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The Development of Tactics & Training In The Russian Army: Infantry Regulations 1809-1812

The Development of Tactics & Training In The Russian Army: Infantry Regulations 1809-1812

A Century of The Russian Ministry of War


General Staff Historical Department

(Translated into English from the original Russian by Peter Phillips)

The Development of Tactics & Training In The Russian Army, 1801 to 1814.


Russian Army Infantry Regulations 1809-1812


1809: The Recruit or Soldier School.

1811: Military regulations for infantry service:

Training the soldier. – Individual training. – Musket drills. – Arrangement of the ranks. – Grenadiers and marksmen. – Company training. – Musketry. – Conclusions.

1812: Instructions for gentlemen infantry officers on the day of battle. Conclusions.

1809: Brief instructions on the soldier’s musket, by order of His Supreme Imperial Majesty, to the Scientific Committee for the Artillery Department, published in 1809.

Comparison of requirements in marksmanship training in 1809 and 1811. – Conclusions.

The Recruit or Soldier School, 1809.

In 1809 “The Recruit or Soldier School” was published. There is evidence that on 16th [28th] November, 59 copies of the work were sent to cavalry regiments, in accordance with their total, and 26 copies, to artillery brigades, in accordance with their total.[1] The distribution of this first edition of the work was not accompanied by an order to put it into operation and, apparently, was intended only to provoke a response from the authorities to it. This work was included in the subsequent infantry combat regulations without significant amendment; so its contents will be presented below.

Military Regulations for Infantry Service, 1811.

In 1811, the first edition of the new regulations was published, which was titled “Military Regulations for Infantry Service” and included, in addition to the above-mentioned “Recruit or Soldier School,” which made up the first section of the new regulations, a further second section: “Regarding Company Training.”[2] A second edition of these same regulations appeared in 1812, a third edition in 1813.[3] The 1813 edition is remarkable only in that instead of the previous definition of ‘charging’, a new definition of ‘loading’ was introduced.

The new regulations differed from all our previous regulations in their strict, one might even say, pedantic system of presentation.

Individual training was allocated to a separate section (department), the Recruit or Soldier School, and company training were also in a separate section. Words of command were divided into preliminary and executive words, with the latter consisting of single syllable abbreviated words: tovs, klads, pli, zhay, di (in place of: zakhodi [move]), with a view to brevity and simultaneity of execution. Each command and the execution of it were deconstructed into syllables and movements and written down in specific paragraphs and under separate points; moreover, each action in the practice of training was, as far as possible, envisaged, numbered, and recorded in a specific paragraph. If we take into account that the entire new regulations had as their content the training of troops only in this curriculum and through exercises in alignment and extremely complex formations; then the above-mentioned pedantic character of the regulations should have led to an increase in our requirements in precisely this kind of training: according to contemporaries, such requirements became much stricter under Emperor Alexander I than they were under Emperor Paul.

Training: In the regulations, one can sense the desire to conduct training not so much through severity as through reasonable perseverance. Thus, the regimental commander was instructed to ensure that the officers were capable of imparting the necessary knowledge to the lower ranks, and the officers were instructed in the training of soldiers; “to explain clearly, with patience and without punishment, every pertinent rule, showing what is to be performed and how; use severity in training only for the negligent, but even then act in moderation and with caution… Striving also to bring the soldier to regard even the slightest punishment as an embarrassment.

These training objectives were completely absent in Elisabeth’s and Paul’s regulations, while in Catherine’s regulations they were expressed, albeit weakly; but more fully in the instructions for colonels, having said that, in the reign of Empress Catherine II, the rulings in our regulations would have less influence on the training of our army than the activities of our outstanding military commanders.

Individual training: Recruit School was divided into three parts. The first part consisted of training the recruit without a musket: bearing, turns, slow, and quick march straight and oblique, and attitude. Turns were made on the left heel; during the march it was prescribed, as in our previous regulations, not to bend the knees, it was ordered to keep the head straight, and not to the right, as had been indicated in our previous regulations.

The march was slow or quick. The length of a slow pace was determined as an arshin [71cm or 28”]; the tempo of the slow march was intended to be 75 paces per minute, while the quick march was 110. The quick march was initiated by the command ‘march, march.’

The halt: “On whichever foot the halt was called, simply bring the back foot alongside the front without stamping.”

Musket drill was summarised in part two of Recruit School. Musket drills were as follows: on alert; in the shoulder; from the rain; at prayer; for burial; under the butt; on the right shoulder; musket on balance; from the hip; from the shoulder; unfix bayonets; prepare to load; extract cartridge, open covers; load. The latter command was executed in six stages, according to the commands: prime, turn muskets, remove ramrods, ram, replace, shoulder, make ready. Whereupon the volley was delivered upon the command: ‘squad tovs,’ or ‘zhay.’

Recruits were trained in musket drills by following the right-marker, as had been indicated in our previous regulations.

Arrangement of the ranks: Formation in three ranks was preserved from our previous regulations, and the sizing was also preserved: the tallest men stood in the front rank, next tallest, in the rear, and the shortest, in the centre. With a deployed frontage, the first battalion was ranked on the right, and the second battalion, on the left. Even the countermarch was preserved from our former regulations from Peter the Great’s era.

Arrangement of the regiment:An infantry regiment consists of three battalions, which are titled: first, second and third. When the regiment is formed up in battle formation, the first battalion should be on the right flank, next to it comes the second and then the third battalion. Each battalion consists of four companies; in grenadier regiments; of a grenadier company and three of fusiliers; in infantry regiments; of a grenadier company and three of musketeers; in carabinier and jäger regiments;[4] of a carabinier company and three jäger companies.

In all regiments, both line and light infantry, the distribution of companies across battalions is the same.

In infantry regiments, the first battalion consists of: 1st grenadier company, 1st, 2nd and 3rd musketeer companies.

Each company is divided into two platoons: in the grenadier company, 1st platoon consists of grenadiers, while 2nd platoon has marksmen; the remaining companies are also divided into two platoons, which are referred to as first and second.

When the battalion is formed up in battle formation, the grenadier platoon stands on the right flank of the battalion, next to them, in order, as mentioned above, are the three musketeer companies, and finally the platoon of marksmen, who are to stand on the left flank of the battalion.” The platoon was divided into half-platoons and sections; a section was intended to have at least four and no more than six files.

And thus, with a deployed frontage, which constituted the combat formation of the battalion, the platoons became: 1st grenadier, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th musketeer and 8th marksmen. From these named platoons, four ‘divisions’ were formed: 1st and 2nd platoon constituted 1st division and so on, with 7th and 8th platoons forming 4th division. The first two divisions formed the first half-battalion, while the second two divisions formed the second half-battalion.

Grenadiers and Marksmen:Men are selected to be grenadiers and marksmen regardless of height: excellent good behaviour, constancy and patience in adversity, valour and bravery in danger are the only merits for this selection.” Thereafter, these men were ranked: the taller ones made up the grenadier platoon and were placed on the right flank of the battalion, the less tall, formed the marksman platoon, and were placed on the left flank of the battalion. Thus, the most glamorous parts of the deployed frontage of the battalion, the flanks, were guarded by the best quality men. In our combat regulations, this was the first example of sorting the rank and file of the lower ranks, not only by height, but also by quality.

Company training: The company was trained: to march in line at a slow and quick pace; changing front and turning about on the march; wheeling by files, squads, and platoons; doubling ranks, doubling platoons, countermarching; merging platoon columns at half-platoon intervals, merging into a closed column, forming at the halt from a closed column, etc. as well as volley fire, which will be discussed below.

Marksmanship: A complete novelty in the history of our regulations was “The Company Training of 1811,” with instructions “on being trained to shoot at a target.”[5] In our previous regulations, no attention had been paid to this area of troop training at all, and it was considered sufficient to have only general instructions: when firing, aim at the centre of the man and at the same time look straight ahead down the barrel. The regulations of 1811 took a decisive leap forward in this respect.

There is no need to prove how important and necessary it is for soldiers to be soundly trained in marksmanship. Experience has taught us that success in military operations themselves depend much on mastery of this art… Every year during training periods, all non-commissioned officers and soldiers in the regiment are to be trained to shoot at a target, using the majority of the gunpowder designated for training solely for this purpose. Each company is to keep a record of their best shots.

The regulations stated that to teach shooting at a target, each battalion should acquire several wooden boards 2¾ arshin high and one arshin wide, painted black, with two white stripes four vershok [1 vershok = 44.5mm or 1¾”] wide: “one stripe along the upper edge of the board, the other, in the centre of the board. Having erected these boards, the soldiers shoot at 40 sazhen [1 sazhen = 2.13m or 7’], then at 80 sazhen, and finally at 120 sazhen. At 40 and 80 sazhen, the soldiers are to aim at the lower stripe, and at 120, at the upper stripe; they are initially to learn to shoot individually and without orders; once they have learned to apply the aim correctly, then fire on command… The instructor, after each shot, is to patiently correct any errors, explaining that they are due to the fact that the aim was not applied correctly, or from movement of the musket during the shot.

Conclusions: “Company Training of 1811” was a significant step forward in correcting the shortcomings of the previous, exclusively linear formations: the creation of specific marksmen platoons served, as it were, as the preparation for a transition to a combat style of formation in the form of a screen with reserves; training in aimed fire and closed columns, as it were, indicated the same. This new idea, which was in embryo in “Company Training of 1811,” however, received its final development much later; in the first instance after the Patriotic War, the development of some linear exercises was set up, which had a predominant role in the training of troops during the entire reign of Emperor Alexander I. Issued shortly before the onset of the Patriotic War, the regulations of 1811 were intended to have a beneficial effect on the combat training of our troops. An interesting document in this respect has been preserved from that time, which is given below in a lengthy abstract.

Instructions For Gentlemen Infantry Officers On The Day Of Battle, 1812.

Once published, a copy of the Instruction referred to here was stored in the Lefortovo archive in the files of the Second Western Army under Prince Bagration: it was issued to the troops of Second Army on 17th [29th] July 1812.[6]

“… As soon as battle preparation begins, it is the duty of every officer, and especially company commanders, to carefully inspect all muskets… and to demand that at least two spare flints are held in reserve; such that the prescribed 60 rounds of ammunition are present and in good condition and so stored that the soldier, extracting them from the pouch, does not spill them in action, as often happens.

When the men have newly made-up musket buckshot, then keep buckshot cartridges separate from ordinary cartridges with ball… This buckshot should preferably be used in extended order, in forests, in villages, at close range against cavalry, particularly against enemy skirmishers…

When moving forward, the company commander must move ahead of the company before the start of the firefight for the most convenient observation, such that the men march straight, do not bunch up the formation more than can be helped, especially on an uneven surface. In column, always be in the assigned place, as prescribed in training.

At the signal or command to fire, immediately move behind the line and, walking behind them, confirm that each private is taking aim and is not shooting high in a rush. This is the duty of all officers and non-commissioned officers at the rear, each of whom must walk around and strictly monitor that the men do not shoot high; upon cease-fire, officers are to prevent any firing.

When the line fixes bayonets, the company commander should also move ahead of his company with weapons drawn, and have complete faith that his subordinates, animated by such an example, would never allow him to break into the enemy line alone…

The officer in command of skirmishers sent forwards, should not move his screen forward without the permission of the regimental or battalion commander; he is obliged, using the ground if possible, to conceal his skirmishers, but is to be in constant motion along his screen himself, both to monitor his own skirmishers and the movements of the enemy to prevent scattered cavalry galloping at him. The officer, allowing them to close to 150 paces range, fires, and if he sees that they have not halted the enemy attempt, is to give the signal to gather in groups of ten men and stand together back to back; is to fire once more in this position, and stab at the approaching riders with bayonets, and with full confidence that the battalion or regiment will hasten to rescue them through its forward movement.

If enemy regular cavalry leads an attack on troops in close order line, then all the officers, having gone behind the frontage, are to tell the men that they must not shoot at all without a signal or command from the regimental or battalion commander, and when they are ordered to fire, then every soldier must not rush taking aim and releasing the shot. The regimental commander, having allowed the cavalry to close to 150 paces, orders open fire. If at that time the regiment is in attack column, then halting upon the single command ‘form square,’ they are to form up in accordance with the given regulations.

When a regiment is assigned to defend itself in a village or in rough terrain, where we are forced to take up positions as separate units, then the officers, having occupied the places assigned by the regimental commander with their units, should ensure:

  1. They do not deviate from the instructions given to them by their commander.
  2. From which directions they might expect the enemy to approach.
  3. Which units they are obliged to support.

Through concealment, it is always better to let the enemy get closer so that more men can be killed with the first volley, then always close with them. Officers should not be content simply to exchange fire but must look for an opportunity to close with the bayonet and do this without waiting for orders; with such blows, one should always show an example and strike with fixed bayonets with a shout of Hurrah! in order to attract the attention of the battalion or regimental commander with this shout, who is obliged to go there at once to see if reinforcements are needed or to force them back to their former positions. Other officers in command of other units, at this cry of Hurrah, should on no account leave their assigned positions; they are to observe only what they received as orders, and be reliant on the commander going there to arrange everything in the correct manner.

If the regiment is assigned to attack a village or broken terrain occupied by the enemy, then at the discretion of the commander it may be necessary to attack in several small columns, then the commanders of these small columns, having been instructed where to direct their attack, must not engage in a firefight in such cases; as it is pointless exchanging fire with a hidden enemy; they must be swiftly assaulted with fixed bayonets, and after driving them out of their forward position, do not chase behind them for long, but, having sent some of the rear rank, settle down in places convenient for defending themselves, and if after that, it is impossible to drive the enemy further away through firepower, then assault them with fixed bayonets. With such bold attacks it will always be possible to drive the enemy out of strong points faster and with fewer casualties than through a firefight. In each of these attacks with the bayonet, the soldiers need to shout Hurrah! as a sign to other columns that they are fighting successfully and offensively, and to intimidate the enemy: otherwise, when at the halt, it is never necessary to shout Hurrah; as only disorder comes from that, instead of volleys.

There is no mention of jäger manoeuvres here because they are taught in every jäger regiment, while for others it is not appropriate to explain them here. But the following little-known manoeuvre is worthy of frequent use and may be useful to every kind of infantry. When an officer is fighting as a screen in a forest, then let him place a significant part of his reserve in files on one flank; the front of this squad is to be a few paces back from the screen, and a few paces off to one side; if the screen is forced to pull back, then this reserve remains motionless and hidden; and as soon as the enemy sets off in pursuit of those retreating, then this reserve, suddenly opening fire on their flank, will certainly throw them into confusion. If the enemy, having realised what is happening, turns on them, then those who had previously retreated will take him in the flank, and so these two parts will mutually support one another in the best possible way.

To the spirit of boldness and bravery, one must certainly strive to add resolve in the face of prolonged danger and steadfastness, which is the mark of a man born for war. This firmness, this stubbornness is rewarded everywhere and wins victory. Perseverance and fearlessness have won more battles than all the talent and every artfulness

In some regiments there is a shameful tradition that officers and company commanders are strict and exacting in peacetime, but in war are weak and indecisive in command of their subordinates. There is nothing worse than such officers: they may sometimes seem good in times of peace, but being unfit for real service, they should not be tolerated in the regiments. In action against the enemy, a soldier should be much more fearful of offending his superior as his responsibility in such actions is more important than what happens during training. It is the will of our Most Merciful Tsar that a soldier be punished only during active service; former superfluous training, such as: numerous paces with the musket, etc., have long been abolished, and an officer, with all the severity possible for real crime, can easily earn the most respected military man the title friend of the soldier. The more an officer is fair and mild in peace time, the more his subordinates will try to be worthy of these actions in war and compete to excel in his eyes.

We have limited ourselves to an extract of those passages from this remarkable manual which, relating directly to the subject of this article, are sufficient for drawing up the following conclusion.

Conclusions: “Instructions For Gentlemen Infantry Officers On The Day Of Battle, 1812” indicates how formations are used in combat, useful for all types of infantry, in the skirmishing screen with close reserves behind (though behind one flank); points out the benefits in certain cases of attacks in column and even dismisses the benefits of preliminary small arms fire, recommending a direct attack with the bayonet, but in general points out the importance of accuracy in infantry fire; requires independent initiative from battalion and regimental commanders to support those units that have launched an assault; requires, in addition to courage, daring and steadfastness in battle, a formal relationship between superiors and subordinates, combined with an always paternal, mild attitude towards soldiers; sharply highlights the difference between active service and the earlier “redundant exercises.” In these thoughts one can see the revival of the concepts of the best generals of Catherine’s era; in terms of the vision of methods of warfare, these ideas were significantly ahead of the resolutions of “Company Training of 1811.” Furthermore, we shall see that the uplift of morale and the completely independent vision of methods of warfare associated with it, i.e. free from conservative ideas, after Peter I, inspired on our combat regulations by Prussian orders, was short-lived; during the peace that followed our wars with Napoleon, the introduction of open order formations began to force their way into our regulations with visible difficulty, while primary attention was paid to the development of linear training.

The Instructions referred to here were probably compiled on the orders of Prince Barclay de Tolly, if not by him personally. There is the following indirect evidence of this. In 1818, just after the death of the Field Marshal, the Chief of the General Staff of First Army, Baron Diebitsch [Hans Karl Friedrich Anton von Diebitsch und Narten], defended the skirmisher screen with reserves in front of Grand Duke Nikolai Pavlovich, as practised by Prince Barclay de Tolly during the Patriotic War.[7]

Brief Instructions On The Soldier’s Musket, 

By Order Of His Supreme Imperial Majesty, 

To The Scientific Committee For The Artillery Department, Published In 1809.

It was only in the reign of Emperor Alexander I that our regulations begin to pay attention to the training of soldiers in aimed fire, and not solely in volley fire. This happened once we again returned to deep formations, which, however, had the objective not of increasing firepower, but of strengthening the assault; the firefight was rendered, in the main, forwards, in the skirmishing screen. One can, of course, justify the earlier, as it were, dismissive attitude towards aimed fire by the fact that with smooth-bore muskets, firing was possible only at short ranges, the accuracy of the shooting was poor, and their ballistics were not sufficiently understood. However, even during the reign of Emperor Alexander I, the muskets were smooth bore (0.70” calibre), without sights; attempts were made to achieve an increase in the accuracy of shooting through meticulous care for the constant serviceability of the musket. It is obvious, therefore, that it was not any improvements in the manufacture of muskets that forced increased attention to marksmanship training among the troops, but only a change in the vision of the method of conducting combat, after 1805 in general, but particularly from 1808, along with the first use of dense columns, we began to receive definitive demands to train the troops in aimed fire from muskets.

The methods for maintenance for muskets that we had, which can also serve as an explanation of the view of the officers and regimental authorities of that time on the purpose of the musket, from which, according to the terminology of Paul’s Regulations, “they fired after loading” and thus considered the training of troops in combat shooting to be completed, the following extracts show well enough, both from the orders by the Minister of War Count Arakcheev to the Scientific Committee for Artillery, whose instructions were placed at the very beginning of the above-mentioned Brief Instructions On the Soldier’s Musket, 1809, and from the manual itself. “It has come to the attention of the Sovereign Emperor that soldiers, when disassembling their muskets for cleaning, treat them very negligently, in addition, using abrasives to clean them, even sometimes the coarsest, as a result of which the muskets are rendered prematurely unserviceable, while the barrels, being bent first in one direction and then the other, are close to cracking…

As for the damage to the muskets, which in some regiments is revered as cleaning, such as: rubbing down the barrel with abrasives inside and out, shoving it with all their might against the edge of a wooden table, pressing on the barrel with both hands so that sometimes it will bend… this should not be permitted at all; as friction with abrasives thins the walls of the barrel, and consequently takes away its temper… while on the inside it is also harmful, because the ball fits more loosely, produces less pressure from the gunpowder, and then flies out of the barrel with less force…It is known from experience that after 60 rounds it is necessary to flush out the barrel… If it were not for the testimony of many officers, then it would be impossible to believe that in the course of a whole campaign, many muskets were not even once lubricated with oil, even the parts most subject to friction… Sometimes, in order to make the musket rattle more when performing musket drill, soldiers loosen the ramrod in its bed… and they gouge out the stock around the bolts and other fittings, wherever it is possible to deliver more rattling from the musket…

The “Brief Instructions” also indicated the principles for teaching shooting at a static target, represented by a board six feet high, divided into three parts by three horizontal stripes, to represent the legs, torso, and head of a standing man, and at a range of 50 to 100 sazhen [105 to 210 metres] it was stated to aim at the centre stripe, i.e. at the cross-belt; at a range of 150 sazhen [315 metres] – at the top of the upper band; at a range of 200 to 300 sazhen [420 to 630 metres] – from two to three feet above the target. The lethal range of a bullet was determined at 500 sazhen [1,050 metres], “however, fire beyond 120 sazhen [252 metres] is no longer accurate at all, and the most accurate and fire is at 70 sazhen [147 metres]; consequently, a firefight, begun beyond 120 sazhen [252 metres], is simply a futile waste of cartridges…” These regulations were revised shortly afterwards, and in the infantry regulations, published in 1811, there are already somewhat different instructions, which, however, do not differ significantly from those just given: these instructions have already been mentioned, when setting out the content of the infantry regulations of 1811-1816.

Conclusions: The cited extracts show how amazingly neglected we were in the first years of the reign of Emperor Alexander I in the organisation of the training of infantry in marksmanship; it was not until 1809 that brief instructions for such training were first published, and only in 1823 were more detailed principles issued. This gradual increase in the requirements for infantry trained in marksmanship was a direct consequence of the introduction into our regulations of the principles of open order formations, the development of which has been shown above.

[1]    Historical Museum of the Artillery.

[2]    A copy is held in the Imperial Public Library.

[3]    These editions are mentioned in the catalogue of Smirdin’s library for 1828; a copy of this catalogue is in the Imperial Public Library.

[4]    In the 1811 edition it mentions only jägers.

[5]    In 1809, “A Brief Guide To The Soldier’s Musket” was published. The preparatory work for this edition obviously coincided in time with the work on compiling the “Company Training of 1811.” We shall discuss this Instruction later.

[6]    These instructions were reprinted in full in “Military Miscellany,” 1902, No. 7. It was found in the Moscow Branch of the Overall Archive of the General Staff by V. Kharkevich, who supplied this document with an explanatory note, from which we borrowed the explanations given in the text.

[7]    In addition, V. Kharkevich expresses the same conjecture in his notes.