Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

The Use of the Third Rank and Brigade Formations According to the Prussian Regulations of 1812

By Jeff Lewis

Usage of the 3rd Rank: the Prussian Regulations in English

Section Four - Determination of the Third Rank

Chapter One - Use of the Third Rank Generally

1. - Introduction

The infantry must be able to battle in the open and in the rough terrain, against dispersed and formed troops. Each separated troop, Battalion, Company etc. therefore has its detachment for the formed and dispersed Engagement; for the former the first and second ranks, for the latter the third rank.

The section for formed combat for the highest value from the attitude of the rows and ranks must, in conclusion, use massed fire, and then attack with the Bayonet; the section for dispersed combat looks for its advantages in the skill of individual shooting, use of the terrain and the advantages, which are presented by the position and movements of the enemy. During this main regulation of both sections it is required, however, that they can exchange roles with each other, that the two forward ranks of the battalion can, in the case of need, fight dispersed, and the detachment of the third rank are able to fight formed.

The combat of the infantry is a mutual support of the dispersed and formed troops. When the third rank fights dispersed, then, if it cannot resist the enemy any more, it withdraws to the battalion, or from it obtains support.

Except the use mentioned here, the third rank can, since they never fire with the other ranks together, when a special disposable section for multiple purposes is used; it offers the advantage of a reserve which is continually to hand. It can also serve as Advance or rear guards and flank patrols, reserve and support posts, to occupation of Defiles which they retire from last, and such

2. Forming of the Züge from the third rank.

For these different intentions when it is necessary, the third rank in Züge is formed, which is flexible in use, and to which command certain Officers and NCOs are subordinated. On this Command from the Battalion Commander, “Züge from the third rank form!”, from the third rank of each Company, a Züg two men deep is formed thus, the third rank of the even Züge moves to the right behind those of the odd Züge. Each of the Züg formed from the third rank is commanded by one Officer and three NCOs, and has one bugler with it. The four Züge of the battalion are each commanded by a Captain, who leads their exercise.

3. Arrangement

The reasons for which the Züge from the third rank are formed, determines their further movement and arrangement; a generally fitting tactical form is not given here, in most cases for their further use, they are most suitably positioned behind the wing Züge of the battalion. - The Commander of the Battalion disposes of them after discretion. Each regulation becomes here a contrary spirit, so that the Staff officer has to act excellently. – When several Züge of the third rank are detached together then they are commanded by a Captain – if a Company of the battalion is detached with them, then the third rank follows that.

4. Dispersed Combat.

Dispersed combat is where the third rank Züge are best used, although this appointment in no way waives the necessity, that all infantrymen individually must also be capable of this kind of fighting.

1) where the nature of the ground puts difficulties in the way of the movements of formed troops

2) to secure a formed line, or Column, against the fire of individual hostile Schutzen at a substantial distance;

3) a better aimed fire with security and ease than is possible in formed line, where each man pushes the others, and powder smoke prevents using aim, plus the advantages of the ground protect the individually standing Schutzen.

4) to mask another ones attack, and the enemy throws against it a dispersed swarm, and to prevent the enemy being aware of our movements.

From the use of the third rank for dispersed combat arises the advantage, that the battalion is not easily entangled in a combat where it fires its cartridges at long distance without effect, therefore it remains available in the most perfect order, so that at the crucial instant it can attack the enemy (, who are already shaken by the purposeful fire of the Schutzen,) with the Bayonet,.

Sample Cases set up here for the purpose of providing explanation

1) if the infantry is posted in rough terrain, then the third rank and a part of the Cannon stand before the formed battalions. Both now form the fire line, until the attack of the formed section takes place.

2) the infantry is placed on mountains, or it has at some distance a brook, or hedges, defiles, houses and such before it; similarly the third rank is posted forward, which can in an advantageous way stop the enemy without entangling our formed battalions in the fire.

The ravines, hollows and outcrops, which occur on slopes, the bushes, embankments and such, and finally the before mentioned hedges, defiles and such, additionally give an opportunity nearly everywhere.

5. to approach or attack the enemy,.

Marching in rough terrain, changing terrain, or in high crops, briefly anywhere one can meet the enemy unexpectedly, then the division of the third rank marches some hundred steps before the front of the battalion in Züge, and has a small part as individual Schutzen before itself. The division of the third rank here drives out the hostile Skirmisher, Tirailleur, patrols, guards and such by which a formed battalion is held up.

6. If one wants to pin the enemy line for a certain time.

If a battalion, brigade, or line faces the hostile cannon fire of an enemy line, without the two lines coming closer to each other, as so often is the case with a part of the army in all battles, then the third rank with or without cannons advances, and forms the first Battle Line or to a certain extent the fire line; the battalion or the brigade stops in recesses, or dead ground, so it can emerge at the crucial instant to deliver an attack. The third rank division disperses only a 1/3 part to at the most 2/3 of the whole, if the enemy does not press too strongly. If the whole third rank disperses, then it does not have Supports in itself, and will soon use itself up.

7 If the enemy yields, or we withdraw.

If the enemy yields, then the third rank pursues him fast; in this instance one must take some risk. Of each battalion one must always, however, withhold a small part of the third rank, one point is so that, if it becomes necessary, one can again collect the dispersed fighters, never wildly pursue the enemy without supports, when fighting dispersed never depart too far from this support troop. During dispersed fighting this was only too often the case for Germans in the last war, particularly in rough terrain. Thus they were separated and the battalions deprived themselves of their Schutzen.

If we ourselves withdraw, then the third rank must hold back the weaker enemy, so that the battalion is not stopped making its retreat. Züge which are beside each other, can, if the enemy is close, alternately retreat, and fire. If Cavalry in Squadron pursues, then the Schutzen must always stay at least four times more near the battalion than the hostile Cavalry. If troops pursue with individual Skirmishers, then a part of the division of the third rank remains formed with each other, and the remaining part is dispersed. Then the distance from the battalion depends on circumstances. It is a general rule to position a part of the retreating troops in such a fashion as to receive & stop the enemy pursuing the hindmost troops still under fire, and to repeat this maneuver as many times as the opportunity for it arises.

8. To attack or defend fortresses and entrenchment works.

With sieges, Schutzen of the third rank are definitely both in, and before the fortresses, to shoot constantly on the batteries in the embrasures. - in the fortress they occupy the forward post, and cause small losses etc. - with the attack they are appropriate for before the fortress covering and protecting the workers at night. With entrenchments they have the occupation of the available small posts etc.

With a fortress work, an entrenchment is first attacked, then it is surrounded by the third ranks of a whole brigade dispersed. These approach constantly, in the alternating fire, in which they throw themselves in furrows, hollows and such, until both cannon and the infantry open fire; now the Schutzen laying fire steadily on the artillery, kill the artillery men. If the third ranks fire their 60 shots in 1 to 2 hours in such a way, then they are replaced by others, and that fire is repeated. Now when the storm takes place, then it probably succeeds, because in most cases the enemy has been firing itself and does not any longer expect an attack.


The regulations are for the most part self explanatory, the emphasis is on the skirmish role in support of the formed battalion, and it is twice stated that all infantry should be capable of both skirmish and formed line roles.




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