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©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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dogtail27 Apr 2019 12:32 p.m. PST

or: how linear was napoleonic warefare?
Looking at (28mm)wargames you often see the defender deployed in two lines, not much different from SYW games or WSS, basically the difference is the headgear.
I guess the British deployed rather linear, but how appropriate is that für Prussian and Austrian troops? A Prussian brigade in itself has five Treffen (skirmish line , Füsiliere, Musketiere, Musketiere, Cavalry), and afaik the Austrians always had a lot of reserves as well, which means they had to deploy deep.
Often you can read in battle accounts that troops flee, rally and get back into fighting. In the SYW a hole in the battle line strictly had to be avoided. Excluding the british,was that also the case in napoleonic warfare or was the Main battle line rather an permeable area where the fighting was going back and forth?
cheers

14Bore27 Apr 2019 1:29 p.m. PST

Depth is the bigger part IMO, having immediate reserves to throw in including infantry, cavalry or artillery for the division or divisions for the army.

Musketballs27 Apr 2019 2:54 p.m. PST

For the British, it depends how you define 'rather linear'.

At Salamanca Wellington had the Light, 1st, 4th and 5th Divisions in the first line, the 6th and 7th behind them, and the heavy cavalry, Spanish and independent Portuguese Division as a third line. You could also consider the 3rd Division as being part of the third line.
When the retreat of the 4th Division and Pack's Brigade left a gap in the line, Wellington was able to swiftly move the 6th Division to fill it.

At Waterloo Wellington delivered a masterclass in how to use reserves. He kept the RHA batteries under his personal control and carefully deployed them to key areas at key moments. He hoarded fresh troops even at the cost of letting the front line units be bled white. As the Imperial Guard came forward at the end of the day, he had Adams and Mitchell's veteran Brigades virtually untouched, Chasse's fresh division had been brought across from Braine L'Alleud and Vincke's and Halkett's virtually unused Hanoverian brigades were in the centre. Plus the crown jewel – Vivian's brigade, the only fresh cavalry left on the field.

In all, that's around 20,000 men – nearly a third of Wellington's whole army – still fresh and intact to meet the last French attack. Still, there are those who would have us believe that the Anglo-Allied army had been shot to pieces, and if Bonaparte had sent a couple more battalions of Guard, or attacked a few minutes earlier, or if Ney had gone a little more *this* way instead of *that* way, then it would have been Game Over and Wellington smashed to oblivion. To borrow from Wilde, 'You'd have to have a heart of stone not to laugh'.

dogtail27 Apr 2019 3:09 p.m. PST

With all due respect, Sir, the Duke called it a "close run thing".
I don´t know, if "Give me night, or give me Blücher." are his true words, but I think your perception must be in error. I thought for a moment about asking you what is the Prussian part in the result of the battle of La Belle Alliance, but I think I know your answer.
À Votre Santé!

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP27 Apr 2019 3:57 p.m. PST

The 1805 Austria answer is not necessarily the 1812 Prussian one, Dogtail. As the period goes on, countries adopt corps structure, throw out more skirmishers, adopt semi-permanent brigades and tend to maneuver more in column. So time and nationality affect the answer, though the French are "Napoleonic" to an extent even during the Revolution and completely from 1803.

The other answer is scale or level. There were (mostly) changes in drill books, but while Friedland and Dresden don't feel much like Frederick's battles, brigade-level actions are much less altered. So the "main battle line" of a corps--once there are corps--is not much like the line of a similarly-sized force in the SYW, but a deployed regiment might look very much the same.

And welcome to Napoleonics.

Musketballs27 Apr 2019 4:18 p.m. PST

With all due respect, Sir, the Duke called it a "close run thing".

He did indeed…but it still doesn't alter the maths. At the French last gasp, he still had 20000 troops to play with. Possibly he believed that many of them couldn't be trusted, but on that he was proved wrong – the Dutch-Belgians performed well at both Quatre-Bras and Waterloo, and Halkett's Hanoverians distinguished themselves in the advance.

I thought for a moment about asking you what is the Prussian part in the result of the battle of La Belle Alliance, but I think I know your answer.

You might be barking up the wrong tree on that one…I actually happen to think Bulow's performance that day was exceptional – especially when you consider he started his attack with just 2 of his brigades ready. Nor am I dumb enough to believe that an extra 15000 French troops wouldn't have made any difference to the battle on the ridge, or to Wellington's ability to husband his troops. Nor am I stupid enough to believe that over 5000 Prussians were killed or wounded doing nothing.

Not sure what else you want to know?

dogtail27 Apr 2019 5:02 p.m. PST

@Musketballs I would like to offer a sincere apologies for my "barking", I misinterpreted your intention.

Not sure what else you want to know?

Are there any good books out there where I can inform myself about the procedures of moving brigades? Regulations for manouvering a bataillon are easily available, but I don´t know how several bataillons are coordinated.

cheers!

Musketballs27 Apr 2019 6:00 p.m. PST

Don't worry about it grin

The British 1792 Regulations, as an example. The duties of a battalion commander start on p37:

link

By the book, each battalion had a fixed place in the brigade, with the most senior on the right, and then the remaining forming alongside in order of decreasing seniority. The brigade would keep order during a move by keeping its position relative to the 'Regulating Battalion'.

However, 'by the book' doesn't always work in war, and it's common to find Brigade and Division commanders riding in front of their troops during an attack to keep control – one reason for the extremely high casualties they suffered.

roundie27 Apr 2019 6:29 p.m. PST

Oh If weren't for the Prussians Wellington would have run for the coast tail between his legs ha ha ha…. well, as ordered anyway.

Although he handled his army well on the day. Don't forget the French were down Lobau's corps and a big part of the guard and still very nearly whipped him.

Not to mention how he was completely out foxed by the master a few days earlier, only his sub-commanders and French confusion saved the Prussians at Ligny.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP27 Apr 2019 6:41 p.m. PST

Dogtail, take a look at Clausewitz' Principles of War. (Not On War, mind you.) He wrote Principles just before he went over to the Russian side in 1812 as a sort of "first steps in tactics" for the Hohenzollern heir and it doesn't assume much by way of prior knowledge or experience.

But that's not to disagree with Musketballs. A brigade commander would receive a (usually verbal) order and point some unit in the right direction, with other units guiding on that one. It works better without smoke, noise, sudden death and intervening terrain, of course.

Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP27 Apr 2019 6:44 p.m. PST

Which, I believe, he acknowledged at the time.

dogtail27 Apr 2019 6:58 p.m. PST

I guess if Wellington or any other British commander would not have participated in the last big battle of the napoleonic wars, it would not be such a popular part of historical wargaming. Otherwise I am rather annoyed by all the bickering about this peticular battle.
Napoleons reign was doomed anyway imho, so the hundred days might be interesting for a short four battle campaign, but I wish all the other battles of the napoleonic wars would get their fair share of attention.

Thanx for the link, Musketballs

dogtail27 Apr 2019 7:39 p.m. PST

@robert piepenbrink
Are the Principles a shorter Form of ON WAR?
A german online version of Die wichtigsten Grundsätze des Kriegführens, zur Ergänzung meines Unterrichts bei Sr. Königlichen Hoheit dem Kronprinzen is quite similar to Vom Kriege.

cheers and thanks for all the usefull information!

Musketballs27 Apr 2019 7:54 p.m. PST

You're welcome. It's worth noting that the 1792 Regulations make the point that battalions are to a brigade what companies are to a battalion – the basic principles of maneuvering either are the same.

dibble27 Apr 2019 11:53 p.m. PST

Roundie

Don't forget the French were down Lobau's corps and a big part of the guard and still very nearly whipped him.

When was that then?

Oh If weren't for the Prussians Wellington would have run for the coast tail between his legs ha ha ha…. well, as ordered anyway.

Really! One thing the British army under Wellington at least didn't do and that was run with its tail between its legs and certainly, Wellington didn't do such things. Unlike Napoleon that is. Oh! and 'whatifs' and could'a, should'a would'a doesn't cut it.

Napoleon and his hoards were smashed in an 8-hour battle and his Guard did nothing other than advance a couple of hundred yards, get stopped, thrown back and either surrendered or sneaked or ran off into the high crops and the night. When did Emperor Napoleon last suffer such a defeat in 8 hours?

roundie28 Apr 2019 1:38 a.m. PST

Alright alright don't get all angry there dibbles

Lobau's Corps 10,600 + the young guard and 2 battalions of the old guard 5,700 troops went to fight the Prussians not the British
So when the French attacked they were already down approx 16,000 troops :-)

"If it Weren't for the Prussians"

Wellington was under orders not to risk losing the only British field army in Europe. That is why he stationed 17,000 men at Hal to cover his run for Ostende (If the Prussians were a no show).

The Guard acquitted themselves quite well in Plancenoit
and British did run away in the Peninsular :-)

Handlebarbleep28 Apr 2019 4:03 a.m. PST

The question merges tactics with strategy. The linear nature of the battlefield is essentially a function of the range, accuracy and nature of the main weapon systems. These remained broadly the same throughout the what we call the horse and musket period. It is unsurprising that battlefield formations from Blenheim to Balaclava are still basically recognisable. Only with the rise of firepower from accurate and longer range rifle, automatic and indirect fires that we see a sea change. Even then, linear tactics took a long time to die and the heritage of lance armed cavalry and red trousered infantry was with us for some time.

The major innovation over our period was the evolution of the Frederician school into the more flexible Napoleonic Corps system. It is this development of the use of columns into all arms bodies capable of independantly finding, fixing and striking that truly marks out the difference. It also explains the impression we get of the British remaining "old fashioned". The fact is that such a small professional rather than mass levy organisation had little need for it except administratively or when combining with allies.

Miniature gamers tend to recreate battles when forces had already been concentrated. It is unsurprising therefore that when deprived of the space to manouvre even these corps tend to appear fairly linear.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP28 Apr 2019 4:11 a.m. PST

Dogtail, that looks like the right German title, but if they resemble one another, something has gone wrong. "Principles" is about a tenth the page count and expends a lot of that on tactics, including diagrams of a Prussian force of about corps size deployed for battle.

DO NOT try Amazon for this one. The kindle edition admits it left out the "archaic" diagrams, and I can't confirm them in the paper copies. Scrounge around in used bookshops. There was a WWII translation and printing with frequent post-war reprints. Not normally hard to get.

Stoppage28 Apr 2019 4:18 a.m. PST

This can be useful:

The Three Arms or Divisional Tactics, Carl Decker abridged by Inigo Jones c1848:

link

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP28 Apr 2019 5:02 a.m. PST

The Grande Armee usually formed its infantry for battle in two lines of battalion columns in a checkerboard formation, with the battalions in the second line covering the gaps in the first line.

They formed at deployment intervals so that they could easily deploy into line without interfering with another battalion.

The gaps allowed artillery and cavalry to advance between the infantry battalions if necessary and each battalion in the front line would deploy its voltigeur company as skirmishers in a swarm which would link up with the deployed voltigeur companies to its right and left.

Reserves of all arms would be massed to the rear of the two lines of infantry to be ready to exploit any advantage. If necessary, more infantry companies would be deployed into the skirmish line.

When contact was made with the enemy, the first line of battalions would deploy into line and begin the firefight, sometimes that line would consist of a heavy skirmish line, usually depending on the terrain or the preference of the infantry commander.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP28 Apr 2019 5:03 a.m. PST

In all, that's around 20,000 men – nearly a third of Wellington's whole army – still fresh and intact to meet the last French attack.

Do you have a source for this?

dogtail28 Apr 2019 10:59 a.m. PST

When contact was made with the enemy, the first line of battalions would deploy into line and begin the firefight, sometimes that line would consist of a heavy skirmish line, usually depending on the terrain or the preference of the infantry commander.

Marechal de Saxe and others wrote about the inability of the French to sustain long firefights, and it was difficult to regain momentum after the shooting started. So I wonder if the better way to put pressure on the defender was to make a "surprise" attack with artillery and skirmishers, followed by attacks with columns.
By the way in the book from 1838
"Versuch eines Leitfadens zur taktischen Belehrung für Subaltern-Offiziere der Infanterie und Cavalerie" is an interesting description of a fictional fight between two bataillons, discussion the use of column or line in defence(!) (page 232, Besondere Gefechtsverhältnisse der verschiedenen Waffengattungen im offenen Terrain. § 12. Infanterie gegen Infanterie) As the defending skirmisher would be masking the fire of their own line, the author suggest counterattacking the attacking (french)column with a column instead of using a line, as it will stop the attack cause french would habitually deploy into line.
That description and Clausewitz writing about the characture of the contempary battle are the reasons why I asked how linear was the napoleonic era, but I should have limited my question better to the timeframe 1813-15.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP28 Apr 2019 11:57 a.m. PST

1745 was way before the Grande Armee came into being. I would suggest that the French ability to sustain firefights had come a long way and that things had changed.

dibble28 Apr 2019 1:01 p.m. PST

Roundie.

Wellington was under orders not to risk losing the only British field army in Europe. That is why he stationed 17,000 men at Hal to cover his run for Ostende (If the Prussians were a no show).

Please provide the evidence for this.

Anyway, great captains plan for contingencies. I've studied the campaign for 40 odd years but have never seen evidence for the some 17,500 at Hal-Tubize being there other than to protect against a flanking thrust.

The Guard acquitted themselves quite well in Plancenoit

And?

and British did run away in the Peninsular :-)

The British did not run away, they withdrew, thus the reason why they won their rearguard actions and pitched battles.

And as for the final French attack up the ridge, there was an excellent discussion on it a couple of years ago.

TMP link

dogtail28 Apr 2019 2:50 p.m. PST

@french in fire fights:Interesting! I thought that the whole system of impulse warfare was a development away from the reliance on mass musket fire cause the prussian used to be better in it, the austrians had more batallion guns and the revolutionary spirit gave birth to the cult of the bayonet.
But of course it depends on the tactical situation.

cheers

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP28 Apr 2019 3:09 p.m. PST

What was 'impulse warfare?'

dogtail28 Apr 2019 3:19 p.m. PST

I hope I did not confuse words: Brent Nosworthy used this term afaIr in his book: "Battle Tactics of Napoleon and His Enemies".

4th Cuirassier28 Apr 2019 4:58 p.m. PST

The data suggest that if Wellington and / or a more militarily effective ally hadn't been on the field, the Prussians would have lost.

The Prussians brought 50,000 men to Waterloo who were contained for most of the day by 10 to 15,000 French.

The other 60,000 French, including all the heavy cavalry and most of the Guard, were defeated by Wellington's 73,000.

Imagine how screwed the Prussians would have been if Wellington hadn't won at Quatre Bras and Mont St. Jean! They needed him badly.

I know this is difficult for Anglophobes to accept.

dogtail28 Apr 2019 6:40 p.m. PST

The Prussians would not have been at Waterloo if no Allies were there, I guess they would not have been in Belgium all by themself from the beginning. And I would call Quatre Bras a draw. And IF the Prussians would not guaranteed to bring one Corps, I bet Wellington would not have offered a Battle. The whole bragging about Waterloo is something childish, unworthy to the brave soldiers on all sides.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP28 Apr 2019 6:58 p.m. PST

I hope I did not confuse words: Brent Nosworthy used this term afaIr in his book: "Battle Tactics of Napoleon and His Enemies".

I thought that was where you found that term. I have found that Nosworthy's books have too many errors in fact to be useful.

And I have found no source at all for the term 'impulse tactics.'

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP28 Apr 2019 6:59 p.m. PST

I wouldn't consider Quatre Bras as an allied 'win.' At best it was a draw and then Wellington retreated.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP28 Apr 2019 8:43 p.m. PST

All the Napoleonic writers stress the need for supports and reserves. The British, particularly Wellington nearly always deployed in two lines. In later battles it was divisions behind divisions.

The basic weapons and methods for moving men and horses around the battlefield didn't change that much from the SYW through to 1870 and beyond.

The basic method for moving large numbers of men that has been mentioned already, the regulating battalion, or brigade, or division in moving a battle line.

And that method hasn't 'died out', it is simply not described that way. It was used by the British at the battle of the Somme, it is used in moving a platoon of tanks in WWII.

It was even used during the second Battle of Fallujah:

picture

The line of regiments were told to move when the Marine 1 Division on the right flank did and to keep pace with it in advancing through the down. One reason the first battle of Fallujah failed was because the separate forces didn't coordinate their actions, entering the city from several directions.

"follow the leader" has been a basic method of controlling troops since The Greeks in the Iliad, waiting for Achilles unit on the far right to begin the advance.

Howie Muir's chapter 4 in Inside Wellington's Peninsular Army 1808-1814 for a far-more nuanced explanation of 'linear warfare.'

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP29 Apr 2019 2:27 a.m. PST

Warfare in "linear battles" be they in ancient times right up to the early years of the 20th century has always been an exercise in "crowd management"

Once you have structures that allow you to control individual units the issue becomes one of resilience versus flexibility.

Formations like the Phalanx or the Tercio were extremely strong and resilient but lacked flexibility. More flexible units like those of the 17th and 18th century sometimes lacked resilience and coordination.

The armies of Louis XIV didn't have much of structure above the regimental level with brigades being mostly temporary for a single battle. Had units been better organized at this level Clérambault would not have poured regiment after regiment into Blenheim when it seemed the enemy kept attacking it. He'd have sent in a proper brigade and awaited results in another situation.

The corps structure of the Napoleonic era didn't just provide the framework for a commander to have a balanced, self-sufficient force, it also allowed a commander to gauge what elements he had rather than estimate how many regiments were needed for the job.

The advantage was that a corps commander not only had an easier time figuring out which assets to commit, but also had a clearer picture of the men under him and knew on which ones he could count to do the required job.

Ultimately it allowed for greater flexibility and yet greater resilience because of greater depth.

von Winterfeldt29 Apr 2019 4:24 a.m. PST

Quatre Bras was a strategical victory, one has to see it in connection with Ligny, which was a tactical Prussian defeat.
Without the Prussians accepting battle, Wellington would have had a hard time to stand his ground, Drouet would be at his full disposal of Ney and no marching back and forth.

The outcome of those two battles decided the future strategy of the Allies, Wellington knew he had no good chances to win against Boney on his own without the essential Prussian help.

This was promised, Wellington stood his ground by the skin of his teeth and without the timely arrival of the Prussians, the battle would be won by Boney.

So each Allied army depended on each other.

As to how linear, not likely as in the 7YW, the ordre profond took over the ordre mince, and a line of battle of 20 deployed battalions wasn't seen on a Napoleonic battle field any longer.

Most divisions would have form two or three lines of battle, each line in supporting distance.
As to what formation those lines would be, that would be a decision of the divisional commander.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP29 Apr 2019 9:16 p.m. PST

a line of battle of 20 deployed battalions wasn't seen on a Napoleonic battle field any longer.

VW: Didn't that depend on the army and particular year? Certainly saw that at Jena or Talavera.

Even so, whether deployed or in column, the battle line was still just that, a line, whether there were others lined up behind them or not.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP30 Apr 2019 4:46 a.m. PST

I would contend that Napoleonic warfare was much less linear (and therefore much more interesting to wargame) than what went before. I went into some of the reasons why and their consequences in a blog post here:
link
It started some good arguments. 😊

Looking at 28mm wargames generally won't give you the right picture because with figures at that scale it becomes difficult to give the battlefield the suitable depth mentioned in some of the posts above, which distinguishes Napoleonic battles from pre-Napoleonic. (Take a look at some battle maps.)

A hole in the line was still a problem in Napoleonic times but more critical in SYW, because back then it took significantly longer to react to it by changing formation, so exposed flanks were more of a problem. That's why in SYW etc each battalion in line had to be so closely anchored to another one on each side, making an army's battle formation one long front line, with a second and sometimes a third long line close behind. The battalions on the end had to have their open flank covered by a mass of cavalry, which had to go on the end anyway, because if you intersperse them with the infantry, then when they charge they leave gaps in the infantry line, which is what you're trying to avoid. Maneuvering on the battlefield in column is dangerous because it takes too long to deploy into line when the firefight starts, and maneuvering in line is slow and difficult, so in SYW etc everyone deploys the whole army into line at a safe distance making sure it is pointed in the right direction from the start.

In Napoleonic times it becomes much more feasible to mix cavalry and artillery in with the infantry and create combined-arms corps, which can look after their own flanks to some degree and operate more independently without having to be in lock-step with each other. The shape of the armies' deployments and of the resulting battles becomes less linear and more fluid.

That's a short summary with a lot of generalization, and I'm not saying the whole world changed in 1796 or anything like that, or that there are no exceptions on either side of the line. But I do maintain that there is an important step-change that takes place around then, which takes effect faster in some respects and in some armies than in others.

Chris

Bloody Big BATTLES!
link

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP30 Apr 2019 5:33 p.m. PST

Hi Chris:

You make some good points above and in your blog post.

I will take exception to one theme, or at least take a different Point of departure.

A hole in the line was still a problem in Napoleonic times but more critical in SYW, because back then it took significantly longer to react to it by changing formation, so exposed flanks were more of a problem. That's why in SYW etc each battalion in line had to be so closely anchored to another one on each side, making an army's battle formation one long front line, with a second and sometimes a third long line close behind .

You can't be referring to Rossbach, Leuthen, Minden, Torgau or Zorndorf… to name a few.

I think you see a 'less flexible' situation during the SYW has little to do with the actual capabilities of infantry, cavalry and artillery, linear warfare and more to do with the social circumstances and need for singular control by the CinC, King or few nobles in a battle. The smaller the army, like Frederick's the greater the control, hence his less than rigid linear warfare.

Christopher Duffy Comments on this at length in his The Military Experience in the Age of Reason

When the French Revolution came, starting with the French, freed from the nobility, lower level commanders [at least at the division level, and sometimes brigade] began having more discretion in acting, particularly when given control of artillery and sometimes cavalry.

Unlike Frederick at Leuthen, Napoleon at Austerlitz issued no orders for the first two hours after he released Soult.

The linear warfare in Napoleon's time shared the same rigidity and weaknesses as the SYW, but now the control was at the division level, and so was the 'rigid linear warfare.'That is easy to see. Look at any division formation during the wars, and regardless of nationality, you will see a divisional battle line [at least] as constant as any SYW army. And no more 'unlinear' than anything done by Frederick.

Breaks in the line were just as serious…which is why that rupture was the goal of all of Napoleon's battles. So Frederick had his entire army in echelon formation at Leuthen and individual Prussian and French divisions advanced in echelon formation at Jena without reference to adjoining divisions--in the sense that all divisions in the line had to deploy in one formation.

Just my two cents.

Whirlwind30 Apr 2019 6:18 p.m. PST

You can't be referring to Rossbach, Leuthen, Minden, Torgau or Zorndorf… to name a few.

Surely he is very particularly referring to these battles, since they all demonstrate what he is saying? Confused.

The linear warfare in Napoleon's time shared the same rigidity and weaknesses as the SYW, but now the control was at the division level, and so was the 'rigid linear warfare.'That is easy to see. Look at any division formation during the wars, and regardless of nationality, you will see a divisional battle line [at least] as constant as any SYW army. And no more 'unlinear' than anything done by Frederick.

Hold on – with the exception of a couple of French attacks, I can't think of any attacks that went in during the European SYW in columns.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP30 Apr 2019 9:22 p.m. PST

Surely he is very particularly referring to these battles, since they all demonstrate what he is saying?

Right, so that wouldn't be referring to those as strictly unbroken lines. Sorry. Should have been more direct.

Hold on – with the exception of a couple of French attacks, I can't think of any attacks that went in during the European SYW in columns.

Well, there is a small problem. For instance, Frederick advanced at Rossback in what amounted to a square, with lines in front and back, columns at the sides, much like the Guard at Waterloo, for the same reason: enemy cavalry.

What most maps of the battle show is either later in the attack the two deployed lines and this kind of stacked lines, one behind the other advancing on the far right of an echelon.https://larouchepub.com/eiw/public/2011/eirv38n08-20110225/47-52_3808.pdf

Was this a French column attack, no. Did it involve columns, yeah.

This same square formation was used at Leuthen with columns on each flank.

Whirlwind30 Apr 2019 10:46 p.m. PST

Hold on, I think I am more confused now.

I thought the whole point about Prussian tactics was the quick wheel from open column to the flank to form line? So at Leuthen he moved his columns round the flank of the Austrian line which then deployed to the flank in line, so his battle line was facing the open left flank of the Austrians? And at Rossbach, something similar, except this time to catch the French-Imperials in column of march?

Did Prussian infantry attack to the front in columns? I have literally never read that anywhere. Plus I thought quick deployment from column to the front was a French innovation?

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP30 Apr 2019 11:21 p.m. PST

Hi Bill, thanks for the thoughtful comments, appreciated. You make some good points: I agree that social structure is a factor and that the revolution enables more delegation of authority to subordinate commanders. I think Nick and I make that same point in our translation of Clausewitz's 1796 history (which just got an excellent review in Choice, so excuse the plug: 'This valuable translation provides important insights on Clausewitz's understanding of history and its role in shaping his theoretical work. The translation is brilliantly executed. Highly recommended.')
link

Having said that, I've been studying the 1848-1849 campaign in Hungary, where the Austrian army is absolutely a noble monarchical one – and it is astonishing just how little control Windisch-Graetz has over his subordinates Jellacic, Schlick and Wrbna. Again in 1866 we see Benedek's defensive position at Koeniggraetz dislocated when two of his corps commanders unilaterally decide to advance to occupy what they regard as more important high ground to their front. So being hidebound by nobility is no guarantee of mechanistic obedience or singular control.

I freely acknowledge I know very little about individual SYW battles and had to look up the ones you mention. While each has its idiosyncracies, they mostly seem to exhibit the features I note as particular to pre-Napoleonic warfare:
- shallow deployment
- two or three continuous lines of infantry
- segregation of cavalry from infantry
- little complex maneuver or maneuver in column.

Rossbach does have the complex maneuver in column – but it's an exception that proves the rule, since the Austrian infantry columns get caught before they can deploy into line.

The maneuver at Leuthen is really pre-battle: a 3-mile march planned the night before, executed at 4am in the dark. The Austrians are defeated because they can't maneuver quickly enough to react.


Minden has the cavalry massed in the centre rather than the flanks but otherwise looks standard. You could say another exception that proves the rule, since it was Contades's departure from normal practice that ended with his cavalry routed by the British infantry, starting the rot in his whole line.


Torgau looks funky because Frederick moves his main army round behind the Austrians, but again this is pre-battle maneuver. Really it is just two standard linear SYW fights back-to-back.

Zorndorf again features a pre-battle maneuver, but the battle itself is absolutely linear.

The Prussians were a little ahead of the rest during SYW because of their superior drill which enabled them to do things faster: hence the movement in column at Rossbach and beating the Austrians by (re)deploying faster; being able to advance in echeloned line at Leuthen; executing the pre-battle maneuvers at Leuthen, Torgau and Zorndorf without being caught mid-maneuver like the Austrians at Rossbach.

Since you mention Austerlitz, contrast that with these above. What it has that these don't is substantial reserves behind the battle line: Kollowrat and the Guard for the allies; Murat, Bernadotte and the Guard for Napoleon. Also depth: it is about as deep as it is wide (6 miles or so each way), whereas the SYW ones – excluding pre-battle maneuver – are shallower and more rectangular.

As I said, I don't really know SYW battles, so I may have mischaracterised them and/or overlooked some important points, and am certainly ready to defer to more knowledgeable TMPers (Bill). But I think there is a lot there to support my argument.

Chris

dogtail01 May 2019 11:28 a.m. PST

The "Austrian" (rather French and Reichsarmee) column at Rosbach was a marching column that got caught by surprise, as the commander was expecting rather a prussian retreat, but not a fast and aggressive move by them. The leading swiss and french battallions actually formed kind of assault columns, but as there was no softening up of the prussians, the results were predictable.

@stoppage: I´m gonna read Decker, but luckily in German :)

@Handlebarbleep: I didn´t want to mix tactics with strategics (which I would rather called operational warfare if I understand your point correctly). Actually my question was meant to be strictly tactical:
skirmishers were send up to 400 paces in front of the batallion, guns have a better range than muskets, a batallion in line or column is a nice target for both of them, but can hardly reply.
Hiding troops was asked for in prussian regulation/literature. So I want to rephrase my question: how flexible was the nature of a battle after 1813? Was it standard procedure to defend a terrain feature and get shot to pieces by artillery and skirmisher or was it normal to fall back on reserves and regroup? Wasn´t it possible for the attacker to put so much firepower to an area, that no man of reason could assume the defender to hold firm, therefore some kind of flexibility was necessary?
(now you see why I wanted to exclude the British Infantry, cause they are unreasonable in their firmness)

cheers

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP01 May 2019 2:13 p.m. PST

Having said that, I've been studying the 1848-1849 campaign in Hungary, where the Austrian army is absolutely a noble monarchical one – and it is astonishing just how little control Windisch-Graetz has over his subordinates Jellacic, Schlick and Wrbna. Again in 1866 we see Benedek's defensive position at Koeniggraetz dislocated when two of his corps commanders unilaterally decide to advance to occupy what they regard as more important high ground to their front. So being hidebound by nobility is no guarantee of mechanistic obedience or singular control.

Chris:
Yes, but this is thirty years after Waterloo. The idea, particularly with smaller professional armies of the SYW, few were in decision-making positions of command… on purpose. [At Torgau Frederick said he'd have anyone out of the line of march shot.grin] In an absolutest society, the army was likewise commanded. Nobles had to be commanded by someone of higher social rank. In SYW battles there were MAYBE three generals who could make decisions influencing where and when attacks were made.

Once divisional organizations were put in place, then the decision-making spread out and down the ranks… and in a Noble-dominated army, 'who' got to make decisions often depended on noble rank as much as command rank or orders.

Even so, once corps and divisions were introduced, you see far more individual decisions which do produce the very issues you mention above…more or less, depending on the army.

Even the Napoleon's French Army experienced the same problems as the 1848 Austrians [Which were involved in was amounted to a civil war, so some confusion and lack of experience can account for some of those behaviors].

Ney at Jena, d'Erlon and Ney during the Waterloo Campaign, Bernadotte in several places, etc. etc. The Fact that you don't see the same kind of decision-making events in SYW battles is significant except where Frederick or others gave a general a separate [corp-like]command like at Torgau.

Since you mention Austerlitz, contrast that with these above. What it has that these don't is substantial reserves behind the battle line: Kollowrat and the Guard for the allies; Murat, Bernadotte and the Guard for Napoleon. Also depth: it is about as deep as it is wide (6 miles or so each way), whereas the SYW ones – excluding pre-battle maneuver – are shallower and more rectangular.

Well, 1. smaller armies, and 2. singular command create a situation where you want reserves behind everywhere, hence the double lines. The commander in chief wants to have reserves HE can call on when he shows up at the part of the battle line. A gross generalization, but SYW armies did keep reserves, just not in columns of waiting.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP01 May 2019 3:20 p.m. PST

Hold on, I think I am more confused now.

So at Leuthen he moved his columns round the flank of the Austrian line which then deployed to the flank in line, so his battle line was facing the open left flank of the Austrians? And at Rossbach, something similar, except this time to catch the French-Imperials in column of march?

Did Prussian infantry attack to the front in columns? I have literally never read that anywhere. Plus I thought quick deployment from column to the front was a French innovation?

Whirlwind:
Sorry for the confusion. Here is what Dennis Showalter writes:

Frederick the Great: A Military History

Chapter 3, the Section entitled:

‘Train as You Propose to Fight'
Prussia' Military Evolution Between 1745-1756

The importance of rapid deployment to Frederick's tactical system led the King to devote increasing amounts of time on the drill ground and the manoeuvre field to developing techniques of ‘perpendicular' deployment, with a battalion deploying to the front of its line of advance as apposed to marching parallel to an enemy….

The regimental focus of Prussian organization meant therefore that in practice the Prussian army of 1756 still deployed for battle by the traditional ‘processional method of each battalion following the on in front of it in a column of advance. When a cannon shot signaled ‘halt'. Regimental officers made a final check of depths and intervals. A second shot was the signal for each battalion to face left or right by platoons and form a continuous line…

Normal Prussian deployment during the Frederician era was in two parallel lines, 300 paces apart, with battalions in close order—a little less than 2 feet between each man. A space of seven or eight paces between each battalion served to allow deployment of the regimental guns. The army's grenadiers were still usually separated from their parent regiments and organized into four-company composite battalions. These were normally deployed on the flanks of the first line, not as its extension but en potence, at the obtuse angle to it. The grenadiers, in other words, formed the outer sides of what amounted to a large oblong square. In context of the oblique order, they minimized the risk of a successful enemy cavalry charge from rolling up the Prussian line of battle.
[Italics mine]

The evolution of Prussian infantry formations into a grand tactical square served as well to liberate the cavalry.

This means that in the advance Frederick's army marched in a mixed formation, column and line or all columns. This is much like the Guard squares that advanced at the end of Waterloo. That was Frederick's 'secret maneuver', "March by lines," that is battle lines. He did perfect a way of deploying battalions to the front, though his method required far more time than the later French 'attack columns', but the Prussians could and did do it.

I thought the whole point about Prussian tactics was the quick wheel from open column to the flank to form line?

So it was, but when the column wheeled, it was facing the enemy before it deployed into line…far quicker than the previous methods, though it was still the conventional procession line of battalions.

dogtail01 May 2019 3:35 p.m. PST

AfaIk the Prussian under Friedrich did not use something like assault columns, the deployment of the army from the march column had to be made at a huge distance from the enemy due to its vulnerability. So comparing the approach march of a SYW army with the tactical formation of the French Guard under fire is misleading imho.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP01 May 2019 5:35 p.m. PST

Dogtail:

I wasn't suggesting that the Prussians deployed assault columns and Frederick had many debates about the vulnerability of columns [even with de Sax]. Frederick's column facing the enemy deployed platoons by marching out from one side of the column in two right angles to make the line. The French streamlined this by reconfiguring the column organization and having the platoons deploy obliquely from both sides rather than at right angles.

As for comparing the approach march of Frederick's army to the French Guard. Both marched towards the army with sides of the square in column procession and the sides facing the direction of march in line. [grand tactical in Frederick's or McDonald's case]

There is every reason to compare the formation and both were part of the approach march. Frederick used it to deploy his army in two lines facing the enemy… the French didn't…

dogtail01 May 2019 8:13 p.m. PST

Of course you can compare Fredericks large oblong square, the formation McDonald used and the Guards formation at Waterloo: three different things:
Frederick at Rossbach or Mollwitz: the infantry part of a whole army marches in one single formation
McDonald: a part of an army, a Corps moves under the treath of cavalry, but as far as I know the monstruos formation wasn´t even closed
Guard: a part of a Division (something Frederick did not use, other than other Prussian Generals in the SYW) moves in a combat formation
You could go a step further, a single french batallion in a square looks like Fredericks army at Mollwitz, but sixty years of military evolution separates them
cheers

Whirlwind01 May 2019 8:16 p.m. PST

@McLaddie,

Ah okay, we are on the same page, agreed on all that.

Once divisional organizations were put in place, then the decision-making spread out and down the ranks… and in a Noble-dominated army, 'who' got to make decisions often depended on noble rank as much as command rank or orders.

Even so, once corps and divisions were introduced, you see far more individual decisions which do produce the very issues you mention above…more or less, depending on the army.

I'd agree to an extent but I would say that the (French) drill innovation that allowed a battalion to deploy from column directly to its front was also very important here in making the distributed decision-making work, it wasn't so important to have the whole battle line precisely aligned. After all, the French started experimenting with divisions before the revolution, when the army was very aristocratic at the higher levels of command.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP01 May 2019 9:29 p.m. PST

Of course you can compare Fredericks large oblong square, the formation McDonald used and the Guards formation at Waterloo: three different things:
Frederick at Rossbach or Mollwitz: the infantry part of a whole army marches in one single formation
McDonald: a part of an army, a Corps moves under the treath of cavalry

Dogtail: They weren't different 'things'[i.e. formations], just different scales used in different ways. As Showalter points out, Frederick's formation, being a defense against cavalry, freed up his cavalry from it's sole role as flank protection.

I'd agree to an extent but I would say that the (French) drill innovation that allowed a battalion to deploy from column directly to its front was also very important here in making the distributed decision-making work, it wasn't so important to have the whole battle line precisely aligned.

I agree about the French innovation and certainly did not want to suggest otherwise. I am not sure how that help make the distributed decision-making work as all battalions would still deploy together in a brigade or divisional battle line--unless the brigadier or divisional or corps commander decided on a mixed formation.

French did start experimenting with divisions while the army was very aristocratic… They had just suffered a thumping embarrassment in the SYW. They were looking for some way to counter the Prussian methods.

Sparta02 May 2019 12:10 p.m. PST

I would encourage anyone interested in the transformation from SYW to read Quimbys The Background to the Napolonic wars for an authoritative discussion on this.

The whole question is one of deployment and approach march. The armies tried to diminish the time it took for the troops to from from marchcolumn to battle line and the close with the enemy through artillery range.

The armies in the war of the Austrian succesion coul only approach i to lone marchcolumns that marched parrallel onto the battlefield and deployed slowly.

Friederich could march and deploy extremely fast allowing hin to outmaneuvre his opponent, but his system never really changed during the SYW (he invented the frontal deployment but it was not really used)

The Austrians could simply not maneuvre long lines of troops into position and through an attack on more tha a few battallions frront with any speed so they strated using the column attack. This was several independent columns advancing on the enemy aproaching for the last kilometers in several deployed batallions in line one after each other – as used at Hochkirch. The individual brigades would then deploy as needed – this is to me the first sparks of the "Napoleonic system.

The French had an even harder time than the Austrians maneuvering in line, so they developed a system where the line of battle consisted of batalliion or double batallion columns that made the approach and onnly deployed befoe the final firefight – some would have th colums charge instead of firing since the troops had a hard time advancing again once the started shooting – this was the ordre profond, Guibert described the system with maneuvre in column, deploying to fight in line – Ordre mixte – not the stuff where columns and lines alternate but a system where the whole army is not either in column or in line at the same time or during the whole battle.

So we move from armies manevering as one during WAS and early SYW to late SYW where especially the Austrian worked in "columns" but always had batallions in line, towards the divsional or brigade based concept of the Napoleonics wars where infantry not necesarily had other inafntry on the flanks and maneuvered in column while still fighting mostly in line.

The late Napoleonic wars see a move towars artillery and skrimishers replacing the role of line inafntery as the destructive part of the battle, relying on the advance of the battalion coulumn to form the decisive part. This continues to its climax in the prussian system of 1870.

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