The History of the Engineers up to 1917
Military-engineering art, as an element of military business, appeared in very ancient times. Even then Egyptians, Greeks and Slavs skillfully used wood, clay and stone as building materials and formed detachments for making siege machines. These were the original engineers of the ancient world. The origins of Russian military-engineering art are also a thing of the past. Old Slavs erected fortifications, built bridges, laid different pathways and prepared river crossings for the defence of their lands and settlements.
Models of defence constructions from Eastern Slavs are placed on podiums in the room. These fortifications were made out of wood and earth.
General view of the room
Depending on the size and might of the fence, they were called ostrozhek or gorodishche (formed from Russian words meaning ‘to build’ and ‘to fence in’). The model of a fence for the ancient settlement of Berezniaki (in the Yaroslavl province) is a visible example of defensively arranged constructions. It was remade on the basis of archaeological data. This settlement existed as early as the 3rd4th centuries and was excavated in 1934–1935. It is one of the oldest Eastern-Slavic fortifications which gave birth to Russian cities. The gorodishche was located on a steep slope washed by the Sonokhta River. Its fence consisted of two massive wattle fences. The space between them, which reaches two and a half meters, was made with earth and a wall of logs.
The Old Russian state, Kiev Rus, became one of the most significant in Europe by the mid 10th century. The constant threat of assault by martial neighbors, variags, Hazards, pechenegs and polovtsy, required that special measures be taken for the defence of the state. Big cities, such as Kiev, Chernigov, Pereyaslavl and Galich, were enclosed with thick walls. Frontier fortifications were erected on the East, South and West of Kiev Rus. A typical example of defensively arranged constructions of that time is shown in a model fragment of the city wall for the ancient city of Belgorod (now the settlement of Belgorodka 25 km from Kiev) which was built in the 10th century. The city was fortified by Vladimir, Prince of Kiev, in 991, and was one of the most important barrage points on the way to the capital of the Old Russian state. Triple walls made of logs formed the basis of the fence. The space between them was filled with raw brick or clay and strewn with earth. The fence maintained a defensive purpose even after burning its upper wooden part. A model of part of the fence is displayed in the room.
The Golden Gate (part of the fortification of Vladimir on the Kliazma) is an example of combining stone and wood in defensive constructions of the 12th century. It was built (1158–1164) from white limestone during the reign of Andrei Bogoliubskii. The Golden Gate is one of the oldest stone constructions on Russian territory. The gate was a thoroughfare tower with a small church on the top and the walls of the wooden defensive fence joined it. A drawbridge strengthened the defence even more, covering the gate of the tower when it lifted. The gate was called ‘golden’ because its massive oak folds were initially bound with gilded copper plates. The city ramparts strengthed the gate from its both sides. After their demolition the gate was reconstructed in the 19th century. It has been maintained thus until now.
Construction of stone fortifications was kept on Russian territories that did not suffer from the Mongolian-Tartar invasion up to the 13th14th centuries. The fortress walls of the city of Porkhov, built in 1387, are an example of such constructions. A model of the fortified city is displayed in the room. Walls 4 m thick and 8 m high were built from cut stone and brick. Towers up to 10 m high were a supplementary construction and a means for supervising the enemy. Such constructions were typical for Rus at that time.
Portraits of Grand Duke of Moscow Ivan III and his grandson, the first Russian Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible (painter — P. Sergeev) are placed on butt-end walls of the room. Under Ivan III, foreign specialists were invited to Moscow to teach engineering. Russian and Italian architect-fortifiers erected the new Moscow Kremlin during his reign. Under Ivan the Terrible, special detachments pososhnaia rat’, an Engineers prototype, were formed. They were divided into gorodniki, i.e. specialists in siege art, mostniki, i.e. builders of roads, and constructors of special siege machines (poroki). A small detachment went in advance of general forces during campaigns, enabling the movement of troops, fulfilling the duties of modern sappers. The detachment built roads, arranged river crossings, removed obstacles and repaired and built bridges. Visitors can see the arms and equipment of Russian warriors from the 16th17th centuries.
During battles, Russian troops used mobile field fortifications made of wooden shields, guliai gorod, moving on sledge runners or wheels. It was possible to direct fire on the enemy through loopholes in the guliai gorod. The first mention of using this construction in battle is dated 1522. A photo-reconstruction of a guliai gorod is displayed in the room.
On the South borders of the Russian state, abatis lines were arranged to prevent forays of Crimean Tartars. They included both natural obstacles: forests, bogs, lakes, ravines, and manmade ones: forest obstructions, abatis, ramparts, ditches, lines of log stakes and wood-earth fortifications. The width of abatis lines reached several dozens meters.
The first (Tula) abatis line was constructed in the 1550’s. It was 1,000 km long. A special sentry service was organized to the South of this line. It watched for enemy movements. In the summers, Russian troops occupied the territory along the abatis line near the Oka River, thus, preventing Tartar forays. In 1630–1640, the second significant abatis line, Belgorod, was constructed in connection with moving the Russian state border towards the South. Schemes of these abatis lines are on display.
The introduction of firearms made some changes in the construction of fortifications. Thus, during the construction of the Novgorod Kremlin in 1483–1493, so-called pechury [casemates] were arranged in its towers and walls for placing artillery. The thickness of its walls was extended to 4.5 m.
Fortifications of the Kirillo-Belozerskii Monastery (now the city of Kirillov in the Vologda region) are an interesting example of Russian 17th century classical fortress construction. A model of the monastery is exhibited in the room.
Moscow tower of the Kirillo-Belozerskii Monastery. Model
It was possible to shoot hand fire arms from its walls and to fire the same arms and guns from the towers. The monastery fortress withstood the siege of Polish-Lithuanian interventionists in 1612–1613 and beat off several enemy attacks until 1616. Visitors can see the Moscow tower of the Kirillo-Belozerskii Monastery (a model in section). It was made from bricks in 1667 and had six fighting tiers. The height of the tower was 55 m. The tower’s diameter was 20 m with an average wall thickness of 3 m. The tower was adapted for gunnery and shooting hand fire arms.
The Smolensk fortress is shown in a photo displayed in the room. It was built by famous Russian constructor Fedor Kon in 1596–1602. It occupied an important strategic position in a system of the Moscow state’s fortresses. Massive fortress walls 6.5 km long with 38 towers reached heights of 13 m up to 19 m and were 5–6 m thick. From 1609–1611, Smolensk withstood the siege of troops from Polish King Sigismund III for 20 months. The city was taken by storm when only two hundred people capable of fighting remained in its garrison.
The Ustav ratnykh, pushkarskikh i drugikh del, kasaiushchikhsia do voinskoi nauki [The Regulation for Combat and GunSmith Craft Envisaged by Military Science] (1607) is the first written document that describes not only engineering arrangements for securing a battle, but the organization, goals and duties of the engineers. Its author is military commander Anisim (Onisim) Mikhailov.
Peter the Great is rightfully considered to be the organizer of regular engineer troops. In the center of the room is an equestrian statue of the first Russian Emperor (a model by sculptor B.C. Rastrelli). This is one variant of the first monument to Peter I in Russia. A leaden model was cast when the founder of St. Petersburg was still alive. Then, according to the order of Emperor Paul I, the monument was made from bronze and placed in front of the Mikhailovskii Castle in 1800.
During the first siege of Narva in 1700, the use of minelayers was mentioned. A number of historians tell about the existence of a mine company in 1702. It is notable that mention of an organized educational institution for training military engineers appeared earlier than the first mentions of engineer subunits. Peter I issued a decree about founding a school at the Artillery Department for training officers to be artillery and military engineers.
It should be noted that engineering was at that time (and earlier, as well) part of artillery science and engineers were for a long time included in artillery units. This is no mere chance because first, the artillery needed roads, river crossings, constructed forts, covering positions with mines, and second, engineering, like artillery science, required literate, educated people. On January 16, 1712, Peter I ordered the engineering school to be separated from the Artillery Department school and extended. Soon after this, he organized the St. Petersburg Engineering School (1719), and then transferred the Moscow school to St. Petersburg (1723) and united them. They were intended for training non-commissioned officers of engineer troops. In order to increase popularity of these educational institutions and to accentuate the importance of the Engineers, Peter I ordered the ranks of officers in the engineer troops to be considered higher than the ranks of officers in the infantry and cavalry. The same concerned the artillery, as well. This was stated in the 1722 Table of Ranks. It also should be said that the first educational institutions for training officers for the infantry and cavalry appeared in Russia only in 1731.
In 1712, Peter I decided to regulate the structure of the Russian army. According to his order, staffs of regiments were established. This meant that documents were prepared that listed what particular subunits and how many of them must be in a particular regiment, the strength of each one, etc. According to the list of staff for an artillery regiment dated February 8, 1712, in addition to artillery subunits the regiment was to include a company of minelayers (75 persons), an engineering command (35 persons) and a pontoon command (36 persons). It is notable that engineering subunits constituted 14 % of the number of regiment personnel. A photo copy of this list of staff is exhibited in the glass-case.
Russians gained a brilliant victory over the Swedes in the decisive battle of the Northern War (1700–1721), the famous Poltava battle, on June 27, 1709. The efficient preparation of the field of battle much favored the success of the Russian army in this fight. A frontal position consisting of two lines of redoubts (six in the first line and four in the second one) perpendicular to each other was arranged in order to force the Swedish army to deploy prematurely, before meeting the main force of Russian troops.
Open spaces equal to gun range were left between the redoubts in each line. This furthered the steadiness and activity of the defence. Such placing of the redoubts not only separated the advancing Swedish troops, but also engaged them with fire. After that the Russian cavalry could start its active operations. The system of redoubts was worked out on the basis of an engineering idea about fitting out the location to ensure the defence and enable further attack. A model The Poltava Battle shows it documented exactly.
Visitors can also see here a model of the Poltava fortress, which garrison bravely defended it from the heavily outnumbered troops of Charles XII for two months (April to June 1709) under the command of Colonel A. Kelin. Next to it are drawings of uniforms used in the Russian army: the uniform for fusiliers in infantry regiments (1700–1720), the uniform for a smith and a carpenter (second quarter of the 18th century); non-commissioned officers in the engineering command of the artillery regiment (early 18th century). The Russian army’s engineering armaments in the 1st quarter of the 18th century are described in detail. Glass-cases display personal arms of warriors: a flintlock infantry rifle gun, a flintlock pistol, a sapper’s broadsword, a cavalry saber, and a horse-chasseur’s rifle gun.
The display includes bas-reliefs in memory of the capture of Narva (1704), Derpt (1704), Vyborg (1710) and Stettin (1713) made in the mid18th century. Also, awards and memorial medals from the Petrovian time, as well as medals produced to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Poltava battle and the 200th anniversary of the Gangut battle.
On the wall is the great battle canvas The Storm of the Fortress of Nöteborg on October 11, 1702 by A. Kotsebu. The painting not only tells about one of the most dramatic episodes in the Northern War, but gives an idea about the siege arrangements and ferrying means of that time.
A. E. Kotsebu. Storm of the Nöteburg Fortress on October 11, 1702. 1846
Tsar Peter I commanding the mortar battery is in the foreground, portrayed against a background of storming the fortress. On his left is General Field-Marshal B. Sheremetev receiving a letter from the Swedish truce envoy.
Nöteborg, renamed Schlüsselburg (i.e. the key-town) by Peter I, became the first outpost of Russian troops on the Neva embankments. On May 16 (27) 1703, the fortress St. Petersburg (the Fortress of St. Peter), the future capital of the Russian Empire, was laid on Zaiachii island. A model of the wood-earth fortress and bastion-type Kronwerk is on display.
The second half of the 18th c. was marked with further development of the Russian army’s Engineers and the improvement of military-engineering art.
In 1753, General of Engineers A. Gannibal (1697–1781), famous Negro of Peter the Great, great grandfather of Russian poet A. Pushkin, was appointed chief of the engineering school. In 1760, Mikhail Golenishchev-Kutuzov, well-known Russian commander, graduated with a rank of lieutenant. After that he was sent for service to the Astrakhan regiment which was commanded by A. Suvorov at that time.
By the beginning of the Seven Years War, the Russian Army had only a company of minelayers (120 persons) and a pontoon command (30 persons). However, in 1757 the company of minelayers was expanded into the engineer regiment (1830 persons), and the pontoon command expanded into a pontoon unit numbering 300 persons.
Sailcloth pontoon Model 1757. Design by A. Nemoi. Model
The regiment undertook the repair of roads, construction of river crossings, making trenches, underground and other engineer works. The glass-case shows schemes of the regiment’s organization and a title page of Captain Andrei Nemoi’s manual concerning building roads and arranging pontoons, etc.
Before the Seven Years War the Engineers had at their disposal only entrenching tools (spades, picks, saws, axes, crows, and ice-picks), measuring instruments and simple loading tools. During the war they were armed with canvas pontoon equipment (a set of elements for arranging a boat bridge) designed by A. Nemoi. This equipment was adopted in the Russian army for more than 150 years. A model of the pontoon designed by A. Nemoi is on display.
Prominent Russian commander A. Suvorov did much to develop the military-engineering art. The Engineers ensured crossings of water obstacles and participated in the siege of fortresses during the Russian-Turkish War of 1768–1774.
K. K. Steiben. Generalissimo A. V. Suvorov. 1815
During the Italian and Swiss Campaigns, engineering subunits of the Russian army went in advance of attacking columns to pave the way in mountain-forest conditions. Visitors can see an engraving dedicated to the capture of the Khotin fortress (1769), B. Mestropen’s lithograph The Storm of the Turkish Fortress Izmail by Russian Troops under A. V. Suvorov. A portrait of the famed commander made by K. Steiben (Staibe) is on display, as well.
The storm of Izmail on December 11, 1790 is a bright example of the successful use of the Engineers. Suvorov ordered organization of a thorough engineering reconnaissance of the fortress, and sappers were to erect similar fortifications nearby that were used for training the troops. Sappers prepared a great number of fashinas (the term formed from the Latin fascis, meaning fascicles of brushwood tied with ropes) to fill up the moats in front of the fortress walls, made storm ladders, erected field fortifications for siege guns, and covered the ways of possible Turkish sallies with knife-rests and wolf-holes. Sappers lit up the fortress with parachute flares every night for several weeks imitating the start of the storm in order to overdrive the garrison. The storm columns included pioneer subunits, whose goal was to make passages in the Turks’ obstacles and blasting walls. They successfully performed their functions and much improved the success of the storm. Its participants were awarded with the cross "For the Capture of Izmail."
In the late 18th century, Emperor Paul I considered engineer troops to be an integral part of the army. According to his order, a pioneer regiment consisting of three battalions was formed in 1797. Each battalion was to consist of three pioneer (advanced sapper) companies and one of minelayers. The display includes an original headdress for private pioneers.
As a result of Emperor Alexander I’s state reforms, the Ministry of War was organized in 1802. Artillery and engineer expeditions existed within the Ministry holding the rights of independent departments. Each expedition was responsible for its own arm of the service; its training, recruitment, and arming. Thus, engineer troops were almost completely separated from the artillery. Only pontoon subunits remained under the jurisdiction of the artillery department. However, engineer troops had the same uniform as the artillery until 1918. They differed only in their silver color of metal details (the uniform of the artillery had golden ones) and emblems (crossed axes instead of crossed guns). The glass-cases show images of uniforms for the Life Guards Sapper Battalion of 1812–1825 made in water-colors, as well as a portrait of General-Major Ch.F. Schwanebeck (1763–1820), chief of the 1st Pioneer Regiment and vice-director of the Engineer Department.
Alexander I increased the number of engineer troops up to two pioneer regiments in 1803. The lithograph displayed in the room depicts privates from the Life Guards Horse-Pioneer Squadron. Their armament, which includes an infantry and horse-chasseur guns, cavalry pistols, an officer’s spear, a saber and a sapper’s broadsword, is exhibited in the glass-case nearby.
The Russian army had 10 pioneer and miner companies, as well as several pontoon companies in its field troops by the beginning of the War of 1812. Additionally, 14 pioneer and miner companies were in fortresses. There were no soldiers in these companies, but only specialists (commissioned and non-commissioned officers). Manpower was gathered for engineering works from local residents and soldiers in the infantry. Even during the withdrawal of Russian troops from the border, engineer troops much figured into the success of this maneuver. They built 178 bridges and repaired 1,920 versts of the road on the way of the Russian army’s movement. The same Engineers retreated the last, burning bridges, blowing up fougasses, and destroying roads on the French route.
Mikhail Kutuzov, being a military engineer by his education, clearly understood the important role engineer subunits play in battles. After becoming commander of the Russian army, Kutuzov united all pioneer companies into two military brigades under the common command of General-Major P. Ivashov (1767–1838). These brigades much improved the stability of the Russian army’s defence on the Borodino field. They constructed a whole system of field fortifications. Heated fights developed to capture the Shevardino redoubt, Raevskii battery, and Bagration flechés. Attacks of Napoleon’s infantry beat against these fortifications the entire day of the Borodino battle. Drafts of Russian engineering structures erected on the Borodino field are on display.
In the center of the room is a model of the fortified camp for Russian troops in Tarutino. Having left Moscow, M. Kutuzov undertook a flanking maneuver and occupied a position near the settlement of Tarutino, where a fortified camp was arranged. The camp was covered from the front by the Nara River. 13 flechés were made on the right bank of the river. Abatis and trenches for guards were arranged on the left flank adjoining the forest. The work of fortifying the camp was realized by five pioneer companies and one miner company.
Preparing the counterassault, Kutuzov ordered Ivashov to form a horse engineer detachment of 600 persons in order to increase the mobility of troops. The goals of the detachment were to realize the engineer reconnaissance ahead of the advancing troops, repair roads, restore bridges, search for fords ahead of troops, and prevent the French that tried to destroy bridges.
Alexander I admired the effectiveness of the engineer units’ operations undertaken in December 1812 and ordered formation of a Life Guards Sapper Battalion.
The engineer troops already had two pioneer regiments and one sapper regiment at the beginning of the foreign campaign. The number of engineer companies was thus carried to 40.
Numerous exhibits characterizing the organization of Russian engineer troops during the War of 1812 are on display. This includes drawings of soldier-sappers and portraits of officers from the engineer troops. Among them is the future Decembrist S. Muraviev-Apostol, officer in the corps of railways engineers; General of Engineers P. Schilling von Kanstadt, inventor of the electric telegraph and the electric blasting method. P. Schilling offered to blast powder charges and mines at a distance with the help of a coal primer he invented and a galvanic current transmitted by wires. The Volt column was used as a source of current. The scientist demonstrated his invention in St. Petersburg by blasting mines placed under water in the Neva in October 1812.
The following models are on display: the coal primer, the Volt column and the submarine fougasse. Models of pontoons are of a great interest, as well. Among them is one for a horse-pioneer squadron, a sapper wooden one, a Birago bow half-pontoon, and a horse-pioneer pontoon.
The war revealed a shortage of engineer officers and the increasing role of engineer troops. In 1819, all engineer schools were united into the Main Engineer College. This college was located in the Mikhailovskii Castle, which acquired the name of the Engineer Castle thenceforth. The college was the main educational institution for engineer troops for many decades.
Documents concerning the history of military-engineer education, extracts from the Statute of the Main Engineer College, and documents about establishing the Nikolaevskaia Engineer Academy (named in honor of Emperor Nicholas I) are on display. Portraits of leaders and graduates of the college and the academy are shown, such as General-Major E. Sivers, the first chief of the Main Engineer College founded on November 24, 1819, as well as General-Lieutenant A. Teliakovskii, founder of Russian fortification school.
Engineer troops were of great importance during the siege of fortresses. They not only prepared materials for siege works, built batteries, and made approaches with saps, but also executed blasting operations. A. Zeuerveid’s painting depicts a brilliant engineer attack on the Turkish fortress Varna by the Life Guards Sapper battalion on September 23, 1828, during the Russian-Turkish War of 1828–1829. On the eve of the attack the sappers brought a mine gallery under the bank of the second bastion and placed the charge. Non-commissioned officer Andrei Sheinevande set fire to the fire-candle in order to blow up the mine, but an explosion did not follow. He then rushed back to the gallery, blew off the ashes which had formed on the sosisa from the fully burnt candle, and set off the explosion. As a result more than 600 Turks perished under the ruins of the bastion. The brave sapper himself perished as well.
The glass-cases display medals “For the Turkish War of 1828–1829,” “In Memory of Capturing Kars,” “In Memory of Capturing Brailov” and some others, as well as models of engineer constructions of that time.
A considerable section on the display is dedicated to the direct engineer support of military operations during the Crimean War of 1853–1856.
G. F. Shukaev. Battle on the Malakhov barrow. 1856
The Russian army had 9 sapper battalions, one training battalion, two reserve battalions and two horse-pioneer divisions at the beginning of the war. The heroic defence of Sebastopol became the major event in the Crimean War. It lasted from September 1854 until August 1855. Russian sappers showed courage and heroism. The defence of Sebastopol was headed by Admiral V. Kornilov; Vice-Admiral P. Nakhimov and Rear-Admiral V. Istomin were his assistants. Military-engineer control over the defence works was overseen by E. Totleben, former student of the Main Engineer College.
A serious mistake was made in peacetime, during the building of Sebastopol as a fortress. Its construction plans did not envisage the city being stormed from the land. The defence structures started to be hurriedly built by field engineer units only upon the beginning of the war. The system of Sebastopol fortifications constructed by Totleben appeared to be so perfect that it sustained attacks of Englishmen, the French and Turks for almost a year.
It is notable that when fascists captured Sebastopol in 1942, they took the monument to Totleben under their protection. It turned out that his system of fortifications was taught in German academies as proof of the superiority of the German nation (Totleben was German by family origin, however, he was born and grew up in Russia, and graduated from the engineer college in St. Petersburg).
A boat bridge 940 m long was built for the first time in the history of military-engineer art in 1855. The bridge was constructed in 28 days across the Northern bay according to a project by engineer Bukhmeer. A relief model of the bay is placed in the room. A model of the monument to Totleben erected in Sebastopol is on display, as well.
When attacks on Russian fortifications proved to be unsuccessful, the British and the French started an underground-mine war making saps under Sebastopol fortifications. However, Russian sappers were again equal to the occasion. They successfully made countermine galleries, and used electric blasting. It is enough to say that the enemy made only 1,280 m of underground galleries, while Russian sappers made about 7 thousand meters.
The underground-mine works were conducted by staff-captain A. Melnikov, who was almost constantly together with soldiers in the mine galleries. Military engineer Colonel Polzikov acted vigorously, as well. The system of fortifications worked out by A. Teliakovskii, Professor at the Main Engineer College, found use in the defence of Sebastopol. Portraits of defenders of the city and their personal belongings are displayed in the room. Visitors can see G. Shukaev’s painting The Battle on the Malakhov Kurgan. It depicts, in particular, legendary seaman Petr Koshka, one of heroes of the defence of Sebastopol. Near the breastwork are V. Istomin and E. Totleben, organizers of the defence.
The introduction of rifled artillery led to the development of permanent fortification. Fortresses started to be encircled with forts made in front of fortresses so that it would be impossible for enemy artillery to strike the fortress and the forts at the same time. The display includes a model of the Brest-Litovsk fortress as a sample of the gradual development of fortress building from a citadel surrounded with bastion-type fortifications to forts built 3–4 km from the fortress fence.
Picturesque canvases The Fortress of Novogeorgievsk, The Fortress of Ivangorod, The Outward Appearance of the Brest-Litovsk Fortress Citadel, The Inward Appearance of the Brest-Litovsk Fortress Citadel (M. Zaleskii’s paintings) show samples of the Russian fortification art in the first half of the 19th century. A portrait of General-Lieutenant I. Den, a prominent Russian engineer (1786–1859) who headed the construction of these fortresses, is displayed nearby.
The War of 1812, revolutions in Europe in 1848–1849 and the Crimean War revealed an acute need for fortifying Russia’s borders. The cadre of well-trained military engineers had to head these works. In this connection classes of the Main Engineer College were elevated into the Military-Engineer Academy. Officers who had graduated from the engineer college after two-years of service and who passed the entrance examinations for mathematics, differential calculus, descriptive geometry, topography, field and permanent fortification, attack and defence of fortresses, mine-laying art, fine architecture, elementary construction art, artillery, tactics, physics, drawing, Russian language and foreign languages had the right of admission. The term of education in the Academy was two years.
The display includes portraits of outstanding people who graduated from the Main Nikolaevskoe Military-Engineer College and the Nikolaevskaia Engineer Academy. Among them are, in particular, writers Fyodor Dostoevski and Dmitrii Grigorovich; physiologist Ivan Sechenov; composer and music critic Cesar Kjui; historian Fedor Laskovskii; artist Konstantin Trutovskii. The great Russian chemist Dmitrii Mendeleev also studied in the Academy.
New rules for admission to the Academy envisaged a necessity of two years frontline service before entrance, which much improved the staff of students. However, the Russian-Turkish War of 1877–1878 again required military-engineer specialists. 42 students of the Academy were sent to the Army in the Field.
Prominent Russian minelayer M. Boreskov (his portrait is on display) headed the work of arranging mine obstacles on the Danube in 1877. Mines placed in the Danube are exhibited in the room. The addition of a park with a metal pontoon designed by Tomilovskii favored the successful forced crossing of the river. In 1864, he changed the outdated pontoon park previously designed by Andrei Nemoi. Models of Tomilovskii pontoons are on display.
Visitors can see N. Dmitriev-Orenburgskii’s painting The Crossing of the Danube River by the Russian Army near Zimnitsa on June 27 (15), 1877 displayed in the room. In particular, it pictures General-Major M. Dragomirov, chief of the 14th Division, on the Tomilovskii pontoon.
Some personal belongings of M. Skobelev, the famous ‘white general,’ are exhibited in cases and glass-cases. There are also portrait-miniatures of St. George Order holders, along with entrenching tools from the period of the Russian-Turkish War of 1877–1878.
The exhibited model Shipka Positions is of great interest. It shows positions of Russian troops that defended the pass which was an important way from northern to southern Bulgaria. It was occupied by the detachment under General F. Radetskii on June 7, 1877. On August 9, Turks undertook an attack on this sector. Having lost about 15,000 people, Turkish commander Suleiman-pacha stopped all attacks, but kept Russian positions under constant fire. Use of electrically controlled mines during the defence of the Shipka pass enabled the repulse of several troop attacks by Suleiman-pacha, without using artillery and fusillade at all.
A. D. Kivshenko. Battle near Shipka-Sheinovo on December 28, 1877. 1894
In that war sappers devised and taught Russian troops to use self-entrenchment upon consolidation of new positions, greatly reducing losses from the rifle fire of Turks. From that moment, small infantry spades were introduced into the Russian army and sets of entrenching tools were included in obligatory stores of infantry companies. One platoon in the infantry company had to study how to fulfill the main goals of the engineering support of the battle.
The scale of engineer works is shown visually on the model called The Siege of Plevna in 1877. On it there is a sector of the locality near Plevna with fortifications of Russian and Turkish troops. Russian troops suffered great losses (30,000 people) upon attempts to take Plevna with a storm (on July 8, 18 and August 26–31, 1877), what made the command revert to a siege. New batteries were constructed and redoubts were raised. Trenches and other fortifications were made, as well as earth-houses for soldiers. The length of the positions reached more than 70 km, with a depth of up to 2.5 km. 120 thousand Russian and Romanian soldiers with 510 guns were placed there. On November 28, 1877, Turks made an attempt to break out from the siege. Having lost more than 6,000 people, the Plevna garrison (50 thousand people with 77 guns) surrendered. Inclined glass-cases show blasting gear, entrenching tools, awards, photo documents and other exhibits. Buoyant mines which were used on the Danube are exhibited between the models.
The Russian-Japanese War of 1904–1905 and especially the heroic defence of Port-Arthur had a great influence on the development of the Engineers. The importance of field fortification constructions constantly increased during the war. Old types, such as forts, redoubts, etc. gradually died out. They were replaced with different kinds of trenches.
The early preparation of positions deep in the rear of battle became an important innovation of military engineers. These positions helped to increase the resistance and activity of the defence. Various fougasses then found an application for the first time. The skillful organization and control of engineer support during the defence of Port-Arthur realized by General-Lieutenant R. Kondratenko allowed repulsing four storms which caused considerable losses to the Japanese (100 thousand killed). A bronze bust of R. Kondratenko is placed in the room. Visitors can also see a relief map of Port-Arthur, mine-demolition means, entrenching tools used by sappers, and portraits of the St. George Order holders.
Lieutenant A. Debogorii-Mokrievich organized and headed the engineer obstacles laboratory in besieged Port-Arthur. It produced 7 thousand small sapper’s bomb, 5,800 parachute flares and about 10,000 tons of explosives. Staff-captain M. Zedgenidze headed blasting operations and blew up 7 railroad bridges.
World War I (1914–1918) was important for the further development of Russian engineer troops and the military-engineer art. In spite of the richness of fighting armies with rifled magazine weapons, machineguns and artillery, they could not break enemy positions that were disposed in depth and covered with wire entanglements. Podiums in the room display demolition supplies for getting over wire entanglements. The display includes wire cutters of different designs. There is also a dummy elongated charge-mine designed by non-commissioned officer Semenov. It was intended for wire cutting. Exhibited is a model of the engineer place of arms of the 6th Army Corps on the South-Western Front.
Visitors will see portraits of General-Major K. Velichko, military engineer, scientist, author of 70 scientific works on military-engineer art, who participated in projecting the fortresses of Port-Arthur and Vladivostok; General-Lieutenant V. Yakovlev, military engineer, scientist, professor, and author of works on engineer training; and Captain A. Nikitin, commander of the minelayers detachment at the Kronshtadt fortress, who placed 400 submerged mines in the Zapadnaia Dvina River in 1916.
Engineer units emerged during the October armed revolt of 1917 as an active revolutionary force. On the stands are documents, photos and other exhibits elucidating the participation of the Engineers in the revolutionary events of 1917.