Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

 

 

Napoleonís Foot Gunners: The Guard Foot Artillery

Battery Organisation and Tactics

By Paul Dawson

 

Artillery-á-Pied Captain
Mounted Captain in Full Dress c.1810

The fundamental tactical unit of the Guard artillery was the battery (company) or Ďdivisioní. Each company comprised 8 guns, usually 6 12 pounders and two 5.5 inch howitzers. The howitzers, however, were often removed and brigaded into howitzer companies. One company was often broken up so that each company had 8 guns.† Each 12 pounder had a 15 man crew and was commanded by a corporal. Each company had 1 sergeant major, 4 sergeants, one quartermaster-corporal, 8 corporals, 20 gunners first class, 48 gunners second class, and two drummers.† Two guns formed a section commanded by a sergeant, with four guns being commanded by a lieutenant. The company was commanded by a Capitaine. Three companies form a battalion headed by a Chef de Bataillon, the regiment being commanded by a Major. Young Guard companies were armed with six 6 pounder guns, which were replaced in 1813 with 12 pounder or 8 pounder guns.

Guard batteries carried a double ration of ammunition. Each caisson held about 350 rounds. The 8 pounder being issued with 3 caissons, the 12 pounder and howitzer five caissons each. In addition to this, each battery would have a spare gun carriage and team, one mobile field forge, and a tool vehicle with spare parts for caissons, limbers, and gun carriages. In total, a battery on average would have 30 vehicles, representing some 140 horses.

During the revolutionary wars, artillery was deployed solely at battery level, with drill books relating only to the use of an individual gun. The lack of instruction for artillery higher than an individual battery severely limited the use of artillery en mass, which was noted at the time, but repeated studies of higher tactics was satisfied only some years after Waterloo.

The tactical use to which an individual battery could be used were many and various. In defence, it would be a powerful deterant to attacking enemy infantry, the gunners always trying to fire into opposing infantry and cavalry masses rather than artillery. In this way, attacking enemy formations would be broken up and disorganised by the time they reached the French line. The sound of the bombardment would also re-assure the French infantry.

In the defence of villages, the battery would be concealed by strong cover, if available. Normally, the battery would be placed on the flanks in order to give enfilade fire. The same tactic would be used in open country. Cross fires and enfilades were foremost in every gunners mind, and the French, especially the Guard, were masters of it.

Artillery was vulnerable against cavalry, and would seek refuge in nearby infantry squares, usually firing from corners to give the widest field of fire. Technically it was possible for a battery to repulse a cavalry attack alone, though it would only be the brash battery commander who would rely upon his gunners to continue to fire heavy canister until the very last moment before the cavalry charged home. Twice in Germany during 1800, horse artillery counter charged the attacking enemy cavalry, and gunners beating off enemy infantry hand-to-hand. Such incidents, were however very much the exception. An overrun battery usually fell into enemy hands.

When used to support an infantry attack, the battery would once again seek to obtain a position where it could fire into the opposing troops flank. The closer the battery could get, the better- get up close and shoot quick was one French artillerists' maxim. However, this tactic required quick reactions to guard against sudden counterattacks. To some extent the danger of this tactic could be overcome by leapfrogging batteries forward in alternate sections or by approaching behind a cavalry of infantry screen, and increased the surprise factor, which could often rout an in-experience enemy on its own. A more certain method was the adoption of the massed battery.

General Senarmont
General Senarmont

At Friedland, Senermont demonstrated that massed artillery could be deployed successfully. Senermont massed 38 guns, including: four 12 pounder guns, four 4 pounder guns, 22 6 pounder guns, and eight howitzers. The battery was split into three provisional batteries: a heavy reserve and two main units, each of ten 6 pounder guns, two 4 pounder guns, and three howitzers. The batteries were placed so as to be able to cross their fire at a single point. The reserve was kept in a covered position. Fire was opened at 400 meters, and after five or six rounds, advanced to 200 meters. The two batteries were supported by an infantry battalion and four regiments of dragoons. After firing 20 rounds per gun, the batteries were advanced by prolonge until they joined together at about 60 meters from the enemies line. Rapid fire with heavy canister broke the infantry to its front. After this route, the French Infantry were able to attack into the town of Friedland, supported all the way by Senermont, firing into the retreating Russians flank. Senermont lost 66 casulaties and 53 horses. The artillery charge was a startling feat of arms.

 

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2003

 

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