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"French Skirmishers - Per Brigade or not" Topic


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©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP14 Sep 2017 12:53 p.m. PST

The French commanders for the French elite battalions were chosen as needed from the brigades involved, very much the same process as the British. The differences were, yes, the Grenadiers would skirmish and the Voltigeurs would be used as shock troops as needed.

The British Light battalions were not used that flexibly, but seen solely as a light infantry formation:

Coimbra, 4th May, 1809
General Order:
3. The light infantry companies belonging to regiments, and the riflemen attached to each brigade of infantry, are to be formed together on the left of the brigade, under the command of a Field Officer or Captain of light infantry of the brigade, to be fixed upon by the Officer who commands it. Upon all occasions in which the brigade may be formed in line, or in column, when the brigade will be formed for the purpose of opposing an enemy, the light infantry companies and riflemen will be of course in the front, flanks, or rear, according to the circumstances of the ground and the nature of the operations to be performed. ON all other occasions the light infantry companies are to be considered as attached to their battalions, with which they are to be quartered or encamped, and solely under the command of the Commanding Officer of the battalion to which they belong.

Wellington also re-instituted the practice when forming his army in 1815:

Bruxelles, 9th May, 1815

General Order:
1. The light infantry companies belonging to each brigade of infantry are to act together as a battalion of light infantry, under the command of a Field Officer or Captain, to be selected for the occasion by the General Officer commanding the brigade, upon all occasion on which the brigade may be formed in line or column, whether for march or to oppose the enemy.
2. On all other occasions the light infantry companies are to be considered as attached to their battalions, which which they are to be quartered or encamped, and solely under the command of the Commanding Officer of the battalion to which they belong.
3.The Commander of the Forces wishes that some of the light infantry battalions of each brigade should be practiced in the manoeuvres of the light infantry, and if possible in firing at a mark.

The impression is one of an army commander decision with general orders rather than a norm practiced throughout the British army at all times--and one that is fairly fluid in who commands. It isn't mentioned how a battalion commander is to command the battalion when it is spread out across the flanks, front and possibly elsewhere during battle.

This is different from the French in that the elite battalions seem to be something each corps commander decided to do, though it was common practice. Maybe Art has found a general order to that effect, but I haven't.

Whirlwind14 Sep 2017 9:58 p.m. PST

Okay, thanks Art and McLaddie.

It isn't mentioned how a battalion commander is to command the battalion when it is spread out across the flanks, front and possibly elsewhere during battle.

This would surely apply to all light infantry units, except where it was the light company skirmishing near its own battalion and under the command of its own CO.

Trajanus15 Sep 2017 2:59 a.m. PST

Exceptions where they were not used not withstanding (I do not understand your question, could you please give an example)

Sorry Art, it wasn't meant as a question, it was a statement referring to the British. There are occasions where it is possible to identify that the combined Light Battalions were not used in a particular battle, for whatever reason.

Albuera is one, I believe.

I take the point about the later changes to the French system. I doubt that there are any commercial rules out there that come anywhere near that level of detail – in fact I'm sure there are not. Most don't even address the broad differences in columns, in the French, or any other system but you will already appreciate that.

Trajanus15 Sep 2017 3:34 a.m. PST

Bill,

The impression is one of an army commander decision with general orders rather than a norm practiced throughout the British army at all times--and one that is fairly fluid in who commands. It isn't mentioned how a battalion commander is to command the battalion when it is spread out across the flanks, front and possibly elsewhere during battle.

This is different from the French in that the elite battalions seem to be something each corps commander decided to do, though it was common practice. Maybe Art has found a general order to that effect, but I haven't.

This really echos my original question.

I'm still a little puzzled as to the force of the GO. Obviously in all armies across history the GOC had varying degrees of success in getting his orders obeyed but there's no indication that this is optional!

I suppose we are then left with the unicorn of someone having written down why it was not used on a specific occasion.

I'm not sure I fully understand your command point. Most mentions I have seen its been a Major drawn from one of he line Regiments in the Brigade who has commanded the combined Lights or occasionally a Captain of one of those companies. I've always assumed that was at the discretion of the Brigade commander.

In any case there's another GO.

The Commander of the Forces refers the General Officers commanding divisions and brigades to his orders on the formation and use of light infantry battalions in each brigade, and he desires that they may be strictly adhered to. He again recommends the detached companies of the 60th Rifles and those now detached from the Brunswick Light Infantry to their care and attention. He desires that these companies, when not in battalions with the the light infantry companies of the regiment in the manner and at the time pointed out in the General Orders, may be kept at the headquarters of the brigade.

Pero Negro, 12th Nov. 1810.

So period language aside, I for one on receiving this knowing the person who sent it, would be in no doubt this wasn't optional. Although, as before, there is no exact detail on use. I would suggest that Wellington would be looking to those General Officers to have some clue as to the employment of light troops and at the very least a reasonable expectation that these bodies would be employed in the manner of light companies to a single battalion.

That's to say 'Don't be silly chaps, just scale up the use to a Brigade/Division, you dimwits!"

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP15 Sep 2017 6:13 a.m. PST

Trajanus:

I am convinced that the Napoleonic wars were a transition from what was a provincial/proprietary business to what we understand as the Military today. Dundas speaks to this issue in his regulations. Uniformity of behavior and 'strict' adherence to orders was not viewed then as it is today. James, in his military dictionary rails against the 'unprofessional' behavior of officers who don't take their work seriously. This is decades of war speaking. Just one example is that every officer in the British army had the right to go on leave any time they wanted to and the army couldn't do a thing about it. Wellington more than once complained to Torrens about this and called in officers leaving, subjecting them to a brow-beating to not leave…but in the end, Wellington couldn't stop them. That isn't the army today.

In this kind of 'semi-professional' atmosphere, the need to 'remind' all those chaps to follow GO instructions with more GO reminders. We see these kind of 'don't be silly chaps' general orders in every army of the time.

Osage201715 Sep 2017 8:18 a.m. PST

In 1812, at the battle of Shevardino, the V Army Corps (Prince Poniatowski) had all companies of voltigeurs detached from their parent brigades and fighting in skirmish order.

In 1813, at the battle of Leipzig, the VIII Army Corps (again Prince Poniatowski) had six battalions deployed into a thick skirmish line.

von Winterfeldt15 Sep 2017 11:03 p.m. PST

one has to undertand the traditional battle order, usually two lines of infantry (sometimes three)
in case you created a special infantry battalion out of some elite companies you will retain your original battle order which will give you an additional battlion of battalions to perform tactical tasks without braking up your battle order and keep an intact second line as reserve.
There was aobviously a need – at least on the French side – to gain such a tactical free reserve on divisional or army corps level, which are out of the usual basic batte formation to be able to perform tactical tasks, not necessarily skirmishing.
This has nothing to do with tirailleurs de grande bande (sorry Trajanus) – but it is improtant to understand
tirailleurs de marche
tirailleurs de bataille
tirailleurs de grande bande
and the basic
tactical arrangement or battle order of a Division
and
"semi idipendant battailons d'elite"

Art Inactive Member16 Sep 2017 3:57 a.m. PST

Hans-Karl is quite right…

Since this is about who commands what…I will post the following…for a grande bande…

Tirailleurs en grande bande, are described as a "corps principale"…

When one or more battalions of light infantry are to be formed as tirailleurs, the general shall warn the colonels, who would in turn inform their officers of his etat major the various needed points to be known on the line, and points d'appui for the line of tirailleurs.

The officers would proceed to form the battalion en tirailleurs as indicated in the instruction: "Maniere de Disposer Une compagnie en Tiralleurs" for the dispersion of a battalion.

The lines of tirailluers are to be formed on one battalion, the colonel will let the chef de bataillon know where the various points and point d'appui are. The chef de bataillon will warn the compagnies of carabiners or voltigeurs that they will have to form two lines of tirailleurs, with the second line is 50 paces in front of the reserve.

Captains will command the first and second line, and the third line is formed as the reserve of the battalion.

To assure that everyone is in their proper position, the chef de bataillon will give the command to open ranks.
The commanders of each battalion shall give the various orders from the adopted signals by means of diverse batteries from l'ordonnance. Which are repeated by the clarions/drummers of the chef de bataillon commanding the reserves and by the captains commanding the lignes de tirailleurs.

The tirailleurs are expected to know, as well as promptly obey the various signals no matter what sort of terrain the tirailleurs are in.

The Commander will use both a regulating body and guides on both end of the ligne of tirailleurs to execute any change of front and direction. Of course the use of calls are to replace the command of voice, due to the length of the line, and the turmoil of an action.

As for tirailleurs de marche / route en reconnaisse…an officer from the Genie is attached to make a map…

Best Regards,
Art

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP16 Sep 2017 6:09 a.m. PST

Art:
Where is that description of the procedures for the Grand Bande found?

Art Inactive Member16 Sep 2017 7:18 a.m. PST

Bill go back to the old Napoleonic site…that belonged to James…the entire thread is still there…

If not I will dig up the French version…Le Spectateur Militaire…It was under a thread that John Cook started or was in about the three types of tirailleurs…

Art

Trajanus16 Sep 2017 8:03 a.m. PST

Bill,

I take the point on not looking at Generals in a modern way.

I think we are all familiar with the fact that Wellington struggled with matters of seniority when assigning commands, the vagaries of Horse Guards and individual wilfulness, as well as the French! :o)

The examples of people like Slade and Erskine are well known, along with his problems in how to deal with them due to the conventions of the time.

The point I was trying to make is that he intended combined Lights to be an SOP for the army. The fact that wayward Generals may have chosen not to follow through doesn't alter the intent, only the application.

What other means would he have had to require this, other than a GO? Well apart from holding a gun to peoples heads that is!

What's your take on Albuera in this regard? Was the absence of Brigade screens a matter of time/tactics or French approach, or did the collective British commanders decide to not comply, as they were under Beresford on that occasion? ;O)

Trajanus16 Sep 2017 8:28 a.m. PST

Art & Hans-Karl,

I forgive your transgressions of the "grande bande rule" particularly as its adding to the clarity on this occasion! ;o)

As usual I find myself wondering whether these instructions, tactical options etc made matters better or worse for the French, in terms of the seemingly huge range of possible choice commanders had available in any given circumstances!

It seems to me that, over the period, such structure was built on a wealth of experience from previous European wars, along with more immediate exposure of combat with a number of European powers. Each having their own systems which may or may not have raised individual issues to be addressed.

What puzzles me is that these solutions (for want of a better word) being available, why did the French lose in Portugal and Spain, against an opposing force that had far simpler doctrine and far less experience of recent warfare to learn from?

Now I know that's not a simple question and there are many reasons and combinations thereof, many not related to the battlefield but I hope you can understand where I'm coming from.

If we have on one side an army with a range of tools at its disposal, against another that just says 'grab your light companies and stick them out front' and one turns out to be no better than the other, how so?

Or is it just that systems that evolved out of experience fighting all over Central Europe were not as effective in Iberia?

Brownand16 Sep 2017 11:15 a.m. PST

Art,
what is "the old Napoleon site" ?

Art Inactive Member16 Sep 2017 11:34 a.m. PST

G'Day Bill and Brownand,

Sad news…I logged on to Delphi…and James Napoleonic site is no longer there…

Like all good forums that meet their end…arguments got out of hand…then once the heavies left…so did everyone else…but the info was still there…

Well no more…

Bill when was the last time you logged on?

I'll start going through Le Spectateur Militaires

Best Regards
Art

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP16 Sep 2017 2:46 p.m. PST

The point I was trying to make is that he intended combined Lights to be an SOP for the army. The fact that wayward Generals may have chosen not to follow through doesn't alter the intent, only the application.

Tranjanus:
As a general order for his command, yes, it was intended as a SOP, so no it doesn't alter the intent. My only comment is the attitudes and understanding of subordinates to a GO and SOP was different then compared to now which allowed for a 'wider' interpretation than seen in most major armies around the world.

What other means would he have had to require this, other than a GO? Well apart from holding a gun to peoples heads that is!

Oooh. A tough one. Brow-beating, removal from command [sometimes], placed in less responsible positions or posts. Erskine and others are just the most obvious. It also had to do with out powerful the class distinctions were in British society and the army. Remember the one incident where an upper class guard cavalry officer refused to follow Wellington's order… and rode away and Wellington had no recourse to it because of the upper class social position visa vie the Horse Guards. But there are subtler events that were rampant among the officer class… and only gradually gave way to a more professional attitude when more middle class men were able to become officers as the wars demanded more officers. Here is just an example:

The average officer's day stationed in England [and extended to campaign] is well illustrated by an extract from a letter by a new Cornet in the Royal Dragoons to his mother in 1806:

"At about nine o'clock the trumpets sound for foot parade when the different troops formed…then the sergeant's guard mounts, and the officers leave the regiment; their business being done; then the sergeant-major exercises the regiment, with which we have nothing to do. At ten o'clock I breakfast…At eleven all the subaltern officers are to go to the riding school but, if you don't go, no notice is taken of it, except perhaps if you were to away for weeks together. At twelve the subaltern officers have to attend the foot drill, and then your business is done for the day…Our officers are not teased with the petty minutiae of the service. They are, and live like gentlemen… Regimental duty does not take up above two hours when there is a field day, and half an hour when there is a foot parade. The rest of the time we have quite to ourselves occupied in reading, drawing, music, etc."

In another letter he writes:

"Our sergeants drill the men, etc., etc., and do the greater part of the duty of a German officer [Kings German Legion officers did drill their men.] We only attend on parades, they last about a quarter of an hour."

That is a different army in a different time. NCOs still make the distinction 'working for a living' compared to Officers, so there is some history there…

What's your take on Albuera in this regard? Was the absence of Brigade screens a matter of time/tactics or French approach, or did the collective British commanders decide to not comply, as they were under Beresford on that occasion? ;O)

From what I understand, partly from discussions Howie and I have had, Stewart's brigade light battalion was deployed around Albuera and stayed there when Stewart moved out. Cole's was with him and did some serious skirmishing on his flanks.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP16 Sep 2017 2:48 p.m. PST

Art:

Yes, if you are able, the number/date of the issue of the Le Spectateur Militaire would be much appreciated.

I haven't been to the Delphi site in a long time, probably more than a year.

von Winterfeldt16 Sep 2017 10:24 p.m. PST

Also

Commandant Gérôme : Essai Historique sur la Tactique de l'infanterie page 155 onwards, in case you are in the US you can get it for download on hathi trust.

also an arrticel

French mass skirmisher tactics during the Revolutionary Wars
by Geert van Uythoven

Chad4718 Sep 2017 12:11 a.m. PST

VW

Do you have a link for the van Uythoven article?

Pete

von Winterfeldt18 Sep 2017 3:51 a.m. PST

Pete

unfortunately no – I downloaded the article when Geert had had a web site full of highly interesting and high quality articles and essays.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP18 Sep 2017 5:55 a.m. PST

VW:
Is that something you'd be willing to share? I do miss Geert's website.

Chad4718 Sep 2017 6:23 a.m. PST

I second McLaddie's message

Pete

von Winterfeldt18 Sep 2017 10:01 a.m. PST

the article is not long, I could paste and copy it and insert it here – but I am reluctant to do so, it is Geerts work and it was on his webside.

Let me know your e-mail addresses and I will forward the word file.

Chad4718 Sep 2017 11:34 a.m. PST

peter.chadwick at hotmail.co.uk

Thanks

Pete

von Winterfeldt18 Sep 2017 12:01 p.m. PST

it is on the way

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP18 Sep 2017 12:13 p.m. PST

Thanks, VW. bhaggart@cebridge.net

Valmy9218 Sep 2017 1:35 p.m. PST

me too, please pmyers920@cox.net
Thanks,
Phil

Osterreicher18 Sep 2017 3:03 p.m. PST

Servus Herr von Winterfeldt,
Können Sie mir bitte den Aufsatz "French mass skirmisher tactics during the Revolutionary Wars" von Geert van Uythoven senden.
david@apis-media.com
Danke viel mal,

von Winterfeldt19 Sep 2017 8:51 a.m. PST

is on the way

von Winterfeldt19 Sep 2017 8:54 a.m. PST

Unzustellbar: Geerts article word file

david@apis-media.com

Osterreicher19 Sep 2017 12:01 p.m. PST

Ach, Mensch, tut mir echt leid. Nicht sicher, ob der Beitrag zu gross ist? Bitte versuchen Sie mal einfach die Adresse zuerst abzusenden, dann werde ich sofort zurückschreiben.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP19 Sep 2017 12:03 p.m. PST

Thanks for that VW:

Here is a neat little piece from that section you sent that addresses Trajanus's question directly:

From Girod: [p.101]
Girod is a sous-lieutenant at this stage and I think this passage gives us a few more leads.

Battle of Sommosiera /
On the 29th of November, we came to bivouac at the foot of the mountains of Sommosiera, the passages of which were guarded by a large body of Spaniards. The battalions of voltigeurs were formed, and I found myself entirely at the vanguard.

That sounds like forming light battalions was not only done, but fairly standard if 'the battalions of voltigeurs' can be taken as an indication semantically.

Le 29 novembre, nous vînmes bivouaquer au pied des montagnes de Sommosiera, dont les passages étaient gardés par un corps nombreux d'Espagnoles… On forma des bataillons de voltigeurs, et je me trouvai tout à fait à l'avant-garde.

Trajanus20 Sep 2017 4:00 a.m. PST

Thanks Bill & VW.

That passage certainly gives a strong indication that it was the norm.

"et je me trouvai tout à fait à l'avant-garde"

I wonder, was Giord actually a sous-lieutenant in a Voltigeur company? That would be some nice icing on the cake!

Allan F Mountford20 Sep 2017 10:45 a.m. PST

VW had posted this before here on TMP in 2012:

***
Here a very good article by Geert van Uyhoven
French mass skirmisher tactics during the Revolutionary Wars
by Geert van Uythoven

What the French generals favoured most during the Revolutionary Wars was the tactic to engage the enemy frontline with thousands of skirmishers, operating 'en debandade', replaced after a while for new swarms. These were closely supported with artillery that was deployed in front of the enemy, as close as possible, not counting its losses. In this way the Allied units in their first line, especially their light infantry which was not easy to replace, suffered heavily. The French generals were able to do this because of first: the enormous amount of men available to them, enabling them to replace the frontline troops several times during their fight against the weakly held, seventy hours long cordon of posts; secondly, the basic of the system of terror utilised by them, not to spare their soldiers, while every loss was immediately replaced, and they had not to account for those losses: only the results would count. An example for this tactic is the combat which took place on 16 July 1794 at the canalized river Neete, were near Waehlem village the French attacked the Anglo-Allied cordon. The Allied first line was positioned behind the cover of a dike along the river:
Source: H.P.R. von Porbeck, "Kritische Geschichte der Operationen welche die Englisch-combinirte Armee zur Vertheidigung von Holland in den Jahren 1794 und 1795 ausgeführt hat" Theil 1 (Braunschweig 1802) pp. 143-144:
"(…) Five times the enemy relieved their forward troops, and our side received a replenishment of cartridges several times. In addition, these also were relieved a few times, which was difficult because of the open space which had to be crossed before the dike was reached.
Around noon, the enemy deployed a number of cannon and mortars on the churchyard of Waehlem village and inside the Rosendael Abbey. On our side, beside both Austrian 12-pdr's and the regimental guns, an additional four 12-pdr's and a complete English battery of eight guns were deployed, after which beside the continuing musketry, a heavy cannonade started. It rained bullets, grenades, and stones, and the artillerymen and horses suffered heavily; already an Austrian gun and an ammunition caisson were demolished. But finally our artillery defeated the enemy artillery in such a way, that when evening fell it was completely silenced. The musketry however continued with all its fierceness during the whole night. Finally, the jäger and fusiliers had to be withdrawn to Lazarus-Capelle around 10 o'clock in the evening, because of lack of ammunition and necessary repairs to their rifles. Their place had to be taken by infantry-commands drawn from the reserve. (..) On the 17th, in the morning, the enemy continued its fire with the same fierceness."
© Geert van Uythoven

Brownand06 Oct 2017 12:26 p.m. PST

Via this:
members.home.nl/uythoven

you can find the old articles of Geert

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