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"Elite Troops - who were they?" Topic

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Michman09 Aug 2022 6:20 p.m. PST

@Mark J Wilson

I am leery of trying to define a gradation between veteran and elite. And I am of the opinion that general "+X" for die rolls is not nearly as useful as "special rules" that try to characterize a certain unit in a certain era. But that is unweildy for a game.

I think Dal Gavan's idea is an excellent compromise : units with reputation do a roll at their first morale check or combat.

The Russians in the era did not call any of their own units "elite". They used expressions with различие / razlichie / difference. Also used when giving personal decorations, promotions, etc. The idea might be close to English "for distinction" or "distinguished" , or maybe better "differentiated".

"increased disinclination to take risks" – I would say Russian troops generally were not permitted to form their own inclinations and disinclinations. While some independent thought was expected of Jäger, Cossack & Native cavalry and Hussars acting in "petite guerre", formed Russian infantry or cavalry were supposed follow orders until incapacitated. This was especially true of grenadiers and cuirassiers, and perhaps even more especially true of the Guards.


While the process of repeated rounds of individual selection yeilded exceptionally steady heavy infantry units, the Guard possessed no special skills or training and little difference in supply, medical support, equipment, etc. The horses might be a bit better in peacetime for the Guards – but Russian horses were generally quite good, the envy of other nations' officers. And after a few months on campaign, the Guards had mostly the same horses as everyone else.

With fewer rounds of individual selection, the Russian Guard jäger, cavalry and other units were not consistently better than the best Army units in each arm of service.

Russian Guards were not treated as some sort of special, favored "last" reserve. They fought as often as Army units, and were in some cases were brigaded with them.

Perhaps of interest, after 1815, the 4-step personal selection was extended to Guard light infantry with the creation of Carabinier regiments to be the counterpart to heavy infantry Grenadier regiments.


"many of the soldiers and all of the officers who joined Old Guard regiments wore the Legion d'Honneur before they ever set foot in a Guard barracks"

Many of the soldiers – yes. All of the officers – not all.
Company grade officers at the beginning of 1812 who had the Légion d'honneur (some counted "yes" would have won the award after joining the Guards) ….
--- French Grenadiers à Pied : 41 yes, 14 no
--- Dutch Grenadiers à Pied : 1 yes, all others no
--- Chasseurs à Pied : 36 yes, 17 no
--- Grenadiers à Cheval : 39 yes, 4 no
--- Dragons : 47 yes, 5 no
--- Chasseurs à Cheval : 46 yes, 4 no
--- Polish Lancers : 16 yes, 25 no
--- Dutch Lancers : all no
--- Artillerie & Sapeurs : 37 yes, 18 no


"Saxon heavy cavalry of 1812"
Best quality horses and excellent equitation might be a partial explanation.

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP10 Aug 2022 5:33 a.m. PST

I'm surprised so few replies have mentioned the importance of the leadership. I can't offer a direct answer to the original request to name units with three successes against superior enemy forces. However, from my own recent obsession (the Hungarian War of Independence of 1848-1849, essentially fought with Napoleonic-era weapons and tactics), I do have some perhaps pertinent examples.

First let me offer a category example: Austrian cuirassiers. On multiple occasions, these demonstrated their shock value against both infantry and cavalry, to a degree that the other cavalry on either side did not. An Austrian commander would rightly regard them as his most potent shock troops (terrain permitting) and a wargamer should do likewise.

Next, an example, not of a superior formation but of an inferior one. One of the Hungarian honved's standard infantry brigades was commanded by Bobics. I believe Bobics's formation (three or four battalions strong, thus effectively a large regiment rather than a full brigade) broke and ran, or at least fell back in disorder, in at least three engagements, and not particularly because of overwhelming enemy force. By contrast, Poeltenberg's division, composed of similar types of troops, was regarded as the most efficient.

Taking a commander-in-chief's point of view, I am sure that a good C-in-C knows which of his subordinates is best suited to which mission: who is dependable in defence, who is most dynamic and determined in attack, who is best put somewhere where his incompetence can do least harm. The same is true going down the chain of command. I suggest that, apart from the materiel used to fill the ranks – eg grenadiers or cuirassiers being selected from the biggest, strongest and/or most aggressive men – commanders would choose their most reliably aggressive and effective officers to command such elite units. (In my own service I've seen that happen down to choice of company or platoon commanders for particular roles.)

Thus, again, based on that I would expect a C-in-C to have some sense of which unit or formation he could most rely on to be worth a +1 in combat, and a wargamer should be allowed that knowledge as well. (Whether or not there is a dice roll or other mechanism to establish if it is in fact +0, +1, +2 etc on the day.)

Leaadership makes the difference!

Erzherzog Johann10 Aug 2022 2:17 p.m. PST

I wonder though whether or not a commander in the early 19th century would have the same ability to pick and choose from the pool of subordinates as a modern commander would. Nepotism would have played a role. Also, we know that petty jealousies got in the way at times.


pfmodel10 Aug 2022 4:25 p.m. PST

It does depend what elite means and what you want those troops to do. We all have a good idea of what fanatic means, but elite is rather vague. Elite troops may not be veterans, so while combat experience does assist its more than just that. I suspect its to do with physical factors, equipment, training and esprit de corp. I would expect imperial guards would be well paid, big men, well equipped and would have been exposed to a lot of praise and indoctrination about honour to the formation and country. Thus they would have been highly motivated.

The benefit of this high level of training, health, size, equipment and motivation would be they would do things that a normal person would never consider. Examples could be to charge into hand to hand combat against an enemy in a good position.

This would differ from a veteran, as a veteran's benefit is they have significant experience. Part of that experience would be to know that attacking prepared infantry in some situations would be a bad idea. The other benefit is confidence and the knowledge that to run away like a little girl will likely get you killed, thus less likely to panic.

I suppose its possible to have elite veterans, which is what the old guard were. These would be yet another unique class of troops which would be different from simple Elite or veterans.

Thus, in conclusion I personally feel troops like Grenadiers and Guards are almost always elite, however veteran status is very hard to define. Perhaps the Old Guard could be classed as Elite veterans, but apart from that its highly subjective.

One though I had was that troops who win a battle after fighting hard would almost certain gain something special. Most of the French at Marengo could of gained this, as the corps which initially fought and had to retreat in the face of the Austrians fought long and hard and in the end the French won. They would have gained confidence and experience in spades. The issue is how long this last does; experience does drop with time even if confidence does not.

Erzherzog Johann11 Aug 2022 6:48 p.m. PST

"The issue is how long this last does; experience does drop with time even if confidence does not."

Interestingly, I would have thought this would be the other way around – that knowledge (experience) would endure, even if they were a bit out of practice, but that confidence might lapse with "time out of the saddle".


pfmodel11 Aug 2022 10:25 p.m. PST

Interestingly, I would have thought this would be the other way around

My cousin who was in the military and in a special unit told me a lot of what he did was all based on memory muscle. This event occurs and with no thought you did the following reaction. This required constant practices and training and when he stopped doing this your memory muscle atrophied. On the other hand confidence always remains, as once you are able to quickly pin point a threat and open fire, neutralising that threat, you always considered yourself able to do this even when your eye sight deteriorates and your reflexes slows.

Of course with old age you realise this and compensate, which is what you may be observing, but soldering is a young person's profession in the most part.

ScottyOZ15 Aug 2022 1:53 a.m. PST

It might seem like a mindless assumption but being Elite is often a perception and often gained for a unit by their predecessors dying o the process of earning the reputation.

VonBlucher15 Aug 2022 8:28 p.m. PST

To figure out which were elite units, you need to read about their performance in a battle.
Davout 3rd Corp at Auerstadt, most of the regiments would be considered Elite or Veteran, one would be considered line. The only unit to be considered Guard status would be the 8lb Horse battery which performed at an exceptional rate. based on how they performed in that actual battle, in a refight of that battle this is how they should be rated.
Very few regiments could carry over their elite status from one battle to the next because of the number of casualties they would take. The only ones that instantly come to mind would be the 57th line and 10th Light Infantry. These 2 regiments are the exception and not the rule.

Last Hussar16 Aug 2022 8:16 a.m. PST

But how do we know they should be rated better. Maybe this is just the real world example of rolling lucky.

Ruchel18 Aug 2022 11:48 a.m. PST

To figure out which were elite units, you need to read about their performance in a battle.
Davout 3rd Corp at Auerstadt, most of the regiments would be considered Elite or Veteran, one would be considered line.

I am not an expert on this matter but I would like to add some thoughts.

At Auerstedt, Davout 3rd Corps fought against a similar number of Prussian troops (three divisions, the other two divisions were kept in reserve). French troops fought well but they were aided by two circumstances: first, the Prussian commander was mortally wounded early in the battle and second, as a consequence, without effective command, Prussian attacks were uncoordinated.

So I think there were few differences between French and Prussian troops. The main difference was the superior French leadership.

Taking into account other example, the flank attack carried out by Davout 3rd Corps at Eylau was defeated by Prussian troops (and some Russians). Better Prussian leadership implies better Prussian performance. It has nothing to do with rigid troop classifications and categories.

Regarding the French horse battery at Auerstedt, its occasional good performance does not automatically imply a Guard status. Huguenin Prussian batteries fought magnificently at Bergfriede. Do they deserve a Guard status?

I think that traditional concepts such as ‘Line', ‘Veteran', ‘Elite', ‘Guard', are outdated, unclear, and most of them are meaningless too. Those concepts usually distort the real differences between armies.

More accurate concepts should be used: ‘Untrained', ‘Trained' and ‘Well-trained', related to combat effectiveness (fire and manoeuvres). And we can also use some traditional concepts such as ‘Inexperienced' (without professionalism and without combat experience), ‘Experienced' (professionalism and little combat experience) and ‘Veteran' (professionalism and extensive combat experience), all related to morale.

Following the previous example (Auerstedt), French infantry should be rated as ‘Well-trained' and ‘Veteran' (combat effectiveness and morale, respectively). Prussian infantry should be rated as ‘Well-trained' and ‘Experienced'.
The main difference was in leadership.

pfmodel19 Aug 2022 1:21 a.m. PST

More accurate concepts should be used: ‘Untrained', ‘Trained' and ‘Well-trained'

I tend to feel this is accurate. When I got into DBMM I was initially put off by their classification system, which was superior, ordinary and inferior. I originally felt it was too limiting and we need more classifications, but after thinking about it for a while i realised this was about as detailed as any rules should aspire to. If you try for more classifications you end up having issues with defining what is what.

Superior would be troops which had some specific attribute which made them superior to ordinary troops, such as large men for Grenadier or well equipped, trained and motivated as standard Guards. At the other end inferior troops would have inferior equipment, training or motivation, such as Landwehr or Opolchenie. 90% of all troops should easily fall into these three categories.

There were some edge cases, such as French Old Guard, perhaps Russian Guard, which seemed to display superior abilities to other superior troops, such as other Guards or Grenadiers. At the other end levy, such as Spanish partisans or French Levy or Ottoman Levy, displayed different behaviour to standard inferior troops.

Aspects such as Light troops or Jager represent doctrine rather than quality. Some troop's types would normally always be a specific quality, so Cuirassiers would always be superior, unless there was a good reason they should not be. Examples would be Spanish Cuirassiers not being superior. I feel Grenadiers also fit into this based on Grenadiers being more bulky men than line infantry.

The other factor is what are you attempting to achieve with your moral or quality classification. This will also dictate what the quality rating should be.

As for leadership being a primary factor in troop's performance, I agree with this although if you are part of a corps which keeps on winning you tend to have more confidence in your leaders and would be more willing to stay and fight. I suspect Davout's corps fits into that classification, but in a set of rules that can be better reflected in Leaders being superior, Ordinary or inferior.

However a good die roll is also a factor. The way the Saxons defended against overwhelming odds at Jena and managed to force the French back just before the Prussians collapsed is an example of this. This was even more amazing considering the Saxons suffered a defeat recently which seemed to imply they were not very effective.

Michman19 Aug 2022 7:31 a.m. PST

"French Old Guard, perhaps Russian Guard, which seemed to display superior abilities "
Or received more enthusiastic reporting by historians ?

It is so hard to tell much about the French Old Guard infantry – they were almost always in reserve. For example, at Eylau, a Russian brigade column, possibly lost, showed up unexpectedly through the snow near Napoléon. The French opened fire on them with the guard artillery, sent II/2e grenadiers à pied and the escort squadron of chasseurs à cheval at the head of the Russian colunm (likely deployed in line-pf-battle on battalion frontage), while 6 squadrons of the 1er hussards and 13e chassaurs à cheval charged their flank. The Russians took some modest losses, turned around to retreat, and disapperaed into the driving snow.
Now go look up the Old Guard grenadiers at Eylau and see how this event was reported !
On the other hand, it is hard to doubt that the grenadiers à cheval were among the best cavalry units ever fielded, by any nation, ever.

And for the Russian Guards ? I would take 5th Jäger or 20th Jäger over Guards light infantry, the Pavlov Grenadiers over the Guards heavy infantry, the Saint-Petersburg Dragoons over the Guards dragoons and the Ataman's Don Cossack regiment over the Guards Cossacks (who didn't even have a shaman/necromancer on staff).
At least the Russian Guards actually fought in most engagements – so it is easier to compare them.

pfmodel19 Aug 2022 5:48 p.m. PST

Or received more enthusiastic reporting by historians ?

You could be correct, if these troops are no better than other superior troops we can ignore that special edge case completely for simplicity.

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