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Military Training in The Reign of Tsar Paul I (Part Four): Regulations For Line Cavalry Service, 1796

Military Training in The Reign of Tsar Paul I (Part Four): Regulations For Line Cavalry Service, 1796

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 Four)

Regulations For Line Cavalry Service, 1796.

Regulations for Line Cavalry Service,” was introduced into our army by order on the same date as the “Military Regulations for Line Infantry Service,” it was drafted in accordance with the outline of these latter regulations and contained:

  1. Drill regulations (Chapters 1 to 15 and 20, 21 and 23).
  2. Garrison regulations (Chapters 24 to 42).
  3. Rules for active service during wartime: on the march, camp routine and on guard (Chapters 43 to 57 and 68 to 79).
  4. Applied part or tactical rules (Chapters 58 to 67).

In those parts, such as in the rules for garrison service, where the rules for infantry are in no way different from the rules for cavalry, the cavalry regulations repeat the infantry regulations word for word. With this way of presenting the cavalry regulations, one can discern the Tsar’s particular attention to the cavalry, as to a special arm of service. It may even be noted that wartime field service is presented much more fully in the cavalry regulations than the same section in the infantry regulations. It is also remarkable that a completely dedicated part of the cavalry regulations is also devoted to it, separately under the name of “Rules on the Cavalry Service,” which will be discussed in detail later.

It should be noted that under the name “cavalryman,” the regulations in the main are referring to cuirassiers or dragoons, while the hussars are mostly segregated from this definition; at the same time, the regulations on line cavalry service indicated above were assigned mainly to cuirassiers and dragoons, while the rules on cavalry service were for hussars.

Rules Of Combat Cavalry Service.

The regulations attach great importance to the training of a cavalryman, and, in general, the methods for such training are also sufficiently explained. “The Colonel in Chief[1] of a regiment is always the main cause of the bravery of his men, if he has enough time to develop it himself; as otherwise this would have to have been done through the efforts of his predecessor…

… In an old regiment[2], it is fair to demand from a squadron commander that his squadron be brave if he has commanded it for some time; and if this is not the case, then either the commander, in directing him, harassed him in into producing whatever the Tsar complained of to that end, in order to have reliable men and horses, or did not care about exercise and discipline, or did not inspire the men through the necessary rules, or attracted their hatred through cruel treatment.”

Instruction (Training) of Troops.

Since the practicalities of service came from the Tsar himself, these were in full accord with the rules in the regulations of 1796. In the orders from the Tsar, issued after the daily muster parades, one can find many examples[3] of the Tsar’s severe punishment of officers not only “for dereliction of duty, idleness, drunkenness” and so on, but also for cruel treatment of soldiers. Perhaps, in this severity of punishment and too public revelation of officer misconduct, the Tsar’s irritation was also a reflection against the officers who had been recent servants to his Mother’s government, with whom he did not sympathize and who had opposed his own regime and the regime of his father, and, once he had become Emperor Paul, he set himself as an example of the Prussian military order of the times of Frederick the Great. It might explain the predominant attention that Emperor Paul paid to the combat significance of cavalry over infantry in his regulations as an imitation of that same model.

Individual training. First of all, the recruit was ordered to be assigned to a knowledgeable non-commissioned officer for training “initially to fall in line and to march.” The requirements for knowledge of foot drill were very lenient even for the dragoons. “On the march[4] do not lift the feet too high, but also do not shuffle… However, training a recruit on foot is only necessary  to the extent that he learns to stay straight and be swift… Training in musketry is necessary only for guard duty and in the event of a raid; as experience has taught us that the use of dragoons on foot is most impractical, and is largely unnecessary; when this happens, it is usually detrimental, because the dragoons, with only their firearms and equipment, make poor infantry at the best of times, and holding the horses in particular, causes extreme difficulties..[5]. Dismounted cuirassiers should never be placed in three ranks, as they have short carbines and are not able to take up the kneeling position, which is why the third rank would be completely redundant…

 … [Dismounted] dragoon squadrons are to form up in two or three ranks; as, having full length muskets, and being able to kneel, and as their duties are similar to infantry, they are to be formed up for the most part in three ranks.”

Musket drill. “Dragoon[6] exercises with muskets, commands and techniques are the same as those for the infantry. Cuirassiers, on the other hand, have a difference in the third present-arms movement; as instead of ending holding the carbine out to the front, it is held obliquely in the left hand, and at the same time the right arm is extended as far as possible, so that the butt will then be further away from the torso. The carbine ends up at a steep slope in the left hand in front of the right knee… When executing the shoulder-arms, then there will be a difference in the first movement; as the carbine is raised up to the left shoulder itself with the right hand.”

Riding school. “Once a recruit is sufficiently trained in foot drill[7], then he should be taught to ride without stirrups and be shown how to mount and dismount according to the rules of riding… However, a lot depends on a skilful officer, helping him in everything, also to teach him how to keep his seat and sit upright. Moreover, ensure that… the body is not lent too far forward…, the feet… are not too far forward, the spurs are further from the horse, and the toes are in a straight line with the knee. Initially the bridle and bit reins are to be held in both hands in order to better learn how to turn and control the horse. It must be carefully observed that the recruit does not ruin the mouth; as the load, in particular with the cuirassiers, being usually heavy, the horses become strong-headed, and this is the greatest vice of a cavalry horse; to that end, they should be taught to ride a horse directly, and to force them to ride, individually and in ranks, both at the walk and at the trot and at the gallop, with a straight and oblique front before they are assigned to platoons and ranks. Once a recruit has been sufficiently trained to ride without stirrups in the arena, first on a lead rein, and then without it, both at the walk and at the trot (which all squadron or company officers should teach in sequence…), then give him stirrups. It is necessary that there should be a space the width of the palm of the hand between the man and the saddle, when he stands in the stirrups…”

Skill at arms training with the horse. “Once the recruit is perfectly capable or riding, then show him how to wield a broadsword [palash] and pistols, that is, how to cut, moreover, protecting his head and body, and parrying a blow from behind while galloping, trotting and walking. When loading pistols, mounted on horseback, show him… how to draw pistols to the front quickly and immediately from the right, and then the left… It is not superfluous to train a recruit to shoot pistols at a target first from standing, and then at a trot and gallop.”

Training of the horse. The foundations for correct training in riding in the cavalry regiments in our country were laid in the reign of Empress Catherine II. It was then, in 1766, that regimental riding masters [Bereiter] were established, who were to train all subaltern and non-commissioned officers and two privates in each corporal’s command such that they could all ride horses in formation and teach riding drill; and, moreover, five privates in each regiment, the most capable, were trained “not only in drill, but also in the full schooling of riding.” Since then, in our cavalry regiments there had to be men familiar with the requirements of the arena and breaking in horses. As was shown above, the cavalry regulations of 1796 assigned the duty of training the lower ranks in combat riding to squadron officers, in the establishments promulgated[8] simultaneously with the regulations of 1796 and in subsequent establishments for cavalry regiments (1797, 1798, 1799 and 1800), during the entire reign of Emperor Paul, the riding masters are no longer to be found; but we could not find any indications in the Complete Collection of Laws of a direct command to abolish regimental riding masters. Therefore, it may be assumed that if riding masters were retained in some or all regiments, where they were listed in the establishments until 1796, they remained under private contract and were paid through some economy of regimental funds or from private means by officers in order to teach them horseback riding.

The regulations of 1796 do not specify the exact rules for breaking in young horses but are limited to the following general regulations. Remounts were ordered to be driven first on a lead rein, and then assigned to knowledgeable privates for training, “who were to adhere to normal riding rules… To deal with young horses, and especially in the first year, be very careful and take care of them, because without spending time on them, one can easily ruin them, and to that end it is better not to assign yearlings to the ranks.” Training of horses, as well as the initial training of men in riding, was carried out at the depot, “so that when they are taken into their regiment, they would be completely fit for service.” To maintain the health and training of horses, it was prescribed, when there were no exercises, to ride twice a week, although on horse blankets.

Squadron and regimental establishments. “In a cuirassier regiment[9] there are to be ten companies, forming five squadrons… Each company had… 87 privates, giving a total of 97 men with non-commissioned officers, trumpeters and others, while a whole regiment consists of 1,033 men… The squadrons are formed up in the following manner: the Leib Company is paired with that of the sixth field officer; the commander’s company with that of the senior captain’s; while the third field officer’s company is with the second captain’s company; the fourth field officer’s company is with the third captain’s company; the fifth field officer’s company is with the fourth captain’s company. The squadrons have the senior on the right flank, and second in seniority on the left, then third in seniority on the right towards the centre, fourth in seniority on the left towards the centre, with the fifth in seniority in the centre… A dragoon regiment consists of five squadrons[10], which form up in order of seniority of squadron commanders, starting from the right to the left flank; the squadrons are not divided into companies… Those dragoon regiments, consisting of ten squadrons, have double the manning for everything except for regimental support staff and bandsmen.”

 Dragoon squadrons consisted of[11]: 186 privates in each of the first three squadrons, while having 185 men in the remainder, giving a total of 205 or 204 men, including non-commissioned officers, trumpeters and so on; with a total of 1,091 men in the entire regiment… “Each squadron is broken down into four platoons[12], and during exercises these should always be equal and not more than 15 files.”

Forming up a company or squadron. “Companies or squadrons are always formed up in two ranks[13]; as experience has taught us that the third is superfluous, interferes with almost every evolution, and can be very dangerous for both man and horse in the event of a fall. If it happens that a squadron is so full that there are more than 15 files in a platoon, then it is better to form up in three ranks than to make large platoons, because they are difficult to move and it is impossible for an officer to supervise them; and as the regiments for the most part, and especially during wartime, leave a certain number of men and horses in the depot, and sometimes have them on secondments, this will happen very rarely… The actual proportion (of files in a platoon) for the best exercise seems to be 12 files.”

From the above extracts it can be seen that, compared with our regulations of 1755 and 1763, the cavalry regulations of 1796 introduced a new formation of an extended line of two ranks instead of the previous three, but in exceptional cases it allowed for a formation in three ranks.

Squadron and regimental exercises. “Exercises” were directed to be performed by squadron or by an entire regiment. The squadron lined up for exercise in an extended line with open ranks, while the ranks were separated from each other by the length of a horse. “In the ranks ride closed up knee to knee[14], do not hold the horses tightly, but do not give them free rein…” On the right flank rode a right marker, whose duty it was to maintain the direction of travel of the line. The exercise began with the commands: “Listen in! Rear rank is to advance, march! If there are three ranks, then: ‘two rear ranks are to advance, march!’ After that, the second rank moves up as closely as possible.”

Turns were directed to the right and to the left by twos, “as a rank of two horses is equal to the length of a horse;” and wheeling by fours to the right (left) or turning about to the right (left). The circuits were called revolutions and were directed by platoons and squadrons.

The following two turns were recognised only as exercises in alignment during peacetime training, but not as a manoeuvre that could be performed in the face of the enemy:

  1. Turning the regiment by division or by squadron, by successive platoons.”
  2. Turning on the centre: to do this one half of the regiment or squadron, wheels about to the right by fours; after which both halves, in their opposing directions, performs the same evolution as in the turning of the regiment,” and then, wheeling about to the left by fours, to restore the line.

The counter march was directed to be carried out as follows: “the first two files on the right or left flank turn their horses about to the right or left[15], as quickly as possible… and ride very close behind the second rank until they arrive at the place where the standing flank is stationed, and then make a front again.”

Movements were directed always to be executed towards a specific location, referred to in the regulations as the “point de vu.” The movements were directed with squadrons by platoon, from whichever formation the deployment was made, which could be dressed by the right, the left or by the centre. In the latter case, the leading squadron was assigned, “without changing direction, to march straight ahead…” the remaining squadrons were to ride by fours in the indicated direction and “immediately rode forward at full gallop from the very spot… and having reached the halfway point to the stationary squadron, and already forming into line,” each one forms up on the line and dresses off.

The attack. “Attacks on the enemy are to be executed[16], either parallel to their front, or to the flank; and this is to occur either against infantry or against cavalry. It should be taken as a rule of thumb that if cavalry is being attacked, then the waves of however many squadrons it consists of, are to be completely closed up; whereas when infantry is to be attacked, it will be more advantageous to entice them to fire through numerous small squads, and then attack in waves, which, however, may have intervals…

 When attacking in line without attacking the flanks… then the entire line is to move as smoothly as possible, and from a gentle trot it accelerates to a full trot, gradually, evenly and in silence. Once they have moved to within 500 or 600 paces, then give the signal to gallop, following which they move first to a canter, and then to a gallop. At 80 or 100 paces from the point of impact, the commander orders the fanfare to be sounded, and commands ‘march, march!’ then, raising swords, gallop at full speed and strike as hard as possible.

 In an attack on an enemy flank, when the strike is to be delivered,” a wheel by fours must be directed to the right or left. “Ride from the very start at a full trot, because in this manoeuvre everything depends on speed.

 As soon as the commander of the first squadron sees that he has already passed the enemy line or the point de vu assigned to him by one and a half, or two, or more platoons, as has been indicated in advance, then he is to signal this to the commander, who will then order: ‘Halt, form into line!’ Whereupon the units line up again, and the commander orders, as mentioned above, to launch a strike immediately so that the enemy does not have time to recover.

 If the space for making the above-described attack is constrained, then order it to set off immediately into a gallop, and the commander will order: ‘break into canter, forwards, march,’ and then execute as above.”

An attack using an excursion by the fourth platoon. “This is done when attacking infantry[17], in order to draw them into firing…” Before the start of the exercise, both pistols were directed to be loaded. “Start the attack, as mentioned above, first at a gentle trot, and then at a gallop, and when about 150 paces have been covered, then the commander orders: ‘Halt, fourth platoon ride out!’ After that, they move forwards 150 paces as quickly as possible, while the platoon extends its front so that it not only covers the regimental frontage, but also overlaps both flanks, and dress off from each other. Every cuirassier should zig zag his horse to the right, then to the left, riding forward until they are eventually 100 paces from the regiment, and shoot at the actual or imaginary enemy line. The line, in accordance with the command, ‘halt’ changes from the gallop to the trot and follow up the outgoing platoon. The squadron commanders are to lead their squadrons completely straight, so as not to close the intervals for the departed platoon. Once the regimental commander has seen that both pistols have been fired, then he orders the recall to be sounded; after which each of the officers from this platoon is to gather his men as quickly as possible and return through the nearest interval. As soon as the recall has been sounded, the line rides at a brisk trot, taking up the departed platoon, and continue the attack at the gallop on receipt of this signal and the order ‘march, march, and deliver the eventual strike. All of which is to be done as stated above.

 When dispersing the platoon, the officer is to mind that he takes up as much space as possible, and disperses forwards as quickly as possible. As soon as the recall has been sounded, immediately holster the pistols and under no circumstances fire, even if they were not fired before, raise the broadsword high and rally as quickly as possible… It goes without saying that in this attack there should be an officer on the left flank of the 4th platoon.”

Dispersed attack.In order to accustom a regiment in peacetime to reforming after being disordered[18] resulting from a melee, or after dispersing the regiment, it is necessary to execute a so-called dispersed attack, as follows:

 After the regiment has executed a normal attack at the gallop, the commander orders: ‘scatter, march, march!’ Whereupon each cuirassier keeping neither in line nor in ranks, is to ride forwards, zig zagging to right and left, and to fire his pistols when ordered; if this is not ordered, then they are to execute various indicated movements with the broadsword. As escort for the standard, leave three files on the right and left sides… (and some officers and trumpeters) … while this standard escort… are to follow the scattered regiment at a gentle trot.” Upon the recall, all the men of the regiment are to return as swiftly as possible to their standard, although not being tied to his place in the squadron, but nevertheless trying to get back into his rank. As soon as the line is reformed, as swiftly as possible, continue the attack at the gallop and to the horse’s full agility. Once they have halted, then the commander orders ‘get fell in!’ Whereupon everyone should take their place, and then the commander orders ‘pick up your dressing!’ In this attack, it is very important to observe that the men take up as much space as possible, and reform according to the given signal.”

Dispersed attack in two waves. “In addition to the above attack[19] there is another, which is made in two waves and has the object of enticing enemy infantry to fire; and it is executed in the following manner. As soon as the signal is given to break into a canter, then the squadrons of the second wave, each by themselves, double up their platoons to the left. The fourth platoon of the first wave is to hold, doubled up behind its third, and let the squadrons, which have set off at a full gallop, cover a full interval. The squadrons that have set off are immediately to form forwards and disperse in the manner described above. The first wave is to support their flankers, and complete their attack, forming up at the given signal and pass back through the interval created by the fourth platoon. This manoeuvre may equally be considered as training for supporting the first wave, in the event that it is defeated by the enemy.”

Doubling up by platoons. Finally, squadrons were instructed to train to double up platoons during an attack, in case of the unexpected appearance of some kind of obstacle to movement (boulders, swamps). Non-commissioned officers and officers were always detailed beforehand to survey the area, in order to notify the commander of such obstacles. “… If possible, (one should) continue to trot until such obstacles have been cleared… If during an attack they come across a relatively narrow ditch… then the second rank (on command) is to halt, while the first (on the same command) is to jump over the ditch as evenly as possible. As soon as they have jumped, the second rank is to follow. But as this manoeuvre, in the question of differing horses, and their greater or lesser ability to jump, is always associated with danger and disorder, it is better to avoid it unless absolutely necessary; although it is vitally important to teach this in advance individually. At the same time, demonstrate to the cuirassier how to keep his head and chest as far back as possible, let the reins go, standing not too far back in the stirrups, but firmly, so that if the horse does not complete the jump, he will not suffer a fall.”

 [1]             Chapter 10.

[2]             Chapter 12.

[3]             e.g. orders dated 1st [13th] January 1801, Catalogue Ser. 2298 of the Library of the General Staff.

[4]             Chapter 5.

[5]             What a contrast here in the opinions on dragoons from the era of Peter the Great and Catherine! N. Mikhnevich.

[6]             Chapter 5.

[7]             Chapter 6.

[8]             Book of Establishments.

[9]             Chapter 1.

[10]           Chapter 4.

[11]           Chapter 3.

[12]           Chapter 7.

[13]           Ibid.

[14]           Chapter 8.

[15]           Chapter 13.

[16]           Chapter 16.

[17]           Chapter 17.

[18]           Chapter 18.

[19]           Ibid.