About 1800, Major-General Andrey Somov headed a regiment sent from Irkutsk to reinforce Kamchatka. Soldiers were to take up positions in about five garrisons around the peninsula. Feeding them was a major expense, so they were ordered to try to grow crops on arrival. They brought an epidemic of Typhus fever.

James Gibson held in a footnote in Feeding the Russian Fur Trade that the regiment was sent due to "the Napoleonic threat". Napoleon was not crowned until 1804 but Russia did fight France in the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1802). Action reached Egypt and Syria but none of that war's engagements were any farther from Europe.

Janus Paal wrote that Russia was alarmed about the visits of foreign ships to Kamchatka. Decades previous, Captain Cook's last voyage and La Perouse had both stopped in Petropavlovsk, ostensibly on scientific missions. I'm not sure if there were any foreign visits in the last decade of the 18th Century.

Was Russia truly concerned that France might seize Kamchatka?

  • 4
    In 1905 the Russian Admiralty expected to find Japanese torpedo boats in the English Channel - why not French ships-of-the-line in Kamchatka a century earlier. It's a sad fact of modern history that Russian governments have been frequently paranoid - though perhaps not always without reason. Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 3:39
  • 7
    At the time, both Spain and the Batavian Republic were allied with France, and these two both had interests in the Far East.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 6:19
  • 2
    Maybe "seize" is a bit extreme, but if there were no troops the French would have not needed much to raid Russian outposts and hurt the economy.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 12:25
  • Perhaps the title of this question could be better as "Why did Russia garrison Kamchatka during the Napoleonic Wars?" to make it clearer?
    – gktscrk
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 17:32
  • @gktscrk I'm open to changes, but in 1800 Kamchatka already had garrisons -- note the officers that met Clerke in 1779. Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 17:44

2 Answers 2


(Note: I'm not very knowledgeable about this period in Russia. I'm piecing this together from a few sources.)

Somov's regiment was not sent due to the Napoleonic threat, but was part of the existing task of defending the enormous and sparsely populated Russian frontier.

In the larger context of the Russian Empire in 1800 this makes more sense. Russia is very large and had threats on all sides: "Tartar, Turk, Pole, Prussian and Swede" and now the French. Transporting an army in 1800 was very slow, mobilization could take months. Russia was too large to have a centrally located "reaction force" to respond to crisis. They had to have units in prepared positions near every potential hot spot to slow an invasion, or react to a raid, or put down a rebellion.

While they faced large, traditional, concentrated Western armies on in the West, in the east and south they faced disbursed raiding parties of Turks and Tartars. The southern and eastern fronts of Russia in 1800 were more like the frontier armies of the United States than the armies of Napoleon. They filled many governmental roles in sparsely populated areas: military garrison, police, civil engineers, and labor force.

To deal with this, Peter the Great instituted large standing armies and deployed them to potential trouble spots. Supplying and concentrating them across such large distances, and such sparsely populated land particularly in the east, was difficult. Catherine the Great dealt with this by creating a Military Commission who created administrative divisions close to the areas being defended. A large mass of troops was garrisoned in Moscow, centrally located on the Russian transport system, to quickly (for the time) reinforce hot spots. Tsar Paul further organized divisions into "Inspectorates" to deal with corruption. The divisions would now be overseen by inspectors reporting directly to the Tsar.

"Somov's Regiment" raised and sent one or two battalions to Kamchatka for what became the Kamchatskii Garnizonnyi batalion (Kamchatka Garrison Battalion). This was part of the larger Siberia Inspectorate of about 10 battalions in 1796. It was assigned certain hamlets, "cantons", which they defended, aided, and relied upon. Soldiers would help with the labor and farming in exchange for supplies and shelter. In addition, the regimental commander acted as a military government, parallel to the civilian one, within their territory.


  • Somov's Regiment was 3 battalions; only 2 were heading to Kamchatka though (the third stopped in Okhotsk).
    – user58697
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 7:28
  • @user58697 According to Uniforms Of The Russian Army During The Napoleonic War puts a single battalion in Kamchatka in 1801. What's your source?
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 8:53
  • Unfortunately, in Russian. BTW, Somov got his order to form a regiment in 1798, while still in Irkutsk, and arrived to Kamchatka in 1799. The battalion you mentioned must be yet another one.
    – user58697
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 9:37
  • @user58697 Google Translate did a decent job, thanks. Hmm, conflicting source information. The info in Uniforms are for what was in Kamchatka in August 1801, maybe the second battalion left or was transferred between 1799 and 1801?
    – Schwern
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 20:34

There is a potential that this is true.

First (as mentioned in the comments) Russian intelligence was suspect at times leading to events such as What made the Russian Fleet suspect Japanese Torpedo boats were in North Sea in 1904/5?

What the Russians may have been reacting to here is Napoleon in Egypt and his 1798 - 1801 campaign there. Napoleon entered Egypt and advanced into Syria, most likely with the goal of marching a French/Ottoman army into India to aid the Maratha empire with their struggles vs the British. If Napoleon could challenge and ultimately usurp British rule in India, then Napoleon could have asserted French control over India. French control of India would be a stepping point to Kamchatka (though I doubt the intent was ever there).

Unfortunately for Napoleon, the English captured his ships carrying his artillery and the military campaign was halted in Acre forcing Napoleon to turn back, so the event they (may have been) reacting to never came to be.

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