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The French habit of firing from too great a distance?

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  • fvonseydlitz
    Bill, Mark and others! I have been thinking about the following topic: The French habit of firing from too great a distance . I recall Bill mentioning that
    Message 1 of 6 , Oct 1 11:54 AM
      Bill, Mark and others!

      I have been thinking about the following topic:
      "The French habit of firing from too great a distance".

      I recall Bill mentioning that the French did this DELIBERATELY during
      an attack to GOAD the defender into firing too soon and thus start a
      slugfest. Bill also mentioned some memoirs of Russian officers that
      talk about this technique succeeding (the French successfully goading
      the Russians into a premature volley that is.)

      I am rather intrigued by this idea of deliberate long-range fire as a
      goading tactic.

      *What was the intention of the French brigade commander? After
      goading the enemy brigade to fire early, did the French commander aim
      to close with the enemy? Early fire being of course almost useless in
      terms of casualties and the enemy line seeing that the French line is
      seemingly unstoppable gets panicked more and more until its morale
      breaks.

      *Where were the French and Russian skirmishers at this point? This
      technique almost presupposes that the skirmishers have been
      withdrawn. I cannot imagine a French brigade firing a volley through
      its own skirmish screen. The only (remote) possibility is the brigade
      commander ordering the skirmish screen to physically lie down.
      Unfortunately I have not seen any drum signals (in the various French
      light infantry instructions on the web, 10th Legere, Reille's 1815
      instructions etc) that talk about "LIE DOWN".

      *If the enemy did not respond (like the British in the Peninsula),
      what were the options for the French brigade commander? Just keep
      going and hope that the enemy line melts away?

      *Did this technique require the French battalions to be deployed in
      line? Or would columns with skirmishers interspersed do just fine?

      *At Talavera, Lapisse and Sebastiani had a very clear view of the
      British line. I cannot recall that they ever tried this "goading
      fire". They tried to bull their way through (and got soundly
      thrashed).

      *Ferey at Salamanca though seems to have goaded Clinton into a
      slugfest. Officers from Clinton's division were unhappy about the way
      Clinton volleyed with Ferey for a relatively long time. They felt
      that he should have gone in with the bayonet. Question is did his
      division get out of control and start a firefight due to Ferey's
      goading because of the exhausted state of Clinton's division?

      The attack and the defence tactic for British seem to be pretty
      straightforward : Deploy into lines well in advance. Have two lines.
      One on the firing line, one behind as supports. Advance very close.
      One, two at the most three volleys. Then 3 cheers and charge.

      I am having a tough time formulating such a standard operating
      procedure for the French attack and defence.

      Your thoughts would help me on this.

      Thanks and regards
      Fred
    • Geoff Wootten
      Ney s general instructions to the Army in 1809 specifically forbade them to open fire in an attack. He considered the troops opened fire at too long a range
      Message 2 of 6 , Oct 1 4:14 PM
        Ney's general instructions to the Army in 1809 specifically forbade
        them to open fire in an attack. He considered the troops opened fire
        at too long a range then once firing it was impossible to get them
        moving forward again, would not close to contact to force the issue,
        but would stand and blast away until all the ammo is spent.

        So Im not sure to what extent you could see long range fire as a
        deliberate doctrine for goading. Perhaps the same could be said in the
        navy too - Brit = up close and rapid fire for decisive results, French
        long range where range evens out lesser skills......

        Geoff

        --- In NapoleonicFireandFury@yahoogroups.com, "fvonseydlitz"
        <fvonseydlitz@...> wrote:
        >
        > Bill, Mark and others!
        >
        > I have been thinking about the following topic:
        > "The French habit of firing from too great a distance".
        >
        > I recall Bill mentioning that the French did this DELIBERATELY during
        > an attack to GOAD the defender into firing too soon and thus start a
        > slugfest. Bill also mentioned some memoirs of Russian officers that
        > talk about this technique succeeding (the French successfully goading
        > the Russians into a premature volley that is.)
        >
        > I am rather intrigued by this idea of deliberate long-range fire as a
        > goading tactic.
        >
        > *What was the intention of the French brigade commander? After
        > goading the enemy brigade to fire early, did the French commander aim
        > to close with the enemy? Early fire being of course almost useless in
        > terms of casualties and the enemy line seeing that the French line is
        > seemingly unstoppable gets panicked more and more until its morale
        > breaks.
        >
        > *Where were the French and Russian skirmishers at this point? This
        > technique almost presupposes that the skirmishers have been
        > withdrawn. I cannot imagine a French brigade firing a volley through
        > its own skirmish screen. The only (remote) possibility is the brigade
        > commander ordering the skirmish screen to physically lie down.
        > Unfortunately I have not seen any drum signals (in the various French
        > light infantry instructions on the web, 10th Legere, Reille's 1815
        > instructions etc) that talk about "LIE DOWN".
        >
        > *If the enemy did not respond (like the British in the Peninsula),
        > what were the options for the French brigade commander? Just keep
        > going and hope that the enemy line melts away?
        >
        > *Did this technique require the French battalions to be deployed in
        > line? Or would columns with skirmishers interspersed do just fine?
        >
        > *At Talavera, Lapisse and Sebastiani had a very clear view of the
        > British line. I cannot recall that they ever tried this "goading
        > fire". They tried to bull their way through (and got soundly
        > thrashed).
        >
        > *Ferey at Salamanca though seems to have goaded Clinton into a
        > slugfest. Officers from Clinton's division were unhappy about the way
        > Clinton volleyed with Ferey for a relatively long time. They felt
        > that he should have gone in with the bayonet. Question is did his
        > division get out of control and start a firefight due to Ferey's
        > goading because of the exhausted state of Clinton's division?
        >
        > The attack and the defence tactic for British seem to be pretty
        > straightforward : Deploy into lines well in advance. Have two lines.
        > One on the firing line, one behind as supports. Advance very close.
        > One, two at the most three volleys. Then 3 cheers and charge.
        >
        > I am having a tough time formulating such a standard operating
        > procedure for the French attack and defence.
        >
        > Your thoughts would help me on this.
        >
        > Thanks and regards
        > Fred
        >
      • Michael J Rieder
        The same rationale was used in the ACW when troops charged with empty weapons, thought being that once the troops started to fire, they would likely stay put
        Message 3 of 6 , Oct 1 7:36 PM
          The same rationale was used in the ACW when troops charged with empty weapons, thought being that once the troops started to fire, they would likely stay put and keep firingTough job to sell to a veteran, from what I can readMichael Rieder----- Original Message -----From: Geoff Wootten <gawmar@...>Date: Wednesday, October 1, 2008 7:14 pmSubject: [NapoleonicFireandFury] Re: The French habit of firing from too great a distance?To: NapoleonicFireandFury@yahoogroups.com> > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > Ney's general instructions to the Army in 1809 specifically forbade> > them to open fire in an attack. He considered the troops opened fire> > at too long a range then once firing it was impossible to get them> > moving forward again, would not close to contact to force the issue,> > but would stand and blast away until all the ammo is spent.> > > > So Im not sure to what extent you could see long range fire as a> > deliberate doctrine for goading. Perhaps the same could be said in the> > navy too - Brit = up close and rapid fire for decisive results, French> > long range where range evens out lesser skills......> > > > Geoff> > > > --- In NapoleonicFireandFury@yahoogroups.com, "fvonseydlitz"> > <fvonseydlitz@...> wrote:> > >> > > Bill, Mark and others!> > > > > > I have been thinking about the following topic:> > > "The French habit of firing from too great a distance".> > > > > > I recall Bill mentioning that the French did this DELIBERATELY during > > > an attack to GOAD the defender into firing too soon and thus start a > > > slugfest. Bill also mentioned some memoirs of Russian officers that > > > talk about this technique succeeding (the French successfully goading > > > the Russians into a premature volley that is.)> > > > > > I am rather intrigued by this idea of deliberate long-range fire as a > > > goading tactic.> > > > > > *What was the intention of the French brigade commander? After > > > goading the enemy brigade to fire early, did the French commander aim > > > to close with the enemy? Early fire being of course almost useless in > > > terms of casualties and the enemy line seeing that the French line is > > > seemingly unstoppable gets panicked more and more until its morale > > > breaks.> > > > > > *Where were the French and Russian skirmishers at this point? This > > > technique almost presupposes that the skirmishers have been > > > withdrawn. I cannot imagine a French brigade firing a volley through > > > its own skirmish screen. The only (remote) possibility is the brigade > > > commander ordering the skirmish screen to physically lie down. > > > Unfortunately I have not seen any drum signals (in the various French > > > light infantry instructions on the web, 10th Legere, Reille's 1815 > > > instructions etc) that talk about "LIE DOWN".> > > > > > *If the enemy did not respond (like the British in the Peninsula), > > > what were the options for the French brigade commander? Just keep > > > going and hope that the enemy line melts away?> > > > > > *Did this technique require the French battalions to be deployed in > > > line? Or would columns with skirmishers interspersed do just fine?> > > > > > *At Talavera, Lapisse and Sebastiani had a very clear view of the > > > British line. I cannot recall that they ever tried this "goading > > > fire". They tried to bull their way through (and got soundly > > > thrashed).> > > > > > *Ferey at Salamanca though seems to have goaded Clinton into a > > > slugfest. Officers from Clinton's division were unhappy about the way > > > Clinton volleyed with Ferey for a relatively long time. They felt > > > that he should have gone in with the bayonet. Question is did his > > > division get out of control and start a firefight due to Ferey's > > > goading because of the exhausted state of Clinton's division? > > > > > > The attack and the defence tactic for British seem to be pretty > > > straightforward : Deploy into lines well in advance. Have two lines. > > > One on the firing line, one behind as supports. Advance very close. > > > One, two at the most three volleys. Then 3 cheers and charge.> > > > > > I am having a tough time formulating such a standard operating > > > procedure for the French attack and defence.> > > > > > Your thoughts would help me on this.> > > > > > Thanks and regards> > > Fred> > >> > > > > > > > > > > > > <BR>> <!--#ygrp-mkp{ border: 1px solid #d8d8d8; font-family: Arial; margin: 14px 0px; padding: 0px 14px;}#ygrp-mkp hr{ border: 1px solid #d8d8d8;}#ygrp-mkp #hd{ color: #628c2a; font-size: 85%; font-weight: bold; line-height: 122%; margin: 10px 0px;}#ygrp-mkp #ads{ margin-bottom: 10px;}#ygrp-mkp .ad{ padding: 0 0;}#ygrp-mkp .ad a{ color: #0000ff; text-decoration: none;}--><BR>> > > > <BR>> <!--#ygrp-sponsor #ygrp-lc{ font-family: Arial;}#ygrp-sponsor #ygrp-lc #hd{ margin: 10px 0px; font-weight: bold; font-size: 78%; line-height: 122%;}#ygrp-sponsor #ygrp-lc .ad{ margin-bottom: 10px; padding: 0 0;}--><BR>> > > > <BR>> <!-- #ygrp-mlmsg {font-size:13px; font-family: arial,helvetica,clean,sans-serif;*font-size:small;*font:x-small;} #ygrp-mlmsg table {font-size:inherit;font:100%;} #ygrp-mlmsg select, input, textarea {font:99% arial,helvetica,clean,sans-serif;} #ygrp-mlmsg pre, code {font:115% monospace;*font-size:100%;} #ygrp-mlmsg * {line-height:1.22em;} #ygrp-text{ font-family: Georgia; } #ygrp-text p{ margin: 0 0 1em 0; } #ygrp-tpmsgs{ font-family: Arial; clear: both; } #ygrp-vitnav{ padding-top: 10px; font-family: Verdana; font-size: 77%; margin: 0; } #ygrp-vitnav a{ padding: 0 1px; } #ygrp-actbar{ clear: both; margin: 25px 0; white-space:nowrap; color: #666; text-align: right; } #ygrp-actbar .left{ float: left; white-space:nowrap; } .bld{font-weight:bold;} #ygrp-grft{ font-family: Verdana; font-size: 77%; padding: 15px 0; } #ygrp-ft{ font-family: verdana; font-size: 77%; border-top: 1px solid #666; padding: 5px 0; } #ygrp-mlmsg #logo{ padding-bottom: 10px; } #ygrp-reco { margin-bottom: 20px; padding: 0px; } #ygrp-reco #reco-head { font-weight: bold; color: #ff7900; } #reco-grpname{ font-weight: bold; margin-top: 10px; } #reco-category{ font-size: 77%; } #reco-desc{ font-size: 77%; } #ygrp-vital{ background-color: #e0ecee; margin-bottom: 20px; padding: 2px 0 8px 8px; } #ygrp-vital #vithd{ font-size: 77%; font-family: Verdana; font-weight: bold; color: #333; text-transform: uppercase; } #ygrp-vital ul{ padding: 0; margin: 2px 0; } #ygrp-vital ul li{ list-style-type: none; clear: both; border: 1px solid #e0ecee; } #ygrp-vital ul li .ct{ font-weight: bold; color: #ff7900; float: right; width: 2em; text-align:right; padding-right: .5em; } #ygrp-vital ul li .cat{ font-weight: bold; } #ygrp-vital a{ text-decoration: none; } #ygrp-vital a:hover{ text-decoration: underline; } #ygrp-sponsor #hd{ color: #999; font-size: 77%; } #ygrp-sponsor #ov{ padding: 6px 13px; background-color: #e0ecee; margin-bottom: 20px; } #ygrp-sponsor #ov ul{ padding: 0 0 0 8px; margin: 0; } #ygrp-sponsor #ov li{ list-style-type: square; padding: 6px 0; font-size: 77%; } #ygrp-sponsor #ov li a{ text-decoration: none; font-size: 130%; } #ygrp-sponsor #nc{ background-color: #eee; margin-bottom: 20px; padding: 0 8px; } #ygrp-sponsor .ad{ padding: 8px 0; } #ygrp-sponsor .ad #hd1{ font-family: Arial; font-weight: bold; color: #628c2a; font-size: 100%; line-height: 122%; } #ygrp-sponsor .ad a{ text-decoration: none; } #ygrp-sponsor .ad a:hover{ text-decoration: underline; } #ygrp-sponsor .ad p{ margin: 0; } o{font-size: 0; } .MsoNormal{ margin: 0 0 0 0; } #ygrp-text tt{ font-size: 120%; } blockquote{margin: 0 0 0 4px;} .replbq{margin:4} --><BR>> > > > > >


          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • william haggart
          Hey Gents: I just got back after a while and may be missing something of the previous conversation, but there were several reasons to start firing early. Some
          Message 4 of 6 , Oct 2 7:19 AM
            Hey Gents:

            I just got back after a while and may be missing something of the previous
            conversation, but there were several reasons to start firing early. Some of
            the most basic is that a unit's first fire is the most effective, and it
            degrades quickly after that for several reasons. The second is that firing
            IS a committment to a particular type of combat, generally static.
            Commitment to volley fire fixes a unit and as others have said, it can be
            difficult to stop. The one aspect which is often ignored as an effect in its
            own right as well as something that encourages the previously mentioned
            outcomes is Smoke. A unit firing throws up its own smoke screen. There are
            innumerable accounts where soldiers could not see the enemy 100 yards in
            front of them because of smoke, from Albuera to the volley contest between
            the Iron Brigade and the Stonewall Brigade in 1862. For an attacking unit,
            such smoke screens could be very advantageous. The British volley twice, the
            smoke rolls out, if the wind is right, and what the French see is British
            soldiers appearing out of the smoke before them very close, bayonets first.
            Both sides DID use smoke as cover and it is one reason volley fire after the
            first few rounds would be ineffective.

            Goading fire has its downsides. If the friendly units are inexperienced,
            like Ney's in 1809, long-range fire could stop any forward movement, making
            troops hard to control afterwards. The same is true of making infantry
            charge with empty guns. This tactic, like the British tactics of volley and
            charge, required disciplined troops practiced in them.

            1. Obviously, if the enemy is inexperienced, they could be prodded into
            early fire.
            2. Such fire will make the enemy switch concerns from what they want to
            do to paying attention to their troops withholding fire--another fixing
            effect.
            3. Combat success depended a great deal on 'expectations'. Both sides'
            combatants had a fixed image of how the combat would go, what tactics would
            be used and where the 'point of decision' would be.
            The victor was often the side that screwed with that perception,
            surprised the enemy with unexpected actions, or looked for a point of
            decision outside of the anticipated range. British volley and charge did
            this.

            Anyway, this is what I have been able to suss out from the accounts.

            Best Regards,

            Bill H.


            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • Geoff Wootten
            I think its also fair to point out that French doctrine developed in the early Italian and Dunbian campaigns was such that when against lines of enemy troops,
            Message 5 of 6 , Oct 3 9:00 AM
              I think its also fair to point out that French doctrine developed in
              the early Italian and Dunbian campaigns was such that when against
              lines of enemy troops, the sheer conviction of the French advance had
              the enemy retiring before them rather than engaging in a close
              (fire)fight.

              The emphais therefore is on pushing the (french) attack home to a
              point of decision, knowing that the weaker enemy will give ground and
              retire.

              Napoleon never fully understood the Brits standing to receive a french
              attack so resolutely. He didnt believe it (until 19th June 1815) as
              many of the continental armies would be long gone before the French
              got there.

              Either way, with the comparatively less effective French armies post
              1805, holding off at long range for firing doesn't push home the
              attack, doesn't make the assault decisive, doesn't play to the French
              doctrinal strengths. So the French try not to do it.

              Geoff


              --- In NapoleonicFireandFury@yahoogroups.com, "william haggart"
              <bhaggart@...> wrote:
              >
              > Hey Gents:
              >
              > I just got back after a while and may be missing something of the
              previous
              > conversation, but there were several reasons to start firing early.
              Some of
              > the most basic is that a unit's first fire is the most effective, and it
              > degrades quickly after that for several reasons. The second is that
              firing
              > IS a committment to a particular type of combat, generally static.
              > Commitment to volley fire fixes a unit and as others have said, it
              can be
              > difficult to stop. The one aspect which is often ignored as an
              effect in its
              > own right as well as something that encourages the previously mentioned
              > outcomes is Smoke. A unit firing throws up its own smoke screen.
              There are
              > innumerable accounts where soldiers could not see the enemy 100 yards in
              > front of them because of smoke, from Albuera to the volley contest
              between
              > the Iron Brigade and the Stonewall Brigade in 1862. For an attacking
              unit,
              > such smoke screens could be very advantageous. The British volley
              twice, the
              > smoke rolls out, if the wind is right, and what the French see is
              British
              > soldiers appearing out of the smoke before them very close, bayonets
              first.
              > Both sides DID use smoke as cover and it is one reason volley fire
              after the
              > first few rounds would be ineffective.
              >
              > Goading fire has its downsides. If the friendly units are inexperienced,
              > like Ney's in 1809, long-range fire could stop any forward movement,
              making
              > troops hard to control afterwards. The same is true of making infantry
              > charge with empty guns. This tactic, like the British tactics of
              volley and
              > charge, required disciplined troops practiced in them.
              >
              > 1. Obviously, if the enemy is inexperienced, they could be
              prodded into
              > early fire.
              > 2. Such fire will make the enemy switch concerns from what they
              want to
              > do to paying attention to their troops withholding fire--another fixing
              > effect.
              > 3. Combat success depended a great deal on 'expectations'. Both
              sides'
              > combatants had a fixed image of how the combat would go, what
              tactics would
              > be used and where the 'point of decision' would be.
              > The victor was often the side that screwed with that perception,
              > surprised the enemy with unexpected actions, or looked for a point of
              > decision outside of the anticipated range. British volley and
              charge did
              > this.
              >
              > Anyway, this is what I have been able to suss out from the accounts.
              >
              > Best Regards,
              >
              > Bill H.
              >
              >
              > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              >
            • william haggart
              Geoff wrote: I think its also fair to point out that French doctrine developed in the early Italian and Dunbian campaigns was such that when against lines of
              Message 6 of 6 , Oct 4 9:20 AM
                Geoff wrote:
                I think its also fair to point out that French doctrine developed in
                the early Italian and Dunbian campaigns was such that when against
                lines of enemy troops, the sheer conviction of the French advance had
                the enemy retiring before them rather than engaging in a close
                (fire)fight.

                Geoff:
                This doesn't describe ANY of the combat from 1800 to the end of the wars
                that I know of--let alone before 1800. What about all the close [and
                extended] fire fights at Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena and Auerstadt? Eylau and
                Friedland? Where are these enemy troops retreating simply because the French
                advance? I also think it is fair to point out that there was hardly
                anything like that 'doctrine' developed during those campaigns, if you don't
                see it in play later, EXCEPT MAYBE in the Peninsula, IF that is what the
                French thought was going to happen simply because they advanced. I can't see
                how they would though, either from past experience on the continent or in
                the Peninsula after Vimiero.

                Geoff wrote:
                The emphais therefore is on pushing the (french) attack home to a
                point of decision, knowing that the weaker enemy will give ground and
                retire.

                BH: And how is that different from the British practice or any of the
                Continental armies?

                Geoff wrote:
                Napoleon never fully understood the Brits standing to receive a french
                attack so resolutely. He didnt believe it (until 19th June 1815) as
                many of the continental armies would be long gone before the French
                got there.

                BH: Where do you get this idea? IF Napoleon was surprised by the British
                resolution at Waterloo, I think it's only because he knew about the VERY
                mixed make-up of the Allied army. As for not understanding the British
                ability to stand against French atttacks, WE don't understand it. We think
                it is better fire discpline, no, British lines against French columns, no,
                troop quality, no, rear slopes, and any number of other rationales for the
                British performances in the Peninsula and Belgium. Then again, we don't
                undestand why the French seem to resolutely use the very same tactics over
                and over again in the Peninsula against the British after, one would think,
                such tactics had proven to be ineffective.

                Geoff wrote:
                Either way, with the comparatively less effective French armies post
                1805, holding off at long range for firing doesn't push home the
                attack, doesn't make the assault decisive, doesn't play to the French
                doctrinal strengths. So the French try not to do it.

                BH: Nothing was said about 'holding off at long range'. In fact, most all
                the examples I know of before and after 1805 are French troops on the attack
                giving long range fire AS they advance.

                I think something far more complex was going on with the various tactical
                practices, something we don't often see spelled out by contemporaries. The
                Bland treatise quote that Fred gives is a good example of the
                benefits/negatives balancing act that commanders considered in chosing
                tactics.

                Best Regards,

                Bill H.



                [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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