Prussian Artillery Organisation

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Introduction

At the beginning of the XVIIIth century, the Prussian artillery was not considered a separate arm. Its role was to support the infantry. Therefore, it consisted mainly of light guns attached to each battalion. There were usually a very limited number of heavy guns deployed on the battlefields. Like in most other states, the artillery train was manned by civilians.

At the beginning of the War of the Austrian Succession, or from a Prussian perspective the First Silesian War, the Prussian artillery gradually became an independent arm. The efficiency and mobility of this new arm gradually increased.

In 1754, a first “Artillery Manual” was issued by artillery officers for training the gun crews. Live firing training took place outside the Oranienburg gate of Berlin. By then, the practice of ricochet fire, to engage the defenders behind fortifications, was already in use.

By the beginning of the Seven Years' War, the Prussian artillery had sufficiently evolved to play a major role on the battlefield as exemplified by the battery of 18 heavy guns planted on the Janusberg during the battle of Rossbach in November 1757. Heavy artillery was now grouped into batteries of 10 pieces. One such battery was usually attached to each infantry brigade.

Evolution throughout the War

At the beginning of the Seven Years' War, the Prussian artillery was organised into 1 field artillery regiment of 2 battalions, garrison artillery and horse artillery.

On 30 June 1758, for the first time, two colonels serving in the artillery (Dieskau and Moller) wrote down their advice on the way to use artillery as the primary arm to destroy enemy lines.

Other units

Besides the artillery units proper, there were also technical troops associated to the artillery: pioniers, mineurs, pontoniers and an Engineer Corps.

Ranks

No information available yet

Gun handling

On the battlefield, artillery pieces were manhandled using a combination of tow ropes and spikes. Based on the 1753 ‘field-plan’ and some slight modifications afterwards, the battalion guns were to be served each by 12 men plus 1 NCO for every 2 pieces. For the 2 pieces of a battalion, this amounted to 1 NCO, 17 gunners and 7 pioneers from the infantry (Zimmerleute). Two heavy cannon had 1 NCO and 16 gunners, two 10-pdr howitzers or 50-pdr mortars had 18 bombardiers, and two 25-pdr mortars 12 bombardiers. However, during the war the battalion guns, 3-pdr as well as the 6-pdr, were more often served by no more then 8 men, and those of the second line, as well as the heavy cannon with only 6 men. At times even less than that.

Drill

On the march

When the army was on the march, battalion guns were the head of the column, ready to deploy into line on the right wing of the battalion.

Unlimbering

Battalion guns usually unlimbered 20 paces before the line. The limbers were then moved behind the battalion. Guns were then moved forward.

When the battalion formed a square, the guns were planted at the corners.

Firing

Battalion guns usually opened fire with solid shot when the enemy was within 1,200 paces. When the enemy was within 400 paces, ammunition were changed for canister and the guns stopped advancing. As soon as the battalion passed in front of its guns, they immediately ceased fire.

One third of the ammunition had to be kept in reserve for the eventual follow up of the retiring enemy.

References

Gohlke, W.; Versuche zur Erleichterung des Feldgeschütze im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert, Zeitschrift für historische Waffenkunde, 1906-8, p. 92-93

Großer Generalstab, Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II (commissioner). ie Kriege Friedrichs des Großen, Dritter Teil: Der Siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763. Berlin 1901-1914, vols. I to IX

Guddat, Martin, Kanoniere Bombardiere Pontoniere - Die Artillerie Friedrichs des Großen, Herford 1992

Hüttemann, Bernd, Das Erscheinungsbild und die Gefechtsformen der preußischen Artillerie im 7-jährigen Krieg, Paderborn 1993

Jany, Curt, Geschichte der Preußischen Armee vom 15. Jahrhundert bis 1914 Volume II, Die Armee Friedrichs des Großen 1740 - 1763. Reprint Osnabrück 1967 of the 1928-1937 edition

Scharnhorst, G. J. D. v.; Militairisches Taschenbuch, zum Gebrauch im Felde, Hannover, 1793

Smith, Digby; The Prussian Army - to 1815, Schiffer Publishing, 2004

Tempelhof, Georg Friedrich von, Geschichte des siebenjährigen Krieges in Deutschland zwischen dem Könige von Preussen und der Kaiserin Königin mit ihren Alliirten als eine Fortsetzung der Geschichte Lloyd, J. F. Unger, Berlin, 1783-1801

Acknowledgments

Christian Rogge and Digby Smith for the initial version of this article