The emperor's clothes

Putin has only avoided major losses due to mechanisms of modern-day combat


Friday, 1 April 2022, 11:02


They all underestimated what would be required to invade Ukraine: Napoleon, Hitler and Putin. The first two suffered mammoth losses by virtue of the type of warfare in which armies engaged then, costly in manpower terms, and Putin has only avoided similar losses thanks to the mechanisation of modern-day combat.

In June 1812 Napoleon invaded Ukraine as a prelude to taking Moscow. He had 640,000 troops while the Russian army counted 597,000. Napoleon never got there and was later defeated at the Battle of Waterloo by Wellington. Subsequently he spent his last days until 1821 exiled on the small island of Saint Helena, but maybe exile was no great hardship.


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Although the commonest theory is that he died of arsenic poisoning, there is evidence that links his decline to the size of his underpants.

The daily wine allowance for Napoleon and his officers consisted of champagne, 10 bottles of claret, three bottles of Graves, one of 'Tenerife', 31 of Cape Wine, cider and 'malt liquor'. A daily total of more than 50 bottles. The monthly food ration featured 25 kilos of beef and veal, 22 kilos of bread, 50 kilos of mutton and pork, one roasting pig, two turkeys, 12 pigeons, four ducks, nine fowls, two geese, and 42 eggs. So what about the underpants? Researchers have been trying to ascertain what killed the little emperor, and whether he was poisoned, or he was progressively losing weight despite the gargantuan proportions of the daily menu. The underpants, on show in many different European museums, demonstrate Napoleon lost about 30 pounds in his final months. That fits a diagnosis of stomach cancer but not arsenic poisoning.

"Even if he had been taken to one of today's best hospitals," says one researcher, "he would not have survived."

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