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"Can't conceptualise 95th Rifles tactics at battalion level" Topic


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1,277 hits since 13 Aug 2019
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olicana13 Aug 2019 5:35 a.m. PST

I'm struggling to conceptualise 95th Rifles tactics at battalion level and how to base things.

I'll start by saying what I know of British light infantry tactics and how I represent it on the table.

I have a pretty god handle on how musket armed light infantry battalions 'usually' operated when skirmishing (e.g. usually 50% out front in skirmish order [SO] with 50% formed in close order [CO] some way behind as a rally point: My light battalions are 24 figures strong represented by 36 figures. 24 are based in CO on four bases; 12 are based in SO on 4 larger bases. When skirmishing, I remove the two outer stands of CO troops (leaving the two flag / command stands in the centre as the 'rally point') and deploy the four SO stands out in front.

I have a pretty good idea how Rifle companies were used when attached to line brigades (e.g. to supplement the light companies of the line battalions when thrown out as skirmishers). I just add a stand or two of riflemen in SO to the battalion light bobs.

What I can't conceptualise, is how the 95th Rifles operated when part of the Light Division because they appear in this formation at battalion strength. I guess, because I don't see the rifle as a volley weapon, I can't see them operating as musket armed light battalions with a substantial proportion formed up in CO as a rally point for those thrown out to skirmish.

This might be due to a lack of imagination on my part can anyone help me out? How did a battalion of riflemen 'usually' operate when skirmishing?

Thanks for looking,

James

olicana13 Aug 2019 5:36 a.m. PST

double post

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP13 Aug 2019 6:01 a.m. PST

I share your struggle. Waterloo was the classic example where the whole of some 95 Rifle Bttns fought in close-order both in line and square, on top of the ridge. As part of Adam's counterattack against the Guard they marched, with bayonets (sorry swords) fixed, like any other line unit.


Remember that the rifle could be loaded more rapidly in an emergency (did they not carry some sub-calibre balls?) at the expense of accuracy. They would soon run out of course and rifle ammos does seem to have been "an issue" for at least 2nd Light KGL.


But I do agree. It does seem strange to have taken such an elite unit and deployed it just the same as if they were Hanoverian Militia.


I suspect Wellington knew what he was doing though and would defer to his professional skills

Stoppage13 Aug 2019 7:55 a.m. PST

When forming the front line (in the Peninsula) – didn't they all deploy in open order, two ranks deep? They'd operate as open-order troops(*), giving volley fires, file-fire, etc.

Didn't the French sometimes (or always) mistake them for a close-order front-line and, after pushing through them, set themselves up for a nasty surprise further up-slope?


(*) as opposed to skirmishing troops with pickets, grand guards, reserves, etc.

thomalley13 Aug 2019 8:42 a.m. PST

I would think they would hold fire till the enemy almost closed. Let loose a single volley and the counter-charge. Like a lot of British infantry did. There are not as many toe to toe fire fights in the open.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP13 Aug 2019 8:50 a.m. PST

But there were occasions, eg Waterloo especially where they were deployed within the line itself and formed as any other line unit might….line, square, column. Try forming a battalion square speedily from open order!

Stoppage above concedes the point, that however much the French were mistaken, they were not "forming the front line" the true line was behind them usually…except when it was not.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Aug 2019 9:41 a.m. PST

Can't comment on the 95th, but in the ACW the Berdan Sharpshooters (units rather like the 95th in a lot of respects) could fight as skirmishers and in close order. In one battle they made a bayonet charge.

Personal logo Artilleryman Supporting Member of TMP13 Aug 2019 10:31 a.m. PST

The French repeatedly mistook the British skirmish line as formed troops because it was so thick. Whereas, by the time of the Peninsular War, the French were relying on their voltigeur companies, the Allies in Spain and Portugal had the light companies, the light infantry battalions, the cacadore battalions, the 95th Rifles in battalion strength, the 60th Rifles in independent companies (along with some 95th) and odds and sods such as the Brunswick Oels. There was hardly the room to cram them all in.

The key thing is that all these 'lights' were trained to operate in both close and open order. The deployment as described by Olicana in the initial post is pretty close to the reality and on the table is not a bad representation. The 95th being in close order at Waterloo is a reflection of the threat from the massed French cavalry, something that had not been encountered to the same extent in the Peninsula. (Even the close order troops were in double ranks because of the threat, allowing them to form square more quickly.)

If you want more detail, a good start point is Osprey's 'British Light Infantry and Rifle Tactics of the Napoleonic Wars'.

Lion in the Stars13 Aug 2019 11:40 a.m. PST

The Light Division was often Wellington's reserves/fire brigade in the Peninsula.

advocate13 Aug 2019 12:32 p.m. PST

I thought even as a skirmish screen they would have formed groups (platoon? company?) behind as rally points or reinforcements to thicken the line where necessary. A single line of skirmishers wouldn't be easy to control, or to react other than by advancing or retreating.

Rod MacArthur13 Aug 2019 12:43 p.m. PST

Advocate,

The standard British drill was for each company to only send forward half the company as a skirmish line, whilst the other half was in support. If a full 10 company battalion of 95th was skirmishing, half of the battalion would be in 10 half company close order supports, spaced out behind their forward half companies. Most of the time the 95th only had 5 or 6 companies in any one battalion in the Peninsula or at Waterloo.

Rod

rmaker13 Aug 2019 1:18 p.m. PST

I don't see the rifle as a volley weapon

The Baker rifle was provided with both full caliber patched ball for accurate fire and unpatched, slightly sub-caliber ball for rapid (volley) fire.

SHaT198413 Aug 2019 10:17 p.m. PST

Too much thinking and not enough reliance on facts.
I don't have my papers to hand (buried while moving) but go back to the 180/01 Shorncliffe(?) camp per invasion threat, and Sir John Moore who was singlehandedly tasked with reformation of British Light Infantry competency.

Waterloo and its campaign is an aberration on all levels. So don't quote it as a 'practice'.

All lights, no matter what unit, were 'told off' in files, not by rank. A much smaller proportion than 50% of a unit, and not 50% acting as reserve, actually went forward.

In the rifles, one man held loaded at the ready, while his mate re-loaded. The first fired at suitable target, the second held. When both were loaded they may have advanced, depending on what their guiding sergeant or Officer may have been directing them to do.

So, "Flankers, 5 files to the right oblique (being on the right flank of a 'line' or formation point),- 5/10/20 yards spacing, Advance!". The spacing was between files in action.

If the distance to the enemy was more than their firing range (as an example), then the supports would/could have been a second similar 4-5 files, "5 yards spacing, hold at 50 yards" and maintain position as a cover force. All fully loaded of course.

Fall back would be ordered by Sergeants whistles or in noisy contests, bugles. The supports would not retire unless directly threatened by enemy, until their compatriots had retired in full and passed though them.

All good in theory of course, when the enemy cooperated
regards dave

Green Tiger14 Aug 2019 2:01 a.m. PST

Even in the peninsular the 95th regularly fought in line in fact I am currently combing fist hand accounts for instances of skirmishing Kincaid only mentions two I believe…

Rod MacArthur14 Aug 2019 2:10 a.m. PST

Dave,

Yes, you are correct that it was not 50% actually in the skirmish line. British Regulations for the Exercise of Riflemen and Light Infantry 1798 says:

Chapter IV Para 4. Never more than one half of a body of riflemen must be sent forward to skirmish, the other half remain formed and ready to support.

However it goes on to describe an example of the left platoon (ie half) of each company moving forwards 50 paces, then half of that platoon moving forward a further 50 paces and extending its files to form a skirmish line.

It is thus only one quarter of each company actually in the skirmish line, with another quarter as supports and the other half of the company in reserve. There is a diagram (Plate 3) showing this.

Cooper's "A Practical Guide for the Light Infantry Officer" has rather better diagrams showing exactly that same drill.

Rod

kustenjaeger14 Aug 2019 7:48 a.m. PST

The account of Tarbes – 20 March 1814 – has accounts of the 95th skirmishing (e.g. in Ayrton and Taylor The Sharpest Fight).

Regards

Edward

SHaT198414 Aug 2019 4:58 p.m. PST

Yes Rod thanks.
I should have used 'paces' as a measurement. It was the soldiers measurement (ie walking)!

And Green Tiger yes I too analysed the hell out of things once upon a time so be an intersting read. However, I wonder perhaps if you are being blinded/ hornswoggled by certain terminology just a bit?

When someone writes "unit xxx threw out a line", it does not mean literally a formed line. Those whom I'd suggest were 'elites' from the Shorncliffe Camp (43rd/ 52nd/ 95th), would I suggest adopt the most creative offensive/ defensive posture possible when 'in the fore' of any display- that being a skirmish 'line' of vedettes and scouts.

In praising the intrepid SirJMoore here I inadvertently overlooked the other architects of tactical revision that he oversaw and [whose ideas he] promoted, Lt-Col Kenneth Mackenzie, Lieutenant-Colonel William Stewart and Colonel Coote Manningham.

The information here seems a reasonable analysis: link

and a proposed central strongpoint against invasion

picture

cheers davew

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP15 Aug 2019 7:34 a.m. PST

The French repeatedly mistook the British skirmish line as formed troops because it was so thick. Whereas, by the time of the Peninsular War, the French were relying on their voltigeur companies, the Allies in Spain and Portugal had the light companies, the light infantry battalions, the cacadore battalions, the 95th Rifles in battalion strength, the 60th Rifles in independent companies (along with some 95th) and odds and sods such as the Brunswick Oels. There was hardly the room to cram them all in.

First of all, it would be hard to mistake British line troops for the 95th, 60th or the cacadores. For obvious reasons, the French didn't like facing the 95th.

I find that is difficult to understand how the British actually stood up to the French skirmishers.

A French brigade of six battalions would deploy 1/6 of their force with the voltigeur companies. For a 2,000 man brigade, that would normally be 333 voltigeurs. That is not counting leger battalions and line infantry who could and did deploy more.

A British brigade of the same strength [rare I know] would deploy 1/10 of their strength or 200. I think you can see why all those companies of 95th, 60th and cacadores were so important to balance the odds.

Others have already described the deployment of the British lights… I do have a hard time believing that
"Even in the peninsular the 95th regularly fought in line" when they usually were divided up by companies among the British Brigades and rarely fought as a full battalion.

Stoppage15 Aug 2019 7:59 a.m. PST

Didn't they shove out the grenadiers too? That'd make 2/10 (or 1/5).

If they were all deployed in an open order line (no supports nor reserves) then they'd dominate the 1/6 Frenchies (of which only a proportion would actually be firing).

The French would be blasted back to where the garlic grows.

Marc at work15 Aug 2019 8:46 a.m. PST

Yet smoke would obscure their aim and render them, at most points, probably no more accurate than musket troops.

The recreation of Waterloo last year was informative as to how smoke obscured the battlefield. I would suggest in real life the smoke may have been denser.

Therefore, use of them in formation does not seem wholly unbelievable.

Sadly, as gamers, with our helicopter view of the battlefield, the range and accuracy of rifles is probably vastly overstated.

thomalley15 Aug 2019 10:44 a.m. PST

I have read in a book on the Army du North that the French reject rifles, in part, because although they seemed to twice as accurate, they had 1/2 the rate of fire. So the extra expense wasn't worth their value in the field.

Aethelflaeda was framed In the TMP Dawghouse16 Aug 2019 6:32 a.m. PST

Training costs were higher as well as production cost. Still I think the math will show that the rifle was the more efficient weapon once the conservative nature of convention was overcome.

Procurement and technology/doctrinal advances always had conservative detractors with bias against changing what they already had. Even some of the British chafed at rifles, the idea of picking out obvious leaders was viewed somewhat askance. The bias took many forms.

Napoleon spoke at length at Helena about the mistake he made of not adopting the two man deep line of the British. Skirmish lines basically become the only formation infantry ever need as the technology advanced.

von Winterfeldt16 Aug 2019 11:45 p.m. PST

the French had originally rifles distributed at their light infantry, the carabiniers a pied had them when the light battalions (later light infantry regiments) were raised, and some units did carry them well into the end of the Revolutionary Wars.

Later on NCOs in light infantry should have been carrying the rifle.
Boney seemingly did not grasp that by rejecting a more wider districution of rifles, that he gave away a tactical tool – not at hand when needed. Some of the German units destined for Spain, had to give up their rifles and instead were equipped with the usual French infantry musket. They regretted it very much, aimed shoots on single targets were very difficult with the smoothbore muskets, while a rifle could hit.
The argument about firing rate – despite being brought up again and again, is irrelevant for the rifled units, there they were trained to his and not to hole the air.
In case of need they would fire paper cartridges similar to the line infantry and could fire faster on the battle field as well.

Lapsang19 Aug 2019 1:37 a.m. PST

I understood that it was the 5/60th that were parceled out among the Brigades, whereas the 95th were usually massed in the Light Division.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2019 4:37 a.m. PST

For obvious reasons, the French didn't like facing the 95th.

Do you have a source or sources for this?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2019 4:42 a.m. PST

The French repeatedly mistook the British skirmish line as formed troops because it was so thick.

Another reason for this is the French frequently formed their first line when defending in a heavy skirmish line instead of formed in three ranks. They also used this tactic on offense.

Lannes did this at Jena in 1806 and Friedland in 1807, Soult did it at Eylau in 1807, and Davout did it west of Ratisbon in 1809.

Brownand19 Aug 2019 12:50 p.m. PST

Why would a trained light infantry unit as the 95th be used as a battalion in co formation. Or is it possible it was used as the light component of the light division?

SHaT198419 Aug 2019 5:23 p.m. PST

>>I understood that it was the 5/60th that were parceled out among the Brigades, whereas the 95th were usually massed in the Light Division.

Lapsang, poor choice of wording and/ or understanding.

The only 'mass' the Light Division probably saw were parades; otherwise they were used as to their expertise to cover, guide or protect an advancing front, flanks or in difficult terrain, and extreme rear-guard supported by a squadron or two of hussars.

And the 95th were the extreme of these as well, except when they'd been overdrawn or fatigued and needed to be replaced.

The companies of the 5/60th may have spent more time 'attached' to brigades as you say, but that equally was probably a social (military corporate policy) bias against them that they were rifles, but not the 'elite' 95th!

>>The French repeatedly mistook the British skirmish line as formed troops because it was so thick.

Is this a written record or an observation? The Brits did not it appears, employ a 'broad' dispersion- most likely because, like the 2 vs 3 ran issues, they were significantly fewer in number.

>>Another reason for this is the French frequently formed their first line when defending in a heavy skirmish line instead of formed in three ranks.

Time? Place? Units? Commanders?
In large battles >20,000 perhaps. I don't read about it at low level combats, except as a subterfuge/ distraction perhaps.
d

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