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"How did the Bataillon Carré work?" Topic

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4th Cuirassier14 Feb 2011 11:32 a.m. PST

I have nver understood this.

You have 4 corps moving in a diamond formation, one behind another and one more out on each flank.

So this requires three parallel roads. Two corps move along the middle road and one uses each of the flank roads.

If the enemy appears in an unexpected direction, the formation refaces itself and marches around the enemy's flanks etc. This requires three new parallel roads in the direction of the new threat axis.

Why does this work when it is so dependent on roads going the right way and being the right distance apart?

For example, how would you make a bataillon carré work on a map like this?

malcolmmccallum14 Feb 2011 11:43 a.m. PST

I'd say don't get hung up on the precision. The power of it is in its core concept of mutually supporting wings and you have to always make allowances for inconvenient roads. If you stay focussed on the need to keep close to the other wings, you will achieve the desired results.

When we used Grand Battalion Carre in our last campaign (9 corps divided into 4 wings), it was terrifyingly powerful, but only because our opponents were each acting independantly.

Below is the link to our battalion carre deployment as we advanced to find crossing points over the Elbe.


Personal logo Flashman14 Supporting Member of TMP14 Feb 2011 11:50 a.m. PST

Just a guess, maybe the right distance wasn't as important as relative position. Right? Your enemy would use roads too til point of contact.

Or if enemy wherabouts were unknown and close interdependency of the corps were required then going cross country would be necessitated.

I suspect both occurred at the same time. A corp on a road would be at least a couple miles long so infantry marched alongside giving artillery road priority. I think cavalry had even less priority than infantry. If enemy forces were in close proximity all the light cavalry would be scouting out the disposition of them and sending back reports which gave direction to where to form the battle line.

Just musings based on my own readings …

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Inactive Member14 Feb 2011 12:05 p.m. PST

Looking at Chandler, he does give various N quotes, but none specifically about a carree, so I think this might have been overlaid by later authors on to his basic idea, namely keeping formations fluid, yet close enough together (ideally 1 day's march) to support each other, which could then be closed up to the main point of attack.

Much of N's style of war relies on being on the offensive, so he can determine the axis of the main attack, while his enemy has to cover a range of options.

Lest We Forget14 Feb 2011 2:39 p.m. PST

Well, my two paragraphs of advice were swallowed by the TMP bug (second time in two days). I'll try to retype it later toniight.

Personal logo Martin Rapier Supporting Member of TMP15 Feb 2011 4:02 a.m. PST

The main point is that each Corps has its own road to march on yet is within easy(ish) supporting distance of its mates.

At an operational level, march rates are primarily determined by the number of routes available, so more routes mean they move faster.

An extreme example perhaps, but compare and contrast the march rates of the Prussian Army in 1866, with its several Corps scatterd over hundreds of miles of front, compared with poor old Benedeck who tried to put eight Austrian Corps up one road.

Keraunos Inactive Member15 Feb 2011 5:40 a.m. PST

Gross Berren gives an idea of where it can go wrong.
(in a very simplfied version)
the three parallel roads had no lateral communications so the Prussians were able to defeat each corps in isolation as it emerged (in isolation).

but the contra is almost any Napoleonic battle where his troops keep arriving on the field – usually at the right moment to win the battle, frequently from a position where they immediately threatened the enemy.

Compare and contrast the Carre with the precursor – the Austrian 'columns' of attack on a known position of the 7YW (Hochkirk is the first good example) and which they presisted in using through the N period.

When you combine
- separate lines of approach from those Austrian 'column' attacks
- with Corp, self sustained 'little armies' with fixed commands and staff who know each other
- with mutually supporting distances between those approach roads
you get the Carre.

the Carre could also operate over much greater distances than anything before it, since the staff work and command of the corp offered less need for central oversight.
and it enabled much greater field armies to be used, since they didn't end up packed 2 days behind down the same road waiting for a chance to get moving – so the manpower which the revolution released was usable at the important front.

All of which, enabled muuch faster operations than any of N's enemies for many years – Napoleonic warfare

10th Marines Inactive Member15 Feb 2011 5:38 p.m. PST

What also should be taken into consideration is the manner in which the Grande Armee went on campaign. Spies and recce units, both in uniform and not, would precede the cavalry screen into the territory to which the Grande Armee would move.

In 1806, the light cavalry screen was reinforced by dragoon units and the 'battalion square' was an operational formation that allowed Napoleon maximum control and maximum flexibility. The corps would be mutually supporting and be able to come to another's assistance quickly if they got into trouble with an enemy force greater than what they could handle.

When Lannes' ran into Prince Louis' force, orders were sent out for support to move to V Corps assistance, but because of the relative short duration of the fight, they weren't needed.

Bernadotte's inexplicable behavior was only saved because of Davout's conduct at Auerstadt-I Corps did not fire a shot all day on 14 October. Bernadotte's conduct has been characterized by at least one modern military historian as 'near-treasonous.' I would tend to agree. Davout's comment of 'that miserable Ponte Corvo' was genuinely earned by Bernadotte that day.

Anyways, the operational formations employed by Napoleon were dictated by many factors, terrain definitely being one of them.


Lest We Forget15 Feb 2011 6:47 p.m. PST


I'll try to summarize my post from yesterday. That map you linked doesn't show most of the secondary roads nor the small villages and tertiary roads ("byways"). I have a slightly larger scale map (more detail) of the same area with most of the secondary roads and some tertiary roads noted. I had to reconstruct many secondary roads from survey maps that date 50 or more years after the Napoleonic period (but most of the secondary roads had not changed). If you know the location of most of the towns as well as the waterways you can (with various reference maps) interpolate the details well enough to study a campaign. Modern road maps are not helpful (towns grew, roads were often rerouted, etc.). You need a good large scale map with road details to understand the strategic operation.

If you can get access to the correspondence from a campaign and have a good map you can follow the movements. I use map pins with small identification tabs and a good pair of map dividers to note movements of corps, divisions, recon/screens, etc. Much of the French correspondence has been translated. You can use other good reference sources for a particular campaign to fill in the details.

For example, if you followed the 1806 campaign on a map you would see the Battalion Carré in action. Secondary references only generalize how it operated. Hours of map study following the campaign as it occurred will enlighten you more than any secondary source can. The 1806 followed by the 1805 campaigns are probably the two best examples to use. If you follow some of the 1796 Italian campaigns you can see Napoleon's nascent system that matured into his later methods. You cannot appreciate the Carré if you do not note main supply routes, depot locations, and the stages of movement. Most secondary sources ignore or only briefly refer to supply arrangements. Napoleon would have engineer officers reconnoiter various roads and make sketch maps. The "devil is in the details."

The 1809 campaign is not best for studying the Battalion Carré given the Austrians were the initial attackers and the French forces did not maneuver as a Carré as the initial campaign developed. If you want to use the 1809 campaign area as the basis of a campaign you would have to alter the initial situation, but the many river crossings would impact how the army strategically maneuvered.

The campaign in Poland 1806-1807 is difficult to follow because the correspondence uses German names and if you cannot find a large scale map from the immediate era you have to translate the Polish town names to coincide with the German names (I've spent many "fun" hours on that project).

If you do not follow a campaign on the map then you are left with overgeneralizations of the operation of the Battalion Carré.

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