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Prussian Light Infantry in the Jena Campaign

‘The Combat Ends for Lack of Combatants’

Prussian Light Infantry in the Jena Campaign

By Kevin Kiley

Bibliographical Notes

In doing research for this paper, I found the following in the bibliography of Peter Paret’s excellent study Yorck and the Era of Prussian Reform, 1807-1815 and thought it appropriate to quote here.  Much has been made of the Prussian and Austrian staff studies that were completed before World War I.  They are excellent and full of useful information, as many have attested, especially Paret.  As an aside, I am currently in the process of obtaining one of General Jany’s volumes, his works being cited by many, Craig and Paret in particular, as being useful in any study of the Prussian Army.  However, it should be noted that they are secondary sources, almost one hundred years old, and definitely a product of their times.

‘The official documents can be placed in perspective and given their proper value only by consulting the service correspondence, and the eyewitness accounts, diaries, the theoretical and practical discussions that the soldiers of the period produced so copiously.  Some of this material was ignored and much of the rest was cavalierly misinterpreted when, after the founding of the Second Empire, the Historical Section of the German General staff set itself the task of writing the history of Prussia’s wars in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  As a collection of sources on all aspects of the Prussian military establishment these studies are indispensable.  But their analyses imposed on the conditions of an earlier age the strategic and organizational concepts that the army had learned, often with difficulty and recalcitrance, from Molltke during the Wars of Unification.  The profoundly unhistorical spirit that too often informed their work is exemplified by a volume of Frederick’s military writings prepared by the Chief of the Historical Section, General Adalbert von taysen, in which were carefully indicated those parts that the editor considered still valid in the age of the railroad, the telegraph, and the Krupp gun. Max von Szcvepandki’s judgment on the three volumes dealing with the Prussian army of 1812 and the Wars of Liberation, holds true for many other publications of the Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung.  They consist, he wrote, ‘of meritorious detailed labor, a valuable collection of sources, with a commentary that does not go beyond the customary, the officially desired interpretation.’  A former member of the Section, General Jany, did not shed what Delbruck once called his Generalstabs-Auffassung when after the First World War he came to write his unofficial four volume Geschichte der Preussischen Armee.  Here, too, a great deal of important information is embedded in a text that rejects historical objectivity as something unpatriotic.’

Paret also comments on the accuracy of some of the General Staff products in

‘that the General staff historians inaccurately minimized the part of the light infantry and its methods is also borne out by the army’s tables of organization’

in 1813 and that

‘the evidence both of combat reports and the organization of the army goes against the General Staff works.  Held in thrall by an ‘old Prussian’ Frederician tradition largely of their own making, the official military historians have ignored the motives, extent, and implications of the changes that occurred in the army, and with them passed over an important instance of German reaction to the experience of the French Revolution.’

Additionally, such historians of the Section as von der Goltz and Freytag-Loringhoven

‘with all their specialized knowledge. lacked objectivity; both put history to the service of the political and military disputes of their age.  They were Militarpolitiker, who explicitly wrote their works as tracts for the times; political and social conservatism coupled with aggressive patriotism and a fervent belief in large, professional, standing armies could not but color their judgment of the revolutionary past.  Their arguments agasint the significance and importance of the French tirailleur were taken over and developed by Jany.  They recur throughout his writings, but are most explicitly stated on pages 369-370 of the third volume of the Geschichte der Preussischen Armee. ’ 

This, I submit, is concrete evidence from a noted scholar of the period that the Prussian army learned from its defeat in 1806, one of those lessons being the importance and employment of light infantry, and those lessons were taken from the Grande Armee.


More on the Prussian Light Infantry in the Jena Campaign IntroductionBackgroundLight Infantry Theory and Employment Conclusions: The Reformers BibliographyBibliographic Note


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