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"3rd Rank: firing or not? HELP!" Topic


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paperbattles20 Apr 2022 6:15 a.m. PST

I know it seems obvious but a lot of info on internet are not clear on the point. So I need your help.
I am recreating wargaming with no dice and turn of 1 or 2 minutes at 1:1 ratio. So I need to do some calculation;
now:
did the 3rd rank fire in one round ? or just recharged the guns?

for the periods:
WSS
SYW
Napoleonic
1848 campaign
1859 campaign

Thanks for helping

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP20 Apr 2022 9:42 a.m. PST

Sounds a simple question but it is not likely to be a simple answer I'm afraid.

Various firing methods existed at most of the periods you list though the latter two may be simpler and with more conformity.

In the WSS the number of ranks varied from 3 up to 5 (or more) and some methods fired by rank and others all ranks together but only with part of the line – and those were the simplest methods, the British & Dutch were more complex.

Even a brief summary could take pages !!!

Oliver Schmidt20 Apr 2022 10:19 a.m. PST

Generally, in the Napoleonic period, the fire of the third rank was considered ineffective. Probably it was. To make things simple, you could just calculate on the basis of only two ranks firing, regardless of the actual practice and nation.

In Prussia for example, from 1805, the third ranks would not fire, but was used as a reserve. In France, the 1792 regulations (officially in use until 1830) gave the option to fire by three ranks (first rank kneeling), or to fire by two ranks (third rank loading the muskets of the second rank increasing this rank's rate of fire by maybe 50%).

An illustration for this French fire of two ranks here:

link

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP20 Apr 2022 10:53 a.m. PST

So Oliver, you are saying that there was no effective difference in shooting efficacy between the various methods employed ? I'd want to know where you got that from as most descriptions I have read consider that significant differences existed.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2022 11:55 a.m. PST

Has no-one seen Bondarachuk's Waterloo?

The British Guards managed more than three ranks, standing and firing, then crouching in turn, without once blowing off the head of the chap in the front rank. Almost like Michael Caine's gents in Zulu, almost the closing sequence, with Martini Henrys.

I predict this will never be answered for the Napoleonic Era anyway, as it has been posed so many times. With a breech loader, with superb discipline and training, with troops prepared to step to the front at each volley and then give way as they reload, with no risk of then being outflanked as they must advance………unbeatable.

jwebster Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2022 2:57 p.m. PST

Sounds a simple question but it is not likely to be a simple answer I'm afraid
wargaming with no dice and turn of 1 or 2 minutes at 1:1 ratio

Trained troops could fire 2-3+ volleys a minute, although this would not be sustained for very long due to fouling and smoke obscuring anything. So even with your turn time, several shots are going to be fired. In practice, the effect of the shooting would also depend on whether the troops could hold and wait to volley when they became close enough to aim effectively.

With all the excitement going on, I sincerely doubt that the third rank would be inactive, except on a parade ground. One of the frustrations of this kind of a research is that we have drill manuals (perhaps worth the value of the paper they were printed on) and descriptions of unusual situations in battles, but relatively few descriptions of standard practice

I would also suggest that there would be a huge range of shooting effectiveness. This could be due to training, courage, terrain, weather, leadership, poor gunpowder, confused orders etc. There are descriptions of a unit trying to hold its fire, except one person is scared, starts shooting and then the whole unit is randomly shooting. So, maybe no dice, but there would definitely be random effects

Considering again your turn time and troop ratio – you are probably looking at more of a skirmish encounter, where drill manuals and rules would not be applicable

Would be interested to hear what kind of ideas you end up with

John

von Winterfeldt20 Apr 2022 10:48 p.m. PST

so we speak here of volley firing – in theory the front rank would kneel down – which hardly occured, about third rank firing it would imply as Oliver Schmidt stated what the doctrine and tactics of an army would say. The firing of the third rank, when the two front ranks would remain standing was regarded as in eccetive there they would overshoot, remember the talles soldiers would be in the front rank, supposedly kneeling, which they did not and consequently even the fire of the second rank was not that easy but they still could stick their musket in between their front men, which was not possible for the third rank.
Those rounds per minute are maybe realistic for a very short time, then the rate of misfires would increase dramatically due to the dulling of the flints, then how to change a flint when in rank and file and all your comrades around you are in the act of loading and firing?

Demian : Anleitung zum Selbst-Studium der militärischen Wissenschaft. Für Offiziere der k.k. österreichischen Armee, Erster Theil : Waffenlehre, Wien 1807

„ If one is looking into the usual instruction of the firing and its true purpose, which should be to hit an hostile item, one finds that these instructions are teaching precisely the non hitting, because :

1. Up to now the line infantry was not trained to fire at an aim. And still aiming is an art, which like others has to be learned and practised; if this is not the case then hitting would be at random. The line infantry man therefore must be taught and must practise when his shots should hit.
2. One is aiming (technically joue, schlagt an, in English maybe arm) always at the half man, without taking into account the different distances and terrain, despite according to the closer or farer distances, also the difference in terrain, demands a higher or lower aiming.
3. The man is pushed for quickness. One has tried to increase with the number of shots also the effect of the fire, and one was giving a lot effort to make the soldier fire seven to ten times per minute. However the experience teaches us that the soldier is shooting worse the quicker he loads, and that all speed and skill in loading is useless without proper aiming. Because not the skill [in loading] but the hitting makes the firing effective. The push for speed at aiming means to train them and use them to shot in the air. And to that already wrong instruction for firing one has to add the natural fear of the man, by which aiming in the heat of battle is almost impossible. Who was in a fire fight without noticing that in this moment the soldier is acting as a machine, that means he loads his gun, shots in the air, loads again and thinks less to damage the enemy than more to distract himself by the work to ban all thought of fear which are surrounding him in this moment. As soon as the soldier is seeing the enemy he wants to start to shoot being afraid that the other will overtake him in that and only few officers have the power to restrain their soldiers, or when they are able to do this they have not the knowledge about the shooting distance of the gun or to judge the distances. In case however the soldier is not lacking in cold blood and deliberation in a serious fire fight, and he is not acting as a machine, so alone because of the disorder and pushing for quickness, which is usual in a fire fight, is preventing to let him think about aiming. The experience teaches that the soldier is hardly listening at the commands of his officer in this critical moment and that every body as soon as he finished loading wants to shot. When one is closing the pan, the other is working with the ramrod, the third is making ready, the forth is arming and the fifth pulls the trigger. Is one taking into account the disorder which is caused by the falling of the dead, and the retreat of the wounded, as the quite dense smoke of powder which is enveloping the men, so it is impossible to expect that a sure shot can happen. Yes, even the best Jäger (marksmen, sharp shooters expert to hit with a shot, so to speak Hessian, Austrian, Prussian Jäger units) as soon as they would have to fire in rank and file, they would not hit better by the ruling constriction and disorder than the usual line infantry man."

Demian page 34 to 37

Just some comments, about the rate of fire, Demian mentions seven to ten shots per minute. These are no actual shots but made on the drill ground not using black powder and just doing the manuals. The old Austrian pre 1801 model of musket had a self priming pan and a cylindrical ramrod, so the loading was simplified and could be fairly quick when not using powder.
However Demian points rightly out how useless a quick fire is because it is not aimed.
Volley firing is even worse because nobody would have no time to aim or to point his gun out of the fear he would be the last to pull the trigger.

A statement by Général Fririon on feu de peloton. cited in, J. Collin: 'La tactique et la discipline dans les armées de la révolution.' p. XVII [1902]
'Le premier rang doit mettre genou à terre: eh bien! je ne l' ai pas vu faire une seule fois. Dans les combats, les hommes, échauffés par l'action, font toujours le feu libre ou de billebaude. Le premier rang tire debout, le deuxième de même; et que font les hommes du troisième rang? Recevant les coups comme les autres, est – il possible alors de rendre nos Français impassibles? Le bruit, la fumée, les blessés, etc……
bref, les hommes, ayant des armes qui resteraient inutiles, tirent aussi; mais pour ne pas nuire à leurs chefs de file, ils tirent en l' air et n' ont fait que du bruit. Dans le feu de deux rangs, nous avons l' expérience que les hommes de troisième rang, dans leur indomptable impétuosité, ne s' astreignent pas à la complication des mouvements exigés, de passer l' arme au deuxième rang; ils tirent aussi comme dans l' autre feu et font le même effet.'
I translate this as…..
'The front rank has to put their knee on the ground: well! I have not seen it done a single time. In combat, men, in the heat of the action, always fire independently. The front rank fires while standing, the second similarly; and what do the men of the third rank do? Being shot at like everyone else, is it possible then for our Frenchmen to stay impassive? The noise, the smoke, the wounded, etc. …..
In brief, men, having weapons that are not being used, also begin firing; but so as not to harm to their file leaders, they fire into the air and do nothing but make noise. With feu de deux rangs, we have the experience that men of third rank, in their indomitable impetuosity, do not carry out the required complicated movement, to pass the weapon to the second rank; they fire as before and produce the same effect.'

Just some reflections of contemporaries, is the fire of the third rank useless? Difficult to say, in overshooting they might hit the units far back in the reserve as some reports suggest, and also by firing they get distracted and most likely keep their position.

paperbattles21 Apr 2022 2:02 a.m. PST

Thanks all for your very accurate comments.
meanwhile I went on Napolenistyka and read something about the third rank, above all, the fact that Napoleon considered it totally senseless and starting from 1813 decided to deploy in 2 ranks.

This said, it is very true that the third rank was probably firing (and not reloading and passing the guns) and shoot into the sky to avoid to harm the 2 ranks in front (imagine a 3rd rank soldier 1.65 m tall, with gun at the shoulder, so at 145/148 cm tall, shooting with a second rank man 1.72 + shako so 2 meters in front and 1 rank about 2,10 meters tall, with shako….) and hence I agree Oliver Schmidt about a percentage in the calculation of shooting.

I prepared this one:

Distance Meters 45 men 44 men 43 men 42 men 41 men 40 men
< 15 24,48 23,93 23,30 22,84 22,30 21,76
15/30 21,42 20,94 20,47 19,99 19,52 19,04
30/90 18,36 17,95 17,54 17,14 16,73 16,32
90/150 4,59 4,48 4,39 4,28 4,15 4,08
150/180 1,53 1,50 1,46 1,43 1,39 1,36

but I think – according to your suggestions to reduce by a further 18%.
18% represents a little more than the half value of the 3rd rank (that represents 33% of a unit)

So the numbers I wrote top must be reduced by 18%:
for istance

unit 45 men; 15 meters distance gives NOT 24,48 hits on the target, but 20,07 hits (that will provoke a random losses, as by my wargame method).

paperbattles21 Apr 2022 2:19 a.m. PST

@ jwbster
my idea is actually to fight like skirmishing but with huge numbers.
see pictures:

I wanted to unify my childish and naiv way of playing with soldiers (the funniest battles ever done) with an "adult" and historical system.

On my blog you will have more details… but still – as you see – in a work in progress and I have now to modify all the data.

Last but not least: I think that the volley rate was 2 shots every 3 minutes (first 12 minutes) than it decreased.

In my wargame system I will in fact add this and the tiredness in fighting.

link

paperbattles21 Apr 2022 2:57 a.m. PST

here the new percentages with the – 18% of 3rd rank inaccuracy


Distance 45 men 44 men 43 men 42 men 41 men 40 men
< 15 20,07 19,62 19,10 18,72 18,28 17,84
15/30 17,56 17,17 16,78 16,39 16,00 15,61
30/90 12,54 12,26 11,98 11,70 11,43 11,15
90/150 3,76 3,67 3,59 3,50 3,40 3,34
150/180 1,25 1,23 1,18 1,17 1,13 1,11


distance are expressed in meters.
Example:
45 men; 20% misfire = 36 men firing; at less than 15 meters 80% in target (a rectangular table, not losses!) = 28,8 hits on target; of these – 15% due to the fact that a lot of shots hit the same soldiers (and NOT 1 shot per soldier) = 24,48; misfiring of the 3rd rank – 18 = 20,07;

So: 45 papersoldiers shooting at close range (less than 15 meters) provokes 20 hits on the target; how many losses? this is a random (childish) way to calculate it. I take some pictures and I post here too

donlowry21 Apr 2022 7:51 a.m. PST

This thread is posted to the ACW board, but both sided used 2-rank lines during the ACW.

paperbattles21 Apr 2022 9:40 a.m. PST

Thanks donlowry… I just learnt. Good to point out. Sorry for sneaking through

By the way, there was a massive mistake in my calculations.
now they go


Distance Meters 45 men 44 men 43 men 42 men 41 men 40 men
< 15 19,52 19,36 19,14 18,93 18,71 18,50
15/30 17,13 16,94 16,75 16,56 16,37 16,18
30/90 12,24 12,10 11,96 11,83 11,69 11,56
90/150 3,67 3,63 3,59 3,55 3,50 3,47
150/180 1,22 1,21 1,19 1,18 1,17 1,16

von Winterfeldt21 Apr 2022 1:10 p.m. PST

The third rank had also benefits, maintaining frontage by feeding men into the first two ranks when casualties occured.

Also tactical reserves could be created as the Austrians did in the Revolutionary wars.

It could be used to create skirmishers

Just don't look only on firing.

cplcampisi22 Apr 2022 11:10 p.m. PST

This has come up before, and I think it's all too often viewed through a British (or pro-British) perspective which distorts things a bit. This is a digest of my researches, which mostly come from looking at these forums.

The time periods you have really cover a lot of ground, and it's hard to generalize. It looks like most nations by the mid 18th century trained in both two and three ranks. Two ranks were used when the numbers were low (or on a reduced peace-time footing), although there were other circumstances when two ranks were preferred. Three ranks seemed to have been considered the default, however. By the time of the Napoleonic Wars there were two methods for volley fire in three ranks:

1. All 3 ranks stand and fire (this was considered the "old" method).
2. Front rank kneels, while the rear two ranks stand ("new").

The French adopted the new method (front rank kneels), presumably because the introduction of knapsacks had made the spacing between ranks a little too large to comfortably fire with all three standing.

British manuals continued calling for all three-ranks standing, as did some other nations.

Another development over the course of the 18th century was the shortening of muskets (you can look at barrel lengths to get an idea). Whereas early in the 18th century, barrels might be around 46 inches long, French musket barrels had become a little shorter by the revolution. British barrels went through an even more extreme shortening: 42 inches in the middle of the century to 39 inches with the 3rd Model Brown Bess (introduced, generally, in the 1790s).

So the British, who were still using the "old method", with the shortest muskets around, reported unfortunate "accidents" where someone in the front rank was wounded by a shot from the rear rank. This may be one reason why the British seem to have generally deployed in two ranks. However, the British, had a reputation for better musketry -- they seemed to have more training, and their weapons were generally in better condition, which in the age of flintlocks could significantly reduced the number of misfires. Consider this analysis by a
French officer(?), Charles Dupin who wrote:

"Notwithstanding the precision of the orders here quoted [the 1792 Regulations], the British Infantry in many circumstances*, manoeuvre and engage in two ranks. So slight an order of formation, which appears demanded by the numerical weakness of English regiments can only be justified by the excellence of their fire. This excellence may be ascribed to three causes; the frequency and the perfection of their exercise, and the goodness of their ammunition."

The implication is that, normally, 3 ranks would deliver more effective fire than 2, but other advantages that the British have (training and good ammunition), offset that advantage and allow them to fire as effectively in two ranks.

While the British seem to have settled on two ranks during the Napoleonic Wars, most other nations stuck with a three rank system. (In reality a system that allowed them to shift between three and two ranks as circumstances demanded). So the judgement of history is that three ranks was still preferred.

Some writers in the post Napoleonic period were still advocating for all three ranks standing. The arguments were that they could keep sufficiently organized for the first couple of volleys, and practice, or so they claimed, showed that if the first couple of volleys weren't effective -- subsequent ones wouldn't help! Even some British officers were of the opinion: two volleys, then give them bayonet.

In the United States, Scott's Tactics of 1835, described a three (or two) rank system, ultimately descended from the French manual used during the Napoleonic Wars (front rank kneels). While an order came out shortly after it was introduced that it was only to be used in two ranks, that may have been an instruction for peace time forces, which were on a reduced footing. James Walker often painted US soldiers in battle in the Mexican-American War deployed in three ranks. Walker had accompanied Scott's army during that war, and was an eye-witness to many of the battles.

I think that the introduction of rifle-muskets seems to have finally settled the question, and the three-rank systems are generally abandoned during the 1850s. (Although I admit, I haven't looked in detail at every nation's drill manuals, so maybe it persisted a bit more in some armies? Also rifle-muskets were generally "phased-in" so there may have been periods of overlap).

The French manual which introduced the front-rank kneels method for volley fire, also introduced a method for firing independently (possibly the first manual to do so?). Also referred to as "fire-by-files", in this case all ranks would stand, but only the front two ranks would fire. The rear rank man would swap muskets with the center rank man, who would fire again, then both would reload. (The front rank man would simply fire and load his own musket). That form of firing may be why some people think that the rear rank didn't fire?

Some historians cast doubt on all of this, pointing to some comments about never seeing French troops kneel to fire, or that the rear rank wouldn't swap muskets in combat . . . etc. I'm not convinced by those claims, as they could be cherry-picking to reinforce a particular bias. But maybe there's something to them. However, history itself says, with the exception of the British, three ranks remained the standard, and the manuals assumed that fire from the rear rank was not only possible, but effective.

Oliver Schmidt23 Apr 2022 12:02 a.m. PST

In the French army, the fire by three ranks standing was abolished around 1790. Here the the text of the regulation how it was done (French and German only, sorry):

demi-brigade.org/feudepfr.htm

In our re-enactment group, we practised it, firing with blackpowder, without any problem. It is just a matter of training the men. Under battlefield conditions, of course the situation would have become much more diffcult.

cplcampisi23 Apr 2022 12:52 a.m. PST

In the French army, the fire by three ranks standing was abolished around 1790. Here the the text of the regulation how it was done (French and German only, sorry):

demi-brigade.org/feudepfr.htm

Scott's tactics from 1835, is available, in English, here:
link

The methods of firing are the same, and ultimately derive from the French manual.

A statement by Général Fririon on feu de peloton. cited in, J. Collin: 'La tactique et la discipline dans les armées de la révolution.' p. XVII [1902] . . . .
'The front rank has to put their knee on the ground: well! I have not seen it done a single time. In combat, men, in the heat of the action, always fire independently. . . .

I've heard this quote before, but not with so much context (thank you for sharing it). I will observe that this is only a single data point, but also that General Fririon appears to have a long career spanning the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. However, do you know when this statement was made?

The book it comes from appears to be about the armies during the Revolution, not the later Napoleonic Wars. Could Fririon have made the comment in the 1790s, referring to the revolutionary armies which included mass levies? Perhaps training and discipline weren't as good as it would have been in the Grande Armee in 1805?

von Winterfeldt23 Apr 2022 5:54 a.m. PST

The French adopted the new method (front rank kneels), presumably because the introduction of knapsacks had made the spacing between ranks a little too large to comfortably fire with all three standing.

What new method – front rank kneeling was common practise, even before 7YW.

Colin's book extends well into the days of the empire, despite its title, Firion statement is common sense, even the highly driller Prussian Army hardly practised front rank kneeling in the 7YW

And Bardin about not kneeling or rarely kneeling down :

MDI, p. 134

Feux sans mouvement.

(…)
Guibert désapprouve les feux faites genou à terre ; nous les avons peu pratiqués dans cette guerre. (…)

To give some more food for thought some quotes form the German side of view :

The soldiers has a strong tendency to fire much and quickly, and when a so called Placker Feuer (fire at will) is established, so it is very difficult to stop this. The unit is unable to get an impulse for a decisive move and the commander has to wait for a chance by random. The fire at will, or the Bataillenfeuer (feux de bataille) where each soldier is shooting as soon as he has loaded is therefore to used with care and the fire according to commands will be mostly advantageous.
(Valentini, page 66)

An old Prussian Officer writes about the Prussians in the 7YW :

One started to fire with pelotons, two, three fired well, but then a common burning started and the usual fire where each who finished loading pulls the trigger, files and ranks are intermingling, the front rank is not even able to kneel down, even if they intended to, and the officers from below up to the generals cannot do anything any longer with this mass, but have to wait till they will move forward or backwards.
(Jany, page 47)

Gaudi, another eye witness writes about the Prussians of the 7YW :

Who will think back will have difficulties to remember that in a battle or action to have witnessed that at firing the first rank will have knelt down or did do this constantly, despite such a thing happens constantly on the drill ground, but they kept standing as the rear ranks. There one witnessed this at those troops who rightly were classed as being the best taught and disciplined, so the thought to kneel down in action must be un natural.
(Jany, page 47)

Tempelhoff another veteran writes :

The Bataillenfeuer (feux de bataille) as the fire at will was typically was called replaced in the hitherto battle in the end the drilled art. Then everybody fired who could fire and wanted to and everybody as often as he was capable without giving a damn about his neighbour or front man.
(Jany page 46 / 47)

Ein Veteran des Siebenjährigen Krieges , General v. Tempelhoff, bemerkt darüber : „Man feuert in einer Schlacht ganz anders als auf dem Exerzierplatz; denn die anrückende Infanterie fängt trotz allem dem, was man auf dem Exerzierplatze gelehrt und eingeprägt wird, oft schon auf 800 Schritt vom Feinde an zu feuern; doch wenigstens auf 600. Gewöhnlich glaubt man, daß ein solches Feuer nichts thut, allein hierin irrt man sich. Eine Kugel aus dem kleinen Gewehr tödet oder verwundet einen Mann, wenn sie nur trifft, ebenso gut, sie mag aus in einem Bogen oder horizontal abgeschossen werden.
(Jany, p. 38/39 (Gedanken des Generals v. Tempelhoff vom 11. April 1802, Beilage 13 zu Band II der Massenbachschen Memoiren, Amsterdamm 1809, S. 504)

A veteran of the 7YW, General v. Tempelhoff notices about (range of firing and hitting HKW) ; "One is firing total differently in a battle than on the drill ground, despite what was learned and taught on the drill ground – the advancing infantry often opens fire at 800 paces distance from the enemy – at least however at 600. Usually it is believed that such a fire is useless, however this is an error. A small arms ball kills or wounded a man as long as it hits regardless of being short in an arc or horizontally.
(Jany, p. 38/39 (Gedanken des Generals v. Tempelhoff vom 11. April 1802, Beilage 13 zu Band II der Massenbachschen Memoiren, Amsterdamm 1809, S. 504)

cplcampisi23 Apr 2022 10:40 a.m. PST

What new method – front rank kneeling was common practise, even before 7YW.

Colin's book extends well into the days of the empire, despite its title, Firion statement is common sense, even the highly driller Prussian Army hardly practised front rank kneeling in the 7YW

Thank you for providing those examples. However, from what I can tell it was practiced in some manuals that all three ranks fired while standing, and that having the front rank kneel was not necessarily part of all manuals. So for some armies, having the front rank kneel was a new method. But I could be wrong, and unfortunately, my notes are not as well organized as yours, but I was able to track down this quote:

Capt Aylmer Haly of the 4th Foot: 'A battalion drawn up three deep … loses a third of its active power; it is certain, that the fire of a third rank is of no effect, and the bayonet is no sort of use. To remedy this palpable inconvenience, some make the front rank kneel; this is, perhaps, as great an [sic – inconvenience?] one as that with which it is intended to do away. The bayonets of the third rank are still too short to be of any effect.

Excepting the British, even after the experiences of the Napoleonic Wars, the majority of manuals promoted a three-rank system. Presenting the arguments, The Theory of Infantry Movements, Vol.I 1825 by Baron Saussa Diaz de Fonseca:

That as the impression made by the firing of musketry is entirely depending on its immediate and sudden effect, and consequently is considerably influenced by the number of firelocks levelled at the time, the increase of a rank, by adding one-third to the fire of that line to where it is merely executed two deep, must evidently become of moment; nor can the difficulty attending the operation of firing in three ranks standing, be alleged, as an objection against it, since, provided troops have been carefully instructed, and properly trained to it, the first discharges thus made will be regularly performed; and that whenever the first discharges prove ineffectual, no great results can be expected from those following afterwards. . . .

Note his claim that, when properly executed, the fire from three ranks is more effective than in two. Also, he's promoting the idea of three-ranks standing, which I find odd, especially at that late a date.

von Winterfeldt

To give some more food for thought some quotes form the German side of view :

The soldiers has a strong tendency to fire much and quickly, and when a so called Placker Feuer (fire at will) is established, so it is very difficult to stop this. The unit is unable to get an impulse for a decisive move and the commander has to wait for a chance by random. The fire at will, or the Bataillenfeuer (feux de bataille) where each soldier is shooting as soon as he has loaded is therefore to used with care and the fire according to commands will be mostly advantageous.
(Valentini, page 66)

An old Prussian Officer writes about the Prussians in the 7YW :

One started to fire with pelotons, two, three fired well, but then a common burning started and the usual fire where each who finished loading pulls the trigger, files and ranks are intermingling, the front rank is not even able to kneel down, even if they intended to, and the officers from below up to the generals cannot do anything any longer with this mass, but have to wait till they will move forward or backwards.

Even officers in the American Civil War noted that once the men got to firing at will, it was difficult to reestablish control over them. Many officers therefore tried to keep control through only firing company volleys. And while that seems to have had some success during the Civil War, the implication here is that during the SYW the Prussians noted that even when firing volleys, discipline would break down and they would soon be firing independently?

Baron Saussa Diaz de Fonseca argument appears to be that you shouldn't be letting your troops fire that much anyway. Putting these arguments together, perhaps the problem with three ranks was in a prolonged fire-fight, where it was common for the troops, in a rushed state of mind, began loading and firing as fast as possible -- without regard to orders. The initial volleys were usually "ok."

Perhaps, what most armies concluded from this difficulty, was that prolonged firefights should be avoided, as they usually entailed a breakdown of command and control, anyway? Whatever advantage to being in two ranks in that situation may be, the general situation was so undesirable that it should be avoided. How often they were able to avoid such a situation . . . I don't know . . . but that seems to have been the idea. (I'll note that I've also read when the French would engage in such long fire fights, their ranks tended to degrade into something more like a dense skirmish line).

The British, on the other hand, seem to have been particularly vexed with firing in three ranks, even on the drill ground! But I caution against extrapolating from their experiences to all armies. They were the minority view.

von Winterfeldt -- do you know when the Prussian manuals abandoned three ranks in favor of two?

von Winterfeldt23 Apr 2022 10:28 p.m. PST

Despite their drill regulations, or better rules and regulations, the Brits used two ranks usually in the campaign,at least from AWI onwards, so the officer of 4th foot is commenting from theory and not practis, bayonets of third rank give well sense, at least when standing in square, or when in the attack, as said before one cannot reduce the importance of the third rank on firing procedures alone.

In my view, see the impression of the Austrian officer, it would not matter if you fire in two or three ranks, the outcome would be more or less the same.

The Brits mamaged at least in the Peninsular War to establish a highly disciplined fire controll where they were able just to fire a few vollies and then counterattack and braking the moral of the attacker.

As for the Prussians, in 1787 the Füsilier battalions were aranged in two ranks only, in contrast to the musketeer and grenadier battalions, due to their special role as light infantry and shorter muskets, but in the re -organisation of 1808 all went back to three ranks again, due to the fact that third rank was used to creat skirmishing units when on the need, so you would be on a three / two rank system as tactical demand would require.

Yes the Prussians noted the fire discipline broke down in prolonged fire fight and that seemed to be a general trend for all armies, I cannot share the imagination of well controlled volley firing other than maybe the very few first ones.

Noise another factor to brake down even the best troops because they cannot hear commands any longer, about the clash at Baumersdorf (battle of Wagram)

One was exchanging fire at closest range. The immense noise of the continuous banging and even more the iron noise produced by handling more than 20,000 muskets in such closeness and density surpassed all imagination. Everything even the thunder of the numerous guns seemed to be low compared against the tempest of the so called little gun (Kleingewehr)
(Jany, page 46)

A British officer wrote about the 1st Foots Guards at Dettingen,

They were under no command by way of Hide Park firing, but the whole three ranks made a running fire of their own accord. … The French fired the same manner, without waiting for words of command and Lord Sinclair [the allied commander] did often say he had never seen many a battle, and never saw the infantry engage in any other manner."
Muir page 77

cplcampisi24 Apr 2022 1:33 a.m. PST

Thanks von Winterfeldt for your responses, and your plentiful references. I lack your access to sources, and I'm clearly not as well read. However, I also have an interest in the post Napoleonic period. Nevertheless, I'm interested in the evolution of tactics and later manuals obviously built upon earlier ones and experiences. The fact that fire by three ranks was retained for so long seems to be significant.

Perhaps it is as you say, the other reasons for three ranks encouraged their retention. But I find this argument to be . . . well . . . unsatisfying. It simply brushes away the fact that there were some who argued that fire from the third rank was effective, at least initially. And would it not be worth at least considering their arguments? Clearly their arguments must have had some influence on the manuals that were actually adopted after the Napoleonic Wars (excepting, of course the British, who were, "exceptional" in this regard).

Many of your sources seem to be of the opinion that fire in three ranks could be orderly for a couple of volleys, before it broke down. Similarly, Baron Saussa Diaz de Fonseca, writing in the 1820s (i.e. after the considerable experiences of the Napoleonic Wars), argues that properly trained fire from the third rank was perfectly effective (and safe), for at least the first couple of volleys. The problem with third rank fire becoming useless (or dangerous) only occurred after effective command and control had broken down. The collapse of command and control strikes me as being a far more significant issue!

As you stated:

The Brits mamaged at least in the Peninsular War to establish a highly disciplined fire controll where they were able just to fire a few vollies and then counterattack and braking the moral of the attacker.

By limiting how many volleys their troops fired, they avoided the situation where the soldiers just loaded and fired regardless of orders. That was my takeaway from this description. In the 1820s, Diaz de Fonseca appears to be advocating for a similar situation -- one or two volleys were all that you should be giving.

Perhaps the problems noted in the 18th century with officers losing control of the men during firing were being addressed by the 19th century, at least to some extent? Perhaps, even by simple methods of moving them after a volley or two (i.e. with a bayonet charge).

von Winterfeldt24 Apr 2022 7:50 a.m. PST

Certainly seemingly the British addressed this, at least in the Peninsular War, but I don't know how they acted at other threatres of war, of course there was a great discussion in the military how to come to grips with fire control and how to make firing more efficient, but this all failed to the nature of how the rank and file was arranged so densly as Demian describes so well.

The general move was to abandon front rank kneeling, those nations which retain three ranks used it more as tatcial reserve or skirmishing than to find a better way to improve the tactical arrangement for fire power.

The main reason Boney formed his infantry in two ranks before Leipzig was that he wanted to conceal to the Allies that a third of his army had perished by marching from Dresden to Leipzig and back and forth under abysmal weather conditions, so he could maintain frontage width by arranging his units in two ranks, giving a sort of opitcal illusion that he still did field battalions at full strength.

The fire of three ranks wasn't adhered to at all, at least that is my impression, the third rank was retained for other tactical reasons. Without kneeling for the first rank, which was virtually non existend in the Napoleonic time – the third rank fire became even more insignificant. But on the non firing tactical level, third rank still played an important task, like giving more mass – three ranks square to resist cavalry, in an infantry attack, being used as tactical reserve (as the Austrians for example already used it in the Revolutionary Wars) or to be employed as skirmishers, and even forming an intrinsic or organic reserven within a battalion.

cplcampisi24 Apr 2022 10:18 a.m. PST

The general move was to abandon front rank kneeling, those nations which retain three ranks used it more as tatcial reserve or skirmishing than to find a better way to improve the tactical arrangement for fire power.

Ah, but the manuals adopted after the war, retained the front rank kneeling! (Ok, at least my limited experience with them: French and US). Perhaps with the return of peace, there was an expectation that training and drill levels would generally of increased, and effective fire from all three ranks was expected.

A quick glance at my copy of Jomini (The Art of War originally published in 1838), doesn't show any discussion on the subject. The assumption is that three ranks is standard (there's a paragraph about rejecting a bizarre idea to add a forth rank, equipped with pikes). There is some discussion about attack columns deploying their companies in two ranks, but it appears to be an attempt to increase the frontage of an attack column and make them less susceptible to artillery damage. In fact one objection to doing so would be the difficulty in going from an attack column of companies in two ranks, to a deployed line in three ranks.

So clearly, Jomini thinks three ranks is fine for delivering fire, but there's no discussion about the effectiveness (or lack there of) of the third rank.

In an appendix, written after the (or during?) the Crimean War, he states that he believes the introduction of rifle-muskets will cause a reduction from three to two ranks. (Which seems to be accurate description of what was happening at the time).

Thank you for this discussion, it's been good.

Oliver Schmidt24 Apr 2022 10:42 a.m. PST

The Prussian front rank kneeling was abolished by order of 5 October 1805, and never came back.

The French infantry regulation of 4 March 1831 (the fist official one issued after the one of 1st August 1791) maintained the fire of all three ranks, front rank kneeling.

Would be interesting indeed to know what the drill regulations of other European nations had to say about this.

von Winterfeldt24 Apr 2022 11:29 a.m. PST

There is a difference between drill ground exercise, like firing 7 shots per minute and real performance on the battle field – that is just my point trying to back up with quotes and what officers who fought – did think, or what they have experienced. The French army could always be arranged into two ranks just to maintain frontage width, which was more important then firing in two or three ranks, Gardes Nationales, at least according to the 1791 regulations, due having less men were aranged in two ranks to have equal frontage than the three ranks line battalions, only later it was again three ranks (mostly) for all.

cplcampisi24 Apr 2022 7:29 p.m. PST

. . . that is just my point trying to back up with quotes and what officers who fought – did think, or what they have experienced.

That comes off very clear, and I appreciate it. I don't have nearly the depth or access to sources that you have, and honestly, I'm not even sure how to begin to collect such information. All I can remark upon, is how the general trends don't seem to agree with the detailed and varied comments that you have provided. My own researches haven't discovered much, although I have turned up a few sources that seem to have taken an opposing position on the subject. Which makes me suspect that there are more, and there was probably a more vigorous debate.

cplcampisi24 Apr 2022 10:37 p.m. PST

All I can remark upon, is how the general trends don't seem to agree with the detailed and varied comments that you have provided.

This is badly phrased, and I apologize -- I got called away and didn't properly proof read.

What I mean is that the manuals continue to prescribe volley fire in three ranks, with no significant modifications that would take into account the "complaints" that had been registered against the practice. However, I must again admit my limited knowledge of manuals (mainly the French). And I also point out that the introduction of "fire-by-file" or "fire by two ranks" in the 1791 French manual, does seem to be an attempt to rationalize firing at will to preclude the rear rank from firing. (Again, volley fire still involves all three ranks, in 1791 and 1831).

Oliver Schmidt --

Would be interesting indeed to know what the drill regulations of other European nations had to say about this.

Yes. Agree, wholeheartedly. A broader perspective would be nice. For rather unusual reasons, I have tracked down a copy of the 1830s Kingdom of Two Sicilies infantry manual -- but it, like Scott's manual of 1835, appears to be a copy of the French 1831. But I don't think the inclusion of the Two Sicilies really "broadens" our understanding of European drill. ;-)

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP25 Apr 2022 2:05 a.m. PST

Two ranks can fire perfectly easily with both standing – all that's necessary is for the rear rank man to take half a step sideways and fire between the two men in front. With three ranks, this is clearly going to be a lot trickier. The obvious problem is that if the front rank kneels to fire, it's going to stand up again to reload. While it's doing that, its rate of fire is going to slow versus that of the guys behind who don't have to stand up and kneel down again with every round.

Soon there is a very good chance that the front ranks stands up into the fire of the second or third rank. So while you might get one or two three-rank volleys away, there is an obvious issue with maintaining your full potential fire output in this that does not arise with two. Either the front rank would have to not get up or the third rank would have to fire only occasionally, when it was possible to do so without hitting either of the men in the file in front of you.

The countering drawback to two ranks is I guess that you can't form an effective square so you need to double up, which you don't with three ranks. The fact that third ranks were used as skirmishers strongly suggests they weren't especially useful as the third rank.

In a way the discussion is a bit like the heated arguments that used to occur here between Kiley and Holland about whether the Gribeauval system was better than the Lichtenstein. As all countries eventually converged on the single block trail system later, these were effectively squabbles about who had the second-best artillery system of the era.

von Winterfeldt25 Apr 2022 4:01 a.m. PST

According to the Abrichtungsreglement of 1806 of the Austrians the 3rd rank doesn't fire at all, with the exception of feu de joi, and keeps the musket in like L'arm au bras, musket lock at elbow position and forearm with hand direction or right breast, see page 67. The first two ranks keep standing when firing.

cplcampisi25 Apr 2022 5:49 p.m. PST

The fact that third ranks were used as skirmishers strongly suggests they weren't especially useful as the third rank.

Not all nations used the third rank for skirmishers, others preferred to send out an entire company, division (i.e. two companies), or even battalion, to skirmish. Baron de Jomini specifically remarks upon this and believes it's better practice to send out some sub unit, rather than the third rank.

My understanding of the point of sending out skirmishers is that they would usually skirmish in front of the rest of the battalion, and then return to the battalion before it began massed fire. But, if deployed in attack columns, rather than a line would the skirmishers occupy the gaps between columns?

According to the Abrichtungsreglement of 1806 of the Austrians the 3rd rank doesn't fire at all, with the exception of feu de joi, and keeps the musket in like L'arm au bras, musket lock at elbow position and forearm with hand direction or right breast, see page 67. The first two ranks keep standing when firing.

Ah. Armed with the word "Abrichtungsreglement" I was able to also track down the 1843 manual:
link

(Photos of the plates are missing, but some can be seen on this on this blog:
link )

My German isn't really that good (ok it's almost nonexistent), and the blackletter(?) font isn't helping, but it may be the same as the 1806? I can find the section for loading and firing, and in the loading part they refer to all three ranks, but they don't seem to mention the third rank at all when it comes to ready-aim-fire. (Maybe somebody who reads German can actually confirm this).

So the French manuals continued to prescribe firing in all three ranks (for volley fire). The Austrians by 1806 (at the latest?) were deploying in three ranks, but only firing with the first two, and I think they continued to do so after the Napoleonic Wars. What about the Prussians? I know they also liked to use the third rank as skirmishers, and as previously discussed the Fusiliers abandoned the third rank between 1787 and 1808. [EDIT -- I noticed that Fusiliers were light infantry, I have heard two ranks was common with other light infantry.] On the other hand, they did bring it back, and Scharnhorst seems to be of the opinion that fire from the third rank was effective. Although he also acknowledged many situations where two ranks could be advantageous to three.

Thanks everybody for all the good information!

von Winterfeldt25 Apr 2022 10:33 p.m. PST

Oliver Schmidt already pointed out that the Prussian third rank did not fire – seemingly already in 1805 and this is confirmed by the new drill regulations of 1812.

Of course all three ranks should be able to load a musket – but that doesn't imply as the Abrichtungsreglement of 1806 and the Prussian drill regulations of 1812 confirm that the third rank did fire.

As to the befenit of the third rank as skirmisher, Jomini comes from the French school and he has no personal experience how this system could and did work. The benefit of this system is, that you maintain your tacitcal structure of the sub units, so a battalion of 4 companies would still be that – albeit in 2 ranks now, but would still be able to act as tactical trained for.

In the French system you would rip out a tactical subunit from the battalion, then out of 6 companies, or in tactical speak pelotons you would have only five to perform tactical evlutions and in case you have detached the grenadiers as well, only 4, so this could create problems as well.


I don't know if Scharnhorst as per se did have the opinion that the firing of the third rank was effective, do we have a quote on this?

In fact the new Prussian regulations speak against it, as they abolish the third rank firing.

My view, the third rank was retained for other tactical purposes and not for firing.

Sending out battlions as skirmishers is an entire different story ( the Prussians or Austrians could do the same – in case of need) this has nothing to do with the third rank firing or not.

Oliver Schmidt25 Apr 2022 11:07 p.m. PST

On the use of the 3rd rank in the Prussian army after 1809, see here:

TMP link

(includes a link to an English translation of the relevant part of the Prussian 1812 drill regulation)

paperbattles26 Apr 2022 3:21 a.m. PST

Thanks all for your contribuitions; I pay my respects to your knownledge of the topic. I did open the Vase of Pandora, I see.
Honestly I thought there were not so many doubts, but I see that even in periods not so far from us there can be some space for further investigation.

Just trying to come back to the initial question, and trying to summarize a little, for my wargaming 1848 I will do as follows:
2 ranks I calculated as full; 3rd rank I calculated at 40%; when the losses in fight will eliminate my third rank, there will be no more problem.
But please go on! I read all your comments with a lot of interest. Grazie

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP26 Apr 2022 8:55 a.m. PST

As a reality check, maybe see how long it takes for each side to wipe each other out to the last man. If this is possible at all, there's a problem with your rules…

cplcampisi26 Apr 2022 5:12 p.m. PST

I don't know if Scharnhorst as per se did have the opinion that the firing of the third rank was effective, do we have a quote on this?

I found this quote, From General Sharnhorst's Handbuch fur Officiers:

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.

But it's worth reading more of the quote -- I found it here (by McLaddie):
TMP link

cplcampisi26 Apr 2022 5:18 p.m. PST

On the use of the 3rd rank in the Prussian army after 1809, see here:

TMP link

(includes a link to an English translation of the relevant part of the Prussian 1812 drill regulation)

I think the relevant link is broken? :-/

cplcampisi26 Apr 2022 5:37 p.m. PST

For Russian service:

Okounef, it is true, claims that the Russian army keeps the formation in three ranks, because it is solidly instructed and disciplined enough to fire the third rank, the first having kneeled, and thus has denser fires than two rows.

J. Collin: 'La tactique et la discipline dans les armées de la révolution.' 1902

von Winterfeldt26 Apr 2022 9:27 p.m. PST

@cplcampisi

Thanks for the quote, the handbook for officers was written before the Napoleonic Wars, so maybe Scharnhorst would have gained a different judgement after seeing more battles.

As for the Russians I have to find time to check Zmohdikov on that issue.

Oliver Schmidt26 Apr 2022 10:49 p.m. PST

The changed link for the English translation of the Prussian 1812 drill regulationuse on the use of the 3rd rank is:

link

paperbattles27 Apr 2022 12:45 a.m. PST

@4th Cuirassier, this is a good suggestion!
I will start with the following standards

a) 3 ranks firing (- 60% 3rd rank)
b) distance 45 meters
c) turn of 3 minutes = 2 shots
d) diminished efficiency due to tiredness in fighting + smoke
e) normal infantry units not in skirmishing or protected, facing one to the other
f) 45 men front (on 3 ranks, so 15men)

I will post results

cplcampisi27 Apr 2022 12:17 p.m. PST

Thanks Oliver Schmidt. Interesting treatise on the employment of skirmishers.

@paperbattles,

An interesting alternative may be to allow full fire of the third rank, but only the first time the unit fires. As many said the first shot or two from the third rank was effective. Although accounting for differences in drill and experience (e.g. in the Austrian manuals of the 1800s the third doesn't fire at all) might make things unnecessarily complicated.

paperbattles28 Apr 2022 12:39 a.m. PST

@cplcampisi this is a very inteesting alternative, even though it forces me to calculate how many times they fired.

Plus I have another problem: how many shots passed over the first rank and hit the 2nd and eventually the 3rd?

I solved with a mere percentage (10%) second and third ranks;

so if during a turn an unit will loses 10 papersoldiers on the front another one will be taken from the posterior ranks

von Winterfeldt28 Apr 2022 4:13 a.m. PST

bear in mind talles men were in front rank, smallest in middle rank – the interdemdate in third rank.

paperbattles28 Apr 2022 4:39 a.m. PST

@von Winterfeld. You are right; but imagine that possibly the ground was not levelled, if marching some gaps would have formed.
But you are right. I thought a system

From my blog:

"It is usefull to remind that I consider that some shots could have gone beyond the 1st rank and touched the 2nd & 3rd ranks. It was not that easy, if the unit was in close order, but one must think about all. You calculated 10% of the losses, in this case 0,4; you add to this number the numbers over the comma 15,99 so 0,99 + 0,40 = 1,39 this means you can eliminate another soldiers. The total losse for this shooting is hence 5 men!."

paperbattles28 Apr 2022 4:41 a.m. PST

and finally some images how I think to solve fightings without dice. I cannot report all the text of blog.. just some pictures and then a new post on TMP


von Winterfeldt29 Apr 2022 4:05 a.m. PST

the distance from rank to rank was about 1 foot, people forget how densly those soldiers were spaced, for that reason also the intricate moves how to load a musket without knocking off the comrades around you.

paperbattles02 May 2022 12:10 a.m. PST

New info: the Jaeger units in 1848 used:
first 2 ranks a rifle
3rd rand an old musket.
I don't know why if not because they considered the 3rd rank ineffective and just to reload. (surely not for skirmishing=

Oliver Schmidt02 May 2022 1:07 a.m. PST

If you carry a musket, you can't reload the rifle of the man in front of you.

I know only the description in the French 1791 regulation, where during the "feu de deux rangs" the third ranks is reloadig the muskets of the second rank. This includes the continuous exchange of muskets beeween the third and second rank.

von Winterfeldt02 May 2022 4:56 a.m. PST

1848 is different to Napoleonics, structure armament – percussion versus flintlock and so on.

Also in the Napoleonic period Austrian Jäger were not made up completely of rile armed soldiers but as a mix to rifled and smooth bore fire arms, however Jäger units should not have been employed in volley firing, their tactical use was different. A musket armed Jäger would have a different tactical role than a rifled one, they also would not exchange guns – but this is an entirely different story to three ranks firing in close order rank and file procedures.

paperbattles25 May 2022 12:59 a.m. PST

If you carry a musket, you can't reload the rifle of the man in front of you.
I think it is correct!

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