Miniature Wargames No. 10
Essentially there was little difference between the elementary tactics of all the armies involved in this great battle - the French, Prussian and Saxon. The basic differences were that the French tended to use columns on the battlefield, but once under artillery fire or when advancing against an unbroken enemy, they usually deployed into line, and that they used a larger number of men in loose order as skirmishers and had mastered the techniques of combining the skirmish fight with the volleys and bayonet charges of the line. Although the Prussians and Saxons used the column formation for the approach march, once on the battlefield, they deployed into a three-deep line and fought almost exclusively in this formation. The Prussians to an extent used light troops - fusilier battalions, companies of rifle-armed 'Jaeger', and, of course, the 'Schuetzen' sections of the line companies. The Prussian light infantry were all highly trained troops and a good match for the French 'tirailleurs' but were too few in number and tended to be badly handled by senior levels of command. The Prussians had yet to master the techniques of combining open and close-order combat. The Saxon Army at this time lacked any independent light formations like the French 'regiments légers' or Prussian fusiliers and 'Jaeger'. What they did have however were 'Schuetzen' sections in each line company, a practice similar to that of the Prussians. Even after the 1806 campaign, the Saxons were slow to improve their light infantry branch, unlike the Prussians who made a great effort to do so. The basic tactical block of the allied armies was thus the three-deep line and its primary objective was to defeat the enemy by means of disciplined volley fire.
Types of Fire
As well as volley fire, there were various other methods of giving fire, each used in certain circumstances. A form of fire by platoons was still used, but only in defence against cavalry, with first the second and third ranks of the first and third sections of a platoon firing, followed by those of the second and fourth sections. The front rank pointed its bayonets and did not fire.
A further form of giving fire was the so-called 'battle fire'. The third rank took a step back and did not fire; the first rank fired a volley and reloaded. The second then fired a volley and reloaded. The men of the first rank were then permitted to fire at will, those in second when their partner in the first had reloaded. Each file fired as such until a drum roll ordered the fire to cease. This type of fire was used for delaying or defensive actions.
Most Prussian line infantry battalions were armed with the 1780 Pattern musket, a few with the newer Nothardt. Both were adequate weapons, but there were one or two faults with the 1780 musket. Firstly, a number of the older models had such worn barrels that they tended to rupture when fired, and secondly, the design of the butt hindered aimed firing and thus the weapon was unsuitable for use by skirmishing line infantry. However, the fusiliers were armed with a shorter, more accurate musket. The 'Schuetzen' carried rifled carbines and the 'Jaeger' sported hunting rifles, so, on the whole, the Prussian light infantry were better armed than their French counterparts.
The Saxon infantry were armed with the 'Alt-Suhler' musket (1778 Pattern), an aged and unreliable piece, but one which did its job. It was eventually replaced by the 'Neu-Suhler' (1809 Pattern). NCO's, as in the Prussian army, were armed with spontoons. It was intended that the 'Schuetzen' should be armed with rifles but this had not been achieved by 1806. Instead, they were given the best of the available muskets which seems a poor compromise, especially as the manufacture of armaments was a major industry in Saxony.
As mentioned above, the Prussians had three types of light infantry, the fusiliers, the 'Jaeger' and the 'Schuetzen'. Each were organised in a different way, each had its own unique armament and each had a different tactical function to perform.
The fusiliers were independent light battalions, fought in two ranks and used as much as one quarter of their men in skirmish order at any one time. They were crack troops and a 'pilot scheme' for the tactics used by the Prussians in the latter part of the Napoleonic Wars as embodied in the 1812 'Drill Regulations'. Unfortunately, they tended to be deployed in odd parts of the battlefield, usually where the terrain was broken, and did not act in concert with the line troops and thus saw little action.
The 'Jaeger' companies were formed from selected personnel, usually professional game-keepers and the like and were used as snipers. Several 'Jaeger' companies were involved in the first Prussian victory of the campaign, at Altenzaun on 26th October 1806.
The 'Schuetzen' marched at the rear of their parent formation and were deployed when required, usually in support of the close troops, although companies of them were formed on the battlefield due to the lack of other light troops. Every 'Schuetzen' was specially selected and trained. They all held NCO status. The Saxon 'Schuetzen' were used in a similar fashion to the Prussians.
Perhaps it should also be pointed out that to a limited extent, the Prussians used line troops in a skirmish role, usually by deploying the third rank in loose order, by calling for volunteers or even by deploying platoons or even whole companies of musketeers or grenadiers. Examples of these methods of using light infantry can be found in the official reports made by officers present at Jena and the following is a selection of quotes from them.
Infantry Regiment Prince of Hohenlohe (No 32) (Report by its commander, Colonel von Kalkreuth)
"Right in front of the position which the regiment had now taken, to our right was the expansive Isserstedt Forest and to the left and somewhat nearer another wood; both were held in strength by enemy skirmishers. The 'Schuetzen' of the regiment soon dislodged the enemy from the smaller wood; however, the Isserstedt Forest could not be entirely cleared of the enemy because it spread as far as the enemy position."
This is a good example of how the skirmish sections of the companies were used - when there was a need for light troops in difficult terrain, then the skirmish sections were deployed and used with effect.
Grenadier Battalion Hahn (Report of its commander, Major von Hahn)
Earlier in his report, Hahn mentions sending off his skirmisher sections to deal with French skirmishers taking cover in bushes. The Prussians were defeated and later in the battle, Hahn finds himself needing to deploy a skirmish element, but no longer has his 'Schuetzen'. This was how he took countermeasures against the French 'tirailleurs':
"On the left flank, the enemy skirmishers were continually pressing forwards and I feared that they would force themselves into the large gap there was between me and the first battalion of Hohenlohe. To counteract this, I placed my 8th platoon, and then also my 7th in this gap …"
This is an example of necessity forcing line troops to be deployed to deal with enemy skirmishers.
Those historians and writers who state that Prussian tactics had not changed since the days of Frederick are clearly misinformed and stories of Prussian 'inflexibility' can be dismissed as an exaggeration. The Prussians did have light troops although they were not used as effectively as they could have been and more of them were needed.
The Prussian cavalry was greatly feared by Napoleon, yet in the 1806 campaign, it accomplished little. This lack of success can be put down to the unimaginative way in which it was used, the way in which it was parcelled out to the various divisions with no central cavalry reserve, the skilful handling of the French infantry when it was attacked by them, the age of the commanding officers and the relative lack of training of its troopers.
The cuirassiers, although they no longer wore their breastplates, were still regarded as heavy cavalry. The dragoons, except for Regiments Czettritz (No 4) and Bayreuth (No 5), were mounted on light horses. The dragoons no longer carried muskets and were armed with a long, straight-bladed sword, a brace of pistols and a carbine, as were the cuirassiers. The hussars were armed with a sabre, a brace of pistols and a carbine, the 'Towarczys' a sabre, pistols and a lance.
Most squadrons were formed up in two ranks, each squadron being 48 files wide. In the event of the squadron being over 96 men strong, the remainder were formed in the third rank. The third rank formed a reserve which was used to cover the flanks, fill gaps in the front two ranks and as a rallying point. The hussars fought only in two ranks, they were not regarded as 'line' or 'battle' cavalry.
The favoured form of attack was the 'echelon attack', that is, with the squadrons deployed in staggered waves 30 paces apart. The reasons for using this formation included its flexibility and ease of control. Outflanking the enemy was facilitated and it was always the intention to keep part of the attacking force in reserve to exploit any gains or to form a rallying point. The hussars were to follow the line cavalry, deployed in column on each flank. Once the charge had started, the hussar squadrons were to form line by turning to the left or right and were then to be used one after the other against the flank and rear of the enemy, taking him by surprise.
When it came to attacking infantry, the regulations stressed that only retiring infantry should be attacked. When attacking squares, their corners were to be the focus of attack and flankers, that is cavalry in loose order, were to attempt to draw fire so that the line could attack the infantry when their muskets were unloaded. Attacks on squares could also be made by hussars who would withdraw once having drawn the target's fire, leaving the line cavalry following them up to press home the attack with the advantage of charging infantry with empty muskets.
Attacks by regiments in squadron columns were to be made against the holes and gaps in broken or wavering infantry.
Every squadron had a small number of flankers who acted as scouts, protected flanks, harassed squares and often took part in the skirmish fight, co-operating with the light infantry.
The Saxon cavalry were amongst the best trained and mounted in Europe. Great care was taken with the selection of recruits and they were usually required to serve for life.
With the exception of the hussars, the Saxon cavalry fought in three ranks, the third being used as flankers. The Saxons had, compared with the Prussians, relatively few hussars. These fought in two ranks, the fourth platoon of each squadron was used for detached duties.
The usual method of using the infantry battalions was to deploy them in echelon by battalion or regiment to the left or right. Care was taken to secure the vulnerable flanks and this was done either by placing them on natural obstacles or by covering them with cavalry. The battalions were deployed in three-deep lines and were to attack the enemy, wearing them down with volley fire and deciding the issue with a well-timed bayonet charge. Battalion guns were to support the attack and were also used to protect their units' flanks. There were however problems with the command structure at the brigade and divisional level which often resulted in the battalions attacking singly in an unco-ordinated fashion and each battalion was then defeated piecemeal.
Brigade in echelon to the left by regiment. Note that the right flank is secured by a natural obstacle, a wood, and that the left is covered by cavalry.
Brigade in echelon to the right by regiment. A village protects the right flank, cavalry the left.
By way of an example of an echelon attack in execution, it would be convenient to refer to Kalkreuth again:
"part of the regiment passed the small bush in front of us, and, as the advance was to be in echelon, every battalion wheeled about 40 paces to the left and each battalion formed one echelon; and the entire line advanced thus to a cannon shot from the enemy position on the heights before Closewitz and stopped in range of the enemy's cannon whilst the echelons closed up into a line."
The crucial fault with Prussian infantry tactics was the failure to properly integrate the skirmish fight with the close-order unit. In the post-Jena reforms, the line was largely but not entirely discarded in favour of the column. Some historians, notably von der Goltz, see this as possibly throwing the baby out with the bath water. Had the Prussians got their show together in 1806 and learned how to properly support their close-order troops with skirmishers, then the formation used by the close-order troops may not have become an issue.
Both allied armies used their artillery in a similar fashion - light pieces were distributed throughout the infantry formations, medium and heavy pieces were formed into batteries used at brigade or divisional level. There was no corps or any reserve and thus the allied artillery was a local and not a grand tactical weapon. The concept of concentrating the firepower of the artillery to achieve grand tactical objectives was unknown in the allied camp at this time and hence so-called 'grand batteries' were not used, and even the French did not use such concentrations of firepower in 1806 as they did in later campaigns. The firepower of the infantry was seen as the primary weapon and the artillery was parcelled out in small lots to support it.
The use of battalion guns was on the decline by 1806. The Prussian fusiliers did not bring theirs on campaign with them and both the Prussians and the Saxons formed ad hoc batteries of battalion guns. 1806 was the first time that the Saxons used horse artillery on campaign; the Prussians had since the days of Frederick.
The allied artillery, although competently handled at battery level, was not used to its full potential and thus had little effect on the outcome of the campaign.
Enlightened officers and military thinkers in Prussia recognised the great potential of the mixed divisions of all arms which formed the basic grand tactical blocks of the French army. Scharnhorst, a leading reformer, pressed for the formation of divisions in the Prussian army and this commenced from the end of 1805. However, in doing so, a number of errors were made. Firstly, all the heavy cavalry and artillery were distributed to the divisions - there was no cavalry or artillery reserve held at corps or divisional level. Secondly, there were insufficient generals with suitable experience to command a division of all arms. Thirdly, there was no staff trained to run a division. Finally, the divisions were only a wartime formation and the battalions, squadrons and batteries of which they consisted did no peacetime training together. Bringing together troops unfamiliar with each other, commanded by inexperienced generals without a trained, organised chain of command was a recipe for disaster and although the individual components of the divisions fought bravely enough, at higher levels there was little co-ordination and so the Prussian units tended to be defeated one after the other.
In the Saxon army, divisions of all arms were first formed in 1810, so at Jena, the highest permanent tactical unit was the regiment. Brigades were formed on an ad hoc basis.
Despite all its faults and weaknesses, the Prusso-Saxon army was able to give a good account of itself at Jena; not to be forgotten is that it inflicted a number of checks and local defeats on the French forces and eventually gave way after several hours fighting to an enemy not only superior in numbers, but also with a much more effective system of leadership.
The Prusso-Saxon Army at Jena
14th October 1806
The Prusso-Saxon Army at the Battle of Jena
14th. October 1806