponent; did not organize reconnaissance; pinned fantastic hopes on his allies, who did not even think to help in earnest.

Surprisingly, two years later, Peter repeated all these mistakes, as they say, one to one. He set out with insufficient forces in an ill-prepared campaign, not really knowing the situation, being sure of the weakness of the Turks and relying on the help of the Romanians, Serbs and Montenegrins.

The victory at Poltava brought Russia to the rank of great powers. The Swedish king Karl XII with a handful of companions fled to Turkey and sat there, according to historians, not wanting to return to his homeland, where his popularity fell dramatically.

The Russian tsar, elated with success, decided that nothing was impossible for him now, and set out to solve the "southern issue" at the same time. As a result, Russia lost in the Black Sea region all the acquisitions of Peter's predecessors and the achievements of his two Azov campaigns, and the war with Sweden dragged on for another 10 years.

In 1716, he sent 6100 soldiers and Cossacks under the command of the captain of the Preobrazhensky regiment Bekovich-Cherkassky with the task of conquering the Khiva and Bukhara khanates, and at the same time digging a channel from the Caspian Sea to the Amu Darya (all members of the expedition were killed by many times superior forces Khivans).

The formal reason for the war with the sultanate was the presence of Charles XII on Turkish territory, although the fact that he was away from his country and army was beneficial to Russia.

As Romanian historian Armand Goshu points out, immediately after Poltava, "delegations of Moldavian and Wallachian boyars began to knock the thresholds of St. Petersburg, asking the tsar to be swallowed up by the Orthodox empire."

The Lords of Wallachia (modern Romania) and Moldavia, Konstantin Brynkovian and Dmitry Cantemir, promised, as soon as Russia came forward, to announce the withdrawal from Turkish citizenship, to send an army of 30, 000 to help Peter and to provide the Russian troops with food.

According to them, it turned out that the terrain in Moldova is ideal for conducting hostilities, there will be no problems with water and food, and the Turks are incapable of combat and are afraid of Russians in panic.

Having heard these tales, Peter wrote to Sheremetyev: “The Lords write that as soon as our troops enter their lands, they will immediately unite with them and all their numerous people will induce an uprising against the Turks; we have the same request and promise), also the Bulgarians and other Christian peoples will rise up against the Turks, and some will join our troops, others will rise up against the Turkish regions; in such circumstances, the vizier will not dare to cross the Danube, most of his troops will scatter, or maybe be, and will raise a riot. "

When the war began, Brynkovianu pretended that what was happening did not concern him. Kantemir, however, came to the camp of Peter (his descendants became Russian nobles), but he brought only five thousand irregular cavalry, armed with bows and pikes.

In fact, the situation was repeated two years ago, only in the role of Mazepa was Kantemir, and in the role of Charles XII - Peter.

The Russian army consisted of 79, 800 bayonets and sabers and about 10, 000 Cossacks with 160 guns. Field Marshal Sheremetyev and seven generals, including Bruce and Repnin, who distinguished themselves at Poltava, went on a campaign with Peter.

On June 27 (June 16 according to the old style) we crossed the Dniester. Then I had to go the waterless steppe, with exhausting heat during the day and cold nights. Diseases began to mow down the army. Some soldiers, having seized the water, drank themselves to death, others shot themselves, unable to bear the torment.

On July 14, the army reached the Prut. On July 17, a review was held, at which 19 thousand people were missing, and about 14 thousand had to be left to protect communications.

"The soldiers turned black from thirst and hunger. Dying people lay in multitudes along the way, and no one could help their neighbor or save him, since no one had anything, " recalled Rasmus Erebo, secretary of the Danish envoy, Justa Julia, who accompanied Peter on the campaign. ...

An army under the command of Grand Vizier Baltadzhi Mehmed Pasha and Crimean Khan Devlet-Giray II, numbering 190 thousand people with 440 guns, came out to meet Peter.

After three days of fighting, the superior forces of the Turks on July 21 pressed the Russian army to the Prut and surrounded it with a half-ring of earthen fortifications and artillery batteries. Peter, according to Erebo's recollections, "ran up and down the camp, beat himself in the chest and could not utter a word." Death or captivity seemed inevitable.

The tsar sent a messenger to St. Petersburg with a letter to the Senate not to carry out any instructions that he might have to give while in captivity, and to the Turkish camp - a dodgy diplomat Pyotr Shafirov.

A note by Pyotr Shafirov has survived: "Bet with them on everything except shklafdom (slavery)." He was ready to concede to the Swedes the previously conquered coast of the Baltic, except for his beloved "paradise", Petersburg, and even Pskov.

Fortunately for Russia, the Turks did not even think of defending Swedish interests. But they had to return Azov to them, tear down the fortresses of Taganrog and Kamenny Zaton, abandon the maintenance of warships on the Azov and Black Seas, and those already built at the Voronezh shipyards at the cost of incredible efforts and many lives were either burned or transferred to Turkey for insignificant compensation.

Russia was forced to declare non-interference in the affairs of Right-Bank Ukraine. In addition, she was deprived of the right to have a permanent embassy in Istanbul, which, according to the then concepts, was considered a great humiliation. The only concession on the part of the Turks was the promise to expel Charles XII from the country.

The negotiations took less than two days. Already on July 23, the treaty was sealed, and at six in the evening of the same day, the Russian army moved back with guns and banners.

The next day, Charles XII rode to the Turkish camp, attacking the vizier with angry reproaches and accusations of corruption. The Swedish king persuaded Mehmed Pasha to give him 30 thousand soldiers and swore that in the evening he would bring Peter with a rope around his neck.

The vizier replied that the Janissaries did not want to fight, and added: "You have already tested them [the Russians], and we know them. If you want, attack them with your people, and we will not break the concluded peace."

The losses of the Turks and Tatars during the short-lived campaign amounted to about eight thousand people. Russians killed 37 thousand, of which only five thousand in battle.

Historians find a prosaic explanation for the quick conclusion and relatively easy conditions of the treaty for Russia: Peter simply bought off the Turks.

For bribes to the grand vizier, dignitaries and even secretaries, Shafirov received a huge amount of 150 thousand rubles at that time.

Already in November 1711, the grand vizier was removed from power for corruption and subsequently executed. They remembered him, among other things, the relationship with the Russians.

Mehmed Pasha claimed that he did not take any money and that it was probably Shafirov who pocketed it.

It is hard to believe in the unselfishness of the vizier, but there could be some truth in his words. Shafirov was famous for his enchanting embezzlement, for which he was later also sentenced to death (cutting off the head at the last moment was replaced by exile) - however, for cases that had nothing to do with the Prut campaign.

There is a legend that the wife of Peter, Ekaterina Alekseevna, who accompanied her spouse on the Prut campaign, bribed the Turks with her jewelry.

According to the trustworthy recollections of the participants in the events, both Russians and foreigners, she did not make such a sacrifice, but she held herself with dignity, although she was seven months pregnant.

Under Peter, doubting the story of the jewels was highly discouraged.

"In memory of her Majesty's being in the battle with the Turks near the Prut, where at such a dangerous time, not like a wife, but like a male person was visible to everyone, " Peter established the women's order of St. Catherine, which was considered second in value after the Order of St. Andrew the First-Called. On the obverse of the medal badge was the motto "For love and Fatherland", and on the reverse side: "By work is compared with the spouse." Until 1917, they were awarded to the grand duchesses and princesses, as well as the wives of the highest dignitaries of the empire, called "ladies of the cavalry".

The establishment of the order was the only positive result of the Prut campaign. And Russia managed to restore its positions in the Black Sea region only under Catherine.