Napoleon Series Archive 2009

SÚnarmont at Friedland: New Doctrine?
In Response To: SÚnarmont at Friedland ()

Right. It's gone silent. So I'm going to poke my head into the beehive.

Kevin posted (and re-posted) a well-argued and interesting commentary (11 June) on SÚnarmont at Friedland that concluded:

'Again, it was another 'arrow in the quiver' so to speak of the French artillery tactics of the period, and if I may borrow from Major Becke again 'SÚnarmont managed to accomplish a truly great and a result that stands as an abiding testimony to his own genius. SÚnarmont 's achievement with his 30 guns made clear to the military world that a new era had dawned for the artillery arm and from that time onward field artillery tactics became a subject for serious study.' Becke, 42.'

'And finally, 'There is no doubt that the gunner takes an especial interest in Friedland for in this battle he recognizes the birth of modern field artillery tactics...' Becke, 40.'

My understanding of Kevin's position is that SÚnarmont is claimed to have introduced, with his "artillery charge" what Becke describes as "the birth of modern field artillery tactics". I suspect that Becke's enthusiasm might have transported him a tad, but it is not clear to me that the contemporary world (or even SÚnarmont's French colleagues) specifically recognized this birth, or saw SÚnarmont's tactical approach as the basis of a doctrine of artillery usage. Becke's evaluation glows from a century later, burnished by hindsight (and possibly honed by some selective learning or memory), but he doesn't actually assert that SÚnarmont's colleagues in the French Imperial artillery, nor in any foreign army, took particular note of SÚnarmont's actions as tactical doctrine, though they may have remarked upon and even emulated SÚnarmont's courage and aggressive management of his artillery.

Even re-reading Becke, one can't help but be struck by the heavy role played by a humongous quantity of artillery at the battle. Ney's own attack had been stalled by the heavy fire of copious Russian artillery, and then flattened by Russian cavalry. French forces were already relying on large deployments of artillery. Indeed, Napoleon's own orders for the battle indicate the artillery's intended participation in the final paragraph of his orders for the battle: "At the moment when the Right advances all the guns along the whole line will redouble their fire in the most useful direction, so as to cover the attack made by the Right Wing." [quoted in Becke, p.47]

When Ney's attack was destroyed and Victor's troops readied to press on in Ney's stead, Becke describes Dupont's divisional artillery as coming into action under Capt. Ricci, whom SÚnarmont "accompanied". This is when SÚnarmont realizes that Dupont's artillery is inadequate to facing off superior numbers of Russian artillery, and he hustles off to gather more from the rest of the 1st Corps, with Victor's permission (the only thing that would have empowered him to get it away from the Divisional commanders to whom much of it was attached - indeed, what SÚnarmont left in reserve appears to have been mostly the Corps artillery that would have been under his direct control! - sensible guy). With this 1st Corps artillery massed, he forms a counter to the large array of Russian artillery and goes to work.

In summarizing SÚnarmont's success, even Becke alludes to the logic that drove SÚnarmont and his guns forward, noting that by "closing up to the Russian infantry he placed an overwhelming barrage on the selected spot until all resistance had been broken down and the French Infantry war once more ready to attack, then the guns ceased firingů." [Becke, p.43] He THEN notes, with regard to SÚnarmont 's advancement of his guns that: "The short range of smooth-bore guns firing case-shot was the reason why the guns had to be advanced so close to their objective in order to get the necessary effect. In the Napoleonic era the fire of a long line of guns could not be concentrated on one target; and, except in our Army, shrapnel was then unknown. That is the real reason that an Artillery Reserve was necessary in the Napoleonic times and it was never engaged until the decisive point had been made clear by the preliminary fighting, on s'engage partour et puis l'on voit. In this combat d'usure the enemy was held in his position all along the line and his reserve was fully engaged." [Becke, footnote (1), p.43] In other words, SÚnarmont followed the natural logic of the tools he had to hand and the demands of the situation: to close to an effective range to obtain the effect he needed.

Was this a new logic? I don't think so - I think it was one shared by most good officers in his arm. That he was able to coordinate the advance of so many guns together is a testimony to the way organisation in units and developing experience of operating under French imperial command structure facilitated centralized control by a Corps' chief artillerist. SÚnarmont was also courageous in his willingness to press the application of his arm to its logical conclusion: a steady series of advances to intensify the effect of its fire from his mass of guns and thereby break his enemy's capacity to resist. Lt-Col. Robe would separately follow the same logic at Talavera, two years later. I suspect that diligent searching would yield other, similar examples through the era. SÚnarmont deservedly wins special notice for the numbers and seriousness of the situation, and his audacity to deliver the goods in spite of the circumstances.

But it remains to be shown that his action at Friedland established a recognized tactical doctrine among contemporaries (or even among those who came along in the immediately subsequent decade or two).

Rather, it appears to me, the action manifested a logical continuation of artillery's development, examples of which can also be found both before and after June 1807, as thoughtful gunners applied themselves to the application of their tools and expansion of their possibility. Subsequent historians, I suspect, have latched onto the spectacular, and magnified the place of SÚnarmont 's achievement disproportionately, conveniently identifying it as a starting place, when it was only a dramatic example of a broad and continuing development of artillery's tactical employment. Only hindsight carved the incident into a revolutionary "birth of modern field artillery tactics" - it does not appear, so far as I can tell, to have been seen by contemporaries as introducing a remarkable tactical idea or change during the era.

Is there evidence that SÚnarmont's action at Friedland was seen by contemporaries to introduce a new doctrine? Is there evidence that other military minds of the era saw SÚnarmont as devising a new tactical tool for the proverbial box?

Curious - Howie

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Dix ans de mes souvenirs militaires, de 1805-1815.
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SÚnarmont at Friedland: New Doctrine?
changing the universal sentiment ...
Changing the universal sentiment: did it? How?
Re: Changing the universal sentiment: did it? How?
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Re: Changing the universal sentiment: did it? How?
General Ruty
Re: Changing the universal sentiment: did it? How?
Re: Changing the universal sentiment: did it? How?
Re: Changing the universal sentiment: did it? How?
Senarmont and change *LINK*
The Camp At Boulogne.