skirmishing in the 1840's

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skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby roughneck » 01 Jan 2016 00:47

Just a quick question regarding the British forces that fought in NZ in the 1840's. My understanding, albeit very limited, is that by the 1840's most British company's were trained to skirmish, rather then just the left flank company and specialist light infantry. Some of the accounts that I've read of the battles fought in NZ in the 1840's campaign tend to suggest that some regiments were still operating under the old system however Barthorp in Osprey MAA 193 states that the 58th Regiment benefited from all it's companies being trained to skirmish, which to me at least implies that there was some variation.

So my question is, were the British regiments that fought in NZ in the 1840's campaign still operating under the earlier system with only designated companies being used to skirmish, or were they in some sort of transitional phase where some regiments had started to train all its companies to skirmish. I'm leaning towards the latter but would defer to those gents (and ladies) who are far more knowledgeable than myself.

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Re: skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby mike snook » 01 Jan 2016 04:30

Yes sir you have it; there was a period around about then when it was really rather down to commanding officers. The case that all companies should be trained to skirmish was being well made in publications like the United Service Journal from about the early 1830s onwards and it was an inexorable direction of travel, but it took Horse Guards some time to jump and make it official: hence a short period when some did and some didn't. It was not ultimately some great secret or a dark art: merely the notion of moving in offence, or if necessary withdrawal, by pairs, with 'one foot on the ground', which is to say that in the day of the musket (and rifled musket) it was all about about letting the rear rank bloke reload and shout 'ready' before you front rank blokes fire your shots. When you do, the freshly loaded rear rank men will pass through you, to become the new front rank. But they will not fire until you who are now in the rear rank reload and shout 'ready' in your turn, indicating that you are now only awaiting his shot, before you start bounding 20 yards forward to become the front rank again. And so on... All shooting and loading done in the kneeling position and, if possible, making use of suitable cover. [Unless of course you are an officer, in which case you stand around in the open waving a sword or a flag, not 'bobbing' for fear of being thought a coward, or better yet, if you are an experienced (and therefore valuable) officer, you ride about on a horse simply begging to be shot. The times they are a changing...but not so quickly as to prejudice the honour of the officer class! I don't mock it believe me - on the contrary I admire it - it was incredibly brave...just not very sensible, as it's hard enough to stay alive as infantry officer as it is, without standing around asking for it. Of course improved rifle technology would put an end to all that and officers eventually started grubbing around like everybody else]. Across the wider organization, which would be in two extended order ranks, the resultant effect is that you never have both ranks unloaded/loading at the same time; one of them was always 'ready'. Easy. It could be picked up in no time. I can tell you that in 1851 in the Cape, Major General Henry Somerset, who had been in Africa a long time, asked Lt Col Fordyce of the 74th Highlanders if any more of his companies, other than the light, could skirmish, to which Fordyce replied that they all could. Interesting, but the relative lateness of the date might be something to do with Somerset being a bit out of touch with the mainstream, because I have a feeling it became official at some point in the 1840s. Not that out of touch though, because his own lads in the Cape Mounted Rifles, had been fantastic skirmishers for donkeys' years - the clue is in the name of course - they might have had horses but they were conceptually horsed riflemen. Not that they actually had rifled weapons! Isn't it funny how muddled things become when you have too many categories of soldier...dragoons, dragoon guards, carbineers and carabiniers (!) light dragoons, lancers, hussars, mounted riflemen, light, line, rifles, mounted riflemen, highland, highland light....you get the point.

The stuff about firing lines and supports and reserves - the three line configuration call it - came along later, I think after the Franco-Prussian difficulty off the top of my head, but don't take that as gospel.

Bear in mind also that just because you could skirmish, doesn't mean you always did. You will no doubt be well aware that the close order two rank battalion line remained a tactical mainstay anyway. Crimea, Mutiny bla bla... and only after that started to fade away - better and universally issued rifled weapons and all that. Never dropped altogether though, and hastily resurrected after the Isandlwana unpleasantness for 'small wars' purposes, especially Zululand and Sudan, up to and including Omdurman.

If I can turn up the date when the everybody is to be able to skirmish doctrine became official I'll let you know, I think I have it somewhere.

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M
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Re: skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby roughneck » 01 Jan 2016 07:02

Hello Mike

From the contemporary accounts that I've read concerning the NZ wars of the 1840's period they do appear to give the impression that some commanders had embraced the skirmishing concept more so than others and your response would certainly support that view. The Maori for their part had had several decades of experience with muskets during their own inter-tribal wars prior to the 1840's and consequently proved to be a rather formidable opponent to the British.
Many thanks for your reply. It is appreciated.

regards
Roger
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Re: skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby mike snook » 01 Jan 2016 13:01

It's a pleasure Roger and Happy New Year to you. I've just checked my manuscript for a book coming out in April and I've fudged the date there, placing it between two of the wars I'm writing about, which is in a bracket between 1835 and 1846. What you've said about 1st A-M (NZ) War, would suggest its towards the end of that bracket. Where did you get the data from to which you refer - I have quite a lot of NZ texts here and wouldn't mind looking it up myself.

Forgot to say that although 'light' regiments were still regiments of the 'line' and more often than not fought in two ranks like everybody else, it had always been the case that all their companies had been trained to skirmish. But if memory serves there were no light regiments in NZ at that time...right?

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Re: skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby roughneck » 01 Jan 2016 21:44

Hi Mike

And a Happy New Year to you too.
Unfortunately I don't have the books/texts just at hand at present but I should be returning back to my Uni studies in Feb so should have access to the University library then. If I can dig out the particular bits in question I'll let you know.

As for the 'Light' units yes you're right. As far as I'm aware there weren't any in NZ during the 1840's campaign. The regiments that were in NZ during that period were the 58th, the 65th ,the 96th and the 99th. To the best of my knowledge the only 'Light Infantry' units that served in NZ were the 43rd and the 68th - both of which didn't arrive in NZ until the 1860's.

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Re: skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby roughneck » 01 Jan 2016 23:56

I should have also added to my previous posts a question concerning the Royal Marines.
My knowledge of how the Marines operated amounts to nil so I'm curious to know if they behaved in much the same way as light infantry or did they have their own set of procedures.

There doesn't appear to be a lot of info regarding the Marines in NZ, they tend to get lumped in with the Naval seamen and from what I can ascertain were used as a combined detachment with Naval forces as part of assaulting parties. I'm wondering if having assault forces made up of Infantry, Naval Seamen and Royal Marines posed any issues from a joint warfare perspective or is it pretty much a moot point at the tactical level given they they all seemed to be armed in a relatively similar fashion and presumably used similar operating procedures.

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Re: skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby mike snook » 02 Jan 2016 00:58

Again all the suppositions you make are sound Roger. Marines and sailors would operate together in a naval brigade. Only when very large groups of marines were landed by a fleet, as opposed to one or two ships,would they be brought together as companies or battalions. The marines were drilled, armed and equipped as per the infantry. Operating with ratings they tended to do the fancy dancy skirmishing things around the edges, while the tars did the brute force and ignorance bit in the middle, invariably very bravely of course.

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Re: skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby roughneck » 02 Jan 2016 04:02

Thanks again Mike.
That's really informative and helps me gain a much better understanding of how the Royal Marines operated.
The material I've read which makes mention of the Marines fits nicely with what you've indicated above (e.g. the small number of ships, the Marines being combined into a Naval Brigade ..etc)

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Re: skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby colsjt65 » 02 Jan 2016 13:25

Hi Roger

During the Northern war in 1845, the 58th did appear to have battalion companies trained as skirmishers. At Puketutu on 8 May, the Light Company were deployed as one of the storming parties and ended up firing on, then bayonet charging Kawiti's flank attack from the bush outside the pa. No. 3 Company deployed in extended order and covered the force as it retired.
I am having trouble finding the exact reference to when the order was given to train all companies in light infantry tactics, but even in FE&E 1824 (p. 218), it stated that battalions of the line were required to practise movements in extended order 'to assist in protecting the front and flanks of a column of march; and the formation of an advanced guard and the posting of piquets'.

At this time, the flank companies were regarded as the elite and were usually the first ones deployed in battle as storming party, etc.

The regiments that were in NZ during that period were the 58th, the 65th ,the 96th and the 99th. To the best of my knowledge the only 'Light Infantry' units that served in NZ were the 43rd and the 68th - both of which didn't arrive in NZ until the 1860's.

Correct - except Royal Marines were also designated as Light Infantry in 1855.

I'm wondering if having assault forces made up of Infantry, Naval Seamen and Royal Marines posed any issues from a joint warfare perspective or is it pretty much a moot point at the tactical level given they they all seemed to be armed in a relatively similar fashion and presumably used similar operating procedures.

At Rangiriri on 20 Nov. 1863, the infantry and naval brigades made separate assaults. The infantry carried Enfield Long rifles with spike bayonet and the Royal Navy had cutless bayonets and pistols.
At Gate Pa on 29 April 1864, the disastrous assault on the pa was made by a 50/50 mix of 43rd LI and Naval Brigade seamen & Marines. One of the recriminations afterwards was that (apart from being drunk) the Naval troops were totally unsuitable for the task - so there were obviously 'issues'.
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Re: skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby roughneck » 03 Jan 2016 00:35

Thanks for the info colsjt65.

In your opinion do you think the recriminations regarding Gate Pa were justified or perhaps more a case of inter-service rivalry and blame-shifting ?

I'd be interested to know why they thought that the Naval Brigade were unsuited to the task given that they had been utilised for the very same purpose previously.

My knowledge of Gate Pa is pretty limited so I'd be keen to hear your thoughts on the matter. From what I can gather the operation followed the usual format of artillery being used to create a breach and then sending in storming/assault parties to dislodge the Maori defenders and that it wasn't until the storming parties got into the interior of the pa that things started to go horribly wrong. The overall impression I get is that it was the design/layout/construction of Gate Pa that was the key to the whole enterprise in that the artillery bombardment had minimal effect on the defenders and the Maori were able to shift sufficient manpower resources to the point of contact relatively quickly to counter the storming parties. This is obviously an over simplification of the attack itself. What do you believe was the underlying cause of the defeat at Gate Pa? Should Cameron have even attempted to attack the pa itself or was he under pressure from his political masters to put an end to the Kingite movement in Tauranga and felt obliged to do so.

Just as a side-note do you know what sort of head-gear the Royal Marines (forage caps, shakos.... ???) would have been wearing whilst on campaign in NZ. I haven't seen any drawings/illustrations of Marines here in NZ to help out.

regards
Roger
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Re: skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby colsjt65 » 03 Jan 2016 02:15

The battle of Gate Pa was very confusing, and continues to confuse.
It can't have helped that the 43rd LI had only been in the country for four months and had never faced Maori and their pa in battle before. This regiment was composed of a mixture of troops worn-out from service in India, who were due to return to the UK until diverted to New Zealand, with a large number of raw recruits arriving from the UK.
In the assault the regiment suffered 5 officers killed, 4 wounded (2 since dead, including Col. Booth), Naval casualties were 2 officers killed (Commander Hay and Capt. Hamilton), 3 wounded (1 since dead). The assault column was rendered practically leaderless within minutes.

Regarding Gate Pa, Cameron himself admitted that he didn't know what went wrong and 'guessed' that it was the 'intricate nature of the interior defences, and the sudden fall of so many of their officers.'-
"The assaulting column, protected by the nature of the ground, gained the breach with little loss, and effected an entrance into the main body of the work, when a fierce conflict ensued, in which the natives fought with the greatest desperation.
Lieut-Colonel Booth and Commander Hay, who led into the work, both fell mortally wounded. Captain Hamilton was shot dead on the top of the parapet while in the act of encouraging his men to advance, and in a few minutes almost every officer of the column was either killed or wounded. Up to this moment, the men, so nobly led by their officers, fought gallantly and appeared to have carried the position, when they suddenly gave way, and fell back from the work to the nearest cover.
This repulse I am at a loss to explain otherwise than by attributing it to the confusion created among the men by the intricate nature of the interior defences, and the sudden fall of so many of their officers."

There was a widespread belief that the 43rd panicked and ran away when they mistakenly believed that an overwhelming counterattack was being launched. However, this report blames friendly fire from the 68th-
[Daily Southern Cross, 7 Oct 1864] "Yet out of these formidable pits were the Maoris driven, and victory was actually in the grasp of the 43d, when a cry of "the enemy are being reinforced by five hundred men" arose, and burst upon the wearied troops. Yet still they held their ground, until balls fell fast and thick amidst them— it is generally supposed from the lines of the 68th, who were posted upon the other side of the pa so as to cut off the retreat of the Maoris after their having to evacuate their stronghold. Here the retreat took place— and now commenced the slaughter both of officers and men, the former standing heroically to their ground, trying to rally the latter, who in their frantic flight were shot down in dozens by the Maoris, who had now regained both their redoubts and their courage."

The writer of an article to the Wellington Gazelle and Military Chronicle of April 15 1865, posited that it was confusion caused by overheard orders given to a company of 68th LI who were attacking on the flank behind the pa that caused to 43rd to retire -
"150 of all ranks 43rd Light Infantry, headed by the late Colonel Booth, with marines and bluejackets, were drawn up in fours at the General's position, when he spoke aloud the following words '43rd Light Infantry, remember the glorious name and brilliant exploits that you achieved in the Peninsula, and more so at Badajoz; throw yourself into the pits without the least hesitation.' After the recital, of these words he shook hands with the late Colonel, who afterwards gave the command 'Fix bayonets,' 'Quick march,' followed by the 'Charge.' After charging a few hundred yards we were halted, to enable us to take breath, and while in this position the enemy kept up a heavy and destructive fire on us.' Time was not to be lost, so the word Forward' was given, and on we rushed, heedless of the fire, entered the pa, and took the pits. Here began the strife, shell falling in the pa. The 68th Light Infantry, in attempting to prevent the retreat of the enemy, fired on them, which told heavily on the stormers and which can be verified by the medical men who were on the field. This was not the cause of the panic, in fact no panic ever seized the troops. The cause of the troops quitting the pa was this— a company of the 68th Light Infantry quitted their position to come up to our help, and while so doing, the officer in command, seeing that he did not get the word to advance, gave the word 'Retire' to this company, which was overheard in the pa, and immediately it was uttered by the officers in the pa the troops obeyed the command. Now, sir, the point is this, did the 43rd Light Infantry quit the pa first? This point has never been settled."

Colonel Greer (68th LI, positioned behind the pa) reported that -
"About 5 o'clock p.m. the Maoris made a determined rush from the right rear of their pa. I met them with three companies, and after a skirmish, drove the main body back into the pa; about twenty got past my right, but they received a flank fire from Lieut. Cox's party (68th 60 men) and Lieut. Hotham's (30 men) Naval Brigade"

Captain Light (68th LI) had this to say, giving rise to the statement that I made about the sailors -
[Well Done the 68th, Bilcliffe, pp. 145-6 - Captain Light’s diary]-
"The 68th did all that they could and behaved right well and I do believe they would have done the same had they been for the assaulting column, and not have deserted all their officers as the 43rd. and Naval Brigade had did. How it came they deserted the Pa, I cannot make out, but after they were in they were just as good as the Maoris or nearly so, as the latter knew the intricacies of the place. They had perhaps one advantage and it would have a case of the bayonet against double barrelled guns and tomahawkes (very ugly weapons I assure you). I heard all sorts of reasons given for the panic. Someone, they say, gave an order to retire, mistaking us, the 68th., for native reserves. One man told me he heard the word "retire", but believes it was given by a Maori that could speak English. I should not wonder at all if such was the fact, they are such knowing dodgers. The bravest of troops may have a sudden panic, but no reason to leave their officers to be butchered as in the case of both the 43rd. and naval brigade. They were gallantly led by brave men, also well led. One thing I hope I never see again, that is sailors employed to storm with soldiers. Sailors are very well in their way, fight like devils on board ships etc., etc., but they make the worst of soldiers and are not fit for a storming party, because they are not sufficiently under control on shore. A storming party is essentially soldiers’ work and tried and disciplined soldiers too. I have since heard that most of the sailors were drunk and I thoroughly believe was the case."

The 43rd Regt firmly blamed the Naval Brigade -
[Historical Records of the Forty-Third - p.285]-
"Up to this moment the men so nobly led by their officers struggled gallantly and carried the position but finding themselves beset on all sides by a withering fire which had already laid low so many comrades they suddenly wavered and upon a shout being raised by the sailors. "They are coming into us in thousands, retire," in spite of all Lieutenant Garland's entreaties to persevere they fell back upon the nearest cover he and three or four others alone remaining until forced to make their escape from the Pa. ... This disastrous retreat commenced by the Naval Brigade the Lieut General could only attribute to the confusion created amongst the men by the intricate nature of the interior defences and the panic which the sudden fall of so many of their officers inspired added to darkness setting in."

As for uniforms on campaign, the RM wore the same as infantry - blue fatigues and kilmarnocks. All the officers dressed down, to avoid being targeted - "By dress alone, at ten yards' distance, I defy any one out here to tell an officer from one of the privates. "
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Re: skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby roughneck » 03 Jan 2016 02:40

Thanks again for that.
Those excerpts make for very interesting reading and thank you for taking the time to post them.
It does appear that 'confusion' seems to be the key word and a breakdown in command & control with so many officers being killed.
When I can get along to your re-enactment group I'd be keen to have a further chat.

As for the RM uniforms presumably then the Royal Marines of the 1840's would have worn something similar to the infantry at that time ?
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Re: skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby colsjt65 » 03 Jan 2016 08:18

As for the RM uniforms presumably then the Royal Marines of the 1840's would have worn something similar to the infantry at that time ?


I have found no explicit reference to what the RM wore on campaign in 1845-46, but, as their dress uniform was pretty much the same as infantry, I can only assume that on campaign they wore red shell jacket, dark trousers, and forage cap the same as infantry adopted.
McKillop's account of what the sailors wore, with officers and men being dressed the same so as not to stand out leads me to conclude the the RM would want to look the same as the line infantry.
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Re: skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby rd72 » 04 Jan 2016 17:46

Hi all,

I am rather late to the discussion but I thought that I might add a few clips from the '47 FE&E that might be somewhat relevant, for those interested.... I understand that this reference might be a bit late in the decade, but I don't have the '33 (the one before the '47, I think) handy...

The first speaks to the use of some sort of support, if not actually formally designating them as so....
Image

Here is one that speaks of the use of non-light coys in the role...
Image

And future mention of "supports"....
Image

There are many more instances of the use of the term "supports" and even "reserve" in the Light Infantry section of the manual but what it doesn't have is an overview of, for example, "a battalion deployed to skirmish" or "a company extended" in the formal way that later FE&Es do.

Incidentally, the use of a skirmish line, supports and reserve was in the doctrine in the 1859 as was the direction for all infantry to be proficient....
Image

I don't have a copy of an FE&E between the '47 and the '59? If someone has such a beast, it might shed light on further detail regarding the "all to be trained" timing...

Again, not from the '40s but this photo taken in Ireland shows a Bn deployed to skirmish in the requisite three lines... (The Curragh, late 1860s)
Image

Happy New Year to all.
Cheers,
Rob
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Re: skirmishing in the 1840's

Postby mike snook » 04 Jan 2016 23:54

Hi Rob

That Curragh picture is a cracker. Thanks for sharing that. They've obviously contracted intervals to get it into the photographer's frame but thank goodness for us they did. Great picture.

Have you seen the 47 FE & E online anywhere? I've got to stop buying these things....arm and a leg and all that.

As ever

Mike
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