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"Formation Frontage and Close Combat" Topic


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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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HairiYetie05 Dec 2018 9:56 p.m. PST

Greetings everyone. I have some questions for the most learned amongst our illustrious brotherhood on the subject of battle formations of the main continental nations and specifically the extent of frontage and their effect on close combat.
1. For Austrians I can only find reference to infantry battle columns 1 company wide x 6 deep. Are there any references to them using 2 coy wide x 3 deep columns, as used by French line units?
2. It seems that with the exception of Schwarzenberg, Austrian commanders favoured the line in attack? Is this an early war trend or did it persist throughout the Napoleonic wars?
3. The Russians and Prussians had 4 company infantry battalions, at least post 1812. Did they use battle columns one company wide and 4 deep or did they go 2 x 2?
4. Same question for the French Imperial Guard infantry battalions: did they use battle columns one company wide and 4 deep or did they go 2 x 2?
5. What happened when one attacking formation (be it infantry or cavalry) with a very wide frontage came to grips with an enemy formation with a significantly narrower frontage and one or both flanks unsecured? Did the overlapping section of the attacking formation just wait patiently for their colleagues to conclude the affair or did they wrap around and squeeze the enemy formation?
6. Slightly different question … when an attacking column flanked an enemy line, did it wrap around the thin flank and onto the front and/or rear of the unfortunate defending line? Or would one expect the column to simply roll up the whole line in half the time it took me to type this question?
7. If a battalion found itself isolated and attacked by two enemy formations with a significantly wide frontage, they could conceivably wrap around the defender's flanks and surround it if it did not fall back quick smart. Was this likely to happen?

Love to hear your views.

Cheers, Mario

HairiYetie05 Dec 2018 9:56 p.m. PST

Greetings everyone. I have some questions for the most learned amongst our illustrious brotherhood on the subject of battle formations of the main continental nations and specifically the extent of frontage and their effect on close combat.
1. For Austrians I can only find reference to infantry battle columns 1 company wide x 6 deep. Are there any references to them using 2 coy wide x 3 deep columns, as used by French line units?
2. It seems that with the exception of Schwarzenberg, Austrian commanders favoured the line in attack? Is this an early war trend or did it persist throughout the Napoleonic wars?
3. The Russians and Prussians had 4 company infantry battalions, at least post 1812. Did they use battle columns one company wide and 4 deep or did they go 2 x 2?
4. Same question for the French Imperial Guard infantry battalions: did they use battle columns one company wide and 4 deep or did they go 2 x 2?
5. What happened when one attacking formation (be it infantry or cavalry) with a very wide frontage came to grips with an enemy formation with a significantly narrower frontage and one or both flanks unsecured? Did the overlapping section of the attacking formation just wait patiently for their colleagues to conclude the affair or did they wrap around and squeeze the enemy formation?
6. Slightly different question … when an attacking column flanked an enemy line, did it wrap around the thin flank and onto the front and/or rear of the unfortunate defending line? Or would one expect the column to simply roll up the whole line in half the time it took me to type this question?
7. If a battalion found itself isolated and attacked by two enemy formations with a significantly wide frontage, they could conceivably wrap around the defender's flanks and surround it if it did not fall back quick smart. Was this likely to happen?

Love to hear your views.

Cheers, Mario

HairiYetie05 Dec 2018 10:01 p.m. PST

My post is self replicating … ?!!!

advocate05 Dec 2018 11:51 p.m. PST

So good you asked it twice! I wish I could help.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP06 Dec 2018 1:23 a.m. PST

On #3, many countries, like these, used a division wide (e.. 2 companies wide) and 2 or 3 deep, formation for both moving around the battlefield, firing and combat. There were improvements in morale and control. There was an increase in shock power and melee ability. There was a first line and supports right there. As to cavalry, recall that in the 7 years war, infantry also was in 5-6 deep lines and seldom formed square against cavalry but were able to see them off from line formation. The Austrian battalion mass was also resistant to cavalry. Remember that in the "mixed order" (e.g. a line (&skirmishers) in front with a column on each flank, the columns on the flank served as a defense against cavalry for the center line.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP06 Dec 2018 4:22 a.m. PST

#2 Keep in mind that the line was the favored combat formation for all of the armies. Columns were used primarily to get close to the enemy before deploying into line. Sometimes (particularly in the Peninsula) columns made the mistake of getting too close to the enemy before trying to deploy.

#5 I have no specific account of the wrap-around, but it would certainly make sense. I've done it a few times with my ACW reenactment battalion :)

#6 A line being charged in the flank by pretty much anything is going to disintegrate pretty quickly.

#7 the isolated battalion would probably fall back as quickly as it could.

khanscom06 Dec 2018 6:03 a.m. PST

Re: your question #1:
Bowden and Tarbox in "Armies on the Danube" illustrate formations that were prescribed in the regulations for infantry of 1807. Battalionmasse of 1 co. frontage and 6 co. depth; Divisionmasse of 2 co. frontage and 3 co. depth. Both were used before 1809, but Divisionmasse was apparently unpopular and more likely to be used when Karl was in command of the force. An additional formation was Double Column with Line: 4 co. frontage with 2 co. depth on the right and left flanks.

22ndFoot06 Dec 2018 6:28 a.m. PST

khanscom's suggestion of Bowden and Tarbox is a good one. I would also suggest Battle Tactics of Napoleon and His EnemiesJun by Brent Nosworthy.

Aethelflaeda was framed06 Dec 2018 10:10 a.m. PST

Read Rory Muir too.

Close combat is a bit misconstrued…it rarely came to bayonet vs bayonet except in congested terrain with low visibility such as the lanes of a village. One side almost always broke morale or fell back before they got close. Wrapping around a column head's flanks would probably only be done by the detached skirmish elements.

The column's main advantages are positive command control, speed in the approach, and its morale bolstering effects on the men within it, and the scariness of its approach to less than firm troops, it also can form square a bit quicker.

freecloud06 Dec 2018 2:41 p.m. PST

1. For Austrians I can only find reference to infantry battle columns 1 company wide x 6 deep. Are there any references to them using 2 coy wide x 3 deep columns, as used by French line units?

> The 2 wide, 3 deep is the Division Masse formation. It was apparently honed against Turkey as a safe formation to use with lots of enemy cavalry around and still give some leve of line firepower, and could also withstand charging enemies and deliver charges in turn. Also fwiw I've played Austrians for 30 years and in that time the debate about who used it, when and how often has gone to and fro and back again :)

2. It seems that with the exception of Schwarzenberg, Austrian commanders favoured the line in attack? Is this an early war trend or did it persist throughout the Napoleonic wars?

> My understanding is that after 1806 the Austrians used the traditional 7YW style line tactics far less and the Column and Division Masse far more as they sped up battlefield manouevre and increased safety vs cavalry attack on the wider battlefields with more gaps and open flanks.

Charles believed the DM was a good balance between line and column and it minimised formation changes in action, especially useful for the less well trained troops.

The comments about other generals not liking the DM – I don't know if that was 1809 only, as the post 1806 reforms had not been fully implemented, or whether it was always unpopular and linear tactics made a major comeback after his disgrace. I think linear tactics need a lot of training to use under battle condsitions, and all armies were losing trained infantry at quite a rate.

Rod MacArthur06 Dec 2018 4:34 p.m. PST

The original question is flawed. The nations which used four large companies per battalion (and French Imperial Guard) did so to reduce the number of officers, particularly Captains, but actually operated tactically as half companies. They would never operate two companies wide and two deep because they could not form a square from that formation. They actually operated two half companies wide and four half companies deep.

The Austrians did operate with large companies, but had six per battalion, so could have operated two wide x three deep, however such large formations were unwieldy and slow to change formation so they began to operate in two company divisionmasse, which were on a half company front and four half company depth.

Large British battalions (E.g. Foot Guards) often operated by half battalion wings, using half companies as their tactical sub-units for the same reason.

Rod

grenadier corporal06 Dec 2018 10:48 p.m. PST

Re Austrian Divisionsmasse:
Rod put it right – there were three Divisionsmassen to a battalion.
So far I've not encountered a Battalion column with two companies (ie one division wide) and three companies deep – neither in the reglements nor in any battle report.
But the forming of Divisionsmassen must have also been a rare manouvre. The Bataillonsmasse seems to be the standard procedure (one company wide, six deep) – no need to form square from this.

HairiYetie07 Dec 2018 12:06 a.m. PST

OK guys … so I went and prepared a whole discussion based on your responses but Rod MacArthur has cut through my reasoning about column widths.

Rod MacArthur, your comment about the 2 x 2 column not being able to form square debunked my whole train of thought … well done. And on top of that I looked more closely at the information available for Russian and Prussian columns and lo and behold, the widest attack column I could find was based on a single company frontage.

This was a complete surprise to me but it seems to be fact. Yet I am confused: why wouldn't a 2 by 2 column be able to form square? I mean what if the column stopped. The front left company moved forward. The two right companies wheeled in to the left between the two left companies. The first right company kept going to close the box on the left and the second right company closed off the box on the right and about faced. I would have thought that would be no more difficult than a 2 x 3 column forming square.

Hi ScottWashburn, Yes, the line seems to have been preferred but the use of column for assault may not have necessarily been a mistake. I think expediency may have had a hand in the use of columns to drive home an assault when the attacking troops were poorly trained and ran the risk of disorder or even counter assault if an attempt was made to form them into line within reach of the enemy. Alternatively if the troops being attacked showed signs of wavering why not just ram the column home with the reasonable expectation that the enemy line is going to buckle and give way, in which case the attacking troops retain the column momentum and can keep going onto the second enemy line while building up their elan and conversely eroding that of their opponents as they go.
I think the mistake may have come about after several instances of successful columns assaults which gave the French a false confidence that the column assault was a guaranteed winner. Then they came up against the well led and drilled British line …

ScottWashburn, I think that a flank assault is probably a worse situation for the defending formation than a rear assault. I should think that to pull back a section of the line at 90 degrees to defend against a flank assault would be much harder than to get one or two ranks to about face
.
22nd Foot and Aethelflaeda, I have Nosworthy's and Muir's books and I think it's time to read through them again.

Thank you all for responding. Please keep your comments coming. I find these thoughts and discussions fascinating.

Mario

Rod MacArthur07 Dec 2018 2:10 a.m. PST

Mario,

All nations had similar drills for forming squares. There is an article about it on my website:

link

You might also find the article about Basic Formations and Movement Drills useful:

link

Basically columns could be open (at full distance, half distance or quarter distance) or closed (which the French called Collonne Serre and I understand Austrian Divisionsmasse were in).

A full distance open column was one where the distance between each row of divisions, companies or half companies was the same as its frontage. Half and quarter distances were exactly what they say they were. Full distance columns were used extensively by all troops up to the mid 18th Century but after that were mainly used in non tactical Columns of Route. The French, and other Nations who operated in three ranks favoured half distance columns for battlefield movement, whilst the British and others who used two ranks favoured quarter distance columns for reasons explained below.

If a column of companies had 30 men in each of its two or three ranks then it would have a frontage of 24 paces, so full distance was also 24 paces from the front of one rank to the front of the following one. Half distance would have been 12 paces between successive companies and quarter distance 6 paces.

In a column of divisions with a 60 man frontage, full distance is 48 paces, half distance 24 paces and quarter distance 12 paces.

A Column Companies in three ranks, at half distance, formed 3 rank squares by the front company or division halting, the next companies halting and wheeling outwards by half companies and the rearmost company marching 12 paces forward then about facing to form the rear of the column. A column of divisions did exactly the same, except it is complete companies wheeling outwards. However you will note that it takes three complete rows of companies or divisions to conduct this drill.

Because of this, Napoleon issued a Decree in 1808 (when the French adopted a 6 company structure) that they should operate by division if all companies were present, but by peleton (equalised companies) if either, or both, of the elite companies were detached.

The British, and other Nations who used two rank formations, formed these into four rank squares. The column halted, the front company fell back to the second company and these formed the front of the square. The intermediate companies split into quarter companies and wheeled outwards, so that the outermost quarter formed the front two sides of the square and the innermost quarters formed the two ranks behind these. The rear two companies closed up (six and 12 paces respectively), about faced and formed the rear of the square. You will realise that this drill is best achieved from quarter distance column, which is why the British used it for battlefield movement. You need a minimum of five rows or companies or divisions, which is why the British hardly ever used Columns on a two company frontage, since their light companies would normally be detached into a temporary Brigade Light battalion.

There is an article about these temporary light battalions on my website:

link

Forming square from open column only takes about 20 seconds for a well drilled battalion.

A Close Column, regardless of how wide its frontage is, is formed by closing up to one pace between successive companies or divisions. It forms a solid square by halting, the rear companies about facing but the men on the flanks of the intermediate companies merely turning outwards to form the sides of the square. The spacing of the men on the front and back of the square would be about 22 inches per man, but those on the sides would be at 30 inches (one pace), so some men from the centre squeezed into the sides, which also created a small hole in the centre of the square for the battalion command group. Such a solid square was very immobile.

Troops had to have fixed drills, which they were taught time and time again, so they would perform them automatically in combat, otherwise they would fall into confusion and be slaughtered. No Army had the drill you described to form a 2 x 2 into a square.


Rod

freecloud07 Dec 2018 2:22 a.m. PST

Re The Austrian DM, over 30+ years I've seen it be 2 x 3, 3 x 2, 1 Co wide, 1/2 Co wide, and vigorously disputed all the while with no hard conclusion. I thus plonk my Arcduke Charles stand on the table to establish authority, put my little lead men on the table in a blob twice as wide as the column and half as deep, and ask all armchair generals to organise the 1,000 or so imaginary men in their minds as they see fit :)

I have also been known to play fast and loose with naming which regiments are on table by cuff colour, without checking the button or lace colour is correct :D

I also know enough squarebashing to know that that forming long thin lines badly in peacetime on a parade ground takes a lot of practice, so forming them quickly and well on uneven ground in battle conditions would be very hard.

As Napoleonic troop training deteriorated over the wars I do believe that the Line was used less and less, and can believe that the DM was seen by Charles as a good substiture for many reasons as I detailed above.

What I don't know for certain is what happened post 1809. For a bunch of reasons I think the DM continued being used but have as much proof as those who claim it didn't.

HairiYetie07 Dec 2018 2:24 a.m. PST

Thanks Rod. Your website is a gem. It will take me a while to digest the details … but I'm sure it will worth the effort.

Prince of Essling07 Dec 2018 4:53 a.m. PST

You may find "Imperial Bayonets" by George Nafziger enlightening as it looks at the official regulations.

On Austria (page 97) according Wagner's work "Von Austerlitz bis konnigratz, Osterreichische Kampftaktic im Spiegel der Reglmenets 1805-1814" the only difference between the 1807 regulation and the 1806 Abrichtungs, and Lacy's regulation of 1769 were the sections on skirmishing and massen.


Page 98 shows diagrams of Austrian column formations – half companies at half-interval, companies at full interval, companies at half-interval & companies closed up (Battalionmasse).

Page 99 says the Austrians had 4 basic column formations, quite similar to other nations and were defined by their intervals and widths. Columns were formed by zug, half-companies, half-divisions (companies) or divisions; intervals were masse (close), half and full intervals. Those by half company seem to be the most common formation.


Nafziger includes various diagrams from "Exercir Reglement fur die K.u.K. Infantrie" Vienna, 1807. Page 103 has the diagram of how the Divisionmase was formed (i.e. 2 company width).

Page 106 shows how a square would be formed from column of half-companies.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2018 5:18 a.m. PST

link


"The line was considered by the Austrians as the best formation for infantry. The tallest men stood in the first rank, the shortest in 2nd and the ablest in 3rd, each man's elbows touching his neighbours. The distance between ranks was one pace. In 1794 GM Mack's Instructionspunkte recommended that the 3rd rank be used to extend the infantry line and was dictated by circumstances and terrain.

The regulations introduced in 1805 (Abrichtungs Reglement für die K. und K.K. Infanterie 1806 ) abolished the practice of kneeling the 1st rank of infantry while firing. It confirmed that during musketry the 3rd rank stood with shouldered arms and only the 1st and 2nd fired. The 2nd rank stepped to the right so that the left shoulder of each soldier was behind the right shoulder of the man to their front. Archduke Charles instructed that musketry was to cease when the enemy was within 50 paces – it was in contrast to several other European armies who insisted on breaking the enemy by delivering a devastating volley at very close range.

Columns of Austrian (Hungarian) infantry at Leipzig. Courtesy of Wolfgang Meyer. Archduke Charles considered the line as the best formation for attack and defence although attack columns were used when needed (for example in 1809 at Wagram.)
Schwarzenberg preferred columns and masses. During attack they were screened by skirmishers, during defence the columns or masses stood in checker board formation.

The "masses" were batalion-masses. Approaching the enemy, march columns closed up to half-company intervals, creating a batallion-mass as action became imminent. Such column facilitated any advance by making control easier. Thus the battalion-mass was a closely packed column, one company wide and six companies deep. order.

When caught in the open and under heavy artillery fire some of the Austrian troops would lay down instead of standing. It lessened their casualties. One of such actions is described by officer Carl Varnhagen von Ense and his 47th Infantry Regiment at Wagram. [Source: "Die Schlacht von Wagram."]

Against cavalry the infantry was formed in battalion-mass as the square on 3-ranks deep was considered not strong enough. At Aspern-Essling and at Wagram the battalion-masses withstood repeated charges of Napoleon's heavy cavalry. But these very deep formations were very vulnerable to artillery fire.
Another anti-cavalry formation was division-mass. ("Division" here means two companies.) This formation was introduced in 1807. Two companies broke into 4 half-companies, aligned themselves behind the other, and closed their ranks up to about 3 feet between the half-companies.

HairiYetie07 Dec 2018 2:03 p.m. PST

Hi Prince of Essling, Imperial bayonets are now on my order list! Thanks.

Hi 1968 Billsfan. I have been to the Napoleon website and seen that segment. That's where I based my comments on Austrian practices in my original post, but thanks all the same.

Mario

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2018 3:04 p.m. PST

Division Mass [DM] continued to be used--Battalion Mass was a short-lived battle formation because it was comparatively difficult to get into and out of…in fact, DM was so popular with the Austrians that it remained the primary formation right through the 1866 war.

Rod MacArthur07 Dec 2018 4:29 p.m. PST

George Nafziger's Imperial Bayonets is good for factual detail, but I would be wary of his analysis. His comments about the concertina effect are flawed, since that was something all armies took pains to avoid. He also says he could not find Russian Regulations, so used 1831 ones, however a few months after buying his book, not long after it was first published, I got hold of photocopies of all of the Napoleonic Russian regulations from Alexander Zhmodikov. He is also wrong about British marching speeds, since he ignores the 120 pace per minute "Quickest Step". I have all of the British, French, Prussian, Russian, Austrian, Portuguese and USA regulations, plus a few others. British mostly original, the rest reprints or photocopies.

Rod

HairiYetie07 Dec 2018 7:25 p.m. PST

Hi McLaddie & 1968billsfan … I am having difficulty imagining the division mass. Ok … 2 companies broken in 4 half companies and they form a very compact, cavalry proof formation. So what happens to the other 4 companies? Do they form another 2 separate division masses? And the 3 division masses move as a column made up of 3 division masses?

Rod, when's your book coming out then? ;-)

Mario

von Winterfeldt07 Dec 2018 11:40 p.m. PST

the plate in Nafziger is wrong, a divisionsmasse was formed out of 2 companies, so a battalion in line would form 3 divisionsmassen.

It had two Züge frontage, here a plate from the Exerzierregelemnt of 1807

Here divisionsmassen formed against cavalry

ERROR - no url for link

forwardmarchstudios07 Dec 2018 11:58 p.m. PST

Ahh, the division mass, my favorite formation!

Rod MacArthur08 Dec 2018 3:27 a.m. PST

HairiYeti said:

Rod, when's your book coming out then? ;-)

Many of the articles in the Historical Research section of my webpage started their life as a book on Napoleonic Tactics, which I started some 20 years ago, but never finished. Rather than this research all just be forgotten I decided to put it onto my website.

However, it needed updating, particularly the diagrams, since the original ones were black and white and very basic, so I have been gradually doing that (the new ones on my website are all PowerPoint). I have unpublished chapters, the earlier ones more finished than the later ones, each of which may make one or more articles on:

Evolution of Tactics in the 18th Century
Tactics at the Commencement of the Revolutionary Wars
Tactical Evolution during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars
Grand Tactics – only exists as outline
Successful Napoleonic Tactical Doctrine – only exists as outline
The Napoleonic Tactical Legacy – only exists as outline
Conclusion – only exists as outline

I am planning to gradually finish it off.

Rod

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP08 Dec 2018 4:13 a.m. PST

von Winterfeldt: So I see, a 6 company battalion, (alternatedly can be called a 3 division battalion), which is composed of 2 sections per company (12 in total) and each section composed of 2 sub-sections (24 in total). (Question: is a zugg a section or a sub-section? I've seem people calling a half-company a Zug).

They quickly could form (as shown) into 3 compact formations which were called a "division mass"- each containing one of the three divisions of the battalion. Each would be 12 ranks deep and 50 files wide (assume 600 men/battalion). I recall comments about the Austrians forming "small pennypacket clumps against cavalry." Maybe this is what was meant by those comments (can't remember the source of them now). Note that there is less distance for the men to travel compared to forming a single square/retangle and the men can see and sense where the formation would be formed, which helps in command and control. Also, they could be formed on a smaller geographical amount of space, so that terrain features might be incorporated to help the defense. and hinder the attackers.

Rod MacArthur08 Dec 2018 9:31 a.m. PST

Zug (plural Zugen), in a military context is normally translated as platoon (it also means train).

The Prussians used Zugen to mean half companies, but the Austrians called half companies exactly that, and their Zugen were quarter companies.

Rod

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP08 Dec 2018 9:33 a.m. PST

"small pennypacket clumps against cavalry."

I *think* that was referring to the Battalion Mass formations at the battle of Wagram.

von Winterfeldt08 Dec 2018 11:22 p.m. PST

worse the Prussian would use Zug as being a quarter of a company and for tactical purposes it was a half company, this at least up 10 1806

Sparta09 Dec 2018 7:52 a.m. PST

The concept that width of formation of a column is crucial to combatvalue in an "a prest" attack is flawed. Columns were designed for maneuvre. If you attacked in line it was because the enemy was stille steady and you attacked "a feu".

HairiYetie09 Dec 2018 11:25 p.m. PST

Hi Sparta, I must admit that that's where I was going with my post and it is obvious now that width of column was not a combat factor.

However, my question still remains … what happens if an attacking formation (line upon line or maybe even column upon flank of line) has a wider frontage than the defending one. Surely the overlap would wrap itself around the enemy formation rather than just stand there looking pretty and being useless.

Rod MacArthur09 Dec 2018 11:55 p.m. PST

Certainly British tactics, even in The War of Spanish Succession in the early 18th Century, if they outflanked an enemy, were to angle forward their flank platoons or flank companies to pour fire into the flanks of that enemy.

You can see that with complete battalions with Wolfe's at Culloden in 1746 and 52nd at Waterloo in 1815.

Rod

Sparta12 Dec 2018 3:22 a.m. PST

If you overlap you can turn a flank – but this would not be a hand to hand combat thing (it did almost never happen ouside entrenchments/fortifications) it would be part of a prolonged firefight. Wht most rules do not represent is the difficulty in controlling troops who are firing once the enemy is near, the majority of times nobody moved, everybody just blazed away.

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