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"Combined Arms Attacks" Topic


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HappyHussar31 Jan 2018 9:22 a.m. PST

In another thread I brought up the topic of combined arms attacks. We all know at Waterloo that Ney did not coordinate the French attacks very well. Instead, like the Prussians at Auerstaedt, he sent in one wave of cavalry after another and then an infantry attack, etc but not coordinated. A vital gap of time elapsed between these attacks.

So the questions here are:

How well did Napoleonic armies perform combined arms attacks on:

1. The higher level – entire divisions of infantry attacking with a brigade or brigades of cavalry in support.

2. The lower level – a regiment of infantry working together with a few squadrons or a regiment of cavalry.

My feeling is that only the very best commanders on both the lower and upper ever pulled it off.

Part of this comes from the fact that the cavalry need deployment area and that attacking in conjunction with another battalion(s) was not always easy to pull off whether its due to command issues or just pride.

"The Cuirassiers charged again with no thought for coordinating their attack …" etc.

attilathepun4731 Jan 2018 10:56 a.m. PST

In my opinion, successfully co-ordinating combined arms attacks is the supreme test of battlefield generalship. It was and is complex and difficult. Perhaps its desirability was widely recognized in the Napoleonic era, but not many generals were capable of pulling it off with any frequency, if ever. The timing must be exquisite in order not to wind up with one arm obstructing the operations of another arm and creating a total mess. It is extremely difficult to sort it all out and recover the momentum of attack once things have bogged down due to poor timing. Piece-meal attacks are almost bound to fail against an even moderately competent defending general, unless the numerical odds are very highly in favor of the attacker.

Waterloo might have been another story, if Napoleon had been in top form, but the general opinion is that he was suffering from some physical ailment that day, which left things too much in Ney's hands. For all his courage, Ney was not one of the best French marshal's.

RudyNelson31 Jan 2018 11:20 a.m. PST

Horse artillery batteries would move to give support where ever needed.foot batteries were more stationary when a battle began.
Freezing infantry in squares with threatened cavalry attacks, thus waiting until the artillery and infantry could pound the Square was mentioned several times.

Mick the Metalsmith Inactive Member31 Jan 2018 11:44 a.m. PST

Rudy has it. Cavalry acting as a threat is the essence of what combined arms achieved, not simultaneous or near simultaneous contact by two different arms on the same target in good order.

Mick the Metalsmith Inactive Member31 Jan 2018 11:46 a.m. PST

I must confess, I am not sure of what massed cavalry divisions could achieve in conjunction with an infantry division.

Glengarry531 Jan 2018 2:28 p.m. PST

Even the threat of cavalry could force infantry to form square, making it difficult to move and increasing their vulnerable to opposing infantry and in particular artillery attacks.

Personal logo jeffreyw3 Supporting Member of TMP31 Jan 2018 2:58 p.m. PST

Can someone point out some examples of the "combined arms" attacks suggested here? None come to mind, at the moment.

Michael Westman31 Jan 2018 3:11 p.m. PST

It's hard to think of a combined arms attack against a prepared defensive position. I think Borodino had to be the biggest (against the Great Redoubt). You kind of gave part of the answer yourself – "Part of this comes from the fact that the cavalry need deployment area and that attacking in conjunction with another battalion(s) was not always easy to pull off…" A combined arms attack would either need the infantry or cavalry able to pass through the other, which would be almost impossible to pull off, or perhaps have the cavalry on the flank of the infantry and be able to charge in without exposing their own flank to enemy forces.

On a smaller scale the coordination between the commanders would be hard to pull off and would probably depend on the ability and opportunism of the cavalry commander.

Glenn Pearce31 Jan 2018 6:13 p.m. PST

Hello HappyHussar!

The problem is that gamers and some writers look at the phrases "combined arms attack" and "coordinated attack" with modern eyes and minds. In Napoleonic times these have completely different meanings.

I believe that a "combined arms attack" was what we would today call a "phased attack". In strict terms that was supposed to be first a cavalry attack that forced the enemy into compact formations. Next the artillery would pound the enemy in their compact formations. Skirmishers would then go forward to cause further disruption, follow by the formed infantry who would deliver the crushing blow. The cavalry would then return and mop it all up. So you can see how this is a "combined arms attack", but they are rarely if ever acted at the same time.

Although a "coordinated attack" could include different troops such as infantry and cavalry if so it was generally only to support each other. In other words a common attack plan was the infantry would make the actual attack and the cavalry would protect the flanks of the attack. So not actually attack the same target.

The more common use I think for a "coordinated attack" was simply between different formations of the same troop type. The Division made a "coordinated attack". All of its Brigades made the attack at the same time vs sending them in separately.

So when you look at Waterloo with an understanding of the actual intended tactics Ney is spot on. The artillery has been used, followed by the infantry, so now is the time to mop up with the cavalry. So in his mind the French have made a proper "combined arms attack".

Likewise the problem with Auerstaedt was only partly a coordinated issue. It had more to do with as you have said "A vital gap of time elapsed between these attacks." The French were always able to reorganize and prepare for the next assault. Even a few that were close together.

You also mentioned space to which I will add size. We are talking about bodies of troops that are probably anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 or more men per side in a given location. There is simply no way you can mix these troops up or compress them in any way outside of their present formations that would enable them to interact effectively with enemy troops at the same time. On the attack they basically go forward and occupy a given frontage that has no room for other troops.

Hope this helps solve or answer your questions.

Best regards,

Glenn

Brechtel19831 Jan 2018 6:36 p.m. PST

It should also be noted that the French artillery schools after the Seven Years' War, during the French army's reform period, taught infantry/artillery cooperation.

N0tt0N Supporting Member of TMP31 Jan 2018 9:10 p.m. PST

Combined arms is all about the perceived threat and the response doctrine.

The threat of cavalry makes artillery effective. Stand off and pound.

For infantry to take advantage of their cavalry threat they have to be close and that makes the geometry on the battlefield difficult to manage except in small scale or salients. Infantry can better combine with artillery.

Cavalry, on the other hand is like a condom. Very enthusiastic and intriguing but much less so once used. The use of cavalry, except in pursuit is a fail. Poop or Dubious cavalry is a waste of horse flesh. Massed cavalry is another expensive story that I'm surprised wasn't used more in large sweeping maneuver at the grand tactical level to threaten flanks and rear area.

nsolomon9931 Jan 2018 10:45 p.m. PST

In an airport, about to board.

Dresden springs quickly to mind.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP01 Feb 2018 7:42 a.m. PST

One of the groups I play with, refuses to play the "head to head lead" games. Everything is scenario driven and most troops start in column of march. You have the problem of how to deploy and build up an attack. Trying to get a combined arms attack is harder than you would think.

Do I spend time deploying properly, building up the perfect attack, or do I do a less than perfect attack to buy time?

I would certainly say that I have gained new respects for generals how can do this properly.

Here's some examples of our games that give you an idea of our approach:

link

Glenn Pearce01 Feb 2018 7:52 a.m. PST

Hello NOttON!

"Massed cavalry is another expensive story that I'm surprised wasn't used more in large sweeping maneuver at the grand tactical level to threaten flanks and rear area."

Napoleon did where possible and practical at the start of some of his campaigns. The French had the organization and commanders who understood the principles and could execute grand tactical manoeuvres. His enemies were for the most part new to the corps system and were generally lacking the skills and or organization to execute such manoeuvres.

You also have to keep in mind that a massed cavalry force on its own has limited resources or value to threaten flanks and rear areas. A mixed force can also crush the flank and rear areas. So in most situations the choice of using a mixed force was always a better option. Napoleon always picked this option whenever he could.

Best regards,

Glenn

Brechtel19801 Feb 2018 9:53 a.m. PST

If you take a look at Bressonet's excellent study on the Jena campaign and the battle of Jena in particular, you will find artillery, infantry, and cavalry, especially light cavalry, being used in a combined arms fashion.

Likewise, at Waterloo after the French cavalry attacks, the French infantry again attacked the allied line in skirmisher swarms closely supported by artillery. And they were supported by French cavalry which kept much of the allied infantry in squares, making them perfect artillery targets.

ancientsgamer Supporting Member of TMP01 Feb 2018 10:50 a.m. PST

Prussian Brigade organization post 1812 was designed to do this. Not sure how well it worked in tactics with so much Landwehr.

Personal logo jeffreyw3 Supporting Member of TMP01 Feb 2018 4:23 p.m. PST

RAF--I like that idea quite a bit--I think I'll steal it. grin

Stoppage01 Feb 2018 5:51 p.m. PST

@Glenn

Good explanation of a 'phased attack'.

I'd prefer it described as an 'attack in depth' or even 'grand-tactical attack sequence'

@OP

The revolutionary war Legion concept might have envisaged this combined arms thing (though not successfully)

Didn't some cavalry operate out of the cover provided by some nearby infantry squares at Austerlitz?

Brechtel19801 Feb 2018 7:25 p.m. PST

Yes Glenn gave an excellent explanation.

HappyHussar01 Feb 2018 8:00 p.m. PST

Ok – not meaning that the two branches attacked the same target at precisely the same time. This is more along the lines of what is discussed above. That the cavalry would force the infantry form square while infantry arrived to attack it. Or that after an infantry battalion had attacked other infantry it was suddenly charged by cavalry.

I agree that the chance of this happening was rare.

HappyHussar01 Feb 2018 8:02 p.m. PST

Likewise, at Waterloo after the French cavalry attacks, the French infantry again attacked the allied line in skirmisher swarms closely supported by artillery. And they were supported by French cavalry which kept much of the allied infantry in squares, making them perfect artillery targets.

-----

But from what I read the British light infantry kept the French skirmishers from firing on the formed units. That was their role. I am not a huge Waterloo reader so I defer to your greater knowledge on the battle. Sounds like the British light infantry/Rifles were not able to always keep the French skirmishers at bay.

attilathepun4701 Feb 2018 9:54 p.m. PST

@HappyHussar,

"But from what I read the British light infantry kept the French skirmishers from firing on the formed units. That was their role. I am not a huge Waterloo reader so I defer to your greater knowledge on the battle. Sounds like the British light infantry/Rifles were not able to always keep the French skirmishers at bay."

Or many British skirmishers were not, for unclear reasons, used in their intended role. A couple battalions of the 95th Rifles seem to have spent much of the battle in close order delivering volley fire.

By the way, in my first post in this thread, I did not intend to give the impression that a successfully co-ordinated combined arms attack meant a simultaneous attack by all arms--just that they were delivered in rapid succession in the right order with support from the other arms. By that definition, Ney's cavalry attempting to charge home against infantry in square without significant infantry or artillery support did not qualify.

Glenn Pearce02 Feb 2018 7:24 a.m. PST

Hello my good friends Stoppage & Brechtel198!

Thanks for your kind words.

Stoppage

I think there was a proper name for it. The French have great names for everything, but I don't remember what it was. I've seen someone before call it their tactical or grand tactical doctrine.

Best regards,

Glenn

Glenn Pearce02 Feb 2018 7:57 a.m. PST

Perhaps I should embellish my comments to some degree.

Clearly there are situations where two or more arms were able to work closely together. You see this when cavalry who are intended to support an infantry attack sees an opportunity and acts on it. Also during the revolutionary period when all arms could be found in the same Division. The Austrian Advant-Garde were intentionally designed to be able to do this.

Things generally become more segregated into phases when the armies started to group the different arms into their own formations. The different command structures made it a little more awkward to coordinate things. The French, however, learned how to interact with each other fairly well which at times gave them an edge.

So there are certainly instances where it's very hard to see any separation between the different attacks.

Cacadore s Inactive Member08 Feb 2018 7:11 p.m. PST

Re:HappyHussar 31 Jan 2018 8:22 a.m. PST !
" In another thread I brought up the topic of combined arms attacks. We all know at Waterloo that Ney did not coordinate the French attacks very well. Instead, like the Prussians at Auerstaedt, he sent in one wave of cavalry after another and then an infantry attack, etc but not coordinated"

I've seen no evidence the cavalry attacks were ordered by Ney. Assembling the cavalry took perhaps an hour and was done right under Bonaparte's gaze. The idea Boney couldn't give orders is rather belied by the fact he refused to give Ney more troops when the latter came close to breaking through the Allied lines at La Haye Sainte. Boney's staff made no record of illness.

The fact Ney was executed while Bonaparte needed a scapegoat while he wrote his mythography on St Helena is rather more telling.

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