Thursday, 27 September 2007
Both the armies of the 1812 Russian campaign had many cavalry units, however the actual number of men far less when compared to the amount of infantrymen. Cavalry comprised two basic categories: heavy and light. Sometimes a third category is mentioned: medium. This category are the dragoons. Theoretically the dragoons were able to perform both the light and heavy roles and also capable of fighting on foot as well. In order to prevent making things too complicated I will not use this third category as a separate one. Heavy cavalry was that mounted upon large horses, used to execute a decisive charge in pitched battles. It included cuirassiers, mounted karbiners and grenadiers, chevalier-gardes and (heavy) dragoons. The light cavalry was made up out of the hussars, chevau-léger, mounted chasseurs, lancers (or uhlans), light dragoons and the hordes of irregular and Cossack cavalry employed by Russia. These were able to act similar as their heavy counterparts but in addition fulfilled outpost duties and skirmishing actions or formed the basis for flank protection of large attacking infantry formations. Light horsemen were mounted on smaller, lighter but also faster horses than the heavy cavalerists.
The cavalry was organised in regiments but the squadron was the basic tactical formation. Several squadrons formed a regiment. In 1812 two or three regiments were grouped together in a brigade and two brigades usually formed a division. Both Russian and Grand army had some of these divisions in separate cavalry corps. The Grand Army however always had a cavalry division or brigade attached to an infantry corps.
Because cavalry charges were very noisy affairs and made during battle circumstances it was very difficult for the men to hear the vocal commands of their officers. Therefore the squadrons had trumpetters giving rhythmical orders in battle. As with the infantry cavalry regiments and squadrons often carried flags. These were primarily a testimony of their ‘esprit de corps’, and served as recognition points when on the battlefield and rallying points for the men after engagements.
When cavalry went into battle the units formed up either in lines, echelons or columns. Attack in echelon formation allowed cavalry units the best manoeuvrability. The direction of the advance could rapidly be changed. There existed echelons by squadrons, regiments, brigades and even by entire divisions. Echelon provided an attack where the cavalry formation carried out successive shock waves on the enemy, hitting them at intervals. The rear echelon of a formation could be held in the back as a reserve awaiting the result of the first echelon's charge. This was done in order to exploit a successful charge and to be able to support an exposed flank or a retreat.
Cavalry attacks in columns was also possible. Such columns could be built up by ranks of half squadrons, squadrons (most common) and multiple squadrons. The interval between these ranks usually was ten metres. A column attack hit like a hammer on a particular point of the enemy line. Besides the compact formation of a column made it hard for the enemy to judge the actual number of horsemen attacking them. However charges in deep columns were vulnerable. Its long flank exposed it too much to artillery fire and to flank attacks from enemy cavalry. Therefore this normally was not done, but too much excitement or inexperienced leadership sometimes did often with devastating consequences for the attackers.
When cavalry attacked in line it did so in a two ranks deep line. In this way more troopers could be engaged in close combat. The width of this formation often brought along outflanking possibilities. However it was very difficult to keep the formation intact, except at short distances over easy going, flat terrain. In practice the attacking line formation fell apart in clumps of cavalrymen. These groups then continued the charge.
In order to deliver a cavalry charge the troopers began their advance at a slow pace and finished galloping. The slow pace helped to maintain order in the ranks. However out of fear the men often quickly sped up and went out of contol of their officers. This created gaps in the formation. Soon after this the troopers became a noisy horde. When falling on well alligned enemy troops in these conditions they were lost. For this reason most of the horsemen trying to avoid collision with the enemy fell in disorder and fled back to their own lines. At that moment the enemy cavalry (when present) began their pursuit, this frequently at a gallop. Only battle-hardened and disciplined troops advanced in a slower, steady pace. They sped up gradually and kept good order until the very last moment when officers ordered them to the gallop. This was best when done at a distance of between 60 and 15 metres from the enemy. The gradual increase of speed also was important to keep the horses fit enough when the enemy was reached and fighting occurred.
The appearance of charging cavalry en masse and in good order could have a great impact on moral of those being attacked. When the cavalry of opposing armies fell into melee there usually were small losses on both sides. The colliding horsemen somehow rode through each other ranks and only had little time to exchange thrusts and place cuts. Most melees lasted only a few minutes, but this was greatly influenced by the number of cavalrymen involved. Fleeing troops suffered greater casualties than those in pursuit. In pursuit a small troop should chase the enemy and was follow by a larger body of horsemen that could resist enemy counter-attacks.
Large cavalry charges in pitched battles frequently threw up clouds of dust and could obscure the view.
Groups of light cavalry or dragoons normally were sent out as videttes to screen the army's advance and in order to gathering intelligence. Without these videttes it was almost impossible for commanders to react to sudden enemy manoeuvres in time. Light cavalry was extensively used to skirmish in order to locate weak points in the enemy's battle line. Skirmish formations were loose, allowing individual movement. Normally there would be some more cavalry support nearby. The skirmishing horsemen fired at advancing enemies thereby forcing them to slow down or even halt. Sometimes a charge was made to drive enemy skirmishers away.
During the Napoleonic Wars the majority of cavalrymen carried a saber, one or two pistols and either a carbine, a rifle or a musket. Basically it depended on the type of cavalry. The light cavalryman was armed with a short and curved saber and the heavy cavalryman carried a long and straighter saber or had a broadsword. In 1812 the Russian cavalry was ordered to hand over their muskets and most of their carbines to the newly raised and expanded infantry units. This was not very disturbing because mounted cavalry in battle did not use firearms very extensively. Some troopers were armed with lances, as the lancers or uhlans did. In combat the lance was most dangerous in first contact. Its length allowed the cavalryman to inflict wounds on or to kill an opponent. When that opponent managed to get past the lance it was the lancer that became more vulnerable. Only well-trained and battle-hardened lancers were able to deal with armoured cavalry (cuirassiers and karabiners) but normally the lances point proved unable to pierce through cuirasses. In melee, when the lancers had to fight for their lives, many discarded their lance and fought on with the saber. Lancers had almost no advantage over infantry armed with muskets and bayonets fixed especially when these had formed square.
Cavalrymen had several means to protect themselves. Mounted karabiner and cuirassier troopers normally wore a cuirass as protection. It proved a very adequate piece of body-armour against lance and straight saber and it offered protection against musket and pistol shots fired at longer range too. There existed both full cuirass (front and back plates) and half-cuirass (front plate only). Some cuirassier regiments did not wear a cuirass at all. Helmets protected the men against saber blows made at their head. Leather helmets did not do as well against these blows as metal ones did. Many cavalrymen had their greatcoat rolled over from one shoulder diagonally across their torso for it protected them against enemy saber thrusts.
Tuesday, 25 September 2007
Some infantry formations of multiple battalions
Monday, 24 September 2007
French line infantry battalion in square with figure carrying an eagle.
Three sections of a Russian infantry (former musketeer) battalion. Officer and musician are in front.
French light infantry in skirmish line in front of a line infantry battalion in closed column. Two elements each with a voltigeur are on the left flank of the skirmish line.
Element holding two voltigeurs of a line infantry battalion. These voltigeurs are detached for skirmishing ahead of the formation.
French line infantry battalion in attack column. This is a variant in which the voltigeur company is send forward to skirmish and the grenadier company is somewhat in the back holding the unit in cohesion.
Sunday, 23 September 2007
French line infantry battalion in march column lead by a general and some light infantry chasseurs in front of them.
French line infantry battalion forming a (hollow) square
Russian grenadier battalion in closed column with coloured flag
Russian infantry (former musketeer) battalion with white flag
French light infantry battalion in skirmish line (karabiner company on the flank)
Section of first centre company of a Russian jäger battalion with an officer, musician and a jäger
French infantry battalions had six companies so my wargame units have six companies of four figures each. Two of these companies are the elites; one of voltigeurs and one of grenadiers (karabiners). For wargame purposes I wanted to have an officer and a musician in the battalion. Sometimes a standardbearer is presented too. For this I used a ratio of one standard (eaglebearer) on every three battalions in a brigade. Sometimes the battalions without an eagle have a fanion or a battalion flag bearer. All these special figures I placed in the first fusilier or chasseur company for the idea of leading the battalion. An NCO is occasionally present in one of the four fusilier or chasseur companies. In the grenadier company sometimes a sapper figure appears.
Basing these troops is done as follows: All figures in the companies are placed side by side (giving four in a row). In the first three fusilier companies in a line infantry wargame battalion all the four figures are on one element, the figures are placed side to side. The fourth fusilier company has one element of two figures and two elements with one figure each. This is done to be able removing casualties during a game. The officer figure of the first company is always in one of the two middle positions of the element. The grenadier company can consist of one element with all four figures on it, or one element with three figures with one seperate element having a single figure on it, or two elements each with two figures. Voltigeur companies always have at least two elements with two figures but occasionally one or these elements is split into two seperate one with a single voltigeur figure. This is done for the purpose of skirmishing and casualty removal. In the light infantry battalions all six companies contain at most two elements with two figures. The reason for this is the fact that this enables the full battalion skirmish line with the required intervals and resembles the idea of skirmishing in pairs. The rest of the wargame unit build up is quite the same as for the line battalion.
The Russian infantry wargame battalions, that is of infantry (former musketeer), grenadier and jäger regiments, have four companies each of six figures (again this is related to their historical paper strength). All these companies are divided in two sections of three figures. The elite company has one section of grenadiers (karabiners) and one of tirailleurs. The first of the centre companies always has an officer figure and a musician present. Standard bearers are in the same company but are not placed in every wargame battalion. The Russians I gave two out of four battalions of an infantry brigade a standard bearer. One represents the coloured flag and the other the white flag. However most of my jäger battalions do not have a standard bearer. These special figures are always in the first centre company and normally are placed on the element representing the right section. Sometimes an NCO figure is present in one of the companies.
Basically all infantry sections of three figures are on the same element (again placed side by side), but the second section of the third centre company is divided in one element holding two figures and an element with one figure on it (and again this is done for removal of casualties in a wargame). The elite sections (especially the tirailleur section) are frequently done in the same way for skirmish purposes. For enabling a skirmish line with a wargame jäger battalion more sections are subdived in several elements likewise.
French line infantry battalion in closed column
Russian infantry battalion in closed column
Russian infantry battalion formations
T = Tirailleur section of the elite company
G = Grenadier (Karabiner) section of the elite company
1 to 3 = centre companies
Each block represents a half company (section)
The other codes refer to officers, NCO's, standard bearer, musicians
1. Infantry battalion in line
The tirailleur and grenadier sections are on the flanks of the formation.
2. Infantry company in line
The 3 rank formation of the infantry company is illustrated here.
3. Infantry battalion in closed column
This formation also formed the basis for the closed square.
4. Infantry battalion in attack column
Variant of the closed column with the elite company sent a bit forward (to skirmish)
5. Infantry battalion in march column
The two sections of each company are placed behind each other.
6. Infantry battalion in (hollow) square formation
Two variants. The left one was applied when there was not enough time to deploy the formation into the one shown on the right.
V = Voltigeur company
G = Grenadier (Karabiner) company
1 to 4 = centre companies
1. Infantry battalion in line
The arrow and small triangles show variation with voltigeur company in skirmish formation
2. Infantry battalion in closed column
Two variants; on the right the closed column with elite companies in front and on the left the elite companies are on both flanks of the formation.
3. Infantry battalion in attack column
The voltigeurs are ahead in skirmish formation and the grenadiers are behind as a reserve and keeping the centre companies in cohesion.
4. Infantry battalion in (hollow) square
Centre companies forming the bastion walls ot this formation and the elite companies are each split into two sections. These four elite section are reinforcing the formation's corners.
5. Infantry battalion in march column
The battalion has all its companies formed behind each other. This formation is also called a single column. The voltigeurs are in front and the grenadiers are in the back of the formation.