Origin and History
Pontoniers have a very old tradition in the Austrian Army. Large rivers like the Danube, Drave, Save and others played an important role in the wars against the Turks. The lack of stone bridges usable by the army made it necessary to erect temporary pontoon bridges (Schiffsbrücken). This was the job of the pontoniers.
These troops were assigned to the Shipmaster office (Schiffsmeisteramt) located in Vienna. This office was also responsible for transports on the Danube river.
Around 1600 the first mobile pontoon bridge was designed. By 1624, two mobile pontoon bridges were available to the Austrian army.
In 1702, Prince Eugène de Savoie organised the first permanent pontoon bridge train of 12 copper pontoons. It was stationed Vienna.
During the Rákóczi's Rebellion (1703-11) and the Austro-Turkish War (1716-18) who followed, the pontoniers under Captain Gössinger built several pontoon bridges. Between 1711 and 1715 they erected permanent pontoon bridges at Buda, Szegedin and Szolnok. In 1712, in connection with the coronation of Charles VI as Holy Roman Emperor, Captain Gössinger built a pontoon bridge in Pressburg (present-day Bratislava/SK).
In 1717, the Shipmaster office received the order to prepare 3 large bridges counting 100 pontoons each.
At the end of 1734, Michael Duke of Württemberg recommended to the Hofkriegsrat (War Council) to buy a Prussian bridge train which was at that time used by the Reichsarmee in Germany. It consisted of 40 tin pontoons. The costs, including the necessary equipment and 218 horses, was of 29,397 talers. The complete train was under the command of Brückhauptmann (captain) Berger. In 1737, the complete train was increased to 60 pontoons and stationed in Hungary.
In 1741, at the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession, a bridge train of 40 pontoons commanded by Captain Johann Karl Fromb was sent from Peterwardein to Neipperg's army in Silesia. By 1742, the Shipmaster office already had 474 boats available. In addition, 170 boats and 16 pontoons had been captured from the French. After the surrender of Prague, 40 copper and 52 wooden French pontoons were also captured.
In 1748, the Pontonier Corps was reduced. Its equipment was concentrated at Kuttenberg (present-day Kutná Hora/CZ) in Bohemia while Captain Fromb and 121 pontoniers were stationed in Hungary.
In 1749, the pontoniers were organised in two companies:
- First coy: 34 men under Captain Johann Ferdinand Eschenauer
- Second coy: 34 men under Captain Johann Karl Fromb
In February 1754, the corps was increased to a total of 127 men with 120 wooden and 80 tin pontoons.
During the Seven Years' War, the successive commanders of this Shipmaster office were:
- in 1756: Claudius Le Fort du Plessy
- from 1759: Lieutenant-Colonel Johann Karl Fromb
In 1767, after the Seven Years' War, the corps was completely reorganised:
- “Hauskompanie” (4 officers and 85 men)
- Pontonier (1 bn of 4 coys), each coy consisting of:
- 4 officers
- 2 NCOs
- 61 men
The commander of the Shipmaster office was Ludwig Rudolf Baron von Riepke. Major Karl Friedrich von Magdeburg assumed command of the Pontonier Corps while Captain Josef Hütter commanded the battalion. The commanders of the various companies were:
- “Hauskompanie”: Captain Paumann
- First coy: Captain-Lieutenant Jahn
- Second coy: Captain Schwäger
- Third coy: Captain Bärtling
- Fourth coy: Captain Adelsgruber
The “Hauskompanie” was responsible for all shipyards (Schiffsamt) of the Monarchy and regrouped the men of the two old pontonier coys.
The garrison of the Pontonier Battalion was Klosterneuburg.
Service during the War
At the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, the two Pontonier companies were (a total of approx. 120 men) had their quarters in Pest and Presburg. However, detachments were in charge of the bridges on the Danube in Hungary. The colonel of the Shipmaster office was posted in Vienna. There were 100 wooden pontoons in Presburg and 20 wooden and 80 tin pontoons in Vienna.
In 1756, the second coy of Captain Fromb was assigned to the Army of Bohemia with a train of 80 pontoons.
In 1757, Fromb was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel, replacing Claudius Le Fort du Plessy, and took the command of the Shipmaster office. The first coy was placed under the command of Captain Peter Sigmund Gastel; the second, under Captain Johann Christoph Paumann.
During the war the corps was gradually increased. Thus each company of the two companies comprised:
- 3 officers
- 7 NCOs
- 1 drummer
- 112 pontoniers (later increased to 160 or even 180 men)
|Headgear||black tricorne laced white|
|Coat||cornflower blue with white buttons
|Waistcoat||cornflower blue with small white buttons|
From 1755, pontoniers were armed with an infantry musket and a sabre.
NCOs wore the same uniform as the pioneers with the following distinctions:
- black tricorne laced silver
Officers wore the same uniform as the pioneers with the following exceptions:
- black tricorne laced gold
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Brinner: Geschichte des k.k. Pionnier-Regimentes in Verbindung mit der Geschichte des Kriegs-Brückenwesens in Österreich, Vienna 1878
Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 1 Pirna und Lobositz, Berlin, 1901, App. 4
Harald Skala for the initial version of this article