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"How long to change formation?" Topic


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©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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Andy ONeill07 Jan 2019 5:20 a.m. PST

I'm working on a computer game at the moment.
Although somewhat abstracted it's also somewhat of a simulation.

You can build your own scenarios.
Currently I'm adding a mechanism which will allow a scenario designer to specify the time taken to change formation.
I'm going to set default times in seconds.
And of course as I started doing this I realised I have only the vaguest idea how long this sort of stuff would take.
Getting the initial times within the right sort of ballpark
would be good though.

I know there will of course be a certain amount of abstraction.
For example, changing from column to line or vice versa is potentially just a 90 degree turn but that needs abstracting since "facing" will need to remain the same when changing between column and line.
French column better not instantly shake out into line in the face of a British line or we'd be re-writing albuerra.

One particularly critical thing would be forming square from line.

Aethelflaeda was framed07 Jan 2019 6:06 a.m. PST

The problem at Alberta was not how long it took to shake out into line but if they even could at all.

Is your game going to be real time or in some sort of interval limiting for when giving the order an next occur?

Training on units would affect time, not just in speed of the transition but whether they can achieve it all n the face of fire.

Most French column shake outs I have read about involved visibility issues and a morale crisis. The troops refused at albuera to form line and instead bunched up behind other ranks. They didn't quite break but they did not move forward either.

Mike the Analyst07 Jan 2019 6:45 a.m. PST

Andy, a line performing a right turn into column is not how columns were formed (with the exception that single companies might use it for lateral movement before fronting into line).


Best to get a copy of Nafziger's Imperial Bayonet, there is a lot in there.


Line to column could take from 1.5 to 3.0 minutes depending on the type of column.

Dexter Ward07 Jan 2019 6:58 a.m. PST

The book you want is George Jeffreys: Tactics and Grand Tactics of the Napoleonic Wars.

All the details of how long formation changes take for different tactical doctrines and organisations.
But of course that assumes the troops are still obeying orders and haven't had some sort of morale failure.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP07 Jan 2019 6:59 a.m. PST

Can I second "Imperial Bayonet" recommendation? Authoritative and massive data base for formations, manoeuvring, march rates etc……encyclopaedic and not that expensive!

T Corret Supporting Member of TMP07 Jan 2019 7:02 a.m. PST

Scotty Bowden's Chef de Battalion rules have some guidance on this. There is also Tactics and Grand Tactics of the Napoleonic Wars by George Jeffrey, but be sure to get the errata for the illustrations.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP07 Jan 2019 7:26 a.m. PST

Jeffreys is where to start, but keep in mind he assumes perfectly trained troops--no such thing as Prussian Landwehr or Spanish New Levy fumbling, much less 1813 French who've never been taught to form line.

And make some allowance for the battalion commander who doesn't give the necessary order, or doesn't do so in time. There's a lot of chance in warfare, as better people have noted before me.

Andy ONeill07 Jan 2019 7:56 a.m. PST

3 minutes is longer than I was thinking for forming up into column. That's quite interesting.

I've ordered Imperial Bayonets.
Somewhere in my 7yw books I've probably also got some useful stuff.

I was rather hoping people would suggest some sort of ballpark numbers though.

The way the game will work is you give orders and receive messages telling you what happened – or you can see some of the battlefield directly.

A turn lasts a time specified in the scenario. Which you will be able to buy and edit or create.
Both players ( or the player and AI ) issue orders. They are then resolved into results for a turn. Where units move to and what happens is resolved as an abstraction so the game can support pbem. This will be done on alternating machines if two humans are involved.
Once the turn is resolved you then see the pieces move round and stuff.
Not totally decided yet but there's been some discussion on how practical real time could be.
It's most definitely not going to be a real time shoot em up kind of game though.

We have a Quality statistic which will be used for a number of things, including drill.
Outside of range of the enemy a unit will change formation in the set time.
Once close to enemy then it'll have a chance of changing formation every 10 seconds after the base duration.
That chance can be reduced by morale state.
Hence if your column is parked up 30 yards from the British line shooting at you then you're likely to have problems changing into line.

Whilst between formations a unit is considered disordered which will have penalties. Since this is handled by the computer, there'll be a degree of disordered-ness.

Similarly if you leave changing into square too late you can potentially be caught unformed.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP07 Jan 2019 8:15 a.m. PST

Are you talking about a brigade or a single battalion column going to line?

The situation at Albuera involved a great deal of confusion under fire. This was caused by the very quick loss of several key officers and at least one battalion routing/retreating among other things.

What is your time scale?

Andy ONeill07 Jan 2019 8:24 a.m. PST

Battalion.

Timescale will vary depending on how long a turn is. It'll only be used in the displaying of results phase.
Obviously, if you set a turn to 30 minutes watching units creep about on the screen with no input for 30 minutes might not be terribly exciting.

Mike the Analyst07 Jan 2019 8:54 a.m. PST

Andy, just sent a PM on the Grogheads support forum

Andy ONeill07 Jan 2019 9:03 a.m. PST

Thanks Mike.

Whirlwind07 Jan 2019 10:53 a.m. PST

Andy,

A couple of examples then from Imperial Bayonets to get you into the ballpark:

French (post 1808):
Column to Line: 1.5 – 2.7 mins (it depends on how exactly it is forming)
Column to Square: 0.5 – 1.6 mins
Line to Column: 1.5 – 2.4 mins
Line to Square: 1.6 mins

Prussians (1799-1806):
Column to Line: 7mins
Column to Square: 10.8mins
Line to Column: 7mins
Line to Square: 3.8-4.8mins

Prussians (1808+)
Column to Line: 1.1mins – 2.1mins
Column to Square: 0.3mins
Line to Column: 0.7-1.3mins
Line to Square: 1.0-1.3mins

Hope that helps

Andy ONeill07 Jan 2019 11:07 a.m. PST

It does, thanks.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jan 2019 1:13 p.m. PST

Prussian 1799-1806, Column to Square: 10.8 minutes! What in the world were they doing? Setting up surveyor's transits and painting chalk lines on the ground? :)

Major Snort07 Jan 2019 2:21 p.m. PST

Scott wrote:

Prussian 1799-1806, Column to Square: 10.8 minutes! What in the world were they doing? Setting up surveyor's transits and painting chalk lines on the ground? :)


The biggest problem with the books by Nafziger and Jeffrey is that they attempt to summarise the manoeuvres employed by several nations in one volume, which probably has less pages than any one of the individual nation's period regulations. Therefore they take a snapshot of some aspects, ignore others, make assumptions, some of which are completely wrong, and do not show anything like a full picture of any nation's full repertoire of manoeuvres.

I know nothing about the Prussian regulations, so cannot say how accurate this time estimate is, but, based on both Nafziger's and Jeffrey's assessments of British manoeuvres, I would recommend that readers do not trust a word that they write without checking the original regulations, and checking period accounts to determine what was actually done in action.

von Winterfeldt07 Jan 2019 2:23 p.m. PST


Prussian 1799-1806, Column to Square: 10.8 minutes! What in the world were they doing? Setting up surveyor's transits and painting chalk lines on the ground? :)

In my view nonesense, Imperial Bajonetts makes a lot of mistakes, like giving the French the befenit of changing their formation at the pas de charge, which is wrong.

As for the Prussians, they had no tactical cloumn on the battle field up till 1806 – they were usually deployed in iine.

Then Prussians post 1808, from what square is the author speaking, the closed one ? Most likley there the formation is very quick, but then in 1806 the Prussians had no closed square but an open one.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP07 Jan 2019 3:47 p.m. PST

Battalion.

Timescale will vary depending on how long a turn is. It'll only be used in the displaying of results phase.
Obviously, if you set a turn to 30 minutes watching units creep about on the screen with no input for 30 minutes might not be terribly exciting.

Andy:
Well, here's the thing. Depending on the time scale, much of the differences between different formation changes may not matter…particularly when regulations were changing over the 20 years of war and that the pace at which things were done could be speeded up or slowed down as was deemed necessary. For instance, Dundas 1798 and Torrens 1824 regulations estimated the time it would take to cross 1000 to 1200 paces of level ground in a line of 8 battalions. The actual times they give sees a speed faster than ordinary pace, but slower than quick time. Both assumed that speed would vary according to needs in the advance--under fire by the way.

IIRC, the British regulations for instance 'suggested' troops change formation at quick time.

I think the second question I would ask is if you have any guiding examples of one side being caught at a disadvantage because they changed formation slower than the enemy.

Such situations as Albuera or with the Frnch in the Pennisula being caught flatfooted by the British have more with being under fire than any slow change of formation.

Major Snort07 Jan 2019 4:35 p.m. PST

McLaddie wrote:

For instance, Dundas 1798 and Torrens 1824 regulations estimated the time it would take to cross 1000 to 1200 paces of level ground in a line of 8 battalions. The actual times they give sees a speed faster than ordinary pace, but slower than quick time. Both assumed that speed would vary according to needs in the advance--under fire by the way.

In the Dundas 1792 regulations, he stated that British Infantry should deploy into line between 1200 and 1500 paces from the enemy, and that they could advance across this distance, in line, in 18 minutes. Going for the midway point between these distances I.E. 1350 paces, this is spot on the 75 paces per minute of British "Ordinary time" which was the pace used for line manoeuvres at this time. Formation changes were carried out at "Quick time" of 108 paces per minute.


During the Napoleonic Wars, the rate of march in the British army for such manoeuvres seems to have increased, and this was finally made official in the 1824 Torrens Regulations.

Thus we find that in the 1824 regulations, British infantry were instructed to normally deploy into line 1200 to 1400 paces from the enemy and to close with the enemy, this distance would be covered in line in 12 or 13 minutes. This is because advances in line were now expected to be made at "Quick time" (108 paces per minute). Formation changes were also speeded up and now made at the "Double march" or 150 paces per minute. "Ordinary Time" of 75 paces per minute was not expected to be often used on the battlefield anymore.


So here we have a huge increase in the rate at which manoeuvres were carried out by the same army, making a huge difference to the time formation changes would take, and the time to close with an enemy while advancing in line. These changes were almost certainly in use during the Napoleonic Wars prior to the official regulation changes in 1824

Blutarski07 Jan 2019 8:06 p.m. PST

Movement rates depend a great deal upon the state of the ground and its gradient.

I'm not sure how a unit cold advance at 150 paces per minute across a freshly ploughed or muddy field for example.

B

Andy ONeill08 Jan 2019 3:30 a.m. PST

@McLaddie
I don't follow what you mean by timescale. This is a computer game rather than tabletop.
Results are effectively resolved real time.
Or near real time anyhow.
The game loop will work out where units will move to and whether they are in range or contact. That'll loop through every unit and of course needs to pick a slice of time to simulate.
It'll be fairly small. Probably be 10 or 6 seconds.
Have to see how fast it can deal with hundreds of units.

If there was a strong case said those different numbers are puled out of nowhere and it's near enough 1 minute for any formation change.
That would simplify things greatly.
Which would be a good thing, since I suspect many computer gamers aren't going to want to delve into any 19thc regulations.
1 minute but more when under threat or fire is easily understood.

Stress/Quality effects are also probably rather more significant than absolute times out any manual.
Who cares if how long a unit takes to form square when the enemy are 2km away?
Much more significant is when a player is overly optimistic and leaves it until the enemy cavalry are close enough to be a real threat.

So yes.
I could see a case for that.
But that only works if there isn't a huge difference between say forming square or line or skirmish for any given unit.

Oliver Schmidt08 Jan 2019 7:46 a.m. PST

The time needed will also depend on the size of the unit.

For example, a 90 wheeling will be accomplished when the last man on the outer flank has reached his new position.

If you take a 800 men battalion in line, formed in three ranks, estimating 66 cm frontage per man and ignoring the officers and NCOs behind the line, the front of the whole battlion will be 266 men, or roughly 180 m.

For wheeling 90, the last man on the outer flank has to move 0,5 x 3,1 x 180 m = 279 m.

(complete perimeter = 2 x Pi x radius)

If the battalion has been reduced to only 600 men, it is only 210 m to go until the movement is accomplished.

Mulitply this with the speed of manoeuvering, and you have the time needed for the movement.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2019 8:39 a.m. PST

I don't follow what you mean by timescale. This is a computer game rather than tabletop.
Results are effectively resolved real time.
Or near real time anyhow.
The game loop will work out where units will move to and whether they are in range or contact. That'll loop through every unit and of course needs to pick a slice of time to simulate.
It'll be fairly small. Probably be 10 or 6 seconds.
Have to see how fast it can deal with hundreds of units.

Andy:
You answered the question. Time Scale: The relationship between the simulation measure of time and real time. From what you've said it is either 1:1 seconds or 1:10 or 6 seconds.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2019 9:12 a.m. PST

In the Dundas 1792 regulations, he stated that British Infantry should deploy into line between 1200 and 1500 paces from the enemy, and that they could advance across this distance, in line, in 18 minutes. Going for the midway point between these distances I.E. 1350 paces, this is spot on the 75 paces per minute of British "Ordinary time" which was the pace used for line manoeuvres at this time. Formation changes were carried out at "Quick time" of 108 paces per minute.

Major Snort:

Well, I was translating 1200 to 1500 paces into 1000-1200 yards. The short distance Dundas gives, 1200 paces, is 66 paces per minute and the fastest movement to 1500 paces is 83 paces per minute. So while Dundas may have see then the mid-point as a uniform ordinary time of 75 paces per minute, he obviously estimated that line of infantry could move slower or faster than that depending on circumstances…and obviously for moving 1500 paces in 18 [not my 15] minutes, the infantry would have used quick time at some point.

Andy ONeill08 Jan 2019 9:37 a.m. PST

I think you were saying elsewhere that some French commander ( was it Soullt? ) could estimate pretty accurately when his units would get to the enemy.

I found that quite surprising.
Unless he just guessed, allowed the maximum 25% contingency and got near enough or plain lucky.

I would have though there was any number of things would slow an advance.
It's like the worst software project you ever heard of.
Estimate this… but there's some other guys will actively trying to mess you up as well as the "usual" unknowns.

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART08 Jan 2019 10:34 a.m. PST

Since it is a computer game, you could modify things as much as you can stand. Just do it, and study how things fall out. There have been a great deal of information just presented here and a massive amount of data to be researched, use it and make the judgement!

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP08 Jan 2019 2:19 p.m. PST

I think you were saying elsewhere that some French commander ( was it Soullt? ) could estimate pretty accurately when his units would get to the enemy.

I found that quite surprising. Unless he just guessed, allowed the maximum 25% contingency and got near enough or plain lucky.

Andy:

Why? Soult, like many veteran commanders had spent years marching back and forth--with some of those very troops. Being able to estimate time and distance issues was de rigor for any officer. No recruit was allowed to train with the rest of the company until he could step a measured pace without thinking. It allowed officers to better judge how far in how much time.

Even today, military men time and test their ability to estimate how long it will take them and their men to get from point A to point B. Special Forces are really proficient at it.

I can tell you within a few minutes how long it takes for me to drive to work. As a backpacker, I do a pretty good job estimating how long it will take me to hike 10 miles.

I would have though there was any number of things would slow an advance.
It's like the worst software project you ever heard of.
Estimate this… but there's some other guys will actively trying to mess you up as well as the "usual" unknowns.

Sure, the same is true of traveling on streets and highways, and yet nine times out of ten, I still get to work within a few minutes of my estimates.

I'll lay odds that you don't know what the "usual" unknowns were for Napoleonic troops, let alone how often they 'usually' influenced a march. I'll bet Soult did.

I'll also lay odds that you don't know how often 'some guy' tried to 'mess up' the efforts of men like Soult…those 'unusual' unknowns.

You are asking probability questions that require statistical analysis, particularly if you are going to creat a computer system to mimic the 'usual.'

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP09 Jan 2019 9:58 p.m. PST

It would be nice if some great unquestioned authority told us how far light/medium/heavy cavalry could move (in units of length of line of a battalion of infantry) in the time that a battalion could form square. Any takers?

Rod MacArthur10 Jan 2019 9:29 a.m. PST

British quarter distance column into square or French half distance column into square should take no more than 20 seconds, including time for orders. The critical factor is the time it takes for the last company, or division, to march forward 12 paces and about face. At 120 paces per minute (the normal formation changing speed for both French and British) the marching should only take six seconds. The rest is orders, about facing and tightening up the dressing.

Rod

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2019 4:51 a.m. PST

Thank you Rod. The more usual situation is that infantry in the combat zone has already deployed into line. The distances are greater. I've heard of half to 2 minutes.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP12 Jan 2019 4:13 p.m. PST

The questions of timing were important to the military men of the time, for instance, there is the period study:

A Series of Military Experiments of Attack and Defense carried out by the British army in 1802 in Hyde Park and 1805 on the Island of Jersey. The Naval and Military Press carries a reprint. It is a window into what they were thinking and the various important issues they considered when it came to timing.

They had cavalry carry out several charges and timed them with a stop watch. The 'typical' procedure for a cavalry charge would start with
a walk 200 yards, [95 seconds,
a trot, 160 yards, [28 seconds]
a gallop 170 yards [13 seconds]
and finally at full gallop or charge within 80 yards. [8 seconds]

The conclusion was from 600 yards or 720 paces [30 inch paces], cavalry will complete a charge in 144 seconds.
2 minutes and 24 seconds.

Shorter charges of 400 yards, particularly against infantry, would start with a trot and last 49 seconds with the infantry getting off two or three shots.

Obviously, if it required one to three minutes to form square, infantry could be caught in mid-formation. That is why we see infantry generally err on the side of caution when they saw cavalry in the vicinity.

Of course, there is the difference between light and some heavy cavalry that always charged at a trot to preserve boot-to-boot order.

Lion in the Stars12 Jan 2019 10:26 p.m. PST

and finally at full gallop or charge within 80 yards. [8 seconds]

I should point out that a large number of horses (a hundred or more) galloping towards you is terrifying.

Oliver Schmidt13 Jan 2019 12:33 a.m. PST

A Series of Military Experiments of Attack and Defence:

link

And a review with some criticism:

link

Andy ONeill13 Jan 2019 7:30 a.m. PST

I should point out that a large number of horses (a hundred or more) galloping towards you is terrifying.

Isn't it this that cavalry pretty much relied on?
If they couldn't turn a flank that is.
Infantry would have to open up before a charge at the gallop could go home.
If the horses see no gap they can fit through then they will refuse or try and jump.

Where there any instances cavalry managed to take steady infantry head on who were in line?

Lion in the Stars13 Jan 2019 5:59 p.m. PST

There are a very few instances of cavalry breaking a square, one Sharpe novel had this as a horse getting hit and tumbling into the ranks.

I don't think any infantry would have been in line against cavalry.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP14 Jan 2019 5:28 a.m. PST

I thought there were quite a lot of instances of cavalry breaking squares? The Sharpe incident was what actually happened at Garcia Hernandez IIRC.

Presumably, all it takes otherwise is for a few blokes to melt away, and suddenly your square has holes in it that cavalry can enter.

AIUI, horses are pretty thick and don't have the best forward eyesight (they're all about the all-round vision) so are likely to come to a stop or to swerve when faced with an obstacle such as a square.

A British battalion square of 500 men would be maybe twenty yards wide on a side, so not a large obstacle to swerve around.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP14 Jan 2019 5:35 a.m. PST

@ McLaddie

examples of one side being caught at a disadvantage because they changed formation slower than the enemy.

I don't have any, and can only think of instances such as Quatre Bras, where squares were closed with cuirassiers inside them. This just says that the manoeuvre was started too late, not that a different army would have accomplished it quicker.

There must be instances of say one column stumbling on another, and the two racing to deploy, with the faster opening fire sooner and driving the other off. With that said, I can't think of any examples of this. Depending on which armies we're talking about, it would not follow anyway that both would stop and deploy. One might do so while the other fixed bayonets and charged.

@ Oliver Schmidt:

Thanks for that really interesting link. Apart from anything else, the list of officer names of volunteer units is very interesting to me…

Andy ONeill14 Jan 2019 6:09 a.m. PST

My understanding is the chances of cavalry actually breaking a steady formed square was pretty slim.

The below article describes a sort of probing by cavalry. They see the infantry and advance. See what the infantry does. If it looks steady then they probably go look for an opening elsewhere. If it looks unsteady they push on a bit more.

It also says 100 seconds line to square was the theoretical time but in practice you could expect it to take longer in combat.

link

Rod MacArthur14 Jan 2019 6:33 a.m. PST

I thought I would add to this debate with a link to my article on my website on forming square, which shows, amongst other things, how squares were formed from lines and columns and how long they took to form.

link

I would also comment on 1968billsfan post saying that:

The more usual situation is that infantry in the combat zone has already deployed into line.

Any competent Napoleonic commander knew exactly how long it would take to form from line to square, and took pains to ensure that they did not have to do so.

The British 1792 Regulations (S 178 para 10) specifically advises that "if a battalion is marching in open ground, where it is necessary to be prepared against the attack of cavalry, it may be in column of companies at quarter distance" (it says "may" since in the end it is up to Commanding Officers, not regulations, to decide formations).

The reason for this is that forming square from a quarter distance column can be achieved by a well trained battalion in 21 seconds as opposed to 92 seconds forming square from a line (see my article for detail).

Once a battalion is in line, it should have its flanks protected, by terrain or other units.

There are examples of movement in line with protected flanks (using what the French called "Ordre Mixte"). Perhaps the classic example is Cole's Division at Albuera, his Fusilier and Portuguese Brigades advancing in line, but with quarter distance columns on both flanks, formed by 1st Bn LLL and his converged Light Battalion respectively.

Earlier in the same battle, Colborne had advanced his Brigade in line without flank protection and they were destroyed. Guy Dempsey in his book "Albuera 1811" (p 119) quotes Leslie "Military Journal" (p 220) saying that Colbourn "wished to move to the attack with the two flank regiments in quarter distance columns, and the two centre ones in line; but Sir William Stewart, anxious to show a large front, was deploying the whole in line".

There are many other examples from the Napoleonic Wars of battalions moving in line with flank protection, and being destroyed if they did not do so.

Rod

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