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"Light Infantry & smoothbore accuracy L C18th & E.C19th" Topic


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42flanker Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2020 11:13 a.m. PST

Greetings all.

I have to admit to a certain confusion regarding light infantry skirmishers in the late C18th and early 19th century.

Whether we are talking about British light infantry in America firing in files or having gone 'to tree,' or about French tirailleurs mobbing enemy line infantry, given the limited accuracy of the smoothbore musket (how limited is a subject for another day), on what basis do we suppose they were supposed to be bringing effective fire on the troops opposite?

I can understand that dispersed troops firing at enemy troops en masse within suitable range had a reasonable hope of hitting somebody, but beyond that, what was going on?
Pleading your indulgence.
JF

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2020 11:42 a.m. PST

The object of the exercise was to weaken the opposing line as well as giving the enemy a lesser target to engage.

The French deployed large numbers of skirmishers/tirailleurs as the fire support element for the main attack and they generally shot the enemies' line to pieces.

They were also closely supported by artillery and by troops in closed formations.

The skirmishers would advance in skirmisher swarms and take advantage of every piece of cover possible while shooting the enemy's line to pieces. Return volley fire was seldom effective against the troops in open order.

The open order was also used on defense, and many French commanders would have their first line deployed in a heavy skirmisher line instead of the regulation three deep line.

Lannes did this at both Jena and Friedland. Soult similarly deployed his troops in this manner at Eylau. Davout used this method in 1809 in the fighting south of Ratisbon. Legrand used a similar formation at Heilsberg in 1807.

MarbotsChasseurs19 Dec 2020 12:24 p.m. PST

Bretchel,

Thank you for the information! Do you have any specific sources citing the use of the first line as skirmishers at Teugen-Hausen or Eckmuhl for Davout's Corps and Legrand at Heilsberg? I can only think of Colonel Rottembourg of the 108e Ligne at Teugen-Hausen and Colonel Pouget's of the 26e Legere account of the Battle of Heilsberg at the moment. I would enjoy reading any accounts from the generals and or regimental commanders.

Thank you,
Michael

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2020 3:04 p.m. PST

I found the comments on page 533 of John Elting's Swords Around A Throne. It's in the chapter on Strategy and Tactics. The Chapter references listed in the bibliography should be of great help here.

MarbotsChasseurs19 Dec 2020 4:49 p.m. PST

Brechtel,

Thank you! I will take a look. I appreciate the help.

Michael

historygamer Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2020 4:51 p.m. PST

Some British Light infantry carried rifles, as did some of the Light Dragoons. On the main battlefields, skirmishers weren't used as they were during a later period. But there was plenty of small skirmishes between the lines at times.

olicana20 Dec 2020 3:37 a.m. PST

Get hold of a copy of Brent Noseworthy's book Battle Tactics of Napoleon and His Enemies. Before the late 18th century, 'designated skirmishers' were not employed by line troops: they are not used in the SYW except as specialists such as Grenzer units.

He explains 'smooth bore usage' very clearly, and the effectiveness of skirmishers very well. In short, your question hits the nail on the head. They were seldom battle winning when employed by both sides as a just a few could quite easily nullify many – blazing away, and hitting nothing.

It was a functional problem with muskets that they were almost impossible to aim. No back or fore sights were fitted and the flash from the pan caused men to hold their heads as far from the barrel as possible to avoid burning their faces. Also, the recoil forced the barrel to rise on firing, forcing a large amount of shot to fly high.

Indeed, the order "aim" wasn't really used, the order was more frequently "level your musket": bizarrely this meant troops seldom hit a target at higher or lower elevations – this sounds mad but it is, never the less, true.

Target practice by individuals was not generally employed in training. Troops were trained to load, level, and fire by massed volley without any way of knowing their inaccuracy. Even among the designated skirmishers of many nations, target practice was not employed – sounds amazing to the modern ear, but again it is true.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2020 5:49 a.m. PST

I have found that Nosworthy's book has too many inaccuracies to be of much assistance. As a source it is unreliable.

The Military Experience in the Age of Reason by Christopher Duffy is excellent, and does cover the use of light troops. He also explains the change in practice of changing the role of light troops from the irregulars in la petite guerre to making them regulars and working in conjuction with line troops on the battlefield.

The best example of that would be the French during their reform period after the Seven Years' War and repeated defeats and lack of overall success.

The British Light Infantry Arm by David Gates is also helpful for the description and development of light infantry.

The light infantry fielded by the British in the French and Indian War were both useful and successful, but they were generally abolished after the war, but the light infantry companies in the infantry regiments were revived in 1771.

The American light infantry arm in the War of the Revolution, the provisional Continental Corps of Light Infantry, was the elite of the army.

The best description of the French tactical system can be found in John Elting's Swords Around a Throne, Chapters II and XXVI.

Robert Quimby's The Background of Napoleonic Warfare is excellent and it covers the infantry maneuvers in Normandy in the 1770s.

historygamer Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2020 6:28 a.m. PST

That stuff about the British not aiming and not practicing firing at marks has long since been debunked.

And just as an example that value was place on such skills, how else would one explain Burgoyne's Company of Select Marksmen?

A number of Tower Pattern 1776 rifles were issued to each company of Light Infantry. Unfortunately, no record had yet been found how these soldiers were deployed in action.

It's also clear that the British used Jaegers to fill the skirmishing role needed in many instances.

The British Light Infantry of 1759 is another subject. For my money, they were perhaps the best soldiers on the field that year.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2020 6:55 a.m. PST

Well, my typical Napoleonic wargame has generally featured one side's light infantry moving forward in open order against the enemy line. They are usually met by the enemy's equivalent troops, either side reinforcing its line as necessary and possible.

The attacking skirmishers attempt to keep the defending skirmish line busy, to shoot up any formed troops beyond, to pick off gun crews and to obtain a line of sight into as much of the enemy position as possible. If they are successful in this, the main line and the artillery may be drawn into firing at the skirmishers instead of reserving their fire for the main attack that is moving up behind.

The defenders may attack the skirmish line with cavalry, so the skirmishers have to be ready to break and run for cover if this happens, and need their own cavalry supports.

The usual outcome is a prolonged light infantry firefight in which the skirmish lines are constantly depleted and replenished until one side's gain the upper hand. At that point, the infantry attack is either doomed or nailed-on.

Soft cover, reverse slopes, undetected obstacles and cavalry attacks from dead ground all add to the fun. Buildings in particular are a significant problem for attackers, because the hard cover they afford the defenders make it all but pointless harassing them with skirmisher fire. In fact, if you do something thoughtful, like defend a farm courtyard with riflemen, the attacker has no option other than close-order escalade.

Force balance is important – if either side has excessive numbers of cavalry they can prevent the skirmish attack from functioning. Keeping on-table cavalry to a historically plausible 15 to 20%, and most of that light, prevents this type of gamey outcome. Eg if you have 400 figures per side about 60 to 80 will be cavalry and they will probably be something like 24 heavy, 36 light. This is not such an abundance of cavalry that you can use them up driving skirmishers off, nor can your 24 or 30 heavy cavalry win the battle on their own.

I don't know how realistic this is, but it does resemble quite a few late-era large battles.

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2020 7:43 a.m. PST

I always understood skirmish fire as a more a psychological rather than physical threat. Therefore accuracy is not an issue, it was about how you can disrupt and disorient your opponent for further actions. I always liked rules that reflect this.

WillBGoode Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2020 8:37 a.m. PST

A most fascinating discussion.

"Burgoyne's Company of Select Marksmen". One thing that about this group is which incarnation of it are you talking about? In 1776 the group did have a good reputation. But it was disbanded at the end of the campaign. A new group was formed for 1777 and was pretty beaten up at at Bennington. Then, a third group was formed. My question is how " elite" Or well trained would this group have been?


A MEMOIR OF THE EXPLOITS OF CAPTAIN ALEXANDER FRASER AND HIS COMPANY OF BRITISH MARKSMEN 1776-1777
Stephen G. Strach

Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research
Vol. 63, No. 254 (Summer 1985), pp. 91-98 (8 pages)

Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research
Vol. 63, No. 255 (Autumn 1985), pp. 164-179 (16 pages)

von Winterfeldt20 Dec 2020 10:00 a.m. PST

A complex topic, see numerous old thread on TMP.
Elting is providing sweeping comments, the reality was much more complex.

A lot of armies trained their soldiers on target practice – especially their light units like Prussian Jäger or Schützen.

As to efficiency or reasonable distance, here a view opinions on that.



Valentini : Die Lehre vom Krieg. Erster Theil. Der kleine Krieg und die Gefechtslehre, 4. Auflage, Leipzig 1820

§ 52.
Die im 45sten §. Gegebene Regel, daß Infanterie nie auf eine größere Distanz als auf dreihundert Schritt feuern muß ist überhaupt nicht auf Schützen auszudehnen. (…) Was will man ferner gegen einen Feind thun, der, wie die Franzosen im Revolutionskriege, auf fünf- bis sechshundert Schritt auf uns feuert, und uns Leute blessiert, wenn das Terrain nicht erlaubt, im näher zu rücken."
Seite 77 ff.
Those in § 45 issued rule that infantry mustn't never fire at a longer distance than of 300 paces, is never applied to skirmishers. (…) What can be done against an enemy, who, like the French in the Revolutionary Wars, fires at us from five – to 600 paces, and wounds our men, when the terrain doesn't allow us to approach him closer.

Jany, Curt : Die Gefechtsausbildung der Preußischen Infanterie von 1806. Mit einer Auswahl von Gefechtsberichten.
Urkundliche Beiträge und Forschungen zur Geschichte des Preußischen Heeres.
Herausgegeben vom Großen Generalstabe, Kriegsgeschichtliche Abtheilung II.
Fünftes Heft
Berlin 1903
18. Ein Preußischer Jägeroffizier Leutnant von Seydlitz, später Yorks Adjutant und bekannt als Herausgeber des Tagebuchs des Yorkschen Korps von 1812, berichtet 1808 das „die französischen Tirailleurs schon auf 1600 Schritt blessierten." Ferner : „Die Belagerung von Danzig giebt als Beispiel, daß Jäger ohne Bajonett eine Schanze weggenommen und keine Blessierten hatten, und ihe Repli, Linieninfanterie mit Bajonett, was 1500 Schritt hinter ihnen stand, dazu eine Menge hatte." (…)
S. 103
Footnote 18
A Prussian Jäger officer, lieutennat von Seydlitz, later ADC of York and famous as editor of the diary of York‘s corps in 1812, reported 1808, that ; "the French tirailleurs wounded already at 1600 paces." Also : "The siege of Danzig shows as example that Jäger without bayonet took a redoubt without any wounded and their support, line infantry with bayonets, who stood 1500 behind had many of them."
„Zahlreiche Schilderungen erwähnen besonders die „Bogenschüsse" der feindlichen Tirailleurs auf Entfernungen auf denen mit gezielten Schuß gar nicht zu denken war. Gneisenau erwähnt in einem Bericht an dem König vom 27. Februar 1807 als eine Erfahrung, die ermit einer Füsilier-Kompagnie bei Saalfeld gemacht habe, daß diese ungezielten Bogenschüße „zwar selten treffen, aber doch durch ihre Menge Viele, obgleich nicht gefährlich verwunden und immer unsere Leute unruhig machen."
S. 39
Numerous reports especially take note of the „arc shots" of the enemy tirailleurs at a distance whereupon it wasn't even to imagine of aimed shots. Gneisenau mentions in a report to the king, at the 27th of February 1807 as an experience, which he made with a company of fusiliers at Saalfeld, "that those unaimed arc shoots : rarely hit, but by their sheer numbers wounded many, though not seriously and made our man nervous."
„Ein Veteran des Siebenjährigen Krieges, General v. Tempelhoff, bemerkt darüber ; „Man feuert bei einer Schlacht ganz anders, als auf dem Exerzierplatze; denn die anrückende Infanterie fängt trotz allem dem, was ihr auf dem Exerzierplatze gelehrt und eingeprägt wird, oft schon auf 800 Schritt vom Feinde an zu feuern; doch wenigstens 600. Gewöhnlich glaubt man, daß ein solches Feuer nichts thut, allein hierin irrt man sich. Eine Kugel aus dem kleinen Gewehr tödtet oder verwundet einen Mann, wenn sie ihn nur trifft, ebenso gut, sie mag in einem Bogen oder horizontal abgeschossen werden,
S. 38 ff.

A veteran of the Seven Years War, General v. Tempelhoff remarks about that : One is firing at a battle totally difference compared to the drill ground, as the advancing infantry opens fire, regardless what being taught and drilled on the drill ground, already at 800 paces distance of the enemy – or at least at 600. It is the common believe that such a fire doesn't harm, however this is an error. A ball from the small arm, kills or wounds a men, in case it is hitting, as well as it is shot in an arc or horizontally.

Titze, Jörg : Die Berichte der sächsischen Truppen aus dem Feldzug 1806 (I) – Brigade Bevilaqua, books on demand 2014

Bericht Artillerieoffizier – Premierlieutenant v. Hiller
S. 93 ff
Eine große Intervalle, zwischen dem Regiment Churfürst und Xavier nunmehr zu schließen, zog sich das Regiment Churfürst rechts, bei welchen, so wie von den Vorrück an, wir immer von leichter Infanterie beschoßen wurden. Sie verwundeten mir auf die Weite von 7 bis 800 Schritt Leute, waren hinter Hecken und Zäune postiert, wo ich ihnen keinen Abbruch thun konnte mit Cartäschenschüßen deren ich einige mit großer Elevation versuchte, nicht die geringste Wirkung aber verspührte.
(Gecht bei Saalfeld)
S. 95
Here the observations oft he artillery officer von Hiller who commanded the regimental artillery of regiment von Churfürst, at the clash at Saalfeld
To close a big gap between the regiment Churfürst and Xavier, the regiment Churfürst was drawing itself to the right, by that as also in the advance we were always under fire from light infantry. They wounded me men at a distance of 7 to 800 paces, where placed behind hedges and fences, where I couldn't do any harm with grape shots, which I tried to use with high elevation but didn't feel the slightest effect.

Kleßmann (editor) : Deutschland unter Napoleon in Augenzeugenberichten, pocket book edition, München 1976
Leutnant von Borcke (Koprs Rüchel, 14. Oktober 1806) berichtet

„Dagegen erreichten uns in einer sehr großen Entfernung schon die Kugeln der feindlichen Tirailleurs, die in dem vorliegenden Feldgestrüpp und hinter einzelnen Deckungen, ohne daß wir sie sahen, so vortrefflich aufgestellt waren, daß uns Unkundigen die Kugeln aus der Luft zu kommen schienen. So beschossen zu werden, ohne den Feind zu sehen, machte auf unsere Soldaten einen üblen Eindruck, denn, unbekannt mit dieser Art des Gefechts, verloren sie zu ihren Gewehren das Vertrauen und fühlten die Überlegenheit das Feindes sofort. Sie büßten daher in dieser ohnehin schon bedenklichen Lage schnell an Mut, Ausdauer und Ruhe ein und konnten die Zeit nicht abwarten, wo sie selbst zum Schießen kamen, was sich bald zu unseren Nachteil zeigte.
S. 136
However (before that he noticed that the enemy artillery was overshooting them) the bullets of enemy tirailleurs reached us from a very big distance, who were placed with advantage in the field brushes and single cover before us, so that we couldn't see them, that for us ignorants it seemed that the bullets come out of the air. To be under such a fire, without seeing the enemy made a bad impression at our soldiers, because – ignorant with that kind of fighting, they lost trust in their own guns and felt immediately the superiority of the enemy. The suffered quickly therefore, in this by all means bad situation in courage, endurance and composure und couldn't wait the time to also start shooting, which soon showed to be of our disadvantage.
p. 136

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2020 11:22 a.m. PST

The usual outcome is a prolonged light infantry firefight in which the skirmish lines are constantly depleted and replenished until one side's gain the upper hand. At that point, the infantry attack is either doomed or nailed-on.

4th C: This is my impression of most skirmish fights on the battlefield. Wheeler in his Memoir and Pelet in his description of Ney's attack at Bussaco as well as Crafuard's defense during the same battle are examples.

I always understood skirmish fire as a more a psychological rather than physical threat. Therefore accuracy is not an issue, it was about how you can disrupt and disorient your opponent for further actions. I always liked rules that reflect this.

Uh, casualties, particularly in officers is quite physical, which leads to psychological 'disorientation'.
Most all accounts of units suffering skirmish fire describe the casualties, often caused at long ranges, not just the 'psychological' disorientation.

Scharnhorst in his 1811 ordinance tests found that rifles were twice as accurate as smoothbores, particularly out to longer ranges. However, they took twice as long to load. Considering the savings on ammo expenditures and lengthening of the musket's range, he thought about arming the entire Prussian army with rifled muskets.

He gave up the idea because of the cost of rifled muskets, more than 50% more expensive than smoothbores and requiring better trained men to use them effectively.

Counting the American Revolution, when considering battlefield skirmish operations, we are talking about 40 years of combat by more than a dozen major countries. Every country had their own organizations which changed, some radically over that period.

The basic practices at the file level didn't change. Scharnhorst after reading skirmish treatises from the 1750s declared that nothing new had been added. [in 1811]

At the battalion, brigade and corps/army level, there were numerous changes in how skirmishing was carried out.
On top of that, 'uniformity' of practice was not as well regulated during this period, corps commanders often writing their own instructions, or requiring particular methods. Even the French changed their methods several times during those forty years, 1780 to 1815, and different commanders had different ideas on how skirmishing 'should be done'.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2020 3:38 a.m. PST

There were two large differences the application and employment of skirmishers between France and Austria and Prussia.

The first is that with the French the practice came first, and written regulations came second. It was just the opposite with the Prussians and Austrians. And, in general, the Russians followed the Prussian practices.

The second is that the French employment of skirmishers, and in large numbers, was an offensive practice and instrument. With the others, it was not.

It is an accurate assessment that different French armies employed skirmishers differently and that was usually based on where they fought. The terrain could dictate different methods of employment in that Holland, Germany, and Italy all had different terrain and tactics, especially open-order tactics, had to fit the terrain. All of that experience, gained in the Wars of the Revolution, would be brought together within the evolving French tactical system.

And the French would deploy whole battalions as skirmishers as well as whole regiments depending on the tactical situation.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2020 3:49 a.m. PST

Regarding target practice in training, the French most certainly did it.

The French annual training allowance for musketry in 1804 for an infantry battalion was 550 pounds of powder and half that of lead. Napoleon stressed the necessity for musketry training almost continually.

In 1792 Rochambeau ordered that all French recruits were to be taught to take aim routinely.

For target practice, the standard French musket target was 5.5 feet high and 21 inches wide in French measurement. There was a 3-inch wide strip of bright color across both the middle of the target and also at the top.

Troops were trained to fire at 50, 100, and 150 'toises' (roughly six feet per toise) and conscripts were also 'allowed' to fire at 200 toises.

Improvised targets were also used on campaign. Shooting contests took place at all Grande Armee celebrations and prizes, such as clothing and cash, were given out to the winners.

I doubt very seriously that troops were taught to turn their heads away when firing. That is a reenactor practice, not one taught to soldiers.

Major Bloodnok21 Dec 2020 8:19 a.m. PST

I've never turned my head when firing a flintlock musket. The pan is far enough forward that you aren't going to get burned if everything is working properly. You will get scorched by the man on your left since the flash from the pan will go up and out to the right, hence the use of flash guards by the reenacting community. As to being almost impossible to aim, that is a load of cobblers. Just like a shotgun they have a foresight, may or may not be the bayonet lug depending which model of musket. It all boils down to how much practice you get. Some nations were very parsimonious about peace time live firing training. British troops in Spain were encouraged to aim low, probably to make up for flinching. One colonel is quoted as saying to aim low since one Frenchman hit in the ankle today is worth two Frenchmen hit in the head tomorrow. Some period prints of the day definitely show British troops aiming low.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2020 8:45 a.m. PST

@ Major Bloodnok

I wonder if that's what the Airfix British infantry standing-firing guy was doing – aiming low?

picture

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2020 10:33 a.m. PST

As I stated in the OP, the value of harassing fire from dispersed troops firing from a skirmish line was clear enough, based on the assumption that a shot fired from a smoothbore musket at massed troops within suitable range had a good chance of hitting somebody.

However, what I remain confused by is when individual soldiers were being encouraged and trained to aim at a mark, what was the expected success rate, given that the accuracy of the smoothbore musket was limited.

If the inaccuracy of the smoothbore musket has been exaggerated, what bearing does that have on the adage that infantry of the era had to manoeuvre and fire en masse because this was the best way to exploit the innaccuracy of the smoothbore weapon.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2020 10:59 a.m. PST

As I stated in the OP, the value of harassing fire from dispersed troops firing from a skirmish line was clear enough, based on the assumption that a shot fired from a smoothbore musket at massed troops within suitable range had a good chance of hitting somebody.

The object of the deployment of French skirmishers in large numbers, as already stated, was as the fire support element of an attack. It was not, nor was it intended, as merely 'harassing fire.'

That might have been the object in the Austrian, Prussian, and Russian armies, but not in the French army.


However, what I remain confused by is when individual soldiers were being encouraged and trained to aim at a mark, what was the expected success rate, given that the accuracy of the smoothbore musket was limited.

The main drawback of the smoothbore musket was its range. The inaccuracy at range was secondary. And massed fire was murderous at close range as many sources state.


If the inaccuracy of the smoothbore musket has been exaggerated, what bearing does that have on the adage that infantry of the era had to manoeuvre and fire en masse because this was the best way to exploit the innaccuracy of the smoothbore weapon.

Many examples of the effectiveness of the French skirmishers as a fire support element have been given/cited numerous times on this forum. That would tend to render the above statement as moot.

Virginia Tory21 Dec 2020 11:30 a.m. PST

The Company of Select Marksmen--they were drawn from the hat companies, so there was probably a certain proficiency in firing with them. Spring's _Zeal and Bayonets Only_ goes into some detail about marksmanship training in the Boston garrison--firing at barrels in the harbor, for example, with high scorers getting cash bonuses, etc.

This seems to have been pretty widespread practice (including Burgoyne's army).

There's also the British fighting in open order throughout the war--Howe put his imprimatur on the main Army from the outset--open files, firing at marks, etc.

I see the later era as completely different--the British had a real doctrinal fight on their hands in the 1780s/90s--the last chapters of Mark Urban's _Fusiliers_ deals with this at some length--the advocates of open order/light infantry v. the "German school" of closed ranks. Eventually the light infantry made their presence felt. The establishment of rifle and light infantry regiments was a big step.

The French of course were launching something of a revolution not only politically but in warfare with levee en masse and the use of columns covered by skirmishers--there was no equivalent during the AWI.

Virginia Tory21 Dec 2020 11:30 a.m. PST

Love the Airfix figures. Takes me back!

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2020 4:13 p.m. PST

By harassing fire I mean a volume of fire less than that delivered in an engagement between formed units of infantry, inflicting commensurately fewer casualties, suffered randomly and unevenly along a line of troops in close order. Referring to this as 'fire support' doesn't alter those circumstances. It is still dispersed infantry firing on infantry in close order and doesn't depend on the accuracy of individual weapons to be effective. References to allied troops being 'shot to pieces' in that regard risks being something of an exaggeration.

For instance, British troops engaging with Republican 'tirailleurs' during the winter of 1795 suffered negligible casualties in exchanges of fire lasting an hour or more with forces superior in number, though on one occasion this was reported as the result of French infantry firing high, presumably due to poor drills rather than the accuracy of their weapons. Incidences of heavier casualties were the result of 'mitraille' and shell fire, on the rare occasions when the French were able to bring artillery to bear.

The effect of smoothbore musketry fired en masse is a given. That is not what is at issue. The question relates to the accuracy of aimed fire by individuals either engaging at close quarters in closed country or on a skirmish line at greater ranges.

doc mcb21 Dec 2020 4:22 p.m. PST

Interesting discussion, and it reconciles me to rolling lots of dice to determine hits when firing.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2020 4:24 p.m. PST

There were two large differences the application and employment of skirmishers between France and Austria and Prussia.

The first is that with the French the practice came first, and written regulations came second. It was just the opposite with the Prussians and Austrians. And, in general, the Russians followed the Prussian practices.

Brechtel198:

This isn't the case. The French wrote instructions for light infantry in 1776 which were repeated in the 1792 Provisional Regulations. This isn't counting several sets of instructions written by various French general officers. Second, The Russians didn't follow the Prussian practices. The Prussians, British, Russians and Austrians also had instructions written about this time. Even Kutsov's Jager instructions of 1798 were just that, instructions, not 'regulations.' They certainly didn't follow the Prussian instructions printed in 1788.

The second is that the French employment of skirmishers, and in large numbers, was an offensive practice and instrument. With the others, it was not.

French certainly deployed large numbers of skirmishers offensively, but so did the Allies, starting in the first years of the Revolution. There are numerous accounts, including one by Duhesme:

The Austrians had always more riflemen than us in this war. The French will still notice in 1800 "this crowd of riflemen who usually accompany the attacks by the Austrians." [Of Cugnac, Campagne of the reserve army, fall II, p. 432]

[1864 reprint of Duheme's Essai historique sur l'Infantrerie Legere page 72.]

"These advanced guards, well handled, only disputed their ground long enough to make us waste time and men. They brought us from one position to another till they reached that which they really meant to defend. There they let us use up and scatter our last battalions whose ardour generally shattered itself against their entrenchments.

Then fresh troops issued from them in the most
perfect order, they in their turn, threw out skirmishers upon our flanks, and thus they charged at advantage troops dispersed and fatigued, corps in disorder and unable to rally most of their men.


Duhesme later in his work writes,

"We did not have other light infantry only the 12 battalions of foot chasseurs. The Austrians approached with more, more skillful and more tested light troops. The panic, fear and the routs of our troops left the columns of Valencians and Lille to address [the Austrians] as they slipped to the sides of these columns. Their riflemen, hidden behind shrubs, in ditches, afflicted our battalions, which, bravely in line, suffered ten-per-cent loses without seeing their enemy."(p. 85)

That sounds very familiar…only from the Allies' side.

An Austrian commentary of the time:

"Because the enemy is very easy being pushed back, we can advance into his flanks or in the back, each column reserves 200 volunteers at the start [of the attack], each hundred with a captain and 2 officers, which have to be bold and determined men. These men are destined, together with the light infantry and to support these, left and right from the road [formed movement was mostly only possible along the roads, see former messages], to turn the wings and flanks, [of] the enemy troops, positions and post, to facilitate the advance of the columns, or to turn, or storm, the enemy entrenchments when present." Hauptdisposition, fur die verschiedene Armee-theile."

Each column in this account is brigade-sized. or @ 3,000.
With their light infantry contingents, this means deploying about 150 men per 1,000, or the same numbers as the French with their voltigeurs, starting in 1805.

Point being, Even early in the wars, the Austrians used skirmishers offensively as part of a coordinated offensive operation. There are a lot of reasons why the Austrians didn't to a large degree later, including the fact that the French and not the Austrians were on the offensive for most of the wars.

It is an accurate assessment that different French armies employed skirmishers differently and that was usually based on where they fought. The terrain could dictate different methods of employment in that Holland, Germany, and Italy all had different terrain and tactics, especially open-order tactics, had to fit the terrain. All of that experience, gained in the Wars of the Revolution, would be brought together within the evolving French tactical system.

And the French would deploy whole battalions as skirmishers as well as whole regiments depending on the tactical situation.

In 1794 Holland, The Austrian army commander Coberg deployed 1/3 of his entire force as skirmishers. [the 3rd line]. Archduke Charles comments on it in his 1796 instructions.

Those two claims for the French are not so monolithic, black and white as you've presented them. The entire issue is far more complex and subtle.

von Winterfeldt22 Dec 2020 12:45 p.m. PST

for the reason to be able to hit individual targets better, quite a few armies adopted rifles and or rifled carbines.

Those units had an edge against those only equipped with a smoothbore musket.

Also they were often formed as ad hoc battalions as for example the Austrian Grenzscharfschützen or the Prussian Schützen.

Regardless of the usual propaganda that only the French could do grande bande, this could be used also by the Prussians as in the action of Altenzaun in 1806-

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2020 12:53 p.m. PST

Yes, yes, but how does that help us get to the heart of the SMOOTHBORE question?

There is an old adage in the British Army:

"Targets fall when hit."

How many soldiers could say that when engaging targets with smoothbore muskets beyond point blank range? When firing at marks what success rate was expected? What success rate was achieved?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2020 1:34 p.m. PST

Regardless of the usual propaganda that only the French could do grande bande, this could be used also by the Prussians as in the action of Altenzaun in 1806

Wasn't this a rear guard action during the Prussian retreat after Jena and during the pursuit by the French?

Where is the Prussian 'grande bande'?

Major Snort22 Dec 2020 1:48 p.m. PST

So you want to know how accurate a smoothbore musket could be when fired by trained infantry with issued ammunition?

The best indication that I am aware of are the musketry practice sessions carried out by the East India Company in Madras just after the Napoleonic Wars. These are covered in detail by David Harding in Volume 3 of 'Small Arms of the East India Company'.

The East India Company soldiers were trained and armed in the same way as British regulars (also, some of these recorded practice sessions were shot by British regular regiments) so this is a good indication of what could be achieved by trained infantry.

In these sessions the soldiers fired individual aimed shots at a target six feet tall by two feet wide. The percentage hits at various ranges represent the firing of many thousands of rounds over several years – a huge amount of data:

•At 80 yards, the soldiers hit the target with 31% of the rounds fired.
•At 100 yards, the soldiers hit the target with 25% of the rounds fired.
•At 120 yards, the soldiers hit the target with 19% of the rounds fired.
•At 200 yards, the soldiers hit the target with 8% of the rounds fired.

Obviously the rectangular target was larger than a man and a hit on this would not necessarily translate to a hit on a soldier at the same range. Also, more importantly, nobody was firing back, so all these figures need to be adjusted down considerably to give an indication of battle accuracy.

Regarding ranges for smoothbore muskets. They could be lethal at ranges up to 1000 yards, but effective range was considered to be c200 yards.

British infantry in the Napoleonic era, and later, typically practised musketry up to a maximum of 200 yards. Some regiments divided the soldiers by ability with those in the highest class only practising at 200 yards, those in lower classes practicing at the shorter ranges of 60, 100 and 150 yards. Only recruits and "bad shots" practised at 60 yards.

Regarding the term "point blank range" mentioned in the post above. It is important to recognise what this meant to writers in the Napoleonic era. In British period terminology, c200 yards was "point blank range". This was the distance that the ball travelled from a musket before hitting the ground when presented by infantryman with the bore held level and the muzzle 54" from the ground. This is the dangerous space covered by musketry without having to make any major adjustment in elevation to hit the target. Point blank range was slightly different if using the French definition, but still nothing like what is generally considered to be the case today, when this expression conjures up visions of infantry lines blazing away only a few yards apart.

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2020 2:19 p.m. PST

Thank you Major, for that interesting set of notes, which does cast an interesting light on the efficacy of troops when firing as individuals. Clearly, when skirmish in woods or close country troops might be firing at ranges less than 80 yards.

Thanks also for the clarification regarding the term 'point blank range.' I was using it casually as you guessed but it is useful to know the specific context in which it was employed.

That space extending 200 yards from the musket muzzles might then be regarded as the 'beaten zone' in which skirmishers firing at troops in close formation could expect to hit enemy soldiers without aiming, whereas at that distance they only had an 8% chance of hitting someone with an aimed shot.

John Edmundson22 Dec 2020 3:06 p.m. PST

I think I may have posted this link before, but I think it's relevant to this discussion: link Essentially, what they argue in this article is that soldiers tend not to aim to hit the enemy a lot of the time.

So the difference between average soldiers and the elite is perhaps the extent to which they have been trained to overcome this tendency. Skirmishers, being more likely to be elite, may have been relatively more effective in this respect.

Cheers,
John

dibble22 Dec 2020 8:14 p.m. PST

The best book that I've read on the subject is this book. link

Though the cutoff period is 1765, it nevertheless gives whole dollops of interesting information on linear firepower with the focus being on the evolving effectiveness of British musketry.

Excellent!

von Winterfeldt22 Dec 2020 10:33 p.m. PST

I cannot agree that this is the best book – I struggled to read if front to cover.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP23 Dec 2020 3:43 a.m. PST

Regarding the term 'point blank', it was originally an artillery term and was determined because of the tapering of most, if not all, artillery gun tubes differed because of their shape as a truncated cone. That made the line of the bore and the line of sight different; they were not parallel.

The original French term was 'de point en blanc.'

Point blank was determined when the fired projective crossed the line of sight twice. Therefore, it is a gunnery term. It was not determined by the projectile striking the ground. The artillery/gunnery term for that was 'first graze.'

The term point blank has devolved to mean at a close range.

'Point-blank (but en blanc) is the point where the trajectory line intersects the sight line for the second time, and it is denominated primitive point-blank (but en blanc primitif) when the piece is pointed [aimed] so that the sight line [line of sight] be horizontal, and loaded with the greatest charge, which is regulated for its caliber.'-Tousard, Volume II, American Artillerists Companion, 207n.

'Artificial point-blank (but en blanc artificiel): When wishing to fire under a great angle, and not being able to direct the sight line to the object which is aimed at, we procure this new point-blank; in order to do which, it becomes necessary to raise the sight line at the breech so as to obtain a sight of the object. The height to which the sight line at the breech is raised, and the instrument which serves to procure this elevation is denominated la hausse, elevator, moveable sight.'-Tousard, Volume II, 207n. Tousard's reference was Gassendi's aide-memoire.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP23 Dec 2020 3:44 a.m. PST

The best book that I've read on the subject is this book.

Excellent book and one which should be read by anyone interested in the British Army of the period.

Bill N23 Dec 2020 6:12 a.m. PST

Interesting information McLaddie.

Major Snort23 Dec 2020 6:40 a.m. PST

Brechtel wrote:

Point blank was determined when the fired projective crossed the line of sight twice. Therefore, it is a gunnery term. It was not determined by the projectile striking the ground. The artillery/gunnery term for that was 'first graze.'

That is the French method of determining Point Blank Range. The British method used for determining the point blank of smallarms was as described above, where the bore was levelled, not the top of the barrel, and the point blank range was the distance at which the projectile struck the ground.

link

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP23 Dec 2020 10:45 a.m. PST

No, that is the artillery method of finding the point-blank, which is what is posted. It is a method in gunnery that I posted about, not musketry.

Did the Royal Artillery do it differently?

Major Snort23 Dec 2020 11:17 a.m. PST

But the topic is about musketry, however, what you describe is the French method which they also used for smallarms

Check what it says in Adye's Bombardier and Pocket Gunner and also read the link I posted above. From Adye:

The French point blank or but en blank is what the English artillery call line of metal elevation; in most guns between one and two degrees

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP23 Dec 2020 12:06 p.m. PST

I don't have my copy of Adye to hand, but no matter what it is called, was the definition/process the same?

Major Snort23 Dec 2020 1:50 p.m. PST

No it was not the same.

British method = the bore of the piece is level at the height that the weapon would normally be fired and the distance is measured to the first strike on the ground (assuming that the ground is perfectly level).

French method = top of the barrel is level, which means that the bore is inclined upwards (because all barrels, whether artillery pieces or muskets are externally much wider at the breech than the barrel) and the distance is measured to the point where the projectile drops back below the line of metal or sight.

Major Snort23 Dec 2020 2:06 p.m. PST

von W wrote:

I cannot agree that this is the best book – I struggled to read if front to cover.

I agree.

It is worth reading cover to cover but I found it hard work. Partly because the author considers he has found something new (which he hasn't) and partly because he is selective to only use evidence that supports his ideas.

As it only covers the period to 1765, and because of the author's agenda, it has little relevance to Napoleonic British musketry.

dibble23 Dec 2020 3:18 p.m. PST

It is worth reading cover to cover but I found it hard work. Partly because the author considers he has found something new (which he hasn't) and partly because he is selective to only use evidence that supports his ideas.

Perhaps he has?

As it only covers the period to 1765, and because of the author's agenda, it has little relevance to Napoleonic British musketry

But it nevertheless shows the evolution up to 1765.

Major Snort23 Dec 2020 3:25 p.m. PST

Perhaps he has?

Such as…?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP24 Dec 2020 4:11 a.m. PST

No it was not the same.

In the mechanics of the process possibly, but in purpose both artillery arms were attempting to achieve the same result.

42flanker Supporting Member of TMP24 Dec 2020 10:02 a.m. PST

French and British guns were equally accurate. All shots hit the ground.

Ruchel24 Dec 2020 10:50 a.m. PST

French and British guns were equally accurate. All shots hit the ground.

Sources?

Major Bloodnok24 Dec 2020 11:02 a.m. PST

Sir Isaac Newton?

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP24 Dec 2020 12:12 p.m. PST

Interesting information McLaddie.

Bill N.

Glad you found them such. I just touched on the issues for the Allies. I can provide far more from 1794 on through 1815.

The 'effective range' for volley fire is stated by many officers as 150 to 200 yards, with many examples of formed units opening fire at that range.

There are just as numerous commentaries claiming that skirmishers, both French and other nations, firing from 400 to 600 paces away, or 300 to 500 yards, and doing damage. I have a friend that found firing a smoothbore that he could hit a target at 175 yards once out of ten shots. THEN he covered the ball with cloth before ramming it down the barrel and found doing that, he could hit the target [3 X 3 foot square] 7 times out of 10. That was aimed fire.

Does that mean most skirmishing was out beyond 200 yards? No, but it is anyone's guess how far out 'typical' skirmish fire was and how often, particularly when skirmishers moved around a lot during combat.

dibble24 Dec 2020 5:26 p.m. PST

Major Snort

Such as…?

It was your suggestion that he may have "Partly because the author considers he has found something new (which he hasn't)"

Where is that in the book? And What "selective evidence" has he used over other evidence? What evidence should he have used? Is this all just your opinion or do you know otherwise?

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