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"Skirmishers" Topic


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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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GlacierMI Inactive Member28 Jun 2018 12:31 p.m. PST

Let me ask a question that has been on my mind a long time regarding the use of Skirmishers. Were they effective summarized in laymans terms because they were able to snipe and sharpshoot formed troops to the point where the formed troops needed to act either offensive or defensively to get out of their way? Rifle bearing skirmishers I can see and understand, but musket armed skirmishers which I thought were most all of them I can't see as being terribly effective. Can anyone recommend a good book that explains the mindframe and tactics of the period that might help me understand musket armed skirmishers?

I Drink Your Milkshake28 Jun 2018 12:35 p.m. PST

TMP link

Read this. Muskets wounding and unnerving troops at 4-800 yards. Pretty unnerving when the fellow next to you gets shot in the face from an unseen assailant.

Muskets were still very effective.

GlacierMI Inactive Member28 Jun 2018 12:37 p.m. PST

awesome, thank you!

marshalGreg28 Jun 2018 12:55 p.m. PST

If you also read the AAR report of the guards charge at Quatre Bra by Atkins. You get a good appreciative idea how much their command was devastated, in just a short order by skirmish fire when proceeding through Bosso Wood.

Brechtel19828 Jun 2018 1:06 p.m. PST

Skirmishers and their employment by the French is covered quite well in Imperial Bayonets by George Nafziger, Swords Around a Throne by John Elting, and The British Light Infantry Arm by David Gates as a start.

The French used skirmishers in large numbers, deployed by battalion and sometimes by regiment as the fire support element in an attack. They would advance in large numbers between battalion columns and keep the enemy line if formation and 'busy' while the columns advanced. And the French were musket armed and very effective.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP28 Jun 2018 1:30 p.m. PST

But surely that Elting book is discredited because it said it took five years to train a drummer….

(I might just be joking though, I love that book)

I suspect the effectiveness of skirmishers had far more to do with the quality of their targets than the firearms they used against them.

Brechtel19828 Jun 2018 1:31 p.m. PST

Actually, what it says is that it took five years to train a drummer capable of 'beating all the different signals (batteries) correctly, day or night, under the stress of combat, and some ten years to produce a real expert.'-See page 336.


References for that chapter among others, are:


-The Rise and Development of Military Music by Henry Farmer.

-Manuel de Musique Militaire by Kastner.

-Memoires d'un Vieux Deserteur: Adventures de J Steininger, edited by P de Pardiellan.

Brechtel19828 Jun 2018 1:41 p.m. PST

Actually, what it says is that it took five years to train a real expert…

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP28 Jun 2018 1:49 p.m. PST

Trust me, I was not serious. I do recall the many responses. I love that book.

I do know it took longer to train a French drummer than a German Football Coach (Soccer Coach, to our members from the rebel colonies. It is all to do with a soccer competition in Eastern Europe right now. Tango will tell us more…if it all works out)

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP28 Jun 2018 1:55 p.m. PST

Viva Mexico! Oops, not relevant to skirmishers. grin

Jim

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP29 Jun 2018 4:20 a.m. PST

Skirmishers could be quite effective if not opposed by other skirmishers. If both sides had a screen out in front, they tended to neutralize each other.

42flanker29 Jun 2018 4:46 a.m. PST

I think the efficacy of French skirmishers may have been overrated. In the Revolutionary Army, it seems they had a tendency to balk if their advance met with determined resistance and they would retire to take pot shots just within effective distance. I think Nafziger comments on this. There was also a reported tendency for skirmishers in the 'Armee de Nord', at any rate, to fire high.

David Gates relies heavily on Money for his analysis, and only refers to one battle, the atypical action at Hondschoote.

Sparta29 Jun 2018 5:26 a.m. PST

I have slowly over the years changed my perception of the napoleonic battles. I think we underappreciate the fact that skimishing was a continuous part of the destructive phase of the battle together with the artillery. I have seen waterloo described as ten hours of skirmishing interrupted by 5 or so attacks of short duration. Wargames often have a hard time presenting slow degrading of combat capability, so we ignore the main part of the action in most rules.

marshalGreg29 Jun 2018 7:06 a.m. PST

Agree with Sparta.
Atkins accounts of Quatre Bras also depicts a similar image of mostly artillery and skirmish with a few more determined attacks. The British had their hands full there, and evident of how "far south it goes" when they do not have the typical control of the reverse slope; to have shelter, and give their own skirmish line that solid defensive position.
MG

Brechtel19829 Jun 2018 7:16 a.m. PST

Skirmishers could be quite effective if not opposed by other skirmishers. If both sides had a screen out in front, they tended to neutralize each other.

That depends on both quality and numbers employed.

Stoppage29 Jun 2018 11:49 a.m. PST

@Sparta

Mmm very interesting observation – where was the description?

It makes good sense – mostly skirmishing and artillery fire – with occasional physical close-order attacks.

Helps put new light onto ACW battles – which are mostly skirmishing and artillery fire – with occasional, usually unsuccessful, physical close-order attacks.

von Winterfeldt29 Jun 2018 12:10 p.m. PST

it is a too broad sweep, almost year by year tactics changed and with deterioration of the quality of the armies, skirmishing was in general use, still it was the combination with formed units, and to find the right balance -which was decisive.
Austerlitz and Jena were fought differently to Lützen und Bautzen

Brechtel19829 Jun 2018 2:32 p.m. PST

David Gates relies heavily on Money for his analysis, and only refers to one battle, the atypical action at Hondschoote.

He does appear to rely on Money for the British, but not for the French and he also relies heavily on Scharnhorst.

There are more battles than Hondschoote commented on at least in Chapter I.

Brechtel19829 Jun 2018 2:36 p.m. PST

The French were the only army that used skirmishers in large numbers as an offensive weapon, many times supported by artillery.

Even in 1813 French battalions and even regiments were deployed in open order. Interestingly, the French developed their tactical system with large numbers of skirmishers without a tactical manual to go with that idea. The other armies generally wrote a manual and then developed their own light infantry/skirmishers.

Sometimes French commanders on defense would organize their line as a heavy skirmish line instead of a three-ranked line according to the Reglement of 1791. And the French would not only employ light infantry in skirmish order, but line regiments were also used.

Different army, different tactical system.

nsolomon9929 Jun 2018 4:12 p.m. PST

Effectiveness of skirmishers? … read about Jena/Auerstadt 1806.

Le Breton Inactive Member29 Jun 2018 4:45 p.m. PST

"The French were the only army that used skirmishers in large numbers as an offensive weapon"

The typical Russian avant-garde formation was all jäger and light cavalry (hussards/uhlans) with some horse artillery and a Cossack detachment.
This was how the advanced forces. If this was not an "offensive weapon", it sure must have looked like one to the Saxons at Kobrin, as they surrendered to such a formation.

I Drink Your Milkshake29 Jun 2018 6:42 p.m. PST

"He relies heavily on Scharnhorst"

well he WAS there so…

von Winterfeldt29 Jun 2018 11:58 p.m. PST

who relies heavily on Scharnhorst? And then did he read the original works by Scharnhorst or just via tertiary literature like Paret?
Scharnhorst did write a lot of theoretical papers before he gained war experience and then had to revise his ideas.

It is just Deleted by Moderator that only the French did use skirmishing in large numbers as offensive weapon – and in case any author still claims this he is distorting history intentionally to provide dogma based on myths.

The French did learn this from the Austrians – who then realized that they had overblown out of proportion their massive use of skirmishers.

A French description of French and Austrian skirmisher action. In 1793, General Giradon informs us about the way in which one employed them:
"the Doriol General, after having made signaled with four shots, detached 100 riflemen per battalion and forced the enemy line back on Bouxwiller. The two battalions of the 2e regiment, that of Chaumont, and those of the 1st regiment, 7th of Meurthe, Dieuze and Chàteau-Saline were sent to go to edge of a wood close to Mietesheim, with order to excavate this wood and to flush out the enemy; 100 riflemen were detach by battalion. Unfortunately, the enemy riflemen made a very sharp fire: our battalions could not support the effort. The Enemy forced us to retire." Hake, p. LXVII, citing the Newspaper of the major Girardon (Files of the War.)
The Austrians had always more riflemen than us in this war. Brushmaker will still notice in 1800 "this crowd of riflemen who usually accompany the attacks by the Austrians." [Of Cugnac, Campagne of the reserve army, fall II, p. 432]

BEWARE OF TRANSLATIONS – I would translate Cugnac differently – I must find the original text but in case I remember correctly I would tranlast cloud of skirmishers and not riflemen, tirailleurs don't mean riflemen but shooters, in that context.
What is more important is that a cloud of AUSTRIAN skirmishers announced an Austrian attack


[1864 reprint of Duheme's Essai historique sur l'Infantrerie Legere page 72.] Duheme was present in Flanders during this time and has a great deal to say about the Austrians:
"These advanced guards, well handled, only disputed their ground long enough to make us waste time and men. They brought us from one position to another till they reached that which they really meant to defend. There they let us use up and scatter our last battalions whose ardour generally shattered itself against their entrenchments. Then fresh troops issued from them in the most perfect order, they in their turn, threw out skirmishers upon our flanks, and thus they charged at advantage troops dispersed and fatigued, corps in disorder and unable to rally most of their men.
Duhesme later in his work writes,
"We did not have other light infantry only the 12 battalions of foot chasseurs. The Austrians approached with more, more skilful and more tested light troops. The panic, fear and the routs of our troops left the columns of Valencians and Lille to address [the Austrians] as they slipped to the sides of these columns. Their riflemen, hidden behind shrubs, in ditches, afflicted our battalions, which, bravely in line, suffered ten-per-cent loses without seeing their enemy. "(p. 85)
Duhesme (p. 102) gives a graphic description of the Austrian light infantry tactics as it was experienced by him':
"In spring 1794, as already said, the Austrians opened the campaign in the north with the siege of Landrecies, they put up measures, which were suitable to weaken and to exhaust the French élan, which had been so disastrous for them in the past. They concentrated the observation army around that place, put into fortifications, placed big reserves and advanced the advance guards as far as possible. These well commanded advance guards did contest the terrain only as long as possible to inflict losses in time and tirailleurs. By that they drew us from one position to the other till to those they really intended to defend. Then they let us disperse our last battalions and let us exhaust ourselves, whose fire was broken by their fortified lines. Fresh troops emerged in most splendid order from them, placed themselves tirailleurs into our flanks, and attacked as such with big advantage our disordered and exhausted soldiers and disarrayed units of whose majority couldn't even rally around their colours. Fortunate for those divisions, where a cautious general had retained a reserve which was able to cover the retreat and to prevent a rout."
An Austrian commentary:
"Because the enemy is very easy being pushed back, we can advance into his flanks or in the back, each column reserves 200 volunteers at the start [of the fighting/attack], each hundred with a captain and 2 officers, which have to be bold and determined men. These men are destined, together with the light infantry and to support these, left and right from the road [formed movement was mostly only possible along the roads, see former messages], to turn the wings and flanks, [of] the enemy troops, positions and post, to facilitate the advance of the columns, or to turn, or storm, the enemy entrenchments when present."
Hauptdisposition, fur die verschiedene Armee-theile."
Hauptquartier Valenciennes, den 1ten April 1794."
Geert van Uythoven is responsible for translating many of these passages. His website where these and others can be found is:
members.home.nl/uythoven

The battle of Ostrach (21st March 1799) was fought in broken terrain. During the heavy fights in the forests around Ostrach the Austrians used their line infantry as skirmishers. This is noticed in the after action report of FML Baillet to Archeduke Charles
(signed Spöck, 21st March 1799).
"…I will not refrain from informing Your Royal Higness that 3 battalions Lacy & 2 battalions Von Schröder already have arrived in the encampment left of the road from Ostrach to Foulendorf; the 3rd battalion Von Schröder however, which was used for skirmishing inside the forest, is still dispersed and will arrive late – my quarters are inside the first house in Specht. "
Österreichisches Staatsarchiv – Kriegsarchiv, Vienna; Alte Feldakten, Deutschland 1799/3/225

Part of the reason that FML Baillet used Line troops as skirmishers is that he had no jagers, Freiwillingers, or Grenz in his command. On December 1, 1800. FZM Riesch and now FZM Baillet fought against Ney at Ampfing. Neither command contained any light troops, yet James Arnold in his Marengo and Hohenlinden writes on p. 218:
"To hold his position, Desperrières utilized constant maneuver to compensate for his lack of numbers. He stripped manpower from an unegaged sector to meet an Austrian assault, and then hustled the soldiers back to their original position in time to meet a new attack. Eventually, his tactical touch could not contend against overwhelming force. With both flanks turned and a cloud of Habsburg light infantry in his rear, Desperrières ordered a withdrawal.

For that and many other reasons Elting is completely useless – in my opinion – for learning other that a distorted view about the French army.

Chad4730 Jun 2018 2:31 a.m. PST

Thanks VW. Very helpful in terms of the rules I am working on for the Revolutionary period

von Winterfeldt30 Jun 2018 3:18 a.m. PST

let me know when they are finished, there is lot's more, in case look for Geert van Uythovens articles, he has lots to say

42flanker30 Jun 2018 3:56 a.m. PST

'Hondschoote' – I should have said 'refers in detail', although I don't have the book in front of me.

I found Gates very superficial, revealing little knowledge of the wider British context, notably the American war, and using his sources highly selectively in order to promote a thesis, relating to the developments at Shorncliffe and after, that does not stand up to scrutiny, IMNSHO.

Brechtel19830 Jun 2018 4:34 a.m. PST

For that and many other reasons Elting is completely useless – in my opinion – for learning other that a distorted view about the French army.

Your constant prejudice against Col Elting's work is not only incorrect, but clearly demonstrates a lack of knowledge and understanding of the Grande Armee. You are entitled to your opinion, but accusing someone of lying is not only wrong but defamatory. And if you are so intent on throwing dirt on a Napoleonic scholar, perhaps you should write a book of your own? Now that would be interesting.


Deleted by Moderator

Brechtel19830 Jun 2018 5:17 a.m. PST

I found Gates very superficial, revealing little knowledge of the wider British context, notably the American war, and using his sources highly selectively in order to promote a thesis, relating to the developments at Shorncliffe and after, that does not stand up to scrutiny, IMNSHO.

It's a small book, but it is well-sourced and I use Chapter I occasionally as there is useful information in it. The bibliography is very useful for further reading and research.

von Winterfeldt30 Jun 2018 5:47 a.m. PST

in 1792 – at the battle of Valmy the intended Prussian infantry attack – which Brunswick canceled, was covered by a skirmishers screen – 300 paces in front of the main battle line by Füsilere (Prussian light infantry) and Jäger, you won't find such information in swords, which is very poor on French and even poorer on non French infantry tactics.

in case one ignores non English sources – the result will be – as seemingly so trendy, shallow and distorted.

Hondschoote about what book is acp refering?

There exists an excellent French study on this including tactics – and (un)surprisingly the allies did not do badly in skirmishing.

Houchard even was under the impression that his army needed advise and issued the regulations of 23rd of August 1793

thomalley30 Jun 2018 6:00 a.m. PST

Try Bayonets of the Republic by Lynn. French reject the rifle mainly because of cost They determined that rate of fire (double for musket) made up of accuracy.

von Winterfeldt30 Jun 2018 6:09 a.m. PST

yes it did not fit into their concept of war of attrition and mass armies, what well led units with rifles could do – is shown in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, they proved to be an asset (especially against skirmishers) – if used correctly.

Brechtel19830 Jun 2018 6:23 a.m. PST

Comments on skirmishers from Gunther Rothenberg's Napoleon's Great Adversary:

1792:

'In the Austrian army, light infantry missions, scouting and skirmishing, commonly were entrusted to the Grenzer, though there were complaints that training them as line infantry had spoiled their natural aptitude for these duties.'-33

Napoleon remarked on his in his Correspondence: XXXI, 320: 'Notes sur l'art de la guerre.'

1793-1797:

'The Austrian service remained tied to the regulations of 1769. Infantry remained rigidly divided into 'light' and 'line' units and the light were treated as accessories, useful for the 'little war' of outposts but apart from the formal battle line. This did not solve the problem of countering the French skirmishers. Though line volleys and bayonet charges could drive the skirmishers back, this disarrayed the close order battle line which became vulnerable to the shock of the French columns. The situation was aggravated by the faulty organization of artillery.'-50

1799-1801:

'…despite occasional efforts to promote an effective combination of light and linear tactics, the predominance of close order fighting remained undiminished. While a noted Austrian military historian has claimed that 'by 1798 the Austrian army had learned how to fight in open order supported by closed formations,' this contention is not substantiated by the evidence. On one occasion, to be sure, during the battle of Novi in November 1799, the Austrians deployed in open order, but were driven off the field in disorder. Thereafter, the regulations once again stressed that skirmishing was to be employed only in a limited fashion. For instance, Zach, then chief of staff to General Baron Melas in Italy, issued instructions on 1 April 1800. 'In action,' he wrote, 'troops must remember not to lose time in firing. Only a few tirailleurs are necessary to screen the front. If these are followed up by troops advancing courageously in closed formations, with bands playing, and keeping their formation, such an advance cannot be repulsed by an enemy fighting in open order.' Two weeks later, on 13 April, another army order stated that 'recent actions have shown that unnecessary skirmishing can only be detrimental…but a determined charge delivered in close order, screened by only a few skirmishers, will certainly result in victory with very few casualties.' The Austrians had not abandoned linear tactics and the campaigns of 1799-1801 again revealed that they could not match the French in broken, wooded, or hilly terrain nor could their generals overcome their concern with secure lines of communications and retreat.'-70

This material takes us up to the end of the Wars of the French Revolution and there is more material that demonstrates the Austrian 'reluctance' to use large numbers of troops in open order. The Archduke Charles most certainly discouraged it and believed it was a function defensively, not offensively, and the superiority of the French infantry in open order tactics was once again clearly demonstrated in the Ratisbon phase of the Campaign of 1809.

Radetzky remarked: '…operations en tirailleure can only be conducted in a very limited manner because we do not understand this kind of fighting.'

Brechtel19830 Jun 2018 6:25 a.m. PST

Rifles were not used or issued in large enough numbers to be a decisive weapon on the battlefield.

And interesting study would be to find out how much rifle armed troops used ammunition that wasn't 'rifle ammunition' which loaded faster than rifle ammunition.

Brechtel19830 Jun 2018 6:39 a.m. PST

The French did learn this from the Austrians – who then realized that they had overblown out of proportion their massive use of skirmishers.

Scharnhorst heartily disagreed with this erroneous conclusion.

See Peter Paret's Yorck and the Era of Prussian Reform as well as, and especially Chuck White's The Enlightened Soldier.

'Probably never before has a greater number of light troops appeared on the battlefield than among the ranks of the present French army, nor has military history ever been given more irrefutable examples of the essential value of such troops than during this war…If the campaigns are studied the Republic certainly owes most of her victories to her light infantry.'-Scharnhorst.

Brechtel19830 Jun 2018 7:07 a.m. PST

in 1792 – at the battle of Valmy the intended Prussian infantry attack – which Brunswick canceled, was covered by a skirmishers screen – 300 paces in front of the main battle line by Füsilere (Prussian light infantry) and Jäger, you won't find such information in swords, which is very poor on French and even poorer on non French infantry tactics.


The Prussian light infantry was not being used independently as the French did-you left that point out.


And your comments on Swords are incorrect, as usual. Have you even read the book and taken a look at Col Elting's source material?


And Swords is about the Grande Armee, not the other armies of the period, though they are covered in a chapter devoted to them.

Le Breton Inactive Member30 Jun 2018 8:22 a.m. PST

"Radetzky remarked: '…operations en tirailleure can only be conducted in a very limited manner because we do not understand this kind of fighting.'"

The Radetzky quote is from a General Staff Order from the staff of the Army of Bohemia, just before Leipsig.
It traces to a citation something like "KAV Alte Feldakten 1813 Deutschland Hauptarmee F/10 436b".
I can not find any citation of this source prior to various anglophone authors, first in 1982.

"KAV" is a little odd. Better would be something like "Österreichisches Staatsarchiv / Kriegsarchiv Wien", but as written by anglophones maybe the V is for "Vienna". For a document in September, one would have expected "Faszikel IX" (not "F/10", as they are monthly and should use Roman numerals), but perhaps the piece was filed by date of receipt, or lumped in with Leipzig documents, or some such. The number "436b" tells us that it was about the 437th document of the month under the given heading. Specifically, the "b" should indicate that the document was inserted in the sequence sometime after the original transfer of documents from the war ministry to the archives.

To use the quote out of context is misleading. It was not an analytical comment, not a summary judgment voiced in retrospect, not a considered opinion, not a part of a staff history, nor anything similar.
The quote applied (only) to the recently-recruited Army of Bohemia just before Leipzig.

Brechtel19830 Jun 2018 10:43 a.m. PST

But it reflected current problems and practice in the Army of Bohemia in 1813-1814 which reflected past practice and performance in the field since 1792. It isn't taken out of context.

Brechtel19830 Jun 2018 2:56 p.m. PST

Further, Rothenberg also states, referring to a 12 August tactical instruction to the Army of Bohemia (which contained both Austrian and Russian units) 'skirmishing was not given much weight in the new instructions.' And that 'The Austrian high command remained convinced that poorly trained troops could not execute it properly.'-234.


Additionally, Radetzky stated in September 1813 that 'fighting en tirailleure should be done only in very restricted fashion because neither the Russians nor we have mastered the maniere de tirailler.'-234-235.


Rothenberg mentions his source for these as the KriegsArchive, Feldakten 1813; Hauptarmee, F/10-436b.

Zhmodikov30 Jun 2018 10:52 p.m. PST

von Winterfeldt wrote:


[1864 reprint of Duheme's Essai historique sur l'Infantrerie Legere page 72.] Duheme was present in Flanders during this time and has a great deal to say about the Austrians:
"These advanced guards, well handled, only disputed their ground long enough to make us waste time and men. They brought us from one position to another till they reached that which they really meant to defend. There they let us use up and scatter our last battalions whose ardour generally shattered itself against their entrenchments. Then fresh troops issued from them in the most perfect order, they in their turn, threw out skirmishers upon our flanks, and thus they charged at advantage troops dispersed and fatigued, corps in disorder and unable to rally most of their men.
Duhesme later in his work writes,
"We did not have other light infantry only the 12 battalions of foot chasseurs. The Austrians approached with more, more skilful and more tested light troops. The panic, fear and the routs of our troops left the columns of Valencians and Lille to address [the Austrians] as they slipped to the sides of these columns. Their riflemen, hidden behind shrubs, in ditches, afflicted our battalions, which, bravely in line, suffered ten-per-cent loses without seeing their enemy. "(p. 85)

But Duhèsme also wrote that in 1793 the French began to push out so many skirmishers that the Austrian light infantry were unable to hold out against them because of limited quantity. Duhèsme added that the Austrians tried in vain to support their light infantry with small detachments of their line infantry.

And only after these setbacks the Austrians developed the tactical method which Duhèsme decribed further:


In spring 1794, as already said, the Austrians opened the campaign in the north with the siege of Landrecies, they put up measures, which were suitable to weaken and to exhaust the French élan, which had been so disastrous for them in the past. They concentrated the observation army around that place, put into fortifications, placed big reserves and advanced the advance guards as far as possible. These well commanded advance guards did contest the terrain only as long as possible to inflict losses in time and tirailleurs. By that they drew us from one position to the other till to those they really intended to defend. Then they let us disperse our last battalions and let us exhaust ourselves, whose fire was broken by their fortified lines. Fresh troops emerged in most splendid order from them, placed themselves tirailleurs into our flanks, and attacked as such with big advantage our disordered and exhausted soldiers and disarrayed units of whose majority couldn't even rally around their colours. Fortunate for those divisions, where a cautious general had retained a reserve which was able to cover the retreat and to prevent a rout.

Duhèsme served in the Army of the North, later he was transferred to the Army of the Rhine. Marshal Gouvion de St.Cyr, who served the Army of the Rhine from 1793 to 1798, wrote:


In 1793 we waged war of skirmishers [tirailleurs] with success. The novelty of this way of actions, the surprise, which it caused initially, brought more success than we had expected. But our enemy soon perceived the weakness of this system, it was necessary to take our measures, to reduce their use, and to combine them with more solid masses…

Le Breton Inactive Member01 Jul 2018 12:04 a.m. PST

"'fighting en tirailleure should be done only in very restricted fashion because neither the Russians nor we have mastered the maniere de tirailler"

The Russian infantry in the Army of Bohemia in September/October 1813 were all of the most elite divisions in the Russian service.

This included the entire guards light infantry and 8 veteran jäger regiments (7 of which had awards for combat excellence against the French, 3 of which were promoted as whole units – see below)

Do we really think that Radetsky thought that these units could not skirmish?
If he did, was he right?
Or is the quote taken out of context?

Deleted by Moderator


1st Guards Division
--- Preobrazhenski Lifeguard Infantry Regiment
--- Semenovski Lifeguard Infantry Regiment
--- Ismailovski Lifeguard Infantry Regiment
--- Lifeguard Jäger Regiment
--- Guards Navy Crew (battalion)

2nd Guards Division
--- Lithuania Lifeguard Infantry Regiment
--- Lifeguard Grenadier Regiment
--- Pavlovski Lifeguard Grenadier Regiment
--- Finland Lifeguard Regiment (light infantry)
--- Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna Battalion (rifle-armed volunteer light infantry)

1st Grenadier Division
--- Count Arakcheyev and Ekaterinoslav Grenadier Regiments
--- St. Petersburg and Tauride Grenadier Regiments
--- Pernau and Kexholm Grenadier Regiments

2nd Grenadier Division
--- Kiev and Moscow Grenadier Regiments
--- Astrakhan and Fangoria Grenadier Regiments
--- Siberia and "Little Russia" Grenadier Regiments

3rd Infantry Division
--- Murmansk and Revel Infantry Regiments
--- Chernihov and Selenguinsk Infantry Regiments
--- Jäger Regiments Nr. 20 (awarded 1808, 1813, promoted to 1st Jäger in 1815)
and Nr. 21 (awarded 1813, promoted to 3rd Jäger in 1815)

4th Infantry Division
--- Kremenchug and Minsk Infantry Regiments
--- Tobolsk and Volynsk Infantry Regiments
--- Jäger Regiments Nr. 4 (awarded 1808 and 1809)
and Nr. 34

5th Infantry Division
--- Sevski and Kaluga Infantry Regiments
--- Perm and Mogilev Infantry Regiments
--- Jäger Regiments Nr. 23 (awarded 1814)
and Nr. 24 (awarded 1813)

14th Infantry Division
--- Navaginsk and Tula Infantry Regiments
--- Tenginsk and Estland Infantry Regiments
--- Jäger Regiment Nr. 25 (awarded 1813)
and Nr. 26 (awarded 1813, promoted to Grenadier-Jäger in 1815)

John Edmundson01 Jul 2018 2:10 a.m. PST

It seems to me that the claim that the Grenzer suffered for being 'regularised', such as this quote here:'In the Austrian army, light infantry missions, scouting and skirmishing, commonly were entrusted to the Grenzer, though there were complaints that training them as line infantry had spoiled their natural aptitude for these duties', really refers to their ability to conduct guerilla actions, raiding supply trains, terrifying the locals, harrying the enemy away from the main battlefield, rather than a serious decline in their ability as soldiers. In other words, that by being "regularised", they became less good at being "irregular". They certainly continued to be used in the same roles as Jägers and other Light troops (Freikorps etc) in the Avant Garde, in bad going in battle, and in other traditional Light Infantry roles. Also, in the Grenz itself, light infantry duties were the bread and butter of their military obligation and that represented, surely, a much greater part of their military service than the times they spent called up to the field army.

This is in no way meant to express an opinion on the relative strengths, qualitative or quantitative, of the light infantries of Austria and France. I leave that debate to those better qualified than myself, and hope that discussion will remain civil.

Cheers,
John

Zhmodikov01 Jul 2018 4:17 a.m. PST

Le Breton wrote:


3rd Infantry Division
--- Murmansk and Revel Infantry Regiments

Not Murmansk, but Murom (Muromsky Infantry Regiment).

Brechtel19801 Jul 2018 8:28 a.m. PST

Do we really think that Radetsky thought that these units could not skirmish? If he did, was he right?

Yes, he was.


It would also be conducive to the discussion if a definition of both 'elite' and 'skirmish' can be agreed upon. Skirmishing varied in some aspects between armies, and the French did it quite differently than the Continental armies.


Using the term 'elite' for Russian units based on their performance in 1812 is elusive because of the heavy losses incurred in Russia and the infusion of recruits to bring units up to strength. The Russian army had problems in 1813, especially in the spring battles which were defeats.


If you disagree, then provide information that contradicts what was posted and supports your position.

Zhmodikov01 Jul 2018 9:39 a.m. PST

Brechtel198 wrote:


It would also be conducive to the discussion if a definition of both 'elite' and 'skirmish' can be agreed upon. Skirmishing varied in some aspects between armies, and the French did it quite differently than the Continental armies.

Using the term 'elite' for Russian units based on their performance in 1812 is elusive because of the heavy losses incurred in Russia and the infusion of recruits to bring units up to strength.

According to this logic, Napoleon in early 1813 had no elite troops, because he had lost almost whole his Grande Armee in 1812, and French troops from Spain had no arrived yet, so his army in early 1813 consisted mostly of recruits and former soldiers of the National Guard, who had no combat experience. Most Russian soldiers, who were either wounded or fell sick in 1812, gradually returned to the army in 1813. Most Napoleon's soldiers, who were either wounded or fell sick in 1812, became prisoners of war, and returned to their motherlands only in 1814, after the end of the 1814 campaign, if they had not died out of wounds, sickness, or hunger.


The Russian army had problems in 1813, especially in the spring battles which were defeats.

Would you like to say that the Russians and Prussians lost the battles of Lützen and Bautzen because the Russian infantry could not skirmish, not because Napoleon had more troops, and not because Wittgenstein was no better general than Napoleon?

Brechtel19801 Jul 2018 11:51 a.m. PST

There were still Imperial Guard units that had been left behind when the Grande Armee assembled for the invasion of Russia. For example, two Young Guard regiments were in Spain and then cadres were available at the regimental depots, La Fere, and at Fontainebleu. There was also a Guard division with Eugene's army.

And with a reconstituted Imperial Guard drawn from various sources and organized (including Spain) the Guard was ready to march into Germany by April.

So, from that perspective there were still elite French units in Germany for the spring battles.

Zhmodikov01 Jul 2018 12:21 p.m. PST

Brechtel198 wrote:


There were still Imperial Guard units that had been left behind when the Grande Armee assembled for the invasion of Russia. For example, two Young Guard regiments were in Spain and then cadres were available at the regimental depots, La Fere, and at Fontainebleu. There was also a Guard division with Eugene's army.

I thought we are speaking about elite skirmishers. Where did the French Guard infantry skirmish in early 1813?
Russian jagers are mentioned skirmishing in reports and memoirs more than once. There are several examples of Russian line infantry skirmishing, even grenadiers. Two or three Russian officers noted that in 1813 the skirmish ability of the French infantry considerably declined comparing to the earlier campaigns.

Brechtel19801 Jul 2018 2:38 p.m. PST

The original OP concerned the 'use of skirmishers.'

Skirmishers do not have to be elite troops. The French used both light and line infantry, as well as Guard infantry, as skirmishers.

The term 'elite' was brought into the discussion later, as did the idea that Napoleon had no elite troops in early 1813, and that veterans from Spain had not arrived by early 1813, and both of those statements are inaccurate.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP01 Jul 2018 4:15 p.m. PST

There are some points that have been raised that aren't right:

Skirmishers could be quite effective if not opposed by other skirmishers. If both sides had a screen out in front, they tended to neutralize each other.

That just isn't the case…unless both sides agreed to such an outcome. Almost all skirmish actions found one side increasing their numbers, only to have the other side add to theirs. French general Pelet wrote:

. I could not resist saying a few words. The skirmishing ended on our side and the enemy started it again. As a matter of fact, it was extremely difficult to stop bickering except by withdrawing our troops, and this was not without inconvenience for either advantageous terrain or the morale of the army. However, I do not think skirmishing can be allowed for its own sake in any case, unless it is to prepare attacks, cover movements, or momentarily detain the enemy at one point while they are being attacked or outmaneuvered at another.
The French Campaign in Portugal, 1810-1811 An Account by Jean Jacques Pelet. Translated by Donald D. Horward 1973 Page 182

That is the general back-and-forth dynamic of skirmish actions. There was no 'neutralizing' of the action. That ever increasing need for more skirmishers is why the Austrian commanders from 1796 to 1814 kept telling their subordinates not to throw out too many skirmishers.

And skirmishers can do damage even when faced by numbers of skirmishers…as long as one side has more:

Scarcely had the division got into position when the enemy advanced to the attack. The light companies of the first brigade, with the 8th company and the marksmen of the 79th, were ordered out to skirmish and keep down the fire of the enemy's sharpshooters, which was causing heavy loss particularly amongst the officers. It was now a quarter to three o'clock. The light companies in front maintained their ground for an hour against the ever-increasing number of the enemy; but as his sharp-shooters had by this time picked off nearly all the artillerymen who were serving the only two British guns which had as yet come into action, and as he was becoming very threatening in the front, the Duke of Wellington, who was present with his staff, directed Sir Thomas Picton to detach a regiment to the front, in order to cover the guns, and drive the enemy from his advanced position. Sir James Kempt thereupon rode up to Colonel Douglas and said that the honour of executing His Grace's orders would devolve on the Cameron Highlanders.

From the Regimental history of the 79th from Rory Muir's book on the Experience and Tactics of Napoleonic Battle.

Next, Radesky was not writing in 1813 about all Austrian and Russian troops inability to skirmish in 1813, let alone for the rest of the 20 years of the war. I'll post Mr. Frayer's very thorough analysis of this in the next post.

However, we know that Radesky wasn't making any general statement about Russian and Austrian inability to skirmish because They did skirmish.

The Krieg 1809 and 1813 are filled with accounts of Austrians skirmishing, many, many like these:

At Teugen-Hausen, described in the same volume:

"Also not meeting any resistance further up, FML Lusignan's force had marched between the woods and he had arrived on the hill just beyond with the lead battalions of his brigade, which was deployed in battle order, when the sounds of a lively firefight could be heard from the direction of Teugen. Austrian skirmishers and patrols from the brigade, who had descended the slope to Teugen, together with sharpshooters from the Peterwardein Grenzers, who had advanced through Roith and across the Buchberg, had run into French units there. FML Lusignan now hastily despatched the forward closed up units onto the north-eastern slope of the Buchberg and positioned his main battalions, which were only now slowly advancing through the woods and gradually reaching the line, together with their battery to the north of the woods".

The IR33 deploys skirmishers during the engagement at Landshut, later together with IR3 they repeatedly deploy skirmishers at the orders of GM Radetsky.(vol. II)

In October 1813, at Hanau, 2nd battalion IR14 "moved forward to support the Bavarian skirmishers in front of the Lamberwald. When the skirmishers were driven back, skirmishers of this battalion moved forward, established a lively fire and halted the enemy advance."

There is no doubt that the Russian Army could and did deploy large numbers of skirmishers in 1813, even when they didn't have a full complement of jagers. All three battalions of the Pavlovsky Grenadiers deployed as skirmishers into woods on the Allied right wing for the entire battle of Bautzen.

There is no end of examples of the Allies skirmishing through out the wars, let alone 1813-14. Here is one from 1814:

A later account, by an officer in 3rd battalion IR63 Bianchi , published in Mitteilungen des kuk Heeresmuseum (1902-1907), describes masses deploying skirmishers at Valeggio in February 1814.

"GM Baron Stutterheim rode up and ordered us to form division masses, then to wheel to the left and march off towards the enemy; muskets were to be loaded on the march. The masses were drawn up in a chequer board arrangement with IR63 on the left. Our masses sent out skirmishers (from IR3 Erzherzog Karl, IR4 Deutchmeister and IR63); the four guns, which were attached to our brigade, unlimbered and took up their firing positions and now the firing was general. The enemy deployed gradually across a longer front and forced us to dissolve the masses into open order skirmish lines."

Division masses were two companies, battalions forming three of them. Though there are some who claim they weren't used in 1809, The accounts show they were used quite extensively during the 1809 campaigns and throughout the rest of the wars. They were so 'popular' that we see the formation still being used as the basic combat formation in 1866.

This insistence that the Allies couldn't skirmish, didn't use them in large numbers, or that most engagements found the skirmishers 'neutralizing' each other just isn't right.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP01 Jul 2018 4:28 p.m. PST

That 1813 Radesky quote analysis by Frayer:

Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon,‎ by Rory Muir (1988), page 51

"By 1813 the Austrians had virtually given up, believing that the great bulk of their infantry lacked the training and aptitude needed for the the role. As Radetzky observed in September 1813,'fighting en tirailleure [skirmishing] should be done only in a very restricted fashion because neither the Russians nor we have mastered the manière de tirailleur.'

This passage in Muir is footnoted as follows:

"Quoted in Gunther E. Rothenberg, Napoleon's Greatest Adversaries: The Archduke Charles and the Austrian Army (London, Batsford, 1982), p.184.

"Austria had, of course, lost her traditional source of light infantry when Napoleon annexed Croatia (part of the Illyrian Provinces) in 1809."

In Rothenberg (page 111 in later edition, page 184 in the first edition), the text reads:

"Rigidly controlled and regimented, the Austrian skirmishers rarely were the equal to the French. Some observers blamed this on national aptitude. The able Radetzky, probably the best young general to come out of these wars, observed ruefully that ''operations en tirailleure can only be conducted in a very limited manner because we do not understand this kind of fighting.' A German officer, on the other hand, argued that it was not national character but 'too much drill' that made the Austrians less effective skirmishers than the French."

Only the parts in bold are the Radetzky material. The rest is not. Incidentally, "en tirailleure" is mangled French. It should be "en tirailleur". Also, "manière de tirailleur" is not actually idiomatic French. It appears only in these English-language books, as far as I know.

The British Light Infantry Arm 1790-1815, by David Gates (1987) has the version as per Muir (who himself cites Rothenburg, who has the other version). Redcoat: the British soldier in the age of horse and musket‎ by Richard Holmes (2002) also has this version. Both spell "tirailleur" correctly, though Muir and Rothenburg do not.

Once There Were Titans: Napoleon's Generals and Their Battles 1800-1815‎ by Kevin Kiley (2007) offered a paraphrase that expanded the quote attributed to Radetzky with an assertion of his "belief" and "the conclusion":

<q."The Austrian General Radetzky observed that neither the Austrians nor the Russians understood fighting in open order and believed that skirmishers could be used in a very small, limited way. The conclusion that was reached was that the Austrians were not the equal of the French when fighting in open order."

All these trace to a citation something like <b."KAV Alte Feldakten 1813 Deutschland Hauptarmee F/10 436b". I can find no citation of this source prior to the anglophone authors listed above – first in 1982 or 1987 (depending on which version you are looking at). Since they have substantially different versions, I assume both Gates and Rothenburg saw the text in the original language.

"KAV" is a little odd. Better would be something like "Österreichisches Staatsarchiv / Kriegsarchiv Wien", but these are all written by anglophones who call the place "Vienna". For a document in September, one would have expected "Faszikel IX" (not "F/10", as they are monthly and should use Roman numerals), but perhaps the piece was filed by date of receipt, or lumped in with Leipzig documents, or some such. The number "436b" tells us that it was about the 437th document of the month under the given heading. Specifically, the "b" should indicate that the document was inserted in the sequence sometime after the original transfer of documents from the war ministry to the archives. Good "Germanic" organization skills!

In any case, the Radetzky quote is from a General Staff Order (that's what's in those document files), from the staff of the Army of Bohemia. It was not an analytical comment, not a summary judgment voiced in retrospect, not a considered opinion, not a part of a staff history, nor anything similar. I have no idea what the original document said, not least because it is quoted in two different versions. The Gates version looks much more plausible to me, although it appeared in print some 5 years after the Rothenburg version.

Still unless we have the original (in German? in French for the benefit of the Russians?), we really have no idea of the exact meaning (or of who mangled the French language).

What we do know is that it applied (only) to the Army of Bohemia just before Leipzig.
What we also do know is the size of the "specialist" light infantry of the Army of Bohemia, which amounted overall to 317 battalions, 167 squadrons and 72 batteries outside of the Russian/Prussian Guard.
With the Austrian divisions -
-- 5 Austrian Jager battalions
-- 10 Grenz battalions
With the Graf Vitgenshteyn -
-- 16 Russian Jager battalions (all still in the process of rebuilding with conscripts after the 1812 and early 1813 campaign)
-- 1 Prussian Schützen battalion (equivalent)
Total of 32 battalions, or about 10% of the infantry
The specialist light infantry arm was clearly very understrength (and mostly raw recruits for the Russians). The usual Russian ratio was 33% light infantry.

So, whatever Radetzky ordered, it was aimed mostly at the use of recently re-built, rather ill-trained conscript "heavy" "line" infantry units in the skirmishing role. There is no general comment being made, no comparison to the French, no element of national characteristics that can obviously and clearly taken as Radetzky's meaning (re-read the text in bold above), unless one has already decided (in advance) that this is what you wish he had said.

The Russians understood the problem and played along. The Graf Raevskiy detached whole Grenadier regiments (experienced, selected men) from the Reserve to act as skirmishers and help make up a more typical ratio. Assumedly Radetzky approved, right?

Frayer

As we see, the Russians were following that practice of deploying grenadiers earlier at Bautzen.

Wu Tian01 Jul 2018 8:42 p.m. PST

@McLaddie

In fact, you can find Radetzky's original passage in Beiträge zur geschichte der befreiungskriege, 1910, p. 22. He wrote that to Langenau on 15 October:

5. Eine Generalregel, daß nie alle Truppen zugleich aufgelöst, sondern stets eine Reserve behalten werden solle. Wegen Auflösung en tirailleurs könnte eine Bemerkung nicht überflüssig werden: daß solche in sehr beschränkter Zahl bestimmt werden, denn wir beide, Russen und Österreicher, verstehen das Tirailliren nicht.

The author quoted that from Heller von Hellwald's Erinnerungen aus den Freiheitskriegen, p. 93:

link

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