Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

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

By Jeff Lewis

Brigade Formations: the Prussian Regulations in English

Section Five - Arrangement of a Brigade.

First Chapter - Normal Battle Order.

His Majesty determines the normal arrangement or battle order of a Brigade, to be as represented in Fig. 1 in the attached plan. The two Fusilier Battalions are the Advance Guard before the first Battle Line. The first Battle Line consists of three battalions. Two battalions form the second Battle Line or reserve, namely the Grenadier battalion and the first battalion of the oldest infantry regiment.

The Cavalry form the rear Battle Line. The battalion numbering decides their order. The oldest Cavalry regiment or the Curassier stand in the middle of the Cavalry Battle Line. If still another Dragoon regiment is with the brigade, then place this on the right wing; otherwise however the oldest regiment of the Light Cavalry takes this place.

For the arrangement of several battalions, whose number does not, however, constitute a whole brigade, there is no fixed generally valid rule; however in all cases where more than two battalions are together, and their arrangement is not determined by the nature of the terrain, they must be placed in two lines in such a way that the intervals from the front to the back, is that fixed for the Brigade Distance. *). If several battalions form for a parade in line, a special instruction must be given for this. The interval between two battalions amounts to 12 steps. The distance of the Battle Lines from each other is determined according to terrain and circumstances; 150 steps is the fixed distance except when it is to be ordered more near or further for special reason. Direction and distance for the arrangement are taken following the first Battle Line. When advancing, the Advance Guard gives the direction, and also by that circumstances are reduced.

The Fusilier battalions will likewise, after circumstances, sometimes be positioned nearer and sometimes further away. The Foot battery, which each brigade has, is located in Lager behind the two reserve battalions. With the attack formation it is divided, (in normal cases), to both wings of the first Battle Line. (*) If the number of Battalions is equal in both Battle Lines, then with the fixed arrangement for such circumstances, the battalions on the right and left wings of the second Battle Line will outflank the first by a half battalions length.

Following the arrangement the Horse battery of the brigade stands behind the middle Cavalry regiment. Their further use results from the course of combat; it must be kept in reserve for as long a time as possible, in order to bring it unexpectedly on the point where it can work with decision. If a reserve foot battery is with the Brigade, then this takes position to the left beside the above-mentioned foot battery.

A reserve battery of Horse artillery is placed beside the Horse battery of the brigade on the left wing.

In all cases, in which the Brigadier General does not find alteration of the above arrangement or battle order necessary due to the terrain or another circumstance, the brigade will march in this order, also to bivouac or camp. It is already mentioned above that arrangement of the Fusiliers depends completely on the circumstances and the terrain. If they should however not be present and are used elsewhere, then the Züge of the third rank take their place.

The two reserve Battalions in the normal case march off formed in Column on the center by battalion, so that they are ready for any movement and use, which might result from the course of combat.

The Cavalry in the rear Battle Line can not here do battle, and is intended for other second, it will therefore normally stand in Column by regiment, the middle regiment in Züg Column on the center, the regiment of the right wing in Züg Column of the left, and the regiment of the left wing with Züg Column of the right, march off.

The Brigadier General will give the due instructions concerning this to the Brigadier of the Cavalry. It is very often necessary that a Light Cavalry regiment advance with the Fusilier, so that the two remaining Cavalry regiments must after circumstances place themselves part on the wings, part in the center behind the infantry.

The foot battery is always set up by the first Battle Line to mask it, and only with the use of the terrain, where it can most effectively operate. It is however here best to notice that this arrangement should only happen where one can make a proper use from it. If it shows up before, then it will make no unexpected impression by its fire on the enemy.

If the Fusiliers must depart far from the first Battle Line, in order to take available favourable posts into possession, then a half Horse battery is given to them, whereby then a whole Light Cavalry regiment or nevertheless at least some squadrons necessarily for the support of the infantry and artillery are sent along. In each case Horse artillery is not however to be used, where one can conveniently use the foot artillery.

If the reserve battery assists, then this will be for a long time mask, until a crucial use can be made of this mode, and on no account uses ineffective shooting at far distance. There in the course of combat use can be made of the original reserve troops, then the General must also have formed a new reserve for the brigade for this mode. The Züge of the third rank are the most suitable for this.

The fact that the determined arrangement of the troops changes due to differences of the terrain, some alteration is already certain; to mention here only that it is determined for these alterations that there must be a special purpose, The troops (the size of Part of the brigade or only the reserve, or the Cavalry or the artillery) stay covered for a long as possible, so that the enemy do not discover, until they attack unexpectedly, or has no time when we attack to meet the Battle Line. For this reason, the Brigade General is obligated, to practice this rule with exercises of the troops in every terrain. An exception of this rule occurs where one moved forward to find a superior enemy, and wish to stop him by feigning a greater power, till our reinforcements come on.

Chapter Two - Attack and Defense.

The terrain and the position of the enemy determine whether the Cavalry or infantry of the brigade opens combat. In the cases, where combat is to be opened by the Cavalry, such, if the circumstances do not order it differently, has taken place by means of skillful and duly supported Flankeurs; if this is not sufficient, in order to drive the enemy out, then it depends on the strength of the enemy, or other circumstances whether only one regiment or the Cavalry of the brigade is to undertake the attack. It is stated here as a principle that, if line Cavalry attacks the enemy in this manner there must be at all times behind the right and left wing at a small distance, a Column in Züge, those of the right wing left, and the left wing right, march off, when the reserve is suitable both for covering flanks and for the follow up attack on the enemy. With attacks of a regiment form the two first Züge of the first squadron as the reserve Column of the right, and the third and fourth Züge of the fourth squadron those of the left wing. If the attack with the brigade Cavalry happens, then the reserve Column comes from the first squadron of the right wing regiment and from the fourth squadron of left wing regiment.

The Fusiliers open combat of the infantry, which for this partly dissolves into a Tirailleurs line. If they are detached, then their place is taken by the third rank of the first Battle Line. If the Fusiliers cannot provide any more resistance against the enemy, then the first Battle Line does not advance. The Fusiliers form Column, go through the reserve, and take position on the right and left on the wings of the same. Their further direction, whether they also proceed with the advance of the reserve or remain behind as a new reserve, whether formed in Column or deployed, depends on the circumstances, and is instructed by the Brigade General. If the first Battle Line stands for a long time in fire combat, and is to be replaced by the reserve then these proceed deployed; the battalions in the first Battle Line, in order for the advance to duly take place, form whole or half Battalion Column on the center, as soon as the reserve start. The Züge which remain, fire until the proceeding Battle Line is past them. When the advancing Battle Line passes the standing one, then this immediately marches again. This regulation applies to all cases, where Battle Lines replace each other in the fire. If the Battle Line is to retire, this normally happens in battalion Column, particularly against Cavalry. The stationary troops, who cover the departure of the others, form Quarre's. The 2nd figure shows the arrangement of a Brigade in Attack Column; the figure does not require further explanation, there the Column position for the attack agrees completely with the normal battle order Fig. 1 in regard of the order, in which the battalions stand.


Normal Battle Order for a Brigade
Brigade in Attack Column
(Click on Image for a Better View of the Diagram)



One can thus deviate from the usual battle order very easily in this kind of the attack arrangement, or from these form the normal position.

The Fusilier battalions mask the attack Column, and drives out the enemies, who are not strong enough to resist Line light infantry.

The Cavalry follows in front, or in Column if no formed hostile Cavalry is present, so that the strength of the brigade can be judged less by the enemy.

The foot artillery is, if the circumstances do not require it differently, directed by Chapter 1; the same applies also for the Horse battery.

If the Bayonet Attack occurs, as the Column of the first Battle Line proceeds, form the Fusilier battalion masses, and position them on the right and left beside the two reserve battalions, as Fig. 3 illustrates. It is presumed here that the Bayonet Attack only happens if the Fusilier battalions did not cause the enemy before it to give way.  

The 4th figure shows the Forming of the Brigade against Cavalry protecting the Attack. The Fusilier battalions are 100 steps forwards, and the reserve battalions 100 steps behind the first Battle Line.

Formation for Bayonet Attack
Forming the Brigade against Cavalry
(Click on Image for a Better View of the Diagram)


Scale for Plates 3 & 4
(Click on Image for a Better View of the Diagram)


The Cavalry of the brigade waits for the attacks of the hostile Cavalry in the rear Battle Line, or approaches before that attack, as the circumstances or another case make it necessary. If the enemy at the moment assails the right or left flank, and reaches our infantry, who have already suffered by infantry and artillery fire. They proceed against that attack happening in Front

The Cavalry, with the exclusion of the middle regiment, proceed to the attack before it; after this has taken place and they pass our infantry, the wing first present makes the necessary squadron turn, and after completion immediately attacks. The remaining squadron stays behind just until the break through, it subsequently pivots likewise into the alignment of the wing squadron and follows the Echellon attack as detailed in Chapter 5 & 6 of the 5th Section in the Cavalry Exercise Regulations.

If the circumstances require that the middle regiment also advances to the attack, then it goes through the infantry, and deploys for this purpose by march out left and right.

His Royal Majesty has given an instruction here to attack in battalion masses, nevertheless it highly desired that where the circumstances make it necessary this instruction is to be ignored, and only the internal forming of the masses is an unalterable clause of the Regulations. In those cases where the position of Battalion-masse require an alteration, due to the terrain and the incidental circumstances; if the first Battle Line had, for example, stood for a while under the fire, and the enemy begins to flinch, the three battalions of the first Battle Line form Mass, and now the two Reserve battalions in battalion mass with a wide interval between the Battalions moves quickly through the first battle line straight to the attack on the enemy.

All evolutions which the infantry has to make to form brigade, are performed to the principles which are set up over it in the third section of this Exercise Regulation.

All changes of front of an arranged Brigade take place by means of marching out with sections and marching-up in the new Alignment. If the brigade is to make a pivot around one point, which lies within the front line of a battalion, then this battalion pivots on the axis. All other battalions both the Advance-Guard and the two Battle Lines, from starting, march up by the shortest way to where they are to stand according to the rules of the Brigade formation.

As several battalions infantry march off; the mode and the circumstance, whether they are to march in one or more Columns, defines their development into the correct arrangement.

In all cases as soon as they approach the new Alignment, the Commander of the Battalion leads at the head, on the shortest way to the point where they are to deploy. The Commanding Officer will determine and allocate the battalion, which gives the direction for the others. Concerning the order in which the battalions that follow march out, there is no generally valid rule; usually in the procedure the Fusilier battalions are the Advance Guard and in retreating the Rear guard. In cases, where one wants to form fast, one does not need to turn to the prescribed Rangirung. For example, if circumstances have made it necessary during the march to have both Fusilier battalions as the Rear guard, and rapid forwards deployment is needed, so these Battalions must not be placed in the first line but rather designated to the reserve.

In unknown terrain only very little Cavalry should be at the head, the main part of them must always march behind the infantry, similarly they should not be positioned at one side.


The majority of the text is fairly self-explanatory, and reveals some aspects of Prussian thinking that might surprise. For example the comments on keeping the bulk of the troops in dead ground for as long as possible prior to the engagement – no posting on the forward slopes to see the enemy is listed in here.

We can see that the arrangement for the Brigade before combat was deliberately very close to that intended in actual combat. The change from non combat status to combat was to be as rapid as feasible.

One other aspect we might consider is what the explanation reveals about actual combat during this era. There is effectively written into this regulation an explanation of how a close combat between opposing forces was expected to run its course. In brief; a Cavalry combat to clear the opposing cavalry, followed by skirmish operations which cease as the opposing forces close, a firefight between formed troops including artillery support, and finally a decisive bayonet charge to break the enemy. The reserve line relieving the first or delivering the critical charge; the cavalry additionally protecting the flanks, and the reserve artillery being brought in for close range work at the best effective place and time. The effective mix of all arms, and with a clear statement about their mutually supporting roles on the battlefields of the later years of the Napoleonic wars.

The Prussians had many years of experience to draw on when the 1812 regulations were drawn up, as well as their observations of the effectiveness of similar formations in other armies (note the comment on Germans in the last war). There were no urgent revisions published to override the above sections following experience of their use in 1813-1814. The third rank usage and Brigade formation laid out in the 1812 Prussian regulations were the successful culmination of reforms underway pre-1806 and under consideration for at least five years before that.




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