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Military Training in the Reign of Tsar Paul I (Part One)

Military Training in the Reign of Tsar Paul I (Part One)

A Century of The Russian Ministry of War 1802-1902

General Staff Historical Department

Translated from the Russian by Peter Phillips


Military Training in the Reign of Tsar Paul I (Part One)










Subalterns and Grenadiers Leib Grenadier Regiment 1797-1801




On 6th [17th] November 1796, Empress Catherine II died, and on 29th November [10th December], by way of a proposal issued to the Military Collegium by its president Count Saltykov, in pursuance of Supreme authority[1], three newly issued regulations were ordered to be put into effect immediately: one regarding infantry service and two regarding cavalry service. This order superseded Catherine’s infantry and cavalry regulations.

With the sudden appearance of the aforementioned regulations after the accession of Emperor Paul I, one can discern the deliberate haste and desire to show that a new order was to be expected with the new reign. None of the well-known military commanders of the time, nor honoured personalities of Catherine’s century, took part in the drafting of these new regulations; they were drawn up far from the court, in the isolated situation that surrounded the Heir in Gatchina, with whom the Empress was not on friendly terms. The regulations for line infantry service had originally been drawn up and used as a guide only for the Heir’s Gatchina force. It was published for the first time in 1792 under the title The practise of line infantry service.[2]

The reign of Emperor Paul I was a turning point in the training and tactics of our army, mainly in the sense that they began to be resolutely followed rather than the former, sometimes very liberal attitude to regulations (as in Suvorov’s directions, which ridiculed “regulation buffoonery” and violated the main provisions of the regulations under the pretext that the regulations were not written for the event of war with barbarians), but the new regulations, or rather, the new infantry regulations, laid the foundations for extremely petty demands in the training of the army. Among the peacetime activities, preparations for the muster parade came to the fore; units were taught to view the crowning of their drill training as not losing the step during an inspection, so that the alignment of the frontage would not be crooked, so that the intervals and distances would by maintained exactly, so that the general appearance of the unit during the ceremonial march past would be brilliant. It may also be stated that the practice of training troops, the direction of which was given by the Tsar himself at the daily muster parades held in His presence, where not a single error in bearing and dressing went unnoticed, and was often accompanied by severe punishments from commanding officials, that this practice was, as it were, an adjunct to the regulations in terms of alignment and bearing, but in a more dictatorial and severe form. The observations made by the Tsar during muster parades were then announced in Supreme Orders issued with the watchword. The shock delivered by Paul’s regulations, even more through the practices during Paul’s reign, not only did not lose its significance in the subsequent reign but began to affect it even more distinctly. It is most remarkable that Tsarevich Konstantin Pavlovich, who had contributed to a great extent to the direction of military training during the reign of Emperor Alexander I, complained himself in frank and open correspondence about the excessive enthusiasm among the troops for bearing and alignment. In a letter dated 12th (24th) November 1817, from Warsaw, he wrote to Adjutant General Sipyagin: “…nowadays such an artful dance has started up in the ranks that one just can’t credit it… I have been serving for more than twenty years and I can tell the truth, even during the time of the late Tsar I was one of the foremost officers in the line, but now they have become too clever by half, such that even I would be lost.[3]

Military Regulations For Line Infantry Service, 1796.

The military regulations for line infantry service of 1796,” as it is referred to in the Complete Collection of Laws[4], or “the Military Regulations of Sovereign Emperor Paul I,” as it is called in a separate edition of 1797[5], contained:

  1. Regulations for active infantry service (parts 1 to 7).
  2. Garrison regulations (parts 8 to 10).
  3. Rules for service in the field in peacetime and wartime: on campaign, in camp and on guard (parts 11 and 12).
  4. The applied element or tactical rules (also in part 12).

Regulations For Active Infantry Service

The regulations of 1796 strongly reflected the Prussian order from the era of Frederick the Great and the concept of so-called linear tactics that dominated all of Western Europe at that time.

The training of a soldier was given very little space in the regulations; however, it cannot be said that the regulations did not care at all about the morale side of the matter: “Assign a good comrade to each recruit or new man in quarters[6], who should instruct him at times and almost coach him, and in order not to discourage the recruit from his duties and from seeking them out, but to inspire this in him, then do not initially scold him during training, but encourage him with kind words, and do not suddenly overburden him with the training, and even less beat him during training… A soldier is to have three days of rest a week, while the regiment may be put in order during this time without burdening the men, and there will be fewer weak and sick… Officers and non-commissioned officers should always make note of soldiers who make mistakes under arms or on duty, including those after a parade or exercise, or during the changing of the guard, to correct them, but if a soldier knows exactly what was due, but made a mistake, then punish him.”

One cannot in any way see encouragement for any kind of cruelty towards soldiers in these words from the regulations of 1796, such cruelty, however, is evidenced in the notes of many contemporaries and eyewitnesses of the application in practice of the rules for training soldiers taught in the regulations: one can point out cases when the Tsar severely punished officers for unreasonably severe treatment of soldiers[7]. But, reading between the lines of the regulation, one can understand why its application to the matter should have led to severity in the attitude of superiors towards the lower ranks. The main reason must have been that the requirements of the regulations regarding the bearing of the men and marching, with a clearly expressed desire for extreme precision and splendour in all movements, were in themselves disagreeable, while with the uncomfortable, tight-fitting uniforms of the time (not to mention their complex hair dressing), they were quite difficult to perform. We will return to this issue later.

Individual training: “The primary objective in training and in marching should be that the soldier holds his musket correctly, close with his whole arm, firmly and right on his shoulder, with the muzzle not close to the head, and the butt not far from the torso… such that the musket does not move.”

It is interesting to compare this definition of the “primary objective” in the training of a soldier with the same definition in our regulations of 1755: “In the end, all a soldier’s training has in mind is to load and shoot…” From these comparisons it directly follows that in 1755 our regulations considered the strength of the infantry to be firepower, while in the regulations of 1796 it was appearance. The first sections of the chapter on the training of the recruit are set out in the regulations as follows[8]: “The recruit must be made to march without a musket until he achieves a real soldier’s posture: teach him how to hold his head, tell him not to lower his head, not to look down, but being under arms, to hold his head straight, to look to the right and march looking in particular, at whomever he is marching past. Marching with the knee straight, lowering the foot without bending, not on the heel, but on the toes, keep the body straight, while not leaning back, and keeping the stomach in, but chest out and back straight… Between each movement, hold equally and count in eights… Perform all turns as quickly as possible without bending the knees…

The main reason why a company, battalion or regiment, which, although it had been in good order, cannot maintain it, is that the captains, and sometimes even field officers, when in those months in which training happens to have passed, they do not try hard enough and do not take the steps that are necessary to keep companies or battalions in good order, but leave this until some future period of training..[9]. The captains should take note of those soldiers who have not yet been corrected and are weak in skills, the officers should take them to quarters, correct them, give them the appearance of a soldier, teach techniques and all that pertains to marching and quick loading. In the event that an officer is not diligent and not instructing his soldiers in the right way, then the captain must exact this; and if, in spite of that, the officer does not try, then the captain is to report about it to the commanding officer, or in his absence to a field officer, who should have him arrested. The captain should not always trust in his officers, but is responsible for his company, and therefore every possible effort is to be made to bring it into good order and maintain this, and to assist the officers in this.”

If we take into account that Emperor Paul himself, at the daily muster parades, strictly followed all the subtleties of drill service and severely punished officers for deviation from them, often after a first offence, excluding officers from service[10], and that such an example could not but be passed down the chain of command except by adopting ever sharper demonstrations of severity; then one can believe the statements by contemporaries of that century that the junior commanders, who were directly responsible for the success of the training of soldiers, developed their own training methods: caning (brought into use by our military as early as the regulations of 1755) was considered the most common method of admonishment in the requirements of the regulation, but in the notes by contemporaries one can also find evidence of jigs to which soldiers were allegedly strapped in order to clearly show them what kind of soldierly posture they were supposed to maintain.

The strict requirements from the soldiers regarding posture and marching did not stem from the Tsar’s blind love for military exercises, but from his profound belief that a sure and steady pace and correct alignment in movements along a long, deployed front was one of the main guarantees of success in war. The proof of the veracity of this assessment is the evidence that where precision of alignment and marching, even according to concepts borrowed from Prussia, could not have any bearing on warfare, the requirements of the emperor were much less stringent. So, “when on one occasion during manoeuvres, some artillerymen, on entering Gatchina, performing a ceremonial march past for the Tsar and at that moment got out of step; the Tsar praised them all the same and called them good fellows, but to a comment made by the commander of the Izmailovsky Regiment about the mistakes he had observed, the Tsar responded: although they march out of step, they know their business as gunners well.[11]” But even more remarkable in this respect was the lowering of the requirements for foot exercises by dragoons in the cavalry regulations of 1796, which will be discussed below, in due course.

Musket drills and evolutions. Training in musket drills and evolutions was carried out in the following manner: initially the execution of 20 orders of musket drill were demonstrated for loading a musket, with each drill being divided into movements (from one to six); thereafter 11 commands were executed, known as general (on guard, in the rain, in the field, and others), which included two turns (right about and to the left into line), and the execution for each of these commands was broken down into movements (from three to thirteen); finally, in order for the conclusive preparation of a recruit for qualification, some of the above-mentioned 20 commands were demonstrated in a somewhat abbreviated form, with the addition of one new command (level muskets). For alignment of drills, the right-marker was retained from our previous regulations, under Elisabeth and Catherine, both for individual as well as for company, battalion and regimental exercises. The section on individual training (part 2) ends with the following words: “In order for the men to be equal to perfection and well trained in companies, the following should be noted: never permit or forgive the slightest mistake by a soldier, and do not assign him to a company, or force him to render service until he is completely schooled like an old soldier. If a recruit is put into service right at the start, and he is in formation where it is impossible to look out for him, then such a man will always make mistakes, disrupt, and spoil the order of the entire company.”

Company training. At the end of individual training, the recruit was placed in the ranks. The sizing of ranks was carried out, as under our previous regulations (1763), as follows: the tallest men were placed in the front rank; the next tallest in the rear rank, while the shortest were in the centre rank. Each rank consisted of 50 files. The ranking was checked every spring, for which all the soldiers of the company were put on a single register.

Each rank was ordered to be trained separately at first: the front rank was to be trained by the captain, the rear rank by the lieutenant, the centre rank by the sub lieutenant or ensign: “Give orders to march forwards and to right and left most often, and note the following: when marching forwards, then march with locked knees, make each pace no more than ¾ arshin [53.3cm or 21”], from which the march will be even and dressing can easily be kept… The company is to be trained: to move by platoons to the right or to the left (the word platoon [vzvod] is used in the regulations in the same sense as the word plutong); when moving in such a column, a line is formed by moving in platoons or on the centre, moving the line forward to a defined object (point de vu) and after turning right about, facing the rear; doubling the platoons (in this case, the flank platoons are formed by ranks to the right or left, and march behind the flanks. It is also possible to double on the second or third platoon). Although doubled columns to the right and left are not used, it is necessary that the officers and soldiers know how; and execute it like this: the front two platoons go to the right, and the rear two to the left. Once they turn in, then they stand in place. The first platoon moves to the left, and the fourth to the right. The second and third also turn in, the second adjoins the first, and the third to the fourth. Once the captain commands the company: march! Instantly they are marching.”

The counter march was retained from the previous regulations, but it was performed somewhat differently: the first two platoons turned to the right, and the last two to the left, and moved by files to the right to their places, following the Colour, which wheeled to the right. During a ceremonial march, the counter march was performed by each platoon separately.

Volley fire. Volleys were directed to be executed on command or without orders, taking the timings from the right marker, which method of training was continued in the regulations of 1796 from our previous two sets of regulations. The general rule appears to have been that the front rank should kneel; but this is not explicitly stated anywhere in the regulations. The company was adjusted for the delivery of volleys as follows: “Once the whole company has shouldered arms, the officer standing on the right flank raises his spontoon, and on this signal the first two platoons take two paces to the right, and the last two platoons take two paces to the left, the rear two ranks close in to the hilt of the hangers, the Colour stands on the flank of the third platoon, the officers take post with their platoons, while non-commissioned officers who had been standing with the front rank, move to the rear…”

The regulations indicate the following types of volley fire:

  1. By platoons together, with the platoons firing in turn: 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th.
  2. By company together load! Company, make ready! At this point, right or left, up or down presentations may be ordered. When presenting to the right, note that, on receipt of the command, ‘to the right present,’ the second and third ranks, on the word ‘present,’ take a pace to the left, put the left shoulder forward, and hold the right back. Upon the second command, ‘present,’ the whole company instantly presents, and at the very moment of presenting, the front rank turns. When presenting to the left, then proceed similarly, except the soldiers take a step to the right and keep the right shoulder forward and the left back. If the commander orders ‘triggers cocked, shoulder arms’, then note that the front rank should stand straight, leaving the left foot in place, and bring the right foot to the left; the rear ranks are aligned with the front and the whole company will be level.”

From this description it may be understood that a volley was indicated, and that at the same time the front rank did not kneel, but the firing was carried out by successive files.

  1. By platoons advancing: “Upon the command ‘platoon,’ the entire company and the Colour change their pace, which should be shortened and slowed. ‘March!’ The first and third platoons act together on the command ‘march!’ Once the first platoon has been commanded ‘fire!’ The second is commanded ‘platoon march!’ Once the third has been commanded ‘fire!’ the fourth is commanded ‘platoon march!’ Once the second has been commanded ‘fire!’ the first is commanded ‘march!’ Once the fourth has been commanded ‘fire!’ the third is told to ‘march!’ Platoons are to kneel until the one stationed next to them comes level.
  2. By platoons retiring load!” With this type of fire, each platoon, turning right about, fires, and then turns to the right about again and marches onward, matching their pace to the company Colour.
  3. Advancing with the whole company: “… ‘march!’ The company takes three equal and rapid paces forward and halts. ‘Make ready, present, fire!’ Once the company has reloaded and shouldered arms, the flank officer gives the signal, and the company again marches three equal and rapid paces forward, halts, and everyone looks to the right. Once the second signal had been given, the right flank looks to the left, and the whole company looks towards the Colour as before, marching with the shortened pace used when firing; but once the drummer has beaten the march, then march again at the usual pace.”
  4. By platoons retiring, load, starting from the right!’ The Colour immediately changes pace and takes a shortened one, while the drummer stops beating. ‘load!’ The 1st and 3rd are commanded: ‘platoon right about turn, make ready!’ Once the 1st has been commanded ‘fire!’ the 2nd is commanded ‘right about turn!’ Once the 3rd has been commanded ‘fire!’ the 4th is commanded ‘right about turn, make ready!’ Upon the command for the second platoon to fire, the first is commanded ‘right about turn, make ready!’ Upon the command for the 4th platoon to fire, the 3rd is commanded ‘right about turn, make ready!’ Soldiers are to be trained upon the officer’s command ‘platoon!’ without delay to move their right hand to hold their cartridge case, keeping the body straight, turning on their heels, while the platoons which had been looking to their left, immediately switch their eyes to the right.”
  5. “By platoons retiring by the front load! starting by the right!’ The officers upon the command ‘load’ move to the rear rank, non-commissioned officers from the rear rank to the front, and the closing non-commissioned officers march behind. The front rank fire as if advancing; and once they have done, the officers continue to move to the front rank, the non-commissioned officers to the rear, and those closing in front of the rear rank. the drummers beat sticks, and the company moves on as before. Once the drummer hits the shot, the whole company turns to the left to the front, the Colour marches out in front, the drummer hits the march, and the company, having marched a little forward, is commanded ‘halt!”
  6. Company by files together. “… Each platoon is divided in two… from each half, every two files form an independent section… On the march, the first man of the second rank moves into the front rank, on the right flank; the two men from the rear rank are stationed in the centre rank on the right flank; the reformed ranks are commanded ‘make ready!’ Upon the command ‘fire!’ those remaining in two files ‘make ready.’ Once the first files have fired, the man standing on the right flank, returns from the front to the centre rank, and the two men standing in the centre rank return to the rear rank, all holding their muskets in front of them. Upon the command, ‘march’ the company, on the march take out cartridges, load them and shoulder arms; the next in line proceed… five paces forwards…”

Battalion and regimental training. During battalion exercises, the company was always divided into two platoons, and into four platoons only for specific inspections and on church parade: “A battalion is always composed of ten platoons. In any event, the grenadiers will combine to form a battalion of their own, and the regiment will always remain with two battalions.”

The division of the regiment into two battalions, and the division of the battalion into five companies, was preserved from Catherine’s regulations; the number of grenadier companies per battalion was also preserved; the requirement that in regimental exercises the grenadiers form an independent battalion and train separately from the regiment belongs only to the regulations of 1796.

It should be noted that in one of the sections of the regulations of 1796, eight pages are devoted to[12]: “How a battalion or regiment is to form up and train on the parade ground,” six pages are devoted to describing how the battalion should be formed, in what order it presents itself, etc.; and all these preparations, it appears, were made only so that the battalion could mount guard, and the officers, by removing their hats, could salute the Colours that were trooped along the frontage of the regiment. “This is said of the Colours, it is prescribed that, both officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers should renew the respect and love they should have for the Colours, by swearing an oath on them.” Only after this salute of honour to the Colours did the training begin. “Once the battalion has been formed up in the manner described above and the commander has decided to order the training by company or by pairs of platoons [podivisionno], whereupon he orders them to separate and the divisions are independently trained in two platoons, which must be done frequently in order to maintain good order and habits in the soldiers. Once the divisions have been practised, then they return to the battalion…” The battalion, once it was assembled, did not practice marksmanship techniques; this is expressly stated in the regulations[13]. “Exercises” were limited to changes of direction, marching by platoons, deploying into line, movements in line abreast; the main objective of forming from companies into battalions, after saluting the Colours, it appears, was for volley firing. The entire range of exercises in firing, indicated above for company exercises, was repeated during battalion exercises, and loading or “charging” was also carried out on command and without orders, following the right marker; the difference in firing during battalion or regimental exercises from company exercises was that, in addition to platoon firing, divisional firing was also indicated, and the division consisted of two platoons. With such attention to shooting, it would seem that the regulations ought to have devoted more space to explaining training in marksmanship skills. Meanwhile, marksmanship skills were summarised in the following few words[14]: “When presenting, the soldiers are to dress by the right, the front rank are to present directly, while the rear ranks are to present a little lower; moreover, the soldiers are to look down the barrel at the target and boldly into the fire, and know where to aim, not high nor into the ground; pull the butt into the shoulder; lower the head and observe the point of aim. Upon the command ‘fire’, firmly squeeze the trigger to release the shot. The front rank are to quickly stand.” This explanation was even less definitive than the brief indication in the regulations of 1755 and 1763 to “aim at the centre of the man in all cases.”

During the exercises, it was often ordered to “switch the places of the battalions, sometimes placing the first battalion to the right, sometimes to the left; also to switch with the grenadiers in order to teach the battalions to maintain the intervals. The purpose of which is, that if the corps is to form in line abreast, the battalions must be able to maintain intervals…”

Combat formations. It is interesting to compare our combat regulations of 1716, 1755, 1763 and 1796 with each other according to the number of combat formations indicated by them. The regulations of 1716 indicated only two formations: in linear formation and one type of square; the regulations of 1755 added “colongu” and company columns to these, and also introduced several types of square; the regulations of 1763 abolished the “colongu” and company columns, and reduced the number of squares to one type of “curved square”; the regulations of 1796 do not mention squares at all, although in the Tactical Rules, which will be discussed later, there is a mention of a square. Thus, in terms of the number of combat formations, the regulations of 1755 were the most complex[15], the regulations of 1716 were the simplest; the regulations of 1796 were even simpler in this respect, since it recognised only one combat formation: a deployed line in three ranks.

But unlike all our previous regulations, and especially unlike the regulations of 1716, Paul’s regulations greatly developed and complicated the parade and ceremonial sides. Entire chapters of the regulations of 1796 are devoted to detailed instructions: “how to form a company for inspection”; “how to form a regimental frontage for a special inspection, following a ceremonial march”; “how companies, following a special inspection, are to form up, mount guard and carry the Colours”; “regarding spontoon drill”; “regarding halberd drill”; “regarding Colour drill,” in addition to those instructions on saluting the Colours, which were mentioned above and which related to the preliminary, so to speak, exercises prior to musket loading in a battalion exercise. We will not dwell on this part of the regulations of 1796.


[1]             Complete Collection of Laws, Vol XXIV, Ser. 17587.

[2]             The Encyclopedia of Russian Bibliography by V. Sopikov, St. Petersburg, 1815 Ser 12197.

[3]             The corresponding part of the letter is published in the work by N.K. Schilder: Emperor Alexander I, his life and reign, St Petersburg, 1898, Vol IV, p. 16.

[4]             Vol XXIV, Ser. 17588.

[5]             A copy issued in 1797 is held in the library of the Ministry of the Navy.

[6]             Part 5, section. 4.

[7]             For example, in the Supreme order dated 1st [12th] January, 1801.

[8]             Part 2, section. 1.

[9]             Part 5, section. 4.

[10]           These same officers were often quickly reinstated. The Supreme orders of that time are full of lists of those who had been “dismissed” or “retired” from service and been accepted into it once more. Thus, for example, in one order dated 1st [12th] January, 1801, 12 officers are mentioned who had been excluded from their regiments and were reinstated.

[11]           From a public lecture given by Maj Gen Ratch to officers of the Lifeguard Artillery in 1861. Artillery Journal, 1861, Ser. 10.

[12]           Part 4.

[13]           ibid, para. 12.

[14]           Part 4, chapter 2, para. 4.

[15]           But also the most common formations (deployed system, colongu, company columns and squares). They should be considered the most complete in the combat sense. Therefore, it is likely that when applying the regulations of 1763 to the practice of war, there was a need for many supplements on the part of the force commanders. N. Mikhnevich.