Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics


 

 

Prussian Infantry Regimental Colonels-in-Chief: 1792 - 1806

By Stephen Millar

 

“Often in combats which are beyond restoration new forces are sacrificed in vain; often through neglect the decision has not been seized when it might easily have been secured. Here are two examples, which could not be more to the point:

When the Prince of Hohenlohe[-Ingelfingen], in 1806, at Jena, with 35,000 men opposed to from 60,000 to 70,000, under Buonaparte, had accepted battle, and lost it – but lost it in such a way that the 35,000 might be regarded as dissolved – General Ruchel undertook to renew the fight with about 12,000; the consequence was that in a moment his force was scattered in like manner.

On the other hand, on the same day at Auerstadt, the Prussians maintained a combat with 25,000, against Davoust, who had 28,000, until mid-day, without success, it is true, but still without the force being reduced to a state of dissolution without even greater loss than the enemy, who was very deficient in cavalry; but they neglected to use the reserve of 18,000, under General Kalkreuth, to restore the battle which, under these circumstances, it would have been impossible to lose.”

-- Karl von Clausewitz, On War [Book 4, Chapter VII], 1832

When the Prussian Army went to war against Napoleon in October 1806, it was considered by many to be the finest army in Europe. Harsh training and hard campaigning under King Friedrich II and his generals had created one of history’s most effective military machines. In terms of middle eighteenth-century warfare, the Prussian Army was second to none.

Therein lay the problem: in 1806, the strategy, tactics and command-and-control of Prussia’s old ‘Frederickan’ system confronted those of France’s new ‘Napoleonic’ system. Despite some deficiencies in the cavalry arm, the Prussian infantry was still as solid as it was at Leuthen or Rossbach in 1757 (its performance at Vierzehnheiligen during the Battle of Jena was proof of that). However, what hampered the Prussian Army the most in the Jena-Auerstadt Campaign was not its’ slow rate of march, lack of sufficient light infantry, or outmoded divisional system, but rather a general absence of effective command.

The majority of the senior officer corps was elderly, often indecisive or dangerously over-confident. Strategic planning lacked clear goals; initiative failed at crucial moments. Coordination with their Saxon ally was poor (the Saxon contingent almost quit the campaign over a lack of supplies) and unit deployment – especially Ruchel’s corps at Jena and Oranien’s division at Auerstadt – often made a bad tactical situation even worse.

Prussian infantry in 1806 consisted of 133,157 men in 171 battalions. [1] There were four Guard battalions (Infantry Regiment Nrs. 6 and 15), 58 two-battalion infantry regiments and one three-battalion jager regiment. Also included in the infantry roster were 27 four-company grenadier battalions and 24 four-company fusilier battalions

The cavalry had 39,673 men formed in 255 squadrons. There were 13 five-squadron cuirassier regiments, 12 five-squadron dragoon regiments, two 10-squadron dragoon regiments (‘Konigin’ Nr. 5 and ‘Auer’ Nr. 6) and nine 10-squadron hussar regiments. The remaining units were a single five-squadron hussar ‘battalion’, a 10-squadron ‘Towarczys’ regiment and a five-squadron ‘Towarczys’ ‘battalion’.

The field artillery consisted of 10,165 men in 71 eight-gun batteries. There were four foot artillery regiments (36 – 12pdr batteries), one horse artillery regiment (20 – 6-pdr batteries) and two 10-pdr mortar batteries. Eight 6-pdr batteries, four 7-pdr howitzer batteries and one light mortar battery were in reserve.

It is interesting to consider that Prussia may have lost the Jena-Auerstadt Campaign with a single general officer’s bad decision: Generalleutnant Wilhelm-Heinrich-Adolf von Kalckreuth’s refusal to commit his two reserve divisions at the Battle of Auerstadt. At Auerstadt, Marshal Davout’s seriously-outnumbered III Corps – astride the Prussian Army’s line of retreat  – had withstood a terrible pounding in the morning by Schmettau’s, Wartensleben’s and Oranien’s divisions. By early afternoon 

“[Davout’s] strength was well-nigh exhausted, whilst the Prussian reserve, eighteen battalions of guards [only four of the 18 were guard infantry] under Kalckreuth, stood intact and ready to engage. But at the critical moment the Duke of Brunswick fell mortally wounded, and [Oberst Gerhard-Johann-David von] Scharnhorst, his Chief of Staff, was at the time absent on another part of the field. Meanwhile, rumours [about General der Infanterie Erbprinz zu Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen’s defeat] from the battlefield at Jena, magnified as usual, began to reach the staff, and these may possibly have influenced Kalckreuth, for when appealed to attack with his eighteen battalions and win the day, he declined to move without the direct order of the Commander-in-Chief to do so, alleging that it was the duty of a reserve to cover the retreat and he considered himself personally responsible to the King for the guards entrusted to his care.” [2]

However, neither King Friedrich-Wilhelm III nor his senior military advisor Generalfeldmarschall von Mollendorf assumed command and the Prussians lost their opportunity. Davout ordered his exhausted troops to advance and Scharnhorst issued an order for a general retreat (covered by Kuhnheim’s and Arnim’s divisions).

After the disaster of 1806, King Friedrich-Wilhelm III created the 1807 Military Reform Commission to modernize what was left of the Prussian army (under the terms of the 1808 Treaty of Paris, Prussia’s army was limited to 42,000 men for ten years, leaving the military with six independent brigades based on the remaining Prussian provinces). From 1808-1813, the army’s organization, recruitment and tactics were overhauled; by early 1813, the regular infantry consisted of 12 re-named and re-numbered line regiments (1st East Prussian Infantry Regiment [ex-Infantry Regiment Nr. 1] to 2nd Silesian Infantry Regiment [ex-Infantry Regiment Nr. 12]).

Several months prior to the 1813 Campaign, a new Foot Guard regiment was raised; 39 new reserve infantry battalions were formed into one additional line regiment (12th Brandenburg Infantry Regiment) and 12 reserve regiments (1st Reserve Infantry Regiment to 12th Reserve Infantry Regiment). The reserve regiments became part of the regular Prussian army on 25.03.1815.

There is often conflicting information about officer promotion dates. In 1792, only two officers held the rank of Generalfeldmarschall in the Prussian army: Ferdinand, Duke of Braunschweig-Wolfenbuttel (1721-1792) promoted in 1758 and Karl-Wilhelm-Ferdinand, Duke of Braunschweig-Luneburg-Wolfenbuttel (09.10.1735-10.11.1806) promoted in 1787. In the years 1793-1813, a further six generals were awarded this rank:

1793: Mollendorf, General der Infanterie Richard-Joachim-Heinrich von (1724-1816)

Date unknown: Knobelsdorff, Alexander-Friedrich, Freiherr von (1723-1799)

1805: Brunnecke, Wilhelm-Magnus von (1727-1817)

1807: Homme de Courbiere, Wilhelm-Rene de l’ (1733-1811)

1807: Kalckreuth, Friedrich-Adolf, Graf von (1737-1818)

1813: Blucher, General der Kavallerie Gebhard-Leberecht von (1742-1819)

 

Notes:

[1] http://www.grosser-generalstab.de/

[2] http://www.napoleonicminiatureswargame.com/

 

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series:  April - August 2005

 

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