The present system of light infantry movements, 1830

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The present system of light infantry movements, 1830

Postby jf42 » 04 Jun 2016 22:48

The United Service Magazine ,1830, Part II. p.606.

Light Infantry.

Mr. Editor,—It having come to the knowledge of the General-Commanding-in-Chief, that regiments of the line had much neglected the practice of light infantry movements, his Lordship has deemed it necessary to issue an order on the subject, calling on commanding officers of regiments of the line to instruct their men in this most useful branch of the service. The employment of light troops is as much, or even more, called for in the British army than in that of any other nation, on account of our numerous insular colonial possessions, where, from the mountainous and intricate nature of the country, it is almost impossible for troops to act in a body. His Lordship seems fully impressed with the importance of this order of movement, but I will almost venture to state, that his views will not be carried into effect with any spirit so long as the distinction of light infantry regiments is kept up, for it is difficult for commanding officers of regiments of the line to divest themselves of the idea that they will be only looked upon in a secondary point of view, as regards light movements; and that they will only be called upon to act in the absence of corps bearing the erroneous appellation of light infantry regiments. It must not be imagined, that in calling for the abolition of the distinction, light infantry regiment, that I am actuated by any jealousy of the estimation some of the corps bearing that appellation enjoy. The 43rd, 52nd, 71st, and 85th, have hardly earned all they possess. My argument is, that if the infantry were all considered as troops of the line, there would be sufficient to stimulate them to acquire a perfect knowledge of the movements and duties of light troops, for commanding officers would then feel how liable they were to be called upon to act in that capacity, and the consequences they would bring on themselves by an imperfect acquaintance with those duties. With regard to arms and appointments, there is no difference; if the wing is considered an ornament, it might be given to all the infantry, for why should the appearance of the British troops depend upon that of other regiments. Strictly speaking, modern armies have no light infantry; the Greeks and Romans had. Every regiment ought to consider light movements to be as much its province as battalion ones, but whilst there exists a distinction, they will never be induced to do so. To conclude: the present system of light infantry movements, as laid down for a battalion, is unconnected, perplexing, and discouraging, when danger is at hand. Yours, &c.
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Re: The present system of light infantry movements, 1830

Postby rd72 » 04 Jun 2016 23:46

Thank you jf, love this kind of stuff.
Cheers,
Rob
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Re: The present system of light infantry movements, 1830

Postby Josh&Historyland » 05 Jun 2016 12:31

The years after Waterloo seemed to see a see marked neglect of light infantry work, in terms of theory and thinking. Harry Smith seemed to feel in practice as well.

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Re: The present system of light infantry movements, 1830

Postby jf42 » 06 Jun 2016 13:26

Glad it hit the spot ROb. I am slowly working my way through the archive here
http://wiki.fibis.org/index.php/Militar ... y_Magazine
- thanks to Maureen and her colleagues at FIBIS. I 'll post anymore similar snippets I come upon as and when.

Josh, I guess the problem had to be in part, as the author of the 1830 article pointed out, that with the bulk of the army dispersed among colonial outposts, the opportunity, let alone the incentive, to practice drills for the European battlefield were few- even though skirmishing skills were valuable when fighting tribal peoples in many corners of the globe, not least the Cape, New Zealand, Burma and on the NWF. With the introduction of percussion cap muskets and then the 'rifle-musket', distinctions between line and light infantry began to blur anyway, as has been discussed several times in threads here, until the flank coys were done away with altogether after 1858.

To what extent the question of formal skirmishing drills applied during the fighting in the Crimea, I am not sure. The Alma was an old-fashioned storming manouevre that could have taken place in 1814 but Inkerman, slugging match that it was, seemed to rely on troops operating confidently in isolation from larger formations. Whether that was a matter of training or simple esprit de corps, I'll leave someone else to comment.
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Re: The present system of light infantry movements, 1830

Postby mike snook » 06 Jun 2016 21:02

The issue, raised by this letter and others, is that of requiring battalion commanders of non-light battalions to train their grenadier and centre coys to practice skirmish tactics (essentially the ability to skirmish/fire and move by pairs, with 'one foot on the ground') in addition to their normal close order 'infantry drill', thereby making all the infantry much more adaptable. Their light coys were already required to do this. All the coys of a light battalion could do so, just as they could drill in close order too. The distinction between line and light is confusing because the light regiments are also part of the line infantry. What the writer is saying is that so long as there are light battalions, the commanding officers of conventional line regiments won't be bothered to get a grip of the skirmish drills in the expectation that when they deploy in line of battle they will be screened by light battalions anyway. His solution is dispense with the light infantry label altogether - thus the 43rd Monmouthshire Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry), and all the others of like ilk, would lose the bit in brackets from their title. Then everybody's in it together: or in other words our correspondent argues that maintaining skirmish troops as a separate branch of the service is detrimental to potentially achieving greater operational proficiency/improved flexibility across the infantry as a whole. This of course was never actually enacted. For a period, and I would suggest that this letter sits within it, commanding officers were not compelled to train their grenadiers and centre coys to skirmish tactics and it was left pretty much to the whim of COs. However, at a later point, it became mandatory, (as one would of course expect). I have referred before to an incident in SA in 1851 in which Major General Henry Somerset asked Colonel John Fordyce, CO 74th Highlanders, whether any of his other companies could skirmish apart from the light company. In fact they could all skirmish, Fordyce was pleased to report. This might tend to suggest that 1851 also sits in the 'optional/CO's whim' period, but I am rather inclined to think that it was simply that Somerset, who was in SA for donkey's years, was out of touch with the latest doctrinal developments in England. Although I cannot yet attach a date to the point at which it was made mandatory, my investigations tend to point to a bracket of something like 1840-45. In other words the abolition of flank coys, as late as it was, serves as a red-herring by pointing to a date in the 1850s. If I am right then all the infantry in the Crimea were trained to skirmish tactics. Not exclusively of course....I mean close order tactics and extended order tactics abiding side by side in the same unit as tactical options. I'm advancing a rather earlier date than we have conventionally thought of, but jf's letter points to the fact that this was a live issue in the early 1830s. Editions of Field Exercise and Evolutions of Infantry will provide the answer - I am short of editions from the early period - but I will hunt some out soon. There are very likely to be references in the RUSI journal too, so jf sir, you are absolutely in the right place.

As ever

Mike
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