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"Landwehr and Skirmishers" Topic

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942 hits since 16 Jun 2022
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Old Contemptible16 Jun 2022 8:35 p.m. PST

Would 1815 Hanoverian Landwehr deploy skirmishers?

von Winterfeldt16 Jun 2022 11:26 p.m. PST

why not, Prussian Landwehr did.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2022 3:27 a.m. PST

And: how should rules reflect the difference between skilful and inept skirmishers?

You could shake a company out into extended order, but it doesn't make it a skirmish line.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2022 3:28 a.m. PST

Yes. The 1803 drill book they'd have been using specifies this, and we have first-hand descriptions of them deploying skirmishers as they advanced on French artillery late in the battle at Waterloo. I think it's in one of the Halket's accounts. I generally paint my schutzen element with green plumes, but I wouldn't put a lot of money on that, given the state of Hanoverian uniforms in 1813-15.

Michman17 Jun 2022 3:51 a.m. PST

I am far far out of my depth here, but ….

Did not the Hanoverian Landwehr (or all Hanoverians) send out 12 (or thereabouts ?) men per each of 6 companies in 1815 as skirmishers ?

Considering that finding 12 steady, perhaps veteran men would not be too hard, and considering that they could be led by KGL cadres, I am not so sure that they would lack skill or effectiveness.

Please do tell me if I did not understand the organization correctly.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2022 7:55 a.m. PST

By all means verify, Michman, but my understanding is that the KGL battalions were reduced to six companies, freeing up surplus officers and NCOs for the Hanoverian Landwehr, but Hanoverian battalions, regular and landwehr, were composed of four companies, each of which was supposed to provide a small schutzen element. Without checking, 12 per company sounds about right.

I fully agree on your main point. Some at least of the Hanoverian Landwehr appears to have been decently trained, but even if a particular battalion hadn't been, finding a dozen reliable men per company with a KGL sergeant to supervise shouldn't have been beyond them. Mind you, I'd hate to see a battalion of anyone's recent conscripts in skirmish order.

4th, I don't think an answer suitable for Sharp Practice would be equally suitable to Wessencraft's Army Corps level rules. Level and mechanisms first, then modifications.

Michman17 Jun 2022 11:11 a.m. PST

@robert piepenbrink

Yes – 4 companies per batallion (I "knew" I had it slightly wrong) – thank you !

"a battalion of anyone's recent conscripts in skirmish order"
- exactly what I think the Hanoverian organization was trying to avoid

Regicide164917 Jun 2022 11:19 a.m. PST

There is a contemporary painting of Hanoverian troops by Charles Hamilton Smith showing a line infantryman, rifleman and hussar. The uniforms are essentially British, relevant here being that the rifleman has adopted the all-green uniform of the 60th and 95th regiments (for instance). I wonder therefore if, while Hanoverian line regiments officially had companies designated 'light' in 1815, as did the Brits, in practice, skirmishing duties were entrusted to a designated rifle corps. I can't off-hand recall a deployment of British light companies after the early phases of the Peninsular War that did not occur in conjunction with the Rifle Brigade; and wonder whether Hanover (by 1815) would be any different.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2022 3:08 p.m. PST

Regicide, in 1815 Hanoverian infantry consisted of 9-10 regular battalions each of which was (on paper) part of a regiment with three landwehr battalions. Each battalion was homogenous, consisting of four companies with schutzen drawn from each company. There were no light or grenadier companies in Hanoverian (as opposed to KGL) battalions. However several of those regular battalions were lights and you find some in uniforms very similar to those of British rifle regiment, though I've never seen any reference to them being rifle-armed. If I remember correctly, that's where Hamilton Smith gets his "rifleman." The Osprey Hanover book should cover you: it's one of their better volumes, but watch for re-uniforming and renaming in 1813-15. Few units show up at Waterloo under the same name and in the same uniform as at the 1813 Armistice. Anyway, no stray rifle companies, but lots of Hanoverians you can paint up from British Rifleman castings.

If I were looking for Hanoverian rifles in 1815, I'd look at the Kielmansegge Field Jager Corps, which is uniformed more like Prussian freiwilliger jaeger--gray trousers, dark green jackets and flat caps. They're the only unit described as "jager" and not as "light." But I'd be very surprised if they turned up with Baker rifles. There just weren't enough Baker rifles made in period to equip all the units wargamers want to give them to.

And I suspect the officers and men of those British light companies would deeply resent your implication that they weren't really out in front skirmishing. We have many first-hand accounts saying they were, and even the Rifles admit it: they just insist they were better at it. Don't accept uncritically everything the "black mafia" says about itself.

Regicide164920 Jun 2022 12:20 p.m. PST

Please cite your post-Peninsular first-hand accounts (say, after 1811). We all come here to learn. Your opinion of whether long-dead soldiers 'deeply resent' any opinion I have expressed is really of no interest to me. I wonder why you feel qualified to speak on their behalf? Maybe you should consider also providing an answer to the OP's question: did Hanoverian landwehr deploy skirmishers? Having a grenadier company in a battalion doesn't mean that they threw grenades.

Delort20 Jun 2022 2:34 p.m. PST

It was originally planned that Hanoverian landwehr battalions would have eight companies, but manpower shortages meant this had to be reduced to six, Eventually, for the same reason, this was reduced to four, none of which were designated as 'light'. Instead, every twelfth man was trained to skirmish. The battalions were formed in line in three ranks, but with the skirmishers deployed, due to the lack of frontage, they actually formed in two ranks with what was left of the third rank formed up as a reserve behind the battalion.

Two regular Hanoverian battalions were officially designated as 'light' and uniformed similarly to the British Rifles. These were the Grubenhagen and Luneburg Battalions.

The Kielmansegge Field Jager Corps had been disbanded in 1814, but resurrected as the Field Jager Corps in 1815. They consisted of just two companies at Waterloo (331 men).

Regicide164922 Jun 2022 12:10 p.m. PST

@ robert piepenbrink

My post above reads back as more strident than I intended it, so I apologise if it caused offence. This may not be the place to continue the discussion, as Delort has provided the fullest answer. I would say only that while this may be something of a 'wargamer's myth,' my reading of Oman's 'Peninsular War' has led to the belief that generally, wherever light regiments were available to Wellington (the Rifle corps, the Durham, Cornish or Highland light infantry etc.), the role of skirmishing was assumed by these regiments rather than deployment of the light companies of regiments of the line. If you know of engagements where this is not so, I would honestly like to hear about them. Hopefully, this type of thread will come up again. Adieu!

Camcleod22 Jun 2022 7:23 p.m. PST

Following is a ref. to Han. Ldwr. Sharpshooters from the Osnabruck Ldwr. Bn. at Waterloo.

"The first Co. of the Osnabruck Bn. broke into platoons and supported by the sharpshooters of the Bn. made a dash at the Artillery on our right and captured 6 guns with their horses."

Waterloo Letters by Siborne – Letter 130 p. 308 link

Camcleod22 Jun 2022 7:32 p.m. PST

Also – from The Waterloo Archive Vol.II : German Sources Letter 38 p. 119 from Col. Best:

"On the same day Cptn. Brauns KGL serving as Major particularly distinguished himself skirmishing with part of the Bn. but lost his horse which was shot."

Letter talks about the Osterode and Munden Ldwr. Bns. Not sure which Brauns was with.

edit: From a list I have Brauns was with the Verden Ldwr.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP23 Jun 2022 1:49 a.m. PST

In a more general sense, how do you distinguish between proficient skirmishers and not-proficient skirmishers?

All my initial reading in this hobby suggested that light infantry required specialist training. Shorncliffe camp was set up to teach British light infantry how to skirmish. Pretty well every army had dedicated light troops trained for the purpose (except it seems Austria, who had them but de-trained them). All this suggests that being an effective skirmisher required a degree of proficiency. You couldn't just order your line infantry to skirmish. If you could, if it was that easy, you wouldn't have bothered with light regiments at all.

Nowadays, the received wisdom is the opposite. Skirmish order? Yeah, anyone could do that. Not difficult. Peel away the third rank of a line battalion and they can do it.

So which is it? There is assuming open order and there is skirmishing. They may not be the same. Open order wasn't very open at all, it was a yard per man IIRC. Is that what people mean when they write rules that allow any unit to skirmish? If so, when did armies close their light infantry training programmes and facilities as serving no useful purpose?

In one ruleset I read, I forget which, there was a rule that said anyone could go into skirmish order but only light troops could resume close order. If you put a line battalion into open order they're staying that way for the rest of the game and you'd better be sure they aren't attacked by cavalry (no forming square) or formed troops generally. Quite an interesting quid pro quo penalty…

Delort23 Jun 2022 8:00 a.m. PST

4th Cuirassier has a good point. There were clearly men who were properly trained to skirmish and men who skirmished. It could not have been too difficult, or too prolonged, for those in a battalion who had been properly trained to train soldiers to work in pairs and skirmish without covering the finer points or the more tricky manoeuvres. It's hard to imagine many large battles in which the skirmishers did not need reinforcing at some stage because of casualties or when they needed to restock their ammo.

Sticking with some Waterloo examples: the Nassauers in Papelotte/Smohain were constantly reinforced by companies from the battalion formed up on the ridge above the village. Captain von Reichenau of the 2nd/2nd Nassau Regiment wrote ‘Towards evening, our entire battalion was posted there [la Haye] as skirmishers…'

The report from the 4th Hanoverian Brigade reported that towards five o'clock in the evening, two companies of the Osterode Landwehr Battalion were sent forward in open order to reinforce the skirmish line which was under considerable pressure.

On the other side of the battlefield, Captain Chapuis of the French 85th de ligne wrote, 'The English skirmishers, and then the Prussian skirmishers, had advanced close enough to worry us, so the companies of our regiment were sent against them one after the other. The turn of the grenadier company that I commanded had arrived; we marched to half range of the enemy. There we employed all the willingness and energy to fulfil the mission that had been confided in us.'

The truth seems to be that the trained skirmishers were used first, then, as they suffered casualties, any number of centre (or equivalent) companies would be used to reinforce them, and I suspect that the more experienced the battalion was, the more likely the men were able to do this reasonably competently, whilst less experienced troops could not. At Quatre Bras, Captain Franz Mollinger of the 5th Militia wrote,

‘Lieutenant Colonel Westenberg [the battalion's commanding officer] ordered two companies to move into the orchard, while three others, which I had the honour of commanding, were sent further to the front, but in an instant the same were almost completely annihilated, as the men, who despite having been trained to fight in extended order, congregated and were mown down.'

No doubt there are many ways of trying to represent this in rule sets; the virtually untrained men could no doubt shoot well enough and even use cover effectively, but the idea of penalising their open order manoeuvring seems a good one.

Regicide164923 Jun 2022 11:44 a.m. PST

Honest question: are we not conflating the KGL with Hanoverian landwehr in the above (very interesting) discussion? The KGL had designated light regiments (at least one, I think two, but stand to be corrected happily)? From Camcleod's posts, Braun served in the KGL and in Verden's landwehr – do we know that Verden's landwehr were not one of the KGL's light regiments?

Another honest question: Osnabruck isn't in Hanover but Lower Saxony. I love these intricate discussions in Napoleonic pathways-less-travelled, but can someone explain why Hanover (or the KGL) would/could recruit from another principality?

Oliver Schmidt23 Jun 2022 1:40 p.m. PST

The Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück was secularised in 1802, and became the Principality of Osnabrück, ruled in personal union by the Elector of Brunswick-Lüneburg (i.e.: Hanover).

In 1806 it became Prussian (together with the rest of the Electorate of Hanover), in 1807 it was given to the Kingdom of Westphalia, in 1811 it was incorporated into the French Empire, in 1813 it became Hanoverian again, which was confirmed by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In 1866 it was annexed (together with the rest of the Kingdom of Hanover) by Prussia again. So it was pretty much "Hanoverian".

Delort23 Jun 2022 2:30 p.m. PST

Regicide1649. Oliver has answered your question on the Osnabruck/Hanover confusion.

The KGL was officially manned by Hanoverians who fled their homeland after the French takeover. They were essentially British units manned by Hanoverians. The Hanoverian regiments that fought in Wellington's army in 1815 were raised in Hanover when the French were ejected in 1813. They were part of the Hanoverian army. The first regiments raised were regulars manned by volunteers. To supplement the regulars, the landwehr regiments were raised and were also part of the Hanoverian army. In 1815 there were two KGL Light Battalions, numbered 1 and 2, and they served in the two KGL brigades that served at Waterloo as part of the British army.

The Hanoverian landwehr regiments served in the 3rd, 4th and 5th Hanoverian Brigades. Each brigade had four battalions, each of which were landwehr units. The regular Hanoverian units served together in the 1st Hanoverian Brigade. We absolutely know that the Verden landwehr battalion (part of the Hanoverian army) was NOT a KGL battalion (which were part of the British army), light or line.

However, as the KGL battalions were short of manpower in 1815, but with an almost full establishment of officers and NCOs, and the Hanoverian battalions were short of officers and experienced NCOs, the KGL battalions were reduced to six companies and on the 25th April 1815 the excess officers and NCOs were transferred to the Hanoverian landwehr to give them a more experienced cadre. Thus, some KGL officers and NCOs served with the Hanoverian landwehr battalions at Waterloo.

Most of the KGL officers who were transferred were promoted. Thus Captain Brauns, who had served in the 8th Line Battalion of the KGL, was a major in the Verden Landwehr Battalion at Waterloo.

Camcleod23 Jun 2022 7:27 p.m. PST

Thank you Oliver and Delort for the run-down on the Hanoverians in 1815.

This has got me thinking of who exactly was transferred into the Ldwr. Bns. and if they could have added some extra experience to the unit's skirmishing capabilities.

The Officer transfers seem to be somewhat haphazard and I'm not sure how it was determined which Officer went to which Ldwr unit. Most Ldwr. units received 6 Officers from various KGL units.
The transfer of Sgts. is a bit more logical.
32 Sgts. from the 1st and 2nd KGL Light went to Halkett's 3rd Brigade, 29 from 1st & 2nd KGL Line to 4th Brigade, 22 from 3rd & 5th KGL Line to 5th Brigade and 21 from 4th & 8th KGL Line to 6th Brigade.

In the unit mentioned above, the Verden Ldwr. received 6 Officers – 2 from the 8th KGL Line (including Brauns), 3 from the 2nd KGL Line and 1 from the 1st KGL Light plus about 7 Sgts. from the 1st and 2nd KGL Line.
So Verden only got 1 extra Light Inf. Officer and I assume would be mostly relying on the training of 10 men per Co. designated as skirmishers

Anyway good discussion.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP24 Jun 2022 2:22 p.m. PST

In a more general sense, how do you distinguish between proficient skirmishers and not-proficient skirmishers?

All my initial reading in this hobby suggested that light infantry required specialist training. Shorncliffe camp was set up to teach British light infantry how to skirmish. Pretty well every army had dedicated light troops trained for the purpose (except it seems Austria, who had them but de-trained them). All this suggests that being an effective skirmisher required a degree of proficiency. You couldn't just order your line infantry to skirmish. If you could, if it was that easy, you wouldn't have bothered with light regiments at all.

Nowadays, the received wisdom is the opposite. Skirmish order? Yeah, anyone could do that. Not difficult. Peel away the third rank of a line battalion and they can do it.

So which is it?

Hi 4th C: Good question. Part of the problem is the 20 years of war. What was going on at the beginning regarding skirmishers wasn't the same at the end.

At the beginning of the Revolution, French soldiers were sent out in mass to skirmish because they could do little else. Even then it was recognized that in using cover, the French were better than the Allies. There was also the myth created at the time about the French "New Man" being created by the Revolution, where individual skirmishing was held up as a new way of war, a 'natural expression' of this New Man. In contrast, the automatons of the Allies could not think for themselves. In support of this, French generals at the time c. 1794-5 scoffed at the idea that a manual or training was necessary. Every man was a skirmisher. Things changed.

By 1805, the French established specialists in each regiment and 1/3 of all infantry regiments were legere. Certainly, line infantry were used as tirailleurs, but specialists were always sent forward first. This was also true for the Allies throughout the war.

The differences between good and poor skirmishing was discussed extensively, both in describing individual methods and as a system. Memoirs make mention of such observations repeatedly. Of course, it devolves to overall performance, just as does infantry in column and line. Some troops did it better than others. for instance, a Saxon officer with Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 noted how two different Russian Jager formations performed. He noted one was a newly formed battalion while later his regiment fought a Jager formation which had been fighting the Turks the year before where the experienced Saxon skirmishers were outperformed.

I can give some details if there is interest.

Robert le Diable24 Jun 2022 5:59 p.m. PST

Quotation from primary sources will always be of interest to this ignorant bystander.


Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2022 11:23 a.m. PST

Okay, here are a couple of examples of individual skirmish behavior and one describing organizational practices:

Brett-James, Antony, ed., Edward Costello, The Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns, Longmans, Green and Co Ltd, UK, 1967.[p.68]

Ordered to occupy a part of Fuentes, "The section to which I belonged were posted near the banks of the River Dos Casas. The 79th Highlanders had suffered very severely here, as the place was strewn about with their bodies. Poor fellows ! they had not been used to skirmishing, and instead of occupying the houses in the neighbourhood, and firing from the windows, they had, as I heard, exposed themselves, by firing in sections. The French, who still occupied part of the town, had not escaped rough handling, as their dead also evinced."

Moyle Sherer fo the 34th, offers an explanation for the heavy losses:

Not a soul …was in the village, but a wood a few hundred yards to its left, and the ravines above it, were filled with French light infantry. I, with my company, was soon engaged in smart skirmishing among the ravines, and lost about eleven men, killed and wounded, out of thirty-eight. The English do not skirmish as well as the Germans or the French; and it is really hard work to make them preserve their proper extended order, cover themselves, and no throw away their fire; and in the performance of this duty, an officer is, I think, far more exposed than in line fighting.

I think some of the requisite skills for skirmishing are evident.

Here is French officer Pelet describing the differences between French and British skirmish organization in 1810 at the Battle of Bussaco:

Thus we covered the entire slope below the convent of Bussaco while the enemy successively reinforced their line of skirmishers, hidden behind the rocks and the trees, but these Allied troops were not allowed to stay there very long, they were recalled by horns and replaced by fresh troops—an excellent method neglected by us for too long. Our system permitted the French regiments to be dispersed during a battle and in the end only the officers and bravest soldiers were left, and they were completely disgusted, even with having to fight for an entire day. The Portuguese were interspersed among the British; they acted perfectly, serving in the covered positions.
Nevertheless, our skirmishers gained ground on the enemy and from time to time pushed them beyond their reserves, which they were obliged to reinforce.

The French Campaign in Portugal, 1810-1811
An Account by Jean Jacques Pelet. Translated by Donald D. Horward 1973 Page 181

The French were deploying whole regiments, thus at times simply overwhelming the British skirmishers, pushing them back on their reserves… The practice of reserves being standard, usually 1/3 to 1/2 of the total force dedicated to skirmishing, allowing for rotation as noted. Something that the French did not do at the battle.

What I would suggest is that skilled skirmishers took fewer casualties in general and trained troops would have reserves and supports placed behind the skirmish line. Unskilled troops took more casualties and could not last as long in the skirmish line for the reasons given in the quotes. I can provide any number of examples of both the individual and organizational aspects of good and bad practices.

Landwehr abilities again all depend on training and experience, which with landwehr, militia and freicorps proved to be very uneven, rather than generally good or bad.

From what I have seen, any and all questions wargamers have about skirmishers or anything else regarding Napoleonic warfare was of concern to contemporaries and commented on, discussed and given as reasons for particular tactical choices. It is just a matter of finding them, which isn't that hard.

Personal logo 4th Cuirassier Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2022 1:43 p.m. PST

That's really interesting McLaddie. So what one could perhaps do is, rather than deducting e.g. 4 from the die roll for musketry against skirmishers, deduct only say 1 or 2 if they're not "proper" light infantry.

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