Prussian Infantry under Frederick the Great

Prussia, dismantled by the Allies in 1947, had an aura of militarism and reaction from its early days. Yet, others saw Prussia for a long time as a rational and progressive alternative to the Habsburg Empire or Bonapartist France. And These were just too few points. An even more striking example is that both the Nazis and the German resistance against Hitler referred to Prussian values and traditions similar to Erwin Rommel, the myth and the history of Prussia are hard to distinguish from each other, and simple answers are hard to find without an ideological lens of oversimplification, or other clear-cut agenda. Yet, although there are many interpretations and perspectives of Prussia and its role in history The impact and capabilities of Prussian infantry on the battlefield under Frederick the Great is less complicated. Frederick the Great inherited Prussia and its army from his father, Frederick Wilhelm I, in 1740. Although this army was rather weak on the cavalry side — due to Wilhelm’s focus on infantry — the infantry was well trained and disciplined, and soon proved to be very effective in many battles. Thus, soon, the Prussian infantry earned a fearsome reputation in Europe. And we should not forget that the infantry made up the majority of the troops. So the Prussian Army had a strong core, which was crucial when fighting with England against, Austria, France Russia, Sweden, and many other German states in the Seven Years’ War The quality of Prussian infantry and the leadership of Frederick the Great — and also luck — was one of the reasons Prussia could prevail in that war. But first, let’s look at the infantry. Note that the various infantry types were rather similar to other countries’ at that time — although there are a few exceptions in Näming. Like in other countries, “Die Garde” — the Royal Guard — were the most elite troops. Of four Guard battalions, the First battalion of the “Leibegarde” were House Guard, was the best of the best under Frederick, and had around 1,000 men This was his favorite unit, and he used it to test new tactics, but also to intimidate or impress foreign guests. Additionally, it was used to train officers — both foreign and domestic. This also included officers who were sloppy in the past, and thus got a special refreshment course. Note that the various Guard units weren’t uniform in appearance. For instance, they had different hats. And this was the case with other units as well the next unit was the Grenadiers, or “Grenadiere.” Grenadiers go back to the 17th century. These men threw, as the name suggests, grenade-like explosives. Yet, back then, one had to ready such a grenade with a burning fuse — which was not that reliable in terms of timing. Additionally, the weight was around 1 to 1.5 kilograms. For comparison, a German “potato masher” grenade in WW2 had a weight of about 0.3 kilograms. Thus, a Grenadier needed quite some strength, and also guts. Such Grenadier units were considered elite at that time. Although around the mid-18th century, Grenadiers often didn’t carry any grenades anymore — specifically 1743 the Prussian Grenadiers stopped carring grenades, they were equipped with regular muskets, as other infantry units. Nevertheless, they were still an elite unit of in the Prussian army This was also reflected by the recruiting process, where Musketeers were recruited based on the regional conscription system, grenadiers were recruited from veterans of existing musketeer units under the following conditions: [READING IN GERMAN FROM ORIGINAL SOURCE MATERIAL] [READING IN GERMAN FROM ORIGINAL SOURCE MATERIAL] “A previous minimum service period of two years, as well as a special reliability, perseverance and a willingness to attack were prerequisites for the takeover. A main difference from the appearance of the Musketeers was that the Grenadiers maintained the distinctive hat — which was high, instead of a broad hat. This, of course, goes back to the original role because the broad hat was rather cumbersome to use while throwing grenades at the enemy. Only in 1787 was it replaced with a regular hat. Another important difference was that each Grenadier company had six carpenters with axes. These were used to destroy any field fortifications like “Chevai de Frieze” — which were portable anti-cavalry barriers. Note that later, these carpenters were moved into other units. Next up are the most regular troops the Musketeers or “Musketiere.” If someone joined the Prussian Army, they usually ended up in a Musketeer unit. Like many soldiers before and after them, they had to carry quite a lot of equipment and weapons — around 25 kilograms — and marches during wartime were often around 20 to 25 kilometers. Hence, Musketeers were quite sturdy, especially since the placement of those items was rather impractical by modern standards. To quote from the memoirs of the soldier Becke: [READING IN GERMAN FROM ORIGINAL SOURCE MATERIAL] [READING IN GERMAN FROM ORIGINAL SOURCE MATERIAL] [READING IN GERMAN FROM ORIGINAL SOURCE MATERIAL] [READING IN GERMAN FROM ORIGINAL SOURCE MATERIAL] [READING IN GERMAN FROM ORIGINAL SOURCE MATERIAL] [READING IN GERMAN FROM ORIGINAL SOURCE MATERIAL] “Everyone was wrapped like a donkey. First, strapped with a rapier belt, then the ammunition bag over the shoulder and a five-inch-long strap — over the armpit — of the knapsack packed with laundry, etc. The haversack was stuffed with bread and other forage. Additionally, everyone had to carry a piece of field equipment — a bottle, kettles, hooks, or something — all on belts. And also, the musket. So we had straps all crossed over the chest five times. Each one was believing, in the beginning, that he would suffocate under such a load. Due to these physical requirements, the ideal age was 18 years, wheras the maximum age was around 48 years. Note that until 1918, the name “Musketier” was used in the Prussian Army. Next are the Fusiliers, or “Füsiliere.” When the matchlock musket was replaced by flintlocks, many countries renamed their Musketeers to Fusiliers. Well, Prussia didn’t. Nevertheless, the term “Füsiliere” was also used in the Prussian army. Besides a short, early, use in 1723 Fusiliers during Frederick’s time were units that were raised after the conquest of Silesia. These Fusiliers were usually smaller and from conquered provinces. Thus, Frederick regarded them as less loyal. They were usually used in the second line, due to them being shorter than Musketeers They were deemed less capable in bayonet fights. In terms of appearance, they had a similar hat as the Grenadiers which we are considered elite — thus, one also suspects that this was done to distract from the second rate of these troops in appearance, or even to confuse the enemy reconnaissance. Next is a unit type that was used only in rather small numbers. The “Feldjäger zu Fuß,” which means literaly “huntsmen on foot.” Though in German the term “jäger” means hunter, it is usually used for light infantry in a military context, and with a different term to indicate special capabilities. For instance, “Gebirgsjäger” for mountain troops, or “Fallschirmjäger” for paratroops. So, “jäger” is usually an indicator for light infantry. Unsurprisingly, Feldjäger were basically light infantry to perform scouting and sharpshooting duties. In the First Silesian War, they only made up around 60 men. Yet they were continually expanded — thus, in 1784 reaching a total number of 1,200 men. They were mainly recruited from foresters and forest officials. There were several benefits. First, they were experienced with difficult terrain, or even knew the terrain themselves. Second, they were loyal — which decreased the chance of desertion, a major issue at the time. After all, these units were operating away from the main force. Their appearance was quite different from regular infantry. The uniforms were mostly brownish and greenish, unlike regular infantry with blue, white, and other unsubtle colors. In terms of equipment, they had two main weapons — light muskets, and hunting rifles with large calibers since these were ideally for long-range precision fire. Furthermore, they often had dogs with them, and were quite informal compared to the other troops. Another infantry type in small numbers were the Pioneers or “Pionere.” These units were restructured several times. Some units moved from the Artillery to the Pioneers, and back. Many of the members were miners, and for the most part, they were only used as a regular infantry unit. Although at one point they made up a whole regiment, the pioneers were reduced in size again. Now if you’re a bit short for a stormtrooper — but still want to fight for the Prussian Empire — well, you can join the “Garnisonstruppe,” or Garrison Troops. basically if you were under 1.65 m. [5′ 5″], this was your way in. But in defense or fortifications, smaller and lighter muskets were considered to be fine, which also meant that the physical restrictions were less severe. Although, after 1756, Garrison Troops occasionally also served in the field. The next group was the Free Battalions, or “Freibatalione.” These units should support the Feldjäger in recon and skirmish duties. Yet, they varied widely in quality. The first ones were made up of volunteers — motivated and unemployed men. Yet the next wave consisted mostly of prisoners of war — who only served properly with the right leadership — and the third wave consisted ONLY of prisoners of war, deserters, and criminals. As the free battalions had a rather bad reputation, after the Seven Years’ War, Frederick brought them into fortresses where disarmed and disbanded. And the final type was, of course, the Militia or “Militz.” Joining the Militia was open to men from 18 to 20 of age, and required a six-year term. But this also meant that these men were exempted from regular military service, and it guaranteed that they would be used only domestically. Originally, Militias were disbanded by Frederick’s father. But once Prussia was facing the risk of invasion, Frederick recreated the Militia. They had no special uniforms, but shoulder straps, neck straps, and other clothing elements — in combination with regular clothing — gave them some kind of military. Their weapons were either private arms, or from local weapon depots. Additionaly, they received bayonets and other military equipment, yet they had no sabers. Their usage was quite varied. It ranged from fighting looters to reinforcing Garrison Troops in fortresses. Some were even used with the regular field army. Yet their main purpose was their initial training of volunteers and conscripts for a field army. Time to take a short look at organization. Note that there were quite some differences between each regiment. And, especially during wartime, there were many losses. So, take these numbers as a general guideline. According to Martin Goethe, the intended arrangement of an infantry regiment in 1743 was: 50 officers, 118 NCOs, 252 Grenadiers, 1,140 Musketeers, 37 drummers, and 30 men in various roles in the regimental support units. To give you some relation for these numbers Let’s compare the German infantry regiment from 1940. Now, first, a little context. In 1940, a regiment was usually part of an infantry division. Wheras, for most of the 18th century: “The regiment remained the basic infantry administrative unit throughout Europe. Tactically, the formation was the battalion … On active service, it was generally the custom to group two or three regiments or battalions into brigades. But as with cavalry, these were essentially ad hoc and temporary formations.” Additionally, there are some discrepancies in terms of roles, yet the main focus here is in the ratios of officers, NCOs, and enlisted men. Thus the [[INAUDIBLE]] numbers are as follows: 50 officers versus 75 in 1940 118 NCOs versus 493 1,392 enlisted men versus 2,474. And 67 officials and musicians versus seven officials in 1940 — for a total of 1,560 versus 3,042 men. So, in total, the number of men almost doubled. And at first, the regiments look rather different. Well, let’s look at the percentages. Well, it seems the officer ratio didn’t change much. But the relative number of NGOs almost doubled. This of course has to do with the fact that in modern armies NCOs are often fulfilling specialist positions that require technical expertise. In terms of enlisted men, the number only changed slightly. But, back to the infantry regiment of 1743, which itself was organized into two equal battalions. Now, the question is, how would these men line up on the battlefield? While the combat formation is without Grenadiers, it would ideally look like this. As you can see, the units were set up in three rows with eight platoons, where each platoon was basically surrounded by officers and NCOs. Additionally, on the flanks and the center there were musicians, and in the middle there were flag carriers. Well, I hope this gives us some basic insights into Prussian infantry under Frederick the Great And if you like what I do, consider supporting me on Patreon®. Every dollar helps. Special thanks to tech arrow here for helping me out on this video. And if you’re into more contemporary stuff, maybe this video on urban combat is something for you? But, I can also offer you some detailed insights into a panzergrenadier division. As always, sources in the description. Thank you for watching, and see you next time.


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