Monday 19 July 2021

Somewhere in the Southern United States…

 Our regular Sunday game was an American Civil War battle. The scenario had a Confederate force in position expecting an attack from one direction only to be surprised by an attack from another direction and having to reposition to face it.

I fought for the Union on this day and two us stood with a brigade each were to hold half the Confederates in place while four more Union brigades would strike - we were to be the anvil, them the hammer.

It was a very hard fought battle in which the Union prevailed.

And so to some photos, in random order…

Wednesday 14 July 2021

Yet More (and the last) Franco-Prussian Thoughts.

Having discussed how infantry was employed in my last post, this post will discuss the way artillery and cavalry were employed by the French and German armies in 1870.

Performing poorly in 1866 the German artillery was reformed prior to 1870 into a highly efficient arm. Central to that efficiency was the organisation that saw one regiment attached to each army corps. Each regiment consisted of three field and one horse divisions. In general terms this placed fourteen batteries each of six guns in each corps – the numbers of batteries varied in some formations, especially within the South German States.  The field divisions comprised of two heavy (6lb) and two light (4lb) batteries and the horse division of two light batteries. Each division was commanded by a major and the regiment by a colonel. A field division was assigned to each of the two infantry divisions in the corps, while the third field and the horse divisions formed the corps reserve. While guns accompanied the division, they fell under the direct control of the corps chief of artillery, who held a general’s rank, and by doing so raised the status of the artillery within the corps.


In 1866 the artillery was held too far back in the order of march leaving the infantry in want of support when the action opened. This was rectified in 1870 by bringing the batteries forward in the line of march, frequently the second or third unit in the order – maybe preceded by a squadron of cavalry and an infantry battalion. The artillery also abandoned the age old dishonour of losing guns in action, not that they lost many (or even any) in 1870.


French artillery organisation was nowhere nearly as neat and tidy as the Germans. Each infantry division was assigned two light field and one mitrailleuse battery, each of six weapons. Each corps then had a reserve of six batteries, each grouped into sub units of two batteries: one of 12lb one of 4lb guns and one of horse artillery. This gave the field strength of 12 batteries and 3 mitrailieuses in most divisions, but in 1st and 3rd Corps which contained an additional infantry division and an additional horse artillery unit in the reserve, the count raised to 16 field and 4 mitrailleuse batteries. While the number of guns with the corps were roughly equal to those of the Germans, the distribution was weaker with only 12 guns with the division compared to 24 and with too many guns in the reserve that was always held too far to the rear and always brought into the action too late.


To cite some examples of how the Germans brought guns into action and then how they sustained the infantry in action:


At Wissembourg the action was opened by the 4th Bavarian Division and two batteries were brought into the action early. However these two batteries struggled to find positions in and among the vineyards and were subjected to long range Chassepôt fire that drove them out of the action. About an hour later eight batteries from V Corps  were brought forward, but only five could find firing positions. In a short time these batteries silenced the French guns and blasted a way for the Bavarian infantry to gain access to the town. They then turned their attention to the French troops on the heights above the town and when the infantry advance against the final French stronghold, the Chateau Giessberg, was held in check batteries were brought up to close range to blast the French into submission.


In this same action the German gunners quickly determined where the French mitrailleuse battery was and silenced it promptly. In fact they hit the battery ammunition supply and the resulting explosion killed the French general commanding.


Two days later, at Froeschwiller, the Bavarians were again into the action quickly and again their artillery struggled to gain good firing positions. Not so, however, for the batteries of V Corps that came into action on the heights opposite the French, behind the Sauerbach stream. The ground here was so favourable that all fourteen batteries were deployed, and they utterly swamped the three French batteries opposite them, driving them to silence in a very short time. This artillery mass was joined by four batteries from XI Corps and throughout the whole of the morning and much of the early afternoon dominated forward slope of the Froeschwiller ridge, breaking up French counter attacks and preventing the destruction of their own dangerously exposed infantry on the opposite bank. 


In the morning in this action some batteries encountered difficulties when their impact fused shells struck ground made soft by the previous night’s rain and failed to explode.


When the infantry were established on the other side of the stream and began to mask the guns, the batteries from both V and XI Corps were brought across the stream and established positions to beat a path for the stalled infantry advance. No clearer example how the German batteries could be grouped into different groups to deal with a tactical situation can be given than of the XI Corps guns. When the infantry of the Corps halted in a disorganised state around the village of Elsasshausen seven batteries from the corps, 42 guns in all, from different commands were gathered together by the corps artillery chief and formed up along the road to the village and dominated the open ground between that position and Froeschwiller, helping to break up the charges of the French cuirassiers and enabling V corps to continue its advance.


On the same day at Spicheren the attack of the 14th Division on the Rotherberg was covered by the fire of four batteries which blasted the only visible French units on the Rotherberg. At first the batteries could not gain good effect because they were firing from a lower elevation to the French, with a vertical deficit of some 60 feet, and their impact shells could not gain effect: they either burst in front of the French works or screamed past to the rear – it was perhaps one time the German gunners wished they had access to airburst shells. When the batteries relocated to a higher position their fire had immediate effect. These 24 guns rained as many as 96 shells per minute into an area not much larger than two football fields that was occupied by a battalion of chasseurs and a battery. The actual casualties suffered by the French was small because both were dug in, but the gunners found it impossible to engage the German guns effectively because the range was too short for their pre-set fuses and they withdrew several hundred yards to the rear where the range was better. The chasseurs meanwhile were compelled to keep their heads down allowing the German infantry to gain the base of the hill with only minimal loss.


A while later the French mitrailleuse battery came into action to the left of the Rotherberg opening on a German battery 2000 yards to its front. Here for the first time the difficulty in observing the fall of shot for this weapon was demonstrated – because it had no explosive round typically the gunners could only determine fall of shot by the dust thrown up when the shots hit the ground and on the night before it had rained heavily. At first the contest was relatively even but when three more German batteries joined the first they swamped the mitrailleuse battery and drove it from its position. The battery commander reported that an estimated 300 shells were unleashed on him in ten minutes, wounding a number of men and horses and temporarily dismounting two weapons.


Another example of the Germans forming temporary gun masses can be found later in the day. Those same four batteries from 14th Division formed the core of the formation and were joined by batteries from a variety of other divisions that arrived piecemeal on the field. The guns were formed in a mass on high ground north of the Rotherberg and dominated the narrow passage to the south, preventing the French reserve artillery from effectively entering the battle. When a French attack late in the day threatened to drive in the German right flank, this gun mass broke it up.


By the time the armies met at Gravelotte-St Privat and at Sedan the German artillery was at its absolute peak. At the former they managed to deploy all their guns in vast gun lines. In front of the French right at Amanvilliers, for example,  the full strength of the of the IX, Guard and XII Corps , a total of 258 guns, swept the ridge. At Sedan for the first time the German artillery participated in a coordinated effort in which different batteries targeted a different sector of a target as though working to a grid.


The French guns were not totally ineffective. At Froeschwiller four batteries from the Corps reserve were brought into action against the German V Corps guns. These 24 guns managed to sustain themselves in action for 45 minutes by increasing the spacing between guns, but four batteries against eighteen could not gain any real advantage and they were eventually withdrawn from the action to preserve ammunition. Later in the day all eight batteries of the reserve were committed in a last ditch effort to hold back the final German assault, but to little avail as the Germans quickly overran their position capturing a number of guns.


Where they were able to gain good positions the French guns could be effective. At Spicheren the artillery of the First Division took post out of the line of fire of the German guns and played a significant role in turning back several German attacks. A similar situation occurred a little later in that day on the Spicheren heights. Here the French artillery retired to a position where the Germans were not able to bring guns to bear and from this new position were able to dominate the plateau and prevent any further advance by the German infantry. Similarly at Froesechwiller the two divisional batteries of Lartigue’s division were able to find shelter from the German artillery behind an outcropping and were able to briefly disrupt the advance of XI until the Germans found a covered approach.


While the German artillery had the technical advantage of a reliable gun firing reliable impact fused shells, it real success in action was realised by bringing guns into action early in the fight and from a flexible command structure that empowered junior officers to make good decisions that enabled them to bring together guns, frequently from different commands, to form adhoc formations that could deal with difficult pockets of resistance. 


The French artillery, on the other hand, suffered the technical disadvantage of a timed fuse for their airburst shells that was set for only two range bands. They also had a deficit of guns within the divisions and the divisional chief still had direct control of his batteries. Without a unity of command the French were never able to bring numbers of guns to bear and always lost the battle for fire superiority. The reserve batteries always came into action too late.


Neither side handled cavalry well. Looking at cavalry in combat,  the most famous episodes are the charges of the French cuirassiers at Froeschwiller, where six regiments were thrown against the Germans in desperate attempts to gain time for their beaten infantry and artillery to escape. The charges might have had some success had there been a better opportunity to reconnoitre the ground, but what was at first thought to open ground was discovered to be covered with concealed ditches and tree stumps. Not a single trooper clashed with an enemy. All the regiments were decimated and the German advance was not halted. A similar result came of the charges of the Chasseurs d’Afrique at Sedan.


Von Bredow’s death ride at Mars-la-Tour caused a temporary chaos in the French lines and created the distraction and doubt that was intended, allowing the German infantry and artillery to hold their position. Again it was made at a terrible loss. At that same battle the last great cavalry clash in the world ended inconclusively in the fields near between Mars-la-Tour and Yron.


In reconnaissance the German cavalry excelled and in the early stages of the war the regiments spread across the front of the armies and gained an accurate picture of French deployment. All cavalry types, including the battle cavalry (cuirassiers and uhlans), were involved and individual regiments squadrons and even individual troopers helped to feel the way forward for the armies. On occasions some cavalry leaders failed to act as they should have or misinterpreted the information coming back from the front and prior to Mars-la-Tour they completely lost contact with the French until they blundered into them near Rezonville.


The French attempts at reconnaissance were appalling. In part this was because of conflicting instructions between Napoleon and army chief of staff where one stated that the cavalry should not be placed at risk, whereas the other said they should push far forward, and in part because the French experience in Africa taught them small detached forces were vulnerable to attack and in 1870 they failed to adapt to the European theatre. The result was that reconnaissances were conducted by larger bodies that always shied away from a fight. The French reconnaissance in the early morning at Wissembourg was the worst example where a single regiment of rode across the front of the division but failed to press more the a few hundred yards ahead of the lines. As a result they failed to identify that 80,000 Germans were about to descent of a single French division of 4800 men.


Neither side trained their cavalry for sustained dismounted action, although two squadrons of dragoons fought dismounted briefly in the face of the advance of the German 13th Division at Spicheren.

Friday 9 July 2021

More Franco-Prussian Thoughts

After my last post on the Franco-Prussian War I received a number of comments and emails about the tactics of the war.  This post is my view built from my study of the early battles of the war. In preparing this I have used a number of references that include:

  • The German Official History
  • The French Official History
  • A.Von Boguslawski’s “Tactical Decuctions from the War of 1870”
  • Prince Kraft zu Hohenlohe Ingelfingen’s “Letters on infantry”, “Letters on Cavalry” and “Letters on Artillery”
  •  Colonel Henderson’s “Spicheren” and “Worth”
  • Hugo Helvig’s “Tactical Examples”
  • Pierre Lehautcourt’s l”Histoire de Guerre de 1870-71”
  • Henri Bonnal’s studies that include “Froeschwiller” and “la Manoeuvre de Saint-Privat”

Of these works it is Hohenloe Ingelfingen’s that is most often quoted and referenced, presumably because he was a protagonist in the conflict (commanding the Guard artillery) and because his works are readily available into English readers, having been translated by enthusiastic British military men of the late nineteenth century. These works are based on a series of lectures he presented to German military institutions and contain a number of insights to the way German armies fought. That said, they need be read with caution and a bias filter applied because there is a fair amount of hero worship contained in them - one of many examples is: “On reading of the exploits of the German infantry in the war of 1870-71, one comes to the conclusion, not only that is the most perfect infantry which has yet been seen, also that no more perfect infantry can be imagined.”

The German Official History of the war (translated into English by those enthusiastic military men) is an excellent resource but does not present much in the way of a critical analysis. The French Official History is much better in this regard, providing a narrative from both sides and then presenting a number of ‘considerations’. The French history also contains the official reports of the various corps, divisions, brigades, regiments, battalions and batteries that make it a useful resource, but it comprises of somewhere in the vicinity of 22+ volumes so it is heavy going and has never translated into English, so if you are not a French reader it is a problem. Bonnal’s and Lehautcourt’s studies provide some of the best critical studies of the war, but again are only available in French. Colonel Henderson’s works have been held up as some of the best English studies (particularly his work on Spicheren), and while there are a number of excellent observations, much of his narrative is a regurgitation of the German Official History. 

Boguslawski’s work is used as the basis of this discussion and is interesting not only because of its title, but because Boguslawski was on the ground as an infantry officer, commanding a company in the 50th Regiment at Wissembourg, Froeschwiller and Sedan, along with other later actions. His work also contains a good degree of German bias, but less than others. He also provides some insights into the theory of infantry tactics and I will use a couple of quotes to start the discussion. First he provides a concise description of German tactics: “The main idea then apparent in the German tactics of 1870 was: a front attack is difficult, let us try the flanks.” This was the common theme for the Germans at all levels of command from army, through corps, division, brigade, and battalion levels – always look to pin the front and turn the flank.

Second, “To sum up the chief points remarkable in the tactics employed in 1870, we remark on the German side:-

  1. The attack is to be directed on the enemy’s flank, on assault on the centre following this, sooner or later.
  2. In most cases, very powerful artillery fire to prepare the way.
  3. Extensive employment of skirmishers.
  4. Cavalry action restricted.

Boguslawski discusses the theory of a German advance by stating that a company would extend its skirmish division forward at the first contact. It is worth noting here that a Prussian infantry company was formed of two platoons, or zugs, that on the drill ground were formed in three ranks, but in battle that third rank was stripped away to form a third zug that was often referred to as the skirmish division. The skirmish line was to feel the way forward and when it was halted would be reinforced by a second platoon and if necessary, the third would be brought forward. In this way the line would gradually thicken, and the reserves could be drawn into the fight where they were most needed. The central feature of the tactic was to advance to a firing position from between 500 to 150 yards and swamp the enemy line with fire. This was the tactic that worked so effectively against the Austrians in 1866.

Here follows three examples of this method of advance. To make sense of the examples it is necessary to understand the way in which German and French infantry units are described. German infantry units are identified in two ways: First is by battalion and regimental numbers. The Regimental number is preceded by the Roman numeral I for 1st battalion, the Roman numeral II for 2nd battalion and F for the 3rd or Fusilier battalion. Example: II/77th or F/77 (Second Battalion of the 77th Regiment or Fusilier Battalion of the 77th Regiment). Second is by company number. Companies within the regiment were numbered sequentially 1 through 12 where 1-4 formed the First Battalion, 5-8 Formed the Second Battalion and 9-12 the Third (or Fusilier) Battalion). Company numbers are always in Arabic numerals. Example 9/77th (9th Company, 77th Regiment).

French infantry units are identified by company, battalion and regimental numbers, or a combination of those numbers. All numbers are in Arabic numerals.  Example: 5th Co, 1/40th (Fifth Company, First Battalion of the 40th Regiment).

The first example comes from the Battle of Wissembourg (4 August 1870)

The I/58th was directed to advance toward against Wissembourg from the South. The battalion was formed into two half battalions in column of companies, with the 2/58th and 4/58th forming on the left of the road (the 2nd company in front, the 4th behind) and 1/58th and 3/58th on the right (with the 1st company leading the 3rd). Ahead of the columns was a swarm of skirmishers, formed from the skirmish platoons from each of the lead companies. A little after noon the I/58th was set in motion up the Wissembourg-Landau road into a hail of Chassepôt bullets. About 500 yards east of the entrance to the village of Altenstadt they found a large area surrounded by a six feet high wall on the left-hand side of the road that offered excellent cover for the left hand half battalion, which quickly occupied the place and opened fire on the 1st Tiraillieurs Algériens. However, the right-hand half battalion found no such advantage and while their skirmishing platoons were able to find cover in the ditches the main bodies of these companies were exposed to the full force of the French fire and suffered severely. In the centre of the maelstrom the battalion commander rode amongst his men to urge them on. When he was struck and killed command fell to the senior captain then to the next captain when he was wounded, then a third captain. When that captain in turn fell command of the battalion fell to the senior lieutenant. The losses amongst the battalion increased rapidly and the companies soon became severely mixed, but step by step the advance continued towards the rail­way station.

Facing two battalions of the Tirailleurs, arguably some of the best fighting troops in Europe, and struck in the flank by fire from the heights to their left the I/58th, assisted by a company of the 5th Jägers, were still able to press the attack. By utilising the flexibility of the battalions, the half battalion groups and companies moved forward alternating between moving and firing, while some elements endeavoured to work around the flanks or exploit gaps in the French lines. Even when more than two thirds of the officers were killed or wounded a few lieutenants and the NCOs managed to keep the companies in hand and enabled them to drive the Tirailleurs from their defensive position around the railway station and still have enough energy and organisation to carry the fight right up to the gates of the fortress.

While this example shows how the tactics of fire and movement could work effectively and highlighted the training and skill of the junior officers and NCOs, this was a relatively isolated action, and the Germans did have the advantage of numbers. 

The second example is the opening attack of the 39th Regiment at Spicheren on 6 August

In this advance the German infantry are advancing south from the Winterberg, the last in a series of hills that form the Saarbrucken Heights, towards the heavily wooded Spicheren Heights and provides a clear example of the flexibility the nimbleness of the German battalion. In this attack Colonel Von Eskens formed his two battalions one behind the other in double company column (a two company frontage) at open intervals. For those unfamiliar with the term open intervals refers to the distance between the company lines – open intervals, sometimes called full distance, was equivalent to the company frontage or 80 paces. Columns could also form at half or quarter intervals (40 and 20 paces respectively) or closed at six paces.

The I/39th, led the advance, with the 2/39th company on the left and 3/39th on the right in the first line. In the second line the 4/39th formed on the right and 1/39th on the left. Behind the First Battalion II/39th formed with 6/39th Company on the right and the 7/39th in the left in the first line and the 5/39th in the second. The 8/39th had been detached to guard the trains.

From the moment the I/39th stepped off it came under fire from the French artillery on the protrusion of the Spicheren Heights called the Rotherberg at a range of just over 2,200 yards, where the French airburst shells were at the best effect. To avoid the fire von Eskens directed the battalions to the left down a shallow gully that ran across the southern face Winterberg, then turned south again into an arm of the gully that led to the edge of the Spicheren Heights. The manoeuvre carried the battalions a little further east than was intended, but kept them out of the line of fire of the French guns, that could not traverse far enough to their right to bring fire to bear. The Germans were not immune, however, to long range rifle fire from the French on the Rotherberg and other units on the edge of the wood. This fire began to strike the German columns as they passed through the gully at a range of nearly 1,500 yards.  

Having reached the edge of the woods of the foot of the Spicheren heights the I/39th prepared for action. The men dropped their packs and the skirmishing divisions of the leading companies were pressed forward into the wood. The skirmishers found no opposition on the edge of the wood and pressed on up the slope with the remainder of the battalion following without waiting for the II/39th to close up. As the woods thickened the slope steepened significantly to an almost one in two gradient and the battalion began to veer to the right where the slope was less demanding. Near the crest the Germans encountered French skirmishers from the French 3/40th Regiment.

The French skirmishers put up a stiff resistance, but the Germans steadily advanced through of the wood. Seriously outnumbered and finding that the wooded terrain prevented the Chassepôt superior range from gaining any advantage, the French fell back to the left and away from the German advance. The German infantry pressed on towards the southern edge of the wood, where they encountered the two companies of the 3/40th in a hollow lane that bordered the wood and were halted. The main bodies of the 2/39th and 3/39th were called forward to strengthen the skirmish line and press the advance. Under this pressure the French companies retired to the left on their supporting companies deeper in the wood and with no enemy to their front the Germans pressed on. The leading companies burst out of the wood directly into the fire of 1,000 Chassepôts from the 1/40th and 2/40th in a belt of timber 500 yards to their front and six field guns a knoll to the right. The fire stopped the Germans abruptly and they tumbled back into the woods and sought whatever shelter was available there.

Despite the numbers against him the battalion commander was undeterred and attempted to press the fight further with a single battalion. With the first line stalled he brought up the second line in support. The 1/39th came up first. Leaving a small detachment to guard the colours, the bulk of the Company swung to the left, extending the line of the 2/39th, searching for the French flank. As soon as this company fell into line, it too came under a hail of Chassepôt bullets. Clearly the flank was not found and 1/39th went to ground on the edge of the wood. Still determined to press the advance, the commander brought the 4/39th up on the left of the 1/39th to extend the line even further, overlapping the right flank of the French 1/40th. As this German Company advanced from the woods the French wheeled back their right and opened a withering fire that littered the ground with dead and wounded and again sent the Germans scrambling back again to the safety of the wood. Undeterred the 4th Company pressed still further to the left, swinging through the wood, but the instant they broke cover they came under a flanking fire from further down a ravine to their left that stopped them in their tracks and drove them back. Disordered by the successive movements to the left and having lost contact with the rest of the battalion, the 4th Company slipped back to the right to fall in on the left of the 1st Company. In a short time, the whole of I/39th was pinned down in battalion line on the edge of the wood, 500 yards away from their opponents, at the limit of the effective range of the Needle Gun. 

With I/39th halted on the Southern edge of the woods, von Eskens brought up II/39th on the right of the I/39th’s line. The 7/39th, on the left, quickly became involved in the skirmishing with the French 3/40th and despite the loss of the  company commander still managed to establish contact with the 3/39th. The 6/39th came up on the right of the 7/39th and came under a heavy flanking fire from the 10th Chasseurs in a trench on the Rotherberg to their right almost as soon as they reached the edge of the wood. The company quickly turned to engage the Chasseurs, drifting off further to the right as the fight developed and opened a gap between the two lead companies. To plug this gap the 5/39th, the only reserve, was brought into the battalion line.

At this point the French counter attacked in the woods and while the attack failed it put significant pressure on an already pressured I/39. The battalion commander had been killed and several other officers had also fallen. Ammunition was running low and the I/39th began to disintegrate. The 4/39th, on the left of the line gave way first, fleeing down the slope in disorder.  The 1/39th, its flank exposed, followed the 4/39th as did the 2/39th and a portion of the 3/39th. When the French infantry threatened to follow them down the slope, the retreat became a rout. The Germans could not be halted and flowed out of the northern border of the wood and into the open ground beyond, not stopping until they reached the Winterberg. To the right of the I/39th the II/39 also felt the pressure of the French attack. That portion of the 3/39th that did not run with the rest of the battalion joined the 7/39th and formed the battalion left, swinging back like a gate, refusing the line. The 7/39th and 5/39th, with their left flank exposed by the collapse of the I/39th were compelled to give ground, but kept their order, falling back from the crest of the ridge while the 6/39th held its position near the foot of the slope. In the face of superior numbers, things were looking decidedly grim for the II/39th. Just as it seemed that the battalion would be enveloped and swept from the field the French attack halted unexpectedly and the II/39th established a position on the crest of the Spicheren Heights, within the woods. 

The third example is the advance of the Bavarian infantry at the opening of the Battle of Froeschwiller also on 6 August

The advance was formed from three companies of 6th Bavarian Jägers, the fourth company had been held back in support of the artillery. The whole force was formed astride a road through the Forrest. The front line of this attacking column was formed by the Jägers, each company deployed with its skirmish platoon pressed forward and the remaining two platoons formed in column of platoons 100 yards to the rear. Two hundred yards behind the Jägers came the Bavarian 9th Infantry Regiment, with I/9th Bavarian on the left and II/9th Bavarian on the right, in line of company columns. Another 200 yards further to the rear, and directly behind the II/9th Bavarian, was the III/9th Bavarian in double column of companies.


The Formation of the Bavarian Advance

As the advance began the Bavarians followed the line of the road into the Langensoultzbach Forest but soon found themselves moving in the wrong direction and they redressed their line to the left. Before long they arrived at the southern edge of the forest and in front of them was a gap of perhaps 300 yards between them and the Froeschweiller wood. The ground here dipped maybe 60 feet begore rising another 60 feet to the edge of the opposite wood. The gap was dominated from above by a French field battery and a battery of mitrailleueses. A soon as the Jägers stepped forward their flank was raked by this fire and they fell back to the woods. The sudden appearance of the Bavarians here caught the French by surprise and they rushed to defend the edge of the Froeschwiller wood opposite.

Unable to press forward the main body of the Jägers came forward and established a firing line. The I/9th was brought up on their left and thr II/9th on the right, where it extended to the western edge of the forest and became engaged with the 1/1st Zouaves. Still unable to make headway the Bavarians brought the III/9th up on the left of I/9th trying to extend beyond the French right. A further four battalions from the same brigade were fed into the line, extending it to the left and around the eastern end of the Froeschwiller wood, but could not find the end of the French line. Although three companies of III/1st Bavarian did manage to enter the eastern tip of the Froeschwiller woods they were quickly expelled and every attempt of the Bavarians to press beyond the edge of the forest was driven back and the advance stalled 300 yards from the enemy, with no prospect of support since the next brigade was still some distance behind.

Those last two examples, and there are many more like them, demonstrate how the standard practice was for battalions and companies to engage and then extend to feel for the flanks.  It also demonstrated that the infantry on its own, as superior as the German infantry were supposed to be, struggled to take the ground without artillery support. And indeed if we use the often cited example of the Prussian Guard at St-Privat even with artillery support the could be effectively halted at extended ranges – in this case at 800 yards, completely beyond the effective range of the needle gun.

 As the war progressed and particularly in the Republican Phase of the war the German infantry made greater use of advancing by rushes to minimise the dreadful losses they suffered in the earlier battles. 

 What of the French? Again, taking a Boguslawski summary of French tactics:

On the French side:-

A strict defensive, maintained against flank attacks.
Isolated counter-attacks without sufficient results.
Likewise very strong swarms of skirmishers.
Want of combination and of superior direction in the employment of artillery.
The cavalry behaves very well where it comes into play, but acts as if there was no such thing as a breechloader.

On the offensive: - in the first period [Imperial Phase], gallant, impetuous advances of great swarms of skirmishers, who shoot too much, and retard this their own movements, often opening fire at absurd distances.

In the second period [Republican Phase] of the war:- bad officers and inability to manoeuvre; hence attacks unskilfully made and soon checked.

In his tactical instructions, issued after mobilisation commenced, Marchal Leboeuf decreed that front line battalions were expected to form for battle with a strong line of skirmishers formed by two companies with supports approximately300 metres to the front to prevent enemy rifle fire from striking the main body of the remaining four companies that were to be drawn up in serried ranks. A second line should be deployed a further 300 metres back, in closed columns, but deployed to take the best advantage of terrain on order to protect them from enemy gun fire.  A further reserve was to be maintained between 500 and 1000 metres behind the second, also in closed columns.

A clear example if this can be seen in the deployment of French 1st Division, 1st Corps,  at Froeschwiller. The Division held the left of the line. On the extreme left of the division were two battalions of the 45th Regiment (the third battalion of that regiment was detached) formed in column of divisions (two column frontage) with two companies forward as skirmishers. The skirmish line was established 200 yards forward of the main body and in each case half the skirmish company was deployed in open order and half formed 50 yards to the rear as supports. Next in line were the 2/1st Zouaves and 1/1st Zouaves, each with four companies formed in seried ranks with two companies forward as skirmishers, formed as above. The 3/1st Zouaves were formed in a battalion line about 300 yards behind its sister battalions. Further to the right and forward within the Froeschwiller Wood was the 96th Regiment with 3/96th on the left and 1/96th  on the right formed in closed column of companies, with the 2/96th between them in a thick skirmish line. Some 800 yards behind the 96thstood the 13th Chasseurs, beyond the crest, in closed column of companies. The Divisional line was closed out on the extreme right by the 18th Regiment that was drawn up in a single column with each battalion in close column of companies, within the village of Froeschwiller, with 30 yards between each battalion. The Divisional artillery was deployed on the right of the line.

Boguslawski’s second comment, regarding isolated counter-attacks is very true. At Spicheren there were no less than nine such attacks, all poorly coordinated, conducted with no more than two full battalions and all gained inly a temporary advantage. One specific example is the attack that halted attack of the 39th Regiment discussed above. When the German advance stalled five French battalions faced them and a concerted attack would most certainly have crushed the Germans, but the only attack was by a single battalion and that attack was easily repulsed. 

A similar attack occurred about two hours later slightly to the east of that fight, when two battalions of the German 48th Regiment emerged from the edge of the wood. There they were met by a deadly fire that sent them to ground. Believing that the enemy was shaken by the fire the French brigade commander ordered a bayonet charge with no more than 300 men against six German companies. The Germans opened a rapid fire and mowed the French down, killing or wounding the brigadier along with the regimental colonel and lieutenant-colonel.

 Froechwiller can demonstrate a similar number of attacks. When the Germans attempted to advance from the town of Woerth two battalions of the 2nd Zouaves launched a bayonet attack that hurled the Germans back on the town where supporting battalions had were deployed within the houses and gardens. Without support the Zouaves soon ran out of steam and withdrew. 

At around the same time a little further to the south a French brigade faced the advance of the 11th Jagers and II/80th at the crossing of the River Sauer near a mill. The French 1st Chasseurs halted the jagers  while two battalions of 3rd Tirailleurs Algériens, supported by two battalions of the 56th Regiment, swung to the right, enveloping the Jagers and threatening the 1/80th. When two companies of the Tirailleurs extended further to the right and came forward with the bayonet, the German infantry fell back rapidly across the stream with the Tirailleurs in hot pursuit. This was perhaps the best executed attack by the French in that engagement, but its success was limited by the terrain and only a small number of Tirailleurs managed to cross the flooded stream and were easily repulsed by two companies from the  I/80th.

As the French position on the Froeschwiller ridge was worsened, MacMahon launched a number of local counter-attacks. One, by the 17th Chasseurs, 1/21st and 1/2nd Zouaves caught three battalions of German infantry as they crested Calvary Hill (in one of these Boguslawski was a captain). The French swept all before them, but as they reached the edge of the hill they were checked by rifle an artillery fire.  Still later Macmahon turned to Marie’s brigade to sweep the front of the ridge clear of German troops. The brigade of six battalions was weakened when two were sent to bolster the collapsing line to the right and that attack was made with just four battalions against the better part of three German brigades. The attack succeeded in throwing the Germans back on the town and even saw the occupation of some of the houses, but losses were severe – around 1,500 men from perhaps 2,700 engaged, including the brigadier, all four battalion commanders and 58 other officers – and outnumbered and without support the brigade retired back up the slope.

Still later MacMahon attempted to secure his crumbling right flank by committing the 96th regiment. Before the attack even began one battalion was syphoned off to support another part of the line and the attacking force was reduced to two battalions. The French had little difficulty driving of the German skirmishers, which fell back into the woods, but defending rpthatvwood were elements from six German regiments and the attack quickly faltered. Three companies from the 18th regiment then came forward and were joined by parts of the 96th that had rallied. But this attack also was too weak and unsupported and was driven back with huge losses.

The final attack of the day at Froeschwiler was made by the 1st Tirailleurs Algériens in mid afternoon, as the main army was in retreat. MacMahon hoped to gain some time to allow them to escape. The three battalions formed a single line of battalions behind the crest of a ridge. When they crested the ridge they were met by a crushing volume of converging fie and they retired behind the ridge to reform. Undeterred they Tirailleurs rallied then stormed forward with the bayonet without firing. The advance was so rapid that it caught the Germans off guard. Disorganised and lacking officers the Germans fell back some 500 metres back on the village of Elsasshausen. The Tirailleurs then swung to right and attempted to take the edge of the woods. There the fight broke down and although the Tirailleurs made three attempts to drive forward, they shot down by the mass of disconnected German companies in the woods and compelled to give ground. In a relatively short time the Tirailleurs retreated back from whence the came and of the 1733 men that commenced the charge 27 officers and 800 men were casualties. 

Whereas the German tactics was to get close to the enemy and destroy him with rapid fire, the French made use of their excellent new rifle to engage at extended ranges, often too extended. In theory their fire a tactic was to open a rapid fire at long range, five rounds then ceas fire while the officers obersvered the damage. Further burst of fire could be called on as needed. All this would have worked fine had their officers and NCOs been up to the task, but they were not and what 5endd to happen was that the infantry would open up simply blaze away at absurd ranges. This fire certainly struck the Germans, but failed to do suspicions damage to halt the advance. On many occasions this meant that when the German attack did come in close, ammunition was low.On the attack they simply applied the tactics of previous wars with tragic consequences.As August rolled on the French became more and more defensive minded and proved themselves experts and constructing the static battle line. The battles around Metz around were prime examples of this. 

In none of the battles throughout the war are there examples of series ranks firing in volleys. Once the action started the line would thin out, not into skirmish lines, but sufficient for all troops to be able to bring their weapons to bear and for officers and NCOs to direct the fire. Itmight be reasonable to say the instead of the drill book spacing of 0.6 meters per man, the real life spacing was double that, and most troops would have fought from kneeling or laying positions and making the best use of cover rather that standing to deliver fire.

One of the standout features of the a German infantry in these early battles was the way in which companies from various regiments and battalions could be intermixed, often with little or no unity of command, and yet could still fight cohesively and effectively. That they could do this was a testament to the quality of the junior officers and NCOs. It also shows that this was really the genesis of small unit and mission tactics and can be viewed as a watershed from the Napoleonic to the modern era. 

While the examples presented here are drawn from my study of the the opening battles, there are numerous similar examples in the battles that followed. 

As the war progressed into the Republican Phase (after the collapse of the Imperial Regime on 4 September) the fighting changed, but this was not a long war, lasting only nine months, and there was not enough time for tactical solutions to evolve dramatically. The Republican Phase was fought broadly using the same tactics.  The two standouts for this latter stage are, first, that with most of their officer corps captured at Sedan and Metz the French army was compelled to call on reservist and retired officers for the huge forces they put into the field and this lack of skilled lower level leadership put them at a severe disadvantage, and second, the German infantry seemed to have lost their early enthusiasm and were wary of the Chassepôt. The while the French had to recruit entire armies, the German formations had been decimated by casualties early in the war and the ranks filled with recruits or depot troops. The overall result is that the huge, bold and bloody battles of August 1870 gave way to more cautions fighting in which the German commanders increasingly fell back on their artillery to break up the French at extended distances

There is still much to be said about artillery tactics, but that is more than enough for now.