The Waterloo Association: Members Area

Join: Join the Waterloo Association

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

Military Training in The Reign of Tsar Paul I (Part Five): 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 Five)

Regulations For Line Cavalry Service, 1796.


Field Service Regulations in Peacetime.

This element of service (which is set out in the infantry regulations in chapter 11) is not set out in the cavalry charter of 1796.

Field Service Regulations in Wartime.

Campaign service. This subject is an almost verbatim repetition of the corresponding part in the infantry regulations, as can be seen from the following extract, compared with the extract given above.

“If the leading regiment in a column is ordered to deploy, then the general commanding that column must tell the other regiments of this column whether or not to do likewise[1]. If the squadrons are to pass through a defile, it is not enough to deploy in the order in which they arrive at the defile, as at the place where the first squadron began to deploy. When in contact with the enemy, the entire regiment at once in all regiments, is initially to deploy by squadron, in order to be ready soonest to face the enemy…”

As a marching formation, the regulations indicate platoon column.

Regarding night marches[2].

1.“It quite often happens that one is forced to march at night as a large detachment; therefore, two or three guides should be taken along, who should agree among themselves on the route, and divide themselves up as appropriate to the detachment. This is all the more necessary because troops or squadrons may go astray, and that when marching at night and along highways, men sometimes fall asleep and fall behind, and then, in trying to catch up, get on the wrong road, which can lead to whole troops proceeding behind.

2. The officer commanding and riding in front should ride silently (which, however, depending on the circumstances, is not always possible to observe) and leave several men at all locations where the roads divide, in order to indicate to the rearmost where to go, and who should be relieved from squadron to squadron.

 3. Inasmuch as it is not always possible for squadron after squadron to ride close together, and in lagging behind, it is impossible to catch up without tiring the horses, and for greater security it is not always possible to signal by trumpet, then each squadron should send a reliable non-commissioned officer ahead to lead. Before their departure, the unit commanders of detachments should be reminded of the above-mentioned precautions, so that they observe everything with precision.

 4. The vanguard should not only be increased at night and ride close ahead, but also, having discovered an enemy, must immediately ride at them and attack them, and to that end they should ride with broadswords drawn. During the day, the vanguard should ride in view of a sub-unit, and have several reliable privates or small squads in front of them, to give warning of the enemy as soon as they appear, and to be given orders for that eventuality.”

The above extract constitutes the entire chapter on night marches.

How to operate during a retreat[3].
1. “In the event of a retreat in the face of the enemy with a large detachment in two echelons, the distance between echelons is to be 30 Sazhen [1 Sazhen = 2.13m or 7’], whereupon the first echelon, wheeling about to the right in fours, is to pass through the intervals of the second echelon and halt 100 Sazhen behind it, being mindful of the greater or lesser enemy intent, and then turns to face the enemy. The second echelon does the same, and both continue this for as long as necessity demands it.

2. During the retreat, send out several groups of the best and most courageous men as flankers who, having dispersed, are to exchange fire with the enemy and thereby win time for the detachment to make its movements without interference.

 The rear guard for the entire army should use the same method in order to prevent the enemy from attacking or observing it.”

Protection of marching troops. “When a single cavalry regiment is on the march, it is to have a vanguard 500 paces ahead, consisting of a lieutenant, two non-commissioned officers and 40 privates, and when passing through a forest or defile, this vanguard must move closer to the regiment[4]. The baggage train, if the enemy is not close, is to drive between the squadrons; if the enemy are close by, then they should drive behind the regiment with a captain and 60 men as escort. Patrol not only to the front, but also to the sides, so that the regiment will be secure from surprise attack. In addition, a non-commissioned officer and four privates from each squadron are to be detailed off as lateral patrols, who should ride 50 Sazhen from the flanks of the squadrons, inspecting any villages and forests on the flanks, to flush out any enemy concealed in them.”

The extract cited is the first instruction in our regulations on measures to guard the movement of troops.

Camp routine. “When the army is marching to occupy a new camp, then the Commander-in-Chief of the army is to issue orders on the number of escorts for the quartermasters…[5]. In the event of an alarm, those designated to occupy the camp are to join the escort, forming independent platoons… Fifteen tents are to be pitched for each company or half squadron… The regiments should be at such an interval that it would be possible to march as a complete squadron between the camps. This goes without saying when the army has been idle for several days in one camp… The commanding general, upon occupying the camp, is immediately to establish the guard and occupy villages and towns, making a screen from one post to another, and sends patrols to conduct reconnaissance in order to gather intelligence on the enemy…”

Guard service. “Detail off 17 privates… as the Standard guard from each regiment[6]; sixteen privates… are to be assigned to the internal guard… There are to be five guard posts in the Standard guard[7], one on the right, the other on the left flank, the third with the Standards, the fourth at the tent of the regimental commander, who also has the office box cart, the fifth with the detainees…  The internal guard are to have four guard posts…”

The protective screen and mounted field guard. “Whenever it is necessary to set up a mounted field guard[8], then station it away from the army according to the circumstances (the numbers for such a field guard will depend on the number of cavalry) and depending on the distance from the enemy; put two vedettes together, so that one of the two can immediately notify the mounted field guard about what is happening, while the other remains in place.

 Whenever possible, place any mounted field guard in low ground, or somewhere it cannot be seen, so that the enemy cannot judge its strength, but put vedettes on high ground during the day, so that they could see into the distance. At the same time, never place a mounted field guard or vedettes in a forest, so that the enemy cannot surprise them… Mounted field guards are to assemble as soon as dawn breaks… The new mounted field guard, having approached to 100 paces from the old one, is to draw broadswords and stand to the left-hand side of the old one… As soon as the old mounted field guard has departed, the new one takes its place, and the commander, depending on the distance from the enemy, orders the dismount, either of the whole guard, or half of it, or a quarter of it… During the day, the mounted field guard should be dismounted… Each officer should instruct his sentries, and also send frequent patrols, so that by these means they can maintain their alertness. Equally, non-commissioned officers with a certain number of men are frequently to be sent forwards of the outposts to patrol the ground between the guard and the enemy, and in order to forewarn sentries and guards of an attack… Mounted field guards are to move closer to the camp at night. If the weather is foggy or gloomy the next morning, then the field guards are to remain at the place where they were stationed overnight and, not returning to their old positions during the day, until visibility is open and they have been cleared by patrols; according to the importance of the circumstances, vedettes may be added or subtracted.

 If the alarm is sounded at any outpost of the mounted field guard, then the commander of the field guard, if necessary, having collected the outposts, is to ride with them to the place where the alarm was called.”

As may be inferred from the above extract, the mounted field guard constituted a reserve of sentries for the screen of vedettes, which had no immediate supports. More detailed instructions on guard service are found in the Cavalry Service Regulations of 1796, below. Attention should be drawn to the two different meanings of the word ‘picket’ in the rules and in the aforesaid Regulations.

Pickets. A picket in the cavalry was the duty element of a detachment stationed within the bivouac; the same name was also given as was mentioned above, to the duty element of the infantry.

A picket is not detailed off in any other way, except by a special order from the Commander-in-Chief, and assembles at a location appointed by him… Detail four privates from each squadron per picket… A colonel, a lieutenant colonel and a major are to be detailed off from all the cavalry for the picket… At 9 o’clock in the morning, the picket from all regiments is to be on the right flank of the front line…; whereupon… they are to go… and stand on the left-hand side of the old picket… The men are to dismount, unbridle the horses and secure them to posts… All members of the picket must be fully dressed and equipped and at constant readiness, so that in the event of an alarm, the picket can immediately mount horses and go where they are needed.”

Foraging. “Should it become necessary to forage, then the task should be given to a whole wing, or at least to an entire brigade, this is in order that the regiments do not forage in isolation, most particularly outside the outpost screen. The day or at least the night before the day of foraging, send out a sufficiently large unit to ensure the safety of those foraging… Outposts must be set up in those places where foraging is to be done, and placed in such a way that it is possible to see the enemy from any direction, and the foragers are not to be permitted to pass beyond the outposts. The Quartermaster General is to inspect the fields on which they are to forage, and is to assign locations to each regiment… The officers of each regiment should supervise that nobody forages outside the screen… A dedicated squad from each brigade and each regiment is to look after this, and to that end it is to form a screen around the men from each brigade and regiment and is to remain there. In the event of an alarm or threat during foraging, the foragers are to retreat… In peacetime, teach the men how to tie bundles so that they do not fall apart, and then how to stow them on the horses.”

Rules For Cavalry Service of 1796.

In the second part of the regulations of 1796, known as the Rules for Cavalry Service, the rules for scouting duty and discussions about cavalry tactics are set out.

Scouting duty was assigned in the Rules mainly to the hussars. The first chapter “On the duties of an officer in command of a flanking guard” contains the following rules. “He must arrange his men during the day in such a way that every possible approach to them can be seen in all directions. Put two men on each vedette, of which one must always be a reliable person and in whom one could trust. They must, moreover, firmly know their business; as the officer is responsible for the mistakes of his men, which come from ignorance.

On open ground, a picket or a detachment guard should be stationed 500 paces behind, but in such a manner that the outposts are visible. One may also set up pickets and outposts during the day near the crest of a hill or on a slope, which should be concealed from the enemy, but still able to notice everything… After dark, the officer must move his outposts 200 or 300 paces in towards the picket in such an arrangement that nobody can infiltrate; but in those cases where the number of men does not allow this, be forewarned by a continuous patrol of two or three men, circling 200 paces beyond the vedettes… At night, half or the entire picket must be on horseback, facing the threat; while if there is a defile ahead or a location through which it is difficult to pass through, then a non-commissioned officer may be sent there with several men who do not dismount, and relieve them. It is also possible to send scouts ahead. Having taken such precautions, the picket may dismount; but every hussar must keep his horse saddled, so that he can mount up immediately upon an alarm… Hussar or cavalry vedettes, returning at night from patrols, should not be allowed to move closer to the detachment… As the integrity of the entire corps depends on the caution of the officer in command of the detachment guard, then he must be careful such that the enemy cannot attack by surprise, under fear of deprivation of rank, and he must stay at his post as much as possible; and in the event that the enemy drives him back, he is to retreat laying down covering fire and without ceasing to exchange fire. It is necessary to send patrols hourly or every two hours, depending on the location and scout out if the enemy is approaching… There is nothing easier than to isolate and seize pickets in broken terrain, and to that end one must try to cover the rear with patrols… Relieve the outposts hourly…

 The pair who make up each vedette must never be separated from each other[9], and if one of them wants to desert, the other must immediately shoot him, as it must needs be that each is responsible for his comrade in the event of desertion. Challenges should be called in this way: when anyone approaches to a distance of 40 or 50 paces, call out: ‘who goes there? Speak, or die, stand the watch to! Stand the watch to! Halt, what is the watchword? Stand the watch to!’ They should not be permitted to approach closer than 20 paces before giving the watchword.”

If we compare this description of sentry duties in the Cavalry Rules with the corresponding description in the infantry regulations of 1796, as previously mentioned, then one can immediately see a huge difference in quality between the cavalry and infantry regulations of 1796, corresponding to the view, borrowed from Frederick the Great, of the cavalry being the best element of the army.

Cavalry tactics. Several chapters are devoted to cavalry tactics in the Rules.

Patrol routines. “In addition, it is necessary that an officer be fully aware of the location of landmarks and roads that might be unknown to the enemy[10]; he must also be aware of the location of the enemy. Patrols are to be sent either to cause some kind of harm to the enemy, or simply to discover them. They are to pass, either close to the enemy, or infiltrate between their outposts.

General principles: select reliable men and exchange some of them, for whomever would be more appropriate to send for scouting.

 It is best to ride at night, avoiding villages and highways as much as possible… It is essential to have two guides… If hussars who know the routes can be found, then these are best… A skilled non-commissioned officer is to be sent ahead with three or four men and with one of the guides. these are to take note of everything that they come across, and immediately notify the officer about it. Fall back whenever the need arises; and especially to prevent being discovered, and for this reason often divert to the right or left; which the officer executes with the entire detachment, and thus avoids the enemy.

 When it is very dark, several men should be sent between the vanguard and the detachment, who should be told to ride at 30 or 40 paces from each other, so that by this means they will maintain communications and not get lost…

 As soon as the enemy discovers such a patrol, and if it is impossible to complete the mission by force, then it is better to beat a swift retreat; but if the enemy screen has already been penetrated and there is a concern of being cut off, then it is necessary to divert to one side and try to extract by another route; while if it is impossible to complete this before dawn, then it is necessary to take advantage of any dense and isolated forest, if there is one, and to wait there until nightfall…

Such detachments must be supplied with fodder and provisions for two days. It is necessary to feed the horses every two or three Meilen [a German Meile was approximately 7.5 km or 4⅔ Statute Miles], but in a remote place and having posted sentries; as the main concern must be to maintain the horses’ strength for as long as possible…

 When the going is good, then ride at a pace of one German Meile in an hour and a half, therefore, six to eight Meilen may easily be covered in 24 hours, however, observing the horses are fed for two hours after every two Meilen…”

The Rules then give instructions on how a patrol should respond in the event of being attacked “by enemy cavalry or hussars” Here some general views are expressed on the nature of the mission of light cavalry in combat.

Since cavalry[11], dragoons or cuirassiers have horses much stronger than those of hussars, then they should avoid a frontal clash with them as much as possible, and send small groups around their flanks in order to force them to face right or left; and this should be the signal to strike them from all sides, in order to disorder them, in which case the hussars have all the advantages due to the agility of their horses.

 It is even better if such an attack could be made against one flank; as it is possible to scatter them before anyone has time to assist them. While for hussars there is nothing easier than to attack heavy cavalry on level ground. If the enemy is brave, then they themselves will strike, and then every effort must be made to keep the squadrons in good order, and to attack the flanks by releasing flankers and small groups…

 It is much easier to make such an attack with 100 or 200 hussars against 100 or 200 cuirassiers, than with 500 hussars against 500 cuirassiers, because in this latter case their flanks are less exposed to danger and because it is rare to find sufficiently large open spaces.”

This last remark seems very strange for Russian regulations of the late 18th century. It betrays direct plagiarism in the provisions of the regulations of 1796 from some source in Western Europe, most likely Prussia.

The hussar should not commit to any action at any time unless he is secure, and never commit all of his force if he is unsure of success as there is less shame for an hussar officer to retire as opposed to getting involved in unprofitable combat. Gross recklessness is always worthy of censure.

But in the event that he is directly aware of the strength of the enemy, and that he will not be ambushed, and can rely on the courage of his men; then he may make a general attack.

 On the general attack. It is necessary to make your entire dispositions align with the enemy, such that by doing so, an equal frontage with them will always be maintained, and if possible, envelope a flank.

 If the enemy is formed up in two echelons, then it is necessary to do the same; and I advise you to always do this without fail. The second echelon should always be separated from the first by 200 or 300 paces.

 On each flank there should be several small platoons, which follow the squadrons into the attack and pursue the enemy when they are defeated or halt them in any such eventuality when they gain some advantage.

 Once the commander has delivered his orders, he is to let the squadron commanders know what each of them must do and entrust the second echelon to a skilled officer; while he, having rejoined his squadron, launches the attack at the trot, and then at the gallop when they are 100 paces from the enemy. Finally, at 60 paces from the enemy, he commands: ‘March, march!’ The second line follows at full trot and attacks in the same way through the intervals between squadrons and, in those cases where the enemy is not driven off by the first echelon, along the flanks.

 It is very fitting for those in command, as well as other squadron commanders, to be ahead of their men in order to arouse valour in them, and in order to demand courage from them with every right.

Trials or experience have shown that attacks are not as dangerous as they seem; as although out of a hundred cases there have not been even two cases no matter if the shock is perfectly delivered, however, it is delivered with such impetus that the squadrons reach the enemy at the same moment as do their commanders…”

The second echelon in a general attack. “Any officer[12], commanding the second echelon in a general attack… must be very attentive to the outcome of the attack by the first echelon, and if the enemy is forced to fall back, he is not to commit the second echelon to action; while in the event of only one enemy flank being driven back, he is to hold his men in such a position that it may be directed into action on the opposite flank, should that begin to retreat before the enemy. But if the first echelon faces stiff resistance, he must immediately bring the second to its aid. As soon as he notices that the enemy is trying to envelope a flank of the first echelon, then he is to send the nearest squadrons from the second there, leaving one man from each with him as a messenger.”

 There is also a lengthy discussion in the Rules, with references to historical examples, as to whether an attack should be carried out according to the old-fashioned method at full trot, knee to knee so tightly that a horse, on being wounded, would be carried along by the others, or according to the latest method, at full speed in loose alignment? Preference is given to the latter method.

 Continuing on, the regulations are set out for a hussar detachment, stationed in a village to protect the army located in camp or in permanent quarters; when crossing a defile in the face of the enemy; instructions are given to the commander of the detachment appointed to scout out the enemy and is to be composed of infantry and cavalry, for various situations: over open ground, on rugged terrain, close to or in the middle of a forest or a defile. In open country, it is recommended to send hussars out a quarter of a Meile ahead, and if the ground permits, then even further, and support them with patrols arranged in a chessboard formation; cavalry is to proceed behind these patrols, with infantry a quarter of a Meile behind. If the terrain is open, “then it is not necessary to keep the infantry any closer than half a Meile behind[13]; as they cannot defend themselves for a long period without firing off all their cartridges, and consequently they may find themselves completely overrun.”

Instructions For Cavalry Major Generals, 1796.

At the end of the Rules we find “instructions for cavalry major generals.” Below are some of the most interesting extracts from these instructions, concerning both their service on guard duty, and during a campaign, and during combat.

In camp, those major generals who happen to be on duty must ensure that at dawn the guards are changed, and that the patrols proceed correctly from one guard post to another, and that this is carried out every morning… During the march, push the horses to walk with a long gait, and not quietly, as is customary in the regiments, and it is necessary to link squadron to squadron, regiment to regiment, and brigade to brigade… When they are in the vanguard, they must provide support for the hussars; in which case they are to proceed with large intervals and be reinforced. Protect the flanks of the hussars, and if necessary, station two or three other squadrons 300 paces from them, to move forwards as one. If it should happen that the hussars are driven back, then in order to push the enemy away, it is particularly vital to monitor and cover the flanks; and should make the same movements in the rear guard, not going into action with the enemy too often, but doing everything in order to retreat… It is necessary to drive off the enemy quite boldly; however, generals should not commit all their men into action, but always keep several squadrons in reserve, or even only one if that is all that is available… Each of his men must be directed to stay closed up, not allowing them to gallop in all directions; even in pursuit, it is always necessary to have some in close order in support of them, and to whom they could rally back.

 For a battalion, there are two types of action to take note: infantry actions and cavalry actions.

Infantry actions are attacks on villages, in mountains, and on strong points. In such battles where it is impossible to use the cavalry along the wings, but in the intervals, and to that end the cavalry is usually formed in three waves, and it cannot operate otherwise than once the infantry has already broken through in one place or another, and where one or two regiment of cavalry may be used. In this case, the brigade commander must immediately go to the place where it is necessary to break through, and push through whole squadrons in column, one after the other, in order to take advantage of the enemy’s disorder[14]; and then there is no need, even if the men gallop in disorder, but here they should note that when the enemy has cavalry, then do not advance too far from their infantry: since, as our infantry drives the enemy off, pursues them and completes their destruction, they expose themselves to danger in an extended pursuit. Great awareness is required of them, namely: if others happen to be in good order near the fleeing infantry, then they must immediately attack them, if they may be struck from the rear. These attacks are the most appropriate for cavalry; as they do much harm to the enemy, and there is not the slightest danger to them. It is necessary that this be accomplished with all possible speed, so that an enemy could not make counter manoeuvres.  

 Whenever the fighting takes place on open ground, and the cavalry is in formation, then each major general is to stand in front of his brigade, except for lieutenant generals, who are forbidden to be at the front as they must rally the disordered and command the second echelon in support of the attack wherever it is needed. In these attacks, it is certainly essential; that the flanks are protected, so that the second echelon pays attention behind the first, so that the regiments are well closed up, and so that as they approach the enemy, the line may be formed faster; thus, there will never be disorder. Once the enemy is beaten back, every attempt must be made to protect the flanks, and the second echelon is to turn all their attention to that in particular…”

Conclusions. If we compare the requirements imposed by the Regulations on Line Infantry Service of 1796 and the Tactical Rules or the Instruction on Military Evolutions, 1797 for the infantry, with the requirements and advice addressed by the Regulations on Line Cavalry Service of 1796 and the Rules on Cavalry Service of 1796 to the cavalry; then the following conclusions can be made for the combat training of infantry and cavalry: on the one hand (for the infantry) – the ability to march with all attention on the pace, moreover, such that the musket does not move; the ability to maintain alignment, both in the movement forwards and backwards in extended line, and when forming and wheeling, and the ability to produce platoon volley fire, on command, in compliance with a strict procedure and alignment in movements: at the halt, when advancing and when retreating; on the other hand (for the cavalry) – in addition to good, close order drill training, also education in the sense of developing the cavalry spirit and initiative, the cavalry were instructed with more sophistication and greater difficulty in accordance with such qualities and missions. Such a comparison leads to the conclusion that the cavalry, in the opinion of the compilers of Paul’s Regulations, was the more advanced force and was considered almost to be the premier combat arm. These views correspond to the views of Frederick the Great, but the relative status of Prussian infantry and Prussian cavalry corresponds neither to the history of the development of both troop types in Russia, nor to our situation in general.

[1]             Chapter 43.

[2]             Chapter 64.

[3]             Chapter 65.

[4]             Chapter 60.

[5]             Chapter 46.

[6]             Chapter 47.

[7]             Chapter 48.

[8]             Chapter 49.

[9]             Chapter 2.

[10]           Chapter 5.

[11]           Chapter 8.

[12]           Chapter 11.

[13]           Chapter 22.

[14]           The Instructions give examples of the operations by the cavalry at Rossbach, Zorndorf and Tarkhkirche (Hochkirche?).