Austrian Line Infantry Combat Tactics

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Introduction

The below derives for most part from the portrait of the Austrian army found in vol. I of the Prussian Generalstaff History of the 7 Years War (see reference below).

Description

Austrias Militärkommission of 1748 agreed with the understanding that it was the Prussian army’s superior discipline, firepower and superior skill in maneuver, to which Frederick owned his victories of the two previous Silesian Wars. It was therefore concluded, the army would have to improve its standards of training if it wanted to face this army again with any hope for success.

During 1749 to 1751, new drill instructions were introduced. New principles of maneuvering with large formations and for combat had been tested with the likewise newly introduced training camps during summer. However, a written summary of all innovations had only been issued to the army with the Reglement published in 1759.

Deployed in line of battle, the battalions aligned with 6 paces intervals, with grenadiers present, they likewise formed up with 6 paces intervals with each 1 company deployed on either flank of the regiment. Grenadiers deployed in 3 ranks, fusiliers in 4 ranks (after the Battle of Kolin, on June 18 1757, fusiliers deployed in 3 ranks). The regular 6 coy. ‘field-battalion’ formed in 6 ‘divisions’ – the company simply changing entitlement once deployed for combat – the 4 coy. Exceptionally, Netherlander battalions formed in 4 ‘divisions’. The battalion was furthermore divided into 12 or 8 ‘half-divisions’ and 24 or 16 platoons. Each platoon with about 7 or 8 files if deployed in 4 ranks, 9 or 10 files if deployed in 3 ranks. The grenadier coy. was divided into 4 platoons. Each 1 battalion gun was placed within the battalions intervals. With grenadiers present, the piece was placed within the 6 paces interval separating the battalion and the flanking grenadiers.

For combat, the battalion deployed with closed files (touching shoulders), on other occasions also with opened files by doubling the intervals (an arms distance). Filing off to a flank was done by the wheeling of platoons, half-divisions, or divisions, or simply by the ranks turning left or right and to march off by ranks. The latter method being much frowned upon while on drill grounds, but certainly employed all the more often during war. As it seems, the difficult oblique stepping became a regular element of Austrian drill only with the 1769 regulations. Extended lines of multiple battalions altered a change of their front by wheeling round their axis. Deployment from column into line was done by the ordinary quarter wheels of a battalions sub-divisions (Einschwenken), customary with basically all other armies of this period. With the deployment, an inversion of the order of ranking was not permitted with the regulations.

Movement was to be at the ‘ordinary’, ‘medium’, or at the ‘doubled’ pace – the latter could also be employed for the attack before closing to small arms fire distance.

Young Count Gisors, son of French Marshal Belle-Isle (see footnote 1), had attended a training camp near Kolin in 1754 in the la suite of the Emperor Franz Stephan and Maria Theresia. Soon later, he gave an account of his observations to Frederick II. He observed the troops being well disciplined and well-clad, but found training of the rank and file rather uneven, the marching step was too short or slow, and pacing was found ill-timed in general. The troops would avoid advancing with extended front but prefer the column, and more often the simple movement by ranks.

For fire combat, the manuals for the mastering of the musket were more complex as those of the Prussian drill. Prussians had reduced themselves to the employment of 2 principle types of fire only, either by platoon (8 or 10 firings per battalion) or by the entire battalion. The Heckenfeuer, a type of controlled skirmishing fire, is confirmed being employed only on rare occasions, such as at Lobositz 1756. Much in contrast, Austrian regulations provided a particular type of fire for practically any sort of situation to be imagined in combat.

Emphasis was placed on speed but likewise on well aimed fire. By the Seven Years' War, Prussian sources agree, Austrian infantry had arrived at a rather equal rate of fire. Cognazzo, an Austrian veteran (fn. 2), notes an individual recruit was to master 5 rounds of charging and loading in a minute. Only then, he was to be introduced to the drill exercises within the platoon or company (fn. 3). With the 4-rank deployment, the 2 forward ranks would fix bayonets and kneel down, the reserve first rank in more crooked position as the 2nd kneeling rank and with the weapon nearly level to the ground. The most common types of fire were usually by divisions, half-divisions, or platoons starting from the flanks to the centre. The entire 1st rank, the 2 colour platoons of a battalions centre, as well as the grenadiers (if present), only fired to the direct orders of the battalion commander. Fire was conducted mostly at the halt, but regulation also knew of firing during a slow advance, not much unlike Prussian regulations. A general battalion discharge – so much favoured by the Prussians when attacking infantry – was recommended only to “farewell” the retiring or routing opponent during the pursuit. Cognazzo specifies the fire by platoon as most awesome and suitable when employed in open terrain, while fire by divisions was capable of creating veritable breeches within the opponents ranks. However, the firing while advancing with a battalion sub-divisions, he declares to be unfeasible, especially with the smaller sub-divisions, for they were found much apt to loose their distances, and as a result, would soon cause nothing but confusion and disorder within the formation. This observation would imply the Austrian infantry was found to be less capable of performing the Prussian style advance while firing – an excessively drilled key characteristics of this army’s altogether more aggressive and offensive spirited combat tactics.

With the bayonet charge, only the 1st rank leveled musket. It was to loose off just before closing with the enemy. On the command Marsch Marsch! – or the Hungarian Hudry Hudry! – it was now to fall upon the enemy at the double pace. With the sabre armed Hungarians and grenadiers, their rear rank was now to run out to either side and fall upon the opponents flank and rear with drawn sabres. This manner of engaging in a melee – rather unusual to European armies – is said to have been adopted from the much dreaded Turkish Janissaries. The grenadiers and Hungarians considered it to be a particular proof of their courage. Tempelhof's history of the Seven Years' War notes they did so on several occasions during the war. At the battle of Prague, the Austrian grenadiers ran after Marshal Schwerin's routed battalions with drawn sabres, but he continues to remark that none of the rallying survivors actually suffered a wound from a sabre during this part of the engagement (fn. 4).

Footnotes

(1) Camille Rousset, Le comte de Gisors 1732–1758, Études Historiques, Paris 1868, pp. 83 ff. – cited in Generalstaff history (see Reference below)

(2) Cogniazzo J. Freymüthiger Beytrag zur Geschichte des österreichischen Militärdienstes [Frank remarks to the history of Austrian military service], Frankfurt and Leipzig 1780. He was an officer in the regiment No 2, regarded as one of the best regiments of the army (see also Christopher Duffy, By Force of Arms, Volume II of The Austrian Army in the Seven Years War, Chicago 2008)

(3) A performance of 5 rounds a minute would imply a dry run exercise without employing a powder cartridge – and without the officers commanding words. For a rate of fire with the employment of life ammunition during an engagement, the Generalstaff history provides some detailed record on fire performance of Frederick’s Berlin and Potsdam garrisoned crack regiments. It clearly expels any speculations on a rate of fire significantly exceeding 2 rounds a minute into the realm of myth. The diary of the officer von Scheelen of I. Leibgarde bataillon records a rate of 20 seconds per round with the employment of a cartridge. Firing by pelotons (8 firings) with the entire bataillon, a rate of 10 seconds per peloton – i.e. the entire bataillon firing once in every 80 seconds – was considered to be a good performance. This rate would be allusifly confirmed by Cogniazzo's observations that state the fire by divisions (Austrian 6 firings per bataillon) did not allow for sufficient time required for reloading, if it was to last for more then just a single run down a bataillons front. Best performance by individual pelotons of the Prussian Guards during a recorded exercise August 1754 was a rate of 2,4 rounds a minute. (Kriegsgeschichtliche Einzelschriften, pp. 434 ff.).

(4) Extracts from Colonel Tempelhoffe's History of the Seven Years War etc., vol 1, London 1793 – pp. 50 ff. (available at Google library)

References

  • Großer Generalstab, Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II (commissioned by): Die Kriege Friedrichs des Großen. Dritter Teil: Der Siebenjährige Krieg 1756–1763. Vol. 1 Pirna und Lobositz, Berlin 1901, pp. 143-145
  • Kriegsgeschichtliche Einzelschriften. Commissioned by Großer Generalstab, papers 28/30 – 1745-1756, re-print of Berlin 1899 edition, Buchholz 2001
  • Paper by R. H. de Riedmatten titled Das K.K. Feldbataillon als taktischer Verband im 7-jährigen Krieg [The I.R. Field Battalion as a tactical unit during the 7 Years War] published in Schirmer, Friedrich: Die Heere der kriegführenden Staaten 1756 - 1763. Edited and published by KLIO-Landesgruppe Baden-Württemberg e.V., Magstadt, 1989
  • Cogniazzo, J.: Freymüthiger Beytrag zur Geschichte des österreichischen Militärdienstes [Frank remarks to the history of Austrian military service], Frankfurt and Leipzig 1780
  • Berenhorst, Georg Heinrich: Betrachtungen über die Kriegskunst, re-print of 3rd edition, Leipzig 1827
  • Ortenburg, Georg: Waffe und Waffengebrauch im Zeitalter der Kabinettskriege, Koblenz 1986