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"what were the advantages of 6- vs 8-companies battalion ?" Topic


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1,192 hits since 29 Dec 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Osage201729 Dec 2017 3:13 p.m. PST

What were the reasons for changing in 1808 the organization of napoleonic (French, German, Polish etc.) battalion from 8 to 6 companies ? Any pros and cons of the new battalion ?

JimDuncanUK29 Dec 2017 3:34 p.m. PST

Administration I expect.

Most battalions fought in 2 wings regardless of how many companies were present.

Artilleryman29 Dec 2017 3:36 p.m. PST

It was primarily for administration. On the day of battle, the battalion would be told off into equal sized 'platoons' to allow manoeuver in formation.

Personal logo Mserafin Supporting Member of TMP29 Dec 2017 3:48 p.m. PST

Perhaps because 6 companies require fewer officers and NCOs than 8? I'll try to check my sources to confirm.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP29 Dec 2017 3:57 p.m. PST

Actually, the Austrians, with large battalions had fewer officers per battalion than the French or British, which might be why they were larger: not enough officers available.

Brechtel19829 Dec 2017 4:19 p.m. PST

The pre-1808 infantry battalions had nine companies, not 8.

With the new organization, there were four war battalions in each regiment and one depot battalion. Companies were all now of the same strength, and that was increased to 140 all ranks.

The depot battalion had four companies, and the battalion was commanded by the senior captain. It had no elite companies.

The new ratio of officers and NCOs to privates was less than it had been in the nine-company battalion organization.

There were now a greater number of elite companies in the regiments. This did not become a major problem until after Russia in 1812 with the heavy losses incurred.

Personal logo Saber6 Supporting Member of TMP Fezian29 Dec 2017 4:36 p.m. PST

with a few strokes of a pen more battalions were created.

rmaker29 Dec 2017 11:04 p.m. PST

Companies (like regiments) were administrative organizations. The tactical unit was the battalion, divided into four (three for the Austrians) divisions. So having only six companies to keep track of instead of nine, made life easier for the clerks and didn't affect tactical usage.

Brownand30 Dec 2017 2:05 a.m. PST

But how fit the new 6 companies in the 4 tactical units of a battalion? Suppose the elite companies were always detached?

Brechtel19830 Dec 2017 3:23 a.m. PST

Infantry regiments were not administrative units. They were combat units and were employed as such.

The continuing 'discussion' between infantry companies and 'pelotons' which labels an infantry company as an administrative unit is also misleading. Who do you think commanded the 'peloton' and who was in it? The company commander and his company. The term peloton was a hold-over from the eighteenth century and for all intents and purposes the company and peloton were the same thing in the French army, regardless of what term was used in the regulations.

The two elite companies per battalion were not 'regulated' with the infusion of fusilier or chasseur personel in combat whether or not they were detached or stayed with the battalion. That would defeat the purpose of having elite companies.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP30 Dec 2017 10:10 a.m. PST

This may have no relevance at all, but as a reenactment battalion commander, I always found 6 companies to sort of be the ideal number for maneuvering on the field. I've commanded battalions with 8 or 10 companies, but that really starts to get unwieldy. 6 just seemed to work best.

Oliver Schmidt30 Dec 2017 10:18 a.m. PST

Scott, did you command full size battalions ? (ACW, I presume ?)

I would think that some movements with 800 men in 8 platoons will be quicker than with 800 men in 6 platoons: less time needed for wheeling in and out, and the smaller frontage of the subunits reduces the chance of errors in maintaining alignment also during their other movements (for example forming or deploying a closed column).

Lion in the Stars31 Dec 2017 4:32 p.m. PST

Span of control is a real thing, even in miniatures gaming.

You might have 12 platoons on the table (I usually game WW2 and more recent events), but I don't run 12 individual platoons. I run ~6 two-platoon short companies, and even that is pushing it.

Look at modern military organizations, there are 3 companies to the battalion (well, 4 if you count the support weapons) and 3 battalions to the regiment/brigade (again, 4+ if you count the support).

Because it's difficult, if not impossible, to control more than that effectively.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP31 Dec 2017 9:48 p.m. PST

In the Discours du General Foy, Foy concludes that 600 men for a battalion is optimal because that a single voice [the commander's] can not be hear by larger bodies of troops. Most instructions say that the battalion and larger bodies of troops were control by voice.

Edwulf31 Dec 2017 10:58 p.m. PST

I suppose coordinating 6 parts is easier than 8 or 9?
But then didn't companies is most battalions equalize before battle?

rmaker01 Jan 2018 11:44 a.m. PST

But how fit the new 6 companies in the 4 tactical units of a battalion?

But then didn't companies is most battalions equalize before battle?

Not just before battle. At roll call, every morning, the battalion would be told off into platoons. If a company or two had ben detached to guard a depot, the remaining soldiers were still told off into four platoons, because that's how the tactics worked.

Yes, usually the platoons would break more or less along company lines, as long as the companies remained fairly equal is size. but that couldn't be counted on. Perhaps two days ago, the platoon that consisted mostly of men from 3rd Company got caught in an ambush and lost heavily. Now 3rd Company is noticeably smaller than the others.

You can't just transfer a bunch of guys from other companies because that has to go through not just battalion or regimental HQ, but all the way back to the War Ministry. Otherwise pay and service records get messed up.

Brechtel19801 Jan 2018 12:29 p.m. PST

Source?

Le Breton02 Jan 2018 12:03 p.m. PST

Brechtel, assuming you know French …..

Sources for rmaker :

Regulations
Reglément de l'infanterie (1791) Titre Ier Formation d'un régiment en ordre de bataille
link

Training Guide
Manuel d'infanterie (1813), Titre IIIe Devoirs, No. 251 – Rassemblement du bataillon & No. 252 Manière d'égaliser les pelotons (pages 254-255)
link

Theorectical Analysis
Tableaux synoptiques de l'école de bataillon (1823), pages 3-5
link

Dictionary
Dictionnaire de l'armée de terre (Bardin – 1835-1841), Vol. 7, page 4358 et. seq.

Looks like much broader use of the term – with equalization just as rmaker described -, well into the 19th century – and so not just a hold-over from the 18th century, as you asserted.

Actually, It appears that the practise was maintained until the Franco-Prussian War, if not later.

================

OK, now your turn :

"The term peloton was a hold-over from the eighteenth century and for all intents and purposes the company and peloton were the same thing in the French army, regardless of what term was used in the regulations."

Contemporary sources ?
Please do not just re-assert your own personal opinions or allude to a modern English language secondary source whose primary source material is untracable, if it existed at all.
Please do not change the subject.
Please do not accuse anyone of being anti-Napoleon.
Just provide your contemporary sources for your assertion or admit is it merely your own personal opinion.

Mithmee Supporting Member of TMP02 Jan 2018 7:56 p.m. PST

Fielding more Battalions

4th Cuirassier03 Jan 2018 3:19 a.m. PST

@ Le Breton

That training guide is very interesting. I looked for 9 rue de Thionville (the publisher's address) on Google Streetview but alas it is no longer there.

I read French fairly well, unfamiliar vocabulary aside, but do you know of an English translation of it anywhere? I am wondering exactly what "le rang de taille" means.

It's very interesting that an 800-man battalion in three ranks is said to occupy a front of 200 "paces" – whatever those are.

Le Breton03 Jan 2018 3:50 a.m. PST

I like the guide too … notice the "quick-way" to equalize companies (not bothering to get the heights perfect) …. there are several places where the author notes problems with applying the regulations in force to the new 6-compay organization and he helpfully gives in some cases not only his own opinion but also indicates where others might be doing it differently.

"par the rang de taille" – by height …. one rank (en haíe) is formed by height, as a preliminary to forming the three rangs with large in front, small in middle and others in back.

I am sorry, but I know of no translation …. but I have never looked for one.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP03 Jan 2018 4:11 a.m. PST

The largest ACW reenactment battalion I've ever observed trying to maneuver was about 800 men. God it was a monster! :) When in line, the colonel would issue an order but since the flank companies couldn't hear him, staff officers on horseback would ride along the line to make sure everyone had it and then a bugle would give the signal to move and then the maneuver would take place. Just deploying from a column into line took many minutes to carry out. In a march column we probably stretched out to nearly a quarter mile long :)

4th Cuirassier03 Jan 2018 4:16 a.m. PST

@
Le Breton Thanks – if there isn't one I will maybe do one as a spare-time project. I have been reading what it says about how to make soupe and also various ways to make what it calls blanc which is what I would call blanco or perhaps whitening. The recipe is:

10 litres of water
1.5 to 2kg pipeclay
92g "Flanders glue" – this seems to be a thin white glue made by boiling hide and sinew and then drying the result
120g starch
1.9g indigo.

("This preparation, which is sufficient for the leatherwork of a company, is more solid but has the drawback of chipping off; and if the leatherwork absorbs rain, clothing is stained by the blue washing out.")

Is this stuff not remarkable? To ensure the men's leatherwork looked buff (see what I did there?) at all times, even on campaign, officers arrived equipped with several different formulae for making whitener in the field. One such included blue to make it blue-white but the blue might come off in the rain. Damn, that's something else I have to remember to paint onto French lapels: blue stains from wet leatherwork.

There's an alternative formulation using milk. I knew sheep's milk was used to whiten linen (well, the lactic acid in it was what did it; "vitriol" or sulphuric acid had come into recent use but was expensive and tricky to handle). Our manual writer cautions that using milk to whiten leatherwork can leave greasy marks. You don't say…

Osage201703 Jan 2018 7:50 a.m. PST

@
ScottWashburn Big thanks ! – It's fascinating what you just described. I wish I could see such 800-men battalion :-)

Maybe I should visit the Gettysburg reenactment.
I know in western Europe they have Waterloo-1815 and it is usually a huge event with many many "soldiers", and in eastern Europe they have Grunwald-1410, possibly even on larger scale than Waterloo, but this is a medieval battle.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP03 Jan 2018 8:56 a.m. PST

The largest ACW reenactment battalion I've ever observed trying to maneuver was about 800 men. God it was a monster! :) When in line, the colonel would issue an order but since the flank companies couldn't hear him, staff officers on horseback would ride along the line to make sure everyone had it and then a bugle would give the signal to move and then the maneuver would take place. Just deploying from a column into line took many minutes to carry out. In a march column we probably stretched out to nearly a quarter mile long :)

Scott:
Well, that supports Foy's contention that 600 men was the limit on voice command.

However, why didn't you use the manual form where each company officer[s] repeated the command down the line?

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP03 Jan 2018 9:55 a.m. PST

@McLaddie: Oh, the commands were 'echoed' down the line for certain, but from the colonel's position in the center, he couldn't be SURE everyone got the order :)

Actually, in ACW regulations there are a few built-in provisions to help out the colonel. For instance, many of the formation changes occur 'in succession', meaning that the companies arrive on the line one after the other rather than all at once. As each company reaches its spot, it will go to support arms, giving a visual signal to the colonel that they have finished the maneuver and are ready to do the next thing. When the colonel sees all of his companies at support arms, he knows the maneuver is complete.

Le Breton03 Jan 2018 4:19 p.m. PST

4th Cuirassier,

I really love that book, too.

The author is said to be Bardin, but really I think he was more an editor, as the style of the writing changes.
It was adopted as "official" at St-Cyr in the era.

In a simialr vein, you might like the 1813 Mémorial de l'officier d'infanterie (2 vols)
link
link


We likely all paint the miniatures way way too "clean".

I know the Russians looked a bit ragged by the time of the reviews in Paris in 1814. This lead to attempts to paint the uniforms, rushing shakos from reviewed units to units not yet reviewed, rich officers paying a king's ransom to Parisian tailors for 1-day service, particulaly scruffy units being detailed for patrol assignments during the inspections, etc. (That last also happened to me in the US Navy – I always knew a "surprise" inspection was comng when my crews were assigned to base security or similar – our boats always looked and worked great, but my men and myself …. not so good.)

the French must have looked pretty ragged all the time, except at the start of a campaign.

4th Cuirassier04 Jan 2018 3:02 a.m. PST

@ Le Breton

Thanks, I will check those out.

I am sure you are right about our making these guys look too clean. I have a full-length portrait photograph of my grandfather in his RFC uniform, taken in 1919. He was a trainee torpedo engineer based on the east coast, and was badly injured when a Zeppelin bomb fell on his mess hall in 1916. He was hospitalised for the rest of the war, hence didn't pose for his souvenir photo until afterward. His uniform, in its sprucest possible condition for his heirloom photo, looks frankly in need of a good press. It's clean but it's crumpled, almost like wet laundry coming out of the machine.

This was the era where there were chemical dyes but no dry-cleaning, no electric steam irons with thermostats, or anything. I find this was true even of senior officers; in this photo of Foch, he looks like he needs a press too:

picture

On New Year's Day we went for a ramble in a country park nearby. It had been raining overnight. I noticed that every runner who overtook us had a spray of mud right up the back of his legs to the waist. Probably all our figures should have the same, plus mud up the inside of the legs to the knee.

And blue stains on the lapels where the indigo has washed out of their belts…

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP04 Jan 2018 10:28 p.m. PST

@McLaddie: Oh, the commands were 'echoed' down the line for certain, but from the colonel's position in the center, he couldn't be SURE everyone got the order :)

Actually, in ACW regulations there are a few built-in provisions to help out the colonel. For instance, many of the formation changes occur 'in succession', meaning that the companies arrive on the line one after the other rather than all at once. As each company reaches its spot, it will go to support arms, giving a visual signal to the colonel that they have finished the maneuver and are ready to do the next thing. When the colonel sees all of his companies at support arms, he knows the maneuver is complete.

ScottW: Thanks for that information. I love the KISS elements in such methods.

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