Announcement

Collapse
No announcement yet.

The Prussian Army of 1806

Collapse
X
 
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • The Prussian Army of 1806

    The Prussian Army that took the field against the Grande Armee in 1806 was essentially Frederick the Great’s army. There had been some reform done, guided by Scharnhorst, but those reforms were too little, too late.

    The following four books are useful when attempting to study the Prussian army of 1806:

    -Yorck and the Era of Prussian Reform, 1807-1815 by Peter Paret.

    -Prussian Military Reforms 1786-1813 by William Shananhan.

    -The Enlightened Soldier: Scharnhorst and the Militarische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-1805 by Charles White.

    -The Politics of the Prussian Army by Gordon Craig.

    All four emphasize the fact that the Prussian Army that took the field against the Grande Armee in 1806 was essentially Frederick the Great’s army. There had been some reform done, guided by Scharnhorst, but those reforms were too little, too late.

    The first three volumes emphasize the fact that the Prussian light infantry arm was insufficient to fight the French on their terms. In short, Prussian tactical methods, especially in light infantry fell below the standard set by the French since 1792.

    Paret makes the case that while the Prussians did increase their light infantry arm prior to 1806, it was noted by General von Hopfner that ‘the fusiliers trained for duty in the field much like the heavy infantry; in one case as in the other, hilly terrain was avoided as far as possible’ and that ‘the riflemen lacked any training in extended order.’ Further, General von Witzleben noted that ‘the tirailleur system was little known in our army.’

    Paret also notes that the skirmisher was ‘practically ignored’ in the French Reglement of 1791. And while skirmishers are mentioned in the French Reglement of 1778 and the Provisional Reglement of 1792, the French attitude towards skirmishers and fighting in open or extended order was considered ‘natural’ and didn’t need detailed regulations.
    The conclusion to the French approach to tirailleurs’ employment was that they gave their skirmishers a ‘minimum of instruction’ and the Prussian approach to the problem was to regulate the ‘movement’ of skirmishers ‘schematically.’ And in the employment of light troops, the Prussians concentrated their use on the ‘little war’ while the French preferred to integrate light troops on the battlefield with line troops and concentrate on the larger scale actions to win. French General Duhesme’s remark that the French had only light infantry by the end of 1793 rings true.

    Shanahan remarks that ‘…the Prussian light infantry was not numerous enough to meet the army’s requirements, and like other units, had perfected individual training at the expense of cooperation.’ However, he also states that the Prussian light infantry were among the best trained infantrymen in the army. However, the fusilier battalions were only created the year after Frederick the Great’s death in 1787. But this was still far short of what the army actually required as light infantry.

    White concentrates on Scharnhorst’s contributions to the army and the training, organization, and employment of light infantry forms an important contribution from Scharnhorst. He had to fight against an ingrained prejudice of the use of light infantry in extended or open order as the greater part of the Prussian officer corps believed that ‘skirmishing was politically suspect and militarily unnecessary.

    Lieutenant Alexander Christian von Beulwitz wrote a detailed study, ‘On Light Infantry’ and he recommended that the number of fusilier battalions be increased. However, he also believed that ‘a line battalion is not suited for dispersed action’ and light infantry should never be integrated with line infantry.

    Scharnhorst also admired the combined arms concept of the French, which emphasized infantry/artillery cooperation on the battlefield. He would witness that himself at Auerstadt in 1806. Scharnhorst disagreed vehemently with the belief of allied officers who stated that the jager and fusilier units ‘had always done the work of the French tirailleurs.’ He urged that reforms be at least attempted and some Prussian units ‘adopted’ French tactical methods, but they were not adopted by the army as a whole, especially the French use of light infantry which proved to be superior in 1806.

    John Elting is quite clear in his accurate assessment of the Prussian Army of 1806 in Napoleonic Uniforms, Volume IV, 488.

    ‘Considering the late 18th Century Prussian Armym that mysterious, wandering Welsh soldier of fortune, Henry Lloyd, who had served both in and against it, described it as made up chiefly of foreigners of all nations, manners, and religions. Frederick the Great had drilled and disciplined it into a ‘vast and regular machine’, but-were Frederick removed-it probably would fall to pieces.’

    ‘The Prussian Army that went confidently against Napoleon in 1806 was Frederick’s army still in most regards-a framework of foreigners, enticed into its harsh service, filled up with part-trained native Prussian reservists. A few days of fighting shattered it.’

    Another helpful volume on the Prussian 'situation' is Clausewitz and the State: The Man, His Theories, and His Times by Peter Paret.

    On page 125 Paret describes Clausewitz in combat under the command of Prince August, the latter's battalion being described as 'among the few in the army that had been trained to copy some of the French methods.' Clausewitz apparently took one-third of the battalion to act as skirmishers in both attack and defense and as Prince August had taken command of four Prussian grenadier battalions, Clausewitz assumed command of his own battalion and performed efficiently.

    Clausewitz actual combat experience in command of an infantry battalion clearly demonstrates his competence and that gives him the advantage over his later 'intellectual rival' Jomini, who never led troops in combat and was a staff officer only, and not a very good one to all accounts.

    On page 123 Paret also recounts some of Clausewitz's comments on the Catastrophe of 1806, including 'his strictures on the army's antiquated and inefficient organization, administration, equipment, and tactics.' And he also states Clausewitz's position on the ''intellectual poverty' and moral cowardice ' of the Prussian leadership.

    From Gordon Craig, The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945, page 22:

    'The Prussian army was soundly beaten in 1806, and the factors which were mainly contributory to its defeat in the field were defects of organization, training, and leadership which had been apparent since 1763.'

    'Despite some professional criticism of the operation of the canton system, Frederick's principles were maintained by his successors.'-23.

    From Prussian Military Reforms 1786-1813 by William Shanahan, 61:

    'Neither of the successors of Frederick the Great was inclined to make radical alterations in the government or the armed forces.'

    'The long period of peace in Prussia from 1795 to 1806 offered a great opportunity for military reform. Except for a few minor changes the Prussian military institutions dating from the time of Frederick the Great remained much the same. It is almost unbelievable that a state which owed almost all of its fortune to the excellence of its army could watch with complacence the transformation of the French republican armies into a formidable military machine. This lethargy was almost entirely due to the timorous and procrastinating character of the monarchs.'-69.

    On page 123 of Clausewitz and the State by Peter Paret:

    Paret also recounts some of Clausewitz's comments on the Catastrophe of 1806, including 'his strictures on the army's antiquated and inefficient organization, administration, equipment, and tactics.' And he also states Clausewitz's position on the ''intellectual poverty' and moral cowardice 'of the Prussian leadership.

    John Elting is quite clear in his accurate assessment of the Prussian Army of 1806 in Napoleonic Uniforms, Volume IV, 488.

    ‘Considering the late 18th Century Prussian Army that mysterious, wandering Welsh soldier of fortune, Henry Lloyd, who had served both in and against it, described it as made up chiefly of foreigners of all nations, manners, and religions. Frederick the Great had drilled and disciplined it into a ‘vast and regular machine', but-were Frederick removed-it probably would fall to pieces.'

    ‘The Prussian Army that went confidently against Napoleon in 1806 was Frederick's army still in most regards-a framework of foreigners, enticed into its harsh service, filled up with part-trained native Prussian reservists. A few days of fighting shattered it.'

    And if you would like to review an excellent work on the Prussian Army of Frederick the Great, I recommend Christopher Duffy's work on the subject, The Army of Frederick the Great (Second Edition).

    'It would be misleading to talk of the failure of the old Prussian military system in 1806-07 in terms of a contrast with the achievements of Frederick at his prime, for the two things were so closely connected. The Prussians would not have been so soundly beaten by the French at Jena-Auerstadt if they had not already routed them at Rossbach in 1757. What had been so sagely conservative in the 1740s and 1750s, one hundred years after the Great Elector, became stagnation half a century later.'-327.

    From John Elting's Swords Around A Throne, Chapter XXV, 516-517:

    'The Prussian Army the French met in 1806 was essentially the ghost of Frederick the Great's reputedly invincible host…The titular commander in chief, the Duke of Brunswick, was seventy-one…Its fountainhead of authority, young King Frederick William III, was simple, brave, and soldierly but weak-willed…
    There were many elderly generals, with leather lungs and entirely unjustified illusions of infallibility, who insisted on arguing over their orders than obeying them.'

    'Most of the army's peacetime enlisted strength were mercenaries from the world's four corners…the artillery and engineers, arms that Frederick never quite comprehended, were in bad condition, their officers poorly trained and considered something less than gentlemen. The administrative services had ossified; the medical service was outstandingly inefficient…the Prussian service meant scant pay, short rations, skimpy clothing, and harsh discipline.

    From Gordon Craig's The Politics of the Prussian Army:

    'The decline of the army which had one such signal triumphs in the Seven Years War can be traced back to Frederick the Great himself…Frederick left the army 'in a worse condition than that in which he had found it on ascending the throne'…Although he was willing to admit on occasion that native soldiers fought Prussia's battles better than foreign mercenaries, Frederick always felt that his subjects served the state better as taxpayers and producers of goods than as soldiers. Whereas in the army of Frederick William I natives had outnumbered foreigners by two to one, Frederick set out deliberately to reverse that ratio…'-22.

    Frederick also extended the practice of furloughing natives for most of the year and reduced the annual maneuver period.-24.

    The senior officers, old as they were in the period after Frederick's death (they had been junior officers during the Seven Years War), were also incredibly conservative and inflexible and dutifully maintained what they believed to be Frederick's 'standards' and generally refused to admit that warfare, especially that practiced by the French, had changed things immeasurably.-26.

    As a sidenote, it should also be noted that there was no Prussian artillery school until 1791 and that would be abolished during the 'reform period' in 1808.

Latest Topics

Collapse

Working...
X