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"Column Assaults during the Seven Years War: Myth or Reality?" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP19 Jul 2022 9:14 p.m. PST

"Today, I want to discuss the idea of columnar assaults during the Seven Years War. This is a somewhat controversial topic, as it is usually asserted that attacks by columns were not a feature of the Seven Years War period, but only appeared with the advent of Revolutionary/Napoleonic Warfare. There is no question: during this later period, troops used a greater variety of column formations at the battalion, regimental, and division level. However, this post demonstrates that the Austrians did attack in columnar formations during the Seven Years War. These formations were not only "march formations" which took the unit to the battlefield, but used within musket range of the enemy troops.

This post does not look at the most often cited example of a attack in column during the Seven Years War: the abortive French infantry attack at Rossbach. This is a clearly unintentional use of the column, born out of dire necessity. Likewise, I do not tap into the extensive theoretical debate regarding the use of columns from Folard on. Rather, in this post, I look at battles where the commanders made a conscious decision to engage enemy forces, whether in column or not. At the battles of Moys, Hochkirch, Maxen, and Landeshut, the Austrians used a variety of successive linear and column formations in order to approach and attack the enemy positions.[1] At Adelsbach, the Prussians did the same. In each of these situations, circumstances and the terrain conspired to make attacking in a deep formation the most effective way of combating the enemy. At Moys, Hochkirch, and Maxen, the Austrians attacked on a battalion frontage: what we might call battalion columns, or successive linear waves. At Landeshut, a single Austrian Grenadier battalion attacked in a column of companies. At Adelsbach, the terrain forced the Prussian troops to approach the enemy position in a column…"

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BillyNM20 Jul 2022 2:34 a.m. PST

Don't overlook the War of Austrian Succession, the SYW was really just a return match from that. In the former, IIRC, Maurice de Saxe was a proponent of attack columns but whether he used them or not I don't recall.

Wealdmaster20 Jul 2022 1:30 p.m. PST

The SYW is vastly different from what came before it. In fact the period from 1758 on is also quite different from 1756 and 57. Armies had adopted the three rank line almost universally whereas in the WAS they had not. The same goes for platoon fire. Converging columns come into their own in 1758 with the allied response to Frederick's oblique order is unleashed at Hochkirch. Of course the odd column (depending on what you mean by column) could be said to be use as early as the battle of Oudenaarde but they are very limited exceptions.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP20 Jul 2022 3:57 p.m. PST



rmaker21 Jul 2022 12:23 p.m. PST

Another "inadvertent" column attack was the French center at the Plains of Abraham. Montcalm came upon the British without a chance to deploy and paid for it. A preview of the Penninsula.

Renaud S21 Jul 2022 12:27 p.m. PST

Intentional column assaults are mentionned by contemporary witnesses for the battle of Clostercamp (1760).

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP21 Jul 2022 3:25 p.m. PST

Thanks also…


Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP22 Jul 2022 11:20 p.m. PST

In our AWI rules we only allow columns of attack if the terrain dictates it or if there is a special scenario rule.

Mark J Wilson20 Aug 2022 5:26 a.m. PST

I think the probable confusion is between open and close order columns when the author only uses the word column. As far as I'm aware SYW columns were always open, i.e. with a significant distance between either the sub-units of a battalion or the battalions of a larger formation. Close columns, where the units in place behind one another close up to leave no significant gap are only a feature of later periods.

There is of course a third option, column of route where the unit typically proceeding down a road and may be no more than 3-6 men wide, but I'm pretty sure this formation was never deliberately used in the face of the enemy.

Sparta22 Aug 2022 6:45 a.m. PST

The problem in many wargame rules is that there are no specific rules governing how formations move beyond the individual unit. The "columns" referred to in historical texts from the SYW to Waterloo are often not battalion columns, but rather successive lines. The main reason for using these is the problem of maneuvering several lines abreast, as opposed to behind each other – ie in column. Wargames rules does not represent this problem, and have one line and 5 lines abreast maneuver identically – as such missing the key tactical problem of linear warfare.

Mark J Wilson25 Aug 2022 11:57 a.m. PST


The question is 'was it a real problem on the battlefield'. I've not come across accounts that blame someones defeat on the difficulty of keeping a line of battalions in line adequately dressed so I suspect that there was an acceptance of a degree of 'near enough is good enough' and that in practice it was. Unlike the wargames table I suspect real battalion commanders were rather conservative and did not perform clever company maneuvers to exploit a gap between battalions. Unlike DBM type rules a bit or overlap on your flank, if you were busy fighting the unit to your front was unimportant and inconsequential.

von Winterfeldt30 Aug 2022 10:54 a.m. PST

Colin did write some excellent studies about the French infantry of the 7JW – which has to make oneselve to re – think how they fought.

please visit this link


Yes you have to register to read those threads on the French army, but it is worthwhile to do so.

L'infanterie au XVIIIe siècle :
l'organisation / par le
capitaine d'infanterie

L'artillerie française au XVIIIe
siècle / par… Ernest Picard
et… Louis Jouan,…

Léon Hennet. Regards en
arrière, études d'histoire
militaire sur le XVIIIe siècle.
L'état-major. Préface de M.
Arthur […]

and Colins books about the tactic


Sparta21 Sep 2022 2:07 a.m. PST

Mark Wilson

Sorry for delayed response. The problem is not about moving a battalion in line, but moving a full brigade or more. Many wargames rules do not have any consideration of this and considers each unit as moving individually. On the battle field the apporach march to the enemy in line was the main tactical problem, and only the Prussians managed to do this with 10+ battalions deployed at any reasonable speed 8and even they did often have problems). Advancing on a one regiment front was the solution. This was used through the napoleonic wars, alternatively brigades advanced individually.

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