Mikhail Kutuzov
Mikhail Kutuzov survived two separate gunshots to the head Wikimedia Commons

A two-year investigation has led to the conclusion that Napoleon Bonaparte would have probably conquered Russia in the early 1800s if it weren't for life-saving brain surgery on Russian general Mikhail Kutuzov.

Kutuzov survived being shot in the head twice. One bullet destroyed his frontal lobe in 1774 which led him to erratic behaviour and decision making. He was shot again in 1788.

However, Kutuzov still managed to guide his army to victory over Napoleon's army when the French tried to invade Russia in 1812 which led the Russian to legendary status in his own country.

By combing information from primary French and Russian sources, a research team led by Dr Mark Preul, along with Dr Sergiy Kushchayev and Dr Evgenii Belykh, among other researchers, from the Barrow Neurological Institute conclude that if French surgeon Jean Massot had not applied "incredibly modern techniques" in the operation room, Kutuzov would not have led Russia to victory.

"It's a story of how medicine changed the course of civilization," says Preul.

Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte was forced to retreat from Moscow istock

The study, published in the Journal of Neurosurgery, says that although Massot's surgery helped Kutuzov live on, it was not enough to ensure that the general was not affected by his injuries.

The report details Kutuzov's impaired decision making which they believe led him to order his troops to burn down Moscow before retreating east of the city – instead of opting to battle when Napoleon and his more powerful army approached.

Preul said: "The other generals thought Kutuzov was crazy, and maybe he was. The brain surgery saved Kutuzov's life, but his brain and eye were badly injured. However, ironically, the healing resolution of this situation allowed him to make what turned out to be the best decision. If he had not been injured, he may well have challenged Napoleon and been defeated."

When the Frenchman arrived in Moscow, there were no supplies in the harsh winter and Napoleon's army succumbed to the conditions shortly after their leader returned to Paris in defeat.

Mysteries still remain about Kutuzov's injuries and the procedures that Massot gave him because the general has not been examined since his autopsy in 1813. But the researchers conclude that Napoleon wouldn't have been defeated without Massot.

"Although some would say fate allowed the brilliant Russian general, who became the personification of Russian spirit and character, to survive two nearly head wounds, the best neurosurgical technique of the day seems to have been overlooked as a considerable part of Kutuzov's success," the researchers wrote.