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"3 ranks or 2 ranks - Which was better?" Topic

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Art17 Feb 2020 2:51 p.m. PST

G'Day Bill et Hugh,

Hugh…sorry but your posting requires a complicated response…donc…plus tard.

Yes…still deployed…but living large with electricity and showers ;-)

Yes you are quite right about pelotons being detached and becoming tactical compagnies up to 1808…even afterwards…and two detached light pelotons became two tactical compagnies which was treated as a battalion.

The Battle of Ulm ended on the 19th of October 1805, and Davout issues orders for the creation of voltiguers on 19 October 1805, with Ney issuing orders on 23 October.

Ney issued orders that the voltiguers were to be created on the field of battle, in accordance to the decree imperial on 24 September 1805.

With the creation of the compagnie voltigeur for line battalions, it was supposed to release the light battalions of the responsibility of providing detachments of chasseurs to screen the line battalions, to end battalion éclaireurs, and end detaching fusiliers as tirailleur en peloton-compagnie (ou l'ordre binaire sur le troisieme rangs en tirailleurs).

The creation of the voltigeurs was supposed to permit the light battalions to be employed in the advance guard, and cover the flanks of the corps d'armee, to be positioned anywhere that would be advantageous to great body of troops.

But before October of 1805 has ended; we find that the voltigeurs of the line battalions are already being given missions that find them detached, such as being employed en trialleurs for the regiments, detached on missions, and avant-postes with grenadiers en soutien.

As for why could the Prussians detach the 3rd rank as skirmishers…the Prussians formed their battalion using the principles of the sub-category colonne tranchee of the colonne d'attaque / colonne par compagnie / colonne double (4 tranchee).

Also the Prussian system did not concern itself with such issues as mass of, depth of, and the profounder of a zug within their column, which concerned the French while en colonne or en bataille.

The Prussians also did not mix their battalions with "elite" sub-factions which would hinder their colonnes with l'endivisionnement des grenadiers et de la première de fusiliers…

Gerome does a fairly good job of describing the Post-Napoleonic Prussian battalion.

Hope this helps.

Best Regards

Cdr Luppo17 Feb 2020 11:46 p.m. PST

"Napoléon étendit la mesure à l'infanterie de ligne par le décret du 2 complémentaire an XIII ( 19 septembre 1805)


before there was an arrêté from march 1804 for light infantry : see page 54

n° 500. "Arrêté pour la création d'une compagnie de voltigeurs dans chaque bataillon d'infanterie" – Paris, 22 ventôse an XII (13 mars 1804)

PDF link

Stoppage18 Feb 2020 4:41 a.m. PST

One reason I like the Russians from 1812 onward, is because a battalion has 10 sub-factions and their columns are normally formed on the center.

Russians had 4/four admin companies deployed as 8/eight tactical platoons from 1812 onwards.

I do not know if they en-divisionned their grenadier or strelski platoons with those of the fusiliers.

PS. I don't know when they ended their (Prussian-style) 5/five admin company organisation (with 10/ten tactical platoons)

Art18 Feb 2020 7:41 a.m. PST

G'Day Stoppage,

Your quite right…paint me stupid !

I have no excuse…I know better…and it is indeed as you say…and thank you for catching it! -again paint me stupid…

The basic elements for tactical evolutions for the Russians were the "batal'on"/battalion and the "vzvod"/platoon. The "rot"/company was an administrative unit. This organization and the evolutions themselves are really similar to the French use of "bataillon" and "peloton" for tactical evolutions, and the "compagnie" as an administrative unit.

For the Russians, there are 8x "vzvod" in "active" battalions: the 1st Shef's battalion and the 3rd Commander's battalion.

The Russians would often use a column on platoon frontage – either by the right (the 1st vzvod leading) or by the left (the 8th or last vzvod leading). This would be ~22 files. They could also form on a 1/2-platoon frontage for passing obstacles. They even did a "march by the flank" conversion to a column of three's. -sadly they seemed to not have used the colonne d'aile.

It is the Russian column formed on the center two platoons (called a "divizion", as did the French), which I like.

Best Regards

Art18 Feb 2020 10:14 a.m. PST

G'Day Hugh,

Your not forgotten…but living large with electricity and showers must come to an end…

And as we say…"I will be away for a few days"

I admit that you have brought up good points in regards to: early fire, late fire, firing at bodies which are impeded, advance and fire, staggered, assault with the bayonet, l'ordre séparé, and how all this ties in with your issues with General Clinton…

…and how we can include Du Picq's studies in regards to General Clinton…

"The effect of an army, of one organization on another, is at the same time material and moral. The material effect of an organization is in its power to destroy, the moral effect is in the fear that it inspires."

"In battle, two moral forces, even more than two material forces, are in conflict. The stronger conquers. The victor has often lost by fire more than the vanquished. Moral effect does not come entirely from destructive power, real and effective as it may be. It comes, above all, from its presumed, threatening power, present in the form of reserves threatening to renew the battle, of troops that appear on the flank, even of a determined frontal attack."

"Material effect is greater as instruments are better (weapons, mounts, ect.) as the men know better now to use them, and as the men are more numerous and stronger, so that in case if success they can carry on longer."

"With equal or even inferior power of destruction he will win who has the resolution to advance, who by his formation and manoeuvre can continually threaten his adversary with a new phase of material action, who, in a word has the moral ascendancy. Moral effect inspires fear. Fear must be changed to terror in order to vanquish."

"When confidence is placed in superiority of material means, valuable as they are against an enemy at a distance, it may be betrayed by the actions of the enemy. If he closes with you in spite of your superiority in means of destruction, the morale of the enemy mounts with the loss of your confidence. His morale dominates yours. You flee. Entrenched troops give way in this manner."

Best Regards

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP18 Feb 2020 10:42 a.m. PST

Thanks Art. It did help. Good luck while you're without a shower…

Stoppage19 Feb 2020 12:07 p.m. PST

This product makes toilet paper into wet-wipes:


This one is manufactured in Cornwall – no doubt there is a French equivalent (and probably US and ROW too!)

Stoppage19 Feb 2020 12:08 p.m. PST

I am sure I read somewhere that the French rendered military aid to the Russians around 1810-1811 which resulted in the adoption of many French practices.

Cdr Luppo23 Feb 2020 7:47 a.m. PST


see Davout's correspondance letter n° 462 , april 1808, at the end of page 197


Stoppage23 Feb 2020 2:33 p.m. PST


Can you give me a clue as to the contents of #462?

Mon french est appallingly mal.

Cdr Luppo23 Feb 2020 3:17 p.m. PST

my english is not better !

it talks about a camp to be formed in may, around Wilna to exert Russian Officers to French maneuvers (after learning them at St Petesburg).

each corps sent officiers & sous-officiers at Petersburg, to learn French Maneuvers.

Stoppage24 Feb 2020 4:17 a.m. PST


Thank you for that information (and apologies for my almost non-existent French).

I wonder how (and when) the tuition was agreed and then conducted in St Petersburg?

It appears the French gave away their play-book.

Art01 Mar 2020 8:35 a.m. PST

G'Day Stoppage,

It was a verbal agreement between both leaders during the Treaty of Tilsit. Napoleon gave that tasking to Davout, and it didn't give away their new system of grand manoeuvres called l'ordre francaise…

But it did convince the Russians to abandon les principes de l'ordre separe like the British and French.

Best Regards

Art01 Mar 2020 12:16 p.m. PST

G'Day Hugh,

I was going to open up a discussion on early fire, late fire, firing at bodies which are impeded, advance and fire, staggered, assault with the bayonet, l'ordre séparé, and how all this ties in with General Clinton at Salamanca…

But going over your last posting…if I understand you correctly…you have read Leith Hay, and Lieutenant T.H. Browne's ( similar to Hays') critical views of General Clinton…-to include comments that the French were quite capable of standing up to the British the musketry…

I guess you have answered your own initial questions…thus with that said…do you still believe that the British should receive a bonus for musketry?

Best Regards

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP01 Mar 2020 10:15 p.m. PST

I ran across this, which shows that even military men such as Scharnhorst hadn't made a determination of which was better, 2 or 3 ranks. It was more one of which was good for what circumstances:

From General Sharnhorst's Handbuch fur Officiers.

1. Three Ranks-- If no advantage can be derived from extending the front, a more effective fire will be obtained from three ranks than from two; but it must be observed that the first rank is somewhat incommoded by the fire of the third.
The fire of a battalion is always uncertain, and depends not on accuracy of aim, but on the number of shotes fired; if order is maintained, the first rounds fired by the third rank will be as effective as the first round fired by the first and second.
A more real and substantial advantage of the third rank is that it affords the means of filling any vacancies occasioned by casualties in the first and second ranks, and also of stopping gaaaaps which during a movement may be formed in a line.
Finally of late years a very advantaeous mode of employing the third rank has been practised. At the beginning of an action it has been sent out to skirmish, and at a later period of the engagement withdrawn to its place, thus giving depth to the line, and enabling it to resist more easily the attack of the enemy's cavalry.
2.Thw Ranks-- This formation is adapted where decided advantages may be obtained by extending the front of the line.
A.--Should two battalions of equal stregth meet in a plain, it is probable that one of them, if formed two deep, would defeat the other if formed three deep; for the former would outflank the latter, and the fire of both would be equal.
B.--If an army by forming its battalions two deep can outflank the opposing force, it will thereby obtain an advantage, provided the enemy's flank can be turned before its own front is seriously attacked.
C.--If an army cannot occupy a position without leaving gaps in the line, (as was the case in the Allied Army at MInden,) the duoble is better than the tri[ple line' for fewer evils will result from a weak line than from one which is broken by undefended intervals.
D.--Behind intrechements a third rank is superfluous.
E.--In a night-attack a third rank is always superfluous, and is, more over by its fire, likely to do mischief to the first rank.
F.--small detachments should always be formed two deep.

In looking at British engagements, the number of times I have read where a single battalion in 2 ranks outflanked its French opponent is rare compared to the number of times whole battalions did the outflanking, the battalion/regiment facing forward never flanking.

In other words, the flanking was most often a brigade action rather than acts of individual battalions as described by Scharnhorst, for French and Allied AND British infantry, even with the 2 rank wider front.

Art02 Mar 2020 12:38 a.m. PST

G'Day Bill,

The title of this thread should have read: Why form in two and three ranks… and not "3 ranks or 2 ranks – Which was better?"

Bill…you are quite right in that General Sharnhorst has pointed out particular circumstances for both two and three ranks.

The execution of fire that determined a military tactical system in general, for each country was based upon these two principles of the times:

Those countries that formed their bodies of troops in two ranks preferred a military system that was defensive in nature. Therefore the system of military tactics and principles for two ranks was pragmatic for the execution of fire, or lineal for the development of fire effect.

Those countries that formed their bodies of troops in three ranks preferred a military system that was offensive/tirailleur in nature. Therefore a system of military tactics and principles for three ranks was pragmatic to the execution of manoeuvres.

Best Regards

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP02 Mar 2020 8:55 a.m. PST

Hi Art:

In line with Scharnhorst's comments, I find that most nations allowed in their regulations or practice forming in two or three ranks according to need…as you say, pragmatic.

The Prussian Fusiliers, from 1789 to 1815 formed in two ranks as did the French Legere battalions depending on their mission. Considering that the Austrians and PRussians advocated the use of the third line for skirmishing, they two often fought in 2 ranks.

I think wargamers tend to want things in black and white for the sake of 'simple rules' and basing.

von Winterfeldt03 Mar 2020 12:24 p.m. PST

Scharnhorst wrote his handbook mostly based on study of military literature, he had not that much military practical experience when he wrote it, it would have been very interesting to see what he would write after the experience of the Napoleonic Wars.

The Prussian Füsilere had two ranks initially – one reason, they could by such deploy very quickly as skirmishers there they had to basic team of two just by each file.

3 ranking units would have to form either into two ranks and or – draw the third rank out, form it into sub units of two ranks and then deploy into skirmishing.

What Scharnhorst fails to mention is moral, do the soldiers in 3 ranks feel more supported than in two ranks, do such units look more "impressive".

Seemingly there was also the view it was easier to train soldiers in two ranks, or to maintain cohesion, like the Cipaye in French service

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP05 Mar 2020 8:48 p.m. PST

Howdy VW:

He had been in the army for a while, so I am sure that it was more than just a compulation of various literature on the subject. He didn't change his views later.

You make good points about what he missed concerning morale.

There is one other thing I have found. The belief in national characteristics. Here is Brenier defending 3 rank formation in Le Spectater Militaire S1 V2 & # (1827)

Page 470
I say more: these firings, which would certainly be useful in several circumstances, where not ordered so as not to be in the situation of forcing the first rank to put knee-to-ground, because this movement is entirely outside of the natural habits of the French soldiers.

Page 475

One will mention, in favor of the formation in two ranks, that of a few foreign armies, and particularly of the English army, whose fires, however, are lively and sustained; I will answer that the kind of men chosen to be soldiers in these foreign armies, their physical constitution, their character, and the kind of discipline to which they are subjected, make them more suitable for this kind of formation. The French soldier, on the contrary, despite his courage, reasons his position.

I love that phrase "reasons his position." In other words, he assesses whether he feels 'supported' or not, is willing to stay or not.

42flanker06 Mar 2020 12:14 p.m. PST

Could I clarify for my own understanding, with regard to the last point about morale, that the merits of a three-rank line in terms of 'impressiveness' relate to the its effect on the men forming that line, rather than on those opposing them.

It occurs to me that, rather like battle plans, no line entirely survives contact with the enemy.

Art06 Mar 2020 10:13 p.m. PST

G'Day "42"

To answer your question about morale, it worked both ways…more depth and solidity for shock and manoeuvres, and it was also better pour commander et diriger.

Both Napoleon and Marmont ( post Napoleonic ) wanted the French army formed in four ranks. -which was a good idea during their perception of the times.

In other-words four ranks for manoeuvre, thus it would only need two pelotons to form eight ranks for mass, and then deploy in two ranks for execution of fire.

Best Regards

von Winterfeldt07 Mar 2020 12:43 a.m. PST

didn't the Brits use such 4 rank system also for manoeuvre and for battle when more depth was needed??

von Winterfeldt07 Mar 2020 1:06 a.m. PST


Do you have a link to this issue of Spectateur Militaire?

Cdr Luppo07 Mar 2020 3:04 a.m. PST


the link > start page 467.


Art07 Mar 2020 3:58 a.m. PST

G'Day Hans Karl,

The principles of 4 ranks for the British are the same principles as ligne double for the French.

For the French formed en bataillon double, in lieu of a battalion in three ranks, the battalion has six ranks.

Prior to 1808, if the grenadiers were present; the general principles for the peloton of grenadiers was to divide the body in two sections or four demi-sections. The peloton of grenadiers are en bataille formed in three ranks, twenty-five paces behind the battalion.

The great body of troops that Macdonald formed en colonne vuide at Wagram, the front was en ligne double ou bataillon double. – I cannot remember which with out referring to my notes…sorry getting old ;-)

I hope this helps.
Best Regards

von Winterfeldt07 Mar 2020 6:16 a.m. PST

@Cdr Luppo

Thanks – I tried in vain to locate it, how did you manage, what words did you insert in the search window??

Cdr Luppo07 Mar 2020 8:58 a.m. PST


with le spectateur militaire and Brenier you get the correct volume. 2/3 attempts to get the right volume ..

may be there are 2/3 different scans for this volume. the one i get yesterday has an answer to Brenier at the end, from an unknown "light infantry officer", who disagree somewhat with Brenier ..
that text is absent from the one i gave the link apparently. mail sent to you with both article.

Major Snort07 Mar 2020 3:05 p.m. PST

von W wrote:

didn't the Brits use such 4 rank system also for manoeuvre and for battle when more depth was needed??

von W,

The only recorded instances of British infantry using 4 deep as a deeper battle line are the 29th Regiment at Vimiero in 1808 and several brigades in the latter stages of Waterloo.

This should not be confused with forming 4 deep to allow a passage of lines or to march to a flank rather than march in file.

The use of 4 deep as a deeper battle line never found its way into the regulations and must be viewed as an improvised formation rarely used.

To illustrate how unusual this formation was, the following is taken from the "The Life of Sir John Colborne". Colborne commanded the 52nd regiment at Waterloo, and this quote shows that the 4 deep formation had NOT been planned before the battle, and hence why various brigades used various irregular methods to achieve it. Colborne obviously thought that the four deep formation was to be formed by the left files doubling behind the right files, creating intervals in the line between each file of four men (this method of doubling the files had been used in the Peninsular War and appears in the 1824 Regulations to ether create gaps for a passage of line, or to allow a march to the flank).

The Duke of Wellington had some time previously ordered the formation of four deep. Sir John Colborne, thinking such a formation in the ordinary manner (i.e., with intervals between the files) inexpedient, did not comply with the order. But the 52nd were subsequently formed in two squares on the slope of the hill in advance of the position, from whence, after some time, they were withdrawn to the crest of the hill, and then Sir John Colborne, as the safest way of complying with the order, placed the left wing of the regiment in rear of the right wing, closed up.

huevans01108 Mar 2020 7:30 p.m. PST

Very interesting, Major.

Rather busts the legend that The Duke ordered 4-deep as a precaution BEFORE the battle.

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